Democracy

“We the people.”

The Idea that common people ultimately hold power is a unique and tenuous belief.

In 2024 we are hearing a lot about the upcoming Presidential election being a real test of whether democracy will still be relevant in the United States. 

But what does “Democracy” really mean?  In a previous post I asked the same question about “socialism.” I could neither come to a conclusion, consensus nor get a clear answer from anyone else to my question, “What is socialism?”

Some people “rail” against America becoming a socialist country.  And yet, no country on earth has a total government control of the means of production which is the classic definition of socialism.  The word has come to mean whatever one wants it to mean.

Hopefully, I can at least partially answer the question, “What  is a Democracy?”

Throughout most of human history mankind has had one person or a very small group of people (almost all of whom were men) who made  all of the rules. Ancient Greeks, the Romans and later the Brits with the Magna Carta all are credited with fostering democratic principles.  In reality, however, none of these attempts really intended for “everyone” to have a say.  At best, these efforts shared power among a few chosen people.  

Plato went further arguing democracy is irrational as it places power in the hands of the uninformed, common citizenry.  He argued instead in favor of an unelected elite whose rule is justified because they alone are rational agents; in possession of political expertise.

 It is always easier to just follow the rules of law put out by dictators whether they went by King, Emperor or some other title. The result has been the same:  One person makes all the rules.  

Some single rulers in history have been termed as being “benevolent dictators”.  From what I can see, these individuals were, “not as bad” as the rulers that came before them.  Even then, one might fairly ask, “benevolent to/for whom.” 

Few who live under them have ever questioned kings and other autocratic leaders. Even fewer have lived to tell about it.

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

Winston Churchill (November 1947). 

The old “Bulldog” makes a strong case.  But what exactly does “democracy” mean?

In the US we actually live in a republic.   Some people make a big deal out of America being a “republic” and not a “democracy.” In my mind the two words are pretty much synonymous.   Webster’s defines a republic as a form of government where the people choose their leaders and in democracies the citizens elect government officials to rule on their behalf.  Seems like two sides of the same coin to me. 

Don’t be fooled by lables. The official name of North Korea is The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Just saying one is “democratic” does not make it so.

And don’t confuse the U.S. political party names with the ability of individuals to chose.  Both parties have changed their stances over the years and both see themselves as representing the will of the people. 

Degree Matters

All dictatorships are not the same, neither are all democracies.  Attempts have been made by a number of more or less independent sources to develop indices of democracy.  All of these democracy measurement groups have different criteria but they all see the world as being governed by a range of different types of governments ranging from Free Democracies to total autocracies.

For me “democracy” is one of those concepts that fall under the, “I know it when I see it” umbrella.

Size Matters 

What works in a small group, such as coming to a consensus within a congregation or among teammates on an athletic or work team, falls apart when the group gets too big.  I don’t know the exact number that is too large, but at some point there are just too many people/voices and the individual feels lost and unheard. 

It is also the case that we just cannot keep up with all of the knowledge needed to make sound decisions.  That is why virtually all democracies have settled on one form or another of Representative Democracy: We choose others to make the decisions on our behalf. 

Unlike Plato’s vision, most modern democracies allow all adult citizens to choose who represents them – the method for doing this being the vote.  As Churchill pointed out, democracies are far from perfect.  Detailing the abuses our elected leaders have made over the years would take way more time than I am willing to spend here now. 

Like most important questions, the answer to “What is a democracy”  is not black and white.  Some countries are “more democratic” than others. 

Voting 

Clearly the right to vote freely is the defining difference between democracies and autocracies.   But is “voting” itself enough?

Additionally there must be a clear choice between candidates.  Lots of people “vote” in Russia, but there is only one choice, Vladimir Putin.

Gerrymandering also can result in situation where the majority does not get to rule. Votes are involuntarily concentrated to ensure one party has a disportioncate  number of representatives. People are allowed to “vote” but they really don’t have fair representation.

Finally, there must be an acceptance of the outcome of the vote by the candidates and the vast majority of the population. We need only look South to Venezuela to see what happens when power is concentrated with no checks and balances. Nicolas Madero has disregarded election results, rewritten the country’s constitution and is now able to rule by dictate – he personally decides what the “law” is.  Madero assumed power in 2013 and has shown no intention of ever giving it up.  

These criteria for voting/democracy raise a nagging question, “Does my vote even matter?”  Or even more importantly, “Do we need to take actions to ensure we still have a democracy?” 

 Your thoughts? (Click on Leave a Comment below).

Inflation

Inflation is certainly in the news and on our minds.

In a recent online group conversation, one of my friends asked the group if they believed the inflation figures given by the government.

The most recent figure release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (March 2024) is an annual rate of 3.5% increase in the Consumer Price Index ( CPI-U is the BLS’s most used figure which tries to average out all items that consumers use). 

Almost to a person, the group of about 12 on the call said that the government’s inflation figure was much lower than they personally have experienced.  For point of reference, this was a well-educated and mostly, I would guess, progressive leaning group. 

Inflation is certainly an ongoing  issue.  It has been much higher, and much lower, at various times over the past 59 yeas since I graduated from high school and first started to take notice of price increases over time. 

Inflation is one measure of the National economy.  Other commonly referenced indices are unemployment, GDP growth and the stock market.  How are each of these doing?  

Like all important issues,  the economy is complicated and influenced by a number of variables.  Government  policy is one of these.  But “Inflation” is not the only economic factor.  Supply and demand, international/global trends and actions, and yes, simple greed, all impact the prices we pay.

Why is Inflation so Important? 

There is no doubt that things cost more than they used to.  Other indicators may be intellectually important, but inflation hits each of us in the pocket book every time we buy anything or pay for a service.  It is personal.

But “Why” are we experiencing inflation?  

Who is to blame?  The Federal Government?  State Governments?  Local Governments?

Some look only to the Federal Government.  And yet, State governors are quick to point out that their pro-business initiatives are good for their state’s economy.  Why are there significant differences in inflation rates among the different States? USA Today reports that Moody’s Analytics estimates that Pennsylvania currently has the lowest inflation rate of 1.8% and that Florida has the highest at 4%.  As Kenan Thompson says on Saturday Night Live, “What’s up with that?” 

Urban areas also can vary significantly.  I pulled a couple of most recent inceases in CPI-U  for Urban areas off of the BLS web site.  The San Francisco urban area (Which includes much of Silicone Valley) came in at 2.4% annual increase while the Miami area (which includes Palm Beach) came in at 4.4%.  Again, why the differences?

Are You better off Today?

Another statement I see online is one that I believe began when Ronald Reagan asked the question during the 1980 election campaign, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” The Inflation rate  in 1980 was 12.5% year-over-year.   Reagon won in a landslide.

But what is the answer to that question today?

Four years ago (in May 1920) we were in the early stages of the Covid Pandemic.  On March 13, 2020, then President Trump declared a national emergency and shortly thereafter began a 6-week almost total shutdown of the American economy.

Inflation dropped to .1%, virtually nothing.  

On the down side,  unemployment was about 13% and GDP for 2020 was -2.77%.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average on May 8, 2020 was 24,197 points or about 1,000 less than in was on the same date in  2019.  Today the Dow Jones is over 36,000.  

In my previous post titled Statistics, I highlight the shortcomings of “Statistics” and clearly there are many.   I do recall however some basic economic truths that relate to supply and demand.  Fewer jobs + negative economic growth = less demand.  With low demand it is easy to see why prices remained flat four years ago.

What about “The Misery Index?”

Economist Arthur Okun, an advisor to President Lyndon Baines Johnson, is credited with coming up with The Misery Index.  The Misery Index is a measurement attempting to show the impact on “regular” people. The number is achieved by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate.   A high Misery Index is bad for the average American,  low is good. Since LBJ’s time, The Misery Index has been used by politicians wanting to show either how good they are doing or how poorly their incumbent opponent is doing. 

Like the formal economic indices, the question of whether we are better off now vs four years ago is not an easy answer, even with The Misery Index.  In April 2020 the Misery index peaked out for the year at 15.3 %.  The most recent number today is 7.28%.  Again, are we better off or worse off than we were four years ago?

What about Greed?  

I have seen lots of remarks online about how certain industries are showing record profits and still rising prices.  Others point out that some companies have raised prices simply “because they can” and that there is really no “competition” in many industries. 

What about the World Economy? 

As much as some people might like the idea, America is not alone in the world. 

Supply chains criss-cross the globe.  Trade between nations has never been higher.  Raw materials in one country become key to productivity in another.  International trade can become a “win – win” for many nations.  

Conversely, we all can be negatively impacted by events and conditions in other countries beyond our control:  Tariffs on American goods & Services, OPEC decisions, trade deficits, economies abroad and international corporations.  

Some people would have us believe that we should only “Buy American.” 

We do import a lot, but oftentimes the cost is less for imported goods.  Would not inflation be worse if we only bought “American” products? 

It is also difficult to tell which companies are “American”.  For example, how do you classify Toyota?  Toyota has its American Subsidiary headquarters in Plano, Texas and employs about 176,000 people in its 15 US manufacturing facilities and has over 1500 US dealerships.  RAV4s, Camrys, Corollas, Siennas, Sequoias and Highlanders are all built in the US.  And what could be more American than a truck built in Texas? All Tundra and Tacoma pickups are manufactured in San Antonio.

So what do we do about Inflation? 

I wish I knew.  Personally, I plan to reign in “extra” spending.  As a retiree, my Income is pretty much fixed.  But then so are most of my essential expenses. Fortunately much of what I spend is discretionary and can be cut.  Many others are not so lucky and they are forced to choose between two “essential” expenses. 

The answer to this important question, “What do I do about inflation?”  is much easier on an individual level:  Either increase your income or decrease your expenses, preferably both.  At the macro level the answer is much more cloudy.  

Yes, we can vote for a candidate who promises us lower inflation.  But will they be able to deliver?  And, if so, at what cost? 

Inflation is at most only partially a result of government actions or inaction.   Thinking that a political leader, any political leader, can single-handedly solve inflation is magical thinking.

Inflation is more like “Death” and “Taxes”: givens that impact us all and which no-one can control completely. 

What do you think?   Please place your thoughts/ideas in the “Comments” below. 

 Aurora

This post is neither about the city in Colorado, The Northern Lights nor the Roman goddess (Best known for introducing the sunrise every morning and for turning her boyfriend into a cicada).  It is a photo essay about Aurora Avenue in Seattle. 

Locals have undoubtedly seen some of the businesses shown in photos below.

Non-locals, at least those in the U.S., undoubtedly have similar streets where they live. Aurora is a hodgepodge of businesses in what might be described as a “transition” area. Aurora Avenue has been in “transition” ever since the Seattle portion of the I-5 interstate highway was completed in 1964.  I-5 made the old route between Canada and Mexico, US Highway 99, obsolete.  Aurora Avenue was U.S. Highway 99 in North Seattle. 

In recent years there has been some new construction on Aurora, mostly mid-rise medium to high-end apartments, a new Starbucks and a high speed bus line.  But parts of Aurora Avenue are still pretty seedy and unseemly.  Prostitutes and drug dealers are a common site. Cheap (quality, not price) motels are all long Aurora and I would not advise anyone to stay at any of them. The motels are mostly remnants of the glory days when US 99 was the main north-south highway.  

These motels, and many of the other “highway” focused businesses, won’t be with us long.  Many of those pictured in this essay have already disappeared.   Nonetheless, these businesses are a part of the American story and their existence is worth recording.  

Aurora is not all bad of course.  The Avenue goes over the scenic Aurora Ave. Bridge most famous for one of Seattle’s finest and most exclusive restaurants, Canlis.  Aurora also now connects directly to the new tunnel under downtown Seattle and Aurora is a great bus and car commuting route for many in North Seattle.  The avenue also bisects the beautiful Woodland Park, home of the Zoo and the wonderful park at Green Lake.  And I would be remiss if I overlooked the fact that Aurora goes right through Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in which both my parents and my maternal grandparents are buried and where I will also end up some day.

I think I first started this project over 20 years ago. Procrastination should not be a goal, but often I seem to treat it as such. Anyway, I finally finished this project and below are the pics which I think capture at least some of the essence of Aurora Avenue through its (mostly) neon signs:

Aurora Neon

Aging

Previously I have written about Death in Chapter 32 (inevitable) and Heaven in Chapter 39 (we’ll just have to wait and see) but now I am going to focus on a young person’s cringe moment:  listening to old people talking about health. 

We have all been in a restaurant or other public place where “old people” talk way too loudly about health issues.  Listening to them can be excruciating.

The sad news is that I, and many of my friends, are now the ones on the other side of the conversation.  I find it almost impossible to talk with a person my age without one party bringing up some medical “problem” that either they or their significant other is experiencing.

Welcome to the golden age.

For us of a certain age there seems to be at least one life changing event that makes us realize that we are now “old.”

For me the realization that I was now “old” came two summers ago at a wonderful family reunion held near Mount Hood, Oregon.  Over 100 family members attended the reunion.  My cousin Jeanne’s daughter Katy had a new baby, Adeline, who was the youngest family member in attendance, she was only about two months old.  I was the oldest. 

Talk about an eye opener.  

Most of my contemporaries I know do not think of themselves as being “old.”  And yet, there are only a few people left who have birth dates prior to mine.

“Old” is a state of mind, not a verifiable scientific/medical measurement.  

I know people who never grew up.  And I know young people with “ old souls.”

As we boomers start to fade into the sunset,  I see us in two different camps: Those who have decided to ‘“Age Gracefully” and those who “Rage against Age.”  

The graceful agers more or less go with the flow.  Downsize. Simplify. Accept.  I am probably in this group.

The second group seems to want to defy gravity, at least for time.  They stay in their homes – “no one is going to take this away from me – I worked too hard for it.”  These “Ragers” use cosmetic surgery to keep their eyes from drooping or to trim neck waddle.  They reject many of the creature comforts available to old people.  

Neither group really wants to end up “in the home-staring at a TV” sadly, the choice is not up to us. As they say, “shit happens.”  

And of course there are the tied and true cliches.  “Getting old is not for sissies.”; “You are only as old as you feel.”;  “Age is just a number.”; “ You’re not getting older, you are getting better.”; “You will never be younger than you are today”; and,“Live each day like it is your last, one day you will be correct.”

All of these cliches have a strong element of truth in them. Nonetheless, the older we get, the less we are able to do.  Until, of course, ….  (We all know the end game here.)  

Ancestors

We cannot choose our ancestors any more than we can choose our birthdays. 

Like it or not, we inherit quite a bit from those who have come before us.  

Nature or nurture?    

As I suspect most parents do, I believe in nurture. Surely our efforts in “raising our kids” have some influence beyond protection, education and some degree of financial independence. 

And yet, there is much we cannot explain about human behavior.  Why are some kids more athletic, better looking or smarter than others?  Why do some follow the “rules” while their siblings seem to take “rules were made to be broken” to heart. Why are some siblings more susceptible to certain diseases? Every parent with more than one child that I know has at one time or other said that their own kids are very different from each other. 

We really don’t know why, but we do know that to a large part of who we are is “hard wired.”  This wiring can only come from one place:  Our parents and everyone who went before them.

DNA has opened up a whole new way of looking at our ancestors.  It has also opened up a Pandora’s box that generates even more questions than it answers.  

Benefits of knowing our DNA results:  I am sure there is a sense of closure for those people who finally find out “who” they are.   It often is the case that having DNA results can confirm the stories that we have heard from our parents and other relatives.  There seem also to be advantages to knowing the medical history of one’s ancestors.  

Problems with knowing:  One’s understanding of who they are is routed strongly in stories told by parents and other relatives.  DNA could expose long held “family secrets.”  It is also human nature to imagine that we are the descendants of some kind of royalty, great wealth or an “important” person.   For many Americans this is just not realistic.  Most of our ancestors left their homes in search of something better.  Left unsaid is that that many of our ancestors were not really successful where they came from.  In some cases they were really just running away. 

I am very interested in my personal ancestry.  So is Marianne.  To the best of our knowledge we share no common ancestors.  And we do not have any direct descendants from our marriage.  This shared  interest in ancestry leads us down separate roads.  We are searching different people and different families.  And yet, the search and where and who we came from is equally as interesting to both of us. 

Marianne’s family roots on the Larkin side lead back to the earliest settlers in Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Because her father (Bert Larkin) died from polio at age 28 when Marianne was just three, and he was the only son, Marianne is the last Larkin.  The  Larkin name ends with her.  On her mother’s side the roots go back to south-eastern Minnesota and on her father’s to Lake Piseco in New York State. 

My Simpson paternal roots lead to Northern Ireland via Ontario & Minnesota.  On my Mother’s side the roots lead to Sweden on one side and to England on the other.  Family stories include being among the original residents of Long Island, The Civil War, and World Wars 1 & 2. 

Obviously this is just a snapshot of the entire lineage each of us has been given.  Even if we don’t know exactly who was who, we can be certain that we are the end product of countless generations of people.  Scientists believe all humans (at least the homo sapien part of us) came originally from Africa.  I believe them even though I don’t really understand their methodology.  

But you don’t have to go back to Africa to enjoy knowing who your more recent ancestors are.  One part of the interest for me is  the “why” certain things happen.  The “why” related to most of our ancestors has been lost forever when they died.  

For instance, I know that my Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother on my mother’s mother’s side grew up in Sweden and somehow ended up in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania where they had 5 children.  But why did they leave Sweden?  Why, of all places, did they choose Tamaqua?  Why did they bury their 2-year-old daughter Selma, who died of cholera, in Brooklyn rather than in Pennsylvania where they lived?   Why did they move to Isanti County, Minnesota?  These, and a thousand other questions will remain unanswered.  Or will they? 

In addition to DNA, we now have incredible resources (such as census data and official now-public government records) available to us via Ancestry.com and other providers who can provide documented evidence of at least some events   The internet has also allowed us to quickly and easily learn about history in far away (time and space) places such as Tamaqua where my grandmother was born.  

As it turns out, at the time my grandparents moved there, Tamaqua was a  thriving mining town and often a center of conflict within the labor movement.  The town was the regional headquarters for the  Molly Maguires, the group of Irish immigrants often associated with violence.   Were my family members impacted by this violence and unrest?  It is likely, but I really don’t know – the truth is again lost when they died.  Perhaps they choose not to talk about this?  

My second cousin Craig Aldworth found hundred-year-old property records that seem to show that the land my mother lived on when she was a girl in Minnesota was actually a part of the Cedar Creek Farm which was owned at that time by my great-grandfather, Christian Johansson (AKA Johnson).  The land my grandfather Sayer raised his family on is not contiguous with the rest of the farm which was several miles away. 

Again, the people who could explain this are all dead but having access to historical records about where and when my ancestors lived makes it is interesting to me to ponder what really happened to them and why they made the choices they did. 

Every family has a healthy dose of mystery related to their ancestors.  For many of us this mystery is like a huge puzzle that begs to be solved. 

Some people just don’t seem to care about their ancestors. That’s OK with me, to each his/her own.   I also think that sooner or later at least one person in each family becomes the story teller and custodian of the family history . 

If you are that story teller in your family, my recommendation is to share what you know.  You won’t be here forever and once you are gone the stories go with you.  The best way to do this is not just to research your own family tree, but to document your findings and your own history in some permanent way.  For me that that has meant self-publishing books about my family.  

Soon enough many of us will become ancestors to those who follow.  Our stories will be a part of a much larger quilt.  We all may not be a direct ancestor per se, but almost certainly we will become a part of the family story as an uncle, aunt, cousin or step father/mother.

Tell your story now.  

Terrorists

The first time I remember hearing the word Terrorist was when I attended the Defense Information School in the late 1970s.  

DINFOS, as the Defense Information School is called in the military, was at that time located at Fort Benjamin Harrison, near Indianapolis.  

DINFOS was established as the school for public affairs officers and enlisted persons from all of the services and also for civilian employees (like myself at the time) of the services.  One of the most memorable sessions at DINFOS was a presentation by a guest speaker who was, I believe, either with the CIA or the State Department. 

What I recall from the presentation was that the main objective of terrorist organizations was not really the damage they caused.  Their “hidden agenda” was to get the government to overreact and, by so doing, further the longer-term political objectives of the terrorist organization.  According to this speaker (whose name I long ago forgot), terrorist organizations do not seek to hold territory or even expect to defeat the military of the country they attack.  

It is also important to differentiate between terror and terrorist organizations.  Most pacifists would probably argue that in one way or another all war is terror.  While I am in not a pacifist myself, in this I do agree, all warfare involves terror of some kind.

In addition to terrorist organizations, the word terrorist has also been used to describe individuals acting alone.  This DIFOS speaker did not address individual terrorists and I believe their motives are all over the board and extremely difficult to identify.  They are also much more difficult to predict or prevent.  I am not sure the word terrorist really applies here.  Perhaps “sick”, “crazy”, “unhinged”, or “pathological” better describes these people. 

The DINFOS speaker was talking about terrorist organizations, not individual acts of terror. What he had to say about these groups went against what I had been taught, and learned, about warfare.

Having already been on active duty in the Marines and having served with an infantry battalion in Vietnam before this presentation at DINFOS, this idea about Terrorist Organizations struck me as novel.  We (The Marines and later the Army soldiers I trained and served with) were taught that our mission was to first defend our own people/country and more specifically the Constitution of the United States, to which we all took a solemn vow to protect and defend.  

As a Marine and later as a soldier, I was always hopeful this mission to Protect and Defend could be accomplished by being strong enough militarily to dissuade potential enemies.  Often, however, we have been unable to dissuade the enemy and thus must either destroy the other country’s military capability or eliminate their military’s “will to resist.”    This usually involves “holding ground” until a more friendly government can be established, or reestablished.  

Even the North Vietnamese Regular Army (NVA), which my battalion fought against in I Corps (Northern South Vietnam),  were not “ A Terrorist Organization.”  They were the army of a country whose leaders definitely wanted to defeat both the U.S. and South Vietnam (ARVIN) military forces.  Then they wanted to take over (hold ground) the entire land mass of the South Vietnam.  

The NVA’s military tactics and strategy were different than ours given the situation and they used both guerrilla tactics and terror to achieve their goals.  They also embraced the idea of “Total Warfare” which meant every man, woman and even some children were involved in the war.  But they were not a “terrorist organization”  using the definition that the DINFOS guest speaker first introduced to me and my classmates.  

I was a student in the Marine Corp’s The Basic School prior to going to Vietnam.  I remember being told that the goal of the North Vietnamese was to prolong the war as long as necessary because eventually the U.S. would grow tired of it all and just leave.  Turns out this is what happened.  The NVA goal was clearly to outlast the Americans, then to defeat the South Vietnamese military and take over the country. 

Terrorist organizations see the situation much differently.  Although they may use similar military tactics and certainly don’t mind killing people, their goal is not to win a war in the traditional sense.  Terrorists don’t really care about protecting anyone.  Quite the contrary, they “win” if the government they attack kills the very people that they come from and often times, rule over.  

Terrorists organizations don’t need to win the hearts and minds of the people, they just need to do horrible things to get the government to overreact.  By overreacting, the government becomes the enemy of those people who were pretty much unaligned with the terrorist organization at the start of the conflict.  

I dislike memes I see on Facebook.  They almost always tell only a small part of a larger story or issue.  Like bumper stickers, they generate a, ”Ya, that tells them!” response without really providing any substance. 

Nonetheless, I did see a meme recently placed on Facebook by a friend of mine that got me thinking.  The meme showed two soldiers firing rifles at each other.  One soldier was labeled “Israel,” the other “Hamas.”  Also shown in the meme were two baby carriages.  One  baby carriage was behind the Israeli soldier and the other baby carriage was in front of the “Hamas” Soldier who was hiding behind it.   

The meme raised numerous issues for me.  Most obvious was that the Hamas soldier was using the baby carriage as a shield.  This speaks to the despicable lengths that terrorist organizations will go to in battle.  It also speaks to the obvious conclusion that the Terrorist Organization members (In this case Hamas) do not really care about protecting people, quite the opposite, they use people.

Less obvious, but equally important is the question, “How does the Israeli soldier eliminate his enemy without hitting the baby carriage?” I saw the baby carriage as symbolic of all innocent people.  The second issue to me is the more difficult one to handle.  How do we eliminate (Kill) the terrorist without killing innocent people in the process.  

Collateral damage is the term used to describe people not involved in the actual fighting but who are killed or injured because of military actions.  The very nature of warfare almost always includes some collateral damage.  But, how much is too much?  

One way to limit terrorist organizations impact with minimal collateral damage is to assassinate their leader(s). This was done by the US with al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden the mastermind and financier of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S.  and a number of others over the years.  However, assassination of terrorist leaders takes a long time and does not immediately answer the cry of the public to, “Do something now!”

And there is another problem with assassination (beyond the obvious legal and ethical issues). Unfortunately, terrorist organizations resemble both the Greek mythological Lernean Hydra which regrew a new head when one was cut off, and the real-life chameleon which can change its color as needed to blend in with its surroundings. 

Terrorist leaders are not only hard to find, but once you do eliminate them, another takes his place and the organization can reconstitute itself under a new name and often in a new location or a totally new terrorist organization can be formed. 

All that is needed for a terrorist organization to succeed is financial backing and to have cult-like followers.  The cult-like followers need not be significant in numbers, they just need to feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and of course, be willing to die.

I wish I had an answer to this dilemma:  How does one “win” when fighting terrorist organizations?

Statistics

Is this good or bad?

Mark Twain is often associated with the quote:, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.”  Twain attributed the quote to nineteenth century British conservative politician and former prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli. There are variations of the quote stated by a number of people and it is not exactly clear who first uttered these words/came up with the thought.  

It really doesn’t matter who originated it, there is a large element of truth in the quote. 

Recently I have seen memes on Facebook that seem to indicate that one politician or another is directly responsible for a particular set of economic numbers.  These numbers can be either good or bad.

One Facebook meme that caught my eye was posted by a friend who agreed with the sentiment that President Biden was responsible for the current high rate of inflation.  The meme used statistics and a chart showing that the inflation rate was 1.4% when Biden became President and then it was 8.3% in August of 1922.  The accuracy of the numbers (statistics) is not my point here.  Even if they were correct, the numbers only show part of the story. 

I am not sure why my friend posted this meme in September, 2023, over a year after the numbers cited.  Perhaps the August 2023, inflation rate of 3.7% did not sound bad enough?

There is no mention of the fact that the low inflation rate at the beginning of Biden’s term was probably driven more by the covid pandemic (and related shutdowns) than the wise economic policies of the previous administration. 

Additionally, the meme avoided other figures that showed progress during the Biden years.  These include: Unemployment (Down from 6.3% in January 2021 to 3.8% in August 2023; and growth of gross domestic product which increased from -2.8% in 2020 to a current estimate of + 2.2% annual growth for 2023. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. wages and salaries increased 4.6 percent for the 12-month period ending in June 2023 and increased 5.3 percent for the 12-month period ending in June 2022. 

So, is the economy good or bad? 

