Category Archives: Social Issues

Open Letter to Donald Trump…

Dear Mr. Trump,

Before I begin, let me provide a little context. I’m not a fan. Frankly, you lost me right after you got off the escalator in June of 2015. You really lost me when you referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers.  Your actions since that time only serve to highlight your announcement speech on that June day as the high-point of your campaign.

You use music before and after your rallies to incite and inspire your crowds, which I will say are sometimes impressive in number. I have always found it curious that at the end of your rallies you play the Stone’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want. For a guy whose great claim to fame is branding, this is a curious way to brand your campaign. If I may, a small suggestion for the sake of properly and accurately branding your campaign; at the end of your rallies, why not play ACDC’s Highway to Hell?

Also, for the sake of disclosure, I wrote an open letter to Hillary asking her to have a press conference in order to, once and for all, answer the allegations made by you and others regarding her email servers and the family’s Foundation. Today, she has announced that, beginning Monday, she is going to make herself more available to the press and that she intended to hold a press conference soon.

I take no credit for this change of heart. Frankly, she didn’t read the letter – hell, I doubt if anyone did. All I claim is that I plugged into the zeitgeist associated with this issue, nothing more. Unlike you, my ego doesn’t need to take faux credit for a result that I had no part in achieving.

This reason I’m writing you is because, like Hillary, you might – through some cruel twist of fate, the cosmic practical joke as it were – become the next President of the United States. So like Hillary if she wins, if you win you will become my President. As a citizen, I have the right to communicate with my President, sharing suggestions or criticisms with the person who leads our nation in this changing and somewhat perilous time.

So let me begin by saying that you are without doubt, by far, the worst candidate for president in my lifetime.  Since tomorrow is my 68th birthday, that’s a considerable time frame. It isn’t that you haven’t studied real issues that impact real people, it’s that you trade in on your ignorance to gain the applause of those fearful folks who hear bluster and mistake it for leadership.

You get away with this approach, when nobody else could, because you’re a seemingly “successful businessman” worth “billions” of dollars. The former is subject to discussion and the latter is unproven. I won’t focus on the “successful businessman” part but I will state that you absolutely need to release your tax returns. We both know that the invocation of the audit as a reason not to release these returns is a dodge, pure and simple. But to be fair, I’ll concede that you don’t want to release the returns currently under review – those who hound you for the release don’t know why the IRS is auditing you, so you may have a very good reason not to disclose the initial filing.

But, that is no reason not to release the years of returns not under review. Failing to disclose those returns makes it look like you’re hiding something, either that you’ve made money in partnership with unsavory characters, of haven’t paid any tax in years, or – and this goes to branding – you’re not (gasp!) a billionaire. If you do not release these forms you will become the first nominee of a major political party, in modern political history, not to do so. You accuse Clinton of running from media scrutiny, so why not lead? Isn’t that what Presidents do? Or is hiding from public scrutiny is what passes for “unconventional” in the Trump campaign?

And while you’re at it, how about releasing real medical records? That letter, written in five minutes (to be fair, he did think about it all day) by your Gastroenterologist stated that since all your tests came out “positive” you would be the healthiest President in American history.  That letter is an insult to the body politic, exhibiting the cosmic disdain you have for the  process in which you have voluntarily engaged. And one question: why have you seen a Gastroenterologist each year for 35 years if there’s nothing wrong? Explain that and maybe I’d even consider voting for you.

Aside from your shameless self-promoting, your bully tactics when people can’t respond in kind, your slanderous representations and demonization of others’ characters, intellects and physical attributes, what bothers me most is your nearly total lack of anything akin to knowledge of public policy issues, even your signature issue of immigration reform. One contrasting example: when Rick Perry in 2012 couldn’t remember one of his signature positions, he at least had the decency and dignity to smirk and say “oops!”  When you don’t know something, you make stuff up and then double down when challenged. This is more surprising coming from someone who professes to have a “good brain.”

Let’s look at two issues from this week: your immigration gambit and your meeting Saturday in Detroit. Regarding the former, I think it’s safe to state that over the past ten days, you’ve been all over the park on this issue. Are you softening then hardening? Or are you doing the reverse hard to soft maneuver? You have been tumbling and twisting like an Olympic gymnast who can’t stick the landing.

