Let’s Try Something Else.

No-major-partyTired!  That was all I could feel the day the Senate released its plan to replace Obamacare.  Not only had Senate Republicans formulated their bill in virtual secrecy, they had somehow seen fit to leave out nearly every free market cost control idea that they had promised to include.  No negotiation on Medicare drug prices.  No interstate competition for insurers.  Nothing to force hospitals to publicize their price structures.  No tort reform to protect doctors and hospitals from spurious lawsuits.  Nothing but a mildly saner version of the House’s previous work; in short, nothing to make their newly acquired blue-collar voters happy or to actually make the Affordable Care Act affordable, either for the country or its citizens.

It was as if Congress had determined to live down to its single-digit popularity rating.  After facing for months the stiff and steady verbal breeze coming from Senators Warren and Sanders, et. al. about how the only real solution to the healthcare conundrum was complete capitulation to Big Government and Bigger Debt, I had hoped the GOP would counter with a remotely defensible alternative.  Nope.  All they did was infuriate half the nation and disappoint the other half.

And so it goes. Democrats and Republicans, apparently dedicated only to the preservation of their respective tribes, each more  interested in blaming the other for the woes befalling the Republic than in fixing them.  The political landscape has become a living civil war battle site; one army led by a clinically demented megalomaniac seemingly devoid of empathy and the other rendered virtually leaderless as its sclerotic old guard struggles against semi-anarchic newbloods for whom no amount of empathy is enough.  As the war of words escalates with every rant and tweet, the temptation among the general populace to hunker down and disengage becomes stronger. Does anybody really want either of these two crews of zealots running things?

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GMOs – Why It’s Not an Argument We Can Solve With Facts

tomato_plant.svg.medI once read that, if two scientists have a disagreement, it’s easy to solve. They get more facts. And if they can’t get more facts, they happily have a beer together – friends until more facts arrive.

We’ve posted a number of commentaries about GMOs (genetically modified Organisms) on this site. There’s a new documentary that tries to address GMOs from a factual, scientific perspective. They even have Neil DeGrasse Tyson as the film’s narrator. (To which I say – why would an astrophysicist know anything about GMOs? I’m not sure that helps.) But as this article explains, they will fail to change anyone’s mind.

Even if you took the time to painstakingly verify all the claims and counter-claims, most people aren’t interested in listening or changing their minds based on the evidence… In reality, it ought to have admitted that what [GMOs are] facing is an ideologically charged debate that, like climate change, is increasingly immune to facts.

What about Monsanto?
For many people, the GMO debate isn’t over science. It’s over big tone-deaf uncaring corporations (bad guys) who send lawyers to public meetings vs friendly boutique farmers and consumers (good guys) who shake hands at farmers’ markets. Monsanto often fell into the stereotype, trying to side-step local concerns and throw their political weight around. It didn’t help than one of the first GMO crops to get publicity was a soybean that could be sprayed with Roundup. Great – allowing more poisons to be used on food. I continue to think that if the first major GMO had been Golden Rice the conversation would be different. Too late now.

GMO opponents can’t be dismissed. They use a piece of heuristic reasoning that often serves well: I listen to people like me who had time to investigate. Given how big the world is and how much effort it takes to research any significant topic, this is inevitable. I use the trick myself. And given the history of Big Tobacco’s assault on science, having the title doctor in front of someone’s name is no guarantee they can be trusted. The battle of the experts has become standard in law and the media.

So what are we going to do? About GMOs? Climate change? Contraception – gun violence – immigration – healthcare? This list is long. It will be a long sad slog back to a place where we can all find someone to trust.

It must start with a renewed dedication to facts. And with so many people rewarded for their BS this won’t be easy. But we’ve got to do it. Some people are trying. What ideas do you have?

We’re technical folk on this site and search for facts, so if you’re interested, more of our GMO posts are here.

Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Safety

320px-Rocky_Flats_refuge_003Activists who made a living protesting the Rocky Flats Plant are continuing their careers by using the legal system in an attempt to prevent public access to completely safe areas in the vicinity of the now closed Rocky Flats Plant. Vincent Carroll, a former editorial writer for the Denver Post, has written a powerful editorial filled with pertinent facts that deserves wide readership. I’ll submit a few key points from the editorial to encourage you to click on the link and read it in its entirety.

  • The title is “Activists ignore the science that says Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is safe.”
  • A lawsuit has been filed by activists to prevent access to the Refuge by the public, which, if successful, “…would also amount to a triumph of fear-mongering.”
  • The activists “…have stoked their exaggerated fears of Rocky Flats for too long and the habit is apparently incurable…”
  • “The rest of us can only marvel at their dismissal of science that has been conducted at the site and the consensus among relevant government agencies…that the refuge is safe for visitors and wildlife employees.”

