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101. Worldwide Chaos?

26 Apr

Is there “worldwide chaos” or is it normal to have a certain amount of danger, struggle and warfare. I feel that recently, chaos has taken a step upward,
and there is more to be concerned with now — particularly in the USA — than in the last several years.

Here is a list of factors that currently are particularly disturbing:
1. Endless war in Syria and the resulting massive migrations.
2. Our current leader, Trump, is unprepared for high office, and lacks “ideals.”
3. Brexit: Britain leaving the European Union.
4. Russian attack of Ukraine.
5. Israel and Palestinian endless conflict.
6. Worldwide terrorism, including the dangers of ISIS, Taliban, others.
7. Failure of many leaders to recognize climate-change danger.
8. In some countries there is assassination of reporters and dissidents.
9. Greedy leaders scam the citizens, promoting personal wealth for a few.
10. Significant interference in USA elections by a foreign power (Russia).
11. Christianity and Islam sometimes are compatible, but often clash.

The search for chaos “causes” can take many forms, and for most important events, there are many factors that can be causal. There are many places to start the search. I believe a good point is the industrial revolution, usually dated from about 1760 to 1830.

As governments and technology developed, there was a parallel evolution of greed and corruption. The basic principle is that in any society or nation, a few aggressive and intelligent citizens will become leaders. As they improve their political skills, they learn how to communicate with citizens to achieve power, and to make use of rich donors. Congressmen are “bribed to help the wealthy with tax breaks and loopholes, and subsidies, creating a financial cycle: rich donors support desirable legislation and in turn, get even richer.

Once in office for a few years, they also can become adept at increasing their personal wealth. It is a matter of “learning” and of the eventual irresistible temptation to become richer. Those in office gradually separate from the people and form what could be called a “royalty” class. In many cases, a leader that starts out with good intentions will eventually fall into corruption.

The end result of this process of corruption is often violent or non-violent revolution. Excessive greed at the top will produce more poverty and more poor people. This has taken place for centuries, but recent improvement in communication, like the Internet, focused on this oppression, and helped with the organization of protest. One result was the “Arab Spring”, which began in Tunisia around 2010. Revolutions in Egypt and several other countries followed. Syria was the worst case, resulting in a disastrous deadlock between rebels and its President.

So a basic cause for much of the current world crisis is the rise of a greedy “Royalty Class” in many countries (even in the USA). The Syrian disaster became a basic cause to many other international problems. War in Syria resulted in a massive migration to other countries. This refugee problem I see as the major cause of BREXIT, the rise of Pres. Trump, and perhaps the rise of ISIS and other terrorist activity. In the US, the fear of refugees was recognized by Donald Trump, and promoted by him.

Here is a summary of some major (not all) causal links:

The rise of technology was accompanied by gradual governmental corruption.
Greedy and corrupt leaders exploit the citizens and increase poverty.
Citizens, helped mostly by the Internet, discover the corruption.
They are able to organize and revolt in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, etc.
The revolution in Syria caused massive migration and associated fears.
Migration fears caused Brexit, the rise of Trump, terrorism, ISIS?, etc.

Final thought. I have condensed what could be a whole book, into a brief blog.
My purpose here, is to promote thought and analysis. As ordinary citizens better understand the world, it can become a better place.

100. Basic Causes of Greatest Concern

10 Mar

In my 100 blogs to date, I have tried to cover important governmental, social, medical, and related issues, that profoundly affect our way of life. In this, my 100th blog, I will list some of our most significant current issues, and maybe some possible solutions. I know that my blogs are sometimes imperfect and not very original, but my purpose is to increase the number of voices urging important changes and understanding. So here is a list of ideas to emphasize:

Our American founding fathers when creating the Constitution and other rules, were afraid of the kind of populism that we see today. So they tried to move important decisions away from the ordinary citizens and towards more responsible and intelligent leaders. Here are two examples supporting this lack of trust:
1. The establishment of an electoral college, to prevent direct citizen voting.
2. Until 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures, and not the people.
The founding fathers were afraid that ordinary people could be scammed by unscrupulous politicians. They anticipated someone like our current President.

