Why You Should Believe Nothing You Read or Hear in the News!

news-icons (1)I want to make an argument as to why most of what you hear or read is biased, prejudiced and based on narrow minded thinking.  Most of what you read will not lead you to the truth but will take you down a path away from the truth.  My argument will also apply to what you are about to read.  I am biased, narrow minded and prejudiced.  So why should you read or listen to what I am about to write?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Like many of you reading this, I consider myself somewhat of a truth seeker.  Although, I believe few if any “absolute” truths actually exist.  Nevertheless, I read a wide variety of books and magazines.  I listen to many different sources including TV, Radio, Podcasts, TED Talks, documentaries, and YouTube videos.  I attend training sessions, conferences, and talks by noted experts whenever possible.  I also scan many different news sources each day to find a variety of perspectives concerning political events and popular news.  My friends consider me well informed and very knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects.

maxresdefaultI have been seeking the truth or what might pass as “truth” for most of my 75 years on this earth.  I was considered the “smartest” guy in the room in many of my high school and college classes.  The authorities or those that are supposed to be good judges of truth and knowledge gave me two undergraduate degrees, one master’s degree and a Ph.D. Degree.  Once upon a time, I belonged to many different professional associations and was also a member of MENSA, the so-called high IQ society.  None of my qualifications or associations prepared me any better than anyone else upon this earth to find the TRUTH.  Like most of you, I am still looking and hoping that the “Truth will set me free.”  If only, I can find it.

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A few days ago, I noticed seven different editorials on Google News concerning the Ukrainian War.  Each of the editorials was written by a professional journalist and each espoused some very critical ideas.  Some of these ideas would carry weight with readers and no doubt influence public opinion for good or bad.  Six of the journalists’ names were listed and one was not.  Now most stories we get in the news whether on TV or print are written by journalists.  Less frequently it will be some “policy” expert or high-ranking government official who will be doing an opinion piece or some type of interview.

I started to ask myself a few questions:

  • What are their professional qualifications?
  • How much influence or weight do these journalists carry?
  • How much slant or bias do these journalists carry?
  • Are journalists and the media really qualified to tell us what we should or should not be doing?

I looked up each of the journalists to see what their qualifications were.  Basically, they were professionally trained journalists and most of them had extensive experience in foreign relations.  Neither of these attributes makes them an expert on the Ukraine but it is conceivable that they might have more knowledge in some areas of foreign policy than the general public.  Again, more knowledge does not mean less biases. Here are the news sources and brief bios for the six journalists I researched:

The Washington Post- Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe

Liz Sly (born in the United Kingdom) is a British journalist based in Beirut.  She is currently a correspondent with The Washington Post covering Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East.   She graduated from the University of Cambridge.

Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent.  He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone.  He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy.

NPR – Greg Myre

Greg Myre is an American journalist and an NPR national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community.  Before joining NPR, he was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and The New York Times for 20 years.  He reported from more than 50 countries and covered a dozen wars and conflicts.

The Wall Street Journal – David Henninger

Mr. Henninger was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing in 1987 and 1996 and shared in the Journal’s Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of the attacks on September 11. In 2004, he won the Eric Breindel Journalism Award for his weekly column.  He has won the Gerald Loeb Award for commentary, the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Walker Stone Award for editorial writing and the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for editorial writing.  He is a weekly panelist on the “Journal Editorial Report” on Fox News.

The Atlantic – Eliot Cohen

Eliot Asher Cohen (born April 3, 1956, in Boston, Massachusetts) is an American political scientist. He was a counselor in the United States Department of State under Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2009.  In 2019, Cohen was named the 9th Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, succeeding the former dean, Vali Nasr.  Before his time as dean, he directed the Strategic Studies Program at SAIS.

Cohen was one of the first neoconservatives to publicly advocate war against Iran and Iraq.  In a November 2001 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Cohen identified what he called World War IV and advocated the overthrow of Iran’s government as a possible next step for the Bush Administration. Cohen claimed “regime change” in Iran could be accomplished with a focus on “pro-Western and anticlerical forces” in the Middle East and suggested that such an action would be “wise, moral and unpopular (among some of our allies)”

The New York Times – Cora Engelbrecht

Cora Engelbrecht is a contributor to the RIGHTS blog.  She recently received her BA in nonfiction writing from Wesleyan University, and now works in New York as a freelance writer, researcher, and graphic artist.  Her interest for human rights and global conflict stems from her time spent researching and writing abroad in Tanzania and South Africa.

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I next turned to the question of how much influence do journalists carry?  The story of John Revelstoke Rathom (1868–1923) is very informative in this regard.  He was a journalist, editor, and author based in Rhode Island at the height of his career. In the years before World War I, he was a prominent advocate of American participation in the war against Germany.

c9713250-e5eb-46c7-8ea9-2810435084fa-9781643139364“Rathom campaigned for the U.S. to enter World War I in support of the British.  Under his management, the Providence Journal produced a series of exposés of German espionage and propaganda in the U.S.  In 2004, that same newspaper reported that much of Rathom’s coverage was a fraud: ‘In truth, the Providence Journal had acquired numerous inside scoops on German activities, mostly from British intelligence sources who used Rathom to plant anti-German stories in the American media.’” –  Wikipedia

It seems logical to assume that since we did enter the war and since the Brits did go out of their way to bias American policy that the efforts of Rathom and others had a major influence on our decision to enter the war on England’s side. America was persuaded by the media that we should enter the war when there was substantial public opinion to stay out of the mess that Europe was in.  My own reading of WW I shows a totally different scenario than from WW II.  I have little doubt that we should have entered the war against Hitler.  However, the picture from WW I is quite different.  I think that each side had equal claims to legitimacy for their war efforts.  But the media heavily influenced our eventual entry into the war.

Next I wanted to see if anyone had opinions about the bias or prejudices that the typical journalist might have.  I found the following comment in a recent article by Politico, “Why Journalists Love War”, by Jack Shafer  03/17/2022

“NBC News reporter Richard Engel, a veteran foreign war correspondent, dropped a tweet a few days after the war began that appeared to lament that U.S. forces hadn’t strafed the huge Russian convoy approaching Kyiv, seemingly unimpressed that such a strike might launch World War III.  Reporters didn’t call in bombers at White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s Monday briefing, but the tone of their repeated questions almost made it sound like they were advocating a no-fly zone and fresh jets for Ukraine.  And the New York Post left no ambiguity about where they stood with its super-partisan “Fight Like Zel” cover headline.”

“The overwhelming majority of U.S. journalists have taken a more subdued position on the war, identifying with Ukraine against the aggressor Russians, but stopping just short of cheerleading. Even so, journalists can’t hide the seductive draw of the bloodworks.  They can’t help themselves. They love war.”

Photojournalist,Documenting,War,And,Conflict

Of course, this is only one opinion.  However, it fit well with my observations.  I have noticed every day calls by journalists for increased efforts to support Ukraine that might well lead to a Nuclear War.  As I read these brash comments, I sit wondering where were the calls to intervene in Nigeria, Rhodesia, Yemen, and Cambodia?  Why are the news outlets pushing a narrative that implies world disaster if the Ukraine falls to Russia?

Listen please!  I would like to see the Ukrainians kick all the Russian asses back to Siberia or some other cold place.  However, I am not willing to start a Nuclear War over the Ukraine.  There have been too many missed opportunities by the West during the past five years that would have avoided the present war.  What is it that brings out the desire to have a nuclear confrontation with Russia?  Nothing I can see except a Democratic Party that needs to look tough and a cadre of journalists pushing a narrative for more and more support by our country for a nation that we do not even have a treaty with.

“The link between safety and ethics may not be immediately obvious, but the same ambitions and economic factors that pressure inexperienced and poorly prepared freelance journalists to enter battle zones also pressure journalists to present the news as they think that their paymasters most want to hear it.”  — https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/ethics-safety-solidarity-journalism — Originally published as a chapter of “Conflict reporting in the smartphone era – from budget constraints to information warfare”

A book that I am reading is “The Science of Fear” (2008) by Daniel Gardner.  The following  insight by Gardner is quite pertinent to this discussion.

9780226567198“The media are among those that profit by marketing fear – nothing gives a boost to circulation and ratings like a good panic – but the media also promote unreasonable fears for subtler and more compelling reasons.  The most profound is the simple love of stories and storytelling.  For the media, the most essential ingredient of a good story is the same as that of a good movie, play or tale told by a campfire.  It has to be about people and emotions, not numbers and reason.  Thus, the particularly tragic death of a single child will be reported around the world while a massive and continuing decline in child mortality rates is hardly noticed.” — Pg. 294

Ever since the decline of print news and the rise of the internet, the media has become a cesspool of click bait headlines, gross news reports about inane subjects, media celebrities touted as royalty and increasingly bizarre stories designed to spread fear.  There is no more morality or ethics in the news than there is in a cartel, mafia, or mega-corporation.  It is all about the money and there never seems to be enough these days.  Is the media biased is actually a very stupid question.  Right, left, central it does not matter.  They all have one agenda and that is to sell advertising for their corporate sponsors

My final question was, “Are journalists and the media really qualified to tell us what we should or should not be doing?”  My answer is that they are no more qualified than anyone else on the street or even one of your friends or relatives.  A study done several years ago and published in a book called “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (2005) by Philip E. Tetloc examined the link between experts’ opinions and how often they were right.

Im-an-expert-600x412

Tetloc in his heavily researched study found that experts are often no better at making predictions than most other people, and how when they are wrong, they are rarely held accountable.  Kahneman and Tversky in their book “Judgment Under Uncertainty” (1982) identify dozens of cognitive biases that impact the thinking ability of human beings.  They both later won a Nobel Prize for their work in behavioral economics.  It is often the most highly educated people who suffer from these biases the most.

Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962) dealt with the biases that the scientific community held regarding theories and principles.  Kuhn showed how difficult it was for the scientific community to let go of “old paradigms” and adopt new paradigms.  This was true even when all the evidence showed that the new paradigms did a better job of explaining the subject under study than the old paradigm.  Science history is full of many theories that took fifty or more years to be accepted simply due to the biases and resistance to change that is prevalent among scientists.  This is as true of scientists as it is of journalists, politicians, and the average person.

What is the answer:

A friend of mine said that the most important thing we have to do is to teach our children to question everything.  To question is the heart and soul of critical thinking.  However, we must be cautious lest we raise a nation or world of nihilists.  There is a difference between rejecting everything and questioning everything.

I am not a nihilist though I see a fine line between my thinking and nihilism.  I do not believe in absolute truth, but I think there are approximate truths.  As we learn more and more about anything, our truths get closer to the absolute, but we can never reach it.  I think the same way about meaning in life.  Meaning exists but only in our minds.  It will change many times during our lives.  The same is true for morality and values.  They exist but only in our minds.  Like the Velveteen Rabbit, they become real when we make them so.

Purchasing-Power-of-the-US-Dollar

I used to hold up a dollar bill and ask my students how much was it worth?   They typically replied one dollar.  I asked them why it was worth a dollar?  Answers varied, but the truth or close to it is that it is because people believe that it is worth a dollar.  In terms of labor, ink, and paper, it costs the Federal government 6.2 cents to print a dollar.  In terms of buying value, a dollar in 1926 is worth only 15.58 cents today.  However, this is not an absolute either since the current value of a dollar actually varies from state to state.  The value of a dollar varies about 30 cents from the lowest to the highest state across the USA.  In Mississippi, a dollar is worth $1.16, while in Hawaii, the dollar is only worth 84.39 cents.

So, seeing is believing or is believing seeing?  Is there a difference between perception and reality or are they the same?  Can we ever escape the Rashomon effect?  The biases in perception created by our own desires to protect our egos or the egos of others.

