“The Times They Are a’ Changin”

Although Bob Dylan wrote his classic folk song in 1963, it is as appropriate today as it was then. Looking back at the 2012 election results, it was evident that different groups in the nation voted to re-elect Barack Obama, while other groups supported Mitt Romney. These groups reflected gender, age, race and ethnicity, family status, education, financial situation, politics, locality and religion. Many of the issues that mattered most to each group were the focus of both candidates, campaigning across the crucial swing states. Television ads and the debates highlighted some of the sharp differences in their positions on the economy, taxes, the safety net, women’s health and foreign relations. After the president won a decisive 332 electoral votes over 206 votes for the challenger, many analysts saw Obama’s record and positions on issues that attracted specific groups as the key to his victory.

The Gender Gap was one of the most salient factors on each side. Of the total voting population, 53 % were women and 55% of them voted for Obama while 44% voted for Romney– an 11 percent gender gap. In contrast, 47 % of the total voting population were men and 52% of them voted for Romney while 45% voted for Obama – a 7 percent gender gap. Obama had signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act on his first day in office, giving him a distinct plus with women. Romney, during the debate, did not give the Fair Pay Act his endorsement. Then, two races for the Senate exploded on the subject of rape. In Missouri, a heavily Republican state, Senator Claire McCaskill (Democrat) was fighting to retain her seat against the favored Tea Party challenger Todd Akin. When he said on TV, “ If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”, national media coverage went viral and his ratings plummeted. McCaskill would keep her seat in the Senate. Then, the Republican Tea Party candidate in Indiana, Richard Murdoch, in response to a question about rape, said, “ I think that when life begins, even in that horrible situation of rape that God intended it to happen.” TV and newspapers carried his startling remarks nation wide. Romney won Indiana, but Murdoch lost to the Democrat, Joe Donnelly.

With Hillary Clinton running for president on the Democratic ticket, there is no question that the gender gap will continue to be important in 2016. She is not stressing that in her campaign, but millions of women are ready and eager to have her be the first woman president of the United States. She has focused on the economic disparity in our country and programs that address the needs of middle and working class families like paid family leave, raising the minimum wage , pre-K education and a fair tax structure.
Changing Views on Social Issues: The recent Supreme Court decision that made Gay Marriage legal throughout the fifty states reflected the steady success of the marriage equality movement. In 1996, only 27% of respondents in a Pew Research Center poll said they supported same-sex marriage. By 2015, the number had risen to 57%. Although the High Court justices may not refer to changing public views in their decisions, the fact that individual states were moving in that direction could not be ignored. Another indication of change can be seen in attitudes toward equal rights for gay workers in Gallup polls: In l977, 56% of respondents were in favor in contrast to 89% in 2008.

A huge change in attitudes over the years has been toward acceptance of people from different racial and religious groups. In l958, only 4 % of respondents according to Gallup approved of interracial marriage. This was a decade before the Supreme Court declared it to be constitutional in 1968. By 2013, Gallup reported the number who approved had soared to 87 %. Attitudes have also moved steadily upward as to whether men and woman would vote for a Catholic , Jewish, Female or Black president. Here are the Gallup poll results: In l937, 60% Yes for a Catholic, 46% for Jewish and 33% Female. In 2012, 94% Yes for a Catholic, 91 % Jewish and 95% Female. In 1976, 76% would vote for a Black president. By 2012, Gallup reports 96% would vote in favor of a Black president. The numbers of course were reflected in Barack Obama’s strong victory at the polls.

These startling shifts in attitudes did not happen by accident. They are the result of major changes in our society after the Civil Rights Act (1964) and The Voting Rights Act (1965) were passed. They came about because of the work of dedicated men and women who worked, marched and fought for decades during the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement in the second half of the 20th Century.

