Friday, December 30, 2016

262. Quick hits from the Browns to ‘optional’ red lights

I have wanted to try a “quick hits” column for some time now. Not all ideas or opinions need a full column devoted to them—either because it’s a popular topic or the subject matter doesn’t require much depth. It’s more water cooler talk and a chance to bounce around several subject matters.

My wife wonders why I continue to watch Browns games and, unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for her. They are so bad that when I watch other NFL games I wonder if they are playing the same game. You would think that Jimmy Haslam would have learned something about continuity during his time with the Steelers. The turnover in the front office and among coaches and coordinators means that the team starts over every couple of years—with new players and new systems. Haslam runs the Browns like a spoiled rich kid who is CEO of a billion-dollar business his father founded—stomping his feet every time things don’t go his way. Although it has been painful to watch, let’s hope Haslam has learned his lesson and commits to the process.

I am convinced more than ever that Republicans just don’t understand economics. After spending the primary season of telling the nation how well Ohio is doing, Governor John Kasich is now warning that a recession may be coming to Ohio.  Tax cuts don’t help much when communities can’t afford to function and must raise local taxes to make up the difference. Republicans just keeping moving money back and forth, but ignore that the only way to ensure growth is to implement higher taxes on the wealthy. This money should then be reinvested into community infrastructure. The jobs this investment creates will further rejuvenate local communities by putting money in the hands of people who will spend it—creating even more jobs and generating more tax revenue.

The debate over “Merry Christmas” continues.  As a non-Christian, wishing me a "Merry Christmas" is like wishing me a “Happy Birthday" on a day other than my birthday. I regard it as a kind sentiment, presumably with good intentions and I am no way offended. It just doesn’t apply. However, wishing someone "Happy Holidays" is like saying “Have a Great Day!” It is inclusive and welcoming to almost everyone. I have a lot of obsessions but whether someone says "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" is not one of them. "Merry Christmas" is a bit presumptuous, but it is received in the spirit of the season.

In the words of Sarah Silverman, “You’re being ridiculous!” That’s what comes to mind regarding the several years’ battle over the Lorain County sales tax increase. When state funding to local communities is cut, there are only a couple of options—raise taxes (in this case only so lightly), reduce community services or lay off employees. I completely understand the stand against more taxes, but it is such a small tax and the money improves our community.

Polar bears, penguins and North Atlantic cod are three of many species that are in the most danger due to the consequences of global warming. Trump who once said one of the most oblivious things I ever heard about climate change, stating "They say, 'Don't use hair spray, it's bad for the ozone.' So I'm sitting in this concealed apartment, this concealed unit . . .It's sealed, it's beautiful. I don't think anything gets out. And I'm not supposed to be using hair spray?" Based on some of Trump’s cabinet choices, it seems he is trying to destroy the environment as quickly as possible. His ignorance is, quite frankly, appalling.

Did red lights suddenly become optional, or maybe merely a suggestion? I don’t remember seeing so many people not only running red lights, but also going through red lights after coming to a stop. One driver in front of me actually turned left while sitting a red light. The texting of drivers, both young and old, also continues to be a concern.  It is so dangerous and such an unnecessary risk, I just don’t get it. And, by the way, it makes other drives mad when “texters” are drifting into another lane, sitting at green lights or driving well below the speed limit. A little patience is worth the increase in safety and avoidance of “road rage.”

President-elect Donald Trump won the swing states (and the electoral college) by the slimmest of margins (less than the capacity of football stadium combined) and lost the popular vote by nearly a stunning three million votes. Only an oblivious narcissist would continue to say that he won in a “landslide.”

Thursday, December 22, 2016

261. The changing tides of 2016

As this year ends, so ends a remarkable year for Cleveland and around the country. For me, 2016 will be remembered as the year of sports and politics. This year had some moments of jubilation, while other events brought great despair.

For sports fans, 2016 will be the year Cleveland ended its championship drought when the Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the heavily favored Golden State Warriors. The Warriors entered the playoffs with the best regular season in NBA history. I watched game 7 at sister’s house; we projected the game outside, she invited a few friends and it’s a moment we’ll never forget. Suddenly, when it came to Cleveland sports, the city could breath. My father was not a big Cavaliers fan, nonetheless, I wish he could have been there to share in the joy.

Cleveland hosted the Republican Convention after a wild primary season. No matter what Donald Trump did, didn’t do or was revealed about the man, he kept winning. On the Democratic side, things we also heating up as Bernie Sanders brought life and energy to the party. Like Trump, he packed venues with passionate supporters. Sanders finally offered everything I thought this country needed and I was very disappointed when he lost—due in large part to the undemocratic notion of Super Delegates.

The Cleveland Indians surprised the country when, despite several critical injuries, roared to a division title and through the playoffs. After taking a 3-1 lead on America’s team, the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland fans wondered—could we really win two championships in one year?

At the same time, it appeared that Hillary Clinton would be our next president. She was leading comfortably in the polls and Trump was busy embarrassing himself with one scandal after another. What could be better than two Cleveland championship and another Democrat in the White House?

And then everything changed.

I remember looking at the pitching match-ups for the last three games, two of which were in Cleveland, and being concerned. But I thought momentum was on our side—we needed just one win. Anything could happen.

Hillary wasn’t my first choice, but in comparison to Trump, there was no choice. It wasn’t until the Comey letter that I had much concern. Her campaign continued to lack energy, meanwhile each Trump supporter seem to have not one, but several signs in their yards. Trump supporters were digging in, but this country wouldn’t really elect someone like Trump, would we?

It was at this time that I felt the tide changing for both the Indians and Clinton. I remember going to work for a week with an uncomfortable and sinking feeling in my stomach. I couldn’t quite identify why, nothing bad had happened yet, but I could feel it. Trouble was brewing.

The Indians started to falter, eventually losing in extra-innings in game seven. Even though they overcame significant adversity and overachieved, to get that close was heartbreaking—though probably not as heartbreaking it would have been had the Cavaliers not won. And then, less than a week later the unthinkable happened. Whether it was due to decades worth of despise for Clinton, a referendum against intellectualism, racial tensions, misguided fear of terrorism or a rebellion against political correctness, voters in three swing states and by slim margins, decide to overlook dozens of person and professional character flaws and elect Trump.

To make matters worse, the farce continued after the election—with protests, broken promises to Trump supporters even before he takes office, deplorable cabinet choices and a refusal to take serious the conflict of interest his businesses present. Disappointed in the values and morals of this country, I have rarely watched the news since the election. After all, for the sake of ratings, the media created this monster. The future seems ominous and I feel empty inside. Thank goodness for Saturday Night Live.

Although it was not an uninteresting year, 2017 can’t get here fast enough. I can’t accept this “new normal” in our political landscape. We’re better than that and maybe our country will find its way again. And maybe Ohio State will ring the new year with a national championship, the Cavaliers will repeat or the Indians will finally win that World Series. Maybe, just maybe, the Browns will even win a game.

Monday, November 28, 2016

260. The four Trump tape possibilities

In my last column, I asked whether there was a tipping point for Trump voters. I remain flabbergasted that the Access Hollywood tape was not a deal breaker for more people.

The tape, in which President-elect Donald Trump bragged, in explicated terms, about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because he was a celebrity, was headline news. Trump denied that the events that he described took place, even though nearly a dozen women came forward to confirm that what he said was true. Apologists tried to minimize the incident as locker room talk. In the end, in trying to ascertain the truth, and since Trump admitted it was him on tape, there are only four possibilities.

1. Trump was telling the truth and the women were telling the truth.
2. Trump was telling the truth and the women were lying.
3. Trump was lying and the women were telling the truth
4. Trump was lying and the women were lying.

Considering that Trump was recorded from a hot microphone and the women that came forward describing the incidents the way Trump bragged about, scenario number one seems the most plausible. When you also consider that Trump said on the Howard Stern show that he could walk into a beauty pageant changing room and get away with it because he owned the pageant, it demonstrates both a pattern of behavior and mentality. The things he said are so outrageous and nothing close to anything I’ve heard in a locker room, bar or factory. This wasn’t a consensual affair (which is also wrong but not a crime), it was an entitled sexual assault. Some people questioned the timing of the women coming forward. It should be remembered that it is a risking and invasive thing to accuse a presidential candidate of sexual assault. There are two events however that made it easier. First, Trump admitted on the tape that he did those things and second, there is safety in numbers. Once a couple women came forward, it was easier for others to do the same—like Bill Cosby and his accusers.

