Saturday Surprise — Let’s Go Places!

Hello friends!  No no … don’t take your coats off, for we are heading out on the Filomobile in just a second, as soon as I find my bloomin’ keys.  JOLLY!!!  Have you seen my keys?

keysjolly

Okay … c’mon gang … we’re going to visit some fun places today, for I am getting tired of sitting home and listening to depressing news, aren’t you?  Yes, Hugh, I promise to get you back in time to shovel your snow!shovel snowHop aboard … sorry, but I don’t have a working heater in the Filomobile, and cannot afford to get this one fixed, but we’ll be where it’s warm in just a few minutes …

For our first stop, we’re heading to Mexico!  It’s been some 40 years since I’ve been to Mexico, though I used to go several times a year.  One of my favourite things when I was young was cabrito from street vendors … what?  You never had cabrito?  Roasted goat meat … they slow roast it over an open fire overnight, then sell it from carts on the streets … never has anything tasted so good!

cabritostreet vendorSigh … memories.  But today we are heading to Hierve el Agua, located in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.  Hierve el Agua is Spanish for “the water boils”, or “boil the water”, and the name comes from the bubbling natural mineral springs that are found here, that run into bathing pools on a spectacular cliff-top location. When you approach Hierve el Agua, from a distance, you see what appears to be a massive waterfall frozen on the side of the mountain. But ice is impossible in this hot climate. These are actually mineral deposits formed over thousands of years as a result of the mineral-laden water spilling over the edge of the cliff and trickling down the rocky mountain side. As the water runs down the rock face, it forms large stalactites like structures similar to those found in caves.hierve el agua-1Hierve el Agua consist of two waterfall-like rock formations. These are formed on cliffs that rise over fifty meters from the valley floor, with one “waterfall” reaching down twelve meters and the other reaching down thirty meters. The twelve meter one is called “cascada chica” (small waterfall) and “flows” off a base which is about sixty meters wide. The other is called “cascada grande” (large waterfall), and extends down from a base with which is about ninety meters wide and eighty meters above the valley floor. The more easily accessible and more often visited of the two waterfalls is the “cascada chica”. It is also called the Amphitheatre.hierve el agua-2.jpgThe waters of the spring are over saturated with calcium carbonate, which is what gets deposited forming the waterfalls-like rock structures. The waters, with their high mineral content, are reputed to have healing qualities, and you will see tourists soaking in the waters in one of the natural pools at the top of the rock.hierve el agua-3

I want to run over to Austria in a minute, but while we’re on this side of the globe, let’s pop over to Mexico City, for there is something I want to show you …coyote fountainThis, my friends, is Fuente de los Coyotes, or Coyote Fountain, a bronze statue fountain portraying a pair of beautiful coyotes surrounded by jets of water.  Coyotes were once a common sight in this part of the Mexican valley. During the reign of the Aztec empire, what is now buildings and roads would have been covered in pine forest and scrubland where coyotes and other animals dwelt. What’s more, the coyote was an animal with much significance in the Aztec cosmovision.coyoteOkay, now let’s travel across the pond to Austria.  Now, who else do you know that will take you halfway ‘round the globe to show you … traffic lights???  Bear with me now, whilst I tell you the story behind the lights …traffic-lights-1It all started with the Eurovision Song Contest. Held annually, the contest sees overs 50 countries battling in front of a live television audience of over 180 million to have their song proclaimed the Eurovsion winner. In return, the winning country gains the rather dubious honor of staging the next year’s contest, though the cost of this would, in actuality, bankrupt many of the tiny micro-nations that compete.

Several notable recording artists have begun their careers here, including ABBA and Celine Dion. Eurovision is also loved for its high-camp costumes and performances, making it a firm favorite with Europe’s LGBTQ community.traffic-lights-2The 2014 Contest was won for Austria by Conchita Wurst, a drag queen with a surname that means “sausage” in German. Thrilled by this success, and eager to welcome Europe to its capital in 2015, the Austrian authorities commissioned three new diversity pictograms for Vienna’s traffic lights.traffic-lights-3These Ampelparchen show three different paired figures (straight, gay, and lesbian), each holding hands and surrounded by hearts. Originally intended as temporary, a Facebook campaign led to them becoming permanent, and today they can be seen throughout the center of Vienna. Indeed, the Ampelparchen have been so well-received that cities as far afield as Salzburg, Utrecht, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, and London have all installed their own versions.

