Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name

Socialism.

Here’s a word that is typically viewed by Americans as a bad thing. But is it really? Let’s find out what this is all about.

Webster’s Dictionary has three definitions for socialism based upon the use of the word in the context of a sentence or discussion. Socialism is: 1) any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. 2) a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property, b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state. 3) a stage of society in Marist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

In what is called the Cultural Dictionary, there is this definition for socialism: an economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are controlled substantially by the government rather than by private enterprise, and in which cooperation rather than competition guides economic activity. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains the dominant influence over the economy; others insist on an abolition of private enterprise. All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communist.

Within our own government we have experienced a slow movement in thinking, then policy, and ultimately programs that place us on the path to becoming increasingly more socialistic. Socialism is able to safely thrive in a democracy because a democracy is “the rule of the majority.” So if the majority of Americans can be persuaded to accept and embrace socialism, then this will be reflected at the ballot box.

During the past one hundred years, America has found it necessary to engage in wars that threatened, not just the very existence of other nations, but the existence of freedom itself. Our fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers are today being denigrated and vilified as imperialists instead of the liberators they were, taking on fascism, communism, autocratic dictators and various other egocentric despots and defeating them.

I have been working my way through a book that is not light reading by any means. It has caused me to sit and mull over many of the things being offered. The book is, Common Sense, by Glenn Beck, a popular TV and radio talk show host. On the topic of government, he writes, “Our collective experience since the Founding has taught us that all governments of every stripe are fascist in nature. They will gobble up as much money, resources, and people as possible unless adequately checked. Governments are never static; they always grow. Communism, fascism, socialism, imperialism, and statism are all different ends accomplished through the same means: totalitarian, absolute government control over the individual. All these ‘isms’ simply reflect the mistaken belief that progressively larger governments are needed to address our problems.”

The first president to openly espouse socialism was Republican Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th president. Surprised? Don’t be. In a speech entitled, The New Nationalism, he said this about human welfare: “Personal property is subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require.” Our 28th president, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, was in agreement. “It is very clear that in fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals.”

If you’re like me, you probably found yourself having to stop and reread those statements by Roosevelt and Wilson. Both parties from that time till now have continued to erode the freedoms of the nation by encroaching on our individual liberties and freedoms.

Beck writes, “When Americans say that socialism is a better system than capitalism they are essentially saying they prefer to be led and fed by the state than be free. They are saying, perhaps ignorantly, that they prefer increased state control over their personal decisions because having a cap on success is an appropriate price to pay for also having a cap on failure.”

President Ronald Reagan warned us of the problem with government. He said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” A current Rasmussen telephone survey report finds that 59% of voters agree with Reagan, and just 28% disagree.

Our first president, George Washington, said this in regards to the problem with government. “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

In light of current events, and the fact that our elected officials are supposed to work for us, do you honestly believe the government is representing you? Are your rights as an individual being protected? Is Congress making decisions that protect our nation from our enemies?

Let me remind you again. There are mid-term elections in November 2010. Are you registered to vote? There is power in an informed electorate! Get informed and get registered. Start today!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cap-and-Trade

Following up on last week’s article about tort reform, I thought I’d address yet another misunderstood and confusing topic currently ballyhooed in the arena of political speechifying: Cap-and-Trade. Somehow you and I on Main Street America are supposed to know what all this stuff is. Most of us do not have the time or the inclination to research these topics being deliberated primarily within the hallowed halls of Congress.

Here’s my non-partisan, apolitical, reasonably unbiased, and thinly researched opinion on cap-and-trade.

To begin with, opponents of cap-and-trade have a name for this that is more descriptive to their position. They refer to this as “cap-and-tax.” So, right away you can see that each side has drawn their own conclusions as to the direction this bill might take us.

A definition of Cap-and-Trade I found (www.whatis.techtarget.com) says, “A cap-and-trade system is a market-based approach to controlling pollution that allows corporations or national governments to trade emissions allowances under an overall cap, or limit, on those emissions.” The goal of cap-and-trade is “to steadily reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide in a cost-effective manner” (web site for Center for American Progress).

This all sounds real good, and most people would be in favor of reducing harmful emissions, particularly of man-made emissions, such as bio-fuels (oil and gasoline products, typically), but there are some underlying issues here that need to be considered before a final decision is made. Principal among these is the issue of Global Warming. To buy into the cap-and-trade approach to resolving the problem, you have to have bought into the argument that man is causing global warming, if in fact there is even any global warming going on. Because we have automobiles, trucks, trains, factories, etc., we are polluting our environment, which is having an adverse effect on the world’s temperatures.