Behind on points in this competition, you decide to go big or go home. Thus your trip to Mexico City to meet with Mexico’s President Peña Nieto to discuss problems common to both our countries, especially immigration. Don, this was your moment, the stuff dreams are made of. In the way that only fate can arrange, man and moment have met to stand tall and represent your supporters and your country as a whole. You, Donald J. Trump, blessed with implacable conviction and unshakable resolve had the opportunity to stand tall and strong.

And then you shrunk and got soft right before our eyes. How do I know that? Easy, I saw the statements given by both of you. The statements themselves were largely unremarkable; what was remarkable was your response to a question as you were getting ready to leave regarding any discussion of the “Wall.”  Your response was that you discussed the Wall, but not who was going to pay for it. WHAT?

So let’s review – you discussed the Wall with Mr. Neito but not who would pay for it. Then, almost immediately after you leave Nieto tweets (God I hate this) that he broached the issue at the beginning of you meeting and declared that Mexico would not pay for it. Then, a few hours later, safely back in Arizona, you stated that not only would the Wall be built, but that even though they don’t know it, Mexico would pay for it, 100 percent. Raucous applause ensued.

Now here’s my problem. If your version is to be believed, then you didn’t bring up paying for the Wall. Not exactly a profile in courage is it? But then, it’s on to the speech where you get all bold and boisterous. Then in an interview the next day you say that you wouldn’t have brought up the payment in the previous night’s speech if Neito hadn’t tweeted about the payment.

This is junior high school on steroids. I can almost accept ambiguity, I can even accept people changing their minds when new information is entered into the mix; what I can’t accept is someone who is gutless, especially when they present themselves as you do as a strong resolute “leader.”  You, sir, are gutless.

As for the afore mentioned speech, aside from taking credit within your 10 point policy for policy already on the books, you have dissembled on the number of deportees. On the kinder and gentler side, the side that courts white suburban women, you talk about your efforts to be humane and to look at those who are left after the first round of deportations, and decide what to do with them. On the tough Arizona white guy side of you, you talk about immediately, on your first hour as President, getting rid of gang members, criminals, and people taking public benefits like food stamps. You also raised the specter of doing something with those “illegals” who work in low wage jobs, taking those jobs away from American citizens.

I’m not a big math guy, but using your math, if you deport everyone you say you will, there won’t be a lot of people left to be humane towards. Put another way, if your math is right, then there are 11 million illegal aliens in the United States. Assume now that there are 4.4 million households that comprise your total. Assume your stat of 62% of these households receive some form of public benefits, then members of 2.728 million households will be deported, leaving 1.672 million households. Assume these households comprise 5.183,000 people left. Now from that number, subtract 2 million gang members and that comes to 3,183,000 left and we haven’t even adjusted for the “criminals” and low wage laborers in our midst. In other words, there aren’t a whole lot of folks left for you to be humane toward.

Your “policy” is a joke. The blame for this placed on President Obama is not for him alone – in order to do what you ask, Congress has to appropriate the funds, something you may one day find out. How Clinton gets blamed is beyond me as ICE is connected with Homeland Security, not the Department of State.

Saturday you will wade into the waters of inner-city race relations. Another staged event, complete with pre-screened questions and scripted responses. That’s a lot of lines to memorize, are you sure you’re up to it? Evidently, the media is excluded from this meeting thus limiting scrutiny. Once again, substance and seriousness takes a back seat to the performance art of your campaign.

I want to think you’re better than this. I know America is better than this and deserves more than you’ve given over the past nearly 15 months. You owe it to people to do better, to be better. But I think you’re in way over your head. I dare you to prove me wrong.

Respectfully,

Geoff Schoos

102 Days….

Tonight the democrats conclude their convention. After two weeks of sometimes carefully orchestrated events, other times not so carefully orchestrated events, it all comes to an end.

