I’m Still Here and I Have a Lot on My Mind!

I have not posted anything in about a year because the new job is keeping me pretty busy. I have a year’s worth of observations because the political world has become even crazier since I last posted, but I’ll restrain myself. Here are five things on my mind these days:

ABORTION Nobody likes abortion. Nobody. Even those who are “pro choice” would prefer a world in which abortion was unnecessary. The truth is that I can understand both sides of the issue. Arguments that government should have no control over a woman’s body are certainly valid (at least they are valid for those holding that view), but the argument that life begins at conception and, therefore, abortion is taking life is valid as well (again, for those who hold that view). It is a matter of perspective and it is an issue not lending itself to compromise because one’s views depend on when one believes life begins. Does life begin at conception, when a heartbeat is present, when brain waves are detected, when the fetus is viable, at birth, etc? To be honest I cannot imagine any compromise. However, I will never understand why there isn’t equal opposition to:

  • Child abuse. Each year an estimated  3 million child abuse and neglect cases involving 5.5 million children occur in the United States.
  • Child malnutrition. There are currently 13 million American children who are either hungry or at risk of being hungry. That includes 11.2% of American households.
  •  What about the 2,737 children who were forcefully separated from their families at the border? The children had no control over their parents’ decision to enter the United States illegally.
  • There are currently more than 400,000  American children in foster care because their biological parents are either incapable or incompetent, or both.
  • The American infant mortality rate  (the number of babies who die prior to reaching their first birthday) is higher in the United Stated than in any other wealthy nation.
  • Between 1999 and 2017 about 2,400  American children were shot dead per year. Thousands more were shot but luckily survived.
  • An average 2.5 million  American children are homeless at any given time.

Again, I do understand why some Americans oppose abortion, especially if they believe life begins at conception. However, there is no philosophical argument regarding whether the children suffering in the above categories are alive and, thus, deserving of our protection. How about we start there?

WAR America has spent $5.9 trillion  on wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq since 9/11. That is just the raw cost of war and does not include other costs that might have been affected had we spent that money elsewhere. In other words, dollars spent on wars are dollars that cannot be spent on highways, healthcare for veterans, schools, rapid rail, or other domestic programs, so additional dollars are spent on those. As former President Jimmy Carter recently told President Trump, the Chinese have spent nothing on wars in recent years and are instead investing in infrastructure. America’s economic advantage is in jeopardy.

OUR POOR PLANET study  released this week offers additional support for NASA’s measurement of global temperature and its conclusion that the Earth has warmed approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880’s. The area including the Arctic is warming at the fastest rate.  Another NASA study  released about three weeks ago concluded that greenhouse gases and atmospheric particles resulting from human activity started affecting planetary drought conditions more than 100 years ago. As I’ve stated in previous posts, this planet is currently our only viable home and taking care of it is not optional.

PRESIDENT TRUMP I wrote a couple of posts more than a year ago offering reasons I (let me choose my words carefully) dislike President Trump. His administration has been plagued by a record number of scandals, he is cozy with dictators and with America’s worst enemies while attacking America’s heroes, even some FOX news hosts call out President Trump on his inability to tell the truth (the Pulitzer prize winning website POLITIFACT finds that President Trump utters the truth about 30% of the time and untruth the other 70%), he vilifies and personally attacks anyone who speaks out against him rather than addressing the issues raised, he uses misdirection to get his followers to pay attention to inconsequential issues so they ignore all the other things he is doing, he paid off “adult film stars” so they would remain quiet prior to the election, he bragged about molesting women, he has not yet released any tax returns after promising to do so, his policies favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor, he takes credit for policies that were actually in place prior to his presidency, he acts like Russia did not interfere in our democratic processes although everyone else in Washington (including all our intelligence agencies) KNOWS they did, after promising to eliminate the national debt in eight years it has actually increased a couple of trillion on his watch, he has spent more than $100 million of our tax dollars playing golf after criticizing President Obama for doing the same (Trump said if elected he would be too busy to play golf), and…I could go on for quite some time. I just wanted you to remember that I have valid reasons for disliking him as president and as a person. During the last year I have come to dislike him even more. And lest you forget, I supported a Republican in the 2016 election; I am non-partisan and generally dislike both parties and their politicians.

GOOD NEWS In spite of all the things that concern me (and the above list does not even begin to scratch that surface), I still believe most people are good and kind. Many are heroes. If you don’t believe me just read this story about a man catching a two-year-old boy who fell from the fifth floor, or about these identical twins in Ohio graduating as valedictorian and salutatorian on the same day, or this  story about a 97-year-old WW II vet who still works in a grocery store, or this  school bus driver who spends thousands of his own dollars on gifts for his passengers, or this  story about a neighborhood throwing a huge party for their mailman when he retired. Stories like this far outnumber the crappy stuff we hear in the news every day.

I hope your lives are rich and rewarding.

Has Anyone Seen the Democratic Party?

Remember that I dislike both major American political parties and firmly believe governmental dysfunction and ineptitude will continue until they are replaced or other options are made available. However, since the Democratic and Republican parties have a stranglehold on American politics I’m not optimistic about new viable parties emerging any time soon.

What I want to know is whether anyone has seen the Democratic Party lately? Historically the President’s party has lost seats in midterm elections for a variety of reasons that I won’t explore here, so we would expect the Democratic Party to gain significant support in Congress on November 6. In fact, I would argue that the Republican circus of the last two years should offer Democrats a unique opportunity to win a large number of Congressional seats. Will they?

Like it or not the midterm election is largely a referendum on the sitting president. Back when I had time to add to this blog with some regularity I offered several lengthy criticisms of President Trump. You may recall that I consider him a disdainful human being and a terribly uninformed leader. My opinion of our president has only diminished as he promotes violence, increasingly has trouble with truth or facts, attacks the character of those who in any way challenge him, refuses to release his tax returns (as I’ve said previously, he IS hiding something), attacks allies and supports bloody dictators, and much more. I don’t want this post to be about President Trump, but I would argue that his behavior and policies alone should result in huge Democratic gains.

