Monday, August 31, 2015

Must We Have Only Polarized Candidates?

Imagine if the presidential race came down to Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, a wild card versus same-old, same-old.

There are many who would hate the idea of a Hillary Clinton becoming our next president.  They are those who have nothing good to say about Hillary, period.  They oppose her because they simply can’t stand her.  I’m not one of those.  Nevertheless, neither am I excited about her prospects for the presidency.

Regarding Hillary, I would make the following observation.  There is nothing new and refreshing about her.  Yes, people who have liked her from the beginning still like her.  But how many new fresh and young supporters has she won over, will she win over?  My guess is that she has added few wildly energetic and newly committed young devotees to her many supporters.  Again, I’m not saying this because I dislike her.  I’m simply making a personal observation.  As I see it, her campaign seems to create no positive—“Let’s go!  We can do this!  Go get them!”—excitement.  She has too much baggage, always needing to defend some past action or decision.  What’s worse is that those who can’t stand Obama see Hillary as nothing more than an Obama copy, an Obama double, despite their ethnic/gender differences.

Compared to Hillary, there are those who apparently see Donald Trump as fresh, raw, and relevant (so it would seem).  He is obviously scratching where people itch.  But, thus far, that’s all he does—scratches.  Far Right Wing Americans seem to like Trump’s nastiness, although they wouldn’t call it that.  They think that he’s simply being honest and direct.  Never mind that he actually acts like a bully.  And as most bullies do, he displays a lot of bravado with very little substance.  They like his spirit.  He’s got attitude.  And they like him for that.  It’s as if having a fighting spirit and an in-your-face attitude is all that’s needed for the making of a good president.

So, if it were a choice between Donald and Hillary, it would seem that we’d be left with a choice between two tiresome polarized extremes: the Far Right—which always seems to be angry, stubbornly self-righteous, politically recalcitrant, mean spirited and bullying.  Or the Far Left—which always seem to be wishy-washy and evasive, hard to pinpoint and pin down, seemingly with little or no hard-and-fast limits or boundaries, apparently making up their own rules as they go along.

Is there no candidate for mainstream America, the majority of Americans?  I would like to think that most Americans want reason and balance, and mutual respect.  Is it too much to ask for integrity in terms of message and process as well as in terms of outcome and results?  Is it too much to ask for practical wisdom in terms of vision as well as in terms applied specifics?  Must our choice come down to the two most opposite and most polarized candidates?  Where is the voice of moderation and balance?

Would that we had a candidate that displays the wisdom of a Solomon?  Would that we had a candidate that respects all Americans, left, right, and middle.  (But our electoral process seems to exclude such a possibility.)  Would that we had a candidate that had the ability to unite rather than divide, to include rather than exclude.  Would that we had a candidate who knew how to lift the many with little expense to the few rather than lift the few at great expense to the many.

Would that we were a people willing to face hard realities and deal with them accordingly.  Would that we were not a spoiled, selfish people that only think of our own comfort, ease, convenience, and wants at the expense of others and at the expense of our natural resources.  Alas, would that we were all more responsible as a people and were a people that truly cared about our nation’s unity and future and were willing to give-and-take, respecting our differences.  And finally, would that we were more interested in caring-for and preserving our nation’s natural resources rather than merely exploiting them so as to find appropriate means for energy consumption and are able to create new jobs that support such a value.  I could go on with the “would that’s,” but you get my point.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Forboding: July 2015, warmest July on record!!

How many still do not accept the evidential truth of global warming?

Why the truth-distortion in the first place?  Meaning, why has there been such an effort to deny and counter the scientific evidence of global warming?  Answer: money and business.

There is a real potential for loss of money.  Major investments in certain industries and businesses stand to lose much—if and when we ALL finally agree that our present lifestyle (of exploiting and consuming the earth’s natural resources without check) is doing real damage to the earth.  We’re talking about damage to the earth’s ability to properly sustain life.  Such admittance would call for major change in the way we use our natural resources and of course the way we live.

Here’s a simple truth: What is good for the earth, in the long run, is always good for business—always!  What is bad for the earth, in the long run, is always bad for business.  The problematic phrase is, “in the long run.”  It is a matter of time and timing.  Businesses and people don’t like to wait.  We want immediate and instantaneous gratification.  Today’s investment must turn into the next day’s profit; forget about waiting months, years, or even decades!