There are other social issues where attitudes ebb and flow rather than moving in a steady direction. They include gun rights and laws; abortion; death penalty, legalized marijuana, ban on smoking in public places and lowering crime. Here are some contrasting poll results: Gun laws; In 1990, 95% wanted laws more strict, 2014, down to 85%. Abortion; l975 ( After “Roe v. Wade High Court decision made abortion legal)75% thought it should be legal. 2015, 80% thought it should be legal. Death Penalty; In 1936, 59% in favor for murder; In 2014, 63% in favor. Legalized marijuana: ABC News/Washington Post poll: In l985, reported 26% support. In 2014, 49% supported. Ban on smoking in public: Gallup, 2001 , 39% support. 2014, 56% Finally, Lowering the crime rate: Gallup– Support for resources going to social problems rather than more law enforcement –61% agreed. 2010 –64 % agreed.

Each of us is more interested and committed to different social causes. The importance of these statistics is that our American society, the most diverse in the entire world, is also one that has changed markedly and continues to change. Our country and society today are vastly different from that of our parents and grand parents in myriad ways. Many traditions remain, but we constantly see how a dramatic event can uproot tradition as in the aftermath of the Charleston Massacre. Confederate battle flags and statues are coming down across the states of the South. Not everyone in those states agrees, but the force of the tragedy and the “Amazing Grace” of the survivors has brought consensus that this should happen. It has been a unique American moment in ‘The Times They Are a’ Changin.”

Lost in Cyberspace!

If they gave Technological Quotient tests and ratings, I would probably have a TQ score in the lowest percentile on record. Especially in the section connected to computers. Don’t misunderstand. I do value my computer highly and all my writing is transcribed on Microsoft Works. See how easily I spun out that magic name?

But… and this is a very large BUT… when there is a problem with my computer and I take out the yellow file to call for technological support, I enter a world filled with dreaded unknowns. The problem usually takes many hours — or days — to solve. It always results in extreme tension, mounting exasperation and the distinct feeling that I am living in a strange new country with an incomprehensible language. In short, I feel like a dummy and I hate that feeling.

Here’s the latest tale: First, the basic facts. I own a Dell computer with Windows Vista software. It was installed in my office in early 2008 and six months later, I graduated from Dial Up to Broadband Wireless in order to access the Internet faster. I hope you note how I use these terms effortlessly. Whether I understand what they mean is an entirely different matter. I had been on AOL since I started with my first computer over ten years ago. I use the Internet constantly for research on Google and for e-mail which I enjoy with family, friends and professional contacts.

Therefore, when I found one afternoon that I was unable to connect with the Internet, I knew there was serious trouble. I turned off the computer and waited until the evening, since sometimes the clever gremlins who live in the box will work out the problm. No such luck this time. Nor the next morning. So I knew I had to take out the yellow file and call AOL on their 800 number. The routine will be familiar to many of you, dear readers. First, the automated questions and answers until the correct responses are recorded to reach a consultant. Sometimes, there is a long wait, with music. The day I called was Saturday, before eight a.m. I was lucky and without delay, a voice said, “Hello, how may I help you.” Hooray! A human being.

After we talked about my problem, she did some hocus pocus on her end and had me make some moves on my computer. I followed her instructions that were pretty simple and reached a point where the screen showed the same ominous message I had found in the first place: “There is no connection to the Internet”. Right! Back to square one. She then informed me that the problem was not with AOL but with my server or provider. It took me a moment to realize what that meant, but to make sure I asked her, “What’s a provider?” She rattled off a few names and I realized that Comcast was the provider for my husband’s computer and for mine since it had been connected when the Broadband was installed.

Next step was to call Comcast on their 800 number and go through the same dreary automated system of my screen name, my actual name, the type of computer etc. etc. and to describe my problem before I could talk to a consultant. This time, I was introduced to a new world of technical jargon, the land of modems and routers. I learned that my computer had been connected to Comcast through a router that was attached to the modem on my husband’s computer. The consultant wanted the brand name of the router. First I had to go to my husband’s office and find it. “I have to go to his office. Don’t go away,” I said to my telephone expert. I discovered a flat black box entitled Linksys on top of his modem with three wires (blue, white and black) hanging down in back. When I told the consultant “Linskys” , he then gave me the discouraging news, “We can’t solve your problem. You have to call Linksys. I’ll give you their 800 number.”

