Friday, December 1, 2017

280. We didn’t used to worry about it

Growing up, we lived for backyard football. After baseball season, we played as much as we could — in the rain, mud, and snow. We didn’t care. We played with neighbors, friends, family (including my sister) and our yard was perfectly set up for a small field. There were no video games, cell phones, or Facebook. We spent our time outside.

My parents never sent us to sports camps, training centers, or paid for private coaching. They handed us a football and opened the backdoor — go play!

I would give anything to have some video of those backyard games. They could get pretty intense.

I played pee-wee football and through ninth grade at Midview before deciding that baseball should be my focus. But I still loved football.

In about 1983, when I was 15 or so, my dad decided to start a touch football league. He called the local elementary school and asked if we could use the field a dozen or so Sundays a year. Surprisingly, they gave us permission. My dad then put an advertisement in the local paper to get players and form teams.

I don’t remember all the details; we had probably six teams. The rules were made very simple: Each game consisted of a set number of plays (rather than having to work a clock) and first downs were permanently defined about 20 yards apart, so we didn’t need first down markers. We played, I believe, seven on seven, and I am guessing the field was 80 yards long and proportionally wide. We paid for a couple of officials, but the league was affordable, something like $20 per person plus the cost of a jersey.

It was so much fun. We would get up each Sunday morning to go line the fields and spent all morning at the field. We would then come home, watch the Browns, and talk about our games. The games were competitive, and we had playoffs to crown a champion. There is still of photo of my dad’s team at my mom’s house from the year they won the championship. I don’t recall much fighting or complaining, other than a call here or there (but I may have forgotten). The guys, ranging from 40s to us teens, were just happy to play and have someone organize it.

At the time, I thought nothing of it. When my dad wanted to do something, he usually made a run at it — sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t. I didn’t appreciate his ambition until much later in life.

Looking back, it is quite remarkable. I can’t imagine doing something like that today on a small scale. There are lots of flag football leagues, but they are much more formal. I can’t imagine a school letting someone use their field with such a simple request. There was no insurance and players played at their own risk. It was just a bunch of guys getting together to have fun, burn off some energy, and hang out with friends.

Now, just to run a 5K race, many organizations require insurance to use their facilities and runners and walkers have to sign a waiver. I don’t deny we were lucky — someone could have gotten seriously injured and sued us and the school district. But I also feel like it was a different time.

Today, so much of life is bogged down with formality, liability, and worry. Things don’t happen because people worry about everything — what if this happens, what if that happens? It’s often paralyzing. Things take so long, meandering through permissions, legality, and formality that sometimes people just give up. It seems we live in a scared society.

Understandably, people do look for the opportunity to sue. Accidents don’t just happen anymore. There is no such thing as bad luck. Somebody is at fault; someone is responsible. So some of that fear is warranted, I grimly admit.

I am glad that my dad wasn’t scared because those are some of my favorite memories with him. Doing something you love with your friends and father — what could be better?

Friday, November 17, 2017

279. Bump Bailey, Birdie, and betrayal

We lost our beloved dogs — Petey, the handsome pit bull mix, and Sky, our semi-famous and talkative greyhound — within a month of each other in late Summer 2015.

For different reasons, we are still not over either one of them. Petey was a loyal friend who had a rough go of it early in his life. Tattooed on my arm, he will be with me forever. I see his beautiful face every morning in the mirror. Sky also had a rough time finding a home, being passed back and forth several times. I felt a mental connection with him — I could start a conversation just by giving him “that look.” A victim of bone cancer, a common curse among greyhounds, I will never get his pain out of my head.

Suddenly we were down to one dog, but we needed some time before looking for another. Bump Bailey lavished in the attention as he tried to fill our broken hearts.

Eventually we decided it was time to add to our family and hoped that Bailey would like to have a companion. He got along well, from the first moment with Petey and Sky, so we weren’t worried that he would take issue letting another dog into our house.

We were mistaken.

We tried to introduce him to three other dogs of his size and mixed breed. We searched animal shelter and rescue groups and took him to test compatibility. Bailey wasn’t having it. One adorable little dog couldn’t get even get in the driveway. Another would not leave Bailey alone, pestering him and testing his patience. Still another couldn’t even pass the sniff test.

The process was difficult as it broke our hearts to see all the dogs that needed a home. Ready to give up, we thought we would try a greyhound. They are big, sometimes independent, and Bailey got along well with Sky. We found one that needed a home, a beautiful brindle named Birdie. The foster family was leaving for a weekend and we thought we would invite Birdie over and give it a try.

We slowly introduced her to our home and everything went well. She was sweet and loving and quickly made herself at home. We thought we had another dog.

But Bailey pouted. Really pouted.

Normally, Bailey was always on top of me, wrestling or playing with his squeaky toy. He cuddled with my wife in her chair. He actually laid on the desk when we worked in the office. He just had this infectious silly attitude and loved life.

While Bailey didn’t engage with Birdie, we noticed that he was separating himself from us. He sat in the corner of the room, wouldn’t play, and wouldn’t cuddle. He slept on the floor rather than our bed. It’s like we betrayed him, breaking his heart.

It also broke ours and we sadly returned Birdie when the foster family came home.

What we didn’t expect was Bailey to hold a grudge, but he did. Even after Birdie left, he ignored us, slept on the floor, wouldn’t play. He knows that when I get down on the floor, it’s play time — his tail wagging rapidly as he runs to get his toy. But now, he would literally leave the room.

It was sort of unbelievable. Dogs are supposed to love unconditionally, and we wondered if we would get our Bailey back. Then we left for vacation and we were gone for 16 days. When we got back, things slowly returned to normal. We now do everything we used to do. I think he missed us and decided it was time to forgive us.

It’s hard not rescuing another dog; my wife had to take herself off all the rescue sites. But Bailey is my best friend and I can’t hurt his feelings again. He might be selfish with our love, but he doesn’t know different. After all, he spent months in a quiet, cold cage all by himself. I can’t imagine how miserable he must have been.

Like any relationship, there are up and downs. It’s been a rough couple of years for all of us, but we worked it out.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

278. Photography is the art of the real

I have enjoyed photography for several years now; it’s something I do purely for leisure.

While I do enter photo contests such as the Lorain County Fair and Erie Shore Photography Club, it’s really just for fun. I appreciate the feedback and the chance to improve my skills. Honestly, I am interested in learning beyond the basics of photography but not the intricacies of professional photography. I favor taking my camera with me when I travel to get photos but do not normally engage in “photo shoots.” I take the best photo I can.

Occasionally I get a good photograph. But then, the odds are on my side — the ability to take thousands of photographs with digital cameras and get a few good ones is simple math.

I took a college course that included developing our own film a long time ago. But even with the digital camera, the more I learn about photography, the more I feel like an amateur. In this age in which almost everyone has a pretty good camera on their cell phone, good photographers are underappreciated.

People will sometimes say, “That’s a nice photo, you must have a good camera.” That’s both true and a little simplistic. Good photos by good photographers take a lot of skill and preparation. There are many factors that go into a great photo. On the other hand, the “auto mode” on cameras is pretty good and the distinction between professionals and amateurs is often subtle.

For me, there are several aspects to photography. One aspect is to preserve the moments in our lives. These are the natural photos captured in the spontaneous course of an activity. These might include birthdays or graduations. The goal is a nice photo to commemorate the event, not necessarily to get an award-winning shot.

There is also photography for documentation. If I saw the extinct Dodo bird in my backyard, I’d sure want a photo to document it. Similarly, photography can document the activities of our lives. While I would like to get the best photo ever of the Grand Canyon, my photos also serve to record my time and experience there.