The economy is often a mixed bag.  It is also driven by a number of variables, only some of which can be impacted by government action. 

Gasoline prices are currently at an all-time high.  While it is easy to blame the government, what impact do private interests play?  Why are energy companies recording record profits?  Why is OPEC restricting oil production?

One of my favorite quotes that is certainly relevant to the economy and associated statistics is, “For every complex problem there is a simple answer….and it is wrong.”  

Some people don’t even go as far as endorsing memes.  They rely on bumper stickers to address complex issues.  As aways, the important issues of the day (any day) are very complex and require much thought and analysis by people in the know. 

Are statistics at all useful?  Yes, they are very important.  So important in fact that without quantification and recording of details there can be no facts applicable at a macro level, only beliefs.  Beliefs do have a place in our personal lives.  However, void of the facts that only accurate statistics can provide, personal beliefs are very little help in addressing macro subjects such as climate, the economy, or societal trends.

So, what is the problem here Jim?  Part of the problem is that people often start out with a belief and then find the “facts” that support said belief.  Statistics being one of the strongest kinds of proof.  

The other commonly used method is ancedotal first or second-hand experience.  Anecdotal evidence can be useful on a personal level, but the application of this “wisdom” derived from antidotes is only useful more broadly if it is substantiated by statistics. In short, we need to know if an example is a real trend or circumstance or just a one-off occurrence.  

Another problem is that statistics are by their very nature complex.  Take unemployment for instance.  The U.S. Federal Government (Bureau of Labor Statistics) has several different definitions of “unemployment.”  The most commonly used is called U-3 which includes only those people who are actively looking for work.  Retirees like me are not included as being “unemployed” using this definition.  Another BLS metric is U-6 which includes people on the “margins” which includes those discouraged, underemployed, working part time and disabled.  Some economists say this rate (which is always higher than U-3) is a more accurate measurement. 

Unless the reader fully understands the data being presented to them, they are easily misled.  In most cases we need “Experts” to help us maneuver through numbers to get to the “truth.”

One number often tossed around is the number of undocumented aliens living in the U.S.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that in January 2021 this number was 10,220,000.   I’m not sure how DHS counts these people.  But even if we accept their number as being accurate, this still begs the question: “Is this good or bad?”  

10,200,00 is a lot of people.  Only 9 states have populations greater than this.   On the other hand, it is only about 3.1% of the total population.   

The number taken alone is not particularly insightful.  For instance, this number can be used to show that even after 4 years of effort to get rid of undocumented aliens, the last outgoing administration left a huge number of undocumented aliens in the US when they left office.  Conversely, the number is less than what it was four years prior thus showing some “progress.”  Not considered in this number were the important factors like age, sex, home country, and most importantly, the reason why these people were willing to risk arrest and/or deportation.

Like all important issues, undocumented aliens, and the larger issues of legal immigration and refugees, is extremely complicated.  Statistics can play an important role in finding solutions, but only if used by “experts” who have extensive knowledge of the myriad of numbers related to the issue.  

Sadly, virtually all politicians lie to some degree or other.  In a democracy it is almost impossible to get elected if one really, “Tells it like it is.”  Liberal politicians are not likely to admit that they cannot pay for all of the social programs that they support.  Conversely, conservatives like to believe that people really don’t need to pay as much as they do for taxes and that giving more money to the wealthy will “trickle down” to the rest of us.

Dictators of course, are not bound by any tie to the people they rule.  Often people who live under dictators just assume that what they are being told by their “leaders” is not the truth.  They may not like it, but, short of a revolution, they really have no say in the matter. Statistics produced by regimes headed by a dictator are not reliable, there are no checks and balances.

Mark Twain differentiated between “lies” and “damn lies”.  The difference between “Lies” and “Damn Lies” is one of those areas where you have to concede that you know it when you see it.  The difference is subjective. 

“Liars” selectively choose the numbers that further their cause or which benefit them personally. Quarterbacks with losing win/loss records can focus on total passing yards gained.  CEOs can focus on increased sales when profits are low.  Politicians can pick the financial numbers that best support their personal goals. 

“Damned liars” just make up their own numbers. For example, former president Trump said repeatedly when first running for office and during his term of office that the trade deficit with China was $500 billion when he took over.   The real number was $367 Billion.  Damned liars just don’t care.  They tell people what they want to hear. 

Statistics, on the other hand, do offer the facade of being impartial and in a way, they are.  But only if the numbers are “real” and, also, only if they are used properly. Most of the time this requires analysis by someone who is an expert in whatever field is being covered.  

In researching for this post, I came across a concept called,  “Simpson’s Paradox” (No relation).  Simpson’s Paradox is only one of many ways that statistics can be misused to make a point.  Simpson’s paradox involves leaving out a key variable so that, although the numbers may be accurate, they don’t really give a correct picture of the larger issue.  Sometimes the picture given is exactly the opposite of reality.  

An example of this paradox is hospital death rates.  Unless the condition of the patient when admitted is taken into account, we easily could get a false view of the “success” of certain hospitals and “failure” of others.  A given hospital may have an overall lower death rate but in vital life-saving trauma situations they may not be the best, they could even be the worst.

The display of the data itself can be very misleading and cause the reader to misinterpret what they are looking at. Here below is a chart produced by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement intended to show the impact of the “Stand Your Ground Law” on murders committed using firearms. At first glance it appears that there was a reduction after the law was passed.  A closer look reveals that the chart has been turned upside down (The y axis usually has 0 at the bottom) from what we normally expect.  

The chart at the beginning of this post has incomplete descriptions of both the X and Y axis.  At first glance it may appear positive with things trending upward.  But is it?  We really don’t know.

Many of the graphs and representations of statistics we are exposed to regularly tell only half-truths and require extensive research or expertise to really tell what is going on.  This applies across the board:  Both liberal and conservative politicians and pundits are equal opportunity offenders when it comes to using statistics and related charts.  

Mark Twain (or whoever it was originally) hit upon a “truth” when he questioned the use of statistics and lumped them with “lies and damn lies.”   What he did not tell us was how to deal with them.  

My recommendation is to pick reliable sources for information and to rely on “experts” you trust in any given area/field.  My previous post “Truth” (Accessible through links in the Menu above or by entering jimsim.com/truth in your browser) attempts to address this fundamental question: “Who are you going to believe?”

Guns

Redding’s Hardware – Gettysburg’s Largest Gun shop

To say this topic is controversial in the US is an understatement.  

If you think that Americans should not have any means of defending themselves, then please stop reading. 

Conversely, if you feel that any person should be able to carry any weapon at any time, you too, can stop reading.

This post is about “reasonable acceptable laws” or, put more bluntly, “common sense measures to reduce deaths.”

Following are 20 arguments I have heard against any additional federal governmental oversight of people regarding guns.  Each statement is followed by a counter view in italics: 

1.  Argument Against More Governmental Restrictions: 

“The Second Amendment says I have a right to bear arms and I am within my rights to do so.  It is my right.”  

Counter-Argument For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:

All of our rights defined in amendments to the Constitution have limits.  Rights also come with personal responsibilities.  The Supreme Court has ruled and approved limits on the 2nd Amendment such as prohibitions/limitations on ownership of certain weapons and guns being restricted from some locations. See Question 20 for more details on the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment.” 

2. Against More Government Restrictions:

“Any restrictions or attemps to at all identify those who clearly should not have weapons will, by their very nature, impede law-abiding citizens from purchasing or possessing firearms

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“Background checks can be accomplished in a matter of minutes.  Waiting periods are a small price to pay to keep some people (Known terrorists, violent felons, domestic abusers, and certified “crazy” people) from easily obtaining a deadly weapon.  It really is not much of an inconvenience at all.  Most gun owners are already following these procedures. Only non-law-abiding persons need to fear background checks or “red flag” laws.  If you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.”  

3. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“Any restrictions at all is a slippery slope eventually leading to total loss of all guns held by any civilian.” 

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“No elected official in the U.S. has ever said that they want to “take away all guns from all law abiding citizens”.   If there were a slippery slope, then how does the U.S. have so many weapons available to civilians?  Gun laws have been in place since the beginning of the country and yet, with the exception of some ethnic minorities such as blacks during slavery and the Jim Crow era and the Japanese during WW2, no sane law-abiding U.S. citizen has ever had the government take away their guns.” 

4. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“There is a criminal element that obtains and sells weapons clandestinely.  Images of sales out of the trunk of a car are not made up. Another way to say this is, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.’”  

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“Yes, criminals will always be able to find weapons.  Additional common sense gun laws may make it harder for criminals to get weapons, but some will still be able to get them.  Gun restrictions cannot solve the entire problem, but they can help. Like seat belts, they can save lives; not all lives, but some.” 

5. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“We don’t need any more laws.  There are already laws on the books sufficient to protect us from those who could harm us. Committing a felony with a gun is clearly already against the law in all states.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

Current laws on the books in most states do make it a more serious crime to commit a felony using a gun.  The problem in some states is enforcement.  There is also a need for “red flag” laws which can help identify certified “crazy” people in advance.  Although there is a national background check data base to identify known terrorists and felons, State laws and local compliance are very patchwork on background checks and there are loopholes such as gun shows which make it easy for anybody to buy a firearm.  It is also easy to freely cross state lines.  Existing laws, even if fully enforced, only impact the perpetrator “After” the crime has been committed, they do little to prevent additional deaths.”

6. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“Some people have identified the cause of extreme gun violence as being video games and the glorification of those who use guns to kill in very graphic ways in the movies, on TV and in darker corners of the internet.  The killer is often portrayed as a victim of who is seeking revenge.  The argument is that elimination of these media would stop the violence.”   

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

Media glorification of weapons (including guns) in video games or other media is certainly a sick sign of the times and we are wise not to spend money to partake of any of these.  Often these games and videos promote a vigilante theme and portray the weapon users as aggrieved “Heroes” out for revenge. Many of these media efforts are aimed at young males.  That’s where the money is.  Any boycott of these media is of little consequence to those who are making money peddling this sick attitude.  Censorship is also a possibility; it might reduce violence a little but there are problems enforcing this and it does raise other Constitutional concerns.  Thinking that ending violent video games or movies would end or greatly reduce violence is naïve.”

7. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“Without guns, we are all vulnerable to a foreign invasion.” 

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:

While guns may be of help during a home invasion by similarly armed criminals, small arms would not be effective against armored vehicles or other coordinated military or police action.  A current example is the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The deciding factor in modern warfare is not small arms but artillery, tanks, anti-tank & anti-aircraft weapons, manned aircraft, drones, missiles and electronic and digital warfare.” 

8. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“Without guns we are vulnerable to systematic genocide by an internal government like what happened in Nazi Germany and at other times and places around the world.  Even right now in Myanmar the military is attacking Muslim minorities and others who disagree with the military takeover of that country.  If these people had guns they would be able to resist.  The same could happen here, the government could control people who would be unable to resist.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“There is a grain of truth in this argument.  Autocrats like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jingping and Kim Jong-un do in fact restrict arms from their citizens as one means of controlling them. Where this argument falls down is the assumption that in the US “all guns” are going to be confiscated.  This is just not true.  The gun control laws proposed (such as red flag laws and improved background checks) would not impact sane law-abiding citizens.  Also, there are those within our society who cannot protect themselves with guns:  the elderly, children, and people with serious disabilities. The greatest “protection” citizens now have is not ready access to guns, but rather a stable democratic form of government which “we the people” control.  Power within a democracy lies in the vote, not guns.”

9. Against More Government Restrictions:  

“A good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“None of the proposed gun control measures would keep a “good guy” from owning or carrying a gun. There are antidotal stories about “good guys” saving others, but these are few in number.  Even highly trained police officers have an extremely difficult time discerning when/when not to fire their weapons.  The “good guy” is at a terrible disadvantage in that she or he does not want to injure innocent bystanders.  The criminal/crazy person is not hampered by this thought.  The “good guy” is also limited by the fact that police cannot immediately discern who is the “good guy” if they respond to a call.  The police could easily see someone with a gun, and take action against the wrong person.”

10. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“We can “harden” schools and have the teachers and staff all armed.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“While arming employees might work for some teachers and staff, it certainly would not work for all.  Arming educators would increase the likelihood of accidental discharge and of course there are some students who should not have ready access to weapons. “Hardening” the schools, even if it were possible, would only move the problem to other locations.  We cannot “harden” every playground, park, athletic or cultural venue.”  

11. Against: More Government Restrictions: 

“If parents brought up their children properly, we would not have a problem.” 

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“Parents cannot always control their children and mental illness, or addiction, or gang membership can happen in any family.”   

12. Against More Government Restrictions:  

“Guns don’t kill people by themselves. No gun ever killed anyone without a person pulling the trigger.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“The gun control measures suggested are aimed at those “people” who should not have ready access to guns. Inanimate objects can only be harmful if misused by people. The proposed gun laws are analogous to controls on the use of automobiles.  Just as some people cannot drive cars, some people should not have guns.”  

13. Against More Government Restrictions:   

“The 40,000 plus killed last year in the US by guns represents less that 1/10th of 1 % of the population.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

Here is what the American Medical Journal reports: 

“US homicide rates were 7.0 times higher than in other high-income countries, driven by a gun homicide rate that was 25.2 times higher. For 15- to 24-year-olds, the gun homicide rate in the United States was 49.0 times higher. Firearm-related suicide rates were 8.0 times higher in the United States, but the overall suicide rates were average. Unintentional firearm deaths were 6.2 times higher in the United States. The overall firearm death rate in the United States from all causes was 10.0 times higher. Ninety percent of women, 91% of children aged 0 to 14 years, 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms were from the United States.”

14. Against More Government Restrictions:   

“Suicides will occur with or without guns and, unlike vehicle suicides, gun suicides usually do not injure others.“

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“Certainly, someone who is set on suicide can kill themselves by other means but, if they are at high risk, why make it easier for them?  With appropriate mental health they may be able to recover and not use guns to kill themselves or others.  Red Flag laws could help here by giving individuals time to work out their problems before killing themselves.  This is only a partial solution, but it could save some lives.”

15. Against More Government Restrictions:  

“Most gun deaths are from handguns, not rifles, yet the media focuses on mass shootings and AR-15 type rifles in particular.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“Yes, most gun deaths are from handguns. Handgun deaths seem more predictable and are often associated with specific geographic areas. Handgun deaths are often gang, drug, suicide or domestic violence related.  And yes, the media does focus on the more dramatic “mass shootings” that have become part of our National history:  The University of Texas Tower; Columbine; The Amish School near Lancaster, PA; Sandy Hook Elementary; Margery Stoneman HS; Robb Elementary, Uvalde, Texas; and many more.  The mass killings seem to be much more random and they also seem to be best addressed by comprehensive “Reg Flag” laws and background checks. In many cases the shooter either commits suicide or is killed by police so it is usually the case that the “why” is never known.  AR-15s are a semi-automatic version of the military M-16 which was specifically designed as an assault weapon designed to use the 5.56 mm high velocity round that causes the most internal injuries on enemy soldiers.  AR-15s are often used by mass shooters. It is light-weight, easy to use, and inflicts a tremendous amount of damage to the human body.  This type of weapon was outlawed by Federal law in the past because of its capability to inflict wounds quickly on large numbers of people.  Making this powerful weapon available to just anyone is reckless and unnecessary.”    

16.  Against More Government Restrictions: 

  “Rural needs are different than city needs, this goes for firearms also.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“Rural citizens may well have a greater need for firearms to protect themselves given the often-limited support available to them from law enforcement. None of the “Red Flag” or enhanced background check laws would adversely impact sane law-abiding rural citizens.  Hunters would not be impacted by restrictions on AR-15s which fire a round designed to tumble upon impact, ruining internal organs.  It is not a good hunting rifle.”

17. Against More Government Restrictions:  

“Chicago has some of the strongest gun restrictions in the country, yet it also is one of the cities most subject to gun violence. Restrictions just don’t work.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“Without knowing the source of the guns used in crimes, it is impossible to know if local laws are effective.  Americans are free to cross state lines at any time.  Only “National” laws can limit interstate gun runners.”

18. Against More Government Restrictions:

“Today’s weapons (like the popular AR-15 type rifle) are essentially just modern versions of what at the time of the American Revolution was the most powerful personal weapon, the Kentucky Long Rifle.”

 For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“The hand-made (by a gunsmith) Kentucky or Pennsylvania “long rifle” was the most advanced readily available personal weapon at the time the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1791.  The rate of fire was about 2 rounds per minute for a highly trained marksman. The long rifle had an accurate range of about 200 yards.  Americans used this rifle to their advantage first during the French and Indian War and later during the American Revolution. Snipers using these rifles could shoot enemy soldiers at a great distance.  Currently semi-automatic weapons have magazines with 30 rounds of ammunition and can fire one round as fast as one can pull a trigger. Magazines can be changed quickly in a few seconds, even by an untrained user.  An AR-15 (with its 5.56 mm high velocity round) is accurate from 500 -1000 yards.  The politicians who wrote and approved the Second Amendment had no idea of the lethal capability of weapons readily available today in the United States.”

19.  Against More Government Restrictions: 

     “They” want to take away my guns.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“This argument assumes that the reader/audience knows who “They” are.  It is an example of drawing on the polarization within the US. There is not a coordinated effort to take guns away from sane law-abiding responsible adults.  Gun control efforts are aimed at those people who should not have ready access to firearms:  Terrorists, violent felons, children, domestic abusers, and severely mentally ill individuals.  Gun control efforts also attempt to limit the amount of damage a crazy or terrorist individual can do (e.g., limits on the availability of assault type weapons.)”

20. Against More Government Restrictions: 

   “The Supreme Court has supported the Second Amendment.  Their decision is final.”

Warning to Readers:  This answer is very long and complicated.

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“The Supreme Court often changes its decisions over time.  Additionally, Supreme Court Decisions are almost always complex.  In a landmark 2008 split decision (5-4), The District of Columbia vs Heller, the Supreme Court reinforced the right of government to limit/specify what “arms” are protected under the Second Amendment.

This 2008 Supreme Court decision was highly publicized because it delinked the right of gun ownership from membership in a militia and it clarified the individual’s the right to own a gun to protect one’s home.  The DC law that was challenged had restricted ownership of handguns in one’s home and this Supreme Court decision overturned that law.  

The entire text of the Second Amendment is:  “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

One of the major controversies involves the Supreme Court’s decision to overlook the basic commonly understood English language meaning (both now, and also in 1891 when this amendment was ratified) of a restrictive clause.  The Supreme Court decided to treat the restrictive clause, “A well-regulated Milia, being necessary for the security of a free State,” as unrelated to the rest of the sentence, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  It is possible that a future Supreme Court could revisit this decision and re-link the right of the people to their participation in the well-regulated militia (Now called the National Guard).  For now, the Supreme Court decision stands, but it is being questioned.

Left unresolved in the 2008 decision was the individual right to bear arms outside of the home.  

The majority opinion in DC vs Heller was written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.  Most of the publicity around the decision focused on the delinking of the right to bear arms from membership in an organized militia (i.e. The National Guard).  Not talked about so much is the very clear statement by Scalia that the Second Amendment is not unlimited.  In this majority opinion Scalia goes on to say, “…nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

The Supreme Court clearly reinforced the authority of Government to regulate the sale of arms.  In other words, governmental limits on which types of arms can be owned by individuals is clearly consistent with the Second Amendment right to bear arms. 

The recent Supreme Court decision (2022) NY State Rifle and Pistol Assn. v Bruen overturned conceal carry laws in several states that imposed specific requirements that the individual prove a need for the conceal/carry permit.  More or less, this opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, clarified the right of individuals to protect themselves by owning and bearing arms, even outside of their homes.  This same decision, however, also clearly reinforced the right of governments to designate certain areas as gun-free “Sensitive Places” such as courthouses, mass transportation systems, schools and private businesses (which are free to set their own requirements).”

Jim’s Take 

I like to think of myself as open to “different” ideas.  As this Blog’s title “Common Ground” infers, I am also a fan of reasonable compromise.  

I do not, however, appreciate nor ascribe to “simple solutions” to complex issues. The “guns” issue is very complicated. It is also clearly a national problem/issue.  

The question for most Americans is not whether there should be some limits on gun ownership/use. Clearly society needs some protection that only government can provide. There need to be governmental guardrails that give us all some degree of assurance and safety in our public places.  At the same time, we can, and should, allow sane non-criminal adult citizens the ability to defend themselves and their families. 

As with everything important, “The devil is in the details.”  As many people have pointed out, we already have some limitations on the right to bear arms. Some of the relevant questions that we Americans as a people have yet to agree on include: 

What weapons fall under the term “arms”?

What additional laws, if any, should be enacted?  

Which current laws need to be enforced?

Is this basically a State issue or one that requires National Government involvement?

Who should not be allowed to have guns readily available to them?

Terrorists? Certified Mentally Ill? Convicted felons? 

Domestic abusers? Young Children?

Where are guns allowed and where are they prohibited?

Schools? Court Rooms? Parks? Transportation Systems? Hospitals? Private businesses?

Under what circumstances should citizens be allowed to own/carry guns?

What “responsibilities” go with gun ownership? 

Safety training?  Gun Safes? Liability?

What happens when one citizen’s right to bear arms threatens another citizen’s unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

 Please enter your thoughts on this issue by clicking on the word “Comments” below and then scroll down to the bottom to make your reply. 

Heaven

News of the death and funerals of friends and relatives inevitably raise questions about one’s own mortality.

Happy Sailing

“We’re all gonna die!” I am not sure of origins of this reality shocker when I first heard it as a child.  It must have been a difficult concept.  

At some point we all come to the realization that we will not always be here.  But when we are younger this idea is easily put aside as we head out into the world.   

Even the loss of close loved ones can be pushed aside by finding differences between those who died and ourselves such as: “she/he was/had …(X,Y or Z).and I am different because ….(fill in the blanks).”

I have now reached the age where I can no longer ignore the reality.  Within the next 25-30 years, all of my high school and college classmates, Marine and army buddies, cousins, siblings and other contemporaries will all be gone.  Also, some of my younger work colleagues and friends and relatives will likely be gone as well. 

Is there really a heaven

Aside from atheists and agnostics, most people seem to believe there is something else awaiting us when we die.  The major religions all explain this differently, but most have some description of an afterlife be it heaven, hell, or reincarnation. 

Is Heaven right for you?

What if everyone was truly equal in death?  What if in heaven there is no one who is very wealthy, poor, healthy, sick, brilliant, dull, gifted or limited in abilities? 

If everything was “fair” in heaven, then the very rich, healthy, brilliant and/or gifted people would no longer have an advantage. They would no longer be special.  They might even see this situation as a kind of hell.

Getting In

Another great unknown is the criteria for entrance. 

I was raised in a Christian Protestant family and even as a child I had trouble with the idea that some people would not get into heaven.  I was taught to understand that “bad” people and “non-believers” would be left outside the pearly gates.  That part I could understand.

What I had trouble understanding was what happened to babies too young to know about Jesus, or even to be baptized.  And what about the millions of people who were never exposed to “The word of God” that was presented to those of us who were lucky enough to be members of a Christian (preferably Protestant) church.  Were all of the millions of other people in the world all damned? Even the “good” ones? 

Heavenly Bodies

Another unknown was the form that we will take in heaven, assuming we will get in.  Do we have bodies like we do here on earth.  If so, will it be a young body or an old one? Will people who had to deal with disabilities in life be suddenly able bodied in Heaven?

Or will we become more of a spirit?  Will we have memories of our life on earth?  

Aunt Bunk

A number of years ago while on a family vacation in North Carolina, I attended the funeral of an in-law, Vivian’s Aunt Nelly Grace (AKA Aunt Bunk).   Prior to her death, Aunt Bunk had joined a very traditional, very Southern, Baptist Church. 

I had seen movies and tv shows that depicted a booming minister in a packed and very warm, Southern church where congregants shouted out, “Amen Brother!” at the top of their lungs.  However, this was no movie, it was the real deal!

I don’t think the preacher was really close to the late Aunt Bunk as he seemed to be looking often at his notes when it was time to insert her name (Nelly Grace) into the sermon. 

He was, however, very familiar with preaching at funerals and he painted a very vivid picture of where the dearly departed was now.  Aunt Bunk had walked through the pearly gates in the clouds and was now walking down streets literally paved in gold.  Liquid gold flowed down a river.  It was always sunny and comfortably warm in Heaven. 

According to the preacher, Aunt Bunk was now in the presence of our Lord and Savior who had been there to greet her personally. Or, as kids today might say it, “Bunk was now hanging out with none other than her bestie, JC himself.”

The preacher delivered the sermon with a gusto and flair that was legendary.  He went from a barely heard whisper to a 10 on the Richter scale in an instant.  It was clear to me that no one slept thru his sermons!

Then it turned really dark.  Yes, according to this preacher there was another place.  It was reserved for those who did not believe as he (and apparently his congregation) believed.  

The preacher’s description of Hell was not pleasant to say the least.  

I may have imagined it, but it seemed to me that he was looking a little too much and too often at those of us relatives who were sitting together and clearly were not members of his church. 

I also seem to remember that the “plate” was passed around right after the preacher’s warning about Hell.  It was a good time to “pay” for our sins and of course a healthy donation would increase the odds of “getting in” to Heaven.

Somehow, I think the good Rev had taken some liberties with his descriptions of both Heaven and Hell.  But, then again, who knows?

Singing to the Heavens

Singers across the spectrum have talked about death and Heaven including: 

Bob Dylan, who sang about, “Knocking on Heaven’s door.”

Country star Kenny Chesney sang, “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but not now.”

Led Zeppelin questioned the idea of buying one’s way into heaven in their classic, “Stairway to Heaven”, saying, “Ooh, it makes me wonder.”

Soul, gospel, and blues legend Mavis Staples sang about a question many of us wonder, “What are they doing in Heaven today?

Willie Nelson who, while reminiscing about his departed friends, said he does not want to be, “the last man standing,” but then Willie wryly adds, “… well, on second thought, maybe I do!”

From Dust to Dust: Eternal Existence

Pop scientists like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson are able to explain that matter is not destroyed, it just changes shape or becomes energy. Everything that existed at the time of the Big Bang 15 billion years ago still exists today and will for eternity.  So, in a very real sense we do last forever.  

It is not particularly reassuring, however, to know that the term “dust to dust” is a reality proven by science.  It may be true, at least about our bodies, but it is not what most of us think of as Heaven. Science so far does not have a good answer about what happens to our soul.

We all want to know the answer to the questions:

When will the bell toll for me?

And then what?

There is only one way to find out.  

Some people have committed suicide.  None of us know what causes people to take their own lives.  Like Willie Nelson and Kenny Chesney sang, most of us are more than willing to wait to find out what Heaven is all about.

Also, most of us will not know either when or how we will meet our end.   Some of us will have warning signs such as illness, others will have no warning. Here today, gone tomorrow.

To our loved ones left behind, how we die is bound to be less important than the loss itself. Will they find comfort in the fact they we may be reunited in Heaven?  Or will they just “go on” without us?