Beginning Friday, July 29, there are 102 days until the election. We have already seen numerous twists and turns in this year’s election process. On the republican side, we saw the most unlikely candidate, a “businessman,” devour sixteen other candidates, many of whom had previously been successful and experienced politicians. On the democratic side, an “independent socialist” nearly wrested the nomination from the odds on favorite. Both the businessman and the socialist tapped into the broad unease of many voters.

But now it’s done. The businessman won the republican nomination, the socialist lost in the democratic primaries. On to the election…

On the republican side we have Donald J. Trump; leading the charge for the democrats is Hillary Clinton. With respect to Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, Trump/Clinton is the main event; Johnson/Stein are at best the under-card, the warm up as it were. So I’d like to take a minute to recap where we are.

Clinton is a flawed candidate. She is guarded and calculating in public, lest she again become a target of baseless accusations from those who hate her, or who hate her husband and take it out on Ms. Clinton. Over the years she’s been accused of everything from fraud to murder. Her opponents become increasingly and relentlessly more shrill in their hate with each passing week. But she keeps coming, no doubt in pursuit of what she sees (and rightly so) as her historic mission, and in some measure fulfill her desire to serve. She’s served most of her adult life, often in anonymity and sometimes publicly, to try to make life a little more gentle for those with the least among us.

Is Clinton calculating? Sure. Does she have an out-sized ego? Absolutely. All politicians are. Even President Obama. You have to be that way in order to even think about running for the presidency. Running for office, any office anywhere, in 2016 is tough business. It’s expensive, exhausting, and a daily struggle to fend off opponents and gain supporters. It is the ultimate personal exposure – all a candidate’s warts and flaws exposed for all to see and jeer. Because in modern America, we love to jeer.

So here’s my message to those who sit back in the cheap seats and jeer and ridicule those in the arena – put your names on a ballot; hold yourselves open to the often brutal inspection of your personal, family, and business histories; formulate and communicate coherent positions on often complicated and nuanced public issues; and be prepared for the election to become your life at your families’ expense.

And be negatively portrayed as a person unrecognizable to family and friends. Be prepared to be the target of the scurrilous lies about your character. I don’t care how thick your skin is, these things hurt, as too often the cut runs deep.

As the saying goes, it’s easier to destroy than it is to build. This is as true in politics, both the electoral and governing politics, as it is in anything else. Those who stand in the arena pay to cost for that destruction. So give these folks a little credit – it takes guts to open yourself up for brutal personal inspection by the public.  My hat is off to three out of the four candidates with any shot at making the presidential debate stage. I’ll deal with the fourth guy another time.

First, a message to the Bernie or Bust brigade, and to all the other Sanders’ supporters. Congratulations – you won. You pulled your candidate, a virtually unknown senator, and almost knocked off a colossus of the Democratic party. You got  most of your policy proposals incorporated into the party’s platform. Due to your efforts, the character and culture of the party will change going forward, unless….

… you sit on your hands and pout until November 9, the day after the election. As Sarah Silverman  said at the convention, “you’re being ridiculous.”  I say this as a friend but let me give you some of my bona fides:

In 1964, I participated in a debate with my best high school friend about who would make the better president, Lyndon Johnson or Barry Goldwater. I took Johnson’s side. In 1968, I worked on Bobby’s campaign and after the events in Los Angeles, McCarthy’s campaign. Over the years I worked on campaigns and supported McGovern, Pell, Udall, Mondale, just to name a few, along with several candidates on the state and local levels.

In 1980 I ran for the democratic nomination for Congress from my congressional district. Central to my “platform” was public financing of campaigns, for it was evident then that increasing amounts of large sums of money, cleverly targeted, could irreversibly damage policy outcomes and as a result, the country. I also advocated for the expansion of Medicare benefits to include prescription medicines because it was evident in 1980 how difficult paying for life sustaining medicines was to those on modest fixed incomes.

In 2006, I ran for the state senate in large measure because of the tax structure implemented that year favoring high income earners at the expense of middle and low-income Rhode Islanders.

In 2008 I formed a legal services organization dedicated to serving poor and near poor Rhode Island individuals, families and seniors. In 2016 we had to shut down for lack of funding.

I go through this brief resume merely to point out that I’m well aware of losing, or coming short of your goal. Losing is painful, it sucks, and it stays with you for a long time. And there are some other things I’ve learned over the years, chief among them is that change is hard, if not impossible.