I remember flying into Los Angeles in 1965, leaving my beloved New England for a state that all of us back in the east were convinced was about to experience the mother of all earthquakes and slide off into the Pacific Ocean. Little did I realize that I would be completing my senior year in high school nine months later in Los Angeles, California. O, the ignominy of it all! The day I flew in to LAX it was raining. After the plane had rolled to a stop at the gate and I along with the other passengers were standing ready to de-plane, I became aware of a slight, but growing, burning sensation in my throat, and my eyes were watering from a stinging sensation. I thought, “What in the world is going on here?” Then I remembered the problem L.A. had with something called smog. Even with the rain, the smog managed to do its worst. Two years later I was playing football for a local college in L.A. It was brutal during practice sucking in this brown air. It was not uncommon for a player to be retching on the sidelines from being poisoned by smog. In 1974, after my stint in the Marine Corps, I was back in college, only this time at San Jose State University. San Jose also had a terrible smog problem. It is nasty and unhealthy, make no mistake. California took strong measures to reduce and practically eliminate this problem. But the question is, “Did this smog create global warming?” This is something I’m not convinced of. I also remember back in the late 70’s that the scientists were all telling us that we were on the verge of a new Ice Age. So my question is, “Is it that the planet is getting colder, or warmer? Could it be that we have had that much of a change in only thirty years when we’ve been working so hard to reduce emissions?” During this time we’ve introduced unleaded gas, and placed stringent regulations on factories and businesses that were the main culprits in coughing out pollutants. We have cleaned up our air, and rivers and lakes. There’s still more to be done, but which is it – cooling or warming? You can’t have it both ways!

Once you accept the premise that this is all about global warming, then you can see where cap-and-trade comes in. You’ve heard of the “carbon footprint.” This is the calculated amount of carbon dioxide emitted by an individual, a business, or a country. The intent is to reduce this emission. Ultimately, we would be returning to a pristine condition on earth where man no longer interferes with the ecology. Ah, but that invites me to address this topic from a biblical and theological perspective. I’ll save that for another day. In the space I have left, allow me to draw a conclusion to the cap-and-trade issue.

Cap-and-trade is a tax on those businesses that cannot effectively reduce their emissions to meet a certain set of standards established by bureaucrats. A limit on emissions (the “cap” part of cap-and-trade) is set for companies to meet. Some companies will do so easily, while others will find this difficult – not because they are not willing to go along, but because they produce a product that is more likely to generate excessive emissions. Over time, each of these companies will be required to lessen their emissions. The “trade” part of cap-and-trade is allowing a company which is having difficulty meeting its cap to borrow (trade) from a company that is meeting its cap easily. If you fail to either meet the cap (or trade with those who do), bureaucrats will place levies on these companies which will economically destroy them.

There is a huge amount of money at stake here. My question is, “With this much money involved, do we really want big government to control cap-and-trade?”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tort Reform

What exactly is tort reform?

This expression has been bandied about quite a bit lately, usually associated with the Health Care Bill before Congress. I have a suspicion that there are a number of us who are somewhat confused as to what tort reform actually is. Here goes….

From my layman’s perspective, I will attempt to explain what tort reform is. Here’s the Legal Dictionary definition of tort reform: “change or alteration of laws imposing civil liability for torts especially to limit liability for punitive damages.” Have you got that? No? How about this: “Tort reform refers to proposed changes in the civil justice system that would reduce tort litigation or damages.” Still confused? So am I. Entering into the topic of tort reform is daunting, so bear with me.

Let’s start with the word “tort.” What is the meaning of this word? The root of the word means “twisted.” Webster’s Dictionary says, “A wrongful act for which a civil action will lie except one involving a breach of contract.” What? This doesn’t help! Stay with me – I’m trying to figure this out. Here’s another way to look at tort: “Tort requires those responsible (or ‘at fault’) for harming others to compensate the victims, usually in money. The person injured can get a monetary payment to make up for their loss. This can include loss of income (while the person recovers), medical expenses and a payment for pain and suffering – even loss of a body part.” Lovely! Not really satisfied with these definitions, I called my brother, John, an attorney for a Washington DC law firm which handles corporate law. He told me that tort is simply a situation where a person or property is harmed or damaged, or a person’s character is wrongly besmirched.

