Justice?

 

The local news in Seattle is reporting that 174 women who were recently apprehended at our southern border are being held in the SEATAC Federal Prison here. As many as half of these women were separated from their children when they tried to seek asylum in the United States.

Seeking asylum is not a crime, and yet these women are in a federal prison with dangerous and violent criminals.

I do not know any of the facts about these women individually nor do I know how many of them have legitimate claims as refugees.  Some, perhaps many, probably do not qualify for refugee status and they should be sent home if that determination is made.

Others undoubtedly are eligible for refugee status due to terrible life-threatening situations where they are coming from. There are legal steps and processes that will eventually make those determinations on a case-by-case basis.

I do know that forcibly taking children from their mothers and then sending the mothers thousands of miles away to a Federal Prison is totally uncalled for.

The thought sickens me.

Last month while we were in Gettysburg, ICE agents arrested employees of Montezuma’s Family Restaurant where Marianne and I eat regularly with friends of ours.  Among those arrested were servers who waited on us and cooks who had prepared our meals.

The circumstances are different because these men had broken the immigration law.  But my disgust is similar at the unnecessary steps our government is taking.

We are breaking up families for no good reason.

Here is the text of a letter to the editor I wrote that was published last month in the Gettysburg Times:

The recent incarceration of 11 good, decent, hard-working Adams County residents by ICE is uncalled for, stupid, and cruel.

 We are a nation of laws.  But in a just society, the punishment must be appropriate to the crime.  Yes, foreigners living in the US without a current visa are guilty of a crime.

 But what “crime” are we talking about?  We don’t need to put people in prison for what is essentially trespassing. There are better ways to enforce laws.  Why not a healthy fine? Better yet, community service? 

The long-term legal solution is sound immigration policy.  The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is such a policy.  This law was developed by a bi-partisan group of 8 U.S. senators. It ensured border security, protected the jobs of US citizens, and provided a fair way to deal with people who have worked hard and contributed to our country. Law violators would be punished, but in an appropriate manner. The bill passed the Senate 68-32 but then died in the House, leaving us with antiquated laws that do not meet anyone’s needs. Congress needs to solve this problem and come up with new legislation that makes sense.  In the meantime, blindly enforcing antiquated laws merely to present an image of “being tough” is uncalled for.  

Why is ICE focusing on hard-working immigrants who pose no threat?  ICE should be spending their time and energy focusing on those foreign nationals who are the greatest threat to society: potential terrorists, drug dealers, or human traffickers.  Hint: These criminals are not working in Montezuma Restaurant in Gettysburg.  Spending valuable law enforcement resources to go after waiters and cooks instead of dangerous criminals is just plain stupid.

There is also a moral question that must be answered.  How can any of us who consider ourselves Christian and who support family values endorse good, decent, hard-working parents being taken away from their children?  It is crystal clear to me that Jesus would side with these hard working immigrant parents staying with their children 100% of the time.   This action by our government to separate non-dangerous parents from their children is just plain cruel.

 I say again, the incarceration of these good, decent, hard-working Adams County residents by ICE is uncalled for, stupid, and cruel.

 Jim Simpson, Gettysburg

Marines

As Citizens you have a right, and I would submit a duty, to have some understanding of what the Marine Corps is about. You are, after all, paying for it.

For my non-American readers I think you too, can benefit from exposure to this unique organization, The United States Marine Corps.

Earlier this month about 40 of us old Marines showed up for the 50th Anniversary reunion of my USMC Basic School Class. The reunion included trips/visits to Marine Corps Base Quantico, to Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, DC, and to the Museum of the Marine Corps. We were able to have a number of interactions with current active duty Marines.

I want to share my take-a ways from the visit.

While I have included a few of my Marine buddies on the notification list for this Blog Post, my assumption is that the majority of you reading this do not have much direct experience with the military, much less with the Marines.

Most of you know that I joined the Marines in 1967 and served with them in Vietnam. I assume that you know this since I only direct and promote this Blog to friends and relatives. If you don’t know me personally, I will try and give you enough of my background so that you have some idea of where I am coming from.

For you Marines, especially those of you who attended the recent reunion of The Basic School Class 7-68, please call BS on me if you think I am overstating, overlooking, or misinterpreting my take-a ways from our recent re-exposure to the Marine Corps.

Take Away # 1 – Things Have Changed

As the tour bus carrying our group of old Marines and spouses pulled in to The Basic School parking lot at Quantico there were three Marines doing physical training; pull ups, push ups, etc. One of the Marines jumped up on the big 25 foot hanging rope and quickly ascended to the top with seemingly no effort. Almost all of the old Marines and their wives saw this Marine and were impressed and nodded approvingly as she slid down the rope and ran off in step with her male counterparts.

All but two of the 250 of us who attended The Basic School together in 1968 were white men. That is who were officers in the Marine Corps at that time. Of the hundreds of Marine Officers I came in contact with during my 4 years in the Marines (1967-1971), I only remember personally meeting one African-American Marine officer and that was in Vietnam.

There were women Marine Officers who also trained at Quantico when we were there, but they were totally separated from us – I don’t remember ever meeting any. The women officers did not attend The Basic School, they had a separate course of their own somewhere else on the base. As I recall it, the women 2nd lieutenants had to salute their male counterparts of the same rank – at least while at Quantico. Although many women served as Marine officers during that era, my guess is that is was a very small percentage of the total.

Today the scene at The Basic School is quite different. The Corps is more representative of America. There are Marine officers of color and the training is fully integrated for men and women.

The Marines even recently graduated one female from the very difficult Infantry Officers Course. Very few women will likely serve as Marine Infantry Platoon Leaders, but the door is open for those exceptional women who can complete the extremely difficult physical and mental course. The reality is that many men would not make the cut in the Infantry Officer Course either and will serve in other specialties, like communications, as I did.

I didn’t take notes during the visit, but I understand that about 20% of Marine Corps Officers today are non-white. This is certainly different from our society as a whole, but it is a big change from 50 years ago.

The face of war has also changed. In 1968 lieutenants primarily made tactical decisions relating to deployment of their Marines. These were often life and death decisions.

One of the changes that I took notice of is that now Marine lieutenants and captains deployed to the middle east are still making those life or death tactical decisions. But in addition, they might well be the senior military presence in a small remote village and often have to work closely with a wide array of local military forces.

This forces junior officers into the position of having to make, in addition to tactical and leadership decisions, strategic and ethical decisions about interactions with local civilians without the benefit or help of senior officers. A lot is being asked of today’s young officers.

And of course the technology has greatly advanced. During our sit-down dinner, we had a very comprehensive review of new technology by our keynote speaker, Major General Niel Nelson, from the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. In his current role, General Nelson is the deputy commander of the organization within the Marine Corps that evaluates and procures new equipment and weapons systems for the Marine Corps.

As you might guess there are technological advances worthy of the latest super-hero or action-adventure movies, but of course these are real. This aspect did not really surprise me, nor did the cost. Again, I did not take notes, but I did hear a lot of people murmur “wow” when the General quoted the costs of the new equipment. The cold hard truth is that if you want the very best equipment, it is going to cost.

We got to see, and try out, one of the new simulated small weapons ranges while at The Basic School. This range uses real rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank weapons that have been modified to be used with a gigantic video screen simulating various combat situations. The weapons recoil and function in a manner similar to their “real” counterparts, but the “rounds” are electronic and you can see them hit (or miss) their targets on the giant screen.  I tried out one of the machine guns and found that my marksmanship skills are certainly not up to par.

The Marines still use live fire ranges of course, but this simulated range affords much more opportunity for Marines to familiarize themselves with the weapons, improve their skills at a small fraction of the cost of live ammunition. A single anti-tank round today costs about a thousand dollars so you get the idea.

I was also reminded of the lethality of the weapons that Marines carry and must be trained to use. While they still use a version of the M-16 that was used in Vietnam, today they are trained on a much wider range of modern weaponry.

