Shame, Tears, and a Broken Heart

Tonight I was having a bit of fun, working on a post about flying cars, when a news flash came across my screen and I found myself suddenly overwhelmed … with sadness, with tears, with grief for a man I never knew.  Then with rage, and a sense that there is no place left for soft, squishy hearts like mine in this world any more.

Despite the best efforts of humanitarians, lawyers, and courts around the nation, the lowly, trashy state of Arkansas performed its 4th execution in as many days, mainly in order to use up a supply of killing drugs whose expiry date was near.  I’m sorry, but you will have to wait until this afternoon to read about flying cars, for I am still sobbing, broken-hearted, and wishing, not for the first time in the past two years, that I was almost any other nationality.  Right at this particular moment, I absolutely despise my country and what it has allowed to happen.  Tonight my heart is so broken …

“Arkansas executed a death-row inmate late Thursday night in the state’s fourth lethal injection in eight days, concluding a frantic execution schedule officials said was necessary in order to carry out death sentences before one of their drugs expired.” 

I make no apologies for what I am about to say.  I hope … I sincerely hope … that every single person involved in the decision to execute four men, to take four lives, because they did not wish their drugs to reach expiry date … I wish that each and every person involved in this decision dies a slow, painful death within the next month!  I hope they lose limbs, become paralyzed, lose their eyesight, and are left with machines to breathe for them.

I want to hit someone … I want to kick … I want to lash out … but there is only Miss Goose and the Significant Seven, none of whom would choose to murder a fellow human being.

Within the industrialized world, the U.S. is one of only four nations that stubbornly clings to the death penalty.  We are in great company, the other three being Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan. The European Union holds a strong position against the death penalty; its abolition is a key objective for the Union’s human rights policy. Abolition is also a pre-condition for entry into the Union. But the U.S. … oh, the U.S. is so sure it holds the key to righteousness.

The execution of Kenneth Williams tonight came after his attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he was intellectually disabled and not fit to be executed. But the almighty right-white in Arkansas knew better … they are, after all, the almighty right-white. Relatives of one of Williams’s victims pled for his life, calling on the governor to call off the execution. But the almighty right-white persisted.  U.S. Supreme Court justices, shortly after 10 p.m., denied the requests without explanation.

The United States has now shown itself to be the most barbaric nation among the developed western nations, and I am no longer proud of this country.  I have, for the past year-and-a-half railed against the intrusion of a highly unqualified senior administration, starting with Donald Trump and working its way down through advisors and cabinet members.  But you know what?  Tonight, I think perhaps this barbaric, inhumane nation got exactly what it deserves.

R.I.P., Mr. Williams.  I apologize, on behalf of all my barbaric countrymen.  😥  There is obviously more to this story, and Filosofa will be back with … the rest of the story … one day.  But for now, I cannot … just … cannot.

Health Care, Anyone???

med-6They’re at it again. The members of Congress who we elected to represent our best interests have forgotten us.  Remember the health care bill that had so little support in Congress that last month House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill without a vote?  Well, it’s baaaaccckk.  Congress may vote on the revised bill as early as Friday.  Guess what?  As I am given to understand, the revisions do nothing to help you … or me … or anybody who is older, has health issues, or cannot afford insurance.  It will still enable the insurance companies to deny us maternity care, mental health care, and other basic medical services. It will also make insurance cost-prohibitive for those of us with pre-existing conditions. And it will still deny affordable health care to some 24 million people. The only thing that has changed from last month’s bill is that it is even more restrictive to the average citizen. The changes were made, not with We The People in mind, but rather with the far-right “Freedom Caucus” who objected to the original bill, saying it did not go far enough in taking affordable healthcare from the average person.

Fellow-blogger Tea Pain said it best in a recent tweet:  “All it took was proof that more poor people would suffer and the Freedom Caucus was all in.”

On Friday, March 24th, realizing that there were not enough supporters to reach the magic 216 votes required for the bill to pass, Paul Ryan informed Trump that he was pulling the bill from the floor … no vote would be taken.  At the time, Trump said he would ‘walk away from health care reform’ if he did not get a vote.  The morning after, he tweeted: “Obamacare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great health care plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!”  But by the next day he had apparently gotten over his bruised ego and tweeted: “I’m going back to it. I’m not going to give it up,”

Paul Ryan, also seeming to concede defeat, said, “I don’t know what else to say other than Obamacare is the law of the land. It’ll remain law of the land until it’s replaced,” he said. “We’re going to be living with Obamacre for the foreseeable future.”

med-3And most of us breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that now there was an opportunity to make some changes to ACA, to fix what was broken without having to worry that a new health care law would rob many of us.  But alas, it did not take long for Trump to change his mind about that, as he has done so many things. Just last Friday, 21 April, he said, “This is a great bill. This is a great plan. And this will be great health care. It’s evolving, you know, there was never a give-up. The press sort of reported there was, like, a give-up. There’s no give-up, we started. Remember, it took Obamacare 17 months.”

The bill reportedly does not appear to vary significantly from the one proposed in March, but it seems that some re-working was done in order to satisfy the ‘Freedom Caucus’.  It appears to have worked, as Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows is said to be in support of the latest bill.

Now, I have a few observations on this (surprised, aren’t you?).

