Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Economics of Speed

Just over forty-nine years ago, in October of 1967, William J. Knight flew the North American rocket-powered X-15 at a speed of Mach 6.72 [4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h)], to set the still-unbroken speed record for a manned aircraft.

The speed record for an unmanned aircraft was set by NASA’s X-43A at Mach 9.6 on November 16, 2004, at an altitude of 33,223 meters over the Pacific Ocean.

The top speed for a manned aircraft taking off on its own power belongs to the SR-71 Blackbird which established in July of 1976 a still-standing speed record of (2,193.2 mph; 3,529.6 km/h), approximately Mach 3.3. There are reports of faster speeds, but not under accepted standards for records.

None of these aircraft are known to be operational today, ostensibly because the first two were experimental research aircraft that served their purposes, and because it’s been stated that the SR-71’s reconnaissance objectives can now be achieved by satellite or UAV reconnaissance at a much lower cost. Of the 32 SR-71s built, twelve were lost to mechanical or other non-combat causes. Over 800 SAMs were fired at SR-71s, and none ever hit, but the operating cost of the SR-71 exceeded $85,000 per hour, and ran $300 million a year, essentially $10 million per operating aircraft per year.

When I left the Navy, the F-14 was the top fighter [at least Navy pilots thought so], but it was retired early, despite being not only faster and able to do more than the F-18, because it required more than twice as much maintenance and because of [disputed] claims that some of the missions it could handle were no longer necessary.

The fastest commercial aircraft was, of course, the Concorde with a top speed of Mach 2.04, and, like the SR-71, it was retired from service for economic reasons, because it never made a profit, and refitting costs would have made it even less profitable.

Economics also have impacted commercial airliners. Today, on major routes, it takes longer to fly point to point than it did fifty years ago. The 1960s Boeing 707 actually cruised at faster speeds (roughly 3% faster) than does the latest B-737-800. The reason is that that newer airliner use high-bypass jet engines that are currently much more fuel-efficient at slightly slower speeds, and since fuel costs range from 26-35% of operating costs, fuel efficiency is far more highly prized than speed.

The bottom line: For both the military and for commercial air travel, economics outweigh speed.

The “Free Market” Economy

One of the on-going Republican policy positions, as well as a stand taken by President-elect Trump, is that too much government regulation hampers the economy and costs jobs, and that the “freer” an economy can be, the better.

The problem with this stand is that it ignores reality. Markets don’t work very well, and sometimes not at all if there isn’t a certain amount of order. In turn, maintaining order requires an overriding structure and authority backed by some sort of force, or at least the possibility of force. Most conservatives will accept that as a necessity.

So the question really becomes one of what, if anything, should government [or the authority structure] do beyond providing basic order. Despite those who feel government should do nothing, in historical practice, most western governments have, if spottily, required some basic standardization and regulation of trade. The size, weight, and composition of basic foodstuffs have been set forth; counterfeiting forbidden; and often the times and places prescribed where goods could be sold, as well as where certain noxious practices, such as rendering and smelting, could be carried out.

Most societies have been aware of the dangers of adulterated foodstuffs. Rye contaminated by ergot fungus and turned into flour can result in ergotism, which caused tens of thousands of deaths in Europe from the 1300s through the mid-1800s, but more than a few unscrupulous farmers still sold contaminated grain to millers, even after the cause of the disease, popularly known as St. Anthony’s Fire, was known. Meat-packing in the U.S., even in the early part of the twentieth century, was often terribly unsanitary, as revealed in Sinclair Lewis’s The Jungle, a book which spurred public outcry, which led to reforms including the Meat Inspection Act.

Bit by bit, the U.S. government passed laws and implemented regulations to improve food safety. Later, after it become clear that industrial practices had resulted in rivers that caught fire and were too toxic for fish to survive, and that air in some areas was barely breathable because of airborne pollutants, Congress passed environmental laws to regulate the emission of various classes of pollutants.

Now… the question that tends to get overlooked by those who claim that all these regulations are excessive and that business and industry could do just fine if they didn’t have to comply with all the regulations is, if businesses could protect public health, why they never did. The answer is simply that the economic structure didn’t allow them to do so.

Producing anything in the fashion most beneficial to consumers’ health and in the most environmentally sound way costs more than ignoring the health and environmental issues. Therefore, the way to maximize profits is to do the bare minimum in terms of health and environmental issues, the bare minimum being not immediately poisoning your consumers and workers or the surrounding environment. Any business that does more than that jeopardizes its own future because, when there are no regulations, or lesser regulations, the business that increases its costs to improve health and environment becomes less profitable.

And that is exactly what’s happened in terms of the thousands of U.S. businesses that have offshored production of goods to third world nations or those with lower environmental and health regulations.

There’s a definite trade-off between environmental and health safety and cost of production. And higher costs of production mean higher prices. U.S. consumers want cheaper goods, but they also have wanted cleaner air and waters. The only way we can have both, in the present world, is to import cheaper foreign goods from other countries who are polluting their air and water, endangering the health of their workers and environment, and paying those workers far less.

What China is already discovering is that there is, in fact, even under an authoritarian government, a level of pollution that is too much, but even if other nations improve their health and safety standards, and most will have to, over time, they’ll still be able to produce goods more cheaply.

Which brings up the question of exactly how a Trump administration intends to “return” jobs to the U.S. without increasing the price of goods produced by those workers. Or does he intend to attempt [because it’s not clear that he can succeed] to reduce environmental protection in order to lower costs of production? If not, then he and Congress will have to impose tariff barriers and those barriers will increase the costs of goods to U.S. consumers.

Of course, I haven’t yet seen anyone in the incoming administration publicly dealing with these questions… and I have some doubt that we will.

Dated?

Apparently, one of the big concerns by advertising professionals is whether an ad campaign is “current” and not “dated.” I’ve also heard this being voiced about cover art on books, and how political campaigns are being conducted, particularly after the recent election, despite the fact that the furor over the Electoral College is anything but new or recent.

Even though I don’t drink beer, I really liked and appreciated the Anheuser-Busch commercials which featured their Clydesdale horses. So did all of our beer-drinking friends, but it appears that all of us are “dated,” because using gentle humor, good feelings, and horses was just not appealing to the current generation, a generation that I find less than appealing if they’re actually motivated to buy beer based on dumb commercials featuring clueless young males.

I’ve also heard that Facebook is becoming dated, and that email is almost passe among the younger generations and that communications are largely carried out through tweets and somethings called Snapchat and Instagram, and that websites such as mine, which actually discusses matters in far too many words, are positively antediluvian. It would appear that written communications of more than 128 characters are also “dated.”

