Sunday, November 19, 2017

Guns in America

Tonight, at a party,  I chatted up the chairman of the Maine House of Representatives committee on Health and Human Services. 

I asked her what she thought we ought to do about guns and she started talking about mass shootings. 

Then she talked about the level of gun violence in our country.

Then she mentioned we are #1 in the number of guns per capital in the world.

Then I asked her again what we ought to do about guns.  
She said she didn't know. 
A refreshingly honest answer.

The "gun problem" is actually at least three different problems:

1. Mass shootings with guns by homicidal maniacs.

2. Street shootings with guns unrelated to robberies or other crimes, where men get into arguments at dance clubs, or one kid insults another kid's sneakers. 

3. The number of deaths by gun, which includes suicides and accidents at home, where some kids shoots his brother while playing with a gun, along with street crime and household disputes.

4. The use of guns in commission of crimes. 

Trying to stop the mass shooter may have you looking at identifying psychos by various means, but trying to stop street shootings might mean you can't allow handguns to be sold to just any kid with $50 at the local Walmart.  Accidental shootings of kids by kids might require some sort of fingerprint recognition system on triggers. 

Whatever legislatures do, I doubt America would be successful in a gun usurpation/confiscation program.  You can bury guns in your back yard and dig it up a year later and go shoot your wife, no matter what the local police do.

I do not have the answers. 
But neither do those who reflexively cry out for "gun control" after every mass shooting. 


Saturday, November 18, 2017

More on Dogs for Wounded Vets

Currently re reading Bruce Catton's fabulous "Grant Takes Command" and am struck by the organization and attention to detail which were the prime virtues Grant required to be successful.

Most people understand it was his pugnacity and perseverance which set him apart from the unsuccessful generals who preceded him--the timid and the halt--but what made his campaigns successful was a capacity to organize millions of food rations, railroad tracks, locomotives, pontoon boats, soldiers and their commanders, and, of course, horses and mules. 

Without healthy horses and mules you could not pull up heavy artillery pieces, canons and howitzers to win battles and that meant you had to arrange for feed for the horses, care and maintenance of the horses' health.  In fact, horses were so depleted before the crucial Tennessee campaign headed toward Lookout Mountain, the attacks planned had to be halted, because for want of a nail the shoe was lost for want of a shoe the horse was lost...so the army depended on animals in the mid nineteen century.

Rick Yount, Sub contractor, making $ from puppies

All this made me return to the kerfuffle surrounding the discontinuation of the Dogs for Wounded Warriors program at Walter Reed and Ft. Belvoir, announced on Veterans Day and attributed to Donald Trump and his heartlessness, President Heel Spurs.


“I’m never going to say we do everything 100 percent, but this is my baby and you’re going to potentially bid it out to some other organization without telling me why.” 
--Rick Yount, CEO Warrior Canine Connection

The actual name of the program is Warrior Canine Connection, which is run as a private company, I gather, which subcontracts with another company called MD Consultants and the WCC apparently had fewer than twenty employees who raised puppies and who helped train them to be "service dogs." Almost nothing about this company has been reported, total number of employees, budget, number of other enterprises, whether or not it is a puppy mill or a big hearted ASPCA type organization. Questions about the health of the dogs had been raised and answered but there has been virtually no reporting on:
1/ How much money was Rick Yount paid to run this program? 
2/ Did the funds come from the VA, the Defense Department, the taxpayers, or the soldiers who got the dogs?
3/ Were there other companies which looked better to the officials who cancelled this contract and decided to "bid it out?" Did other companies offer better service for a better price?
4/ How do you assess the value of such a program, warm and fuzzy as it may be, to the wounded warriors?
5/ What has happened to the dogs and the patients who received these dogs over time?  Have the patients and dogs lived happily ever after or have the dogs been starved or abandoned by their wounded warriors?
The Walter Reed spokeswoman suggested the wound warriors would continue to get their dogs but a new program to supply these dogs would have better metrics and better supervision. In other words, as in any health care intervention, you want to know how successful it is and at what cost and whether or not there might be a better way to render the services.


