Archive for September, 2019


What’s all too often overlooked by both left and right in the political name-calling and ego-bashing that passes for political discussion by the far right and far left is the issue of equal opportunity, what it is, what people think it is, and what each side passionately declares it should be.

More than a few partisans on the left confuse opportunity with outcomes. They believe that if outcomes are not equal, opportunity is not equal. They don’t put it that bluntly, but they certainly give the impression that they believe unequal outcomes reflect unequal opportunity. Now, on a large scale, unequal opportunities will definitely result in unequal outcomes, but because individuals differ in vastly in innate abilities, genetics, environment, and upbringing, the reverse is not true. Unequal outcomes do not necessarily prove unequal opportunities, and that’s why a closer look at the situation is necessary.

That being said, today in the United States, our current culture has enshrined and neglected to remedy, and in a number of cases, made opportunity for people even more unequal.

When business and industry pollute, they worsen the environment, and they do so in a manner most detrimental to the disadvantaged, because higher levels of pollution weaken health and actually impair intelligence. So when a business fails to comply fully with health and safety standards, or when government does not insist on adequate standards, the salaries of executives and the profits of shareholders are literally subsidized by the negative impacts on the health and intelligence of those too poor to move away from polluted areas and often without options for a healthier workplace. And because executive offices and the homes of those executives are usually removed from the factory floor, workers face less healthy work environments than do executives.

Given the way school systems are funded, the children of more affluent parents have not only better health, but better education opportunities. The same holds true for health care. And because poorer people often cannot afford the best of diets, that lack of balanced nutrition hampers the development of their children.

In a real and absolute sense, the most basic of opportunities, simply to grow up healthy with an opportunity to learn and develop, is heavily biased toward the more affluent members of society. Yet too many initiatives to create more equal opportunities for those whose opportunities are blighted are decried as social engineering.

But isn’t allowing excessive pollution for the sake of profits and higher incomes for executives also social engineering? Isn’t gerrymandering school systems by income levels to keep out the less affluent social engineering? Isn’t rigging healthcare based on income social engineering? Today, it’s accepted practice, at least by Republicans and conservatives, that corporations and moneyed individuals can engage in such social engineering, but that government shouldn’t.

But, if government doesn’t… just how long will the increasing numbers of the disadvantaged, and their numbers are increasing as the middle class continues to vanish, how long before they decide not to accept the current charade of “equal” opportunity? How long before matters get even more violent?

Hypocrisy and Incompetence Compounded

Earlier this week, Trump threatened to withhold $19 billion over the next three years in highway trust funds for roads and highway infrastructure if California doesn’t drop its efforts to require higher car and truck mileage standards in order to reduce automotive emissions and pollution. Ever since the Nixon Administration, under federal law, the federal government has permitted California to require higher standards because of its greater auto emission and air quality problems.

The Trump Administration has claimed that it will withhold those funds because the state hasn’t fully implemented some 130 air quality state implementation plans (SIPs). Federal law requires states with dirty air to come up with plans on how to reduce pollution, but those plans must be approved by the EPA. EPA has a backlog of such plans awaiting approval, and California’s 130 SIPs account for about one-third of the total.

What’s totally ridiculous about this is that these plans have been submitted to EPA, where they have languished for years because EPA is supposed to review them, and then accept, reject, or propose modifications. EPA has not taken any of those actions, as required by law.

Now, EPA Administrator Wheeler has demanded that California withdraw all 130 and resubmit them because California isn’t meeting air quality standards, despite the fact that 85% of the population — 34 million people — breathe dirty air.

Wheeler’s letter to the California Air Resources Board totally baffled state regulators and even former EPA officials who say the backlog exists because the federal government has not approved the plans and that what EPA is now doing is basically punishing California for EPA’s own inaction.

On top of that, during the Trump administration, EPA has rolled back or is in the process of rolling back twenty-four air quality regulations that would reduce air pollution, including a rule limiting methane emissions on public lands, including intentional venting and flaring from drilling operations; a rule designed to limit toxic emissions from major industrial polluters; a rule requiring fewer emissions from new power plants and expansions; a rule requiring newly built coal power plants capture carbon dioxide emissions; a rule setting strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants. In addition, EPA has proposed rolling back all mileage standards for new cars and light trucks, which would significantly increase auto emissions and pollution nation-wide.

