Good People Doing Good Things – Mike Ilitch

Last week I tried out a new feature, Good People Doing Good Things, and people seemed to like it, so I decided to make it a (mostly) regular Wednesday feature. I think it is important, given the current state of affairs not only in the U.S., but across the globe, that we remember there are … there really are … people who care about others and are working to leave the world just a little better than they found it.

Last week I wrote about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) that does much good work around the globe.  Well, turns out that is one tough act to follow!  If I only write about people doing good on a grand scale ala the Gates Foundation, I will only be able to maintain this feature for a week or two before running out of material.  But … there are good people doing good things all over the world, just mostly on a smaller scale.  Few of us have the resources that the Gates have, but it doesn’t make our contributions any less meaningful.  As a former boss used to say, “peanuts make elephants”.  So on that note, this week I present to you Mr. Mike Ilitch!

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Mr. Ilitch, who died on February 10th, was the founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza, and he also owned the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League and Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball. Impressive, but those are not the things that bring Mr. Ilitch to this post.

rosa-parksPerhaps his most widely-publicized act of philanthropy involved Civil Rights activist, Rosa Parks. In 1994, Ms. Parks home was broken into, and then 81-year-old Parks was assaulted and robbed.  Federal appeals court Judge Damon Keith set about trying to find a safer place for Ms. Parks to live – one that she could afford on her meager income.  When Mike Ilitch heard of it, he generously volunteered to pay Rosa Parks’ rent ‘indefinitely’.  Which is exactly what he did, from 1994 until her death in 2005! Most outside the Ilitch family were unaware of this until his death last week.

But that is not the limit of Mr. Ilitch’s good works.  One of Ilitch’s first good works came in 1985 when he established a traveling restaurant formed to feed the hungry and assist with food provisions during national disasters. The project, called Little Caesars Love Kitchen, is still in operation today, as the mobile food kitchen travels throughout the United States to provide the brand’s pizza to people in need. It operates seven days a week, has fed more than three million people in 48 states and four Canadian provinces, and has responded to many natural disasters and the World Trade Center attacks after Sept. 11, 2001. The program has been recognized by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

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Last year, law enforcement in Harper Woods, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, wanted to start a K-9 program, but the budget was tight and they couldn’t afford it.  Enter Mike Ilitch, who made a large enough contribution to enable Harper Woods to purchase Kaiser, a 15-month-old German Shepard and the town’s first K-9 police officer, trained in obedience, narcotics and tracking.

ilitch-4In 2006, after reading about a Kentucky soldier returning home from Iraq after losing both of his legs, Ilitch, himself a former Marine who served at Pearl Harbor, said, “I felt a little guilty. All these guys going over there, getting blown up. You always want to do more. I didn’t feel good about myself. What could I do? What should I do?” What he did was established the Little Caesars Veterans Program, which offers credits on its franchise fee, the first equipment order and financing. The offer is even better for disabled veterans. The total benefit for service-disabled veterans can be approximately $68,000. It is a step up, a helping hand, but not a hand-out.  Ilitch was awarded the Secretary’s Award, the highest tribute given to a private citizen by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007.

In addition to all the above, Mike Ilitch was well known in the Detroit region for his contributions to inner city development and re-vitalization projects and education, and he founded a number of various charities to which he contributed regularly.  Isn’t it heartwarming to see that in the midst of today’s avaricious society, there are still those who, like Mike Ilitch, care enough to open both their wallets and their hearts to help others?  Ilitch’s son, Christopher, will be taking over the family business, and has learned many a valuable lesson in humanity from his father, but still, those are some mighty big shoes to fill!  Mr. I, as he was often called, will not soon be forgotten.

Note to readers:  I am open to any suggestions my readers may have of people doing good things for others, whether in the U.S. or anywhere else on the globe!  So, if you know of somebody or have read about somebody who qualifies, please let me know!  I do not want the well to run dry  🙂

 

The wind is at our backs now, with red states leading the way

In the current administration, where we all fear that fossil fuel output, dangerous and destructive oil pipelines, and coal mining will return to their heyday, at a devastating cost to our environment, my blogger-friend Keith has positive news on renewable energy sources and their continuity in spite of Trump and Pruitt! Please take a few moments to read Keith’s post and drop him a comment to let him know you appreciate a bit of positive news! Thank you Keith, both for the post and the unspoken permission to share!

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While our President is not a fan of wind energy (having unsuccessfully sued the Scottish government to stop an offshore development) and has made some climate change is a hoax comments, rather quietly, renewable energy continues to move up the charts. Solar energy is going like gangbusters with double-digit growth in production and jobs, but wind energy has surpassed hydro energy as the largest form of renewable energy in the US. What is interesting, most of the growth in wind energy is occurring rather quietly in mostly red states.

From an American Energy News article last week:

Texas has more than 20 MW of installed wind capacity, or nearly a quarter of the market. Iowa is the second-biggest wind state, and Oklahoma overtook California for third place at the end of 2016.

 The first offshore wind project in the United States also came online in the fourth quarter…

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A Sticky Wicket Of A Problem … BEES … Or Rather A Lack Of … Part II

In Part 1 of this post, I wrote about the declining honeybee population and its significance to the survival of mankind.  There can be little doubt that honeybees are an important factor in food production, not only for humans, but for wildlife as well.  So, what is being done to reverse the trend of the dying bee population, what more can be done, and what is the likely outcome?