There are many more important points in the editorial, and I request you forward the link to everyone you know who has an interest in the Rocky Flats Plant. My hope is that those who remain skeptical of the legacy of the Plant read and consider the information in the editorial. Thanks to Vincent Carroll!

Are You Ready for a Real Shutdown?

Sometime in the next few weeks Congress, as divided and intractable as ever, will begin its annual (or is it monthly?) confefe over increasing the Federal debt limit, bringing with it the usual hand-wringing over the possibility of a government shutdown.  In spite of a barrage of dire warnings from Congressional leaders and media pundits, the reaction of most of the public seems to have been a collective raised eyebrow.  Perhaps this has to do with the thick layer of unconcern that we have built up over the years regarding Congressional gridlock and media wolf-crying.  But there is also the inordinately small ripple of national disruption that occurred the last time the government ostensibly ran out of money.  Remember the year?  Me neither, so I looked it up.  It was 2013, during the fight over funding for Obamacare.

Why the blank in our memory banks?  Maybe because, for the 95% of Americans who neither work for the government nor were trying to get into Yellowstone National Park that week, this shutdown, like the 18 previous ones, had almost no immediate effect.  There are several reasons for this, the principal one being that the government didn’t really run out of money and most of it didn’t really close down.  Tax revenue continued to come in and Social Security checks continued to go out, as did welfare payments.  Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements were a little later than usual – no big deal, doctors and hospitals are accustomed to such.  Some Federal employees were furloughed, but none lost a dime of pay.  So-called vital services were unaffected.  On the scale of imminent disasters soon to befall the Republic only the Y2K Bug has been a bigger flop.

True, an extended shutdown (or an actual government bankruptcy, such as might happen unannounced on, say, next Tuesday) would have some dire consequences. Luckily, the 5% of Americans (the ones Congress really pays attention to) who are most directly affected when the Feds stop answering emails have always managed to scream loud enough to keep shutdowns brief.  The longest so far, during the Clinton Administration, lasted three weeks.  Apparently tourists upset at being turned away from the Smithsonian have a lot more clout than those silly economists worried about our existing $20 trillion obligation.

This time, however, the string of abbreviated interruptions may be broken.  President Trump recently mused that “what the country needs is a good shutdown”, which taken literally (as almost everyone loves to do with Mr. Trump’s pronouncements) is like saying somebody needs a good heart attack.  But there is occasionally a particle of sense in the President’s blatherings, and what he might be trying to say here is that a prolonged absence of government assistance (as well as the absence of government interference) might prod citizens to recognize what elements of the Federal bureaucracy we might be able to do without.  Or he might just be flipping a Tweet at Chuck Schumer.  What is certain is that if he is serious about confronting Congress over the debt ceiling, the 21-day Clinton/Gingrich shutdown record will be in real jeopardy come September.  Because when it comes to intractability, nobody in Congress is in Trump’s league.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that cities and states don’t need the Federal government to fight climate change, that they can do it on their own.  This Fall we may get a hard look at what else cities and states can, or can’t, do on their own.  It will most certainly be a learning experience.

Time to Find the Better Angels of Our Nature

Politics in America have become too tribal – more like rooting for a sports team that crafting national policies. In sports, if my team fouls but gets away with it, I’m happy. But the other team? They’re evil – and the refs are biased. Go Red. Go Blue. It makes for fun on Sunday afternoon, but it’s not good for our country.

And we are a single country. My fellow citizens are my brothers and sisters (and we all know how annoying siblings can be.)

It’s hard to find eloquent words, so I was pleased to recently run across this site.

Making us what the Constitution calls “a more perfect Union” – won’t happen until thousands and ultimately millions of Americans are willing to take a stand.

lincoln.svg.medAs one article notes

[The site takes] its name from a line from President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

This is what I grasp for in my own way – what I’d like to see from my nation’s leadership. But we don’t have to wait for Congress or the State House. We are, after all, The People.

Another article captures me: an angry moderate centrist.

Being moderate is not a political description; it is how one understands the motivations of others and how one solves problems. A moderate is a realist, accepting how people are, not how we would like them to be. A moderate is open to listening to the truths of others. It is a personality trait, not a political ideology.

If we become trapped in echo chambers, we only hear exaggerated caricatures of what “the other side” believes. If we lose the ability to find facts our decisions cannot succeed, because reality has a way of winning despite our best efforts to believe it away. If we cast our political opponents as the enemy, we live in a needless state of war. – metaphorical and sometimes literal.