Scenario number two obviously makes little sense. If Trump was telling the truth, there would be no real reason for women to come forward and lie about it. None of them, to this point, seem to be alternatively motivated.

Trump adopted scenario number three. He said he was lying about what he said, that his comments were just locker room banter, and that the women who came forward were all lying. He subsequently tried to humiliate a couple of them and threaten to sue others. So, the question is, why would Trump say such things if they weren’t true? How insecure would Trump have to be to make up these stories with such graphic detail? I mean, at the time he was a billionaire and married to a young beautiful model, why would he have to lie about other sexual endeavors?  It’s usually the unsuccessful people that try to impress others with made-up stories and other exaggerations. If he did make up those stories simply to impress Billy Bush, it’s rather pathetic. It’s an ego that needs serious attention all of the time.

Scenario number four, like number two, makes little sense.

Thus, it seems either scenarios two or four are the most probable. But let’s put this in perspective with other situations—and remember that we are comparing it to, at the time, a presidential candidate for the United States of America.

If a child came home from school and reported to his or her parents that someone in the school administration said the things Trump said, there would be widespread outrage among the parents. Fathers would show up to the school with baseball bats. And whether it was true or not, the likely outcome would have be an immediate termination.

If a man heard that Trump did that to his mother, wife, sister or daughter, it is likely that a fight would occur, or at least the authorities would be notified. Guys have fought over much less.
For most men, even an accusation, with or without a verified video tape, would be enough to ruin their careers and/or cause them considerable shame. Even some extramarital affairs have ruined or ended careers, especially political careers—consider the fate former presidential candidate John Edwards.

In other words, the things Trump said would likely get a normal American citizen either fired, beaten-up or arrested, and yet this country somehow rewarded this man by electing him to the most powerful position in the world. We live in a country where people get mad over the color of a coffee cup, but sexual assault doesn’t affect women or the men who love them? Because the bottom line is that regardless of whether these women were telling the truth, Trump voters put either a sexual predator, or someone who thinks it is cool to pretend/fantasize about being a sexual predator, deplorably into the White House.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

259. What would it have taken?

Now that the election is over, I must ask Trump voters what, if anything, would have made the difference? Was there a tipping point when you may have realized you couldn’t vote for this guy from a moral or ethical perspective?

I sort of thought that the tape where Trump bragged about his ability to assault women and get away with it because he is a celebrity was going to be the tipping point—especially when women came forward saying he did exactly what he said he did. And that, of course, was after knowing that he was a cheater who regularly traded in wives for younger models and that he freely walked into beauty pageant changing rooms.

But there was much more. He was a draft-dodger and I thought that would offend military supporters. He didn’t reveal his taxes, although it was exposed that he didn’t pay federal taxes for up to 18 years. I thought that would offend every hard-working taxpayer. I mean, how can America be great if taxes aren’t collected to pay for our infrastructure, social programs and military? Conservatives throw a fit when poor people don’t pay taxes, but when a billionaire doesn’t pay taxes, tries to hide it from the public, you are okay with it?

He was sued for racial discrimination and regularly attacked Latinos and immigrants—wanting to build a wall and deport millions. I thought a more diverse America would reject such racism and archaic viewpoints. I thought Americans valued religious freedom yet he attacked Muslims for their religion. I He even attacked a Gold Star Muslim family whose son died fighting for this country. Many Republican leaders repudiated him and even Russia thought that was heartless. Russia!

Despite a multi-million dollar head start in life, many of his businesses failed and he had to be bailed out by the banks. Then he ripped off shareholders, while paying himself millions in salary, and often screwing over small businesses. Then he outsourced American jobs, and imported foreign steel as well as goods from Cuba. Why didn’t this outrage blue collar workers who lost millions of jobs? Why did people insist he was so successful?

If that wasn’t enough, he is a pathological liar. He lied so often that people didn’t even seem to care anymore. He was narcissistic, taking credit for everything while blaming others for his mistakes. He was a whiner, complaining about a rigged election and the media. Trump even vowed not to accept the results of the election, putting our democracy at risk. I guess people wanted to believe what he was saying, or just didn’t care if it wasn’t true?

Trump’s hypocrisy ran rampant, always in the name of self-interest—displaying no real principles or morals. Not a single major newspaper I know of endorsed him. He exploited every opportunity of society to satisfy his incredible ego. He even ridiculed a disabled reporter. He is a bully who constantly threatens legal action as a form of intimidation. And he has no filter and said incredibly stupid things like, “No one respects women more than I do.” Voters find no objectively or principle in their decision-making?

In a country where everyone is offended by almost anything, Trump voters are good with all of this? In other campaigns, even one of these transgressions would have ended a candidate’s future, and he is elected president?

It is not about Democrats and Republicans. It is not even about the Supreme Court. And it is not about being a sore loser. It is about a country that put this person in the most powerful position in the world.

The excuses that otherwise good people offered to defend this guy were implausible. It was like he had a cult-like following. The more people ridiculed Trump, the more people supported him. I’ve seen brainwashing, usually in regards to religion, and it seemed eerily similar. And Trump knew it . . . he could shoot a guy in public and not lose any supporters, remember?

I am just disappointed that this country has been reduced to the lowest common denominator. People don’t think logically, objectively or intellectually. And I don’t ever want to hear this is a Christian nation again—no Christian can rationalize their morality with electing this guy.

A Trump presidency, with a Republican congress, is a recipe for disaster. Healthcare will be ripped apart and replaced with “something terrific.” Climate change will continue unfettered, ruining ecosystems and environments. The rich will get a lot richer.  And, with less taxes, and more money promised to the military, the country will go further in debt. There will be no relief for middle of lower classes in terms of college debt or the minimum wage. With Trump’s vengeful arrogance, a war could be started at any time. His cabinet will certainly be filled with old, rich white guys who think like he does.

It should be awesome, just awesome.

Since Trump voters like when people tell it like it is, I am here to say I am thoroughly and completely embarrassed by outcome of this election—domestically and for this country’s reputation around the world. His election is several major steps backward and it’s not funny; this is not a game where we just throw someone new in there and see how it does. It’s real-life, with real consequences.

So seriously, what would it have taken? I need to understand.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

258. Baffled that many support Trump

It is now October and I continue to be flabbergasted by the candidacy of Donald Trump. The things Trump says and does, and the extent in which people support him, leaves me almost speechless.  Remarkably, he has a real chance to win, even without the support of many reasonable Republicans and the unprecedented warnings from many conservative newspapers.

It’s more than just being a political outsider as many of his supporters claim. There are lots of social divides—race, age, sex, social philosophy, religion, guns and wealth, just to name a few. Individuals have a hierarchy of values that they adhere to in managing these alliances.

When it comes to social philosophy, I regularly argue for the liberal perspective. And while there are a number of issues that I am very passionate about, there are also many opposing arguments that I respect. I may not adopt those arguments, but at least I understanding the basis for making them.

It is the same for politicians. There are many Republican elected officials who, although I may differ with them on significant issues, I have tremendous respect. If an elected official is of high character—that is, honestly doing what he or she feels is best for their community—I can embrace the political differences. And that is the same for their supporters.

For example, in previous presidential elections, I respected Mitt Romney and John McCain as being dedicated to public service. Although I didn’t agree with their view of America—especially compared to the vision of Barack Obama—I didn’t question their integrity.

Of course, Sarah Palin is a different story and I never imagined we would have a presidential election featuring a candidate for which I had such little regard. Until now.

And it is not just Trump, it is also his surrogates and followers. I am not going to rehash all the negative values that Trump embraces. I have accomplished that in previous columns and that information is widely available. Those opposing Trump are well aware of his deplorable character, while his supporters decided a long time ago to look the other way.

It is just unfathomable to me that so many people are willing to vote for Trump. I know many Republicans will support their candidate no matter who is nominated (the Democrats have a similar faction), but I always thought that a large percentage of the electorate who would vote in the best interest of the country. Hillary Clinton is not my first choice either, but come on.

And that leads me back to the argument of many supporters that Trump is anti-establishment. While that is true, especially compared to Clinton, the support for Trump is deeper than that. There are more cultural divides, some of which voters may not want to admit, that are driving the support for Trump. Sure, many are mesmerized by the apparent success and power of Trump, but many are just plain angry.

Their anger is not about the political establishment—if it were, they would be voting members of Congress out of office at a record pace. The anger is rooted in race, nationality, religion, fear and guns. Some even still appear to be angry about the election of an intellectual black president. It is a dim sentiment of America that troubles my perspective of its citizenry.

