These truths should be self-evident

There is always much to comment on in our wonderful world of imperfection. I thought I would pick a few truths that I believe should be self-evident, but sometimes get lost in the weeds, especially with leaders who try to mask them. In no particular order:

CIA Report on Torture

The CIA is denial mode parading out several former directors and experts who say “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” were legal and gained us a lot of evidence and the Feinstein report is incorrect. I heard one refuse to call EIT what it is – torture. From where I sit, I have been against torture from the outset. The ends do not justify the means. If we do not hold ourselves to a higher standard, then we are just another country.

While the report is not 100% accurate, it is likely directionally correct and more right than wrong. And, a war crimes prosecutor countered the CIA argument saying torture has never been as successful as the FBI rapport building protocols used by law enforcement. Irrespective of the veracity of torture methods, we must be better than this and should not get down in the mud with the worst captors. Note, my friend Barney has two great posts the past few days on the CIA torture fallout. Here is a link to the more recent one: http://mountainperspective.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/fallout-from-the-torture-report/

Putin the Producer

I saw a western educated producer for faux-reality shows on the Russian owned television station being interviewed. Three things he noted I found illuminating. First, while we know the news includes a great amount of propaganda, what I failed to understand is the Russian news has made the Ukraine battles all about fighting America and the west. The producer noted in the US, we speak of it more as a battle in the Ukraine against Russian backed rebels.

Second, he noted that on the various faux-reality shows, the Russian leadership requests that extreme points of view be included on both ends with an intent to make Putin look like he is a moderate, galvanizing influence. His point is if people see what crazy looks like, it makes Putin look more statesmanlike.

Third, the polls that show Putin with favorability ratings give a false impression. He said many who say they like Putin, fear him, not like him. I found this akin to the elections where Saddam Hussein would get 97% of the vote. People dare not publicly come out against him or they may wind up in jail.

US Economy doing pretty well with a positive trend

The economy has returned to better numbers with a month-by-month series of job increases dating back several years. The last two months have shown even better job increases in the right places, some wage growth and good GDP growth. And, the expectation is for 2015 to be an even better year. This is the same time the rest of the world is suffering more.

Republican leadership has noted we should have numbers like we did last month all of the time. What I find interesting is Republicans have a much worse historical track record on GDP, stock market and job growth than under Democrat white houses. And, it is not even close, even when the data is corrected for trends. While the President role gets too much credit and blame for the economy, the data does not support the GOP’s claim that it is the party of job creation and actually reveals the opposite.

Affordable Care Act Healthcare Exchanges are working pretty well

While critics keep hammering away at the complex and imperfect Affordable Care Act, second year enrollment has gone pretty well and the numbers will likely bear it out. More insurance companies are involved to increase competition, the median premium increase is 4% although it varies by market, the CBO reduced its medical inflation projections and a few more states expanded Medicaid.

My focus from the outset is getting people access to care will help people in poverty or near-poverty, which is a huge problem in our country. Also, the access will help the state economies and budgets of rural hospitals who had such high percentages of indigent care. So, if the ACA is done away which runs counter to what 65% of Americans want, it will screw a lot of people in need.

My advice to the GOP, is back off the repeal rhetoric and make the law better. I would also ask that saner heads prevail and pull the lawsuit in front of the Supreme Court. If the use of subsidies in the federal run exchange is over turned, that would be a damn shame. This should be remedied in any bill to improve the law. And, to those states who did not expand Medicaid, please do so, as you are harming significant numbers of people in your states and your economies.

Gas Price reductions are not just supply glut, demand has fallen

This story makes me smile for several reasons. It is helping fuel the US recovery, pun intended, as people have more money to spend on other things. The falling prices are also due to reduced demand as well as over-supply. I recognize that demand for gas is less impacted by price, but the demand has fallen due to more economical driving.

In my view, as the economy improved beginning a few years ago, people starting buying new cars and trucks. What is important to the equation is the newer cars and trucks are required to have better miles per gallon standards. This was very wise move by Presidents Bush and Obama. So, even though a truck buyer bought another truck, if the average mpg improves from 15 to 25 mpg, that added ten miles per gallon has an impact when you consider people bought 750,000 new trucks, e.g. That is not counting the improved mpg for cars. And, the standards are getting better, so hopefully demand will lessen further.

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I recognize that much of the above is based on my opinion, but I have done my best to make sure my opinions have grounding in fact. I welcome viewpoints from others.

 

Ancestry Holes

I have returned to http://www.ancestry.com to update some new information on our ancestry, primarily on my wife’s family. The website is a powerful tool, but be prepared for it to suck you in and not let you resurface for hours. It is both fascinating and addictive, so be wary. The addictive nature is one reason I had to take a hiatus a few years ago. But, if you like history and/ or puzzles, you will love digging into the website tool. Trust me, there will be mysteries to be solved, given common names and lack of specificity in the information you search with.

What is interesting about our two family histories is their similarities and size. For the record, you can easily confirm that the “rhythm method” was a poor means of birth control. Plus, rural families as in our heritage tended to have more kids for labor supply. And, the further back you go, two additional things will pop out. First, it was not uncommon for people to marry second cousins, as the circles of social exposures were somewhat restricted. That makes interesting family trees.

