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!

ilitch-2

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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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.

Slightly Used Telephone For Sale …

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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?

Freedom of the Press — GOING, GOING …

“It is mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction.” – Statement by the Anti-Defamation League,  02-16-2017

“Respectfully, Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit not to bully reporters asking questions potentially affecting millions of fellow Americans, but rather to help solve a problem that, for many, is real and menacing.” – David Harris, American Jewish Committee, 02-16-2017


In Turkey, after the failed coup that was likely orchestrated by none other than Erdoğan himself, in order to curtail the power of the press, he simply had journalists arrested and shut down independent news agencies.  Trump has not, as yet, figured out a way to do that, since freedom of the press is an integral part of the U.S. Constitution, so he has another tactic, another ‘trick up his sleeve’:  bullying.

Throughout his year-and-a-half long campaign, Trump denigrated almost every major news outlet, except Fox and Breitbart, and banned a number of highly reputable news agencies, including The Washington Post, from his rallies and campaign events.  Since his election win last November, he has continued to criticize and threaten the press, calling them “fake news”, “dishonest”, “scum” and more.  We are becoming inured to it, and his rhetoric has become just so much noise in our minds.  However in his bizarre ‘press conference’ yesterday, he did something that I found deeply disturbing.

turxJewish reporter Jake Turx from Ami Magazine had a question about the recent episodes of anti-Semitism around the nation.  He prefaced his question by saying he did not see evidence the President or his staff were anti-Semitic. He even mentioned Trump’s Jewish grandchildren. Clearly Mr. Turx wanted to be sure Trump understood that he was not levelling accusations at Trump or his staff, but merely asking a question.

“What we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.” 

Trump interrupted, “See, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question, and it’s not.”

Turx:  “It’s an important one.”

Trump: “Not a simple question. Not a fair question. OK, sit down. I understand the rest of your question. So here’s the story folks. No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.”

Turx raised his hand and again tried to speak, but was told, “Quiet, quiet, quiet. See he lied about — he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media.”

Trump: “But let me just tell you something: I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me — and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Benjamin Netanyahu, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, ‘I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time,’ and then he said, ‘Forget it.’ So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”

The question was not rude, insulting, repulsive nor difficult.  The reality is that there has been a surge in anti-Semitism since the November election including bomb threats and hate mail.  Jewish Community Centers in 27 states received some 60 bomb threats in January alone.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has identified some 1,600 Twitter accounts that have been used to send more than 2 million tweets containing anti-Semitic language and threats.

The question was “what is the federal government doing about this issue?” The answer was simple:  The FBI and Justice Departments are investigating, and working in conjunction with the ADL and local law enforcement to monitor the situation and ensure the safety of the Jewish community.  It isn’t rocket science, and it did not warrant Trump’s outburst.

When the man who is considered to be, acknowledged by most to be, the leader of a nation of some 300 million people cannot answer a simple question without twisting the question into a personal affront, then that nation needs to re-think their choice of leadership.  Period.  This is why hate groups like alt-right and the KKK believe they have the support of the president when they commit crimes against humanity.  Trump will not even speak out and admit that such crimes are an atrocity and that his administration will work to ensure the safety of its citizens.  Yet, he is adamant about reinstating his ban against people of the Muslim faith from at least seven countries in the Middle East … people who have done us no harm.

To my original point, from which I seem to have strayed, Trump’s refusal to answer a simple, straightforward question is bad enough, but then to tell the journalist to sit down and shut up, refusing to give him a chance to even finish asking his question, is a violation of the 1st amendment.  The first amendment does not state “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press as long as president likes the questions they ask …

In telling Mr. Turx to ‘sit down and be quiet’, Trump violated the reporter’s right, and perhaps most importantly of all, he violated our rights … the right of every citizen in this country.  It is not the first time, and undoubtedly will not be the last, but it stands out as a blatant example of a president who takes the law into his own hands, who does not understand the very Constitution that he swore to uphold less than a month ago.  He curtailed the freedom of the press yesterday every bit as surely as Erdoğan did when he ordered journalists arrested.  We have already begun to lose our constitutional rights, and this is only the beginning.

