Category Archives: Politics

A Book Review . . .

By Harold Stearley At Earthwalking

Disclaimer:  The views expressed below are entirely my own.  Other people reading this work of non-fiction may have a completely different take on it and find my conclusions to be erroneous.  But they can write their own blogs, this one relays my experience and my interpretations.  Also, the book is 484 pages long, so in my attempt to condense and summarize, I may have to leave out specific details out of necessity.  This does not mean that I did not read this book thoroughly, I did. I felt compelled to write this review . . .

The book is: “Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West,” written by Stephen E. Ambrose.

I give Ambrose credit for his research and thoroughness with telling this story, however, at first blush, I must point out the obvious bias the author demonstrates towards Meriwether Lewis.  All throughout the book, the author describes Lewis’s effort to get William Clark recognized and share equal stature with himself.  For example, the War Department turned down the request to give Clark an equal rank with Lewis and only approved a Lieutenant’s rank for Clark as opposed to a Captain’s rank.  Yet Lewis and Clark decided not to tell their men this and addressed each other equally as Captains.  They served as co-equal partners commanding the expedition.  This was emphasized over and over again.

Yet despite the constant dialog throughout of Clark’s equal status, the author noticeably leaves Clark’s name out of the title of the book.  It is, however, the author’s book and he is obviously free to choose the title, I just picked up on this smack-you-the-face contradiction between the title and what’s conveyed in the text between the covers.  Hard to miss that one.

But before I venture too far with my criticisms, I do want to point out what I consider to be remarkable about the book and the personalities described therein.

There is no doubt that the trek across the American West by these individuals is remarkable.  Round trip, it was some 8000 miles.  These guys were tough.  Lewis frequently walked the banks of the Missouri River while his men navigated via keelboat, canoes, and pirogues, using paddle, pole and wind, and the expedition averaged some 20 miles per day going up-river.  Lewis kept pace with the vessels by simply walking, and I remember at least one mention of hiking some 35 miles in a day. 

That’s tough by my standards.

The men endured various illnesses and treatments with the completely wrong medicines, and all survived except one man.  They also endured times of food shortages and serve weather.  Lewis even survived being shot in the ass by one of his own men with a .54 caliber Army issue bullet.  Whether this was accidental or on purpose no one knows as the shooter denied having shot his Captain.

Sacagawea, a Shoshone, joins the group as the 15-year-old wife of a French-Canadian named Toussaint Charbonneau, who had won her in a bet from the Hidatsa, who had, in turn, captured her in a raid on Shoshone encampment. She was six months pregnant at the time and would give birth to her son during the expedition.  She would also provide her knowledge on food sources and serve as a translator to the Shoshones and assist the bargaining for Shoshone horses to cross the Continental Divide and the Bitterroot Mountains.  Clearly, she endured more than the men, yet little credit is given to her, and the author notes that she received no payment for her services as did the men.  (The party procured horses from the Nez Perce on their return trip as well as collecting some of their previous ones).

Back to the successes of the adventure. 

While no continuous water route was found to the Pacific coast as was sought, the party encountered many First Nations Peoples, promoted peace between the tribes (albeit arrogantly and with no understanding of the cultures and customs), and they did “find” the overland route to connect the Missouri breaks with the Columbia River and mapped out the territory.  I’ll get back to that word “find” in a little bit.

Lewis is credited as being a planter, soldier, ethnographer, botanist, zoologist, geographer, astronomer, cartographer (that was really Clark), linguist, woodsman, and explorer.  Basically, he is portrayed as a God-like figure who most probably carved out the entire basin for the Pacific Ocean with his bare hands after swallowing a dozen buffalo in one bite for lunch.  Oh, please excuse my sarcasm.  On page 482, the author finally backpedals and states: “His talents and skills ran wider than they did deep.” And he points out that his best quality was actually leadership. (Footnote 1) .

In a footnote on page 404, the author credits Lewis by stating: “He had discovered and described 178 new plants, more than two-thirds of them from west of the Continental Divide, and 122 species and subspecies of animals.”  I take strong issue with the word “discovered.”

And now for my real criticismsWhat I said above was just a warm-up. 😊

Ok, so let’s go back to the beginning.  On the very first page of text, in the introduction on page 13, the author states that Lewis was the “first” American to cross the Continental Divide.  Ok, this is a joke right?  The author totally ignores some 14,800 years of history that has been extensively documented of the First Nations Peoples’ occupation and travel across the Americas.  In fact, the expedition had to rely on Indian guides to take them through the mountains on established Native trails.  Had the guides not crossed these mountains first, they obviously could not have served as guides. (Footnote 2).

I will have to say, that I have never read the words “first” and “discovered” so many times in a single book attributing credit to a single individual, while completely ignoring the actual people who encountered these plants and animals and made the journey through these mountains and up and down these rivers for centuries prior to the colonists’ arrival on the East Coast. 

The proper term for Lewis, in these contexts, should be the “first white, European, colonist,” or perhaps “imperialist,” of English descent, who did whatever it was Lewis did after so many others had before him – including, perhaps, French trappers and Spanish explorers. 

Lewis and Clark’s travels were also probably preceded by the British traders based up in Canada that were frequently mentioned because of the desire to shut the North West Company out of business.  But I get it, first “American.” Right. There are only three times that I remember the author saying the “first white man” to have done or experienced something.

I will give credit to the fact that Lewis drafted lengthy descriptions of the animals and plants encountered and putting that into writing in the English language may have been a first.   The First Nations’ Peoples largely relied on storytelling and hieroglyphics but were probably more insightful as to the beneficial relationships and usefulness of the natural resources.  The Native populations also practiced conservation, while the Europeans preferred mass slaughter and harvested resources into extinction, but I suppose that’s another story for another day. (Footnote 3).

