Prayers are not enough

There is an old joke where a man prays and prays for God to let him win the lottery. After years of praying, he asked God why have you forsaken me and deny me winning the lottery? The clouds parted and God said “It would help if you bought a ticket.”

After yet another gun tragedy, many have offered prayers in public places for the victims and their families, even in the halls of Congress. Being a religious man, I am all for praying, but after so many gun tragedies, it is time we “bought that lottery ticket” and take legislative action. The status quo is not working and legislators are simply not doing their job.

I have written variations of this several times and will have to write it again in the future as our Congressional representatives are too concerned with upsetting the NRA than trying to solve an obvious problem. For example, we have 300 million guns, one for each person in the US, and have over 30,000 gun deaths per year. Japan has an average of one gun per 100 people and had 27 gun deaths for the whole country last year. And, that increased from 8 the year before.

Yes, gun deaths are a mental health issue. They are also a lack of civil discourse issue, they are a drug crime issue, they are a violent entertainment issue, but make no mistake they are an access to gun issue. This is especially true for guns that can kill far too many at one time. But, mass shootings are only part of the problem – the bigger problems happen every day, suicides and homicides. 2/3 of our gun deaths are suicides.

There are measures that can be taken that will help if done holistically. We could begin with by unwinding the horrible legislation that Congress passed and Trump signed that allows 75,000 Social Security mentally health disabled people to be left on the OK to buy a gun list. We could also stop attacking the ACA and its Medicaid expansion which provide mental health benefits. These two practices fly directly in the face of calling gun deaths a mental health issue,

We could follow the lead of states with tighter gun laws and lower gun death rates and start conducting background checks on all purchases and have more elongated waiting periods. We could require gun safety training that must be renewed. We could encode all bullets to help with crime solving and finger print control weapons to prevent child deaths.

And, I am firm believer that no citizen should have fully automatic weapons or even semi-automatic weapons. These weapons have no place in a non-military person’s hands.

King Solomon encourages us to use our brains in Proverbs. Why would God give us this wonderful creation between our ears, if He did not expect us to use it? I have spoken before that people pray for miracles, but isn’t our brain a wonderful miracle that can help solve problems? We are the solution to the problem.

We must act. Our legislators must act. If they do not, we need to share our concerns and share them again. It is obvious doing nothing is not working.

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Finding your Roots

My wife and I have become fascinated by the PBS show called “Finding your Roots.” Historian Henry Louis Gates hosts three people of prominence and shares with them interesting things he discovers about their ancestry.

The show provides a rich and personal history lesson to the three guests and the audience. We have learned many things we did not know, especially when races and ethnicities intermingle or families flee bigotry, enslavement or persecution.

Here are a few of those learnings:

– every family has unusual circumstances or secrets that may not have been shared, as the information may have been embarassing, highly personal or even dangerous if others knew.

– there were some freed African-Americans living in areas of the South and more surprisingly, some of these freed African-Americans owned slaves.

– we knew of African-Americans that fought for the Union, but some fought for the Confederacy, and some of those fought for the Union after their City fell to the Union.

– Fascists and anti-Semites know no boundary. Some Jews escaped Poland from Polish anti-Semites long before they tried to escape the Nazis. Some escaped Russia for the same reason, then had to leave England to escape it there.

– it is not surprising for the guests to find different races and ethnicities in their background – the history is validated by DNA tests.

As examples of this last point, Bryant Gumbel found out he was about 10% European Jew. Suzanne Malveaux from CNN has multiple races mixed in, including Native American, French Quebec and sub-Saharian African. The comedian Fred Armisten found out his Japanese grandfather was actually Korean who fled persecution and was an acclaimed dancer in Japan. Larry David, who does a great Bernie Sanders impersonation, has DNA that makes him a distant relative of Sanders, which neither knew.

I encourage you to watch the show, even if you may not know the guests. Also, go on Ancestry.com and spend some time tracing your roots. It will suck you in, but do invest some time. History is fun, especially when it is yours.

Try building your cars in the US – what a great idea

During his visit to Japan, the US President came upon a sudden revelation. He said “Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over.” What a great idea! The nice part is Japan automakers are already building cars in Tennessee (Nissan), Ohio (Honda) and Kentucky (Toyota). Last time I checked, those three states are part of the US.

What sometimes gets lost in his bluster, demonization and excessive tweeting is a man who is not steeped in history, geography or current events. Nor, as folks who work with him have said, does he shows much interest in learning or doing homework to make himself more aware. So, we must live with John Belushi’s less-studious character in the movie “Animal House,” when he spoke of the “Germans bombing Pearl Harbor,” as our President.

How should Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe react to such an uninformed statement by our President? I wonder if he looked at an adviser and nonverbally conveyed “really?” Does the US President know BMWs are made in South Carolina, Volkswagens are made in Tennessee and Mercedes and Hyundais are made in Alabama, e.g.?

