The hook brings you back

The group Blues Traveler had a huge hit with a song called “Hook,” which intentionally says nothing of substance. The chorus is as follows:

“Because the hook brings you back
I ain’t tellin’ you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely”

The song is about their frustration with MTV or popular music which relies on a “hook” to grab your attention. A hook is a catchy riff, phrase or gimmick used by songwriters. The Blues Traveler song is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the use of a “hook” while using one.

To me, this song is a metaphor for companies selling products harmful to people’s health. The “hook” is an addiction, that brings people back to buy more.

The vaping industry is repeating the successful sales model of selling smoking to kids and young adults to get them hooked. The tobacco industry knew dating back to 1964 that nicotine was addictive. So, they hid this fact as they added more nicotine. The subterfuge lasted until the mid-1990s when an insider blew the whistle. This was after eight tobacco CEOs sitting at a table in front of a Congressional Committee lied saying nicotine was not addictive. What is troubling about the vaping industry is they are selling these vapes as candy in all kinds of flavors.

An even more dramatic and traumatic sales job relates to the opioid pain killer business. These companies were not forthcoming about how addictive their product is. People have died and families have been ruined by this subterfuge. And, once again we have a heroin and worse drug addiction problem in America, as it is cheaper than the opioid product. Please strongly consider non-opioid painkillers if you have surgery or an injury, if permissible by doctor.

On a more widespread basis, food companies have asked their chemists to make their products more addictive. How? By adding more sugar to their products. The sweeter taste is more alluring and gets people to eat more and buy more. What is the harm in a little more sugar? The US is the most obese country in the world and kids are now getting adult diabetes, not just juvenile diabetes.

So, like catchy songs, these hooks are designed to sell lots of products to unsuspectingly addicted consumers. Please be mindful of when you buy to make sure you are not being reeled in.

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After his death, a second amendment supporter, leaves a message on gun violence

The following posthumous editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer on August 6, 2019. It speaks for itself.

“Larry Swenberg died of ALS this spring, a few months before gunmen killed 29 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Swenberg, a retired doctor of veterinary medicine in Durham, was a gun owner and avid hunter, but he was horrified at mass shootings inflicted by assault-style weapons. His wife, Gwen, sent us this op-ed from her husband last week, before Dayton and El Paso. One of his last wishes, she said, was to leave a message for his fellow Second Amendment supporters — and all of us.:

I am a 73 year-old retired doctor of veterinary medicine and a political independent who is neither a politician nor a Washington insider, but a citizen pleading to stop the carnage of assault weapons. I am a former hunter, recreational shooter, current gun owner, supporter of the Second Amendment, but never an NRA contributor.
In my plea for sanity, I prioritize assault weapons because of their availability and their ability to produce mass carnage. In the wake of a mass shooting in New Zealand committed with an assault weapon, it took five days for the country to ban the weapon. Our country’s ban expired in 2004, and the gun lobby and the NRA has spent millions to buy its continued extinction.

If your goal is to kill the greatest number in the shortest time, this is the weapon of choice. Many cry foul here, saying it is the shooter, not the weapon that is the problem. If you honestly prioritize human life over personal desire, then you must acknowledge the risk of assault weapons in the wrong hands as responsible for oft repeated slaughter of the innocent.

The NRA’s seven-million-dollar senator, Richard Burr of North Carolina, blithely maintains a ban would infringe on Second Amendment personal freedom. Are speed limits a similar infringement? This attitude reflects a disconnect which is mind numbing. This character flaw is common among politicians and America’s gun-owning public. People who fail to see blood on their hands for their inaction do so because guilt for their acts of omission is simply not a quality of their character.

The High Court has affirmed the congressional right to regulate firearms. Therefore the belief that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own an assault rifle is wrong. If politicians past and present had any integrity and not just self-interest, poor judgment or a lack of conscience, we would not have the cumulative carnage of assault weapons we presently have. Had Congress recognized its sin of omission and sought penance through action, we would not have the empty solace of our collective thoughts and prayers.