Knowledge of history is also clearly “dated,” given that the vast majority of college students on the local university campus have no idea about the civil rights violence of the 1960s and 1970s, the Great Depression, the causes and results of either World War I, World War II, or Vietnam. Music majors seem to arrive at college knowing little about any music except rote-rhythm pop, and seem unable to learn or memorize melodic lines of more than four bars without what seems to them to be excruciating effort, while Hamilton has become the only history lesson many students even want to pay attention to.

Printed newspapers are becoming dated as well, and magazines are in the process of following that trend. And now, a number of school systems aren’t teaching cursive writing, presumably since it’s also dated, despite recent scientific studies showing that writing actually enhances memory and learning.

But then, as the recent election just demonstrated, facts and knowledge are also dated.

Grunt Work

Last week one of my readers posted election turnout statistics, which revealed an interesting pattern – that Republican voters turned out with about the same numbers in every presidential election over the last twelve years, but that Democratic votes varied dramatically, apparently based on the “appeal” of the candidate, and particularly the appeal to African-Americans.

But it wasn’t just candidate appeal that affected turnout. With lawsuits recently upheld by the Supreme Court that restricted the ability of the Justice Department to monitor state election procedures, a number of states “consolidated” polling locations and reduced voting hours, and such restrictions have been shown to reduce minority voter turnout far more than they did Republican turnout, which is exactly what they were designed to do.

Such state acts have been currently held to be legal, but I’d hold that they’re scarcely moral, not that morality counts in elections. Only votes do.

And that gets down to the bottom line. Republicans have been working hard for years on a state-level strategy designed to create a political system more to their liking. They’ve gerrymandered Congressional districts so that Democrat voters are concentrated in fewer districts, which is the principal reason why the House of Representatives is overwhelmingly Republican. What also tends to get overlooked is that getting elected to the House gains an aspiring politician visibility and the ability to fundraise, and if there are more Republican representatives in a state’s delegation, then the Republicans have better odds in eventually electing more senators from that state.

What they’ve done is perfectly legal, but it takes time, effort, and money, all of which Republicans have, and have used effectively over the past decade and even longer, while much of the Democratic constituency is far shorter on all three.

The other factor is cultural change. Like it or not, we now live in a “celebrity” culture, and the key factor in celebrity is the ability to relate to people through the mass media. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could do this with their supporters, Hillary Clinton much less so.

In terms of the 2016 election, although it was far from obvious at the beginning, what this meant was that the Democrats were at what I’d call a structural disadvantage from the start, in that all the election-year “ground game” and organizational skills in the world would be hard-pressed to meet the Republican challenge without a “popular” candidate, and especially hard-pressed once they nominated Clinton.

What I’m saying is not an “excuse” for Democrats. What I’m saying is that Democrats have gotten out-organized, out-funded, and out-maneuvered. Democrats, and this includes others with the same concerns, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have tended to focus on protests and lawsuits, but in the end votes count. No matter how necessary, or how worthy legal and political change may be, in our system that requires changing the laws. Changing the laws requires changing the lawmakers, and changing the lawmakers requires getting more votes at state and local levels… and working at that year after year after year, not just in an election year.
If you get enough votes, even the Electoral College comes your way.

And, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.

The Woman Question?

In the last blog, I cited figures showing the incredibly disproportionate white male vote against Hillary Clinton. Clinton won women last Tuesday by 12 points and lost men by 12 points: a total 24-point gap, the widest gender gap ever in a Presidential election.

There are many contributing factors to why Clinton didn’t win the Electoral College vote, but the one of the major factors is simply that a great number of white males didn’t want a woman President. Now, you can give me lots of other reasons why Clinton didn’t win, but none of them, even together, explain the size of the anti-Clinton white male vote.

People voted that way because they didn’t trust Clinton? That’s obviously true. But why is it true, given that Trump has been proven to be more deceptive, and a greater liar than Clinton? Not to mention that he’s screwed contractors and others out of what he’s owed them? And why do men seem to be so much more willing to ignore Trump’s lies than Clinton’s? Especially given that in every income and education level, men are more against Clinton than women?

Roughly seventy percent of adult males are in the labor force and roughly sixty percent of adult women are in the labor force. Women tend to be paid less, and by all logic, would seem to suffer more from hard economic times. If the reasons for voting are economic, as so many claim, why do men’s votes differ so much from women’s?

Is education a factor in the difference between men’s and women’s votes? Regardless of the level of education, more men than women voted for Trump and against Clinton.

Roughly seventy percent of U.S. households consist of two adults, and the vast majority of those are male-female. That means that similar social, economic, and other pressures impact both, yet there was the widest gender gap ever between men and women’s voting patterns.

In general, women’s votes tended much more to follow past economic and social indicators and past voting patterns than did men’s. The major difference in this election was that one candidate was a woman, and while women’s voting patterns didn’t change all that much, men’s did.

Please don’t give me all the excuses. All the reasons thrown up don’t explain the magnitude of the gap. The only thing that does is that a great many men (and even some women) don’t want a woman President…and all too many of them will never acknowledge that, and some are very, very good at rationalizing why they couldn’t vote for Clinton on other grounds.

It’s still rationalization.

The “Whitelash” Charge

CNN commentator Van Jones, who is black, made the following statement on-air soon after the projections showed that Donald Trump would win the Presidency:

“This was a whitelash – this was a whitelash against a changing country. It was whitelash against a black president, in part.”

Hyperbole? Exaggeration? Not if a number of exit polls taken at hundreds of polling places across the nation happen to be correct. White voters, who compose 69% of voters, voted 58% for Trump and 37% for Clinton. This margin was even more pronounced among men. White men opted 63% for Trump and 31% for Clinton, while white women voted 53% for Trump and 43% for Clinton.

By comparison, non-white voters, who make up 31% of the electorate, voted 74% for Clinton and 21% for Trump.

Trump not only won white voters without a college degree by a margin of 67% to 28%, according to Research for the National Election Pool and Pew Research, but also those white voters with a college degree, if by a much smaller margin of 49% to 45%.
Even among more well-off whites, according to CNN studies, of the 64% of American voters who earn more than $50,000 a year, 49% chose Trump, and 47% Clinton.

Unhappily, these aren’t just factoids and statistics. They represent a white misperception of economic reality… or possibly just a failure by affected white workers to understand that they’re not the only ones hurting, and hurting badly.