But there are lots of other reasons the Republicans should be in trouble in November.

  • During the last two years the budget deficit has increased to $779 billion, and that is $113 billion more than last year. We were promised a deficit reduction but the deficit under the “party of fiscal responsibility” jumped 9% in one year. This is adding to our children’s indebtedness.
  • The party claiming ownership of “family values” allowed the separation of innocent children from their parents at our Southern border. More than 200 of those children remain separated from their parents several months later. Even conservative religious leaders, historically Republican stalwarts, objected to these policies.
  • The Republican Party reached a point where John McCain, a principled American hero, had the support of less than half of Republican voters. That blows my mind.
  • The party that promised to repeal and replace Obamacare has done neither.
  • Where is the wall paid for by Mexico?
  • Although the economy has grown steadily during the last two years, it has done so largely because the Republican Party has increased the amount our government borrows. My wife and I could significantly improve our already very good lifestyle by borrowing on multiple credit cards and maxing out bank loans, but our children would inherit that debt AND banks would start increasing the interest rates on our loans. Have you noticed the recent increase in interest rates?
  • The Republican Party sanctioned new coal policies that the Trump administration’s own EPA stated would result in an additional 1,400 deaths each year because of increased heart and lung disease.
  • The Republican Party passed a tax reduction that even Republican Senator Marco Rubio knew would benefit corporations more than workers. Currently only about 40% of the public think that tax reduction was a good idea.
  • After reducing taxes while increasing government spending Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel blamed increasing budgetary deficits on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, programs you and I pay for in what are supposed to be funds separate from the general federal budget.
  • The Republican Cabinet has been mired in scandal after scandal, spending taxpayer money on luxury travel, accepting illegal gifts, and more. A few days ago one Cabinet member under investigation for about dozen conduct issues actually fired the inspector general conducting the investigation.

I could go on because the Republican Party has apparently abandoned every single one of its core principles and is instead more worried about supporting President Trump and winning elections than standing on principle.

In this environment the Democratic Party should easily gain control of the House of Representatives and make a good run at winning the Senate, but it is possible they will do neither. Just as with the Republicans, the Democratic Party seemingly has no idea what it stands for, or at least it is incapable of telling us if it does. Individual Democratic candidates are being forced to campaign on their own in their states or districts without help from the weak Democratic leadership.

While President Trump stirs up the Republican base, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer do nothing but whine. They have yet to offer clear policy alternatives, have yet to give us a reason to vote Democratic over Republican, and have yet to effectively call out the President for his hollow rhetoric. While President Trump continues to offer outright lies about the Democratic Party paying for an immigrant caravan, supporting criminal illegal immigrants, supporting “Medicare for all”, defending “MS-13 thugs”, and more, Schumer and Pelosi remain silent. Yesterday President Trump said Congress will address a new tax cut next week, BUT CONGRESS IS IN RECESS!! Will Pelosi and Schumer inform the public of that fact and refute that falsehood? Probably not.

What does the Democratic Party propose to do if it wins control of Congress in two weeks other than impeach President Trump? Can anyone tell me?

We really need another option. We need a party that 1) has reasonable policy options, 2) does not tell its supporters outright lies, 3) has candidates who have at least minimal ethical and moral standards.

We also need voters who actually care whether their leaders lie or are incompetent and who demand that the parties offer clear stands on policies rather than playing childish political games.

Is that too much to ask?

 

Fake News

Since President Trump entered the political arena we’ve heard constant accusations about “fake news” and biased media. Are such accusations accurate? Sure. At least some of the time. But not always. Just because the media write or report things about which you disagree doesn’t make that news “fake”.

It is a given that media are biased because newspapers are written by humans, TV news is reported by humans, and news websites are managed by humans. Humans are biased. However, legitimate news outlets do everything possible to minimize that bias whereas some sources of information don’t even try. Unfortunately, it seems that a sizeable portion of my fellow citizens tend to pay attention to information reported by the most biased and unreliable sources.

The general assumption is that news outlets in America tend to be left leaning and unfair to more conservative points of view, and there are certainly a good many liberal news outlets. However, there appears to be an almost equal number of right leaning outlets, especially in recent years.

Also, Political Scientist David D’Alessio, a noted expert on media, published an important work analyzing media reporting of campaigns from 1948-2008. D’Alessio focused on 99 previous studies of presidential campaigns and how media reported on those campaigns. Guess what he found? No general media bias. In other words some sources such as FOX news predictably leaned right in reporting on presidential races and others like MSNBC leaned left.

But why? Is it because the media outlets are trying to cause people to accept liberal or conservative opinions or candidates? No. They report conservative and liberal ideas because that is precisely what their readers want. People who watch FOX are “conservative”, so FOX offers conservative reporting. People who watch MSNBC are “liberals” so they are fed what they want as well. Both FOX and MSNBC are corporations driven by profit and they maximize that profit by pandering to their viewers. And CNN, the oldest satellite news channel, is also motivated by its viewers’ political views because that network also demonstrably leans to the left. 

Interestingly, we tend to trust the print media more than broadcast outlets, but an exhaustive study of newspapers clearly demonstrated that if a newspaper has a larger number of conservative readers it will offer more conservative reporting and the opposite is true of papers with mostly liberal readers.

Does this mean these news sources are always unreliable? No, but it means we should consider the source’s reporting in light of its ideological leanings. Most if not all media outlets are biased, but even the most liberal and most conservative media may report stories truthfully. The problem is that our own biases lead us to ignore those outlets that tend to report in a way that contradicts our own biases, so we don’t always get both sides of stories.

This chart, taken from a report published last week by the Gallup/Knight Foundation, clearly demonstrates Americans’ biases and how those biases impact our reliance on trusted media outlets. It should be no surprise that Democrats and Republicans trust different news sources.

We get the news we want.

What is my point? As individuals we are biased, we tend to pay attention to news sources that support our biases, and those outlets favor our bias because that is what we want. And they do so because they are in the business of making money.