Societies that over emphasize capitalism and the importance of financial success, foster corruption so that clever manipulators accumulate vast wealth, much of which belongs to the people. It is apparent that anyone (or party) in office for a long time will drift away from the people’s needs and develop methods for increasing their wealth. These methods include donating to Congressmen who will legislate tax loopholes and unfair subsidies.

An age requirement for U.S. President is not enough. Tax returns must be required and other financial and business details provided. It is too easy for very rich people, once in office, to make decisions best for their businesses and not for the country. A notable example is the transport minister for Azerbaijan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union. His covert construction contracting, participation in money laundering schemes, and wide-ranging contacts made him extremely rich at the expense of the citizens.

Corruption and unjustified accumulation of wealth, is not limited to politicians. Almost every vital service needed by the people, such as healthcare, education, and insurance, has cheated the citizens and made administrators (and others) hugely wealthy. Many of these rich people donate to Congress and through resulting legislation, make themselves even richer. Donations to congressmen has shifted vast amounts of money away from ordinary citizens, to undeserving administrators (making many millions of dollars). For example, median total compensation for ceos of major teaching non-profit hospitals is 1.35 million. Many make much more. Is it right that many millions of dollars are given to hospital administrators while poor people are being rejected (even die) for lack of insurance? Important services should be provided by the government at little or no cost. I feel that administrators and certain others should be allowed to become somewhat rich, but not extremely so.

Clarification: All “Western” or developed countries are a combination of capitalism with some socialistic features. Pure capitalism allows the unlimited accumulation of wealth with no financial protections for the citizens. Pure socialism is an economy totally controlled and owned by the state. In the USA (and many other major countries) capitalism is primary, and there are “social programs” in areas such as healthcare, education, and supporting the poor. Shifting some funds from the very rich to the very poor through taxation changes and programs like Medicaid is not “socialism,” it is simply the addition of a “social program.”

Last but not least, is the unethical and self-serving practices of many doctors, dentists, and other healthcare practitioners. Diagnoses and treatments are often are more determined by cash-flow than by what is most beneficial for the patient. Here are some examples. In the area of severe back-pain, diagnosis is usually a defect in the spine, and the possibility of simple excessive muscle strain and tension is ignored. Procedures for spinal defects are very expensive whereas procedures for muscle tension simply involve (at no cost) frequent muscle stretching. Here is an example from dentistry. Several years ago, my teeth would develop a dark blue hue, which could be removed by a professional teeth cleaning. Two dentists I went to urged me to double my teeth cleaning sessions, and spent little effort in trying to determine the cause. Fortunately, I was able to figure this out myself, and saved a lot of expense. The blue colored mouthwash I was using, dyed the teeth, and there was even a warning on the label. I could provide a lot of other personal examples, and many are described in previous blogs. An excellent book on this subject is “Confessions of a Medical Heretic”, 1979, by Robert Mendelsohn, MD. This is an old book, but still very applicable to many current physicians (but definitely not all).

Is there a quick fix for all of the forementioned issues? No, but major efforts to improve education could be transformative. Knowledge is important, but developing an ability to reason and research is even more relevant. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that our current administration would fear a well-informed electorate.

99. Change Yes, Trump No

4 Mar

I think our country needs some radical changes to preserve it, and make it exemplary again. Forget Trump’s “great  again”, let’s make it admirable, honorable, and respectable. This blog is “BasicCauses” and I want to look at some of the fundamentals of our system.

I am going to make some major criticisms so I want to make it clear in advance, that I am happy to be an American, vote every election, served in the U.S. Army, and enjoy free enterprise, having created two successful businesses. I generally support the fundamental features of our current governmental system, but believe we need some significant basic changes. The arrival of Donald Trump as our country’s leader, emphasizes the need for  re-thinking.   Please consider the following:

1. The Primary Process and Voting does not yield the best leaders. This is hard to fix, and probably the best solution, better education, may not be effective for a long time. Many poorly educated voters do not have the reasoning and research skills to make the best judgments. Long held and obsolete beliefs are barriers to better choices.

