Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Federal Real ID Act's Affect on the Homeless

The Real ID Act which was passed by Congress in 2005 has reared its ugly head as deadlines for states to comply are fast approaching. While many are concerned that adjoining the databases of all 50 states in a system that is administered by the feds will subject the information of all American adults to the same internet security failures that have plagued the Office of Personnel Management and other federal agencies, states are concerned with the price tag. Since some states are using their right to refuse to comply with the feds, this forces residents of those states out of compliance. This could eventually lead to trouble when attempting to board an airplane. However, citizens whose ID or driver's license is not in compliance with federal standards will likely have the option of presenting a passport.

I fly once or twice a year from DC to Florida to visit my aging mother and other family members. Having never left the country, I've never applied for a passport or visa. No problem; because, DC is in compliance with the Real ID Act. This presents yet another set of problems for me – not the least of which is that I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID. (yes, you read that correctly. It's not a typo either.) I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID.

Before I describe at least two major problems with Washington, DC's Real ID Act compliance, I must say that, on January 17th, 2015 I came extremely close to missing my flight to Florida. It was due to my ID from 2008 having expired in the summer of 2013 – a year and a half earlier. By the time that I finished going through the scanner and put my shoes back on (to the relief of other passengers), it was about a minute before my plane was to leave. The TSA agent noticed that my ID was expired and didn't want to grant me passage. I had the then-girlfriend with me and I was frantic about missing my flight. A TSA supervisor walked over. He asked if everything else matched – my name, my flight, the time etc. The agent said, “Yes”. The supervisor commanded him to let me through. My plane arrived at the terminal 20 minutes after it was supposed t have departed. I boarded and made it to the Sunshine State.

Backtrack to June 2014. DC Government's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) had its then bi-monthly meeting during which dozens of people come together to discuss ending homelessness. (They've been meeting since June 2006. There are even more homeless people than lived in DC 10 years ago. However, meetings are now quarterly. Go figure.) Each ICH meeting is preceded by a pre-meeting during which homeless people and the general public discuss a pre-determined topic that is related to homelessness. (There has been talk of eliminating the pre-meetings. That would be pretty top-down, with the homeless and public only hearing what government officials and ICH appointees like yours truly have to say.) In June 2014 the pre-meeting was about DC's implementation of the Real ID Act as it pertains to the homeless. I arrived about 10 minutes before the pre-meeting concluded and, there, missed a presentation by DALLAS WILLIAMS of DC Government's Dept. of Human Services (DHS). People were in Q&A mode when I arrived. Little did I realize then how this information would affect me in 2015, though my issue at the airport was more of an expiration issue than it was a Real ID issue.

I said that I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID. Here's what I mean. I'm homeless. Though Congress passed the Mckinney-Vento Homeless Services Act in 1987 and Obama signed its reauthorization on May 20th, 2009 (with it now being called the HEARTH Act), the feds were remiss in how they approached the matter of homeless identification. To prove residency, a person can present two bills that they received through snail mail – if they actually use that anymore. Technological advances aside, a homeless person probably doesn't receive the permitted bills by snail/e-mail – like a light bill or phone bill. A homeless person can use certain service providers – soup kitchens and shelters – as their address. However, these service providers must go through a certification process in order to qualify as an address that is recognized by their local DMV. The CCNV Shelter where I currently stay is not certified as a recognized address. Its 750 year-round residents, as their ID's expire, will not be allowed to use 425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC as their address on the new ID.

In August 2015, as I sought to renew my ID before a planned flight (which got postponed by three months due to a hurricane), I went to an office of the Downtown BID to inquire as to whether or not they still offer ID assistance. They referred me to a non-profit here in DC called Pathways to Housing. Their main address is 101 Q Street in NE DC. Pathways primarily serves mentally-ill homeless people. However, they also have an outreach office near the MLK Library which serves those who are not determined to be mentally ill. (I suppose it's a not-so-secret way of gauging those who haven't been certified so as to bring them into mental health services in a city where social services are designed to encourage people to present as mentally or physically disabled in order to receive them. I prefer to avoid being stigmatized by those who mistake me as a regular client, when in fact I've only used them to get ID – which is why I was reluctant to accept this service from them.)

I received a voucher for a free ID from Pathways. I obtained proof of residency from the CCNV Shelter. I made sure I had my social security card, birth certificate and old ID. I went to DMV. I was told that they would not honor my proof-of-residency paperwork from CCNV and that I had to use the address of the organization that gave me the voucher (which Pathways had not told me). I asked if that would change if I were to pay out of pocket. I was told I'd need two bills. I was S.O.L. (I'd not yet postponed my flight due to the hurricane and thought I'd end up missing it – though by myself this time.) I ended up having an ID made that had 101 Q St NE DC as my address, though I stay at 425 2nd St NW DC. I then received yet another surprise. DMV no longer gives you the ID right then and there (which Pathways had not told me). They give you a paper copy which is good for 45 days and they mail the ID card to you. (This may soon be the only thing USPS delivers.)

Several weeks later I went to 101 Q St NE to pick up the ID. It had been hand-delivered by a staff member from there to their location near the library. I went to the outreach location the following day. I was handed two pieces of mail. One had the card. The other was an adjusted voter's registration – the other problem. Here in DC we have eight wards which subdivide into ANC's (not African National Congresses, but Advisory Neighborhood Commissions). The wrong address puts me in the wrong voting district for elected positions that are not citywide. I'll need to fix it before April 2016 – DC's new primary month, since 2014.

