…that all men are created equal

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,  that all men are created equal…”, a sentiment borrowed from philosophers such as Locke and Rousseau. The Constitution never mentions equality in the same way as does the Declaration, but the 14th Amendment mentions “…equal protection of the laws…”, a nod to the notion of legal equality.

So how are we doing with that equality thing? Women’s History Month ends today so I want to focus on gender equity since I’ve previously written about socioeconomic and ethnic issues.

In 1776, when America was fighting for independence from Britain, Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband John urging the members of the Continental Congress to “remember the ladies” while deliberating independence. The Congress instead chose to forget the ladies, a precedent often followed in the years since. The Constitution, written in 1787, did not mention gender but referred to “persons” and “citizens”, seemingly gender neutral terms but ones that in fact applied to men because of common law. Women were not given the right to vote in any elections until the 1860s when a few states began permitting them to vote in state elections. The 19th Amendment, passed in 1920, finally granted equal voting rights in all American elections. Interestingly, however, this amendment  gave women the right to vote precisely fifty years after the 15th granted that right to former male slaves.

In this and other ways women have had to fight for every right gained. In the 1800’s the Supreme Court allowed states to interpret the term “citizens” to apply only to men, so women’s attempts to gain rights through the courts usually fell flat. Attempts to add an “equal rights amendment” to the Constitution beginning in the 1920s were also unsuccessful. Even in the 1960s the Supreme Court allowed states to eliminate women from juries, to prohibit women from serving or selling liquor, and to enforce other similarly discriminatory laws. And in 1967 the Boston Marathon attempted to keep a woman from running the race!

So that is all in the past. Correct?

  • I’m sure you are familiar with statistics related to pay inequity. As of 2015 women were paid 80% of the average man’s salary. Hispanic women earned 54% and African-American women earned 63% of the average white male salary. As women age the pay gap increases steadily, and women earn less than men in almost every occupation category. The most optimistic projection is that the pay gap will not close until 2059, but numerous factors can impact that projection.
  • A 2013 study found that girls around the world outperform boys in science at age 15…but not in the United States. It seems that American girls are more likely to be channeled into traditional women’s roles that focus less on science and math, and this places them at a disadvantage when choosing a career. Interestingly, the same phenomenon holds true for Canada and Britain but not most for Middle Eastern and Asian countries, and in Russia.
  • Women hold 104/535  seats (19%) in the U.S. Congress. Although this has increased significantly in recent decades, this is still far below the 50.8% of Americans who are female. Oh…and of the thirty-four positions appointed by President Trump at this point…five are women. In case you are interested, 64% of the legislators in Rwanda are female.
  • Only twenty-one CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (4%) are female.  These numbers are obviously troubling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that 60% of college degrees and 60% of masters degrees are currently being earned by women, and a higher percentage of women hold college degrees than men.
  • The United States is the only country among forty-one surveyed that does not guarantee paid maternity leave for mothers of newborns. In fact, The United States is one of only three countries in the world not providing that leave.
  • More than 23 million American women have been raped. Almost half of those women were under the age of 18 when the assault occurred. By the way, until 1993 there were states that provided a “marital exemption” stating that husbands could not be charged for raping their wives.
  • Other examples of unequal treatment of women are numerous. Some are subtle (name calling, other lingering stereotypical behavior and hidden sexism), and others more blatant (a boss demanding sexual favors).
  • Interesting fact: In 1979 The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. To date 186 countries have ratified that convention. The seven that have not? Iran, Palau, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tonga and The United States.

These facts apply only to American women. Women across the planet face these and other more serious forms of discrimination and abuse. Approximately 59% of people forced into human labor or sex trafficking each year are women and 17% are girls. As many as 8,000 girls suffer genital mutilation each day to destroy their ability to enjoy sex as adults. In many countries women cannot sue for divorce, own property, or drive automobiles. Some young girls have either no or limited access to education.

Merriam-Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes“. A feminist is one who accepts this theory. I’m a feminist and you should be as well.



We Have Nothing to Fear… but Fear Ourselves

OK. The title is a slight exaggeration but I thought this play on FDR’s words was catchy. This post is about our current efforts to ensure that foreign terrorists don’t slip in to our country and repeat 9/11/2001 or worse.

Is foreign terrorism our greatest threat?

The likelihood of being killed by a terrorist is .00003%. I’m not really good at statistics but I do know that is pretty darned low. I’m certain you’ve all heard that the number of previous terrorists from the countries on President Trump’s current immigration ban is … zero, nor have any people admitted to the U.S. as refugees ever engaged in acts of terrorism. Although terrorists have attacked our citizens since 9/11 causing the deaths of about thirty Americans, these attacks were perpetrated by people already in the U.S. (some of whom were citizens) who became radicalized.

I know the counter argument: More Americans have not been killed by terrorists because of the U.S. government’s vigilance. This is certainly true, at least according to Wikipedia. The diligent work of the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence gathering and law enforcement agencies has certainly saved many lives. Still…is this our greatest threat?