During our tour of Quantico we also got to visit HMX-1, the aviation unit at Quantico which provides the Marine One helicopter that carries the President. We got to visit one of the hangers and talk with some of the pilots. On the walls were pictures of all of the Presidents back to Eisenhower boarding or un-boarding one of the Marine helicopters.

The pilots were very personable and articulate and you could tell that they took their job and responsibility very seriously. The unit also provides aviation support for other Marine operations in the DC area including training missions at Quantico.  In addition to the Marine One helicopters (there are actually several) this aviation unit flies the V22 vertical takeoff aircraft.  The V22 has become the workhorse for transporting Marines and equipment.

Another aspect that has changed is that the Marine Corps now provides additional training for those officers most likely to engage in combat, the Infantry officers, or as we used to call them, the grunts.

When we graduated from The Basic School in 1968, those assigned to the Infantry went directly to infantry platoons in Vietnam. Many were killed, often soon after arriving. I don’t know the statistics off the top of my head, but there is no doubt in my mind that the these officers had the most dangerous assignments. I certainly respected them and saw them as a few among the few. What I also believe is that they were not given enough training prior to being deployed in the nitty gritty aspects of leading an infantry platoon in combat. All of us at The Basic School were provided this training, but I know for sure I would not have been ready for those assignments.

Fortunately the Infantry officers today receive an extra 13 weeks of training at the Infantry Officers Course (The one mentioned above) at 29 Palms in California. By accounts it is one of the toughest courses in the military, on par with Army Ranger and Navy Seal training. I’ll leave that debate as to which is tougher to others, but suffice it to say it is a comprehensive exhausting course which should better prepare these officers for combat. No amount of training can make one fully ready for combat, but the Marines seem to be addressing an important need.

Times have changed indeed.

Take Away # 2 – Things Have Not Changed

On the other hand, the basic essence of being a Marine does not seem to have changed much at all.

At The Basic School we observed marshal arts training. We got a briefing by a really gung-ho retired colonel who now leads the marshal arts program there. He and his Marine demonstrators were pretty impressive. The Marines have modernized some of the terminology and now issue different color belts for achieving higher levels of proficiency, much like what civilian marshal arts instructors do.

At the end of the presentation, however, I did not see that much difference in purpose from the hand -o-hand combat and bayonet training that I received at boot camp at Parris Island as an enlisted Marine and again at OCS and The Basic School as a candidate or newly minted second lieutenant. There is still a strong emphasis on building a warrior mindset and building self-confidence. Make no mistake about it; even though these are outwardly very respectful and clean cut young men and women, these Marines are still being trained to kill if necessary.

All of the men who I served with at The Basic School in 1968 had chosen to be there. We all knew full well that we were going to Vietnam. It is also undeniably true that, since almost all officers were primarily from the middle to upper-middle class, we could have chosen an easier/safer path as did most of our non-Marine contemporaries whether they served in the Military or not.

The Marines today also know full well that they will likely be serving in combat at some time in the not too distant future. They also realize that, unlike most of their Vietnam era counterparts (Us old guys), they will probably serve multiple tours whereas most of us only did one tour in Vietnam.

The draft ended in 1973, so these Marines, like all service men and women who have served during the last 4 decades have been volunteers. Having spent the vast majority of my own 29 years of military service mostly in administrative personnel positions in the Army, I can testify that there are “volunteers”, and then there are “VOLUNTEERS.” These young Marines, like Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and Air Force Special Ops persons all fall into the later category.

They have chosen a path that is difficult and dangerous like virtually every Marine before them.

The Marines we met talked a lot about tradition. The Marines, both officers and enlisted, were respectful, articulate, well informed, and positively focused on their duty and mission.

I am not naive to the fact that the Marine Corps certainly hand picked the women and men we came in contact with during our tours of Quantico and the Marine Barracks at Eighth and Eye in DC. Nor am I blind to the fact that not all Marines are admirable. We had some bad actors in the Marine Corps in 1968 and I have no doubt that there are some today as well among the 180,000 plus on active duty around the world.

But the culture of the Marine Corps seems sound and I believe that the overwhelming majority of Marines today are more than deserving of our respect and support. Traditions of honor, character, honesty, and professionalism have endured and, I might add, seem stronger than they were at the height of the Vietnam War when I served.

While today’s Marines have much better equipment, weapons, communications and all sorts of air support available to them, the really crucial life and death decisions are still made at the squad (13 Marines) or platoon (about 44 including a Navy Corpsman) led by junior NCOs and Officers. These Marine leaders have to be women and men of character as well as being warriors.

Take Away # 3 – We Should be Grateful

I know that some among you reading this post are pacifists and don’t have much use for aggressive military action of any kind, much less war. I respect that desire for peace, and I venture to surmise most Marines share your dislike of war.

I believe, however, that humans have not yet come anywhere near the levels freedom and justice that would allow us to live safely and securely without a strong military capability. The Marines represent a major portion of that capability for the United States.

During the reunion we also got to visit the Museum of the Marine Corps. It is one of many wonderful National Museums in the greater Washington, DC area and I strongly recommend it. This was my third visit to this museum and this time we spent quite a bit of time in the WW1 exhibit which details the Battle of Belleau Wood which was fought near the Marne River in France in 1918. The exhibit brings home the gravity of the sacrifices of the Marines who fought and died there. Even 100 years later the “reasons” for WW1 are not clear.

I was saddened to think that we as a Nation could put today’s fine young men and women Marines at risk without really good reasons. It worries me that only a very few of the political leaders making decisions that could cost Marines their lives have any military service themselves. Most have no more than a cursory understanding of what these fine young men and women Marines are all about or the consequences of deploying them unnecessarily.

It is one thing to boast about how strong our military is and to threaten adversaries in a display of false bravado. It is quite a different thing to have the experience that tempers bravado with wisdom and true physical, mental, and moral strength.

As Eisenhower guided the graduating cadets at the West Point graduation in 1947, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men. Though you follow the trade of the warrior, you do so in the spirit of Washington — not of Genghis Khan. For Americans, only threat to our way of life justifies resort to conflict.”

Fortunately we do have a number of senior leaders within the military today with combat experience who, like Eisenhower, temper the warrior spirit with wisdom and character.

There are dictators, strongmen, and tyrants in the world who daily impose their will upon their peoples for their personal gain of power and wealth. There are also zealots of many backgrounds who would impose their singular views on the rest of us using any means necessary.

We can argue about exactly who these people are and why they do what they do, but their existence is undeniable. This was true in 1918 and it is true today: There is still evil in the world.

Like it or not, we need the Marines.

But this post is not about politics, it is about the reality that we as Americans are blessed that we still have young men and women of character and courage willing to risk their lives to support our democracy.

We are very lucky to have them in today’s United States Marine Corps.

Semper Fi.

Evil

A number of years after I graduated I had an occasion to visit with my Swarthmore High School friend Jay Castle’s mom, Lela Castle, at her home in Bellevue, Washington. I can’t remember the exact conversation we were having about some recent local crime event that led to Jay’s mom’s memorable response. But I do remember her response, “Some people are just no good.”

I remember this quote, not because it is unique or original, but because of the matter-of-fact and certainty with which it was delivered. Jay’s mom was unequivocal about this and I have come to believe that she was right about this, as some people are “just no good.” I also believe, that within this group of “no good” people there is a subset that is flat out “evil.”

When I think of truly “evil” people I am referring to those for whom there is absolutely no answer to the question, “Why would someone do such a horrible thing?”

I understand why someone robs a bank, they want the money. I can even understand why they might shoot a guard in order to get away.

I cannot, however, fathom how someone could shoot first graders at point blank range as they huddle behind their teacher in a closet. There is no answer to the “why” for such an horrific act. The only sense I can make of it is that this is pure evil.