I guess the only bright spot in all of this is that the homeless who often feel invisible and get ignored by many are now being paid attention to – even if it IS by the feds. (Truth be told, I sometimes wonder if a foreigner with a thick accent might one day say of a homeless person, “Hey look, a bum!” only to have law enforcement misunderstand and call out the bomb squad – the fact that homeless people storing their belongs publicly has already led to bomb scares notwithstanding.)

Over the past three months I've explained this ID matter to several people in DC Government as well as the director of Pathways to Housing. On October 4th, as I told Pathways Director Christy Respress, she listened politely and directed me to walk a few yards across this room in City Hall and speak to ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt whose agency is working on fixing Real ID system flaws that affect the homeless. (I was being sent from pillar to post – or shall I say “from Christy to Kristy”. As I explained it to Kristy, several non-profit and government personnel were sitting nearby. All other conversation ceased as all homed in on my articulation of a problem that is beginning to affect many and which is already on people's radar. I sensed respect for me and concern for the issue I was raising – more than usual.

How quickly things can change!!! Two days later I attended a meeting of homeless advocates and DHS personnel at the MLK Library. DHS Director Laura Zeilinger as well as DALLAS WILLIAMS and another man I don't know were there. Among other things, I described the aforementioned ID fiasco which, as you can see, doesn't implicate DHS at all. Laura had to leave in a rush before the meeting ended. I spoke to DALLAS WILLIAMS 1-on-1 after the meeting. There were at least a couple of other people nearby waiting their turns. However there weren't many witnesses within earshot of DALLAS WILLIAMS and myself.

DALLAS WILLIAMS became very defensive as he spoke sternly and said, “Sheptock, say that's YOUR experience!!! DHS doesn't do that. We help people with ID all the time; but, we don't let them use 64 NY Ave NE DC as their address. Say that's YOUR experience!!!” It was hard to get a word in edgewise or to tell him that, with Pathways being in contract with DHS, it is the job of DHS to know what Pathways to Housing is up to – the very reason I was telling DHS what they should have already known. Following DALLAS WILLIAMS' overly-emotional display, the conversation remained dysfunctional from there on out. Taken together with DALLAS WILLIAMS having shut down a process whereby a DHS employee was assisting an 80-year old homeless woman who'd been sleeping outdoors in the winter and was in dire need of accommodations, he's proven himself to lack genuine concern for the needy.

Additionally, he and I attended a May 27th, 2015 meeting at the DHS office in which he mentioned the planned relocation of two women's shelters from 425 2nd Street (where the building has six separate entities) to DC's Chinatown – a move that was planned to occur before November 1st, 2015 but will occur in the spring of 2016. DALLAS WILLIAMS went to the women's shelters later that same day but never mentioned the move. I would eventually find out the the director who runs both shelters hadn't yet been told about the move. In the meantime, I told the female residents who accused the shelter director of withholding info from them. The director thought the accusation originated with me. I explained that I accused DALLAS WILLIAMS, not her, of withholding info. I told her about the planned move. She contacted DHS. DALLAS WILLIAMS was sent out to the shelters again and talked about the move. However, by this time, it was clear that renovations at the new location were not going to be completed in time. The 200 women total in these shelters were given a January move date and not told by DALLAS WILLIAMS (who should have known) that a winter move is not likely and that, when the pre-November move didn't happen, late-March or early-April 2016 became the new date by default. I've since told them. I could also go into multiple stories of how advocates feel stonewalled by him and sense that he has a general disregard for homeless advocates. Long story short, DALLAS WILLIAMS is on my sh*t list.

I'll visit him soon in order to fix my ID problem.....
..and to ensure that DALLAS WILLIAMS knows who I am.


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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Revolutionaries, Let's Pit Landlords Against Employers

As recently as 2005 there were many American activists calling for class war. That obviously didn't go anywhere. Many people, like the homeless and the child laborers of the world, are too busy fighting for their daily sustenance to involve themselves in a class war where they'd fight for full systemic change. Therefore, homelessness and extreme poverty persist.

Add to that the fact that the non-profit/industrial complex has evolved to a point where many of the non-profits that ostensibly are pushing for solutions to homelessness and/or extreme poverty are now receiving government funding from a capitalist system. With capitalism being a system that permeates the world, none of the people who benefit from this exploitative system are incentivized to accommodate the less fortunate – unless and until the poor arise. These beneficiaries include obvious entities such as government and the business community as well as the not-so-obvious entities like non-profits that serve the poor.

Fact of the matter is that such non-profits help to keep the lid on the pressure cooker. They help to ensure that the poor will receive daily sustenance – food, shelter, clean clothes etc. They manage housing programs for the mentally and physically disabled. Some of these non-profits get paid to end homelessness, fail and continue to get paid. Then there is the fact that, when government officials who work on “ending” homelessness are formulating their annual plans, they call meetings with these non-profits. With the majority of attendees making money while managing a problem that they claim to want to solve, a vote is taken on what the attendees think is the most pressing issue within the homeless continuum. Not surprisingly, the vote always indicates that a room full of people who make most of their money managing the disabled who have been housed in programs like Permanent Supportive Housing think that the needs of the “most vulnerable homeless” are the most pressing.