  • repair-houseIf you own a home, it’s an older home and in need of some repairs, but the foundation is sturdy and the repairs are minor … a bit of plumbing upgrades, some paint here and there, some new weatherstripping, and perhaps a new furnace. Do you repair the home, or raze it and build a new one?  Me?  I repair the old one.  It’s why I was still driving a 1988 Olds until a year ago … I can make a heck of a lot of repairs for the price of a new car.  Or house.  The same can be said of ACA (Obamacare) … it has a strong foundation and has served millions of people well in being able to obtain medical care they would not otherwise have been able to do.  But Trump is absolutely hell-bent and determined to raze ACA and build a health care plan of his making.  The primary reason, I believe, is that he is aware that even with modifications, ACA will always be considered Obamacare, and it is his goal to erase the name of Obama from anything and everything.  We all know that he likes seeing his name on things. This, friends, is NOT a good justification for robbing some 24 million people of their health insurance.  It is pandering to the ego of a 70-year-old child who should have our best interests at heart, but does not.

  • Each member of Congress was given that job because We The People voted them into office. And yet, it is not We The People to whom they are listening.  According to the New York Times, “Senior White House officials, led by Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, have relentlessly pressed Republicans to revive the health care push before Mr. Trump’s hundred-day mark.” According to one White House official, “The President was saying, ‘We have to get a win,’ and that was his pitch. He said ‘No one is getting what they want here, but we have to get a deal, we have to get a win.’” Does this sound like a president whose greatest concern is the people of his country? No, for Trump it is about HIM winning, not the country or its people … only Trump.

  • med-4Doubts remain whether the House can muster the necessary 216 votes to pass the bill, since the amendments that satisfied the far right do nothing to ease the concerns of the more moderate Republicans or the Democrats. But even if it does pass the House, it stands a snowball’s chance in hell of passing in the Senate, and Trump is well aware of this.  The margin between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate is much narrower than in the House, and this bill will not pass the Senate.    But that is not the point, for Trump.  Although he claims that the 100-day mark has no meaning, he is, once again, lying.  He cares only that this bill pass the House so that he can add it to what he calls his ‘list of accomplishments’ in the first 100 days.  It will be an empty win, if it passes, but Trump does not care about that at this point.

med-7You will be happy to know that there is a bright spot in the revised bill. One part of the new proposal would protect health insurance for members of Congress. This provision guarantees that lawmakers would not lose “essential health benefits” and could not be charged higher premiums because of their health status.  Meanwhile, back here in the rest of the nation, those of us with pre-existing conditions can be charged up to five times the normal rate for health care premiums.

I plan to make some phone calls and write some letters to my elected representatives today … just to touch base and let them know my feelings on this.

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And Then In India …. Enforced Sobriety?

Monday-no-wineArticle 47 of the Constitution of India states, “….  the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health”. The laws which regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol vary significantly from state to state, with only four states implementing full prohibition.  Each state changes from time to time … flip-flopping from full prohibition to modified prohibition to no prohibition at all.  Now, I see you scratching your heads and wondering why Filosofa cares about the state of prohibition in India, but bear with me here …

In spite of legal restrictions, alcohol consumption in India has risen more than 55% over a period of 20 years, and drunk drivers are said to account for as much as 70% of India’s road deaths each year.  So, the government of India decided to make a change.  An Indian supreme court judgment delivered in December and enforced since 1 April has banned the sale of alcohol within 500 metres (about one-third of a mile) of India’s state and national highways. The original Supreme Court ruling in December appeared to apply only to shops. But on March 31, just hours before the ban was due to take effect, the court said restaurants and bars would also have to comply.

Never let it be said that the people of India are not resourceful!

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The maze built outside the Aishwarya Restrobar in Kerala state extends the distance between its entrance and the nearest highway. In Rajasthan, hundreds of miles of formerly state highways have been reclassified as urban roads. Administrators have ordered the same in Mahrashtra, West Bengal and several other states and territories. Roads in Gurgaon, a hub for technology companies, malls and high-rises south of Delhi, have reportedly been barricaded, increasing the “motorable distance” between a major expressway and some pubs and hotels in the city. All efforts to skirt the court’s order are a showcase of what Indians call “jugaad”, their famous ingenuity in the face of legal or physical barriers.

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Now obviously these measures to skirt the new law are doomed to failure if the government is serious about upholding the new law, but business owners and states are claiming that the timing of such changes is purely coincidental.

Shiv Lahari Sharma, an engineer with the Rajasthan government, told the Times of India that the mass reclassification of roads in his state in April was a coincidence. “Our mandate is to construct and maintain roads,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the SC ruling on liquor shops.”

India-peopleIn Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub business park, 34 bars and pubs are awaiting a ruling on whether they can remain open. The entrance to the park was shifted in early April from one side, perilously close to the highway, to another more than 2km away. But this, too, was simply good timing, said Mukesh Yadav, a manager at the site. “It’s not to get around the ban,” he said. Instead the entrance was moved to comply with an underpass that happened to open the day the liquor ban came into effect.

Those who have been less innovative, however, are suffering under the new law. A manager for India’s most acclaimed restaurant, Delhi’s Indian Accent, said daily revenue had fallen by 100,000 rupees (about $1,550).  The restaurant even had to stop serving is chocolate rum ball! Customers have cancelled bookings made months in advance. A spokeswoman for the restaurant said it was appealing to authorities to find another way of measuring the distance.

“Just in [rough] terms we are looking at close to about $10 billion worth of annual revenue loss in front of our eyes right now,” said Rahul Singh, honorary secretary of the National Restaurant Association of India. “We’re talking about hotels and restaurants and clubs and golf clubs and even armed forces [clubs]. We serve beer. Yes, we have food and snacks, but people come to have beer and then they have food with it. Beer first, food later.”

Meanwhile, the Times of India reports that on Saturday night the prohibition and excise department’s enforcement wing conducted surprise raids and booked 58 cases against 30 commercial establishments.

