Archive for July, 2023


What I find most amazing about the Republican party’s rhetoric and claims that Democrats and Liberals are undermining freedom is the fact that most Republicans appear totally clueless that the GOP is the political party most involved in undermining freedom.

The most notable aspect of this is the issue of abortion, although it’s hardly the only one. The battle to outlaw abortion is obviously a restriction on the right of women to be free of religion-based restraints on their body. No matter what religious or other grounds one cites, any restrictions limit women’s freedom to choose.

Roe v. Wade, or the rights that the Right to Choose movement support, do not restrict the rights of women to choose not to have abortions or not to use birth control. A right-to-choose approach doesn’t force any woman to have an abortion or to use birth control. Yet some of the anti-abortion laws on the books in some states not only effectively forbid abortion, but are so restrictive that they limit medical care, in many cases involving medical problems having nothing to do with birth.

The same applies to banning books in libraries. If you don’t like certain books… don’t read them. But banning books in libraries restricts the freedom of others to read, particularly for people who cannot afford to buy books.

Republicans also tend to oppose environmental laws, including those that impact human health, effectively requiring millions of people to breathe heavily polluted air for the sake of profits of a handful of companies. The right to excessive profit trumps [in some cases, literally] the right of the majority to breathe cleaner air.

Republicans are also the ones opposing efforts to make voting more convenient for those who live in areas inclined to vote for the other party.

And, of course, it was a Republican President who tried to overturn the free will of the American people to choose their President… and a good half of them, if not more, support a man who did his best to undermine freedom.

Yet they insist that they’re for freedom, and the Democrats aren’t.

The Corruption Conundrum

Every human civilization has some amount of corruption. Corruption exists because humanity always has a proportion of people who are less able and less honest and who want to be paid or make money regardless of the cost to others, or who promise more than they deliver.

There’s also the very real problem of defining corruption.

Unfortunately, defining corruption is a bit like defining pornography. Everyone knows what it is, and everyone can recognize it (if in their own terms), but few can agree on a concrete definition.

A simplistic way of defining corruption might be: any activity that biases the outcome of any economic transaction or activity to grant an advantage to a party on the basis of factors other than price, cost, availability, and quality or (2) any legal or regulatory determination arrived other than through equal application of the law and standards of the land.

Corruption can negatively impact the economy directly, through, for example, tax evasion and money laundering, as well as indirectly by distorting fair competition and fair markets, and thus increasing the cost of doing business.

Studies have shown that, in general, countries where free markets and economic opportunities prevail tend to have less corruption, but the problem with totally free markets is that monopolies tend to proliferate, working conditions are poor, and economic inequalities grow. To mitigate those problems, societies such as the United States and European democracies regulate a fair amount of their economic activity in order to ensure that foods and medicines are safe, that dangerous working practices are outlawed, that industrial pollution is reduced or eliminated, that consumer products are not dangerous to the user when employed properly… and so forth.

Such regulations raise the cost of doing business, and businesses have always tended to oppose them, find ways around them, or ignore those regulations. That means that regulatory bodies not only have to spend funds to assure enforcement but also have to devote resources to explain and defend what they do as well as guard against bureaucratic and legislative attempts to dilute the effectiveness of laws and regulations. Such attempts could often be classed as another form of corruption in that they’re designed to reduce costs by foisting diseconomies on customers and society under the guise of lowering costs to the producer of goods or services.

As a consequence, government organizations tasked with protecting the public have a tendency to grow as economic entities attempt to evade or challenge regulations. In addition, each advance in technology also creates downsides that, if not controlled and regulated, can have massive negative impacts on health and the environment.

Unhappily, the situation isn’t any better in non-free market or authoritarian societies, because protecting the health and safety of the population is at best a secondary goal and because economies that are less market-driven are even more susceptible to corruption. First, in such regimes, loyalty is more important than competence. Second, because conformity, obedience, and loyalty are more important than profit, most economic entities are less efficient than in market-driven economies, and ability by outsiders is at the least minimized. Third, innovation tends to be stifled in most large organizations and overlooked or squashed in smaller ones. Fourth, the more prevalent the practice of bribery, the more likely that resources will be directed to less efficient uses, including to padding the incomes of middlemen/women.