2. Congress is organized so as to promote gridlock. Our current system has too many barriers to completing legislation. There are many different changes that could speed up law making. One thought that I have had is to have one large legislative body and require 52% of votes to pass a bill. Filibustering would not be allowed, but short speeches from many would be allowed.  The quality of legislation could be improved by adding to this body,  various specialists such as University representatives. A major reorganization will not occur in my lifetime, but starting to think about it is important and I may discuss it more in future blogs.

3. The “fourth branch of government”, the press, is being oppressed. It appears now that we need to pass laws or find other means of protecting the press and allowing them to criticize without recrimination. Also, the citizens should clearly support freedom of the press.

4. Rich donors should not have powerful control of our government. I suggest a maximum donation of $100 for all citizens and no donations allowed from corporations or other organizations. Let’s abolish the super pacs and have a true democracy.

5. Our middle-class is not benefiting enough from our nation’s success. We need to abolish tax-loopholes and increase rates for the very rich.  Many wealthy corporations and individuals pay no tax at all because of loopholes.  Even the Pope has criticized “trickle-down” approaches, which rarely work, but are advocated by the GOP.  (“Trickle-down” means: give lots of money to wealthy businesses and simply hope that some will trickle-down to the rest of us.)

6. Congress should not police and regulate itself. An independent body should do this. (The same goes for all Healthcare organizations and many other service areas.) Unfortunately, with today’s polarization, it is not easy to find truly independent persons.

7. A potential problem is “privatizing.” This means moving a function run by the government, to a private, for profit company. A consequence is that some rich person (and staff) will make huge amounts of money and emphasize profits over proper services. In most cases, the benefits of competition do not make up for all the money lost to over-paid executives. For example, privatizing prisons was a failure and was abolished. Politicians sometimes threaten Social Security and Medicare with privatization, which would decrease benefits.  I have said more about this in previous blogs.

89. Some Tweet-like World Observations

2 Feb

1. Privatizing means creating a system that has a private owner as opposed to a government-run institution. Examples are schools and prisons. The latter has been tried but is now diminishing. In privately run systems a concern for profit can cause neglect in providing required services. Often, civic-minded people working as a public governmental body can be more effective, and with less expenditure. There is a fixed budget so that workers can focus on quality work.  Some would argue that privatizing creates beneficial competition, but in fact there is little competition in areas where privatizing is being promoted.

2. Do we need insurance companies that develop extreme wealth for their executives, paid for by you and me, while benefits are diminished. Why should our world be configured so that a few can become very rich at the expense of the rest of us? Our more advanced civilization has been around for 150 years or so. In that time, the “royalty class” has become entrenched in our system — robbing many ordinary people of their means of survival. I am not against the concept that hard-work and intelligence should be financially rewarded, it is the extremes and abuses that concern me.extreme we Being rich is OK, wealth is not. I also want to make clear that I owned two businesses and believe in our form of regulated capitalism.

3. The arrival of Trump marks the creation of a new entity resulting from social/business evolution. The new creation is what I shall call the extended governing family unit. The Trump version consists of himself, his offspring and their spouses; each having a specialized function. But to clarify, effective and powerful family units are not really “new”, but a unit this large, with necessary distributed functionality, has never before been our “president.” My next blog (no. 90) will explain this further.

4. Diagnosis of all types should be separate from treatment. The fees for various treatments can be very different, and the Dx could be biased towards better income. For example, the exact diagnosis for a cancer could lead to expensive and profitable surgery or a much less expensive radiation or drug treatment.  Dentists have tough decisions in deciding what is actually a cavity that require a filling.  Any healthcare, other service, or repair company can be jaded by this factor. How to fix this is a real dilemma.

