New Trier Democrats’ Posts

Crimes & Punishments

Yesterday, there were two news stories on NPR that, although seemingly unrelated, got me thinking about the threads that do connect them. One story was about the South Carolina prison riot that killed seven inmates. The other was about a patient care crisis facing America’s hospitals.

Reporters who covered the riots said the Lee Correctional Institution, housing some of the state’s most violent criminals, was severely understaffed. The prison has over 1,500 inmates. Forty-four officers (I assume not all are guards) were on duty when the rioting began. These numbers underscored the general view presented on NPR that over-crowding and understaffing is the problem facing prisons across the United States. And exacerbating this problem is the fact that too little interest is being shown by legislators to oversee and fix the situation.

But listening to this discussion, it seemed to me that too much of the focus was on the shortage of guards and prison space and not enough focus was on the shocking number of prisoners in the United States presently requiring more guards and space.

According to ACLU data, “The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people.” Our incarceration numbers are much higher than any other nation on earth. A prisonpolicy.org report from 2012 notes, “The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.”

Today it is generally accepted that the Reagan era “war on drugs” played a role in our soaring prison numbers. Tragically that new national agenda was followed soon after by the appearance in the U.S. of super-addictive crack cocaine in our cities – especially in neighborhoods of color. Then in the following decades small town America began to experience the gradual devastation of their job markets, and not by coincidence an increased use of methamphetamines in those communities.

Of course those aren’t the only reasons we now have so many more Americans in our prisons, but drugs in general, have played a big part. In a report written by Lauren Booke Eisne and Inimai Chettiar for the December 9, 2016 issue of Time Magazine, they found that “approximately 39% of the nationwide prison population (576,000 people) is behind bars with little public safety rationale. And they can be released, significantly and safely cutting our prison population.” They went on to say, “364,000 people, almost all non-violent, lower-level offenders, would be better served by alternatives to incarceration such as treatment, community service, or probation.

This approach probably wouldn’t apply to the rioters in South Carolina. They’ve been characterized by that state as their most violent criminals. However if the overall population of our prisons could be intelligently reduced this would logically result in more guards being available for an understaffed prison like Lee Correctional.

Perhaps a national dialogue about this problem will be spurred on by the South Carolina riot. If so, America’s struggles with drugs should certainly be a part of that discussion.  Continue reading Crimes & Punishments

Setting Some Goals

Last night, the New Trier Dems Executive Committee held our monthly meeting. With Illinois’ March Primary Elections now completed, it was an evening of spirited discussion. We all shared thoughts about the campaigns and their results. Some of our endorsed candidates won. Others, despite commendable efforts, fell short of victory. — Summing things up we all agreed that the Democratic slate heading toward the General Election in November will be strong, and we will strongly support them all.

But the subject that dominated much of last night’s discussion had to do with a specific aspect of the past election – actually a problematic aspect of too many elections. And that is, the ethical parameters of messaging established by candidates or their supporters.

There’s no question that every election has a percentage of messaging that many of us feel strays beyond the limits of legitimate hardball politics. And I believe a lot of potential voters are becoming increasingly bothered by today’s growing proliferation of truth-deficient communication.

We have a president who lies so easily and so frequently that one spokesperson created a special term for it — “alternative facts.” We have entire TV and radio networks who blithely tell lies in prime time and later correct their “errors” when their audience is small. We have billionaire funded interest groups and secretive PACs that have no qualms about disparaging reality to create self-serving fantasies.

This level of blatant deceit is conditioning too many Americans to accept such communication standards as the norm. This is not good for any democracy. In such a messed up national scene, the last thing we need is more of that stuff at a local level.

According to the immortal Mike Royko, the old Chicago Machine pols would label these concerns as the talk of liberal “goo goos.” More modern critics would label such thoughts as the simplistic ramblings of too-sensitive liberal “snowflakes.”