I love the diversity … the recognition of diversity, don’t you?

We have, I think, time for one more stop before we head home.  Are you hungry?  Since we are already in Austria, it seems a shame to miss these rolls, which I hear are delicious. buchteln-1In Austria, pull-apart rolls known as buchteln often house a dollop of plum or apricot preserves. But throughout history, bakers have studded the center of these brioche-like buns with various ingredients, from squares of chocolate to poppyseed paste to lottery tickets!  During the Biedermeier era of the 19th century, a time during which Europe’s middle class expanded considerably, buchteln were referred to as “lotteries” because of their play-to-win filling.

Though the yeasty treat originated in the Bohemia region of Czechia, today, Austrians consider the warm, fruit-filled style—often served fresh from the oven—a local classic. Bakers press jam in the middle, then place the dough side-by-side to create the finished bread’s pull-apart effect.  Let’s try a few, shall we?

Home cooks also turn plain, unfilled buchteln into a decadent dessert by serving them in a pool of vanilla cream. The fluffy rolls absorb whatever sauce they touch, so it’s best to avoid attempting this style with the ticket-filled version.buchteln-4Well, folks, now that our bellies are full, we better head home so you guys can get on with your weekend plans.  I’m so glad you made a bit of time to join me in this little jaunt here and there!  I will be hibernating for the rest of the weekend, as we are supposed to have an ice storm, followed by up to 9 inches of snow, and with sub-zero temps!  Have a safe and happy weekend, dear friends!

Why Didn’t I Think Of That???

Nicholas Kristof’s column yesterday in the New York Times was his usual excellent analysis of the five craziest things about the government shutdown and Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his ego wall.  But what iced the cake for me was the brilliant idea he posed at the conclusion of his piece.  And so, I share his column with you … let me know what you think of his idea!


Trump’s Five Craziest Arguments About the Shutdown

Oh, and about that wall. Here’s a financing plan that’s a win-win.

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeBy Nicholas Kristof
Opinion Columnist

I’d like to apologize to all the “banana republics” I’ve offended over the decades with snarky references to their dysfunction. This is karma: I now live in a nation where a petulant president has shut down much of the most powerful government in the world — so the White House isn’t even paying its water bills.

The government has shut down before, under presidents of both parties. But this shutdown is particularly childish and unnecessary; to revise Churchill, rarely have so many suffered so much at the hands of so few.

It’s difficult to pick the craziest of the arguments that President Trump is making about the shutdown — there’s a vast buffet of imbecility to choose from — but here’s my good-faith effort.

1. This is a crisis! Terrorists are crossing the border! Rapists!

This is more like a lull than a crisis. The number of people apprehended at the border remains near a 45-year low. From 1972 on, there were more apprehensions every single year than there were in 2017.

As for terrorists, experts say that there isn’t a single known case of a terrorist sneaking into the United States along unfenced areas of the southern border. Ever.

2. Only a wall can do the job. A big beautiful wall that stops people and drugs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was wrong to describe a wall as “an immorality,” for we need border security, and a wall in some places can be effective. But a great majority of the undocumented immigrants in the country didn’t arrive by sneaking across the border, but rather came legally, often at airports, and overstayed their visas. The most beautiful of walls wouldn’t stop them.

Likewise, drug smuggling is a real problem, but narcotics have mostly been smuggled in on trucks, cars and airplanes at official ports of entry, or through tunnels under the border, or through the postal system — not by individuals crossing remote parts of the border.

“The Daily Show” dug up a 2004 college graduation speech in which Trump counseled perseverance of just the kind that makes walls, by themselves, not terribly effective: “Never, ever give up. … If there’s a concrete wall in front of you, go through it, go over it, go around it, but get to the other side of the wall.”

3. But this is a humanitarian issue!

Yes, it is. The most egregious humanitarian concern has been Trump’s brutal policy of separating children from parents at the border.