So after taking all these steps to increase air pollution, Trump now wants to make it harder for California to clean up its air… and wants to withhold federal funds because California isn’t complying fully with federal law because EPA hasn’t done its job.

Talk about incompetence and blaming others for it!

Narcissistic Destruction

The latest news on President Trump is that he threatened Ukraine by withholding aid unless the country started investigating the Bidens, then when that threat became public, mysteriously the aid was released. Rather than acknowledge that, of course, now Trump is attacking former Vice President Biden, accusing Biden of the very tactics that news reports have revealed that Trump used when trying to force the Ukrainian President to investigate Biden’s son.

After respected news reporter Cokie Roberts died last week, President Trump’s comments were that he’d never met her and that she never treated him nicely – except she had interviewed him previously in Trump Tower on a nationwide television broadcast.

He doesn’t like California; so he’s decided to try to force the state to have more air pollution, despite the fact that all the major auto manufacturers prefer the higher fuel economy requirements, both for environmental and economic reasons.

He’s fired the highest number of senior staff and political appointees on record, generally because they disagree or tell him that they can’t or shouldn’t do things. He’s pushed the Department of Justice to prosecute career officials who spoken against his acts or contradicted what he said. Either he or the Secretary of Commerce threatened NOAA officials [even though this has subsequently been denied] who tried to point out that Trump erroneously changed NOAA broadcast weather maps with his sharpie.

He cozies up to dictators who praise him, and criticizes and bad-mouths leaders of other nations who don’t suck up to him. He’s even turned on Fox News when it aired factual news reports about him and his administration that he didn’t like.

He’s attacked the Federal Reserve Board for failing to lower interest rates the way he wanted, despite the fact that they’re not that far from all-time lows and unemployment is low, and that even lower rates risk real estate and stock market bubbles. He attacked the Prime Minister of Denmark when she told him that Greenland was not for sale. He attacked the Mayor of London, and various other officials.

He’s also attacked environmental protection regulations, not only on the global warming issue, but on a range of regulations where he’s attempted to roll back clean air and clean water regulations, among others and turned national monuments with fragile ecosystems and ancient archaeological ruins into open energy and mining areas, while attacking native Americans and others who wanted to preserve such areas.

And yet Trump’s supporters ignore it all, presumably because they hate liberals and Democrats so much that they’ll accept lying, bribery, corruption, and illegal acts rather than admit any fault in Trump.

PC Run Amuck

The so-called “scandal” facing Justin Trudeau is a clear case of political correctness going totally and insanely out of control. When Trudeau was a 29 year old teacher he dressed up as Aladdin for a costume party and applied make-up to his face. Now the PC police are screaming for his head.

For what exactly? In the first place Aladdin never existed. He’s totally fictional. Aladdin’s story is said to be taken from The Thousand and One Nights (also called The Arabian Nights), reputedly told by Scherherazade. Yet the tale of Aladdin wasn’t even in the original version of the tales, but in a French translation of the Arabic version by French scholar Antoine Galland in 1712 to which Galland added several new stories told to him by a Syrian named Ḥanna Diyab from Aleppo. “Aladdin and the Magical Lamp” was one of them. In both Galland’s version and Richard Burton’s popular 1885 English translation, Aladdin lives “in a city of the cities in China.” Illustrations of the tales from the Victorian era depict the story and its characters as Chinese.

So how is Trudeau racist? He went to a costume party as a fictional character from a pseudo-Arabic land that a story teller adapted from a Chinese setting. He wasn’t making derogatory remarks, nor was he demeaning anyone’s culture.

Yet the PC police seem unable to distinguish harmless and non-demeaning costume partying from real racism. The reason why “blackface” is demeaning and racist is because it replicates the traveling minstrel shows in the U.S. in the period of roughly 1880 to 1920, where white entertainers put on “blackface” and sang supposedly black/Negro songs while usually depicting black Americans in a negative or culturally condescending manner.

Trudeau did none of that – and going after him for depicting a fictional character from a non-existent land and only vaguely an Arabic culture is taking matters totally out of context.

If what Trudeau did is racist, then so is the musical Hamilton, because in that wildly successful musical actors of color are portraying noted white Founding Fathers, not always in the best of light. I don’t find the musical Hamilton racist, but the PC police should… that is, if they’re going to be true to their own “principles.”