However, some of our most common work ethic clichĂ©s still carry the most fundamental truths that must not be ignored, such as, for example, “Haste makes waste.”  Or take for example, “Penny wise and Pound foolish”: Nitpicking to save a penny on small items while wasting big bucks (the English Pound Sterling) on huge pricy items.  That’s how we are treating the earth.  We are so interested in seeing immediate profits and savings now that we have become willfully foolish about the potential major losses we are causing later-generations down the road (or perhaps present generations here and now).  We continue to exploit the earth in the here and now and turn a blind eye to its long-term effect on earth’s future.  It is, in short, a very poor investment strategy.  As I’ve already mentioned in many other blog entries, fracking is just one fine example of this type of willful short-sighted approach that in the long-term is damaging earth’s life-sustainability factor.  That is, in terms of earth’s health and its natural resources, we are being penny wise and pound foolish.

All major industries and corporations should be thinking “green.”  Sure, it may cost us a pretty penny, at first.  Nevertheless, in the long run (in good time), going green should be profitable.  But we need to do our homework and ask serious questions like, “What is sustainable, renewable, and life-supporting?  What are we presently doing in our industries that is destructive, damaging, and unsustainable long-term?  How can we best make the transition?”

Perhaps not easily answered, these questions, yet we must answer them rightly, collectively, and honestly.  Thus far, most of us have been unwilling to bother.  Because, as always, with us humans, it won’t be until we’ve thoroughly damaged and used up our precious resources that we’ll begin to unite in a concerted effort to save and/or restore them.  Take for example our freshwater resources; we’ll finally realize that we need to put our minds together to find ways to preserve and protect our freshwater sources only when we’ve lost them; only then will we wish that we had invested in saving and preserving our freshwater resources from the beginning.

Monday, August 17, 2015

EPA Toxic Water Accident, More to Come!

The EPA accidentally released toxic sludge mine water into the Animus River in the State of Colorado, Friday, 7 August 2015.  It was an accident.  But it was an accident waiting to happen.  The toxic substance was already there, from previous years of gold mining at the “Gold King Mine,” apparently its source.

It makes me think of fracking.  Fracking continues to be defended as a supposedly safe and clean method for extracting precious oil deposits deep within subterranean rock beds.  Fracking oil companies claim to be environmentally conscientious.  Still, there can be no denying of the fact that this method produces serious wastewater; wastewater that must be contained over decades.  Fracking requires the use of water, lots of it, turning good water into toxic wastewater.  That’s just how it is.

WATER!  WATER!  WATER!  One cannot stress enough the importance of water!

Just consider the effect of drought in regions around the world, including our own State of California.  Yet, we continue to defend fracking—despite the fact that its very method necessitates the polluting of fresh water used in the process of fracking.

Because of our want of oil, we ignore the telltale signs.  Nothing is full proof.  Accidents will happen.  And all it takes is one accident to cause great damage beyond its original source.  We just won’t learn, will we?

Lead, arsenic, cadmium, copper, calcium, and other heavy metals contributed to the toxic wastewater that was released from the abandoned Gold King Mine.  We know that fracking water also has toxic ingredients.  But we don’t know what they all are.  Fracking companies refuse to inform the public of the full ingredients, what fracking chemicals and toxic substances they put into the fracking water.  All we know is that they definitely do put toxic stuff into this water that is bad for human consumption, such that the water becomes absolutely undrinkable!  Do we even care about this?

Fracking businesses want less governmental oversight.  They wish to block accountability legislation.  They hope to avoid having to answer to local homeowners and communities that are directly affected by fracking activities.  And when these fracking companies are done?  What?  They’ll simply move on, leaving behind the so-called “contained” toxic wastewater for future generations to cleanup.  For, it is a sure bet that there will most certainly be unintentional and accidental spills, seepages, and leaks down the road.  It’s a given!

Future news flash: “Toxic sludge fracking water was accidentally released into a once pristine water source.  It was an accident.  But it was an accident waiting to happen.  The toxic substance was already there, from previous years of intense fracking.  The water is no longer viable for life.  It will take years to cleanup.”