I’m sure you will expect me to compare the number of American deaths by terrorists to the number killed by gun violence, and since I don’t want to disappoint my loyal readers I’ll mention it briefly. In the first three months of 2017 alone 3,514 Americans died from gun violence. Of these, 140 were children under the age of twelve and 718 were between 12 and 18 years of age.  So in the first quarter of 2017 about as many of our fellow citizens died from gun violence as died from terrorism in the last 20 years. About  440,095 people died because of firearms from 2001 through 2014.  By comparison, approximately 400,000 Americans died defeating Germany and the Axis powers in World War II. I’m a gun owner who enjoys target shooting, but I believe we need sensible restrictions on gun ownership (the topic of a future post).

Here are some other ways we kill each other:

  • Someone is killed every 53 minutes and more than 9,000 die each year because of drunk drivers. Our laws on impaired driving do not work.
  • Since 1964 about 2,500,000 non-smokers have died from exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • In 2013 researchers at MIT calculated that 200,000 Americans die from air pollution each year. About 53,000 of those are from auto pollution and 52,000 result from power generation. Industrial smokestacks, railroads, heating and cooling systems, and other factors also play a role.
  • The CDC estimates that more than 3,000 of us die annually from foodborne illnesses.
  • In 2015 4,317 workers were accidentally killed on the job.
  • Parents murder their own children about 450 times each year.
  • More than 700 Americans are killed annually by drivers running red lights.
  • By some estimates more than 400,000 Americans die each year because of a preventable medical error. These include overmedication, infections, unnecessary procedures, and more.
  • More than 40,000 die each year from accidental poisoning.
  • Coal miners die from black lung disease, people die because their water supplies are tainted by chemical spills, a number die for lack of health care or insurance, and more than 4,000 pedestrians are killed each year.

I’ll stop adding to this morbid list, but I think you get the point. Do we need to be protected from foreign terrorists? Absolutely! Our government’s primary responsibility is ensuring our safety.

I just wonder why we think foreign terrorists are our greatest threat when statistical data say otherwise. Most of the deaths from the causes listed above could be significantly reduced if we showed the same resolve as with our current attempts to protect us from terrorists, and in my mind that threat is much lower than other perils we face daily.

PS: I apologize for the infrequent and short posts recently; life became sort of hectic. Thanks for your understanding.

The 2016 Presidential Election

I’ve been ignoring this topic because I know how distressing it is for many voters (understandably so). I plan to offer my honest opinion so I may offend everyone!

The 2016 candidates for the major parties were two of the most flawed candidates in American history (of course they don’t compare to Horace Greely who actually died prior to the Electoral College vote in 1872). As I’ve said previously, there are about 330 million Americans and these were the two best among us? I don’t think so.

Both the Democratic Party and the media effectively made Hillary Clinton  the party nominee before the race even began. She was favored to the point that Joe Biden and other Democrats with national name recognition didn’t even enter the race, and those who did enter did not have a fighting chance. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, probably had much to offer the Democratic Party but he lacked name recognition. Bernie Sanders made a go of it, but most Americans are still turned off by the term “socialism” even with the word “democratic” in front of it.

So the party served Hillary Clinton to the public on a silver platter in spite of her long history of scandals and questionable responses regarding her emails and other issues.  Questions regarding the Clinton Foundation alone should have been a huge red flag. The veracity of her public statements on the campaign trail remained questionable throughout 2016. Still, even with her faults she won 2.9 million more votes than Donald Trump but she lost the Electoral College.

At least seventeen Republicans sought the Party’s nomination in 2016, and a dozen or so of those candidates were viable and qualified (I personally supported one of them), but the Republican primary voters unfortunately selected one of the unqualified candidates. Donald Trump had no political experience (that can be an attribute but it requires an extraordinary individual, and that he is not), his past business dealings were questionable at best, his  warped views regarding women were well documented (and validated in a recorded conversation with a reporter), his views on issues seemingly changed on a whim, and he had been embroiled in as many scandals as had Hilary Clinton. Yet he won the Republican Party nomination and went on to win 306 votes in the Electoral College (270 required to win).

So we had two flawed candidates running to be the most powerful individual on the planet. We could have predicted the consequences. The campaigns were nasty and filled with fabrications and falsifications. The Toronto Star fact-checked Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric and determined that he offered, on average, twenty false statements per day during a six-week period leading up to the election. Although they found that Trump offered false statements more frequently, Clinton uttered at least thirteen false statements during the debates.The candidates’ campaign ads were also over the top.

