Tag Archives: Ann Gaylia O’Barr

War on Coal; War on the Planet

Until I moved to the Pacific Northwest, most of the salmon I ate came from cans. I was not fond of it. Then one day I ate fresh salmon and became a salmon lover. An added plus is salmon’s contribution to a healthy diet, one of those foods you can enjoy that is good for you.

Salmon fishing also provides jobs. One of the greatest habitats for wild salmon is Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. Salmon harvesting provides jobs for 14,000 Alaskans, according to Timothy Egan, columnist for The New York Times. It’s a clean and sustainable industry.

However, the Trump administration has recently reversed protection for the bay, favoring a mining conglomerate’s proposed plan to mine copper and gold there. Previous findings indicated the mine could send tons of toxic waste into the bay, harming the salmon habitat.

Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, met with leaders of the mining company before the reversal of protection,

In addition, Pruitt has termed President Trump’s intention to end the regulations curbing greenhouse gas emissions as the end of the “war on coal.”

Some thought of those regulations as the war on polluted air.

Egan refers to Trump’s reversal of many formal environmental protections as “the war on the planet.”

Born on Third Base

Chuck Collins, heir to a wealthy trust fund, decided at age 26 to transfer his wealth to four grant-making foundations. He made this decision after working with a group of mobile home owners struggling to raise money to buy the land where they parked their trailers.

Collins could no longer justify to himself his advantages over the “99 percent” (including those mobile home owners) because he was born wealthy. He had paid his college expenses out of his trust fund, yet had seen that fund double during his college years.

He likens being born wealthy to being Born on Third Base, the title of his book. He did not earn the education or the upper class home or the security and safety that would forever give him an advantage over the 99 percent, even if he gave away his money.

However, Collins is not interested in shaming the wealthy. His goal is to convince the wealthy to become partners in building a more just society.

He points out the benefits reaped by Americans of a few decades ago which grew the economy of the country: GI education bills, cheaper college tuition, affordable mortgages for homes, workers’ wages that were not so unequal to those of their bosses, higher taxation on the wealthy.

He believes some redistribution of income is only fair, since the wealthy have themselves benefitted from subsidies for years: tax breaks, for example, which amount to a subsidy for the more well off. He favors a “GI Bill for the next generation.”

He wants the help of the rich in creating a tax system in which the wealthy pay their fair share. He hopes to persuade them to understand “the shortsightedness of an economic system that funnels most income to the few.”

Getting Rid of the Editors

Most of us use at least one of them, even if we harbor uneasiness about their power. We log on to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the other digital helpers. We connect with friends and families, carry out research, express our opinions, and follow the latest breaking news.

Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, acknowledged the good things digital media helps us accomplish. At the same time, he warns, it’s easier to abuse them because no one is judging their output for accuracy. (The Seattle Times, “Hold social media accountable,” October 12, 2017.)

The business model of the digital media, Friedman writes, aimed “to absorb all of the readers of the mainstream media newspapers and magazines and to absorb all their advertisers—but as few of their editors as possible.”

Some enjoy the freewheeling ride of social media. Some don’t like editors who tell them they can’t write certain things—demeaning those different from themselves or spreading false stories.

As Friedman reminds us, “An editor is a human being you have to pay to bring editorial judgement to content on your website, to make sure things are accurate and to correct them if they’re not. Social networks preferred to use algorithms instead, but these are easily gamed.”

Social media has connected us with different viewpoints and given us freedom to explore. They’ve also given us greater ability to spread untruths. Fake news was not invented in the digital era, but it spread its wings there.

To cope requires what is so often lacking in these times: self-discipline. Self-discipline curtails our temptation to treat news as entertainment, an attitude tailor-made for social media. Instead, if we are wise, we will exchange some of that time for reading hard news and analysis, gathered by journalists who are paid to investigate and kept to strict standards of what is true.

Today’s Glorious Autumn; Echos of Another Fragile Season

In western Washington State, we are enjoying one of the most beautiful autumns in several years. The maple tree across the street has retained that brilliant scarlet, known only in autumn, far longer than I thought possible.

I hold on to the beauty a bit tighter because of several novels I have read recently, set around the First World War. The years 2014 to 2018 mark one-hundred-year anniversaries of events in that war. Today’s authors have written a number of novels in that time frame.

A Fine Summer’s Day, by Charles Todd, is one of them, set mostly in the months just before the war began. The book sets the stage for the post-war Ian Rutledge detective novels about a shattered veteran returning to work for Scotland Yard after his traumatic service in that war.

Todd captures the bitter-sweetness of the spring and early summer of 1914, before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria-Hungary, began the blood-letting.

Young men and women fall in love and plan marriage. Fields are planted as they have been for millennia. Times seem as golden as the trees of this autumn.

Then the war came, a surprise to many Europeans, who thought the modern world had given up that sort of thing. Many of them were positive it would last no more than a few months. They believed their leaders were too wise to allow a prolonged conflict.

Unfortunately, a refusal to understand the limits of human wisdom and an inability to corral national pride contributed to an inhuman slaughter. It did not stop until an uneasy armistice came into effect over four years later.

