Newtown – six months later

It is so hard to believe that the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut happened six months ago.  Time flies by.  The incidents become burned in our memory – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Gabby Giffords, Newtown, Boston Marathon.  But they all fade into the background, not to be thought about again until another incident occurs.

If you have the time and the will, I highly recommend this article in the Washington Post written about two parents of one of the first graders who was murdered.  It is heartbreaking.  But it helps us remember the human cost. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/after-newtown-shooting-mourning-parents-enter-into-the-lonely-quiet/2013/06/08/0235a882-cd32-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story.html

Unfortunately in today’s world, the parents learn that “U.S. policy was a months-long grind that consisted of marketing campaigns, fundraisers and public relations consultants. In the parents’ briefing book for the Delaware trip, a press aide had provided a list of possible talking points”.  So the parents, on top of all of their grieving, are also asked to be symbols.  They cannot be themselves, they must follow the “possible talking points”.  So they go to  political place and are ignored (politely I am sure) by many politicians.  How hard is it to know a politician is deliberately trying to avoid eye contact with you, not because they do not have any sympathy, but becuase the politician knows (and you know) they are beholden to some lobbyist more than they are to you, grieving parent?  So they cannot look at a grieving parent because their “position” does not link up with that parent.  I could never be a politician, it takes too much losing of your soul.

So even the tragic death of a young one becomes a “battleground” between two opposing political forces.  One, fighting for gun “control” the other fighting against it.  Actually, probably a better way to say it is both sides of the political spectrum fighting to keep the money coming, and their jobs.  Sad but true.  The best we can all do is try to remember the lost ones.  There are people grieving.

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Rose, Bambi and I

No, we have not adopted another child.  And don’t think for a moment that Rose and I would allow a pet into the house.  But we have had an animal “join” the family – without asking.  Let me explain.

Over the last winter, I witnessed a herd of nine deer walking through our neighborhood.  It is not odd to see them around.  They wander from golf course to Hills and Dales Park.  Hard to believe they are able to live in an urban environment.  And they successfully cross Dorothy Lane and Stroop Road, both of which are busy, four-lane roads, most days.  This has been going on for years but I never saw nine of them together before this year.  Usually you see them in the early morning or near dusk.  They are pretty good at hiding during the day.

Lately, one adult deer has been hanging around our yard all throughout the day.  With me now home from school during the day, I have scared her a number of times.  Now I know why she hangs out.  The little baby in the picture has taken up residence in our yard.  The other day the neighbors accidentally scared the baby deer around 8:00 at night.  The poor thing got so scared it ran up on our front porch and sat down.  It did not leave for quite a long time.

We are not feeding the deer – other than the fact that it enjoys eating our hosta plants.  But I guess we are stuck with it for a while.  So that is who Bambi is.  And, crazy as it seems, last night I scared Bambi and her friend – another small baby deer, who were eating weeds under our trampoline.  Bambi

Arms to Syria

Here we go again.

Let’s see if this story is a repeat.  A country in the Middle East is led by an autocratic government that is “harming the freedoms of its people”.  A group of “rebels” – ordinary citizens – starts an uprising against that government.  Oh by the way, that Government is a sworn enemy of the USA and is supported by our biggest enemies (Iran and Russia for example).  We tentatively decide to “help”.  The “rebels” advance, fall back and advance agin.  The Government in power becomes more aggressive.  Atrocities occur – on both sides.  More groups join each side in order to advance their agendas, even if the groups no longer have a common purpose.

The USA supports the rebels with words of encouragement.  Behind the scenes, unknown to most Americans, the US Government provides more and more “help”.  Finally the US decides to send arms to the rebels in order that the playing field might be a little more fair.

Afghanistan 1980’s

Iraq 2000’s

(you could also plug-in Viet Nam in the 1960’s)

We’ve done this before.  How has that worked out for us?  Does anyone remember that we gave arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan because they were “freedom fighters”?  We wanted the Russians out of there.  In retrospect, I have no idea why we wanted them out of that crazy, worthless country.  But we did. So we gave the Taliban “small arms”.  And anti-tank weapons.  And land mines.  And strategic and tactical assistance in fighting an intrenched, larger force.  And who knows what else.  Once the Taliban won, guess what?  They used those same weapons to terrorize their people.  And then when we decided to intervene AGAIN, our weapons and tactics got used against us.  Today.