Political Lies?

There’s always been a perception of politician as liars. As an example, Mark Twain declared, “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

Yet in my nearly twenty years in politics, on a percentage basis, I saw very little criminal behavior, and certainly less than one would see among a similar number of such individuals in the private sector. I knew a number of politicians who were scrupulously honest, and a few whose basic honesty I seriously doubted. I never saw the wholesale lying by all politicians that has always seemed to a wide-spread perception, although I definitely did see a few politicians who engaged in it, in both parties. I’ll admit that I also saw a great deal of “spin” and tailored speeches and presentations, and I suspect that spin and half-truths fuel the idea that politicians always lie.

But how many Americans spin the truth in ways large and small? Why should we expect politicians to be any different?

Yet today, when we have a President who engages in so many falsehoods that go well beyond spin and half-truths that it’s a full-time job to keep track of them, the reaction of a great many Americans, if not most Americans, is that all politicians lie.

But there’s a significant difference between shading the truth and out and the out-and-out bald-faced lies that are Trump’s stock in trade. And to top it off, Trump and his associates claim that comparatively minor misstatements on the part of those who oppose Trump and his policies are total lies? Why don’t people make a distinction?

Could it just be that they really believe he’s telling the truth, that mainstream media is fake news, that climate change is just a Chinese hoax, that more coal-fired power plants are good for us, that environmental laws have gone too far, despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary?

I’d submit that when people accept such statements as truth, their belief comes from basic perceptual conflicts. Recent research has shown that people have different outlooks and value sets [what a great surprise] that are formed on a highly emotional bases that often may have little or no foundation in observed facts.

For example, people with certain perceptions wanted to believe that Barrack Obama couldn’t be a “real” American, and so they accepted any idea that supported that belief, despite the fact that he had to be a citizen on two counts: his mother was definitely a white American citizen from Kansas, and he was born in Hawaii, which has been American territory for well over a century. Yet the “birthers” still insist on believing the contrary.

Politicians are faced with a basic conflict. Given the nature of the country and their job, even with gerrymandering, at least a third and sometimes more than half of their constituents don’t see the world in the way they do. Therefore, when that politician asserts something he believes to be true that conflicts with what people believe, those people would rather believe that he’s lying, even if what he says is confirmed by factual evidence.

Statistically and practically, it can be proven that immigrants don’t take away high paying jobs from Americans – except in the cases where the immigrants have more education and expertise, and those instances are comparatively few. Yet tens of millions of Americans believe that immigrants are the problem rather than the economics of the current American marketplace, and nothing is likely to convince them otherwise. So any politician who says immigrants aren’t the problem must be a liar to such believers.

We’ve all seen extreme cases of this – people who won’t believe the Nazi genocide or the moon landing, for example, or even that the earth is flat.

What it all boils down to is that, for most people, “emotional truth” trumps contrary observed and proven facts any day, and that means any politician who doesn’t agree with your emotional truths is at the least suspect and at worst lying – whether he is or not.

Battles Over Words

More than two hundred years ago, the French intellectual Madame de Stael made the observation that battles over words reflected a larger battle over things. And in two centuries that certainly hasn’t changed.

The battles over words such as “white privilege” or “racism” or “black lives matter” aren’t just about what those words themselves mean, but about who controls the economy, government, and policing powers of the United States, and whether that control remains in the hands of a white, largely male, elite or whether power will rest more equally in representatives of all the people.

The fight over “abortion” isn’t just about whether and/or when abortions should be legal, but about who should have control of women’s bodies, whether that control should remain in the hands of government, largely male, or whether individual women should make that decision, or whether there is some middle ground.

The battle in Britain over Brexit is another example where words don’t capture the scale of the conflict over literally the future of Great Britain and, coincidentally, of Ireland and the European Union.

Sometimes, seemingly innocuous phrases and words are anything but, and really should be battled over. Take “student evaluations.” Who could object to student evaluations? Except those evaluations have fueled an enormous pressure to dumb down curricula because college professors get evaluated on their basis and studies have repeatedly shown that professors who insist on academic rigor get bad evaluations and are less likely to be retained.