With frightening regularity we are introduced to another mass killing by one of these evil people here in the U.S. I won’t grant any of them the respect of mentioning their names, but their evil acts have come to be known by the locations of their atrocities: The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham; Columbine High School; The University of Texas Tower; the Oklahoma City Federal Building; The Twin Towers; Virginia Tech; Sandy Hook; the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston; the Orlando Pulse Nightclub; The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; The Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, Las Vegas; and this week, Parkland High School in Florida. The really sad part is that this list is just from the top of my head, there are hundreds more that most of us are not even aware of.

What these acts all have in common is that they were perpetrated by the very worst of the evil people, those who kill indiscriminately and brutally and in horrifically large numbers.

I have come to believe that for this very small number of truly demented humans there is no other answer than that they are just evil. We will never know why, they just are. Their background or motives are irrelevant to me – their actions are what make them evil.

Good vs. Evil

The history of mankind is a long story of good vs. evil. Our religious books and ancient literature give us plenty of reason to believe that there have always been, and always will be, some evil people in the world. As Bob Dylan says in his song, “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord , But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” For some it is clearly the devil.

Fortunately for us all, the vast majority of people in the world are not evil. Even “bad actors” like burglars and thieves don’t fall into the “evil” category for me. I reserve the term “evil” for those who are seemingly incorrigible and will do unspeakable things to their fellow humans for extreme and demented reasons. These are deranged individuals.

While the truly “evil” people in the world may be vastly outnumbered, they nonetheless can cause tremendous harm. Even worse, they can create fear and hatred that magnifies their influence far beyond the horrific acts themselves. Left unchecked, they could destroy society by causing an over reaction that in turn creates even more violence by “copycats” or by groups turning against one another in a desperate attempt to “do something.”

After the recent horrific church shooting in Texas, I saw an interview of Texas Governor Greg Abbott on the CBS Morning News. When asked what we should do, the governor replied, “Pray, hug each other, and trust in God.”

Yes, that’s all well and good, but the old Marine in me says, “Bullshit, that’s not nearly enough!”

We have got to get off our collective asses and do something.

Here are six steps we can take:

Be Prepared to Kill the Evil Bastards

At the point of an attack there are only two options open to us: fight or flight. Sometimes it is true, as the National Rifle Association likes to say, that “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I generally despise the NRA for its valuing its industry’s profits above human life, however there is a grain of truth in this statement that should not be totally rejected.

I recently went to the new Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta to watch a sold out Atlanta Union soccer game with my son Jamie, daughter-in-law Keeli and my two grandsons Brady and Bryce. We had to enter the grounds through a separate security gate because we had a stroller. I could not help but notice the presence of several very heavily armed security guards in full combat gear and either AR-15 or M-16 rifles (They can look identical) standing silently and watchfully just outside the entrance. I must admit I felt a lot better seeing those “good guys with guns” there “just in case” even though it is sad that it has come to this.

Killing in self-defense is OK in my book and sometimes that is what is needed. It is therefore prudent in some situations to have armed first responders present both as a deterrent and as a means of quick response.

Unfortunately, in almost all cases the evil person has the element of surprise. In the recent attack in Texas a brave neighbor confronted, shot, and wounded the killer, thus limiting the damage. This was a textbook case of a good guy with a gun coming to the rescue. Nonetheless, 26 people died at the hands of a demented evil person before he could be stopped. The “good guy with a gun” won’t always be fast enough to stop the violence.

And although it makes sense to have armed guards at major events like the one I attended in Atlanta, it makes no sense at all for a seven-person prayer group like the one attacked in Charleston. Also, armed guards are of little use against evil people who use bombs.

Alas, “Killing the bastards” is only a very partial solution at best.

Lock ‘em Up

There is an island in the south Puget Sound called McNeil Island which I have passed by many times on the ferry en route to my sister Martha’s cottage on nearby Anderson Island. McNeil was originally a federal penitentiary but now is operated by the State of Washington where the very worst of the worst sex offenders are kept away from society permanently.

These people (All are men) won’t commit any more crimes, so locking them up for life does keep us safe. But of course they are only at McNeil Island because they got caught “after” they committed their evil acts. This is also the case with most people in regular prisons with life sentences.

I don’t think much of the now disgraced sexual predator and former Fox News personality, Bill O’Reilly, but I did hear him propose an idea that made sense to me during an interview following a mass shooting. O’Reilly suggested that anyone involved in a felony using a firearm would automatically face a long-term sentence in a Federal Penitentiary. He posited that this would both take dangerous people off of the streets and act as a deterrent to the use of firearms.

I can see that this would help with evil persons who have a criminal history and who are caught first while committing a lessor crime. I don’t know how this helps with persons who are “under the radar” until they commit their horrific acts.

The other huge problem with the “lock ‘em up” and capital punishment solutions is that many of these evil men, and yes, almost all of the ones we fear the most are men, seemingly expect to die in a singular blaze of glory. Neither jail nor death is a deterrent to them.

“Locking them up” does work in some cases, but again, it is only a partial solution. We need to do it, but it won’t undo the harm already done and it won’t stop those wanting to die themselves in the process of committing their first attack.

Cut Them Off

Evil people are still just people. Unlike Voldemort, Darth Vader, or the White Walkers, real life evil people do not have any super powers. They need tools to do the worst of their evil deeds. The ability of an evil person to do harm to others is directly proportional to the means available to them.

I would hate to be strangled, but even at 70 I would like to think I could put up a pretty good fight if someone were trying to strangle me. If the only weapon evil people have is their hands, strangulation is the only means available to them. Given the choice of facing an evil person trying to strangle me or facing one trying to shoot me, I would prefer the former. It is also very difficult to be a mass strangulation killer.

We are of course, not the only society to have “evil” people. All societies deal with evil people and limit in some way the access that people have to the tools (AKA Weapons) that evil people have available to them. Knives, bombs, poison gas, and even battery acid have been used worldwide. In the US our evil doers prefer guns.

In their 2008 landmark case “DC vs. Keller”, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of citizens to bear arms for “lawful purposes” such as self-defense in their own homes. The majority opinion, written by the late Anthony Scalia, went on to state that legislative representatives clearly have the power to restrict the access to weapons by felons and the mentally deranged. Scalia’s decision goes on to say, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Scalia further clarified that the law can forbid carrying weapons in sensitive places such as schools or churches and can impose qualifications on the sale of arms.

People performing evil acts DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS. Laws can and must be passed to make it more difficult for mentally deranged people to obtain firearms or other weapons in the first place.

We instituted significant changes to how ammonium nitrate is distributed and secured following the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. When terrorists overcame pilots and flew planes into the Twin Towers in 2001 we tightened up airport security, developed a no-fly list, and started locking the cockpits. Laws and regulations can, and should, be changed to meet the needs of the people to remain safe as the means of doing harm change over time.

We need extreme vetting of all weapons sales to make sure that only law abiding and mentally sane adult citizens have ready easy access to deadly weapons. I would like to include some means of testing mental soundness in this extreme vetting. Without controls in place, we are giving evil people easy access to tools that provide them tremendous ability to do even more harm.

Additionally we need to continue screening for firearms and bombs at strategic entrance points at highly vulnerable “targets” such as airports, arenas and courtyards. Maybe even schools and churches will need this level of protection.

“Cutting them off” from their most deadly tools will definitely help even though it won’t stop evil people from committing evil acts altogether, especially if they have help.

Punish Their Enablers

In a country with almost as many firearms as we have citizens, it is unrealistic to pretend that we can keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of all evil people. But we sure can limit the damage they can do by holding persons who sell weapons and ammunition responsible for vetting the persons they are selling to.

Sell a gun or explosives without doing a background check: pay an extreme fine.

Sell a gun or explosives without a background check to a felon, mentally ill person, or a terrorist who subsequently commits murder: face possible prison time.