“Kids are still being separated,” Lee Gelernt of the A.C.L.U. told me. Mostly the government does this when it says that a parent has a criminal history, but the offenses sometimes were minor or unsubstantiated.

Meanwhile, the government shutdown causes other tragedies. For example, even in normal times 3,000 people a year die in the United States from food-borne illness, yet the Food and Drug Administration has now had to stop most routine food inspections, with inspectors sent home on furlough. The result may well be more people getting sick or dying from food poisoning.

4. The president doesn’t need Congress. After all, he’s the president!

Plenty of people would be a bit relieved if Trump took the dubious route of declaring a national emergency and trying to steal, er, divert money intended for disaster victims to pay for his wall. It might be a way out of our national stalemate, allowing the government to reopen.

But look, folks, when we welcome our president doing something possibly illegal, as he unjustly takes money from disaster victims, that just confirms that we have a crisis — not at the border but in Washington.

Trump’s wall isn’t about governing but about creating a political symbol and rallying his base. The problem is that it’s an expensive symbol.

By my calculations, the $5.7 billion could send 100,000 at-risk American kids to a high-quality preschool for a year AND provide Pell grants for 100,000 students to attend college for a full four years, with enough left over to ALSO provide a year’s comprehensive treatment to 115,000 Americans struggling with opioid addiction.

5. Anyway, Mexico will pay for the wall.

Trump repeatedly declared that Mexico would pay for the wall, and he still insists that Mexico will pay for it indirectly “many, many times over.” So I have a solution to the whole mess.

Since Mexico will pay for the wall eventually, the problem now is one of cash flow. Fortunately, we have financial instruments to deal with precisely this issue.

I propose that Trump pay the $5.7 billion himself, and then the U.S. will repay him (with a nice interest rate) as the Mexican payments for the wall pour in. The Federal Reserve can verify the Mexican income stream and forward the sums to Trump.

Since he’s so confident that the wall will pay for itself, he should be delighted with this option. Right, Mr. President?

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Now why didn’t I think of that???

Where Is The Logic?????

toddler ironingThose of you who have a toddler in the house, let me ask you a question:  Do you allow your toddler to iron the laundry?  No, of course you don’t for he/she would likely get the creases crooked in the pants, and then what would you look like in that next business meeting?  Do you allow your toddler to load the dishes into the dishwasher?  Why no, silly, for half would be turned the wrong way and never get clean!  And would you allow your toddler to cook your supper?  Heh heh heh … only if you like your food to come on a stick!  There are good reasons that you don’t have your little one iron, clean, or cook, and the main one of those reasons is that he has no idea what he is doing when it comes to those things.  Well, guess what?  The ‘man’ sitting on his oversized patootie in the Oval Office is no better than your toddler in that he has no clue what he is doing.trump big butt-2I can tell you what he is doing … he is destroying.  He is on a course to destroy the environment, society, and most recently, the economy.  Yes, that economy that he has wrongfully taken credit for, that economy that he inherited  from the previous administration, that economy that has been, all things considered, pretty darned good.  But, not satisfied with that, he has now begun a trade war, not with our enemies … oh no, to our enemies he is most generous … but he is determined to go to war with our friends!!!

From The Washington Post, 31 May 2018

“President Trump campaigned on going hard after China for ripping off the United States on trade. Yet a year and a half into his presidency, Trump has put more tariffs on longtime U.S. allies than he has on China, his supposed “bad guy” on trade. The Trump administration announced new tariffs Thursday on the European Union, Canada and Mexico.”

tariffs-2Trump has been playing some game that only he understands, threatening the tariffs, then promising exemptions, then threatening again.  But alas, yesterday he decided the tariffs would go into effect at midnight last night.  If any of you republicans think this is a cheer-worthy move, think again.  This was a foolish, foolish move for two major reasons.

First, Canada, Mexico and the European Union (EU) are our allies, our friends, the countries we count on to help in times of trouble, just as we expect to help them when needed.  Friends do not treat friends this way, and the backlash is justified and expected.

The Mexican government said it would target U.S. exports of pork bellies, apples, cranberries, grapes, certain cheeses and various types of steel. Canada said it would slap dollar-for-dollar tariffs on a range of U.S. products, including whiskey and orange juice. And the European Union indicated it would levy taxes on about $7 billion worth of U.S. exports, including bourbon, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and jeans.