So… societies effectively have a choice, either pay excessively to enforce standards and reduce corruption or fail to address standards and allow corruption, with the result that everyone pays excessively in terms of less efficiency throughout the society and in terms of far greater income inequality.

You’re going to pay. The only question is whether you want more government or more corruption.

No Evidence?

As indictment after indictment of former President Trump occurs and more appear likely, a considerable number of Republican office-holders (and at least one of their attorneys), including a number of those seeking the nomination for President, are commenting on the indictments by saying that there’s “no evidence” that Trump is guilty.

No evidence? Really?

Now, it’s clear from history that people charged with crimes, sometimes even when the evidence seems overwhelming, are sometimes found innocent, but the idea that there’s no evidence in Trump’s case is absurd. The January 6th attack on the Capitol was widely televised. So was the recording of Trump asking Georgia officials to “find” him more votes. So were Trump’s statements conveying the idea that he wanted Mike Pence to illegally overturn the election So were the pictures of boxes and boxes of documents stored all over Mar-a-Lago. Not to mention the indictment of false electors in Michigan. The Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation were convicted 17of felonies, including tax fraud and falsifying business records, over fifteen years.

Whether these instances and others constitute sufficient evidence to convict Trump is up to the courts and the juries, but there’s definitely evidence everywhere.

So why are these particular Republicans saying that there’s no evidence, I mean, besides the fact that they’re opportunistic cowards who don’t want to anger Trump?

Possibly because that allows them to avoid saying that Trump is innocent of wrong-doing, and avoids their having to take a position? Or, if Trump is convicted, possibly leaves them with the chance to say that the prosecutor was hiding evidence, and thus shift “blame” to the prosecutor? The latter is a good possibility because the Trumpists have been attacking DOJ and state prosecutors from the beginning. And, of course, since the die-hard Trumpists will believe anything that Saint Donald says, this will become another Trumpist mantra woven into the vast tapestry of lies.

But still… no evidence?

Weaponization of the Law?

Now that the federal courts have indicated that an indictment of the former president for attempting to overturn the results of the last presidential election is likely, Republican officer-holders, among them several individuals seeking the nomination, have intensified their attacks on the Department of Justice, primarily by claiming that DOJ has weaponized the law to unfairly target Trump and by pushing the idea of “returning” to a system of justice that applies equally, regardless of party.

What’s not in question is that the mob attacking the U.S. Capitol on January 6th forced its way into the Capitol and attacked Capitol police and others in an effort to overturn the election. What’s also not in question is that Trump incited the riot and attack.

Scores of those in the mob have been prosecuted and convicted. Not prosecuting Trump for inciting the mob and for other actions to illegally overturn the election would not be a return to equal justice, but a return to the dual standard of law that has tacitly been practiced for at least a century, where those with wealth and power tend get off far more easily than those who are poor and disadvantaged.

As for the Hunter Biden case, most tax evaders who pay the back taxes are let off and serve no time in prison – and the firearms charge is almost never invoked if there wasn’t a crime of violence involved. DOJ prosecuted Hunter Biden far more vigorously than has been the custom or fact in the past, and yet the Republicans claim that his sentences weren’t sufficient.

So the Republican charges of “weaponization” really amount to a statement that they don’t want the rich white man who tried to overturn the government to be prosecuted, possibly because he’s their guy and they fear him, and that they want a return to the way of enforcing the law that’s easier on those who are rich and white and harder on everyone else.

So Hunter Biden and the rioters who followed Trump’s inciting all get punished under law, but the Republicans want Trump off scot-free?

Besides being blatant hypocrisy, that’s hardly equal justice by any definition.