Finally … A Good Pick? Maybe …

Last night (Wednesday), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration. The reason is likely that he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday, after even Mitch McConnell, the chief boot-licker in Congress, said that Puzder could not possibly win enough votes for confirmation.  I wrote about Puzder  back in early January, and did not view him as a good fit for the office.  But my concerns, such as the fact that he is against raising minimum wage rates, supports repealing ACA, criticizes sick leave policies, and uses sexist advertising in his businesses, are not what doomed his nomination.  No, what doomed his nomination was that he came out in support of legalized immigration!  The man finally said one thing that made sense, and he is politically murdered for it!  No less than seven Republican senators said they would not vote to confirm Puzder.  Five of these seven actually voted to confirm the likes of DeVos and Sessions, however.

But Puzder is gone … good riddance … and this brings me to a potential bright spot on the otherwise dark horizon:  Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice to replace Puzder as nominee for Secretary of Labour.  Everything I have read about Mr. Acosta points to a man who seeks to serve justice rather than to ‘win at all costs’.  He appears to be a man who has the courage of his convictions, and I only wish he had been nominated for the position of Attorney General rather than the racist lout who was placed in that all-important position.

A bit about Acosta’s background:

  • He is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Judge Samuel Alito, at that time a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for a year after graduation.
  • He then worked for a D.C. law firm where he specialized in employment and labor issues.
  • Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he served on the National Labour Relations Board.
  • In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
  • In 2005, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he served until 2009.
  • Since 2009 he has served as Dean of dean of Florida International University College of Law.
  • In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I am particularly impressed by the stands he has taken in the area of civil rights, particularly the rights of immigrants.  In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”  He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.

“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.” 

The senate has confirmed Acosta three times in the past, which is certainly encouraging, however the Acosta nomination is not without problems.  The main one is likely to be the controversy over a plea bargain his office arranged in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.  A case was brought against wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire investor accused of having sex with underage girls.  Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges if Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  The controversy came about because the teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. Not surprisingly, Trump has ties also to Epstein and while some claim that Trump and Epstein were friends, Trump denies it.

Setting the above controversy aside for the moment, it would otherwise seem that Acosta is, unlike all other Trump nominees, a good fit for the job.  He is an advocate of civil rights, and has served in various labour-related positions, including the NLRB. So what, exactly, does the position of Secretary of Labour involve?

According to the United States Department of Labour:

“The Department of Labor (DOL) fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.”

I am not sure to what extent the Epstein controversy will play a role in Acosta’s confirmation hearings.  For the final conclusion, you will have to … stay tuned!

An Immediate Crisis

Erik Hare of Barataria fame has hit the nail right on the head. No commetary from Filosofa … just read Erik’s post! Spot on and thanks, Erik! (Here, by the way, is an annotated transcript of the press conference to which Erik refers)

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

You realize we’re less than one month into this circus, yes?

After a press conference today the problem at hand should be obvious to absolutely everyone – the President has a severe mental illness. Nothing else matters at this point. There will be many sentences written, many hours of panel discussions, and hundreds of facebook posts shared going around this simple and obvious fact. But like the vast majority of our politics, it will be irrelevant.

The only thing which matters at this time is the peril faced by the United States, and indeed the world, because so much power is in the hands of someone obviously not well.

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Uneasy Civilization

My blogger-friend Hugh is a philosopher, a deep thinker. Whereas I look at the political turmoil and upheaval of current times, both in the U.S. and on the other side of the globe, and wonder why some people are so determined to destroy our society, Hugh finds the answers to those questions in the works of the old philosophers. His post today is an excellent analysis of why people are so willing to follow and support leaders like Trump, LePen and Wilders in spite of, or perhaps because of, the chaos they create. Please take a few minutes to read Hugh’s post and think about what he says. Thank you Hugh for the implied permission to share this post!