Elsewhere it has been stated that “the classical purpose of tort is to provide full compensation for proved harm. This is known under the Latin phrase ‘Restitutio in integrum’ (restoration to the original state). In other words, the idea underpinning the law of tort is that if someone harms someone else, they should make up for it.”

At first blush this is all very reasonable in the manner in which it is intended. However, a major problem with tort reform is what is referred to as “frivolous lawsuits,” and then the “trial lawyers” who make a living on such cases. This is a situation where in medical circles, lawsuits are often leveled against doctors who have allegedly mishandled a patient either through misdiagnosis, or a botched surgical procedure. The tort idea was originally intended to protect the patient from a physician’s malpractice. Because of the supposed “deep pockets” of the physicians and especially the health care industry in general, many frivolous lawsuits appeared. Frivolous lawsuits are when there is no evidence of a doctor failing to perform his duties as a physician; but so as to avoid having to go to court it is simpler and less expensive for doctors and insurance companies to settle such matters out of court. Those seeking to reform the health care industry are attempting to limit the amount of money asked in compensation for alleged malpractice. Doctors pay annually enormous amounts of money for malpractice insurance. Most do so in order to continue to practice medicine. Some doctors refuse to pay for malpractice insurance, trusting that their services will be appreciated by those they treat. They do so at great risk, because they could be sued and lose everything they have worked for. They also refuse to pay for malpractice insurance because it allows them to keep their costs to their patients down.

My friend, Will, is a retired Navy doctor. He gave me an interesting view on all of this. When I asked him what his thoughts were on tort reform, he responded, “Shakespeare said it best: ‘Kill all the lawyers.’” He then told me that tort reform is not in any of the health care bills presently before Congress. I asked him why that was. He said it is because Congress is afraid to take on the trial lawyers. He postulates that as much as 30% of current medical costs could be significantly reduced simply by removing the excessive number of frivolous lawsuits against doctors.

Recently, former Democratic National Committee chairman and presidential candidate, Howard Dean, made a very enlightening statement in a town hall meeting. “Asked by an audience member why the legislation does nothing to cap medical malpractice class-action lawsuits against doctors and medical institutions (aka ‘Tort reform’), Dean responded by saying, ‘The reason tort reform is not in the [health care] bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on. And that’s the plain and simple truth.’”

Let me sum this up with a quote I ran across. This admonishment from James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States (1881), is something each and every American needs to remember this time next year when we are preparing to vote on our congressional representatives in the mid-term elections.

“Now, more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body (Congress) be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.”

Pay attention. Get informed. And vote!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

To Your Health

Allow me to shift back about one hundred and fifty years to our nation’s Civil War. With all the talk of health care today, and what might or might not happen if HR 3200 is passed by the House of Representatives, I thought I would take a respite from the current woes and look at what were real advances in medicine circa the 1860s.

The numbers of men lost during the Civil War are staggering by any standard. All together there were about 620,000 losses due to battle deaths and disease. The Union forces lost 360,222, while the Confederate forces lost 258,000, although many records were lost by the Confederates. This total number of losses has been placed at nearly 700,000 by some historians. In any event, this is more deaths than any other war the United States has ever engaged in. It is because of this war that so many advances were made in the field of medicine.

The losses combined for the two armies reveals some interesting numbers. By a little more than 2 to 1 disease killed more men than bullets. There were a number of reasons for this. First, we simply had not developed medicines, or had sufficient knowledge in medicines then to save lives. Those medicines that were available were usually in short supply. Most medicines at that time were home remedies. Among the items found in a doctor’s medicine bag included: condensed milk, sugar and black tea. Having a patient bite down on a stick or a bullet while setting bones or hacking off a limb was not created in Hollywood for special effects in the movies – it was the only thing that could be done. In fact, this is where the expression, “Bite the bullet” came from. Second, any respectable conditions for hygiene were nearly impossible to maintain in the battlefield conditions of that time. Cleanliness was a luxury – impossible to attain. Third, surgical tools were brutal, leaving men with enormously grotesque scars, limb loss, and disfigurement. To their credit, many of these battlefield doctors kept journals of their patients, including photos (something quite new) so they and others later could learn from these experiences. The chilling facts are that three out of every four surgical procedures were amputations. Fourth, early in the war, wounded soldiers would be taken to railroad depots where they would have to wait for a train to come to transport them to the nearest city with a hospital. Depending on how the battle went, the wounded might have to wait hours or days before a train could safely be brought to the depot – if at all. Many died lying beside the tracks. There is a scene from “Gone With the Wind” which depicts this problem. What looks like hundreds of litters stretched out in rows by a train station are the wounded waiting for the train. It is a horrific scene. Men are crying out in pain, plus they are thirsty due to dehydration from loss of blood.

