Our Misdirected Attention

While offering a speech in Alabama eight days ago President Trump called NFL players who knelt during the National Anthem “sons of bitches” and said they should be fired.  I have  expressed my feelings about President Trump’s uncivilized behavior in two previous posts, so I’ll just let it go. Since I asked readers to defend his actions and nobody was willing to do so I must assume his behavior is indefensible.

I’ve read all the posts, memes, and comments on both sides of this issue that I can stomach at this point. Like it or not, the bottom line is that the football players are legally and peacefully protesting racial injustice, and that injustice is real. Numerous studies confirm that fact, but this piece from the Constitutional Rights Foundation offers a brief summary.

And yes, I know the players are protesting while “on the clock” because I’ve read that argument dozens of times this week, but that is between the players and the teams’ owners. If the owners want to take action that is their prerogative, but it is a labor issue (and it seems that most owners are supporting the protests). And if you don’t like the players interrupting your football game with a form of protest that you find offensive you can choose to watch Andy Griffith reruns instead. That is what freedom is all about.

But prior to President Trump’s Alabama proclamation the protests were a very minor part of Sunday afternoon football because only a handful of players participated. Thanks to his comments the protests are now widespread and growing. I’m pretty certain that was intentional because it diverted a large portion of the public’s attention from the breaking news that the President’s son-in-law and other White House officials were using private email to discuss public business, the removal of Sudan and addition of Chad and Venezuela to the restricted immigration list (for reasons the President was unable to articulate), the fact that the investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence last year’s election is intensifying, the continued war of words between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, the pending failure of yet another attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and other bad news coming out of the White House and Washington.

And it worked!! News outlets and Facebook conversations have been focused on football players rather than things that really matter.

Here are some things you might have missed while our attention was diverted:

  • Since the Alabama proclamation a three year old in Philadelphia accidentally shot his uncle,  a toddler at a Detroit daycare found a handgun and accidentally shot two children, a little two year old boy in St. Louis accidentally killed his father with a gun, and a three year old boy in Ohio accidentally killed himself while playing with a gun. Sad statistic: American children accidentally shoot others or themselves about once each week on average.
  • Approximately 175,000 children have starved to death in the last eight days even though there is enough food on the planet for everyone.
  • After reaching historic lows in 2014 the American murder rate reached 25-year high rates in 2015 and has increased the last three years. Most, but not all, of that increase is a result of murders in a few large cities, especially Chicago.  An average of 44 people are murdered each day, so that’s about 350 Americans dead by violence since the Alabama proclamation.
  • On average about 160,000 American kids stay home from school each day because of fear of being bullied. That means there have been about a million absences since the Alabama proclamation.
  • Every 25 minutes an American baby is born with severe withdrawal symptoms, usually from heroin, cocaine, meth, or pain killers. That means that more than 375 addicted babies have been born since the Alabama proclamation.
  • Since the planet is suffering about 80,000 acres of man-made deforestation each day,  we’ve lost almost 900,000 acres of forest since President Trump’s Alabama proclamation. Since we also destroy about 135 plant, animal, and insect species each day …. well, you can do the math.  And, by the way, coral reefs are dying faster than are rain forests because of the CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

I could continue, but if you are still reading you are certainly depressed by now.

So for goodness sake lets focus on athletes taking a knee or locking arms rather than discussing life and death issues that impact real people. And, by the way, it is precisely life and death issues that are at the center of the athletes’ peaceful protests.

Our attention to things that really matter is being diverted by politicians and the media. When President Trump gets us to focus on symbolic issue such as the flag that means we are ignoring issues of substance. My classes have heard me make this argument for almost four decades. We are led to focus on red meat issues such as gun control, abortion, and crime so we forget about other things that matter. President Trump has taken such misdirection to a whole new level.

Here We Go Again

Several weeks ago I wrote  twice about the American Healthcare mess. I tried to offer a thorough summary of the healthcare system and solutions that should be explored. Remember that I also did not express support for Obamacare. I’ve always thought it was good for some and bad for others, that it did not actually address the healthcare crisis, and that if that crisis is not addressed healthcare will increasingly weigh down the economy. Obamacare requires major reform or should be totally replaced. I also argued that “Trumpcare” and other Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare did not effectively address the crisis.

Now Senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy have introduced yet another attempt to repeal Obamacare. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill next week even though only about 17% of Americans favored the Trumpcare proposal introduced several months ago. Unless I’m wrong (always a distinct possibility) Americans will not be so crazy about the Graham/Cassidy bill as well, but Republicans are trying to push it through.