Mark my words.  We will regret having decided to arm these Syrian rebels.  Because some of them will turn out to be Al Quaeda.  Some will be Taliban.  Some will be anti-American.  We do not have a common bond with those people.  I suspect their idea of “democracy” and ours is much different.  And we will end up fighting against our own weapons and tactics, again.  In a God-forsaken Middle Eastern country that known of us care about.

Security, The US Government and You

The National Security Agency (NSA) recently entered the headlines – something they are not accustomed to or desiring.  The disclosures by Government contractor Edward Snowden about the PRISM program opened some eyes.

I think virtually every American is familiar with the rights the 4th Amendment protect.  Whether we learned it in school or watching tv shows, everyone “knows” that the police need a search warrant signed by a judge in order to search a place.  Law Enforcement or governmental bodies just can’t go looking into your affairs without a warrant.  We all know about a person’s Miranda Rights (“You have the right to remain silent . . . “).  These rights are fundamental to the freedom we all love.

But now we find out that the NSA – a mysterious and secretive group – has access to our phone records, our Internet transactions and our e-mail.  Of course, they are focused on “foreigners” but in this “focus” all of our information gets swept up in the net.  Direct access to the records at Apple, Google, Microsoft and others feeds the data base.  Hiding in there is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  This is a non-Governmental, non-judicial court.  They get to decide – in private – whether the NSA may look at specific information or not.  This lack of independent judiciary is appalling.  The Executive Branch (through its arm the NSA) making decisions about surveillance with little Congressional oversite or independent judicial review is contrary to the fundamentals of our three checks and balances.

I get the whole terrorist thing.  I believe we need to be safe and vigilant against people who want to do us harm.  The thought of another 9/11 occurring is too hard to fathom.   Who doesn’t want to be “safe”?  I also understand the argument that the NSA is not looking at everyone’s data.  But the recent IRS scandal involving targeted reviews of only specific types of non-profits and the two month illegal wiretapping of Associated Press writers’ communications to look for a leak both point to the (easy) abuse of power that come without checks and balances.  The fact that a defense contractor, Edward Snowden, can have access to such large amounts of information is disturbing.  There are thousands of Edward Snowdens right now working for the Government. Do you honestly believe that some person in a similar position might not use the information at their disposal to do harm to an ordinary citizen?

A recent article in the Washington Post stated: “Foreigners, not Americans, are the NSA’s “targets,” as the law defines that term. But the programs are structured broadly enough that they touch nearly every American household in some way. Obama Administration Officials and career intelligence officers say Americans should take comfort that privacy protections are built into the design and oversight.” (I added the bold). If you are willing to “take comfort” in the Government and all the bureaucrats building excellent “privacy protections” I recommend that you stay in your dream world.

Many opinion polls state that a majority of Americans support the NSA program. This support, despite the fact that it certainly contradicts the 4th Amendment, specifically the right we have to be protected from “unlawful searches and seizures”.

I find that an interesting contrast to another issue  regarding the Constitution and laws.  Backers of the 2nd Amendment – among the most vocal being the NRA – will not allow any discussion about possible restrictions of gun or ammunition sales.  The NRA is steadfast –  firearms are a legitimate means of self-defense and any attempt to restrict their use, purchase or sale is a violation of the Bill of Rights (the 2nd Amendment specifically).  So when it comes to the second Amendment, there is no willingness to “take comfort” in a little “government intervention” to protect us and make us safer from rogue gunmen.  But in the case of the fourth Amendment, we are willing to allow government intervention.  Isn’t it interesting that some of our most fundamental American rights – those in the Bill of Rights – have strong, unwavering supporters and others don’t?  What does that say about us?

Arches National Park

While we were out west, Rose and I visited three parks (two in Utah and one in Colorado).  Arches National Park was the most memorable.  Here is a picture I took of the two “windows” with my iPad.   Arches_Windows 2 Landscape

Arches is so unbelievable and hard to describe.  The formations scattered throughout the park are all different and magnificent.  The best thing Rose and I did was to get to the park before dawn on the second day.  We did the 3/4 mile easy walk to “landscape arch” the second most famous arch in the park.  We got there to watch the sun rise against the red rocks.  The coolest thing was we were the only two people there!  It was a memorable experience.  Here is one of my pictures:

Arches_Landscape Arch 4

After that, we walked the strenuous 1.5 mile walk to Delicate Arch.  If you have ever seen the Utah license plate, or advertisements for Utah, then you have seen a picture of Delicate Arch.  It was a very hard walk.  But the view you see after turning the last corner is impressive.  You don’t see the Arch until you turn that corner, so the element of surprise and wonder hit you all at once.  And because we got there so early, we avoided most of the crowds.