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There is little I have learned in my life that supports my willingness to accept anything as 100 percent factual, 100 percent truthful or 100 percent valid and reliable.  The solution is to question everything.  Do not accept anything as absolute.  When it comes to politicians, lawyers, salespeople, and journalists, we all need to be on guard.  Their built-in bias is not for the truth but for the dollar or at least 84 cents on the dollar.

quote-the-media-has-enormous-power-the-media-is-undergoing-huge-changes-now-it-seemed-like-thomas-hunt-morgan-67-60-81

 Update:  4/29/22

Just read the following on CNBC.  This “brilliant” analysis by a guy who writes regularly for a variety of news outlets and is listed as a “Tutor” notes the following:

“I think it’s outside the realm of possibility right now that there’s going to be a nuclear war or World War III that really spills over that far beyond Ukraine’s borders,” Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNBC.

Dr. Samuel Ramani’s credentials for this brilliant piece of optimistic analysis is that he is a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, where he received his doctorate in March 2021. Somehow this makes him an expert in what Russia will do next in the Ukraine.  His “beyond optimism” comes at a time when Putin is starting to get more and more desperate in his bid to defeat the Ukraine.  Putin is becoming a cornered rat and NATO is pushing him into more and more of a corner.  Despite this, the genius who is less than two years since he finished his Ph.D. degree says “it is “OUTSIDE” the realm of possibility that Putin will launch a nuclear strike.  It would only be “OUTSIDE” if Nuclear weapons did not exist.  Questions I have are:

  • Why is CNBC relying on the credentials of someone with so little expertise to give us such an analysis?
  • How could anyone in their right mind say that something is impossible when that something already exists?
  • What is the “narrative” behind the focus by the Western news?
  • Why is NATO supporting a war when we have no treaty with the Ukraine.

 

Persico Challenge:  Issue 2 – How Can We Save the Environment?

This is the second of three “Challenge” questions that my friend Jane Fritz and I agreed to reply to.  We each sent three questions to the other and we have 12 months to reply to each question.  I answered Jane’s first question on Feb 19th of this year.  (See American Exceptionalism).  This is her second question followed by my reply.

Second Challenge Question:

There is general agreement that man-made climate change is not only real but largely responsible for the alarming increases in extreme weather events around the world: devastating wildfires, historically intense hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes, punishing droughts, etc.  It appears that the world leaders have committed to too little, too late to save our planet, undoubtedly because of initial damage to economies if the needed transitions were made.  What creative (and acceptable) incentives can you imagine that could accelerate the needed transitions away from fossil fuels?

This question reminds me of the song “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day and Frank De Vol.  In English, it is “Whatever will be, will be.  The futures not ours to see.”  With all the doom and gloom that I see in the news and hear in the news, I have become very cynical.  Should I tell you Jane, that once upon a time there was general agreement in the world that the Earth was flat?  Or that the Sun was actually in orbit around the earth.  Or that no one would ever break four minutes per mile running.  “General agreement” is a dangerous trope.

Scientists now tell us that we have one last chance to stop the disastrous climate change that is afflicting the earth.  These are the same scientists who wanted to devise better and better ways to harness the weather and change weather patterns.  They are now advising us that it might be too late to avoid even worse weather patterns than we have already witnessed.  “Don’t bother getting out your divining rods, cause there ain’t no water down here.” 

Do I disagree with the “majority” of weather experts?  Do I stand with the minority and the Republicans who dispute the evidence that we have really screwed up the environment?  Is climate change simply a big hoax?

“No, no and several hundred other no’s.” 

It is not that I doubt that we have really messed up the planet earth.  It is more like I don’t know if I really care anymore.  Once upon a time I was sitting on a plane next to a woman who started to complain about the increasing natural disasters that were killing more and more people.  Her attitude was one which embraced the idea of human superiority and that in terms of evolution, we were clearly at the top of the heap.  I disputed these ideas and asked her “why she thought that humans had any more right to survive as a species than ants or termites?”  She gave me an angry look and did not say anything else to me for the remainder of the flight.

I think humans could destroy themselves as a species and that might be a good thing for the planet.  Perhaps, the human brain was not a very good evolutionary development.  Looking around at the people I see; it does not seem that it has resulted in truly positive benefits for humanity.  Over my seventy plus years, I have seen little growth in human intelligence.  In fact, given the level of stupidity that abounds today, it appears that intelligence is evolving in the wrong direction.  Humans tend to have short -sighted thinking and regard today as infinitely more important than tomorrow.

For example, here in Arizona this week, the House has passed a bill to remove taxes from firearms and ammunition.  The reasons given by the sponsor of the bill is that firearms are necessary for the health and safety of the population.  Gun deaths keep going up, violence with guns is an epidemic in the USA but we have people who believe that more guns will make us healthier and safer.

Another bill that was recently passed (way down here in Arizona) calls for parents to have access to school materials before they are given to students to ensure that parents approve of what the teachers are teaching.  God forbid that teachers might indoctrinate students with CRT or LGBTQ+ theory.  CRT is not a disease but a series of classes dealing with a modified version of American history which claims that slaves did not spend most of their time singing, dancing, and partying, much like some Americans actually believe.  Proponents of the bill want their kids to believe that slaves were having so much fun, they did not want to leave the plantation, even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

As for LGBTQ+ theory, it would take more time than I want to devote to this issue to explain.  Just know that people object to having transgender people in cisgender bathrooms.  They believe that bathrooms were designed by the Founding Fathers and not Founding Mothers for cisgender people.  How do they know this fact?  Well, I am certain that they must have heard it on Fox News.  Somewhere either in the writings of Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine, our Founding Fathers stipulated who could use which bathroom.

So you see, I am not too impressed by the thought processes of either our current leadership or the people that voted them into office.  We have politicians bringing snowballs into Congress to prove that global warming is a myth.  Congress routinely scoffs at bills to promote environmental regulations or efforts for green energy.  Instead, oil, coal and gas companies continue to get obscene subsidies to look for more fossil fuels.  Somehow, more of what has already contaminated and is damaging Mother Earth will restore her health and vitality.

Getting back to Ms. Fritz’s question of what can be done, if anything, to further mitigate environmental damage from climate change, I am not really avoiding the question Jane.  It is just one that I am taking less and less seriously each day.  Call me selfish but I have only about ten years to live, given present actuarial tables, and if I can make it through the heat, tornadoes, snow, floods, drought, hurricanes, and earthquakes for another ten years, I will pass GO and collect my just rewards, whatever they may be.  I am quite certain that I will be free from worrying about climate change.  As for the people left on the planet earth, “They have made their bed, so let them lie in it.”  They will drive around the ruins of our planet with their gas guzzling trucks looking for food that is not too contaminated to eat.  And as they say, “Lots of Luck.”

Unfortunately, too many people on this planet are suffering from climate change who had nothing to do with causing it or contributing to it.  It has been the richer nations in the world with their bloated economies and militaries who have been hell bent on ignoring the repercussions of unbridled capitalism, consumerism, and militarism.

The people who live in the less developed parts of the world as well as millions of the world’s poorest people are suffering disproportionally from the disastrous impacts of the changes taking place in our weather systems.  It is no fault of these people that countries like the USA have done more of the damage to the earth’s environment.  The USA and other developed countries pursue policies that ignore negative environmental impacts from efforts to increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at any cost.  Led by greedy leaders who have little concern for the future and are only concerned with the price of their stocks, the earth has become a cesspool contaminated by fossil fuels, pollutants, pesticides, herbicides, rampant development, and endless tons of garbage.  Our politicians are the Pied Pipers who instead of exercising ethical leadership instead pander to the public giving them what they want but not what they need.  Anything to get reelected has become the slogan of politicians in USA America.

If I could only send the “guilty” people to hell to suffer from fire and droughts, I surely would.  I would start with those who have chosen to lead us down this unsustainable road.  The common people elect their leaders in the mistaken belief that they will do their best to represent their interests.  The average person erroneously believes that their leaders have their best interests at heart.  Nothing ever believed by the human race could be more mistaken than to think that the interests of the rich and the greedy are aligned with the interests of the less fortunate.  There may be no true innocents in the theater of climate change, but business leaders, political leaders and even educational leaders are more guilty than others.  The innocent will suffer along with the guilty as our earth disintegrates into a place that in a not-too-distant future will no longer be habitable for humans.

What would I do to stop the damage we are now doing to Mother Earth?  This was Jane’s original question.  Here are five things I would do today:

  1. Cut Oil, Gas and Coal subsidies to zero for the fossil fuel industry.

As long as the fossil fuel industries continue to be subsidized, they will have less incentive to migrate to more sustainable energy sources.  Much of the subsidies to these industries have simply resulted in insane profits that benefit the rich and wealthy who own these industries.

“Fossil Fuels Received $5.9 Trillion In Subsidies in 2020, Report Finds. Coal, oil, and natural gas received $5.9 trillion in subsidies in 2020 — or roughly $11 million every minute — according to a new analysis from the International Monetary Fund. Explicit subsidies accounted for only 8 percent of the total”. –  Oct 6, 2021

  1. Create financial incentives for employers that allow workers to work from home.

For many years, I preached the economic benefits to workers, employers, and the environment from allowing people to work from home.  Most often my words fell upon deaf ears.  It took the pandemic for some people to finally wake up and realize the savings in time, money, injuries, and mental health that could accrue from more liberal work at home policies.  Unfortunately, many employers want to roll back the clock and are now talking about bringing their employees back to the office.  This is short-sighted and stupid in the extreme.

“Sixty-one percent of workers said their productivity increased from working remotely, according to an Upwork survey. And an Upwork survey of hiring managers found 32.2% of them said they saw overall productivity rise as of late April, compared to 22.5% that felt it decreased.” – 5 ways remote work is changing the economy for the better

  1. Create financial incentives for people to buy solar cars and participate in other “green” efforts.

If we can provide incentives to the fossil fuel companies, there is no reason we cannot provide incentives to people to buy solar cars, to practice recycling and to start making sustainability a part of their lives.  Living down here in Arizona, you have only to look at hundreds of golf courses spewing water on Kentucky bent grass fairways, housing developments with ponds and fountains draining water that is quickly evaporated into the atmosphere.  Here in my area, the recycling bins were recently removed because they cost the county too much.  Many people who could not afford garbage removal were dumping their garbage in the recycling bins.   Perhaps, if the average people had more access to funds and subsidies we could begin to create a mindset that valued recycling, reducing and reuse.

“With market incentives, sources of pollution can see an economic value in reducing pollution because doing so saves them money. Consequently, the difference between a traditional regulatory system and economic incentives can lead to several public health, environmental, and economic benefits.”   The United States Experience with Economic Incentives for Protecting the Environment

  1. Develop a campaign of “Anti-Consumerism.” Make it patriotic to stop buying so much junk and to start saving. 

Everyday USA Americans are bombarded with advertisements for things that you could not even imagine.  Consumers are inundated with ads that tell them how much smarter they will be, how much healthier they will be, and how much happier they will be if they only bought this or that product or service.  Not one of the great religious prophets ever told anyone that buying something or owning something would make them happier.  However, the consumer religion in the USA sports such mantras as, “shop till you drop,” “bigger is better,” and “he/she who has the most toys wins.” Years ago, we started being exposed to more and more slick Madison avenue advertising.  Much of it was shrewdly designed to play to the fears of the average person.

“Fast forward to 2021, and although there are no official figures, the average person is now estimated to encounter between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day. With the figures nearly double that of 2007, how exactly did we get here? And how did the figure increase so much?” — How Many Advertisements Are We Exposed to Daily?

We need to create a campaign to help people understand that it is a patriotic duty if not to the world at least to their country to help create a sustainable environment for future generations.

