Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good vs. Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are six steps we can take:

Be Prepared to Kill the Evil Bastards

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lock ‘em Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cut Them Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punish Their Enablers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help the Poor Bastards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compromise, Dammit

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

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

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

There are some compromises we need to make:

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

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

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

Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth

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

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

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

“Truth or Consequences.” Bob Barker

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

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

… and the truth will set you free.” Jesus

“In vino veritas.”

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

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

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

The bar is much lower now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

So what sources to do you rely on Jim?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim’s Recommendations

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

Radio

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

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspapers

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

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

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

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

Magazines

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

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

The Internet

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

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

Books

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

Lies and misconceptions.

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

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

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

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

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

Do Facts = The Truth?

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

Critical Thinking Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respect

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage

Battle of Gettysburg – Brickyard*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healthcare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Immigration

                        Sunday, March 19, 2017

RE: Immigration Reform

Dear Senators Murray and Cantwell,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your consideration of this idea.

Respectfully,

Jim Simpson
Seattle, WA

PS – Keep up the good work.

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

Benchmarks

Give Trump a Chance

Dear friends and family,

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

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

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

Benchmarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim

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

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

Amelioration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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