At its essence, change is really about a power shift from those who have it to those who don’t. As Saul Alinsky once said in an interview, “power is never given, it must be taken.” Those with the power will never relinquish their power – you must be willing to change the power paradigm in order to effect the change you advocate.

That struggle in a democracy is a daily struggle. You can anticipate, if not expect, major push back from those who seek to defend the status quo. At this juncture you have several choices: one is to continue to adopt an “all or nothing” strategy, which almost ensures that you will lose; you can go home and sulk; or, you can strategize by building support and finding common ground with others in order to move your agenda forward.

This last choice is the one that works. It’s tough, largely unsatisfying to those who seek the all or nothing outcome. Even when you come away with something, anything, there will be those who will second guess the outcome and argue that you should have gotten more. You may even be accused of “selling out” and get booed like Warren and Sanders were by their own supporters and friends.

Welcome to the arena where the first truths are that while your goals may and should be comprehensive, implementation of those goals is always incremental; and where in a democracy the struggle always continues, no matter the outcome of the previous struggle. Change is hard – you really gotta want it. For 240 years, the story of America is a story of progress. I’m not going to sugar coat our history and tell you that the virtual genocide of native Americans was progress, or that the internment of American citizens solely based on their heritage and ethnicity was noble. They were neither progressive nor noble and remain a stain on our history.

But we cannot ignore that due to the ceaseless efforts of reformers along with the expense of blood and treasure, millions of people were freed from bondage; one-half of our population were finally permitted to vote; and recently the law recognized that we are free to marry whomever we love, irrespective of gender or orientation. Until recently we had the most vibrant middle-class, which was the envy of the world. And throughout our history, America has been the beacon of hope and the melting pot for millions who come from elsewhere to make this country, our imperfect country, their homes.

Yes, America is a flawed country. We have many things to do and much to accomplish. Individually and collectively, we are all flawed and can all do better. That’s why Hillary Clinton is the perfect candidate for these times. Like us, she is flawed. And like us, she seeks to do better, and seeks to make this country a better place to live for all of us. If elected, she won’t get to where she and all of us might want to get to, but she’ll move us forward, closer to our goal. I do not base this conclusion on her past public record, but rather on her prior history before the bright lights of scrutiny and fame were directed toward her.

So the question to the Bernie of Bust brigade is simple: what do you do? Do you continue to engage in the fight, not only up to November 8 but thereafter? Or do you continue on well after election day? Do you take the easy way and jeer at those in the arena or do you climb in and engage in the struggle?

Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote has been bandied about several times over the week and is worth repeating here:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So it comes down to this, are we to be the critic, the cold and timid soul who points out failings of others, who “neither know[s] victory nor defeat”? Or are you, we, to be the strong man, the doer of deeds, who while daring greatly sometimes falls short of the goal? For as true as it was in 1910 when Roosevelt in delivered his speech “Citizenship in a Republic,” participation in this election season is a worthy cause. 

For all of her faults, Hillary Clinton at least gets that there are millions of people ignored, marginalized and forgotten. She has at least acknowledged that income inequality not only exists but is a social evil. And she has more than an appreciation for the complexities and nuances of the world and is unlikely to recklessly engage in armed conflicts. The reality of her career is more important than the comic caricature that becomes the object of her opponents.

And what’s at stake here? Who is her chief opponent? I’ll have more to say in a future post, but at this point suffice it to say that he is the embodiment of existential evil. I promise all of you who will either sit out this election or participate in campaigns of fringe candidates that you will not want to live in a country with Donald J. Trump as your President, along with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell leading the legislative branch.

This isn’t a partisan piece. This is a simple explanation of our civic duty to preserve at minimum a semblance of the societal and cultural values that have moved many of us to engage in the work of improving our communities. This is a close race, with the outcome in doubt. So the final question is, do you want to sit on the sidelines, or do you want to get in the game? I hope you join all of us who care about the outcome in this election and get in the game.