I hope we do not take our blessings for granted. Humans still make foolish decisions.

Business and Politics: A Match Made in Hell?

We have sometimes elected business people to legislative bodies, but not generally to the U.S. presidency. For that job, we have tended to go for politicians already holding elective office at the state or U.S. congressional level or else military leaders.

Donald Trump is the first president I can think of, at least since the twentieth century, of one elected to the office directly from a business career. Some of his supporters reasoned that a business person practices efficiency in order to make profit. Thus, Trump could drain the inefficient swamps of the U.S. government.

The problem is that a business leader is more like a dictator. Business experience does not necessarily prepare a person for heading a representative government.

As he took office, Trump appeared to think that members of the U.S. congress were his board of directors, beholden to him to carry out his wishes. In fact, they are not beholden to him; they owe their jobs to the people back home who elect them.

As a business leader, Trump could fire any underling who disagreed with him, free to make absolute loyalty to him a primary requirement. This appears to be his style as president.

Like the French king, Louis XIV, he has assumed the role of Sun King. He takes criticism personally, spewing unverifiable insults on anyone, even a supporter, who dares intimate that he isn’t the greatest president who ever held office.


From South Korea: “What Are the Churches in America Thinking?”

I don’t know how close North Korea is to actually sending a nuclear weapon to devastate some city on my own Pacific northwest coast.

I’m pretty certain, though, that North Korea could now, at this instant, use weapons, conventional or otherwise, to snuff out the lives of millions of South Koreans and perhaps Japanese as well.

While we deal with our own problems, serious as they are (shootings, hurricanes, wildfires), South Koreans wonder if their entire population will be obliterated in the next few seconds.

The conflict with North Korea is not a movie dramatization of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Leaders hurling street bully insults at each other are as helpful as gasoline on a California wildfire.

One visitor to South Korea, an American Christian leader, asked a Korean Christian what the churches in his country were thinking about the situation.

He responded: “We’re asking, ‘What are the churches in America thinking?’”

Bring Your Pets to Work; How About Your Children?

A shopping section of one newspaper featured equipment a pet owner might want for taking their pet with them to their workplace. Suggestions for the growing pet-to-work movement included a pet carrier, collapsible feeding dishes, and a portable paw washer.

Anyone who’s loved a pet can understand the satisfaction of a pet’s affection and how the pet’s presence might contribute to less stress in the work place.

Animals now are used in some prisons to teach inmates responsibility as they provide care for a living creature dependent on them. Hospitals use pets to relieve tension of patients preparing for medical procedures. Sometimes animals are part of mental health programs.

Might parents also profit by having their infants and young children close by as they work?

Small humans present certain challenges, of course. They sometimes cry and want to be picked up no matter what other responsibilities the worker parent has. They have to be changed and fed, not always on schedule. As they begin to crawl, they are apt to pick up small items off the floor and attempt to swallow them. They constantly explore. Trash baskets and reachable desk drawers are a treasure trove.

One solution might be close-at-hand children’s centers. Parents could stop by on breaks and spend a few minutes. They might eat lunch with them or perhaps put them down for a nap.

Our separation of work and home, beginning with the industrial age, separated mothers from economic production. It also separated fathers from their children. Perhaps bringing children closer to workplaces might lessen both problems.

Vote When You’re Not Angry

During my childhood, my parents volunteered to man our neighborhood voting station during elections. It was located in the multipurpose room of the elementary school I attended.

My parents did what election workers did and still do all over the country. They verified voters as they entered. They recorded names of each participant. They also visited with friends and neighbors and caught up with their lives. It resembled a neighborhood block party.

They were not allowed, of course, to influence a person’s vote in any way. I don’t remember if our small neighborhood precinct had watchers from political parties, but I don’t think any allegation of voter fraud ever touched our district.

Perhaps my parents’ involvement in the voting process is one reason I have, as far as I can remember, voted in every election of my adult life for which I was eligible. That includes a fair number of absentee votes when I was out of the country.

I’m always amazed at the number of eligible voters—sometimes more than half—who fail to darken the doors of their voting halls for an election. Or, as in my current voting district, fail to cast their ballots by mail.

Some people vote only when they are angry. They might vote more intelligently if they voted when they weren’t so angry, examining issues with a clearer mind.

A government run for the people isn’t a given. What we don’t use, we may lose.

The politicians voted in by a minority may  pass laws only for a few powerful interests, since the majority don’t seem to care about what their government is doing.

Of course, having lived in countries without elections and citizen participation, I’m less likely to take voting for granted.

I Stand for the National Anthem, But I Respect Your Right Not to Stand

On Memorial Day, 1991, I stood with other Americans at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and joined them in the pledge of allegiance to our flag, flying over our mission in a foreign country. It was a “lump in my throat” kind of moment.

We had just come through the now barely-remembered first Gulf war. An alliance, led by the United States, had driven out Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Watching from next door Saudi Arabia, we were proud of how our country had handled the crisis.