By this time, I was somewhat numb, but I persevered. I didn’t try to fathom why a “Broadband wireless” system had wires attached. After the automatic routine to reach a consultant, a man’s voice answered. He sounded far away and I learned he was in the Philippines. His name was Renz. I started by asking him to speak louder and more slowly. There was background noise that didn’t help. He began by asking, “What’s the model number on the router?” Back I went to the Linksys box and found that number in tiny print on the bottom. I relayed the vital information. “What’s the serial number?” was the next question. A second trip to discern the teeny, tiny numbers which I again found. Back and forth between the offices I went. Then we hit a major obstacle. Both computers had to be on at once with two people on the phone and my husband was downstairs having his breakfast. I said, “Give me the case number and we’ll call back later.”

I went for a long walk though the quiet lanes to get rid of the major case of anxiety that had built up during the hour talking with the three people who were supposed to fix my PROBLEM. When I returned, I learned that my husband had called Linksys on their 800 number. He had been walked through some of the same tortured steps I had traversed . Then he had been told that they could not fix what was wrong. He/I had to call Encor since they were the connector of the wire to my computer from the router. And Linksys did not have an 800 number for Encor.

At that point, due to a combination of aggravation, mental exhaustion and incipient hysteria, I moved to Plan B as our daughter often says. I called Hank, the professional who had installed my computer and the Broadband Wireless. Whatever it would cost was worth it. After I left a message on his answering machine, I felt relieved. Hank would come and solve the problem.

During the night, I awoke and suddenly remembered Hank bringing a wire to the front of my computer and plugging it into the modem next to my starter button. He had asked, “Is it okay to do this up front?” “Sure,” I had replied. At three a.m. I began thinking of all the times, when minor problems arose, the instructions included turning the computer off and restarting. As soon as I arose at six, I went to my office, found the little plug and pulled it out. Then I plugged it in, turned on the computer and reached my Desktop within seconds. I clicked the AOL icon. VOILA!! I WAS CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET! I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. But I feel GREAT! I don’t have such a low TQ after all. Like The Little Red Hen, I did it myself.

Epilogue: I changed from AOL to Gmail when I started my blog: Dimensions 2. And a new Tech Whiz has replaced Hank who disappeared from the area. I’m happy to report that I haven’t been lost in Cyberspace since.

Immigration Reform: Going Nowhere!

Donald Trump, the Republican front runner for the Presidency created a fire storm when he accused Mexico of sending “rapists and criminals” across the border. In the first Republican debate watched by a record 24 million people, he boasted that the topic was being addressed there only because he had brought it up. As with much of his bombastic rhetoric, this showed his complete ignorance of facts and recent events concerning immigration.

The United States has always been “the promised land“, attracting peoples from across the globe since our earliest days as a nation. They came to escape religious and political persecution, to find economic opportunity and to build better lives for their children. Today, millions of men and women from Central America and Mexico seek to come to The United States to find a better life for themselves and their children. In addition, there are over eleven million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States at present. Some have children who have been born here and are citizens. Since Barack Obama was elected to his second term, Comprehensive Immigration Reform has been one of his top goals to find solutions for the entire complex immigrant issue.

The Senate accomplished their half of the job on June 27, 2013, creating and passing a comprehensive plan that set a 13 year path to citizenship for over eleven million undocumented immigrants, as well as strengthening the borders. The 68 to 32 vote was the bi-partisan result of the ‘Gang of 8’ , four Democrats and four Republicans, who reached agreement after months of debate and compromise. They sent the bill to the House of Representatives where it has gathered dust ever since. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, declared on its arrival that they would not even consider the Senate plan. He would not bring it to the floor for discussion and debate. They would create their own plan. That has not happened.