So what are America’s MOST and LEAST reliable sources of information? Oddly, I tend to trust The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) more than most other sources, but that trust depends on the topic. I think, for example that BBC does a pretty good job of covering American domestic news but it hasn’t been as objective on Brexit (Britain leaving the European Union). I also generally trust NPR although the writers and reporters there often let their agendas impact their reporting as well (again, they are human). And I believe the Wall Street Journal tends to be fairly objective.

And what source of information is the least trustworthy? As it turns out it may be President Trump himself. Last week he set his own weekly record by making 103 false claims. That means he made false claims at a rate of 15 per day. If you believe this is fake news I encourage you to read this report that provides each of the 103 statements then compares those statements to demonstrable facts.

The bottom line is that news outlets do sometimes report “fake news”, but President Trump, the loudest indicter of “fake news”, reports such news at a much more alarming rate and gets away with it. The Toronto Star found that during the first 821 days of his presidency he made 1,829 false claims, or about 3.5 such claims each day. Most of these are not outright lies but are instead exaggerated statistics, attempts to misdirect the public’s attention, or attempts to inflame the emotions of his core supporters.

The most problematic source of fake news is pretty obvious.

The solution? Pay attention!

A NOTE: I begin a new job next week and have no idea whether I’ll have much time to add to my blog. I certainly hope I will. Thanks so much for following along.

David

 

This One is Personal

I’ve had most of this post written for more than a year but was advised by our attorney not to publish it until the issue was resolved. Yesterday was resolution day. Please bear with me because although this is a little long I’ll get to the story shortly.

Laws should, above all, protect citizens.

Government’s primary function is protecting its citizens and it does so in two primary ways:

  • First, government must obviously protect us from foreign threats, and in that regard our government has done a good job overall.
  • Second, government is responsible for protecting us from each other. This was probably the first function of the first governments several thousand years ago. Population density reached the point that people increasingly had trouble getting along, so a government (probably a tribal leader or council) was given the authority to pass laws. Some of this is pretty obvious. Government passes laws that prohibit killing each other, robbing from each other, assaulting each other, and much more.

People often forget, however, that under this second area of protection, protecting us from each other, government should also protect us from unscrupulous corporations or other organizations that are too large for individuals to combat alone. This means that laws are passed to restrict banking practices to protect our money, limit air pollution for obvious reasons, require regular inspection of airplanes, and allow governmental officials to ensure that factories, mines and other workplaces are as safe as possible. We know from history that without governmental intervention some factory owners will pollute the air and water, will provide unsafe working conditions for employees, will employ children, and will engage in other unscrupulous behavior.

We also know that some areas of regulation are more effective than others. Why?

Well, those folks being regulated often oppose government’s restrictions and, depending on the wealth and influence of that group, may be able to impede or even control the government’s regulations.

A few examples should suffice. Bankers don’t like being restricted, so they form powerful lobby groups to put pressure on the government to minimize regulations.  Coal producers and others that benefit economically from relaxed environmental control may be successful in their attempts to achieve looser regulations. Those standing to profit from the collection of personal internet data may successfully lobby the FCC  and political parties to reverse net neutrality laws on the collection and dissemination of that data.

The best interests of citizens often suffer while powerful groups benefit.

And by the way, for my friends who use such examples to argue in favor of increased state and local control and minimizing the national government’s power, it is no better on the lower levels. Local realtor organizations have a great deal of control over zoning boards and local cities council, and they fight for zoning ordinances that favor realtors. An organization of undertakers likely has control over state laws regarding embalming or other aspects of our burial. State bar associations have control over laws regulating the practice of law, thus protecting the interests of lawyers. You get the idea.

A personal issue for me is workers’ compensation.

On September 8, 2013 my wife, a nurse, was hurt helping move a patient onto a hospital bed. The pain was in her neck and shoulder and by the end of her shift she could not even turn a door knob. That night we went to the emergency department and, of course, they referred her to the work comp doctor.

FYI: Work comp doctors work for the insurance companies not the workers in spite of the Hippocratic Oath.

Without an x-ray, MRI, or CT Scan the doctor diagnosed my wife with a “dislocated rib” and sent her to months of extremely aggressive physical therapy (the therapist was the doctor’s wife, by the way). I actually went with her to PT once after she told me how painful it was. The therapist was twisting her into unnaturally contorted positions, often leading to tears. After these PT sessions she often could not return directly to work because she needed time to compose herself, an accommodation thankfully made by her supervisor. The pain became increasingly worse during the next four months of physical therapy so the work comp doctor finally referred her to another doctor who actually did order an MRI.

As it turns out she NEVER had a dislocated rib. Instead she had two bulging cervical discs (neck) that had actually herniated since the injury, almost certainly caused by the physical therapy. So instead of making her better, the work comp doctor made her much, much worse, and a $150 x-ray could have avoided it. And then after she had the accurate diagnosis (now several months after the injury) the work comp doctor decided the injury WAS NOT WORK RELATED although three other healthcare professionals had witnessed the injury. The doctor dismissed her from treatment.  At this point most injured workers tend to give up, but not my wife.

She had to fight the work comp insurance company to get another opinion. They finally sent her to St. Louis where a miracle occurred; she landed in the office of an ethical work comp doctor who said that not only was the injury work related, she should have had surgery five months earlier. She had surgery shortly thereafter fusing the two damaged discs. After a year one had not fused so she had to have a second surgery. Four years later both are now fused and she has been released by the surgeon.

OK. Other than having an opportunity to vent after watching someone I love suffer since September 8, 2013, knowing she will never again be completely pain free, will forever have a metal plate in her neck, and will never be able to practice bedside nursing (her passion) again, I do have a point. This was not necessary. It should not have happened. By misdiagnosing her injury without even an x-ray the work comp doctor changed the trajectory of our lives. Our lives have now been adversely affected by a workers compensation system that is broken. Why?

To a very large extent the insurance companies determine the laws for work comp, and I can assure you those laws do not always favor the workers.