It is anybody’s guess how seriously this law will be enforced.  And the reason for this post?  I just wanted to have some fun and write about something other than the gloomy state of affairs in U.S. politics.  🙂

Good People Doing Good Things – Lots Of ‘Em …

When I first began this Wednesday morning Good People Doing Good Things feature, I wasn’t sure how long I could keep it going.  I feared I would run out of ‘Good People’ after only a few weeks, or that people would find it boring.  Neither of those have come to pass.  The only times I have struggled to find those good people were when my own mood was too dark to open my heart, and my readers have been very positive, some even looking forward to Wednesday mornings for this reason.  Even the posts that I deemed only mediocre garnered enthusiasm.  I think we are at a point, in the U.S. and abroad, that we need to see that there are good people doing good things for others, despite all the gloom and doom of the multiple issues threatening our planet, our nations and our lives.  Moving on … today I am focusing, once again, on people who are not wealthy in terms of material possessions, but who are wealthy in the most important of ways, in their hearts and spirits.


Ever hear of a man named Rick Steves?  I had not until this week, but apparently he is well-known among those who watch travel shows.  According to Wikipedia, he is an American author and television personality focusing on European travel. He is the host of the American Public Television series Rick Steves’ Europe, has a public radio travel show called Travel with Rick Steves and has authored numerous travel guides.  But that is not all Mr. Steves does …

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Young Rick Steves

As a teen backpacking through Europe, a journey he refers to as “Europe Through the Gutter,” he slept on trains, ferries, the pews of Greek churches, the concrete floors of Dutch construction projects, and in barns at the edge of unaffordable Swiss alpine resorts. Early in his life, he came to appreciate the value of a safe and comfortable place to sleep.

Steves worked his way up in the travel business, teaching classes, writing travel guides, consulting, organizing group tours, and a storefront business. Eventually, in 1991, came his first television show.  For all his hard work, Steves was making a decent living, but he never lost sight of the important things in life.

Wed-Steves-1In 2005, Steves constructed a 24-unit apartment complex in Lynnwood, Washington, called Trinity Way and administrated by the local YWCA, to provide transitional housing for homeless mothers and their children. Members of the Edmonds Noontime Rotary Club help maintain the buildings and grounds, providing everything from furniture to flowers. The club also raised $30,000 to build a play structure for the children there.

“Imagine the joy of knowing that I could provide a simple two-bedroom apartment for a mom and her kids as she fought to get her life back on track.”

Steves also raises funds for the hunger advocacy group Bread for the World. A supporter of the Arts, he gave $1 million to the Edmonds Center for the Arts and Cascade Symphony Orchestra. Just this year, on January 20th, inauguration day, Steves donated $50,000 to the ACLU.  This is a man who obviously cares about people more than profit.

Oh, and that 24-unit apartment complex?  He recently donated it to the YMCA to continue the work he began.


This next story has multiple good people doing good things …

Two years ago, a man named Eugene Yoon, inspired by philanthropist talk show host Ellen Degeneres, had a strange feeling that he was being called to do a random act of kindness for a stranger.

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Eugene Yoon

Arthur Renowitzky was paralyzed when shot by a mugger in the parking lot of a San Francisco nightclub in 2007. Refusing to accept a doctor’s assessment that he would likely never walk or talk again, Renowitzky has gone on to become a an advocate for the disabled, founding the non profit Life Goes On Foundation, speaking out against gun violence, and visiting newly paralyzed patients to reassure them that, indeed, life does go on.  “My message is simple: to keep pushing, life goes on and to never give up,” Renowitzky said.

Wed-renowitzky

Wed-PerretteIn 2013, Renowitzky’s wheelchair was crushed by a hit-and-run driver.  Enter yet another good person, Pauley Perrette of NCIS fame, who saw a news story about the incident and bought Mr. Renowitzky a brand new wheelchair!

Fate sometimes moves in strange ways to bring people together.  It happened that one day Mr. Yoon was scrolling around Facebook and happened upon Mr. Renowitzky’s message.  “I reached out to him blindly and told him, ‘I’d like for you to achieve your dream of walking again.’ So, I pitched him this outlandish idea of walking the state of California to help him walk again!” Yoon said.

As it happened, Mr. Renowitzky had hopes of someday being able to purchase a device that would enable him to walk again, an exoskeleton from ReWalk Robotics that was designed to help paraplegics walk again – the only problem was that it cost $80,000.

Determined to earn the money, Eugene Yoon got the idea to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in order to raise awareness and money to help Arthur. He spent months getting into shape for the more than 2,600-mile journey from California’s border with Mexico the Canadian border. Yoon began his journey in April 2015 and reached the Canadian border in October of that year.  When he reached Acton, California, Mr. Renowitzky met up with him and provided some food and other supplies, saying, “There’s no way I can re-pay him. I’m forever grateful,”

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When he was midway through the state of Washington, two weeks before the completion of his hike, Yoon received word that the monetary goal had been reached and Mr. Renowitzky would be getting his exoskeleton.  “I can remember that moment like it was yesterday,” Yoon said. He recorded a video on the spot, screaming “We did it!” at the top of his lungs.

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The story, of course, does not end here.  Mr. Renowitzky continues his non-profit work through his Life Goes On Foundation.  He also spends much of his time advocating for an end to gun violence, having spoken to more than 100,000 youth on the dangers of gun violence and how they must have the strength to be good citizens and find positive ways to overcome their life obstacles.