Included with Ambrose’s litany of Lewis’s “firsts,” is claiming that he is the first American to kill a Grizzly Bear (p. 247).  Lewis, with his superiority complex, pays no attention to the warnings from the First Nations Peoples about showing this Spirit some respect and how difficult it is to kill one.  Instead, Lewis assumes that if these individuals had trouble killing a grizzly, it must be because of their primitive and inferior skills and weapons.  He soon learns just how wrong he is about engaging in such combat as the Bears show no fear and go on the offensive even when shot multiple times.  His men are seen running away from the Grizzly on more than one occasion.  (Footnote 4).

There is nothing short of continuous denigration of the First Nations Peoples by Lewis with the constant over-lording references to their new “Father” or “White Father” referring to Jefferson (a prominent slaveholder).  Lewis is plagued with an extreme inflation of his own self-importance as he talks down to the tribes and believes he can command them with his pronouncements.  He also never misses a chance, as “ethnographer” to insult the Native populations, even those Nations who provided him with food and assistance.  Never. Even if he has extended a compliment, it is followed by an insult.

On page 357, after describing an instance where Lewis nearly let his anger override his judgment regarding the “Chinookans,” where Lewis may have torched a village if a few goods that had been pilfered had not been recovered, Ambrose states:

To modern eyes, this looks suspiciously like racism, just as Lewis’s resolve to burn down the village raises images of the U.S. Army in the Indian wars and in Vietnam. But if one means by racism a blind prejudice toward native Americans, based upon false but fully believed stereotypes, Lewis was no racist. When he talked about Indian ‘nations’ he meant the word just as he applied it to European peoples. He was keenly aware of the differences between tribes, a subject he wrote about at length and with insight. He liked some Indians, admired others extravagantly, pitied some, despised a few.

His response to native Americans was based on what he saw and was completely different from his response to African Americans.  With regard to blacks, he made no distinctions between them, made no study of them, had no thought that they could be of benefit to America in any capacity other than slave labor.

But, despite his cold-blooded words and resolutions, and his hatred of the Chinooks, what stands out about his journey up the lower Columbia in the spring of 1806 is that he got through it without ever once ordering a man to put a torch to an Indian home, and no man ever fired a rifle at a native. “

I could easily point out the poor choice of words Ambrose uses in this last sentence distinguishing “man” from “native,” but I’ll laugh that one off.  Despite Ambrose’s attempt to paint this white European arrogance as anything but racist, on pages 370-372, for a second time, Ambrose refers to Lewis’s statement made at Lemhi Pass in 1805, “that anything the Indians could do, he and his men could do.”  “Even after seeing the Clastsops and Chinooks in their canoes, after seeing the Nez Perce ride their horses, he retained the notion of white superiority.”  (Both tribes demonstrated vast superiority with their skills over the white imperialists.)

To further cement this notion, if there were any doubt, when Lewis is describing his Indian plan regarding improving the American fur trade, Lewis states that it was “a scheme . . . the most expedient that I can devise for the successful consummation of [our] philanthropic views towards those wretched people of America.” (p.442) Lewis’s scheme was to run the British out and create trade-dependence with the Indians – subjugating them through capitalism in modernity’s tongue. (Footnote 5).

He even thought that to boycott the Sioux, the least susceptible to his pronouncements, would bring them begging to the great “white father.”  Of course, this simple mindedness completely ignores the First Nations Peoples’ ability to survive the harshest of circumstances – those which the white Europeans on this very expedition would not have survived, except for the help of the native populations.

But before I stray too far from my original point, Ambrose’s attempt to paint Lewis’s racism as nothing more than white supremacy is what I believe is facepalm worthy.  Seriously, Ambrose has such a man-crush on Meriwether Lewis that he tries to gloss over what he has painstakingly proven throughout his book. Lewis may have seen and written about differences between tribes, but he believed blindly that whites were superior to them all – that, my friend, is racist.

In perhaps another wave of ironies, Lewis’s and Jefferson’s Indian plan required a full-scale change of all First Nations Peoples’ cultures and lifestyles.  It was predicated on “inducing the Missouri River and Rocky Mountain Indians to become trappers and traders” and to abandon a nomadic hunting and sustenance culture that included inter-tribal raids and conflict.  In fact, a Hidatsa warrior drove this point home when asking Lewis what their nations would do for chiefs should peace be attained, because chiefs were selected based upon their heroic acts in battle.  Bravery was the prime virtue in the structure of Indian politics.

Ambrose continues: “They would have to be conquered and cowed before they could be made to abandon war. Jefferson’s dream of establishing through persuasion and trade a peaceable kingdom among the western Indians was as much an illusion as his dream of an all-water route to the Pacific.” (p. 288)

Ambrose calls this a “great disappointment” that the “men of the Enlightenment” would accept because these men accepted facts, and Lewis, the great ethnographer, through his documentation helped to establish these facts. 

Ok, so I found myself laughing at the concept of these men being “enlightened” in any fashion, and I backtracked to refresh my memory of what defined the so-called “Age of Enlightenment.”  This “age” was defined as a European intellectual moment during the 17th and 18th centuries in which the use of “reason” was the predominant focus for humans understanding their universe to improve their condition; the goals of which included gaining knowledge, freedom, and happiness.  

Another summation, pulled from the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica stated: “The great geniuses of the 17th century confirmed and amplified the concept of a world of calculable regularity, but, more importantly, they seemingly proved that rigorous mathematical reasoning offered the means, independent of God’s revelation, of establishing truth.” (Footnote 6).