Let’s take a look at past immigration reform laws. When JFK became president in 1961, he called on Congress to review and evaluate immigration law. This set the direction for the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 during the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency. This major law abolished earlier laws and systems in effect since1882 (Oriental Exclusion Act) and the1924 act based on national origins which favored northern and western European countries. It created a new policy to reunite immigrant families and attract skilled labor to the United States. During the next forty years, immigrants arrived increasingly from Asia, Latin America and southern and eastern Europe. It’s important to note that the hundred-year migration from Europe to Western Hemisphere countries between 1815 and 1915 was the largest migration of people in world history. We are indeed “A Nation of Immigrants”, the title of JFK’s memorable book.

In June, 2012, President Obama used executive authority to start a program that suspended deportations for two years of illegal immigrants under age 31who have been in the country since childhood and have met other requirements. Once this became known, thousands of young men and women lined up to apply for work permits in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Boston and Houston. By September, more than 72,000 were receiving approvals. Mostly Hispanics, they became known as the Dreamers.

What is the status of illegal immigration into the United States at present? The southwestern border with Mexico, where six of ten illegal immigrants have entered. has been fortified with stronger fences, additional agents, surveillance and drones. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute found that immigration enforcement has reduced the border flow almost to zero. A significant factor is also the improvement in the Mexican economy versus the U.S. recession since 2008 with far fewer jobs here as an enticement. Mexico’s economy has grown at a faster pace than ours since 2004, while their birth rate has declined to 1.1 percent in the first decade of the 21st century from 3.2 percent in the 1960’s. Finally, the increased deportation rate by the federal government of illegal immigrants –nearing a peak of 300,000 in 2011– has kept the total population number stable. The central issue for reform is what to do about the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants already here.

It is important to recognize that most Hispanic Americans are neither illegal nor poor and unskilled, although that is the stereotype in many minds. They are long- time citizens, as was clearly seen in the 2012 election when they stood in line for hours in Florida, Colorado, Texas , Ohio and New Mexico to vote for President, Senators and Representatives. 71 percent voted for Barack Obama and 27 percent for Mitt Romney who had advocated “self deportation” as the solution for illegal immigrants, and a veto of the “Dream Act” if he were to be elected president. Since, the last time Congress considered comprehensive reform was in 2007, it is evident that the main impetus for Republicans to join Democrats in seeking reform at this time was the result of the 2012 election.

It is tragic that the Senate bill that met the challenge of immigration reform and provided a comprehensive solution was rejected on arrival by Speaker Boehner in the ongoing Republican battles with President Obama. We could be well on the way to implementation, if the Speaker had allowed a vote by the entire House. Then, the Democratic Representatives would have been joined by enough moderate Republicans to pass the bill — leading to President Barack Obama’s signature to make it law throughout the nation.

“A republic, if you can keep it.”

During the long hot summer of l787, the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were conducted in secrecy. When the proceedings finally ended, anxious citizens waited outside the doors. A famous interchange occurred when Benjamin Franklin emerged and was asked by one of the women, Mrs. Powell, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” He did not say a ‘democracy’.

What’s the difference between a republic and a democracy? And why does this issue matter today — over two hundred years later? The difference between a republic and a democracy is fundamental, not just a matter of semantics. The word ‘republic’ comes from the Latin, ‘res publica’ — which means ‘the public things’ or ‘the laws’. Democracy comes from the Greek words ‘demos’ and ‘kratein’ , translating into the people rule — synonymous with majority rule. James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, insisted in The Federalist, No.10 that the new Constitution had established a republic — not a democracy. He emphasized that a “Republican” form of government protected the people from the dangers of the tyranny of the majority.

