Our children deserve better

Two time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote an editorial earlier this week in The New York Times called “Our children deserve better.” It is a clarion call to our nation showing the plight of kids in America.

Here are a few quotes to frame the issue:

“UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.”

“Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record….The Census Bureau reported this week that the number of uninsured children increased by 425,000 last year.”

These are different views and sources of the threats to US children that note we have a problem. Another source I read a couple of years ago noted America has a much higher maternal mortality rate at child birth than other civilized countries, which further endangers children as well as the mothers.

Yet, these issues are not being discussed in the halls of government. We have a poverty problem in our country with too many living in or just above poverty levels. We have not expanded Medicaid in fifteen states whose numbers are worse than these national numbers per capita. We have not addressed our national water crisis which has a Flint, MI like exposure to lead in too many cities and a volume of available fresh water issue in other places. We have not invested as we should to diminish crime and provide more opportunities for jobs in disenfranchised areas. There are several pockets of success that can be emulated in more cities.

We also need to address better gun governance, especially with the number one gun death cause by far being suicide and a non-inconsequential accidental gun death rate. And, we have not dealt with the continuing and rising exposure to technology and artificial intelligence which have taken and will take even more jobs in the future. Finally, there is that climate change thing we need to deal with.

These are real problems. And, they will get worse. Data driven analysis of causes and solutions are needed. They are both multi-faceted. Investing more now, will save huge amounts later. This is not just an urban issue, it is rural one as well. The opioid crisis is rampant in these impoverished rural areas, for example.

None of the solutions will fit on a bumper sticker. And, political attempts to oversimplify issues should be questioned. Here is an easy contradiction to spot – if people believe gun deaths are a mental health issue, then why the effort to eliminate or not expand mental health benefits?

Please make your legislators aware of these issues and ask pointed questions. These questions deserve answers, not bumper sticker slogans. These concerns deserve to be talked about, studied and acted upon.

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Toys in the ATTIC

When Republican presidential candidate and former Congressman Joe Walsh made it to Fox News for an interview, even he was stunned when the host said he did not think the current president lies. The truth is not only does the president lie, he lies more than he does not with a tally of over 12,000 lies and counting while in office.

While many of the lies are akin to a toddler denying he said or did something (even with his hand in the cookie jar), the ones that trouble me most are those that impact policy or our global standing. On the latter, the US is less trusted because the president is untrustworthy. On the former, people are harmed physically or financially.

With this in mind, here are five lies that may be “toys in the attic,” to the childish president, but are detrimental to people. ATTIC is the acronym to help even a Fox News host to remember them.

A = Amazon: Trump blew off the G7 meeting on the burning Amazon forests and climate change saying he was meeting with the leaders of Germany and India. Trouble is they were in the meeting he blew off.

T= Tariffs: In a repetitive lie, the president continues to say China is paying for the tariffs and each time it is refuted by economists. US importers pay the tariffs and pass most of the cost to consumers. The Congressional Budget Office says the average American (not Chinese) citizen will pay an extra $1,000 due to tariffs.

T= Transgender: This is the president at his worst. Per the book “Fear,” by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author Bob Woodward, defense staff and leadership awaited the president for a 10 am meeting to brief him on four options for handling transgender issues. While they waited, the president sent out two tweets around 9:05 am. The tweets said the generals had already briefed him and it was a consensus to choose the most aggressive option. This made Defense Secretary James Mattis so furious as it was untrue and wasted time and effort, he said he would not take orders from a tweet.

I = India: This was yet another unforced error the president brought on himself. While at a press conference with the Pakistan leader, the president said he was asked by the India prime minister to broker discussions between the two leaders over recurring tensions in Kashmir. Within the hour, the India PM put out a release saying “no such request was made.” The White House staff was eerily silent after the president’s comment and India’s response. In an interview on NPR, I heard how this damaged our relationship with India.