  • If a worker takes one penny of work comp money that worker cannot bring malpractice claims against the physician regardless of how careless the doctor’s treatment. There is some evidence that doctors choosing to represent insurance companies are not among the best healthcare providers. One must wonder if they choose this medical path BECAUSE they can avoid malpractice suits.
  • The insurance company can reject the conclusion OF THE DOCTOR THEY ASSIGN TO THE CASE! Two years ago my wife’s surgeon said there was no clear evidence of fusion from the second surgery and wanted to keep treating her another year until fusion was clear. Rather than accepting that diagnosis the insurance company sent her to yet another doctor who told them exactly what they wanted to hear (that she was recovered and should be released). Thankfully her surgeon has an impeccable reputation and the company essentially had to reject their second doctor’s faulty conclusion.
  • “Pain and Suffering” are not a consideration in work comp cases. From watching what my wife has gone through the last five years I know that is just wrong.
  • When lawmakers succumb to the influence of insurance company lobbyists  and reduce long-term benefits to workers who are permanently disabled on the job, the taxpayers wind up paying for long-term healthcare for those workers through Medicare or other cost-shifting processes.
  • The system is based on patients giving up and not fighting for the benefits to which they are entitled by law. Most folks who are injured on the job either are unwilling to demand their lawful benefits or simply do not know how. We had to hire an attorney who helped ensure that her rights and benefits were protected.

I could continue because at this point I could write a book on problems with workers’ compensation laws. So what is my point?

Government should protect citizens and work comp is a perfect example of it not doing so. Because of powerful lobbyists protecting insurance companies, a work comp system specifically designed to protect workers often considers workers’ rights as secondary to insurance company profits.

Until we remove money from politics this will not change. We should begin with campaign finance and lobbying reform so that lawmakers care more about the voters than about the corporations that fund their campaigns or take them to dinner.

Fiercely’s Friday Musings

The phrase “drinking from the firehose” means someone is overwhelmed with new information or responsibilities. Changing jobs at age 64 I now have an intimate  understanding of that idiom! I’m still paying attention to social and political issues but don’t have much time to write about them.

Here are a few observations.

  • At age 71 Mitt Romney is running for the opportunity to represent Utah in the U.S. Senate. Ok. Me starting over at 64 doesn’t seem so odd.
  • If you have read my posts over time you know I have trouble understanding or accepting President Donald J. Trump, but lately I have really wondered why he consistently attacks our allies while supporting tyrants such as Russian Vladimir Putin and  Turkish President Recep Erdogan and North Korean bloody tyrant Kim Jong Un. I’ve also wondered why folks continue to accept his numerous excuses for refusing to release his tax returns (yes, he is hiding something).
  • How can we as a society tolerate the policy allowing the separation of children from their parents? If you’ve missed this story, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Bible to justify taking children of immigrants from their parents and housing them in deserted Walmarts and tent camps in Texas. I think he might want to read the entire Bible. Maybe Mark 9:42, for example, which states “And whosoever shall offend one of [these] little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea”. Read this story about a Brazilian grandmother and her handicapped 16 year-old grandson who asked for asylum at the American border ten months ago and have since been separated. She is being detained in Texas and he is in Connecticut. The grandson has severe epilepsy and autism. Where in the Bible is such treatment justified?
  • A Justice Department report found that James Comey had actually used a private Gmail account to conduct FBI business, the same thing for which he was investigating Hillary Clinton. Geez. And, by the way, don’t believe the White House’s spin on that DOJ report. The truth is that President Trump should appreciate Comey because the letter he sent Congress eleven days before the presidential election announcing he was reopening the Clinton email investigation probably provided the final push Trump needed to win.
  • One of President Trump’s campaign promises was to “drain the swamp”, yet his EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has been constantly embroiled in self-serving scandals. Most of the scandals involved using taxpayer money for personal use. Even conservative commentators are beginning to go after Pruitt yet he remains in office.
  • Arctic ice is melting at near record levels.
  • Uber has started investing in research to develop “flying taxis”. Um…no.
  • Some colleges have started offering video game scholarship. Too bad pinball scholarships weren’t available years ago because I was pretty good!
  • In addition to five guilty pleas, according to Fox News Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt” has thus far resulted in the indictment of thirteen Russians and four former associates of President Trump (Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Richard Gates, and George Papadopoulos). 
  • I’m really hopeful that President Trump has reduced the possibility of war with North Korea. Kim Jong Un’s reliability is still in doubt, however, and he is certainly no nice guy. A 2014 United Nations report concluded that atrocities in North Korea entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”. 
  • You might want to pay attention to the growing trade wars with our major trading partners. In the end it is very likely American workers, consumers, and corporations will suffer.
  • Thanks to conservation efforts the number of Mexican Jaguars has increased by 20% in eight years. Jaguars were once on the “endangered” species list but have now been moved to “near threatened”.
  • Deforestation in Brazil was reduced by 90% after the Brazilian government began aggressively creating protected forests and parklands. Even better, “reforestation” in Brazil is catching on with one private group planning to plant 73 million trees during the next seven years.

I have had one post written for more than a year but could not publish it. I hope to be able to do so next week. Yes…that is a teaser!

Thank you for reading!

The News

I’m out of town for work followed by vacation but thought I’d share my take on some recent news stories.