I’m not denying that 5-6 million largely white manufacturing workers lost jobs to globalization and automation. Nor am I denying that middle-class income levels, largely of white families, have stagnated over the past thirty years.

The problem is that it’s far worse for minorities, and they feel that their opportunities are also hampered by persistent discrimination and by an economic and justice system that makes their path harder than for whites.

Even though now 23% of African Americans over age 25 have at least one college degree, 36% of whites, and 53% of Asian Americans do. Unfortunately, only15% of Latinos do.

But even with equal degrees, the results aren’t equal. On average, college-educated and degreed blacks make 20% less than similarly educated whites.

According to Census figures, the average [median] income of all households in the U.S. is about $54,000, but the average income of African American households is lower than any other ethnic group at just over $35,000. In terms of savings and housing and some form of assets that can buffer hard times, the average [median] household wealth for whites is $114,000, for Hispanics $13,000, and for African-Americans $11,000. Not only that, but over the past 25 years, the wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled, according to research by Brandeis University.

Currently, a quarter of black and Hispanic families live in poverty, compared to ten percent of white families, and the numbers are even starker when looking at child poverty. Under 11% of white children were in poverty in 2013, but 38% of black children and 30% of Hispanic children are poor.

While great improvements have been made in the educational achievement of minorities and in increasing minority income levels, the gaps are still huge.

What this means, in political and social terms, is that the Trump administration cannot just focus on dealing with “white” economic pain, not without risking even greater political and societal unrest, an unrest that will get even more intense if it is not addressed as the white electorate becomes a smaller and smaller proportion of the population – and we’re talking about a population shift without taking into account ANY future immigration or lack thereof.

Catering to “whitelash” exclusively is a prescription for longer term disaster.

And all that doesn’t even take into account the equally great problem of gender discrimination, which is far too big a subject to include in this post, except to note that it’s also a problem that isn’t going to go away, no matter what white males think.

Relative – and Personal

There are times when I’m not exactly excited to be proved correct. A little over a week ago, I suggested that it was very much possible that Donald Trump would win the Presidency. He did just that, for very much the reasons I suggested. He energized and lifted the non-college educated white male vote and increased the turnout of those men significantly. He got votes from rural areas and small towns – except many college towns – in a far higher percentage than any pollster on either side expected.

He was incredibly effective in speaking to his constituency, and, frankly, the vulgarity and crudeness was part of that effectiveness, because it made him seem real to his voters and not a politician removed from their concerns and their pain. He was one of “the boys,” which also carried the unstated implication that no woman could really understand the problems facing unemployed or underemployed men.

What Trump also understood was something that no Democratic candidate since Bill Clinton has apparently understood, or, at least, been able to convey, is that politics is relative… and personal. People judge where they are in life relative to other people and relative to where they used to be, and their judgment period is fairly short. They don’t care if they’re much better off than their parents or their grandparents if they personally are worse off than last year or the year before. And if they’re minorities, especially African Americans, they’re not all that happy being better off than they were last year if they’re still worse off than non-minorities, especially if they’ve been worse off as a group for centuries… and when they don’t see long-standing injustices and discrimination being effectively addressed.

Add to that the gridlock in Washington, which Trump could and did attack as an outsider, while Clinton was in fact greatly handicapped by her knowledge and experience, simply because if she said in detail why Trump was wrong she was defending a system that all too many Americans dislike and distrust. And if she used detailed policies, which she did, that caricatured her as a bureaucrat for many and reinforced the image of someone who was just another untrustworthy politician.

Nor could Clinton connect that effectively with many women, even despite Trump’s clearly expressed misogyny.

Clinton’s policies may indeed have been better for minorities and possibly even for most Trump supporters, but she couldn’t connect with those voters personally. She couldn’t make them feel that she understood their pain and problems.

Trump could… and did, because, in the end, politics is relative… and personal. And that is why he is President-elect.

Deceptive “Fairness”

The local newspaper had two articles dealing with the two major party Presidential candidates this morning. The one featuring Donald Trump was headlined,“Trump not only billionaire who turned to politics.” The one featuring Hillary Clinton was entitled “Promises by Clinton Might be hard to keep.” Both articles were of two columns, and both featured pictures of the candidates speaking, and both were set at the same height on the page opposite the editorial page, which did not feature an endorsement.

The “problems” story only dealt with Clinton’s possible difficulties in keeping her promises on taxes and the deficit and debt, and did not mention at all the fiscal impossibilities of Trump’s tax plans. The “Billionaire” story mentioned that, while Trump was the first U.S. billionaire to seek the presidency, other wealthy Americans, such as Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush, had sought and won the Presidency. It then went on to mention billionaires in other countries who had been elected to high office.

The superficial fairness reveals the editorial set of the paper without ever actually declaring a stance. First, whoever wins is going to have problems keeping their promises, and it’s more likely that Trump will actually have more trouble doing so even if he has a Republican House and Senate, simply because he’s promised more that is impossible, given technical, legal, Constitutional, and economic limitations. Yet by highlighting only Clinton’s difficulties the editors have created the impression that Trump is more “reasonable” and practical.

This is only one newspaper, and I’m more than certain that other news media have done the same thing, in a way to benefit one candidate or the other, but what bothers me about this is that, in years past, there was at least a vestige of impartial coverage. When the supposed “news” media engage in deception, whether overt or covert, this erodes their credibility – something that, ironically, Trump has charged repeatedly, especially when the media has been brutally factual about his foibles, and something which may have benefited him more than Clinton.

And, whether I like Trump or not, the issue he’s raised is real, despite the fact that the very reason he’s become a viable candidate is exactly because the media has turned from an emphasis on factual reporting to an emphasis on sensation and dollars. The more sensationalism becomes the basis of supposed “reporting,” the less that reporting is trusted, yet paradoxically, the more effective it becomes in reinforcing people’s personal biases, because most people, knowing the media is not impartial, more and more pick out only that news that suits their mindset to accept as “true.”

In essence, then, the emphasis on the bottom line not only bolsters profits, but boosts societal polarization at a time when we need more societal cooperation, not less. And I have yet to see anyone in the media who seems to recognize this. If there is, and there may well be, they certainly haven’t gotten media coverage. Go figure that.

Facts and Feelings

The current Presidential campaign has become ever more bitter as we approach the election, with partisans on both sides venting their feelings. Unfortunately for all of us, the election has become more and more about feelings than facts.