Mr. Yoon continues helping people, one person at a time.  His latest venture is a man named Alberto who was struggling to make ends meet while taking care of his 24 family members.  Yoon hired Alberto as a seamster to start a clothing line called Kin Lov Gra (stands for Kindness Love Gratitude), which manufactures the Inside-Out T-shirt. The company’s stated goal:

“Every INSIDE-OUT T-SHIRT and INSIDE-OUT DENIM will support a lower-income family whom I met on Skid Row. Every item sold will help fund nine months of food, rent, and necessities. During the nine months, the low-income family will also be given a fair-paying employment opportunity under KIN LOV GRA so they will be able to create a savings for themselves. Once the nine months expire, they will be able to sustain themselves out of poverty through the savings they will have created.”

And as for Ms. Perrette, she supports many charitable organizations, including animal rescue organizations, the American Red Cross, civil rights organizations, and LGBT rights organizations. She once said, “I have learned the best cure for depression is forgiveness & doing random good deeds & acts of kindness to others.”


It really helps to read about people like this … helps put the rest of our worries and troubles into perspective, I think. I had a third story for this post, but I have already surpassed my self-imposed limit of 1,200 words, so I shall save the third for next week (besides which it is after 1:00 a.m. as I write this, and I might like to sleep sometime soon  🙂  )

Will SCOTUS Undermine Separation of Church & State?

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1802

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The case seems fairly simple, fairly straightforward, on the surface.

separation-3In the interest of child safety, Missouri provides a limited number of state grants to playground operators to replace hard surfaces with rubber. All was going well, until 2012, when Trinity Lutheran Church, in the town of Columbia, applied for one of those grants and was turned down on the basis of Missouri’s Constitution, which bars spending any money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church.” The church sued, arguing that the prohibition violated both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Now, I could actually argue this one either way … there is no clear-cut right or wrong here … it is truly a matter of conflicting Constitutional clauses.  The church’s argument that to deny them funds for their playground is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, has merit. The Equal Protection Clause states:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

On the other hand, I could just as easily side with the argument of the State of Missouri, whose constitution bars spending public money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church,” and the state Supreme Court has called for “a very high wall between church and state.” 

It might seem to the casual observer that, for the small amount of money we are discussing, and the fact that the safety of children is involved, it would be a simple enough solution for the State of Missouri to give the church the grant, rather than use precious resources (time & money) to hear the case in the U.S. Supreme Court.  But beneath the surface, this case could open doors that could lead to the erosion of one of the basic principles in the First Amendment, Separation of Church and State.

While it is true that the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment, said government should not “force a citizen to contribute three pence only” in support of a religion. If it does, both sides are harmed — religions and sects battle each other for government cash, while the state finds itself forced to meddle in religious affairs, where it has no business. And of course, you can see Thomas Jefferson’s quote at the start of this post.

separation-2What are those doors this case could open?  There are so many.  Let us start with the simplest, the core of this case, grants to upgrade playgrounds.  So, if Trinity Lutheran Church prevails, then others will also seek grants from the state.  Okay, fine, you say … but what happens when a Jewish Synagogue requests a grant?  Missouri is 85% white, 77% Christian, with less than 1% of its population Jewish.  How do you think those white Christians will feel about their tax dollars going to upgrade playgrounds at Synagogues in this day of increased anti-Semitism?  Now let us go a step further … what happens when a Mosque requests a grant in this predominantly white, Christian state, at taxpayer’s expense?

Under newly appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, school vouchers are likely to become an issue along these same lines. The decision in Trinity Lutheran could influence the debate over school vouchers. “For a long time, it was thought that the federal Establishment Clause stood in the way of school-voucher programs that allowed religious institutions to participate,” said Rick Garnett, a professor of law and political science at Notre Dame University. “Over time, in the late ’80s and through the ’90s, the court’s doctrine evolved.” In the early 2000s, he said, the Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment Clause doesn’t allow the government to directly fund religious activities, but it’s not a problem if people use state-funded vouchers to attend private religious schools. That could all change, depending on the ruling of the Supreme Court in this case.

And then there is another angle. Lambda Legal, the LGBT-rights advocacy firm, argued in a brief that a decision in favor of Trinity Lutheran could lead to discrimination against the LGBT community. Some churches “don’t wish to serve everybody,” said Camilla Taylor, a senior counselor at the firm. If the states provide grants to churches like Trinity Lutheran, “government funds will then be used to provide social services on a discriminatory basis.” 

It is, in essence, a highly-charged slippery-slope argument.  Where do you draw the line?  If government funds are provided to one church … any one single church or religious establishment … then they must equally be provided to all.  Do we really want to start down this slippery slope?  And do we want to tie up state and federal legislators, not to mention the entire court system, debating where to draw the line, or how to deal with these issues?  I think not.

In 2014, the Supreme Court heard the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., in which Hobby Lobby objected to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraceptive coverage to female employees. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby, allowing closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a regulation its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. It was the first time that the court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief, but it is limited to closely held corporations.

There are three central concepts derived from the 1st Amendment which became America’s doctrine for church-state separation: no coercion in religious matters, no expectation to support a religion against one’s will, and religious liberty encompasses all religions. There is also a three-pronged test to determine whether government action comports with the Establishment Clause, known as the “Lemon Test”. First, the law or policy must have been adopted with a neutral or non-religious purpose. Second, the principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute or policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.  It is my belief that the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer meets the first two criteria, but not the third.  I foresee future struggles, if this case is decided in favour of Trinity Lutheran, that would lead to far more ‘entanglement’ than would be economical or feasible for this nation, and would only add to the divisiveness that is so prevalent today.  Of course, I am not a Supreme Court Justice, so my opinion does not count, but this will be the first case that newly-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch will hear as a Supreme Court Justice.  There is little doubt how he will vote. The appeals court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case was joined by none other than Neil Gorsuch, who also wrote a separate concurrence. From what I have read, it appears that the outcome is likely to be in favour of the church, as only two of the Justices seemed strongly inclined to rule against.