  1. De-Militarize the economy

Last and hardly least, we have a budget for the next ten years that will provide more than 3.2 trillion dollars to develop weapons and military hardware to keep the USA safe.  The belief that safety lies in having the most guns or the biggest guns has been spread by what Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex.  It is offensive in the extreme to realize that both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans almost unilaterally voted to increase the military budget over the next ten years.  It took months to try to pass Biden’s “Build it Back Better” plan which ultimately was pared down to a trickle but in less than a few weeks, the military budget was not only passed but increased.  The US military budget is now greater than the next nine largest military budgets in the world COMBINED.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”  — Eisenhower’s farewell address

Do we have the will or the leadership to make these changes to current policy?  Can we make the hard choices that will save our environment for the future?  I doubt it.  To date, we have continued to make choices for the short term.  Given a brain and incentives that seek short-term goals and benefits over long term goals and benefits, I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel where change might start to take place.  True, here and there a few seedlings seem to take root, but these exciting efforts are soon choked out by the weeds that abound in our societies.   These weeds start with greedy leaders more concerned with their own short-term interests than with the constituents who elected them.  Shame on voters for being so stupid, but more shame on the leaders who promise and promise but actually deliver lies and lies.

PS:

It is always gratifying to hear one’s remarks vindicated by those who have more credentials and expertise. Yesterday morning, NPR was interviewing Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, about the latest U.N. climate report which is focused on ways to combat climate warming. Here is brief excerpt from their talk:

RACHELL MARTIN: We know that the world is way off track from meeting the goals that were set out in Paris in 2015. What do IPCC experts say is necessary in order to turn things around?

CLEETUS: Yeah, the IPCC report that was released yesterday is a stark warning that global emissions, heat-trapping emissions, are far off track. We’re poised to exceed 1.5 C and even 2 degrees Celsius if we stay on our current path. But it’s also a source of hope, because the report says that we can cut emissions in half by 2030. We have the solutions at hand. They’re within reach. What’s been missing is political will. So we are in this dire climate crisis right now because of decades of failure in global leadership. Fossil fuel companies focus on their profits. This is what has got us in this quandary. But we can get ourselves out. The solutions are there.

This interview was on National Public Radio two days after I wrote my blog. In my blog, I also blamed political leadership or lack thereof for the climate crisis we are now in. For the full interview you can go to https://www.npr.org/2022/04/05/1090992355/the-latest-u-n-climate-report-is-focused-on-climate-warming-solutions

The full interview is about five minutes and worth listening to.

All About that Money

its all about the money

Because you know it’s all about that money

‘Bout that money, no people

It’s all ’bout that money, ’bout that money, no people

It’s all ’bout that money, ’bout that money, no people

It’s all ’bout that money, ’bout that money (money, money, money, money)

I want to thank Meghan Trainor for the inspiration for my blog this week.  Her song “All About That Bass” is one I have listened to many times.  If you have not heard it, it is a great tune.  But be sure to read the lyrics.  The lyrics tell you something about our current attitudes towards health and beauty.

My second inspiration for this blog came from a recent James Hightower article in his newsletter “The Lowdown, Volume 24, Number 2, February 22, 2022.”  The title of the article was “Gouge Consumers -> and Blame Joe Biden.”  A good friend of mine who I often discuss politics with sent me this article and wanted to know my opinion.  At first glance, I thought it resonated quite well with my series on corporate greed.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

Hightower argues that the Republicans want to do anything they can to pin the problems with the inflationary economy on poor Joe Biden.  Joe and the Democrats are (as usual) caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  According to Hightower, Joe is being unfairly blamed for an inflationary spiral that is actually caused by corporate greed.  This greed is aided and abetted by Republicans who wine and dine the fat cats so that they can get their coffers filled with campaign contributions come election time.  So far so good right?  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

However, this scenario has several major flaws in it.  Let me list three erroneous assumptions that I will dissect in this blog.

  1. By rallying the American people, the Democrats can curtail the power of the corporations to control prices and win the votes of the adoring populace.
  2.  Inflation is the major enemy of America, and it must be returned to the Pandora’s box that it somehow escaped from.
  3.  The Democrats (If they control Congress) will be motivated to make systemic changes to the power structure that gird elections in America today. This means making major changes in corporate charters, anti-trust laws and the military industrial complex.

 Let us look at each of these assumptions to see how I think they really will or can play out.

  •  By rallying the American people, the Democrats can curtail the power of the corporations to control prices and win the votes of the adoring populace.

Americans have benefited for many years from an economic structure which traded off low prices for corporate power.  Corporations have since the 1950’s shucked off most of the power restraints that had been imposed during the era of the “Robber Barons.”  Little by little, inch by inch and year by year, corporations gained back more and more power.  At some point, they gained enough power to dictate the laws that they would play the capitalism game by.  Congress stood by as these powerful companies gained this power.  The Citizens United Decision is one manifestation of this situation.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

What did the American people get in return?  Simply the ability to shop nonstop.  To celebrate profligacy with the axiom that everything in America must be bigger and bigger.  From car engines to houses to burgers, the impelling religion in America is that more is better, bigger is better.  He or she who has the most toys wins.  It has become a cornerstone of American life to buy, buy and then buy some more.  The damage to the environment has been ignored.  Just as long as there is cheap gas, cheap energy and cheap food, the hell with the climate and the hell with any economic restraint.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

Biden will do everything he can to stop gas prices from rising.  But he is powerless to stop them from doing so.  The Republicans are like pigs wallowing in mud.  They can fling accusations everywhere and they will hit their target.  The Democrats are trying to tell people that the higher gas prices are the sacrifice we must make for Ukrainian Freedom.  This is laughable.  Since when have Americans been willing to sacrifice for anything these past fifty or so years?  For the environment?  For the poor?  For minorities?  For Immigrants.”  I should mention the unwillingness of millions of Americans to follow a mask mandate or vaccination requirements to help stem the Corona virus pandemic.  Our country has become so self-centered and narcissistic that the only thing that motivates us is our wallet and how much money we can spend on gas guzzling pick-up trucks.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

To be honest, I also own a 2011 Ford F150 pick-up truck.  If gas goes up to twenty dollars a gallon, I will gladly junk the truck and either walk more or travel less.  I realize that for many people this may not be an option.  However, it is also a fact that many pick-up truck owners seldom use the “pick-up” capacity of their trucks or tow anything.  The main purpose for many owners of a pick-up truck is a status symbol.

“The high-spec, luxuriously equipped pickup truck has become a status symbol again, argues Chris Woodyard for USA Today. ‘Driven by cheap fuel, a surging economy and a rising stock market, more buyers are willing to pay as much for a richly appointed truck as they would a fancy Mercedes-Benz or Lexus sedan,’ he writes.”

  • Inflation is the major enemy of America and that it must be returned to the Pandora’s box that it somehow escaped from.

Maintaining a stable and consistent economy is not a one-time deal.  It is a process that involves a continuous juggling act with many different balls.  Some of the balls include, unemployment, interest rates, deficit spending, environmental regulations, wage, and price controls.  There are many other balls, but my point is that no single ball will keep the economy on an even keel.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

Economic spirals and economic adjustments are inevitable.  They have been since the beginning of the world.  Complicating the juggling act is that now more than ever we are in a global economy where the actions of many other actors can distort or influence the juggling act.  No one nation has the power to control the global influences that impact all of the world’s economies.  A misguided reliance on military power can to some extent be blamed for the many conflicts that disrupt the lives of average people who simply want to live a good life and have the freedom to choose how they live.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.” 

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Biden will be blamed for the economy since the “blame game” seems to be the major policy element used by both parties.  Their reliance on this blame game shows their contempt for the American people since they assume that most of us are either too stupid or too myopic to understand that the President has very little control over the economy in the short run and to some extent even in the long run.  More important are the influences of the various economic policies and economic philosophies guiding how the juggling will be done.  I can safely say that economists are continually wrong but also continually readjusting their models to better stabilize and adjust the economy.  Just as new variants of the Corona virus seem to be continually emerging, new economic theories are continually being developed to better explain economic realities.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

  • The Democrats (If they control congress) will be motivated to make systemic changes to the power structure that gird elections in America today. This means making major changes in corporate charters, anti-trust laws and the military industrial complex.

If past is prologue, I will bet that the Democrats will not do anything major to upset the corporate apple cart that they as much as the Republicans depend on to get elected.  I have not seen Democrats, progressive or not, supporting term limits, redoing corporate laws, corporate charters, monopolies, monopsonies or global trading powers.  For the past fifty years, the Democrats, well intentioned sometimes, have let themselves be out-thought, out-planned and out maneuvered by their slick cousins the Republicans.  The Republicans scream, threaten and berate the Democrats for the exact same behaviors that they exhibit when they are in power.  What do the Democrats do?  They maintain that they are “taking the high road” when their cousins are taking the low road.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

The new ten-year budget for the US military was passed after an increase from 2.8 trillion dollars to 3.2 trillion dollars by a bipartisan vote.

“The bill, which angered antiwar progressives who had hoped Democrats’ unified control of Washington would lead to significant cuts in military spending, passed overwhelmingly on an 89-to-10 vote.  The lopsided votes, both in the Senate and the House, which passed the legislation last week, underscored the bipartisan commitment in Congress to spend huge amounts of federal money on defense initiatives at a time when Republicans have balked at spending even a fraction as much on social programs.”

Over the past twenty or so years, every time we have gone to war whether in Iraq, Libya, Yemen or Syria, the Democrats have linked arms with the Republicans as we embark on yet another unsanctioned war to protect American interests.  The only interests I ever see us protecting are our oil interests.  American soldiers are fodder for American industry in the sense that it is their lives and bodies that are sacrificed so that Global corporations can make ever greater profits.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

US-PCE-2021-08-27-YOY-

So pardon me please, if I am skeptical of the Democrats or if I see the Democans and Republicats as more or less Tweddle Dee and Tweddle Dum.  Many people have said that we need a third party.  In some ways, we did get a third party.  The Tea Party became the Republican Party and kicked out the old-time Republicans.  We still have two parties.  I think it is high time we start a Progressive Party and leave the lame Democrats to party with their Republican Cousins.  Perhaps there are enough people who want to see major changes in Government and will allow us to get rid of the ever running, ever campaigning, ever raising money, lifetime professional politicians.  “It’s all ‘bout that money.”

“Net worth data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics for 2018, the most recent year available, shows that almost two-thirds of U.S. senators have a net worth exceeding $1 million. A few of them are exceptionally wealthy.”

Years ago, I voted for the best person regardless of party.  The past eight or so years facing Trump and an increasingly right-wing Republican party, I succumbed to the “Lesser Evil” concept.  I voted for the Democratic candidate regardless of whether or not I thought they would make much of a difference.  In the past, I seldom voted for a Democratic candidate.  I voted for people like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader and many others who were given little or no chance of getting elected.  I was told that “I threw my vote away.”  Sad to say, I used the same argument on many friends as I encouraged them to vote for Hillary or Biden.  I am back to the “old” John. 

It’s all ’bout that money, ’bout that money, no people

It’s all ’bout that money, ’bout that money, no people

It’s all ’bout that money, ’bout that money (money, money, money, money)

PS:

Why is it that Politicians keep screaming about tax cuts and the need to cut taxes but Tax Revenues by State (some exceptions) keep growing?

Real_Tax-Revenue_19-12_update_650px

Why the Three R’s are Obsolete and Should be Replaced by the Three C’s

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Once upon a time.  (You can’t help but love my blog this week since we know that all great stories begin with “once upon a time.”)  Anyway, not to be repetitious, I will note that long long ago, people knew that to be really educated you must learn the three R’s.  The three R’s were a short cut for “Reading, Writing and Rithmetic.  Just to make things symmetrical or rhyming, they had to deliberately misspell or at least mis-pronounce arithmetic.  Doesn’t seem like a very erudite way to introduce an essential concept of education by misspelling a key concept.