I would never argue that we should decrease services for the most vulnerable among us – unless that group were to irreversibly decrease in size. However, there is no point in repeatedly voting on a matter wherein the outcome of the vote is likely to remain the same. Furthermore, DC Government initially said that they would start with the most vulnerable homeless and eventually assist the least vulnerable too. That was in mid-2008. The latter part of the plan hasn't materialized yet.

The “least vulnerable homeless” who are able to work if they were to receive assistance in finding and/or being trained for living-wage jobs are relegated to spending yet another year in shelter. The only silver lining in this dark cloud is the fact that, when they grow old and turn silver, they'll likely – but not certainly – be housed. That said, we need to blow the lid off of the pressure cooker.

We need to pressure government into connecting “homeless A-bods” to living-wage employment. But we must first realize where politicians are coming from if we re going to drag them to the place where they should be in their thinking. As elements of a worldwide capitalist system, homeless service providers – especially government – are not incentivized to do anything that would cut into the profits of businesses. They don't want to force employers to pay a true living wage or force landlords to keep rents down to a level that is affordable for the lowest-paid workers in their respective locales. If government were to make a robust effort to connect able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs and affordable housing, it stands to reason that other constituents who are teetering on the edge and about to fall into homelessness would clamor for these targeted programs to be expanded into citywide programs or for the underlying admissions (the need for living wages and affordable housing) to be codified into law. This would cause employers and landlords to cry foul and to come out against city governments. Municipal governments fear this phenomenon – and with good reason.

In Washington, DC rents average $1,500 per month. A full-time worker must make about $30 per hour to pay that much in rent. The minimum wage in DC will rise from $10.50 to $11.50 on July 1st, 2016. In just over six months a full-time worker in DC will make $1,840 per month – a whopping $340 more than the average rent. (you can't rent a hole in the wall for $600 – the amount such a worker could afford to pay.) This brings me to the reason for my proposal that we pit landlords against employers.

Until now, landlords have lobbied for the right to raise the rent any time that the DC Council considers any type of rent control. In similar fashion, employers like Wal-mart have lobbied for the right to pay low wages any time that the DC Council has considered creating any living-wage legislation. Both groups approach government with their respective concerns – though not simultaneously. As it turns out, someone who makes $1,840 per month before taxes can't afford to pay $1,500 or even $900 per month in rent. We should therefore create an initiative that brings these two groups together. We could tell the landlords that the employers don't pay their employees enough for these employees to pay local rents. We could tell the employers that the landlords are raising the rents which are already far beyond what their employees can afford to even higher levels. We could then tell these two groups to decide whether the pay goes up or the rent comes down.

This idea, of course, is lost on the argument that low-wage workers can live outside of DC and pay more for transit to come into the city. After all, they can take two or three buses over the course of two hours in order to get to work each day. It would only cost $1.75 each way, as opposed to a per-station charge on the subway. Who cares if they spend four hours in transit each day??? That's the price of poverty.

Being as a movement should be based on a widely-understood principle that the masses are willing to get behind and fight for, I've often argued that a person should be able to afford housing in the city where they work. Let's face it: your work (or willingness to work) is your primary bargaining chip – even in a society where labor is becoming obsolete and people are being replaced with more productive machines that don't demand benefits. (It's worth noting that, in many cases, laid-off people were also customers of the companies that let them go.)

All things considered, it behooves those of us who fight for the needs of the working class to demand that municipal governments create legislation that requires that anyone who works 40 hours per week in a certain city be able to afford housing there (without paying more than one-third of their income after taxes and without government assistance). We could call it “The Right to Live in the City Where you Work” Law.

Such a law could place demands on landlords to ensure that the percentage of their units that rent for one-third of a minimum-wage workers monthly pay is directly proportionate to the percentage of employees in that city who make a minimum wage. It could require that employers double as landlords by renting large numbers of units which they then sublet to their employees for no more than a third of an employee's wages. The possibilities are endless.

A former director of DC Government's Dept. of Human Services, David Berns, had a mantra – the one good thing he left us with. It was: “Get a job. Get a better job. Get a career.”. Current director of DC Government's Dept. of Employment Services (DOES) has made that her mantra as well. Great. Now to actualize it.

Oddly enough, it is a group of 50 local religious entities who do grassroots advocacy and which call themselves the “Washington Inter-faith Network” or “WIN” which has taken the lead on this matter. They've begun talks with the local water and sewage administration (WASA) around employing homeless parents for green jobs in the soon-to-be-developed sewage overflow gardens that will catch the raw sewage that is currently overflowing into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers every time there is a substantial rain. (This problem must be fixed per orders of the EPA.) Of course, no one aspires to become a “sh*t shovel-er”. Nonetheless, it's a dirty job that someone has to do. It affords homeless parents with opportunities to build their resumes. A good reference from WASA could lead to “a better job” which could lead to a career. The trick after getting homeless parents employed at WASA is to then ensure that they are kept on the roles at DOES and trained up to 20 hours per week for better employment. The responsibility of DOES shouldn't end until the homeless parent is connected to a job that pays at least three times the amount of the parents' rent. All of this same thinking should also be applied to homeless singles.