As tensions continue to rise, the election can’t come soon enough. As the campaign lingers, and more and more is revealed about Trump, it getting increasingly difficult to understand his supporters. It is though they are endorsing his undesirable character while also adopting his narcissistic and vengeful philosophy of never admitting mistake. In this respect, it is getting difficult to separate the vote from the voter.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

257. Want to make America great again? Fix the wealth gap

There is a difference, although often correlated, between income inequality and wealth inequality. Usually successive periods of income inequality lead to greater wealth inequality. As most know, today our country faces both dangerous levels of wealth and income inequality—to the point that most wealth and most gains in income are going to the top one percent. Not only do the top one percent own 35 percent of the entire wealth in the country, their income is also growing faster than ever.

Bryce Covert, in his article, “Income Inequality Is at The Highest Level in American History,” writes:

“According to a new analysis by economist Emmanuel Saez, Americans in the bottom 99 percent of the country’s income distribution saw their take home pay rise 3.9 percent in 2015 over 2014’s levels, adjusted for inflation, the best increase they’ve seen in 17 years. But the top 1 percent of the country far outpaced them: the wealthy’s income grew by 7.7 percent last year, reaching a new high.”

To add perspective, 3.9 percent on $40,000 is about $30 a week or $1,560 a year. But 7.7 percent, on a $425,000 income is about $630 per week or $32,725 a year. Most people would be happy with a 3.9 percent raise—especially since many have gone without raises for years—but how much does $30 per week really help? Meanwhile, 7.7 percent on the top one percent is a new car or maybe a boat.

Although both parties generally recognize the issue, neither has been fully committed to fixing the problem. It is a political ping pong. One moment it is about patriotism and nationalism—working together to make our country the best it can be. The next, it is capitalism and everyone out for themselves. It is greed and exploitation and dealing with the exhausting burden of the poorer classes.

There has been a push to raise the minimum wage, and some cities/communities have succeeded in raising the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. While raising the minimum wage does help those employees earn a livable wage, it is not without its drawbacks. It can detrimentally affect small businesses as they may not be able to afford their employees or have to raise prices. On the other hand, larger employers may cut staff, not because they can’t afford it, but to ensure that profits don’t decline. The discussion of pros and cons is a long one.

The simplest way to cure wealth inequality is to tax the wealthy.  It is not only the most effective way, it is also fair and serves to improve the lives of almost all Americans.

As Covert writes:

“Many factors have contributed to growing income inequality, but a lot of them have to do with taxes. Since the late 1990s, income inequality has been driven by the rich getting more and more of their money from returns on investments, something the less well-off are less likely to benefit from, and that money is taxed at a lower rate. Overall, taxes and public programs are doing much less than they used to to mitigate the growth of income inequality as taxes have been lowered on the rich while lawmakers have withered the social safety net.”

Heavily taxing the wealthy is not a new idea. However, what most don’t understand is that everyone pays the same tax rate on their earnings. Progressive tax rates mean that everyone pays the same amount of taxes on the amount of money earned, but as high earners progress through the tax brackets, they pay a higher percentage of those earnings (not all earnings). The wealthy need to be taxed at much higher rates—such as a top tax bracket that approaches the 70 percent. This was the rate in the early 1980s (before Reaganomics and the miserable theory of trickle-down economics). It might seem extreme, but I would be thrilled to pay 70 percent income tax on earnings over, for example, $500,000. I would be thrilled if my tax money helped improve the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

From a society perspective, the concept is well understood. It’s not socialism—there will still be the very rich and the very poor. Nothing is free. The disparity just won’t be as extreme. The taxes collected by the government is put back into the economy. It can be directed to states and cities who are struggling. From there it can be invested in government, private and non-profit organizations to provide services within the community. Roads can be fixed, police officers can be hired, and plighted homes can be destroyed. Schools will improve, parks will be safer and homes will increase in value There would be well-paying jobs for millions of people, who will in turn buy houses, cars and take vacations. They will buy goods and services, putting even more people to work and providing raises for others. Money would eventually work its way back to the top, but the high tax rates would ensure that it is returned to the economy to be invested again.

From an individual perspective, I understand that it seems unfair to tax the wealthy at higher rates. But often there was nothing fair about how an individual earned his or her money. There is inheritance, good fortune and the power of exponential earnings. It’s ridiculous to believe that an individual who inherited his or her money and earns money through investment works any harder than a single parent working two low paying jobs. Despite what capitalists want us to think, wealth is not positively indicative of effort—there are variances on both sides. Some people have a head start in life—attend the best schools, benefit from family connections. Others start at the very bottom with dire circumstances.

Though raising taxes are an unpopular subject, it is important to remember that it would only effect the very highest wage earners. The one percent would never fight for me, so I am not sure why the middle and lower classes are so willing to fight for them. The result would be remarkable and improve the lives of millions of Americans.

It’s trickle up economics. Provide jobs and opportunity to those who need it and the money will flow upward—improving our communities in the process.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

256. What ‘resetting reality’ has wrought

While watching a presentation of CSPAN Book television, the author quoted George Washington as saying, “People don’t act until they feel.”

I have always agreed with this. Right or wrong, it’s about self-interest. People care when things affect their communities — such as “not in my backyard.” They care about a disease or illness when they or a family member become afflicted. And financially people who have suffered misfortune are more in tune with, and more vocal about, economic disparity than those who are getting by comfortably.

For example, the nation felt Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attack did exactly what it was supposed to do — create fear. Fear is one of our strongest emotions and in the moment there is a release of adrenaline to guide our fight or flight instinct. The country reacted with fear and anger and in a sense has never been the same. Terrorism was real, on American soil, and it led to war, government attacks on individual privacy, and discrimination.

I had to juxtapose this, which I have always believed, with something Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal,” said in an interview with Bill Maher. Schwartz said the impact on politics made by Fox News was based on “resetting reality.”

The winning formula is to take the things that scare and anger Americans, those things that they feel, and convince them that it is real. Fox News, which is notorious for its inaccuracies, works to fuel its viewers with fear and anger. Ranging from simple misinterpretations to mild exaggerations to complete falsehoods, Fox News has created a country that doesn’t really exist. It has successfully reset reality with its viewers, and that reality has stimulated racial and religious discrimination, attacked the poor and the government programs that aid them, falsely portrayed immigrants in terms of number and impact, convinced people that the government is going to take their guns away, vilified the “liberal” media, and even prompted lies such as death panels and President Obama’s travel costing taxpayers $200 million per day.

No wonder people want to take their country back. No wonder they want to make America great again. In a disturbing way, this resetting of reality created Donald Trump. He is just “telling it like it is,” or at least how people feel it is.

Trump has seized this fear and anger to create a presidential bid that, though flabbergasting to many, actually has a chance to be successful. Trump has lit a fire among the fearful and angry. He has combined popular discontent with his apparent charisma and the idea that he represents American capitalism. To some, he is both a savior and an idol. For them, America is about being successful, showing off your wealth, and acting brashly.

It’s the perfect storm.

Poignantly, there are real issues to be angry about in this country. It is not quite as rosy as the Democrats portrayed in their convention. Things like wealth inequality, money in politics, global warming, and health care are just a few important issues dramatically affecting this county. Bernie Sanders touched voters on these issues and created a revolution that many have vowed to continue.

But, of course, Fox News has its own perspective of reality on these issues, too. In their alternate universe, corporate money is free speech, global warming is a hoax, taxes should be lowered even more on the wealthy, and Obamacare should be overturned (and not in favor of universal health care).

Recently Trump, taking the arrogance around his nomination too far, has gotten himself in trouble with a slew of comments that have been challenged. He claims that his remarks are misunderstood, or that he was being sarcastic, or he got his information from a “source.” His lying and crude attacks have him spending a lot of time backtracking and playing damage control. Resetting reality only works when people are naive. With the race for the White House now a two-person race, in which half the country disagrees with Trump’s view of reality, it’s getting more difficult to the pull the wool over people’s eyes.

For Trump, the blame falls on the media for having the nerve to point out his minefield of inconsistencies, contradictions, and untruthfulness. Trump likes to alternate between being a bully and playing the victim, between being a tough guy and a whiny child.

Since the convention, Trump seems to have become confused and bewildered. Perhaps it’s because, as it turns out, he realized that Fox News is not the only channel people watch.

255. Unconditional political support in dangerous

One of the most remarkable comments I have ever heard from a political candidate was what Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said about the loyalty of his voters.

He said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

There are two things that stand out to me about this statement: First, he is right, his fan base is such that he could do nearly anything and it would still support him, and two, that he completely recognizes this unconditional support to the point that he would feeling comfortable saying that out loud.