Or “Make America Great Again.” Who doesn’t want their nation to be great? But very few people are asking, “Great for who?” Is it so great for the millions of young adults with overwhelming student loan debt? Is it that great for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, forced into poverty by massive medical bills? Or for the farmers losing income and possibly their farms as a result of a tariff/trade war created in an effort to Make America Great Again? Is it great for the tens of millions of people forced to continue breathing polluted air to boost the profit margins of polluting industries?

Slogans and catch phrases sweep people up, but all too often no one looks behind the words. They just accept or reject the words based on their superficial reaction.

But that hasn’t changed since Maximilien Robespierre shouted for LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ back in 1790, at the height of the French Revolution, which resulted in the French essentially losing all three.

Prime USPS

Last Sunday, we received a package. It wasn’t a special package. It wasn’t sent special delivery or by upgraded UPS or Fedex. It was just a package of items ordered from Amazon – and it was delivered on a Sunday by a U.S. Postal Service carrier in a USPS truck.

I have a problem with this. I don’t get mail on Sunday. The local Post Office has its last collection every day at 3:30 p.m., meaning that anything collected by carriers or posted at the Post Office after 3:30 p.m. doesn’t go out until the next afternoon. Cedar City may not be a large city, but it serves 50,000-60,000 people and is located on a major interstate.

On top of that, as I’ve posted earlier, we get close to a hundred pounds of unordered and unwanted catalogues every month, not to mention the hundred plus charitable solicitations, also from charities to which neither of us has any indication to contribute, or the 20-30 political solicitations for candidates in whom we have no interest.

Yet the Postal Service keeps running deficits and has to keep raising the price of first class and priority mail. A one ounce first class letter costs 55 cents to mail, but non-profit mail rates range from 13cents to 18 cents, while commercial rates are roughly 18 cents. Why exactly should first class and priority mail users pay roughly three times as much for sending things by mail as business marketing mailers, particularly when the U.S. Postal Service is supposed to be operated like a business?

If various businesses can afford to send hundreds of catalogues a year to tens of thousands, if not millions, of people who never buy from them, it strikes me that catalogue mailing rates are far too low, and that a great deal more revenue could be raised by increasing bulk mailing rates, rather than cutting service hours and jacking up first class rates.

And, of course, there’s also the question as to why Amazon gets special service from the U.S. Postal Service… and how much they’re paying for it… although I’d bet, if an outside and impartial audit were conducted, one that compared the costs of providing each class of service and the revenue received from each, that audit would show that Amazon is getting a sweetheart deal.

But, as I also noted earlier, such an audit has never happened and never will, not when the direct mail industry has Congress in its pocket.

White Privilege?

In the twitter community and elsewhere, there’s been a lot made of “white privilege.” While most of what’s said about what’s called white privilege is unfortunately true, I have a problem with the terminology. I don’t deny the fact that being white gives one an advantage in the U.S. over those with darker skins, or the fact that, as a society, we need to do something about it. What troubles me is that the term – “white privilege” – suggests, especially in the way it’s being currently used, that it’s a singular problem.

It’s not a singular problem; it’s one of several “privileges” or problems that have significant adverse economic, legal, and social impacts. Being white offers an advantage, ranging from considerable in some circumstances to minimal in others, but it’s a definite advantage. So is coming from a strong and supportive family background. So does having a good genetic background. So does having family wealth. So does living in a less polluted environment. All of these have significant impacts on children and how they grow up, and even into early adulthood, but no one speaks of “family privilege” or “genetic privilege” or “environmental privilege.”

Study after study has shown that growing up in a unified, supportive, and functional family has a huge beneficial impact, yet this is minimized, except, interesting enough, by religious conservatives, despite the fact that “family privilege” is an enormous factor in how successful children will be.

More and more studies have shown the significant adverse impacts created by various forms of pollution on children’s health and intelligence, and yet there’s very little society-wide outcry about the fact that, effectively, upper middle class and upper class children essentially have what amounts to geographical environmental privilege because pollution disproportionately impacts the poor and minorities. In reality, we actually practice pollution discrimination, both here in the U.S. and in our manufacturing outsourcing to third world nations.

What’s called white privilege is a definite and pervasive social (and still a legal) problem, but highlighting it obscures the other “privileges” that often have an even greater impact on society, especially on the poor and minorities.