I admit that really nasty political campaigns can work, but not every time (just ask Karl Rove). And they certainly don’t work everywhere. In fact, I would argue that using such campaign tactics – particularly in educated, politically literate, areas like New Trier and our neighboring communities – it is a stupid thing to do.  Continue reading Setting Some Goals

One Young Man’s Legacy

Fifty years ago today, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. I imagine that more than a few of you reading this are old enough to remember his death and the violent events that followed. That series of national traumas still identify 1968, and their ripples are still felt today. Of course at the moment of Dr. King’s murder we couldn’t know this. – That’s kinda how history works.

When Dr. King was killed he was in Memphis in support of a strike by the city’s African American garbage haulers. But, in the months leading up to his Memphis visit, Dr. King was moving toward championing issues that included the common interests of all poor people, not just black citizens. This included the economic inequities that increasingly dictated who was dying in Vietnam and who managed to stay safe at home. In the weeks before his death he was working to organize a new march on Washington known as the “Poor People’s Campaign.”

If he had not been murdered, what role might he have played in the shaping of today’s America? His father lived to be 84. If fate had allowed the Reverend Dr. King a full life span, would he have been an influential voice well into our present times?

Now, I know that playing the game of “what if” is always considered a waste of time. But for me, playing it a bit does underscore what a huge figure Martin Luther King was in our history:

For example, to carry my “what if” speculation further, if the Reverend Dr. King hadn’t been assassinate in April, there wouldn’t have been riot- torched neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side. If there had been no West Side riots, Mayor Daley (the first) might have handled the crowds of Vietnam War protestors on Chicago’s streets with less reactionary fear. If his approved “police riots” (as defined by the Kerner Commission) had not occurred, the eventual Democratic Party presidential nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, wouldn’t have had to spend weeks repairing his Party’s morale and focus, weeks that took time away from serious campaigning. And if Humphrey had had those few extra weeks to build on his rising campaign momentum, the odds are good that he would have defeated Richard Nixon. No Nixon and a whole lot of our history, much of it harmful, changes. — Of course, who can say where that “new” history might have led us.

But enough of that “what if” stuff. “What is” today, is a clear measure of the greatness of Dr. King and the impact of his enlightening influence on our society. Yes, we have not yet achieved the levels of equality that King stood for so strongly. But today’s awareness of the wrongness of inequity — whether regarding race, gender, sexual orientation, every category of humanity — can in large part be traced back to the stands taken by the Reverend Dr. King.  Continue reading One Young Man’s Legacy

Bad News. Great News.

During the past week there were several news events coming out of the White House that in another time might have caused a much bigger stir. But in this “time of the Trump,” startling news that used to merit days of discussion is now met with little more than a shrug. I will now mention three of those items.

On Thursday, Trump fired his National Security Advisor General H. R. McMaster, one of the better qualified and respected members of the President’s staff. McMaster, a three star general, clearly holds strong feelings about the importance of speaking truth to power. His book, “Dereliction of Duty,” is an analysis of how years of lies, carefully selected facts and willful denial of reality led us into the disastrous quagmire of the Vietnam War.

So in his White House job, it’s not surprising that McMaster insisted on presenting candid judgments and detailed appraisals to the President. Unfortunately such candor often didn’t fit President Trump’s worldview (or his attention span). Bye, bye, general – and one less steadying voice in the Oval Office.

Trump immediately replaced McMaster with someone more to his liking. A man he admired for his commentary on Fox News, John Bolton. An attorney and sometimes diplomat, Bolton has held jobs in past Republican administrations, from Reagan to George W. Bush. “W” appointed him Ambassador to the United Nations even though Bolton pretty much admitted he hated the entire concept of a United Nations organization that lessened the world-supremacy of his U.S.A.

John Bolton’s appointment as Trump’s new National Security Advisor hasn’t received an outpouring of praise. Many observers spanning the political spectrum were shocked, pointing out Bolton’s predisposition toward war whenever dealing with an international opponent. He has advocated attacking Iran and North Korea and he continues to praise the Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush invasion of Iraq as brilliant. The announcement of Bolton’s newest ascent to influence did not brighten my week.  Continue reading Bad News. Great News.

Primary Thoughts and Beyond

The 2018 Primary Election is now history. And with the exception of the Cam Davis write-in campaign for a MWRD seat (a combination of computer entries and paper write-ins), the results are in for most of the races we New Trier Dems have paid attention to. We now know who our Democratic Party candidates will be in the November general election.