Too much?

Of course it is “too much,” but that is kind of my point.   Death is an important aspect of life.  We need to be able to face reality. The question, “What is next?” is hard to ignore.  

Please share what you believe about Heaven by clicking on the word “Comments” below and then scrolling to the bottom and leave your reply.

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Questions?

Socrates is credited with using thought provoking questioning to help his students identify, “The Truth.”

My own late father, Jim Simpson Sr., frequently asked, “What have we learned?” Dad used the question as a means of helping people make sense of what had just happened in any number of situations. 

We can all learn a lot from both Socrates and from my father by asking ourselves some really difficult questions.  We then need to be brutally honest with ourselves in analyzing our answers. 

One of the most popular phrases in the 60s came from the song (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) and popular movie (starring Michael Caine), “What’s it all about Alfie?”  My takeaway: “The bigger the question, the more important and difficult the answer.”

Seriously questioning oneself is a sign of maturity.  It is also an indicator of people who are able to face reality.   

The hardest questions are the probing ones we ask ourselves:

On what sources am I forming my attitudes and beliefs?

How am I spending my time? 

What is really important to me?

Is there a God?  

If so, do I do what he/she asks? 

 If there is not a higher being or cause, what is the point of it all?

Are my relationships as I would like them to be?

How do I need to change?

Many of my contemporaries (Old guys) have their own questions:

How much time do I have left?

Where do I want to live now that I can choose?

What are realistic expectations of myself (e.g., capabilities, health)?

What is my legacy?

Examples of people who do not ask themselves hard questions include those who display:

Blind obedience to a religion (Any religion).

Total fealty to another person (Any person). 

Unwavering belief in oneself or to one’s team or organization.

Of course, it is much easier to ask questions of others in identifiable groups with whom we have differences.  Following are some questions for some typical groups of “others” identified in today’s culture wars.

Here are some questions for Trumplings:

Do I really believe what he says?

What traits does he display that I would want to see in my own kids or grandkids?

For the lefties:

Do I really think that society can exist without police or military protection?

Are people better off when things are given to them or when they earn them?

And here are questions for the Independents among us:

Is it OK for me to just to sit on the sidelines?

When, if ever, do I speak out against extremists?

If the power of the vote is taken away from us, what will I do?

Answers

One of my favorite one-liners is, “For every difficult situation there is a simple answer…and it is wrong.”

Of course, this statement contradicts itself by providing a simplistic answer to a difficult question, but, hey, there is a huge grain of truth in it. 

Questioning ourselves is not easy.  Often, we may end up with complex and confusing answers we really don’t want to know. 

The truth is not always what we believe or want it to be.  Truth is also extremely difficult to determine.  It is an aspiration, not a destination. 

We can never fully understand what is absolutely true.  If we think that we know the absolute truth, we are deceiving ourselves.  

Nonetheless, both Socrates and Dad were on the right track. We can get closer to the truth, at least in our own lives, by honestly trying to answer the hardest questions we can ask ourselves.

Slump?

Boom or bust?  I took both of these photos on July 12. On the left is a homeless encampment across the street from the Fred Meyer store in our Seattle neighborhood where we shop regularly.  To me it demonstrates desperation and decline.  On the right is a new high-end housing complex just two blocks away. The words that come to mind with this picture are prosperity and progress.  It is a paradox.

Pundits in the regular and social media are currently crowing with negativity about the US economy.  The term “slump” is often used to describe the economy.  Bad news travels fast.  

Bad news also sells.  Virtually all the major news medias are jumping to the suggestion that we are in a “slump” and heading for a recession and/or stagflation (high inflation AND high unemployment). 

The problem for the pundits is that all of the news is not bad. The economy is also an area that politicians have limited control over and which is global in reach and nature. 

The inconvenient truth is that now, and almost always, economics is mixed bag.

Here for your consideration are some current bellwether economic indicators:  

Inflation is up (E.g. gas prices at all time high), highest in decades (This is bad).

Wages are up (good for workers, mixed bag for small business employers, great for Standard & Poor’s 500 CEOs whose salaries increased 18% last year).

New unemployment claims down (Good).

There are 11 million jobs available right now (Mixed: good for those looking for work, bad for small business employers)

Unemployment rate in the U.S is 3.6% (This is Pretty good – some economists use 3% as a sign of full employment – zero employment being impossible to reach because of normal changes in the workforce including job changes initiated by individuals.)

Stock market Standard and Poor’s 500 index was up 26.9% in 2021; but down so far in 2022. (Short term: Stocks go up, stocks go down; Long term, stocks generally go up – the key unknown is when, “How long do I have to wait?”)

According to the Federal Reserve, US Household Net Worth was at all time high as of the end of 2021 at $149.8 Trillion (On one hand this is good but then… There is wealth inequality and a disappearance of the middle class in the US.  Measuring wealth is complicated and there is no easy single number to look at. Suffice it to say that a very small number of people control vast amounts of wealth and the rich are getting richer.)

Media pundits and naysayers also tend to focus on what might happen as if it is happening now. (E.g. billboards and memes denouncing how the current administration has raised taxes). Hint: there is no legislation that has been passed that would raise federal tax rates. The last big tax hike was the tariffs on consumers who bought certain goods from China placed in 2018 (btw: any way you slice it, tariffs are a form of taxation. Remember the Boston Tea Party?) Federal Tax rates have not changed since 2017.

The Good Old Days?

Some would have us believe that everything was rosier under the previous administration, and yet…

The unemployment rate In Jan 2021 was 6.4% Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2020, the final year of the last administration, the economy (GDP) shrank 3.4% and lost 9.4 million jobs

National debt grew over the four years from $19.5 Trillion in Fiscal Year2017  to $27.7 Trillion in FY 2020. This is a huge increase, especially during a time when we were supposedly cutting back on federal government spending. Source: US Treasury Department. 

Throughout history there has been a continuous cycle of feast or famine when it comes to the economy.  This is a world-wide cyclical economic phenomenon dating back to ancient times. The Bible refers in Genesis to seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine.  This is nothing new. 

Of course, even during hard times there are those who do well financially (e.g. buying property at bargain rates).  

Also, during the best of times there are always some left behind or displaced. The adage that, “A rising tide raises all ships.” is true; unless you don’t have a ship, in which case the adage, “How long can you tread water?”, is more appropriate.

My point: the economy is always a mixed bag.  

The economy is also extremely complex.  Pulling a few stats out randomly to prove a point (Like I have done here above) always gives an incomplete picture no matter what your political viewpoint. There are just too many ways to slice and dice the numbers.  And the numbers themselves can be very difficult to obtain, much less understand. 

Take unemployment for instance.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports six different rates including the one most commonly used by the press (BLS calls this U-3) which I used above.  It only includes those actually looking for work.  The other rates reported by BLS use different numerators and denominators so of course come up with different rates. This allows politicians, pundits or for that matter, anyone, to pick the rate that supports one’s views. 

So, Jim, what am I to think?  Do?

Economists use two terms that might be helpful to us: macroeconomics and microeconomics.   

Macro being society as a whole and micro being an individual.  Almost all of the talk is about macro with an occasional individual used as an example of how that person or family are impacted as a part of a macro trend. 

This means that most people, myself included, focus on “other” people.  

We might also want to ask, “how am I doing?” or “How are things where I live?

My suggestion: We all look closer to home and honestly ask ourselves these questions:

Do you have a job?

Have you been forced to change careers in the past two years?

Are you retired with a steady income?

Do you own a home?   

Do you own it outright or have a mortgage?  Interest rate? Monthly mortgage payment?

If you rent, how much do you pay monthly? 

Is your rent or overall housing costing more than 30% of your gross income?

Is your car paid for?

Do you have any long-term debt beyond a mortgage?

How much $ do you have in savings? Retirement accounts?

Do you know what your net worth is?

Have any of your tax rates, (local, State or Federal) increased in the past year? Note: This question is about the rates, not the amount paid because one’s income and or property values may have changed.  Rates are all set by law. Has the rate actually changed?

Have you lost your job in the past year? Are you on unemployment?

Do you have high speed Wi-Fi in your home? Air conditioning? Cable TV? A Smart phone? Computer?

Do you have any school loans outstanding?

Has a family member lost their job in the last year? 

If so, were they fired or did they quit?

Are most people you know personally who want a job currently working?  

Is anyone you know personally on unemployment?  

If so, are they actively looking for work?

Are there empty business store fronts around you?

Is there construction of new buildings or homes near you?

Are there “Help Wanted” signs out in your neighborhood/town?

Are there homeless people living in tents or RVs?

What kind of cars are in the parking lot at your local Target or Walmart? (E.g. Beaters or newer models?)

Are parking lots empty or full? 

Do you see any trains, trucks or ships near your home? 

Are they moving goods?

Are roads around you busy or empty? 

Are there any active food banks in your neighborhood?

Are there items you need but cannot obtain?

Items you want, but cannot get?  

Are items you need or want unavailable or are they available but too expensive?

Do you have grown children or other adults living with you?

Have you moved out of state within the past year?  

Have you moved within your state in the past year?

Have you bought or sold a home within the last two years?

Have you bought a new vehicle (car or truck) within the last year?

If you can answer the questions above you should be able to answer the question, “Is there a slump where you live?” And, perhaps more to the point, “How am I doing financially?

At this point you might say, “OK, I have answered these questions about microeconomics, but, “How do we get to The Whole Truth about the economy? After all, macroeconomics does impact us all, especially our investments.”

Certainly, we can and should read/watch/see/listen to a wide range of responsible news sources.  Investments such as in the stock market or cryptocurrency are not something we can personally observe, and we must rely on other sources of information.  (Note: You are welcome to read the sources I use and consider reliable in my previous post on this blog titled “Truth”)

At the same time, we need to look around us and see what is really going on in our own hometowns.  What is really going on in our own economic life and in the lives of people we know personally?  What signs of economic activity can we see in our own communities?

What are your thoughts on the economy?  Are you personally doing OK?  

I would love to hear your take on this issue.  You are invited to click on “Comments” below, then scroll to the bottom and leave your reply.  

Equality

“We are not all equal. “

This headline on a meme recently placed on Facebook caught my attention.  It clearly was intended to evoke a response, and it certainly did.  

I instantly flashed back to a line in the popular political satire book by George Orwell, Animal Farm, which was required reading in my high school.  In the story there was a sign painted on one of the farm buildings that read, “All animals are equal.” The barnyard revolution described in the metaphorical book had a tragic ending when the pigs who had started the revolution assumed the same roles as their former masters.  The sign was then modified to read “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The meme I saw logically led to the same conclusion:  If we are not all equal, then some must be unequal.

The meme went on to state that the writer had worked hard all his life and that some “unnamed others” were wanting not to have to pay their debts.  Defenders of the meme note that this was really the message.  Sure, some people do work harder than others and I actually agree that everyone should pay their debts. Had the meme started with, “Some people work harder than others.”, or even,“Some people want something for nothing,” I would have listened to their argument.

But this meme was not really meant to be about either hard work or debt.  It was used as a first step in justifying unequal treatment of some people. The first sentence, which was in larger type and bolded, was perfectly clear, “We are not all equal.”  

Autocrats are only too happy to promote and to justify the idea that people are unequal.  It serves their interests in keeping power to themselves.  They need an “other” who, because they are unequal, does not enjoy equal treatment under the law. This can include virtually anyone who disagrees with the dictator.  

Just like the new barnyard rulers in Orwell’s book, autocrats can justify unequal treatment by identifying those who are “Not Equal.” 

Identifying some people as “Not Equal” has historically been used to justify wrongheaded governmental policies. Examples include the following: Slavery, the decimation of native peoples, the Holocaust, and keeping women from voting.

Personally, I believe that all people are created equal.  Virtually all religions teach that all people are equal in the eyes of God. 

As an American, I am a strong believer in both equal opportunity and in equal treatment under the law.  No, we don’t always measure up to this ideal, but nonetheless, I believe equality for all is worth striving for.

Saying that, “We are not all equal.” is just wrong. 

What do you believe?  (Please Click on “Comments” below).

“Them”

I am bothered by a pronoun I see and hear used a lot recently in both person-to-person conversations and in on-line discussions, “Them.”  Another problem word is the closely related subject pronoun, “They.”

As pronouns, these two words relate to plural nouns such as a word like “Presbyterian” or “Canadians,” used to describe members of an identifiable group. 

 I am bothered by the way “They” and “Them” are now being used indiscriminately to ID people one hates or fears.  

“Them” and “They” can be wielded without having any regard for the truth.

These words are being used to create a false binary choice (e.g. “My way, or the highway”).

The use of “They” or “Them” allows one to broadly assail anyone who the user does not agree with on virtually any issue. 

The improper use of “Them” or “They” is yet another way in which Americans are being pulled apart. 

I have seen “They” or “Them” used by extremists from both the far left and the far right.  More recently, I have even seen these words used by people who have seemed to me in the past to be open to differing viewpoints.   

EXTREMISTS HAVE NO SHAME

Extremists will use any means to tear us apart.

Where do you live?  Where do “They” live?

Friends have talked about the differences between Red States and Blue States.  Depending on the individual’s prejudices, either “Red” or “Blue” is often simply categorized as being either all good or all bad.  

Examples include, “They want to have a socialist government” or, “They just want to scare people by carrying guns openly in public.” The population of the entire state? Really?  

I challenged one friend to tell me if Pennsylvania was a Blue or a Red State.  I got no response.  Of course it was a trick question because Pennsylvania has elected politicians from both parties and power within the state is clearly balanced between the two political parties with a large segment of adults, about  30%, who sit out the democratic political process and don’t even vote.

There is clearly a divide between rural and urban counties in virtually every state. However, even where we live much of the time, in mostly rural and staunchly Republican Adams County, Pennsylvania, one can find real live Democrats.  

Go into the Ragged Edge Coffee Shop in Gettysburg on Tuesday mornings and you may well find a group of aging hippies loudly and publicly announcing very progressive stances, right here in the middle of what some might call a “Red” county.  

Likewise, in Seattle there are arch conservatives and even some domestic white nationalist terrorists.  Don’t believe this, just listen to Seattle conservative radio talk-show host Jason Rantz for a few minutes, you will get the idea.   

In either location, or for that matter any location, it is a gross overstatement when talking about an entire population to say, “They just want to (fill in the blanks).” 

Extremists use “They” or  “Them” to categorize entire groups.  But they don’t stop there.  To further pull us apart, they use even more inflammatory phrases than just “Red” or “Blue.” 

To really add shock value, these extremists use phrases such as, “woke bleeding-heart tree-hugging libtards,” or, conversely, “ignorant mouth-breathing racist redumblican trumpanzees.”  

Using “Them” or “They” allows one to cast blame broadly without being tethered to any facts or personal knowledge of what an individual believes, much less who these people really are and what they actually do. 

I have seen right wing users link gun control legislation directly to Chinese efforts to invade the US, as in, “Why do you think “They” want to take away our guns.?

Other right wingers have said things like, “They” just want something for nothing and “They” do not want to work.  “They hate America and our way of life.”

Lefties can use this tact also as in, “They are supporting Big Money interests bent on keeping the common people in their place.” Too many people try to explain something complex by saying that, “they are really all just racists.”

“They” want to avoid taxes in order to keep wealth they have unfairly garnered from others.” Or, “They” are all gun-crazy racist lunatics who want to intimidate others.”

Worse yet, the use of the word “They” allows the user to conflate a number of issues or ideas and focus anger that in some cases is not warranted.  This allows dispersions at an unspecific “They” or “Them” which is used to describe anyone who disagrees with the user on virtually any issue. 

FUZZY THINKING

Psychologists use the term Fundamental Attribution Error to describe the tendency for people to under-emphasize situational and environmental explanations for an individual’s observed behavior.  People often over-emphasize dispositional and personality-based explanations.  

A simper way to describe this is the tendency to believe that what people “do” necessarily reflects who they “are.”  This thought process overlooks and/or discounts the circumstances that may lead to the “Why” which often tells a lot more about what is really going on. 

When we use phrases like, “They are all (lazy, racist, war mongers, tree huggers, or fill in the similar character assumption)” statements, we are making the Fundamental Attribution Error.  

We often assign fundamental character faults to explain the actions of others while giving ourselves a pass for exactly the same action.  

For example, when someone else is late for work it is easy to say “they” just don’t care about their co-workers.  And yet, when we are sometimes late ourselves, there is always a good reason.  

CANCEL CULTURE

I believe this discounting of the circumstances and not focusing on facts leads directly to the practice of simply identifying a person as either a “They” or “One of them.” Disregarding circumstances and details also more easily leads to cancel culture.

Cancel culture is total rejection of anyone who disagrees with the expected actions or beliefs of their “tribe.” This is true for the right as well as the left.  Just ask Republican Representative Liz Cheney, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, writer j. k. Rollins, or Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks.  Each of these well known people has been berated and chastised by members of their own “tribe” because they have not strictly conformed to a set of behaviors and ideas that are expected of them. 

Step out of the line with an idea some extremists don’t like and you may find yourself banned. One can be banned even from groups they were once a part of or even revered by. One can quickly become one of “Them” by expressing an idea or acting in a way that is different than what is expected by their tribe.

Extremists on all sides engage in what we now call cancel culture as in, “ If you don’t ascribe closely to all of my agenda you are, “one of “them”.”

JAIL THE GUILTY BASTARDS

Don’t get me wrong, there are clearly assholes on all sides of virtually any issue that divides us.  I am in no way suggesting we refrain from calling these jerks out.   

In some cases they should be jailed.  My concern is that we tend to paint everyone with the same brush without a serious consideration of the circumstances and facts.  The details matter. 

We build straw men who are easy to hate, then lump them into the whole and automatically assume “they” all condone the actions of this obviously wrong straw man (or straw woman).

AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY OFFENDER 

Phrases used by both the left and the right include:

“They” want to take over the U.S. by means of force. 

“They” want to take away our liberties. 

“They” don’t care about the people, especially those of us who work for a living in the middle class. 

“They” just want power for themselves. 

“They” don’t care about the Constitution. 

“They” lie. 

“They,” are haters. 

Depending on who is using the word, “They,” we can include any of the following: as “one of them”:  Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Bill Gates, The Koch Brothers, The Russians, The Chinese, the Israelis, the Palestinians, “Hollywood”, “Red necks”; Evangelicals, Atheists, Proud Boys, or Antifa.  For that matter almost anyone who is wealthy, famous, powerful or happens to be on TV is subject to being “one of them.”   

FIND SOMEONE EASY TO HATE

Typically the user of the word “They” will identify some specific issue that is of concern to that person.  Then the person will identify one well-known person or celebrity who is opposed to the user’s position and has made some outrageous statement or done something obviously wrong. The clearly assumed position is that all persons who disagree with you on any number of other issues automatically ascribe to that statement and condone the actions of this person.  

Right wing people will pull up some obscure statement by a “celebrity” like Barbara Streisand and declare, “see, that is what “they” all think. “

Lefties pick certified religious extremists like Franklin Graham (also accused of weird sexual activity) and then say, “see, “they” all think the same way as Franklin Graham and do not really want religious freedom, they just want everyone to buy into their views on religion.”

In many cases the condemned statement being quoted may have pulled out of context.  The statement can also be twisted something like, “They” just want so and so and then, “They,” will only be happy when “they” can…(fill in the blanks).’

HERE ARE MY RECOMMENDATIONS:

A partial solution would be to forego using the words “They” or “Them” altogether and then either substitute the name of someone who has specifically supported an idea or position or done something you don’t like.  Stick to the facts.

Use “I” when talking about our own positions and use the word “we” when talking about someone who disagrees with you in part but with whom you want to find common ground. 

Examples:  “I” vs “We” statements 

““I” believe that we need to limit access to guns for certain individuals, like felons, terrorists and the mentally deranged.” Or conversely, “”I” want to be sure that my right to bear arms is not taken away.”

“We” need to find ways to ensure that all law-abiding citizens can “bear arms” to protect themselves while at the same time keeping guns out of the hands those who are most dangerous and who should not have access to guns.”

“I think the system is not fair to certain individuals.”

“We need to work together as citizens to ensure that working class people have an equal chance to succeed based on their own merits.”

“I” am convinced that elections are vital and conducted fairly or conversely, elections are not fair because some people keep others from Voting, or conversely people who are not quailed to vote are voting.”

“We” need to work together to identify means to make sure elections are conducted fairly while at the same time ensure that all citizens have an equal opportunity to vote.”

Remember, “we” doesn’t mean people who agree with you – it includes those with whom you disagree. “We” need to find common ground. 

Also, drop the use of memes.  Memes are the worst.  Try not to use them.  

Yes, occasionally an idea will be very well articulated in a meme, but often quotes are mis-identified and the factoids are overly simplistic.

Also, I really don’t want to see a meme you send to me, I want to know what You personally think and believe.  

After all, blindly forwarding a contentious meme is just what “They” want.

Note: To respond with your thoughts click on “Comment” below. Then scroll to the bottom where you can leave a reply. If that does not work, you can send a response to my e-mail and I can post your response – sorry, somehow the “Leave a comment” option is not visible anymore.

Tyranny

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine rekindles what I believe is a fundamental question for all times:  “Who is going to make the decisions: Elected representatives or autocrats?”

In the case of the Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the conflict is not based in religious or ethnic differences which seem to be prominent in most past wars.  The invasion of Ukraine is based on a fundamental difference in the form of government.  Putin sees the very existence of a neighboring country that can actually choose its own leaders as a threat to his autocratic rule.  

In my blog post titled “Government,” I discuss my thoughts on what it is that governments should and should not do.  My ideas are just that, my ideas.  There are many other valid views about the role and scope of government.  With the exception of anarchists, who are really not worthy of discussion nor for that matter of any kind of intercourse, all rational people see some role for government in any society. 

The fundamental question then is, “Who?,” will control the government and make decisions that impact people.   For almost all of human history those governmental decisions have been made by rulers who, by hook or by crook, have amassed the power to impose their will and decisions on the rest of the population.  

Short of an invasion or assassination, autocratic rulers have basically stayed in power until they die and then the power transfers either to their heirs or there is a re-shuffling which results in a new single leader.  While a few rulers have been called benevolent dictators, they are very few in number and the designation itself is pretty much an oxymoron. 

Although the idea of people ruling has its roots at least as far back as the Greek philosophers, autocratic systems of government dominated worldwide until they were fundamentally changed by the American Revolution in the later part of the 18th Century. The Americans threw off the power of the ruler (King George 3 at the time) and replaced that autocracy with a representative government organized as a democratic republic. 

Scholars can certainly point to a number of economic realities, including slavery, which contributed to the desire for revolution.  And yet, the fundamental document upon which the government of the U.S. is formed, The Constitution, starts with the words, “We The People…”

Since the American Revolution, the arc of change has been towards more involvement in the selection process.  Women, Native Americans,  Blacks, and even 18 year-olds have all joined the ranks of voters who select the politicians who ultimately make the rules by which we live.  This is done at the local, State, and National levels.

The system is certainly not perfect.  Money, much of it “dark money” that comes from who-knows-where, plays a significant role in both who gets selected to run and who actually can win.  Truth in political discourse is often difficult to ferret out.  Voting rights are often limited or withheld.   Winston Churchill once said that: “democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.” 

All of these criticisms of democracy have some truth in them, but more or less, the majority of people choose who have the important decision making jobs.  Elections are also the one legal way to remove those who the people feel are not doing the job they were elected to do. 

Over the past several hundred years a number of countries have followed the example of the United States including our old overlords, the British.   And yet, the idea of people making the ultimate choice is very far from universal.  

Autocrats tend to want to stay in office indefinetly. Over time, with nobody to stop them, autocrats often become tyrants who abuse anyone and everyone who questions their authority.  

Tyrants will kill those who they see as any kind of threat to their power.  Putin is currently in the headlines, but he is not alone in the current tyrant category:  Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, Nicolas Maduro, and Mohammed bin Salmon all have shown both a willingness and capability of eliminating any opposition by use of lethal force.  In other words they are clearly tyrants.   There have been historic tyrants who some of us believe now reside in a very much hotter place including: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin,  Fidel Castro, and many more too numerous to mention. 

Which brings me back to the current situation we (people of the world) face: “Who will make decisions for us, autocrats (many of whom will become tyrants eventually) or elected representatives?” The choices/questions people must face are, “Who will make the important decisions in our lives?” and “If we don’t like the decisions being made, can we peacefully replace these rulers by means of elections?”

There are no easy answers here. 

I saw a quote recently that went something like, “Tyrants won’t stop until somebody stops them.”  I don’t recall who this is attributed to, but it makes a lot of sense to me.   

While I believe this to be true, it brings up an even more difficult question, “How do we stop a tyrant?.” 

Here are four options:  Prayer; Economic Sanctions; Military Action; Wait. 

I join many of my family and friends in praying for the Ukrainian people.  Some people say that we just need to put our trust in God, and all will be well.  Jesus taught us to not only help the poor and sick, but to love our enemies and turn the other cheek.  This is easier said than done for many of us.  I can’t quite get out of my head the final line of lyrics from one of Bob Dylan’s most famous protest songs,  “…If God’s on our side, He’ll stop the next war.”   Will he? 

Economic Sanctions sound good, until you really look at them closely.  Like many others, I smile at the thought of impounding a Russian Oligarch’s Yacht.  “Serves him right!”  But one of the problems with tyrants is that they do what they want, people be damned.  Sanctions hurt regular people more than the tyrant or his oligarch friends.  Further complicating the issue is the global economic structure of interdependence. If sanctions work, then how was Castro able to  continue to rule Cuba from when he took over in 1959 until his death in 2016?

“When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.”  While this old adage does not specifically refer to military force, it is worth considering.  I spent 29 years in uniform and certainly am a believer in deterrence and that sometimes military force is the best solution.  Note that I said ,“sometimes,” and therein lies the rub.  It is extremely difficult to determine when the military option is called for.  And, as many have noted, it is much easier to start a war than to end one.  Further complicating the issue is that three of the biggest tyrants today, Putin, XI, &  Kim Jong Un, all have nuclear weapons that can essentially destroy large portions of any country they want to, including ours.  Sure, they too would die, but if we are dealing with unstable people, where are the guardrails? 

Let’s just wait and see.  It is possible that Putin will change once he gets what he wants in Ukraine.  Maybe he will rebuild the country and leave his other neighbors alone.  Does anyone believe this?  Or we can hope that he will be assassinated by cooler heads in the Kremlin.  This might happen, but it might not.  Putin is 69 years old and, like the rest of us, he will eventually die.  But of course we don’t know when and we don’t know if the next guy will be any better.

Sadly none of these four options seems particularly good to me.  

I wish I had an answer, but really all I have are more questions. 

Hypocrisy

Well this is just a little Peyton Place and you’re all Harper Valley Hypocrites.” 