Think about this when you sit in a church pew, go to work, or enjoy hobbies: we all have the blood of omission on our hands, despite those who live in denial. So long as assault weapons are available publicly, the pathologically demented will use them to massacre the most numbers in the shortest time.

An author whose name I don’t recall wrote a person’s god is that to which ultimate allegiance is given – money, fame, power, etc. if you prioritize the petty position of a firearms over public safety, then your god is a gun no matter how many hours you sit in a church or bow to Mecca. You then are a first order hypocrite and must simply own this fact. It is a tragedy some people feel a felony must be committed to protect the public’s safety.

An assault weapons ban will not solve America’s gun violence but it would stop mass carnage in minimal time. Demand nothing less of Congress and the White House.”

 

 

Rainy days and Mondays, especially today, get me down

Karen Carpenter sang “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” This weekend was a yet another sad chapter in America’s history. Plus, we learned 31 people died in a ferry capsizing in the Philippines. In California, an eroding cliff collapsed next to the shore killing three. And, Russia and China are coming down hard on protestors. These are signals.

In America, we have decided we cannot do anything to stop mass gun shootings. We have decided the politics are too hard to do the needed things that would help. We could start by acknowledging that we average 100+ gun deaths a day even without the mass shootings. Many of those deaths are suicides. Some of them are accidental shootings of kids who find a gun in the house. And, some of the homicides are due to mental health issues, lack of civil discourse, hate crimes, or drug crimes. The common thread is access to a weapon without better governance.

Yes, we must act on these signals. We must call hate speech on the carpet, especially if it comes from someone who is in a position of leadership. Dog whistle racism and xenophobia are fuel to a fire for some extreme thinkers. The ones who want status quo in gun laws will say “now is not the time” for change to gun governance. Apparently, “never is the time.” The ones who want status quo will say “that change would not solve this instance.” Yet, doing nothing at all is not solving much.

There are things we can do that, in sum, will help make a difference. If it saves a few lives, that is good. I want politicians to get in a room and I want them to check their politics. I do not care who wins and loses a political game, but it is obvious the dead people and their families are losing. It amazes me how little we did after Sandy Hook. We even had a conservative shock jock say for years Sandy Hook was not real. He is on trial for his hateful rhetoric for the damage he has caused to Sandy Hook families and should be.

The Philippines tragedy is terrible, but not getting much play here. It seems we don’t pay attention like we should when the weather sends us signals. Overloading ferries can be OK in calm waters, but it is a disaster when waters are rough, especially after two earlier ferries had issues. I think failing to heed signals causes far too many deaths. Here in the US, we are whistling past the graveyard in preface to the next infrastructure collapse. Around the world, we have signals telling us to plan ahead on eroding seashores, increasing floods with stalled and repetitive storm systems, increasing droughts in other areas and elongated and bigger forest fires. We need to act on these signals.

In Russia and China, the signals are telling us that we must not be like that. Civil protest is more than fine, yet we must emphasize the word civil. Yet, a regime that crushes the spirit of those who question things, is one that is sowing more seeds of discord, not fewer. A regime that squelches and controls the media is not one that wants to hear the truth. I am watching the mini-series called “The Loudest Voice,” about Roger Ailes and his creation of Fox News. He purposefully controlled what and how things were said, that he started believing his own BS.

Truth matters. Facts matter. Diligent preparation in the face of those facts matter. When people ignore problems, white-wash or deny the truth, and squash those who are trying to tell you those things, the future is hamstrung. As I say often, I do not care what people’s politics are, as usually they are a mixed bag like me, conservative on some things, progressive on others. What I do care about is when people ignore or massage the facts to make their tribe win. I a more concerned about the people who die, who struggle, who become infirmed, who are jailed inappropriately, etc. That is what our leaders should be concerned about and not spreading fear, hate and division to win an election.