There’s no need for me to rehash the details of the political contests we’ve just witnessed. But I will say this Primary Season was different from most I can remember. It seems like there were more candidates than usual vying for the Democratic nomination in several key races. — How did that happen?

In the case of the Attorney General race, the crowded field of extraordinary Democratic candidates was the result of Lisa Madigan’s unexpected announcement that she wouldn’t seek reelection. Once that political career opportunity appeared, naturally a number of sharp, highly qualified people reached for it.

The election of the misogynistic, and dangerously ignorant, Donald Trump was another cause for the big 2018 Democratic candidate “turnout.” His presidency has awakened a wave of political participation among hundreds of women candidates across America. I’m sure it energized more than a few Illinois women to run for office this year. And I’m guessing it played some motivating role among the impressive candidates who competed for our 17th House District seat.

Even our state’s top political office drew an unusual number of serious competitors for that nomination. The reasons for the crowd of candidates in this case were easy to sum up in two words — Bruce Rauner. He has been a disaster for Illinois. Each of the Democratic candidates appeared to recognize the urgency of replacing him in November. (The one exception to what I just stated might be the candidate Robert Marshall since I have no idea what he deems urgent other than his mission to divide Illinois into three states. I wonder which of those resulting states he would like to govern?)

So now, at least for most of the Primary contests, the conciliatory concession speeches have been given. I checked YouTube for the gubernatorial concessions. Daniel Biss’ address was beautifully worded, inspiring, hopeful. Chris Kennedy’s address was positive and human. Neither displayed bitterness. Their supporters should feel proud.

In fact, all of you Democrats who supported yesterday’s profusion of attractive candidates who weren’t winners should feel proud. The people you chose to back did their best to win for you. They were serious candidates – and this is no small thing. It is easy for sideline observers like me to ignore the fact that running for any office – from school board to governor — is a very tough job. It demands a ridiculous amount of energy and daily motivation. Candidates without deep pockets or deep party funding must spend brutal hours every day fundraising. But the reality is, without people stepping forward to aspire for elected office, we would have no democracy. So, my hat is off to every candidate who put his or her personal lives on hold during this lengthy primary campaign season. To dive into this intense arena must be admired by us all. Continue reading Primary Thoughts and Beyond

Reactions to the “Nasty Mailings” Commentary

(This week’s commentary is a bit unusual. It presents opinions that might be controversial within the Democratic Party. They do not represent any official position of the NTDO, our Committeeman or our membership. The opinions are solely my own — N.H.)

Last week, my NTD News commentary stirred up far more conversation than any other subject I’ve ever discussed. By now, it’s a good bet that everyone reading this has identified the political contest I obliquely referenced a week ago. It is the 17th District Illinois House race. And at this point it seems silly to continue using vague language.

When our State Rep. Laura Fine decided to run for Daniel Biss’ soon to be vacated 9th District Senate seat, the 17th House seat became open. The quality of the Democrats who quickly declared their candidacies for that office was very encouraging. It was one more sign that the Trump era is energizing an impressive new generation of future Democratic office holders.

These 17th District candidates– Mary Rita Luecke, Candance Chow, Peter Dagher,  Alexandra Eidenberg, and Jennifer Gong Gershowitz (who was endorsed by the NTDO’s membership at our Jan. 14 endorsement meeting) took on their roles as candidates with impressive energy.

Now, I know there is always some competitive slamming between office seekers in any closely fought political race. But from what I’ve learned of the personal lives and past activities of these candidates, all five are decent human beings who care about improving life for the people they hope to represent. Some were drawn into the pursuit of public service through their involvement with specific issues: education… women’s rights… gun violence. All admirable causes.

And here’s the thing, the NTDO has long encouraged smart caring people to step forward and run for offices at every level of government. Here in New Trier, we voters appreciate candidates who run on clearly stated positions with honest presentations. So, the appearance of sleazy, Machine-style mailings in support of one of the 17th’s candidates disturbed a lot of New Trier residents, including the NTD Executive Committee.