  • There is no way to predict the outcome of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear treaty with Iran. Our European allies, those that joined us in the treaty, have condemned the decision. It does appear to me that the absence of a treaty combined with President Trump’s rhetoric will give us only two options if Iran openly begins developing nuclear weapons: 1) Let them get away with it (something President Trump promised he would not do) or 2) go to war with Iran. Remember that Russia is Iran’s ally.
  • The jury found Bill Cosby guilty of drugging then sexually assaulting women. More than fifty women have told similar stories about Cosby. If even one of them is true he belongs in prison for the rest of this life.
  • Need a little inspiration? Watch this video of a man who is quadriplegic playing the national anthem at a sporting event on an instrument he invented.
  • I really don’t care what Kirsten Dunst plans to name her baby.
  • Although I have doubts about North Korea’s sincerity, I do appreciate President Trump’s ability to have three Americans released who had previously been held in North Korean prisons. It is possible President Trump’s rhetoric is having an impact on NK but it is more likely that North Korea is bowing to pressure from China, NK’s largest trading partner. Also, North Korea may be offering to “dismantle” its underground nuclear development facility because it has actually already collapsed and they don’t have money to rebuild it.
  • The most interesting video on the web during the last week was Fox News host Neil Cavuto calling out President Trump for his inability to consistently tell the truth. Watching this Fox News clip made me wonder if Cavuto had been reading my blog in recent months! About a year ago Fox’s Shepard Smith also accused the Trump White House of “lie after lie after lie” regarding the Russia scandal.
  • Fifteen years ago Clara Harris, a dentist, caught her husband cheating. They argued. She ran over him with her Mercedes then backed up and ran over him again a couple more times. She was convicted of murder but was released this week after serving fifteen years. I only have about 150 one-line reactions but I think I’ll keep them to myself. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.
  • This week Senator John McCain stated that he would vote against President Trump’s CIA nominee. In response one White House aid, Kelly Sadler, responded that “he’s dying anyway”. Anyone who thinks that is OK should stop reading my blog. The incivility permeating our nation’s capitol (and that of many states) is sickening. Sadler should be fired but I doubt she will be. The White House refused to apologize but did criticize its own staff for leaking the crude comment.
  • I don’t think I’d hire Rudi Giuliani to represent me in small claims court much less to help with the Russia scandal. Geez… he says some really stupid stuff!
  • Need more uplifting news? My wife and I celebrated our 32nd anniversary yesterday proving that angels are real. Only an angel could have tolerated me so long!
  • Are you a sucker for happy dog stories? Then you will love this story about a beagle that was scheduled for euthanasia. It snuggled its new owner all the way home from the shelter after it was adopted. I’m not crying, you are crying!
  • The slow moving disaster resulting from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano eruption is one of those events that is both devastating and fascinating. The destruction is like a bomb blast in slow motion. Lots of folks have lost their homes and other property. Mother Nature constantly reminds us who is in charge.
  • Louisiana’s Democratic Governor, John Bel Edwards, sent letters to 37,000 Medicaid recipients telling them they might be losing their nursing home care and other healthcare services because of a budget shortfall. Yet another example of misplaced priorities and lack of compassion.
  • Want another dog story? A Texas police officer responded to a call about a “vicious” Pit Bull roaming the street. As it turns out the pup was a big sweetie and the officer befriended her and she jumped into the offer’s squad car for a photo op. The happy pup was later reunited with her owner. More proof that stereotypes of all sorts are misguided.
  • I’m pretty impressed that I’ve written 750 words so far and have not mentioned Stormy Daniels once!
  • Queen Elizabeth II has given her consent to Harry and Meghan’s upcoming marriage. 1) I don’t care and 2) isn’t that just weird?

My wife and I are exploring the national parks of Southern Utah the next week so I may not write again for a while.

I wish you peace and happiness.

Thanks for reading!

The Costs of War

When the rich wage war, its the poor who die” (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war” (John Adams)

Older men declare war, but it is the youth that must fight and die” (Herbert Hoover)

“War, h’uh
Yeah!
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothin uh-huh, uh-huh
War, h’uh
Yeah!
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothin”   (Edwin Starr)

Since 1776 when America declared our independence we have been at war 225 of our 242 years. That means we have been at war 93% of our history. During the last 100 years America has sent more than 39 million of our citizens to fight in foreign wars and at least 630,000 did not come home alive. Another 1.2 million came home seriously injured. Author Craig Biddle accurately summarizes the experience for those who died or were injured:

Each of these Americans was or is a real person with real values, goals, dreams, loved ones. Each experienced his or her body in some way being violated, impaled, crushed, blown up, or torn apart. The families and friends of each have suffered a kind of pain for which there are no words. General W. T. Sherman famously said war is Hell. But war is worse than Hell. War is real, and it destroys people’s lives.”

As a society we often get so caught up in “who won” a particular war that we forget the real questions such as how many people died or were displaced and how much money was spent.

Here are a few facts about America’s most recent wars:

  • Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 America has spent more than $5.6 trillion (yes, with a “t”) fighting wars abroad, primarily in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. At current interest rate projections that $5.6 trillion will add another $7.9 trillion to the U.S. debt by 2056.
  • Approximately 10.1 million Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis have been displaced from their homes since 2001. At least 200,000 civilians have died as a direct result of these conflicts, and that is a VERY conservative estimate. Almost 400,000 people (including military personnel, etc.) have died. Several groups actually estimate the death toll at 1.3 million.
  • Every hour Americans pay $2.25 million to cover medical expenses for veterans who have waged our war on terror in those and other countries. The total cost at this point is almost $290 billion.
  • Every hour we also pay about $10 million on the interest on war debt incurred since 2001.

What about other wars?

  • World War I took the lives of about 9 million soldiers (116,500 were Americans) and 12 million civilians. Another 21 million soldiers were wounded.
  • In World War II more than 405,000 American soldiers died. A total of approximately 60 million people died, 2/3 of whom were civilians. 
  • The Vietnam war took the lives of at least 58,200 American soldiers, 1.1 million North Vietnamese fighters, and up to 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers. It is possible as many as 2 million civilians died.
  • Approximately 5 million people, half of whom were civilians, died during the relatively brief Korean War. Almost 40,000 Americans died and 100,000 were wounded.

Syria?

  • During the seven year civil war in Syria a half million Syrians have died and another 11.7 million have been forced from their homes. Most of the dead were civilians.
  • Thanks to the war about 50% of Syrian school-age children are currently not in school.
  • By the end of 2014 the unemployment rate in Syria had reached 57%. Compare that to an American unemployment rate of about 4%.

Rwanda?