Political passion can run deep and influence even the most objective and reasonable among us. An attack on a candidate we support can feel like an attack on us, which often fosters a defensive posture, even “digging in” beyond reason. The discussion should be about policies, experience, and integrity but emotion often rules the moment. This emotion triggers unreasonable justifications, nonsensical arguments and silly conspiracy theories — often more for your peace of mind than to win the disagreement.

For example, it was nearly flabbergasting to hear the excuses, justifications, and pure denial that came out of the Trump camp after Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. And if you don’t like Clinton and feel Trump would be a better president, that’s fine but don’t embarrass yourself by trying to defend such an obvious case of plagiarism.

It’s that kind of stuff, and politicians on both sides do it, that causes reasonable people to lose faith in politics. We ask, “do they really think we are that stupid?” Rather than come up with some ridiculous excuse, just admit your mistake, apologize, and move on. This dedication to spin every negative aspect of a campaign only matters to the disciples anyway, those who dare not see their candidate ever make a mistake.

Unconditional support, or lack thereof in this case, was the topic of discussion after Ted Cruz gave his convention speech. Stopping short of endorsing Trump, despite pledging to support the Republican candidate if he lost, Cruz made a bold statement himself to the party. Cruz said he couldn’t support Trump because of the comments Trump made about his father and wife. Cruz said his support is not a “blanket commitment.”

There is a difference between being a good loser (which we all should be) and supporting someone just because he or she is a member of your political party. Support and loyalty should go to those who deserve it, not to those who demand it.

Furthermore, unconditional support is dangerous. Everyone, and particularly the president of the United States, should be objectively held to the consequences, or potential consequences, of his or her actions. When we lose objectiveness, we hand power — dictatorial-type power — to the individual in charge.

As most know, I was a supporter of Bernie Sanders. When he lost to Hillary Clinton in the primary, many expected that I would just fall in line and support Clinton. While given the choice between Clinton and Trump in November, I will probably choose Clinton but I feel no sense of commitment, loyalty, or reason to endorse her.

For me, the concerns I had about her when she battled Sanders still exist. I thought she should have been more responsible in handling her email, I don’t support her close ties to Wall Street — to the extent she was paid hundreds of thousands to give speeches — and I don’t feel she is particularly principled. I am not going to pretend these things don’t matter just because she represents the party I am most affiliated with.

So my support is such that, “despite my several concerns about Clinton, I still feel that she is more sophisticated and more experienced to serve as president than her opponent.”

While I don’t share many ideologies with Ted Cruz, I respect him for standing by his principles. He is not willing to forgive someone who ridiculed his family just because that person is now at the head of his party. For him, it was a deal-breaker.

Many others, like Chris Christie and Scott Walker, have embarrassed themselves and those things they stand for as they now gush over Trump. Cruz stood tall and firm, and I respect him for that.

254. Remember our place in the natural order

In another miserable story about animals, a mama black bear was euthanized for protecting her cubs in the Valles Caldera National Preserve when a marathon runner came across her and frightened a cub.

According to reports, there is a state law that requires authorities to euthanize any wild animal that attacks a human being. Sadly, the orphaned cubs, if found, will grow up in a nearby wildlife center.

As horrible an experience as this was for the runner — and I imagine it was quite terrifying — it is a growing trend that we have created a natural environment that for every event or incident, no matter how rare or natural, there needs to be swift and often deadly action.

Human beings might be surprised to know we don’t live in a bubble. The natural world, what’s left of it, deserves the opportunity to live and exist according to evolution. There is probably not a stronger instinct, from the lowest animals to human beings, than that of a mother to protect her young. After all, that is the purpose of life — live, reproduce, and protect.

Can’t we just accept that sometimes things happen? The fortunate part of the story is that the runner survived; the rest of the story is human arrogance. When a human being ventures into areas where animals live, there is a chance that you are going to come across a bird, a snake, a wolf, or even a bear.

What purpose did it serve killing the bear (I know they have to test for rabies, blah, blah, blah)?

The mama bear was doing exactly what almost any mammal would do. It is not like this bear exhibited a propensity to attack human beings. The bear protected her family, with her life as it turns out, as most would. Why is that a death sentence? Why does a human being have more of a right to run along a trail in the wilderness than a bear has to protect her cubs?

I hate to break it to modern society, but we are animals! We are not the fastest or the strongest animal; we are the most intelligent. But we are still just animals, made up of cells with DNA, almost exactly like other animals. Just because we have the ability to run roughshod over the planet and amuse ourselves for hours with our cell phones doesn’t mean we don’t have similar instincts, relationships, and basic life necessities as those who share our ecosystem.

Animals deserve respect for the lives that human beings have largely outgrown. Animals can’t order fast food when they are hungry. They can’t lock their doors at night. Animals live their lives as we used to, spending large portions of their days looking for food and water, building homes, searching for reproductive partners, and raising their offspring under the constant threat of danger.

Nature and animals in particular have become human ornaments. Communities decide which animals, and how many will live. If a community decides that too many deer are eating flowers, their populations will be reduced. Zoos put animals in prison and kill them when human beings are negligent enough to enter their cells. We have created parks and wildlife preserves but act too much like an animal — kill for food or to protect your family — and the animal will be quickly euthanized.

It’s arrogant, heartbreaking, unjust, and cowardly. Can we get over ourselves long enough to accept that we are just part of this beautiful planet? Unfortunately, as beautiful as nature is, it is also treacherous and dangerous sometimes. The existence of all living objects on this planet requires the transfer of energy and nutrients, and for carnivores that means killing other animals. Survival of all living objects of this planet revolves around reproducing and protecting offspring, and that sometimes means fighting predators.

Of course, we’re so smart that the most dangerous human predators are not black bears, they are other human beings. But when we are not killing each other, we are still part of nature — and that means sometimes nature wins. Sometimes the bear kills us, sometimes we are victims of hurricanes, sometimes we fall to a virus.

Sometimes things just happen.

253. Does flag boycott hurt more than it helps?

So the question is, what part of the mission of the Lorain County Board of Mental Health or the Community Foundation of Lorain County is dedicated to telling the Lorain County Fair Board which vendors may participate in their event?

Before tackling that question, perhaps we need to start at the beginning. The Confederate flag, at the heart of the issue, historically symbolized the South’s efforts to break away from the union and create their own country. While slavery was at the heart of the issue, there is controversially much more to the war — such as states’ rights. Inherent in the repugnant institute of slavery is the profitability of free labor and neither southerners nor northerners were immune to exploiting that, which created maximum earnings. The most recognized Confederate flag came to unofficially represent the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, where thousands died in America’s bloodiest war.

Unfortunately, the flag now means different things to different people. However, especially in context, it is now regarded as both a symbol of slavery, oppression, hate, and white supremacy, and a source of southern pride. In fact, in a 2015 CNN poll, a slight majority of Americans (57 percent) saw the flag as a source of southern pride rather than racism. I appreciate the historic and cultural context but admit that I see it as more as an instrument of racism.

But back to the fair. As it has been reported, the mental health board and Community Foundation are boycotting the fair because it accepted vendors that plan to sell the Confederate flag.

I have to admit that I am having trouble reconciling why a government social welfare entity and community foundation are engaged in a political protest. Their missions are to help people and their involvement in the fair does just that. The fair regularly brings in more than 100,000 participants from all across the county and outside areas. It is a great opportunity to reach an incredible amount of people in a short period of time.

That the mental health board, in particular, would turn down that sort of outreach to make a political statement seems outside of its social responsibility. Now more than ever, with the increase in mental health issues, including those that lead to mass shootings such as the one in Charleston, S.C., it seems we need to make more mental health services available. In other words, if the Charleston incident triggered this boycott, doesn’t it seem like people may need mental health services more than ever?

The argument that by permitting these vendors the fair board is “endorsing” them or “approving” of them is quite disingenuous. In addition, the fair board makes a good point: Why wasn’t the flag so offensive last year or the 30 years before it? This seems much more like a political opportunity than a moral stance.

The responsibility of community organizations is to help people and by boycotting the fair, the mental health board and Community Foundation are only hurting the community and children that they have traditionally served. Furthermore, I wonder, does the mental health board plan to turn away services for individuals wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt? Is the Community Foundation going to subject all grant recipients to a moral test on an individual level?

I would not be upset if the fair board decided to ban Confederate flag sales in the future. However, I would prefer that those attending the fair would decide the issue for them by making the venture unprofitable for these vendors. It seems that we all love free markets and free speech until it interferes with our beliefs.