Nevertheless, for over a two hundred years now, (The phrase appears to have been coined at the beginning of the 19th century.) these three concepts or methodologies have become the essential elements that EVERYONE knows schools must teach.  Politicians all over the land demand that schools in their states or in their districts will do everything they can to ensure that these concepts are taught.  Standardized tests are developed to make sure that students have proficiency in these concepts.  Students are drilled, drilled some more, tested, and tested some more.  And still in most public schools, a large majority of students cannot pass these tests.

School board meetings attended by irate parents ask why their kids are still failing the standardized tests meant to determine how assiduously they have learned their 3 R’s.  Politicians clamor for better teachers at lower pay and with more responsibilities but less power to enforce discipline or attention.  Classrooms are rife with students all of whom have cellphones that have more knowledge than the teachers standing up in front of their classes.  Teachers are blamed for teaching extraneous subjects like civility, manners, sex education, health education, racism, and holocaust history.  Back to basics scream the politicians.  Back to basics scream the irate parents.  Back to basics meaning reading, writing and rithmetic.

Ideas are bandied about to improve teachers. 

Pay them more?  “Nope, not enough money in the school budget.  Can’t afford any more taxes to pay for education.”

More stringent tests for teachers?  “Sounds like a good idea but where have all the teachers gone?”

Make it a felony to teach subjects that do not relate to the 3 R’s?    “Great idea, just as soon as we can find anyone willing to go into education, we will pass a law wherein we can convict errant teachers who dare to ignore the 3 R’s”

The irony of this entire effort is that the 3 R’s are obsolete.  They have been for a long time now.  Assuming that schools survive (see my articles are why schools are obsolete) they should replace the 3 R’s with what I call the 3 C’s.  The three R’s are obsolete in the sense that their focus is too narrow.  The 3 C’s would entail a broader focus that would allow students more latitude in what they learn while also teaching them concepts for the twenty-first century.  Of course, money must still be allocated for education and teachers must still be paid a decent salary or no one will be qualified to teach anything whether it starts with an R or a C.  However, please be patient while I explain the difference between the three C’s and the three R’s.

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Comprehension versus Reading:

The ability to read and understand text is a skill but narrowly focused on written materials.  The ability to comprehend meaning entails not only understanding the written word but also understanding such mediums as:

  • Music
  • Art
  • Lectures
  • Dance
  • Politics
  • Religion

Each of these mediums can convey a message that is just as powerful as the written word.  An educated person should be capable of divining the message carried by a great work of art or a great piece of music just as they would interpret a written story.  Politics and religion always carry messages and a citizen should be able to critically interpret the various messages and signals that are used by political and religious leaders.

Effective-Leadership-Connecting-vs.-Communicating

Communication versus Writing:

We write to communicate with others.  However, we also communicate with voice messages, podcasts, movies, videos, computers, spoken stories, sign and other languages.  Computer programming is a language that should be treated just as important as learning English.  Multiple languages need to be taught at an early age to all students.  Being bi or multilingual is a critical skill in todays global world.

The world of the 21st Century is for many young people, a visual world.  One filled with video games, YouTube channels, Podcasts and instant videos that are made on the fly.  Students need to learn the ins and outs of the various media that are available for communicating to the world and not just good penmanship or writing skills.

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Computation versus Rithmetic:

I am sitting here on my computer.  I have an Amazon Echo about three feet away.  In front of me, I have my old calculator.  Years ago when I was student teaching (1975), I was chastised by the math teachers in the high school where I was doing my student practicum for allowing my students to use calculators for some computational problems.  I was warned that students would never learn how to do math problems if I let them use calculators.  Seven years later, the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) agreed that it was ok to allow students to use calculators in their classrooms.

Today, the battle still rages over the best ways to teach students math skills.  I need to know the square root of 3750, so I call out to Alexa “What is the square root of 3750?”  She answers me in less than five seconds: “The square root of 3750 is 61.2372.”  I reply, “Thank you.”  Alexa replies “Anytime.”

If I were to do this short easy problem, with a pen and pencil, there are good odds that I would make a mistake and come up with the wrong answer.  Even if I did not make a mistake, solving this simple problem would take me two to five minutes.  Regard the steps for solving the problem using long division.  There are six steps.

Step 1)

Set up 3750 in pairs of two digits from right to left and attach one set of 00 because we want one decimal:

37        50        00

Step 2)

Starting with the first set: the largest perfect square less than or equal to 37 is 36, and the square root of 36 is 6. Therefore, put 6 on top and 36 at the bottom like this:

6

37        50        00

36

Step 3)

Calculate 37 minus 36 and put the difference below. Then move down the next set of numbers.

6

37        50        00

36

1          50

Step 4)

Double the number in green on top: 6 × 2 = 12. Then, use 12 and the bottom number to make this problem:

12? × ? ≤ 150

The question marks are “blank” and the same “blank”. With trial and error, we found the largest number “blank” can be is 1. Replace the question marks in the problem with 1 to get:

121 × 1 = 121.

Now, enter 1 on top, and 121 at the bottom:

6          1

37        50        00

36

1          50

1          21

Step 5)

Calculate 150 minus 121 and put the difference below. Then move down the next set of numbers.

6          1

37        50        00

36

1          50

1          21

0          29        00

Step 6)

Double the number in green on top: 61 × 2 = 122. Then, use 122 and the bottom number to make this problem:

122? × ? ≤ 2900

The question marks are “blank” and the same “blank”. With trial and error, we found the largest number “blank” can be is 2. Now, enter 2 on top:

6          1          2

37        50        00

36

1          50

1          21

0          29        00

The answer is on top. The square root of 3750 with one digit decimal accuracy is 61.2.

Alexa solved the problem in less than 5 seconds and to four decimal places.  Why the hell would anyone want to use long-division to solve this problem lies well outside the limits of my intelligence to imagine? Perhaps they are masochists?  Crazy?  Do not have access to anything but a pencil and paper?

Computation is indeed one of the most important skills anyone can learn.  However, computation is defined as:

“Computation is any type of calculation that includes both arithmetical and non-arithmetical steps and which follows a well-defined model. Mechanical or electronic devices that perform computations are known as computers. An especially well-known discipline of the study of computation is computer science.” — Wikipedia

Everyone needs computation skills.  However, not everyone needs to use long-division to solve problems.  If your goal is to design a bridge, build a house, balance a budget, file your income taxes, you will need computation skills.  Sometimes, you will need to understand some mathematical concepts depending on your needs and priorities.  However, I get by with a calculator, computer and Alexa and seldom do my hands see either a pencil or paper.

Conclusions:

I have said many times that the model of schooling being used in the world today is obsolete, useless, and dysfunctional.  See my article:  Creating a 21st Century Education System.  The changes we need to have a valuable system of public education go well beyond simply substituting the 3 C’s for the 3 R’s.  I would do a grave injustice to the problem if I thought it were this simple.  Expanding and broadening the concepts being taught in schools today is only one small element that needs to be addressed to develop citizens who can use critical thinking skills to solve problems, perform useful societal tasks and select leaders who can make a positive contribution to society.

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Today, we have a system of mass education being systemically destroyed by an elite that knows the system is dysfunctional but sees the solution as taking their kids to private academies.  The problems of most public schools are not as evident in these private institutions but the learning that goes on is no more useful than what is being taught in the public schools.  Still perhaps ten percent of students will benefit from the traditional model of education but that leaves 90 percent of our population who will be unfit to manage a democratic form of government.  In the USA today, we are not only witnessing the decline and fall of public education, but we are on the verge of destroying a democracy that relies on a free and impartial press, an educated citizenry, and a free and fair system of elections.  Take away any one of these three and you destroy democracy.  We seem to be working on destroying all three.

Seeing It From Russia’s Point of View

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“This week, with Washington rejecting two of Moscow’s three key security demands, Russian military equipment massing near the border with Ukraine and NATO “prepared for the worst,” the question dominating global affairs remains: Will Russia invade Ukraine?”

“The White House answer is a qualified yes, the Kremlin’s a qualified no. Two of Western Europe’s most powerful countries, Germany and France, seem to think Putin is bluffing; a third, the U.K., seems pretty sure he’s not. Kyiv, meanwhile, is downplaying the threat of an imminent invasion by Russia. Analysts are similarly split.” — Parsing the Evidence: Will Russia Invade Ukraine? January 27, 2022

There is an old saying that you should walk a mile in another’s shoes before you judge them.  Today, we are once more on the brink of a war with Russia.  For over 100 years, Russia has been the big bad boogie man for America.  Nothing Russia does or says can be trusted, at least according to our politicians.  It never seems to occur to people that Russians want the same thing as Americans and have the same dreams and hopes as we do.

Before I go any further, I am not a big fan of Russia or Putin.  Two years ago, Karen and I had a trip scheduled to go from Paris to Moscow.  We had tickets to attend the Bolshoi Ballet.  Everything was ready to go and then Covid hit the world.  We had to cancel our trip.  We were able to get most of our money either refunded or saved in a voucher for future travel.  The Bolshoi was the first to return our money for the tickets we had purchased.  However, the Russian embassy was not as liberal with returning the money that we had to pay for our visas.  Between the Russian and Belarus visas, we were out about 1,000 dollars.

We rescheduled a trip to Spain in 2021 with the moneys that had originally been allocated for our Russian trip.  Karen wanted to go to Russia as we had planned but I was angry about not being able to get a refund for our visas and I said “F—K Russia.  Putin has a reputation for being both a strong leader and a bully.  Many liberals in this country blame him for helping Trump get elected.  It certainly seemed to me that Putin and Trump were “kissing” cousins.  I detest Trump and anyone that helped get him elected.  Thus, you see my “credentials” for disliking Putin are greater than many.

With the above caveats about my Russian attitudes, I will now mention that as much as I dislike Putin, I also do not trust any motives given by Democrats or Republicans for beating the drums of war in this country.  With Vietnam, it was the lies about the domino effect.  Still a lie used by many to justify war.  With Iraq, it was the lies about the “weapons of mass destruction.”  There have been many coups in South America orchestrated by the CIA to destabilize regimes that we thought threatened American interests.  Seldom does the public get any truth about these clandestine efforts.  So let’s look at some facts before we decide that Russia is once more the “bad” guy in the recent Ukraine problem.

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Russia is ready to go to war!

The newspapers, Biden, and our Secretary of State Blinken are all shouting to the rooftops that Putin and the Russians are poised for war.  The former defense minister under President Zelenskyy from 2019 to 2020 for the Ukraine, Andrij Zagorodniuk, was interviewed by an NPR reporter the other morning and he said, “It just isn’t so!”  He gave the following reasons.

  1. Ukrainian estimates of Soviet troop strength are too small for them to attack without serious loses. The Ukraine has nearly 280,000 combat ready troops and Russia has only 125,000 troops on the border.  The Ukraine army is the third largest in Europe after the Russian and French Armed Forces.
  2. The Ukrainian intel shows no evidence of enough medical units necessary to support a sustained war.  He does not believe that Russia would attack without medevac units available.
  3. He doubts that Russia would attack just before the beginning of the Olympic Games.  China is a Russian ally, and they have a vested interest in the Olympics generating favorable publicity for China.  If Russia attacks the Ukraine, the publicity around the Olympics would be vastly overshadowed by the news following the Russian attack.

Why has Russia massed its troops on the border of the Ukraine?

Once upon a time, there was two big alliances of countries in Europe.  There was the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) and there was the Warsaw Pact.  These alliances consisted of countries with treaties to protect the other members of the alliance.  NATO had about 20 members and the Warsaw Pact had nine members.  With the end of the Russia hegemony over much of Eastern Europe, many countries left the Warsaw Pact.  Several of these former Soviet allies joined NATO.  The number of NATO countries now stands at 30 members.  The former Warsaw Pact has been reorganized and is now called “The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).”  It consists of six member countries, the largest of which is still Russia.  To say that the Warsaw Pact has been downsized would be a gross understatement.