Of course, the reporting of this discontinuation made it sound like the ultimate in uncaring cruelty on the part of the Army, but that story came from the jilted Rick Yount, mainly. Was the real story simply the Army found a better product at a better price and Yount portrayed this as a heartless act of an uncaring bureaucracy?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Therapy Dogs for Vets: How Trump Plays the Soft Headed Left

You expect people who embrace Judge Roy Moore, who cannot be shaken from their adulation of the Dotard to be unappetizing, and they rarely disappoint. You know there are people in the world like that.

What is really dismaying is when people who you agree with disappoint you, when their passion becomes mere, unthinking stridency, and you see the soft, spongey, crumbling side of the liberal persuasion.

For Mad Dog, this has come to pass over the great Therapy Dog kerfluffle. The forces of Trumpland discovered the VA had a program which brought loving dogs to Vets who had suffered PTSD.  Suddenly, one day, the people at the VA offices which administered this program were told to cease and desist and they were out of a job.

Of course, these people, now out of a job, went viral on the internet and ardent anti Trumpies saw this as what it was, a gesture of rejection of compassion. For the liberal folks, this was simply one more example of cruelty coming from the Bannon disrupters.

But, of course, the Trump tough guys touted it as an example of bleeding heart liberals not considering the hard facts of reality and gushing over a boondoggle of a program. Here is a Dotard who proclaimed the NFL is going soft because it has rules designed to prevent head injuries and Traumatic Brain Disorder; this puppy love story is perfect for him to look tough, hard headed and no nonsense while making the cooing dog loving liberal folks soft headed rather than soft hearted.

If you need a dog to love, let your mother buy you one; don't expect the Army to find you one.

There was an old saw at the cancer hospital: "More people make a living off cancer than die from it," which was likely inaccurate but it did convey the cynicism of those who saw that from every misfortune was a fortune waiting to be made that some would cash in on--war profiteers, whether the war on cancer or the war against terrorism.

Twitter filled with indignant expressions of loathing for the cold hearted curs who had cut off this program.  The commercial for a therapy dog program in Europe was posted.  The Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation commissioned a commercial to sell its product which won a Gouden Loeki award in 2014--the Dutch version of our Clio awards which often go to American ad agencies for their Super Bowl ads.
The ad, linked below, is a tear jerker, but the very existence of the ad should tell us something. These folks are SELLING something and heart warming as puppies and wounded warrior stories may be, we have to step back and THINK.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DnMzW1qJuU



The title of the ad is, "We provide help not only for those who cannot see, but for those who have seen too much."
And you see a horrible war scene and a soldier seeing things which will cause his PTSD and then the warm embrace of the dog licking his face, bringing him back to serenity and true mental health.

But think of this program, with its employees, its "trained therapy dog specialists" and their contracts, their new careers as "therapy dog trainers" and all this going on at a hospital like Walter Reed, where truly horrific injuries are treated by doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and into this atmosphere of highly trained, real professionals, you have introduced this "therapy dog" program.

Of course, Mad Dog sees people every day who have no more anxiety or real illness than your aunt Tillie but they have their little therapy dog with them, from whom they cannot be separated on airplane or doctor's office or subway, because the dog is their "therapy." It is the old lie of creating an illness out of mere anxiety, or in the case of the very real illness of PTSD, (which results in suicides and much misery,) it is the case of creating a treatment without scientific validation.

For those liberals who have been brought to tears, brought to rage over the cancellation of this program, Mad Dog can only say, "See how others see you. Get control. Move on. Focus on the real enemy."
Donald Trump has used things like this to make liberals look ridiculous time and again and he is doing it again and those gushing liberals are playing right into his hands.

Of course, Mad Dog has no way of knowing who initiated the cancellation of the Wound Warriors Dog Program, whether the Dotard even knew about it before it was done. But if the Pink Puffer Fish did sign off on it, you have to ask yourself: "Why?" Why would he cancel any program for our sacred Vets our Wounded Warriors? 
And you have to imagine him seeing before him those who would react to this. Possibly, there would be some veterans or families of veterans who might narrow their eyes and go, "Huh?" But surely there would be those moist eyed fools, who would play right into his hands.