So there you have it, these “men of Enlightenment” supposedly fully comprehended the social, cultural, and political structures of the First Nations Peoples and decided the inferior race needed to be conquered to promote commerce. And conquering meant destroying. “While Lewis and Clark had a great interest in documenting Indian cultures, they represented a government whose policies can now be seen to have fostered dispossession and cultural genocide.” (Footnote 7).

To sum up:

The expedition lasted from May 14, 1804, through September 23, 1806.  Jefferson requested $2500 to fund the expedition but he granted Lewis authority to write unlimited “draws” so the total cost ended up being $38,722.25.  That would represent a tremendous sum in today’s dollars.

For inexplicable reasons, Lewis hung onto his journals preventing their publication, and it wasn’t until 1814, five years after his death in 1809, that his journals were published having lost most of their relevancy as the frontier was no longer new and unexplored.

Lewis died on October 10, 1809, at the age of 35 from a horrendous suicide involving him shooting himself twice and cutting himself “from head to foot” with a razor. (p. 475).  At the time of his death, he was suffering from alcoholism, opium and morphine addiction, syphilis, malaria, and quite apparently depression.  

Now there are some facts that were never conveyed in any history class I have ever sat in.

In Metta

Feature Photo: It seemed appropriate to include a pic of the Pacific Coastline in light of the subject matter, an expedition to the Ocean and back. And even more appropriate to include one of Cape Disappointment – right around the bend from where the Columbia River greets the Ocean – the ultimate objective of the expedition. I had a hard time deciding which pic to post because this area is so beautiful. Wish I could have seen it in 1806.

Footnote 1: Indeed, Lewis had received training in these fields through President Jefferson and Jefferson’s associates, but his weaknesses are revealed when he must hire experts to prepare his journal for publication.  Something he delays and that doesn’t occur until after his death.  BTW, he never hired an editor, which would have been the wisest thing he could have done given his and Clark’s own limited proper grammar, usage, and spelling of the English language.

Footnote 2: In fact, there is other evidence of ancient tools being found in Meadowcroft Rockshelter Pennsylvania dating back to 19,000 years old, which could support a theory of early European migration.

Footnote 3: I will use, for the most part, the terms “First Nations People” in place of “American Indians” when describing those living in the Americas prior to the mass European invasion, because there are those who like to contest the terms “indigenous” and “native” because the first people here migrated from Asia on the West Coast, and possibly, although not confirmed, from Europe on the East Coast.  DNA evidence confirms the migration from Asia all the way down through North America to Argentina in South America.  And the well-preserved remains found in Monte Verde, Chili date back to 14,800 years. 

Footnote 4: To put some of my remarks in context, Ambrose is frequently quoting from Lewis’s or Clark’s journals, so they are speaking in the first person.  So when I refer to certain remarks, it is not from an inference by Ambrose, it is because Lewis and/or Clark are directly speaking through their writings.

Footnote 5: We see how well this political plan worked between the US and China., where the US thought the introduction of capitalism to China would destroy Chinese Communism and make China dependent on the US.

Footnote 6: Enlightenment: European History: Age of Reason Aufklärung, siècle de Lumières

Footnote 7: Lewis and Clark Expedition: Pacific Ocean and Return

Rabbit Hole1:

I point out a basic defect with “American History” as taught in this country, which is plagued with bias and inaccuracy. I use for example the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. Do you think most people in this country actually know the history of this war? When did it start and when did it end? (April 19, 1775 through September 3, 1783.) Most people I talked to seem to think the war either started or was over when the Declaration of Independence was issued on July 4, 1776, and they know absolutely nothing, correctly, about the events leading up to the war.

They also don’t know the history behind who became the country’s first president. George Washington was the first president under the US Constitution, which was adopted on June 21, 1788 and which created the executive branch of government. Washington was elected February 4, 1789. Technically, the first “President” following the Revolution was John Hanson. He was the first President of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation and he served from November 5, 1781 until November 3, 1782. He’s even the guy who established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November, although we know the history behind that has been blurred considerably. Hanson was one of eight men appointed to serve one-year terms under the Articles of Confederation before the Constitution was ratified. See The John Hanson Story.

While some might believe such details are unimportant or irrelevant, I believe knowing the true history, and the surrounding circumstances is essential to understanding how this county’s government functions. Or if it’s in a state of dysfunction. Just like it’s important to know this country was born out of slavery and genocide. It’s convenient to ignore those facts, like the men of the “Enlightenment.”

Rabbit Hole 2:

I have a couple of pet peeves regarding The Declaration of Independence that are appropriate to address in this rabbit hole.  In the list of grievances the colonists delineated begins with the statement:

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

It then lists 27 grievances, the last of which reads:

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Chew on that uninformed bias for a while.  Why would the First Nations Peoples feel their independence was declared in this document? And who perpetrated genocide on who?

My next peeve is that people simply do not actually study their own county’s history or read and understand the country’s significant documents.  I don’t know how many times I hear people saying that the United States Constitution guarantees us the rights to pursue “life, liberty and happiness.”  In fact, the Constitution says no such thing.  The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution state that governments cannot deprive any person of “life, liberty, or property” without due process of law.  This is by no means a guarantee, and “happiness” is no where to be found in the document that sets out the supreme law of the land.

“Happiness” is included in the Declaration of Independence in the sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The Declaration does not set out enforceable law.  Sorry folks.  You’re responsible for your own happiness.  It is not law and is not the government’s responsibility.  😊

COVID the Career Buster – Thoughts?