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In 1929 Sigmund Freud wrote his famous and truly remarkable book Civilization and Its Discontents. The latter term, in German, is “Unbehagen,” which means, literally, “uneasiness.” In any event, Freud pointed out that civilization is bought at a price. He never suggested that the price was not worth paying, but those who followed him and had a much less penetrating insight into the trials and tribulations of civilized people decided that the price was not worth paying. Freud worried about repression and sublimation (which actually resulted in creative activity) whereas his acolytes preached that mental health consists in the absence of restraint in order to foster increased pleasure and “realizing one’s potential.”

What followed in this country within a decade or two was a plethora of pop-psychologists telling Americans that repression was a bad thing and the values that had created what we call “civilized society” were a sham. Following Nietzsche, they…

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Did Anybody Notice???

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams

Yet, despite our many advances, our environment is still threatened by a range of problems, including global climate change, energy dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels, and loss of biodiversity. Dan Lipinski

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead


Did anybody notice the news last week? In California … about the Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento?  More than 190,000 people were forced to leave their homes under an evacuation order.  The fear was that a largely earthen emergency spillway could collapse and cause catastrophic floods on the Feather River.

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And what of the bushfires and bats in Australia, in the midst of one of the most ferocious heatwaves on record?  Parts of South Australia and Victoria reached 46 °C (115° F), while New South Wales and Queensland recorded temperatures above 47 °C (117° F). At least five towns in New South Wales and four in Queensland had their hottest day ever recorded over the weekend. As Ed McMahon used to say to Johnny Carson, “how hot WAS it?”  Well, it was so hot that thousands of bats dropped dead from the heat in eastern Australia, falling from the trees. The latest heatwave has led to people being admitted to hospitals as well as blackouts due to excessive use of air-conditioning. It has also sparked dozens of bush fires in New South Wales that firefighters are still trying to contain.

 

Why am I writing about this now?  What is the connection between a potential dam failure/flood in California and a heat wave in Australia?  Climate change. Pure and simple … climate change brought about, at least in part, by the habits of mankind and his obdurate burning of fossil fuels, as well as other things that produce excess carbon emissions, thus causing a greenhouse effect and destroying the ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere. As to why I am writing about this now … first, the two above-mentioned incidents were widely reported, but little noted here in the U.S., where the masses were consumed by Trumpy Tweets and scandals involving national security advisor Michael Flynn, spokesperson Kellyanne Conway, and the contentious confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions.  The stories of a heatwave in Australia and a narrowly-averted disaster in California, along with that of six tornadoes in and around New Orleans were apparently not all that interesting.

In recent news, on Monday, 23 January, just after Trump’s inauguration, employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received the following memo:

I just returned from a briefing for Communication Directors where the following information was provided. These restrictions are effective immediately and will remain in place until further direction is received from the new Administration’s Beach Team. Please review this material and share with all appropriate individuals in your organization. If anyone on your staff receives a press inquiry of any kind, it must be referred to me so I can coordinate with the appropriate individuals in OPA.

  • No press releases will be going out to external audiences.
  • No social media will be going out. A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled.
  • No blog messages.
  • The Beach Team will review the list of upcoming webinars and decide which ones will go forward.
  • Please send me a list of any external speaking engagements that are currently scheduled among any of your staff from today through February.
  • Incoming media requests will be carefully screened.
  • No new content can be placed on any website. Only do clean up where essential.
  • List servers will be reviewed. Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.

I will provide updates to this information as soon as I receive it.

Meanwhile, on 03 February, Florida representative Matt Gaetz introduced a bill that would terminate the EPA by the end of 2018. Terminate.  No more research, no more directives, no more scientific studies.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  The bill is co-sponsored by representatives Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.

climate-change-meme-kyle-hGaetz, a freshman in Congress, said the EPA’s rules and regulations designed to protect the environment actually hurt people and that the agency has “violated the sovereignty of the states.” Democrats in Congress are not overly concerned that the EPA will be abolished, as Gaetz’ freshman status likely means that he will not have the political clout to push his bill through.  Additionally, to completely abolish the EPA would require repealing a number of laws entrusting the agency with a number of specific environmental responsibilities.