What each of us can do

bees-1Obviously, major changes in pesticide use, mining and drilling, and climate change must be made by farmers, environmentalists, and government regulation. But that does not mean we, as individuals, are powerless … there are simple things we can do to help:

  • Plant flowers! Even if it’s only a couple of window boxes on your patio, or a small garden, every little bit helps.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided a quite handy guide to which plants and flowers are best.
  • Limit the use of pesticides and herbicides while plants are in bloom and bees are actively foraging. Herbicides (weed killer) reduce the bees sources of pollen and nectar, while pesticides ingested by bees can be lethal.
  • When possible, buy locally-grown fruits, vegetables and honey to help support not only local farmers, but also local beekeepers. When I found out that most honey sold in the U.S. is imported from China and Latin America, I began buying only honey from a local farm we visit several times during the warm months. We also get most of our green beans, corn, apples and other produce there, and somehow it always tastes better than what is found at Kroger.

What NGOs are doing to help

There are a number of private organizations doing good work in the field, and one of the best seems to be the Keystone Policy Center, in conjunction with the Honeybee Health Coalition. Together, these institutions are working on four main areas: forage and nutrition, hive management, crop pest management, and public outreach.

Several other organizations around the world are making contributions to help save the bees. Among them are:  Avaaz, BeesFree, Inc., Burt’s Bees, Pollinator Partnership Honey Bee Health Improvement Project,  Center for Honeybee Research, Environmental Justice Foundation, Navdanya’s Biodiversity Conservation Farm, Save Honey Bees, Save the Bees, and others. (Sorry for all the links, but I thought you might want to check out one or two of them)

What is the U.S. Government doing to help?

bees-3Here comes the tricky part.  The short answer is: not enough.  The more complex answer is … do you want to know what we are doing now, were doing a year ago, or will likely be doing a month from now?  The Obama administration made some movements to try to help slow or stop the decline in the honeybee population by imposing regulations on neonicotinoid pesticides, but most felt the restrictions were not nearly enough.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has funded studies on bee diseases, and in 2014 provided a $3 million grant to help reseed pastures in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas with bee-appropriate plants like alfalfa and clover.

In 2014, President Obama set up a task force spearheaded by the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with a proposed budget of $50 million annually, to research the causes and solutions to the declining bee population.  In 2015, the Obama administration set out a strategy that included managing the way in which forests burned by forest fires would be re-planted, the way offices are landscaped and the way roadside habitats where bees feed are preserved.

bees-2Environmental groups have been pressuring the federal government to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, which are already banned in Europe.  However, the best the EPA could come up with was a moratorium on approving any new use permits for these kinds of insecticides. They also imposed restrictions on what pesticides farmers can use when commercial honeybees are pollinating their crops. You can visit the EPA website  and see for yourself what they say, but keep in mind that the EPA site has been changed and curtailed under Trump’s orders, and I have no idea what may be missing that was included 2 months ago.

Last week, Scott Pruitt was sworn in as head of the EPA, an agency he has sued no less than 14 times.  There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that his mandate from Trump was to start hacking away at regulations that protect the environment. Companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer, all of whom are involved in the manufacture or wide-scale use of neonicotinoid pesticides, are likely to lobby to lift regulations limiting pesticides.  Pruitt is heavily involved with the oil and gas industries, so it is highly probable that in the coming months we will see work resume on the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as an increase in mining, oil drilling, and other activities that damage the bee’s habitat, and also contribute to the ill effects of climate change, further damaging the bee’s habitats.

One last note

It looks and sounds like something from a sci-fi movie. Picture thousands of miniature drones working to pollinate a field … tiny electronic creatures going from plant to plant, collecting and depositing pollen.  Or think of stepping outside to water the flowers in your yard and seeing small electronic gadgets with whirring blades instead of wings attacking your hyacinths.  But this is not science fiction, these are bee-bots, and they are already functional, though not without bugs and not yet ready for commercial use.  In 2014, Harvard University researchers led by engineering professor Robert Wood introduced the first RoboBees, bee-size robots with the ability to lift off the ground and hover midair when tethered to a power supply. The details were published in the journal Science.

bees-4Pollination is complex task and should not be underrated. It involves finding flowers and deciding if they are suitable and haven’t already been visited. The pollinator then needs to successfully handle the flower, picking pollen up and putting it down in another plant, while co-ordinating with its team and optimising its route between flowers. In all of these tasks, our existing pollinators excel, their skills honed through millions of years of evolution.

Modern drones can already achieve this level of individual management. As they have the technology to track faces, they could track flowers as well. They could also plot routes via GPS and return to base for recharging on sensing a low battery. In the long run, they may even have a potential advantage over natural pollinators as pollination would be their sole function. Bees, on the other hand, are looking to feed themselves and their brood, and pollination happens as a by-product.

Although the technology is certainly fascinating, I hope that other solutions can be found to keep the living bee population from further decline.  I prefer nature’s creatures to electronic ones, which I find slightly disconcerting, to say the least, and I suspect the use of robobees would have a tremendous negative effect on the price of the food we eat.

I did quite a bit of research, much of it not necessarily reflected in this post, but it gave me a much better understanding of beekeeping, the role of bees, the causes of their decline, and what needs to be done.  I had no idea commercial beekeeping was so involved!  Nor did I realize how fascinating this topic is, which explains why I spent so much time researching … I became engrossed and devoured much more material than was necessary to write this post.  But alas, knowledge is never a waste of time.