As stated earlier, the possibilities are endless. However, the conversation has to start somewhere. As Frederick Duglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has. And it never will”. In lieu of these wise words, we should start the conversation by pitting rent-raising landlords against low-paying employers – by adjoining the concerns that hereto now have caused these groups to lobby separately and thereby forcing them into direct confrontation with each and AND with the third part of a “power triangle”: local government. Let's get the pillars of capitalism fighting each other at the local level. This should be fun.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

The Enemy We Need: Donald Trump (Or A Different Dictator)

Let's be clear: I don't like Donald Trump. Truth be told, it's not because he is an aspiring dictator. After all, I liked Hugo Chavez BECAUSE he tried to become a benevolent dictator who operated above the fray of congressional bickering and BECAUSE he succeeded and sending the message to greedy capitalists that, if they harvested oil or other resources from Venezuela, they would have to put money into his country's economy and thereby help the poor. Dictators tend to be very organized thinkers who are good at uniting their administrations under consistent themes that run across all departments of their respective governments. A certain friend who is retired from USAID has told me that he felt safe while walking the streets of Moscow at 2 AM when Russia had a dictator; but, he wouldn't dare do that now. He emphasized that dictators don't tolerate street crime. That said, a dictator is as good as his theme/agenda. In a free country like the “Untied States” people tend to use “freedom to be dumb”. We need someone to dictate sensibility and to thereby reverse the dumbing down of America as well as the assertive stupidity that causes people to freely spew their anti-intellectual feelings. Let's stop throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

That brings me back to the issue of Donald Trump. On Christmas 2015 I walked into the TV room and saw a show called “AKA” for the first time. I watched about 10 minutes of it. The two female commentators and a lone male discussed the fact that Donald Trump caused the ratings of Saturday Night Live to skyrocket. One of them made the point that it is because Trump, with his outrageousness, makes people think. He raises the issues that common people are concerned with, even if his proposed solutions are totally off the wall. He gets people talking about various political issues. Coincidentally, that's what I've been saying since a month or two after he began his presidential bid. However, I always add that the conversation can BEGIN with what he says; but, it damn sure shouldn't end there. I love the fact that Trump can make mentally lazy people in numerous countries think, but only as long as they don't think too much like him.

To be sure, some of the readers of this blog post have mixed feelings about me at this point. These readers, on the one hand, are probably opposed to dictatorship irrespective of its proven benefits and would rather deal with the problems associated with “dumb-ocracy”. On the other hand, they too dislike Donald Trump. These readers might even claim to be Christians while, at the same time, failing to realize that the Bible gives both direct and indirect support for dictatorship. They're probably the same lot of people who fail to realize that John 3:18 (just two verses after the most-quoted Bible scripture) can very easily be used by Muslims to make the case that the Bible supports the killing of infidels. (It's such a short jump that they wouldn't need to do as much “interpreting” as Christians do when trying to make the case that God is loving.) This speaks volumes to the fact that people don't think enough. The Jihadists don't just have the U.S. Government outsmarted. They are more in touch with the tenets of their professed faith than Christians are with THEIRS. (After all, Christian theologians are STILL debating whether God and Jesus are one being or two.)

Donald Trump has exhibited “ethnic cleansing tendencies” with his statements about banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. and his stereotypical statements about all Mexicans being rapists and killers. (I guess he'd rather have Americans perpetrate those crimes against other Americans. It's just so much worse when a foreigner/alien does it. Huh???) He's been labeled a misogynist – an accusation I'm not fully convinced is true. (Let's be accurate and hate him for who he really is, not for who he isn't.) I actually like what he said about how he hires women in high-ranking positions and expects as much from them as he expects from men who hold similar positions. This falls right in line with what the military recently said about allowing any woman who passes the same grueling test as a man to hold positions that have only been held by men hereto now. Women have commended me for speaking to them like they have sense – for not being condescending, patronizing or over-nurturing. After all, equality is neither granted nor earned. It's “EXHIBITED” when a person demonstrates that they can and will think and act on the same level as those to whom they choose to be equal. While I am opposed to Trump's ethnic cleansing tendencies, I am all for treating women as equals to men. (That's why I talk reason – not emotion – to women.)

Though the Donald has stolen the spotlight, he is not the sole reason as to why the Democratic Party's concern with wealth inequality has taken a back seat to the concerns around terrorism. Simply put, wealth inequality is a QUALITY-of-life issue; but, terrorism is a PRESERVATION-of-life issue. The latter “trumps” the former on the world's list of priorities. That's a given. The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernadino forced us to focus our attention on terrorism once again. Unfortunately, our government would rather fight for Americans' right to practice the religion of their choosing than to call an international religious summit where we can figure out which religion is correct or most accurate. Maybe they're afraid that many people will come to realize that it was God who empowered Samson to become the most “explosive” suicide bomber in the temple of Dagon where Samson killed 10,000 people as he himself died. Maybe it's the other grim realities which we'd be forced to realize which they're avoiding teasing out – satisfying emotions by not bringing these ugly truths to the surface. We'll continue to be victimized by terrorism unless and until we gain an accurate understanding of what God demands of us and we rout all false religion from the world. The process involves wrapping our heads around some ugly truths. I believe this quite firmly and irreversibly.