By Harold Stearley At Earthwalking

So, I’ve kept my articles that might be classified as political to a minimum, because, let’s face it, people are pretty wound up now days about politics and not speaking very objectively. COVID, however should have never become politicized as it is a public health issue. Nevertheless, people have become polarized over this disease, while many many, many, many bodies pile up.

I was on LinkedIn the other day and a fellow RN had posted that she was seriously considering changing her career because of the stress of yet another wave of full ICUs, all COVID patients, and most beds filled with the unvaccinated. Beside patient census and acuity, she’s dealing with short staffing, and with just plain witnessing too much death.

Most of the replies were very supportive, but a few went off the rails in my view and actually started attacking her. The attacks accused her of abandoning her chosen profession and with providing inferior care to patients that were unvaccinated. Now nowhere in her post did she say she was delivering different or an inferior quality of care to any class of patients so those comments came from nowhere other than bizarrioland.

As for abandoning her career, I mean anyone can change a career or job at any point in time. Who’s business is that? Only the person who is changing their source of livelihood.

One gentleman tried to make a comparison to his military career, saying he fought for his country and would never abandon his fellow soldiers. Ok, so? That’s not apples to apples at all. That’s strawberries to hand-grenades.

So what do you think? Should we be trying to dictate people’s career choices? Should we deny there is such a thing as burn out and force people who have RN degrees back into service? I hope not because I’m an RN and I’m happily retired. I’m also an attorney so don’t start talking about rights unless you’ve consulted one or actually know something about Constitutional Law 🙂

Thoughts? Perspectives? Fire away. I can dodge bullets pretty well.

In Metta

Feature Photo: I chose one of my wildflower pics for this post. A field of Red Poppies lines this road in Washington State. I enameled them to make them look more like an oil painting.

Flowers are always soothing and the poppy has been symbolically associated with military veterans – specifically the sacrifice made by those who served and died in all of our wars. It does seem like we’re at war right now. With a disease and with each other.

I wish everyone peace.

And here are a few articles for fun:

Where are Hospitals Overwhelmed by COVID-19 Patients? Look Up Your State

Nurse Workforce Decline During COVID ‘Unprecedented’: Study

Almost All U.S. COVID-19 Deaths Now in the Unvaccinated

Covid-19: US surpasses 800,000 pandemic deaths

Published15 December 2021 BBC News

A man in a mask walks among flags representing those that died from Covid
Image caption, White flags represent each life lost in the US to Covid

More than 800,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus, the highest recorded national death toll from the global pandemic.

It comes as the US reached 50 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Monday.

Most deaths have been recorded among the unvaccinated and the elderly, and more Americans died in 2021 than in 2020.

The US is again seeing deaths rising at an alarming rate.

The last 100,000 deaths came in just the past 11 weeks, a quicker pace than any at other point aside from last winter’s surge.

“The waves of illness that we’re seeing will continue until the population-level immunity is high enough to prevent them. Quite simply, we’re not there yet,” said Dr Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

It has been more than 650 days since the first American patient dying from Covid-19 was reported in Seattle, Washington (public health officials have since attributed earlier deaths to the virus).

Since the Pfizer vaccine – the first jab to be approved in the US – was rolled out last winter, nearly 300,000 more fatalities have been recorded.

Graphic

In April 2021, two more vaccines – Moderna and single-dose Johnson & Johnson – were approved, and all three vaccines were made available to adults of all ages.

The 800,000 total exceeds the populations of cities such as Boston or Washington DC. The milestone means nearly twice as many Americans have died during the pandemic as in World War 2.

The US death toll far exceeds the official tally of any other country, but experts believe many recorded death counts are under-reporting the true scale of the tragedy.

The next highest are Brazil, with more than 616,000 deaths, and India, which has had over 475,000 deaths.

In terms of deaths per capita, the US currently ranks 20th in the world, trailing several South American and European countries, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Each country in the chart below – except the UK – was initially slower to roll out vaccines than the US. Vaccinations levels in all have since surpassed the US where 61.6% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Reported deaths in selected countries

Deaths from Covid-19 have come in three main waves.

The first – which hit New York City especially hard – peaked in April 2020, before lower rates of infection in the summer and autumn.

A massive spike then occurred last winter after people had travelled and gathered during the holiday season. At its peak in January 2021, more than 3,000 deaths were confirmed a day.

Daily reported Covid-19 deaths in the US

The number of deaths fell significantly last spring as vaccines became widely available, but it soared again by July and through the summer as the highly contagious Delta variant spread.

The elderly have always been the most vulnerable, and despite being the most vaccinated group one in 100 Americans over the age of 65 has died during the pandemic.

Breakthrough cases aside, unvaccinated Americans have made up the vast majority of deaths over the past few months (trends identified in the chart below come from health departments in 24 of 50 US states).

President Joe Biden began calling Covid-19 in the US “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

Weekly Covid-19 death rates per capita, vaccinated vs unvaccinated

Dr Althoff contends that the US had “a lot of barriers” to overcome.

“Trust in science has waned, trust in government has waned, vaccine hesitancy is a powerful force, misinformation is rampant,” she told the BBC.

“We have to do more than just trying to educate; we have to try and understand. That takes conversation and trust-building.

With death rates rising once again in much of the country, she said Delta remained a serious problem,

Public health experts are still figuring out what impact the new Omicron variant may have this winter, but officials are urging Americans to get booster shots to combat waning protection.

And the Evidence Shows . . .