But there is some controversy within photography. I learned some tips at a talk given by a professional photographer and he described the extent a photographer will go to get his or her shot. He described an advertisement he did portraying a volleyball player diving in the sand. Of course, in reality it was a model, lying on a bench (out of sight) angled into the sand and dozens of takes of someone tossing the ball to her.

Photography competitions often permit photographers to take advantage of the tools available in post-production. These tools have a wide range of detail, effects, and alternations designed to improve photos. Some are simple, such as cropping or converting a photo to black and white. Others are more complicated and dramatically alter the image. At a recent competition, there was a beautiful photo of an owl with a badly injured eye. A judge suggested that a photographer could copy the good eye and cover up the bad eye. When the images are altered to the extreme, it perhaps represents more of an image of art than a product of photography.

Similar to many perspectives in life where science and technology can modify reality, photos can be changed so much that they are no longer authentic. For me, a photograph should represent truth as the visual depiction of a place in moment and time taken to be preserved, treasured, or shared. Enhanced pictures should maintain the integrity of that being photographed. If an object or landscape is photographed, it should exist in reality. A picture of the Empire State Building should represent the truth of the building at the moment in time. When a photographer starts adding clouds and removing people, it no longer represents the reality of the moment.

If the photo is altered to the point that it is no longer represents that which it purports to have photographed, it has, in my opinion, crossed over to art — and represents how the photographer interpreted the moment and not what is inherently suggested by the photo itself. It succeeds and is appreciated as art, but the distinction should be noted.

Declan O’Neill, writing about a photographer who was stripped of his title as “Photographer of the Year,” noted the distinction: “But for the ‘purists’ his accolade would have reinforced the idea that we can alter images in the name of ‘art’ and still claim they are photographs.”

However, he also notes that “many photographers do not object to using Photoshop to enhance photographs but they do object to its use in altering photographs.” If an owl only has one eye, then he only has one eye. Life is not perfect.

I appreciate and sometimes engage in the artistic aspect of photography. It is enjoyable and gratifying to take a photo and turn it into a creative “work of art.” I am not taking a moral stance on the issue — only that is difficult to know when a photographer has crossed that line. Regardless, the photographer should be honest as to the true nature of the picture.

Monday, October 9, 2017

277. Believe it, timing is everything

My wife and I celebrated our 20-year anniversary this month. For the occasion, we decided to drive out west and see as many places as we could.

Over 16 days we drove more than 4,500 miles through the heart of the country. We drove through deserts, mountains, rolling hills and over rivers. We traveled through cities, along Old Route 66, visited small towns, even ghost towns and over areas so flat you could see for miles. We got to enjoy the diversity of topography this country offers.

The trip, however, also traveled along the country’s social and political spectrum. Our first stop was St Louis, Mo., one day after riots broke out after a white ex-police officer was acquitted for the killing of a black suspect. It was an up-close view of the racial tensions that still plague this country.

From St. Louis we headed to Oklahoma City. Along the way, friends of a friend were attacking me, calling me an idiot and other expletives (which I am now used to) because I had the audacity to suggest that terrorists come in all colors and ideologies. After he shared a video of ISIS members proclaiming their hate for America, I sent a panoramic photo I took of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, the second worst terrorist attack on this country — committed by a white supremacist. The conversation quickly went silent.

After leaving Oklahoma City we traveled to Flagstaff, Ariz., so that we could tour the Grand Canyon. Along the way we saw hundreds of wind turbines, which was encouraging. Unfortunately, we could also smell the factory farms miles before we saw them. We took a train ride from Williams, Ariz., complete with a staged train robbery, to the Grand Canyon. It was one of several national parks we visited. We also visited the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, and Aches National Park. We rode scooters through Red Rock Canyon and quickly drove through a very crowded Zion National Park.

Next was the mainstay of our vacation — Las Vegas.

We had never been to Las Vegas, and it was someplace we wanted to visit at least once. When you’re getting older, you start thinking about these things. We’re not much for gambling, though enjoy a little from time to time, but wanted to experience the environment, energy, and shows. One of the days we spent touring the Hoover Dam and enjoyed a boat ride on Lake Mead. I enjoyed Las Vegas much more than I anticipated. The hotels and resorts are gigantic and just amazing. Over the course of out vacation, we took over 5,000 photographs.

We left Las Vegas on Thursday, Sept. 28. Stephen Paddock checked in the same day. We could see Mandalay Bay from our hotel, and my newlywed niece stayed there just a week before we arrived.

Every single terrorist attack or mass shooting is both heartbreaking and infuriating. However, it does feel a little different because we were just there. The randomness of these senseless acts triggers feelings of helplessness.

As a country, maybe we are finally fed up with this. I don’t want to hear any more prayers, or cliche hashtags like #vegasstrong. Obviously, I support the communities and their way of dealing with the tragedies, but we keep allowing this to happen. I was having lunch with my mom when a politician got on television and said that we should not use this to further a political agenda. Others have said it is too soon to discuss gun control. I physically start to shake at the stupidity.

For those who were killed, it’s already too late. Preventing mass shootings or at least making them more difficult is not a political agenda, and it is hypocritical to even suggest otherwise. Had the shooter been Muslim, President Donald Trump would have been on Twitter within minutes lauding himself and promoting his Muslim bans. Fox News would have salivated at the opportunity to promote its conservative agenda. For an outstanding article on this subject, read Thomas Friedman’s, “If Only Stephen Paddock Were a Muslim.” It is a flawless examination of this hypocrisy.

Those who continue to do nothing in Congress, regardless of party and regardless of how much money he or she receives from the NRA, are, in partly responsible for each mass murder. Our founding fathers, when they wrote the Second Amendment, could not have anticipated the weaponry that exists today. Paddock had a ridiculous arsenal of weapons and nobody needs an automatic rifle or semi-automatic rifle. As the joke goes, if you need a AK-47 for hunting, then you suck as a hunter and need a new hobby. Of course, it’s not just gun control; it’s the American culture that promotes and glamorizes violence. It’s not unpatriotic to suggest that this country needs reasonable gun control.

We finished our trip driving through Colorado on Saturday night on our way back to Ohio, and just a few hours later they got 14 inches of snow, closing the road we just traveled. We had great weather, cooler than it was here in Ohio. We were lucky to have a wonderful trip and celebration of our 20-year anniversary.

It’s true, timing is everything.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

276. Time to band together

Nick Hanauer is a billionaire who exemplifies the American dream.

He worked hard, started businesses, made wise investments. Yet, despite his personal success, he has expressed his concern about the growing inequalities in our country. He is brash and controversial, but asserts his beliefs and opinions without apology.

In 2014, Hanauer wrote “The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats,” for Politico and then recently reiterated his concerns in “To My Fellow Plutocrats: You Can Cure Trumpism.”

The use of “pitchforks” provides the imagery:

“But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.”

Our economy is so large, it is easy to get lost in it. There is economic theory and political interest, for example. There are exaggerations, simplifications, red herrings, and lies. It is easy to laud the successful and demonize the unsuccessful. It is easy to blame the government, lobbyists, and legislatures.

However, “us against them,” that is the 99 percent versus the one percent, is rarely united. There was Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, but the opponents differed.

Imagine that you were one of 300 people on a wealthy island. On this island, there was plenty of money and luxuries for everyone, but 20 percent of it is controlled by just three individuals. Of the $1 million in assets available, three people owned $200,000 of it. Of course, in truth, they control the other people through the essentials, like housing, labor, and food. The bottom 150 would be forced to share $80,000.

So while the island had enough for everyone to have $3,333 each, half the people would only have $533. The “middle class” would get $1,866, while the three on the top each get $66,666 each.