Not only does the Bible tell us that God is a dictator. It also says that Christ the son will “rule with a rod of iron” and eliminate his opposition (or have them eliminated FOR him). It is for these and other reasons that I tell attendees at my church's Bible study that Americans are inconsistent when they speak against dictatorship while worshiping a dictatorial God and His son (who is a separate being, by the way). Revelation tells us that Jesus, like many earthly dictators, will not tolerate crime. As a matter of fact, people will die for a lot more than murder one – as was the case in the Old Testament too. Nonetheless, Christians see Jesus as “the savior”. Jesus said his burden is light – when compared to God's I suppose. Christ may very well seem like a savior to those who are bothered by the activities listed in Revelation as being unpermitted on the New Earth. These activities include murder. Since Jesus will have proven himself to have been the son of God, there will be no more need for Jihad. Therefore, those who kill infidels without having received direct orders from Christ to do so will qualify as murderers and will themselves be eliminated.

To be fair, I should point out that Jesus was a Communist who cared for the poor, spoke out against the hording of wealth and even killed a couple for failing to comply with the first-century church's agenda for income equality. In spite of his apparent fierceness, he DOES have a heart for the poor in spirit. Earthly dictators should follow his example and be found faithful when he comes back.

It stands to reason that Donald Trump wouldn't be a very Christ-like dictator. Like Mitt Romney, he is more likely to eliminate social programs without ensuring that all able-bodied people have direct paths to living-wage employment, affordable housing and the various necessities of life – to just pull the rug out from under poor people as a way of making them “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” (as if that EVER works). His domestic policies would drive us into a revolution; even as his foreign policies would drive us into World War III. If he becomes the Republican nominee, I hope that people will come out against him even more fiercely than they came out against Romney in 2012. (Yes, there were groups which, in addition to campaigning FOR Barack Obama were actively campaigning AGAINST Mitt Romney – expressing concern with his desire to eliminate social programs.) We'll see what happens come June 2016. I'm sure some people are planning for the worst even now.

This much is certain: we need a dictator. America's “freedom to be dumb” isn't working well for anyone. Such a dictator would either need to move us toward understanding the truth about God (through a religious summit) or be willing to fight Jihadists indefinitely. Such a dictator would need to overpower congressional bickering by being decisive. Such a dictator would need to adjoin related policies that should be considered conjuctively such as minimum wage and price controls or decreasing social services and creating a sure path to living-wage employment. Such a dictator would need to work hard at making government more functional. Such a dictator would need to be mean. Such a dictator would need to be a deep thinker. Such a dictator would need to force a sensible set of principles upon people.

Ben Carson is way too soft and sweet to even rule the island of Lesbos (the fictional home of Wonder Woman???). Donald Trump doesn't think deeply enough. Other candidates from either party, though they don't make the mark, are closer than either of these two (which isn't saying much).....

.....But, if we can't get an effective leader in the White House, we might need to settle for Donald Trump so that he can teach the country and the world the hard lessons they need to learn. You can learn a lot from a dummy. Trump (or another dictator) may be the enemy we need.

Though you might disagree with my conclusions concerning God, politics and their inextricability, you MUST agree that those who obey the violent tenets of their respective faiths have forced the world to realize that there is a strong and logical connection between religion and violence. A true zeal for God has caused many to kill, with some being rewarded or complimented by God after doing so. Religion, by its very nature, is the central element in the minds of those who practice it. When a person is fully devoted to God, they do their best to ensure that this devotion is reflected in all aspects of their lives (and possibly their deaths). Religion is a powerful force. Bush 43 realized that following the attacks of 9/11. He floated the idea of censoring religions so as to control those “who preach hatred”. (What about those who read scripture for themselves and draw the same conclusions as those who have been “radicalized” by Al-Qaida or ISIS???) In any instance, Donald Trump has begun the conversation in earnest. Let's put on our rational thinking caps and continue that conversation. Don't let Trump have the last word. If he makes us think, he may very well be the dictator we need. That said, I still prefer Hillary Clinton.

Think, people. Think.
No matter how much it hurts your head or your feelings.....
Think.
Period.


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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chasing the Gingerbread Man: The GOP, ISIS and National (In)security

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I come to the discussion about terrorism as one who realizes that the world society is a sinking ship that has hit the icebergs of capitalism and political ignorance with all of its occupants now fighting their way to the uppermost deck and many getting thrown overboard into the freezing waters below. My homeless advocacy is more about teaching people what led to this titanic catastrophe than it is about averting disaster at this point.

It was a warm June day in Washington, DC as I stood in the hospital room of homeless advocate Michael Stoops and watched the news about Donald Trump's 2016 presidential bid. Though he wields much influence in my birthplace of Atlantic City (another sinking ship), I've never cared for his show “The Apprentice”. However, when I knew he was running for the highest office in the world, I began paying attention to him and jeering at his outlandish statements; thereby bringing to bear the first two parts of a Gandhi quote: “First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win”. (Let's hope Trump doesn't win.)

That same month the Democrats were able to make extreme poverty and income inequality into platform issues and bring them to the forefront. I was elated. With me still believing that Bill Clinton encouraged Trump to run as a way of ensuring that Hillary would win in November 2016 (as I too hope she does), I've watched Donald Trump steer the political discourse whither soever he chooseth and told my associates that the one good thing about him is that he forces the hard conversations to happen – that being true as long as his assertions only jump start the conversation and the more intelligent masses engage and take it to a better end point. Then the Donald will have done a great service. All to whom I've said that thus far have disagreed with me.

Fast forward to the December 15th,GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas. Various candidates came out against Trump following his xenophobic anti-Muslim remarks. Trump acknowledged that his outrageous antics are driving the conversation and forming the debate's agenda. I believe he's right. Let's hope his correctness and political advance stop there.