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A Sticky Wicket Of A Problem … BEES … Or Rather A Lack Of … Part I

A few months back, when I mentioned the crisis of the declining bee population, one person commented that she could live without honey if she had to.  I sometimes get highly annoyed, to say the least, about such inane comments, but other times I see it as a teaching experience.  In this case, I tried to educate, but the person simply shrugged and actually said, “Oh well”.  Today, two articles, combined with the Trump administration’s lack of regard for protections of our environment, prompted me to write about the declining bee population once again, this time in more depth.

Bees-beekeeper.jpgThere is a plague that is being called ‘Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)’, that is decimating the bee population.  By the end of bee season last April, the commercial bee population had declined by 44%, as compared with 10%-15% in past years. While nobody claims that there is one singular cause for the loss of so many bees, most scientists and environmentalists believe it is a combination of:

  • Loss of habitat, due to a variety of factors including pesticide use, mining and drilling, changing temperatures and weather conditions due to climate change that have restricted the area where bees can survive, as well as eradicated some food sources necessary for survival. Additionally, use of herbicides (weed killer) has reduced the available pollen and nectar bees rely on for pollination.
  • A group of chemicals called neonicotinoid pesticides that are proven to harm not only bees, but other insects as well. They accumulate in individual bees and within entire colonies, including the honey that bees feed to infant larvae. Bees that do not die outright, experience sub-lethal systemic effects, development defects, weakness, and loss of orientation. The die-off leaves fewer bees and weaker bees, who must work harder to produce honey in depleted wild habitats. These conditions create the formula for bee colony collapse.

bee-on flower-2.jpgBefore we talk about what is or is not being done, what can be done to reverse these problems, it is important to understand why bees are critical to our lives, why we rely on them for much more than the honey we drizzle over our fruit or toast.  Bees have played a role either by directly pollinating the many vegetables and fruits we eat, or pollinating the food for the animals that we then consume. It is said that between 30% and 90% of the foods we need to stay alive are reliant on bee pollination, either directly or indirectly. I am not sure why such a large gap, but it seems to vary significantly depending on which study is being cited. My guess is it is somewhere midway, or perhaps varies by region, depending on which crops are grown, but it highlights the difficulties of the science. We already have a global food crisis, caused in part by climate change and overpopulation, and we can ill afford a reduction in available food in coming years, as the population of the world continues to increase.

The consequence of a dying bee population impacts man at the highest levels on our food chain, posing an enormously grave threat to human survival. Since no other single animal species plays a more significant role in producing the fruits and vegetables that we humans commonly take for granted yet require near daily to stay alive, the greatest modern scientist Albert Einstein once prophetically remarked, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”Global Research, Centre for Research on Globalization 

In fairness, it should be noted that one group of studies reported by the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP), significantly downplays the importance of bees in food production, concluding that bees are only responsible for about 7.4% of the world’s agricultural value.  Not being a scientist, I cannot dispute their findings, but their conclusions are at odds with most other scientific studies worldwide.

bees-3Now that we know some of the reasons for the decline in the bee population, and why it matters, it is prudent to look at what is being done to attempt to solve the problem, which will be the focus of Part II of this post.  This topic is too important to take shortcuts, so I have decided to divide it into two parts, thus I can cover more of what the U.S., as well as other countries are (or aren’t) doing to assess and address the potentially devastating problem.  So stay tuned …

I rarely include a source listing with my posts, preferring instead to include a partial source listing through the use of hyperlinks, but some of these are definitely worth the read, and I decided to include one this time, especially in light of those who may question the legitimacy of my sources. This is only a partial listing, but includes the most important/interesting ones:

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On Why We Must Not Turn Trump Into A Meme

Last night I went on somewhat of a rant on Facebook. It was actually a very mild rant, though if I had said precisely what I felt, I would likely have been banned from Facebook for life.  Yesterday morning, though I had many things that I needed to do besides write, I spent three hours without so much as looking up from my computer to get the piece on Donald Trump’s faux pas (alternative fact) about Sweden written and posted because I felt it was too important to wait.  I skipped both breakfast or lunch (one daytime meal is all I ever eat anyway), was late doing the grocery marketing, and was still folding laundry at 1:00 a.m. this morning.  But I prioritized and did what I thought most important first.

Then yesterday evening, I took a few precious minutes to log onto Facebook and within about two minutes saw no less than 15 memes about the Sweden remark posted by friends.  Some were only silly, fairly harmless, others mired in half-truths, and one was blatantly untrue.  Not a single one of the people who posted these had read my post, and likely none had any actual facts about the ill-conceived remark or bothered to seek facts.  I was tired, I could barely see, I had a house full of rowdy teens playing video games, chomping pizza, and knocking over lamps, and seeing all those inane memes was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Now, I realize that in these dark times we all need to laugh, we all need some humour in our lives, lest we completely lose our perspective, our balance.  It is why I write my Monday morning posts, it is why I read, per Hugh’s suggestion, a few comics every morning, and it is why, despite their rowdiness, I enjoyed my house full of teens last night – they make me laugh!  But Donald Trump and his ‘team’ of villains are not funny.  We cannot turn their lies and bad policies into our source for humour, for in so doing, we neutralize them, make them nothing worse than an object of ridicule.  It makes them seem funny, ridiculous, but rather harmless.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I thought a lot about the situation during the night and well into the morning, wondering if I was making a mountain out of a molehill, wondering why I keep writing to try to inform.  My conclusion on the first is that no, I am not over-reacting, though admittedly I could have taken an hour or so to think before I ranted.  But the reality is that we are facing a potential disaster and it is not a laughing matter, cannot be summed up by a silly picture accompanied by 15 words or so.  The danger in this, I think, goes beyond the fact that these things neutralize the situation, though that is also important.  But the greater danger is that when people post a meme that attempts to compress a complex, serious situation into a comic, that person is as guilty of spreading faux news as any others. It costs us our credibility. When one does not check their facts, just says, “Oh look … a cute meme that ridicules Trump … I shall share this,” even if there are no untruths involved (and usually there are), it reduces the seriousness of a situation into a one-liner.  And where facts are incorrect, it reduces the person sharing those lies to nothing better than a Breitbart writer.