Facts are often those inconvenient examples, or bodies of data, or numbers that don’t quite fit neatly into any ideology or belief. People feel strongly that “free trade” is either good or bad. The facts say, rather convincingly, as a recent series in The Economist summed up, that free trade provides lower prices for everyone, on average a bit less than 40% lower in the U.S., and that the benefit is greater the lower one’s income happens to be. But free trade isn’t all that good for those formerly employed in certain sectors. Free trade means that millions of Americans in manufacturing industries, especially textiles,apparel, and steel, lost their jobs.

Technology is also a very mixed bag. Yes, computers and associated have revolutionized the American workplace and improved communications and entertainment, data processing, accounting, etc., but those same technologies have automated American manufacturing and reduced the number of good-paying jobs for semi-skilled workers, with the result that the combination of globalized free trade and automation has eliminated some six million U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2005. Technology has also significantly contributed to the restructuring of the entire U.S. economy, putting a premium on higher-skill jobs and adding to the forces that have created greater income inequality.

Likewise, improvements in energy production, including fracking, and automation of coal mining, have lowered the real prices of natural gas and oil, and that has reduced the numbers of coal mining jobs and driven a number of major coal companies into bankruptcy and some entirely out of business. Less coal production results in the production of cleaner electric power, but fracking creates new environmental problems.

Despite all the efforts by the Federal Reserve and central bankers around the world, there’s no way to make money cheaper for borrowers than it is, and that cheap money hasn’t done much to spur job creation. With massive deficits in government spending, not only in the United States, but around the world, reducing taxes will only make deficits greater, because any tax cut large enough to create a meaningful stimulus will ensure financial collapse within a few years.

These are facts. No amount of feelings or political rhetoric is going to change them. People aren’t going to willingly pay 20-40% more for goods at a time when middle class income is essentially stagnant, if not lower, and when the real incomes of those below the middle class level have, on average, declined. Government can’t cut taxes significantly, because it won’t be able to borrow enough to pay its bills, and if it prints that much more money, that risks destroying the entire financial system.

Do I see any real discussion on these points? Hell no. I see people frothing at the mouth over Trump’s crudeness and sexual predation, but not attacking or discussing his non-existent knowledge of government or economics, or his simplistic and unworkable, but highly popular [with his suppporters] plans. I see others fuming over what Clinton may have hidden in her emails and the sexual history of her husband, or inaccurate scare-mongering about how she’ll eliminate the second amendment [which she can’t], but not about the implications of her infrastructure programs or the details of her proposed changes to taxes.

Nor do I see any discussion of the voters’ tendency to always want more programs and lower taxes, which is one reason why we’re in the mess we’re in. After all, taxes and spending are truly controlled, not by who is President, but by the Congress, and with the exception of a year or so at the end of the first Bush Administration and some of the Clinton administration, for the last forty years, neither party has had the guts to say no to popular pressure.

It’s so much easier to mount personal attacks on the other side than to deal with the critical issues, especially if you have one candidate who doesn’t even know anything about what really caused the problems that fuel his anger and that of his supporters and the other who essentially ignores the losses so strongly felt by her opponent’s supporters. But then, they both know, Trump more than Clinton, that this election isn’t about facts. For most people, it’s all about feelings, especially anger, and that’s what makes the entire election process and what will follow so potentially dangerous.

November Surprise

Some of the latest polls are suggesting that Donald Trump might win the Presidential election. That would seem to be the greatest surprise in U.S. presidential elections at least since the Dewey-Truman election of 1948, but the closeness of the election isn’t all that much of a surprise to me, for a number of reasons.

First, what appears to be an overwhelming majority of non-college educated white men are angry, really angry, for a number of reasons. Older men in this group feel that they’ve had the economic rug pulled out from under them by the change in manufacturing technology and the globalization of the world economy. Younger men in this group are having a hard time finding even halfway decently paying jobs. Both want to blame somebody, and they don’t want to listen to anything realistic about what has happened and why. It’s much easier to listen to the wild and impossible promises of a candidate who also seems to share their feelings.

Second, there are the younger people, many of whom were attracted to Bernie Sanders. They’re facing or already enduring the high cost of education, or even precluded from that education by the higher costs… and they want that changed now, and many of them feel that Hillary Clinton denied them to chance to vote for Bernie Sanders, the candidate who promised what amounts to educational pie-in-the-sky. And while Trump isn’t promising them much, except “good jobs, lots of wonderful good jobs,” or some rhetoric to that effect, a number of the younger voters appear disinclined to vote for Clinton because she won’t go so far as Bernie in what she promises.

Both groups want everything, and they want it now, even if it’s financially, legally, and economically impossible.

Then, there’s the “elephant in the room,” the elephant – and it’s not the GOP, at least not this time — is the fact that much of the United States retains a patriarchal mindset, so much so that, as I’ve repeatedly noted, Clinton gets blasted for being the untruthful one, when Trump’s lies and misstatements are more than twice as frequent as hers. As one of my readers noted, she’s being investigated for acts that weren’t even questioned when male Republican politicians did the same things, and, also, interestingly enough, those who are flocking to third party candidates are rallying around the men, despite the fact that the sole “national-level” independent woman appears to be far better qualified than either of the two leading male “independents.”

I’m getting this feeling that all too many voters in the U.S. would rather have a womanizing, crude, lewd, cheating, unscrupulous, and incompetent male than a competent woman who has a few flaws in that she exhibits some, but not all, of the characteristics of almost all male politicians. I’m hoping that this blatant misogyny doesn’t result in Trump’s election, but if he’s elected this next Tuesday, don’t say I didn’t tell you. Even if Clinton wins, if the election is as close as it appears, that also says a great deal about too many American voters, and what it says is less than favorable in all too many ways.

But then, I’m just a writer who spent almost twenty years in politics. I really don’t understand why an incompetent lying “fresh face” that’s male is to be preferred over a somewhat flawed but competent and experienced woman.

Public-Private?

One of Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails states fairly directly that politicians need both public and private faces, and there have been a number of negative comments in the media about that – and one positive one. Clinton was absolutely correct in her assessment. The only problem with it was the fact that it was leaked and that too many Americans neither understand politics, nor care to. All they see is that she is “devious” and can’t be trusted.

ALL effective politicians are devious in that respect. The only time a politician can be totally direct and not devious is when the politician – or head of state – has absolute power to accomplish his or her ends… and even then it’s better to be less direct and more “politic.”

As I’ve written before, I learned the hard way that readers sometimes have great difficulty in swallowing unpleasant political facts, which was one of the reasons one of my books – The Green Progression – was the worst-selling book Tor published in the 1990s. This election provides another real-life example of people turning away from unpleasant realities, such as the fact that publicly honest statements can destroy a politician. Just look at the difficulty President Carter created for himself when he made the obvious but impolitic statement that “Life isn’t fair.”