For this approach to work, we must have enhanced extreme vetting in place as a part of a background check system capable of identifying high probability evil doers. We need to identify them up front in order to keep weapons out of their hands. The National Crime Information Center database operated by the FBI needs to be fully supported (and funded) at all levels and there can be no “loopholes” like gun shows where background checks are waived. The national data base also needs to be cross referenced with other lists of known risks such as the terrorist “no fly list”, military discharge records, and other sources of information about mentally ill people like known domestic abusers.

I would rather we err on the side of occasionally having someone temporarily denied the ability to purchase a weapon than accidentally selling a weapon to someone who is mentally ill, a felon, or a potential terrorist. The first example of an error is an inconvenience that can be easily fixed, the second error is permanent and deadly.

Reputable gun dealers are already making the background checks. The problem is that the database is far from complete and does not include huge numbers of people who should not be allowed to buy weapons (e.g. persons on the terrorist “no-fly” list). The other problem is that in many states background checks are waived for gun shows. This loophole needs to be closed.

Non-reputable gun dealers (e.g. gang members selling out of the trunk of their car) need to be jailed along with their customers.

With freedoms come responsibilities. Persons who sell (or give) weapons of any kind to evil persons who should not have weapons must be punished. Deterrence will work with law-abiding people that includes the vast majority of people who sell weapons.

Yet again, “Punishing the Enablers” won’t stop all illegal sales of weapons, but it will help.

Help the Poor Bastards

It may seem illogical for me to suggest that we need to help people who I have already categorized as mentally deranged and incorrigible. Here are reasons for suggesting we need to apply mental health resources to help solve the problem:

My first reason for helping people even though they are “evil,” is that they are still human and only God or whoever is ultimately in charge can make the final judgment. Maybe these ideas of “charity” and “forgiveness” were infused in me growing up as a preacher’s kid. If I had to, I am pretty sure I could “pull the trigger” to stop an evil person “in the act”, but I would much prefer to pay a little more in taxes and do whatever is possible up front to possibly avoid the act altogether.

A more practical reason to employ mental health resources is that we may be able to identify a potential threat in advance and head it off. Mental health professionals have some tools that they can apply. Drugs might help, so might mandatory hospitalization or even permanent placement in a mental institution for those criminally insane. If a mental health professional says, “look out, this guy is dangerous,” we best listen.

Often family members or friends are the first to notice something is “wrong”. But what can they do? In Seattle in 2012 a man walked into the Cafe Racer coffee shop and killed four patrons shooting them in the head execution style with two .45 caliber pistols. He then hijacked a car and purposely ran over a woman killing her before being confronted by police and taking his own life.

This particular killing is close to me because I used to drive by Cafe Racer, which is several blocks from where my niece Rachel lives in the University District, every morning on my way to work at Safeco Insurance. The killer’s family members had tried for years to get him some help, knowing full well that he was not “right” and fearing that he would do something like this. The man’s father was on KOMO radio yesterday pleading for changes to the law that will allow family members to contact law enforcement and force a mental evaluation which could have firearms taken from persons shown to be very mentally deranged.

Ready access to mental health resources is also beneficial to persons contemplating suicide. Although not directly related to the topic of “evil” people, suicide is a significant societal problem that could be helped by increased access to mental health treatment. Providing more easily available mental health treatment has many side benefits.

As with the other suggestions I have made, this is not a total answer. Some evil people appear totally normal until they “snap” and others can manipulate and fool even the most capable mental health professional. Nonetheless, in some cases mental health treatment will prevent the loss of life. We need to increase access not only to “help the poor bastards”, but to save ourselves.

Compromise, Dammit

Pardon the extremely tasteless pun, but, there are no “silver bullets” to protecting us from truly evil persons.

We can’t eliminate all violence done by evil people. Even in countries with strict laws about weapons ownership there are still senseless murders using other means.

But we can reduce the carnage. Seat belts don’t save everybody but they are still save thousands of lives every year.

There are some compromises we need to make:

• We will have to accept that in some cases we will have to have more armed guards.

• We will have to put up with a few more hassles when buying and selling guns or other weapons in order to prove to the seller that we are not one of the “evil people” who cannot have weapons. No sane law abiding citizen need be denied any of their rights, extreme vetting and background checks are not aimed at them, they are aimed at weeding out the evil doers.

• All of us will have to pony up in more taxes for the funding that will be needed for both added security and for mental health resources which include may include mandatory placement in a mental institution for the extremely mentally ill.

Recap

Here are things we can do in the United States to better protect ourselves against truly evil people:

Be Prepared to Kill The Bastards: Accept that more armed first responders/guards may be needed

Lock ‘em Up: Invoke mandatory long federal prison sentences for felons who use weapons in crimes.

Cut Them Off: Extreme vetting to prevent the sale of all weapons sales to the mentally ill, felons, or terrorists.

Punish the Enablers: Heavy fines or prison for failure to fully vet weapons sales to the mentally ill, felons, or terrorists.

Help the Poor Bastards: Expand mental health capabilities to identify and treat the mentally ill.

Compromise: Accept “less than perfect” incremental fixes. Save as many lives as we can.

If you have any better ideas I would love to hear it, please include a comment.

Truth

Statue of the Roman goddess Veritas outside the Supreme Court in Ottawa

“Truth, justice, and the American way.” Superman

“You can’t handle the truth!”  Colonel Nathan Jessup (AKA Jack Nicholson)

“Truth or Consequences.” Bob Barker

“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” Judge Judy’s Bailiff

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddhah

… and the truth will set you free.” Jesus

“In vino veritas.”

Have you always told the truth? Do you know truth when you see it? Is truth important to you? Most of us, if we are honest, will answer “No”, “Maybe?”, and “Yes” to these three questions.

These are questions for the ages. I believe that most of us do seek the truth. I also believe that most of us fail, not only to always be truthful, but also to be able to always recognize the truth.

As a child I remember clearly the lesson George Washington taught us so well, ” I cannot tell a lie, I cut down the cherry tree.” Then there was Honest Abe.

The bar is much lower now.

Defining truth is difficult enough (See the quotes above if you doubt this) but most people, myself included, seem to accept an, “I know it when I see it,” answer.

In my personal life I rely pretty much on experience and interactions over time. This holds true for people, organizations, and things I come in contact with.

Without disparaging any of them in this forum, I can tell you that I know at least some of the “truth” about Comcast, British automobiles, and my Marine Corps Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant D.C. Curran. The more I interact, the closer I come to “the truth”.

Second hand “word of mouth” evidence fills in well for other areas: “If you are taking math next session, Mr. Henderson explains math concepts more clearly than Mr. Wertz.”; “Ishtar is a terrible movie, don’t waste your money.”; or “You should really see St. Paul and the Broken Bones, great band.” The source of this second hand knowledge and my trust in them based on past experience is of course key here. We all have “trusted” people close to us who we can rely on as well as those who we must take with a healthy “grain of salt.”

On the bigger universal issues of life, my personal experience and the word of mouth of people I know personally only helps a little. I have been around a bit, and at 70 have met and interacted with thousands of people over my life time, but the world is huge and there are 7.5 + billion people whom I have never met or even seen. My sample size is way too small to draw any conclusions that could remotely lead to the truth on universal issues based solely on my personal experiences or even those second hand sources of people I know and trust.

And yet, I do believe I have a good understanding of the truth on many issues. Here are some samples:

The earth is round. The universe is 14 billion years old. Most people are kind and good. Some people are evil. Many people are ignorant. Fewer are stupid. Smoking causes cancer. The Patriots won the Super Bowl. President Lincoln was born in Kentucky and President a O’bama was born in Hawaii.

I assume almost all of you agree with me that these are true statements, but how do I know these to be true?

Sources

We all rely on sources for most of what we know to be True. I have never been to New Zealand, but I know that it is a beautiful magical place. I know this is true from talking to friends/relatives who have been there, from reading my parents’ National Geographic magazines as a child, and from watching all three of Peter Jackson’s Trilogy of the Rings movies which were filmed there.

