Go forth, be safe on the 4th

Happy 4th of July everyone! Be safe as you travel and as you celebrate with family and friends. Here are a couple of reminders.

– Alcohol, testosterone and fireworks do not mix. Adding dry hot summer days do not help the situation. I am reminded of my wife’s cousin who blew off several fingers.

– If driving, appropriate following distance will help avoid many car accidents. Tailgaters overstate their ability to stop a car, especially when following a truck they cannot see around. To be frank, that is the nicest description of a tailgater I can use.

– At large outdoor parties, be mindful of food left out on a picnic table too long. Food poisoning is not rare in these circumstances.

– Also be mindful of long afternoons of drinking, especially those fruity concoctions that mask how drunk you’re getting. You don’t want to have Uncle John going to a crowded ER after wrecking his vehicle.

– The entire group should be mindful of small kids near pools, lakes and oceans. It only takes a few seconds for someone to drown. Hosts need to make sure someone is watching if they cannot. See above about parents’ drinking – I have seen close accidents avoided that should not have gotten that precarious,

– Finally, do your best to avoid politics. If you must respond, try to stay within the white lines and say things like “I wish they would work together to solve problems” which is a safe way to make a statement and exit stage left.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday and weekend. May the 4th be with you this July.

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There is no such thing

Having lived sixty years, you do glean experiences from the important to the pedestrian. Here are a few thoughts to ponder.

– there is no such thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder; the inventive four legged creatures will find a way. We have tried many feeders and watching the squirrels shows they are the best safecrackers around.

– there is no such thing as an honest autocrat; power corrupts, absolute power makes you protective – the truth is a commodity. Beware of those who want more autocratic power. Turkey’s parliament gave Erdogan more power – that was not the best of moves in any country, regardless of the perceived veracity of the leader.

– there is no such thing an unbigoted person; we all have our prejudices, the key is to recognize them and listen to people who do not look, worship, believe, or love like you. A black man named Daryl Davis has talked over 200 KKK members into leaving the KKK and giving him their robes. He does it by asking them questions and starting a conversation.

– there is no such thing as clean coal; it can be made cleaner, but it will pollute the environment and humans in its acquisition, transport, burning and its residual ash storage. Fortunately, we are passed the tipping point on coal energy’s demise with renewable energy surpassing coal energy in the US and Germany this year.

– there is no such thing as an apolitical politician; some are less political than others, but be wary of fear-mongers and name-callers. The inability to make a logical, fact based argument is a tell-tale sign. Ask many why questions to ferret out the truthtellers. My favorite quote is from former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, when he was caught in a lie by a reporter who asked questions. The Senator said in paraphrase you mistake my words with the truth (in other words, it is your fault I am lying).

– there is no such thing as a redeemable domestic violence abuser (there are very few success stories) as it is power based. If your significant other is beating you, leave. He will not change. One-third of the homeless families an agency I supported helped were due to domestic violence. A friend said none of his six siblings knew their sister was being beaten by her husband until he killed her. He also beat their kids by lifting them up and bashing their heads into the ceiling. Summon the courage, find an advocate and leave. He…will…not…change.

– there is no such thing as a free award; there is always a catch or a cost. Be wary of the more strident offers as it is indicative of a better deal for the one making the offer. As the cartoon character Ziggy once said, the nicer the presentation, the worse the message. There is a correlation between the marketer’s zeal¬† and the size of the profit potential. Stores where salespeople are on commission greet you at the door, e.g. while salaried sales people will greet you later.

I hope those in the US have a safe and enjoyable holiday. Stay hydrated. For those abroad, thanks for bearing with us as we sort our mess of politics and I wish you the best in your endeavors.

 

Why companies fund politicians

Sometimes it helps to state the obvious. Companies and wealthy donors are not contributing to politicians without expectations. They want a return on their investment. They want politicians to help their businesses and increase their wealth.