How do we keep this from continuing to happen in future elections? I’ve previously argued that we need to create an environment conducive to third-party development and success. I have also presented evidence that money has a terribly corrupting influence on American politics. No single fix will suffice, but there are certainly some things we should try:

  • Simplify voter registration. Registration procedures vary from state to state and even vary by county within some states. We should also update our voting processes to make sure all votes are counted accurately and that recounts are possible.  Some states allow early voting, others do not. Some allow voting via mail, others do not. Creating more uniformity is just a simple, necessary reform that would modernize our system and remove doubt regarding election outcomes. It will be difficult to accomplish, however, because the processes are determined by each state.
  • Overturn Supreme Court decisions making money the equivalent of speech. I’ve argued this previously. Money must be removed from the election process to encourage qualified candidates to compete regardless of their financial status.
  • Amend the Constitution to allow someone to serve only one term as president, but lengthen that term. Six or eight years seems reasonable. Stop this constant election cycle (people are already beginning to build campaign committees, or at least think about them, for 2020). I understand concerns that this might put a poor president in office for a longer period of time, but Congress has the power to impeach and should be willing to use that power to remove duds (I do live in a dream world).
  • Limit campaigns to five or six months. Other countries do it. British campaigns for Parliament (and thus the Prime Minister) last thirty days. And yes, I know we have different governmental structures but there must be a way to limit our perpetual campaigns.
  • Change the current primary process. It is insane that New Hampshire (the state with the first primary) has more choices than does California (one of the last) because candidates drop out during the five months between the first and last primaries. I tend to favor dividing the country in to regions, have a “primary day” in all states in a particular region on the same day, and rotate the order in which regions vote every election cycle. That way no state or region has a perpetual advantage.
  • The most controversial suggestion? Eliminate the Electoral College and rely on the popular vote.  The Electoral College was created at a time when mass communication was impossible so voters were largely uninformed. It was also created to ensure small states would be protected from dominance by the larger states. However, beginning about 200 years ago the states gradually started allowing their citizens to vote in the presidential elections and informally influence the Electoral College. Twice in the last seventeen years (2000 and 2016)  the Electoral College has chosen a candidate who lost the popular vote, the last time by a large margin. In my mind this violates the first three words of the Constitution: We the people.

Feel free to post questions in the comment section if you want me to explain any of my weird ideas in more detail.

Until we change our process we will not get the best presidential candidates, or president, America has to offer.


How a Bill Really Becomes a Law

Yes.  I know you expect me to just refer you to the Schoolhouse Rock video that we’ve all seen many times because this short video perfectly summarizes our legislative process. A bill begins as an idea, is introduced into Congress by one of its members, goes through committees, must pass both houses, and is either signed or vetoed by the president.  Short and sweet. But wrong. Not even close.

The truth is that laws must pass through a much more complex series of very political processes, and as my Dad always said: “It ain’t pretty”.   Otto Van Bismarck’s 19th century proclamation that “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made” is more true today than ever before. Here is a short summary of problems with the American legislative process and with Congress. I leave out MUCH more than I cover and will likely return to the topic in future posts.


Most folks think legislators have ideas that they develop or which are brought to them by their constituents and that they then work to turn this idea in to a bill. There may have been a time when this was the norm, but it is certainly not today. On the state level where most legislators serve only part time positions and don’t have full time staff, they rely heavily on interest groups and lobbyists. Ideas for utility laws might originate with utility companies, laws affecting grocery stores might originate with the lobbyists for those stores, etc. Or, in many states an idea might originate with ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council), a group funded by corporations and widely criticized for its undue influence on state governments. This should really concern you.

Sure, it happens that legislators have ideas they personally support which they try to turn in to law, but these days that is often the exception. Remember that organized interest groups have full time lobbyists in Washington and in every state capitol; you and I do not. Last year there were more than 11,000 lobbyists in Washington alone, and they spent over $3 billion to influence government. The same is true on the state level as well. In Illinois, for example, there are 1,609 registered lobby groups.

Bills also originate with the agencies responsible for a policy area, so EPA might compose environmental legislation, The Department of Agriculture might write ag bills, the Uniform Law Commission might write bills attempting to help states find common ground on an issue, etc. A large portion of bills also come from the White House.

In recent years we’ve seen an alarming trend (mentioned later) where the leaders of the two houses write legislation themselves and present it to their houses.


Each year more than 10,000 bills are formally filed in Congress, so there must be a way to efficiently deal with them. Most bills are sent to a committee, and most die there. The idea is to send bills to committees with content expertise, so military bills go to the military committees, agriculture bills to agriculture committees, etc. This is a good idea that evolved as government grew larger and issues became more complex. By now you probably can assume that there are problems with the committee system (or I would not be mentioning it), and you would be correct.

A committee composed of a relatively smaller number of members of Congress conducts research and hopefully offers an objective recommendation to the House or Senate. Great idea except that the members of committees are the primary target of interest groups that want to influence their decisions. These interest groups donate large sums of campaign money to the members of the committee because they know the committees’ decisions are almost always final. The lobbyists for interest groups focus much of their efforts on the committee members, wining and dining them in other ways as well.

The committee system also suffers from other problems, but the discussion would put you to sleep (my greatest fear!). I’ll just say that the committee system has also been weakened in recent years by congressional leadership’s decisions.