President Trump has voiced overwhelming support for the Graham-Cassidy bill. I’m confident he has not read it nor does he have a clear idea about the bill’s provisions.

I also watched Senator Jeff Flake argue in favor of the bill yesterday morning, but when questioned he admitted he had not read it. And when he was asked how many pages are in the bill, he could not answer. So once again members of Congress are arguing in favor of something they know nothing about.

Keep in mind that on May 4 when the Senate was debating Trumpcare Senator Graham tweeted: “A bill — finalized yesterday, has not been scored, amendments not allowed, and 3 hours final debate — should be viewed with caution.”  So he was complaining that:

  1. The bill under consideration that would repeal Obamacare had not been “scored”. Bills are scored by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, and that score tries to forecast the impact of legislation on the budget and on those affected by the legislation. Graham thought the Senate should wait for the CBO score.
  2. No amendments to the bill were being permitted. This is the standard legislative process under “regular order”, and Graham thought it should be followed. This also means that committees are involved so amendments, as well as the bill itself, may be deliberated.
  3. Only three hours of debate were scheduled even though the repeal of Obamacare would impact 1/5 of our nation’s economy.

Guess what? The Graham/Cassidy bill is being introduced and debated in precisely the same manner.

  • No time for a full CBO score.
  • Because of the way it was introduced debate may be limited to 90 seconds (yes…seconds).
  • Compromise through traditional means will be impossible because the deadline is September 30 (I won’t explain the arcane rules,).

Oh…and back in June Senator Graham said “well I worry about Conrhusker Kickbacks and Louisiana Purchases and if they start doing that crap they are going to lose me. I’ll vote to proceed but if you start taking some of the money and savings and buying off votes that’s exactly what got us Obamacare and I would rebel against that.” Graham was referring to incidents in the past when concessions were made to certain members of Congress to get them to vote a certain way on a bill. In other words, a bill would give benefits to some states not available to others to garner votes of those states’ legislators.

Guess what? The Graham/Cassidy bill makes a special exception for Alaska so that Medicaid beneficiaries in that state would receive more than those from other states. Did you know that Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was one of the three Republicans opposing the Republican healthcare proposal this summer? Did you know that if she doesn’t vote for Graham/Cassidy it will likely not pass?

Although I’ve disagreed with Senator Graham on many or most policy issues over time I always thought he was consistent.  Now I realize that he is as hypocritical as those whom he has previously denounced for doing precisely what he is now doing.

I could go in to the details of the Graham/Cassidy bill, but if you are interested NPR offers a pretty good summary. What it does essentially is take federal money from states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare (mostly Democratic states) and shifts that money to the states that did not expand Medicaid. The largest states, California and New York, would lose while Texas gained. If the bill becomes law individuals will no longer be required to have health insurance, more money would be allocated to states based on “block grants” that leave much of the decision-making regarding healthcare to those states,  large employers would not be required to provide insurance to employees, and Medicaid expansion funding would be cut. It also appears that the requirement that insurance companies cover people with preexisting conditions would be severely weakened.

Since we have no CBO score it is difficult to know the consequences of passage, but analysis by The Commonwealth Fund concludes that 32 million people would eventually lose their healthcare coverage. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities believes more than 32 million would lose coverage after about ten years.

Thus far  The American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, The American Public Health Association, The National Institute for Public Health, and Federation of American Hospitals have voiced opposition to the bill. Interestingly, Blue Cross Blue Shield also opposes it as do The American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association. So if you are paying attention you see that doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and patient advocacy groups are voicing opposition.

So that begs the question, why are they pushing it? I’ll give you three guesses. Any takers?


“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both” (James Madison)

No, this is not another post about sex (the title may be misleading). This is about the current state of affairs in America and an attempt to at least partially understand it.

In honor of Constitution Day* the Annenberg Policy Center released a poll last week on Americans’ understanding of the Constitution. The poll is predictably depressing. As it turns out, 37% of Americans could not name a single 1st Amendment right (speech, religion, press, assembly, petition), only 26% could name the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial), and 33% could not name any of the three branches of government. Interestingly, self-described conservatives could identify the three branches better than liberals and moderates.

The survey also found that more than half of the respondents did not believe illegal immigrants have rights under the Constitution. As far back as 1886 the Supreme Court ruled that non-citizens are protected by the Constitution (the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause), and the Court has affirmed that decision in other cases since 1886. In 1982 the Court even guaranteed the right to public education to children of illegal aliens.

One encouraging response to the poll was that more than 3/4 of Americans understood that atheists and Muslims have the same Constitutional rights as Christians but, conversely, it is disheartening that about 1/4 of respondents did not know that. Or maybe they do not want to accept it.