Monday, November 13, 2017

Trump's Very Own White Water: The Whitefish Fiasco

While fuming Democrats ulcerate over the Dotard in Chief's latest tweet, they are distracted from the real evidence of the kleptocracy Paul Krugman has been warning us about for some time.

Oh, Heel Spurs can get us fulminating about the fine people he saw carrying torches for White Supremacy at Charlottesville, or we can cling to the idea the Russian connection to Trump's campaign will actually someday look like Watergate, but the real essence of what he is doing is in the fine print of contracts; that's where he has found his career and where he actually finds his rewards today.

Despite all that, The Washington Post reports that the territory’s state-owned electrical utility awarded a two-year-old company from Montana, which at the time of the hurricane had only two full-time employees, a $300 million contract to restore its electrical grid. Even more curiously, the company, Whitefish Energy, is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who knows the owner, Andy Techmanski, and whose son worked a summer job at one of Techmanski’s construction site.
--Bess Levin, Vanity Fair

Several articles in the NYT and elsewhere report how Whitefish Energy, a sort of phantom company, in existence only two years, officially located in Montana, but actually employing only two people at the time it won a contract for restoring power to Puerto Rico won the contract in the first place--it went to a Trump contributor a name not a household word, but which should be--Andy Techmanski--and another Trump friend, and they went about their business of bilking the government for fun and profit. 
They also appear to be friends and neighbors of Trump's Interior Secretary. This is a story to make Warren Harding blush and the Teapot Dome Scandal only a prelude.

The headline was they paid their linemen $42 an hour and billed the government $331 an hour. That's fair in the business world of Trump and corporate board rooms. Marx called it the "exploitation of labor," but in the Dotard's government, it has become the operating mode. 

If this instance is carefully investigated and clearly reported, with lots of diagrams and charts and graphs, it might finally have the effect all the pink puffer fish's enemies have sought--the undoing of the Con Man. 

But it won't be easy. Like most business crimes, the structure is Byzantine, difficult to unpack and it requires some attention span.  Gretchen Morganson has been exposing dirty dealings of corporate America for years, but she is ignored because the stories involve numbers, arithmetic and  sleazy things which are not technically crimes so they cannot be prosecuted, but you know they should be, like rating a mortgaged back security AAA when you know the mortgages are worthless. 

So, the "crimes" of Whitefish may turn out to be outrageous, revolting but not illegal.

But if that dishonest, failing media does its job (for once) Whitefish might just make Whitewater look like a bake sale by the women's auxillary. 

We'll see. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Lincoln's Second Inaugural



Whenever the blues set in, I return to those sure endorphin stimulators, like reading the opening paragraph of "A Farewell to Arms" or some other old friend in print and I keep going until I fall asleep.

One of those in the pantheon of magic mind blowers is Lincoln's Second Inaugural address, which I re read last night and saw something in it, I hadn't before.

You can get caught up in the poetry and lyricism so that you miss an important point--Lincoln, who is so direct and the master of clarity and economy, obfuscates unashamedly at crucial points throughout this wonderful oration.

He starts out by recalling his first address, but early on he uses unnecessarily complex sentence structure: "on the occasion corresponding to this four years ago" rather than, "at the first inaugural." 
He has already reversed the normal associations of words in phrases, by saying the the course of the war "absorbed the attention" and "engrossed the energies" of the nation, rather than the ordinary "engrossed the attention" and "absorbed the energies." That little trick is simply a way of keeping things fresh, but  why the ornate "occasion corresponding to four years ago?"

Then he addresses what has happened between the first and second inaugural addresses.
He marches through the answer to the "what" question most masterfully, and with an authority nobody but Lincoln could muster. What happened to bring on the war?  Well, he says, there were these people called slaves who constituted a "peculiar interest"  and "all knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war."
Thus, he puts to rest for the ages all the possible revisionist history which might follow, about "The Lost Cause" or "economic forces" causing the war.  Like Eisenhower touring the concentration camps at the end of WWII, ordering films and photographs to document what was found there, both leaders knew that in ensuing generations some would try to change the story, and both took care to establish the truth, undeniable, inalienable.  What happened cannot be in dispute. The war was, ultimately, about slavery. And this comes from the man who tried to convince himself and his countrymen, at the outset that slavery was not the cause, that Union was the cause.