Almost every person whose meme I saw last night are intelligent, well-educated and knowledgeable people, so one might brush it off, saying it was merely a joke.  BUT … each of those people have Facebook friends, many of whom are neither particularly deep thinkers nor knowledgeable.  THOSE people are just as likely to believe what they read in a Facebook meme as not, having no other point of reference. So no, I don’t think I was making a mountain out of a molehill, I do not see it as harmless fun, though I’m sure the same people will continue to post the same types of things.  Perhaps a few will think harder before they do it next time … I don’t know.

As to why I keep writing to try to inform … a dear friend has commented a few times that my blog doesn’t reach enough people to make a difference, and that anyway, I won’t change the minds of the Trump’s supporters.  To some extent, both of these are true statements, but I realized as I was over-thinking at 2:00 a.m. … it isn’t the trumpeters whom I’m trying to reach.  The person I am trying to reach is the person who sees what is happening, but does not see where it could lead and does not make a stand.  The person sitting in a group of friends who does not speak up when lies are told, who does not ask questions and force people to think in order to justify their position.  I’m not suggesting that we all go out and be obnoxious and get into barroom brawls, but simply that we cannot afford to remain silent. We need to continue contacting our representatives and senators to let them know our position, to remind them that they work for us.  We need to challenge friends when they choose to believe the pack of lies they are being fed by Trump and his minions. We need to use the tools at our command: facts, intellect, civil discourse. If we sit in silence now, some day a group of students will be asking their teacher “Why didn’t they speak out … why didn’t they DO something? Why didn’t they see it coming?”

The situation is becoming more grim by the day.  We have a narcissistic lunatic at the helm, being guided by an anti-government white supremacist.  Our government, a government that represents all of us, has insulted nearly every one of our allies, while forming close attachments with those who would do us harm. Our free press is being badgered and denigrated every single day. We have a man in charge of our environmental regulatory agency who is committed to removing most of the regulations that protect us and our earth.  We have a woman in charge of public education who is both under-educated herself, and against public education. And we have a blatant racist in charge of enforcing the laws of the nation.  That is not funny.  It is not a laughing matter.  It cannot be summed up in a cartoon, nor should it.

Monday, It Is. Do This, We Must.

mondayOnce again it has arrived, rather predictably, like the monthly utility bills … yes, folks, it is Monday again!  But chin up, as there is only one this week, and some of you in the U.S. may actually have the day off for President’s Day.  But either way, Filosofa is here to brighten your Monday morning before you head out the door to work, so pull up a chair and grab your coffee … No, Joe … put the bourbon back … I said COFFEE!!!! stomp-foot


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Do not pass go, do not collect $200 … at least not with a thinble

Some people take their games very seriously.  My late husband was like that.  One time he was losing at a casual card game we were playing with friends, and he got mad and locked himself in the bathroom … for an hour.  We continued to play without him, but it finally became a problem when one of our guests needed the bathroom, and we had to lure him out as one would a child.  But today’s story is not about that … it is about the board game, Monopoly.  Now likely everyone reading this column has at one time or another played Monopoly.  Those of us over a certain age probably remember the original player tokens, such as the shoe, iron, terrier, car, wheelbarrow, and thimble.  Some of these tokens have already been replaced with more modern symbols, and it has recently been reported that the iconic thimble, once a symbol of thrift and resourcefulness (think darning socks, making one’s own clothes, etc.) is to be replaced in the next edition of the game.  I never liked the thimble all that much … always went for the doggie when given a chance … but apparently some people are devastated by the news!

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A group called the ‘A.V. Club’, self-defined as “Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed”, is up in arms over the change.    Their site announced the change as such:

“Blithely tearing apart our fragile connections to a gentler, more refined age the way it has so many families, Hasbro has announced that the next edition of Monopoly will say goodbye to the thimble—along with one, last lingering shred of our national dignity.”

There was a website where you could vote for the new tokens, but when I went there, I found that voting has already ended and the winning token will be announced on Sunday, March 19th, 2017, so stay tuned.  Among the choices were “a flip-flop, jet ski, television, Facebook “Like” thumb, a penguin, and other harbingers of our decline.”  I think perhaps somebody needs to get a life.