Why would the 150 people living on $533 not simply band together and take out the three individuals on the top and share the $200,000?

This is what Hanauer is referencing. Eventually the people on the bottom will get tired of fighting each other for scraps and seek a more equitable society. He wrote:

“And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.”

The stakes are rising.

People keep fighting for the $15 minimum wage (which Hanauer is an advocate for), overtime rules were recently overturned, and President Donald Trump and the Republicans want to reform taxes. In response, Hanauer started a petition against the tax cuts for the wealthy: “I believe that not one penny in tax cuts should go to millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations. Everyone knows that the biggest lie in economics is that tax cuts for the rich create growth and jobs. When Republicans talk about tax reform, they’re really talking about trickle down nonsense.”

I have been warning about the growing inequalities for years. But when I say it, I am a socialist. When poor people say it, they are told to work harder. Maybe people will listen when a rich person says it.

The economy thrives when people earn sustainable wages. Hanauer agrees, “In plain English, the real economy is you: Raise wages, and one increases demand. Increase demand and one increases jobs, wages, and innovation. The real economy is simply the interplay between consumers and businesses.”

The 99 percent needs to unite and say enough is enough. There is a difference between success and greed, and the top one percent has been very greedy for a long time. Put aside your partisan politics and join forces with your family, neighbors, and co-workers to demand a life better for all of us. The wealthy need to pay more taxes — much more in taxes. Corporations need to pay a sustainable minimum wage, pay overtime, stop catering to their wealthy shareholders, and stop hiding money overseas.

Hanauer was recently on the wonderful program, “1A” with Joshua Johnson, to talk about his viewpoints. He said, “I assume that there are a third of the people in this country my message can never reach, there are third of the people who are too dumb to understand, or who are so tribalized.”

When Johnson pointed out that people might not like being called dumb, Hanauer responded, “Luckily, I am not running for anything, so it doesn’t matter. I think we can create a consensus with the more rational two-thirds of the country.”

Thursday, August 17, 2017

275. And the soup boils over

In 2008, I flew to California to take a bar exam and on that flight I met a guy from Alabama.

He was a former professional baseball player so I enjoyed hearing some of his “playing day” stories. Later we noticed that then-presidential candidate John Edwards was on our flight and the conversation turned to politics. His most memorable comment was when he told me that the country just wasn’t ready for a black president.

I naively thought this was a preposterous idea, but maybe he was right.

The question is how did we go from the crowning civil rights achievement of my generation in electing a black president to debates over white supremacy groups, Confederate flags, and the election of Donald Trump?

I don’t think we can identify one thing that has led to the racial tension facing this country. I think it is more like a soup made up of many elements that has finally boiled over.

The election of Barack Obama for two terms annoyed those who still felt racial prejudice against the advancement of minorities in this country. He and his family were often treated with disrespect and subject to cruel racial stereotypes.

There has been a building frustration with political correctness. Liberals are largely to blame for the ridiculous notion of treating each other with kindness and respect.

The increasing diversity in this country, including not only minorities, but also women, groups (like gays, lesbians, and people who are transgender) and programs like affirmative action continue to be an issue for a segment of our population. Some whites, particularly males, feel like their rights are being eroded and an unfair preference is being given to others.

The oppressors had suddenly become the oppressed.

Fox News, conservative talk shows, and other resources like Breitbart continued in popularity and hammered Obama, later Hillary Clinton, Democrats, and liberals on a daily basis. The attacks continued mercilessly, fueling further animosity toward these people. Vilifying things like the Confederate flag supported their notion of suppression and discrimination.

Increasingly we live in the age of validation. Ideas, no matter how crazy, can be found and supported somewhere on the Internet. The Earth is flat; Sandy Hook was a conspiracy theory. Fake news furthered the craziness and engaged those susceptible to believing such nonsense.

Black Lives Matter and the police shootings divided the country, as though there were only two sides. Either you were with the blacks or you were with the police. The power and attention of the movement infuriated racists.

The economy, though improving throughout the Obama administration, still left individuals struggling to make ends meet. The rich continued to get richer but the blame of middle class stagnation typically fell on so-called entitlement programs. And with Obamacare, some Americans felt like there was too much subsidization and not enough capitalism. Mexicans and the outsourcing of manufacturing was costing too many American jobs.

The continued fear of terrorism, particularly from ISIS, fueled discriminatory attacks on Muslims and Muslim nations.

Mix it all together and along comes Donald Trump. He stumbles in at the perfect time of American history, and immediately, to the delight of millions, crushes political correctness. He brings back the idea of American nationalism and American capitalism. When in doubt, build a larger military. Winners win, and they are wealthy for it, and losers lose and it’s not my problem. Criticize Trump and he will attack you with everything he has—and then call you names. You are either friend or enemy.

He says what he wants and whatever he thinks people want to hear. He doesn’t care and doesn’t suffer political consequences even after dozens of damaging transgressions are revealed. Even after he tells lie after lie, he finds millions of supporters who feel like they finally have a voice, someone who represents them. Principle has nothing to do with it.

Trump parlayed this with traditional Republicans desperate to win the White House, regardless of the candidate, and religious conservatives who continue to vote Republican despite the moral sludge, because they relentlessly focus on a couple of specific social issues. Trump was also fortunate to square off against Clinton, a villain among conservatives who was unable to grab the enthusiasm of Democrats.

Thus a troubling American underbelly created President Donald Trump and he has given them permission, even approval, to express themselves. Supporters grew in momentum as it became socially acceptable to act the way the president does. The alt-right was created.

Republicans got their president and the alt-right and white supremacist groups were empowered to promote their views and beliefs. And these beliefs were validated by the election and views of Donald Trump. They knew they were right all along.

It took Trump two days to reluctantly criticize the racism that led to the attacks in Virginia. Both sides saw it for what it was — disingenuous and politically motivated. Trump confirmed those suspicions when he recanted and again tried to blame both sides. No way he was abandoning these supporters. He needs them because he knows the other Republicans, though they might occasionally speak out against him, will again fall in line when push comes to shove.

Hate and racism, particularly blatant racism, has no place in this country. Neither does a president who inspired it and refuses to disavow it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

274. Meeting Maybelle, Adeline, and Dudley

On several occasions, I have caught my wife watching a video on her phone with tears streaming down her cheeks.

She is easily moved by animals, particularly when their personalities are shared and when they are rescued from bad situations. She quickly forms an emotional bond to the animal and its story, regardless of whether she has ever met the animal.

The Gentle Barn in Knoxville, Tenn., is a rescue farm, one of four locations around the country. They rescue injured, neglected, abused, and escaped animals.

Founder Ellie Laks wrote about its mission:

“We live in a concrete, violent, noisy, high-tech, busy world. We have lost our connection to animals, to nature, and most of all, to ourselves. Animals are living lives of torment from beginning to end, their cries are unheard, their pain is unseen, and they are suffering. The rainforests are being destroyed, we are in a global drought, we are polluting our air, and species go extinct every day. At the Gentle Barn we stand up for the innocent… We open people’s hearts to the connections with nature.”

And while the Gentle Barn warmly rescues animals, it also understands that it is about something bigger than ourselves – it’s about nature, the planet, and the future of all living things. Through the animals and their stories, people realize that what they do on a daily basis affects the world we live in and share with other sentient beings.

We made the trip to this beautiful place for my wife’s birthday this past April. The Gentle Barn opens its doors to the public each Saturday. Lunch was provided and included field roast veggie dogs and sausage — a deliberate attempt to help guests make the connection. It was delicious!