Reactions from our allies:

French President Emmanuel Macron called Mr Trump to tell him the tariffs were “illegal”. Mr Trump told Mr Macron there was a need for the US to “rebalance trade” with the EU.

UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the 25% levy on steel was “patently absurd”, adding: “It would be a great pity if we ended up in a tit-for-tat trade dispute with our closest allies.”

Gareth Stace, head of trade body UK Steel, said the tariffs were “no way to treat your friend” and called on the government to safeguard the industry’s 31,000 jobs.

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, said the US move was “totally unacceptable” and rejected the claim that his country posed a national security threat to America.

The White House received a significant amount of domestic flak, too. Both the steel industry and steelworkers’ unions decried the tariffs. Other manufacturers were no less concerned: One study suggests that the tariffs could kill up to 40,000 jobs in the automobile industry alone.  One of Trump’s own, republican Senator Ben Sasse said …

“This is dumb. Europe, Canada, and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents. We’ve been down this road before — blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression. ‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean ‘Make America 1929 Again.’”

And Financial Times journalist Ed Luce had this to say …

“Launching a simultaneous trade war against America’s allies and adversaries conforms to no known international rules of logic. It will raise domestic prices, cut U.S. jobs and reduce America’s global influence.”

Even chief bootlicker Paul Ryan was not happy, saying the move “targets America’s allies when we should be working with them to address the unfair trading practices of countries like China”.

tariffs-3The second reason this is a fool’s errand, of course, is that it is a move almost certain to create economic instability both in the U.S. and across the globe.  Remember that extra $5 – $6 dollars the ‘tax cut’ bill gained you on your paycheck?  You will soon be spending all of that and more just to buy the same amount of food and other goods that you bought a year ago.  Prices will rise, and when some cannot afford the higher prices, buying will slow, and when buying slows, manufacturers will cut jobs.  That, of course, is an over-simplified explanation, but you get the idea.

Trump’s stance against globalism is ridiculous, for today’s world is a global world.  Nations must engage in global trade in order to bolster their economies, and in global cooperation in order to ensure their security.  It is no longer the world it was pre-WWII, but Donald Trump has no knowledge, no experience, and no willingness to listen to the experts, so he does not understand international relations or economics any better than your three-year-old understands how to iron the clothes.  The difference is that your toddler will someday learn … Donald Trump will not.

The World Is Not Impressed With Us …

Yesterday I came across an article in the German publication, der Spiegel,  about Donald Trump:

A Danger to the World … It’s Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump

Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing stock and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse.

Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.

He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media’s tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.

Trump is a miserable politician. He fired the FBI director simply because he could. James Comey had gotten under his skin with his investigation into Trump’s confidants. Comey had also refused to swear loyalty and fealty to Trump and to abandon the investigation. He had to go.

Witnessing an American Tragedy

Trump is also a miserable boss. His people invent excuses for him and lie on his behalf because they have to, but then Trump wakes up and posts tweets that contradict what they have said. He doesn’t care that his spokesman, his secretary of state and his national security adviser had just denied that the president had handed Russia (of all countries) sensitive intelligence gleaned from Israel (of all countries). Trump tweeted: Yes, yes, I did, because I can. I’m president after all.

After reading this, I wondered what other countries thought, so I went in search of information, and here is what I found:


From El País (Spain) on 19 May 2017:

el pais

Trump Investigated

Although he hopes to, Trump cannot insulate himself from a political climate which grows ever more precarious with every passing day.

Once again, the incumbent in the White House has shown signs of a total and reckless failure to understand the responsibilities of the position he holds. His opaque relationship, and that of a large number of his team, with Russia, a rival great power to the U.S., is a topic of extreme gravity. As much as Trump tries to deflect the controversy and give the appearance of normalcy to the intimate relationship he has with Putin, neither his campaign team’s contacts with the Kremlin nor his intelligence leaks on terrorism to Moscow are acceptable. Even less so is his response, thuggish and raucous, to accusations over his relations with Russia and the pressure he piled on FBI Director James Comey, in order to protect himself and his subordinates from the investigation.