C = Co-pays: This lie relates to the president cutting funding to reimburse insurers for co-pays and deductibles for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty limit under the ACA. Trump said, untruthfully, this would only impact insurer profits. The CBO said it would increase the deficit by $10 billion per annum as premiums would increase. Further, those not getting a premium subsidy would see an increase. If that were not enough, BCBS of North Carolina noted they were not going to have a rate increase in 2018 before the president edict, but increased premiums afterwards.

Sadly, there are so many more to choose from. When I heard this supposed news person say the president does not lie, it was and is highly offensive. Three attorneys who worked for the president have said the following about the president’s lack of truthfulness.

-Thomas Wells said before the election in an article “Donald Trump lies every day even about things of no consequence.”

– Michael Cohen said under oath “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con artist and he is a cheat.”

– Don McGahn, former White House counsel, resigned rather follow Trump orders to obstruct justice (and lie about being so instructed) per the Mueller report.

Lies are toys in the ATTIC to the president. He has so many toys, they just pile up. But, the truth is these “toys” are painful realities to us and the rest of the world.

I am a Conservative Republican. Climate change is real

An article appeared earlier this week in Poltico written by Republican Congressman Francis Rooney from Florida. Rather than speak for him, the following are his opening paragraphs.

“I’m a conservative Republican and I believe climate change is real. It’s time for my fellow Republicans in Congress to stop treating this environmental threat as something abstract and political and recognize that it’s already affecting their constituents in their daily lives.

If we don’t change our party’s position soon, our voters will punish us.

It is well past time for Republicans to recognize the increasing costs and dangers associated with a changing climate. Scientific data empirically substantiates rises in sea and land temperatures which have materially increased over the past 20 years, increased acid in our air and seas, and rising sea levels, which have also increased velocity over the past 25 years.

In the past few years, the U.S. alone has experienced record-breaking tornadoes and flooding, devastating hurricanes, and expansive wildfires. The doubling of the deep ocean heat content in the past 20 years portends significantly more severe storms and hurricanes in the future, creating more and more calls for ‘disaster relief.’

I’m from a coastal district that is directly affected by these issues every day. In fact, my home state of Florida is ground zero for the adverse effects of climate change.”

The article continues, but you get the gist of his theme. More Republicans are speaking out on climate change than before. The reason for the lingering dissent is traceable to the purse strings of the fossil fuel industry which still have a lot of clout, especially in the White House.

Yet, we can no longer wait on other Republicans, including the president. Tangible measures have been happening in the US led by solar and wind energy development and cities looking to improve building and transportation conservation initiatives. Other measures are happening, as well, but the declining cost of solar and wind have led to their proliferation.

We should celebrate the arrival of sixteen year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden who will be speaking to the United Nations  later this month. She understands what the US president refuses to acknowledge. Her candor and advocacy are refreshing.

I also want to give a shout out to oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens who died earlier this week. Pickens had been a staunch supporter of wind energy dating back to the first part of the decade. Appearing on “60 Minutes,” Pickens noted back then the significant wind patterns that blow across rhe plain states. Now, Iowa gets over 1/3 of its electricity from wind energy with Texas leading volume with over 1/6 of its larger electric needs met by winds.

Rooney is dead on accurate in my view. I encourage all voters to ask what candidates plan to do about climate change and the environment. If they fail to answer the question or answer poorly, do not vote for them. We can no longer wait.

Tantrums, vapes, and hurricanes

The week that was had serious issues that threatened the lives of people mixed in with self-inflicted issues that caused temper-tantrums. In no particular order:

The Bahamas was truly devastated by Hurricane Dorian. The aftermath pictures are sobering. Okracoke, one of the southernmost Outer Banks islands in North Carolina, was hit hard, but the US mainland was spared the brunt of the storm, although damage occurred and lives were lost. That is the big story.

Yet, way too much time and effort has been spent trying to save face for the US president after ham-handed and unneeded efforts to play weatherman. Rather than admit he over accentuated the threat on Alabama, he had his staff spending valuable time coming up with a story that does not let the president’s little feelings to be hurt. What he fails to realize, it is the “rationalization” efforts that paint him in a bad light. It is akin to dressing up the “dog ate my homework” excuse.