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The cutest hitchhiker

I’m not sure if this little guy was seeking adventure or if he was just hungry and hoped to find breakfast in the garbage truck, but I suspect he got more than he bargained for when the truck began moving on down the road!  Luckily for him, Helena Evich, a reporter for Politico, was on her way to work and just happened to be behind the garbage truck when she noticed the raccoon.  Ms. Evich promptly called the telephone number on the back of the truck, explained the situation, and with the truck number, they were able to contact the driver.  The driver immediately pulled over, freed the raccoon, and the story has a happy ending.  How many people, I wonder, would have done what Ms. Evich did?  I like to think we all would, but I suspect that is pie-in-the-sky.  So, two thumbs up to Helena Evich for saving the life of one very frightened, very cute raccoon!

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Bob and Linda’s terrible day …

Okay … guys … what would you do if your wife donated your favourite shirt to Goodwill without asking you first?  And wives … would you donate hubby’s shirt … a shirt he just wore a few days ago … to Goodwill without asking him?  Well, Linda Hoffman donated hubby Bob’s shirt to Goodwill, along with several other shirts, last week in Placentia, California.  Bob was none too happy … it wasn’t just any old shirt, but it was the shirt that just happened to have $8,000 in the pocket!  Now, Bob says the $8,000 was a secret fund that he was planning to use to take Linda on a dream vacation to Italy.  However, recently a relative had fallen on hard times and needed some help, so Bob had withdrawn the money to lend to the relative, but left it in his shirt pocket.

monday-shirtWhen he asked Linda about the shirt, and she told him what she had done with the shirt, he fessed up about the money and the couple literally flew to the Goodwill outlet to try to retrieve the shirt before some lucky customer bought a shirt with a bit of a bonus inside.  They found the other shirts with the help of the staff at Goodwill, but not THE shirt.  By the time they returned home, sans cash, Bob was in tears.  But the story does have a happy ending … the staff at Goodwill continued to search, and found the shirt the next morning, called the Hoffmans, and Bob was soon reunited with his money.

A few observations from Filosofa:

  • Linda is lucky to be alive
  • Bob is not very bright for leaving $8,000 in a shirt pocket
  • Linda is not very bright for donating a shirt without washing it and checking the pockets first
  • These two people deserve each other

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A company with a heart

Here in the U.S., some companies are fairly liberal when it comes to a couple having a new baby, others not so much.  For example, some companies will allow the father ‘paternity leave’ … a few weeks off to spend time bonding with the new baby.  Others will offer the mother extended leave beyond the normal six weeks.  And a few will even allow the couple ‘parental leave’ in the case of adoption.  We are, overall, far less generous than many of our European counterparts.  That said, a Scottish brewery has taken the concept one step farther and offers a week’s leave for puppy parental leave, calling it the ‘paw-ternity policy’.

According to BrewDog Brewery’s co-founder, James Watt, “It’s not easy trying to juggle work and settle a new dog into your life, and many members of our crew have four-legged friends at home. We wanted to take the stress out of the situation and let our teams take the time they need to welcome their new puppy or dog into their family.” Now that, folks, is a company with heart!

BrewDog was founded in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickey, and a dog.  The company now employs more than 1,000 workers and has locations around the world.  They are planning to open one soon in Columbus, Ohio, and yes, their Columbus employees will also be eligible for paw-ternity leave!

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Alrighty … fun time is over … rinse your coffee cup, pick up your briefcase and head on out the door.  Oh!  I almost forgot to tell you my good news!  Yesterday when I stepped out, I found a crocus blooming in my front yard!  A beautiful, tiny orange crocus!  It has been in the 60s here for several days, so I guess the little crocus decided to pop his little head out!  It made my day!  Officially, spring is more than a month away yet, but I feel like it has come, and I have gone for 4-mile walks both days this weekend!  Anyway … have a great week, and remember to share a smile, a laugh, a pat on the back, or even a hug today … we all need it these days.  Keep safe, my friends!

Instead of cartoons today, you get cute animals because cute animals will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside and bring out that smile …..

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Did You Hear The Alt-News About Sweden?

Did you hear about the terrorist attack on Sweden last Friday?  If we had waited for the mainstream media to tell us about it, we still wouldn’t know.  But, since according to Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, we should get all our news directly from Trump, we now know about the attack.  Thank you, Donnie T. for the enlightenment!  Only one problem … there was no terrorist attack on Sweden on Friday … or any other time, for that matter.

For some reason, unbeknownst to mankind, Trump continues doing campaign-style rallies wherever he goes.  I suspect to keep the masses fired up with enthusiasm and as a venue to toot his own horn, since not too many people are tooting it for him these days.  So, on the taxpayers dime, he goes around spewing and spouting to crowds of thousands who are still goo-goo-eyed over him (for a reason that is beyond my comprehension).

At one such rally on Saturday in Melbourne, Florida, he spoke in an airplane hangar to a crowd of some 9,000 people.  Wait … there are 9,000 people in Florida willing to waste time on a Saturday listening to Trump?  What the …. ????  Anyway, he was doing his usual rant about the press,

“Life is a campaign. Making our country great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign. To make America great again is absolutely a campaign. It’s not easy, especially when we’re also fighting the press. When the media lies to people I will never ever let them get away with it. We are not going to let the fake news tell us what to do, how to live and what to believe. We are free, independent people and we will make our own choices.”

He then reiterated that the press is dishonest, that he inherited a “mess”, and that the White House is running “so smoothly”.  He continued to criticize the judges who refused to fall under his spell and reinstate his travel ban.  And then came the kicker …

“We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris.”

There was no attack in Sweden, and the only such incident I can find record of was in 2010 when a suicide bomber injured two people.  The bomber was a Swede.