It is also worth mentioning the president’s ridiculous claim that “no politician in history has been treated more unfairly.” The list of people who stand above him in this regard is endless. Rather than spouting nonsense on Twitter, Trump ought to cooperate fully with the authorities, adhere to the law and clear up exactly what has happened with regard to some of these serious incidents.


From Life.ru (Russia) on 3 May 2017

Life.ruThe Middle East Is Not Letting Trump Go

Trump repeatedly said that he does not need the Middle East … But he has underestimated its importance.

It’s already been 100 days since the eccentric Donald Trump became president of the United States. And thus, it’s already been three months since the global community began trying to guess and predict the next step of the billionaire who is now in charge of the Oval Office.

There is no doubt that the U.S. president’s policy will be transformed. Those things that Trump said during the election campaign and things that he will make come true will not be the same things. This was early Trump. Some 100 days later, he was replaced by an average Trump.

The Middle East will not let the U.S. go, but how Trump and his team will react to it is unclear. It is hoped that the region will not return to the old and still not forgotten state, the way it was under President Bush.


From Excélsior (Mexico) on 14 May 2017

Excelsior

Trump’s Visit To The East

Trump has … failed with domestic politics, and … his problematic character, lack of experience, and tendency to lie and cheat will be … similarly revealed in … international relations.

Trump has categorically failed with domestic politics, and soon his problematic character, lack of experience, and tendency to lie and cheat will be known and similarly revealed in the field of international relations.


From Huanqiu (China) on 1 May 2017

China.jpg

The Trump Administration’s First 100 Days – Has the US Changed?

Trump’s aspiration to fundamentally change American politics is separated from reality, the thwarted implementation of his policies inevitable.

Trump’s aspiration to fundamentally change American politics is separated from reality, the thwarted implementation of his policies inevitable. First of all, giving power back to the people is not an empty political slogan. To achieve a change of power of this kind would first require a fundamental systematic change to a form of government which serves the people. As a very rich man, Trump clearly has no intention of overthrowing the current capitalist system which serves the rich.

The claims Trump made during his election campaign regarding rapidly improving relations with Russia, calling NATO outdated, and claims of putting China under pressure have proved inopportune and not beneficial to the U.S.

Significantly reducing taxes for businesses and citizens to raise the economic competitiveness of the American economy, to promote economic growth and to increase citizens’ income will no doubt make a bad situation worse considering the $20 trillion deficit. Hoping for rapid economic growth to increase household incomes by cutting taxes is very likely to fail. During the first 100 days of the Trump administration, the federal budget deadlock has once again caused problems for the White House, with both parties playing games which threaten the regular functioning of government. This just demonstrates Trump’s inability to overcome the restrictions of the capitalist system’s market dominance to implement real change. Fundamentally closing the widening gap between the rich and poor, racial discrimination, increase in violent crime, and fierce political battles are problems that are so hard to solve they feel unachievable.

‘Twould seem that the Trump regime is indeed the laughingstock of the global community, though the laughter is tongue-in-cheek, as other nations realize, even when Trump does not, that we are all inter-connected and what Trump does has the potential to send shock waves round the world.  We laugh at the antics of a clown, but somewhere deep inside, we are frightened.

In Praise of Stupidity!

Trump has finally figured out how he will “make Mexico pay” for his proposed wall to keep Mexican immigrants out of the U.S.  According to the trumpeter, he will impound the money that Mexican immigrants earn and send home to their families in Mexico until Mexico agrees to pay somewhere between $5 million to $10 million for the wall.  So simple, really, I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before.  Maybe because it isn’t legal?  Or perhaps because the “problem” of Mexican immigrants is illusory and in fact, more people emigrate from the U.S. to Mexico than the opposite?  Maybe because it is virtually impossible to identify every transfer of money from “illegal” immigrants?  Could it be because it would be devastating to not only the economy of our ally, Mexico, but also to families who are already basically starving? Might it be thought to be a form of international blackmail?  Or perhaps because such a move would severely test the limits of executive power to pressure another nation?  Or maybe because Mexico is currently our ally and we would like to keep it that way, given that they are the third largest importer of goods from the U.S.?  But gee, Mr. Trump, those are all just pesky little details, so by all means let us move forward with your brilliant plan, have lawsuits coming out of the woodwork, have Mexico refusing to trade with us, and build that damn wall! 