My hope, if the court rules in favour of the church, is that the decision is written in such a way as to narrowly limit future cases of this nature.  It is one to watch.

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American Civil War Redux

The new American Civil War is not about slavery, but it contains undertones of racism.  It is not neatly divided along an imaginary line such as the Mason-Dixon line, but the divide is a much finer line, splitting homes, schools, families, and workplaces.  As was the case in the 1860s, there is no middle ground.  There are no soldiers in uniforms carrying guns, yet, but there are the media, both mainstream and social.  I have dubbed this war ‘The Great Divide’, and not since the civil rights era has this nation been so ideologically divided.

Trump’s dilemma, of which he is seemingly unaware, is how to unite the people of this nation.  Trump claims that he did not create the divide, and in that he is right.  America has always had a political divide; one that was probably at its smallest in the years immediately following World War II, when the nation came together in relief and the beginnings of a new prosperity.  But since the origination of the so-called Tea Party movement in 2009, the divide has been growing exponentially.  Ostensibly, the movement is in opposition to excessive taxation and government intervention in the private sector while supporting stronger immigration controls.  But beneath the surface, there are undertones of bigotry.  The beginning of the movement can be traced back to 19 February 2009, less than a month after the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president.

With the divisiveness generated by the dissatisfaction of those associated with the Tea Party movement, the gap between right and left, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, began to widen.  The right swung farther to the right and the left pushed back by going farther to the left.  By the end of President Obama’s first term in 2013, there was no longer any noticeable middle ground, no moderates who might have been able to help bridge the gap.

During President Obama’s second term, the gap continued to widen, with Republicans in Congress determined to throw up barricades to any and all of the President’s policies, even those they agreed with in theory.  The term, A House Divided, came to be the reality of the U.S. government, with Congress accomplishing less and less each year, and the President barely able to direct any meaningful domestic policy.

Enter the 2016 election and one narcissistic, demagogue candidate whose only hope to win the election was to “divide and conquer”.  So no, Donald Trump did not cause the divide, however he widened the gap by a very large margin.  He ranted, lied, cheated and stole, figuring either that he would clean up the mess later, or that it would eventually take care of itself.  But guess what?  Since taking office, he has only added to the gap, without the slightest attempt to bring the two sides together.  Now, nearly one-third of the way through 2017, there is more hatred, more disruptiveness, more bigotry, and more divisiveness than at any time in the last 50 years.

Which brings me back to my original point:  Donald Trump has many problems facing him, however perhaps the biggest one is the society that he helped split into two radically differing sectors.  Yet, instead of attempting to be more moderate, to take into consideration the needs and ideologies of both sides, he is as a bulldozer, plowing his way through any who do not agree with him.  Those in his camp applaud, while those outside the camp only get angrier and feel more and more marginalized.

A president needs to be much more than a politician.  He must also be a statesman and a diplomat, for he answers to ALL the people, not just those of his party, not just those who voted for him, and not just those who nod their heads in agreement every time he opens his mouth.  He represents We The People, every single man, woman and child living in this nation, and if he forgets that, he is doomed to failure.  Donald Trump has not forgotten that … he just never understood it to begin with.

We have seen much destruction and devastation within our country in the past three months, and if Trump persists in his goals to build a wall, to deport refugees, to ban immigrants, to defund environmental protections, to defund public schools, to destroy the ACA, and to strip civil rights from minorities, there will indeed be a civil war in this nation.  Where President Obama worked toward creating transparency in government, Trump has pulled the curtains shut tightly.  Where President Obama sought inclusiveness for all, Trump’s policies are clearly exclusionary.

Thus far, the only thing that has halted major outbreaks of violence throughout the nation is the expectation by those of us on the left that the investigations into the Russian connections of Trump and his gang will ultimately result in charges of treason, and Trump will be impeached.  In the event that those investigations are somehow stifled, or go by the wayside without satisfactory results, there will be an internal war in the United States.  There will be riots such as have not been seen in 50 years, families will be split asunder, and people will die.

I gave this much thought before writing this post, and searched my own soul, asking myself if I was being an alarmist.  The end result, after weeks of thought, is that no, I am not an alarmist.  I am, just as I have always been, a realist.  I talk to people on both sides of the invisible fence, and I know that both are spoiling for a fight. And the Great Divide goes well beyond politics, beyond even ideology … it goes to the core of who we are.

At this point, there are no simple solutions, no panaceas, and it will require more than our elected representatives can do to fix the problem. It will require that each of us, no matter which side of the partisan aisle we support, find it in our hearts to remember our humanitarianism, to be flexible, to be willing to meet the other halfway.  However, Trump and Congress must be the drivers of any possible solution. If they fail to understand the magnitude of the problem, if they ignore the problem and further divide the nation, if they discount We The People, they have only themselves to blame for being short-sighted.  They will pay the price at the polls next year, but we will pay in the streets this year.  Think about it.

A Toxin Is In The Air!

I am fairly reclusive, but I do venture out now and then.  I like to walk 3-4 miles in the mornings, weather permitting, and on Saturdays, the family and I usually go out for an early dinner, then run errands, and once a week I do go grocery shopping.  Otherwise, I am generally happy to stay at home.  I have concluded, as of this morning, it is no longer safe for me to venture outside the walls of my home, as there is something in the air … something that is apparently highly toxic and quite contagious!  I don’t have a scientific term for it, but I have heard some refer to it as ‘Kool-Aid’, while still others have called it “Ostrich-Syndrome.