Waiting for the event to begin, sitting among people from around the country, we were greeted by a neighborhood dog who stops over every Saturday as he sees the cars arriving. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in the peaceful presence of such love and kindness, as well as the feeling of spending time with the few fortunate animals that have been saved from the fate awaiting millions of others.

Here are a few of the animals at the Gentle Barn that my wife has gained such a spiritual connection with and that we were so fortunate to spend time with.

Maybelle the dairy cow was thanked by her family for her service when they retired her to the Gentle Barn to live out her days, rather than to send her to slaughter.

After her arrival, the staff quickly answered her constant cries by going back to her dairy farm family to see whether she had left a calf behind — the answer was yes. The family kindly allowed the Gentle Barn to take her nine-month-old baby Miles to be reunited with Maybelle. Also, it turned out that Maybelle was pregnant when the Gentle Barn took her in. She later gave birth to Eclipse, who was born on the day of a rare eclipse of a harvest moon. Eclipse will be the first baby that Maybelle is able to raise from birth. Thanks to the Gentle Barn, this family of three will live together forever.

On Thanksgiving 2015, Adeline was rescued from a slaughter farm. In April 2017, this sweet, beautiful turkey made her trip to the Gentle Barn via cross country car ride from the flagship location in California. So many people got to know Adeline’s almost-human personality as Ellie and others shared moments on Facebook Live throughout the journey. Adeline loves nothing more than to be with people. She is called a “cuddle turkey,” which could not describe her better.

Playing in the mud you will find Henry, Horton, Lillie, and Dream. Each of these pigs is so fortunate to have escaped the slaughterhouse thanks to kind citizens and the Gentle Barn. You can read about each of their stories on the Gentle Barn’s website. Dream was rescued on Martin Luther King Day and her name was chosen by Gentle Barn supporters.

And then there is Dudley, who may be the most well-known animal at the Gentle Barn. If you’ve ever heard the story of the cow with a prosthetic foot, that’s Dudley. What a special animal. This beautiful big bull was rescued from a farmer who was raising him for slaughter. Dudley lost his foot after bailing twine had been wrapped around his ankle for days. A friend of the farmer reached out to the Gentle Barn and they created the Tennessee farm just for him.

After months in the hospital, Dudley finally got to go home. Along the way, he made millions of fans, including my wife. She would watch him, keep up with his life on Facebook, and engage in the emotions of the story. Dudley became such a great ambassador, opening many eyes to the horrors of factory farming. Supporters all over the world got to know him so well as he played with his large ball in the pasture, romping around on his prosthetic foot. Dudley helped change people’s eating habits and provided inspiration to others. Unfortunately, my wife and so many others have been crying for weeks now after learning that the world has lost Dudley to an unfortunate ulcer that ruptured after a routine surgery.

Laks has shared that her goal is to open a Gentle Barn in every state. The “St. Louis Six” are the reason for the newest location that will be open soon in St. Louis, Mo. Admittedly, I want to open an Ohio location as I can think of few things more meaningful than to spend my days caring for animals like these.

My wife has pledged to someday move near a Gentle Barn so that she can volunteer her time.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

273. They divide us, then ask for unity

In the wake of the shooting of a Republican congressman practicing for a charity baseball game in Virginia, politicians from both parties, among others, have called for the end of divisiveness, to come together as a country.

Politicians also bonded together: “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Paul Ryan proclaimed.

Politicians can’t have it both ways. They can’t purposely, explicitly, and even angrily divide us for votes and then ask us to pull together when that divisiveness ends in tragedy.

President Donald Trump has called other Americans “losers” and “the enemy.” He led his supporters in chants to lock up Hillary Clinton. He tried to impose a travel ban against Muslims and build a wall to keep out Mexicans he described as rapists and killers. Donald Trump Jr. said Democrats weren’t even people.

The country is divided as perhaps never before. Just read the comment sections on national stories — people are mean and angry. They are looking for a way to vent.

I think the American public increasingly feels that politicians put politics and party before people. Previous disagreements with Republicans were ideological, in terms of policy, where opposing arguments were genuine and worth contemplating, even compromising. But today, due to differences in morals and values, it’s hard to warm up to a Trump voter.

Politicians have been sticking it to the poor and middle classes for a long time. They cater to lobbyists and the interests they represent. They help the rich get richer and put the wealth in the hands of a small percentage of Americans while stacking the deck of opportunity and class mobility against the poor and middle classes. The middle class barely gets by; the poor are portrayed as a burden, requiring public assistance and nearly voiceless.

Most of all, politicians take care of themselves. Political money decides elections. Politicians are well paid, with excellent benefits, refuse to impose term limits, and gerrymander districts.

More than ever, politicians are insulting the people they represent. They say some things that are nearly incomprehensible and fail to represent reality. They tell the lies that they know people want to believe. They say they are going to do things they have no intention of doing.

At some point, people have had enough.

I am a certified pacifist, but I understand violence and the reasons for it. I understand that war is sometimes necessary to stop tyrants like Adolph Hitler or terrorist groups like ISIS. It’s self-defense, for the greater good, on a larger scale.

I also understand — but of course do not agree with — political terrorism. Attacks are either random as an ideology, or in the most recent case, directly targeted at political figures. The political terrorist often feels oppressed and the intent is to create fear.

Republicans have canceled town hall meetings and are currently working in secrecy on a health care bill. Protests have broken out all over the country. And now this political shooting in particular, and others in general. In a sense, it is a tiny modern rebellion. It is a little like the American revolution in which the Continental army would disrupt the British army with unconventional warfare, hiding in trees, disappearing into the night.

While I would advocate activism, through peaceful protests and civic engagement, and I still believe in democracy and the integrity and responsibility of elections, not everyone is a pacifist. And the more politicians turn their backs on the people they represent, insult them, even mock them, the more they risk violent protests, angry town hall meetings, and political terrorism.

It is not until politicians decide to stand up to corporations, institutions, the wealthy, and other political interests that America will be what she can be. It’s about doing the right thing regardless of who benefits.

It might be indecorous to note that Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was shot at the baseball practice, is a strong Second Amendment advocate and had an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. He also voted against the measure aimed at keeping the guns out of the hands of individuals with mental health issues. I am sure Scalise will remain defiant, but it is true that often people don’t act until their interests have been affected.

If politicians really want to end the divisiveness that is growing in this country, they need to stop talking and lead by example. We need publicly financed, civilly-debated elections and term limits. We need real discussions, in which politicians can speak openly without the fear of betraying supporters or becoming a sound bite for the other side. We need to stop giving air time on the major news stations to the political surrogates, who often lead the way in absurd partisan commentary.

People need to feel that politicians really understand them, and care about them — and will make the tough decision for them.

Enough talk.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

272. No, I won’t get over it

Gosh, if I only had a dollar for every time a Democrat or liberal was told to “get over it” in response to Donald Trump winning the presidential election.

The ironic part is that Trump is not over the election himself. It drives him crazy that he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. He keeps saying he won in a “landslide,” but in truth the election was decided by about 70,000 votes in key Electoral College states. And it drives him bonkers that many more people attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration than his, so much so that he had his people lying for him on the issue.

On the hypocritical side, Trump (and many of his voters) could not get over the question about Obama was born, dragging the issue forward even after Obama produced his birth certificate. He also could not get over how much golf Obama played, only to play golf much more than Obama. And let’s be fair, much of America, probably most of those who voted for Trump, never got over Obama getting elected — twice.

Isn’t it time that Trump got over the mainstream media? Trump’s relentless and obsessive attack on the media clearly interferes with his ability to run the country. He sends out a preposterous tweet and then loses his mind when the media challenges it. Trump also needs to get over shows like “Saturday Night Live,” which has ridiculed presidents, candidates, and other government leaders for decades. Samantha Bee opened a recent show with the question to Trump, “What’s wrong with you?” She and other political comics like John Oliver — while they appreciate the surplus of material — are slowly getting over the jokes at his expense. At some point, it is not funny anymore.