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed the hateful “religious freedom act” into law today.  Great job, Gov!  Now every business and organization in your otherwise illustrious state can legally discriminate against LGBT people!  Your family must be so proud.  Now businesses in your state can even tell employees how to dress, they can demand that women wear makeup and tell them how to wear their hair … wow, isn’t this a great thing?  Bryant says he signed the bill in order “to protect … religious beliefs and moral convictions … from discriminatory action by state government.”  Never mind that this bill not only permits, but encourages discrimination.  Never mind that there was no real discrimination against the religious citizens to begin with. Yes, by all means let us not let silly things like treating all people as equals, humanitarian concerns and civil rights offend the sensibilities of the “moral” citizens. Mississippians can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are.  With an average of 63 people per square mile, Mississippi was over-populated anyway, so this law will really help thin the population when residents move to other states where they are free to be who they are. In fact, Rhode Island and New Jersey, each having more than 1,000 people per square mile, may do well to consider similar legislation! What’s next, Gov?  Will you turn your sights to laws limiting the rights of African-Americans?  Women?

Earlier today, President Obama, in his daily White House briefing, stated that the rest of the world depends on the United States to offer serious solutions for global problems. “They don’t expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House.”  Well perhaps it is time for the world to look elsewhere for “serious solutions”, for compassion and humanitarianism, since the United States has taken leave of its senses!

Healthy and Educated? Or Sick and Poor? Your Choice …

Two talking points in this election year have gained a lot of attention: health care and education. While one side proposes to demolish both the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Education, the other side supports expanding ACA to a universal health care system and providing free college education for all. Perhaps there is a happy medium? What is your stance on these two issues?

Health Care

Bernie Sanders states that “We are the only major country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right.” Is Mr. Sanders right? It turns out that depending on how one defines “major country”, he is very nearly correct. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States and Mexico are the only two member nations that do not provide universal health care coverage. As of today, Mexico has made remarkable progress toward some degree of universal healthcare, given that Mexico is a much poorer nation than the U.S. and is still considered to be a developing nation. That said, one could argue that even Mexico provides better healthcare to its citizens that the U.S., even with ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare). ACA was never actually intended to provide universal care, but merely to make health care insurance affordable for all, a goal which to date is approximately 90% successful.

For the purpose of simplification, let us look at only the OECD member nations, though there are many nations around the globe outside this list that do provide some form of universal health care ranging from free health care for only pregnant women and children, to full care for all. Below are the OECD nations that do provide universal heath care:

• Virtually all of Europe has either publicly sponsored and regulated universal health care or publicly provided universal healthcare.
• Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel
• Asia: Japan, Korea

Just a few examples of non-OECD nations that provide a significant level of universal health care

• China, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, UAE …
• African nations of: Rwanda, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia

I bet some of these surprise you. As you can see, many countries that are considered “developing” nations yet offer better opportunities for at least basic health care than the U.S. There are some differences between “universal health care” and a “right to health care”, differences that are too detailed to cover in any depth here. Additionally, each nation has its own definitions of coverage that makes a complete analysis worthy of a book, which is not my intention. My point is that almost every other nation on earth has acknowledged the need to provide its citizens with some form of health care. Apart from Medicare/Medicaid, the United States had done very little toward that end until President Obama launched the Affordable Care Act. Even that is not enough, but it is a start and needs to be built upon going forward. I find it impossible to understand the mentality of those who completely oppose ACA without even a thought of alternate proposals. For one of the most technologically advanced nations on the globe, it is shameful to let people go without health care under any circumstances.