“The CSTO is a much weaker organization in military terms than the Warsaw Pact was. According to NATO histories, in 1984 the Warsaw Pact ground forces had six million soldiers serving in 192 divisions, as compared to 4.5 million NATO soldiers serving in 115 divisions. Approximately one-third of Warsaw Pact forces were Soviet, while approximately twenty percent of NATO forces were from the United States. The Warsaw Pact also had a significant preponderance of battle tanks, artillery and attack helicopters. At present, NATO member states have a total of approximately 3.5 million soldiers, while CSTO member states’ militaries have just over one million soldiers. About 40 percent of current NATO troop strength comes from the United States, while approximately 85 percent of CSTO troop strength comes from Russia.”  Russia and Collective Security: Why CSTO Is No Match for Warsaw Pact — 5-27-2020, Dimitry Gorenburg,  Harvard Kennedy School for International Affairs.

So now we have the USA attempting to convince the Ukraine to join NATO.  Imagine if you will Russia attempting to get Canada or Mexico or Peru or Brazil to join CSTO.   What do you think we would do in the USA?  Do you remember what happened with the Cuban Missile Crisis?  In this event, Khrushchev went ballistic because the USA attempted to place missiles on Turkey’s borders facing Russia.  Russia decided to retaliate by sending missiles to Castro who was a Russian ally.  Cuba is only 90 miles from the USA border making it easy for any missiles to strike American targets.

Then President Kennedy faced off against Khrushchev.  Many people think the victory went to Kennedy since Russia withdrew their missiles.  What is less well known is that Kennedy withdrew our missiles in Turkey and agreed to Khrushchev’s demand that we promise not to invade Cuba.  The resulting publicity in America made it look like a wild-west gun fight with the clear winner being the USA.  The truth was hardly ever mentioned.

Consider the scenario we have now.  Putin has made several demands in respect to protecting Russia.  These demands hinge on the relationship between the Ukraine and the USA.  Putin understandably does not want to see a neighbor as close as the Ukraine is to Russia become any closer to either NATO or the USA.  Again, what would we do if Mexico wanted to become a Russian ally?  For the USA, negotiations hinge on three key points laid out by Secretary Blinken.

We make clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend – including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances.”

  1. Ukrainian sovereignty
  2. Ukrainian territorial integrity
  3. The rights of states to choose their own alliances and security arrangements

Consider these three “non” negotiable principles that we are using that could bring us to the brink of a Third World war.

First of all, when did Ukrainian sovereignty become a core principle of American politics?  According to Micah Zenko who is a fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, the USA has repeatedly violated the sovereign rights of Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  We have a doctrine called the Monroe Doctrine that we have used to violate the sovereign rights of numerous countries in South America including Columbia, Peru, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, and many others.  All of a sudden, we are concerned enough to go to war with Russia over the sovereign rights of the Ukraine?

If you look at the key points of the Monroe Doctrine you can see how hypocritical Blinken’s principles are:

“Monroe made four basic points: (1) the United States would not interfere in European affairs; (2) the United States recognized and would not interfere with existing colonies in the Americas; (3) the Western Hemisphere was closed to future colonization; and (4) if a European power tried to interfere with any nation in the Americas, that would be viewed as a hostile act against the United States.” — Brittanica

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It seems that we reserve the right to meddle in the sovereign affairs of our neighbors in this hemisphere, and we also now claim the right to meddle in the sovereign affairs of neighbors in the Eastern Hemisphere.  Blinken’s third principle about the rights of states to choose their own alliances is just as hypocritical and even more ludicrous.  We may say that we support the rights of other nations to enact treaties and alliances, but in reality we often do everything we can to undermine these efforts.

“The United States enters into more than two-hundred treaties each year on a range of international issues, including peace, defense, human rights, and the environment. Despite this seemingly impressive figure, the United States constantly fails to sign or ratify treaties the rest of the world supports.” — On International Treaties, the United States Refuses to Play Ball, Council on Foreign Relations.  — by Anya Wahal, January 7, 2022

What is really going on here?

My friend Bruce wants to know why we are pushing a policy that could potentially result in a war that ends life as we know it on earth.  Is it ego, politics, economics, power, stupidity, or a combination of all of them?  I honestly do not know.  I do know that 2 + 2 equals 4 and that the facts of this situation are out of proportion to the potential consequences.

My friend Denny wants to know why the media is so hell bent on pushing a narrative that only looks at one side of the issues and that seems to applaud the most dangerous rhetoric possible.

All three of us want to know why there has not been more skepticism in the media towards the efforts of politicians to push this potential conflict forward.  This morning on NPR I listened to an uncritical interview with some politician from Pennsylvania who thinks sending 50,000 American troops over to the Ukraine would be a good idea.  According to this brainless idiot, we must “Nip it in the bud.”  The old domino effect is still used to push a narrative of impending disaster if we don’t do something right now.

Is it too much to ask, to see both sides of the story?  Is it too much to ask to expect to see facts and not just hyperbole being used by our elected officials?  Where are the journalists that are paid to present both sides of the story?  How long did it take for them to discover that there were no weapons of mass destruction?  Will we be in a war over the Ukraine before the media finds the real reasons behind this conflict.

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Finally and most importantly, why are there two standards at play here?  We have one standard for Russia and another standard for the USA.  Are the lives of our citizens so cheap that we are willing to put them on the firing line once more for a political or economic cause?  Are the lives of Russians and Ukrainians so cheap that we can use them as cannon fodder for our own national objectives?  What if our goals and strategies were to help both Russia and the Ukraine find ways to work together more effectively instead of becoming the middleman in a war?

If you think I am making any sense with this blog, I encourage you to share it with others and to send it to any politicians out there who may be willing to listen to reason. 

Why Public-School Education is Dying – Part 2 of 5 Parts

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In Part 1 of this blog on education, I stated that, “I am going to dive into the major reasons that are leading to the death of public-school education.”  In this part, we will look at

  • Why our present educational model is obsolete

Our present educational model is obsolete because it is based on several faulty principles or assumptions.  Perhaps at one time some of these reasons had some validity but that is no longer true.  We are not living in a 19th century agricultural or a 20th century industrial economy.  We are now in a digital economy that is moving faster than anything the world has ever known.  The following are the most important issues that one must understand to realize why our present educational system is useless.

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  1. Outdated concepts of how education should be conducted

The teaching in the early part of America was based on two principles.  First, that every child needed a broad liberal arts education to be qualified as a good citizen.  Second, that education curriculums would follow a set of orderly progression starting from simple concepts to more complex concepts.  Thus, you would learn simple arithmetic before taking complex subjects like calculus or trigonometry.

The above principles treated every student as though they were the same.  There was no customization.  There were no exceptions to the grading progressions that developed in most schools.  If you were an advanced student, you would need to wait for the less advanced to catch up.  If you were not as advanced, then you looked like the dummy in class and were often ridiculed.  If you were somewhere in-between, you kept your mouth shut and dreamed of the end of the school year.

These principles may have been useful in a society that was information poor.  Marshal McLuhan said that schools made sense when they could bring information to a central point. Prospective students from information poor societies could come together and feast on the abundance of knowledge that was now centralized in one location.  Over time, the reverse has taken place.  Societies and cultures have become much denser and richer in information than any school could possibly hope to capture.  Students today can access more knowledge on their smart phones than probably exists in the entire Library of Congress.

“Today in our cities, most learning occurs outside the classroom. The sheer quantity of information conveyed by press-magazines-film-TV-radio far exceeds the quantity of information conveyed by school instruction and texts. This challenge has destroyed the monopoly of the book as a teaching aid and cracked the very walls of the classroom so suddenly that we’re confused, baffled.” — Marshall McLuhan, excerpt from “Classroom Without Walls,”  Explorations in Communication (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960)

Treating students as though they are all the same ignores fundamental elements of human skills and abilities.  Some students may have better social skills.  Some have better musical, artistic, and athletic skills than others.  Even in the domain of cognitive knowledge some students excel at math and others excel at English and language.

Just imagine if music was the dominant purpose of education rather than liberal arts.  Children might enroll in schools where the curriculum included violins, drums, harps, guitars, pianos, trumpets, and harmonicas.  Each student would have to learn all of these instruments and get a passing grade in each to graduate school.  It would not matter if a child received an A in violin if they did not pass drums.  If this sounds ridiculous, it should not since it mirrors the way curriculum is handled today.

Furthermore, the system of education assumes that all children would need to progress systematically through learning each instrument.  You would have violin 1 before you had violin 2.  It would not matter if you could do violin 1 when you came to school, you would still be required to take violin 1 before you could take violin 2.  True, in some schools you can test out of a subject but that is still rare in most public high schools.

The idea of holistic learning is totally ignored by the rigid lock step progression that is built into curriculums in both public and private schools.  Fifty years ago I argued with math teachers about the use of calculators in a classroom.  Most felt that students would not learn the proper concepts behind the calculations if they were allowed to use calculators.  Ten years later, the Mathematical Association of America approved the use of calculators in high school classrooms.

The fear of technology is still prevalent in schools as most schools do not allow their students to make use of a smart phone’s capabilities.  In many high school classrooms, students are prohibited from having their cell phones out.  (There is a constant game today between teachers and students to prohibit students from “misusing” their cell phones.)  It is rather funny since some teachers do not restrict cell phone usage and others do.  A few students told me a while ago that they wished their teachers could agree on a “cellphone policy.”  True, many schools give students laptops and tablets, but their usage of these tools are limited to such programs as Blackboard, Desire to Learn and other instructional interfaces.  Students are not taught how to use the power of their cell phones to think.  Teachers often seem afraid of new technology perhaps fearing that it will replace them.  In truth, the times have changed in respect to what a teacher’s role should be.  Looking at the results in the Virginia Governor Race this year, where the pundits believed that parental dissatisfaction played a major role in the election results, I found the following comment.  It was made by one of the consultants that the Loudoun County School District in Virginia hired to incorporate equity and inclusion in their curriculum.

“I think the thing that public education offers… because I certainly don’t think we offer learning… are relationships.  What historically high schools were for was the dissemination of information very quickly…Well, actually, the internet is better than the high school is…Truthfully, the teacher in relation to the dissemination of information is obsolete.”  —Equity Collaborative Leader Jamie Almanza.  

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  1. The concept that more money for educators and educational institutions will result in better student outcomes

During the 15 or so years that I was a management consultant, I often encountered the argument that employees would be more productive if they were paid more.  Now, I am a great believer in paying employees as much as the organization can afford and well beyond a simple livable wage.  I am well aware of the battle between employers and employees over wages and have myself often had to fight to get a salary that I felt was fair.  Nevertheless, I see little or even no correlation between productivity and wages and I have told this to many a manager and employee.  I have frequently asked people if they thought they would be “twice” as productive if I doubled their salaries tomorrow.  No honest person ever told me yes.

Teachers are no different.  Teachers who are paid more will not have more students getting higher test scores. There will not be more students graduating or more students learning more because their teachers are higher paid.  Yes, I believe teachers are underpaid based on their abilities and goals but that does not mean that I think schools will be more effective with higher paid teachers or with more capital outlays per pupil.

I looked at the rankings for Arizona High Schools a few days ago.  (Arizona High School Rankings) The top-rated school in the state was BASIS Scottsdale.  Their average student expenditure was $7, 231.  Their “Average Standard Score” was 99.9.  I then looked at Vista Grande High School where I have been substitute teaching this year.  They were ranked 205th out of 226 public high schools.  The average dollar spent per capita for students was $9,153 dollars.  Their “Average Standard Score” was 14.1.  I briefly looked at the student expenditures for all 226 high schools in Arizona.  I did not calculate a Standard Deviation for the 226 but if I did, my guess would be that all 226 schools would fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean.  I think the mean for “per capital student expenditures” would be about $7,500.