I also bounce what these external sources tell me against my own experiences. For example, the vast majority of the people I know are not criminals and this jives with what I read about crime statistics world-wide from a variety of sources. Therefore I consider this to be true: most people are good.

It gets trickier to identify the truth when I have no direct experience and/or when there are competing versions of the facts, the infamous “Alternative Facts”.   Not only does it get “trickier” to tell the truth when sources disagree, it also becomes critical to both my individual concepts of reality and to the freedoms I have enjoyed having been born in a democracy. Tyrants hate the truth and it is in short supply in countries they rule.

So what sources to do you rely on Jim?

I’m glad you asked, and I will provide a list for your consideration, comment, condemnation, or concurrence a little later on in this post.

But first I want to explain the criteria I use to evaluate news/information sources. I grew up as a Presbyterian preacher’s kid with two well-read and educated parents who lived the 10 Commandments (especially the one about not lying) but who were realists who also were extremely accepting of other religions and acutely aware of the foibles of humans.

I was fortunate also to have had a very good public school education at Swarthmore High School that stressed critical thinking skills. This background, along with a stint in the Marines, prepared me well for my undergraduate and graduate studies and subsequent career in advertising, marketing, and public relations.  Although I never held a job as a reporter for an independent news outlet, I learned through my work experience to greatly appreciate the role these professionals play in a democracy.

As a PR person for both the government (The Army & the VA) and corporate America (Safeco Insurance), I was paid to present information in a way that benefited the organization I was representing. Contrary to some opinions, this can (and should) be done ethically, focusing on the positive, but always being factual and truthful.

The independent press has a vital role to play in questioning the actions of anyone in power in both the private and public sectors. One can’t rely solely on PR or advertising to make purchase or voting decisions. The organization being represented may or may not be straight shooters but, even if they are “good guys”, they are only going to give you those parts of “the truth” that help them meet their organizational objectives. The press needs to ask probing questions and openly challenge statements made by organizations and especially those made by politicians.

I was taught, and believe, that news organizations must rigorously research the issues they are reporting on and include multiple sources and relevant opinions. This rigor is not always followed by some members of the press, and of course, we all make mistakes. Good news sources, however, occasionally make mistakes but then own up to them. They also hire people who have been professionally trained as journalists or who have earned their stripes by working their way up in the field. Bad news sources never admit mistakes, even when they are blatant.

Multiple sources are vital in decision making. No one source provides a well-rounded view.

Jim’s Recommendations

Even though I jump around a lot, here are news sources I trust and listen to with some regularity along with a brief synopsis of each:

Radio

NPR – Hourly News is pretty concise. Programing is varied, but tends to be a little high brow and sometimes boring. Lots of human stories/slice of America stuff.

KIRO News/Talk Radio (Seattle) – News is straight up, talk includes both progressive (Dave Ross) and conservatives (Dory Monson) and one show (Tom and Curly) that includes both a progressive and a conservative as co-hosts.

There are similar news oriented radio stations in most major markets. Stations that focus on “news” over “talk” are much more reliable sources. Most carry one of the national/international news sources such as CBS Radio News or BBC radio news for their hourly news updates.

TV

PBS – The first half hour of Newshour is really good – I miss Gwen Ifel (RIP) but Judy Woodruff is still pretty good. Shields and Brooks have thoughtful commentary on Fridays.

CBS – Best general morning news available – Today Show and Good Morning America are too much fluff. 60 Min. still worth watching, but the on air personalities are really old :-).

BBC – Good world-wide view. Very balanced, mostly straight up reporting.

NBC – Watch local and national stations in both Gettysburg (WGAL) and Seattle (KING) – Meet the Press is solid look at political issues/opinions.

ABC – For some reason I don’t usually watch this – when I have it seems pretty reliable.

CBC – I don’t watch this as much as I should. The Canadians seem to have a very balanced view of most issues.

MSNBC – Generally factual, but selects stories consistent with progressive beliefs -Sort of a mirror of FOX NEWS in that it is selective in what it covers and is more opinion than hard news. I usually agree and find them informative, but am cautiously skeptical.

FOX NEWS – Generally factual, but selects stories consistent with right leaning audience beliefs. Blurred lines between news and opinion – mostly the later. I don’t usually agree, but it is important to hear what their ideas/positions are as they have a very devoted audience that apparently listens to nothing else. Chris Wallace on Sunday morning is very fair and worth listening too.

CNN – They get carried away with sensational stories and tend to run them ad nauseum, but generally factual news reporting. CNN calls Trump out continually, but the points they make are generally questions that need to be answered. They got creamed by Trump in recent Internet wrestling match video he promoted on Twitter, but somehow the network was able to stay on the air (The “fight” is on YouTube).😀

C-Span – Unedited direct political news – I like it, but it is often boring and hard to watch for very long.

John Oliver – Political opinion cloaked as comedy based on hard news. Oliver is a comedian with very detailed and informative stories on a wide range of issues. Left leaning. Very funny and self deprecating. On HBO so limited access although clips are often on UTube.

Newspapers

WSJ – Great general news coverage – they really go into detail and are very nuanced. Editorially a little more conservative than me, but I respect their logical arguments. When in Seattle I get the “real” paper version – they provide much content to take in each day.

NYT – Deep Dive, not as much business/financial news as WSJ – Generally left leaning editorially, but they busted Hillary on the e-mail server. Marianne has an online subscription she lets me see. They have made factual errors in the past but always correct their mistakes.

USA Today – Pretty much straight up news reporting leaning to the easy-to-read. Editorials clearly identified as such and they usually provide opposing views from reputable sources.  You can keep up to date at a basic level without spending too much time reading.  Also can’t beat the price online – free.

Seattle Times – One of the few locally owned newspapers left in America (See warning signs below). I get the Sunday paper version and then they let me access the full paper online daily.

Magazines

Time – The only weekly left that is actually printed on paper, RIP Newsweek & US News and World Report. Pretty fair and balanced, traditionally more conservative than Newsweek, which still has an online presence.

The Economist – Absolutely excellent analysis with a world view. Expensive and I can only afford to subscribe periodically when I get copies via airline points or read at the library.

The Internet

Facebook – Good for entertainment and marginally OK for opinions, but I only respond to people I know personally. I don’t take anything on Facebook that is “Shared” at face value – I am much more interested in original content/ideas from people I actually know.   I view this as a form of word of mouth but much more suspect.  Reading what others find interesting is illuminating.  Keep in mind that “illumination” is what helps us see the cockroaches.

Wikipedia – I have found it to be pretty consistent and reliable. If the article is controversial they address this. And there are pretty good original source listings on most articles, and if there are not, it is well noted.

Books

I must confess, this is a weak spot for me, as I don’t read very many. Currently reading “Tyranny” by that my sister gave me for my birthday. I should do more here.

Lies and misconceptions.

If you believe anything National Enquirer or The Onion, I suggest you reconsider your rational. I find both of these are in their own way entertaining. The Onion is funny because it is classic satire. Laughing at The Enquirer brings out a darker side of me as I find myself secretly making fun of the people who believe it.

More dangerous to our democracy are the extremist views that pose as legitimate news outlets but which do not adhere to journalistic practices such as verification of sources and facts. These outlets primarily deal in conspiracy theories and rumors that are popular with their selective audiences. This includes outlets such as the Communist Party (cpusa.org) and It’s Going Down (Anarchist News) on the far left and Brietbart and Info wars on the far right. They disregard or distort the truth and disregard the traditional rigors of journalists. They exist solely to promote a set of political views. They are essentially just propaganda.