  • In 1994 almost 1,000,000 members of the Tutsi community were slaughtered in 100 days by ethnic Hutu extremists. Neighbors killed each other and even some Hutu husbands slaughtered their Tutsi wives to avoid being killed themselves. Thousands of innocent Tutsi women were kidnapped and forced into sex slavery.

Any other depressing statistics?

  • Yes. But I think I’ve made my point.

The reasons humans go to war are too numerous to list. Wars are fought over territory, religious differences, socioeconomic factors, conflicting ideologies, economic gain, revenge, nationalism, to bolster a political leader’s popularity with voters, and for countless other reasons.

Although the causes of war are often unclear one fact is almost universally true: those choosing to wage the war are probably not the ones most directly harmed by it. The poor, the disenfranchised, women and girls, and children suffer disproportionately. In general, war is waged by folks from the more privileged classes and they tend to suffer the least.

President and former general Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.”

But military expenditures are great for corporations that provide equipment, munitions, and military-related services to the government. In fact the United States Government spends about $600 billion per year on military and weapons technology. In 2015 that consumed about half of all federal discretionary spending. Lockheed-Martin, consistently the top beneficiary of such spending sold the government more than $36 billion in equipment that year. Expenditures on war and war machinery mean less money government has available to spend on education, infrastructure, and social programs.

War causes civilians to suffer in other ways. Unlike in the old days when soldiers from opposing armies just lined up and charged each other thus killing lots of soldiers but almost no civilians, modern warfare uses techniques that do not differentiate between killing soldiers and killing civilians. During the two world wars, for example, wide-scale bombing was employed against military-related targets but “collateral damage” (civilian deaths) became the norm. The same is true of current bombings in Syria and other countries. Notice that in all the statistics provided above civilians died in higher numbers than did soldiers.

And soldiers obviously suffer. Many suffer permanent physical damage to their bodies, but it has long been recognized that exposure to the violence of war also has a permanent impact on the psychological well-being of many soldiers. The U.S. military recognizes this reality and provides a number of treatment options for those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after seeing combat.

I’m not naive. I understand the need for military and I know that at times countries are placed in situations making it difficult to avoid war. However, I also know that nations sometimes (often?) go to war using flimsy evidence or other questionable motives.

Can war be avoided in contemporary society? Probably not unless we could somehow pass a universal law requiring the political leaders themselves and their families to be active combatants. I really doubt most leaders would declare war if they personally had to actually fight!

I apologize for getting you to this point and not having concrete solutions. The literature on war’s causes and ideas regarding how to avoid it is extensive but inconclusive; there are just too many variables and too many different reasons war erupts. I can offer a few ideas to consider, however.

  • Pay attention. Don’t get drawn in by the sword rattling of political leaders who try to convince us that war is unavoidable.
  • Begin electing more women to political power. It is almost universally true that men start wars and display greater aggressive behavior than do women. Men are more likely to commit crimes and engage in cruel behavior than are women. It is time to begin turning control of the planet over to women. Providing education for girls throughout the world is essential.
  • Promote democracy and capitalism. Countries guided by principles of freedom, individual rights, and economic competition rarely go to war with each other. Instead they tend to cooperate because of trade advantages.
  • Find ways to reduce the gap between rich and poor throughout the world. Although many groups claim religion as their cause for violence the truth is that many of these young men are poor and disenfranchised and see no hope for the future.

I keep hoping for a global shift in consciousness that would not tolerate war, but I’m a child of the 60’s. I do believe that, like slavery, war was invented by humans and enlightened societies can eliminate or at least minimize it.

If you’ve followed my blog you know that I’m a dreamer.

 

 

Conspiracies and Witch Hunts

“You can get discouraged many times, but you are not a failure until you begin to blame somebody else and stop trying.” – John Burroughs

In 1998 when her husband was under attack for, among other things, an inappropriate affair with a White House intern Hillary Clinton said: “The great story here, for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it, is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president”. As is the tendency with many folks, Ms. Clinton refused to admit the fact that her husband’s actions (the husband with the slippery zipper) were the cause of his predicament. Was there a conspiracy against her husband? Yes, just as there is a left-wing conspiracy against Donald Trump today (albeit one much less organized). But that conspiracy didn’t negate President Clinton’s repeated bad behavior.

Finding a scapegoat to blame when we get caught making a mistake is probably a natural response for lots of folks. Heck, I know I used scapegoats a bunch of times when I was a kid. Sorry, Mom…it was really me who set that backyard tree on fire and it was really me stealing Dad’s cigars so my friends and I could sneak off and smoke. Oh…and it was my fault the right rear tire on your old Mercury kept getting slick; that car would leave a black streak a half-mile long!

Another example? President Obama blamed “bad apple” insurance companies for cancelled policies after the passage of The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) rather than admitting that the flawed legislation itself was the culprit.

Vilification is another common strategy used to avoid responsibility or to deflect our attention. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you know that former FBI director James Comey, the one fired by President Trump, released a book telling his side of the story. Comey’s assessment of our President is unflattering at best (in one of his kinder passages he apparently compares Trump to a “mob boss”).

As you probably know, President Trump’s GOP buddies are already launching a campaign to vilify and discredit Comey himself rather than addressing the allegations outlined in the book. Just so you know, during his career in the federal government Comey was involved in investigating and prosecuting the alleged Clinton involvement in the Whitewater Scandal and President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich. As FBI Director Comey sent a letter to Congress about Hillary Clinton’s emails that most people believe resulted in Trump’s Electoral College victory. And although it isn’t necessarily relevant, he also prosecuted Martha Stewart (a major Democratic contributor). Comey served as U.S. Attorney under George W. Bush and was later appointed FBI Director by President Obama. Prior to President Trump’s inauguration Comey successfully worked with both parties. In other words, Comey isn’t a Democratic Party hack.

Vilification is a common strategy these days. The second trial against Bill Cosby is underway this week in Pennsylvania. In that trial Cosby’s attorneys went after the personal character of his most vocal accuser saying she was a “con artist” after “money, money, and more money”. The problem with that attack is that Cosby already paid her $3.4 million to keep quiet about her allegations that he drugged and raped her. The current trial is a criminal prosecution so no money is to be gained by anyone. If she is a “con artist” why did Cosby pay her off? Her testimony is intended to put Cosby in prison, not result in financial gain. Again, vilification works better than addressing issues.