Maybe Trump should get over his unconstitutional travel ban, which keeps losing in court, being recognized for what it is: religious discrimination. And Trump should get over his preposterous wall. His proposals and continued insistence that Mexico is going to pay for it is just short of delusional.

What does surprise me is how quickly Trump supporters are getting over him. His approval rating continues to nosedive, sinking from 47 percent in February to approximately 38 percent now, according to FiveThirtyEight.

These people seem to have gotten over the urge to defend his lying and have become keenly aware of the clear indication that this is not about the middle class, jobs, tax reform, or health care— it’s about Trump, the Trump brand, and making the wealthy wealthier. They are also realizing there is not going to be a wall, health care reform is headed to disaster, ISIS has not been defeated in 30 days, and that the president has not “drained the swamp.”

I think almost everyone is over Trump and his ties to Russia. There are glaring concerns about possible collusion and obstruction of justice, and Trump didn’t make things easier for himself by littering his administration with those who may have had Russian ties. His apparent harassment of FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation doesn’t resemble the actions of an innocent man.

Surprisingly, many business leaders who looked to benefit from Trump’s stance on regulations have had enough of his dedicated ignorance to climate science and negatively view his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. General Electric CEO Jeff Immlet said, “Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.” Gap Inc. issued a similar statement: “We will continue to work with like-minded businesses, NGOs, and other stakeholders to support solutions that will create a more sustainable and economically strong future for the people and communities touched by our business around the world. It’s not only the right thing for the planet, but also the right path forward for business growth, job creation, and human health.” Government leaders of six states have stated that they will continue efforts to reduce carbon emissions despite Trump’s withdrawal.

Finally, I am under no obligation to “get over it.” I am over the election, but I am not over — nor should I be — the incredible damage Trump is inflicting on the country and around the world. My morals and values are not subject to election results. I will keep fighting for issues such wealth inequality, climate change, discrimination, social justice, national health care, and animal compassion.

Frankly, I am appalled that Donald Trump was elected president.

I am not going to revisit every transgression that should have led a moral and principled America away from Donald Trump. It is hard to get over the realization that nearly half the voting public was willing to throw their values in the gutter just to make sure Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected, to make sure a Republican won, or to stick it to liberals purely out of spite. I also cannot get over what I thought were “reasonable” Republicans in public office who continue to support Trump, living up to the mantra, “party over country.”

I will perhaps never get over it. That’s my right. I thought we were so much better than this.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

271. Can or should wars have rules?

When we were kids, like most siblings, we would get into disagreements about almost anything. We would punch, wrestle, and even throw things at each other.

However, regardless of how heated the arguments were, there was an unwritten rule between us that we didn’t hit each other in the head. I don’t know why, and I don’t know that we ever talked about it.

When it comes to war, there are also rules, both written and unwritten. Considering that war, which has existed since the beginning of humanity, is the perfect failure of humanity, it’s interesting that rules exist.

In the American Civil War, much was made about prisoner camps and exchanges. In a recent CNN report, an ISIS convert complained about the way the United States tortured and humiliated prisoners. Germany held and killed prisoners in deplorable concentration camps. Syria is not the first country to use chemical weapons and, of course, the United States is the only country to use the granddaddy of them all — the nuclear bomb.

So what are the rules of war? What should be the rules, or is an oxymoron to even have rules of war?

Obviously, we would like to think that war should be left to the professionals. Civilians, particularly children, should be not be military targets. However, terrorism and mass shootings specifically target civilians, successfully creating fear. And large-scale destruction, like nuclear bombs, probably cannot escape killing civilians.

There are “central principles” to war itself. Wikipedia notes several, such as, “Wars should be limited to achieving the political goals that started the war (e.g., territorial control) and should not include unnecessary destruction. Wars should be brought to an end as quickly as possible. People and property that do not contribute to the war effort should be protected against unnecessary destruction and hardship.”

And within those central principles, humanitarian rules of warfare exist. Here are a couple examples under the Geneva and Hague conventions:

     • Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Adequate precautions shall be taken in this regard before launching an attack.

    • Captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights, and convictions. They must be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. They must have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.

    • Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.

Clearly, war is a messy subject and let’s be honest, when push comes to shove, and a country and its military has its back against the wall, you can throw the rules out the window. And what is the punishment for breaking the rules of engagement — more war?

If the world is so interested in protecting humanity, why not outlaw war altogether? Regardless of the rules of warfare, the act of war means that for often many years, precious resources will be wasted, families will be ruined, lives will end needlessly, and generations of hate will be created. And it is interesting, again oxymoronic, that in the tragedy of war, where soldiers and civilians are intentionally killed over economic resources, strategic military territories and religious reasons, that we don’t want to inflict unnecessary suffering.

Some of these conflicts are based on events that happened thousands of years ago. Grievances and prejudices that are taught rather than experienced. Passion ignites ideological differences as the fight surrounds the absurdity of which god reigns supreme. And, unfortunately, war and violence are the only things some ideologies understand.

There are times when war seems unavoidable, even justifiable, to protect the innocent from the brutality of radical groups or dictators. But war should always be a last resort, when reasonableness and diplomacy completely fail. It should never be the result of ego or ignorance. Too many lives and too many resources, which could be better used for real humanitarian issues, are at stake.

Here is a simple decree regarding the rules of engagement: No more war.

Friday, April 14, 2017

270. 'Fake News' is fake news.

President Trump has been running around like a four-year old, screaming “fake news” every time a newspaper or news organization runs a story or segment criticizing him or his administration.

If Trump is going to run around proclaiming “fake news,” he should at least know what it really means. There is a difference between fake news, satire, biased reporting and inaccurate reporting.

Wikipedia helps out with the difference between fake news and satire, “Fake news websites (also referred to as hoax news) deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news — often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. Unlike news satire, fake news websites seek to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial, political, or other gain.

This is to say that fake news is the deliberate publication of news, with the intent to mislead na├»ve readers, that is blatantly false. Often, fake news is so outrageous that even a moderate skeptic would think two things 1) that’s seems really far-fetched or unlikely, I should look that up and 2) if it were true, why isn’t it all over the news and circulating though legitimate news organizations.

Shepard Smith of Fox News, apparently tired of the president’s whining, further explained, “For the record, ‘fake news’ refers to stories that are created, often by entities pretending to be news organizations, solely to draw clicks and views and are based on nothing of substance. In short, fake news is made up nonsense delivered for financial gain. CNN’s reporting was not fake news. Its journalists followed the same standards to which other news organizations, including Fox News, adhere.”

Journalism has reporting standards, including the sourcing of information. Certainly, there is bias, consider the assault Fox News levied on President Obama. They attacked him constantly. Regardless, freedom of the press should ensure that the dissemination of information and opinion, even unfavorable opinion, is not banned.

It even appears now that Trump’s administration is ready to pick and choose which news organizations will be permitted access to White House briefings. In are organizations like Breitbart and all its connections to the Trump organization and out are organizations like CNN and New York Times who regularly report on the national concerns.

The country should be appalled and terrified.  If there has ever been a president and administration that needs to be held accountable for their actions and the information it shares, it is this one. Trump’s statements have been fact-checked over and over, and it has been established that more than every other thing out of mouth is not completely true.

In other words, the last person, by his definition, that should be complaining about fake news is Trump himself.

Fake news is not simply a difference of opinion or an unflattering account of the way the Trump administration is being managed. What Trump is describing is dissent and resistance—tenets of American democracy. To dismiss, minimize and delegitimize it is the act of a narcissist and hints at oppression.