This makes the criticism of Clinton over public and private faces even more amusing, since Donald Trump is anything but “politic.” He may be “direct,” but he’s almost always factually incorrect. He’s rude, crude, and lewd, not to mention disrespectful of anyone he doesn’t like, and he’s continually threatening those disagree with him. He has a long record of going bankrupt and sticking others with the bills. He’s blatantly hypocritical when he says he’ll bring back offshored jobs when he’s offshored the production of all the clothing and personal items he markets under his name. But he tells his supporters what they want to hear, even though there’s no way he can do the vast majority of what he promises. But his supporters think he’s more “honest” than Clinton.

And, in fact, the polls show that the biggest complaint against Clinton is that she can’t be trusted and people think what she did with the private email server was criminal. The FBI and a number of legal experts all say that what she did was wrong, but not prosecutable. If it can’t be prosecuted, under law, it’s not criminal. In addition, it should be noted that the very respected Colin Powell, when he was Secretary of State, whom Clinton consulted, had a private email account as well, and no one seems to be saying that he should be prosecuted.

I don’t hear anyone saying that Trump should go to jail for defrauding small contractors, architects, and others. Or that he can’t be trusted. Certainly, those contractors don’t think he was trustworthy. So why are people more concerned about Clinton’s “trustworthiness” than Trump’s?

Clinton’s made no secret of what her goals and objectives as President would be. Nor has she kept secret her general approach, and sometimes, very specific plans, as how she would address those goals. Her opponents are barking up the wrong tree. She can be very much trusted to attempt many of those objectives. She won’t and can’t do them all. No president ever has or ever will, and that would be true of Trump as well, if he were to be elected.

But Clinton, if elected, can be trusted generally as much as any past president – less than some and more than others – to try to do a great number of things her opponents don’t want done… and that is, I suspect, the real “trust” issue. She wants more restrictions on who can bear arms, but not to repeal the second amendment, which would be an impossibility [which she full well knows, unlike Trump]. She wants higher taxes on the top one percent of earners, including herself and Bill [unlike Trump, who wants to cut taxes most on the wealthy]. She wants to spend more taxpayer dollars on restoring and revitalizing infrastructure, and she’s in favor of maintaining strict environment regulations on power plants and industrial polluters, as well as many other things that she’s scarcely kept secret.

All these may not be to the liking of many voters, but it’s not a question of trust or secretiveness; it’s a question of objectives and which candidate can actually accomplish what.

Sheri S. Tepper

The science fiction and fantasy author Sheri S. Tepper died last Saturday. I never met her, but I began reading her work in mid to late 1980s. Locus magazine, often considered one of the principal news source of the professional F&SF community, ran her obituary, and that obituary is one of the reasons for this blog, because of what it did not say about Tepper and her work. While the obituary cited a great number of her books and the numerous awards that she received over her career as a writer, there wasn’t a single word about what was important about her writing.

Because I did not know her, I can’t speak to her as a person, only as a writer. Her writing could be absolutely devastating in its perspectives on the macho side of men, about the strength of women, and even their necessary coldness, and about the hubris of the male-dominated political systems, especially in dealing with or failing to deal with environmental and ecological issues. I’ve always had the feeling that the SF&F field felt a certain embarrassment about Sheri Tepper and what I [and some others] saw and see as her unapologetic ‘eco-feminism.’

The strongest and most direct of her novels in attacking the male propensity to resort to violence in addressing anything disagreeable was The Gate to Women’s Country, first published in 1988. Especially for men or more “traditional” women, it can be a very disturbing book, because it points out the worst in male behavior and nature as well as some of the worst in female nature – carried to extremes in a cold and very orderly fashion. It also contains a brutal depiction of the absolute worse of the overt misogyny of patriarchal fundamentalist Christianity. Unsurprisingly, the Locus obituary omitted any mention of The Gate to Women’s Country.

Tepper could be indirect in some of her work, or brutally strident, but the underlying themes of everything of hers that I read, some ten or so of her novels, centered on the fundamental issues of biology and ecology and how they impacted people, history, and government… and, of course, how far too many men, and even some women, seemed so involved with power and power games to the detriment of society and the environment.

Through works with various degrees of entertainment, she raised issues that are still relevant, sometimes disturbingly, sometimes indirectly, but their relevance remains, and she deserves recognition and appreciation for that, and not just a polite listing of her jobs, published works, and awards. This is my effort to point that out.

The University… or the Professor?

Year in and year out, I see colleges and universities touting their expertise in given “fields” or departments, and I also see those same universities also honoring distinguished faculty, but what amazes me the most is how seldom those universities recognize the professors who are actually the best and most influential teachers.

Over roughly a fifteen year period from 1961 to 1976 the college from which I graduated produced perhaps the most remarkable group of art experts ever to come from one college, especially one that wasn’t noted for being an art school. Graduates from those years went on to hold the following positions, among others – president of the Rhode Island School of Design, deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Art, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, head of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Director of the National Gallery of Art, chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, president of the New Art Trust, curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, director of the Museum of Modern Art, Curator of Northern Baroque Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, and director of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Those are the ones I could track down, and I suspect there are more that I couldn’t. They were all inspired by one remarkable professor and two of his colleagues. Yet during the time I was an undergraduate, and even in the years following, there was little mention of those three men, except by their students, and recognition came to them, for the most part, long after they’d retired. The college, of course, now basks in the reputation of those graduates.

At another institution, during a four year period, before leaving for a better paying position at a much more prestigious university, a charismatic choral director and voice professor mentored individuals who went on to head various noted musical groups, including one who founded a successful regional opera company and another who went on to direct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This large university never before nor never since has produced graduates who went on to achieve anything close to what that small group did.

In yet another state university, a single professor revitalized a voice program that had failed to graduate a student in years and within five years was graduating students who went on to graduate schools. In the following ten years, those efforts resulted in the creation and accreditation of professional music degrees and more graduates reaching professional success, both academically and occasionally on Broadway and in regional opera. That professor’s productions occasionally receive national awards, and while the students who have graduated sometimes credit that professor, the university never has.

In the previous examples, as well, the noted graduates have organized tributes to their mentors, but recognition by the institutions has been belated, at best.