Second, the other noteworthy observation is the huge damage that disease and war inflicted on families in the mid-1800s on. You will see far too many deaths of young people. The diseases were as crippling as the wars, as this is when cholera, dysentery, and other mixed sewage/ drinking water-borne diseases hit many, especially in larger cities and impoverished rural areas around the world.

You will also find mysteries that cannot be solved. In both of our families, we have a mysterious birth where the mother is not identifiable in the records. In my father’s family case, his mother’s mother is a mystery with only a father noted. This is likely due to one of two events – the father sired a child out-of-wedlock with someone the family disapproved of and the child was raised by a member of his family, in this case his teenage sister. Or, what I think happened, is the teenage sister was the actual mother after having an encounter with a young man, and the older brother’s name was posted as father to mask the public awareness of the true mother and the unfortunate shame that goes with that.

On my wife’s side, two similar stories occurred. Her mother’s mother was adopted. Yet, the adoption masks the true story that the grandmother was the child of young man from a well-to-do family who loved the daughter of their housekeeper, whose name may or may not have been known.  The family of the father of the child would not let the son have anything to do with the child, so she was eventually adopted by someone who likely was helping out the real mother. My guess is the young mother and her family were likely very poor, so needed to give the baby up for adoption or the adopting family knew the young mother and wanted to help.

Going further back, we have learned my wife’s great great grandmother did not have a husband. She had tryst with an Englishman who remains the unknown father of my wife’s great grandfather. In fact, he was given her last name. She was banished from the house, but was allowed to live in a smaller house on the property. She was both independent and beloved.

My father was very silent on these issues and I wish he was still around to ask. He may not have even known the true story. My father was not very close nor did we spend any time with his true parents who divorced and moved far away from each other and him. We spent more time with the aunt (the teenage sister noted above) and her family who helped raise his mother and also raised him after his parents divorced. My wife’s family knows the gists of both stories about their grandmother and great great grandmother, but the names are not officially known, although come under speculation.

My guess is these kinds of mysteries or “ancestry holes” exist in more than a few families. So, be prepared as you go back in time for some mysteries, which may or may not be solvable. If you do go back, middle names or initials are most helpful, as well as places where they lived or were born. Happy hunting.

As a white man with a few years under his belt

I wrote recently about context being lost in the discussion about Ferguson and the many other cities where dark-skinned males were killed by uniformed officers. I mentioned it is difficult for a white man, like myself, to understand what a black man goes through on what should be more routine occurrences. But, let me start with what I do know. As a white man, I have witnessed if I dress cleanly and neatly, I pretty much can go anywhere I please and not be questioned. The older I have gotten makes it easier as I look I am above-board in today’s society. Even if I look less than my best, I am typically not viewed as a threat, even when stopped by a patrolman.

The converse is true for a black man. Many black men of wealth and success have written when they are stopped today by a patrolman, even if well dressed, the thought that they need to move very deliberately comes to the forefront of their minds. The thought that this might be the last thing I do on earth comes to mind. I wrote recently about the example of a successful black man dressed for a funeral was stopped and treated as a potential felon. Black men or youth who are not clean-cut do not stand a chance at being treated fairly. They are profiled before they open their mouths.

Being profiled places a law officer on an alert status. As a result, they may be more prone to act with violence to apprehend a suspect. There is a predisposition to act. This is where the training needs to come in – how do I remain alert, without thinking violence is an inevitable action. Leonard Pitts, the national columnist who writes for the Miami Herald, noted a comparison to an older white man who was threatening people with a rifle. Over 45 minutes, the officers talked him into giving up his weapon. In Cleveland, a twelve-year-old black boy with a stun gun was killed inside of two minutes.

Think about that for a few minutes. That is context for why black men and women feel there is unfair treatment in the eyes of the law. They do because there is. And, that is what needs to change.

The better part of me

One of our favorite songs since the turn of the century is “Superman” recorded by Five for Fighting and penned by John Ondrasik. I am intrigued by the humanity afforded Superman in the haunting lyrics. But, the words that resonate the most with me are the lines spoken as Superman, “I’m just out to find, the better part of me.” Here is the first half of the song.

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me
I’m more than a bird. I’m more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me
Wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see
It may sound absurd, but don’t be naive
Even Heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed, but won’t you concede
Even Heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me

To me, the song reveals even a superhero has insecurities, wants and dreams. Even a superhero is searching to find “the better part of me.” We are an imperfect people. While we have true heroes that live and breathe amongst us, they are imperfect just like everyone else. So, we should not hold people up to a higher standard, as they will only fail to live up to those standards. Even if heroic or a great leader, they will also be imperfect.

One of the finest people ever to walk the earth was Mother Teresa, a true light for many. Yet, Mother Teresa noted in her journal that she prayed to God when she felt less pious. When she was broken down and tired, she prayed that she could get back to a better place. She prayed to rekindle “the better part of me.” In a recent survey published in Reader’s Digest, ministers also noted that there are occasions when they feel less pious and need to find their way back.