With these song lyrics, written by Tom T. Hall and made famous by country singer Jeannie C. Riley, Mrs. Johnson “Socked it to the Harper Valley PTA.”  Although somewhat of a gimmick song, “Harper Valley PTA” nonetheless went on to win a Grammy in 1969 and the Academy of Country Music named it the song of the year.  Critics may cringe, but Country and many Pop fans liked it. The song  also resonated with all of us who can’t stand hypocrisy. 

Full disclosure: I, and I assume all of you reading this, have exhibited hypocrisy at some time in our lives.  I have no idea why, but it seems to be a part of human nature.  We often behave in ways that we at the same time deride.  

Politicians and celebrities are of course the worst examples and it seems the more autocratic or famous they are the greater the hypocrisy.  I’ll spare you my examples of political or celebrity hypocrisy as I am sure you each have more than enough examples of your own.  

For now I will be contemplating and focusing more on my own navel. 

Virtually all religions and philosophies condemn hypocrisy.  I could neither think of nor find an example of anyone supporting the practice of hypocrisy.  It seems that everyone sees it as a bad thing.  

And yet…we all are sometimes hypocrites.

Here are some personal examples of hypocrisy that I am not particularly proud of: 

Example 1 – I speak out about against an unfair system that allows people to go homeless and hungry, yet while on the street, I often look the other way when a panhandler asks for food or money, both of which I have the ability to provide to them.  

Example 2 – The climate is certainly changing and green house gasses clearly are accelerating this change.  Like many of you, I think that “we need to do something” and yet I travel by air cross-country, or at least I did until the pandemic, several times annually burning God only knows how much jet fuel.

Example 3 – Like many of you I also enjoy the ambiance of a good old-fashioned wood fire. Since we don’t have wood-burning fireplaces in either of our two homes, we use electric “fake” fireplaces pretending that the generation of electricity does not involve fossil fuels and at some point pollute our environment with green-house gases.

Example 4 – It’s very woke now to talk about reparations even though I, and all of you who are not Native American, live on land that at one time was stolen.  If you are white, you and I also have most likely had a leg up in educational opportunity and passed down family wealth, even if just a little.  And yet, I know nobody who is giving up their house or land because it was at one time stolen from native Americans, including myself.

Example 5 – This very blog is promoted as being  “Middle Ground” with openness to competing ideas.  It has been pointed out to me, however, that, like virtually all blogs or online opinions, I tend to cater to people who already think like me.  

Guilty as charged on all of the examples of hypocrisy. 

For each of these personal examples where I have been hypocritical there are of course quick and easy rationalizations:  

Rationalization 1 – “The panhandler will just use the money for drugs.” 

Rationalization 2 – “Travel by air allows us to visit other parts of the world and enhance our knowledge of other peoples and them of us thus helping to create world peace. At least I am only traveling within the U.S., not really polluting like those wealthy people who travel Internationally.” 

Rationalization 3 – “Electric stoves are at least better than wood stoves and even wood stoves are better than they used to be.  Fireplaces bring us back to a simpler time.” 

Rationalization 4 – “My family ancestors did not actually steal any land nor were they slave owners. They just worked hard, saved their money and left me a little. Others had the same opportunities as my ancestors.”  

Rationalization 5 – “My blog is directed only at family and friends therefore it is only natural that most readers agree with me.”

You get the point.  We can rationalize almost anything if we want to, even our own hypocrisy. 

Rationalization may make us feel better about ourselves.  It does not, however, change the reality that sometimes we act like hypocrites.

If you think you have never been hypocritical, I suggest you look deeper inside. 

If you have things you have been hypocritical about that you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to hear about it.  Click on Leave a comment below. 

Death

In one of the last songs he wrote, Merle Haggard penned one of my favorite all-time lines in any song or poem, “Some of us fly,…ALL of us fall.”  Merle was talking about the entirety of our lives and how it is unpredictable and that nothing is guaranteed, except the fall.  

The song is not about death per se, but in the back of one’s mind it is not possible to hear the words, “All of us fall” without thinking about the end of our own lives or those of a loved one.  At an early age we all learn from our parents about death and how it is permanent. Most shockingly, we learn that sometime we are all going to die. 

“Sometime” came Sunday, May 2, 2021, for my dear brother John. 

Many things have been written, said and sung about the importance of savoring each and every day we have.  The day after we heard about John, we were on a walk when Marianne stopped to show appreciation to a landscaper for the good work he was doing.  

It was a pretty normal conversation, the man looked pleased that Marianne had noticed his work, then talk shifted to an upcoming storm cloud.  The man shrugged off the impending storm with his parting comment, “I’m just glad to be on the planet.”

The landscaper had no idea how appropriate and profound his words were to us at that time as we both grappled with the loss of John.  

John was 71 when he died.  It is impossible not to remember that our parents both lived to be 93.  When both Mom and Dad passed it was sad but at the same time a relief for both of them.  Mom’s engine just ran out of steam and in Dad’s case his brilliant mind had lost its way in the last few years.  Also, they had outlived most of their own contemporaries, families and friends in their own generation.  

John’s life was cut short, as sadly, are the lives of so many others. Losing a sibling is different than losing a parent.  The latter is expected, but not the former. It also cannot be denied that no matter what else, it is impossible not to think about one’s own future,  “Am I next?”  

As I am sure most people ask when they lose a loved one, “What would John want us to do?”  My guess is that he would say something like, “Live life to the fullest, move forward, play tennis.” Or maybe John would just say, “Have a beer.”

It takes a long while to realize it, at least it did for me, but the real value in life is not found in personal achievement, money, things, glory/celebrity or even in dedication to a just cause.  

The most common denominator and most limited resource, is time.  Loving relationships are even more valuable than time, and they can exist long beyond the time allotted to each us. 

As I reflect, it is easy to look back and say I wish I had spent just a little more time with John.  There are many quotes about the past, present and future.  One that comes to mind is, “Remember the past, plan for the future, but live for today, because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come.”

As the landscaper said, every day we need to be, “Just glad to be on the planet.”  

Indisputable

With these three words, “We the People…”,  Americans changed human history by asserting that leaders would be chosen by the citizens.  There is only one means for this to work: The vote. 

It has become clear, however, that many people do not trust the outcome of our elections.  “Why” this is so is a subject for a different post, but it is clear that millions of U.S citizens currently mistrust the vote count. 

We must, therefore, restore faith in the vote and insure that all eligible citizens have an opportunity to choose their leaders.   We must make election vote totals Indisputable.

The five steps listed below would restore confidence in the vote totals.  The election results would be Indisputable

Enactment of these five steps listed below would not resolve all voter suppression and eligibility issues.  Ensuring that all eligible citizens have an opportunity to vote is an issue that will need to be solved separately. 

Here are five steps that can make our election vote count results Indisputable

  1.  Align voter registration 100% with State Drivers Licenses/IDs 
  2.  Increase penalties for voter fraud
  3.  Use counterfeit-proof paper ballots
  4.  Seal all ballots in signed and traceable election envelopes
  5.  Ensure maximum Visibility/Transparency of Vote Counting   
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Align voter registration 100% with State Drivers Licenses or State Issued Identity Cards. If someone has a driver’s license or State ID and is otherwise eligible to vote, they would be automatically registered to vote.  There is no need for two data bases.  Voters must possess a legal (and now enhanced) license that clearly identifies them, confirms citizenship and address, and includes their signature. In other words, use the exact same data base for voter registration that each state already has for DL/State IDs.  The DL/ID card is the de facto Voter Registration Card. People who do not have a cuurent DL/ID (e.g. someone who moved recently) could still vote using provisional ballots which would need to be validated separately before being counted.

Legal Translation: Order Outside the Court - Accredited Language

Increase penalties for voter fraud. To deter voter fraud, greatly increase the federal legal penalties for any person who votes more than once or who changes the vote of another person.  The exact amount of fines should be set by Federal law.  I would set this at $1,000 for voting twice (which could conceivably be done accidentally).  For each illegally placed vote over two (i.e. intentional fraud), I would place a hefty deterrent fine at $100,000 per illegal vote.  Enforcement would be strictly through the law enforcement and legal/court system, not by state or federal politicians.

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Use counterfeit-proof ballots Print 100% of all Ballots on counterfeit-proof paper applying the same security standards currently used for U.S. currency.  Include serial numbers on ballots for total accountability. Paper ballots allow for both machine and hand re-counting. 

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Seal all ballots in signed and traceable election envelopes.   All ballots (including those submitted at polling places) must be placed into a sealed Election Ballot Envelope.  The Envelopes would not be opened until they reach the location where votes are counted.  The Envelope must contain a serial number, the voter’s full legal name and address and a place for the voter to sign their name in ink thereby verifying that the single enclosed ballot represents their will.  Signatures can be checked using Artificial Intelligence scanners (and/or human backup) with the signature matched/compared with the individual’s enhanced drivers license signature.  The number of ballots must equal the number of signed envelopes.  

Maximize Transparency at Vote Counting Centers   Wherever votes are counted, there should be maximum ability of the public to watch the process.  In addition to designated poll watchers inside the voting counting center, there should be live-feed from cameras covering all aspects of the process of receiving the ballots, counting them, and storing them.  If buildings that are secure can also have full visibility from the street, (i.e. glass fronts with public viewing allowed) that would be even better. 

SUMMARY:   These five steps could be accomplished with a single bi-partisan piece of Federal legislation and the accompanying funding.  The law would apply to all Federal General Elections.  

States would retain the right to: Issue their own driver’s license/ID cards and maintain their data base in accordance with “Enhanced Driver’s License” criteria already established/required by the federal government (i.e. no change from what all states are doing right now);  determine eligibility for absentee/mail in ballots; identify polling places and hours; designate locations where votes will be counted and stored; set dates for primaries; set standards for who actually appears on the ballot; set deadlines for postmarks and ballot submission; set standards/rules for use of provisional ballots; and to decide whether the State wants to implement the same five requirements noted above on State and Local elections (highly recommended).

As noted before, enactment of these five steps would not resolve all voter suppression and eligibility issues. Ensuring that all eligible citizens have an opportunity to vote is an issue that will need to be solved separately. 

What these five steps would do is restore confidence in the vote totals.  The election results would be Indisputable

“What say ye” to this proposal?  Please click on Leave a comment below.

Nauseating

When my son Josh was about 2 (He will be 44 in May) my former wife Vivian and I took him with us to visit the U.S. Capitol.  Although it was Summertime, when we reached the Rotunda it was almost empty.  We let Josh run around under the dome which, to his delight, echoed with his laughter.  As luck would have it, NBC News was filming a piece on Summer Vacationing in DC and a short clip of Josh running around in an almost empty Rotunda made the national NBC Evening News. It was a magical time in a sacred place in American history. 

The assault on our Capitol building, by who can only be described as domestic terrorists, was painful to watch.  The idea that any group of people can force their will on the people by intimidating our duly elected political leaders is appalling.   My personal love and memories of this building as a symbol of Democracy have been desecrated as I am sure are similar memories of countless millions of Americans and people from around the World.

It is even more worrisome that this radical mob was both encouraged and directed by our President and his accomplices.  Yesterday became Trump’s legacy.  Nothing else he has done or has failed to do will matter. Trump will forever be remembered as the president who lost the election and then directed a mob to attack Congress in an attempt to overturn his loss. 

The end of the story is not yet written of course.  My own personal encounter with militia members last summer here in Gettysburg tells me we still have much to worry about even after Trump is out of the White House.  

The lies, fear, and hatred that Trump promulgated will not just “go away” any more than the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid 19 disease will just “go away.”  We have a terrible price yet to pay for both.   

Tyrants around the world are no doubt rejoicing as they play back footage from yesterday’s assault.  In the past, the United States has, at least on occasion, challenged regimes that have taken power by imposing their will on the majority.  Our credibility as an example of a true democratic republic has been shattered, perhaps permanently.  

Pray for America and for the idea that “We the People” do, in fact, have inalienable rights which include the right to choose our elected officials and to have our votes count.    

Resolutions

New Year’s Day: It’s time to reveal our resolutions for the coming year.   

My research assistant, Ms. Google, found out that, according to The History Channel, the Babylonians first started making annual resolutions 4,000 years ago.  They made these promises during their religious festival Akitu.  If the Babylonians kept their word during the coming year, the gods would favor them.  If not, well…

I’m glad that I have not been held accountable to God for not keeping my resolutions, most of which over the years have revolved around weight loss.  

Reflection and goal setting are, however, worthwhile exercises. This year in particular we have a new incentive to start anew and really question what we want out of life.  

Now 73, the reality of actuarial longevity tables is becoming all too clear as my peers are beginning to disappear. Time is of essence here.

There are huge disparities of wealth, income, natural abilities, and opportunities, not only here in the U.S., but around the world.  There is no inequality, however, in the number of minutes in a day.  Rich or poor, we all get 1,440. 

So how should one resolve to spend this precious limited resource?

Steven Covey In his best-selling Seven Habits book recommends we become “Response-Able.”    Covey tells the story of Viktor Frankl who was in a Jewish concentration camp run by Nazis in WW2.  Somehow Frankl was able to control his mental state and his own behaviors even though he was imprisoned and tortured.   

I believe Covey was telling us that even in the worst of circumstances when we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we choose to respond.   

Choice of course is really what New Year’s Resolutions come down to.  The biggest choice we have is how we spend our time.  

Time can be spent in two ways, by “doing,” or in “being.” My entrepreneurial son Jamie often asks me, “What did you do today Dadio?” Often I struggle to give a clear response.

We as a society place a very high value on doing. There are many times when I find it equally as important to just be.  BE present, BE helpful, BE respectful and most of all, to BE kind.

2020 was a doozie. Sadly, 2021 promises an horrific start.  The thousands of multi-generational Christmas/Holiday family gathering pictures posted on Facebook will most likely translate to even more hospitalizations and pre-mature deaths of loved ones. 

Just last week a classmate of mine passed away unexpectedly when the ICU at her local hospital did not have room for her. She had to be helicoptered to another hospital but sadly did not survive the flight. 

Soon almost every family will have a loved one or friend impacted in some way by the pandemic.  Many will weather the storm and be back to “normal” soon.  Some will have only minor symptoms.  Some will die. 

Just what you needed to start the year – a total downer. 

Bear with me.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Vaccines are being distributed as I write this.  The promise of change and a new beginning is real and foreseeable this year.  

Regardless of what happens, good or bad, we do have some ability to choose how we respond.

With this dual (Good and bad, but still hazy) picture in mind for the coming year, I hereby make the following New Year’s Resolutions for 2021:  

To be kind;

to be forgiving;

to be cautious;

to be flexible;

to speak out;

and yes, once again, to lose a few pounds. 

Happy New Year!

Endorsement


Because of absentee and mail-in ballots, we probably won’t know who wins the presidential race until weeks after polls close Nov. 3.  Trump has indicated he will challenge any results he doesn’t like, so prepare for chaos; the Supreme Court may again determine the winner, probably in December.  

Marianne and I have already made our choice.  We hope and pray that enough people put devotion to democratic principles (“We the People…”) above loyalty to a single powerful ruler.  It is not OK to sit this one out. 

This election isn’t about issues, it’s about values critical to us & to the U.S.:  Honesty, integrity, service, responsibility, decency, empathy, and kindness. 

Joe Biden is accurate in saying that we are fighting for the soul of our country.  

Worthy of “honest” discussion & compromise are a host of important policy issues including: Global Warming, Education, Health Care, The Economy, Military Readiness, Foreign Affairs, Equality & Racial Justice, Domestic Tranquility, The Free Press, Immigration, Reproductive Rights, the Role & Size of Government, and, of course, Taxation. Certainly, policy issues matter in politics, but, unless we have honesty and integrity at the top, none of these issues can be resolved rationally.  

We can’t have rational discussion or compromise with a dishonest person.  

Trump says one thing, then works for the opposite.  For example, he declares total support for Social Security while also at the same time promising that he will take away the primary funding source for the program, payroll taxes. Which is it? Both cannot be true, but Trump does not care about results, only perceptions.  

Trump has neither a political philosophy nor moral compass, he bends with the wind and tells “his” people what they want to hear. Trump lies to all of us. 

Trump will do anything to be reelected and to hold on to power.  Anything.  

Trump often uses the word “They” when describing anyone who opposes him.  Well, “they” includes not only Democrats, progressives, moderates, and a growing number of Republicans, it also includes both Marianne and me.  

Unlike the legitimate policy issues mentioned above, which are worthy of honest discussion and compromise, the notions listed below are totally propaganda meant to discredit anyone who opposes Trump. People who blindly parrot the statements that follow are misinformed and, therefore, out of touch with reality: 

“They” want to destroy America.

 “They” want Open Borders & think anyone can come to the US at any time. 

“They” are not patriotic & disrespect our flag and the military. 

“They” want to take your guns a

way. 

“They” want to destroy the suburbs. 

“They” are OK with riots, Antifa & MS13 Ruling the Streets.  

“They” want to destroy history, especially of the South.

“They” want the pandemic & the economy to fail so that Trump loses.  

“They” want to take away all of the money from all wealthy people. 

“They” are Socialists and hate capitalism. 

“They” want to give “Free” stuff to everyone & ignore the national debt. 

“They” do not support the police and law enforcement.   

“They” are going to rig the election using absentee ballots.

We unequivocally reject all of this propaganda about people like us who support Joe Biden, these statements are shallow and bogus. They are diversionary tactics.

29 years of military service exposed me to leadership principles we sorely need our next President to honor: “Seek self-improvement”; “Selfless Service/Duty”; “Loyalty to  the Constitution”; “Promote teamwork, not yourself”; “Take responsibility for your actions”; “Set the example”; and most importantly; “Integrity – Tell the truth.”

Please stand up for true American principles and for the future of our Democratic Republic, The United States of America, Vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. 

Ballots

Note:  This post is a companion to my previous post that follows in this Blog titled “Vote!”  In “Vote!” I mention vote-by-mail systems in passing.  This post covers my personal experience with, and opinions related to, the Washington State Mail-In system. Link to “Vote!”:

I have voted exclusively by mail-in ballot Washington State for over 10 years. 

It works.  Actually, mail-in ballots work very well and are secure. 

How do I Get “My Ballot?”

About a month before the election I will get my personalized official ballot packet in the mail sent to my registered voting address from the King County Department of Elections.  The packet includes my personal ballot, a security envelope, a postage paid/pre-addressed return envelope, and simple to follow instructions.  I also tear off a stub with a unique code that I can use to check on-line to ensure my ballot has counted. 

Why Do I Like Mail-In Ballots?

I know of no one in Washington State who does not really like, and trust, the Washington State Voting System.  There was a learning curve at first, but once you got the hang of it there are a lot of advantages.

I particularly like the fact that I can spend time with my ballot.  Some choices are easy, but many of the positions require me to spend some time researching.  For instance, who knows the names of their port commissioners?  Unless they really do something stupid, they never make the news and I have no idea if they are doing a good job. 

Washington State takes another step to help with decision making. The Voters’ Guide has candidate written statements and basic qualifications. This guide is mailed to every registered voter prior to receipt of the ballot itself. I use the candidates statements along with other independent sources to help me make decisions.

With Washington State ballots there is nobody behind me in line or an impatient poll worker rushing me to fill out my ballot. With my own personal ballot in hand and time to do research, I feel like I am able to make a wise decision.  

Yes, in other systems I could do the research separately in advance and then take a cheat sheet to the polling place and fill it out there.  There is, however, something personal about Washington State sending me my ballot and something very important to me about holding my own ballot in my hand as I fill it out in the privacy of my home.  

I protect My Ballot, and am very careful with it.  I have an ownership that probably comes in part from the tactile nature of the ballot, the fact that it had my name on the packet and on the return envelope, and that I get to live with it for a while. Maybe this is too “woo woo” for some of you, but it is clearly My Ballot, and I like it. 

I also do not have to worry about my schedule on election day so that I can get to a polling place, if it is raining, if there are long lines, or now, if there are coughing people in line who may have Covid 19.   I don’t have to deal with any of that, instead I take time to prepare and cast my own ballot. 

It is best with the Washington State mail-in system to mail in early, which I always do. 

Although it is probably not unique to states that have voting systems like Washington’s,  I also like that I can verify both my current registration status and also see that my vote was in fact counted by going online to VoteWA.gov  Used properly, and with safeguards, technology can make voting not only easier, but also more accurate and secure. 

Is This System Safe? 

Some people inaccurately state that the mail-in system is open to fraud.  This not at all true.  

Our Washington State Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who btw, is a Republican in a very “blue state,” is responsible for the mail-in system.  Here is what she says about the security of the Washington State Mail-In Ballot system:

 “Well, just like the banking industry, yes, you could counterfeit $20 bills, too. And there are ways to detect it and prevent it. And if people do it, there are laws on the books to prosecute that fraud. So like I said, I invite the attorney general or members of his staff to come to any of the five states that currently do vote-by-mail elections. And let us show some of the security measures we’ve built in over time.”

From what I have seen personally, Secretary of State Wyman is correct.  Like the monetary system, mail-in voting is not absolutely perfect, but it is very, very reliable.  MIT has studied mail-in voting in great detail and the known cases of fraud are negligible. 

I have seen memes online showing large stacks of returned ballots along with headlines claiming this proves fraud.  It does nothing of the sort.  People move.  People forget to change their address or change their registration. This happens in every state. If this happens in Washington their ballot goes back to the election officials. These ballots are not counted.  Neither are the ballots that are not returned on time. These people, like those in other states who don’t vote, are free to make that decision even I think they are making a stupid choice to not vote (See my companion post titled “Vote!”). 

It is a felony to sign someone else’s ballot.  Sure, a few will try this, but not many, and they will very likely be caught. 

Improvements (See some of my recommendations are included below) have been made over the years to the Washington System.  Like any system, there is always room for improvement, but to assert that there is wide-spread fraud is blatantly untrue.

How Does This System Differ From Absentee Ballots?

There is one extra step with absentee ballots in that you have to request them long in advance, but otherwise they have no more safeguards than the Washington State Mail-In voting system.   

Both systems require prior voter registration and, although I am not certain about all states, I am pretty sure they also require a signature and have some sort of tracking code or mechanism to ensure that the absentee ballot is legitimate. These safeguards are similar to Washington State requirements.     

Do you have to use the USPS?

The United States Postal Service is used for virtually all absentee ballots.  It is also used for many, but not all, ballots submitted in Washington.  Ballots (whether absentee or mail-in) are pretty secure in the USPS.  

Legal protections are in place to ensure mail is not stolen.  Mail theft is a felony with up to five years in a federal prison and a fine of $250,000.   The postal service has been used for all manner of official government mail since Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General in 1775.

Mail-In voting is really a misnomer since with the Washington State System you don’t really have to, “mail it in.”  Most Washingtonians actually do not mail in their ballot, but rather deposit them in secured ballot drop boxes prior to poll closing time.  

In Seattle there are over 20 locations where you can deposit your ballot right up until the polls close. You basically drive by the box and drop your ballot in.  It is easy and quick.  In the past, a majority of voters in Washington have chosen to submit their ballots in person.  Mail-In is an option, but not a requirement. 

What about People Who Need Help?

Washington State provides voting assistance polls in each county for those people (e.g. the blind) who need help in actually completing their ballot.  These polling places have bi-partisan observers to ensure voters can submit safely and securely submit their ballot.

How Do We Know Who is Entitled to Vote?

Just as in other States, when you register to vote you have to provide proof of citizenship and residency and get your signature on file with the State of Washington.  With the new Real ID system for driver’s licenses now required by the Federal Government, the registration system is even more secure.  You cannot easily get (or forge) a Real ID Driver’s License.  

What about Forgery? 

Washington uses automatic signature identification software that quickly identifies any suspicious signatures on ballots. The software compares the signature on the ballot to the signature on your voter registration.  Flagged ballots are then checked by hand.

I know this works personally because I have terrible handwriting.  For the 2018 mid-terms I submitted my ballot with one of my infamous sloppy signatures.  The computer picked it up and I got a phone call, e-mail, and a letter sent USPS to my registration address informing me that I had to verify my ballot.  

Because of my sloppy signature, I was given a few days to submit documentation which would validate my ballot.  My ballot would not be counted until I submitted this.  I complied immediately.  It was kind of a pain to do, but it was my own fault, and more importantly, I was assured that the system does in fact work.  If it could catch me, it could catch a forger.

It would be very difficult to forge someone else’s signature and get away with it.  Safeguards are in place. 

Isn’t Mail-In Voting a Liberal Plot?

Another fallacy currently being promoted on the Internet is that mail-in systems favor Democrats.  Not true. 

In Washington State’s 5th Congressional District the very conservative Republican Cathy McMorris Rogers won by a landslide in the 2018 mid-terms.  She did this in a very “blue” state in an off-year election that totally flipped the House of Representatives from Republican to Democrat.  She was able to win because she is the clear choice of the voters in her district.  All of Rogers’s votes came via the Washington State Mail-In System.  

In a full mail-in system the people will choose who they want.  Neither party has an inherent systemic advantage.

In all of the five states that currently have Mail-In Ballots both Democrats and Republicans have been elected and/or reelected to offices at the State and/or Federal level.  The people choose who they want to represent them.  

Will Mail-In Ballots Impact the 2020 Presidential Election?

“Some people” say that Mail-In Ballots will invalidate the 2020 presidential election.  These “people” say that although absentee ballots are fine/safe and they use them themselves, that somehow “Mail-In” Ballots are not.  There is no evidence of this, nor even any rationale. 

These “people” also are overlooking the fact that, at least in Washington, most people choose to deposit their ballots themselves and do not use the USPS.  Absentee ballots by their very nature require USPS delivery.  

Only five states currently have full Oregon-Style Mail-In Voting.  Only Colorado among these five could be considered a “swing” state based on past voting records.  From everything I have seen/read, the Presidential Election will be won/lost in the so called “Battleground” states. The Mail-In Voting States will not likely impact the presidential results in 2020. Mail-In Voting will, however, impact down ballot races in all states.  As noted before, people will choose who they want to represent them regardless of how they submit their ballot. 

What about Other States – Should They Switch Now?

No.  Currently only Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Utah have full mail-in systems that automatically send ballots to registered voters. I believe Nevada is attempting to institute this system now.  For 2020, it is too late for states that do not already have full mail-in ballot systems in place to change now. My recommendation is that all states go to this type of system eventually.

It took a while to work the bugs out of the Washington system and there was a little bit of a learning curve on the user end.  If you don’t want to go to a polling place this year, it is best for now to use existing absentee ballots (which must be requested well in advance) in those states that don’t already have full vote by mail-in systems in place. 

Is the Washington Mail-In System Perfect?

Of course not.  As Kim Wyman, The Washington Secretary of State, pointed out, there is always some chance of fraud.  She went on to say that the system is constantly being improved. 

One change I would make to Washington’s system would be to directly link the state ID/Drivers licenses to voter registration. Currenly you are given an option to register when you get your license.  Oregon takes this one step further and automatically registers you to vote unless you opt-out.

State Drivers Licenses (& IDs for those who can’t drive) already require a signature and documentation to prove your residence, nationality, and age so why not use it as voter registration?  Why have two systems?  