It's worth noting that the final GOP debate of 2015 was a debate of extremes. Trump, who is doing best in the polls, is raising the least campaign funds. Bush, who is doing worst in the polls, is raising the most campaign funds. The GOP base is evidently giving Bush their money and Trump their votes. (The presidential candidates aren't the only dysfunctional people in the Republican party.) Taken together, these facts lend themselves to the conclusion that the GOP base is interested in non-establishment candidates – which, in essence, narrows their choices down to Trump, Fiorina and Carson. Then again, maybe they attribute Trump's immense wealth to his awkwardness and hope to one day be like him. Let's hope not. The world doesn't need another Donald Trump. That said, the other seven over card candidates fall somewhere between the extremes of JEB and Trump. Fortunately, most are closer to JEB. The debate was extreme in yet another way: It was about extremism, completely about extremism. So much for pulling the Repubs into a public conversation about extreme poverty and income inequality. Then again, We still have 10 and a half months before the general election and Hillary might just pull it off.

I was able to fully appreciate the hard line of questioning that was put forth in the debate. However, it left much to be said about the ability of ISIS to out-maneuver the administrations of Bush 43 and Obama and to out-think all of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates. It would seem that ISIS is pulling the world society toward an intelligent conclusion to the conversation that was begun by Trump's outrageous remarks.

The unspoken truths of the debate include the fact that Republicans (with the possible exception of Carly Fiorina) want an excuse for endless war, with the resurrection of Al-Qaida in Iraq as ISIS and the weak leadership of Obama giving them the ammo they seek. The attacks in Paris and San Bernadino shortly before the debate are as much reasons for endless GOP war as they are reasons for real concern. It's also true that Republicans would much rather talk about the next foreign war than about domestic poverty in one of the wealthiest nation's on Earth. The unspoken reasons for the topic of the debate notwithstanding, the most apparent but unspoken underpinning of the debate was the fact that ISIS is smarter than the entire U.S. Government put together. They've proven to be that gingerbread man who the U.S. government and military can't catch.

I won't revisit the missteps of theBush 43 and Obama administrations right now. However, I'm impressed by how handily ISIS outdoes the U.S. Government. Let's start with the fact that, following the Paris attacks on Friday, November 13th a phone was found near a deceased assailant and used to track his terror contacts. Nineteen days later, presumptuously after learning about this phone's role in the Paris investigation, the San Bernadino attackers smashed a phone in order to keep it from being used in the same way. (I believe the chip was still readable.) They wiped other electronic devices (possibly not knowing about deep dives that the FBI can do on computers). Nonetheless, it only took 19 days for the lesson learned by terrorists after one attack to bear itself out in another attack. This leaves us to wonder what else future terrorists will learn from the news coverage of various attacks. Terrorists with a good learning curve – a scary thought (which is further intensified in lieu of governmental stupidity).

During the debate, Carly Fiorina (my personal favorite within the GOP field) highlighted the fact that ISIS is keeping up with technology while our government is still using surveillance methods that hearken back to 2001. She pointed out that ISIS uses Facebook, Twitter and encryption to convey its message without timely FBI detection. The former tech exec gave some very good and basic low-tech solutions to problems that the average 10th grader could resolve more quickly than the other GOP candidates and she answered even the dumbest of questions with relative ease.

Wolf Blitzer asked her if tech companies should be forced to cooperate with the federal government in tracking terrorists. The fascistic leanings of the question and the ignorance of asking a woman if anyone should be “forced” to do anything notwithstanding, Ms. Fiorina pointed out that the feds and Congress have yet to do something quite basic: to simply “ask” tech companies to cooperate. (Taken together with her statements about having been told “No” throughout her life, I'm left to assume that it's not hard getting a “Yes” out of her if you just ask.) She went on to tell the story of how she cooperated with the NSA by turning one of her truck drivers around and having him escorted to a federal facility when told that his load might be compromised by terrorist activity.

Despite being 61 at the time, Ms. Fiorina exhibited her ability to pull the U.S. Government forward technologically and to make our terror surveillance techniques more viable – even if she didn't fully address the moral aspect of such ideas. It would seem that we should juxtapose the words of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was reluctant to invest in greater technology for the military and those of Carly Fiorina. Mr. Gates said, in essence, that we didn't need more F-16's and higher tech equipment to fight terrorists using sling shots and IED's. Maybe the technology that needs to be upgraded is that which prevents attacks, not that which responds to them. Then again, no technology can outdo the power of the human foot or a cigarette lighter – both of which can be used to destroy phones used by terrorists before and during attacks.

Let's face it. Terrorists have begun to buy single-use cell phones right before their attacks so as to ensure that they might only be used to track a singular operative who was called during the actual execution of the attack – but not to track other operatives who were communicated with in the weeks and months leading up to the attack. To prevent an attack by ISIS, the government must develop methods whereby to carry out effective surveillance and then they must get the legal authority to use it. To prevent the U.S. from foiling a terror plot, ISIS just needs to do like Mikhail Gorbachev and watch CNN to see how other terror plots were foiled. It's also been said that, while the government needs to get it right every time, the terrorists only need to get it right once.