Gandhi was in a similar predicament. Here was an attorney who decided his life’s calling would be to fight for the disenfranchised. He would use his voice and body to say things are not right through civil disobedience. Yet, he was imperfect and had enemies as well. Martin Luther King took to heart Gandhi’s civil disobedience and adopted the strategy in the US during the civil rights fight. Yet, MLK was not perfect either. But, both Gandhi and Martin Luther King lived “the better part of me” and because of that, helped millions and are heroes to many.

I wrote recently about the wonderful series on PBS by Ken Burns on The Roosevelt’s – Teddy, Eleanor and Franklin. All came from the elite and were by no means perfect. Teddy could be a bully and liked notoriety. But, Teddy hated unfair advantage and wanted folks to have equal opportunity, a “square deal,” he called it. Eleanor was strident in her convictions, but was shy and aloof and turned many off, until she learned how to cultivate relationships and use her powers of persuasion to do great things. Franklin would use his version of the bully pulpit to get things done. He also had several affairs. But, he helped save the world from tyranny, promoted the New Deal and helped America focus its manufacturing muscle on the war effort. Each accomplished a great deal for this country and our world is better place because of them.

These folks are all heroes. Yet, they are all imperfect. For some reason, we have forgotten this and want our leaders to be perfect in every way. By the numbers, Bill Clinton may be the best president we have had in the last fifty years, yet he had a wandering eye and an impeachment scandal evolved when one tryst occurred in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan is touted as the paragon for conservative presidents and did many good things, yet he was almost impeached over the Iran-Contra affair and did not believe we should sanction South Africa for Apartheid, his veto fortunately being overturned. Yet, Reagan’s ad lib comment in a speech helped bring down the Berlin Wall among some of his other accomplishments.

We are not perfect either. We will  make mistakes just like everyone else. We should do the best we can and find “the better part of me” for ourselves. If we can do this, we can more legitimately expect others to do the same, especially our leaders. We can also treat others like we want to be treated. And, that includes forgiving others for mistakes, as we would hope they would do with ours.  No one is perfect, not even Superman.

Context gets lost in Ferguson Discussion

In the wake of the tragedy over the Michael Brown shooting and the grand jury declining to pursue an indictment of police officer Darren Wilson, context for the discussion seems to have been lost. Some who look at the failure to indict as vindication for a beleaguered police officer are focusing more on the event and not the underlying causes, in other words, the context. I am not going to sit in judgment over the people serving on the grand jury. They saw testimony and information the larger public did not see, so for me to question their decision, would be an uninformed or partially informed opinion. I do lament that a young, imperfect man is dead and that is unfortunate.

The part that should be looked at more is the expectation of the African-American community that an indictment would not be forthcoming. They hoped for an indictment, but knew in their hearts that Wilson would not be so charged. What does that say? It validates that there are two Americas, one where opportunity exists, and one where opportunity is limited or non-existent. It validates that African-American people expect to be maltreated. We should be asking why have these people lost hope.

Yet, it is not just race that is a factor, although a high percentage of those disenfranchised are of color. We have a poverty problem in this country that impacts people off all races, ethnicities, political persuasions and geographies. Poverty exists in rural towns, just as much as it does in urban and suburban settings. And, America is no longer the land of opportunity like it used to be, as we have greatly fallen in the ranks of socio-economic class mobility. So, this context is important. This type of disenfranchisement is debilitating.

Also, we seemed to have lost sight that we live in communities. The law enforcement officers should represent and reach out to the communities. There are great examples where community policing has done marvelous things to reduce crime. The proactivity and accessibility of law enforcement officers provides a calming service to the community. I read a great example as it relates to drunk driving which applies here. Rather than stop and cite drunk drivers once they got behind the wheel, a community police force started positioning officers outside of nightclubs and sports bars. These officers would suggest to obviously inebriated people that they should not drive and would call them a cab.

Right now, with more Americans armed, the police have to be more armed and more adept at using the weapons. Per Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book “Blink,” officers need to be taught to be judicious with the use of force when confronted. The premise of “Blink” is there is a predisposition to act based on gut instincts and it is crucial that officers are trained and re-trained to not act rashly or based on biased expectations. This is a key reason why African-American males are at greater risk than other males. This is key reason African-American mothers have the “talk” with their male children (that white mothers do not need to have) about being extra careful with any movements when approached by the law.

This issue is complicated and deserves good dialogue about the underlying context and potential solutions. It does not deserve politicians, pundits and leaders arguing over misconceptions and innuendo. I do not like that some have resorted to violence, looting and destruction. This does not serve a good purpose and the wrong people are punished. I do not like that Brown’s body was treated so poorly after his death. I do not like that questions may still exist about the circumstances of his death, but smarter people than me will need to look into what the grand jury may not have seen. And, I do not like people short-changing the disenfranchised, by not understanding fully the context of their disenfranchisement. Unless someone has walked in their shoes, they truly do not understand why hope can seem lost.

And, it should not be lost that other African-American youth have died recently, as before, at the hands of the law no matter how justified the act. So, Michael Brown has not died alone. Let’s remember that context, as well.