I reject the concept of fake news that President Trump uses to try to delegitimization any news outlet that questions his actions. All presidents complain about the press not being “fair.” Obama, W, and Clinton all complained about the news for focusing on what they were doing wrong or for underestimating their successes. Well, that is kind of the point of an independent press. As Truman once said, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

The idea that “the main stream media” is in cahoots and overly liberal leaning is unsubstantiated. This assumption is based on what evidence? These main stream media outlets were extremely helpful to Trump giving him coverage well beyond that given his opponents, just ask John Kasich. All news media except NPR and PBS are for-profit businesses owned or controlled by .01% billionaires who clearly have much to gain from a more conservative agenda, especially in the area of taxes. So the idea that these media businesses are “left leaning” is bogus.

Fortunately these wealthy owners recognize that, at least up untill now, many Americans will pay to get “real news”. And there is that pesky First Amendment that so far has kept the press free to report and or express opinions that the political powers that be don’t like. Controversy sells and therefore it behoves media owners to let journalists “do their thing” and seek out politicians who are liars or crooks or who misuse their power. There are plenty to choose from in all political parties.

Do Facts = The Truth?

Clearly half truths, lies, and deceit will never lead to any “Truth” other than the truth that the person espousing them is a deceitful lier.   Using reliable sources, fact checking if you will, will help wean out the garbage but even then you can’t equate “facts” with the “truth.” The truth is much deeper and requires mastery of an almost lost art: Thinking.

Critical Thinking Works

Getting to the “truth” requires using facts within a context of values and a logical analytical system. Let me give you an example using paraphrases of some recent seemingly contradictory economic news I have read in the Wall Street Journal:

“The value of the dollar is significantly down since the beginning of the year.”

“The stock market is significantly up since the beginning of the year.”

So is the economy getting better or worse? You can’t really get to the “truth” about the economy from either of these two statements of fact. A weak dollar helps exporters and hurts consumers. A rapidly rising stock market can indicate economic strength or unwarranted speculation that can lead to a depression. An understanding of the context of the facts is essential.

The answer to the larger questions of life require a very broad understanding of history, of the interrelationships of systems, of the potential for false equivalencies or incorrect/incomplete measurements, and healthy doses of that seemingly long lost value, wisdom.

I took a course in logic once and that helps. The “if /then arguments”, “fallacies”, “assumptions”, “conclusions”, and “paradoxes’, and other tools/aspects of logical thinking all contribute to my understanding. In real life, however, many people disregard logical principles and twist them to fit their pre-conceived ideas. Aristotle must be turning over in his grave these days.

You or I will never find the truth on a bumper sticker, a tweet, a headline, a campaign slogan, a FaceBook post, a newspaper article, or in a book, not even The Bible. To find the truth we have to think long and work hard. Even then there will always be some doubt.

Doubt, however, is not all that bad as it is a really good indicator of honesty and integrity. Beware of people who have no doubt – they are not very likely to be truthful.

I will continue to seek the truth even though it is at times a fleeting concept. I trust that you will do the same.

Respect

 

I stand for the national anthem. I also remove my hat and place my hand over my heart. The flag flies proudly in front of our home in Gettysburg and from our deck in Seattle.

I do this out of respect, not for the flag or the anthem itself, but for the country which they represent. To me it is all about the underlying values and promises outlined in The Constitution of the United States. These guarantees can best be boiled down to the final six words of The Pledge of Allegiance, “…with liberty and justice for all.”

Sadly we as a people do not fully live up to the “for all” condition of our shared value statements.

Our country’s founders wisely realized that erosion of liberty and justice for all was a likely outcome. The founders knew that there would always be evil people among us who would impose their will upon others and deny others their rights under The Constitution.

The Constitution guarantees the right to speak up against injustice. This is especially important when that injustice is perpetrated by representatives of the government.

Patriotic citizens have long warned about the dangers of the government denying rights of individuals. They are absolutely right to have these concerns. Authoritarian governments hate the freedom of speech and they use their power to systematically eliminate anyone who speaks out against any of their actions.

I have tremendous respect for law enforcement. They serve in a high-risk jobs. Our society is dependent on them. We owe them our gratitude. Even the best police departments, however, may have officers who misuse the power given to them and fail to equally administer justice.

African Americans have known for years that there are some bad police officers who will literally kill them for minor infractions or misunderstandings. I would not have believed this to be so prevalent years ago, but the advent of the availability of video evidence has provided us all a glimpse into the truth of widespread police brutality against blacks and other non-white populations. It is frighteningly clear that we do not yet have equal justice for all. Changes must be made.

By taking a knee during the National Anthem, football players make a powerful statement. Taking a knee is a solemn and important statement in any context. We propose marriage taking a knee. We kneel at church. Historically men knelt before the Queen to be knighted. Football players take a knee when listening to their coaches.

It is a powerful statement for football players to use peaceful protest and the celebrity media platform that is available to them as professional athletes to speak out about racial injustice.

Unfortunately many have interpreted the act of taking the knee, bowing one’s head or sitting silently during the National Anthem differently. They see the meaning of this silent, peaceful, and respectful protest action by a black man as an affront to our military. Some believe that racial injustice does not really exist and that police are always innocent and are just doing their job.

Trump has verbalized these narrow, simplistic, and twisted assumptions about the motives of protestors. With sinister and deadly impact he as driven a huge wedge between Americans. We are divisible and Trump knows it. The white supremacists could have no stronger ally than Donald Trump. Trump’s motives are unknowable, but the consequences are sadly predictable.

By taking a knee to protest racial injustice, players do not threaten democracy, they embody it and they respect it.

The real disrespect I see right now is Trump’s assault on our fundamental freedom of speech and our right to protest. His use of the power of the presidency to try to limit the free speech of those he does not like should make conservatives and liberals alike very angry. It makes me furious. Trump is a real threat to our constitutional guarantees.

Heritage

Battle of Gettysburg – Brickyard*

In my East Coast home there are a number of souvenir shops that cater to tourists from around the country who come to visit the site of the single most important battle in US history, the Battle of Gettysburg. In three days in July of 1863 the future of this country was set on a course that impacts us today in ways we don’t even know.

The defeat of General Lee’s army on the third day of the battle was the beginning of the end of the system of slavery that was justified by the idea/belief that whites were superior to people of color.

In November of that same year Republican President Abraham Lincoln gave the famous Gettysburg Address, arguably the greatest speech ever given, to honor the thousands of soldiers who gave their lives at Gettysburg to support a country and system of government that held that all people are created equal. The speech was given at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery where most of those who gave their lives in the battle in defense of our nation are buried. It is truly hallowed ground that moves me every time I visit it.

Thousands more gave their lives at Gettysburg as enemies of the United States of America in an effort to retain the economic system of slavery. There were no speeches given on their behalf and for many years the bodies of the dead laid unmarked in piles in large holes that were quickly dug and then covered up. Years later women who had lost loved ones in the war formed an organization that recovered many of the remains and buried them in cemeteries in the South. No monuments were allowed on the battlefield to honor the confederate dead. They were, after all, traitors.

I recite this overly brief and incomplete history of the battle to get to a point that is relevant today. Lincoln’s armies ended slavery in the US, but they did not end the concept and belief in white supremacy. Sadly this idea is alive and kicking today.

In the afore mentioned souvenir shops you can buy tee shirts imprinted with the confederate flag and the phrase “Heritage not Hate.” You see many of these type of tee shirts being worn around Gettysburg. There is an assumption that the word “Heritage” explains somehow that the person wearing this shirt is really just honoring past history and some vague romantic concept of a way of life and a “lost cause” that is “Gone with the Wind”.

This is where I have to call bullshit on the idea of “Heritage” and those people who pretend that the confederate flag is not a racist symbol and that “Heritage” is not a code for white supremacy. This starts with you, Mr. President.

Many years after the battle of Gettysburg, the U.S. government allowed for the construction of monuments for the Southern fighters who lost their lives at Gettysburg. At the 75th anniversary of the battle there was a Peace Light with an eternal flame installed to help with reconciliation and healing. I think these efforts were appropriate and that these monuments help us to understand the gravity of the battle and show respect for the dead – even those traitors who fought against the United States, most of whom did not themselves own slaves and many of whom were conscripted.