By Harold Stearley

There are two categories of blog postings of mine that I have not posted to very often. Law and politics. You can see them listed on the left-hand sidebar. 🙂

Although admittedly, I did post a piece on administrative law that gives you a peek into how executive agencies have the power to create legislation and how that power is exercised. See: Framers, Federalists, and the Reality of the Administrative State. And I did do a series on marriage and divorce.* There are a few other posts there as well.

I’ve intentionally avoided these categories during the past four years because politics, in my country anyway, has been a very contentious topic. To say the least. And when I’ve tried to explain the Constitution and statutes, well, let’s just say that people have notions about how the law is “supposed” to work that are largely based on TV shows and outright fantasy.

But today, I’m going to go ahead and post something, very brief, about evidentiary law. Which is relevant to all of the litigation currently swirling about the US election.

But first, a disclaimer. Whenever I write about the law, it should never be construed to be legal advice. I have no attorney-client relationship with any of my readers. If you are involved in a legal situation, I suggest you seek out the advice of competent legal counsel.

And finally, obviously, this is not supposed to be entire encapsulation of evidentiary law. What I’m presenting is a very boiled down summary of what constitutes evidence that attorneys spend their entire legal careers practicing and learning about the various nuances of how to present it. Moreover, the rules of evidence are different in different states and there are differences between the state and federal rules of evidence.

With that disclaimer in mind . . . read on. 🙂

Continue reading And the Evidence Shows . . .

Nudges

By Harold Stearley At Earthwalking

So, I’m back to some of my favorite ramblings – terminology.  Only this time with a little bit of a political twist.

While I do have a political section on my blog, I have elected not to fill it with much.  Just too much divisiveness out there right now.  But I don’t consider this piece to really be the subject of irrational argument.  I’m merely puzzling over societal manipulation in one of its many forms, and how it is branded and sold.

That “form” is called “social policy.”  And you may not really realize just how pervasive this is used to shift behavior or the reasoning behind the social engineering in all cases.  But how does one brand this stuff to make it more socially acceptable?

You call it something like “Libertarian Paternalism.”  And then invent the definition for it.  To make it palatable.

For starters, here’s an example of social policy.  The government places a high tax on cigarettes and tobacco.  This has a two-fold goal.  It is hoped that by making tobacco products expensive that some people will stop smoking and get healthier.  The other side of the coin is that if they don’t stop smoking then revenue has been generated with the tax to help pay for the negative health effects created that the government ultimately has to pay to treat.  And to pay for the other societal costs as well, like lost productivity.

I have no idea what the numbers are now, but last I checked, someone died a smoking-related death in this country every ten seconds.

Well, that tax on tobacco is a very direct social policy means at addressing a problem when it’s understood that people don’t always make rational choices.  Nor do they make choices that are good for society as a whole.  Perhaps because we’ve really emphasized the individual in this country.  And, of course, in this particular case, addiction can certainly override rational choice.

And that particular tax (social policy) doesn’t require a fancy label to disguise it in any way.  Nor does a tax on gasoline.  We all know what these taxes are for.  Although people will probably scream if a tax is placed on cheeseburgers tomorrow.

Which brings us back to the label at the heart of today’s discussion, what the hell is Libertarian Paternalism?

In a sense, all social policies are a form of paternalism with the government, either local or national, or even with private interests, trying to elicit certain behavior.  Paternalism, however, runs completely counter to the idea of being libertarian, a philosophy embracing total freedom of choice, the right to live one’s life anyway one sees fit, with only one exception. That exception is that any given persons’ choice or action cannot impede on the equal right of another. “In the libertarian view, all human relationships should be voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have themselves used force – actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud.”

Libertarian Paternalism is the idea (or fiction, depending on how you view it) “that it is both possible and legitimate for private and public institutions to affect behavior while also respecting freedom of choice, . . .”

So, what’s an example of a social policy hiding behind the label of libertarian paternalism?  Retirement.

Yes, it seems people do not put enough money away for retirement.  And society, or at least a portion of our society, is concerned with this for a couple of reasons. First society (or government and private interest groups) wants to minimize the number of people it has to help support through government action, and secondly, businesses need people to have buying power.  It does no good for a business to produce goods, if a large sector of society (retirees) has no money to buy them.

It’s about them dollars.

Under libertarian paternalism, people are given a “nudge” to shape their behavioral economics.

So in this case, an employer would automatically enroll it’s employees in a 401K plan like a good parent would.  But in order to claim that a libertarian freedom of choice of action is still present, the employer provides an “opt out” provision.  Of course, the employee is strongly discouraged from exercising that provision, or may not be told about it.

The so-called “nudge” is supposed to push people towards choices they would make had they not been afflicted with “cognitive and volitional frailties.”  In other not so pleasant terms, this form of paternalism, as most all are, operates under the assumption that we individuals are too stupid to do what is best for us.

So what do you think?  Are we really too stupid to make rational economic decisions? Should government and private employers step in to make them for us?  Are such types of societal manipulation truly maintaining a libertarian view of independent choice?  Or should the government and private entities simply bug off and let the chips fall where they may?

In Metta

Postscript: I bring up the topic of social policy (or manipulation) at this juncture in time because of the current crisis facing us with the global pandemic.  You might find it interesting to observe what policies and actions are put in place by the government and by the private sector to influence behavior, and think about what the motives are for shaping particular changes in behavior.   There may be things going on that are much deeper than just the appearance of an interest in promoting public health.

Photo:  The US Capitol with a bit of photo fun.  I took this pic back in 1995 when I joined a protest march for safe nursing staffing.

 

Unworthy America

By Harold Stearley At Earthwalking

Feeling unworthy can lead to a premature death – a death rooted in despair . . .

Back in January 2018, I wrote a piece called “Balance,” where I began collecting economic statistics for the US.