And now the “witch hunt” has become the modern equivalent of “conspiracy”, or so it seems.

Even though Governor Eric Greitens (R-MO) is married with two children he had an affair with his hairdresser back in 2015 when he was gearing up for his Missouri gubernatorial campaign. And yes…I did say “hairdresser”. Yet another good reason to continue cutting my own hair because I thought we still went to “barbers”.

This past week the Missouri House of Representatives released a report finding that not only had Greitens had an extramarital affair, he had likely physically abused his lover and coerced her to perform certain sex acts against her will. How did Greitens respond to this soap opera? WITCH HUNT!!! But…the Missouri legislature is overwhelmingly Republican, the committee conducting the investigation contained five Republicans and only two Democrats, and numerous Missouri Republicans are calling for his resignation. If it is a witch hunt it is one being conducted by his own party.

And, of course the best example of vilification and scapegoating these days is President Trump’s accusation that the Russia Investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is a “witch hunt”. I tried to determine how many times President Trump has used the term “witch hunt” in the last couple of years but I lost count. He made that accusation again this past week when his personal attorney Michael Cohen’s properties were searched. Again, if this is truly a “witch hunt” it must be one being conducted by political opponents. Right?

  • Robert Mueller: Vietnam veteran. Appointed as head of FBI by Republican President George W. Bush and unanimously approved by the Senate. Modernized the FBI after the 9/11 attacks to better intercept potential terrorists. Served as FBI Director longer than anyone except J. Edgar Hoover. He is a registered member of The Republican Party.
  • Jefferson (Jeff) Beauregard Sessions: Republican former Alabama senator appointed by President Trump as current U.S. Attorney General.
  • Rod Rosenstein: Republican. Nominated by George W. Bush to serve as U.S. Attorney in Maryland in 2005 and unanimously approved by the Senate. Nominated by President Trump to serve as Deputy Attorney General and approved by the Senate 94-6. He approved the warrant to search Trump’s attorney’s property.

This investigation is NOT being conducted by political opponents. And if this is really a witch hunt I doubt it would have resulted in nineteen indictments (more to come), five of which are against Americans. Four of the five indicted Americans have pleaded guilty.

Just as a “vast right wing conspiracy” could not be blamed for all the Clintons’ messes, a “witch hunt” is not to blame for the situations confronting Eric Greitens and Donald Trump. As my Dad always said, “you make the bed you lie in”.

The best option, an option available to us all, is to play fair and tell the truth. Why is that such a challenge for so many of our leaders?

THE TOPIC OF MY NEXT POST: The Cost of War

 

 

 

 

Some Good News

I was having coffee with one of my best friends and discussing my frustrations over the number of readers I’ve attracted during the last year. Between 150-200 folks usually read my posts but I had hoped to have lots more by now. Yes…I’m sure it is my ego at work. Doesn’t EVERYONE want to read my musings?

My friend suggested that maybe people are just tired of all the negative stuff going on in the country and the world, and since I tend to focus on some of that negative stuff maybe that partially explains why I’m not getting more readers.

Here are some things about which to be happy and optimistic:

  • In 1820 almost everyone on the planet lived in some level of poverty and very few people actually had higher standards of living. Poverty rates have steadily declined during the last 200 years even as the planet’s population increased seven times. In 1820 about 94% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty but by 2015 that number had dropped to 9.6%. In 1836 the world’s richest man, Nathan Rothschild, died of an infection that almost everyone on the planet would have treated today.
  • The world’s population is becoming more literate. In 1820 only 12% of the planet’s inhabitants were literate and today that number is 83%. This has obviously been a consequence of increased access to education across the plane.
  • Although American life expectancy rates have actually dropped the last two years, mostly because of the opioid crisis, life expectancy rates have risen steadily across the planet in recent decades and that trend is expected to continue. Women tend to live longer than men because they are less likely to abuse alcohol, use tobacco, or engage in other harmful behaviors as are men. By 2030 the average woman will live more than 85 years and women in South Korea will live past 90. Overall, life expectancy on the planet has almost doubled in the last 100 years.
  • Artificial Intelligence capabilities are being developed that have improved and will increasingly improve our lives in numerous ways. You can read this cool story on Watson, the IBM AI being used to diagnose diseases and much more. Yes…the TV ads on Watson are accurate (but annoying). Many of industry’s most dangerous jobs could eventually be replaced by AI driven robots that can perform tasks more efficiently and safely.
  • Michael Brown, a 17 year old senior from Texas, was accepted by all the top 20 universities in the United States and offered full scholarships at each. That includes admission and free tuition to every Ivy League school, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. No student has previously accomplished this. And everyone says he’s a good, well-rounded young man. And he wants to major in Political Science!
  • Contrary to popular belief, American homicide rates have actually declined during the last two decades or so. American homicide rates peaked during the 1970’s, 80’s, and early 90’s then began dropping significantly. According to this research, homicide rates were much higher during America’s early colonial period.
  • Larotrectonib, a new cancer drug, “was effective in 93% of pediatric patients tested” and had a 75% response rate in adults. Whereas most cancer drugs target a specific organ or affected area, this drug may actually treat a variety of cancers. Read this story about a 13 year old girl whose life was saved by Larotrectonib.
  • Because humans decided to establish policies phasing out chemicals used in aerosol cans, refrigerator coolant, and air conditioning systems, the Earth’s ozone layer is actually recovering. The use of chloroflurocarbons was causing the ozone layer to thin, so humans were at greater risk of skin cancers, plant growth was inhibited, and more. This intervention is proof that we can actually solve environmental and other problems if we have the resolve to do so.
  • Because of increased sex education in at least some American states and because of other forms of sex education, teen pregnancy rates have been on a steady decline in recent years after teen birth rates hit an all time high in 1991. Research indicates that more teens are abstaining from sex and more are using birth control when they do have sex. Colorado reduced teen pregnancy rates by 40% and abortion rates by 35% when a law providing free birth control was passed.
  • In the average developed country taxes are a 34% share of gross domestic product. American taxes are only 24% of GDP. In fact almost every developed country has a higher rate of taxation than does the United States.
  • The sun is expected to burn steadily for another 5.4 billion years. That is a good thing because solar power is quickly becoming the Earth’s most affordable form of energy. New technology and materials will make it even more affordable and accessible in the future.
  • As much as I sometimes question its value, the number of people with access to the internet has increased from 16 million in 1995 to almost 4.2 billion today. This matters because more people have access to information and also may begin to understand that those we previously thought were enemies are in fact people just like us. We truly do have the opportunity to become a world village. The internet may certainly be used for evil causes as well, but I would like to think that with increased knowledge comes the opportunity for increased awareness. As you know, I am a dreamer.
  • The number of people dying in wars has steadily declined since the 1940’s and that number is currently at its lowest level in seven decades.