Last Friday, the show “Whistleblower,” highlighted a procurement person in the Department of Defense who testified to Congress about a very egregious dereliction of sourcing of contracts. She noted how a major military contract was awarded to a subsidiary of Haliburton without a competitive bid during the Iraqi invasion. If you recall your history, former Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of Haliburton before the election. This contract eventually tallied $61 billion in fees. By crying foul, she was eventually fired. Yet, this earnest and ethical public servant helped improve the procurement process and was awarded a settlement for being mistreated.

Yet, this is not an isolated incidence. Corporate welfare is alive and well. You need look no further than the environmental deregulation under this administration. But, Democrata should not be too smug, as corporate welfare is an equal opportunity offender. Politicians need funding to run a campaign, so they ingratiate themselves to people who are looking for a payback with their donations.

The cures to this dilemma should not be as hard, but funders do not want the paradigm to change. Until other citizens demand change, it won’t happen. Let me repeat a few thoughts which are not original.

– shorten election cycles – less money will be needed and fewer commercials will result.

– have term limits – twelve years for a Senator and Congressperson is plenty; two terms for a President is enough.

– debates should be structured around issues, without an audience and following debate protocols; if you speak over an opponent, you lose time.

– legislate to remedy three awful Supreme Court rulings – Citizens United, McCutcheon and the gerrymandering decision of last week.

– Eliminate commercials not sanctioned by the candidate – they are usually hateful and stretching the truth.

– Read and watch reputable news sources; if they publish or broadcast when they make mistakes is an indicator – also opinion talk show hosts are giving you biased opinion disguised as news.

– the country desperately needs a moderate party – all of these issues have created more polarized parties who are collaborating less, not more.

– Finally, especially with this president, but it goes with all politicians, take what they say or write with a grain of salt. The current White House incumbent is far more untruthful than other elected politicians now or in the past.

We the people are the only ones who can stop this. Demand the truth. Demand action. Identify your supported concerns with legislators and ask them what they plan to do about it. Be diplomatically relentless. And, remember this final point – members of Congress spend at least 1/3 of their time soliciting money. Their job is governing, not fundraising.

 

 

Forever wanted

The following is a poem of advice from an author unknown. I came across this today as we were cleaning out a drawer. I either found this poem and wrote it down or wrote it myself. To be frank, I can remember neither course of action. It is written as advice, likely more specific to a young man, perhaps a teen lad.

My advice to you is to bathe often.

A stinky man is forever wanting of company.

My advice to you is to say thank you frequently.

An ungrateful man is forever wanting of company.

My advice to you is to spread kindness through good deeds.

An unkind man is forever wanting of company.

So, be clean, be grateful and be kind and be forever wanted as company.

If you know its source, please let me know. I cannot find it on the web. The only reason I may have written it is the first piece of advice as I read where a woman prefers a clean man. So, it is best to present the best version of yourself. Plus, I do my best to try and be the last two. Truth be known, I have no pride of authorship and don’t hold this up as any paragon. I just like the message.

Summer of ’69 – a few things to remember

While 1968 was a year of significant occurrences, we are now reflecting on the events of fifity years ago in 1969. Bryan Adams sang of this year from a personal standpoint in “Summer of ’69,” so it is a great way to kick off:

“I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
It was the summer of ’69
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life”

This song was penned by Adams and James Douglas Vallance and reveals how the band was so important to the life of the singer. Yet, I find of interest how he interjects how life rears its head and alters the dreams. I do not know how autobiographical the song is, but I am glad Adams stuck with it, as he has crafted and performed many memorable songs.

Fifty years ago, we saw the final straw that caused action to occur on environmental protection. Following the reaction to Rachel Carson’s push with ‘Silent Spring,” the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire as it was so polluted by chemical dumping. Seeing this in retrospect, it amazes me that companies would dump or drain chemical run-off into a river and be surprised by the result. Within six months, President Nixon inked the law to create the Environmental Protection Agency, one of his two greatest accomplishments (opening dialogue with China was the other).

Later this summer, we will reflect on Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he is the first human to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin would soon join him for a lunar walkabout. These actions opened up science as a possible career for many young people and it also showed us that we are mere occupants on our planet. So, it is crucial we take care of where we live for our children and grandchildren. Maybe this helped provide additional context for enacting the EPA.