The pledge and the national anthem are useful for such moments of patriotic feeling. They should not, however, be a test of citizenship or of respect for our nation or our military. They are simply one expression, useful for some, less so for others.

Some American Christians believe attachment to such symbols borders on idolatry. They refuse to say the pledge out of concern for their primary allegiance to God.

I respect their belief. I also respect the beliefs of football players who kneel or sit during the national anthem. One player said his Christian conviction regarding justice compelled him to act as he did. It was a non-violent protest, the sort of act American soldiers have died to protect.

We do not live in a dictatorship where school children assemble each morning to pay lock step allegiance to a great dictator. Instead, non violent expressions of concern for certain practices of our country are a sign of healthy citizenship.

God knows we have a few other things to worry about: North Korea, a hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, and an opioid epidemic, to name a few.

“A Republic, if You Can Keep It.”

So spoke Benjamin Franklin in 1787 at the end of the convention to write the U.S. Constitution. He spoke in answer to a questioner who wondered what kind of nation this gathering of politicians had created. A monarchy like most European nations?

Answer: a republic, but only if you can keep it.

Ancient Rome also began as a republic but descended into tyranny. Why? For centuries, historians have studied possible reasons.

Some cite moral decline. Roman citizens became more interested in “bread and circuses” than in serving their republic, as they had in the beginning.

Or perhaps they yielded to the temptation to cede power to a dictator when times are hard. Citizens find it easy to believe a Caesar or a Hitler who promises easy solutions to economic problems or threats from enemies.

A democracy outlasts such threats if enough citizens look beyond the immediate present and choose long term goals, even sacrifice.

When Britain stood on the brink of extinction from the highly efficient German war machine at the beginning of World War II, their leader, Winston Churchill, didn’t promise a quick solution to the danger.

As the Nazis rolled over much of Europe, Churchill called for his people to stand firm while promising them “blood, sweat, toil, and tears.” Citizens rallied and sacrificed for the long term goal of defeating Germany.

John F. Kennedy inspired a generation of young people by calling on them not “to ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

The vision of shared sacrifice is a powerful weapon. Not bread and circuses, but a sacrifice that includes all. Even the wealthy.

Death by Small Cuts

Apparently, United States military forces now are going to stay in Afghanistan until we win the war there.

When will we know that we have won it? Is it when the last terrorist is dead?

But what if our activities there increase the number of people who hate us and continue to feed terrorism networks? And what about the terrorists in Syria and Yemen and Somalia and a host of other nations? Are we going to fight wars there, too?

Two wars “against terrorism” have already ballooned our national budget beyond anything imaginable in previous eras. The costs of our wars are choking off investments even in those programs favored by both political parties, like infrastructure.

Perhaps this is exactly what our terrorist enemies have in mind. They will siphon off our national treasure by turning on many small spigots. They will tempt us to fight “wars against terrorism” in a dozen different countries.

They will not aim one single mortal blow. They will slash at us with many small cuts until our resources bleed away.

The attacks in New York, Washington, and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, did not cripple us or threaten our infrastructure or render us helpless.

It was a despicable act against innocent victims that called for a response but not for endless war.

During our past conflict with a much more formidable foe, the Soviet Union, in the Cold War, our biggest mistake was going to war in Vietnam. Better if we had concentrated more on what finally did win the Cold War for us, an economy that benefitted most Americans and the growing inclusion of all classes of citizens.

U.S. diplomat George Kennon, writing from Moscow in the early days of the Cold War, advised his country how to win that war:

“Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. . . Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow . . . the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.”

Why the Healthy Should Buy Health Insurance

I’m the daughter and sister of insurance agents. I understand that an insurance program is an agreement to provide buyers of insurance with funds to overcome some kind of misfortune. Examples include automobile accidents, house fires, and illnesses, to name a few.

For the insurance provider not to go broke, payments into the insurance program must be enough to accumulate funds needed to pay out for the misfortunes.

A provider of automobile accident insurance would soon go broke if the provider allowed people to begin the insurance after having an accident. Likewise, so would a company providing house insurance if people were allowed to begin fire insurance after having a fire and expecting to receive funds.

In a sense, insurance programs are community programs. Some are profit driven. Others, like social security for the elderly, are not. Even with social security, however, workers are required pay into social security whether they know they will live to old age or not.

Popular sections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) include the provisions covering preexisting conditions and those guaranteeing people’s continued coverage even if they get sick.

Highly unpopular, however, is the mandate that all must purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.

Unfortunately, adopting a plan with the first two requirements is most likely impossible unless all people are required to have a policy or pay a penalty. Health insurance, no more than car or house insurance, needs regular payments over a long period of time to balance the outgoing.

Otherwise, it becomes too expensive. The cost of caring for sick people is too expensive unless a large group of people pay for coverage.

Of course, people with health insurance are more likely to enjoy good health than people without it.

If their insurance covers doctor visits, they are more likely to have regular checkups. They are more likely to visit a doctor when they first have symptoms of an illness rather than later when the illness may require longer and more expensive treatment.

The term”health” insurance is instructive. The primary goal is better health, rather than paying to correct ill health. It’s also less expensive in the long run.