My wife and I have traveled to numerous countries and I have visited at least 46 American states. Everywhere I go I find people who are kind, generous, funny, and loving. I continue to believe that almost all humans are basically good but that those who aren’t get all the press coverage.

Thank you for reading my blog.

And thanks for making me consider happier news in at least one post, Julie!

Pay Attention!

Misdirection: “A form of deception in which the attention of the audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.”

On December 16, 1998 President Bill Clinton ordered airstrikes on Iraq because, he argued, Saddam Hussein was building “weapons of mass destruction”. The bombings were opposed by a good many of the members of Congress and by most of our European allies. The timing of the order for the new wave of bombings, called Operation Desert Fox, was interesting; the day before the bombings the House of Representatives had initiated impeachment charges against Clinton accusing him of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” over his lies related to Monica Lewinsky.

This was not Clinton’s first coincidental use of military. Three months earlier, on August 20, he ordered missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan three days after he was called to testify before a grand jury over his affair with Lewinsky and his subsequent televised confession.

It is certainly possible these military operations had been planned in advance, but it is also very likely they were timed to misdirect the public’s attention from the scandal caused by President Clinton’s hyperactive libido. In fact, his detractors sometimes referred to these military actions as Monica’s War because of their questionable timing.

Of course misdirection is nothing new. Politicians are often akin to those guys on city streets who invite you to guess which cup hides the marble while they swirl multiple empty cups before your increasingly confused eyes. Or maybe it is more like the cartoon boxer who swings one fist wildly in the air to get his opponent’s attention then knocks him cold with the other fist that was being ignored.

And political misdirection often takes other forms.

In 2013 citizens and media were intensely focused on the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on same sex marriage. We were so focused on that case that we missed Congress passing and President Obama signing  H.R. 933 which included a section referred to as The Monsanto Protection Act limiting federal court jurisdiction over any cases dealing with genetically modified or engineered seeds. That means that even if we ultimately learn that consuming food produced from these seeds is harmful to our health we cannot file suit against Monsanto seeking medical coverage or other compensation. Congress and the President took advantage of the fact that our attention was focused elsewhere.

Of course our current President is the master of misdirection. Many folks argue that President Trump tweets and says outlandish things in public because he is just crass and incapable of self-control. While that may be true there is little doubt he also plays the game of misdirection, and he is good at it. Any time breaking news casts him in a negative light he begins tweeting outrageous claims or he goes wildly off script in a public speech.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s fabrications no longer surprise us. We now just ignore the exaggerated estimate of the number of people attending his swearing in ceremony, his claims to have talked with Mexico’s president and the leader of the Boy Scouts, his claim that he saved money on military aircraft when the cuts were actually planned under previous administrations, criticizing President Obama for moving our British embassy (a decision made by President Bush), his promise to release his taxes, his claim that Mexico would build a wall, his claim that more people watched his State of the Union address than ever, and all the other constant untruths. Add to that all the personal attacks on journalists, federal judges, his own appointees, and just about everyone other than himself and his own family and we just come to expect his almost daily unsupportable and preposterous comments.

I believe President Trump’s most outlandish tweets and utterances are intended to misdirect the public’s attention. He used misdirection when he abruptly announced an anti-transgender military policy, an announcement intended to make voters ignore his attacks on Jeff Sessions and other scandals of the day. He tweeted about millions of illegal voters on the same day the New York Times ran a story about his questionable business dealings both here and abroad.

His misdirection is almost methodical, and there is a reason for that. He really doesn’t want Americans to think about or understand Robert Mueller’s investigation into the relationship between his staff/family and Russia. He really doesn’t want us wondering what he is hiding in his tax returns. He doesn’t want us thinking about the consequences of the tax reform package or his failure to reform Obamacare. He hopes we will miss the fact that since he became president Democrats are winning elections that they should lose. He wants voters to forget his claim to “drain the swamp”. He doesn’t want us wondering about his use of the presidency to increase his personal wealth. And he really doesn’t want us wondering about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. In fact there is quite a bit he wants us to ignore.

And we now have an “adult film” star claiming to have had an affair with President Trump while he was married to his current wife, and she claims to have proof (I hope I’m NEVER forced to see such proof if it does exist!). Other women are coming forward (and have come forward previously) with the same claims. I’m pretty sure President Trump doesn’t want us thinking about those scandals and will do everything possible to misdirect our attention.

I’m also pretty certain President Trump doesn’t want us thinking about the federal lawsuit accusing him of taking illegal foreign gifts in violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause”.

This morning President Trump attacked giant online retailer Amazon (one of his favorite targets) and, as is often the case, his attacks were based on untruths. Don’t you wonder what motivated this morning’s tweet?

Can we expect the deployment of cruise missiles in the near future? Can we expect a new wave of White House firings? What outrageous tweets should we expect? How will he misdirect the public’s collective attention?

We need to avoid watching the swirling cups. We need to ignore the fist spinning in the air.

We need to pay attention.