Believe me, there are plenty of things I find morally offensive at the fair. There are of course the animals, as I am not a supporter of the way most farm animals are raised and slaughtered. Chief Wahoo is certainly a symbol of racism and is seen by many to represent the atrocities that early Americans committed against Indians. The chocolate candy/fudge could have been derived from child labor in the Ivory Coast or maybe there are even some blood diamonds being sold by jewelry vendors. By not boycotting these issues, do the mental health board and Community Foundation support these moral tribulations?

Of course, both have the right to attend or not attend any event they wish — and that includes the fair. I fully support that right, it’s just that in this case it seems like the negative impact of their political stance is greater than the benefits it could provide to the community.

As a stubborn teenager, my mom used to tell me, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” It seems that the mental health board and Community Foundation could borrow some of her wisdom.

252. Thoughts on police escorts and HS hierarchies

Congratulations to the Amherst softball team on a very successful season. Reaching the state semifinals in Division I is a notable achievement.

I noticed on the Amherst News-Times Facebook page that a video was posted highlighting a police escort for the softball team. Having read thousands of social media comments, I knew there were going to be at least two complaints. One was going to be that the escort was a waste of taxpayer dollars. The other was going to be about another team or school organization that did not receive similar treatment.

I wasn’t disappointed, but I was pleasantly surprised to read that most comments were positive and supportive. The taxpayer money complaint is a tired argument; there is value in the police supporting the community. However, the equal treatment argument is worth considering.

Unfortunately, as unfair as it is, there is a hierarchy of public support — especially in sports and other organizations. The more people care about something, the more attention and support they receive. The chess club or bowling team is just not going to get the same support as the softball team. And the softball team is not going to get the same support as the football team. Could you imagine the amount of support the football team would receive if it reached the state playoffs? The city would have gone nuts!

We’ve all experienced this at some point in our lives — the feeling our achievements have been slighted in comparison to others. For me, it was my senior baseball season at Midview High School. One of only four seniors, we had a surprisingly successful season, winning the conference and a couple of tournament games. In every other season, and every school I have been a part of, the season concludes with a nice spring banquet where the season is remembered, seniors wished well, statistics compiled, and awards are handed out.

That season my coach at Midview was named the new football coach. He quickly lost his focus on baseball and the end of the baseball season sort of faded away. Then about halfway through the summer, I got a call that I should go to pick up my award at one of the players’ mom’s house. What award, I wondered?

It turns out that I was named Player of the Year, which still remains one of proudest moments. And while I was happy and surprised, I was disappointed that the traditional awards banquet did not take place. I just thought how proud my mom and dad, who supported me all those years — taking me to practice, buying me equipment, watching me play — might have been to see me win the award.

So I understand the feeling. Students are good at different things and I am sure it can be frustrating when a parent’s child is good at something that attracts less attention than more popular activities. The flutist in the band may work just as hard and make as much of a sacrifice as the high school quarterback, but most won’t remember his or her name.

There is also the issue of precedent, which can be troubling and paralyzing. Too often these days, things don’t happen because people worry, “If we do it for them, we have to do it for everybody.” Of course, I am a consistent advocate for fairness and equality but it is an impossible proposition for every sport, team, or organization — there is just not enough time, money, or interest. And people would complain anyway.

I think communities need to support each other more. There is too much self-absorption in society these days. There are too many people ready to complain about acts of kindness or support out of spite or jealously. And while I think talented students should receive the same public accolades as sports stars (or even more), it’s nice when a community comes together to promote each other, whatever the endeavor.

We could argue about perspective, and there are lots of very good arguments to be weighed and considered, but those are larger societal questions. Locally, I thought the police escort was pretty cool.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

251. Farm work made me tougher

In one of my favorite movies, “The Natural,” New York Knights manager Pop Fisher and aging comeback star Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, have an exchange about farming. Pop talks about what he would do if he had won a championship: “I’d have walked away from baseball and I’d have bought a farm.”

Hobbs replies, “Nothing like a farm. Nothing like being around animals, fixing things. There’s nothing like being in the field with the corn and the winter wheat. The greenest stuff you ever saw.”

Growing up on a small farm and loving baseball, I’ve seen that movie several times. There is a lot in that movie about life, comebacks, passion, greatness, mistakes, and greed. It’s an examination of how fast life can change.

Our farm was small and not necessarily commercial. It really only lasted six or seven years. We had chickens, ducks, rabbits, cows, pigs,and occasionally a horse. The 11 acres also had a barn, vegetable gardens, pasture, and tractors. My father was a city kid and I am still not sure what really inspired his attraction to farming. As a child, it was often a hindrance — creating a list of chores that delayed playing with friends.

However, I now look back at our time on the farm with great affection. For me, our farm offered more than just tomatoes or eggs; it provided an insight into life and nature. As a kid, so much was imprinted on me, from what cucumber leaves look like to the difficult realities of the lives and deaths of farm animals. I did a lot of things I wouldn’t do now, such as shoot a rabbit or kill a chicken. At the time they seemed like rites of passage.

Farms are a lot of work. There is not only the daily feeding and watering of the animals, there is work in the garden, maintenance, and other miscellaneous duties such as ordering supplies and feed. Animals need to be taken care of every day of the year—and that means in the freezing cold of winter and days we were going to Cedar Point. Some days were miserable. Others it was just an annoying chore. In between, it was learning about life — and is probably why I majored in biology. I spent time with the animals, worked with them, looked them in the eyes, played with them, and learned their personalities. I also cried when they died or it was time to send them to slaughter. It was certainly a family endeavor and some of our lasting family moments come from the farm, such as the time the horse got stuck on the frozen pond or the time the cows got out. There was nothing better than a home-cooked dinner after a long day of work.

With the advent of large corporate farms, genetic modifications, and modern science medicine, I think we have lost an important aspect of what it means to live on and off this planet. More than that, I think children have lost the opportunity to learn about nature, hard work, and responsibility. I don’t want to stereotype because there are still many farms but increasingly society is moving away from the viability of small farms and the families that work on them.

Living in the suburbs and cutting the grass once a week, walking through the metro parks on Saturday mornings, or attending farm camp once a summer is not a substitute for the experience of the daily responsibility of farm life — just as my experience was not nearly as difficult as those that lived in previous generations. When watching shows about life in colonial times or visiting historic sites and seeing what they endured, I am left in admiration.

If we want to make America great again, I think America needs to get tougher. Of course, I don’t mean gangster tough, I mean grind it out, down-and-dirty tough. We need teach the value of hard work and the appreciation of life to the next generation. It should be the personal work ethic that leads to future success — doing what it takes through adversity to get ahead.

A little farm work might just be the answer. There is nothing like it.

250. Explaining the right-left presidential election split

With Donald Trump securely now the Republican nominee for president, and Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee thanks in large part to the ridiculous notion of superdelegates, Americans will likely choose between the two in November.

Trump survived more than a dozen Republican candidates in an entertaining primary. Though many candidates were seriously flawed, which convoluted support, the voters bought the notion of a “non-establishment” candidate despite his lack of professionalism and pervasive schoolyard name-calling. On the Democratic side, Clinton appears to have survived an unexpectedly strong challenge from socialist Bernie Sanders.

The match-up is ironic in that while winning their primaries, both candidates are widely unpopular. Their unpopularity ratings are above 50 percent, which suggests the general election may be decided by voting for the lesser of two evils. Trump has had difficulty unifying a Republican party that hasn’t been able to fathom the fact that he is their nominee. Likewise, the Clinton and Sanders’ battle has become so contentious that Clinton now faces the challenge of winning over Sanders’ voters even in the general election.

The support for Sanders has not only been a passionate plea for a new type of social equality, but also politics — particularity how political campaigns are financed. Sanders enthusiasts, who feel (rightly so) that the Democratic primary has been a highly prejudicial affair want big money, particularly corporate money, out of politics. In this respect, Clinton upsets a fundamental philosophy with Sanders supporters and to them represents everything that is wrong with politics.

Despite being highly qualified for the presidency, Clinton supporters lack the passion of the other candidates. Currently Clinton and Trump are running neck and neck, which is implausible considering that Trump is unpopular even among Republicans, Clinton has the chance to be the first woman president, and the Democrats should be united and highly motivated about the chance to elect another Democrat. I’ve personally heard from many Republicans who said they will vote for Clinton over Trump.

So why does this race appear to be so close?