At the heart of a democracy is the concept of majority rule. In a republic the power of the majority is subordinated to the rule of law and the protection of minority rights. The founders set up a system of government with separation of powers and checks and balances to prevent the majority from imposing its will without restraints. They also approved The Bill of Rights in l791 — the First Ten Amendments — to protect citizens against the powers of their government. The freedoms of religion, speech, the press, and the right to assemble to petition for grievance all guarantee minorities against majority rule.

Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.” Alexander Hamilton warned at the Constitutional Convention, “We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.” And Fisher Ames who served in the U.S. Congress during the eight years of George Washington’s presidency, termed democracy, “a government by the passions of the multitude, or, no less correctly by the vices and ambitions of their leaders.” He also called majority rule, one of “the intermediate stages toward… tyranny.” Finally, John Marshal, who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835 and created the principle of judicial review,reinforced Ames when he wrote, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

Separation of powers exists in many forms: between a federal government and that of the states; among the three branches of the federal government, Legislative, Executive and Judiciary; between the two legislative branches, the Senate and The House of Representatives where each state — large and small — has two senators and a guarantee of at least one Representative based on population. Other checks and balances include a bill becoming a law only if it is approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. An executive veto can be overridden only by a two-thirds majority in both houses. In the judicial branch, members are appointed, not elected. And although the president has the power to nominate members to the federal courts, that power is subject to the “advice and consent” of the Senate. Since the members serve for six years rather than two, they were given this significant role.

Although we “pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and the republic for which it stands”, many people today think of the country as a democracy rather than a republic. This 20th century emphasis of the concept of democracy can be traced from Woodrow Wilson’s famous 1916 appeal to the nation on entering World War I that we would “make the world safe for democracy.” And Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 with his insistence that America “must be the great arsenal of democracy” to rush aid to England beleaguered by Nazi Germany during World War II.

It is now August, 2015 and The Iran Nuclear Deal is front and center for each senator and representative to decide whether to vote for approval in September. Congress is in recess and members are in their home states not in Washington D.C. A broad campaign is being waged by President Obama and his administration for approval. Certain groups have pledged millions of dollars to persuade members not to vote for approval. If either or both houses of Congress were to vote against approval, President Obama has the power of the Veto. Then, both houses would need two thirds of their members to override the Veto. Since the Republicans in both houses are heavily against approval, the final outcome rests with the Democratic members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is a drama being played out in 2015 between the Executive and the Legislature. The Democratic votes will finalize a significant event in the history of the Republic!

The Lure of Social Media

Have you noticed in restaurants, when a family is having lunch or dinner, that children from two or three years to teenagers are focused on the mobile device in their hand? Parents are free to order, eat and have adult conversations. Children come up for air when their food arrives, then return to their treasured hand- held companion. Younger children are usually playing games or watching cartoons; teenagers are in close touch with their friends. The phenomenon is also evident on sidewalks everywhere and in buses, subways, trains, planes and waiting rooms where adults are engrossed in the same hand-held mobile device.

Do you possess an iPhone or does your child have one? IPhones, costing hundreds of dollars, have the multiple appeal of taking and sending pictures as well as communicating with friends, relatives and business prospects on social media sites: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Flicker, Tumbir, Kik, Snapchat, Instagram, Ask.fm and Vine. Teenagers and adults play video games with friends in marathon sessions. Grandparents receive photos taken at their grandchildren’s school plays. Chefs trade recipes. And not to be overlooked —the Arab Spring enveloped the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 – 2012 stoked by instant viral communication among millions of men and women on Facebook. Social media knows no traditional boundaries between countries or continents for dramatic pictures and organizational messages.

The Internet, of course, is the global system of interconnected computer networks that grew through the l980’s and l990’s to link private, public, academic, business and government networks by an array of electronic, wireless and optical technologies. As of June 2012, more than 2.4 billion people — over one third of the world’s human population– have used the Internet, about 100 times more people than were using it in l995. E-mail has become the basic communication network for men, women and children worldwide. Letter writing with pen, stationery and postage is now called ‘snail mail’. Instant chats on e-mail have brought new immediacy and intimacy between correspondents near and far.