 

Endangering people to win politically is not leadership

One of the sad and scary truths with a president who lies, demeans, denigrates and bullies his critics is his more strident followers believe his rhetoric. A consequence of this stirring up of emotions is it places people who are critical of the president in danger of bodily harm or death.

Let me state this plainly. That is not leadership. It is promoting criminal behavior. It is not becoming of a president or any other legislator or person, for that matter. And, it should not be tolerated regardless of who does it.

Three items of late come to mind. The president stirred up his audience beforehand, but after stretching the truth and taking statements out of context, he had his followers chanting “send her back” in response to his demonizing four elected representatives. And, do not believe a word the president said when he tried to weasel out of responsibility the next day. He knows precisely what he is doing – using racism to divide America to get elected. That is beyond poor form.

It does not stop there. A law enforcement officer in Louisiana said this weekend what Representative Omar needs is a bullet. Really? And, you are in law enforcement. These four Congresswomen are already receiving death threats before the president’s recent racist comments. And, take this to the bank – if there is an attempt to harm any of them, the president will again weasel out of any responsibility.

Finally, we seem to be headed down a path to autocracy. That is scary for our democracy. So, pay attention to what happened in Hong Kong yesterday. Pro-Beijing gangs beat and harmed about 45 pro-democracy demonstrators in a transit center. The police were not used as that would look worse. So, as done on the mainland, gangs of thugs beat dissenters.

Could this happen here? Easily. Has it happened here. Yes, but not on a government sanctioned basis. But, with this “wind-up-the-extremists” president, it only needs Trump to do what he does well  – use lies and half-truths to rile people up.

Finally, to be fair, we do not need Antifa extremists promoting violence either. We do not need people treating others they disagree with like they would not want to be treated. Civil discourse is critical. When people use violence it diminishes their argument and cedes the higher ground. And, legislators please condemn violence, racism, lying and bullying, no matter who does it and that includes the president.

Let me close with the fact multiple global leaders have condemned the US president’s racist remarks – including, but not limited to New Zealand, UK, Ireland, Scotland, EU and Canada. That ireveals Trump’s comments as not exemplary behavior.

The Mueller Report – my synopsis

I have read the Mueller Report. Several things are clear from this official document of an important investigation.

– the Russians had an orchestrated influence on the US presidential election actively using social media and hacking and releasing information obtained from Democrat campaign files;

– the highly researched effort officially documents the US president has a very hard time with the truth and the legality of certain actions and his aides know that;

– the US president repeatedly attempted to obstruct justice (see example below);

– while not crystal clear from a legal standpoint that he coordinated with Russia, the US president had a relationship with Russia he (and Michael Cohen) lied about and there were changing stories, deleted texts/ emails/ messages, and an incredible naiveté not recognizing that interfacing with Russians during the campaign was improper; and

– the US president was and is obsessed with the investigation, but with the results thus far and still pending, this is definitely not a hoax or a witch hunt.

One of the paragraphs I found telling relates to the president continually trying to get White House Counsel Don McGahn to change his story that the president ordered him to fire Mueller. McGahn would not fire Mueller or change his story as reported in The New York Times. The quote is as follows:

“Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.”

While there are other examples, this summary of intent is clear indication the US president tried to obstruct justice.

While the Mueller report noted there was no clear evidence the US president coordinated with Russia, Mueller notes with the missing information including an interview of the president, they may have come to a different conclusion. To me, overt coordination was not necessary as there were so many links between Russian influencers and campaign officials and with their active social media/ hacking, the Russians accomplished their goal with unwitting participants.

So, I concur with the Republicans for the Rule of Law, now former Republican Congressman Justin Amash and more than 1,000 plus former federal prosecutors that there are grounds for impeachment. But, I think the Republican Party should be in lock-step with the Democrats. To me, the Republican leaders must recognize publicly what many discuss in private per several highly researched books.