The March 7 commentary titled “Nasty Mailings” was my response. It generated some heated language between several of the candidates’ campaigns and their supporters. Some said, “the other guys ‘went negative’ first.” But that’s no justification for sleaze. Yes, giving voters negative information about an opponent, if it is factual, is part of the process. As they say, “politics ain’t beanbag.” But that doesn’t mean the accepted standard should now be mud-wrestling.

As part of this mess, it is no secret that Illinois’ Democratic Party Chairperson, Mike Madigan, has a strong hand in the funding of media for the candidates endorsed by the party. Also, his crew of media tacticians are the geniuses who choose the style of the campaign literature that is financed by the party’s PAC. These are the people directly behind the worst mailings. Continue reading Reactions to the “Nasty Mailings” Commentary

Nasty Mailings

Last night, the NTDO Executive Committee held its monthly meeting. The agenda included the usual housekeeping items, finances, etc. as well as discussion of future New Trier Dems events and Get Out The Vote Election Day plans. But it was a subject not on the agenda that generated a passionate discussion.

Our President, Judy Mandel, said she has been receiving a string of complaints from fellow Democrats about the over-the-top, negative and sometimes especially nasty mailing pieces sent out by “friends of” one of our endorsed candidates. We all agreed that this was very disappointing to see and that it reflected poorly on the endorsed candidate and, by association, our organization.

Someone pointed out that First Amendment free speech allows political campaigns to distribute detrimental information about their political rivals. And we all conceded that letting the electorate know damaging facts about an opponent can be an important service to the voter. But the operative word here is “facts.”

It’s one thing to reveal an unfavorable fact about an opponent. This is hardball politics that anyone running for office should expect. However, it is something else entirely to distribute messaging with half-truths, innuendo and convoluted interpretations of events that blatantly distort reality. For an added impact in this style of ham-fisted messaging, a carefully selected and filtered photo of the opponent is often featured that gives him or her the appearance of a psychopath or a suspected war criminal. — The style used in the worst of the mailings sent out by our endorsed candidate’s “friends” fits this description.

(I would add that using outlandish photos of an opponent often leads to a contest between campaigns to find the most unattractive photo of the other guy. This is dumb and accomplishes nothing. It just lowers the level of communication, appears childish and turns off many voters.)

Of course such crude political mailings aren’t something new to any of us. It’s a style that Chicago Machine politicians have used for decades. Many political advertising “experts” believe this cynically manipulative messaging is the proven way to win elections. (Sadly, too often it is.) And apparently, the old guard continues to support this thinking, as it appears their approach has influenced the mailings in question.

At this point in reading you may be wondering, “Why is the NTDO Executive Board even rocking the boat? Your membership made their endorsements so that’s that.” But this extremely negative campaign approach is directly at odds with what our organization stands for. The New Trier Democrats’ credo is “Idealism, Integrity, Independence.” To ignore such campaign activities associated with one of our endorsed candidates would be a betrayal of each of those three words.  Continue reading Nasty Mailings

Responding To The NRA

This week’s NTD News will be a little bit shorter than usual. However, I’m pretty sure that a less wordy commentary will be welcomed by more than a few of you regular readers. Here’s the reason. As a trustee on the board of our local mosquito abatement district, I’m spending the week in Kansas City at a mosquito abatement conference.

Now, you might think that turning my attention to the battle against disease-bearing mosquitoes would take my mind away from the big news topic of the past several days, America’s gun violence. But ironically, the opposite has occurred. It appears that gun proliferation apologists have an affinity for a specific word that is also in the lexicon of all mosquito abatement professionals – “response.”

I heard the word repeatedly in TV news interviews last week and Sunday morning. Whether it was the NRA paid mercenaries Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch, or NRA political lap dogs like Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, or our nation’s brilliant problem-solver President Donald J. Trump, they all emphasized that one word as the key to protecting our schoolchildren from being shot to death in class: “We must be better prepared to respond.”