5. Our U.S. government may be doomed to failure, because of powerful relationships between very rich folks (donors) and governmental leaders. The best cure would be a great improvement in education so that we can break the donor influence. Remember that our current leaders arose to power under this system and, as you would expect, want to preserve it. Many of those at the top have little interest in teaching logic, reasoning, and correct history to our students and potential voters. We are caught in a powerful loop and will need to be coordinated and industrious to have a chance of breaking it. The current massive demonstrations in many cities is on the right track and encouraging.

6. Ironically, a thousand years from now, the invention of email may be identified by witty history professors, as the cause of the downfall of our Earth civilization. Take away email, and there would have been much less abuse of Hillary Clinton, and she could have been elected. If that had happened, a strong NATO, great international relations, better climate change efforts, fair treatment of the middle-class, control of nuclear weapons, careful communications, and other factors could have saved the world from numerous disasters.  Trump has already alienated some of our closest allies.

7. Governmental officials generally set their own salaries and rules of operation. They are only people, after all, so how can we expect them to be fair. It seems that most people in power long enough will eventually become corrupted (at least somewhat). We need a better system, but change is difficult. The press should help us, but are often limited by some very real vulnerabilities. A tough leader with violent supporters can be an awesome force that discourages needed criticism and modification.

8. I suspect that most of Trump’s early supporters voted for him for various reasons, including: his power, likability (for many), promises of jobs, identification of scapegoats, prejudices, anti-terrorism statements, etc.  What probably was overlooked, was a good estimation of what he would actually DO and SAY after taking office.  Many of us had hoped that he would change after a couple of weeks as POTUS, but he has not.

87. GMO Babies and Foods

26 Jan

I recently listened to a TED talk entitled “The ethical dilemma of designer babies”, by Paul Knoepfler. It was a good talk, but I was disappointed by the suggestion of a moratorium on the science involved in the direct genetic improvement of reproduction.
Knoepfler is a scientist working in the field of genetics and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He discusses the possibility that in 15 years or so, we will be able to make “designer babies” that are free of genetic diseases and may also have improved looks and intelligence. The author is afraid that “natural” children will be upset by the successes of “designer” children.
I think the “designer” idea is great and is not so strange as some think. After all, we affect the success of our children in many ways, including medical methods such as plastic and corrective surgery, good nutrition, the best education, exercise, mental health, etc. — why not give them an even better start by improving their DNA through carefully studied and regulated procedures.

Aside from the talk, I am also concerned about irrational fears of GMO foods, which are really important for the survival of our growing populations. Here is what I wrote about these methods as a comment to the TED talk:

I am a scientist (retired, and not in the field of genetics) but still study many areas of science and am very interested in scientific progress.   My judgment is to forge ahead in any scientific area, but observe certain limitations.  If there is a clear possibility of danger then we need responsible transparency and monitoring, not moratoriums.  I live in and am a citizen of the USA.  It’s foolish for us to stop working on something potentially very beneficial  while all over the world others are progressing and benefiting. At a minimum, just preventing genetic diseases is very worthwhile.  A moratorium here just puts us behind scientists working in other countries, and does not prevent the dangers that the speaker hints at.  Rich people, of course, would be able to take advantage of this overseas, and ordinary people would not.   My idea is to reject timid and fearful limitations and go full force,  using good documentation and studies as guides.  If it becomes clear that advances such as “designer babies” or certain GMO foods are dangerous, then scientists and Congress can regulate or abolish the procedure. 

The speaker is worried that a “natural” child would have to compete with a “designer” child. But even without this method there will always be someone better than you. It is not a good argument. Nature, breeding methods, cosmic rays, and even choice of a spouse all cause genetic (DNA) changes. The advantage of direct DNA changes by scientists is that they CAN be monitored and procedures can be improved or limited.

The innovations and amazing discoveries of science are a great joy. In a world filled with kindness and intelligence, scientists would never have created atomic bombs. Traditions, rigid beliefs, ignorance, and greedy politicians HAVE caused world disasters — Science has not.
After writing the comment, I decided to read more about GMO use. It is hard to do human research on GMO’s, but there are good studies using animals, that, in fact, we eat. Jon Etine (Sept 19, 2014, Forbes) reports:

“Estimates of the numbers of meals consumed by feed animals since the introduction of GM crops 18 years ago would number well into the trillions. By common sense alone, if GMO feed were causing unusual problems among livestock, farmers would have noticed. Dead and sick animals would literally litter farms around the world.”