A couple of very useful links for anyone who is interested in delving deeper into healthcare systems around the globe:

http://chartsbin.com/view/z1a
http://healthcare.procon.org

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Education

Do you remember the time when you often heard “He/she is the first in the family to go to college”, or “I am going to make sure my son/daughter gets the opportunity for college that I never had”? That was once the way in the United States … each generation saw more young people entering college than the generations before. Today, however, the reverse is true. The reasons are fairly simple: college costs have soared, student loans are a lifelong burden for many, there is very little help available outside student loans, many “blue collar” jobs pay better than those requiring a college education. The OECD released a report on college graduate rates in 2014 saying that the U.S. ranks 19th out of 28 countries included in the study. Not the bottom of the barrel, but certainly far from top of the list. In 1995, we were at the top of the list, ranking first in graduation rates (33%) of all OECD nations. We have fallen from 1st to 19th in just over two decades, leaving us to wonder where we will be in another twenty years.

In this election year, the politics point to two polar opposite sets of ideas: one side seems convinced that we need to disband the Department of Education, that there should be no free rides for college students, while the other side strongly advocates at least two years of free tuition for all students. Free college tuition, while not nearly as globally prevalent as universal health care, is the norm in several countries: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Demark, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, France, and Brazil. Many other countries provide additional assistance to students, including free college tuition for certain courses of study, no interest or low interest student loans, and other incentives.

The Department of Education, established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, is a cabinet-level agency tasked with three main goals:

• Provide financial aid
• Collect educational data
• Identify education issues

Ronald Reagan attempted, but failed to abolish the department in 1980, and the republican party has rallied to abolish it almost ever since. The argument in favour of abolishing the department is purported to “end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.” The bigger reason, I suspect, ties to economic platforms and the desire to “get rid of big government”. (One word here, to be covered in depth in a later post, is that the U.S. is a large country with over 318 million people … such a large and diverse country requires a large central government.) With all the controversy surrounding “common core” today, there is ever-increasing and understandable support for abolishing the department. However, there are also some strong arguments against such a move:

• Some states would fail to implement minimum standards and there would be no national standard, resulting in inequalities from state-to-state
• Elimination of the Department of Education would also eliminate federal funding for schools
• Left to the states, it is almost certain that civil rights violations would occur in many states

In my own opinion, our system of education, both at the federal and the state level needs an overhaul, however I do not think that simply abolishing the Department of Education is the answer. I am almost certain that it would lead to a further drop in our ranking within the next decade, and that is not acceptable if we wish to maintain our status as one of the world’s leading technological and humanitarian nations.

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In sum, universal health care and education are two areas in which we lag woefully behind many other developed nations. Improvement in these areas will take much work. Neither education nor healthcare are free, but we need to address both as a nation, distributing the cost more equitably rather than simply shrugging our shoulders and leaving “every man for himself”. We will not resolve this overnight, it will take years, decades perhaps, to catch up in just these two areas. Any move in the opposite direction, such as dismantling the Department of Education or abolishing the Affordable Care Act is a step in the wrong direction and can only have disastrous results for the citizens of this nation. These are not the steps we need to take if we truly want to “make America great again”.

The Saga Continues: Affluenza, Part II

Lately it seems that all I ever write about is gun regulation, Donald Trump, or the presidential race in general.  I am tired of these topics, but they just won’t go away … every day there is something else that my conscience won’t let me leave alone.  But today, I thought, is the day that I am going to take a break, write about something light and fun!  But alas … maybe tomorrow, because just as I was trying to think of what might be fun for me to write and my readers to read, this crossed my desk:

“Tonya Couch, the mother of so-called “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch, had her bond lowered from $1 million to $75,000 at a hearing on Monday.”  http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/11/us/texas-affluenza-tonya-couch/index.html?sr=fbCNN011216texas-affluenza-tonya-couch0351AMVODtopLink&linkId=20283485