What do the above figures tell me?  First of all that per capita spending is not related to school or student performance.  Second, that there is a correlation between the wealth or affluency of a community and high school student performance.  Put simply, students from poorer families do worse in school than students from more affluent families.  The bad news is that no amount of money poured into any school system in the country is going to change these outcomes.  The World Development Report 2018 shows a similarly weak correlation between spending and learning outcomes.

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  1. The belief that what can be measured is what is important to teach and that standardized tests and curriculums are essential to a quality education

This is another fallacy that I often encountered in my years as a management consultant.  There is some kind of a foolish business quote that says, “What gets measured, gets managed.”  What is more accurate is that “What gets measured, gets gamed.”  My mentor, Dr. W.E. Deming taught his students that a system is more important to performance than the individual.  A favorite saying of Dr. Deming’s was that “A bad system will beat a good performer any time.”  Dr. Deming taught how to measure the performance of a system and then to use those measures to improve the system, not to work on exhorting individuals or individual testing to improve the system.  Two of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for Management were:

11 a. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.

11 b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

12 a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

12 b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.

The standardized tests that are given to students all over America are no help in increasing school performance.  The ranking of schools and the ranking of students has no statistical validity in terms of improving the educational system in America.  In fact, not only are these measures useless, but they are a major impediment to improving any school system.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. They force teachers to focus on memorization and not learning
  2. They penalize students that are not good test takers
  3. They destroy student morale
  4. They stop educators from making the real reforms that are needed in education
  5. They have no scientific validity in terms of measuring student performance

The following comments are from a blog titled, “Here’s the Real Reason Why Public Education Will Never Get Better” by Shelly Sangrey

  • Schooling and education are two different things.
  • Education is about exploration and learning how to think.
  • Schooling (which is what our public schools are a part of) is about training and teaching children what to think.
  • Someone who is being educated will be told, “Do some research on this topic. Study the evidence, weigh both sides, and make an informed conclusion.”
  • Someone who is being schooled is told, “This is how it is because scientists, historians, and other people who are smarter than you have already figured it out. There’s no need to look into it further.”

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You cannot measure education.  You can measure training.  But even measures of training are more likely to reflect the ability of the system rather than the ability of the students in the system.

Where has this emphasis come from in terms of measurement and metrics?  The first is from politicians who have little or no knowledge of education.  They also lack knowledge of data analysis or statistics.  These so-called leaders are more than ready to jump on bandwagons that sound good to their constituents but actually have little value in increasing educational outcomes.

The second is from educators themselves.  Believing that if they show good rankings they can justify the money needed for higher salaries and more resources, many teachers support the idea of “pay for performance” or “measuring educational outcomes.”  These teachers know little about business concepts but are more than ready to accept that business principles can work in a school system.  Unfortunately, many business principles lack any kind of validity either for education or for business.  All over America today, we have accountants running businesses and schools.  Our systems are driven by short-term numbers and bottom-line thinking.  These are major contributors to the death of public-school education.

In Part 3, we will look in more depth at the role that our political leaders play in murdering public school education in America. 

Who Speaks for Integrity?

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When I wrote my series of blogs on the Seven Most Important Virtues, I neglected to add Integrity.  Limiting myself to seven, I felt that the seven I identified were more important than any other virtues.  This was simply a judgement call.  I have been challenged on it several times and indeed I challenge myself on the list.  There is hardly a day goes by that I wonder if I should not have numbered Integrity among the Seven.  Well, as they say, that is water under the dam.  What I would like to do in this blog is discuss Integrity.  What is Integrity?  Why is Integrity so important?  How do we get Integrity?  Finally, how do we sustain Integrity?

What is Integrity?

download (1)Integrity is everything to lose and nothing to gain, except your self-respect.  Integrity is standing up for what you believe is right even when everyone is against you.  Integrity is the ability to put compassion and kindness ahead of self-interest.  Integrity cannot co-exist with greed.  It cannot co-exist with lust.  It cannot co-exist with a thirst for power.  It cannot co-exist with a drive for money, fame, or fortune.  All of these elements are like Kryptonite to Integrity.  Kryptonite was the one thing that could rob Superman of his powers.  Lust, greed, money, fame, and power all have the ability to rob one of his/her integrity.

One example of a man without integrity was Goethe’s Faust.  Faust was considered the smartest man alive.  He was a genius and a consummate intellectual.  There was little that he did not know about or could not speak intelligently about.  Yet, Faust was unhappy.  Old age had creeped up on him.  His desire for youth and sex overcame his ability to think with the maturity befitting his status.  He sold his soul to Satan and in the bargain sold his integrity.  His lack of integrity lead to the death of another human being and to his own banishment to hell.

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There are many examples of men and women with integrity.  I think of the whistleblowers who sacrifice their careers and sometime their lives to report issues that might be dangerous to others.  I think of the journalists in countries like Mexico who risk their lives every day to report injustices.  I think of the prosecutors and law enforcement officers in countries where criminals have the ability to enact retribution and death when they are charged with a crime.  In all these examples, there is nothing for these courageous people to gain and everything to lose by their standing up for what they believe is right.  This is integrity.

Why is Integrity Important?

I believe that it is fair to say that never before in the history of America has there been so little integrity shown by our political leaders.  Right, Left, Democrat, Republican, Independent, it does not matter.  There are too many political leaders who are driven by greed and a desire for power.  You may argue with this analysis but when I see even a third of our elected officials calling for term limits, I will recant my assertion.  When I see a third of our elected officials with a plan to eliminate paid lobbyists, I will recant my assertion.

Political_Integrity_-_iStock.com-Bobboz_resizedPolitics is a sham in America today.  We have men and women who are elected for life and spend more time campaigning then they do in serving their constituents.  Public servants who start collecting money to run their next campaigns within days of winning their present office.  We have a system of government where money is the most important factor in who gets elected and who gets reelected.  Our politicians are more worried about losing votes than they are in the constitution or in protecting our democracy.  What Integrity is there in supporting a riot to overthrow a fair election that every court and every state in America found was fairly conducted?  The media seized on the outrageousness of the Big Lie to sell news.  The losing party seized on the credibility of millions of gullible supporters to buy the Big Lie and try to maintain their power.

imagesThe media in America has become another hallowed institution gutted by greed and a desire for more and more money.  Reporters, writers, and journalists in America today are more interested in selling advertising than they are in balanced objective reporting.  You can divide the news up by whether they lean Right or Left, Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican.  Each side has a mirror image on the other side of the political spectrum.  CNN is opposed by Fox News.  The New York Times is opposed by The New York Post and the Washington Post is opposed by the Washington Times.  One side supports the Right and the other side supports the left.  This is not balanced reporting, and no truth comes out of the dynamic between the two sides.  What both sides have in common are reporters who will report the most useless, tasteless, uninformative stories if they perceive that these stories will sell advertising or if they can figure out a clickbait title that will attract readers and thereby expose them to paid commercials.

I see few solutions to the problems I have noted above except to start holding our leaders and media to standards of Integrity that do not seem to exist.  This brings us to the issue of where Integrity comes from.

How Do We Get Integrity?

I do not believe humans are born with Integrity.  I do not think that there is a gene or DNA for Integrity.  Humans learn Integrity like they learn to speak.  The morals, ethics and traditions of any society become part of the fabric of learning that a child goes through.  Integrity is a virtue.  It may be valued more in some families and cultures more than others.  There is an Index of Public Integrity that measures five factors that the developers link to Integrity and is used to assess a countries capacity to control corruption and ensure that public resources are spent honestly.   The six scales used in this index include:

  1. Judicial Independence
  2. Administrative Burden
  3. Trade Openness
  4. Budget-Transparencies
  5. E-Citizenship
  6. Freedom of the Press

Idownload (3)f you want more of a description of each scale you can follow the hyperlink above.  The USA ties for 10th place with Great Britain on this index.  I can see some correlation with Integrity, but I can see many differences.  I think honesty is one component of Integrity, but Integrity is more complex than being simply honest.  An honest person can still lack integrity if they are unwilling to stand up for what they believe.  Cowardice and Integrity are incompatible.

Professor Stephen L. Carter of Yale Law School points out in his book “Integrity,” one cannot have integrity without being honest, but one can be honest and yet lack integrity. … Integrity in its bare-bones essence means adherence to principles.

You cannot buy Integrity.  You cannot inherit Integrity.  Fortunately, Integrity does not have a price tag.  It is open to everyone.  Young people, old people, women, men, and people from different ethnic backgrounds all can find Integrity.  I use the work “Find” because you must seek Integrity.  It is a treasure, and you must look for it.  You can acquire Integrity, but you can also lose Integrity.  However, you cannot give it away and no one can steal it from you.  It is one of the most unique treasures in the world.  So, where do we find this treasure?  There are three rules for finding Integrity.

  1. It must be something you value personally
  2. You must value it more than your life, your career or anything else that you might ever possess.
  3. You must not expect applause or accolades. It is more likely you will be criticized and condemned. 

If you can accept these three rules, then finding Integrity is easy.  Simply establish a set of morals, virtues, and ethics that you believe in and start standing up for them.  When they are challenged, you must speak out.  Your actions and behaviors must reflect our values.  Do not preach one thing and do another.  Do what you say you will do.  When you feel like taking the easy way out, you must take the road that leads to consistency with your actions and values.  The simple formula to remember is that:

Integrity = Morals + Behavior + Consistency

How do We Sustain Integrity?

Integrity can be lost as well as found.  There are many examples of people who once were exemplars of shining Integrity but who succumbed to temptations for greed and power.  It takes a great deal of fortitude and courage to maintain a life of Integrity.  I think of people like Jesus Christ who was not tempted by the devil and went to his death for what he preached.  Pilate gave him opportunities to recant but Jesus refused.  Socrates went to his death also after refusing to recant his beliefs.  I would like to share the example of one more recent person of great Integrity.

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“María Santos Gorrostieta Salazar (1976 – 2012) was a Mexican physician and politician of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).  From 2008 to 2011, she served as mayor of Tiquicheo, a small town in the Mexican state of Michoacán.  In spite of three failed assassination attempts during her tenure as mayor, Gorrostieta Salazar continued to be outspoken in the fight against organized crime.  In a fourth attack, Gorrostieta Salazar was kidnapped and assassinated by suspected drug traffickers on 15 November 2012.” – Wikipedia

To this date, there has been no one charged and tried in connection with her murder.  How many people do you know who would stand up to a drug cartel after even one attempt on their lives?  Maria was a physician.  She could have lived a life of relative ease and prosperity simply by ignoring the crimes going on around her.  Instead she stood up for the law and standing up cost Maria her life.  Who is saying her name today?

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Like any skill or talent, you must practice it.  Practice is one means of sustaining Integrity.  Part of practice is an honest self-reflection.  Each day or week you need to ask yourself if you have been a person of Integrity.  What did you do that showed Integrity?  What did you do or say that allowed you to stand up for your values and ethics?  What did you do that was not consistent with your values?  How could you be more consistent with your values and behaviors?

There is a popular meme that says, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice!  Practice! Practice!”  There can be no Integrity without practice, action, and reflection.  Stand up for your values and morals and you will be a Person of Integrity.  Every person who can say that they are a Person of Integrity is one more person that will help to change the world for the better.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”- Dwight D. Eisenhower

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”- Bob Marley

 

The Ten Commandments of Capitalism

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People don’t go to church anymore.  They go shopping.  Capitalism is America’s new religion.  A religion is a set of profound beliefs that one hopes will lead to a better life.  The Christian religion has its Ten Commandments which embody some of these beliefs.  No one actually practices these beliefs anymore but that does not stop devout Christians from insisting that their commandments should be enshrined throughout America.  The only problem with this is that these are not the beliefs that people follow today.

I was laying in bed the other night and thinking about how Capitalism has become the real religion of Americans.  I suddenly realized that there was no explicit set of rules, precepts, or commandments that the faithful should follow.  There are many implicit or implied rules.  The implicit rules of Capitalism are somewhat obvious even if they are not etched on two tablets.