There also is formal research that shows no negative effects and no effects on humans eating these animals. Irrational fears about GMO’s are unproductive and harmful. Of course, specific findings on particular GMO’s should be acknowledged, but should not influence the whole field. We don’t avoid all doctors, because a few have been convicted of malpractice. We need to use the results of good responsible scientific research wherever it is helpful. It is ignorance and unethical politicians that have caused our widespread dilemmas.

83. People Now Believe Lies

30 Dec

People who are knowledgeable about current events and politics immediately recognize a blatant lie. On the other hand, less well-informed citizens believe anything said by a politician that they like, or just ignore anything obviously untrue. The bizarre post-election situation we are now facing is not unique in American history.  After WWII we had a similar (but not identical) period of despotic McCarthyism.   Today, we are faced with two problems:

1. Voters believing lies if told by a likable or admired candidate.
2. Ignoring a record of lies told by a candidate you like or believe in.

The first factor is mostly a result of an evolution in information dissemination. In the last few decades, the sources for info have greatly multiplied. If we look back, for example, at about 60 years ago, most people relied on established newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and on TV/Radio news anchors, such as Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. Major news sources were more clearly defined and were led by trustworthy editors and managers.

Now there are hundreds of TV channels, a disappearing set of newspapers, an Internet with bogus news sites, and social media that can easily promote rumors. If you want to believe your hero, there is usually a source that will confirm his/her statements — right or wrong. So who is to blame for this situation? Individual news people cannot be blamed — it is a natural result of tech advances in a free society.

The second factor is natural for poorly-educated people. It is why we have an Electoral College in the USA. Our early leaders developed a constitution that they hoped would deal with this situation. People electing trusted representatives (Electoral College) probably worked better in earlier times, but is now obsolete.

Solutions: Here are some solutions, most of which will be difficult to implement, but are  well worth the attempt:

1. Abolish the Electoral College so that all U.S. citizens will have an equal vote.

2. All members of the press need to fight lies more aggressively. Many reporters and commentators appear to be afraid of certain politicians and this timid approach promotes them. I watch many news-programs on TV and I am often disappointed by the overly cautious and sometimes incorrect comments.*  Probably the primary reason is a fear that they will not be invited back, or could be some type of pressure by producers or managers.  Also, interviewers must not be too offensive, as the interviewees may not return.

3. We need to develop more unbiased fact-checking sources and results must be more available to all. Managers of social-media, such as Facebook, can try to do more to prevent the influence of bogus news sites. But, all this is difficult because we do not wish to affect our freedom of speech.

           CRITICS ALMOST NEVER STATE A BETTER CHOICE

Finally, I want to give one example of the feckless press. The moderator of the TV show MTP, stated that Pres. Obama was responsible for the dismal situation in Syria, because he failed to enforce his “red-line” edict about chemical weapons. But the moderator miserably failed to point out what actually happened. After the red-line violation, Pres. Obama went to Congress for approval of an intervention, but approval was not received. His efforts, however, did result in the eventual destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons. In general, Pres. Obama is often blamed for his inactivity in many occasions. But the critics almost never say what the better choice would be. Should we have another war with numerous lives lost and 10 years of occupation? I want a President that is thoughtful and does not act when there is no clear benefit from any U.S. action. Foreign policy is very complicated and cannot be led by amateurs.
———————
*As I am writing this, I see Rachel Maddow aggressively interviewing KellyAnne Conway, bravo!  Trump is afraid to give news conferences.

82. Result of Abysmal Trend: Trump

28 Dec

Does the election of Donald Trump represent a continuing trend towards a crude, simplistic, and tyrannical U.S. government? After observing Trump post-election, I see a dismal continuation of all his bad habits, talk, and actions. How did a person like Donald Trump achieve his success? Not a total success, of course, because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million.