In August, will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock where 300,000 or so people ventured to a farm in upstate New York for a three day concert. This event still amazes me and I am intrigued by a friend’s recounting of what happened as he was there as a young college student. From his view, he remembers there were so many people, things like food, water and restrooms were dear. He recalls making food runs for people. The music and atmosphere were wonderful, but the challenges are overlooked in memory.

Finally, people who do not follow baseball or football will yawn, but this was the year of two huge upsets, which in actuality, should not have been as surprising. In January, Broadway Joe Namath led the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Namath had bragged that they would win the game the preceding week, but what many failed to realize, Namath had a terrific set of receivers and two of the best running backs in the game. This win led to the merger of two rival football leagues.

In October, the New York Mets easily won the baseball World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles (it was a tough year for Baltimore fans). For the first part of the decade, the new Mets were the worst team in baseball. What was underestimated by the Orioles is the Mets had two future Hall of Fame pitchers – Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and another excellent one in Jerry Koosman. Good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time. I mention these two events as when you look under the hood, the outcomes are less surprising, even though they were at the time.

The decade ended with two eventful years. Unfortunately, the US remained in Vietnam fighting a war which, we learned later, we knew we could not win. Many Americans and Vietnamese died, as a result fighting a war that would last several more years. We should remember people die in wars, before we go out and fight another one. As a Vietnamese soldier said in Ken Burns’ documentary on the war, people who feel they can win a war, have never fought in one.

 

 

The Lavender Scare

My wife and I watched an informative documentary on PBS last night called “The Lavender Scare.” This show documents a lengthy period of US government sanctioned discrimination against homosexuals that lasted from the early 1950s to mid 1990s.

The scare evolved directly from the efforts of Senator Joseph McCarthy who led the “red scare” as he carried out communist witch hunts. He turned his eye toward homosexuals saying (without data) those who worked in the government were susceptible to communist blackmailers. Yet, unlike his communist witch hunt publicly dying due to his “lack of decency,” as the Secretary of the Army said, the Lavender Scare gained footing.

To my chagrin, I learned former General Dwight Eisenhower campaigned for President on this issue and signed an executive order in 1953 to identify and expel homosexuals from government positions. This saddens me because of the obvious discrimination, but also because the former General said earlier the UK team led by Alan Turing that broke the Nazi Enigma code saved 750,000 lives and shortened WWII by two years. Turing had to hide that he was gay, so Ike’s executive order in 1953 would have kicked Turing out of employment had he been his boss in WWII – what would have happened if Turing would not have been around to impact the war?

The fact this government sanctioned discrimination lasted until it was ceased by President Bill Clinton is a shame, as well. Multiple tens of thousands of excellent public servants were kicked out of jobs they loved and did well. And, many could not get good employment in the private sector due to their FBI file. One of those was an astronomer named Dr. Frank Kameny.

Yet, Kameny did not sit still. He became an advocate for gay rights pushing a ball uphill. He wrote letters to Congress members, some of which were caustically responded to giving variations of the same harsh response. He organized protests and would help those who lost jobs. And, he was able to save some jobs, one who spoke five languages and was later decorated for service to the NSA. Kameny was awarded the “Medal of Freedom” by President Barack Obama for being the grandfather of the gay advocacy movement.

Sadly, there is a movement today led by some exclusionary religious leaders to condemn gays and foment their discrimination. My thinking is this is a backlash to the US Supreme Court approving same-sex marriage a few years ago. But, it goes deeper than that with a president who has laid the groundwork for divisiveness to occur with impunity. He did not invent divisiveness, but is not preventing it either.

Let me be frank. We are land of freedoms and civil rights. Unless someone is harming you, you have “no standing” to deny the rights of others. I personally am offended by bigotry in the pulpit as I see this a a grievous dereliction of duty. Yet, that person has a right to say what he wants – provided he is not inciting violence or hate crimes. If the latter is true, then that is not a protected right.