Want more?

  • Three years after Obamacare was implemented 44% of Americans still did not know it had been passed in to law.
  • Americans consistently overestimate the amount spent on foreign aid; although it is only about 1% of the federal budget Americans believe about 1/3 of the budget goes to foreign aid. Further, Americans have no idea how much of the federal budget goes to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security (about 45%).
  • Americans are confused about which governmental responsibilities are performed by which officials, some believe a 5/4 Supreme Court decision is sent to Congress, and a large number don’t know the role of the Senate in approving the president’s nominations.
  • About half of Americans don’t know that every state gets two senators.


Last year Just Facts Daily commissioned a poll on Americans’ knowledge about major issues facing our country. The poll included 23 questions on education, healthcare, global warming, social security, and more. The majority of voters gave the correct answer to only 6 of the 23 questions. I’ll admit that some of the questions were difficult and required the respondent to be somewhat informed and capable of thinking critically, but the results are still a concern because it means voters last year chose candidates (for all political offices) based on false assumptions.

And before you jump to conclusions you should know that Republicans outscored Democrats on 19 of the 23 questions. In other words, Republicans answered Constitutional questions correctly more frequently than did Democrats.  Democrats only scored higher on questions related to Social Security, climate change, and EPA impact on air quality. But again this is only a semantic difference since  average respondents for voters from both parties only answered 6 of 23 correctly.

In an older poll (2010) only about 1/4 of the population could identify John Roberts as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and only about 1/3 knew that President Bush enacted bailouts of banks: most thought bailouts were introduced by Obama. According to a poll from last year only 16% could name both their state’s senators and about 35% could name one of the two.

I could continue, but I’m sure you get the idea. Americans are pretty uninformed about the government, the major issues facing society, and the Constitution. I doubt you are surprised.

The truth is that this is probably not something new. Polls since the 1930’s have consistently demonstrated that Americans have been, for at least 80 years, relatively uninformed compared to citizens of other nations. As explained by Ilya Somin*,  the problem is more significant now because of scale. That mean that in the “old days” people might have not  known a great deal about the government, constitution, or public policy, but the government was less involved in citizens’ lives back then so it was less important. Today there is honestly no aspect of our lives over which government has no control at all. I’ll entertain any disagreements in the comments section. Name something the government doesn’t control!

Of course Somin is a conservative (a very intelligent one) , so he argues for decentralization of government; give power back to local governments as much as possible, then give power to state governments, and leave larger issues (he mentions climate change specifically) to the national government. This idea is appealing, but after observing numerous corrupt, ineffective, and petty local governments for several decades I disagree that giving them more power is necessarily a good solution.

But I digress.

It seems strange that most Americans now have access to almost all human history and knowledge in their pockets or purses, and we are no better informed than we were when our phones were connected to the wall (yes, kids, I know that’s a strange idea).

The truth is that our lives are busy. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to pay close attention to those who are elected to represent us. As Somin argues, historically that was less important, but now it really matters. Because we are so uninformed we fall easy prey to trite campaign slogans and promises (the wall, free education for all, Make America Great Again, Stronger Together, etc.). We also fall easy prey to Facebook news (which, as it turns out, is easily manipulated by the Russians and others) and other less reliable “news” outlets.  As a consequence a large portion of voters make voting booth decisions based on those trite promises and inaccurate news rather than determining whether the promises and news are meaningful or true. In that sense we probably get the government we deserve, and apparently we deserve pretty crappy government because that is what we have.

And before reaching the conclusion that Americans are just becoming dumber, you should know that Americans’ IQ scores have actually increased by about three points every decade during the last 100 years. So we are more intelligent but less informed. Maybe we should use our phones and computers for more than just watching puppy videos (although I do love puppy videos).

I honestly have no solution. I cannot wave a magic wand and expect voters to suddenly care. What I do know is that it appears the democratic experiment is failing. Quickly. And it is largely because Americans as a whole are uninformed but still feel some responsibility to vote.



*Constitution Day celebrates the signing of that document by our Founders on September 17, 1787. I generally only remember about eight dates (one reason I’m not a historian): July 4, September 17, and six birthdays, one of which is my own. September 17 is a big deal.

*Ilya Somin is a Law Professor at George Mason University and fellow at the conservative Cato Institute,


Back in July the Trump administration cut more than $200 million from about 80 programs nationwide that are working to prevent teen pregnancy. This decision was lost in the other political turmoil surrounding the White House this summer, but the consequences of the cuts are significant.