But it when he gets around to trying to answer the "why" question that he gets particularly un Lincoln, and very obscure.

Basically, what he says is it may be that God may have looked at slavery as so grievous offense against His will that he required that each drop of blood drawn by the lash should be repaid by one drawn by the sword and since this has been going on for 250 years, a lot of blood was going to be required.
But here's the thing, as much or more blood was shed by the agents of ending slavery, i.e. the soldiers of the Union army, as was shed by the defenders of slavery. So how does one explain why the agents of retribution should be so afflicted? The only possible explanation, the only possible inference would be that somehow the North was just as guilty as the South in the institution of slavery.
Lincoln, of course, would never be so impolitic as to suggest the North deserved punishment, but that is what he very clearly is suggesting.
How had the North been guilty? By tolerating slavery, I suppose. And the Northern mills used Southern cotton.

There is also that delicious aside,"It may seem strange that any men should dare ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces,"* by which he is saying it might seem strange that men should ask a just God for help with acquiring wealth and sustenance by enslaving other men.  This remark follows his observation that men of the South invoked God to justify their "Cause," and they read the same Bible and prayed to the same God as those in the North. And he says that since both appealed to the same God for help, only one side could be right and only one side could get the answer it was looking for.  How the South could possibly expect help from a just God strikes Lincoln as perplexing but then he slides into that humble mode he did so well, "judge not lest we be judged."
So Lincoln, ever so delicately makes the case that the South was simply wrong in asserting there was any moral justification for slavery. What he is doing is to say, well, they've had their answer from God, but we here in the North won't gloat over it.

Grant, of course, was not so generous, when he said that his opponent, Robert E. Lee had suffered enormously and with grace for the "Cause" but it was the worst cause anyone ever fought for.

But what of that question, which Lincoln dances around?  Why should the North, the agent of the avenging angel have been made to suffer so? 
It is here Lincoln obfuscates and lapses into allusion to Biblical phrases, which, in all of Western literature are so obscure as to allow almost any interpretation, and so he can hide behind the ambiguity.
The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Basically, he says, "it's a mystery." Shall we question God? Do we say he's being inconsistent in his divine attributes and he talks about "believers in a living God."

Lincoln never really says he is such a believer. After his son, Willie died, he asked why such an innocent should be made to suffer. Then he saw innocents by the millions suffer from the war. 
He had no answer, really, to the why question. He could only answer the what question with certainly and clarity, and he left the believers their beliefs, and says, let's just hope to move past all this and bind up our wounds.

In this, we hear President Obama, who was not interested in chasing down the nasties who brought us to the brink of economic collapse; he was only interested in getting past it.
Unfortunately, that led to the emergence of a very real nasty.
What the country needs now is a U.S. Grant, who has the moral authority to take us to a better place.
What we've got is anyone's guess.


*This I learned after posting is from Genesis where God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and tells them they must obtain their bread from the sweat of their own faces. Lincoln read the Bible, unlike me. I did not recognized it, but I was struck by the oddity of the expression.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Time Like No Other: When Men Were Men

Having suffered through daily tweets from President Heel Spurs, the Phantom discovered last Sunday a Bpston Globe article about Henry Lee Higginson, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was transfixed, as he read, discovering Higginson had fought in the Civil War, survived and in 1917 he faced down the cries of "patriots" who decried the German conductor of Higginson's beloved orchestra, when the conductor neglected to play the national anthem before a concert. 
Colonel Higginson

These 3 men lived through a truly trans-formative period in American history: they were part of the most convulsive time in our nation's history, it's most violent and extreme time, and they saw World War One, or at least its advent, and listened to the drumbeat of pseudo patriotism and saw it  from the perspective of true patriots.