However, Trump still appears to be set to chop the EPA’s budget drastically, and then there are the braying duo, Ebell and Pruitt …  .  Pruitt has spent the better part of his career as attorney general of Oklahoma suing the EPA … in fact he has filed a total of 14 lawsuits against the EPA.  And now he will, in all likelihood, run the agency.

The full senate is set to vote this week on the confirmation of Trump’s choice to lead the EPA, climate-change denier and supporter of the fossil fuel industry, Scott Pruitt. Trump already placed another climate change denier, Myron Ebell, in the position of director of the Center for Energy and Environment. I have written about both Ebell and Pruitt in the past few months.

Recently Pruitt acknowledged the existence of climate change, though he argued that the role of human activity is subject to debate. Just last year he referred to climate change as a ‘religious belief’.  During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt was asked by Senator Bernie Sanders about his personal opinion on the link between climate change and human activity, Pruitt demurred, claiming his opinion would be immaterial to his job as EPA administrator.  I love Sanders response:

“Really? You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?”

Much can and should be argued in favour of continuing research into climate science, additional regulations to reduce carbon emissions, and a number of other initiatives for which the EPA has been responsible, but I and others have said it all before.  The question before us today is what will happen to the EPA and how will it affect the earth’s future?  Fortunately, other nations are taking climate change seriously and will continue to do so even if the U.S. backs out of the Paris Climate Accord.  However, every nation needs to do its part, lest heat waves, droughts, floods, and melting polar ice caps become the norm.  It is interesting that the representative who wants to do away with the EPA is from Florida, a state where they are already fighting against rising sea levels.

We can hope that the senate, seeing the chaos the Trump administration has been this past week, has begun to shed its collective rose-tinted glasses and will vote with their minds and consciences when the Pruitt confirmation comes to the floor for a vote, but I am not counting on it.  Perhaps somebody should take them, in their stuffy suits and ties, to Australia and leave them for a week … then perhaps they would understand.  Probably not, but it is fun to think about, yes?

New Weekly Feature … Good People Doing Good Things!

I am trying out a new feature here on Filosofa’s Word.  My Monday morning ‘no-politics’ column has become quite popular since I started it last year, and I have come to realize that, while the things I write and opine about are important and cannot be ignored, we all need a bit of a break from the serious stuff every now and again.  So, I want to try a new Wednesday afternoon, mid-week post that will feature ‘good people doing good things’ around the world.  Unlike the Monday morning post, I cannot promise Wednesday’s will be completely free of political issues, because often politics and global affairs are the reason people need to become philanthropists. But politics will not be the central focus. Hopefully I won’t run out of material after week #3! Please let me know your thoughts, and PLEASE … if you are aware of a person, family or NGO that is doing good things to make the world a better place … send me a suggestion!

I am kicking this experiment off today with a post about Bill and Melinda Gates, and their foundation called … Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)!  Launched in 2000 BMGF is said to be the largest transparently operated private foundation in the world. Their primary goals are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Warren Buffett is the third trustee of the organization and has contributed generously from his own wealth.  Bill Gates, as of 2013, had contributed $28 billion of his own money to the foundation!  Buffett’s contributions, made in annual installments, have totaled $18.76 billion as of July 2015.  The three trustees are fully invested in this venture, unlike other foundations that serve primarily as a pass-thru for donations taken from others and distributed to a cause.

gatesA bit about Bill and Melinda.  In 1975, along with Paul Allen, Bill Gates founded Microsoft Corporation, that today is the largest PC software company in the world. Since 1987, Gates has been included in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people and was the wealthiest from 1995 to 2007, again in 2009, and has been since 2014. (Eat your heart out, Donald Trump!)  His current wealth is estimated at $84.2 billion.  In 2006, Gates stepped down from his day-to-day role at Microsoft in order to devote more of his time to the good works of his foundation.  In addition to financial contributions to his own foundation, Gates has made significant contributions to other philanthropic organizations in the fields of science, medical research and education. Time magazine named Gates one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th century, as well as one of the 100 most influential people of 2004, 2005, and 2006.

gates-mBill and Melinda met when she was employed at Microsoft in the 1990s, and the couple married in 1994.  In addition to her work with the Gates Foundation, she has been involved with a number of other charitable works, including serving as chairperson for a campaign to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital and personally contributing $10 million to her former high school.