Now… I know that there have to be scores of similar examples from across the nation, possibly across the world, but the point is simple. It’s not the college or university that makes the difference; it’s the people who teach there, and all too often the best of them go unrecognized by the institutions because institutions have a nasty habit of trying to build a generic brand through publicity and athletics, and by rewarding instant celebrity, often from a single prestigious award or event, and emphasizing single event achievements over painstaking hard work year after year by professors who bring out the best in their students. It’s not what’s taught, or where it’s taught, but who teaches it and how effectively. And very few colleges and universities, even those with great reputations, seem to acknowledge this by recognizing such professors.

Winning at Any Cost…. And Manners

Donald Trump is clearly following the path taken by a certain deplored German political figure in the 1930s. He says what his followers want to hear, even when his opponents can prove that he cannot do what he promises – at least not within the structure of law and the Constitution, and the hard constraints of finance. He utters vicious attacks on anyone who displeases him, attacks that are more often completely untrue than anywhere close to accurate. He bullies everyone who tries to point out his errors, and he attacks the entire political structure as being rigged against him. In fact, anyone who opposes him or suggests he might be in error becomes an enemy and the subject of his wrath.

As far as the political arena goes, decorum, civility, manners – they mean nothing to him, because he believes his cause is just and righteous, and no means that will achieve it can be too low or crude or vicious not to be employed.

When his opponent points out flaws in what he has said or promised, she is the liar, the “crooked” liar, although impartial observers have documented that over 70% of his promises and statements are mostly or entirely false, while only about 30% of hers are mostly or entirely false. His response to this has been to claim that those impartial observers are against him, because he doesn’t see facts as facts. He sees them as impediments to his gaining power.

Now… if the polls are correct, at this point, Trump seems likely to lose, but unhappily, no matter what occurs in November, we are all going to lose. We are going to lose because scorched earth politics, brutal name-calling, disregard of the facts, and blatant appeals to the worst in human nature will most likely result in a Congress even more polarized than the current Congress, an electorate more polarized and unwilling to trust anyone not firmly on “their side,” and an economy that is going downhill, because neither party is willing to adopt a bi-partisan economic reform package that has to include [if anything has a chance of getting better] both fiscal restraint and true tax reform, meaning, among other things, slightly higher tax rates on the top half of one percent and much lower corporate tax rates, but with absolutely no exemptions or loopholes. And that’s just the beginning of what’s necessary.

And it’s not going to happen because, no matter who wins, the other side is going to feel not only cheated, but totally disenfranchised, largely because this long and painful election campaign has been about each side portraying the other as worse than anything possible.

Trump is right about some things, such as the pain of the white male industrial worker and that, whether it’s unfounded or not, that people are worried about what they see as unrestricted illegal immigration. Clinton is also right about some things as well, such as the fact that, like it or not, the U.S. cannot bully the rest of the world, not because we’re not powerful, but because we can’t afford the military presence necessary to do that. Bullying people around doesn’t work, as we’ve discovered in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, without boots on the ground, and we don’t have enough men and women in boots, and the soldiers and sailors wearing those boots don’t have enough equipment, enough maintenance, and enough support to fight all the fights that Trump would have us fight, especially not with the huge federal deficit.

And neither one really has a decent plan to deal with that deficit, although both give it passing lip service.

That, in itself, wouldn’t be insurmountable, except that Congress is also hate-polarized, and doesn’t seem able to surmount the mutual antipathy that the parties have for each other… or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that individual members lack the courage to work out something because the hatred out there among the electorate might well result in their losing their next election if any member crosses party lines.

There’s always been a reason for manners in society, and in functioning governments. That reason is simple. Manners allow people to talk to each other, even when they don’t like each other and what they stand for. And that’s the biggest problem with Donald Trump. He’s shredded the last vestige of political manners… and we’re all going to pay for it – unless we reject that approach to politics.

Religion?

Whether there is a deity or not, that deity, or any of the multiplicities of deities, or different manifestations of the same deity, did not create any religion or denomination. People did, usually men. Those prophets, founders, or administrators may claim that they follow the “word of god,” but I only know of two references to actual physical instructions to worshippers. Supposedly, Moses received the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, and LDS documents declare that Joseph Smith was given brief custody of gold tablets so that he could transcribe the Book of Mormon from them. Whether or not these stone and gold tablets actually existed has become a matter of faith, as well, since no physical evidence remains, and there may well be references to physical objects containing instructions from deities in other faiths, but I’m not conversant with such.

In any event, the actual “word” from deities is, shall I say, less than exactly overwhelming, while the amount of proscriptions, prescriptions, theology, beliefs, and approved and disapproved practices from human prophets is indeed overwhelming. And in older belief systems, what one set of prophets or seers or revelators declared often conflicts in greater or lesser degree with what other and later such individuals have declared is the word of the deity or various deities.

In short, religion, no matter what various theological fonts of authority and/or doctrine declare, is a human construct designed to shape human behavior to a desired “theological code.” And the difference in the codes followed by differing groups, even supposedly in the same religion, is often considerable. Yet each is convinced of the supremacy and purity of its interpretation and practices, to the point, where at present and over the course of history, many have insisted on death to unbelievers or those who follow the “wrong” theology.

Now… this might be understandable if a given deity had appeared and leveled a city of unbelievers with lightning bolts while appearing miles tall in the sky. But this never happened. Instead, one group of believers or another decided to take matters into their own hands and unilaterally declare, on pain of death or with some other threat, that those who did not believe would suffer and/or die if they did not acknowledge the “true faith,” an example of might attempting to establish theological right.

Thousands of years of conflict and warfare strongly suggest that this approach has considerable failings, even when a given doctrine or religion manages to gain control of the government and the armed forces. Yet the examples of history don’t seem to offer much discouragement to wars of religion.

Could it just be that there’s something wrong with the entire institution of religion, at least in the most common forms practiced on this planet over its human history?

No… it can’t be that, could it?

Religion and the Arts

This past weekend, I watched a short segment on CBS about a young trumpet player from Afghanistan who now attends music school in the United States, thanks to the efforts of a professional symphonic trumpet player who mentored him and spurred fundraising efforts that allowed the young man to get to the U.S. What amazed me was that, according to the story, and to the young man, playing trumpet in Afghanistan is viewed as anti-religious and that even carrying the trumpet openly would have been dangerous to his life.

Now, for decades there have been news stories and reports about how various religious leaders, largely fundamentalist Islamic types, decry and frown upon the licentiousness of Western popular music, and frankly, some Western popular music is licentious, but how is wanting to be a symphonic trumpet player anti-religious?