If you study global and USA political trends, there is a common dangerous pattern for many nations. Very rich people become skilled at manipulation of government and corrupt the system to make themselves more powerful and even richer. There is a flagrant disregard for ordinary citizens except for callous brainwashing and meaningless promises of: compassion, America greater, trickle-down benefits, etc. This trend also has a crude factor which emphasizes simple and often violent solutions to complex problems that should be solved by careful planning and negotiation. Examples of this crude approach is: “bomb the hell out of  ISIS”,  “ban all Muslims from the U.S.”, and torture presumed terrorists.”                                                                                                                               .
Although some Democratic leaders are imperfect, it is the Republicans that have led the growth of the billionaire conspiracy. In my previous blog, “Dirty Tricks win Election (blog 80)”, I have discussed some recent examples of this conspiracy, which includes election interference by a Republican FBI director, Russian hacking of DNC email , and suppression of voting by minorities.

I have thought a lot about how and when this trend started. I could note that after the election of Ronald Reagan (1980), there was a significant rise in income for the top one-percent, while after 1970, income for the bottom 90% remained essentially constant. So 1980 could be considered the beginning of our abysmal trend. But if you study history, you can see similar trends going way back to ancient days. I should also note, that some countries, such as those in Scandinavia, have done better in this respect, and they should be used as an example.

Here are some key events that have contributed to this erosion, distortion and inequality of the USA democratic system:

Large corporations, like railroad companies formed unfair mergers that led to anti-trust laws in 1890 and 1914. Rich businessmen often team up covertly to raise prices, increasing their wealth and taking money from the middle class.

Reduction of bank regulations like the Glass-Steagall Act (1933) led to major financial failures.  We also need more laws like the Dodd-Frank Act (2010) and better enforcement.

After the election of Pres. Obama in 2008, major Republican leaders, in a meeting, pledged to destroy his presidency, by ignoring everything he proposed or supported, including legislation and judicial appointments. Never in U.S. history has the obstruction of legislation been so blatant. In spite of this, he did a remarkably great job.

                GOP unpatriotically pledged to destroy Obama presidency

Formation of the Tea-Party branch of Republican Party in 2009 was a major negative influence. This was an angry group that supported rich leaders and worked against the middle class. In efforts to reduce federal spending, they caused serious problems, such as holding up important budgetary legislation, which resulted in a disastrous lowering of the USA credit rating and higher USA-debt interest rates that affects us all.

In 2010 there were two court cases brought by Republicans that allowed almost unlimited contributions to political candidates. These rules let the very rich dominate our election system and were implemented with “super PACs”. Previously, there were severe limitations, like a $2500 maximum donation for individuals and no corporate donations. The best known case was brought by “Citizens United”, and another by Speechnow.org.

The end effect of all these events was the election of Trump. He won with various “dirty-tricks” (see above) and a campaign based on lies, re-writing history, impossible proposals, and a policy of lowering taxes for very rich people. He ran on the principle that he could not be influenced by rich donors, but, ironically, much of his current cabinet is composed of extremely wealthy businessmen. Some will be directors for agencies that they had vowed to eliminate when running for office.

The success of Trump was based on a faulty fundamental “belief”, that only Republicans should be considered for office, and that a non-politician must be selected for president. Only Trump matched these considerations. People were correct in feeling that Congress was grid-locked, but failed to realize that it was the GOP that blocked progress. Search the record and you will see that Republican leaders blocked many court nominations (including Supreme Court) and blocked almost every bill proposed by Pres. Obama, even if it was based on GOP ideas.

The corrosive trend that I have discussed will be difficult to defeat. We can try to promote more general and political education. States can develop beneficial laws, such as raising minimum wage, that the Federal government will not consider. In general, we must all work harder to explain our ideas, to educate, and to support better approaches. And in the future, we must try to get the most charismatic, scandal-free, and articulate people to be candidates.