I have decided to take these implicit commandments believed by most Americans and make them more obvious.  I recommend that these be put up in bronze or stone or cement in every capital throughout the USA.  Following are my Ten Commandments for Capitalism.

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  1. You can never have enough

As they say, “He who has the most toys wins.”  You can never have enough.  Life is about getting what you deserve.  When you do get it, then you need to get more.  More money, more cars, more jewelry, more land, more clothes, the more you have, the more people will admire you and declare you a success.  Success in America means having more than anyone else.

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  1. Bigger is always better

From hamburgers to houses to car and even people, things in America are getting bigger.  People now own 5,000 square foot homes with three car garages, six bedrooms and four baths even though they only have 1.7 children and a spouse.  Hamburgers at Burger King weigh about ½ lb. and car engines put out in excess of 500 hp.  Americans are the most obese people in the world.  Capitalism makes everything bigger and fatter.  Hooray for Capitalism.

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  1. Greed is good

Ivan Boesky said it and Americans gave him a standing ovation.  Michael Douglas in the movie “Wall Street” paraphrased Boesky’s speech and exhorted his stockholders:

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.  Greed is right, greed works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.  And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”  

I could not have said it any better.  The greedier we get, the more we get.  The more we get, the more we want.  The more we want the greedier we get.  It is the American way.  From politicians to business people to lobbyists, to car salespeople to real estate developers, the stated norm is to “maximize profits.”  To hell with the tree huggers and climate change advocates.  Success is predicted on greed.  Greed is human nature.  Greed is not good, it is great.

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  1. Shop till you drop

My half-sister every year gets up at 3 AM on the morning of Black Friday with a map, a schedule of stores, coupons, and snacks.  Like a general, she plots out her strategy, enlists her friends and relatives and launches a preemptive invasion.  Her goal is to get it before anyone else.  “It” does not really matter.  The process is what counts.  Shopping is the sacrament of Capitalism.  You must take your pennies and dollars and put them in the store where you can get the most for your money.  Saving is for fools.  Shop, shop, shop.  Superbowl Sunday is a prime time for shopping since many Americans are glued to their TV sets soaking up ads on what to buy the next time they go shopping.  Go to fashion stores, go to thrift stores, go to malls, go to Walmart, go to flea markets, go to garage sales.  But for heavens sake, shop until you drop.

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  1. Stuff will make you happy

There is only one reason for all that shopping.  It fulfills you.  It puts meaning and purpose in your life.  Without meaning and purpose, life is shallow.  We are all born with a hole in us that must be filled up.  You could fill it with religion, education, or philosophy but you can’t touch these things.  You can touch a new air fryer and you can soak in a new hot tub.  You can call all your Facebook friends on your new I-Phone 98. Nothing is quite as satisfying as stuff at filling the hole in our hearts.  Nothing until the next generation of I-Phones or Air Fryers come out.  But of course, then you can go shopping for the newest and latest and greatest.  You will never be so happy as when you have more stuff than you need.

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  1. Prosperity builds character

Those who believe in the Prosperity Gospel say that the richer you are the better, smarter, and more deserving you are.  God rewards good people with money and bad people get lumps of coal in their stockings not just at Christmas but throughout most of the year.  God wants everyone to be rich.

Being rich is a choice.  Poor people don’t really like money, so they choose to be poor.  They do not want to be  bothered with having to carry tons of cash and credit cards.  Rich people don’t mind carrying all this cash because they have chauffeurs, butlers, and nannies to help with the work.  Many people say that “money is the root of all evil.”  This is a lie spread maliciously by the Internet to deter people from going after the gold.  Jesus said that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.”  If Jesus was alive today, I think he might be preaching a different message.  Something like, “Forget what I said two thousand years ago, times have changed.  There are few camels left in life and you can always take a taxi if you have enough money.”

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  1. Don’t worry about tomorrow

There is a great song by Van Morrison which goes as follows:

Don’t worry about tomorrow

That ain’t gonna help you none

Don’t worry about tomorrow

That ain’t gonna help you none

You’ve gotta live and take each day as it comes.

A great deal of wisdom is centered around the idea of living one day at a time and not worrying about the future.  Too many people fail to live in the present because they are too worried about what will happen tomorrow.  Doris Day sang the famous song Que Sera Sera,

When I was just a little girl

I asked my mother, what will I be

Will I be pretty

Will I be rich

Here’s what she said to me

… Que sera, sera

Whatever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que sera, sera

What will be, will be

 Capitalism is a system that follows much the same line of reasoning.  Don’t worry about the climate.  Don’t worry about the weather.  Don’t worry about pollution.  Don’t worry about water.  Don’t worry about the environment.  Live for today.  Get whatever you can today.  You might not be alive tomorrow, so why worry?  Remember Alfred E. Neumann from Mad Magazine.  His motto was “What, me worry?”  We need to worry less.  Don’t worry about whether the world will still be there for your kids or grandchildren.  Let them worry about it.

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  1. Nothing is more important than money

If capitalism had a beating heart, instead of “thump, thump, thump,” it would go “money, money, money.”  Love may make the world go round, but money greases the wheels.  Remember the Beatles song “Money?”

Now give me money, (That’s what I want)

That’s what I want

(That’s what I want)

That’s what I want, (That’s what I want), oh, yeah

(That’s what I want)

Money don’t get everything, it’s true

What it don’t get, I can’t use

Now give me money, (That’s what I want)

That’s what I want.

 I propose that more people think about money than anything else in the world, including sex.  To test my theory, I typed in “Sex” on Google.  Then I typed in “Money.”  Following are my results:

Sex:  10,590,000,000         

Money:  11,920,000,000

Money received 1.33 billion more hits than sex.  This result shows what the real priorities of most people are.  First it is money, then it is sex.

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  1. Never let anyone get in your way

 Let’s be real.  Nice guys and good women finish last.  If you want to get ahead in business, you must be ruthless.  You must be cut throat.  You must play ethical roulette (a business version of Russian roulette).  Machiavelli and Sun Tzu were too soft.  Read the “Mafia’s Guide to Getting Ahead.”  You must have no morals or ethics or qualms about being the bad guy.  Never do anything illegal or at least get caught doing anything illegal.  There is plenty of room for amoral activities that skirt the line between legal and illegal.  If in doubt, call a lawyer.

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 10.  Put some money aside for a rainy day

By rainy day, I mean a time in your life when you no longer have any friends, loved ones or anyone who cares whether you live or die. You will be on your death bed waiting for Lucifer to take you to your just rewards.  Like Herod, the day will come when you must pay the piper.  It won’t matter how much you have in stocks or your bank account.

The devil won’t have a signed contract for your soul but he will not need it.  You will have bought and paid for your place in hell many times over.  Every dollar, every ruble, every peso, every euro, every yen you coveted will have helped you to earn your place in hell.  Your funeral marker on earth may say some nice things about you but down in hell, you will be one of many who sold their soul to the highest bidder.

Jesus wisely said “What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffer the loss of his own soul?”  Profoundly put, but alas seldom followed.

After Thoughts:

When I came home recently from a vacation to Europe, I had 5,865 spam messages in my promotions email folder on Gmail.  That equals 217 junk emails per day.  Never before in history, has so much been marketed and sold to people under the assumption that the marketplace is a dispenser of happiness.  I have written a five-part series on the evils of Corporate Capitalism, and I have written many posts about the dangers facing our civilization today from the excess of greed and profiteering which infest and assail too many cultures and societies all over the world.

My spouse Karen felt that many of the things that I was saying in this blog were too harsh.  If you felt this way when you read my blog, consider that 162 golf course owners in Phoenix did not want to accept a recent recommendation for a 3.1 percent cut in water usage.  (Some Arizona golf courses are pushing back against the state’s plan to reduce water use)  They proposed a counter recommendation for a 1.6 percent cut.  This on the heels of an unprecedented drop in the water feeding much of the Southwest from Lake Mead and a record drought with significant increases in heat.  What have we come to when water for golf courses is more important than water for crops and drinking?

In Wisconsin, where I live during the summer, the residents have been fighting the siting of a CAFO for the feeding of 26,000 hogs.  The operators of the “Concentrated Animal Feed Operation” do not care about the water, trees, odors, property values, soil, bacteria, or any other repercussions for their operation.  They are only concerned about the ability to make a profit.

The local residents have been fighting this potential development for nearly three years now.  It is big money against the little farmer and little land owner who object to the spoilage of their land, water, and lifestyle.  The property owners in Barron, Burnette and Polk County Wisconsin are fighting not only corporate money and greed but also elected politicians.  Politicians at both the local level and state level, many who support the development of “free enterprise” regardless of the externalities caused by the business operation.

Everywhere I turn, I see greed, waste, and short-term thinking based on profitability guiding human decisions.  The sad part is that Corporate Capitalism has become a religion.  And whereas faith in the old religions has waned dramatically in the past fifty years, faith in Capitalism to save us from hell has only grown.  Like some sort of communicable disease, the belief that Capitalism will provide a heaven on earth has become almost indisputable among a large majority of Americans.  I think the time is long past for soft pedaling the dangers of Capitalism.  I only hope that it is not too late.

 

Legislating Balanced Perspectives in Education  

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/southlake-texas-holocaust-books-schools-rcna2965

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There is a movement afoot all over the USA for what one might call, “Balanced perspectives in education.”  Every intelligent person understands that there is usually more than one perspective on things.  History and even science can be prone to paradigms that today are considered “absolute truth” but tomorrow are found to be wrong.

History is told from the perspective of the conqueror and tends to leave out minority views.  Science is based on theories which are formed on existing facts and evidence.  However, there is seldom enough evidence to prove any one theory to be 100 percent correct.  Science is a system of successive approximation.  Over time, new evidence is developed, and science revises existing theories.  In many cases, we have seen old theories replaced by new theories.

Thus, on the face of it, one might wonder how any logical or rational or sane person could question this new move to “Legislate balanced perspectives in education.”  Well, consider what I said earlier, “There is usually more than one perspective.”  The fact that there is more than one perspective does not render all viewpoints or opinions as equally valid, truthful, or accurate.  Some perspectives are more accurate than other perspectives.  Some theories are superior to other theories.  The new move is being legislated by stupid (yes, I said stupid) politicians and political leaders who know nothing or just about nothing about science and education.  The move to insure “balanced perspectives” is being dictated by politics.  There is no concern for the truth and there is no concern for science by those passing these laws to insure “balance in teaching.”

I propose a list of issues that should be taught without ANY balance in perspectives.  I propose this list because all the existing facts and data support the validity of these events or happenings.  Within ten minutes of thinking about this list, I came up with over 100 issues but in the interest of expediency, I will stick to my top ten.  I doubt any of you would want to hear my total list.  Notice my key word is NOT:

  1. The moon is NOT made out of green cheese (Perhaps Wisconsin Swiss)
  2. Elvis Presley is NOT alive and living upstairs in Graceland (He may be living in the basement)
  3. You will NOT go to hell for being LGBTIQA+
  4. If you do not support Trump, you are NOT a Traitor (Violent disagreement here in the Republican party)
  5. The world is NOT flat. (Not sure it is round either)
  6. White people are NOT superior to Black, Latino, Asian or Indigenous people
  7. Christopher Columbus did NOT discover America. (He wasn’t even looking for it)
  8. Christianity is NOT superior to other religions
  9. Greed in NOT good (Never mind what Michael Douglas says in Wall-Street)
  10. John Persico is NOT a genius (I can make an exception for this one)

A teen aged girl who lives in Texas came home from school one day and was met by her mom.

Daughter:  Our teacher was telling us about the Holocaust today when one of the other students said that his dad told him the holocaust never happened.  That the Jews made the whole story up for sympathy.