When we talk about global trade and jobs, we cannot overlook what these foreign companies and many others are doing here. They are employing American workers. The focus tends to look only at jobs lost and not jobs gained by global trade. That inappropriately simplifies the issue and leads to wrong conclusions.

Global trade increases the economic pie, especially when the global needs are nurtured. That is a key premise of the Nash Equilibrium which won a Nobel Prize for its creator John Nash. Yes, we need to be mindful of jobs lost and provide restorative action. This could range from retraining to recruiting new businesses or looking for trade-offs. The same strategy holds true with the more significant culprit in job loss, technology advances.

Initially, I thought the now President was over-simplifying things to sell his messiah-like message. Only I can solve your problems, believe me, he has said in numbers of ways. As award winning author Thomas Friedman said about the President, “He has no second paragraph.” The sad truth is the President has no second paragraph because he may not know what comes next.

A President does not need to know everything – that person cannot possibly fulfill that mission. But, we must have one that knows more things than this one does and who does not lie or bluff when he does not. And, if does not know, he need not be afraid of learning.

What this independent voter believes

As an Independent voter who has been a member of both parties, I have been frustrated by the lack of civility, lack of truth and lack of due diligence shown by the President. I am also frustrated by the ongoing rationalization by his party for his behavior. When he was elected, I said let’s give him a chance as his success will be ours and that is how this works. I did have low expectations which he has failed to achieve. After I made the above statement of hope, within days he appointed Steve Bannon as a Senior Advisor. That made a huge statement to me meaning white supremacy and nationalism had a chair at the table.

The President consistently is more untruthful than he is not. His lying has been measured at 69% of the time, which is kind as it gives him credit for partial truths in the 31%. This is not news as Politifacts said he lied 70% of the time during the campaign and his five biographers and ghost writer for his biggest selling book all said Trump has a problem with the truth. Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked with Trump, wrote last June, 2016, that “Trump lies every day, even about things of no consequence.” Other leaders in the US and abroad do not trust this man and why would they? So, I keep it simple and do not believe a word he says as the odds are in my favor.

Then there is the demonization of everyone who dares criticize him or did things he did not do. Everything Obama or Bush did is “horrible” and every thing he will do will be “beautiful” or “make you happy.” But, it is the transactional, zero-sum game he plays with critics that is so childish. He must crush critics to make it alright in his mind. He rarely criticizes on issues or policies as he is not steeped in details. He prefers a mud fight. This lack of civility to people who have lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods, civil rights, etc, is downright un-Presidential and un-Christian. It would not be confused with the right thing to do and to me is very telling.

If this were not bad enough, almost every decision is made off rhetoric, not data. Our problems are too complex to solve them without knowing what caused them. Or, trying to solve a problem that has been over-simplified or does not exist is more commonplace. Right now, the Department of Defense says not reacting to climate change is a threat to national security. If you take this one step further, then a President who ignores climate change, must also be a threat to national security. Thomas Friedman wrote an excellent piece this week about the holistic problems in Niger, which include the impact climate change has had on desertification. This has caused farmers to lose crops and to invite in ISIS to garner some level of income.This is what a President should consider in his decisions. (Gronda has written an excellent piece on this whose link is below.)

The sad part about the last issue is the President does not show any desire to learn things. We have woeful staff shortages and he has a limited attention span. This is severely crimping our diplomacy abroad, which is much needed. Without such, the President has already elevated the risk with North Korea. Michael Lewis has written about how Obama’s people made transition books and invited the Trump people in to meet. Department by department, very few took them up on this, so this learning curve baton was never passed.

We now need more Republican leaders to remember to whom they swore their oath – it is to the Constitution, not their party or this President. He needs to be censured and he may eventually need to be impeached, if what appears to be true about Russia, in fact is. That is what I believe.

Thomas L. Friedman Connects The Dots Between President Trump And Niger

A couple of climate clues

I am reading a great book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn. She focuses her attention on people in these professions (plus a few others) and how they work the earth and its waterways. They see what is happening with climate change and environmental degradation and have adapted over time what they do to continue their livelihood. The book has a subtitle of “Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.”

A quote from a mentor to Justin Knopf, the farmer, is compelling. “Dr. Gary Pierzynski, head of the Kansas State University agronomy department describes…‘We have no doubt that climate change is happening. But we recognize that talking directly about it raises issues with some of our elected officials, who remain unconvinced and don’t support investing state resources to study it. So we emphasize our focus on challenges like extending the life of the Ogallala aquifer; we don’t disguise it but take away the climate change message.'”