In Oregon when you change address on your drivers license, you are automatically updated  in the voter registration system.  It is also important to note that it is illegal to have drivers licenses from more than one state at the same time.   

Another change I would make in Washington State would be to activate even more of the voter assistance polling places to accommodate those who really do need help filling out their ballots.  Yes, it would cost more, but it would be worth it.

One Final Word: 

Vote!

Vote!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020 is Election Day in the United States.  So was Tuesday, November 8, 2016.   In the last general election about 58% of eligible voters actually voted.

Will you be one of the people who votes this year?

I certainly hope so, not only because it is your right, but rather, because it is your duty.

Government By the People

Most of you reading this, myself included, were granted the right to vote when we were born.  We had to wait 18 (or 21 if you are older) years before we could execute that right, but basically we did nothing more – this was one of the many gifts we received merely by being lucky to have been born in the USA.  For my non-American readers born in democracies, you too were very lucky.

According to Freedom House, about 40% of the world’s population lives in countries considered to be “Free,” where there is an elective government with citizens having a legitimate right and opportunity to vote.  I’m sure that there are other creditable sources which differ in their quantification, but there can be little doubt that several billions of persons world-wide do not have this basic human right.  Among the most notable without this basic right to choose their political leaders are the Chinese, North Koreans, Russians, Cubans, and Saudis.

Without this basic right, unless someone is born into an exceedingly wealthy family or accumulates great wealth by some means, they have virtually no say in what their government does.

I consider myself lucky to have been born in the US.  I also feel that I have an obligation to contribute to maintaining the democratic freedoms given to me.  At the very least I should vote.

Excuses for Not Voting 

“Does it really matter, I am such a minority in my district that the “other” side always wins?” 

 “Aren’t all politicians pretty much the same?”

 “What if none of the choices on the ballot really does it for me?”

  “I don’t want to vote for someone who does not support (Fill in the blank for your favorite single issue cause________).”

I have heard all of these statements four years ago, mostly from discouraged Bernie supporters who basically said, “The hell with it.” after Hillary squeezed Bernie out of the race.  A snide version of me might ask, “How did that work out for you?”  A more civil version of me would parrot the overused, but accurate, cliché, “Elections have consequences.”

We need to vote, not just to get people into office who do exactly what we want them to do, but even more importantly, to preserve the system that allows us to have any say in government in the first place.

Why Vote When the Other Side Always Wins?

If you live in Seattle (Washington 7thCongressional District) like I do and want to vote Republican for Congress you are not going to have your candidate win.  Conversely, if you live in the Idaho First District, where my cousin lives, and you want to vote for a Democrat, you will not likely be voting for a winner.

Even if you think it is not possible for your favorite candidate to win, I submit that it is still important that you vote.  Vote, not because you think the winner will support your positions exactly, she or he likely will not. Rather, you need to voluntarily vote to maintain the power of the vote, which, in turn, helps us retain a democracy.

Candidates who want to be reelected must at least consider the needs of those who oppose them if the numbers are high enough. The smaller the number of people who vote against them, the more they will shift to meet the needs of only those who did vote for them. This could be to the right or to the left depending on the district.  The result of course, is even more polarization, less compromise, and more opportunity for special interests.  Special interests who may or may not represent the needs of the population at large.

It is wise to remember that in the course of maybe 5,000 years since the Sumerians started recording history, the radical idea that “the people” should rule is only 242 years old. The idea that “all people” should vote, even women, is only about a hundred years old.

Worldwide the idea that people should choose their leaders, although it has caught on recently, is still far from universal and current trends seem to indicate it is at risk and possibly even on the wane.

If people do not exercise their right to vote, there also is much more likelihood of us foregoing democracy altogether with one side or the other going for a “strong man” who gets things done the way they want them done – human rights notwithstanding.

What if There Are No Candidates Who Take My Positions on the Issues?

This argument, like it’s cousin, “All politicians are the same,” is a threat to democracy.  Like the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want,…”

The idea of democracy (which I define as the people being actively involved in governing) was never that all people would like all of the decisions of government.  Compromise is inherent in the system.

If you don’t accept that compromise is necessary, then you must also be willing to accept an autocracy.  Wise and well-meaning people see things differently.  Sometimes we have to accept what we believe is a less than perfect solution.

Sometimes you just have to choose between the lessor of two evils.  Wait patiently, your day will come.  The pendulum always swings in a democracy.

What about Voter Registration?

Perhaps the most important aspect of voting is determining who gets to vote.

There has been much written/said lately about the fact that many groups within our citizenry are not registered to vote and therefore cannot exercise their rights.

There have been efforts in several states to increase the requirements to register to vote and to “purge” voter registration lists of names of people who have not voted recently or who appear not to be eligible.  The net result of such efforts is likely that fewer people will actually vote.   Some would argue that this is necessary to ensure that people who vote are fully qualified to do so.  Others see this as a means of suppressing votes among groups less likely to vote the way they want.

My view is that there is truth in both arguments, but both sides miss the larger issue: we should be working to increase voter turnout, not decrease it.  At the same time we need to insure that only qualified persons actually cast ballots.

The fewer people who participate in the electoral process, the weaker our democracy becomes.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires that states allow eligible citizens to register to vote when completing other transactions at state motor vehicle and social services agencies.  Oregon took this one step further and automatically registers everyone applying for an ID or drivers license while giving them the ability to opt out.

The Russians, Chinese, and Other Bad Guys

While the report on the 2016 Election by Special Council Robert Mueller did not directly implicate the President, it unequivacably showed that the Russians did interfer in our election.

(Side note: Mueller was a Marine contemporary of mine who also served as a lieutenant in the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines (AKA The Magnificent Bastards) during the same time frame that I was in Vietnam, although I did not know him personally.)

The Russians were able to access and create a false narrative and increase divisiveness by using our social media, which, by the way, is where the majority of Americans now get their news (See my previous post titled “Truth” if you are interested in my opinion of this trend).  Like it or not, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and their counterparts do influence voters and there are foreign forces (Read Autocrats) who have a vested interest in influencing our elections and in increasing divisiveness between Americans.

All indications are that the Russians, and very likely others, will continue to try and disrupt our democracy again in 2020.  The idea of “the people ruling” is not a comfortable concept for an autocrat.  It is clearly to the advantage of dictators internally if the Democracies in the world are seen to be in a state of political disarray.

Even more importantly than their influence on social media, the Russians, more accurately GRU agents at the direction of Putin’s government, tried to access our vote counting systems, most of which rely heavily on electronic data capture and storage. Apparently they were unsuccessful in this effort in 2016.

However, it is not a question of “if” but rather “when” our electronic systems will be compromised.  If our electronic voting systems are hacked, how will we know whether a “winner” really “won”?

Why Your Vote Counts

At the time of the 2016 election there were approximately 250,056,000 persons of voting age in the U.S who could have been eligible to vote.  138,847,000 of these people actually voted with 62,984,828 (46.1%) of them voting for the winner, Donald J. Trump.

Another way to look at this is that Trump won the election by having a little less than 27% of eligible voters voting for him.  Looked at still another way, the 323,400,000 Americans had their president selected by about 19% of the population.  Kids don’t vote of course, but they are definitely influenced by the results of the election.

Lest you think this is an anti-Trump message, consider this:  President Obama, who got 65,915,796 (51.1% of the total) votes in 2012 with a smaller eligible population of 235,248,000 still won with only 28% of the eligible vote or about 21% of the total population of 314,000,000 in 2012.

My point here is not that Obama got more votes and a higher percentage of registered voters than Trump, but more importantly, that our presidents are chosen by a relatively small percentage of the population.

Analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 35% of non-voters cited work or school commitments, which prevented them from voting, 34% said they were too busy, unwell, away from home or forgot to vote, 20% either didn’t like the choices, didn’t know enough or didn’t care and 10% had recently moved, missed a registration deadline or didn’t have transportation.

Some might argue that if some people don’t bother to vote it is probably better that they did not because they are not informed/enlightened anyway. I challenge that position.

Some conservatives, knowing that their older, wealthier base is more likely to vote the way they want them to, might be tempted to try to restrict voting and make it harder for poorer and younger voters to register and/or actually get to the polls.  However, any short-term gain this strategy might yield would be offset long-term by a loss of faith in the democratic system.

Conversely, some on the left might consider placing virtually no controls or checks on the voting process, basically allowing anyone who shows up to vote.  They might do this figuring that most of those who would vote this way are more likely to support liberal candidates.  Again, this strategy is shortsighted.  More might vote, but the legitimacy of the process could easily be called into question, degrading the value and legitimacy of the vote itself.

If the percentage of persons actually voting continues in a downward spiral, we will leave ourselves open to an autocratic takeover.  If we don’t bother to vote, why should politicians or the bureaocrats they select worry about our welfare? There are special interest groups that will serve up enough dark money to provide the façade of a free election.

I don’t Like Any of the Candidates

Voting for third-party candidates or writing in a protest vote is not OK. Like it or not, we have a two-party system in the U.S. and if you waste your vote, then others will decide for you. Don’t let 27% make this critical decision for you.

What can we do to protect our right to vote, increase voter participation, and ensure the legitimacy of the process?

Here are my recommendations for changes to our National voting system:

  1. Adopt the Oregon “opt out” registration system. If you want an ID card/Drivers License or you want to apply for government benefits, you are automatically registered to vote. If you have religious or other qualms about registering, you can elect not to be registered by opting out.
  2. Go to paper mail-in ballots like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado now have. This mail-in system provides a number of benefits including: a. Allowing voters to take some time to think (ballots are mailed weeks before the election day) with their ballot and really make sound decisions.  Voters can check with trusted information sources and read/use the voters guide when filling out their ballots. b. Paper ballots are “real” – in a close race they can be recounted.  They cannot easily be changed or destroyed – at least not by someone on a PC from virtually anywhere in the world.  c. There is a voting period giving maximum flexibility for persons whose work and/or caregiving or other obligations make voting during a single 12-hour time block very difficult.  d. Paper mail-in ballots eliminate the very long wait times at polling booths – some people have to work and take care of their kids.
  3. Go one step further than Oregon did: If you don’t vote in say 2 years (or at the very least just mail in an empty ballot, essentially voting “none of the above”), you can’t get a renewal of the ID card, nor can you get food stamps or other government benefits. Why should you get services and benefits from the government if you are not willing to do your absolute minimum civic duty and at the very least, register to vote? There could be waivers on this requirement, but I feel that people should be responsible for voting, especially if they can vote via mail-in ballots.
  4. Invest in the very best signature identifcation systems The technology now exists to electronically determine whether the signature on the ballot is in fact the same as the one on file with the state in which you are registered.  I know this works personally because I have really bad penmanship.  Last election my ballot was “held” until I was able to document that I was in fact Jim Simpson.  This was incovenient, but I felt good to know that the system works.  It was my sloppy penmanship that caused my ballot to be held so I had no one else to blame.  I was notified by text, phone, and by mail to provide documentation within a window of time that was short, but I felt adequate.
  5. Continue to offer local polling place options.  In King Couny we have 47 Ballot Drop Boxes where people can safely deposit their ballot on the day of the election.  This option is good for people who procrastinate and for those who do not want to enter their ballot into the USPS system.  Washington State also offers Vote Centers for voters who need assistance.  These are only on a limited basis (I think there is at least one per County not one per precinct) and there are some instances where I can see an advantage to actually going to a local/neighborhood polling place. An example might be a person who felt intimidated by their spouse or another person living with them.  The privacy of the polling booth would allow these individuals to vote without fear or interference by others who might be present when they were filling out their paper ballots.  There are also disabled people who require assistance to complete their ballots and this would best be provided by an election official, not a friend or family member. Again, this adds cost, but hey, democracy is not the cheaper system.

In summary:

I have stated some reasons why high voter turnout is important to a democracy and I have identified some systemic changes that could/should be made to increase voter participation, ensure that only qualified persons vote, and protect the vote count from electronic hacking.

You, however, don’t have to wait until these changes are in place.

In the meantime, just VOTE!

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.

Sake

It is hard to understand the meaning of the word “sake” without using it in a phrase.  Examples I can think of off the top of my head include, “For Heaven’s sake” and “For God’s sake.” 

When I checked with Websters, I found that the word “sake”, not to be confused with “sake” the Japanese alcoholic beverage, is associated with “the good,” “an advantage,”  or “an enhancement.” 

Two phrases relating to this word seem apropos during the Coronavirus pandemic: 

“For your own sake.” 

and 


“For the sake of others” 

My late mother, Joyce Simpson, often told me as a child that I should always think about others and how my actions might impact them.   Mom pretty much lived by those words.  I can never think of an instance when she consciously made a decision that benefited herself at the expense of others. 

Mom made mistakes of course, and with her strong religious and Scandinavian heritage, this meant she always carried around with her a sizable load of guilt.  This guilt was self imposed and anyone who knew her would scratch their head trying to figure out what Mom had done wrong.  Mom set the ethical bar very high for herself. 

I think about my mother now as I observe people making choices about how to react to the Coronavirus Pandemic.  

The choices we make expose us all for whose “sake” we are taking or ignoring certain actions.  

Had she lived to experience the Covid 19 pandemic, Mom most certainly would have worn a mask, maintained social distance, and washed her hands whenever she was in contact with others.  Just as certainly, her first thought would have been that she did these things because she did not want to harm others in the event she had the virus.  Secondly, she would have agreed that it was wise for her to do this for her own health. 

I wish I could say that my thought process was the same as Mom’s, but honestly, mine would be more like, “This is a win/win choice.  I take care of myself and it also might be better for someone else at the same time. I’ll do it.”

People I know have made conscious decisions not to wear a mask.  As best as I can understand their logic is something like, “It is not absolutely proven that masks do any good, and anyway, I am not falling for this media hype, and everyone I know is fine and safe.”  

Their logic is anything but.  Yes, there is lots that we don’t know yet about the virus, but the preponderance of evidence and advice from medical people at all levels is that masks, social distancing, and hand washing do help reduce the spreading of the virus, particularly masks worn by people who themselves have Covid 19 even if they don’t know it.  

People who don’t follow these basic hygienic steps because they are not sure it helps are taking a big risk.  The biggest risk is not for themselves, especially if they are young and healthy, but rather for others that might be infected by them who are old and may have underlying medical conditions you may or may not be aware of. Even if you have no symptoms, you may be positive for the virus and a threat to others such as health care workers who are dying while helping others.  

I hope that people who are not taking basic precautions change their minds and follow these simple steps, especially when interacting with others outside their inner circle.  It is not that much of an inconvenience and it seems only prudent to act with an abundance of caution until we know much more about this new threat to us all. 

Sadly, in addition to those who disregard the advice of the medical community, there are others among us who somehow see the mask issue as a part of the ongoing cultural war.  These people say, “Nobody is going to tell me I have to wear a mask, this is a free country.”  What a crock.   This is at worst an inconvenience.  These same people are fine with “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs but cannot put on a mask when dealing with people on “the front line” who may be putting their lives at risk? 

Others take a macho attitude to the effect that, “Only scaredy cats wear masks.”  Give me a break, this is just too much like second grade recess talk. Why are they afraid to wear a mask that shows they care about people who they come in contact with?  The mask is not about you, it is mostly about protecting others, some of whom are very vulnerable.

Certainly there are legitimate concerns about Government actions that may or may not be the best solution – quite frankly there are many unanswered questions about this totally new virus and well meaning governments will make mistakes.  

Everyone I know thinks that people need to get back to work and pursue recreational and religious and interpersonal relationships. Where we all differ is in the details: When? How? Where?  There are reasonable ways that people can do all of these things as they “return to normal” while at the same time adhering to the basic hygienic guidance given that is almost certainly helpful.  

President Trump’s Coronavirus Task force (along with virtually every other international, local and state public health organization world wide ) laid out for us three very clear and easy steps each of us must take individually for the greater good:  

Wear a Mask 

Maintain Social Distancing

Wash your Hands  

There are other steps that businesses and organizations can take. However, these three steps that we each can take individually stand out to me as being simple, doable, reasonable, and very likely to help reduce the spread of the virus and, by so doing, help both ourselves and others. 

If you won’t do these three things for your own sake, well, that is too bad, and I sincerely hope that you don’t get Covid 19. If you are young and healthy the odds are certainly on your side. 

If you won’t take any precautions for the sake others because you don’t really care what happens to them, well, then, all I can say is that you better dig deep within your soul and ask,  “What kind of person am I?”  For God’s sake do the right thing. 

If, however, you do care about others but you won’t do these three things for the sake of others because you think they will not do any good, think again. 

You might be right.  Then again, you might be wrong and your actions will risk the lives of others, possibly even elders or others within your own family. Humility is needed here – none of us really know the truth about Covid 19.  

Err on the side of caution – none of these three things you can do to protect others are difficult.  You can do them easily.

Change

“…the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…” JFK

Dear Fellow Boomers, Generation Xers,  Millleneals, and  Centennials, 

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our lives.  

One of these changes I hope we all see clearly is that the people who are among the most at risk are us – your parents/grandparents.  

We are what demographers call Baby Boomers, the people characterized by the great increase in population that began with those born soon after our fathers returned from WW2.  Demographers say this is people born between 1946 and 1964.  For the sake of this blog post, just think of this group as being 60 and older. 

Our time as family leaders/care providers has come and is now going, if not already gone.  Except for a few remaining members of the Silent Generation (Too young to serve in WW2) and a very few members of the Greatest Generation (Those who endured the Depression & WW2) we Boomers now collectively make up what are commonly referred to as “Old People.”

Covid 19 has made it abundantly clear that it is time for Boomers to Step Aside.  Like it or not “the old grey mare ain’t what she used to be.”  If we have not already retired, it is time to get serious about retiring.  

There are several reasons for this, most connected directly to the pandemic:

  1. Most of us Boomers are not really needed in the work force any longer, younger more energetic people with new ideas and skills are going to be better able to shape the future. 
  2. The economic fallout from the world-wide pandemic means that those Boomers who can afford do so need to make room in the job market for younger workers.  Boomers will have to make personal individualized decisions regarding whether they can retire now. If they can afford to retire, Boomers should seriously consider if it is not time to do just that.
  3. Depending on how the pandemic plays out, we Boomers may have to be “locked down” for a long time.  It is not wise for us to place ourselves in close contact which many jobs require. Younger, healthier people who are less at risk will have to fill in. 
  4. There are many other ways for Boomers to contribute to society: Volunteerism, Assisting with Child Rearing, and Philanthoropy.  Boomers can also help by reducing their own resource and environmental footprint by scaling back consumption, travel, and frivolous spending.

For those of us who grew up with Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Stones, and still yearn for the good old days of “drugs, sex, and rock and roll,” this is a rude awakening. 

Covid 19 has made it all real. Now we Boomers are among those with a target on our backs.  This risk to/for us old folks is magnified greatly by underlying medical conditions like heart issues, asthma, diabetes, not to mention cancer. 

Sure, we are all going to die someday, but like Country Music’s Kenny Chesney relayed in one of his hit songs, “We all wanna go to heaven, But we don’t wanna go now.”  

For those of us in high risk categories, my advice is the same as that provided by the flight attendants, “put our own oxygen masks on first!”  In some cases that will mean saying “no” to requests for help from our kids or from our parents.

Those of you who are now in the “parent” generation (Mostly Millennials born between 1977 and 1995) need to switch roles, at least for a while, and refrain from asking for help from your Boomer parents. 

This will in many cases be very inconvenient. You will need to find help with childcare, but this time support will have to come from others, not your elders. Before putting your parents at risk, please ask yourself if you are trading personal “inconvenience” for the health of your parents.

As parents ourselves and now as grandparents, we elders will have a difficult time disconnecting from those we love dearly.  It will be extremely difficult if not impossible for us to actually say “no.”  What I am suggesting is that younger persons think long and hard before asking for help from those who are at most risk.

The good news with this virus is that the grandkids are at the least risk.  And healthy parents should be fine.  Those who are healthy, and it appears the vast majority of healthy people can handle Covid 19, will need to step up to replace those of us Boomers who should be dropping out of the workforce. 

It may be that this is a temporary situation and that “normalcy” will return.  Maybe not.

Change is not always bad news.  Darwin has been quoted as saying words to the effect that it is not the strongest nor the most intelligent who survive, it is those that are the most adaptable to change. 

One upside to this change for us boomers is the aforementioned roll that can be played as mentors and teachers in ways that were not possible in the past.  Technology has given us direct visual and audio access to grandchildren anywhere in the world.  Innovative Boomers are taking the skills and knowledge they learned over a lifetime and sharing it directly online in ways not possible only a few years ago.  

We boomers will have to rethink our retirement plans based on the likelihood of new more austere economic situations.  Do we really want to go on cruises, travel Internationally, juggle living in two locations, enter a “group senior living” situation, or live in a dense urban environment..  I have no answers to any of these questions, I just see that “change gonna come.” 

Either way, the torch is passed.  We boomers are headed for the pasture.  You younger generations have grown up and now It is your time to start looking out for your parents as well as your own kids. Oh yeah, you younger folk are also going to have to take the place of the retiring Boomers in the work force, probably sooner than would have been the case.  This may be an opportunity for advancement and innovation.   Welcome to the Sandwich generation.  

It is time to pass the torch.

Socialism

One word we are starting to hear used frequently, and I am sure will become even more common as the 2020 election heats up, is Socialism. 

The “S” word has been flying around the airwaves and across the Internet. 

Depending on which channels you watch, websites you visit, or social media bubble you live in, the word “Socialism” may be used as a pejorative or be described as a synonym for panacea.

I know that I am pretty ignorant about Socialism and what it really means.  I have read various definitions, none of which have been very helpful.  I am still confused.

I would love to hear from people I know and trust personally, yes, You.  

What first hand knowledge do you have about Socialism?

Since this is my blog I do have a few “rules” I ask that you follow should you decide to enter into this conversation: 

  1. Be civil, better yet, be nice.  Please refrain from any personal attacks towards other respondents.  I only send notifications and invitations on this blog to people who I know personally. All of them are either friends or relatives of mine.  
  2. Listen first. My main goal with this blog is to find “middle ground.” We can only do this if we consider ideas which at first blush seem foreign, misplaced, or outright “wrong” to us personally. None of us is too old to learn, at least not yet.
  3. Share what you have experienced personally.  There are plenty of sources of information about Socialism but please don’t just cut and paste someone else’s thoughts. I want to hear what you personally think and have seen first hand. 
  4. Challenge and question opinions you see as wrong, incomplete, or questionable while keeping Rule # 1 in mind. 
  5. Stick to the issue of socialism.  I’m pretty sure there are among those reading this some really strong feelings about individual politicians past and present.  I’m hoping that this post is not about them (they come and go) but rather the concept of Socialism and how much it does, or does not, have relevance to those of us who live in democratic countries.  

I hope your responses to this post lead me to a better understanding of the word Socialism.

Here are some thought starters based on questions I have about your experiences: 

What do you think Socialism means?  

Have you ever lived in a so-called socialist country?  Visited one?  

Do you know anyone personally who has received any government benefits directly (e.g. social security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, student loans or grants, mortgage guarantees (VA or FHA), unemployment insurance, workers compensation, government backed disaster insurance/relief, or tax incentives, exemptions or credits)?  

Have you ever worked for a government entity (local, state, or federal) providing services to other citizens?  

Have you ever worked in the private sector or owned a business? Did your company have any government contracts? What services or products did your company provide to the government?  What regulations most impacted your company? Did your customers receive government supported loans or incentives to buy your products? Did you ever participate in small business administration programs or receive government subsidies/business loans?

Is Socialism absolute or can it be incremental? 

Are Socialism and Capitalism compatible? 

Can you have Socialism without Democracy? 

Do you even give Socialism any thought or think it is relevant? 

Please click on “Comments/Leave a Reply”  link below to submit your thoughts to this blog, which I look forward to reading.

Jim 

Representative

Here’s an idea: Let’s select representatives like we do jurists, drawing randomly from the entire pool of registered voters.  

A few years ago I posted this idea (See Below) about changing how we select people to serve in the U.S. House of Representative.  While the idea has some merit, the reality is, “It ain’t gonna happen.” Congress is never even going to approve term limits much less change the system that put them in power.

What might work is adapting the jury selection model to the lower house in some states, namely in one or more of those 26  states that allow changes in law via State-wide referendum or initiatives. Even within these 26 there are some limits, nonetheless, there are states where “the people” could decide on a new method of selecting state representatives. 

This could result in a system that assures equal representation while at the same time reduces the influence of the political parties, at least in this one case, the lower State houses.

Adapting a jury selection system for representatives at the state level could provide a pool of experienced people who are much more representative and free of party or special interest group controls.  

Successful representatives could later run for other state or US elected offices.  

Unsuccessful representatives and those who found that political service was not for them could go back to their original careers, somewhat wiser as to how representative government really works. 

The original post which was focused on the U.S. House of Representatives.  For a more realistic idea, just substitute “state house” every time the federal elected office is mentioned in the text that follows. 

Here is the original idea:

My friend Bill Flammer and I have very different opinions on a number of political issues.  But we still talk.  And we are still friends.

Bill and I also agree on a number of things, most importantly wanting a good future for our grandkids.  And although we disagree on significant issues regarding the Executive and Judicial Branches of government, we both share a deep disappointment in the Legislative Branch.  Congress is broken.

During a recent interchange of ideas, we both bemoaned the current situation of political deadlock.  Then Bill suggested a radical change to our method of selecting representatives:

Select/appoint members of The House of Representatives like we do jurors, randomly from among registered voters in each state.  Members would serve one two-year term.

My initial reaction was that Bill must have gotten ahold of some of Willie’s Gold cannabis; or perhaps he had fallen under the spell of an hypnotic cult leader from an extremist unicorn protectionist sect and was now drinking some strange kind of sparkly Kool Aid.

Then I started to think about Bill’s idea.

I can see some real advantages to Bill’s idea:

There would be no elections for The House of Representatives which means…

– No money needed to “run” for office

– No need to spend time campaigning for re-election

– No congressional “districts” and, therefore, no gerrymandering

House membership would mirror the national population,which means that among the 435 randomly selected representatives we could expect that…

– 50% would likely be women

– All occupations would be represented, most importantly those not currently in the mix (e.g. waitresses, plumbers, truck drivers, care givers, Wall Mart employees, etc.)