If I were given a budget to produce a TV series and total license, I would chose this time, the lifespan of these three men to illuminate what America is all about, the best and the worst, the most intense conflict and the clearest vision of the American experiment.

This was a time in American history when there was intense anti-immigrant feeling toward Germans, who had previously become fully integrated into American society, but during the first World War, became an despised group.  
O.W. Holmes

During WWI,  criticism of the government or the war was outlawed and another Civil War veteran, Oliver Wendell Holmes, issued a scathing dissent in a Supreme Court case which sent several men to prison for 20  years for issuing pamphlets (in Yiddish, of all things) criticizing the war and calling for resistance.

Reading about these men as they progressed through life to a time when "patriotism" no longer meant facing hostile fire which ripped through your body, but simply required brave speech, or singing the national anthem brings  our current state of affairs into stark relief.
General Chamberlain

Another contemporary, Joshua Chamberlain, of Maine, who played a pivotal role in saving the battle of Gettysburg, was wounded so gravely at Petersburg he was given a death bed promotion to brigadier general, but he defied expectations and lived to be present at Appomattox, where Grant  gave him the honor of receiving the surrender of the Confederate army.

These 3 New Englanders were contemporaries, born between 1834 and 1843 and each lived into the first part of the 20th century and played significant roles launching modern America into the American Century. 

Like most human beings, they each took stands we may now criticize, but on balance, each was heroic  in ways Donald Trump can never hope to be.

Higginson, for all his clear eyed appreciation of what real patriotism was--he supported his German conductor and never asked him to play the national anthem--he also supported a movement to prevent Southern and Eastern Europeans from immigrating into the US.

Chamberlain supported capital punishment, but he also opposed creating a special police force to enforce Prohibition.
Justice Holmes 

Oliver Wendell Holmes, was the most complex in his moral positions.  While he decried the silencing of opposition to war during times of war, he also saw the First Amendment Freedom of Speech as being limited: "Freedom of speech does not give you the right to cry 'Fire' in a crowded theater."  He recognized in certain instances, speech can be a form of action. He also voted to allow the sterilization of a young Black woman who was said to be mentally deficient, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." 

But whatever fault you can find in their positions over their long lives, you know they each saw war, had post war careers which entailed difficult decisions based on their experience in the real world and they each knew what sacrifice and suffering meant.



Looking at our current batch of "leaders" one has to wonder how far we can get with these hot house flowers: Trump, Sessions, Cornyn, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Lindsay Graham. 
Where is the steel in their back bones?  
Where is the steel tempered by flame?


Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Careful Craft of Lying


If ever there was a case of "those who do not study the past are condemned to repeat it," it has to be the advent, over the past 2 years, of a politician, now leader, who has used a technique which was well described in the early 1930's and then applied through that and the next decade effectively. Faced with this "new" approach, current journalists and pundits have been befuddled, expressed astonishment at the success of a continuous stream of obvious lies. Everyone from Mark Shields, to Joe Bruni to Chris Cuomo have stared into the camera, or written with jaws dropped, flustered, as if well, this is just something we have never seen before. What do we do?

This well worn technique, which has gone by various descriptions, but most commonly called, "The Big Lie" was described in a paper written by anonymous Army bureaucrats in the middle of the last century:
The phrase was also used in a report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing [his] psychological profile:
His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
--Wikipedia

The practitioner of this technique described the basis for it in his famous book, written while in prison:

"Thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.
For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying."



If this sounds familiar, it should.
1. Never allow the public to cool off: Well, thank you Twitter. 
2. Never admit a fault: Check that box
3. Never leave room for alternatives:  Well, that nasty guy was a Muslim, so all Muslims...
4. If you repeat it frequently enough, people will sooner or later believe it. Crooked Hillary. Lock her up. Obama born in Kenya. Muslims coming to kill us. Mexican rapists. 
5. The grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it: Little Marco, Pocahontas, Crooked Hillary.

The one departure is choosing one enemy at a time and blaming him for everything. In that our current Dotard has chosen a new path. He can pick a whole cast of characters to assail, and given the technology, he can keep a lot of balls up in the air.


If all this does not sound familiar,  then you haven't been paying attention.