Around the same time (early 20th century) many cities in the South, and a few in the border states, started erecting monuments to confederate generals and others associated with the Confederacy. They also named roads, schools, and other civic buildings after them.

I do not know the true motivation for these moves and I do accept the argument that there is some value in remembering who these people who fought and suffered in the war. It makes sense to me to have monuments and statues in a place like the battlefields of Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, or Chicamagua where my great-great-grandfather, Private Samuel K. Sayer of Company H/51st Ohio Infantry, was captured.

I don’t see the value of a statue of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, in a prominent location in a city unrelated to an historic battlefield or museum. This kind of statue makes the statement that “we were right all along and these are the people that you should look up to.” The message is subtle but clear to me as a white guy. I can only imagine how clear and intimidating this message is to people of color.

There is a huge difference between statues and symbols on battlefields and in museums and symbols in prominent civic locations near city halls and court houses. Former South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley clearly recognized this and took the wise and bold step of removing the confederate battle flag from state property. Other civic leaders have followed suit and moved to remove hate charged statues that do not represent the values of their citizens or our country.

Keep in mind that the statues almost exclusively focus on the generals and leaders of the Confederacy. They are not in tribute to the thousands of young men who fought bravely and suffered immensely nor are they solemn reminders of the horrors of war. The statues honor those who executed the war in an effort to keep slavery intact not the poor whites who actually did the fighting and who suffered the consequences.

Many of these symbols of the confederacy remain in prominent civic locations and will do so as long as people continue to honor those who believed strongly in white supremacy and were willing to fight against the United States of America to keep a system in place that enslaved millions of people.

Continued acceptance of the use of the symbols of the Confederacy emboldens and strengthens the KKK, Nazis, and other white supremacist hate groups. It is doubly important that our political and other influential leaders not condone the use of hate group symbolism. The Heritage they support is for whites only. (No Jews or LGBT either BTW.)

  • The mural depicted at the beginning of this article is on the Coster Avenue Battlefield which is only about 50 yards from our home in Gettysburg.  There was a major skirmish at the brickyard on the first day of the battle.  The Union soldiers where conducting a holding action to delay the advance of the Confederate forces.  This is an example of the use of the Confederate Flag in a public space that seems appropriate to me as it helps understand the event and is a reasonable approximation of what happened on that site. 

Healthcare

I have excellent healthcare. I wish all Americans could have the same medical care as I do, but sadly many do not. Fortunately, the military has a model solution that could reduce pain and suffering and help the middle class financially. It is called TRICARE.

As a retired “old soldier” I am now covered by the military’s TRICARE system which provides healthcare to military families and retirees using private medical providers.

With TRICARE I don’t have to worry about basic healthcare. Healthcare is available at an affordable annual fee with reasonable co-payments from a great local doctors and nurses.

Providing basic healthcare to service members, retirees, and their families is clearly the right thing to do. But so is providing this vital component of well being to the rest of society.

The moral argument is irrefutable. With any sense of decency, good and kind people care about people who are ill and want to reduce pain and suffering. If you don’t care about others, stop reading now, as I have nothing more to say to you.

If you do care about people who are ill, please consider the The US Constitution, which I swore to support and defend when I joined the Marines over 50 years ago. The Constitution specifically identifies, “To Promote the General Welfare”, as a fundamental reason for the establishment of our great country. Nothing is more basic to our general welfare than good health.

Providing everyone with healthcare will benefit all of society. A healthier general population lowers overall medical care costs & increases productivity. Any system which denies people coverage because they can’t afford it and causes them to wait to get healthcare until they have to go to an emergency room is extremely inefficient.

The military knows this to be true. The mantra I remember regarding military healthcare was, “Prevention”, “Prevention”, “Prevention!” In the Marines we had “sick call” every morning where people with minor medical issues went to see a Navy Corpsman to take care of their problem right away – before it got worse – and then get back to work as soon as possible.

Service members have the opportunity to take care of medical problems early on, before they get worse. If they get treatment right away, service members are then more productive, and save the government big money down the road. We need a system that allows everyone in the country to do the same thing – get the care they need, and then get on with their lives.

Yes, providing a healthcare system like TRICARE to everyone would be expensive in the short run. But this cost is offset by the long term benefits of a healthier, more productive society.

And some things can’t be reduced to dollars and cents. Sometimes you need to do things just because it is the right thing to do.

Reducing pain and suffering is always the right thing to do and instituting a Nationwide single-payer healthcare system something like TRICARE for all Americans is clearly a good solution.

 

Immigration

                        Sunday, March 19, 2017

RE: Immigration Reform

Dear Senators Murray and Cantwell,

Please work with one or more of your fellow Republican Senators McCain, Graham, Rubio, and/or Flake to reintroduce the 2013 Immigration Bill* with ONE MAJOR CHANGE: Replace a “Path to Citizenship” with a “Path to Honorary Citizenship.”

My great-grandfather James Alexander Simpson entered the US from Ontario, Canada around 1900 with neither documentation nor permission. He and an uncle crossed the border with a cow and walked to Minnesota where they settled. He never became a citizen, nor did he vote in the US. However, he married, raised a family, started several small businesses, and contributed significantly to the communities he lived in.

Great grandpa’s direct descendants represent a cross-section of Americans including teachers, farmers, preachers, doctors, professors, business persons, tradesmen, sales persons, soldiers, and Marines.

To my knowledge my great-grandpa was never in any trouble with the law and was a contributing member of our society throughout his life. Likewise I know of none of his direct descendants who have ever been in serious trouble with the law. America is a better country because he came, and was allowed to stay and raise a family.

Great Grandpa Simpson did not need to have citizenship to leave a positive legacy in this country.

Likewise, the first generation of today’s undocumented immigrants can leave similar legacies without actually becoming citizens themselves.
I recommend issuing those granted permanent residency with an opportunity to apply for an honorary citizenship upon reaching age 65.

This would require that they meet reasonable criteria like those described in the 2013 Immigration Bill. Otherwise law abiding undocumented immigrants don’t need to vote, they do need an assurance that they can keep their families together.

My understanding is that it was primarily the “path to citizenship” component that killed what otherwise was a workable and fair bi-partisan legislative solution to our broken immigration system.

Please reach across the aisle and work with one or more of your Republican colleagues who you think might be receptive to this idea.

It is even possible that President Trump and Speaker of the House Ryan might be receptive to this kind of solution/compromise. They may well listen if a bi-partisan group of Senators present them with a solution that provides for border security, grows the economy, preserves the order of law, and treats law-abiding immigrants with respect, dignity, and kindness.

Thank you for your consideration of this idea.

Respectfully,

Jim Simpson
Seattle, WA

PS – Keep up the good work.

* (Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 , S. 744)

Benchmarks

Give Trump a Chance

Dear friends and family,

I know that some of you voted for President Trump and I have seen a number of comments indicating that we should all give him a chance.  Some of you have also pointed out that we do need for the country to be successful – we are in the same boat after all.

I am very willing to give the new policies and actions being taken by the President and Congress a fair assessment and judge them based on results/outcomes.

Here are some benchmark numbers inherited from the Obama administration that are fairly clear cut.  I will measure success of the current Trump administration/Congress over the next 4 years against these starting points. Please see footnotes below for sources and elaboration on these metrics.