I have been reading some of the results of this toxic, presumably air-borne disease, and it is even more frightening than a plague!  The effects of this disease appear to be blindness, deafness, inability to comprehend even the simplest statements, and intellectual regression.  The evidence is in the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll taken this past week.  Let me share a few of the results so you can see what I mean.

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?

42% approve, 53% disapprove, and the other 5% were apparently sleeping.  But what is interesting about this is that 48% of males approve, while only 35% of females do.  And men think they are the smarter sex?  HAH!  The other thing that caught my eye was 45% of college grads approve of the job he is doing, and 37% of post-graduate students.  This seriously messes with my previous assumptions that only the un-and-under-educated could possibly support him.

Q: Would you say Trump is doing a better job as president than you expected, a worse job, or what? Is that much better/worse or somewhat better/worse?

35% say he is doing better than expected (What? How?), 35% say he is doing worse than expected, and 26% say his is doing just about as expected, and 4% were still asleep..  Now take a closer look at that 26%. It turns out, about half of those are people who voted for Trump!  Think about that one … they certainly had low expectations, yet they voted for him anyway?  Again, among college grads, 32% think he is doing better than expected, and of those with post-graduate degrees, 27% think so.

Q: Is Trump keeping most of his major campaign promises, or not?

44% said ‘no’, 41% said ‘yes’, 8% said ‘some, but not all’, and 7% had now fallen asleep.  (Would somebody please tell me which ones he has kept?  Not, mind you, that I wanted him to keep them, because they were all bad ideas, but still … ) Of those who voted for Trump, 84% say he is keeping his campaign promises.

Q: Do you think Trump has the kind of judgment it takes to serve effectively as president, or not?

41% answered ‘yes’, 56% answered ‘no’, and 3% remain sleeping.

Q: Do you think Trump has the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president, or not?

38% answered ‘yes’, 59% answered ‘no’, the rest snoozed on.  Now, I am struggling to understand the 3% who think he has ‘the kind of judgment it takes to serve effectively as president’, yet they do not think he has the ‘kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president’??? Does not one rather hinge on the other, or am I missing something here?

Q: Do you think Trump is honest and trustworthy, or not?

38% replied ‘yes’, 58% replied ‘no’, and 4% are now snoring.  How the heck can you reply ‘yes’ to this question and still sleep with a clear conscience?  And how can you be ‘undecided’?  The ‘man’ has told more lies than Pinocchio, yet 38% find him to be ‘honest and trustworthy’!  Perhaps they are using an ‘alternative vocabulary’?

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There are a total of 21 questions, and I strongly recommend you view the entire survey.  It is among the best interactive surveys I have seen, as you can click ‘detailed view’ on any question and then sort the results by a variety of criteria, such as education level, gender, party affiliation, race, age, religion, region, etc.  Take a few minutes to look closer at the results.

In every case, ‘white evangelical Protestants’ answered the questions in Trump’s favour by a significantly higher than average ratio.  My best guess on this is they are pleased with such things as his rollback of some LGBT rights, with Betsy DeVos’ intention to use federal monies to fund private (read ‘religious’) schools, and with the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.  I still find it disturbing … it is almost as though they are not even living in the same country as the rest of us.

Though his overall approval rating remains at a record low and he is the least popular president in modern times, I am nonetheless astounded at those who continue to support him, even though they say he is not ‘in touch with the concerns of most people in the U.S.’  There has to be something in the air, as I know people cannot truly have become this blind to reality in just the past year.

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Happy Earth Day – 2017

Tomorrow is Earth Day, an annual event created to celebrate the planet’s environment and raise public awareness about pollution. The day, marked on April 22, is observed worldwide with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities and service projects.

earth-3Started as a grassroots movement, Earth Day created public support for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contributed to the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act and several other environmental laws.

A bit of history:

The first Earth Day was in 1970. Then-Senator Gaylord Nelson, after seeing the damage done by a 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, was inspired to organize a national “teach-in” that focused on educating the public about the environment.

Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a politically active recent graduate of Stanford University, as national coordinator, and persuaded U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey of California to be co-chairman. With a staff of 85, they were able to rally 20 million people across the United States on April 20, 1970. Universities held protests, and people gathered in public areas to talk about the environment and find ways to defend the planet.

“Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values,” according to a History of Earth Day.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being the founder of Earth Day. This is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States.

Earth Day continued to grow over the years. In 1990, it went global, and 200 million people in 141 countries participated in the event. Which brings us to tomorrow, when more than 1 billion people are expected to participate in Earth Day 2017.

This year, in light of the recent cutbacks in the EPA, legislation and ‘executive orders’ signed by Donald Trump to reverse protections to our environment, the scientific community is planning marches all around the nation on Earth Day.  The Science March in Washington, D.C., is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to the Mall, and satellite marches have been planned in more than 400 cities on six continents.

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Rush Holt, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), says that this is not simply a reaction to President Trump’s election, but that scientists have been worried for years that “evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policymaking.”

Although a number of scientists, including Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, will be speaking at the Washington event, no politicians have been invited to speak.  Caroline Weinberg, a public health researcher and co-organizer of the march, explains, “Science is nonpartisan. That’s the reason that we respect it, because it aims to reduce bias. That’s why we have the scientific method. We felt very strongly that having politicians involved would skew that in some way.”

Although Trump’s recent policies may not be the sole reason for the Science March, there can be no doubt that they are a factor.  During his campaign, Trump stated that, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Then, once in office, he appointed Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. This is a man who, as Oklahoma attorney general, had sued the agency many times and who, during an interview in March, said he did not believe that human activity is a primary driver of the observed climate change — a statement at odds with scientific research. Trump has also stated his belief that there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism – a theory that has long since been disproven by the scientific community.