Well…many members of Congress leave DC on Thursday afternoon and return on Tuesday morning. On average Congress engages in legislative work less than three days each week, or 139 days per year. Not bad for folks earning a salary of $174,000 per year. I’d calculate their hourly wage but it would just depress me.

Why do they work so few hours when they have more than 10,000 bills to consider each year? They return home to engage in “constituency service”, meaning they theoretically work with their voters regarding problems with government. They also hold (or should hold) “town hall” meetings where they engage with their voters. And they spend some of that time raising campaign money. According to a 2013 study, members of Congress spend between 15-20% of their time raising campaign money. In case you are interested, for the 2012 election cycle members of the House raised on average $2,400 per day and senators raised $4,700 per day for the six-year period. Oh…and they are also required to raise money for their parties.

So, our representatives and senators don’t really spend much time on the legislative process itself.


Well. Yeah. Quite a bit, but I’ll be brief. The legislative process is now mired in party division with no end in sight. There really were times in our past when Democrats and Republicans in Congress worked to compromise on issues, but rank partisanship has steadily increased during the last four decades to the point that compromise is considered a four letter word. The reasons for this split are numerous, and none are pleasant. At least part of the problem is voters who either stay at home on election day or have no clue why they are voting for someone, and by now you can assume that money also plays a part as well.

At the heart of the problem is Congress’ rejection of regular order as a way of doing business (which, by the way, would be much more similar to the Schoolhouse Rock version). Under regular order bills are introduced by members of Congress,  referred to the relevant committees, and then go to the floor for debate if approved by the committee. Further, the process is TRANSPARENT. Today bills often come to the floor of the House and Senate for debate, and the members do not even have time to read them in advance. The text of the bills is often not made available to the public in advance, committees are bypassed, and the bills are sometimes written by House or Senate leaders and then presented to the members for votes with little or no debate (the current healthcare proposal is a good example).

My students know that I consider the U.S. Congress to be THE major problem with American government. People blame presidents because they are visible (and its easier to focus on one person than 535), but I believe most blame can be placed squarely on Congress. Congress could solve many issues facing our nation if it would just do its job. My students also know my only joke (and it is a weak one) regarding Congress: If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?




Too Much Government?

On the news this morning a member of Congress said “I don’t know anything government does well other than defend the country”.  Of course my ears pricked up and the squirrels in my old head started spinning the wheels. Is he correct?

Libertarians argue that government is far too big and that it should only perform the functions specifically outlined in or reasonably implied from the Constitution. I think most of us have at least some libertarian tendencies because independence and freedom from government intervention are in the American DNA, probably a consequence of our history. And I absolutely agree that government is too big and that administrative bodies often impose silly regulations on society and the economy. I also agree that government is often very inefficient. However, I’m not at all interested in making government go away. Here are a few governmental functions I’m happy to let my tax dollars cover.

  • Fire and police protection. I don’t think I really need to defend this. I like the idea that I can call 911 if our house is on fire, if I see an automobile accident, or if I see someone suspicious lurking in our yard.
  • Protecting the environment. I mentioned this in a previous post. We have quantifiable evidence that the air and water are cleaner since the creation of EPA, and we can look right across our southern border and see the consequences of government inaction. Does EPA sometimes overreach? Yes, but I appreciate the agency’s overall impact.
  • As someone who flies quite often, I’m very happy that the FAA imposes regulations on airlines, requiring them to inspect and replace engines and other equipment at regular intervals, randomly drug testing pilots, providing air traffic control to keep planes from flying in to each other, and more. Do I think I should be required to remove my shoes when I go through security? No. It is a silly regulation, but I’ll accept that inconvenience knowing that in other ways the FAA makes flying in the U.S. very safe.
  • Local zoning ordinances. I actually turned down a job many years ago and one of the reasons (among many) was that the town did not have zoning ordinances. I realized this when I saw ramshackled  mobile homes sitting next to nice homes, bars close to schools and churches, and neighborhoods next to industrial parks. I’m not being a snob at all, but zoning ordinances are necessary to protect property values.
  • Parks. All levels of government set aside publicly owned land for common enjoyment. This is a great idea. There would be no incentive for a private company to buy 3,500 square miles and designate it as a park, but I’ve visited Yellowstone National Park several times and am glad the government does so. The same is true of state parks here in Missouri, and our local government has purchased large chunks of land for sports complexes as well as biking and walking trails. States also provide lakes in which we may fish and land on which we may hunt.
  • Highways. Again, there is no private incentive for building streets, roads, and highways. I would prefer putting a large portion of transportation money into rail systems, but absent that I can at least travel to visit friends and family on publicly-funded highways.
  • Libraries. Being able to visit my local library either in-person or virtually is a great benefit. I regularly check out e-books at no cost, and that saves me quite a chunk of change over buying e-books for my Nook.
  • Postal Service. The USPS processes 353,000 pieces of mail every minute of the day and generates $227 million in revenue every day. The USPS receives no federal money and would operate much better and efficiently if Congress would just leave the agency alone. Sending a letter across country for less than 50 cents knowing it will almost certainly arrive within a few days is a bargain. And the USPS is battling forces beyond its control such as email.
  • Curtailing blatant discrimination. Prior to the 1950’s schools were segregated. Prior to the 1960’s minorities were not give equal access to restaurants, water fountains, or restrooms in certain parts of the country. Prior to 1967 employers were allowed to discriminate on the basis of age. Prior to 1971 men were legally given first right to a family estate. Prior to 2015 the right to marry was not guaranteed to same sex couples.  All these forms of discrimination and more have been addressed by government.
  • Educating our citizens. Free public education (k-12), the G.I. Bill, land grants to states to create universities, Pell Grants, free lunch programs for underprivileged kids, and much more.
  • Food safety. Local governments require food service employees to complete a proper food handling class and they inspect restaurants for cleanliness violations. State governments impose regulations such as temperature to which restaurants must cook food. The federal government provides food inspectors, normally at the point of production.
  • And much more. Government prohibits organized cock fighting and dog fighting and controls puppy mills (or at least does so in some states), it protects my rights such as speech and assembly, it makes the workplace safer (if OSHA had been around a few years earlier my Dad would have been spared a major injury), local and state governments provide health departments that provide some care for the underprivileged, state governments regulate professions such as physicians and cosmetologists to ensure they are trained properly, and on and on…..