For example, the New York Times story about members of the Trump campaign talking to Russians is not fake news. Were there any inaccuracies in the story? Perhaps, but it was legitimate reporting from an established newspaper. Considering the relationship Trump has had with Russia, the story is more likely true than inaccurate—but, by any objective standard, it could never be considered fake news.

Regardless of how someone feels about Trump, his proclaimed attack on the media is not acceptable. Trump can only “cry wolf” so many times before people realize he is the problem—not the media.  To declare war on the media is to declare war on the search for the truth about our government. Journalists don’t want to get the story wrong—it’s embarrassing for them. Same for the news outlets. When mistakes are made, they should be admitted, retracted and offer an apology. It’s about being a professional—something Trump seems to know little about.

The irony is that the media created Trump. He owes his success to the media as he received much more media coverage in the presidential campaign that any other candidate. In fact, many have blamed the media for the extensive coverage they gave him in exchange for viewer ratings, and that his many transgressions were not more thoroughly reported. Trump likes the media when it benefits him and tries to discredit them when it criticizes him. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. You’re the president, you accepted the job—now accept the responsibility and scrutiny that comes with the position.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

269. Our health is too important for political football

In illustrating his ignorance, President Donald Trump asked the question, “Who knew health care could be so complicated?”

I have two responses. The first is that everyone, literally everyone, knows health care is complicated. The second is, who elects someone who doesn’t understand that?

Trump said he was going to repeal the Affordable Care Act “immediately,” and “replace it with something terrific.” He and the Republicans failed to do so, despite having full control of the Senate, House of Representative and the White House and despite having obsessed about its repeal for seven years. They finally got in the game and choked — they looked like deer in the headlights. They were clueless and reports of their negotiations indicated they were willing to sell out the essentials of health care to avoid political embarrassment.

Health care affects everyone and almost always in multiple ways. It not only affects ourselves, it affects our family and friends. Most of us have seen someone we love fall ill, or become addicted to drugs, or suffer from mental health issues. It affects our finances and sometimes where and how long we work. Without health care coverage, people risk bankruptcy each and every day. Many also work in the health care field, directly or indirectly. Large complex medical corporations, hospital networks, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies employ millions.

And it affects everyone differently in terms of affordability and coverage. Health care is different for poor people and rich people. For individual and for families. For older people and younger people. For men and women. For people in different states. And for the employed, self-employed, and unemployed.

In that respect, that mostly white, wealthy men are making all the decisions is neglecting the challenges of diversity.

I have long advocated for national health care. Everyone pays, everyone is covered. Employers wouldn’t have to worry about providing insurance for their employees and people could work (or retire) without considering medical benefits. The large profits would be removed from the health care system — no longer would skyrocketing costs be associated with insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Government health care is nonprofit, with reasonable costs and modest salaries.

In that respect, I have no emotional or political ties to Obamacare. It is better than nothing, for sure, but falls short of what national health care could offer. I don’t know if health care is necessarily a right, but it is the right thing to do. It’s about human compassion and human decency. It seems for Republicans, health care is more about money than about people. It also seems driven by politics and not by the heart.

I will not gloat at the president’s loss. And I am disturbed by anyone who would take pleasure in letting Obamacare fail. If it fails, people get hurt. And if you are the president and have full control of Congress, and you think the lives of American citizens are at risk, then you have an obligation to improve health care. It is about the people, not your damaged ego.

Health care is hard work, there are lots of interests at stake, it impacts everyone, and is one-sixth of our economy. That unprepared Republicans attempted to make changes to health care in 64 days, and that the president abruptly ended negotiations, displays ignorance and arrogance.

For many Republicans, this was a political promise; for Trump, in a world lacking specifics, where things are either a “disaster” or terrific,” it was way too complicated to hold his attention.

The country should be offended with the effort made by Republicans. Health care is too important. It needs to be a bipartisan effort, considering both the financial and health aspects of this enormous industry. And in doing so, it should be carefully researched in all its complexity. There is a reason Obamacare was thousands of pages long.

However, I can save them some work. The simple answer, embraced by many other countries, continues to be national health care

Friday, March 17, 2017

268. We can’t let this happen to the women we love

I am embarrassed to admit that there was a time when I would roll my eyes when feminists spoke of living in a “rape culture.”

Of course, I knew it happened, it was horrible, and even once was too often, but I just didn’t consider it rampant and felt that the use of the word “culture” was exaggerated for effect. I thought it was isolated to hardened criminals.

I have been in plenty of locker rooms and heard all the crude and degrading comments made about women. I never heard anyone bragging about assaulting or raping a woman, but I heard them being treated as sexual objects. Of course, for some men, it was banter, and often exaggeration, in trying to keep up or blend in with other teammates. Most could tell the difference, and it wasn’t my view of women and it wasn’t the view of my friends. That kind of talk never appealed to me.

A rape culture is not just about how often it happens, it includes society’s attitude about it. And I would include all forms of sexual misconduct, such as sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, and revenge porn or photo sharing. It becomes a “culture” when it is prevalent, accepted, or normalized in society. The acceptance in society is directly related to the consequences of the action — namely how severely it is viewed as a crime and the degree of punishment.

Sexual crimes, in all their varying degrees, are everywhere. They are in the home, where there are many heartbreaking reports of children being raped by family members. We see them in high school, in everyday sharing of sexting photos and in well-publicized cases such as the Steubenville football team and the .

If you are not familiar with the Steubenville case, it resulted in convictions of two players who raped involved a high school girl; bystanders snapped pictures and spread them on social media. Steubenville officials were also charged with obstruction of justice for trying to cover up the crime. It’s disturbing that the Steubenville case divided the town — primarily because the accused were players in a football-crazed town. There was a segment of the town willing to blame the victim and support the coach.

Rape culture is prevalent in college, where recently institutions of higher education, such as Penn State and Baylor, have been forced to deal with very serious allegations of sexual misconduct and cover-ups. At Penn State, coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted for sexually molesting young boys and two other administrators pleaded guilty for mishandling the issue. At Baylor University, Marc Tracy and Dan Barry of the New York Times reported that “the allegations of sexual assault by Baylor football players have multiplied, causing incalculable damage to the university’s reputation and leading to resignations and firings, including those of the president, the football coach, and the athletic director.” After one of the victims reported the rape, she alleged in a lawsuit that “she encountered an indifference on campus — even a callousness — that baffled and wounded her.”

Sexual harassment in the workplace uses power and fear to solicit sexual activity. Recently, hundreds of employees at Sterling Jewelers have sued the company for “fostering rampant sexual harassment and discrimination.”

In politics, sexual misconduct allegations surround President Donald Trump for his admission on a hot microphone of sexual assault. Even though he admitted the inappropriate touching of women, on tape and unprovoked, almost 63 million Americans still voted for him. In entertainment, many were stunned when Bill Cosby was accused of a multitude of drug-related rapes.

And recently, the military has come under investigation for the posting of nude female service members. Marine veteran Thomas Brennan, who runs a nonprofit news organization called The War Horse, wrote that a Facebook group called Marines United had around 30,000 members and shared the nude photos while also encouraging the sexual assault of the women who had been photographed.

The effect of the crimes range from violence to humiliation. The physical and mental scars can last a lifetime, and personal and professional relationships can be permanently destroyed.

The statistics also support the claim of a rape culture. Because of under-reporting and definition discrepancies, actual numbers can be difficult to positively assert. But some claims are as high as one in five women will be raped or face an attempted rape in their lifetime and one in two women will face some sort of sexual crime.