Benchmarks

                                                                                         as of 1/20/2017
Security
# of deaths from nuclear explosions (1945-2016) (1)    0
# of citizens killed by terrorists in US (2016) (2)            43
# of US Military Deaths in Combat Zones (2016) (3)      19
# of Violent Crimes (2015) (4)                                             1,197,704

Economy
Total Employment (5)                                                        145,303,000
Unemployment Rate (6)                                                    4.7%/9.2%
Inflation Rate (CPI) (7)                                                       2.1%
Ave. Cost of 1 Gal of Gas (8)                                              $2.302
Median Household Income (2015) (9)                            $53,889
Median Household Net Worth (2016) (10)                    $88,087
National Debt (1/20/17) (11)                                             $19.9 Trillion
Budget Deficit (FY 2017 est.) (12)                                    $559 Billion
Total Exports (Nov 2016) (13)                                          $186 Billion
GDP Increase Annual Rate (as of 3Q 2016) (14)            3.5%

Quality of Life/Satisfaction/Miscl.
US Health Care Per Capita Spending (2015) (15)           $9,990
% of People with Health Insurance (2015 (16)               90.9%
Drug Related Deaths (2015) (17)                                        33,091
HS Grad or Greater (2016) (18)                                          88.4%

Presidential Job Approval Rating (1/19/2017) (19)         59%

Numbers alone, however, don’t necessarily equate to success. As Einstein said, “Not everything that counts can be counted.” There are of course other very important aspects of life in the US impacted by the Federal Government that do not lend themselves to simple numbers: President Trump’s campaign promise to keep Medicare & Medicaid as is; environmental issues, criminal justice issues, minority and women’s rights, immigration, refugee policy, and many more.

I think, however, that these 19 metrics, which are easily verifiable and understandable, are a good snap shot of “success”.

I am very willing to give new policies “a chance to succeed” and honestly hope that all of these numbers will look as good or better in say 3 1/2 years. I wish President Trump and Congress luck in that regard.

“Giving him a chance” does not mean, however, that we should sit quietly by and not speak out if we see injustice or disregard for our constitutional rights, the rule of law, or basic civility.

I would never vote for Trump in the future no matter what the numbers show because of his negative personal attributes. If, however, new policies and actions actually improve things and don’t cause harm to the environment or violate human or constitutional rights, I would be very willing to consider supporting someone like Ohio Governor John Kasich who could carry successful new policies/programs forward without all of the negativity associated with Trump.

As I see it President Trump has a great opportunity to prove himself with his party controlling both houses of congress – I don’t need to “give him a chance” he has a fair chance already.

So Mr. President, let’s see if you can produce positive results.

Jim

Note: This is not a cut and paste list/posting, I did the research/compilation myself. It is my opinion and my work, for whatever that is worth. I used the most recent metrics available as of the Inauguration on 1/20/17.

Footnotes:
(1) No source really needed here – if we have a nuclear explosion anywhere in the world the rest of the list is of secondary at best. Nuclear war remains the most critical risk to mankind. If a bomb goes off it is a clear failure of both our military (deterrence ability) and of our State Department (diplomacy). These are the most important functions of the Presidency.
(2) National Consortium of the Study of Terrorism, Department of Homeland Security/University of Maryland. 2015 is the most recent published total. From other sources I estimate the number of deaths in the US is 63 for 2016 with 14 from the San Bernadino attach and 49 from the Orlando attack.
(3) Military Times – “Honor the Fallen” listing of those who fought and died in military combat operations (does not include US training deaths or suicides) in 2016. I think combat deaths is a good overall measure of the ability of the US to maintain the peace worldwide and institute our foreign policy at the lowest cost in US life. The purpose of the military and diplomacy is to prevent war, therefore the lower this number the better.
(4) FBI -Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. 2015 is most recent year available.
(5) Bureau of Labor Statistics, All employees, total nonfarm, seasonally adjusted through December 2016 (preliminary – most current available as of Jan 24, 2017)
(6) Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Unemployment rate 16 years and over as of December 2016 The first number is the U-3 rate which is commonly used but which is computed differently than the second rate which some call the “real” unemployment rate which counts as unemployed those who are unemployed, underemployed, and marginally employed.
(7) Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12-month percentage change, Consumer Price Index, All Items as of December 2016
(8) American Automobile Association as of January 24, 2017
(9) US Census Bureau, Median Household Income, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5 Year Estimate
(10) Federal Reserve – Financial Accounts of the United States, Household Net Worth 2016 Q1 most current available.
(11) US Treasury Department , Debt Held by the Public as of 1/20/2017
(12) Congressional Budget Office, Budget Projections for FY 2017 $559 Billion
(13) US Census Bureau – Nov 2016 Most recent month available – includes goods and services. Note that I have measured exports not the deficit. I view exports as a clear indicator of how competitive the US is on the world market. Imports, however show what we are spending as a society. If we pay a fair price for what we are spending we should receive an equal value. We are not spending more than we make if our domestic productivity is high enough to cover these purchases.
(14) Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis ,National Income and Product Accounts Real Gross Domestic Product: Third Quarter 2016, (Third Estimate).
(15) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, National Health Expenditure Accounts. 2015 is most recent final report.
(16) Center for Disease Control, Health Insurance Coverage in the United State: 2015.
(17) Center for Disease Control, Drug Overdose Death Data 2015 Opioids only in this number as CDC does not track all drug overdose numbers – Opioid related (Heroin and Synthetic) are far and away the largest cause of death by drug overdose.
(18) Census Bureau, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015, 25 and older.
(19) Gallop Poll – Presidential Job Approval

Amelioration

This blog is written for family, friends, and colleagues. Others are certainly welcome to read this, but it is written to and for people who know me personally.

I assume that all of you who are US citizens will be voting between now and November 8.

I also assume that nothing I say at this point will change how you vote.

The question/topic of this post is, “How are each of us going to act on November 9?

From personal communication or social media posts I know that some of you disagree (perhaps even strongly) with my voting decision for president which I explained in my previous post, “Government”.

Neither Donald nor Hillary nor any of their surrogates have ever bothered to meet with me personally to explain their past performance or opinions. Because of this, I have no first-hand knowledge of what either candidate is really like or what they have or have not done in the past. Like you, I rely on my media sources for facts and opinions to help me make my voting decisions. Like you, I have to guess what might change if one or the other is elected.

We all have different sources and see the facts differently and I am not going to enter into a “my sources are better than your sources” or “my critical thinking is better than yours” discussion.

We do, however, have first-hand knowledge of each other, having interacted personally at various junctions in our lives. From these personal experiences I do know that all of you reading this are basically good people who care about others, your country, and mankind.

Some of you reading this are to the left of Bernie, some of you sit in chairs on the far right side side of the room.

I have a pretty good idea about how the election will come out but I could be dead wrong, as could any of you. There will be lots of unhappy people no matter who wins.

My concern is how are we going to treat each other once the dust has settled after the election.

What, if anything, should I say or do differently if I am correct? What, if anything, should I say or do differently if my candidate looses?

To me, family, friendship, basic civility, and the reality we see in our daily real-world lives is more important than the outcome of the election and all the hype surrounding it. There is a surreal “otherworld” feeling I get when I see election coverage or rhetoric that is counter to what I experience in my interactions with real people in everyday life which I have talked about in my previous post titled “America.”

What I fear is the continued demonizing of others we know who do not agree with us politically. If we fall prey to those whose interests are furthered by creating fear and hatred via a “we vs they”/black or white” dynamic, we could all go down together. The idea of a house divided against itself not being able to stand is as true now as it was in Greek mythology (Aesop), The Bible (Jesus), or US History (Patrick Henry, Lincoln).

Some of you are likely thinking, “Jim, you sound pretty naive saying, ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’”

Call me naive then, because as overused as this phase is, it does make perfect sense to me that treating each other in our personal lives with kindness and respect regardless of the other person’s political views is the first and most important step we can take personally to make things better.

On November 9, the day after our election, I plan to focus on the reality that I see in my daily contact with others with whom I come in contact personally. I will still watch TV, surf the Internet, and read my newspapers and magazines to have a wider perspective and context. However, regardless of how they may have voted, I will try to interact with the people I personally know and love based on what they actually do in their lives, not on assumptions of their motives derived from their political point of view.

We would all do well to head the words of Satchmo in his classic,“What a Wonderful World”:

The colors of the rainbow,
So pretty in the sky.
Are also on the faces,
Of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands.
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying, “I love you”.