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, he initiated a $7 billion program to expand access to the Internet, mainly through grants to build wired and wireless systems in neglected areas of the country. At present the Internet reaches nearly 98 percent of American homes that have access to high-speed broadband service. However, it is estimated that 60 million people do not have or use computers and are not connected to the Internet. Thus, 20 percent of American adults do not use the Internet at home, work or school. They are shut off from jobs, government services, health care and education opportunities.

Three of the largest social networks are Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. Facebook was founded in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with his roommates while at Harvard, initially limited to certain colleges in the Boston area. It expanded rapidly to other universities and beyond –opening to anyone over 13 years old who wished to register using the site. After registering, users may create a personal profile and exchange messages with other users. By September, 2012, Facebook had over one billion active users across the world. It should be noted according to a Consumer Reports survey in May, 2011, that there were 7.5 million children under 13 years with accounts and 5 million under ten in violation of Facebook’s terms.
Linked in is a social networking website for people in professional occupations. Officially launched on May 5, 2003, it has become an essential part of the business world for employers, employees and those seeking new positions. As of June, 2013, Linked in reported more than 225 million users in more than 20 countries and territories. The site is available in 20 languages.

Twitter is an online social networking service and microblogging service as well. Users on Twitter send and read text-based messages on the Internet up to 140 characters, known as “tweets”. The new system and alphabet of characters were created in March 2006 by Jack Dorsey, based in San Francisco. Twitter was an instant hit worldwide and brought messages within the political, entertainment and social world on all current subjects. There were 500 million users registered as of 2012, sending out over 340 million tweets daily and 1.6 billion search queries per day. Since 2006, Twitter had become one of the ten most visited websites on the Internet. Registered users can post tweets through a range of apps (applications) for mobile devices. Unregistered users can read tweets. Television commentators cite tweets and the name of the sender — often a famous personality — for instant feedback on news events of the day.

Parents, educators and psychologists have been growing concerned about the amount of time and attention children and teenagers are devoting to the social media in all its seductive forms. High school students in past decades often dialed their best friends on the telephone as soon as they came home to review the gossip of the halls and the cafeteria. Now, children of all ages disappear into their rooms to chat on the Internet or exchange e-mails. After dinner, homework has competition from finding the latest tweets on Twitter. Three recent books focus on this new dimension in American life: “ The App Generation“, “The Big Disconnect” and “The Distraction Addiction”.

“The App Generation – How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy and Imagination in a Digital World” is by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. Yale University Press. 256 pages. He is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and she is an assistant professor at the University of Washington. They present a balanced view of the an-app driven life with emphasis on how the young today form their identity, relationships, values and ideas heavily influenced by social media. “The Big Disconnect – Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age“ is by Catherine Steiner-Adair and Teresa Barker. Harper. 374 pages. Ms. Steiner-Adair, the primary author, is a clinical psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. The book is based on thousands of interviews and emphasizes the need to ration children’s computer time. She addresses the challenge of how to keep children away from their laptops, phones and tablets. She also describes a generation of parents who are “unavailable, disconnected or narcissistic”, on e-mail, scanning for the next text or tweet.

“The Distraction Addiction – Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul”. By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Little Brown & Company. Illustrated. 290 pages. Mr. Pang is a futurist and visiting scholar at Stanford and Oxford Universities. He brings a Zen approach to his subject. The first seven chapters are titled: Breathe, Simplify, Deprogram, Experiment, Refocus and Rest. He suggests that it is possible to take part in “tweeting mindfully”, which means knowing your intentions and asking yourself if you’re on line for the right reasons. The three new books present different and provocative points of view for parents, educators and anyone interested in the far-reaching effects of social media on our lives.