Please watch this informative documentary. And, let’s do our best to avoid going back to this dark period. There was one gay postal worker who was to be expelled in the 1950s, but his boss stood up for him saying I know this, it does not bother me and he does a good job. The gay employee kept his job. We need more of that in our country and less of the hate speech.

Out of the pool

I think it is time to fire any politician in Washington who is forgetting why they are there. We could start with the White House incumbent and then take out hundreds of members of Congress in both houses. I understand fully Congress must investigate and provide oversight over the Executive Branch. That is part of their job and the current incumbent has given them cause to dig further.

Yet, I have this simple idea that leaders of both houses sit down with legislative liaisons from the White House and figure out some things they can pass and sign into law. I think a civilian board could list about a dozen major issues to focus on and say work these out. It should not take a civilian board, but these folks are too beholden to funders to come up with a workable list.

A key reason for not listing the problems is too much discussion occurs around whether not solving an issue helps them politically. A curse word comes to mind, so please insert your favorite. A good example is a bipartisan Senate immigration bill was passed in 2013, but the House refused to take it up as leaving immigration unaddressed would help the Republicans in the 2014 midterms. The Democrats should not be smug as they do the same thing.

Because of the Republicans unhealthy focus on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, the party justifiably lost seats in the 2018 midterms. To be frank, they should have lost seats with a rushed process that did not follow form and came up with several awful ideas. They should also thank Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski for saving them from themselves by voting against an ill-conceived vote.

But, what have Dems done with improving the ACA with their winning back the majority in the House – nothing other than “beating on their chest” bills that went nowhere? Not that they were bad bills, but don’t wait until an election in 2020 to address healthcare. The ACA is imperfect, but is working OK and needs some more stability and improvements due to initial design flaws and several efforts by the GOP to sabotage it.

So, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. McConnell, and Mr. Pence, get your fannies in a room with a white board and figure out how to get something done. I do not care which party benefits from what comes out of this. The key is we benefit. Do something that will be signed into law by the mercurial man in the White House. So, Mr. Pence you better have the Queen of Hearts’ blessing to make deals or you may lose your head.

Here are few items for the list:

  • Stabilize the ACA: pay insurers what we owe them (yes we reneged on two deals with them) and invite them back to the market to have more competition. Consider expanding Medicare to age 62 as a trial to improve the risk pools in both the ACA and Medicare. Push for the remaining states to expand Medicaid.
  • Address better gun governance:¬†another mass shooting occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. More suicides occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. A few accidental shootings and homicides occurred and nobody in office cares. It is a holistic problem that needs holistic solutions. Do something, anything that will help even if it is just a little. Universal background checks and elongated waiting periods would be well received by the majority of Americans.
  • Address climate change at the federal level: Cities, states and some industries are moving forward without an active federal government role, which is rightfully being sued by 21 children for failure to address what they have known about for three decades. They actually have a good case. This is also a jobs and economy issue as we can look backwards and get passed by or look to growing renewables industries. As a good example of looking backward, we let China seize a significant majority of the rare earth metals market share from us which is now a threat to national security.
  • Address the debt and deficit: Trade deficits are not a big thing as we are a consumer driven economy. The far bigger crisis is our national debt and growing deficit. We have to pay for things and the less we do, the more risk we have with a growing interest cost as a percent of our annual budget. We must increase taxes and reduce spending, both. The GOP has forsaken its role in being a budget hawk passing a tax bill that made a growing problem worse. Revisit the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan and do some of those things.

I will stop there, but there are more problems to address. Immigration is a problem, but it has been made worse under this president by cutting funding to help some Central American countries improve the lives of their citizens and the lack of judges to address the increased migration. A wall is not an answer. It is merely a structure. Dusting off that bipartisan Senate bill from 2013 would be a good start as well as addressing DACA. We need to keep educated young people in our country, as growth is an issue.

So, legislators, please get in a room and do some things that will pass. The focus should be on helping Americans, not helping legislators. Stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job. And, yes continue your oversight role as we are a republic not a kingdom.