I’ve been updating it from time to time and my last update was on January 27, 2019.  You see, if you start looking at actual numbers, instead of listening to politicians’ drivel, you will get a better sense for the economic struggle that many Americans face.  You will also get an idea about how the 1%ers do everything they can to shape the laws to keep them in their elevated class and keep everyone else below them.

Continue reading Unworthy America

The FB Dilemma

As you know, I’ve been away from the keyboards for a while now.  I’ve been out breaking all of my previous hiking records.  Not that those records were all that impressive to begin with, certainly not in comparison to people who have made truly long treks, like the Arizona Trail, or the Pacific Coast Trail, or the Appalachian Trail.

But to me, they are milestones.

I’m not only learning more about and experiencing Nature in its great diversity, which makes me really happy.  🙂 But I’m beginning to test my own limits and learning where I need to “tone-up.”  Both physically and mentally.

I’ve also been able to disconnect for a while from the machines – the computers, the touch screens, the digital world.

And now it may be difficult to come back – at least in part.

You see, now I have severe questions about social media, its supposed purpose, and what’s actually happening with it.

Continue reading The FB Dilemma

Woody Guthrie

A friend posted a link to a Woody Guthrie song on Facebook the other day.  He is a big music fan and appreciates a lot of the older musicians.  It was the anniversary of Guthrie’s birthday, July 14th.

I knew the song well, but I went to the link on You Tube to listen again and that’s when I noticed them.  The comments.

I look at a lot posts now days, not for the actual content, but for the comments.  It is sort of like taking the pulse of the public.  True, it is not a representative sample of the general public and one shouldn’t put too much emphasis or importance on these minority of remarks.  But it can be amusing at times.  Or enlightening.

Everything, and I mean everything, seems to be politically charged right now.  I saw a post about the FBI crime statistics and immediately people were trying to link crime with political party affiliation.  Heck, they should just look at the politicians themselves for that.  Plenty of criminals there.

But the average murder, I imagine, has more to do with passion, the heat of the moment, or a robbery or other crime, or something else much more mundane.  When I worked for the top court in my state, I had to review all of the state’s death penalty cases.  I can guarantee you not a single murder case I looked at had anything to do with politics.

But people see what they want to see.

I imagine the politicians are patting themselves on their backs.  They have successfully, maybe too successfully, divided the country into polar opposites and many people just can’t wait to add their commentary and witticisms to any thread on social media.  And I’ll give some credit, some of their remarks are actually smart and funny 😊

Insults have become popular, though, so there is a whole bunch of eye-poking and head-slapping going on out there.  I’ve generally quit trying to add rational thoughts to the mix as the responses are, well, just kind of out there in the ozone layer, what’s left of it.

Once, apparently not liking my ideas, a person fired back that they had my IP address and were going to come to my home, rape my mother and kill my whole family.  Another time, I was called a “Communist putz” because I had said something regarding the greed and materialism I see in the current culture.  The level of civil discourse sometimes deteriorates in cyber world.

I like the blogging world much better.  People are generally more positive here, more thoughtful in their presentations, and willing to have a real discussion.

At any rate, this song was no different from any other post.  It was politicized quickly.  It was a folk song about America, after all.  And forms of government became a point of contention.  Not surprising considering Woody Guthrie often had the words “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on his guitar.

It seems to me that the lines have been blurred between our form of government and our economic and maybe even our religious systems.  Democracy is not the same as capitalism.  Socialism is not the same as Communism.  People worshiping money or monetary systems are certainly not religious in any respect.

I did like one of the comments though because I thought it showed a level of balance so here it is:

“Considering human history and the teachings of the major world religions, it seems that your statement about greed being a natural human trait is largely true. It’s also been recognized as an evil impulse for thousands of years by virtually every strain of human thought. One way to view capitalism is the institutionalization of greed. It has benefits and drawbacks, and most world democracies have settled on a capitalist system with some governmental regulation as “the best of all possible worlds.” Those who advocate for unfettered socialism seem to be ignorant of or OK with losing all of capitalism’s early benefits: constant innovation; rewarding hard work, talent, intelligence, and risk; and a strong individual work ethic. Those who advocate for unfettered capitalism seem to be ignorant of or OK with the oligarchy that quickly overtakes it as the rich use their power to stifle innovation, fix markets, and disconnect the link between talent, hard work, and upward mobility. They seem to also be OK with the violent revolt of the disenfranchised that must surely follow.”     — Patrick Lollis

Any thoughts?

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The Woody Guthrie song link:  This Land is Your Land

Feature Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain.  It was linked back to an NPR site with an interview about Woody Guthrie.

BTW: I added the Politics section to my blog because sometimes I’ll have to write something that wanders into this pasture.  But you may have noticed that I don’t post too often in this section.  I am still working on the art of presenting controversial topics neutrally.  I like to keep discussions alive and love to hear what others have to say.  Being extreme in one’s presentation may be provocative, but the discussion will usually deteriorate and die quite quickly that way.  I’d rather have an open mind and listen to well articulated ideas 🙂

 

Freedom Begins With Speech

It was the end of March and the cherry trees were in full bloom around the Tidal Basin.  Across the water on the south bank sat the Jefferson Memorial.  A fitting memorial for one of our Founding Fathers and the principle author of our Declaration of Independence.

We were preparing to march . . .

While many can recite the most famous sentence in our Declaration, regarding self-evident truths, being created equal, and the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I wonder how many have read this document through.  For you see, it continues with a petition of grievances against the British government.  It is a protest.