Sweden, meanwhile, had some fun with Donald’s faux pas.

  • “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister.
  • “Due to harsh weather in northern parts of Sweden the road E10 was closed between Katterjakk and Riksgransen” and “a man died in hospital, after an accident in the workplace earlier that day” – Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper responded, were the biggest “crime” stories of the day.
  • “OK let’s not be fake news, this story took place in the autumn, but was reported Friday before lunchtime and we thought you would like it. A wooden moose got the attention of a lovesick moose bull.” – Aftonbladet
  • Another Twitter user posted a picture of famous Swedish export Abba, writing: “Four extremists responsible for #swedenincident are still at large, if you see these people phone @realDonaldTrump at once.”

Just for some perspective here, there were 112 reported cases of lethal violence in Sweden in 2015, an increase of 25 cases over the previous year.  Not terrorism, just your run o’ the mill rape, robbery, etc. Sweden has a long history of welcoming refugees — Jews, Iranians, Eritreans, Somalis, Kurds and people from the former Yugoslavia, among others.

In an essay in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the journalist Martin Gelin speculated that “Trump might have gotten his news from the countless right-wing media in the United States that have long been reporting that Sweden is heading for total collapse. Among Trump supporters, there are common myths that Sweden is in a state of chaos after taking in refugees from the Middle East. These are incorrect, made up and gravely misleading news items like this have spread to right-wing sites like Breitbart, Human Events, Drudge Report and Fox News, as well as the popular conservative radio programs that reach millions of listeners every day.”

And so, Trump himself joins the ranks of his minions Kellyanne Conway (the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre) and Sean Spicer (the Atlanta terrorist attack, repeated 3 times, where he obviously meant to say Orlando).  And yet, he complains about the “dishonest media” and “fake news”. I don’t get it … I just don’t get it.

Slightly Used Telephone For Sale …

hitlers-phone

What is the fascination people have for things that are tied to horrific events?  I don’t understand it, but clearly there is such a fascination, and some seem quite willing to spend more money on an old telephone than the average family earns in a decade or more.

Today I came across an article in the Guardian that Adolph Hitler’s telephone (see above) is to be auctioned by U.S. auction house Alexander Historical Auctions.  The value of said phone is estimated between $200,000 and $300,000, and it doesn’t even work anymore!  Sheesh … and I thought my cell phone was pricey!  Alexander House said the phone was “arguably the most destructive ‘weapon’ of all time, which sent millions to their deaths”.  Well, I can’t argue with that logic, but that in itself makes me not want to touch it, let alone have it in my house!

Originally a black Bakelite phone that was later painted crimson and engraved with Hitler’s name, it was found in the Nazi leader’s Berlin bunker in 1945 following the regime’s defeat. As you can see from the photo, it isn’t even in very good condition.  In my opinion, it belongs in a museum somewhere in Germany.  This is not the first or only bizarre thing to be sold at auction:

  • The gun used by George Zimmerman to murder Trayvon Martin in 2012 was auctioned last year for $250,000
  • Recently auctioned mementos from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy include:
    • The gun and handcuffs used to arrest Lee Harvey Oswald
    • The metal pole from the grassy knoll
    • Lee Harvey Oswald’s wedding ring fetched $118,000 in 2013
  • A lock of President Abraham Lincoln’s hair, clipped shortly after his assassination, sold for $25,000
  • Author J.D. Salinger’s toilet was listed in 2010 on eBay for $1 million. No word on whether it was sold, and if so, for how much.  But It comes “uncleaned and in its original condition”, the ad for it states.
  • The violin that was played as the Titanic sank was sold at auction in 2013 for $1.117 million.
  • In 2002, a Judge in San Francisco gave permission to sell parts from the Little Boy atomic bomb, the bomb that caused the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945.  Two electrical plugs went to a private investor for $167,000.  I just think this is wrong.  Apparently I am not alone, as the U.S. Government tried to block the sale.
  • Winston Churchill’s dentures were ‘snapped up’ in 2010 for nearly $19,000

churchills-dentures

I’m sure some psychologist could explain the fascination, the human character flaw, that leads people to spend disgusting amounts of money for these basically disgusting things, but I have my own conclusion.  Some people are morbid, but mostly I think the people that buy these things have far more money than they have good sense! Wouldn’t it be nicer to see these people spend their hundreds of thousands of dollars to help feed the hungry?

I wonder if, years from now, somebody will auction off Trump’s toupee?

Another Damn Shame: Scott Pruitt

I just need to figure out what company I would like to run.  Here’s the plan:  I determine what company I would like to run … I’m thinking perhaps the New York Times or the Boston Globe … or perhaps something more high-tech, like Google or Apple.  Then I sue that company 14 times … might cost a bit up front, but in the long run it should pay off.  After the 14th lawsuit, I will be asked to run the company!  Hey … it worked for Scott Pruitt!  He sued the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times, and now he sits at its head!