Could government do these and other things better? Absolutely. As mentioned above, government is often inefficient.  Further, it doesn’t always represent the common citizen and its decisions are certainly influenced by money. And sometimes government makes dumb decisions based on petty partisanship. However, it does many things well in addition to keeping us safe from foreign threats.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a few weeks I’m sure you know that I have addressed and will continue to address things the government does not do well and things government should not do at all, but after hearing the Congressman’s comment this morning I thought a little perspective was in order.

Crime and Punishment

In spite of what politicians may tell us, crime has declined dramatically since the 1990s. Sure, policy makers can always point out exceptions (murder rates in Dallas and Chicago, for example), but most of us do not live in areas where those exceptions apply and those statistics are not indicative of overall trends. You can click HERE to read ten possible explanations for the decline. Remember that they are just theories.

Politicians often want us to believe crime is at an “all time high” because it is an emotional issue that captivates our attention and, consequently, they can claim to be “tough on crime” and win our votes.  This demagoguery keeps Americans from understanding the truth AND it causes a large number of us to live in an unnecessary state of fear.

The common argument that crime rates are higher in the United States than any other countries is also incorrect; we actually rank 53rd of 125 countries included in the current crime index. However, our crime rate is, unfortunately, higher than in countries we would consider our social and economic peers. Why that is true is a question that does not lend itself to a simple answer.

Of course folks in academia have developed all sorts of cool theories to explain American crime, but finding one theory that explains all crime just isn’t possible. Someone who walks in on a spouse having “relations” with another person might react violently for one reason whereas someone acting violently in another context might have a different reason. Someone who steals groceries to feed her family commits a crime for different reasons than someone steals a car to go for a ride. So theories explaining crime are by nature limited.

Arguments regarding crime are complicated by the fact that crime is what we say it is. Some crimes are fairly obvious and are generally common to most societies (murder, theft, etc.) while others are not necessarily obvious and are defined by each society (pornography, drug use, traffic laws, prostitution, etc.).  Laws are not always rational and are often passed for all the wrong reasons (which I’ll explore sometime soon), so expending resources enforcing those laws is illogical. In an earlier post I argued that most drug laws make no sense. I would add laws creating our current system of taxation and OTHERS  (you should read some of these for fun).

A final issue is appropriate punishment for crimes. The Constitution says a punishment cannot be “cruel and unusual” and state constitutions impose similar restrictions, but legislatures otherwise have a great deal of latitude in assigning punishments to crimes. Again, some punishments are obvious (a fine for speeding makes more sense than death by firing squad) and others are not (should non-violent offenders be imprisoned).

Although states and the federal government occasionally review their civil and criminal codes, there is never a wholesale attempt to reconsider those codes and determine whether they are still reasonable.  Nor do these governments consistently examine possible causes for various crimes and attempt to address them. I believe it is time to reconsider crime and punishment, and here is an outline of what I propose.

First we need to determine which of our fellow citizens’ actions might elicit fear. In other words, which criminals am I really afraid of? That one is actually pretty easy, at least in my mind. I’m afraid of murderers, rapists, heroin and meth dealers, child abusers, armed robbers, arsonists, terrorists, those guilty of aggravated assault. I’m less fearful of embezzlers, drug abusers, minor drug distributers, those committing fraud, and other non-violent offenders. I’m also less afraid of speeders, those running traffic lights, and other motor vehicle criminals (with the exception of impaired drivers). I’m not afraid of drug users, prostitutes, gamblers, and other non-violent offenders and I would either decriminalize or legalize those activities.