All this raises in my mind the issue about how many “fundamentalist” or evangelical religions approach the arts. Some Christian denominations decry dancing, and one popular evangelical Southern Baptist preacher, years ago, declared that “a dancing foot and a praying knee don’t grow on the same leg.” Certainly, most of the books that have been banned or found objectionable have been singled out for “religious” reasons. Certainly, within the “Christian” world, at times, certain paintings and sculptures, if not entire schools of art, have been found objectionable.

Yet I have to ask why any religion should want and be able to forbid activities that are not physically dangerous? Dancing certainly doesn’t disrespect a deity, and is actually considered worship in some faiths, nor does playing a trumpet or any other instrument convey theological disrespect. Bad dancing and bad playing are certainly painful to eyes and ears, but why should any deity even care?

That fact is that religious doctrines reflect an attempt to unify believers in a common doctrine while gaining power for the leaders of that doctrine. And for some religions, free expression, particularly in the arts, is considered as a threat to either the doctrine or that power, if not both. And that’s not only a shame, but a good reason to question a faith that insists on such prohibitions.

Hidden Agendas?

Lots of people have hidden agendas, and baser feelings that they wouldn’t like known, especially attached to their names… and elections and politics have a way of bringing them out, sometimes openly, and sometimes anonymously.

Immigration is one of those issues. While Donald Trump and many of his supporters have expressed violent anti-immigrant statements and proposed punitive and often impractical if not impossible anti-immigrant proposals, this isn’t a new phenomenon in the United States.

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 restricted the rights of immigrants. Then, in the early 1850s, immigration to the United States quintupled, an increase fueled by poor Irish and German peasants, the majority of whom were Catholic, and urban crime increased dramatically. The high crime rate and the rising fear that the increasing number of Catholics would turn the U.S. into a “Papist” nation controlled by the Pope inspired the creation of the American Party, whose members were also called “Know Nothings,” and who espoused an anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant political philosophy, while paradoxically also opposing slavery. In the Congressional elections of 1854, the American Party actually won 22% of the seats in the U.S. House, and captured the legislature in Massachusetts, but failed to gain further ground and largely faded away after the election of 1860. Later movements opposing immigration were the Immigration Restriction League of the early 20th Century and the anti-Asian movements in the American west, which resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act and an agreement with Japan to restrict Japanese immigrants. The 1920s saw the imposition of immigration quotas and other restrictions, many of which remain in effect.

All of this ignores, of course, the basic fact that every single individual living in the United States is either an immigrant or the descendent of immigrants. Does this mean that only “our” ancestors were the worthy immigrants? The virulent anti-immigrant agenda not only denies our heritage, but also implies an unfounded elitism, yet generation after generation, it persists, and often some of those of the present generation who are most violent in their attacks on immigrants are the very ones whose ancestors were denigrated.

Another issue is that of women’s rights and gender equality, not so much a hidden issue, but one where the Trump campaign is appealing to another set of prejudices that many people don’t want to acknowledge. Although Abigail Adams wrote her husband in 1776, begging him “not to forget the ladies” and not to put unlimited power in hands of their husbands, women didn’t receive the right to vote until a hundred and forty-four years after her letter. Even today, the fight for gender-equal pay and rights continues, and not just in the Presidential campaign, but even on the local levels, as in supposedly progressive Seattle, where earlier this year, a highly sexist and vicious barrage of letters and emails bombarded the five female members of the Seattle City Council who voted against selling a city street to make way for a new sports arena, and outvoted the four male members of the council. The comments ranged from suggesting that all five women commit suicide in highly graphic ways to brutal comments on their appearance, the sort of personal comments that are seldom if ever applied to male politicians. These sorts of comments have become even more common this year, possibly as a result of the misogynistic comments of Trump himself, and just indicate, again, the fact that more than a few men do not want women exerting power, let alone having equal pay and rights. Trump’s rhetoric, the bumper stickers proclaiming “Trump the Bitch,” as well as even more obscene and graphic pins and stickers, polling data, and the clearly sexist (and successful) appeal to “traditional” male supremacy make it clear that Trump is making an appeal to the sexist male, and I find that approach offensive. Obviously, a lot of Trump supporters don’t.

That’s certainly not to say that all men who oppose Hillary Clinton are sexist, but I’d wager that a high percentage are. I’d also bet that some of those are unconsciously sexist, who will protest to their dying day that they’re not, that they’d vote for the “right woman” in an instant, except for them no woman will ever be the “right woman” … because they still believe, deep inside and hidden from scrutiny or self-examination, that politics, business, and government should be a man’s world.

And the funny thing about all this is that it still is and has been largely a man’s world, even in the U.S., and pretty much all of the problems have been caused by men. So… why are so many men, and even quite a few women, so convinced that a man, particularly one like Trump, can do so much better than a woman, especially when his personal record suggests otherwise, and when so much of his appeal is based on anger and issues unworthy of the country we’re supposed to be?

Maintenance Deferred = Disaster

Last week Bloomberg Businessweek published an article on how the lack of new helicopters and inadequate resources for maintenance of aging helicopters, in particular the Sikorski H-53E, were killing Navy helicopter pilots. The story saddened, but didn’t surprise me, since some 45 years ago, when I was a young Navy helicopter pilot, the Navy faced the same problems, except, if the Bloomberg report is correct, the problems may well be worse now than they were back then.

The H-53E entered service in 1981, and production ended by 1990, meaning that the oldest H-53Es are older than many of the pilots flying them. Because of the usefulness of helicopters depends in large part on their operation under conditions that create the most stress and strain on the airframe, including high levels of vibration, helicopters require continuing and extensive maintenance, but maintenance was slighted in all too many instances because of funding shortages created by Congressional budget caps and sequestrations. Then after several disasters in 2014, the Navy and Marines scraped up more maintenance funds in an effort to keep the H-53Es flying safely. But even with good maintenance, helicopters wear out quickly. The Navy was well aware of this and had planned to replace the H-53E initially by 2005, but had difficulty getting funding for the H-53K, so that the first H-53Ks will not be delivered until 2018, at the earliest.

Today, according to Bloomberg, Navy statistics show that there have been at least 19 non-combat disasters with the H-53E involving loss of life or damages in the multi-million dollar range, and the H-53E’s rate of major failures is three times the naval aviation average. And it’s likely that all the H-53Es cannot be replaced until 2029, at which time the “newest” H-53Es will be almost 40 years old.