It should not be lost on anyone that this man is about as far away from the coast as possible, but speaks of the impact on climate change on the agro economy and water sources. As an example, Knopf has used his experience to realize that using “no-till” farming is ideally suited for growing wheat and other products in his neck of the woods. When tilled, more of the topsoil is washed and blown away. When untilled, the ground keeps more of the creatures that naturally fertilize and break down the soil. It also aborbs more carbon.

He notes farmers continually experiment and share ideas, so what works there may be less suited elsewhere. I will write more on the book later, but what is fascinating is how these folks see what is happening first hand and adapt over time. Sometimes what they try fails and often it takes a few seasons for changes to fully be realized.Their livelihoods depend on it, so it is done with seriousness of purpose and observation.

On a different note, I saw a news report about Kodiak Island in Alaska. They are close to 100% renewable energy powered, using hydro and wind energy with battery storage. They switched when the diesel fuel got too expensive to shore up the hydro power when the demands increased. Also, a creative solution was used in the ship docks where they send and receive freight. Using a fly wheel concept, as one of the freight containers is lowered by the crane, it creates energy that is stored and used to lift the next container. The process continues as the containers are loaded and unloaded.

It should be noted the fly wheel concept is getting a lot of attention due to its elegance. In computer vernacular, elegance means the simplest and most effective solution. It also should be noted the cost of energy for the Island is more predictable and is lower than it was ten years ago. I highlight this cost statement as this is the new norm for renewable energy versus fossil fuel energy. The city of Georgetown, Texas came to the same conclusion when they signed a twenty-five contract for wind and solar energy rather than a shorter fossil fuel contract.

On the ground, local leaders, farmers, ranchers and fisherman are seeing what is happening first hand. They are making informed decisions that impact their future. It would be nice if our President, EPA director, Energy director and Congressional Republican leadership would make informed decisions. We could use their help and not their obstinance. The world is passing them by and they are not allowed to notice it.

If I see you on the trails

I long ago ceased my running and have been a walker and hiker instead. Often, I will go to one of the four trails in parks near my home. If you see me on the trails, you will see a friendly, but tall 59 year old man. Yet, I understand why women running alone will pause when they see me coming towards them.

The news of the day only heightens the concern women must have in the workplace. Similarly, they must be diligent when away from the crowds. I do my best to be overly friendly when walking on the trails, but I am a big guy and people don’t know me from Adam. Female joggers and walkers have to be on the guard.

Since I walk the trails quite often, allow me to offer some advice as this old man and father sees it. Please do not run or walk alone. It is that simple. There have been too many stories where lone women have been attacked. A dog will help, but another person is even better.

Another piece of advice may be harder to follow. Shed the music and earpieces. Sound is a good indicator of trouble, so when it is blocked by music, one of your senses is disabled. I know of several stories where the assailant came up from behind. Another sad story is a woman running at night on a street did not realize a truck passing had a trailer, so she stepped off the curb after the truck passed only to be killed by the trailer. If she had been without earpieces, she might have heard the trailer. Plus, it is not uncommon for a runner to dart in front of a car when listening to music.

The final piece of advice is to avoid running at night or dusk. It is hard to see you, first and foremost, but it is harder to see the assailant. The best option is to run or walk at a park with a crowded parking lot. If yours is the only car, it is best to avoid the trail that day. It gives me pause when I am the lone car.

I have come across some interesting things along the paths. I saw about eight deer earlier this week. I have seen snakes and been spooked by rustling squirrels and birds. I have yet to see any bears, although there have been more sightings in the city. I have witnessed what I think was a police/ informant meeting, which hastened my pace. I have seen people who have given me pause. And, I have seen too many women jogging alone.

Be safe and happy trails.

Some needed humor

America is in need of some humor. With such an unnerving man at the helm, it seems we could run aground so easily. Here are a few thoughts, which I hope will bring a smile.

The President says he is for the little guys, but we did not realize he actually meant short billionnaires.

The President wants to MAGA, but we did not realize “great” was spelled “grate” as we are getting on the nerves of our allies.

The President threw a lawn party in May for the House Republicans when they passed an ACA repeal and replace bill. His staff did not have the heart to tell him it needed to go through the Senate. “Aw, we have to go through this again?”

After Hurricane Maria, the President visited  the US Virgin Islands. Later he said he had a terrific meeting with the President of the Virgin Islands. Ahem, excuse me sir, but aren’t you the President of the US Virgin Islands?

Have you noticed a trend that the President likes to grade his efforts? I think I got a ten on my handling of Puerto Rico. None of my predecessors have done as good a job at reaching out to families of our deceased military. Maybe students should try this after a test.

There is an old line that when your boss says you are doing a great job to the media, you better get your resume ready. When the President holds a press conference to tell everyone you and he have a terrific relationship with you standing there, watch your back. You may be Brutus, but this Caesar has the knife.

That is all for now. I hope some of this brought you a smile. Have a great week.