Then we have to assign consequences to criminal actions, and my ideas here are pretty radical because I think we need to reconsider the purpose of prisons. We should stop thinking of them as “corrections” facilities and begin thinking of them as places we send people of whom we are afraid. For life. If I’m afraid of a rapist today I will still be afraid of him or her in twenty years. I feel the same about any violent offenders. No three strikes because in this game you only get one. Maybe there could be a way for the offenders to demonstrate that we no longer need to fear them at some point in the future, but I don’t know of any such way. So the only people I’d send to prison are violent offenders.

I’d be creative with non-violent offenders and the punishment would vary by the crime. For minor offenses (traffic violations, minor embezzlement, corporate fraud, etc.) I would continue imposing fines; the more severe the crime the higher the fine. The goal is to deter future behavior by the offender and others. Does deterrence work for some crimes? Yes. I only need to ask; why do you stay within a few MPH of the speed limit when you drive? Most of us do so because we fear a fine.

For more serious criminal offenders I would require community service, electronic monitoring, shock boot camp (I know repeat DUI offenders whose lives were turned around by this experience), and various rehabilitation services. We should allow judges to exercise creativity so they may craft an appropriate punishment for each circumstance.

We should also eliminate three-strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentences, but I’ll save those for later.

As of March, 2016 the United States was holding more than 2.3 million prisoners in its federal, state, and local prisons, and more than half of those incarcerated were confined for non violent offenses. You probably know that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, yet we still have the highest crime rate of all similar countries. I really think it is time to reconsider our ideas regarding crime and punishment.

  • https://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw2016/content/section-6/PDF/2016NCVRW_CrimeTrends-508.pdf
  • http://www.factcheck.org/2016/07/dueling-claims-on-crime-trend/
  • http://www.creighton.edu/fileadmin/user/CCAS/departments/PoliticalScience/MVJ/docs/mckim.pdf

Random Thoughts

I’m away for a conference this week (which, as it happens, is on a beach in Charleston, SC) and don’t have time to focus on a post (well, I guess I’m choosing to spend my limited free time on the beach), so I thought I would just offer some random ideas and opinions. There is no theme.

  • American school kids rank 38th out of 71 countries in math, 24th in Science. If this trend continues we will be relying on people from other countries to solve more of the world’s problems in the future. Still, some children in American schools do fine and score on par with their peers in other countries. The determining factor (as I’ve mentioned previously) is socioeconomic status. The schools and teachers should not be blamed for our international rankings.
  • Those rumble strips on the edges of I-70 have saved me more times than I can count. This is an example of great government policy. So are those cables that separate lanes on interstate highways.
  • Colorado established a program providing free birth control to low-income women and had a 40% decrease in teen pregnancy during a four year period. Teen pregnancy rates have been on the decline nationally in recent years and I personally don’t think it is because teenagers have suddenly decided to stop having sex.
  • Last year (2016) the British government established a commission to examine the reasons we went to war in Iraq in 2003. The study concluded that the war was initiated without solid reasons and was based on false assumptions regarding the anticipated outcome. That war helped destabilized the Middle East, was one factor leading to the growth of ISIS, cost the American taxpayers more than $2 trillion, and cost approximately 175,000 people their lives.
  • The average annual cost to educate one child in public schools is about $7,500. The $2 trillion we spent in Iraq could educate 267 million children, so the amount spent in Iraq would cover expenses for all 98,817 American public schools for about four years.
  • It is never acceptable to mock people because of their gender, race, sexual identity, or height because these are naturally defining characteristics. Why then is it OK to tease people because of their age?
  • Pink Floyd Was the best rock band ever. The intro to “Shine on you Crazy Diamond” is one of the two best intros in rock history.  The other? Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend”.
  • Figuring out a solution to the rising cost of American healthcare is hard (or so I’ve heard), but now that healthcare has become a “right” it will be very difficult for Uncle Sam to take it away. Most increased costs are a consequence of increased drug prices, medical devices, and hospital care. American healthcare costs much more than healthcare in our peer countries.
  • Less than two months ago scientists from three countries released a study arguing that the universe may be an incredibly huge and complex hologram and that what we consider reality may be an illusion.  Wow, dude!
  • My dad (the greatest man who ever lived) was a master of idioms and a unique turner of phrases. Once when he and I were watching Richard Nixon on the nightly news my dad said “if he’s telling the truth my a$$ is a Chinese typewriter”. The best advice he ever offered was “…go to college, son. You might wind up digging ditches for a living, but at least you will be an educated ditch digger”.
  • If you don’t agree with what I (or anyone else) write(s) then for goodness sakes don’t read it.  Don’t let it affect our friendship!
  • Our Founders were very forward thinking when they accepted Montesquieu’s argument that government should be divided into three equal branches and that each would have control over the others. It would be really nice if all three branches actually performed their responsibilities. And now there are actually four branches because the federal bureaucracy numbers about 2.8 million employees (a number that has been steady for several decades regardless of what politicians tell us) who are largely uncontrolled by the elected branches.
  • Squirrel!