I’m starting to explore this site and I invite you to help me. Do they have any good ideas? What do you think? We’ve got to talk.

The FBI and Me

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been chasing down criminals of all stripes for 109 years. It was created, with vigorous bipartisan support, under President Teddy Roosevelt as the Bureau of Investigation (the “Federal” was added in 1935), the first national law enforcement agency.  Fighting crime might once have been thought of as a bipartisan enterprise, but in our nation’s Capital, nothing stays apolitical for long.

Crime and politics have intersected far too often in the century plus since the FBI came to be, and they may have crossed paths again recently when President Trump did his Celebrity Apprentice bit on FBI director Jim Comey.  Already loathed by half of Washington as the person most responsible for Trump becoming President, Comey had then managed to incur the wrath of the other half by refusing to give up on the investigations of Trump’s inner circle.  Seeing no love from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Comey may have felt compelled to resort to some political intrigue of his own simply for self-protection.  He is not the first FBI director to do so.

Comey’s unfortunate brushes with notoriety may make him more memorable than all of his predecessors except one.  James Edgar Hoover, whose name adorns the building the FBI calls home, assumed directorship during Prohibition and spent the next 48 years building his organization into the most fearsome and legendary law enforcement agency the country has ever known.  Hoover served under, and some would say lorded over, six presidents.  By the time he suffered a fatal heart attack during the Nixon Administration Hoover had expanded the Bureau’s reach, and his own influence, into nearly every corner of the Federal bureaucracy.   As his power in Washington grew, Hoover grew more averse to any authority other than his own and more fearful that details of what might charitably be described as his quirky personal life might come to light.  Perhaps to discourage such threats, Hoover assembled dossiers on most of D.C.’s illuminati; general scuttlebutt held that he had dirt on everybody from the President on down, and Harry Truman once remarked that every member of Congress was afraid of him.  This aura of untouchability served to insulate him and his organization from the internecine mud wrestling for which Washington is famous.  Seeing the nation’s capital at its worst also likely solidified Hoover’s cynical belief that everyone was probably guilty of something, that evidence of the crime was out there somewhere, and that if FBI agents just dug deep enough for long enough they would find it.  J. Edgar Hoover was stubborn, insular and relentless, and as one might expect after four decades of his unyielding and suspicious leadership the FBI gradually came to mirror its iconic leader’s worldview.

Hoover is long gone, but the FBI still bears his imprint. The agency has a well-deserved reputation for thoroughness and diligence, and once they are on a case agents seem committed, Hoover-esque, to digging up the evidence wherever it may reside.  This tenacity can lead to very negative outcomes for the guilty and innocent alike.  I speak from experience.

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Russia and Trump

I  decided to do this commentary after reading Gzep’s recent commentary about his disheartening experiences with the FBI associated with the government raid of the Rocky Flats Plant. His point, as I understand it in relation to his personal experience, is about current political turmoil in the U.S. based on hatred of Trump. I agree there are many who are interested in nothing other than destroying Trump. I’m submitting a different scenario, and that is that the Russians, who developed skills during the Soviet Union days in creating turmoil in governments of opponents, have won a major victory in the attacks on the U.S. because of the election of Trump!

I’m working on publishing a book about how Nuclear Deterrence prevented World War III and the role of the Rocky Flats Plant in providing that deterrence. One of the things that I’ve learned in researching information for the book is that the Soviet Union invested heavily in resources to disrupt anything positive with the West. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that the Russians now have allies in the U.S. government who have no agenda other than preventing anything positive during the Trump administration. The Democrats are desperate to prove Trump “colluded” with the Russians. In my opinion, Democrats are “colluding” with the Russians by doing everything possible to shut down government operations with the exception of Trump and Russia hearings and investigations.

My book presents evidence that the Soviet Union spared no expense in interfering with anything positive for its Western enemies during the Cold War. Examples are the billions they spent supporting anti-nuclear protests in Europe and the United States. They recognized that the only thing that was preventing their massive advantage in conventional military forces from easily taking over Western Europe was the nuclear arsenal of the United States and the belief that American leaders were willing to use it to repel an invasion. They therefore invested, unsuccessfully, about $2 billion a year in efforts to curtail the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The book also includes reference to the huge “disinformation” organizations in the Soviet Union and its Iron Curtain Allies. They were skilled at producing forgeries that supported their agenda. They produced a flood of forgeries after the U.S. embassy in Iran was taken over by revolutionaries, which provided a wide variety of State Department official stamps and stationary. My favorite example is how the Soviets created a false scenario when they set up a television expose that filmed recovery of forged Nazi documents from a lake. The forged documents targeted West German officials unfriendly to the Soviet Union by labeling them as Nazis.

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