And years later, to solidify the right to protest in this newly formed independent country, the First Amendment was added to our Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The group I was assembling with was a group of nurses, some 25,000 to 35,000 strong.  Here in D.C. to protest unsafe hospital staffing conditions and use of unlicensed personnel in place of registered nurses.  We were protesting to support every patient’s right to receive the finest health care treatment available.

Yes, protest is a fundamental right in this country.  It is one of those many rights that generations of our military have fought to protect.  It is not a right to be lightly discarded.  It is not a right to be denigrated if any individual group’s cause is not your own.  It is not an inconvenience to be suffered should a traditional public forum, such as the sidewalk or roadway, becomes crowded with picketers waving signs.  It is a right that should be respected and honored.

We gathered at the west front of the Capitol.  The planned march to follow presentations would proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue and end at the White House.

Capitol Protestors 8

Particularly troubling to me is an all too familiar refrain when petitioners draw light upon an issue, that if you don’t like something, that if you believe something could be changed for the better, that if you see a different way, that you should simply get out.  Leave the entrenched and established protocols alone.  Leave accepted bigotry and hatred be.  Leave injustice unaddressed.  Leave the very democracy that supports the right to protest.  “Love it or leave it.”

This attitude, of course, if accepted in the late 1700s would have kept this country a slave to the British Crown.  There would be no Declaration of Independence, just sheep meandering the pastures, herded by an occupying army.

Now, I’m not saying all causes are good causes.  But the right to petition, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freely speak your mind are rights that should be held in reverence.  These rights form the pillars of democracy.

And march we did, united in our cause against corporate profiteering off the ill and suffering.

The March to the White House

We, unfortunately, seem to be living in a time of growing intolerance.  Where even our leaders act in bigoted fashion.  Where those who speak out, or adopt silent protest, are vilified.  If you have a different point of view you are told to leave.

But the “love it or leave it” mentality demonstrates a lack of a fundamental understanding of US Government – which was formed by dissenters from authoritarian rule and built upon the liberal principle of humanism.  The Constitution built in safeguards for states from federal government, safeguards for both the majority and the minority views.  And it allows for freedom of expression and the power to vote.  Saying people should leave if they do not conform to your viewpoint is communistic, not American.

And I can’t tell you how exhilarating it is to speak out for a cause you believe in, and to know you live in a country where this right will be protected.  I would strongly recommend that everyone in this country take a stand on something they believe in, to become active participants in our government.

Four generations of my family have served in the US military protecting our rights, and I am proud when people exercise those rights and protest.  That is what makes this country great.

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Photos:  I took these during the Nurses’ March on Washington D.C. in 1995.

Post Script 1: In my late teens I also participated in a much smaller local protest regarding voting rights.  It seems the 18-year-olds we were drafting into our military were allowed to fight and die for this country in Vietnam, but they didn’t have the right to vote.  The voting age was 21 then.  Nation-wide protests were organized, and the country changed the law.  But even if the law had not changed, I would still have been proud to participate in this established system for redressing grievances.  Dissent and protest formed this country.  These are honorable traditions.

Post Script 2: The Constitution should be viewed as a contract between the government and its people.  The government cannot infringe upon the rights guaranteed in this document.  However, private employers, to the extent other laws do not apply, can infringe upon those rights.  Thus, we have the current controversy about the NFL requiring their players to stand for the national anthem and not engage in protest.  This action is legal because the NFL is a private club and not a government actor.  But I don’t believe this action should be condoned by any government official who is bound to follow the Constitution.  For a leader of this nation to express intolerance of the people exercising their fundamental rights as citizens, rights that our men and women in uniform have fought for and died to protect, borders on tyranny.  And as is expressed in our Declaration of Independence: “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Post Script 3: By the way, health care is still not recognized as a fundamental right in this country.  Sad.  In fact, the only law I am aware of that requires the administration of health care is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA).  The law requires that a patient, upon presentation to an emergency room, be stabilized before they are transported to a different facility.  The law was designed to curtail the practice of “patient dumping.”  Ambulance services and hospitals were redirecting and dumping patients in state-run facilities once they found out they had no insurance.  This profit-based practice was endangering lives.

It’s Really About Outnumbering

Disclaimer: This piece is not intended as an attack on any religion.  What it tries to point out is how groups try to control and manipulate power.  I’m all for anyone who seeks spiritual awareness in any context.

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There has been a lot of controversy swirling about the new administration’s policies on immigration. And while the words “terrorism” and “extremism” have been thrown about as justifications for issuing unconstitutional, blanket bans on specific target groups, I do not believe this is the real reason behind such actions. And guess what, there has been no dramatic influx of radical terrorists without the unconstitutional ban.

It’s really all about “outnumbering.” Backtracking to an earlier time in this country, we can look at the history of abortion laws. How is this related? Well, it’s like this. Over a hundred years ago abortion was legal in this country and you didn’t need a doctor to perform it. Salons sprouted up offering these services. Two opposition groups developed. One was doctors, they were upset that they were not getting a piece of the pie. The protestants, the second group, were upset because white, middle and upper class, protestant woman were now getting frequent abortions. The original outlawing of abortion had to do with doctors wanting money, under the guise of controlling anything they would deem to be medical, and the fear the protestants had about being outnumbered by the Catholics. The Catholics weren’t as worried, abortion was strongly against their religious tenants and the obedient posed no threat, they were out there being fruitful and multiplying, even where the children could not be fed.