Since we are talking about blowing smoke, the dangers of vaping are raising their ugly head. More kids are entering the hospital with breathing concerns traceable to some form of vaping. What has always concerned me is the amount of smoke the vapers exhale from their lungs. It far exceeds the amount of smoke a cigarette smoker would exhale. Call me crazy, but that cannot be good for one’s health.

Still on the subject of blowing smoke, ex-president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe died yesterday at the age of 95. After being initially praised for liberating and founding Zimbabwe, he proceeded to kill any opposition and become an autocrat. While so doing, he blew smoke at the world to mask his efforts.

Our British friends are realizing that having Boris as prime minister is not necessarily a good thing. Even pro-Brexit folks are likely lamenting this ego-centric choice. When time is of the essence, shortening the time to discuss a complex topic is not good stewardship. But, all of Parliament needs a “get out of the pool” order to allow them to check their egos, decide what they want and get their fannies to Brussels. A no-deal Brexit would be disastrous and would be felt immediately.

Finally, the US president acted on another temper-tantrum when the Department of Justice sued the State of California and four automakers for an agreement to comply with a higher mph standard than the Federal government wants. These automakers feel being good stewards will help sell cars and help them compete with other automakers. It is sad that Attorney General William Barr has stained his career being the president’s personal attorney and attacking people that disagree with him – that is autocratic behavior.

Have a great weekend all.

And the band played on – letter to the editor

My local newspaper printed my letter to the editor based on the theme of a recent post. Please feel free to adapt and use it, if you agree with the concept.

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I feel like citing the song lyric “and the band played on” in reference to elected leaders ignoring problems which will only get worse. On climate change, environmental degradation, increasing US debt, aging infrastructure, and insufficient gun governance, we have ticking time bombs. The kids get what is needed on climate change, environment and guns. But, debt and infrastructure must also be dealt with. And, not addressing the former makes the latter harder.

These are the questions we must be asking our politicians. If they are evasive or give poor answers, do not vote for them. We don’t need a wall. We need safe bridges and railways.

 

And the band played on

“And the band played on” comes from a powerful protest song called “Ball of Confusion” sung by The Temptations in the late 1960s and written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. It was also the movie title for a 1993 movie about the slow action to address AIDs during the 1980s..

“And the band played on” is a metaphor pulled from the band continuing to play as the Titanic sank. It is used unflatteringly to address inaction by leadership to address major problems. The Temptations pleaded for action to address inequality, maltreatment of Blacks, the Vietnam War and so on. The movie noted how little the White House cared until they realized that heterosexual people could get AIDs as well.

As of this writing, a sixteen year old girl named Greta Thunberg is stepping onto our shores to address climate change. This young hero began her quest for action last year and became a catalyst for student strikes pleading for action. When her critics encouraged her to be a kid, she said she would love to, but the adults are not addressing this issue, so she said she had to do so, since, her generation will be left with the unsolved problems.

Yet, while she is here to address these issues to the United Nations and those in Washington, the US president is rolling back restrictions on methane and carbon release, which was announced yesterday. Further, the president blew off a G7 meeting to discuss climate change and the burning forests in the Amazon.

This type of action from the US president is what I feared most from his winning the 2016 election. I feared reversal of action on climate change from the federal level and the environment becoming second fiddle. Yet, I must confess the environmental degradation caused by this president and the EPA under the watch of fossil fuel lobbyists Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler has been worse than I expected.

Inaction by this White House would actually be an improvement. On top of announcing the US’ departure from the Paris Climate Change Accord, the rolling back of Obama’s climate plan requirements, deletion  of climate change data from the EPA websites and the forcing out or redeployment of climate change scientists is harmful to our planet and country. We are behind on acting because of similar actions when the second Bush White House was filled with fossil fuel people like Vice President Dick Cheney, including Cheney making sure fracking companies were not exposed to the requirements of the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Acts (please Google the 2005 Energy Act and Dick Cheney or the Halliburton Loophole).