The problem is those Sanders voters who reportedly won’t vote for Clinton. Polls indicate that up to 20 percent won’t support her in the general election. Some say they will vote for Trump, many indicate indifference or are holding out hope that Sanders will still somehow win the Democratic nomination or run as an Independent. Whether it is the superdelegates, perceived Democratic party favoritism toward Clinton, or Clinton herself, Sanders supporters are having a hard time warming up to her.

I suspect after the convention when Democratic voters are forced to deal with the reality that it will be either Clinton or Trump in the White House, more Sanders supporters will fall in line. If the Republicans had nominated someone a little more reasonable, Democrats — particularly Sanders supporters — would maybe have had a more difficult decision. But with Trump, it’s hard to see any progressive or liberal wanting that.

In addition, a looming issue in the November election is the Supreme Court vacancy. If Senate Republicans refuse to act and confirm a new Supreme Court Justice, the task will be left to the new president to do so. This important addition to the court might draw voters back to the party alliances. For example, my wife, who like myself is a staunch Sanders supporter, said she will not vote for Clinton unless a new Supreme Court Justice has not yet been confirmed. Thus, the abhorrent defiance of Republican senators might actually harm Trump in November.

Obama has nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who seems to be quite fair and moderate by many standards. However, I’ve said, in line with my wife’s position, that if he is not confirmed by November, I will vote for Clinton and, if she wins, I hope she nominates the youngest, most liberal potential supreme court justice available. Swift justice for irresponsible and obstructive Republican senators.

The Presidential election will be not only historic and important, but also entertaining for political junkies. Clinton vs. Trump will certainly provide some amusing debates, but also has the potential to be one of the ugliest elections in recent history. Both are parts of political machines that are willing to win at all costs.

Monday, May 9, 2016

249. Prince’s passing and problematic priorities

Although I enjoy music and can find it inspiring, emotional, or motivational, I rarely attend concerts.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate them, it was just usually a measure of time and money. I am not much for crowds and have never been the “partier” type.

However, one of the concerts I did attend was Prince, thanks to a friend of mine who was a passionate fan. He shared with me awesome seats, something like 15 rows center. What I remember most about the concert was one of the first things Prince said: If you came to hear songs from “Purple Rain,” you were in the wrong place. He played a lot of his new music, much I did not recognize, but I greatly enjoyed it nonetheless. He was an amazing talent.

“Purple Rain” was one of the few albums I associate with a specific time in my life and one of the few I listened to over and over. Others include Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” of course, as well as the Bee Gees’ “Saturday Night Fever,” Eminem’s “The Eminem Show,” Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill,” and Boyz II Men’s “II.” There are a few others across a wide variety of genres, which would include Garth Brooks, Def Leppard, and Shania Twain. What they all have in common is when I hear their music, I am taken back in time. In high school, it was Prince. In college it was the Beastie Boys. And when I fell in love with my wife, it was Boyz II Men.

I did not pay much attention to Prince’s personal life, I only knew that he was socially active and a vegan — the latter of which of course touches my heart. A PETA blog after his death noted, “A committed vegan who never shied away from speaking the truth, Prince laid out the reasons why animals are not ours to eat in these stirring lyrics from his song “Animal Kingdom”: “No member of the animal kingdom nurses past maturity, no member of the animal kingdom ever did a thing to me. It’s why I don’t eat red meat or white fish, don’t give me no blue cheese. We’re all members of the animal kingdom, leave your brothers and sisters in the sea.”

Through his music, activism, and compassion, Prince impacted many lives across the globe. Artists, especially once-in-a-generation artist, have the ability to do that.

Yet Prince had his detractors, as all socially-active artists do, and while Facebook and Twitter were largely filled with sadness and a recognition of his talents and achievements, there were a few of the typical posts that basically ask why we mourn more about his death than that of American soldiers. After all, they risk their lives to protect our freedoms, while earning a comparatively paltry salary.

Although the timing is callous, it is not an unfair question. It is, however, a slippery slope and if you are bold enough to go there then you better be ready to call everything into question.

I often write in this regard and could fill many pages in a book asking such questions as:

• Why do many CEOs make more than the president?
• Why do athletes and actors make so much more than doctors and nurses?
• Why do we care more about our steak than the dreadful life of factory-farmed cows?
• Why do people care more about a football game than who is running for judge?

In fact, each day I open up my Internet browser and there are probably 100 different headlines. As I scour them, many are met with a roll of my eyes. Why do people care at all about Kate Middleton, let alone Kim Kardashian? Who cares if Michael Strahan quit “Live! with Kelly and Michael” and Kelly Ripa is upset about it. And the fuss people make over what other people say — Charles Barkley said this and Curt Shilling’s wife said that — followed by comments about the comments about what Barkley and Shilling’s wife said. Why do more than 100,000 people gather to watch a horse race, and many more care whether Tiger Woods wins a golf tournament?

Just today there is an article that asks, “Katy Perry Drinks Apple Cider Vinegar; Should You?” Another notes that Prince Harry has massive paranoia about love life. Oh, and the Canadians are upset that Dwayne Wade might have disrespected their national anthem. Why do we care about any of this stuff? It is so trivial and unimportant in our lives. Why do some people, as fans, seem to care more about celebrities than they do their own families?

The point is, I suppose, a matter of perspective and it’s often frustrating for anyone passionate about a good cause, justice, or fair economic and political systems. Sometimes it seems like everything else is a waste of time, money, and resources. In modern times, we are afforded the time and ability to care about things that don’t really matter except our own interests or pleasures.

Whether it matters or not, Prince did impact my life and I am sad about his early passing. His music will always trigger an emotional response.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t care, appreciate, and admire those who serve our country, or others that truly act to make this world a better place.

Monday, April 11, 2016

248. Trump’s claims don’t hold up

Donald Trump supporters say they like him because he “tells it like it is.”

He’s bold and brash and rich, and to some that offers credibility to what he says. He’s perceived as an outsider and his followers have adopted a religious mindset. They offer unconditional support, feeding off the sentiment that it’s them against everyone else. They have become so entrenched that there is no going back now — regardless how much “The Donald” embarrasses himself or the Republican Party.

The problem is Trump doesn’t tell it like it is.

His rating on Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning truth meter for political statements, is quite dreadful, and includes the 2015 Politifact lies of the year. Of the 117 analyzed Trump statements, only three — that’s right, three — were graded as “true.” Another 24 were judged to be “mostly true,” or “half-true.”

Conversely, the other 90 statements were rated as “half-false,” “mostly false,” or “pants on fire.” That’s a remarkable 77 percent of his statements regarded as some sort of falsehood.

Some examples include:

• On David Duke: “I don’t know any — honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.” Pants on fire, Trump actually denounced Duke, specifically and explicitly in 2000.

• On unemployment: “Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.” Pants on fire, and Politifact noted that those numbers are not even close.

• On taxes: “Right now we’re the highest-taxed country in the world.” False. Politifact says that the “United States is far from the most taxed nation in the world, whether it’s an advanced industrialized economy or not.”

• On refugees: “And when you look at what just happened… And our president wants to take in 250,000 from Syria.” Pants on fire. Politifact explains that “the administration has plans to increase refugees admitted from all countries from 70,000 in 2015 to 100,000 in 2017,” nowhere near 250,000 from Syria alone.

• On Bernie Sanders: “He’s gonna tax you people at 90 percent. He’s gonna take everything. And nobody’s heard the term communist, but you know what? I’d call him a socialist/communist, OK? ‘Cause that’s what he is.” More pants on fire. This is absurdly wrong because though Sanders wants to increase taxes, it is predominantly on the wealthy and nothing close to 90 percent.

• On Iran: “We love the deal you made with Iran. We give them $150 billion, we get nothing.” False. The only thing Trump got right, according to Politifact, is the name of the country. It was already Iran’s money; sanctions were lifted in exchange for not pursuing nuclear bombs.

But don’t take it from me, go to Politifact and research it for yourself. Each claim is researched and clearly evaluated and explained. Actually, it is quite interesting.

Despite fleeting details in many of his policy statements, Trump manages to exploit a portion of a story, often twisting and turning them into attractive but largely inaccurate campaign ploys. When pressed, he falls back on, “We’re going to make American great again,” and that we should simply “believe” him, or “trust” him.

The problem that voters should recognize is that the president is an important job. This isn’t a reality show; this is real life with consequences that will resonate around the world.

My frustration has often led me to proclaim that this country deserves Trump. This country continues to have googly-eyes for wealth and materialism. We live in a world of self-promotion, personal branding, and selfishness, and Trump is the poster child.