You see, religious leaders longed for the days when religion dominated government. In Republics, like ours, this was eliminated, but the easy solution was to outnumber other religions – control the populous. That way, the majority of elected officials would share your belief system and the laws would be shaped to reflect and enforce that singular religious set of values and morals over any other set. Americans, and their elected officials have, for a few centuries now, been dominated by white, European Christians. This has now changed because of immigration. And in another 30 to 50 years, for the first time in this country, white, European Christians will be in the minority. Not surprisingly, we see an increase in white, nationalist Christians wanting to solidify their powerbase, and the only way to maintain control for the long-term is to limit immigration. And what better way to package and sell this idea than FEAR. After-all, those in power don’t want to admit they are really opposed to other religious beliefs.

I don’t think the real fear is rooted in Islamic Extremism. I think the fear is that Muslims are growing in number world-wide, and growing in populous in the US. And those in control don’t approve of Muslim values and teachings – they are still fighting the battle of proving their God is the best and superior God – instead of actually acquiring any spiritual awareness. Terrorism provides a convenient excuse for other agendas, like “othering” an entire group of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion to purposely discriminate and eliminate if possible. For example, terrorism has been an excuse used by the Russians to invade in the Ukraine and involve itself in Syria. And “fake news,” just like the label of “terrorism,” will now be used to discredit any source in opposition to any agenda being propagated by those in control. Almost all of the terrorism that has occurred in this country has been from home-grown terrorists – good white Christians. They all had their justifications.

People can choose not to act from the basis of fear and make intelligent and lawful choices, but will they? People are easily led by fear-mongering.  A couple of quotes come to mind:

“Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear–kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor-with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it …” — General Douglas MacArthur.

“Of course, the people don’t want war…that is understood. But voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” — Hermann Goering.

Next year, will there be too many Germans, Italians, or Chinese in this country? That’s why our forefathers designed the Constitution the way they did – to prevent all forms of discrimination and one of the primary means for preserving this country’s freedom has been to keep religion separated from politics.

Good luck playing the discrimination game, two generations from now this country will look a lot different than it does now. In another 500 years we may only have one race – what will the racists and bigots discriminate against then – oh yeah, there is still religion : – )

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Photo:  This photo was found on the Internet in the public domain.  I’ve been unable to find any other attribution for its source.

The Politics of Division

I don’t think anyone would deny that the country is very divided on a number of political issues.  The odd thing is this, I can talk to my liberal friends and my conservative friends, and this “gap” in general viewpoints is really pretty small on most matters.  So, what’s the deal?

For the past several election cycles, both major parties have hit hard on dividing people, usually on ideological social policy issues.   Using the vast power of all forms of media, they have convinced the public that these are huge issues, that the people should be divided over them, and that the point of view held on the issues defines what party you should vote for.  They have even convinced most voters that this handful of issues are more important than going to war or ballooning the deficit to give select portions of the populous, the 1%ers, a huge tax break.

Why?  By polarizing the country on such issues, and by screaming about them, they beat the drums to get their voters, their “believers,” out to the poles to vote for them.  They drive the heard.  And then once elected, if you have noticed, neither party tries to eliminate these issues or solve them politically.  Why?  Because they need them for the next election cycle.

Abortion, gay or transgender rights, and immigration are three primary examples.  Of course, guns are in the mix too.  Looking at abortion for an illustration, under the second Bush administration, there was a four to five-year block (2003-2007) where the Republicans had control of all three branches of government.  Both houses of Congress, the White House, and the U.S. Supreme Court.  Yet, they didn’t outlaw abortion, or even try to, although they claim that as one of their party’s major platforms.  They had the power to do that, but they would not have been able to use this issue in the next election cycle if they made it go away.  The Democrats, equally, play the same game.  Amazing how there is no “solution” for immigration, or was there ever really a problem to begin with?

They manipulate these issues, and the people, to get votes on issues they do not intend to fix.  Once in power, they follow their own agenda, which is usually doing things to help out their biggest campaign contributors and, of course, themselves.

The problem for the politicians that I don’t believe they saw coming, is they were too successful.  They have truly divided the country in ways that now threaten the existence of democracy.

Fear-mongering with false information is a primary tactic used to divide.  Beating the drum of White, European, Christian Nationalism is perhaps the scariest tactic I’ve seen of late.  Things are getting really ugly.  The flaming I see on the Internet is shocking.  We’ve had violence in the streets.  We have threats on the free press.

The government is militarizing the police, not just because criminals are using more advanced weapons, but because they are preparing for civil unrest.  If this purposely generated division spills into too much street violence, beware of Martial Law.

In the background of this purposely orchestrated hatred, the wealthy just received a huge tax cut at the cost of ballooning the deficit by 1.4 trillion dollars – even though 78% of the public opposed it.  Congress also just gutted the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Again, to benefit business interests over people.  It’s rolling back environmental regulations, allowing short-term corporate profits to take precedence over poisoning the planet and the people.  Wow!  You see, the dial hasn’t moved either way on abortion, immigration or guns – the issues people think they are voting on.  Once in office, the politicians ignore the public’s wishes completely and give themselves and corporate America huge payouts.

I could list out more issues in detail and offer data now, but I’ll save that for some individualized posts.  I realize people can have strong views on many issues, but I’d ask people to really stop and analyze situations and contexts, not just issues in isolation.  Examine how those in power might be manipulating.  I never expect complete agreement on such controversies, but I do appreciate civility and intelligent thought and discussion.  I like to have my thinking challenged.  It is even good for all of us to be proven wrong on occasion – just to get our minds to open.

Enlightenment comes in many forms.  Hating or vilifying others because they believe differently is not one of them.  We must learn to think, analyze, converse and compromise.  We can’t let sound bites, buzzwords and incendiary catch phrases divide and conquer.  The nation is stronger united.

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