Fortunately, there are some good things happening in America in spite of this president. Five automakers are ignoring the rollback of increasing MPG requirements under Trump and siding with California’s new requirements. Their thesis is we want younger people to buy our cars, so we better care about the environment because they do. It should be noted that it was announced today that 67% off Republicans between the ages of 18 – 34 believe we must act on climate change. Their leadership can no longer hide on this issue due to fossil fuel funding of their campaigns.

And, other states, cities and companies are addressing climate change with efforts to remove carbon from the air and put less of it there. Wind and solar energy have taken off as costs have declined and other measures like tidal energy, battery storage,  are under way. I wrote recently about these efforts based on the documentary “Ice on Fire.”

The younger generation gets this. And, to be frank, if the Republican Party does not change its paradigm, they may become obsolete. The band can no longer play on. The Titanic is sinking and we must act. I hear criticism about AOC and the Green New Deal. I recognize it is imperfect, but as I tell people, at least it is a plan. We must come together and figure it out. This is far more urgent than politicians are letting on. Please ask them what they plan to do and if they do not answer satisfactorily, do not vote for them. And, please join voices with the young Ms.Thunberg. She should be heeded.

Colorado Family Planning Initiative

As the veracity of Planned Parenthood is being discussed, there is a program and study that was conducted in Colorado over a seven year period that offers meaningful data. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative offered low-income women and teens access to low or no-cost contraception, including IUDs and implants.

The Governor’s office released the results of the program which analyzed data from 2009 – 2013. The key findings are:

  • there was a 40% statewide decline in the teen birth rate
  • there was a 35% statewide decline in the abortion rate

If the goal is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, funding the use of contraception along with family planning efforts and information is the better answer. Cutting funding will only increase these numbers. And, it should be noted there are correlations between poverty and increasing family size and poverty and single mothers. This is more true the younger the mother.

Education is a vital part of the program as well. If people want to teach abstinence as part of a holsitic program, that is fine. But, the teachers and funders need to clearly understand these teens and young adults are just like we were, if not more so. They are tempted and will have sex. It would be so much the better, if they were informed of the consequences and knew what options there were.

A key part of the education must help girls understand that self-esteem need not be tied to sex. These girls need to be able to say no and feel confident in withstanding pressure, especially today with so many ads, shows, and stars (by dress and manner) saying it is OK. And, boys need to know that no means no. It can be uttered up to the time in which sex occurs.

As a parent, I know parents worry about their kids. You hope they will make good choices. Yet, we did not always make them and they will likely follow suit. Also, please understand even kids brought up in the strictest of homes will be tempted to do things when away at school or college. It is only natural.

Three anecdotes might help illustrate the importance of education and planning.

  • My brother-in-law taught eighth grade science in a high poverty rural area. Annually, he had a number of girls in his class get pregnant. To them, it was being like an adult a right of passage. Only when it was too late, did they realize the consequences.
  • A colleague was viewed by teens in her church as being the kind of person who would shoot straight with them. She was asked questions that told her these kids thought they could not get pregnant the first time and if they had sex standing up they could avoid pregnancy. When she mentioned to the minister to have a sex education class, he scoffed at her request.
  • A friend who has run several non-profits and is very devout told me the children of his friends would go off to a religious university nearby. He said these kids would go wild when finally away from their parents and shocked some of his friends by what they got into.

So, Planned Parenthood and organizations that provide holistic family planning need more funding to reduce the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies. Kids need to get good information and access to tools. It is their lives. And, while I focused on pregnancies, STDs and HIV are very viable threats to manage through contraception and education.

Let me close with this thought. As the former Board Chair of an organization that helps homeless working families, single mothers is the predominant group that is helped. It is also the fastest growing homeless population in America. Key tools to help lessen the propensity of poverty and homelessness in this group are family planning, sex education and low-cost birth control.