– Approximately 49% would be white; 14% black; 26% Hispanic; 5% Asian; 5% 2+ races; & 1% Native Americans (Likely future voting age population: U.S. Census Bureau data based on persons born since 2007)

– Representatives would come from all kinds of family/living situations including those not currently represented such as: low income single parents, singles, renters, trailer park residents, public housing residents, and even the homeless

 – All religions would be represented

 – All ages (at least those of voting age 18+)

 – All political leanings (Dems, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, you-name-its)

Members would not “owe” anyone for their office and therefore, could be expected to be more likely to…

– Be free (or at least more likely) to “do what they believe is right”

– Reject “pork barrel” legislation

– “Look out” for their home state, but not necessarily special interests within that state

– Choose who they spend time with/listen to (i.e. provide access to)

– Draw on their unique experiences, talents, and personality

As a body, a randomly selected House of Representatives with membership that rotates every two years could be expected to provide…

– Balance to the professional politicians who control the Senate

– New blood with new ideas and perspectives every 2 years to reflect attitudes of the people

– A counter to the influence to the political parties and special interests

Currently politicians self select.  Entering “The Political Arena’ is tough business and only a certain type of person with a unique ego/status/commitment combination would want to be a politician in the first place.  Random selection would insure that all personality types would be represented, not just those who can “sell themselves.” Introverts and other quietly thoughtful people would be in the mix as well as outgoing or impulsive people – there would be balance. Currently campaigners are rewarded.  We end up with people who have the traits of a high-pressure salesman vs the traits of a frugal purchasing agent or a wise consumer.  We get smooth-talking lawyers when what we need are people with good judgment. We get wealthy and highly educated people but not necessarily people who have to daily “real world” experience.

The motives of House Members would be less likely to be questioned. Randomly selected Representatives would be fulfilling a civic obligation.  They would not be fulfilling some personal goal or agenda that we citizens are unlikely to fully know.  Ideally this would lead to more confidence in the institution as a whole.  As a minimum, random selection would reduce the cynicism.

A random selection system would decrease the influence of the political parties.  Members could, and likely would, consider party positions on various issues, but their allegiance would not be tied to any special interest or political party, it would be to the people of their state and to the country as a whole. Let’s get rid of “the aisle” altogether. If we select House members randomly, we could seat them alphabetically, by state, or failing a better system, by height, the way Bill and I were organized for dance lessons in high school.

“Hold on a minute Jim!

I happen to like my current representative and you are saying you are going to replace them with someone picked at random?  What will happen to them? 

What about my right to vote? 

Would these people even be capable of doing the job?

If this is such a good idea for the House, why not change the Senate?”   

Let me take these questions one at a time:

What happens to current members you happen to like?

Depending on where you live and your personal leanings, you may or may not feel that your representative is “looking out for you.” My guess is that for most Americans it is at best a “fifty-fifty” chance. As an institution, however, the current Gallup Poll approval rating is about 21% with 73% disapproving of the way Congress is handling its job.

With random selection it is going to be the case that not all of the representatives selected from your state will share your views.  But some will, and based on the law of averages, there will be, among the 435 Representatives, many with whom you will be very happy regardless of your political leanings.

I would envision that there would be a transition period which would allow the current House members to move on to other pursuits, either political or otherwise. Yes, they would have to “change jobs” but hey, we all have been in that situation at one time or another – and they would still get their retirement.

Voting

Voting is the basic underpinning of a democratic (Majority Rule) republic (Basic Rights Guarantee) like the US.  However, we don’t need to vote for everything.  The founders envisioned the people selecting “representatives” to vote on the behalf of the people. (Self Promotion: For my thoughts on the importance of Voting and how we can improve the process see the post titled “Voting” on this blog.)

If random selection were enacted for the House of Representatives, we would still have plenty of ways to exercise our power to vote for politicians who directly impact our lives at all levels:  The president, the Senate, governors, state elected officials, mayors and city councils, school board members, and even judges at the local level.

Qualifications

Clearly some of the people selected at random would not be that bright.  Half in fact would be “below average” on an IQ test. Except, of course, in Minnesota where all of the children are “above average.”

Over the years I have come to understand that there are many ways in which a person’s value to society can manifest itself.  Not all of “the smartest people” make good decisions.  It is even more clear to me that there is no correlation between somewhat objective measurements like intelligence, education, or wealth and the values that I would hope to have myself and desperately want in someone who is representing me: honesty, integrity, kindness, sound judgment, and courage. “Good People” come in all varieties and from all backgrounds.

On one hand being a member of Congress seems like a complicated and seemingly overwhelming job.  But then again, what is it that members of Congress actually have to “do”?  The most important function they have is to vote on proposed legislation. This is a relatively simple binary choice:  “Yea” or “Nay.”

The hard part of course is sorting through the mountain of information and legal mumbo jumbo that goes into the bill being proposed.  However, this is not unlike the role that we require of jurors who also need to ultimately make a binary decision based on complex and often contradictory information.  If our “peers” are capable of making life and death decisions in a trial, with help, our peers can also make important decisions about legislation.

Unlike those serving on juries, members of Congress must also deal with an onslaught of special interest and political party lobbying that would not go away even with a random selection process. They would not be expected to do this alone.

These new “drafted” lawmakers would have the same significant resources to help them do their job as do our current representatives.  Each would have a Chief-of-Staff who oversees a personal staff of about 14 persons dedicated solely to them.  Additionally each congressional committee has staff members who provide subject matter expertise in specific areas.

I also envision a comprehensive one-year training/orientation program to prepare the new Congress Members for their two-year term.  This training program could include academic/formal training in courses like government, history, and civics.  It would also include meetings and briefings by the political parties, industrial and business leaders, and local and state elected officials. Additionally, new members would receive orientation to each of the major executive departments of the Federal Government such as Defense, State, and Health and Human Services. Congress itself (the current members and staff of the House and the Senate) could provide in-depth updates on current legislation, budgeting issues, ethics, and House rules.

Any number of existing institutions/resources(e.g. Harvard Kennedy School of Government; West Point; The University of Georgia, The University of Washington, Penn State or literally hundreds of public or private institutions in every State) could be engaged develop the training program/curriculum and/or to provide the facilities needed to provide the training. This one year training period would also provide an opportunity for the new Congress Members to build working relationships with their fellow selectees. Leaders would emerge from within, just as they do naturally within any group of people.

Getting ready to be a Congress Member would certainly be a lot to swallow but there would be benefits to those selected to serve.  I would see serving in the House as a three-year obligation: One year getting ready, and two years serving in the office.  Pay and benefits would be the same as House members are now receiving which would include a salary of $175K/year, health and retirement benefits. As with military service members, selectees would be guaranteed their old job back upon completion of their tour of duty.  One additional benefit requirement would be housing in DC.  This could be handled much the same as the military does now: the government would obtain and maintain 435 residences which House members and their family could use during the time they are serving in Washington.

Why not select Senators the same way, randomly?

There are three reasons we should not select Senators randomly.  The first is that with only 100 members, the law of averages would not work very well.  This is particularly true at the State level where each state gets only two representatives.  Random selection will result in a few “loose canons” who, in a smaller body, could be very disruptive.  Secondly, the nation’s founders very clearly, and wisely I believe, wanted to provide the smaller states with some protections against being overly dominated by the larger States.  This has to do with being a Republic and it is vital that citizens in all states retain this power through their vote for Senator.  Thirdly, there is value in having the “long term” view that has traditionally been a hallmark of the Senate.  This provides a good balance to the turnover/short-term/current view of the House. Every six years we get to decide whether to keep or discard that vision.

Are you still skeptical?  

This proposal would likely require an amendment to the Constitution and it would be very difficult to get enacted.  It may help to clarify the merit of this proposal and why I think it would be worth the effort if you ask yourself the following questions:

Is The House of Representatives currently doing a good job?

Does money play too big a role in who is selected? 

How much time does your current representative spend getting re-elected?

What are the motives of your current member of Congress?  Are you sure?

Are representatives influenced by those who provide them with financial support?

How much influence do the political parties and or lobbyists have with your current representative?   

 Are the current members of congress truly “representative” of the American people?

Are some categories of people currently “under represented” in Congress?

Why is the approval rating of Congress so low?

With the current system is anything likely to change for the better?

 Would it be worth it to try something new? 

Bill and I would appreciate your feedback on his idea (click on “Leave a Comment” at the bottom of this page).  We welcome you to punch holes in the idea, but please just don’t put any holes in us.:-)

Angels

There are angels among us.  But they don’t look like what I would expect. 

Last week my son Josh left his cell phone in the mens room at Ravenna Park here in Seattle where he often goes to exercise/walk.  For some reason Josh got distracted and left without his phone. 

I don’t have to tell you that this would be a huge concern for any of us who now rely on our phones to augment our brains and help us to think.  

For Josh his iPhone is also his lifeline to help and vital to his ability to communicate. 

I got a call from an unknown phone number.  I almost did not answer, figuring it would be a robot call of some sort.  But I did answer and talked to a person named “James” who had found the phone and called my number which I had put on the back of the phone along with an “if found, please call…” message.  James who offered to hang around the park until I could get there to pick it up for Josh.  

I rushed over to the park, about fifteen minutes from my place, and headed to the meeting place, a patio overlooking the park.  The patio is also the roof to the public restrooms where the phone was found.  

There were three people sitting on benches located on the patio.  The closest person was a clean cut young man working on a laptop who looked like he worked at Amazon or Microsoft. 

The other two were an African-American woman and a similarly aged 20-something guy who were sitting together on the other side of the patio.  The woman looked a little on the “rough” side and the man looked as if he might be living in the park. 

I addressed the Amazonian, secretly I suppose, hoping that he was the James who had found the phone.   He was not James. 

Sheepishly I approached the other two, knowing full well that they had seen me approach the other person first.  

As you have no doubt guessed, James was the disheveled young man who has probably had some rough times.  James handed me the phone and said he did not want any reward. He said he would appreciate it if someone were to do that for him.  He was paying it forward.

The woman suggested that I recognize the good deed on facebook, but James said he didn’t do facebook so I offered to send him a thank you letter.  He gave me his address at my request and said it would be OK if I sent him a note or card, which I have done. 

I was humbled by this simple act of kindness from one of the “lessor” people we see among us daily.  I was also embarrassed that I had not remembered the story of the good samaritan and that we all need to avoid jumping to conclusions about who the “good” people are.  

James is one of them. 

Smoke

 

 

I have two things to say about smoke: “Don’t Inhale it, and Don’t Blow It Out.”

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Although the surgeon general had identified the dangers of smoking back in the 1950s, I really didn’t care and began smoking in high school in the 1960s.   A few years later when I was a young Marine I intuitively knew that smoking cigarettes was not good for me.

I distinctly remember talking with a fellow smoker fallowing a running competition held as a part of our Marine Corps training.  I said to my comrade something to the effect that, “You and I were the fastest two smokers in the platoon.”  I was sort of proud of that accomplishment at the time until I started to think about the implication that maybe, just maybe, there was a reason that the fastest runners did not smoke.  It took a while to sink in but several years later I quite altogether and became the worst enemy of a smoker, a reformed sinner.

Much later I learned that wood smoke, in addition to contributing to global warming by releasing CO2, also releases carbon monoxide and a number of toxic and/or cancer causing substances such as benzene, formaldehyde, and benzo-a-pyrene. The health impacts of inhaling wood smoke are real and negative.

This realization of the dangers of wood smoke became particularly relevant here in Seattle when, again this summer (smoky skyline shown above), we had to carve our way through wood smoke that at times blocked out the sun. Yikes, who knew that those fun campfires we lit to cook s’mores over as Boy Scouts were actually killing us just like the cigarettes we hid in our backpacks?

Although I have given it some thought, I cannot come up with any good reason to ever inhale smoke of any kind.  There are good alternatives to burning things that put off smoke. Think cannabis edibles, nicorette chewing gum, natural gas, solar energy, etc.

Suffice it to say that inhaling smoke is inherently bad.

Smoke and Mirrors

“Don’t Blow Smoke Up My Ass, Marine!”  This classic quote could be attributed to any number of Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeants who were dealing with a wayward young Marine who was caught lying.  This quote also provides me an opportunity to pivot to a more nuanced and metaphorical meaning of the word smoke.

Literal smoke is pretty much water vapor laced with all sorts of toxic chemicals.  The metaphorical smoke referred to by the Gunny is something else altogether.  And yet, the two types of smoke share many characteristics.

We can sense it when people are “blowing smoke.”  Like with literal smoke, there is a “smell” that just does not seem right.  We know that our vision of the truth is being distorted when we encounter and recognize metaphorical smoke.

Kids “blow smoke” when they are trying to explain why they “just had to” break some rule.

Spouses do it when trying to “change the subject.”

Relatives do it when hiding family secrets about money or the improprieties of some uncle or aunt.

Bosses do it when trying to explain some stupid decision or policy

And of course, no one can blow smoke like politicians.   The intensity and lethality of this kind of smoke is directly proportional to the autocratic, selfish, and criminal tendencies of the politician.  The more they have to hide, the more smoke they blow.

In all cases our vision and understanding of the truth is curtailed by smoke.

Our vision of the truth can also be blocked by fog.   But fog will eventually burn off and the fog itself does no harm.  The danger in fog is that we do not see things clearly and it can lead to accidents or mistakes.  I mention fog here because not all miscalculations and misunderstandings of the truth are due to smoke, sometimes “fog” is the problem.  With fog there is no hidden “fire” behind it.  With fog we just need time for it to burn off and reveal a more accurate picture of our surroundings: the truth.

But metaphorical smoke is different, and much more dangerous.

The people who blow smoke do so to purposely keep us from the truth.  With smoke there is always something burning underneath.  With smoke there is always danger, not just from what you can’t see and the accidents that it might cause, but also from the fire behind it and from the poison within the smoke itself.

As with physical smoke, metaphorical smoke always consists of poisons.  In metaphorical smoke that poison is the inherent lies that invariably tear at the fabric of organizations and society.

As with physical smoke, metaphorical smoke can temporarily be blown away by strong winds, but ultimately the underlying fire must be extinguished by removing the oxygen of hate and fear that fuels it.

Clearing the Air

Getting to the truth and acting justly/wisely are the only ways we can put out the fire that causes the smoke.  This applies to both literal smoke and metaphorical smoke.

Pouring water on a wood burning fire will eventually put it out, but this is a reactive response that only temporarily solves the problem. We cannot expect to permanently get rid of the literal smoke that fills the air unless we look deeply at the root causes.  There is always a chain of events leading to the sun turning yellow as it did here in Seattle this summer.

Here is one chain of circumstances that leads to smoke: Smoke comes from burning forests and grasslands. Forests and grasslands can be set on fire by natural forces like lightning or be caused by humans.  Forests and grasslands are most likely to burn when they are extremely dry.  They are extremely dry because of a lack of rain.  There is a lack of rain because of climate change. Climate change is caused by natural forces beyond our control and then magnified by human actions that produce green house gases.  The greenhouse gases come from wood we burn in fireplaces, fossil fuels used in our vehicles, and from the coal used to generate our electric power.  We choose to burn these substances to maintain a certain lifestyle.

And on it goes. In order to actually prevent the return of the smoke we have to examine all of the steps in the chain of circumstances leading to the fire in detail to see what actions we can take to prevent, or at least minimize, fires and the smoke they produce in the future

There is also a chain of events that leads to metaphorical smoke: Somebody wants something.  This person is willing to “break the law” or “bend the rules” to get what they want.  They fear that their actions will not be favorably looked on by others. They don’t want others to know exactly what they have done.  This person fears “The Truth” and therefore must create an alternate reality. At this point the person trying to hide their actions is “blowing smoke” to divert others from determining the true source of the fire – their own actions which are sometimes illegal, always immoral.  Repeated enough times, screened by metaphorical smoke, and left unchallenged, this alternate reality can be perceived as the “truth” when in fact it is in fact, a lie.

As with literal smoke, the immediate answer for metaphorical smoke is to pour water on the source of the fire (i.e. weed out the person who started the chain of events).  But this is also only a temporary solution unless we examine the entire chain of circumstances that allowed the smoke blower to “get away with it.”

At the personal level “truth tellers” can call out friends or colleagues at the first sign of smoke.  We can hold people accountable for their smoke blowing by publicly challenging them.  At the macro level our society needs a complex and independent judicial system, a fair voting system, and a free press that can help us to ferret out the hidden fires that are ultimately generating the smoke.

Smoke: “Don’t Suck it in, and Don’t Blow it out!”

PS:  Please see my previous post titled “Truth” if you are interested in my thoughts on how to identify the smoke blowers and make a reasonable assessment of reality. You can reach this previous post via the menu at the top of the blog welcome page or just scroll down. 

 

Taxes

Note:  This is an update of an idea I originally posted in 2018.

In my previous blog post titled “Government” I addressed the idea of fairness and taxes.

I have a solution for federal taxes that Congress is welcome to consider/use free of charge.

My plan relies on changing how we tax the very rich but it also helps businesses become more competitive and I think it is a solution even billionaire investor Warren Buffett or the world’s richest men, my Seattle area neighbors Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos would approve.

For lack of a better name I call it Jim’s Tax Plan.  Here are the highlights/benefits:

  • Fully funds the Federal Government This includes all programs of the Federal Government except for Social Security and Medicare which are funded separately.  Jim’s Tax Plan provides financial support and stability for the Federal government including what I see as it’s most important role: Providing for the Common Defense.
  • Eliminates all corporate and business taxes  Makes US businesses the most competitive in the world.
  • Eliminates inheritance taxes No death taxes – family businesses & famers can continue to the next generation.
  • Keeps Personal Income Taxes Revenue Neutral No overall additional taxes on personal income are needed.  I recommend substituting a Flat tax for rich and poor alike that will be simple to compute and easy to understand. Jim’s tax plan could, however, work with the existing personal income tax.
  • Rewards high income (high productivity) individuals  The plan redistributes wealth, not from the rich to the poor, but from the less productive rich to the more productive rich.
  • Balances the Budget Many people from all political positions are uncomfortable with deficit spending.  While there are some valid arguments that under certain circumstances limited deficit spending is OK, the vast majority of people I know think that the Federal Budget should be balanced so that Revenue = Expenses.
  • Eliminate the Threat of Government Shutdowns caused by the Debt Ceiling   This benefit relates directly to the previous balanced budget benefit.  If there is sufficient revenue to cover the Federal Budget annually, there would be no need to raise the debt ceiling.

“OK Jim, you’ve got my attention, what’s your idea?”  

If you are middle income, please read on.

If you run a business and are in the middle class, I think you will like my plan.

If you are reading this and are both very wealthy and have very high income based on your skills and hard work, I think you might be surprised that Jim’s Tax Plan works OK for persons like yourself.

Rich People who work hard, generate lots of income every year, and who are real “job creators” will do fine under Jim’s Tax Plan. So will the sons and daughters who inherit family farms or businesses and continue to work hard and operate them effectively.

If you are very rich but don’t produce much; spend your money frivolously; accumulate wealth by basically taking it from others (legally or illegally) without delivering value; or basically just live off inherited wealth, you are welcome to read on, but you will probably not like Jim’s Tax Plan.

Under Jim’s Tax Plan the Federal Government would replace the current income focused tax system with a two-part system.  Every citizen would pay the highest of the following annually:

    1. A flat tax rate of 13.9% on all income with no-deductions.

OR

    1. A tax of 4.7% of one’s net worth.

“What the heck are you talking about Jim?”

What I am suggesting is that the basic premise of our current federal tax system is flawed, relying almost solely on taxing income.  We tax income twice, once when it is received by companies and then again as personal income.  It is fair and equitable to tax the higher of either income or net worth.

“How is this even possible Jim?”

By collecting the greater of the two tax rates (Not both) we can guarantee revenue that will equal the Federal Budget: The net tax rate being based on the percentage of the Federal Budget as a fraction of the total net worth of US Families.

Right now that rate would be 4.7%.  I computed this by dividing the 2021 Federal Expenses of $6.8 Trillion by the current $144 Trillion in household net worth. (6.8/144=.0472 or 4.7%) Note:  Source for Net Worth is The Federal Reserve.

“If the Government automatically receives enough revenue to cover expenses won’t this lead to unbridled spending?”

 Not necessarily.  Congress and the sitting President would need to work out an annual budget that their constituents will accept.  Under Jim’s Tax System taxes would only increase in direct proportion to any increases in the Federal Budget.  Currently we have a system that hides the actual cost of the Federal Budget and has led to deficit spending.  Spending is not directly linked to revenue, Jim’s tax plan would change that.

“So how would this impact most Americans?”

For most Americans there would be a change/no change.

Median Family Net worth is about $121,700.  Half of all family have more than this and half have less. ( Source:  Federal Reserve)

Median Family Income in 2021 was $79,900 (Source: US Department of Housing and Urban Development)

According to the IRS the Current Average Effective (After all deductions,the amount people are actually paying) tax rate is 13.9%

The median taxpayers are already paying significantly more than the 4.7% of their net worth. (.047 X $121,700 = $5,719 vs a flat tax of 13.9% (The current average effective tax rate) 0.139 X 79,900 = $11,106)

What this means is that under Jim’s plan the vast majority of taxpayers would just continue to pay their taxes via withholding out of their salaries.

In other words, little or no change.  Exception being the implementation of a flat tax, which, although I support it, would not be necessary to enact Jim’s tax plan.

“So what you are saying Jim is that we can balance the budget by adding a second means of taxation which would mostly impact the very wealthy?  The very wealthy are already paying the lion’s share? How is this fair to them?”

It is true, as conservative entities such as the Heritage Foundation have been saying for years, that the rich pay a very large percentage of taxes.  These sources are also quick to point out that up to 30% of the population pay no federal taxes at all.

We currently raise federal revenue by using a tax system that is so complex not even tax accountants can fully understand it.  Jim’s Tax Plan is a better way to generate the revenue needed to operate our government.

Jim’s Tax Plan shifts a large portion of the tax burden from high-income persons to those with high wealth.  Although sometimes these are the same people, often they are not.

Currently we penalize those who are the most productive (as measured by income) while favoring those who have lots of wealth but who may not actually produce much (as measured by reported income and/or losses which reduce their tax liability greatly).

Jim’s Tax Plan redistributes income, not from the rich to the poor, but from the non-productive to the most productive.   It also aligns taxation more closely with the benefits received, at least at the macro level.

Jim’s Tax Plan realigns the system to obtain a large portion of the revenue needed from a tax on the net worth of every American and especially the very wealthy.

The top 1% of the population currently possess about 32% of the total Net Worth of U.S. Households. (Source: Federal Reserve, Survey of Consumer Finances and Household Total Net Worth Report).

If we add a net worth tax and also keep personal income taxes and other sources of revenue the same (i.e. revenue neutral) we can balance the budget

“Why are you taxing everybody at the same rates Jim? Even the poor?”

We all have a stake in this country.  Everybody should pay something.

Even the very poorest among us do receive benefits of our democratic republic, if only the basic freedoms.

The less you have, the less you pay.  Few of us will choose poverty to avoid taxation.

“How is this fair? Adding the net worth tax will generate most of the additional revenue from the wealthy.  Why should the wealthy people pay more than the rest of us, even if the rates are the same for all?”

 Taxation under Jim’s Tax Plan would follow the principal that those who get more protection should pay more.     

The wealthy benefit the most from the protection our military and homeland security and the legal system provide to protect assets.

The top 1% of our population have, by far, the most to lose if the Federal Government does not protect their assets.  Without a strong military and homeland security, foreign forces would be able to take and/or destroy their wealth.  Without a legal system to protect assets such as patents, copyrights and legal recognition of property ownership, the wealthy could not hold on to their wealth.  Without a stable and mostly peaceful society to live in, wealth would be worthless.

Look at government services as a form of insurance – the more you have to lose, the more you need insurance. Like with home insurance, the more you have to protect, the more you pay.

Currently there is a group of relatively very few people who are getting the most protection.  They need to pay for it. Currently the super-rich are not paying their fair share for National Defense or for a stable society.

Side Note from a retired 29-year military veteran: It is also the case that the burden of actually providing the human cost for National Defense falls almost exclusively on the poor and lower middle class.  It is their sons, daughters, nephews and nieces who serve in the military.  With extremely rare exceptions, these volunteers are not from the families of the super-wealthy.

“High income people are already paying the lion’s share of taxes.”

This is true under the current system.  While it may seem radical, what I am proposing merely shifts the system to favor those high-income people who are the most productive by charging the non-productive wealthy more fairly for the benefits they receive from society (mainly, being able to keep their wealth).

The differentiation between “income” and “wealth” is fundamental to Jim’s Tax System.

“How can anyone maintain wealth under Jim’s Tax System?”

Let me answer this by giving examples of how Jim’s Tax Plan would actually play out.

Let’s say you bust your ass and increase your annual income over a number of years to $300,000 annually and in the process pay off your mortgage and accumulate a net worth (Assets minus liabilities) of $1 Million (For point of reference a net worth of $1M is about 8 times the median).  Your tax liability would be the greater of 13.9% of your income ($41,000) or 4.7% of your net worth or ($47,000).  In this example the net-worth tax would kick in and the individual would pay that tax instead of the income tax.  It would more or less be a wash at this level of income and wealth.

For the super wealthy the equation starts to get to the heart of Jim’s Tax Plan, generating revenue to balance the budget.  If, for example, you inherit $10 Million dollars and do nothing productive you will owe $470,000 annually. $100 Million pays $4.7 M and $1B pays $47 M.  Under the current system, those among this lucky group that produce absolutely nothing or if they are ineffective and lose money they pay little to nothing in taxes.  The previously mentioned complexities of the current tax system offer many ways to avoid paying any taxes. To a certain extent the current system rewards ineffectiveness by allowing loses to be written off.

4.7% per year is not too much to ask from the very wealthy.  If they did absolutely nothing more than buy an index fund they can earn 8-10% annually.  Over the past 100 years the average annual return from the stock market is over 10%.

That means that if a wealthy person did nothing more than make a simple investment, their wealth would still grow annually even after they paid their fair share of 4.7% to run the Federal Government.

Where is the motivation to achieve?”

Really productive people have an excellent opportunity to accumulate wealth under Jim’s Tax Plan should they desire to do so.  Remember that Jim’s Tax Plan eliminates Corporate Taxes altogether. That frees businesses to make smart market-based decisions free from tax-system imposed incentives and decisions.  It would be easy for owners of these productive corporations to exceed 10% annual return on their investment.

There would no longer be a difference between tax deductible and other expenses.  There would just be expenses.  Either it makes business sense to spend money a certain way or it does not.  This decision is better made by the owner of the business than some politician in Washington.

Despite what the Supreme Court says in Citizens United, Corporations are not people.  People own corporations and under Jim’s Tax Plan revenue would be collected from those owners as a part of the net worth tax.  Individuals would be taxed only once annually.  This tax would be collected as either a net worth tax or an income tax, whichever is higher, but not both.

Successful businesses will thrive, poorly run ones will fail.  With Jim’s Tax Plan American businesses will have a tremendous competitive advantage not having to pay corporate taxes.

QUESTIONS?????

Taxation is a complex issue with no easy answers, but I welcome your critique and questions about this idea.  Please let me know what you think, especially if you think this plan cannot work, by clicking on Comments below.

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Compromise

It has been tough times for people who compromise.

For many people it seems much easier and simpler just to pick a side/opinion/belief and stick with it, come hell or high water. “Just do it.” “My way, or the highway.” “Get ‘er done.” “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

As I watch my two grandsons grow I am reminded how, at some point pretty early on, we all come up against the dreaded “No” word. “No” is often followed by a different option such as, “But you can play with that toy after dinner.”