Remember the big brouhaha last year about Hillary Clinton’s emails?  They called it, improperly, a ‘scandal’, but it turned out to be nothing of the sort.  Still, the Republicans tortured and tormented us all with the non-news of the non-scandal and it likely played some part in her loss on November 8th, thanks to the Trump-Putin team and the media.  Well, Scott Pruitt has his own email scandal, and this one may well turn out to be scandalous.  But, we will not know until it is too late, as he has already been confirmed by the senate in a 52-46 vote, and was sworn into office on Friday.  Interestingly, two Democrats voted ‘yea’ — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

The emails in question are ones Pruitt exchanged with oil and gas industry heads while he was serving as Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma.  He has been refusing for two years to hand over the emails, but on Thursday, an Oklahoma judge ordered him to release the emails no later than next Tuesday.  Senate Democrats sought to delay the confirmation vote until the emails had been reviewed, claiming that his relationship to the oil and gas industry is questionable, but the senate went ahead with the vote, and common sense lost yet another battle.

envir-3Back in December, when Trump first announced his choice of Pruitt to head the EPA, I wrote that it was nothing less than a disastrous choice.  I have heard nothing that has made me change my mind, and that which I have heard has merely confirmed what I already suspected:  Pruitt has every intention of hobbling the EPA as the Chinese once hobbled women’s feet.

Hundreds of former EPA staff members wrote an open letter against his appointment, some calling him an “unqualified extremist”.

Environmental campaigners see him as an oil and gas industry puppet who is “lukewarm” on the threat posed by climate change – they fear that hard-won environmental regulations will be overturned. As previously noted, freshman Republican Representative Matt Gaetz introduced a bill to end the EPA by the end of 2018, however that bill is not likely to pass even the House, though its simple verbage is chilling:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.

By most accounts, Gaetz’ bill is not likely to be taken seriously by many.  No, the real threat to the EPA comes from its own newly-dubbed chief, Pruitt.

envir-4Pruitt’s lawsuits against the EPA have often been in conjunction with the fossil fuel industry, attempting to overturn EPA air and water regulations – regulations designed to protect the planet we live on from future destruction. It is expected that Trump and Pruitt together will ‘turn the clock back’ on both through a series of executive orders, cuts in staffing, and legislation. It has been reported that Pruitt has simply copied and pasted suggested language from an energy company onto state letterhead, and then sent it to the EPA.

Pruitt is expected to slow or reverse previous legislation tightening federal standards for vehicle emissions, water quality and pollution at power plants. He describes himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda”.  He is partially funded by the oil and gas industries, having received at least $270,000 in ‘donations’ over the years, probably more.

Pruitt’s right-wing ideology goes beyond just areas of environment.  He has been highly critical of the Supreme Court for refusing to support Oklahoma’s proposed definition of “marriage as only the union of one man and one woman”, and in 2014 he joined a lawsuit targeting California’s prohibition on the sale of eggs laid by caged hens.  Losing that, he later announced that he would investigate the Humane Society of the United States, one of the principal proponents of the California law. He lost in both cases, as the courts ruled the suit was acting in the interest of egg farmers, rather than the general public.  However, it proves a couple of things … like his new boss, he is a believer that the best way to solve differences and problems is via lawsuit, and that he supports business and industry over and above the public interest.

Pruitt has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Georgetown College in Kentucky, and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa.  Neither have any relation to science, yet he believes he knows more than all the climate scientists when he says about climate change and man’s involvement/responsibility: “the extent of that [human] impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

envir-2It is fully expected that Pruitt will quickly dismantle the Clean Power Plan, the linchpin of the United States’ plan to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement to lower carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by about 30 percent over the coming decades. The effects of such a move will be two-fold:  first, it will reverse progress made by the U.S. in the past decade to make a positive contribution toward a healthier, more sustainable environment.  Second, it will cause the U.S. to lose respect of the other 200 nations involved in the Paris Climate Accords who counted on the U.S. to uphold the agreement and do its part.

Trump and Pruitt have made clear their priorities, which are to open pathways for unscrupulous businesses to bypass current clean air and water regulations in order to maximize their profits, with complete disregard for the environment, for the earth and atmosphere, and for the people who inhabit the earth.  It is yet another shame in the cap of the 115th Congress and the man-who-would-be-king that Scott Pruitt is now the head of the EPA.  A damn shame.

envir-5

Freedom of the Press — GOING, GOING … Part II

When I wrote yesterday about Trump forcibly stifling Jewish reporter Jake Turx, who was not even allowed to ask his question, I thought it was going to be a solitary post.  That was my intention.  I never know, however, what will pop onto my radar, and apparently fate, kismet, karma or whatever had other ideas for me.  Thus, today I have written Part II of the story, and there may be many more parts to come.  Thank you all for taking the time to read … I greatly appreciate it!

lamar-smith

Rep Lamar Smith

On January 24th, Lamar Seeligson Smith, U.S. Representative for Texas’ 21st Congressional District for the past 40 years, gave a short speech on the House floor (see 30 second video).  It was a very short speech, but what he said in that short speech is a very big deal.  First he railed against the “unfair” way the press is treating Trump, but then … wait for it … “Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” 

Upon reading these words, my jaw dropped and my heart took off like a bowling ball bouncing downhill.  He is telling us to get the “unvarnished truth” from the biggest liar that has ever resided in the White House, bar none???  This joker has been a Representative since 1987.  He is obviously unfit and is the epitome of the argument for term limits!

rick-casey

Rick Casey

Enter Rick Casey, who hosts a weekly public affairs program “Texas Week” on KLRN, a San Antonio public broadcast television station.  Casey’s jaw apparently dropped also when he heard of Smith’s remarks, and he decided to end that week’s program with a commentary about it.  Imagine Mr. Casey’s surprise when, watching the taped broadcast, his commentary had been replaced with one from an older program!  Why?  Because KLRN’s president and chief executive, Arthur Rojas Emerson, decided it was too risky to air it.  His concern was, “that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was under attack and that this would add to it.” The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides financing for public stations, including KLRN, and Mr. Trump’s election has heightened fears that its financing will be cut.