Here are important facts according to the Guttmacher Institute:

  • Almost half of American teenagers are sexually active (that means almost half admit to being sexually active).
  • The average age for American teenagers’ first sexual experience is 17.
  • About 15% of American teenagers report having sex for the first time prior to turning 15 years of age.
  • American and European teenagers are equally active sexually, but European teens are more likely to use birth control and have lower teen pregnancy rates.
  • According to a Centers for Disease Control survey about 10% of teenagers had sex with multiple partners during the twelve months prior to the survey.
  • About half of all American sexually transmitted infections (STI) occur in those aged 24 and younger. That age group incurred about 9.7 million infections in 2008 and also accounts for a little more than 20% of HIV infections.
  • Adolescents account for about 15% of all unintended pregnancies.
  • In 2013 American adolescents had approximately 110,000 abortions.
  • Abortion is pregnant teenagers’ choice only 24% of the time. They choose to take the baby to term 61% of the time, meaning more times than not these teenagers become single mothers.


  • The number of teenage girls using contraception rose from 48% in 1982 to 79% in 2011.
  • In 1980, 118 per 1,000 teenaged girls became pregnant each year but in 2013 that number reached the record low of 43 pregnancies per 1,000. However, the pregnancy rates vary significantly by state. New Mexico, for example, has a teen pregnancy rate of 62 per 1,000 whereas New Hampshire’s rate is only 22 per 1,000.
  • Between 1985 and 2007 the number of teenagers having abortions dropped by at least a third.

That’s a lot of information.

Bottom line? A large number of teenagers are sexually active. A fair number get pregnant. Some have abortions. But teen pregnancy and abortion rates have declined in recent decades? Why? And why are teen pregnancy rates declining more slowly in some states than others? Several factors likely explain the differences in teen pregnancy rates, but concluding that it is because kids in some areas have more sex would be inaccurate. The evidence is that kids have sex at the same rates pretty much everywhere.

Let’s compare two states with opposite rates. Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country and Colorado one of the lowest, and Colorado’s rates continue to decline steadily.

In Texas a 17 year old who wants contraceptives must have parental permission, and that doesn’t change even if a teenager has a child at an earlier age. Even after having a child a 17 year old would need parental permission to obtain birth control. Further, 58% of sex education in Texas is “abstinence only”  and another 25% of school districts offer no sex education at all.  Yes, that means about 83% of Texas schools teach abstinence only or no sex education at all. The remaining 17%? They teach “abstinence plus”. Oh, and research indicates that a good bit of the information provided in abstinence only programs is either false or misleading (that, for example, condoms are ineffective).  They also rely on fear and shame, and neither of these works. Obviously.

In recent years Colorado has moved quickly to change sex education curricula in public schools, making it more age-appropriate and comprehensive. Also, in Colorado the state actually subsidizes long acting, reversible birth control for those in lower income brackets and, you guessed it, teen pregnancy and abortion rates have plummeted. In fact the teen pregnancy rate was cut in half during the first five years of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. That means that a large number of teenage women who might have become pregnant will now be able to attend college or pursue careers, build families, and be more productive members of society than would likely have been the case had they become single mothers.

There has been a modest decline in the number of teenagers having sex (again, this is self-reported so the statistics may be inaccurate), but the decline in the number of kids saying they have sex doesn’t come close to explaining the steep decline in the teen birth rate since the early 1990’s. Numerous factors contribute, but most significantly about 80% of kids report using birth control the first time they had sex. Kids are also using more effective forms of birth control than in the past. Interestingly, a 2016 Brookings Institute report also concluded that such TV shows as “16 and Pregnant” (on MTV) led to a decline in teen births because these shows accurately portray the consequences of unprotected sex.

In America we have this idea that if we tell kids not to have sex, they won’t. If we just ignore the topic of sex and don’t discuss it with our kids they won’t become interested. If we don’t tell them about the birds and the bees they will only be interested in chocolate. This is just a dumb attitude. Yes, in an ideal world kids would wait until they were old enough to understand the consequences of sex, but a good many just don’t, never have and never will. The urge to have sex is powerful (thank goodness or I would not be here to write this and you would not be reading it).

We should stop pretending that telling kids to abstain from sex works. Evidence overwhelmingly condemns abstinence only education as ineffective and supports comprehensive sex education. So instead of reducing funding to programs seeking lower teen pregnancy rates, we should increase spending for those programs. The cost is minor compared to the social and emotional costs of young girls having unplanned and unwanted babies or, even more troubling, choosing to abort those pregnancies.

Defend President Trump

Donald Trump became president largely because he won votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  He won all the electoral votes in these states and was able to win the electoral college while losing the popular vote by about 3 million votes.