While at first children probably feel that they are being held back or “lose” in such an encounter, we all soon learn that it is not always bad to do what your momma tells you. You do, after all, get to “play” after dinner just as she promised. Although unbeknownst to us at the time, we are learning to compromise. “Give a little, take a little.” “Go along to get along.” “Trade.” “Share.”

Life gets complicated quickly, however, and very soon most children learn how to tweak the system to get what they want. Kids learn how to negotiate once they find their parent’s “pressure points.” Parents find themselves bending the rules once they find that enforcing them is not always worth the effort.

Similar patterns emerge with friends, partners, and bosses. One way or another we all have to compromise to succeed.

Often the word collaborate is used to denote positive actions that are done in coordination with another party for mutual benefit. The idea here being that these transactions don’t really involve “giving up” anything, but rather just aligning efforts efficiently and effectively. Even in these cases, however, there is still an element of compromise, even if it is nothing more than having to share the limelight with someone else when the project/effort is successful.

One way or another we always have to compromise in some way if we want to be successful.

Some might argue that this does not apply to tyrants, bullies, or crime bosses who wield all the power. They don’t have to compromise.

And it is true that sometimes you can get your way without compromising. If you are in a position of power over the other party you can get away with using a version of the old mafia methodology: “Here’s the deal, you do as I say and I won’t kill you. OK?”

But for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. As in physics, this holds true for social interactions as well. Push people hard enough and they will either break or they will explode. Even if you get the other person to “break” right now, they will eventually react. As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around.” Even if the reckoning does not come until Judgment Day, every dog has his day. Or, as we used to say in the Marines, “Payback is a Mother F****r.”

In the long run, forcing your will on others is neither as effective nor as enduring as negotiating a fair compromise.

Deals vs. Compromises

Some people describe a “Good Deal” as a win/lose transaction where one party (you in this case) gets the upper hand. A “Good deal” that is not “good” for the both party’s is not a compromise. As such, it is not as permanent. The “Deal” lasts only until such time as the losing party gains enough power to reverse it.

In writing this post I pulled up the word “compromise” on my handy on-line Webster’s dictionary and found that the word implies that a “mutual promise” has been made by the parties involved.

Compromise by definition means both sides gave up something of value that the other party wanted.

Compromises also include promises on both sides. These promises, and the resulting mutual benefits for both sides, make compromises last.

The word “promise” is especially important here. A promise includes not only a commitment to uphold your end of the bargain, but also shows that you have shared ownership in the decision. You have a dog in the fight so to speak.

Contrast compromise with seemingly more powerful words such as edict, commandment, or executive order. At first blush these “take charge” actions seem to be much stronger than “compromise.” But are they as effective long term?

I submit that these more dominant approaches, basically imposing your will, ultimately fail to deliver positive outcomes. They do, however, deliver on negative outcomes.

Compromises will fail if not kept on both sides. We see the results of broken promises all around us: divorces, bankruptcies, and civil and criminal legal actions of all kinds.

Learning how to compromise is a skill worth having.

Personal Life Balance

In our personal lives we not only need to deal with our loved ones, we also need to “compromise” with ourselves. Time spent at work is time not spent with the family. Time spent with family instead of at work can result in less money to spend. We “promise” ourselves that we will exercise, save money, eat right, and at the same time commit to taking it easy. We accept lower levels of professional performance in order to have better personal relationships. We have to compromise to thrive, and sometimes just to survive.

Note: Sometimes people talk about not wanting to compromise their values. For purposes of this post I am not considering that definition of the word. Discussion of “Values” can take us in a whole other direction. For my thoughts on Values I have included the link to my previous post on that subject below.

During his keynote graduation speech at his alma mater, The University of Western Australia, comedian/entertainer Tim Minchin presented nine lessons for life. His first lesson was “You Don’t Have to Have a Dream. Minchin provides the following alternative to following your passion or life long goals:

“Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.
I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious.
Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”

I share with Minchin his skepticism of dedicating everything to one’s “dreams” or “passion.” It is especially troublesome when I hear people using the phrase, “I’m not going to just settle.” The word “settle” being spoken with a great deal of distain so as to imply weakness or lack of dedication.

“How could anyone “settle” for anything less than the very best?”

And yet, I drive a 14-year-old mini-van with 175,000 miles on it with a big scrape on the right side. I have learned to compromise with myself.

Political Compromise

The current tragedy unfolding on our southern border has resulted in the U.S. Government forcibly separating young children from their parents. This is an example of the consequences of our political leaders not being willing to compromise.

As I pointed out previously in my 2017 Post titled “Immigration”(Link below) the long-term solution is sound immigration law. In that post I asked my two Democratic Senators in Washington State, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, to work across the aisle with Republican Senators. Four Republicans wrote/sponsored the bi-partisan legislation titled The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. This law ensured border security, protected the jobs of US citizens, and provided a fair way to deal with people who have worked hard and contributed much to our country even though they are here illegally. Under this law violators would be punished, but in an appropriate manner. This compromise legislation passed the Senate 68-32 but then died in the House, where members were not willing to compromise. This left us with antiquated piece-meal laws that do not address the current situation nor do they meet our needs. Since then neither house has passed any legislation that helps resolve the problem.

Immigration should not be managed solely by executive orders issued by the executive branch. Without a workable public law in place, this has been the case in both the Obama and Trump administrations. Congress needs to compromise to solve this problem and come up with new permanent legislation that makes sense. As I recommended to Senators Cantwell and Murray, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 would be an excellent place to start.

However, so far our elected leaders have been unwilling to compromise.

Republicans, even with a majority in both houses cannot come up with legislation. Democrats have been unwilling to cross party lines and compromise with moderate Republicans.

Compromise is seen as weakness. Both sides see immigration reform (and many other issues) as a Win/Lose situation when they should be looking for a Win/Win.”

In the meantime, nothing gets resolved.

Trump uses executive power the way he wants to, but without bi-partisan permanent legislation and resolution of the issues (i.e. a compromise), the next president could just as easily reverse all of the Trump decisions. Without bi-partisan compromise we will be in an endless loop. Permanent sensible solutions will continue to evade us.

We need for Congress to compromise.

Geo-Political Compromises

Many have criticized President Trump for compromising with Kim Jong Un, the tyrannical Korean dictator who has murdered thousands of his own people, including his own uncle. I too am somewhat jaded and skeptical about being able to compromise with such a man, but it is way too early to tell if the recent compromise that Trump is attempting with Kim was a good thing or not.

As in our personal lives, the success of a compromise of this magnitude is dependent on both sides living up to the promises that are implicit in the compromise. So far the real negotiations have not taken place leaving us with very little understanding of what those “promises” are. All that being said, I do think that in this case Trump deserves credit for being willing to compromise.

A positive historical judgment on the success of Trump’s compromise will be dependent on Kim keeping his promise and destroying his nuclear weapons. If Kim does this, Trump will have a great achievement. If not, well…

So go ahead, Compromise, and feel good about it.

FYI:

Link to Immigration Post Referenced Above: http://03cf8fa.netsolhost.com/WordPress/2017/03/19/immigration/

Link to Values Post Referenced Above:
http://03cf8fa.netsolhost.com/WordPress/2016/03/12/values/

Apocalypse

“We’re all going to die!!!”

“We’re all going to die.”

One of these two statements is always true.  This post is about the other one.  The one with the exclamation points, the warning and recognition of some impending doom.

Timing is everything.  The Sun will eventually go dark but no one is stocking up on blankets and candles in preparation.

On the other hand, as I write this post, the Kilauea volcano is burping toxic gasses and creeping with hot lava than cannot be stopped by any of man’s most powerful remedies.  The only reasonable step is to haul ass, and soon.

It seems like we are inundated with potential apocalyptic scenarios: Asteroids, bacterial or viral epidemics, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, lahar mud flows, or lightning strikes, not to mention swarms of killer bees.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the terrible things that evil people might do to us.

This includes actions along a sliding scale ranging from bullying up to robbery, assault, rape, slavery, torture, genocide, and nuclear annihilation.

Depending on which cable news channel you watch or which FACEBOOK meme you read, the Mara Salvatrucha international crime gang (aka MI 13) is likely going to murder me in my sleep or I’ll be fried by one of Kim Jong Un’s nukes from fired from North Korea or perhaps one of Ayatollah Khamenei’s fired from Iran.

Fortunately much of the fear mongering we are exposed to is total poppycock.

In my previous post titled Truth I discussed how I try to sift through the mountain of information we are exposed to.

However, some, perhaps many, of these potential calamities are real. So even if I am able to accurately identify the most present dangers, which is no small task, I still am stuck with the dilemma: What am I going to do about it?  What can I do about it?

The first time that I recall facing possible impending doom was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The Russians had started assembling nuclear missiles in Cuba within close range of the US. I remember being at Jimmy Breakell’s house along with maybe a half-dozen guys from our 10th grade Swarthmore HS class.  We were openly discussing the possibility of nuclear annihilation.  It all seemed very possible and imminent.

The seriousness in the group was in stark contrast to the more common discussions we had as teenage boys of that era: sports (The NY Yankees with Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle had just beaten the San Francisco Giants with Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey in a dramatic 7-game series which ended with the Giants being down 1 run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two runners on base hitting a line drive to the Yankees second baseman thus ending the game);  rock and roll (“Sherry” by the Four Seasons was # 1 on the Billboard Charts – The Beatles were unknown in the US until the following year); cars (think Chevrolet Monza Spyder, Pontiac Gran Prix or of course, Corvette), and girls (discretion calls for no names being used here).

In 13 days in October of 1962 innocence was lost.

The terms catastrophe and apocalyse are usually reserved for mass events that impact hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Whether thousands or just one person is involved, the consequences are pretty much the same: Injured is injured, sick is sick, and dead is dead. Webster’s Dictionary aside, it is a catastrophe when it happens to me.

At this point you might be thinking: “Yikes, there are just too many bad things that could happen, just what are we supposed to do Jim?”

There are two directions we can go when faced with real potential catastrophes.

We can act or we can do nothing, go on living, and hope for the best.

Well sure Jim, but that’s not much help. When do we act?  When do we go on with our lives as normal?

What me worry?”

Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman had this simple answer to any problem.  His modern day equivalent would be the stereotypical stoner and his “Whatever.” response to almost any situation.

As derided as these respondents might be by high-achieving-take-charge types, sometimes doing nothing is the appropriate response. Worrying about huge asteroids hitting the earth or the eventual darkening of the Sun is useless, there is nothing we can do about either.  My guess is that this is the position for most of you reading this post.

Where we start to differ in our opinions and resulting actions are in those instances where the likelihood seems more imminent.

Last year an article in National Geographic clarified/consolidated the current scientific knowledge about The Big One.  The Big One is an earthquake of level 9 on the Richter Scale. This earthquake and resulting tsunami will hit all along a huge fault in the Earth’s surface called the Cascadia Subduction Zone which is about 50 miles off the west coast running from Cape Mendocino, California to Vancouver Island, BC.   The Cascadia Subduction Zone is where the Earth’s Pacific Plate is diving underneath the North American Plate as it moves westward. The pressure builds up over time and once in a while it cuts loose.

The worst-case scenario would totally destroy all buildings in Washington State west of Interstate 5. The consensus of those who know such things is that this definitely will happen again, as it has for eons before.  The last Big One was 317 years ago and they happen on average every 500 years give or take, so we are “in the window.”

Upon reading this story, my great friend Jim Richards said he changed his dream of returning to Oregon permanently because this threat is so catastrophic.  Other Eastern, Southern, and Mid-western friends, knowing that we live west of Interstate 5 in Seattle, expressed concern that we are living literally “on the edge” and recommended that we move.

As if to put an extra jolt in people’s minds, there was an exhibit in Seattle shortly after these stories came out.  The exhibit had relics from the ancient Italian city of Pompeii showing how people were frozen in time by the ash and rocks that rained down on them during an earthquake and volcano eruption in AD 62.  I left the exhibit wondering why they had been so stupid – they should never have built their city so close to the volcano!

For smaller earthquakes like the ones they have in California, the best course of action is to have three days of emergency supplies on hand. The rationale being that, should you survive the quake initially, help will be sent soon. Unfortunately, when The Big One happens there won’t be enough resources anywhere to save us. If you survive The Big One, help won’t be arriving for the vast majority of survivors.

So the only really safe option is to move.  But I am not going anywhere.

I am of course gambling on the odds that The Big One won’t happen in the next twenty years or so, after which, should I be lucky enough to still be around, it won’t really matter much, because, as noted above, we are all going to die sometime.

Sometimes we are lucky to have options to minimize our risks. Examples include not smoking, not driving impaired, and not traveling into war zones or to the “bad side of town” late at night.  In these cases there is usually a clear right/safe decision that we can take.

When considering catastrophes we often confront the thought that we can’t impact the outcome so why bother.  Here there are differences between how we interpret the facts and the odds.  In these cases the decision to act or not has less to do with the likelihood of the event happening but rather with likelihood that actions taken will impact the outcome.

The evidence that the earth is warming is pretty undeniable as are the resultant negative impacts for mankind. Some among you may feel that the major changes in climate are a result of natural forces that are going to happen no matter what we do.  Others among you believe that actions we individually and collectively take to reduce our carbon footprint will at least delay the onset of changes that will threaten human life on earth.

One’s interpretation of the odds of something happening and the odds of being able to impact the outcome will determine to a large extent whether we act or take the Alfred E. Neumann approach and say, “What, Me Worry?”

Another factor that impacts our decision to act involves our character and our basic values.

My decision to continue to stick my head in the sand, hope for the best, and not to move away from Seattle to avoid The Big One may appear to some as ill-advised.  But my decision not to move away does not directly endanger others.

Inaction to address or act in some way to avoid a catastrophe that will impact others is less defensible.  When we ignore risks in cases where we can reduce the losses to others, we are are at least partially responsible for the outcome. In those cases we should act.

This abbreviated version of The Serenity Prayer, written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, seems to be the best advice:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And Wisdom to know the difference.”

 

 

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.

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”.

Government

As we are now one month away from the 2016 election I thought it would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on the role of government.

Before continuing I would like any anarchists reading this to immediately stop.

If you are still with me I assume you agree that some degree of government is needed for the six billion humans on this planet to survive. The ancients figured out pretty early on that some kind of order is needed to protect both life and property.

Fast forward to 1776. My understanding of the American experiment is that, for perhaps the first time in history, the ultimate power of government rested with “the people.” Well, at least with, “some of the people.” Rights were considered to be given by God, not received as a benevolent gift from some powerful person who was “in charge.”

I am still waiting for tickets to the Broadway musical Hamilton to really get the inside story on the conflict about “how” we should govern ourselves. At what point does “the greater good” override the “individual pursuits.” That fundamental unresolved question seems to have been with us Americans since the beginning.

Side Note to Canadian friends: Like most Americans, I am too ignorant to speak intelligently about the birthplace of my great-grandfather James Alexander Simpson. James Alexander was born in Ontario and never became a US citizen and lived here undocumented (illegally?) till he died.

My very limited understanding of the differences between our two democracies is that Canadians have a fundamental “right to good government” while Americans have an inalienable right to “ the pursuit of happiness.” The Canadian founding fathers seemed to me to have focused more on the collective good while their American counterparts focused on individual freedoms.

But I digress, as this post is limited to government as I have experienced it here in the US.

Inductive Approach – Bottom Up

Most news and talk we all hear this year is about the federal government and I will get to that, but I would rather start this discussion of government at the bottom and work my way up.

In Seattle we live in a condo and I serve as the treasurer on the board of our home owners association.   This is governmental politics at rock bottom, somewhere in the dirt below the grass roots politics.

In a condo disputes and different expectations between members on the type of governance needed must be resolved in a manner that has the best interest of the entire community as a goal.

Even at this lowest level of governance the decision makers have a direct impact on the quality of the lives of their neighbors in areas like security, aesthetics, social interactions, property values of the shared assets, and expenses. How people feel about the place they live is directly influenced by a few people entrusted with power, limited as it is at this level. People are dependent on other residents who volunteer their services.

I think there are direct parallels (and hopefully some good examples) from these simple democratic organizations and the basis for making decisions that are applicable on the national level.

These areas of governance are:

Rules and Structure

Taxes and Fairness

Management and Solvency

Membership and Access

The Greater Good and Service

These are not all of the functions of the Federal Government. Most notably I am not addressing National Defense. These five areas are, however, essential at all levels of governance.

The basic principles I have personally experienced as a board member on our condo homeowners association have application at the National Level.

Rules and Structure

In a condo it can’t be “every man for himself.” Individual freedom is fine, up to a point.

It is my business what I watch on TV, but when I had the sub-woofer turned way up while watching Game of Thrones and rattled the dishes in my upstairs neighbor’s apartment, I had gone over the line (sorry Laurie, Marianne warned me that I had overdone it on the special effects.)

Fortunately my neighbor respectfully requested I turn it down which I did immediately. In that case there was no reason for her to enforce “the rules”.

Most rules at all levels would be unnecessary if people were just courteous, kind, and respectful.

In our little condo the rule breakers’ indiscretions are pretty minor and most people are good neighbors.

But alas at the national level there are some truly bad apples among us. And there are also basically good people who just put themselves first without considering the impact on others.

So we are stuck with rules and some sort of authority to ensue order when necessary.

The documents governing our little condo exceed 30 pages.

At higher levels of government the numbers of pages of “rules” are beyond counting. But at any level there must be a degree of structure that has law and enforcement as a basis for order.

At the National level I often hear people talk about there being “too much regulation.” I rarely, however, hear the specifics that are essential in determining what should or should not be enforced/included in “the rules.”

And, news flash, this is a big country. And big countries need big government.   There are certainly areas in the federal government that can be improved and cut, but no matter what, with 360 million people, the rules book is going to be “huge” no matter what.

Taxes and Fairness

In the condo we also pay a form of taxes known at “dues” or assessments” that are used to pay for common building expenses. These taxes are assessed using a “fair share” that is based in our case on the size of our individual units – the bigger units pay more, the smaller ones less. My fair share is 2.4%.

This “fair share” was defined when the condo was built and we all knew what the definition of “fair share” meant when we bought our units.

Our condo association has an annual budget of about $90,000. This pays for insurance, a part time manager, utilities and maintenance out of an operating fund. We also have a “reserve” fund to pay for expenses we know we will have to pay in the future, like a new roof or elevator. Infastructure will eventually wear out and will need to be replaced. We need to plan and budget carefully for these future expenses.

“I am paying too much.”

I cringe when I hear simplistic statements like “Taxes (dues) are too high.” Too high for what? Too high for whom?

Talk to me instead about what services we might be able to reduce or curtail. Or identify specific efficiencies that can save money. Just don’t say they are “too high”, it is meaningless without context.

I also cringe when someone proposes spending money without identifying where it will come from. There really is no free lunch.

At the national level nobody really knows what that fair share should be. It seems that some very wealthy individuals who have benefited greatly from our society have contributed very little and in some cases nothing.

Everyone agrees the tax code is unfair, but so far neither party has significantly changed it except to “roll back” taxes as if that does not have impacts down the road. Personally I don’t see the difference between tax loopholes and taking money from one person and giving it to someone else.

Management and Solvency

How the money is managed is key. Even in our little condo there are legitimate questions about the need to spend money. An example is a monthly expense we have for a plant/ flower arrangement we have in the front lobby. There is a good case that the natural beauty of live plants enhances the quality of life in our condo. There is an equally good argument that we could substitute dried flowers for less money. This is a microcosm of the dilemma officials at all levels of government must face – making decisions between competing interests.

At the National level it is not enough to just say “government is too big” or there are “too many regulations.”

Tell me the specifics. Tell me the pros and cons of the alternatives. Compromise. Spend money like we do in the condo – like it was our own money.

Membership and Access

In the condo, every unit owner gets one vote. Citizenship is defined in our governing documents. This basically amounts to ownership being the key. Other people are allowed access to the building to visit members and to come into our condo to provide us services.

At the National level citizenship is a gift of birth or a reward for meeting the standards established to be granted citizenship. It seems pretty clear to me.

We do not, however, have a realistic, fair, or sustainable policy for the persons who we hire to provide us services but who are not citizens. There have been good bi-partisan efforts made in this area (e.g. the comprehensive immigration reform bill of 2013 written by the “Gang of Eight”), but these efforts have been stymied by extremists.

The Greater Good and Service

 As condo board members we have had to take positions that might inconvenience or restrict one or a small number of residents because the decision is best for the organization as a whole.

An example is our enforcement of rules that limit what changes can be made to the structure or exterior appearance of the building or common areas. Enforcement does limit the freedom of the individual somewhat, but the end result is better for all.

I, and I believe my fellow condo board members, try to act in a manner that is for the greater good of the whole organization.

Our national leaders should do the same.

In our condo we serve on the board and in committees. We hire a manager for some tasks, but spend many hours working without pay to ensure that things go well in our building/home. We serve.

Beyond lip service to the military and police, many politicians seem to have little respect for the concept “service” that our government employees provide. It seems popular to be critical of “big government”. I don’t appreciate members of Congress who lambast the VA for not giving Veterans better access to service but then fail to provide the resources needed to hire the staffing needed.  Service means service to others.

National Politics:

 “Where logic, wisdom, and good intentions meet reality, human frailty, and indifference in a win or lose battle.”

I have described some of the key functions of government and addressed how they should be approached, but I have not addressed the issue at hand nationally here in the US which is “Who” should run the government.

Nobody runs for office in our condo as a Democrat or Republican. The issues and solutions are really not “liberal” or “conservative.”

Is it liberal or conservative to “Plan wisely for the future”; “Apply rules justly and evenly”; “Consider how a decision will impact other people”; “Spread costs fairly”; or to “Help out your neighbor in need?”

Of course not. It is totally possible to be frugal and generous and fair at the same time. Both conservatives and progressives have some good ideas and intentions but they have to work together just like those of us at the lowest levels of governance do.

Keeping America Great

We all want the country to continue to succeed but it won’t happen without all of us playing our part.

As noted above, at the national level the idea of the greater good seems to be lost on many as does the concept of service. Rules and Structure seem to be just for “other people. We want it all, but we don’t want to pay our fair share. People want government off their backs, but they sure do like the subsidies and benefits of citizenship. We enjoy having the benefits of cheap foreign labor, but fail to establish a fair mutually beneficial scenario for these people.

My most memorable quote from the last election was a woman who was quoted as wanting the Government to keep “its hands of her Social Security.” And this year it seems like it is “brilliant” to avoid paying anything in federal taxes, as if this would be a good strategy for everyone. Really?

The 2016 Election

And the answer is…

I have always considered myself an independent. I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans for president at different times based on who I thought was the best for the country.

I really think that the best balance of government is when one party controls the White House and the other at least either the Senate or the House.

This division of power helps keep us from straying too far in either direction. I like it here in the middle. I wish there were more in here with me.

People on both sides wail about how we have a “stalemate.” Yes, it does seem that way if you watch the news, but as I look around the country I see much to be extremely happy about. Yes, there are lots of problems, some very serious, but AMERICA IS GREAT NOW. See my previous Blog post titled America if you think we are in deep trouble, we are not.

I’m With Her

Some of you on the right will cringe, as will some of you on the far left, but my vote will be cast for Hillary Clinton.

There is no other rational choice.

My assessment of Hillary is that she is very competent and level headed. She will, as her opponents accurately predict, give us “more of the same,” to which I can only say, “bring it on!” Things are going pretty darn well for the vast majority of Americans.

Hillary, if she works with Paul Ryan and other Republicans, can make incremental progress on a wide range of issues in each of the five areas of governance I described. We don’t need a revolution, evolution will do just fine.

Hillary sure ain’t perfect, nor is she as transparent or as forthright as she should be. And there is Bubba.

But…

The alternative is so much worse to contemplate.

I realize that for some of you voting for Hillary is like kissing your sister, you will do it, but it just feels icky.

However, voting for Donald is like French kissing your sister, it’s disgusting and just plain wrong.

I’ll spare you the details which have been (and will be) amply covered by so many others on why Donald represents a clear and unacceptable risk. I have boiled it down to the fact that he deals in hate and in fear. These two evil sins pose a threat to our great country.

I have seen no convincing evidence that Donald has the skills, or ability to learn the skills, necessary to be effective in government. Skill and experience in business may transfer somewhat in the area of management and possibly structure, but not much at all in the other areas I have identified above. The function and purpose of private enterprise is fundamentally different than those of government. Business experience does not in itself provide the skills needed in the five functional areas of governance that I discussed above, nor even at all in the even more important area of National Security which I did not address here.

My vote likely will not change the outcome for Washington State which is a pretty much a Navy Blue state.

Your vote, however, may make a difference in a state where it might be a close race. Some of my friends and relatives who get this blog live in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Iowa. Your votes will be very important.

When you do vote, please consider who would to the most predictably sound job (if not ideal) in each of these essential key areas of governance I have identified above:

Rules and Structure

 Taxes and Fairness

 Management and Solvency

 Membership and Access

 The Greater Good and Service

Also think about National Security, then vote your conscience.

God Bless America (& the rest of the world too!!)

 

 

America

If you spend much time watching TV news, trolling the internet, listening to talk radio, or, if you are old like me, reading the newspaper, one might come to the conclusion that the United States was going to hell in a hand basket.

Note to millennials – the newspaper was an ancient means of mass communication using a flat tactile substance made from pulverized and reconstituted wood fibers. It is more commonly known as paper. Ink is placed on this paper and writers’ reports and columnists’ ideas are transferred to the reader using these two medium – ink and paper. In a more primitive time young underpaid helmet-less boys riding bicycles with big bags on the front would throw these newspapers aggressively at your front door, occasionally breaking a window.

The “good news” that is reported (low unemployment, high stock prices, strong dollar, few US military deaths, technological advances, medical breakthroughs, decreased auto fatalities, record US auto production, lower violent crime rates, etc.) seems to be usurped by the bad news (Continued craziness in the middle east, terrorist activity around the globe, mass shootings, police related violence, and a national political scene seemingly pulled from an SNL skit).

So what’s really going on here in America?

In my blog entries I have tried to limit my opinions to areas where I have direct first-hand experience.  I do, however, form my own personal world view based on a number of sources beyond personal observation, which of course is limited. I have listed the sources I like and use below in a post script, but I don’t want to merely rehash the thoughts of others

So this blog on America is based on my personal observations.

Road Trip – 2016

I left Seattle on June 15 of this year on a 7,500-mile cross country road trip starting in Seattle, going through parts of Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.

Here is what I saw:

I saw or experienced no crime, nor even any scary people. Kind and friendly people were the norm virtually everywhere.

Gas was cheap. Trains were numerous, full, and moving in all directions. So were trucks which were hauling goods and raw materials, even in the most remote stretches of Montana.

Parking lots at malls and shopping centers were busy/mostly full.

I slept two nights in rest stops in the back of the car, and was never worried about my safety.