Unholy Duo?

The Associated Press has just published a poll showing that while 71% of Democrats believe the next election will be counted fairly, only 22% of Republicans believe it will be.

Cynic that I am, I personally believe part of the Republican view represented is that no election in which they do not prevail is fair, regardless of what an accurate count reflects.

But the majority of Republicans believe what they do primarily as a result of two factors, the lying persistence of Donald Trump and the combination of cowardice and profit seeking at any cost on the part of the media.

Trump is totally devoid of ethics and also understands clearly that most people want to hear what they believe, regardless of any facts that conflict with those beliefs, and the more often they hear what they wish to believe, the more that false belief is reinforced.

This is true of both Republicans and Democrats, but the Democrats lack a messianic prophet, while the Republicans have Donald Trump continually playing on their fears and trumpeting the falsehoods so many Republicans want to hear.

In their pursuit of profit, the media repeat and replay all of Trump’s falsehoods, rather than essentially cutting him off and saying, “At the rally, Trump repeated his proven falsehoods.” By giving coverage to those falsehoods, even while pointing out their falsity, the media keeps Trump’s campaign and presence in the forefront on the media news shows and on the front pages of the various tabloids.

The media also does this with crime and mass shootings, but since the shooters are always different, the effect of repetition doesn’t keep an individual in the media spotlight, but creates an underlying feeling of doom, which, in turn, indirectly supports Trump and his falsehoods.

Perhaps not the “perfect storm” of negativity, but definitely an unholy alliance.

Doctor Shortage?

The other day my wife discovered that she couldn’t get her yearly eye check-up until September, because her ophthalmologist was booked up that far in advance. Dental appointments need to be scheduled a month in advance, except for emergencies. So do yearly health check-ups. The time-lag for all of these health-related matters has been creeping up year by year.

The reason is simple. While few are talking about it, the population of the United States is growing faster than the number of physicians. Some of this has been disguised/alleviated by nurse practitioners and physician assistants providing some services, but there are more and more areas of the country without physicians, with more than 80 million people in the US living in areas in which access to a primary care physician is scarce or non-existent.

In many fields, higher pay creates more incentives for people to get the training and experience, but in medicine in the U.S., the number of doctors is limited by the number of medical schools and the number of openings for residency positions available. Currently, almost 1,000 medical school graduates every year cannot obtain a residency position, and those numbers are growing. Without successful completion of residency, those medical school graduates cannot be certified to practice medicine.

Residency programs are expensive to operate, and most hospitals rely on federal support, but the number of federally supported positions has been fixed at the current level for several years, which isn’t adequate to provide training for all the M.D./D.O. graduates, particularly since 35% of all current physicians will reach retirement age over the next five years. At the same time, because of the increased work-load, including more and more paperwork, doctor “burn-out” is increasing, and more doctors are retiring earlier and/or cutting back on working hours.

The most obvious result of the high cost of medical school and the shortage of residency positions is that inner city and rural areas are the most impacted. That impact is reflected in the fact that while the U.S. spends more than twice as much on health care per capita as do other high-tech societies, that spending is disproportionately targeted to advanced medical systems and technologies. For all that technology, the U.S. has the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes, the highest rate of avoidable deaths, and the lowest life expectancy among the 11 OECD nations… and one of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality of all developed nations.

Studies from all over the world show that the availability of doctors makes more of a difference in the health of most people than a plethora of high-tech medical technology that primarily benefits the well-off or fortunate, and, not surprisingly, the U.S. also has fewer physician visits per capita than in most other developed countries.

And unless matters change, the situation is going to get worse.


Almost 70% of U.S. households have pets, representing more than a twenty percent increase over the past 25 years. The vast majority of these pets are dogs and cats, but there isn’t a great deal of research on why Americans have become more likely to have pets.

There are studies that show that people who have a pet, especially a dog or cat, are in generally better physical and mental health as they age, as well as surveys revealing that more U.S. households have pets than children. In addition, the market for pet-oriented products and services has grown by 450% over the past 25 years.