Some might ask just what good a march will do in terms of protecting the environment.  The mission statement of the March begins, “There are certain things that we accept as facts … The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution”. The purpose is public awareness and education.  Under the Trump regime, scientists’ voices have been muted, in some cases stifled.

Staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services have been ordered not to send out news releases, create new blog entries or update official website content. They also must seek agreement from senior officials before speaking to the media and in some instances Congress. The National Parks Service was temporarily banned from tweeting.

According to meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus, “It’s broader than about limiting communication. Scientists are seeing this as a full scale attack on truth itself and the principle that government should take scientific information onboard and incorporate it into policies and so act for society as a whole.”

Perhaps Elizabeth Hadly, professor of biology, geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University, said it best:

“If we cannot discuss facts openly – in public, in academia, in business, in government – how can we have meaningful dialogues so essential to serving people’s needs? How can democracy, based on public discussions and trust in our societal truths, survive? And so we will march.”

When a house becomes broken down and unsafe, we can move to another house. But when our planet becomes broken and unsafe, we have no other planet to move to.  When we can no longer breathe the air, drink the water, or grow food on the land, we perish.

Happy Earth Day!

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The Case For Compulsory Voting …

There are a number of reasons that we in the U.S. find ourselves with a madman at the helm.  Certainly, the Russian connection played a role, though it remains to be seen just how much of a role.  James Comey, perhaps pressured by another, played a role.  Voter laws that disenfranchised members of certain groups had a role.  But perhaps the largest reason was voter apathy … many were simply too lazy or too disgusted with both candidates to take an hour out of their year to go vote.

Only about 25% of eligible voters voted for Donald Trump.  Let that one sink in for a moment.  About ¼ of citizens over the age of 18 voted for Trump, yet he now sits in the Oval Office.  Voter turnout in the 2016 election was only around 55%.* Barely half of all those who had the opportunity to make their voices heard chose to do so.  That, my friends, is pathetic. It should be criminal … and in some places it is.

In Australia, voting is compulsory for federal and state elections for citizens aged 18 and above. A postal vote is available for those for whom it is difficult to attend a polling station. Early, or pre-poll, voting at an early voting centre is also available for those who might find it difficult to get to a polling station on election day. Eligible citizens who fail to vote at a State election and do not provide a valid and sufficient reason for such failure, will be fined. The penalty for first time offenders is $20, and this increases to $50 if you have previously paid a penalty or been convicted of this offense.

While compulsory voting is not widespread around the globe, there are 22 countries with mandatory voting laws on the books, of which 11 actually enforce said laws.  In most cases, penalties for failure to vote are minimal, a slap on the wrist, but the law does compel most to vote.  Higher voter turnout leads to governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern. Let us look at some of the pros and cons of compulsory voting.

Pros

  • A higher degree of political legitimacy: the victorious candidate therefore represents a majority of the population.
  • High levels of participation decreases the risk of political instability created by crises or charismatic demagogues.
  • Removes obstacles for minorities and other marginalized groups who are typically disenfranchised by voter laws.
  • Makes it more difficult for extremist or special interest groups to get themselves into power or to influence mainstream candidates. If fewer people vote, then it is easier for lobby groups to motivate a small section of the people to the polls and influence the outcome of the political process.
  • Since campaign funds are not needed to goad voters to the polls, the role of money in politics decreases.

Cons

  • It is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
  • People do not wish to be compelled to vote for a candidate they have no interest in or knowledge of.
  • Certain religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, may be against political participation.

I believe the ‘pros’ far outweigh the ‘cons’, and the arguments against compulsory voting are easy enough to overcome.  A system for compulsory voting may include an exclusion based on religious beliefs.  I have no sympathy with the argument that people may not have knowledge of a candidate.  Perhaps 50, or even 20 years ago I might have, but today, with the touch of a button people can educate themselves about the candidates and their platforms.  To fail to do so is simply a matter of laziness.  When it comes to not liking either candidate, there may be an option on the ballot to select ‘none of the above’.  At least in this case, it is understood that the voter is making a statement, stating a preference.

As for the argument that it may infringe on a person’s right to free speech, I would claim that along with rights come responsibilities.  The right to vote is equally a responsibility to participate in the election of the people whose decisions will affect every person within the country.  Voter apathy is either not caring or being too lazy to spend one hour a year going to the polls to make your voice heard.  Voter fatigue, however, is something entirely different, and I believe that it was this, more than anything, that led to the low turnout in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The campaign began in earnest in July 2015, and from that time forward we were subjected to almost non-stop debates, media coverage, rallies, political advertisements, and divisive vitriol.  Campaigns and election seasons have become almost non-stop, as we have seen by the fact that Trump is already campaigning for re-election in 2020.  I would very much like to see a moratorium on all campaign advertisements and events until three months prior to the actual election.

One final argument in favour of compulsory voting is that it is likely to lead to more moderate, less extremist candidates winning office.  According to political scientist, Waleed Aly:

“In a compulsory election, it does not pay to energize your base to the exclusion of all other voters. Since elections cannot be determined by turnout, they are decided by swing voters and won in the center… That is one reason Australia’s version of the far right lacks anything like the power of its European or American counterparts. Australia has had some bad governments, but it hasn’t had any truly extreme ones and it isn’t nearly as vulnerable to demagogues.”

While I understand that, especially in today’s political climate, it is highly unlikely we will adopt a system of mandatory voting, I would be in full support of such a measure.  The current system under which only 25% of the population selected the leader whose chaotic leadership is wreaking havoc in our nation makes our system far less of a democracy than we believe. (I found an interesting breakdown by state of voter turnout in the 2016 election.)