You may remember my post of 16 December 2015 titled “The New 1% Disease” about “affluenza”.  https://jilldennison.com/2015/12/16/the-new-1-disease/  The post was inspired by the story of this woman’s son who, after driving drunk and killing four innocent people, was given only a proverbial slap-on-the-wrist because it was ruled that as a result of being born into a wealthy family, he was not able to understand the concept of responsibility, and thus could not be held accountable for his actions.  Then, just two years into his ten-year probation sentence, he disappeared.  Poof.  Vanished, as did his mother.  Just over two weeks later, Couch and his mother were found in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  The mother was promptly returned to the U.S. and was being held on $1 million bail.  Given the family wealth, one would not expect a mere $1 million to be a huge drain on the family coffers, but apparently it was, so during her bond hearing yesterday the bail was lowered to a modest $75,000.  She is charged with hindering the apprehension of her son, who fled to Mexico after a video surfaced showing him drinking alcohol, a blatant violation of his probation.  She will likely end up paying only 10% of the bond, or $7,500.  Her older son claims that she is broke … a story I find difficult to believe, especially in light of the fact that she withdrew $30,000 from her bank account to fund the trip to Mexico. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $30,000 readily accessible!  Generally a higher bond is intended to keep a person in jail if that person is believed to be a “flight risk”.  Apparently the Texas judge who lowered Ms. Couch’s bail does not believe that she is at risk of disappearing before trial, despite the fact that she already did exactly that back in December.

 

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, young Ethan, now 18 years of age, languishes in a Mexican migrant holding facility pending extradition.  Why has he not already been extradited to the U.S.?  Because his attorney argues that extraditing him, or “kicking him out of Mexico” would violate his rights, since he hasn’t committed any crime in Mexico.  As a result, Couch’s return to the U.S. will take a minimum of two weeks and could take as long as several months.  The matter now apparently rests in the hands of the Mexican immigration court.  His attorney has announced that he will appeal any unfavorable decision, in which case the process could be lengthy, if not interminable.  Meanwhile, what about the rights of Kevin McConnell whose 12-year-old son, Lucas was one of nine people injured by Mr. Couch?  Or what about the rights of Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were both killed by Mr. Couch?  Who has the greater right here, the criminal or the victim?

 

Now, I don’t understand the concept that he should not be deported from Mexico because he “hasn’t committed any crime in Mexico”.  Let us think about this for just a minute.  First, the U.S. does, in fact, have an extradition treaty with Mexico that was signed on 13 November 1997 and entered into force on 21 May 2001. Surely, I thought, this means that Mexico is obligated to return this young man to the U.S. to stand trial.  But then, as I was researching the topic (yes, I do actually research before I make a statement), I discovered that most extradition treaties actually have a requirement of “dual-criminality” … in other words, the person must be found to have committed a crime in both countries!  Upon learning of this, my first thought was “how utterly ridiculous!”  But then, I tried thinking of it in some hypothetical cases completely apart from the Couch case, and I realized that simple extradition based solely on the request of one country could certainly lead to crimes against humanity and human rights abuses.

 

So, I have another idea.  Consider the following.  After the end of WWII, Adolph Eichmann, one of the most notorious Nazi SS officers and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, fled to Argentina using a false passport under the name of Ricardo Klement.  Many, including famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, dedicated themselves to finding Eichmann, as well as other former Nazis.  Long story short, eventually they discovered that he was living comfortably with his family in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Argentina had a long history of denying extradition requests for Nazis, so in 1960, Mossad, Israel’s famed intelligence agency, simply kidnapped Eichmann and smuggled him out of the country, to later be tried and executed.  Okay, there is a bit of a difference between Eichmann and Couch, and I’m not suggesting execution for this stupid and misguided young man, but I am suggesting that if Mexico refuses to extradite within a reasonable amount of time, say ten days or two weeks, CIA agents be dispatched to kidnap him and bring him to the U.S. to face the music.

 

And some music it will be, as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) are circulating a petition demanding that Couch’s case be moved to adult court.  I am not sure what the protocols and precedents for such an action are, and that is research best left to the experts.  But what I do know is that MADD has historically had significant influence and has been successful in the enactment of more than 1,000 new laws since their founding in 1980.

 

The wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly, but turn they do.  I strongly suspect that Tonya Couch will ultimately plead that she is not responsible for her actions due to some mental illness and be let off with a minimum sentence, possibly only probation, although by law she could receive up to a ten-year prison sentence.  And I think that eventually Ethan Couch will be returned to the U.S.  I cannot predict whether he will be transferred to adult court, but I certainly hope he is.  I think it will be years before this matter is fully resolved and that even then most of us will believe it wasn’t enough.  I only hope that there will never again be a case where a person is not brought to justice based solely on the fact of being too wealthy to understand social and moral responsibility.