All I can say is, if you ever have the chance, go to Arches Nation Park.

Utah Valley Marathon

ThIs weekend Rose, Nate and i traveled to Provo, Utah for the Utah Valley Marathon. i guess that tells you how crazy we are to travel a long distance for a run!

Nate ran the full marathon in 3 hours, 13 minutes and 14 seconds which was good enough for 87 place overall . Like so many of us, he learned that the last six miles of a marathon are absolutely the toughest. But he had a great   experience and came out with a positive attitude.

I ran the half marathon in 1 hour 49 minutes. Not my fastest time ever, but I am happy with it.  I believe the  altitude (we started at over 6,000 feet up) got to me. Not an excuse, just reality. It is interesting running “only” the half marathon. On the one hand, I am not sore at all. Seeing the marathon runners limping around reminds me why I like running the half marathon. But it is somewhat of a guilty feeling seeing the marathon runners and knowing they overcame a much bigger obstacle than I did.

Rose, bless her heart, agreed to come out with Nate and I. Both of us had to pick up buses by 4:00 a.m. Rose had to drive me one mile to my bus stop. So after that she went back to the room to sleep. Unfortunately she had a hard time falling asleep. But eventually she did. By the time she woke up, both of us had finished! So she missed getting to see Nate finish his first marathon. Oh well.

As I had a little time to reflect on the experience, one thing really stood out. How lucky are Rose and I that our 23 year old son wanted to spend a weekend with us? We had a great time talking, laughing and arguing. That is the best thing about the weekend.

Government Commisaries, Spending and the American “Way”

The Washington Post recently (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/commissary-plan-backlash-show-difficulty-of-cutting-military-personnel-spending/2013/06/01/15fb6c12-c922-11e2-9245-773c0123c027_story.html) published an article about the difficulty of lowering defense spending.  In this case, a commission had come up with the idea of closing the commissaries on bases.  This would save approximately $1.4 billion per year.  Commissaries are supermarkets on bases that are subsidized by our taxes.  Veterans and active duty personnel buy groceries at cost, basically a 30% discount off the price you and I pay.  By selling at cost, with no money paid for costs of people and buildings, the Federal Government loses an estimated $1.4 billion per year.  The group had already worked out a deal with Wal-Mart and others to provide the same pricing to veterans and active duty soldiers that they get today.  So it would have been a win-win.  Military personnel still get the same prices.  The Government saves money.  American businesses gain more business.  Sounds like a great idea, right?

Nope.  The Defense Department bureaucracy that runs the commissaries learned of the plan, so it sounded an alarm among allies in industry and in Congress.  A trade group whose mission is to represent companies that sell goods in military stores protested loudly and often.  The unions that represent the workers in the commissaries – those same workers who are paid by the Federal Government’s wage scale, not the lower, but competitive wages paid at all grocery stores – howled to Congress.  The resulting flood of e-mails, faxes and protests shut the plan down before it could even be considered by Congress.

So we’ll go on wasting money here.  Maybe the next time someone complains about sequestration – taking a hatchet to the budget, – we could point out this idea.  While it may not be 100% perfect, it was an idea worth considering – but it never saw the light of day.  So if good ideas never get considered, what recourse do we have other than sequestration?

What is most interesting to me is that the three largest parts of the Federal Budget – Health Care (especially Medicare), Elder Care (especially social Security) and Military spending –  all have at least one thing in common.  They all have a VERY active constituencies that can be mobilized quickly to block any and all legislation.  And they have a built-in advantage.  No Congressman wants to be labeled as “anti-veteran”.  So they never vote against anything to do with veterans benefits or pay.  No Congressman wants to be labeled bigoted against old people – especially since the elderly are a group that tends to vote more than younger people.  Courage and pragmatism don’t reign in D.C.