The foundation’s programs, grants and investments are far too numerous to list in this post, but in general, they are broken down into the following areas:

  • Global Development Division – to combat extreme poverty through grants. Works include financial services for the poor, agricultural development, water/sanitation/hygiene, sanitation technology innovations, and other more specific causes, such as helping out after the 2004 earthquake in India.
  • Global Health Division – major contributor to the Global Fund to Fight Aids. Other projects in this area include polio eradication, a children’s vaccine program, HIV research, working with World Health Organization (WHO) on tropical disease research, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
  • United States Division – supports two primary initiatives: libraries and education.  The foundation has given grants, installed computers and software, and provided training and technical support in partnership with public libraries nationwide in an effort to increase access and knowledge. The foundation has provided scholarships far too numerous to list, but also works with teachers’ unions, United Negro College Fund, and many other education-based organizations.
  • Global Policy & Advocacy Division – is best defined by a statement from the foundation’s website: “Because our resources alone are not enough to advance the causes we care about, we engage in advocacy efforts to promote public policies that advance our work, build strategic alliances with governments and the public and private sectors, and foster greater public awareness of urgent global issues.”

The foundation has won numerous awards, and in 2016, President Barack Obama honored Bill and Melinda Gates with The Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropic efforts.

Two things put the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation far and above many other philanthropic organizations:

  1. They do not merely solicit and collect donations, then distribute them to causes, but they have invested heavily of their own wealth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have pledged to give away half their wealth over the course of their lifetime.
  2. The trustees of the foundation have invested more than just money. They give of themselves, their time, their energy.  This is what many such organizations fail to do.  If you are wealthy, it is not a huge sacrifice to give away money, but no matter who you are, or how wealthy, your time is your most valuable commodity, and Bill and Melinda Gates also give their time to overseeing their projects.

Two things made me decide to write about this particular foundation this week.  First, after the confirmation of Betsy DeVos last week, I was looking at her family’s philanthropic works, and they cannot even hold a candle to the humanitarian causes supported by the Gates Foundation.  DeVos family mainly donate, it seems, to politicians … politicians who seem compelled to take away from global humanitarian causes.  My other reason was an article in the Guardian this morning:

“Trump’s ‘global gag rule’ could endanger millions of women and children, Bill and Melinda Gates warn”

The “global gag rule” imposed by Donald Trump, blocking US funds to any organisation involved in abortion advice and care overseas, could impact millions of women and girls, endangering their lives and those of their babies, Bill and Melinda Gates have warned.

The changes are expected to result in funding from the world’s biggest donor to family planning and women’s health programmes in the developing world being slashed. It could, Bill Gates told the Guardian, “create a void that even a foundation like ours can’t fill”.

I rest my case.  In addition to the billions of dollars spent on humanitarian causes, and donations to other good works around the world, the BMGF has inspired others, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to follow in their footsteps.  Doing the small bit of research I did for this post was uplifting and gave me hope that we can still yet learn to help one another, that while we talk of the greed of big corporations, and that infamous ‘one percent’, there are people out there who want to be a part of solving the world’s problems, or at least do a small part to make the world a better place for humanity.  Two thumbs up to Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett for their courage, hard work and generosity!

Note:  I just realized, after working for 3 hours on this post, that today is, in fact, not Wednesday but Tuesday!  Sheesh.  Well, from this point forward, this will be a Wednesday afternoon feature.  If I can remember what day it is.

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