Even if these numbers are significantly lower, they are way too high.

To be fair, there are false accusations, such as the Duke lacrosse team, which equally traumatized the athletes that were accused. And there are some arguments for personal responsibility — especially with the accessibility to social media. Each allegation is different and it is often “he said-she said.”

It appears, based on the reported prevalence of sexual assaults and the dismissive attitudes of not only authoritative figures but oftentimes public opinion, that the undercurrent of a rape culture does seem to exist. For men who would act with fury if their mother, wife, sisters, or daughters were sexually assaulted, it is unacceptable and disturbing how dismissive they can be toward other women.

267. Far more fear than there is terror

The steak on your dinner plate is significantly more dangerous and much more likely to cause your death than a terror attack by immigrants or refugees.

According to the National Safety Council, the odds of dying from heart disease and cancer is 1 in 7. Reporting from Business Insider, the odds of dying from all forms of terrorism is 1 in 45,808. And the odds from dying from a terrorist attack from a refugee is 1 in over 46 million and from an illegal immigrant is 1 in over 138 million.

Eight years later and here we are again forced to deal with fear being propagated by the White House. Trump is obsessed, and seemingly terrified, by immigration and refugees seeking to relocate. His constant tweeting about the overturn of his travel ban called it, “SO DANGEROUS” and “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” If fact, the Trump administration is so dedicated to scaring Americans that it created a fake terrorist attack, The Bowling Green Massacre, to instill fear of the unknown and unreported.

Terrorism is scary. People fear terrorism because it is random, unpredictable and people are often left feeling powerless. I have had more than one nightmare that entails me running from a shooter. Terrorism works precisely because of the emotion it creates drives irrational responses. Patrick Kennedy said, “Terrorism is a psychological warfare. Terrorists try to manipulate us and change our behavior by creating fear, uncertainty, and division in society.”

Terrorists succeed when countries turn on themselves and manipulate its politics through fear.

I’m not being dismissive. A terrorist attack could occur, and it could be horrible. It is unsettling to know that at any time, in any venue, something terrible could happen. There is also the difference from a coordinated terrorist attack that kills hundreds and lone wolf spree shootings that attack dozens. Either way, we should do everything we reasonably can do to prevent mass killings or shooting by anyone or any organization.

The thing is, at least in regards to refugees and illegal immigrants, the process works. To declare that drastic measures, like a Muslim ban, is necessary for the safety of our country is, statistically and frankly ridiculous. It is even more ridiculous when you factor that the last major terrorist attack was the result of individuals primarily from Saudi Arabia, one country that was not included in the travel ban.

Refugees, in particular, are well vetted over a couple of years and generally have no say as to which country they will be sent. These are people fleeing their country because of tragedy—war or fear of persecution. As many have said, the refugee program would be a poor route for a terrorist.

Recently in the news, a 14-year-old Cleveland girl was taken and killed on her way to school. In Columbus, a 21-year-old college student was found murdered in a park. In Lorain, a man was killed while going through a fast food restaurant drive thru.

Of preventable deaths, last year over 3,000 people died from drug overdoses in Ohio alone. In 2015, there were over 38,000 motor vehicle deaths across the country. Death by suicide numbers over 45,000 annually.

The point is that statistics do not provide a rational argument for changing our travel security procedures. There are many more things that people can do, individually, and without increased government intervention, to make our country safer. And if that government money was spent on treatment and prevention drug programs, for example, many thousands of lives could be saved—compared to the near non-existent crimes committed by illegal immigration and refugees.

We just need to keep things in perspective. I think everyone supports reasonable efforts to keep our country and its citizens safe. It’s just not ever acceptable to create artificial fears to justify the political discrimination of racial, ethnic or religious groups.

Less steak, more kale.

266. Trump is acting like a spoiled child

For President Donald Trump, it’s not just about power, it is the lack of absolute power.

As most know, Trump grew up in privilege. He had a head start in life that most people can only dream about. While his father showed him the ropes, I doubt that Trump has ever really had a boss. Even when his businesses fell into deep financial trouble, he was bailed out by the banks, which included a ridiculous monthly salary.

When other troubles arose, Trump was able to use his power, influence, and extensive network of business owners and politicians to get his way. He was able to manipulate the laws, political system, and the threat of legal action to get people to do what he wanted.

Trump’s remarkable run to the White House has also been without consequence. His transgressions were unprecedented not only for a presidential candidate, but really any politician. There have been many crooked politicians, but rarely one that began their political career with so much baggage. The more people criticized him, made fun of him, the more his supporters rewarded him.

There are only a few areas of his life that Trump doesn’t have total control. Sure, occasionally, a deal falls through or someone won’t sell him the land he wants. Companies don’t always do as he says, such as Nordstrom, who recently dumped his daughter’s clothing line.

But the one entity that has total control over Trump is the court system. It was like that in business and it is like that now, as it serves as a check and balance on the legislative and executive branches of the government.

Kids become spoiled because they too often get what they want, rather than what is right or what they deserve. Often parents give in to children to prevent a temper tantrum and other bad behaviors. It carries, of course, into adulthood and many of us know people that we have decided that it is far easier to give in to him or her than to deal with consequences of a childish battle.

What are the consequences? For the most vengeful, it means nothing is off the table. It is a personal or professional war that includes derogatory comments, personal and professional threats, name-calling and the threat of lawsuits. If they can’t beat you, they will belittle you, embarrass you, minimalize you, and attack your credibility.

Most people don’t want that — most times it is not worth it.

But the courts are different. Yes, they have become politicized in some instances. And yes, they have been influenced by society and difficult social moral issues. However, in the end, their decisions are final—at least for a time. Judges, like many professions, have a brotherhood and an unfair criticism to one is an attack on all.

When Trump lost a ruling regarding his fake university, he personally attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel for being a Mexican and a “hater.” Trump later responded, “Even though I have a very biased and unfair judge in the Trump U civil case in San Diego, I have thousands of great reviews & will win case!” In the end, Trump didn’t win and settled the case, although he claims to “never settle.”

Trump then said, in response to the stay on a federal travel ban, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

Then after losing again in appeals court, Trump wrote in all caps, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

Trump can’t just disagree with a decision, he has to personally attack those who rendered it. When they agree with him, they are “very smart.” When they disagree, he attacks them with the worst thing that they have ever done or may have done.

Trump has also transferred responsibility of the safety of the country — which is his job — to what he feels is a bad decision. Now, if something does happen, it’s the court’s fault, not his and his unconstitutional ban. Trump could simply rewrite the ban, but he would rather have a scapegoat and an adversary. He loves life in the gutter.

Nothing is his fault and for someone so privileged, he is often treated “so unfairly.” These are traits of a spoiled brat, not an American president. His temper tantrums are quite unbecoming for the leader of the free world. His lack of consideration for others in unacceptable and any delay of immediate gratification is the product of a lack of preparation and the inability to take the time to understand the complexity of a situation.

Trump is unable to see the world in color. All he ever sees is his own reflection.

Monday, February 13, 2017

265. Johnson Amendment should be sacred

President Trump wants to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other non-profits from specifically endorsing political candidates. Separating religion and politics is manifested in the constitutional separation of church and state. In exchange, churches and non-profits, do not have to pay taxes.

Jeremy W. Peter, of the New York Times, explains, “It is one of the brightest lines in the legal separation between religion and politics. Under the provision, which was made in 1954, tax-exempt entities like churches and charitable organizations are unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate. Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.”

There are major concerns that come with churches endorsing candidates for political office.

Churches are supposed to be led by trusted members of society. But considering that they have breached this trust on many occasions, do we really want to add additional temptation and put their congregation up for sale to the deep pockets of politicians and special interest groups? Church members should be able to apply religious teaching to the candidates on their own without their leaders holding their hands. If they can’t, then maybe church leaders are not good job in their religious teachings.