Monday, August 10, 2015

Donald Trump: Side Show On Center Stage

Apparently Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate was the most viewed ever.  I heard that there were 24 million who viewed it.  What made it so popular?  Sadly, it was the entertainment factor—Donald Trump!

He’s a side show to the main event.  I’m sure that few Americans really believe that Donald Trump has a serious chance at becoming the 45th president of the United States of America.  Yet, there he is on center stage, as if!  Why?

Yes, of course he’s “hit a nerve.”  Yes, of course, he speaks his mind.  Yes, of course, he dismisses political correctness.  Yes, indeed, he’s entertaining.  But is that what we want from our presidential debates—entertainment?!

What about substance, content, information?  What about concrete and practical ideas with substantial action-plans reflecting actual steps for implementation?  What about means to ends and/or statements that can be evaluated as to their potential applicability and viability?  I heard none of that from Mr. Trump.

Our nation has the largest economy in the world, a position which China aims to overtake.  What will be his approach to China’s growing economic and military strength?  We have serious national internal social issues (poverty, racism, a shrinking middle class, a deteriorating infrastructure, tax inequality, class wars and culture wars, a clash of traditional values with progressive values, to name a few).  How does he plan to unify us?  Global warming is real.  How does he plan to inspire our nation’s businesses and manage our nation’s resources so that we stand strong and become a leading nation for adaptation and innovation in the face of global warming’s effects?  The Middle East is just one locale in the world’s international scene where instability reigns and conflict is raw and explosive, endangering whole regions.  How easily, how readily, how willingly will Trump use American might to attempt to control these regions and at what cost, to what end, and for what kind of outcome?

When pressed for real detailed and concrete answers to such questions, it is clear that Trump is nothing more than awkwardly evasive at best and stubbornly caustic and offensive at worse.  He has no idea.  Yet, as reflected by the ratings from last Thursday evening’s GOP presidential debate, Americans still love to hear what he has to say.

How foolish we are.  We want our ears tickled.  We listen with our emotions.  We’re fickle.  We are also all or nothing, black and white thinkers.  We want everything to be so easy and so simple.  “Don’t get too complex on us” is what we effectively say to our politicians.  “Dumb it down,” is the message.  So, if our politicians are too serious, if they are too cool and reserved and too willing to see “both sides of the issue” with all its complexities and/or logical contradictions, we’ll have none of it.  We want muscle not smarts, brawn not brains, ego not wisdom, shallow celebrity rather than cerebral intellect.

But of course, Trump has a point.  We do need to stop this “political correctness” nonsense and learn to speak plainly and forthrightly, to speak our minds; but do so with complete respect for those with whom we speak, even if they are our opponents.  But no, we Americans like a good fight.  So we’re all too ready to see respect and politeness go by the wayside.  Again, we like to be entertained.  And besides, we’re lazy thinkers.  We don’t want our politicians to make us think too hard.

This is why Donald Trump has been given center stage and has been so popular in the ratings—for now.  He’s a good side show; he’s good entertainment as we begin to warm up for the real serious stuff ahead of us.

Our current issues seem more troublesome and more critically urgent than ever before, in the history of humanity?  (Is that an overstatement?)  So, will we elect a man or woman that has the depth of wisdom, the breadth of knowledge, the sharp skills and the quality of character, the expansive insight, the inner equilibrium and outer strength to lead well?  Let’s hope so.  But having the likes of a Donald Trump sharing the stage with other presidential hopefuls sure makes me wonder.

Monday, August 3, 2015

What Should Prison—Doing Time—Accomplish?

An ex-convict will say: “I did my time.  I paid my debt to society.  Now give me a break.  Let me start over, with a clean slate.”

But it seldom happens that way.  After all, an “ex-convict” is exactly that, an ex-CONVICT!  So, they pay the price over and over and over again.  They become unemployable—who wants to hire an ex-convict?  How can they be trusted?

What do we expect of our prisons?

You probably have given this little thought.  What about our prisons and our prison system?  What do we expect should happen to prison inmates, while they do time in our state and federal prisons?