I’ll be back in the saddle again on Monday and will post something more focused. Thanks for your patience.

















Freedictionary.com defines bigotry as “extreme intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own“.  Narrow-minded prejudice is yet another thing tearing apart the planet and our country. If you don’t believe me just spend a few minutes reading comments on the Foxnews, CNN, or MSNBC news websites (and if that doesn’t do it for you, spend some time on more extreme websites).  Warning:  Be prepared to jump in a hot shower and wish for a mind scrub because there are some folks using angry,  abusive, bigoted language hiding behind those computer monitors!

Bigotry and prejudice lead us to think that anything defining us as “us” is superior and, ultimately, can result in a fear of or hatred for others. It makes us see the world in terms of Christian/Muslim/ Hindu/ Atheist/Buddhist/Bahai/Mormon/etc., native/immigrant, dark skin/light skin, first world/developing world, wealthy/poor, lazy/industrious, straight/LGBTQ,  or communist/capitalist.

Here are three characteristics I believe tend to define many of our differences these days.


Anthropologists generally divide homo sapiens into four broad racial categories which are then further divided into numerous subcategories based on things like region of origin, hair texture, skin color, and more.  Regardless of our differences, however, all humans share more than 99% of genetic material.  The darkest and lightest-skinned humans are genetically almost exactly the same, so race is an artificially created defining characteristic.

AN ASIDE: On the drive back from dinner in the home of Mississippi friends many years ago our four year old son asked from his car seat if Christy and Christopher were his cousins. The fact that Christy and Christopher were African American never crossed his mind.  Children do not see differences; they are taught.


Counting the number of different religions on the planet is not possible, but at least eighty are documented (though I tend to think those claiming “Jedi Knights” might have been having fun with the surveyors).  If we also count religious beliefs that are specific to indigenous groups and what might be referred to as “new religions” that are constantly popping up, the number must be in the hundreds or thousands. The top five are Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism.  Surely there is agreement among the adherents of each of these. Right? Not so much.

  • Buddhism is divided into Theravada, Mahayana, Tantric, Zen, and Pure Land sects (terminology varies somewhat depending on region).
  • Islam is divided into Wahhabi, Kharijites, Sunni, Shi’ites, Ghulat, and Sufi sects.
  • In 2012 a Christian seminary estimated that there were 43,000 denominations of Christianity that agree or disagree on such things as the trinity, heaven, hell, the authority of scripture, predestination, and much more.
  • Judaism is divided into conservative, orthodox, reform, reconstructionist, and other denominations.
  • Hinduism includes Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Tantrism, and non-denominational sects.

So any blanket statements or assumptions we make about Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. are by nature false.


It is sometimes easy for those of us who do OK financially to assume that personal choices cause folks to be poor, and this is certainly the case with some people who are unwilling to put forth the effort to succeed. However, in today’s economy education is closely related to economic status, and educational success is most closely tied to family background.  It is easy, therefore, to understand how this becomes self-perpetuating.  If education is not valued or promoted by a family and that attitude is passed on to children, then it becomes increasingly difficult for these families to rise from their status. Like most of you who are reading this blog, I had great, hard-working parents who valued education and encouraged me all along the way (sometimes more successfully than others). Many children don’t have that support and are often caught in a cycle over which they have little control. As with race and religion, therefore, socioeconomic status is an unfair characteristic for division.

I am in no way claiming to be above all this. People who say, for example, that they do not notice someone’s race are probably not being completely honest. When I meet someone I notice gender, race, height, demeanor, tattoos, clothing styles, hair style, and more. I think everyone does. The issue is what we do with that information. We can generally assume that if we meet a woman wearing a hijab she is Muslim, but does that prompt us to feel a certain way about her? If we see a young black man with his pants hanging low is “punk” or “thug” the first word that runs through our mind? If we see a well-dressed middle-aged white man does that make us feel more secure? If we see a teenage girl who is pregnant do we immediately judge her?

How do we overcome, or at least diminish, our bigotry?  Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I agree.  When I was nineteen years old two of my buddies and I spent several weeks camping in 26 different states, and that was eye-opening and mind expanding for this Mississippi kid. To date I have visited 46 American states and about fifteen countries (and will visit many more before I die), and the thing that always strikes me is that people are the same wherever I go. Most are kind, generous, and fun-loving, and a few are jerks (I had a fun shouting match with a cabby once in Italy.  Too bad he didn’t speak English and my Italian is awful).  People are people. All our bodies are made from the same star dust (and I’m not going all hippie on you). This is a truth I could have never understood prior to traveling.

I do understand that most people don’t have the opportunity or inclination to travel as much as do my wife and I, but there are other ways to become familiar with people of other races, cultures, socioeconomic groups, and religions, and to reexamine our prejudices.