This is just another example of something I see everywhere. Everyone wants the new aircraft, the new highway, the new bridge, the new building, the new stadium…and almost no one thinks of or budgets for the maintenance of these “new things” once they appear. In the case of the military aircraft, the failure of maintenance often results in spectacular crashes and pilots and crews dying… and in weeks those are forgotten, especially by the time the appropriations bills come up. But the Congress and the military aren’t the only example. Here in town, some fifteen years ago, the town built a badly needed civic theatre with function rooms that could handle very small conventions as well. The town has grown by almost 30% in that time, and theatre is booked close to year around… and, guess what, the theatre needs maintenance and replacement equipment – and the city council has never budgeted for it.

The United States has a highway and bridge infrastructure funding gap; the national parks system needs billions of dollars of repairs; and the list of maintenance and replacement projects in all areas is getting endless… and at all levels politicians can only insist on lower taxes, regardless of the costs in lives and national productivity, and each year the amount of deferred maintenance increases.

Of course, when someone is killed, then a multi-million dollar lawsuit is filed, but that money doesn’t bring back the dead or keep the next death from occurring. So, by all means, vote for lower taxes and convince yourself that you’re being fiscally responsible… and, by the way, supportive of the military pilots who fly the the H-53E and the crews and troops they carry.

The Problem with Extremism

A number of times in past blogs, I’ve often pointed out that one of the problems with politics in the United States today is political polarization and either the unwillingness or the inability of the two major political parties in Congress to compromise in order to accomplish constructive ends.

A recent article dealing with game theory and radical religious extremists, especially Islamic extremists, gave me definite pause for thought, because the author pointed out that compromise is impossible between a secular government and any group whose defined goal is destruction, whether that destruction is aimed at a concrete object, a society, a country, a government, or a way of life, because total destruction is an absolute with which there can be no compromise and those pursuing that goal will give their lives before accepting any compromise.

The same problem arises even in democratic or republican forms of government when any individual or group insists on an uncompromising “absolute.” This has been demonstrated recently in U.S. domestic politics. For a fundamentalist believer in the “right-to-life” of every fetus, regardless of the cost to the mother, including her life, or to society, or even to a non-viable fetus, there is no compromise. For someone whose faith requires male supremacy, the compromise of equal rights can never be acceptable. For those who believe in the only form of marriage that should be recognized by government as that between one man and one woman, no compromise is acceptable. For those who believe that the only laws are those of one particular faith, no compromise with secular authority, or even another faith, is possible.

Absolutes in religious faith of whatever nature, and in some “secular faiths,” are usually not amenable to compromise, and so-called “compromises” are merely pauses while the absolutists attempt to make further “progress” toward their absolute goal.

While the Founding Fathers, so far as I’m aware, didn’t state that they wanted to avoid religious absolutes specifically, they certainly were aware of the problem, which was why they stated in Article Six of the Constitution that no religious test shall ever be required for public office or public trust and why the first amendment to the Constitution declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

But the problem today is that various groups are pursuing not only religious absolutes, but also secular absolutes, as exemplified by the religious-like fervor over “gun rights,” where the extremists on one side insist on the absolute right to bear any kind of arms in any kind of situation and those on the other side insist that guns have no place at all in a civilized society. Each side demonizes the other’s attempts to come up with a solution to the 13,000 or so annual deaths from firearms, because each believes that the other will not stop until they reach an absolute position.

Absolutism has never worked, and it likely never will, but that doesn’t seem to stop those who believe in absolutes. The problem with that, especially with religion-based terrorists, is that, short of destroying such absolutists, and, in effect becoming another kind of absolutist, there’s no middle ground. In politics in the U.S., however, there should be room for a middle ground. Certainly, the Founding Fathers thought so, but perhaps Franklin was thinking about the tendency toward absolutism when he said that they had created “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The Media Supplied the Kindling

…and most of the fuel for the political phenomenon and conflagration that is Donald Trump. And it all goes back to ratings.

Let me explain. Quite a number of books and articles by reputed scholars and others that point out – despite the troubles in the U.S. and elsewhere – that we still live in the most prosperous time in human history, with the longest average life-spans and best health, and a far lower percentage of people living in extreme poverty or dying from violent causes. That doesn’t mean life is perfect, only that for most people, it’s a whole lot better than at any other time in human history. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence, despite the statistics, a majority of Americans feel that things are getting worse.

While there’s no doubt that this is true for some people, the fact is that in any dynamic society, things are getting better for some people and worse for others, and in the last decade, middle class earnings haven’t increased, or depending on the definition of middle-class, have actually declined a few percentage points, which is significant if it’s your income. But… compared to a generation ago, things are a lot better. And the vast majority of people suffer less from infectious diseases and from sicknesses caused by environmental factors.

Yet there are huge segments of the population who talk and act as if the United States is on the verge of collapse, despite having the largest economy in the world, the most powerful military force the world has ever known, and a high-tech industrial base that no one else can match.

Why?

Because every news program, as well as social media, is permeated with problems and disasters, tales of violence and killings, disaster after disaster – and this has become even more prevalent in the last fifteen to twenty years. And this media-blitz does nothing to put this in perspective. Yes, we have terrorist attacks, but so far this year the total casualties in the U.S. are in the low hundreds, if even that high. We kill over 40,000 people on the highways in a single year, and there’s pressure in many states – as in my own state of Utah – to increase the maximum speed limit. Our freedom to “bear arms” results in over 300 million firearms and over 13,000 deaths a year… and we oppose any further gun controls – but the country is going to hell in a handbasket because a handful or two of Islamic or other terrorists kill a few hundred people?

Modern media technology can tell us of bombings and natural disasters anywhere in the world in minutes, when in the past, people didn’t find out for weeks, or even years, if they ever did at all. This contrast makes the past seem so much safer than the present, when in fact, the opposite is true.

Unhappily, this decades-long media diet of gore, violence, and disaster has created a public belief in how bad things are – and Donald Trump has used this to great advantage in stirring up fear, distrust, and anger. What’s most amazing to me is that the fact-checking outfit Politifact has stated that 70% of Trump’s statements are either mostly false, false, or blatantly outrageously false, yet most Americans don’t see matters that way. By comparison, only 28% of Hillary Clinton’s statements fall into the mostly false, false, or blatantly outrageously false category, yet most people think the two are in the same general range of untrustworthiness. And that, I submit, is because of the media slant on the news in general, that is, “bad is good, terrible is better, and the worse it is, the better for our ratings.”

And, one way or another, we’re all going to pay the price for the media’s gorging on disaster and despair in order to fatten their bottom line, not that my observations, or all those of the scholars who’ve studied the matter in far greater depth than the media or Donald Trump, will persuade many people after decades of commercial brain-washing.