Corporate Barbarians and the erosion of community threads

Some of you may know that for nearly six years I was a bi-weekly columnist for a local weekly newspaper. Although I was too much of a hack to pretend to good journalistic standards, I did my homework, tried to make my opinions relevant to my audience, and frankly I enjoyed to hell out that gig.  I gave it up, voluntarily (a decision that I sometimes regret) due to work pressures and time commitments.

I walked away from that column on my terms and with head held high.  Maybe someday I’ll go back to it, but not yet.

On Tuesday, a guy I literally had just met, who had put in 43 years at the only state-wide newspaper was, in a ten minute meeting, summarily sacked.  You can read the report posted by NPR here: http://ripr.org/post/twenty-two-guild-layoffs-providence-journal-include-bob-kerr.

I was Mr. Kerr’s last interview – literally his last at The Providence Journal. We met on Tuesday morning at 10:00 at a coffee shop and talked for a little over an hour.  As we parted, he said he was returning to the office where, unbeknownst to him, his fate awaited.

When I found out about the layoffs, a part of me felt that I had given him the proverbial kiss of death in the morning.

Lest anyone think I bemoan the layoff because my interview won’t get published, think again. Of course I always welcome the chance to publicize the great work of RICLAPP and its people, but I’m certain that there will be other opportunities. There’s an old baseball saying, “You  win some, you lose some, and the rest get rained out.” We got rained out on Wednesday.

I’ve known Bob Kerr for decades; I only first met him for one hour last Wednesday. I know him through his columns. He wrote for all of us, highlighting everyday Rhode Islanders who struggled to overcome their own personal adversities, or those engaged quietly and without fanfare to make Rhode Island a better place and life a little more gentle for those who have the least among us. And, yes, he created the “Clemency Coach” where he poked a stick in the deserving eyes of its passengers.

In short, I learned more about the community that I’ve lived in for sixty-six years than I ever learned from the stark and sterile sterile stories on the front pages above the fold. People, everyday people, people who work in anonymity, are what make a community. They are the strength of a community and highlighting their lives and their efforts made me feel more connected to my community and I am better for it.

For that alone I say, “thank you Bob.”

But equally unsettling was how the layoffs were conducted. Forty-three years reduced to ten minutes; the delivery of a severance package with the admonition that if you complain you don’t get the money. If you exercise any legal right that you might have, you lose the money. Here’s your hat and coat; don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I was speaking with someone with vast corporate experience and I was told that this is the way it is today. The “suits” either come in or send a minion to deliver the fatal blow to a lifetime of work. It matters not whether you’re famous or anonymous, the end is visited in a bloodless cold manner. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

Except it is personal. People are self-defined by the work they do. It becomes who they are, a part of their history and future. This sense of self, fortified with the dignity that work provides, gives you the ability to take your place equal with others in the community.

There’s a lyric in Bruce Springsteen’s song Youngstown  that I think is apropos: Once I made you rich enough; rich enough to forget my name. 

So to the Corporate Barbarians I just say this: your actions are personal, not just to the people directly affected but to the community as a whole. Institutions built from the ground up and sustained by people who give their lives to them are essential to the fabric that binds our communities. They help give life and vibrancy to us individually and collectively. The opportunity to work at what we do with pride and purpose, secure that there is a contract – unspoken but very real – between employer and employed, is vital to stitching together the rich tapestry of our community.

When the Barbarians come in and deep dive to the bottom line, unconcerned with the damage in their wake, they tear at the fabric of that delicate tapestry. And as we have seen over the past decades, communities have been destroyed by this perverse and predatory zero sum game played with the real lives of real people. George Packer in his book The Unwinding details this much better than I can here, but suffice it to say that what we saw last Wednesday is another in a long string of examples of predatory purchases that chip away and eventually destroy the soul of a community.

In a couple of weeks my subscription to The Providence Journal is due to renew or expire. Here’s my notice: when that renewal notice comes, don’t expect a response. I’m done. I will not contribute one more penny to a corporation that has so little regard for me and my community. This has been coming to a head for years, now it’s time to do something. I know that my little subscription in the cosmic scheme is meaningless, but if others combine….

See, I just gave you more than ten minutes in severing our forty-two year subscription relationship. That’s how it’s done fellas.