It is also about integrity. If the preachers just preach, there is no concern that teachings are being directed by political donations. Their mission is to lead church member in the examination and commitment to their religion, not to steer beliefs toward a financial incentive. And don’t think for a second that it doesn’t make a difference, I watched church leaders, in a hypothetical situation, gear their mission toward grant money.

Even though churches already suggest their political interests to members and, due to public outcry,  the IRS has essentially stopped enforcing church-led politics, it should not be legalized and open the door to political money—the same political money that is already ruining fair elections. Church leaders can and do offer their influence, because they can always make their political feelings known outside of church activities.

In addition, it is not a popular idea. Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, found that 79 percent of Americans thought it is inappropriate for churches to endorse political candidates. “Americans already argue about politics enough outside the church,” said McConnell. “They don’t want pastors bringing those arguments into worship.”

In that manner, it could also hurt the church attendance and financial support from the membership if they become divided over politics. Politics are increasingly being woven into society, and those who take sides, whether it is actors, athletes or business owners, risk losing or dividing their support. It may even prompt a church split, which unfortunately is already too common in the religious community.

The proposed repeal is noticeably political. In the spirit that nothing is sacred or constitutional anymore, churches are generally a stronghold of the Republican party, uniting the strange relationship between fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. Thus, Republicans have a partisan interest in churches endorsing candidates.

Ironically, if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, it could backfire on Trump in 2020.  As I have mentioned many times, it is difficult for a moral Christian to justify or reconcile the ethics and values of their religion with voting for Trump and his transgressions.

264. From seeds to grizzly bears

When most people think of the significance of climate change, they are concerned with the human consequences of melting ice, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns—sometimes resulting in prolonged droughts and severe storms. However, climate change also affects ecosystems as the slightest variation can have a domino effect on the organisms within the system.  Ecosystems that include plants, animals, microorganisms and non-living components, such as air, water, temperature and minerals, can be vulnerable to even minor disturbances.

One example, the Mountain pine beetle, only measures approximately five millimeters, but it is wreaking havoc on large Whitebark pines and the mighty Grizzly bear that rely on them.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “(The) Whitebark pine is typically found in cold, windy, high elevation or high latitude sites in western North America and as a result, many stands are geographically isolated.  It is a stress-tolerant pine and its hardiness allows it to grow where other conifer species cannot.” It is also considered “. . . a keystone species because it regulates runoff by slowing the progress of snowmelt, reduces soil erosion by initiating early succession after fires and other disturbances, and provides seeds that are a high-energy food source for some birds and mammals.”

Rising temperatures have allowed the beetle to move into higher elevations where the Whitebark pine used to thrive. Research by Evan Esch showed that “climate change was causing temperatures to rise in the cold mountain elevations where the whitebark pine grow, creating ripe conditions for the destructive beetle to spread.”

And because ecosystems can be complex, the impact on species are not always easy for scientists to predict.

In a Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation (WPEF) climate change white paper, Keane et al, writes, “While there is little debate that atmospheric C02, is increasing and this increase will cause major changes in the climate, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the magnitude and rate of change.”

Grizzly bears rely on the seed because they are large, easy to eat and provide valuable calories. There is also evidence that the seeds of Whitebark pines increase the reproductive success of the bears—resulting in reproducing at a younger age with larger litters.

Thus, if we connect the dots, the small increase in temperature caused by climate change moves the tiny beetle north into the forests of Whitebark pines, whose seeds both feed and help Grizzly bears reproduce.

“While it is true that whitebark pine forest are likely to become more vulnerable under warming climates, the same is true for all ecosystems from prairie grasslands to arctic tundra,” the WPEF white paper warned.

Climate change is happening now; it is not going to wait four to eight years until we elect an educated president.  It should not be a political debate in which Republicans deny its existence to preserve corporate profits. Myron Ebell, advisor to the Trump transition team, recently said, “The environmental movement is, in my view, the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.” It’s a shortsighted, anti-science perspective—whose consequence may be irreversible ecological harm.  This year was the warmest year on record for the third straight year.

To make matters worse, Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA. Pruitt is a climate change denier who has sued the EPA 14 times. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

Monday, January 30, 2017

263. Trump isn't draining the swamp

Donald Trump is our president and regardless of how absurd I believe that to be, there is no going back now and what’s done is done.

Moving away from Trump the person to Trump the president, it’s time to consider the direction he and the Republican Congress will take this country.

Many folks will eventually realize that they voted against their interests when they elected Trump. And regardless of why they voted for Trump, they need to realize that their political involvement doesn’t end there. They need to become politically active and demand that Trump follow thought not only on the campaign promises they found appealing, but that he also respects the Constitution, our democracy and our influence in the world. Trump voters who have enjoyed sticking it to society must realize it doesn’t end with guns and a wall. You did this, now you are also accountable.

There is already much to be concerned about.

One of Trump’s first tasks is to appoint cabinet members to his administration. Despite promising to “drain the swamp,” Trump has chosen many questionable individuals, most of them old, white and very rich. It sure doesn’t seem like a group of people who are overly dedicated in propelling the middle and lower classes into prosperity. Here is a small sampling:

Ben Carson, who has been nominated for secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is completely unqualified and previously said he had no interest in running a federal agency. Carson knows as much about housing and urban development as I do about brain surgery.

Nominated to run the Treasury, former Goldman Sachs executive (one of many nominated), Steven Mnuchin made millions by foreclosing on reverse mortgages, as many as 16,000 of them. The seizure of these homes was often named “widow foreclosures.”

Betsy DeVos, the nomination for Education Secretary, essentially bought her nomination and is no friend of public education. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.  The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education . . . ."

Labor Secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder, is no friend of labor—fighting against raising the minimum wage and even mandatory employee breaks. Puzder’s companies have paid out millions in claims for not paying overtime to store managers. He said he likes “beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis.” Sound like anybody?

Rick Perry has been nominated as Energy Secretary, a department he once wanted to abolish. Go figure.

Sadly, I could go on, and I didn’t even mention healthcare, climate change, or Medicare/Medicaid.

The theme running through Trumps cabinet and policies is money. While economics is very important to the success of our country, and particularly the middle and lower classes, sometimes it comes with a cost—and ruining the environment, increasing the inequality of wealth, depriving people of healthcare or starting a nuclear war is not a price worth paying.

And then there is the media.

Trump has been setting the country and his followers up with his consistent complaining about the media—calling them dishonest and fake news. The media has a job do, and the freedom of the press is imperative for a democracy to survive. Of course, news channels can maintain a bias, particularly when it comes to which stories are covered and how much time is spent on them. But for Trump it is a psychological victory if he can convince the country that every time the media reports negatively on him it is because they are being dishonest and he is actually the victim. It is a built-in buffer against any major criticisms or scandals.

Also, Trump has consistently tried to steer the media away from Russia. Often where there is smoke there is fire. For example, the was lots of smoke when Trump kept refusing to release his taxes (which he still has not released). Later we learned that he may not have paid taxes for up to 18 years. There is probably more to the Russia and their relationship with Trump than has already been revealed.

The underlying theme is that people need to pay attention. Kellyanne Conway, in trying to dodge another question, said the lies already coming out of the White House were “alternative facts.” Well, of course, how can you live in an alternate universe without alternative facts? It’s unfortunate to say that Trump tells a lot of lies. Politifact research indicates as much as 50 percent of the time. I just ask, rather I beg, that people to do their own research, verify the facts, consider the consequences and hear both sides, because there is much at stake.