Here are some thoughts about the purpose of prisons: Prison is punishment.  Prison is retribution.  Prison is protection, taking the bad guy out of mainstream society for its safety.  Prison is a reformatory, reforming the criminal.  Prison is a correctional institution, straightening-out the crooked.  Prison is a penitentiary—where the guilty becomes penitent and does penance for wrong doing.  Prison is a training-ground for crime, a school for scandal, hardening already hardened criminals.  Prison is for bad people, really, really bad people, evil types, reserved for the scum of the earth, low-level sub-human types that are worse than animals and should be treated as such.

So, what do you think?  What should a prison system accomplish?  How should inmates be treated, and to what extent and at what cost?

Perhaps you think that only hard-hearted and cold-blooded murderous types are in our prison system, like rapists and child-molesters and murderers.  And perhaps you think that they are getting exactly what they deserve.  And perhaps you also assume that “they will never change.”  And so, it is only right that they should lose ALL rights-and-privileges that society has to offer.

It’s more complicated than that.  Not everyone in our prison system is evil in the worst sense of the word. 

Is there no redemption?  Are there no second chances?  Do people never change?  Is the law always fair and just?  Are all criminals nothing more than throw-away human trash, worthless and useless?  Are all victims pure and innocent?  Is all law-enforcement equal, just, fair and equitable?  Is there no such thing as salvation, spiritual transformation, and the renewal of the soul?

Our prison system needs serious attention.  We are housing more “criminals” than ever before in our history.  Would that justice were a simple black and white matter; would that it were only a matter of identifying evil people, and sending them off to prison for life.

It’s not that simple.  And it’s not that easy.  There are more common people in our prisons than we’d like to admit.  I say common to mean people like you and me, people whose character-profile fit the general population of any society—neither viciously evil nor angelically innocent; most of us fall somewhere in-between.  We are neither angels nor devils.  We are human.  We all have our weaknesses, common human flaws and failures and short-comings.  Only a small percentage of any population is guilty of heinous death-deserving crimes.  And no one in any society is worthy of claiming absolute purity and innocence.

Why do we need to change our prison system and our prison policies?

First there is the racial/minority aspect.  Blacks and other minorities (like Hispanics) far outnumber the prison population in contradistinction to their percentage as represented in the general population.  So, for example, many studies have shown that for the same crime committed, the same illegal action, the same broken law, more often than not, whites are given a break and/or are given a much lighter sentencing than are blacks.

Then there is the cost aspect.  In the name of getting tough on crime (like the famous “three strikes and you’re out,” approach to crime), we are throwing more lives into prison than ever before.  Yet, what have we gained from this?  We have higher prison maintenance and building costs, more disrupted families, and less of a sense of safety and security in our neighborhoods.  Not to mention more deeper and longer lasting hatred and animosity between whites and blacks.  Our present prison policy/justice system is not working for us.

I must ask again.  Do we believe in redemption?  Criminals!  Does “locking them up and throwing away the key” really solve our society’s crime problem?  Does it get at the root cause of crime?  A man does wrong, commits a crime.  Is he now human trash to be thrown-away for good?  Is he totally beyond help, completely irredeemable?  To redeem something is to buy back; it is to repair and restore, to put value back into something that was thought worthless and useless.  How would you react if you were treated as totally worthless trash for a wrong you’ve committed?  Wouldn’t you like a second chance, a chance for redemption?

You know, it is far cheaper to redeem and restore a person than it is to keep a person locked up.  Why pay for their clothing, housing, food; why maintain a person in prison at tax-payer’s expense, if they are in fact redeemable.  For example, people get upset if they hear about special educational programs for inmates in prison (let’s say, crafts, skilled labor training, or even music and art) that might provide an inmate new skills or a new appreciation for a better way of life.  Why?  They believe that a criminal deserves nothing, no help, no support, no chance for redemption and renewal.  They prefer that a criminal pays dearly for what he/she’s done, and should not receive any help or aid or beneficial support at all.  Period!  Yet such an attitude and approach is counter productive and actually leads to more recidivism and more criminality.  It all comes from refusing to believe-in, accept, or appreciate the value of redemption.

So what do we really want to accomplish by filling our prison with so many non-hardcore men and women who commit non-violent crimes?  Is it not more constructive to treat their addictions and to give them better opportunities so that they can “make it” in life—giving them a chance to redeem themselves?