That brings us to the issue which the candidates referred to as “political correctness” which, given the context in which the phrase was used, came off as a substitute for the act of obeying international laws such as the Geneva Convention. Several candidates spoke out against the “political correctness” of obeying laws that restrict surveillance and forbid the killing of innocent civilians – casting such laws as impediments to efforts to stop ISIS. Candidates suggested that we carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion and that we kill the families of terrorists – the latter of which would make the U.S. as brutal as the enemy they seek to destroy.

That shouldn't surprise anyone, given the fact that our nation has been involved in war somewhere in the world for all but 22 of its 239 years of existence thus far. It is also important to recognize that all three Abrahamic religions either have or have had their share of brutes and Christianity even goes so far as to encourage martyrdom. God, in the Old Testament, commanded the Hebrews to conquer various lands – many of whom had done nothing to the Hebrews. God, being almighty, decided He would take from the Amorites and Hittites and give to His chosen people. (Farbeit from me to oppose God.) God empowered Samson to become the first-ever suicide bomber and kill 10,000 people in the temple of Dagon. The Torah is relatively parallel to the Old Testament. Emperor Constantine brought Christianity at the edge of a sword, effectively turning the enemy's other cheek instead of his own. I don't think I need to describe the brutality of Muslim terrorists. That said:

The war encouraged by the Old Testament and the Torah plus the martyrdom encouraged by the New Testament equals ISIS.

Maybe what we need is a religious summit in which the leaders of various religions and denominations compare notes so as to find where their ethos overlap and where they differ. The objective of such a summit should be to objectively determine what religion, if any, is correct (or most accurate). All belief systems that prove to be grossly irrational should then be outlawed. Even if we stop short of outlawing religious ignorance, the results of this religious summit might give us a better way of measuring the rational abilities of our presidential candidates (from any party). In the meantime, ISIS seems to have a better idea of where it stands that the U.S. Government has of where IT stands.

The entire GOP field failed to address the gravity of the situation created by ISIS' ability to inspire attacks anywhere in the world. Candidates discussed the fact that ISIS is expanding its geographical holdings. However, the San Bernadino attack (which was being planned before ISIS' 2014 rise to dominance) was inspired by terrorists thousands of miles away. All of the surveillance in the world won't catch every lone wolf who is inspired by ISIS to carry out attacks. Maybe that's why the terror ORGANIZATION named its magazine “Inspire”. They understand that inspiration will work even more quickly than organization and a geographically contiguous caliphate to increase their power and spread their influence.

The terrorists successful propaganda campaign flies in the face of Bush 43's assertion that we must go after all who preach hatred. Even if we were to start now, it would be too little and too late. ISIS has already shown itself to be smarter than the U.S. Government (which is not a very high bar) and to have well-defined goals. The GOP candidates were more capable of describing the goals of ISIS than they were of describing their own goals and stances on the issues. That's not to speak of the fact that the terrorists are as willing to die for what they believe in as a soldier is to die for what he or she believes in. ISIS holds the belief that three Muslim armies will fight the forces of the infidels in the Middle East and that most of their Muslim fighters will die, leaving a tiny remnant to carry out the goals of Allah. After all, ISIS was formed from the remnants of Al-Qaida in Iraq – proving its ability to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes.

The objective of this post is to disparage the GOP presidential candidates, Bush 43 and Obama for their inability to adequately think through their approach to terrorism. It is not to laud ISIS or any terror ORGANIZATION. That said, I'm “afraid” that ISIS will soon develop the technology to create a two-way detonator switch with a pull string and a pulse-sensing electrode so that if the suicide bomber is shot before pulling the chord, the bomb will still explode once the electrode no longer senses a pulse. Quite honestly, given their apparent intelligence, I'm a little surprised that I haven't already heard or read such reports. How else will ISIS outsmart U.S. presidents and candidates?????

ISIS seems to be that ever-elusive gingerbread man. Maybe, before the U.S. Government chases the gingerbread man, they should sit, think and develop a better strategy that incorporates the lessons that ISIS taught them. If they ever defeat ISIS, their victory will be indicative of their increased intelligence. Don't hold your breath waiting.



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Monday, December 7, 2015

Federal Failures: Homeless Employment And Terrorism

On December 6th, 2015 I spoke at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in DC about the possible closure of the CCNV Shelter c. 2018 and the need to connect able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs. I told them about a federal effort to connect homeless people to employment in 1988. That effort ended with about half of the homeless people who took advantage of the program obtaining employment and half of THAT group remaining employed for at least 13 weeks. All in all, a quarter of the homeless people who sought employment through this program remained employed for at least a quarter of a year. 25% is a failing grade anywhere in the world (except the baseball stadium). No robust effort to get homeless people working has been made by the feds in the last 27 years – when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were in diapers and I was just months into my eventual six-year tenure as a tractor driver (similar to an airport luggage train but used to haul hospital freight) at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. After discussing this failed effort by the U.S. Department of Labor, I emphasized this principle:

If something is the right thing to do, then no matter how hard it is or how long it takes, you should stick to it until you get it done.

Some might argue that I should be telling the homeless people to apply the aforementioned principle when it comes to finding a job. I would argue that my time is better spent influencing government which has more resources than the homeless to use the force of law so as to create an environment that is conducive to all able-bodied people being able to find living-wage employment and affordable housing. I won't send those who lack resources on a wild goose chase while government employees and contractors make six figures for ostensibly trying to end homelessness – and have failed for 11 years and counting.

I told the congregants that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has begun to make efforts to connect homeless people to employment, though she is focused primarily on the heads of homeless families right now – leaving homeless people who don't have dependent children with them to linger for an unspecified amount of time (hopefully not until Doomsday).