Nonetheless, the original commentary ran in the San Antonio Express-News, and astute readers noticed the difference.  The story started making the rounds in journalistic circles, and eventually reached the ears of Evan Smith, co-founder of the Texas Tribune.  “Holding people accountable in public life is so fundamentally important that this idea that somehow we’re going to stop doing that because we’re worried about what the government’s going to do to us, I so unbelievably reject that,” said Smith.

evan-smith

Evan Smith

As luck would have it, Evan Smith was in Washington D.C. for a meeting of the PBS national board, of which he is a member.  He talked to fellow board members, then called Mr. Emerson, who had made the decision to pull the commentary, and told him he might consider severing ties with KLRN over the censorship.  Emerson explained the reasons behind his decision, “clearly we always worry about funding for public television. We have to protect the neutrality of the station — somebody could have looked at it as slander.” But he acknowledged that it was a mistake and said he would be willing to let the commentary run as long as they designated it as “commentary”.

For this time, freedom of the press was rescued, thanks to men like Evan Smith and even Arthur Emerson, who realize the value of open communication and providing unbiased information to the public.  Next time we may not be so lucky.

What follows is Mr. Casey’s commentary.  I am taking liberties printing it in its entirety, but I am providing proper attribution, and I will take my chances, as I think this is too important not to share.

Many viewers may be aware of a controversy over a recent commentary I prepared that didn’t run. I’m pleased to say the issue has been resolved very much to my satisfaction and that of KLRN’s leadership.

KLRN President Arthur Emerson has publicly confirmed that the Last Word will continue to be a free-speech zone and will clearly be labeled as “commentary” to signify that. I want to thank Arthur, and I also want to thank all of you strong supporters of KLRN who let him know how much you care about the station, this program and the value of free speech.

And with that, here is the commentary that did not air two weeks ago.

San Antonio Congressman Lamar Smith surprised me last week when he indicated a disrespect for Fox News.

True, his brief speech on the House floor was mainly a complaint about how the “national liberal media” are covering President Donald Trump, but it’s conclusion was more sweeping.

Smith listed a number of early accomplishments by the president, including a spike in the consumer confidence index. and said the liberal media “won’t print that, or air it, or post it.”

Actually, I Googled “spike in consumer confidence index” and the very first entry was a Dec. 27 report from that pillar of the liberal media, the New York Times.

It read: “A measure of consumer confidence shot to its highest level in more than 15 years in December as Americans saw more strength ahead in business conditions, stock prices and the job market following the election of Donald J. Trump as president.”

But don’t sweat the details. Smith is right that the media have been tough on Trump. It’s Smith’s solution that intrigues.

“Better to get your news directly from the president,” he said. “In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”

That’s where he disrespected the “fair-and-balanced” cable channel. But Fox can fend for itself.

Smith’s proposal is quite innovative for America. We’ve never really tried getting all our news from our top elected official. It has been tried elsewhere, however.

North Korea comes to mind.

If Americans were to adopt this approach, here are some of the unvarnished truths we would have learned.

That Trump’s inauguration crowd was “the biggest ever.”

That he gets far bigger crowds than Beyonce and Jay Z.

That Trump would have “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

That Americans aren’t interested in his tax returns.

These are just some of the things we would have learned since his inauguration. During his campaign we would learn that thousands and thousands of Arabs in New Jersey publicly celebrated as the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11.

We would learn Congressman Smith is right in thinking climate change is a hoax, but that Trump was only kidding when he tweeted that it was created by the Chinese to hurt America’s competitiveness.

And, of course, we would learn, as Trump recently taught, that members of the media are “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

That, as Lamar Smith understands, is why media outlets have debunked every one of the above “alternative facts.”

Smith also appears to be getting all his news from the White House regarding President Trump’s temporary bans of immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim nations.

“I appreciate President Trump’s effort to protect innocent Americans from those who enter the United States to do us harm,” he said in a press release that mirrored several White House talking points.

Smith’s young colleague Will Hurd, the other Republican congressman from San Antonio, hasn’t got the message. Hurd, a former CIA agent, told USA Today Trump’s order has caused a rift with U.S. allies in the fight against terrorism.

“Let’s look at a place like Iraq and the men and women of the U.S. armed services,” he said. “Who protects the perimeter of the base? Iraqis.”

He added that Iraqis are also fighting ISIS, and he has friends in Yemen fighting Al-Qaida alongside Yemenis.

Pulling no punches, he said Trump’s order has “put a target on the back of the almost 10,000 U.S. service members and diplomats and intelligence officers who are in those regions.”

Hurd also noted that some terrorist groups are touting Trump’s order as proving that the United States is at war with Islam.

“When terrorist groups are excited about this executive order, that’s not a good sign,” Hurd said. “It’s a tool that terrorist groups get to use to recruit more followers.”

Would we ever have learned that from President Trump? 

Commentary by Rick Casey, Posted by Patrick Driscoll on Feb 16, 2017 at 7:54 pm

Note:  After I had finished and scheduled this post, a New York Times headline caught my eye:  “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities could all be eliminated.”  Sigh.  More to come, folks.