The language may have varied slightly but that was their big idea. They endorsed a universal plan for a “response” to any crazed gunman shooting up a school. They said if we would just train selected teachers in each school to become skilled with a handgun, they could respond to a kid with an AR-15 entering their classroom, his semi-automatic military rifle blazing away. – Yes, I suppose in Trump’s fantasy world those teachers might have a chance to out-shoot the intruder if they conducted their classes with their guns un-holstered, with a bullet in the chamber and they possessed quick draw skills. Otherwise, no way.

You don’t even have to imagine that terrifying scenario to see that calling for a “better response” to protect our kids is a fallacious approach. Just think about the word “respond” itself. It is a word that only comes into existence after some other action has already occurred. In the case of a school being terrorized by an armed gunman, a “response” would by definition only happen after the armed nut-case had wounded or killed a few kids. Maybe more than a few.  Continue reading Responding To The NRA

Warning Signs

This past week our society suffered the latest in what has now become one of America’s most distinctive peculiarities — the periodic mass shootings of children in schools. There is certainly no question that this repeating tragedy distinguishes our United States from all other developed nations.

Yes, I know that other advanced countries have had incidents where a deranged shooter has killed a crowd of innocents. But those events have been few and far between. (The last time there was a shooting massacre in a school in Great Britain was 22 years ago. – The time between last week’s Parkland shooting and a prior U.S. school shooting was 3 months!)

Our United States is one of the most developed civilizations in history. And yet, our democracy can’t ensure that our children feel safe from being murdered in their classrooms. Every American should view this fact as unacceptable. But it seems that the level of enthusiasm for exploring ways to curb these recurring slaughters varies considerably between our citizenry and our lawmakers.

The only new bright spot in this grim scenario has been the inspiring reaction of the students of Parkland High School and their young peers nationwide. These students are stating their position on gun violence using language that adults in power have been afraid to use. Words like, “gun control” and “Shame on you, NRA.”

Their language is clear eyed. Demanding specific action. It is logical as well as passionate and spoken in some cases as the first-hand knowledge of a victim. They are calling out the Congressional hypocrites who are only willing to offer “thoughts and prayers” but no substantive legislative action. Of course the students are already getting push back from the NRA and their right-wing lackeys. Michael Medved characterized spokesperson Emma Gonzalez as a hysterical teenage girl. And fellow student David Hamm has been described as a coached Democratic “plant.”

I thought that after Sandy Hook, the direct contact of grieving parents with members of Congress would turn the tide. I was proven naïve. But maybe, just maybe, these intelligent, articulate kids with their youthful energy and honest sincerity will be the ones who finally force some responsible action from U.S. legislators and the White House.  Continue reading Warning Signs

The Trump Budget

This week, the Trump Administration revealed their 2019 budget. If there was still any doubt about the priorities of the Trump regime and the Republican Party in general, this budget makes it very clear what they value – and the people and issues they hold in low regard.

Back in 2016 during his campaign, candidate Trump declared himself the champion of Americans who have felt abused or ignored by the federal government. Then as soon as Trump entered the White House he assembled a bizarre collection of advisors with personal interests that actually opposed their departments’ missions. It didn’t take long to see that his campaign promises were going to be quickly reinterpreted.

Even so, this week’s budget presentation is the first broad declaration of how the reactionaries presently in charge of our nation’s policies want to re-shape America’s future.

Ironically, the same people who obstructed President Obama’s every big-bills-money.jpgeconomic initiative claiming concern for the debt it would create, now have no concerns about adding billions more in debt after just recently decreasing established revenue streams. Last year’s big “tax reform” gave nearly 50% of the tax cuts to Americans in the top 1% income bracket and created $1.5 trillion in national debt over the next ten years.

The single biggest increase in the Trump budget is for Department of Defense spending. It will be up $74 billion to a total of $686 billion – More money for everything the Pentagon wants. We now spend more than the next 8 nations combined. (But won’t this year’s parade past the White House be exciting!)

And how do we make up for the billions in tax savings given to the very rich and another huge reward to the military-industrial complex? We cut spending in areas that are “unimportant” to Trump and his legislators.

Here are a few examples of those Republican cuts:  Continue reading The Trump Budget