Trump’s extremism and erraticism has even Republicans scrambling to coordinate his defeat. What Republicans don’t want to admit is that they created Trump. For years, many have rallied voters with discrimination towards minorities and homosexuals. They have used fear to create detestation for not only Islamic extremism, but all of Islam, even American Muslims. They have angered people with the idea the Second Amendment was at risk. And they get people worked up over the idea that government is too big, taxes are too high, and welfare only helps the undeserving poor.

So, come on folks, vote for Trump if you like, but enough with the “telling it like it is,” fantasy. The truth is that he’s a snake oil salesman of the most dangerous kind.

Monday, March 28, 2016

247. We don't know what we don't know

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said in response to a question about the lack of evidence regarding weapons of mass destruction linking Iraq to terrorists:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

While there might be some political avoidance in his answer, the answer itself actually provides valuable insight into the role knowledge plays in not only political decisions, but also risk assessment in economics, project management, and other fields.

I also think these ideas apply philosophically to the wonders of the universe.

For me, as an agnostic, my known knowns would be that which is either inherent in life or that which science has proven. For example, we inherently know that we will all eventually die. However, in the bigger picture, science has offered with certainly the Big Bang universe creation principle and that life changes over time through evolution. Though many of the details, especially those in astrophysics, are still being tested, the known knowns offer an explanation of life from moments after the Big Bang through our current existence. Evolution, through biological and geological study, particularly the fossil record, makes this natural phenomenon a known.

Moving beyond the known knowns to the known unknowns, we consider those things that we are familiar with but are yet unknown due to a lack of evidence or perhaps indistinguishable probabilities. In my philosophical consideration, there is both the time before the Big Bang, of which all I know is a possibility (unless something is created from nothing) and the time after we die. Regarding the latter, there are many known unknowns, such as religion, spirituality, and a host of other belief systems.

It is unknown to me who gets it right. Are Christians right? What about Islam and the other major religions? Do we go to heaven, hell, or are we reincarnated? Do we survive spiritually in some form of energy? Or maybe, nothing happens. So while I know there are many possibilities, I cannot assign probabilities—making them unknowns.

The unknown unknowns are of course the most difficult. It’s also referenced as, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” For example, I cannot comprehend the idea that something is created from nothing— which makes the time before the Big Bang mystifying. Even if there is a god, he or she (or it) also had to be created from nothing. With unknown unknowns, nearly anything is possible.

I’ve often explained that that our whole universe may be just some experiment of an advanced population, like a child’s ant farm. “God” may actually be some middle school kid who one day might get bored with us and end our existence. As for the end of time, most believe that the universe is expanding, but into what? Will it eventually contract and repeat the entire process? Are there multiple universes? The scope of the conversation is bigger than we are and subject to those things we have not even conceived — truly unknown unknowns.

Obviously my observations may not resonate well with others. Those who believe in monotheism have moved the scope of the conversation considerably. They have put the god of their particular religion into the position of a known known. I am not quite sure how, but doing so for many also means moving science out of the discussion. Though there is a spectrum of convoluted beliefs mixing science and religion, for some, the Big Bang and evolution are not only not known knowns, they are scientific lies. It’s hard to debate those who are sure they know all there is to know.

The idea isn’t original to Rumsfeld. In fact, in his memoirs, Rumsfeld credits NASA administrator William Graham. It seems appropriate that unknown unknowns might have been derived from an entity charged with exploring our universe.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

246. Take some interest in interest, save thousands

Most people work hard for their money and it is then with good reason that they hate paying taxes.

Taxes take up a significant part of our income and it seems every time we turn around there is another one. It’s not just federal income taxes, there are state taxes, sales taxes, and taxes on individual items like gasoline and cigarettes. Then there are local levies and taxes, which include schools, mental health, and even football stadiums.

The questions should be: Where are our tax dollars going and are they are being spent wisely? But of course, not everyone agrees with where their tax dollars are spent. Some get upset over their tax dollars being spent to help others but feel having the largest military on planet is purposeful spending. I might think it is ridiculous that we pay for football stadiums for billionaire owners and their millionaire employees and that more money should be spent on education, regulating clean air, infrastructure, and veteran services.

However, there is something worse than taxes that many people seem to ignore, even justify. Perhaps it’s an accepted consequence of materialism. For me, the money I hate paying is interest.

It’s not just credit cards, where if you don’t pay the balance off each month, the dinner at Roadhouse went from costing $50 to $60; or the living room couch went from $600 to $700. And it’s not just student loans, where interest on the cost of education takes an already ridiculous tuition to an outrageous amount and ties students to years of debt.

For me, the biggest waste of money is home mortgage interest. Even at the best rates, mortgage interest can take years of your salary from you, as total interest payments on a home can easily reach the $100,000 mark or in many cases double the amount of money you pay for your home.

People will often engage in tense negotiations over the smallest charges, or drive five miles to save three cents on a gallon of gas, but then readily accept the cost of time they pay for their house.

For me, it is not just the cost, it is where the money is going. Taxes provide many functions in our society. They employ people, provide services, keep us safe, educate us, help the needy, and provide infrastructure. Interest goes… where? Interest goes to the banks, their executives, and shareholders.

If someone purchases a $150,000 house for 30 years at five percent, after 15 years they have paid around $100,000 interest. That money is gone, poof! And if you pick up and move after 15 years and take out another mortgage for 30 years, the bank is basically charging you interest on your own money.

Home-buyers will haggle and debate over a couple of thousands of dollars on the cost of a house — mostly because they want to feel like they got a good price — and then freely engage in decades of throwing thousands of dollars down the drain. Just like buying a car, where salesman push the monthly payment, people don’t often consider the actual cost of what they are purchasing. Mortgages are built around monthly payments and the sales price, but not the total cost of the home.

And, as I wrote in an earlier column about mortgages, not many people stay in their homes for 30 years — they move and pay even more interest on the new mortgage. If someone owns three homes at the $150,000 level and stays an average of 15 years, they may spend as much as $300,000 just in interest over 45 years. That is more than $6500 after taxes (maybe about three months’ take-home salary) thrown away year after year.

Many justify this decision because of the mortgage interest deduction; however, the deduction is highly overrated for modest home purchases. Not surprising, the biggest benefactors are the purchasers of very large homes.

For good reason, it’s advisable not to touch retirement funds, but some out-of-the box thinking might wonder if whether the money is better spent paying off the mortgage, which is both an investment in itself and saves up to hundreds of thousands in interest. It pays to do the math and consider the many options, but paying off the home and accepting the tax consequences might be a win for everyone except the banks. Certainly there has to be a better way than having 70 percent of your early mortgage payments vanishing into essentially the cost of the loan.

Most people follow the expected financial path and understandably most people can’t pay for their homes in cash. But I might suggest, like buying a car, look at the big picture, not the monthly payment.

Consider the total cost of home ownership, including interest costs and private mortgage insurance, and compare it to other saving projections and tax implications. Also strongly consider 15-year loans, putting as much down as possible, never taking out a second mortgage, and making biweekly instead of monthly payments.

Of course, this is just my opinion and the take-away from this column is, I hope, that people work hard for their money and should consider where it goes. Taxes, despite their bad reputation, are the foundation of this country. When spent wisely, it provides the framework that not only ensures a First World existence but also creates free enterprise, preserves our freedom, and most importantly, affords opportunity.

On the other hand, most of us end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest over the course of our lives. It is money wasted, and it is what people should really be upset about.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

245. It’s clear: Obama should appoint SCOTUS justice

I had not yet heard of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing when I turned on the Republican Party debate last weekend.

The first question was whether or not President Barack Obama should name the next Supreme Court justice. Candidates, one after another, said that he should not — that the next president should choose. Granted, what else could they say? However, most genuinely seemed to have convinced themselves that the next president should make that call.

And it wasn’t just the presidential candidates. Mitch McConnell said that it should be the American people who choose who the next justice is, referring of course to the next presidential election.

Certainly Supreme Court appointments are important, as they rule on this country’s most divisive issues. The Supreme Court interprets the law on federal questions, but not without a political perspective. It’s clear which justices are conservative and which are liberal.

They are, unfortunately, lifetime appointments. This causes some problems as presidents often choose young judges so that they can influence the social and political direction of the country long after their terms end. The other problem is that this can put the pressure on justices to serve well past retirement. In the present case, Scalia would not have retired while Obama was in office because of the fear of a liberal appointment.