Mom:  What did your teacher say?

Daughter:  Well, the teacher looked at a list of “alternative perspective” issues that she keeps on her desk and replied, “You may be right.  Let’s look at the other side of this issue.  We will consider that the Holocaust is a made-up story, and that six million Jews did not die.”

Teacher:  On one side, we have millions of people who can testify that the holocaust actually happened.  We have video tapes.  Physical evidence of gas chambers.  Evidence of bodies.  Evidence of survivors.  Evidence of soldiers who liberated the camps.  Memoirs, written descriptions by noted people and the fact of the Anti-Jewish laws promulgated by the Nazis.

Teacher:  However, on the other side.  The side that disputes the existence of the Holocaust we have the belief that all of the evidence I cited above is “Fake.”  All of the testimonies are lies and part of a grand conspiracy to make Jews the superior race.  We have hundreds of right-wing nationalists and anti-Semite’s who believe that all the evidence supporting the Holocaust is fake and make-believe.

Teacher:  Now that I have given equal time to both perspectives on the Holocaust issue, we can move on to discussing the “Big Lie.”  That the last election was actually stolen from President Trump.

The following day the teacher was fired for not adequately balancing her view of the two perspectives concerning the Holocaust.

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An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.   — Mahatma Gandhi

We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion.  The great task in life is to find reality. — Iris Murdoch

The Great Divide:  An America Torn Asunder by Divisions

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I published the following blog a few months ago.  I think it needs to be more visible.  If you agree with the ideas in this blog, would you please share it with other people or groups that it might help.  Democracy is in crisis today in America as never before.  It has not ended with Trump being defeated since his followers and minions are still out doing their best to overturn Democracy in America.  Only an informed and literate citizenship can defeat these efforts.  

The number one subject for bestselling non-fiction books in the USA today concerns the chasm that separates Republicans from Democrats.  Rural voters from urban voters.  College Educated people from non-college educated.  Conservatives from liberals.  Fox viewers from CNN viewers.  Your facts from my facts.  Your truths from my truths.  Your lies from my lies.  Your views of reality from my views of reality. 

This divide is decried by all the pundits and experts.  Not one of the writers on this subject has anything good to say about the divide.  Perhaps they harken back to the old saying, “United we stand and divided we fall.”  Or the adage that, “A house divided cannot stand.”  Whatever the reasoning, no one thinks that a USA as divided as it is with nearly 75 million people voting for Donald Trump and 80 million people voting for Joseph Biden is helpful for our nation.  Keep in mind, it is not just the sheer numbers that alarm people, it is the magnitude of the crevasse that scares people.

hate-spesechThe abyss It is so big that there is no bridging it.  None of the sides can see the other side.  None of the sides has any common ground with the other side.  None of the sides understands the language that the other side speaks.  We might as well be earthlings talking to Martians.  There is no lingua franca.  Many of the “well-meaning” experts exhort both sides to try harder to bridge the gap or to work more diligently to listen to the other side.  It seems to be assumed that all it will take to jump the gulf is good intentions.  I cry bullshit on this.  As the old aphorism goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  It will take more than good intentions to heal the wound that infests our country.

Before we can fix what ails America, we must clearly understand what brought this divide about.  What are the causes for this divide, and can they be healed?  I see three main causes for this chasm.  They are: 1. Greed, 2. Demonization, and 3. Media.  Let’s look at each of these three elements and see how they contribute to the divide and what if anything can be done about them. 

Greed:

Corporate greed and materialism have driven a wedge between the haves and the have nots in America.  A larger gap than ever before exists between the rich and the poor.  The number of people seeking free food and standing in line at food banks has only been higher during the Great Depression.  The requirements for a digital elite versus a computer illiterate fuels the growing income gap.  The Opioid Epidemic is only one symptom of this inequality in the USA.  Many people cannot afford medical care or adequate housing as well as food. 

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For years now, materialism has been touted as the backbone of American commerce by corporations and the media.  Inflammatory news events sell advertisements which drive people to the shopping malls, ball parks, restaurants, and performances.  Special events like “Black Friday” abound where people, “shop till they drop.”  There is a vicious spiral to these events since the final outcome is to keep people needy and wanting more.  The theologian Matthew Kelly says you can never satisfy wants only needs.  Pursuing wants will always leave you wanting more.  Eating, sleeping, exercise and love are needs that can be satisfied and will bring you happiness.  You can never be happy pursuing wants.

materialism and spendingThe wants advertised on the TV and in the media are never fulfilling.  We have a nation of brainwashed consumers who mistakenly think that more toys, bigger houses, more guns, and luxury cars will make them happy.  We are a nation on a never-ending treadmill of consumer materialism where like rats we keep spinning the wheel and hoping to find happiness, but happiness never comes, and drugs take its place. 

There is no sanity in our economic system.  It is a zero-sum game.  It is a great deal like the lottery.  Next week there will be 100 million losers, but one winner will get a billion dollars or more.  The value for the lottery keeps going up which entices more and more people to buy lottery tickets, but the number of losers also keeps going up.  Where do the profits for the lotteries go?  Not back to the people, regardless of what they tell you.  Our society is being sold hope where hope is the most elusive product in the marketplace. 

imagesAs the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the tensions in society grow ever more divisive.  We see more road rage, more senseless shootings, more violence between men and women, less loyalty between employers and employees.  The underpinning of society that should be based on human integrity and morality is replaced with an opportunism based on an amoral value system.  Whatever we can get as long as we break no laws is considered to be moral.  We see most politicians that have no commitment to anything except to collect more money so that they can stay in office.   Their highest goal is to help the rich get richer, which of course includes themselves. 

Jesus said that money is not evil, it is the pursuit of money that is evil.  The evil in America comes from a frenzy for more that separates Americans from each other.  Like a horse race where there can only be one winner, there are only going to be a few rich Americans and many more poor people scrambling to be the “King of the Hill.” 

I do not believe that the divide in this country can be erased until we eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor.  It is not simply a matter of conversation or discussion.  It is a matter of inequality.  A poor person cannot talk to a rich person unless they can shout over gated walls and armed security guards.  The biggest divide in America is between the haves and the have nots.  It is between the will haves and the may never haves.  The haves in America expect to have more and probably will get more.  The have nots do not know where their next paycheck will come from or whether they will be able to buy food for tomorrow.  No amount of discussion or listening skills is going to solve this problem.  

Demonization:

Speech-Bubble-Montage_2-1 (1)I am not talking about the devil here or about spirituality.  I am talking about a kind of insidious propaganda that has been spread by many groups and individuals.  In this propaganda, one side of America is labeled as moral, ethical, righteous, and just.  The other side is the opposite.  The other side is everything negative.  The other side is a composite of all the demons and evils that Americans believe in.  The other side are communists, fascists, atheists, anti-democratic, anti-patriotic and un-American.  One side is good.  The other side is evil incarnate.  You cannot talk to evil.  You cannot discuss with the devil why he wants your soul.  You cannot debate with Satan over the values that he has.  Heaven and hell do not have weekly discussion groups.  The language heard today, and what the media publishes drips with hate, innuendo, and disdain.  The language fosters violence.  I doubt the Founding Fathers ever conceived that the First Amendment would protect such speech.  There are three elements that contribute to a hate speech culture that demonizes the other side: 

  1. Malicious Labeling:

freehatespeechMalicious labeling is the name calling that goes on between both sides today wherein each side is labeled.  You can hear it on almost every talk show program in America today.  Name calling and name labeling.  Commie pinko leftists!  Intellectual elites!  Radical socialists!  Racist rednecks!  Fascist dictators!  Politicians, commentators, newscasters, and radio talk show hosts all use malicious labels to insult and demean those they disagree with.  What have we let this country become when we allow such name calling?  This kind of hyperbole demonizes the other side and creates a divide that cannot be overcome by rational conversation.

“I think the political process has degenerated into name-calling and extremism, and I think that that’s unfortunate.” — Bill Bradley

  1. Anti-Government Diatribes:

extremismword_hp111319.1200x0I do not think that the Founding Fathers of our nation believed that Government was evil.  Certainly, they felt that there could be too much government intrusion on the rights of the populace.  They invoked certain safeguards to protect both human rights and states rights.  Nevertheless, they did not demonize government and not a single one of the Fathers ever referred to government as evil.  Edmund Burke, the famous English conservative said, “The government that governs best is the government that governs least.”  He never said, “government was evil.”  It has become common place to hear refrains denigrating the role and necessity of government.  This steady drumbeat of antigovernmental rhetoric has created a group of people that have no value for government and who support the idea that government should be abolished.

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”  — George Washington

  1. Legal Advocates of Violence

loyal white knights and aryan nations in texas july 2016 from vkdotcom_0A few years ago I began to wonder why groups like the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, Antifa, The Proud Boys and many other such groups advocating violence against the government were not labeled as Terrorist Organizations.  I asked a lawyer this question and he replied, “it is all politics.”  I found that almost all the groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” were designated as “extremist groups.”  This means that they are not illegal, and they have the right to organize, march, rally and basically spread their hate across America.  In 2019, The SPLC listed 940 hate groups across the USA.  If any of these groups was labeled as a “Terrorist Group,” they would be on the same list as the Taliban, Boko Haram, The Mafia, Mexican Cartels and Al Qaeda.  What is the difference between an extremist group and a terrorist group?  It might surprise you to learn that a terrorist organization is defined as follows:

In the United States of America, terrorism is defined in Title 22 Chapter 38 U.S. Code § 2656f as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents”.

In general, terrorism is classified as:

  • The use of violence or of the threat of violence in the pursuit of political, religious, ideological, or social objectives
  • Acts committed by non-state actors (or by undercover personnel serving on the behalf of their respective governments)
  • Acts reaching more than the immediate target victims and also directed at targets consisting of a larger spectrum of society.

15963If this definition does not apply to the groups that tried to storm the US Capital on January 6th, 2021, I do not know what does.  Just yesterday the Canadian government labeled the Proud Boys as a Terrorist Organization.  This delegitimizes the group and takes their rights away.  For Canada, it is a start.  I am wondering when we are going to get started in the USA on such an effort.  The First Amendment was never construed to allow hate speech and the advocating of violent actions to overthrow the government.  Why do we not have the political will to outlaw these groups?  We seem to have little compunction in penalizing Black groups like the Black Lives Matter Movement or the Black Panthers.  We have a different standard when it comes to White Supremacy groups. 

The Media:

000f25f2-6bf0-11e9-994e-1d1e521ccbf6_image_hires_015902The newspapers, TV and the Internet are today the major carriers for the hate and vituperation that has spread across America.  On one side of the divide, we find the NY Times, the Washington Post and CNN News.  On the other side, we find the NY Post, the Washington Examiner and Fox News.  There are countless other purveyors of extreme and fanatical views.  Each side reeks of headlines supporting nonobjective views and biased reporting.  If objective reporting ever existed in the USA, it has been murdered and buried by the most pervasive media to ever exist.  The media carries the hate and violence that is created by politicians, pundits, radio commentators and hate groups and ensures that it gets widely disseminated.  Without the media, much of the divide would never have occurred.  Hate needs a platform to be spread and the media is more than happy to host anything that it believes will sell itself and its advertising. 

Conclusions:

We are not going to overcome the divide that separates Americans today by platitudes and wishful thinking.  No amount of holding hands or singing kumbaya together is going to unite Americans.  We have a systemic rot in our system that is caused by the extremism in politics and media that has created this divide.  We need to enact reasonable laws to stamp out this rot while also protecting free speech but not hate speech.  There is a difference between hate speech and free speech.  If we cannot figure this difference out, we will never close the divide that exists in America today.  You can defend the First Amendment all you want, but there are limits to everything and that includes so-called Free Speech. 

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Then-CIA director Gina Haspel said the US was ‘on the way to a right-wing coup’ after Trump lost the election: book

 

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