But nowhere could I find any studies on why more households have pets. I did find a poll by Morning Consult that reported that pet owners felt their pets helped reduce stress and anxiety, provided unconditional love and support, offered companionship, and provided a calming presence.

Some 75 years ago, President Harry Truman made the observation that, “If you want a friend in Washington, D.C., get a dog.” Having spent almost 20 years in that politico-economic climate, I’d agree.

Every morning, our two dachshunds are glad to see me, and the same is true any time I leave them and then return, even if it’s only fifteen minutes. That kind of spontaneous joy almost never occurs in academia, law, business, or politics and happens but infrequently in the dogless household.

As Americans become more personally and socially isolated [and texting doesn’t reduce isolation] as well as politically polarized, the non-judgmental warmth and welcome of a dog becomes more and more attractive in a world that’s becoming colder, more impersonal, and more demanding. Even our cat is far warmer than most people I had to deal with in politics or that my wife has to deal with in academia.

But that’s just my observation, not a peer-reviewed, statistically grounded psychological treatise, although I’m sure our dachshunds would agree. The cat would likely refuse to take sides, but he’d still settle in beside me while I’m reading.

Tired and Angry

In some ways, especially after the last few months, I can understand the growing anger in the United States, especially at incompetence.

I don’t like mowing the lawn, and after years of doing it, I hired a lawn service. For years, everything was fine, but the past year has been a bit of a trial, both for me and for the owner of the firm, who’s had to fire people because of their carelessness and their sloppy performance, and in my case, for repeatedly ripping out sprinkler heads, which caused additional damage, and failing to mow parts of the lawn – despite the fact that they’re well paid.

For years, I’ve subscribed to a local/regional newspaper. It used to arrive in my driveway between 6:30 and 7:00 A.M. Now, and for the past few months, it arrives between 7:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. or so, and almost one day a week it doesn’t arrive at all but comes along with the next day’s paper a day after it was due – and the subscription price has tripled in the last two years.

Then, there’s the local tree surgeon/trimmer, who turns down work, if he doesn’t like people, or doesn’t feel like it, and the alternative is an outfit that costs more and whose work is problematic to say the least.

I’ve already mentioned the incompetence of the Tovala food service outfit, but I’ve also run into it in the professional area. As some readers may know, the protagonists of The Grand Illusion are not whitebread, but have skin tones in the range of dark honey, and the books take place in a very urban environment – yet one of the covers I got for an audio version showed two very white Caucasians in the middle of a forest (where they’ve never been in all three books) with the equivalent of laser knives (when Steffan and Avraal rely on old-fashioned throwing knives in a society that has no electricity). This was hardly an example of competence, especially when it took three tries to get the cover remotely close to the “reality” of the book.

For professional reasons, I won’t go into the more egregious examples in the publishing field, but I will mention, without more details, the senior editor of an extremely best-selling author who failed to edit the manuscripts and books of other assigned authors for over a year before he was let go. I will note that, in the publishing industry, the terminology is almost always that so-and-so left to pursue other interests. Fortunately, my editor is far more responsible and diligent.

It’s also not just me. My wife ordered a fog machine for one of her spring opera productions – and received an elaborate dog bed. She checked the order and the invoice to make sure it wasn’t her error. They both specified a fog machine and had the right number. The Music Department is now looking for a new secretary/administrative assistant. The previous one left because, among other reasons, she wanted to do a face-to-face job remotely and had the habit of being unavailable, even online.

Our son has had to fire sales associates because they’re unreliable and don’t want to do the grunt-work (like restocking the shelves and storage areas) of the high-end men’s stores he’s in charge of and where they worked.

I’ve never seen anything like the amount of these examples, all within the last few months, nor in these numbers, in more than fifty years, and yet, as we all know, prices have also increased. So who says that incompetence doesn’t pay?