I find it odd that, though hundreds of able-bodied and single homeless people have advocated to government about their employment and housing needs since as far back as 2006, it's been only the disabled who have gotten needed services until this year with able-bodied singles having to wait for nine years and counting.

I laud Mayor Bowser for her nascent effort, though the patience of those for whom I speak is running thin. It stands to reason that, had the feds continued the effort they began in 1988, they might have figured out by now how to overcome the employment challenges faced by homeless people. That, in turn, would have made the work of local governments around homeless employment easier. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

I'm keenly aware of yet another failure by the feds. I turned 12 just 26 days after Ronald Reagan's first inauguration in 1981 which I watched on T.V. At Bernardsville Middle School in New Jersey (Mr. Louis Ferrante's classroom). I recall my father discussing different news events with my mother and older siblings at the dinner table – those events including terrorist hijackings of airplanes. By the time Bush 41 took office, I'd come of age and was living in Gainesville, FL. Others may recall him saying that he “doesn't bend to empty threats or negotiate with terrorists”. He oversaw a 28-day war in Iraq in which 130 Americans died (two-thirds from “friendly” fire) and he had all the public support he needed – yet he refused to depose Saddam Hussein (possibly due to having foreseen the quagmire we are now caught in).

Fast forward to September 2001 and we have Bush 43 beginning the “War on Terror” – albeit in Afghanistan. He would prove not to be even half the man his father was. He was worse at ending terrorism than DOL was at connecting homeless people to employment. To his credit, unlike DOL, he didn't give up. He threw good money after bad and oversaw an astronomical loss of life, leaving a colossal mess for his successor. Job security, by all means.

The failures of Bush 43 have caused the U.S. Government to lose whatever moral and intellectual standing it had in the world when he took office. They are seemingly innumerable, though I'll list a few here:

1 – The first invasion of the War on Terror was in Afghanistan. Obama found Osama in Pakistan 10 years later. We've yet to get out of Afghanistan – like a husband who grabbed the super glue by accident instead of the Vaseline.

2 – Then it was onto Iraq in March 2003 where the U.S. military failed to pay Saddam Hussein's border patrol. Border patrol officers left their posts for paying jobs so they could feed themselves and their families. The borders were left open for potential terrorists to enter Iraq.

3 – Our military caught Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in 2004, determined he was just a small-time street thug – not military business – and let him go. He now leads ISIS.

4 – We killed Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, in June 2006. We allowed a remnant of Al-Qaida in Iraq to remain. That remnant was gathered by Al-Baghdadi and reformed into ISIS.

5 – We killed Saddam Hussein in December 2006. This caused Sunnis who didn't want to seem like they were fighting for Hussein's release to step-up their sectarian violence insomuch as it would not be perceived as support for a fellow Sunni whom they'd parted ways with long ago now that he was dead.

6 – We had numerous failed attempts to properly vet police academy applicants and ended up with many of them becoming the attackers during or after training. Police cadets kept having graduation parties during which they were bombed and killed. (“Play that funky music til you die.”)

7 – We disbanded Saddam's military. Many of his former officers now fight for ISIS while the new Iraqi military that we're trying to build can't fight their way out of a wet paper bag and are running from the former-military-turned-ISIS.

8 – We allowed U.S. weapons to get into the hands of ISIS – whether they were stolen from U.S. military installations or from a poorly-trained Iraqi military. (The Iraqis aren't the only ones our military can't train.)

9 – In a strange twist of fate, ISIS has now attacked our oldest and closest ally: France. (With friends like that, who needs enemies???)

10 – Now we have had what was very likely an ISIS-inspired attack in San Bernadino, California. The concern it created has been multiplied a hundred-fold by the realization that the male perpetrator was an easy-going, prosperous and likable person who may have been influenced by his wife to carry out an attack that left 14 dead and 21 wounded before these two people were gunned down by cops hours later. Now we know that we can't trust even the nicest guy or a seemingly innocent woman. (It wasn't poverty that bred crime in this case.)

Whew!!!!! What a list!!!!!

The federal government's failures on Homeless Employment And Terrorism lend themselves to the notion that Republican administrations – and, to a lesser degree, Democratic admins – are colossal failures at both foreign and domestic policies. The end of Bush 41's administration on 1/20/93 was, by my prediction, the beginning of a 40-year dry spell of sensible Republican presidents, with his son having been the last GOP president until at least 1/20/2033. (I wouldn't be surprised if the GOP held a majority of both chambers of Congress and of the governorships until then. I predict that will be the case.)

All of this begs the question, “How do we define work???”. If federal and local governments can fail to end homelessness for decades, give up on a moral effort to connect poor people to living-wage jobs and then actually increase the threat of terrorism that they ostensibly sought to eliminate, how do their efforts qualify as work??? How do we hold government's feet to the fire and ensure that they will create an environment that is conducive to every able-bodied person being able to find employment??? While I don't have all of the answers, I've decided that I'll do all that I can to impress upon government that failure is not an option – no matter how hard it is or how long it takes to succeed. When it comes t getting government to focus on homeless employment, I'll succeed or I'll die trying; because, I know it's the right thing to do.

After all, if Muriel Bowser succeeds in this respect, I'll support her for president from 2025 to 2033, preceded by Hillary of course. Just sayin'.....



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