It is hard to judge local economics from a short visit or whistle stop, but you do get a vibe just from looking around. Some small towns seemed to be hurting with dilapidated buildings and not many signs of life. More, however, where vibrant and moving. Some of the big cities were booming, others plugging along.

I saw some people who seemed to be struggling with drugs or mental illness. I also saw a couple of food banks actively distributing food.

One rough looking guy hit me up for money for his family for dinner as I was walking in to order take-out at a pizza joint in Tulsa. He talked about being a Christian and being a hard worker. I don’t know if really I believed him, but we walked into the restaurant like we were together & I bought him a pizza along with my order. He thanked me and said he also appreciated that I had treated him with dignity. It may have been a line he had used many times, but I felt good about it and I also felt good about the people in the restaurant serving us as they did seem to treat him with the same respect they did me even though I suspect they knew him and that this was a regular occurrence.

Bathrooms were generally pretty clean almost everywhere, and when the men’s room was full in Shelby Montana, the clerk said “go ahead and use the ladies room” with not even a trace of irony or snicker. In North Carolina I did hear a bathroom joke, but it was not too mean spirited – mostly just sophomoric.

I saw many apparently Muslim women and families in places I had not expected to see them like rural Minnesota and rural Illinois. The were going about their business as if they belonged here. I saw no terrorists.

I heard Spanish and other languages I could not immediately identify being spoken in almost every state, usually interspersed with English.

On a reservation in Montana the clerk, after saying “Welcome to the Black Feet Nation”, asked if Marshawn Lynch had really retired. He had noted from my license plate that we were from Washington State and he was a big fan of the African-American Seattle Seahawks running back. We informed him that yes, Marshawn had retired, but that we had a new running back who we were excited about. He seemed pleased.

I saw some Trump signs on farms and some Bernie bumper stickers on cars. The yard signs I saw were almost all for local sheriffs or other local positions. I had expected to hear political talk in some of the rural dinners I ate in but there was none.

Mostly people were talking about the weather, local issues such as construction projects, gossip, and sports or hobbies. National politics and international problems don’t appear to have much impact on the real people I observed living their lives.

I had many conversations with the friends and relatives I stayed with across the country. Everyone I stayed with was either employed or happily retired. All seemed to have very nice living situations and recreational opportunities.

Their problems were personal/family in nature, primarily caused by illness of either the mind or body. Most had opinions on the national and international issues, but the bulk of the conversations were about what is real for them, family, health, jobs or retirement, and relationships.

The hundreds of people I observed personally during my trip were pretty impressive just being ordinary.

Of course I realize that I am a terminally “glass half-full kind of guy.” My slice of America is not necessarily representative, but it is very real.

And sure, the problems I did not observe on this trip but which are reported in the media are significant and there are many things to work on.

But what is so bad that we can’t make improvements without yelling, screaming, or creating hatred of people different from ourselves or fostering fear of change?

Bottom line for me:

America IS Great, right now!

PS

For the record, my smorgasbord of primary sources of information, news, and opinion beyond my personal experience are the following (in no particular order):

The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, Time Magazine, The Economist, Local TV news in Seattle and Gettysburg/York PA, PBS Newshour, NPR radio, CBS & NBC nightly news, USA Today, CNN, BBC, and, to keep it all juicy and unbalanced, MSNBC, FOX News and Facebook. I don’t tweet. I don’t watch entertainment/celebrity news, although sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. One of my favorite columnists is the somewhat conservative David Brooks of the New York Times and PBS Newshour. Here is a recent column he wrote about how we are doing: 

                                                                   Is Our Country as Good as Our Athletes Are? We’re doing pretty well, in and outside of sports. By DAVID BROOKS                                                                                                                                                             

War

On this Memorial Day it is altogether fitting and proper that we remember and honor the sacrifices of those service men and women who died in service to our country.  This is of course a doubly important day for Veterans like myself who “survived” when some of our fellows did not.  I lost three Marines in my Communications Platoon in 1969 and 13 of my fellow classmates at the USMC Basic School in Quantico lost their lives in Vietnam.

CIMG0177

Plaque at the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia honoring classmates from my Basic School class who died in Vietnam.

Words to Ponder

Last week the President gave a speech in Hiroshima.  The news reports I saw only published snippets of what he said. I also saw various comments on the Internet both pro and con so I took the time to read the entire transcript to decide for myself.

I was impressed by the thoughtful approach the President took to the timely (a mad man in N. Korea has nukes) and extremely important (the end of civilization as we know it) issue of nuclear proliferation.  President Obama rightfully pointed out that Hiroshima was a warning that the course of warfare has changed forever and raised the stakes so dramatically that it is imperative that we work diligently to keep the peace to the extent it is humanly possible.

There was certainly no apology as some might have you believe, rather there was an acknowledgement of what every soldier already knows:  That war is hell and it impacts civilians as well as military.

President Truman made the difficult decision to drop the bomb knowing that in doing so innocent women, children and even some American POWs would die.  He made the difficult decision to end the war that had already cost at least 60 million lives worldwide and prevent even more deaths that would surely have resulted from a full-blown invasion of Japan.

President Obamas talk was not, however, about Hiroshima per se, but rather about the larger issue of the consequences war itself (Which in this case Japan initiated) and what we (People of the world) can do to prevent, or at least limit, it in the future.

On this Memorial Day we would do well to think deeply about why these men and women we honor today died.  We must think about war.

My War

I can neither adequately explain nor can I fully understand why we were in Vietnam.  At the time I enlisted I believed that we had some sort of obligation to defend this small country from invasion and subversion by communist backed forces supported by China and Russia.

The prevailing argument for US involvement was to prevent the communists from taking over southeast Asia one small country at a time – the domino theory.  I remember counter arguments saying basically that we had no real interest in Vietnam and nothing to gain by fighting for the South Vietnamese regime.

I thought at the time (1967) that “helping the little guy”was actually was a more honorable reason to get involved than fighting a war for our own gain.

More important to me personally than the political arguments for fighting was the sense of obligation.  My great-great grandfather had fought with the 54th Ohio Regiment in the Civil War and was captured in the Battle of Chicamauga and spent some time at the dreaded Andersonville Prison in South Georgia as a POW.  My grandfather was a dough boy and fought in Europe in WW1.  Dad served in the Army Air Corps in WW2 and I had two uncles who served in Korea.  I had two cousin who had served in Vietnam  already.

It was my turn.  I left college and my girlfriend (Marianne), and enlisted in the Marines.

I won’t go into a long drawn out war story about boot camp, OCS,

and what it was like in Vietnam  – maybe in another post.

My purpose today is not to talk about me, but rather to the larger issue of War and why we should think about it today on Memorial Day.

My reasons for joining the Marines are relevant to this larger issue in that, like all soldiers in all countries and in all wars, I faced complex and vary confusing questions about “why” we were fighting and risking our lives.

Who Will Stand up to Bullies?

A friend of mine recently took his college age son to the American Cemetery at Normandy.  He reported that it was an extremely emotional visit.  His son also shared with him that many of his contemporaries in college express very strong and clear opinions that war is always wrong and that the United States is primarily an aggressor and the cause of the problem.

I too have heard these arguments and find them overly simplistic.  It does not help that they are often delivered with a heavy dose self-righteous indignation.

As the President also pointed out in Hiroshima, there are important reasons why we must be prepared to respond militarily.  He reminds us quite eloquently that throughout history there are those who have used military force against innocent people stating,

“On every continent, the history of civilization is filled with war, whether driven by scarcity of grain or hunger for gold, compelled by nationalist fervor or religious zeal. Empires have risen and fallen. Peoples have been subjugated and liberated. And at each juncture, innocents have suffered, a countless toll, their names forgotten by time.”

I am proud to have served in the military and believe that, although we have at times made serious, sometimes horrific mistakes, “Most of the time”, the United States has used it’s military power appropriately. The vast majority of men and women that I came in contact with over 29 years of military service are thoughtful people who try to do the right thing.

I believe even more strongly that it is folly to pretend that there are not evil forces in the world that must be stopped and stood up to.  Military action by it’s very nature guarantees death for some.  Some would say “the lessor of two evils is still evil”, to which I would respond, “Yes, but less evil is still better than more evil.”

As individuals and as a nation we don’t always get good choices and sometimes military action and the military service and loss of life that goes with it is necessary.

The answer to the “why” question related to war is not simple.

False Bravado

On the other end of the spectrum from those who believe that the US is always wrong going to war are people who talk about going to war like they were going to a sporting event.

Macho trash talk about “carpet bombing”, “kicking ISIS’s ass”, and loose talk about the use of nuclear weapons sickens me.  Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly but carry a big stick” has always resonated with me.

When a Veteran who has been in combat speaks about “kicking someone’s ass”  I figure he/she has earned the right to do so.  However, when a politician spouts out bellicose chest-beating bullshit about war or military tactics they know nothing about, I cringe.  Unless they or their own sons and daughters have served, they best speak reverently and very cautiously about war and the death that will accompany it.

Worst of all is the draft-dodging Donald Trump who “loves our veterans” but mocked and belittled John McCain and, by extension, all POWs to include my great-great grandfather by saying “I don’t like people who get captured, OK”.  POW’s may have survived their war without dying, but they also have experienced a type of hell that none of us can imagine.  To Donald I can only say, “Shut the fuck up asshole!”

Guess I got that off my chest.  Pardon my language, but the old Marine in me comes out when I get riled up about people disrespecting the sacrifice of others.

President and General of the Army Dwight David Eisenhower had good advice for us when talking about war,

“Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.”

Words Matter

The fact is that words about war do matter and need to be considered very carefully and thoughtfully.  In World War 2 one of the slogans was “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, meaning that talking about anything related to the war effort could be important intelligence that could give our enemies an advantage that would ultimately cost the lives of our soldiers, sailors, or Marines.

Today a similar situation exists in today’s war against terrorists when Americans with access to the world media inflame the situation by purposely aligning all Muslims with the fanatical terrorists who have killed ruthlessly across much of the world.  ISIS has killed way more of their fellow Muslims than they have Christians or Americans. Driving a wedge between peace loving Muslims and the US by equating “Islam” with “terrorists” feeds right into the hands of the these mad men who would love nothing more than to position their ruthless power grab as a religious war.  The Muslim world must ultimately play the dominant role in solving the problem of extremists, and we need their support.   “Political correctness” in the use of words about war makes perfect sense to me – it saves American lives.

The Dead

So where do the people we honor and remember today come in?

I think we do them the highest honor by recognizing not only their bravery and sacrifice, but also that we as citizens of this great nation must be engaged in the discussion of when and how we use military power.

When considering war we need to ask ourselves “why”.  This discussion should be conducted with the upmost clarity and seriousness.

Talk softly and think deeply when you visit their graves today.

Values

In my previous blog post titled “Goals” (You can scroll down to see older posts) which was prompted by talk about New Year’s resolutions, I bemoaned the realization that “goals” don’t help me that much when facing the more nuanced decisions I face in life.

I concluded in that “goals” post that I needed something more than just goals to help me make tough decisions. I do have some touchstones or directional guideposts that I can use to help me make decisions. One word for these touchstones is “values.”

The word “values” is way over-used and often misused to represent a code (e.g. “family values”) or equated to absolute universal truths. To me “values” are very personal and they are neither universal nor absolute.

I have always had trouble with absolute rules in life because there is always at least one exception to every rule. Values provide a flexibility and interpretation that hard and fast rules don’t allow. They point me in a direction without tying my hands like an absolute rule that forces me to make a choice that just does not seem right.

Where Do My Values Come From

My parents both died last spring at age 92. They pretty much lived by the Ten Commandments although I never heard either one say that they did. Even my Dad the Presbyterian minister rarely mentioned the Ten Commandments. Both Mom and Dad focused more on the New Testament teachings of Jesus to love one another, help the poor and sick, and “to do unto others” as they would have others do unto them. They did not so much preach as they walked the walk. They left the talking to others. They led by example. That they were Christian never had to be said. Dad never wore a clerical collar or ever introduced himself as “reverend”, just as “Jim.”

The Ten Commandments and teachings of Jesus seem pretty much on track, and certainly they influence me and my values, however, as a career soldier and Marine, that whole thing about not killing people and loving my enemies did pose a conundrum for me.

I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout although not exactly a stellar member, only making it to the rank of 2nd Class. I was in it for the fun and the camping trips. But I did retain some of the Boy Scout Oath and it seems to mostly ring true even today: A scout is brave, loyal, respectful, kind, courteous, helpful, etc.   Seems like they were on to something although they also included a rather loaded commandment to be “morally straight” which I have trouble accepting on several levels.

Superman had a pretty clear mission of fighting for truth and justice which seem admirable, but he also added in “and the American Way”, which, like “Morally Straight” is pretty hard for me to wrangle in. These kind of “coded values” can be whatever one wants it to be and they can be used to justify otherwise bad behavior and hatred.

So as helpful as these lists of rules and descriptions of right and wrong may seem, they don’t answer all questions and I find I have to pick and choose. None are absolute, save perhaps, “love one another.”

Just Do the Right Thing

“Trust your gut, Jim.” At various times I have heard that phrase from friends, counselors, bosses, and from family members trying to help me make a decision. I am sure that they all meant well, but this approach does not help me to decide the really hard choices.

Some decisions, even though they may cause you physical or financial pain or inconvenience, are pretty clear. I don’t commit felonies and I pretty much obey the lessor rules, like not butting in line. I will wait at the corner until the “white man walking” lights up, even if others have looked both ways and gone against the orders of the “red hand”.

These are not the kind of decisions that confuse me and they are not what I am talking about in this post even though there is clearly a relationship between these “rules of the road” and underlying values like fairness, safety, citizenship, etc.

Competition Sucks

What I am most troubled by are really tough things to decide, the ones which involve competing values:

“Should I sit in my easy chair, read the paper, drink coffee and savor the moment, or write that thank you note to someone who has helped me recently?”

“Should I give the homeless guy a buck or follow the advice to not further enable an addict?”

“Do I “Follow my dream/passion”, as is a popular theme lately, and thereby, put myself first; or do I do what needs to be done for a greater good, something I am good at even if it is not something I truly enjoy?”

When “values” compete I have a hard time deciding what to do.

The Chicken or the Egg?

Cognitive dissonance is a term I remember from grad school – not sure exactly what course, but hey, it stuck somehow. Shrinks and marketing gurus use cognitive dissonance to describe the phenomenon of people allowing their actions, not their values, to drive their future decisions.

The text book example I remember is a big purchase decision on something like a car. If you are trying to choose between one that has a higher safety record or one which has better mileage you may be stuck (dissonance) between these two values – safety and economy.

Once a choice is made, however, people then change the relative importance of that value to fit their action. So, if you choose the “safe” car, you now value safety more than economy. You are now more likely to not only say that, but to make a similar choice in the future.

An example might be Volvo purchasers who tend to stick with “safe” cars in the future, or Prius owners who go with high mileage or hybrid cars. The act of buying a Prius makes you value efficiency more. The cart is now in front of the horse.

How is This Working For Me?

For identifying values to live by this concept of cognitive dissonance creates the whole chicken or egg discussion. I think that many times in my life I have adjusted my values to match the decisions I have made previously.

When I did not squeal on classmates in HS who had cheated on tests or committed various acts of vandalism, I certainly justified this by saying (at least to myself) how much I value loyalty.

When I joined the Marines, patriotic duty became relatively more important value than the “Thou shall not kill” commandment.

When I moved to a new suburb outside Atlanta for “good schools” the value of education for my children became more important than value of supporting integration and ethnic diversity.

Whether the decision is ultimately “a good one” or “a bad one” I still have justified these decisions, at least initially, by changing my value system so that my values were “in sync” with what I had done. In cases where the decision turns out to be really “bad” in the long run, it is very helpful that “forgiveness” is one of the key elements of Christianity – we all need an out.

And So the Point Is?

As I look back, sometimes my values have helped me to do the “right” thing, sometimes not. Often what seems “right” changes over time. My values don’t seem to have changed radically, but they have evolved. I am pretty sure that most of you reading this have had similar experiences about decisions you have made in your lives.

So after all this, I have to conclude that I can’t really look totally to a set of “values” alone to help me figure out what to do in a tough situation. I really have to go to a higher source for the answers:

What’s it all about Alphie?

Fear

“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” FDR

“There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.” Hunter S. Thompson

“Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest mother-fucker in the valley.” Senior Drill Sergeant D.C. Curran, USMC Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC 1967.

It is difficult to pick up the paper (Yes, I still read real papers) or watch, read, or hear anything on TV, radio, or the Internet without coming across the growing idea that fear is a primary driver of our national and world politics and culture.

In this posting I won’t try to evaluate fear politics on the global or national level. While these are vitally important issues, there are plenty of opinions on these matters available from way too many sources already.

And I won’t try to tell anyone else what they should or should not be afraid of. If I did so I might offend some of you, and I have no desire to do that. And of course, I don’t have the answers to those questions about other people anyway – I doubt anyone does.

But I can share with you my answers to the question I have often asked myself: “What are you afraid of Jim?”

Fear drives behavior. For the cave man it was either fight or flight. Do we have better options? Are we “running” or “fighting” needlessly when there is no real danger to us personally. Saber toothed tigers were pretty clearly dangerous. Today, the dangers are more nuanced and less clear.

There are many dangers out there that need to be acknowledged by a wise person. I do strive to be wise, although many would say I have only gotten as far as being recognized as a “wise guy.”

So it is prudent to periodically review what I am, and am not, afraid of because fear drives behavior. Fear can hold me back and keep me from being a better person and achieving meaningful goals. Fear can also save my butt.

Sometimes there is Real Danger, but “What can I do?”

Living in Seattle I am fully aware of the cataclysmic potential of “The Big One.” A megathrust earthquake will occur one of these days in the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the Washington State coast. The San Juan De Fuca plate will suddenly slip further under the North American plate.

All hell will break lose all along the southern BC, Washington, and Oregon Coasts. The last time this happened in 1700 it caused a magnitude 9 earthquake.  Whole Salish Nation villages all along Washington’s coast and in the Puget Sound disappeared forever.  A huge tsunami crossed the Pacific and pounded Japan.  For point of reference, magnitude 9 would be 10 times stronger than the largest earthquake ever in California including the one in San Franciso in 1906.  It could happen here at any time, and you do not want to be in Seattle when it does.

I am aware that this might happen, but when? And what am I supposed to do now? Leave town? FEMA advises stocking up 3 days of supplies but this does not seem to be much help when the entire region will not have clean water or electricity for months.

Am I better off just getting crushed at the outset or starving to death in the post-apocalyptic mess that would be left? The threat of a megathrust earthquake is very real but I don’t know what I can do about it. So I just hope it happens another 200 years or so from now and, although it is a very real danger, I am not really afraid of it. It does not change the way I live day-to-day.

Other real dangers fall into this category: meteors hitting earth, untreatable pandemics, nuclear annihilation, lightning strikes, drunk drivers hitting you head on with no warning, rare forms of cancer, being killed by an Islamic terrorist, or by some other a wacko with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in a movie theater. There is not much I can do to limit the risk of these events and really, these things will either happen or they won’t.

The risk of any of these terrible things actually happening to me personally on any given day are pretty remote. So I don’t really worry about them much and, therefore, I am not really afraid of them. They don’t influence my behavior very much if at all. They don’t dominate my life.

What am I afraid of?

There are some dangers for which I find fear is a useful ally. This would include some of what I consider “common sense” observations of dangerous situations. For these dangers I allow fear to drive me to take action and/or change my behavior: I no longer drink and drive. I stay away from dark alleys in questionable neighborhoods. I quit smoking and don’t add salt to food. I try not to engage with obviously aggressive people (alone or in gangs) on the street or on the road. I take lots of showers when I am in “tick” country. I no longer run on ice or at the pool or with scissors. I don’t get very near the edge when there is a long way to fall. I am a cautious fellow and I do not have any desire whatsoever to participate in any dangerous sports like wing suit base jumping. I am not a risk taker when there is a clear and present danger.

My biggest fear personally right now is for my son Josh. The uncertainties surrounding his long term and current medical and mental status are daunting and sometimes seem overwhelming. Right now this fear of the unknown overrides all other fears and as such, drives most of my behavior. This crisis situation will hopefully not be the case much longer for Josh and then I can get back to being afraid of other things.

On a lessor scale I am also afraid of my own tendency to overeat and drift towards red meat, deep fried anything, and ice cream. In this case I know the danger/health risks and can make a difference, but I don’t take the steps I should to protect myself. Maybe I should be more afraid here – it might motivate me to do better.

I am afraid of this category of “more present” real dangers, and I try to take actions to avoid them. They do impact my behavior, and I think my “fear based” responses are rational.

Things that don’t scare me at all.

I try very hard not to react or, more to the point, over-react, to those things that are really not at all a danger to me personally. There seems to me no reason to be afraid of things that are really not dangerous.

Included in this category of “non-dangerous” things for me are almost all people I have ever come across except for the aforementioned aggressive types and the NVA (North Vietnam Regular Army) we Marines were fighting in Vietnam. They were actually trying to kill us so yes, I was afraid of them.

I have no general fear of any of the following: Mexicans, Muslims, gays, lesbians, Syrians, immigrants, homeless, bi-sexual or transgender persons, communists, socialists, African-Americans, Arabs, Asians, or for that matter, not even the most feared people of all, the Canadians.

When I left Vietnam I was lucky enough not to have had PTSD and was no longer afraid of the NVA. I would love to go back to Vietnam and actually meet some NVA, especially any who fought in I Corps where I was. Any fear I had of them then was circumstantial, they were serving their country, I mine. The NVA were dangerous then not because they were Vietnamese, but because we were on opposite sides and in a war zone.

Also included in this ‘no fear’ category for me are most of the organizations that I will ever come in contact with: the police, COSTCO, Pacific Medical, organized religion, the IRS, the Republican Party, the Sierra Club, unions, big corporations, committees of all kinds, the dentist, lawyers, or even telemarketers. I may not like them all equally, and some may be annoying as hell, but I see no clear or present danger to me personally from any of them. Therefore, I am not afraid of them. They don’t limit me nor do they dominate my life/thinking.

It’s not all about me.

Well, enough about me and my fears. As noted before, this is by no means a prescription for others. Fears will rightfully be different for every person. I personally have very little fear of ISIS, but many service men and women deployed in the middle east daily face a very real clear and present danger from ISIS or other terrorists. They should be afraid.

Maybe you too can ask yourself these questions:

     “What am I afraid of?”

      “Why am I afraid?”

      “What am I not afraid of?”

      “Am I really in any clear or present danger?”

      “Do these fears limit me or dominate my life/thinking negatively?”

Peace and love to all,  

Jim

Goals

Goals

It’s that time again: New Year’s Resolutions.  These are promises made to be broken – proof positive of a fundamental flaw in one’s character.

This year I bought myself a Fitbit for Christmas.  This wrist band device counts steps taken with a default goal of reaching 10,000 steps a day.  This number is supposed to be a good rule of thumb for a minimum amount of daily exercise.  Now the pressure is on.  Will I meet my daily goal?

I am ambivalent about the value of goals.  Of course, I am ambivalent about many, if not most, things, hence the name of this blog “The Middle Ground”.

Like many of you, I have a “to do” list that never seems to get shorter.  Even now that I am retired my list is way longer than the time or money available to satisfy it.  I plug away at the list and occasionally “Check one off.”  But I am not sure if I am actually achieving what I should.  Am I meeting my goals?

So I do see some value in having quantifiable or at least identifiable goals.  Did I get it done or not?  How many times did I actually do what I said I would?  Is there more that I should be doing?

Goals can also help me in making daily choices about how I spend my time and money.  I can ask myself, “Which choice will get me closer to my goal?” Often having a goal sets up a “yes” or “no” choice that is easier  for me to make.

The Fitbit keeps me honest by actually counting the steps I have taken.  I may think I have done a good deal of exercise, but then I push a button and see that I am significantly below my 10,000 step goal.  This goal motivates me to get off my butt and take an evening stroll.

And yet there are things that bother me about goals.

People and organizations I have known or been a part of set goals using metrics that are easy to count: Quarterly sales, enlistments, re-enlistments, revenue, income, repetitions, miles, pounds, membership, and even attendance in church.

Yet even the best metrics always seem to miss something qualitative.  I know skinny people who don’t look healthy; I’ve seen revenue manipulated to influence quarterly performance/stock prices; I’ve seen that money alone does not buy peace of mind or happiness;  and I have even known people who go to church regularly who are really not good people.   The goals may have been met, but all was not as it should be.

Setting goals seems to force me into comparing myself with others.  “Ryk lost 50 pounds, surely I can lose 25.”  Comparing myself to others then sets up a competitive situation.  Being competitive (and winning) is great fun in games and pretty much mandatory in war, but in all other aspects of life I find collaboration and cooperation much more effective, productive, and rewarding.

Goals that involve “beating” someone else just don’t give me satisfaction. Competition also makes me a loser.  Even if I “win” more than I lose, I am still a loser at some point.  Why be a loser at all?

Even the most successful businesses don’t really “beat” the competition, they find markets where there is no competition and offer goods or services no one else has.  They didn’t “win” the game, they invented a new game.

You can’t really set a goal when there is nothing previous against which to measure.  You kind of know success when you see it. That’s more like having a vision than a goal. 

People who have made a significant difference in our world in my life time such as Bill Gates, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Einstein, have been innovative and have stretched old limits, but there successes were not exactly “goal based”.  They did not even know the limits of their personal impact, so how could they have defined a goal?  Value based, yes.  Goal based, no. 

And having multiple goals makes for more difficult decision making: “Do I keep my budget goal for the month or buy this fitness device that will help me with my weight loss goal?

Of course I could set a singular goal like an Olympic athlete does.  Then the decisions would be easier, but I fear becoming very one dimensional which I have become at various times in my life.  I don’t look back on those times fondly.

“So which is it Jim, goals or no goals?”

I plan to continue to use goals and “to do” lists but not beat myself up if I don’t make them.

Oh, so just want to be let off the hook if you don’t make your goal?”, you might ask or, “You must be willing to settle for mediocrity?”

Hmmm, those are good questions.

The school book answer (and a pretty weak one) is something like, “I will review my goals periodically and adjust them based on new circumstances and updated information.”  I have used answer that in the past but it never really seemed quite honest.  It is basically a BS answer.

A better answer has something to do with focusing on values and having a moral compass.  I’ll work on that answer and get back to you in a future post to this blog.

Take CARE Always,

Jim

Hi, this is Jim Simpson. I am starting a blog called “Middle Ground”.

Hi friends,

I am starting a blog which I intend to use to share thoughts and ideas I have with a wide range of people I know.  People I don’t know are welcome too.  One of my favorite sayings is “For every difficult or complex problem there is an easy solution…and it is wrong.”  There are many sides to virtually all important questions and I tend to be “in the middle” on many if not most of them.  I am pretty “gray” in my thinking and find few things that are “black or white.”  That being said, I hope to use this blog to learn and to share.   More soon.

Jim