Compulsory voting would solve only a part of the problem with U.S. elections.  The other two remaining issues that render our current system less than fully representative of the population are gerrymandering and the electoral college.  An overhaul of both these would certainly lead to more representative outcomes, but until every person who is eligible to vote chooses to do so, We The People will continue to be led by leaders who were not elected by the majority of the citizenry, but rather the most outspoken.

* Interestingly, the highest voter turnout in the past two decades was in 2008, when 62.2% of voters participated in the election of Barack Obama.

Good People Doing Good Things – Dr. Sanduk Ruit & Dr. Geoffrey Tabin

Every Wednesday morning, I write about good people who are giving of themselves, their time, their money, or whatever resources they have to help others.  Some weeks I write about millionaire philanthropists, or foundations, other weeks, average, everyday people like you and me who are doing small things that make big differences in the lives of others.  Today I would like to introduce you to a pair of doctors, Dr. Sanduk Ruit, a Nepalese eye surgeon, and Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, an American eye surgeon and world-renowned mountain climber.

Together, these two eye surgeons have restored sight to more than 150,000 patients in 24 countries. Doctors they’ve trained have restored sight to 4 million more. They are on a mission to completely eradicate preventable and curable blindness in the developing world, and they have made a great start.

In 1995, Drs. Ruit and Tabin founded the Himalayan Cataract Project, which began as a small outpatient clinic in Kathmandu. It has since spread throughout the Himalayas and across Sub-Saharan Africa, providing education and training for local eye-care professionals, and has overseen around 500,000 low-cost, high-quality cataract surgeries.

Dr. Ruit was responsible for developing a simplified technique for cataract surgery that costs only $25 and has nearly a 100% success rate.  His method is now even taught in U.S. medical schools, though in the U.S. you will not find cataract surgery for $25.

In 2015, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times visited Dr. Ruit in Hatauda, in southern Nepal, and observed the process.  The patient was a 50-year-old woman, Thuli Maya Thing, who, blinded by cataracts for several years has been unable to work.  “I can’t fetch firewood or water. I can’t cook food. I fall down many times. I’ve been burned by the fire. I will be able to see my children and husband again — that’s what I look forward to most.”  The process to remove Thuli’s cataracts and replace them with new lenses took about five minutes per eye. When the bandages came off the next day, her vision tested at 20/20!

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Thuli Maya Thing

In the United States, cataract surgery is typically performed with complex machines and costs upward of $5,000.  When asked in a 2013 interview with Prospero of The Economist why the surgery the same procedure could not be replicated in the U.S., he answered …

“In America we do not have a health-care system, we have a crisis-intervention system where everyone demands and expects the best possible outcome and looks for someone to blame if things are not perfect. We have so much wasted time, so many middle men, redundancies, third-party payers, legal issues.”

All of the Himalayan Cataract Project’s facilities strive to be completely financially self-sustaining through a unique cost-recovery program in which the wealthy patients subsidize the poor patients. One third of the patients pay the full $100 for a complete work-up, modern cataract surgery, and all post-operative care. Twenty percent of the patients pay a smaller amount based on what they are able to pay. The remaining third of the patients receive the cataract surgical care entirely free. With this model, the facilities are able to cover all costs.

Additionally, the doctors have created a system whereby everyone works up to their potential and no one does anything a person with less training can do. This maximizes the most expensive element, which is the time of the doctors and nurses. They have also been able to bring down the material costs through local manufacturing and elimination of waste. Imagine if these methods were used in the industrialized world … we would not need the ongoing healthcare debate we are perpetually undergoing in the U.S.!

wed-second-sunsJournalist David Oliver Relin shadowed the doctors for nearly two years, an effort that culminated in the book Second Suns, published in June 2013, about the heroic accomplishments of the two doctors.  Sadly, the author committed suicide in November 2012 due to controversies over another book he wrote, Three Cups of Tea.  I have not read Second Suns, but took a quick glance at the sample on my Kindle, and it seems well worth the read.

I had a good chuckle over a story related by Dr. Tabin:

“One story I enjoyed learning from the book was that Dr Ruit had tried to get rid of me by sending me to work in Biratnagar, Nepal, during the monsoon. At the time I thought I was needed there but in fact it was because he found my enthusiasm annoying. He was sure that the 40-degree heat with 99% humidity and lots of biting insects, plus the difficult state of the hospital, would send me scurrying back to America.”

In developing nations, suffering from blindness affects not only the blind person but also members of his/her family. Where there are few paved roads and where terrain is rugged and mountainous, a blind person has incredible difficulty moving around and depends on a caretaker. There are no social services available to the blind, and individuals who are blind cannot contribute to family income. A blind person, unable to care for themselves in such a harsh environment requires the help of a family member, which essentially takes two people out of being able to contribute to family income, or community life. With sight restored, many patients would be able to return to work and to traditional roles in their families and societies.  Drs. Ruit and Tabin have dedicated their lives to restoring sight to blind people in some of the most isolated, impoverished reaches of developing countries in the Himalaya and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Last Sunday, 16 April, the two doctors were featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes and it is well worth checking out!

I have tremendous admiration and respect for these two men, and they are certainly prime examples of good people who are doing good things for others.  I have included a few links below … I think you would especially enjoy the article written two years ago by Nicholas Kristof which includes a short video.  Hats off to Dr. Sanduk Ruit and Dr. Geoffrey Tabin!

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Nicholas Kristoff Article

Interview with The Economist

Himalayan Cataract Project