 

Letter to Senators on DoD report on Russian risk

Attached is a letter I posted in several Senators contact forms regarding the underreported story on a recent Department of Defense report. The report shared the DoD concerns of the threat to national security by growing Russian influence. This includes the purposeful influence in elections in western democracies like ours.

Dear Senator,

Recently, I read where the US Department of Defense wrote a report that Russian global influence expansion is a threat to our national security. Russian efforts include significant intrusion into US elections as well as that of other western democracies.

And, yet we have a president and senate leader who don’t seem to share the concerns of the DoD. In fact, the late Senator John McCain described what the president did in Helsinki to acquiesce to Putin over the findings of US intelligence people as shameful.

The Mueller report reiterates the Russians influenced our election and will do so again. But, the president was flippant at a recent press conference in asking Putin to not interfere. This requires seriousness of purpose.

As an American citizen, I am weary of all of this. What will it take for the Senate to act? The House has made an effort and it is now the Senate’s turn. We must have secure elections. It matters not if the president’s feelings get hurt if the Senate pursues this. I also feel the senate leader is doing a disservice to our country by blocking these efforts.

Please act to secure our elections and prevent undue Russian influence. People speak in future tense, but the Russians have likely already started interfering in the 2020 elections.

******************

I also read today how many members of Congress have not read the Mueller report. This is why what the Attorney General did in his summary was a disservice to the country. This issue of Russian interference is of paramount importance.

Courage should be applauded

In the first Harry Potter movie, points were awarded to the young boy who stood up to his friends saying what you are doing is wrong. We should reflect on his courage.

Representative Justin Amash used Independence Day to announce his independence from rhe Republican Party. He cited the hyper-partisan nature of both parties. This follows his lone voice in the Republican caucus saying the president has committee impeachable offenses. No one else in the House or Senate GOP caucus joined him.

His courage should be applauded. He knew he would get a huge push back from a vindictive president and his sycophants. After his announcement yesterday, true to form, the president called him the “dumbest” member of Congress and said good riddance.

Setting aside the president’s typical childish and fact-starved retorts, let’s focus on four points.

– First, Amash is an attorney. People may not care for attorneys, but calling them dumb is not a good defense.

– Second, Amash read rhe Mueller Report. That makes him an outlier, in general, and from this president, who is renowned for not having the patience to study anything.

Third, of many offenses, Amash points to the president ordering White Counsel Don McGahn to alter the record to show the president did not order the firing of Robert Mueller. That is clear obstruction of justice among several others and Amash said it showed deceit.

– Fourth, he felt Attorney General William Barr’s whitewashing of the report is a disservice to Americans.

It should be noted two significant groups of people agree. Republicans for the Rule of Law feel there are grounds for impeachment and have forwarded each member of Congress a highlighted copy of the Mueller Report. Also, over 1,000 former federal prosecutors have signed a letter calling for the same.

The president’s followers tout his toughness. I believe they are mistaking his false bravado for toughness. Lack of accountabilty, lack of truthfulness, lack of decency and lack of courage to fire someone to their face are all evidence to support my contention. When I think of this president, toughness or character are not top of mind.

Amash is standing up against a fervent base of people. His fellow Republican lawmakers should be ashamed for their sycophancy. They know Amash is right, with many saying so privately, but are too scared to publicly agree. Some will even abet the president’s crime by trying to vilify Mueller when he testifies later in the month. Members of both parties applauded Mueller when he was appointed as a man of integrity – please keep that in mind.

Ending with another movie, “The Post,” about The Washington Post publishing the Pentagon Papers after The New York Times was barred from doing so, Katherine Graham is cautioned by a friend who worked for the then president not to run afoul of Richard Nixon. He used the term “ruthless” among more colorful metaphors. Amash knows Trump is ruthless, so his courage is not unlike Ms. Graham’s. Please let your Senators and Congressional representatives know how much you admire Amash’s courage. It is rare.