While brilliant in his understanding of the law, Scalia’s conservativism and original intent was of some angst for liberals. Some of his opinions and perspectives were not only outdated but blatantly offensive. I not will provide detail so soon after his death, but simple research will easily provide numerous examples. One may want to start with Lawrence v. Texas. Comedian Patton Oswald said, “Scalia was born in 1936… and never left.”

In response to Mitch McConnell’s shortsighted statement, Senator Elizabeth Warren stated that the American people did decide who would name the next Supreme Court justice when they elected Obama by more than five million votes.

She’s absolutely correct and it’s ridiculous that the Republicans are going to try to run out the clock with almost a full year left in his presidency. The next president doesn’t get sworn in until next January — are they seriously considering that the Supreme Court wait until at least a year from now before someone else is selected? Obama has just less than 25 percent of his term remaining. While the Constitution details no timetable for lame duck presidents, it surely would not have been a year. I might consider the argument if the amount of time left were a few days, but even then, that suggests a cut-off date and the Constitution does not provide one. Scalia would be appalled at the Republicans’ rationale.

It is often said that fairness could be realized by considering what might happen were the situation the other way around. Does anyone think that Republicans would not have supported a Republican president naming the next justice were the situation reversed? Of course not. How about Democrats? Maybe they would fight it as Republicans intend to, but I would remain consistent. I would just as quickly call them defiant bullies trying to make up their own rules.

Because justices receive lifetime appointments and considering the political implications I mentioned above, there have not been many Supreme Court justices nominated in the final year of their presidency. But consider the last time it happened.

In 1987, Anthony M. Kennedy was confirmed by a Democratic Senate 97-0. He was nominated by Ronald Raegan on Nov. 30.

Ouch, so much for precedent.

American did overwhelming elect Obama and he should nominate the next Supreme Court justice. And Republicans need to act responsibly and perform the constitutional duty of approving a qualified individual.

I would say that they are acting like spoiled children, but if you have seen the debates, you already know that

Thursday, February 18, 2016

244. Not just how, but why Clinton is losing ground

Bernie Sanders lost the primary caucus by the closest of margins. But if you watched the post-election speeches, there were different atmospheres in the two camps.

Clinton gave her typical cadence-ridden speech and her supporters laughed, clapped, and smiled. She carefully hinted at victory even before the evidence supported that claim, but more notably she looked relieved. Since Sanders is expected to win in New Hampshire, a loss would have been devastating when less than a year ago she had a very comfortable lead.

Conversely, in the Sanders camp… wow!

Bernie Sanders walked to the podium to the loud chant of “Feel the Bern, feel the Bern!” The excitement, even in a narrow loss, was unbelievable. Sanders could barely get a word in. His commitment to lead a revolution threw the crowd into a frenzy.

While I certainly would vote for Clinton in the general election, as she is probably the most experienced candidate in history, and far better than anything the Republicans can nominate, I have longed for socio-economic reform. I was a big supporter of Sanders even before he announced his candidacy. His message has consistently been spread across decades of service. He is a passionate fighter for the middle and lower classes.

The middle class been dwindling for decades. The standard of living has decreased even as people work longer and harder. Most rely on large amounts of credit. Student loans hang over graduates for years. Our health care system often means one critical illness creates years of debt or even bankruptcy. The minimum wage is not only unsustainable for anyone to survive on, it keeps other wages down.

On the other side, partisan decisions like Citizens United and campaign Super PACs have ensured that our democracy will be at the mercy of the wealthy. The inequality of wealth is shameful for any country, let alone any one that claims to be a Christian nation. The game — that of hindering socio-economic mobility — has been purposely rigged. A health care system out of control not only pours profits into corporate hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies, it also keeps wages down as companies keep paying more of the employee share for medical benefits.

Yet nearly every single candidate over the last couple decades, and probably longer, whether Republican or Democrat, claims to be a fighter for the middle class. How can that be? How can they fail so miserably term after term in improving the lives of the middle class?

The answer is not just partisan politics. They fail because their political careers are directly related to the power of wealthy corporations. And the wealthy are not interested in improving the lives of the middle class. As long as we have just enough to get by and enough credit to buy their products, they are winning.

I believe Clinton has good intentions and is moderately progressive, but she is part of the political machine that is destroying our democracy. She is content to move the country forward slowly. She is unwilling to give up her Super PACs. She once commented she was broke after husband Bill’s presidency, which is ridiculous considering their ability to make millions for simply giving a speech to wealthy corporations. And even though Sanders moved on from her emails, it does bring forth a question about, at best, a terrible lapse in judgement or, at worst, arrogance and secrecy. On many of the issues, she has an authenticity problem.

Sanders wants a revolution. He doesn’t care about his ego or popularity. He isn’t bought by corporate interest nor is he willing to accept meaningless compromises that only appear to help the lower and middle classes. He is willing to take on powerful industries and the one percent, which are negatively affecting both our economics and democracy.

When Sanders announced his presidency, I immediately proclaimed support. Many people on Facebook and other social media laughed at my backing. Sanders is a “socialist,” has no chance of winning, and too old, they said. From the beginning, I knew his campaign was a longshot but relished that his message on one of the country’s most important issues, that of wealth inequality, would finally be heard. In that respect, he has already won and his popularity is moving Clinton left. And, more so, his young supporters have heard his message and may offer help move the country forward as they get older.

Trump supporters say they like that he tells it like it is and is using his own money to finance his campaign. The trouble is Trump’s message. Sanders speaks the truth with principle and message. His passion is the American people and the most important issues affecting their lives — such as income equality, national health care, and the democratic policy.

Monday, January 4, 2016

243. Vacationing in the land of the inglorious past

My wife and I recently returned from a wonderful vacation, one that took us from this country’s capital to the days of yesteryear.

We started in Washington, D.C, and National Harbor, visiting the Capitol building, Library of Congress, and Arlington National Cemetery. From there we visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon on our way to Richmond and the old Confederate White House. Next was the city of Charleston, S.C., and two amazing plantations, Boone Hall and Mongolia Gardens. Finally, we ended in Savannah, Ga., briefly touring the historic and popular city.

While the sights were often breathtaking and colossal, we are enamored with the history and the story of it all. Our trip, inclusive of tour guides and museums, took us back in time from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. Depending on place and perspective, is was a romantic time — and while simpler, perhaps, it was much more difficult.

This country, from its declaration of independence to the civil war (and beyond), has morally battled social etiquette, religious teaching, and economic interests. The most ominous part of our visits were the old slave homes that still stand on some of the plantations. To see and imagine what life was like for millions of slaves, who upon capture had their lives and those of future generations changed forever, is a soul-searching question of the limits of human brutality.

There is enough dread in slavery, and cruelty in the treatment of Indians, to forever dismiss any moral superiority that we have come to proclaim and stand upon. While the Revolutionary War was a fight for freedom and against colonialism, there was never a time — from then until now — that all men (and women) are considered to be created equal. The founding fathers were brilliant, but many of them were also hypocrites. How could they start a revolution about freedom, individual rights, and the injustice of taxation while at the same time enslaving an entire race of people under miserable conditions?

The trip across the Atlantic alone was more than anyone deserves in a lifetime. The boats were loaded to capacity, with space limited to a couple of feet per slave. They were abused, raped, and a large percentage died on the trip. Others committed suicide.

Those who survived were sold like cattle, striped and branded. Families were often separated. Slaves were expensive, many estimates in today’s dollars are more than $40,000. Work days were from sunrise to sunset. At Mount Vernon, it was noted that the slaves rarely ate meat, and when they did, they got the heart or intestine of an animal. The fortunate slaves lived in small rooms, often by the dozen. It became a criminal act to teach them to read, and those who tried to escape became a harsh example.

I often hear that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. It is sort of a technicality, open to interpretation, and varied by region and even individual. The South regarded it as a second revolution, to break away from the overbearing Union as the colonies broke away from England years before.

However, even if the issue was not the moral judgment on slavery, it was the economic impact of slavery. Slavery made a lot of people very, very wealthy. And, for competitors in non-slave states, it was an unfair competitive advantage. Plantations were large, beautiful, nearly self-contained communities — and only possible with slave labor. Southern cash crops such as rice and cotton bought land owners great wealth but also required intensive labor. Indeed, when slavery was abolished, many a plantation fell.

It’s the same economic system we have seen throughout history and practiced today — nothing has changed. Corporations seek the least expensive labor costs available to create large profits for their shareholders. It’s the principle of minimizing labor costs, giving the working class just enough to get by to prevent protest and uprising.

And, of course, many times that cheap labor force is practiced today as outsourcing. Instead of bringing the slaves here, now our corporations go to them.