Now a majority in those three states that helped propel Donald Trump into the White House no longer approve of his job performance, with approval ratings in those states in the mid 30’s and disapproval ratings at about 55%. More than 60% in Michigan and Wisconsin say they are embarrassed by President Trump. Even about 1/4 of those states’ Tea Party members are questioning his presidency only seven months in although most of the voters who supported President Trump in last year’s election still do so.

Nationally President Trump’s disapproval ratings hover around 60% and his approval rating at about 35%. In previous posts I’ve stated that Congress has an approval rating of about 15% and I wonder what that 15% sees that I don’t. I ask the same about President Trump: What does that 35% see that I don’t?

Three months into Donald Trump’s presidency I discussed the 2016 presidential election and the poor choices voters were stuck with in November. I stated that I understood how voters chose to oppose Hillary Clinton, but I also questioned how voters could actually support President Trump and approve of his behavior and actions prior to running for office, during the campaign, and after three months as president. Four months later I still wonder.

I’m honestly confused by the 30% of Americans who have validated candidate Trump’s 2016 boast:  “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters…”

And mostly I wonder what it says about the 30% of Americans who think it is OK for a president to constantly attack and blame others, including someone who is clearly an American hero and fighting what is possibly terminal cancer.  I’m also confused about:

  • How evangelical Christians helped elect and can continue to support someone who admitted to molesting women, who bragged about cheating on all his spouses (7th and 10th Commandments), who lacks compassion and humility required by Colossians,  who stole from contractors as well as those who signed up for Trump University (8th Commandment),  and who has told countless lies about other people and constantly plays loose with facts (9th Commandment). In fact, his fabrications and outright lies are almost constant.
  • How President Trump’s followers can ignore his promise to have Mexico pay for that (silly) wall but now says he will shut down our own government if the wall is not funded by American taxpayers.
  • How they can ignore his refusal to release his tax records after promising to do so. Isn’t it pretty obvious there is something in those records he doesn’t want us to see?
  • How they can ignore his firing someone who was conducting an investigation against him and his presidential campaign. And he has threatened to fire the special counsel now conducting that investigation. Again, isn’t it obvious that he has something to hide?
  • How can they ignore candidate Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp”, meaning get rid of all the insiders in the administration, when he actually filled his transition team and administration with lobbyists, corporate insiders, and those who contributed lots of money to his campaign. He appointed former lobbyists to administrative positions giving them responsibility for overseeing the corporations for whom they had previously worked. That isn’t draining the swamp. His cabinet is one of the wealthiest and least representative in history.
  • Why are his supporters not offended by his support for a bill reversing the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy policy making it possible for internet providers to sell customers’ browsing information and other data without their permission? This was a win for corporations, not for his voters.
  • Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rules were intended to keep companies with a history of labor violations from receiving federal contracts and also required employers to provide their workers with detailed pay stubs to help avoid wage theft by employers. President Trump signed a law reversing those rules. Oh, the overturned law also made it more difficult for companies to hide allegations of discrimination or harassment. Why are his supporters not bothered by this?
  • How can his supporters ignore the fact that he attacked President Obama for playing golf and traveling too much when President Trump spent as much on travel in ten weeks as President Obama did in two years. And he actually makes money indirectly by holding meetings with foreign leaders at his properties.
  • President Trump supported an Obamacare replacement plan that was only supported by 17% of Americans and was opposed by 56%. Does it not matter that at least some of the 23 million who would lose healthcare coverage were the voters who put him in office?
  • Just yesterday President Trump once again made the claim that Americans are taxed at a higher rate than in any other country in the world. This is simply false, but he keeps repeating the claim because it plays well to the uninformed. If anyone disputes such claims he calls it “fake news”. Is his constant manipulation of voters not offensive?
  • How can his supporters accept his constant flip-flopping on policy issues (NATO, China as currency manipulator, his claim to not know Vladimir Putin, Syria, etc.) and not be concerned about the effectiveness of his policies?
  • Why are they not bothered by the fact that he has been unable to accomplish a single major campaign promise, and a good bit of the fault is his. His tweets and off-the- cuff comments (which almost always mangle the English language) have created an environment unconducive to compromise and accomplishment.

OK. I could continue offering arguments and facts, but by now it is obvious I’m not a fan of President Trump. In fact I’ve not been a fan of most presidents who have served during my lifetime, but my disdain for President Trump is almost visceral.  I’m with the majority of Americans.

I know I have friends who are supporters of President Trump. Here is your opportunity to defend him. I honestly want to read your arguments (as long as they are civil).  Please….defend President Trump.