  • When I was very young our youth group from Verona Methodist Church was taken to a Jewish Synagogue in Tupelo where we met the Rabbi and learned about the history of Judaism. This was a valuable experience and exposed me to a different religion and culture. I recommend it.
  • Eating in ethnic restaurants and getting to know the folks working there helps break down barriers.
  • Reading books about other people, religions, etc. can help us understand our common struggles.
  • Questioning our personal biases and determining how they were developed.  When we catch ourselves thinking something like “teenagers are lazy” or “blonds are not very smart” or “he’s Mexican so I’ll bet he is here illegally”,  stop and question the validity of that thought and its source.
  • Simply nodding, smiling, and saying hello to people we meet on the streets regardless of their appearance usually invites a similar greeting.
  • Heck, watching travel shows helps.

So here is my argument. Recognizing and evaluating people’s differences is learned. Since this is learned it can be unlearned. I believe that certain conversations, circumstances, influences, and other life experiences create bigotry and, conversely, those can also be used to begin breaking it down. And from personal experience I know that unlearning negative information accumulated over time is possible because I did so with algebra.













Our Environment: Living Like There is No Tomorrow

During much of our history humans have had this idea that everything was placed on Earth for our consumption.  In the West this notion may at least partially stem from the Bible’s Book of Genesis which commands humans to “…rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Western philosophers such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rouseau promoted this belief that all animals, plants, minerals and other resources exist only for human consumption.  That belief is threatening the only world on which we have to live.

  • A study released two months ago concluded that approximately 60% of the planet’s primate species are currently in danger of extinction because of human activity and populations of 75% of primate species are on the decline.
  • There is evidence that half the Earth’s wildlife has disappeared during the last forty years.
  • The population of bees has been on the decline in recent decades, and at least a portion of that decline results from herbicide and pesticide use.  One in three bites of human food come from crops pollinated by bees, so this really matters.
  • The use of coal, a plentiful and cheap source of energy, releases numerous chemicals that lead to acid rain, respiratory illness, lung disease, developmental disabilities in humans and other species, and other environmental problems.  Also, about 2/3 of the coal used in the U.S. is extracted by strip mining which removes the top soil (including mountain tops) to expose the coal seams below.
  • More than 600 million of the Earth’s inhabitants do not have access to clean and safe drinking water.  More than two billion do not have access to clean sanitation systems and almost a billion go to the toilet outside.
  • More than 97% of actively publishing climate scientists believe the current global warning trend is likely caused by human activity.
  • Humans dump eight million tons of plastic into the Earth’s oceans every year.
  • Humans also dump about 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide, the worst of the greenhouse gasses, into the atmosphere every second (China is the worst offender but the U.S. is in the top ten). In 2013 a total of 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide were released. CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by plants, but it also remains in the atmosphere longer than other greenhouse gasses.
  • Oh… and 32 million acres of rainforest (that remove a great deal of CO2) were lost to deforestation between 2000-2009.  Thankfully the United Nations’ REDD program has created incentives for countries to slow or halt deforestation, so the loss of forest land has at least slowed in some key countries.

You get the idea. I’m inclined to believe this is NOT what the Book of Genesis meant. It appears that humans are determined to slowly destroy our own home.  We also seem to believe that resources are unlimited and will last forever, a rather short-sighted point of view.  Because of a growing population and an increasing desire for more “stuff” (new cars, TVs, clothes, furniture, Snickers bars, etc.), our demands lead us to explore new avenues for energy development such as fracking without seriously considering the potential long-term consequences. It is almost like the human race is so determined to have what we want NOW and to satisfy our need for instant gratification that we ignore the potential consequences for future generations.

I am in favor of improving our current infrastructure (highways, airports, power grids, etc.), but I also believe we need to urgently seek energy solutions that ensure future generations a clean home in which to live.  As an optimist I do believe this dilemma can be resolved, but not until we begin funding research into alternative and renewable energy sources with the vigor of a modern day Manhattan Project.  We should approach the issue with the resolve required for success in a war that must be won. We must also begin investing in mass transit, begin weaning ourselves from reliance on automobiles that burn fossil fuels, and must find ways to make planes and other modes of transportation as energy efficient as possible.

People of my generation will not likely live long enough to suffer the more severe consequences of inaction, but our children and grandchildren certainly will.  To continue behaving as if this is not the truth is selfish and irresponsible.

  • http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/1/e1600946.full
  • https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf
  • http://e360.yale.edu/features/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture
  • http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_environment
  • https://www.unicefusa.org/mission/survival/water
  • https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jul/01/global-access-clean-water-sanitation-mapped
  • https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/
  • http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-ocean-debris-plastic-garbage-patches-science/
  • http://www.cbsnews.com/news/carbon-dioxide-emissions-rise-to-24-million-pounds-per-second/
  • https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases
  • http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/09/10/people-near-fracking-wells-health-symptoms/15337797/
  • https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/19/why-is-fracking-bad-google-answer