It was at the Battle of Corinth (Mississippi) in 1862 that the idea of setting up a field tent to care for the wounded right there where the fighting was taking place was first tried. Earlier on my great grandfather worked as a nurse in the makeshift hospital in the town of Corinth. This hospital was actually the Tishomingo Hotel. Because the hotel was only a hundred yards from the train station, it was logical to use the hotel as a temporary hospital. Even then, it was more of a way of making the wounded comfortable while they waited to be taken by train to a hospital in a safe city. When the doctors proposed using medical field tents to treat the wounded they quickly became part of the army wherever it went from that time forward. Doctors knew that the sooner they could have their patients treated, the greater chance that patient had of surviving. This may well be the reason my great grandfather, who was seriously wounded a couple of months later in that same area, survived. Not only did he survive, but his wounded right arm was not hacked off. Granted, his use of that arm was limited from that time on, and was a prime reason he was discharged, but he was alive.

The design of hospitals was forever changed because of the requirements of the Civil War. The “pavilion design,” which is any of a number of separate or attached buildings forming a hospital or the like, became the format by which hospitals are built even today.

Anesthesia was first introduced in the United States in 1846. However, very few surgeries were performed in those days. The Civil War would change all that! Chloroform was routinely used which allowed doctors to work on patients who were no longer squirming, thrashing or crying out. It also lessened the shock to the patient, saving yet more lives.

Because women were called upon to assist in caring for the wounded and dying, a whole new area of work opened for women. Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross during the war, was a trail blazer for women moving into the workplace following the war.

Though war is ugly at best, there are those who chose to see some good come from it. Many of these people served in the field of medicine. Perhaps it was best said by Union nurse, Mary Livermore, in caring for others: “People of all conditions and circumstances, wise and unwise, rich and poor, women and men, went thither for inspiration and direction. Scenes were there enacted and deeds performed which transfigured human nature, and made it divine.” (Medical Practices in the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller, 1992).

Here’s to your health!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

It's Thursday Night

My wife and I have truly enjoyed being grandparents for nearly two years now. However, before we entered the world of grand parenting, I remember the many times of politely enduring those people who would gush over their grandkids, attempting to convince anyone who would listen that their grandchildren were the brightest and most talented children ever to walk the face of the earth. To turn a phrase: Extolling the prodigy of their progeny.

In the space of eighteen months we acquired four grandchildren. Each of our daughters had a daughter and the other two grandkids came to us by way of marriage. Truth be told, if we’d known how much fun grandkids are, we’d have skipped having kids and gone immediately to grandkids!

I was always amused when I would see one of those license plate holders that reads, “My grandkids are cuter than your grandkids!” Or the friend who had to bailout on a round of golf because he had to watch his grandkids. Are you serious? I used to chuckle at such obvious manipulation thinking I would never, ever humiliate myself in such a manner. Silly me! The only way I can explain this is that I had not yet been introduced to the joys of being a grand parent. Now I have seen the light! I’m a true believer!

The four grandkids all live within thirty minutes of our home, a blessing which we are most thankful for. I have noticed that my wife, Isaura, and I make our plans now so as to factor in where the grandkids will be and whether or not we’ll be able to have them to our home on a given day. Will we have them all at one time, or individually?

When our girls were small, Friday night was “Cookie Night.” When Laura and Jenny were old enough to hold an egg in their hands, I would have them stand on a chair by the kitchen counter and we’d carefully break the egg into the cookie dough mix. These tended to be messy affairs, but the joy and wonder of it as a parent was priceless. I’m looking forward to that moment with our two littlest ones! On Saturday morning it was “Family Breakfast,” usually consisting of pancakes and bacon, orange juice, coffee and perhaps some scrambled eggs. The girls would help me prepare this meal which served two purposes: 1) It gave my wife a break so she could rest while I had the girls to myself, and 2) I experienced the release of my creative flare, giving way to the imaginations of my mind in concocting yet another culinary masterpiece. In reality, I was simply hoping everything would be palatable.

Now that there are several grandkids to enjoy, I am in my element. Friday night has become something more than cookies. In fact, we are attempting to get together with our kids, our sons-in-law and our grandkids for “Game Night” and crepes. This is where we sit around the kitchen table and play Mexican Train or Yahtzee. Things do get lively! At some point I slip away from the game and fire up the stove in preparation for crepes (I make all my food from scratch – something I picked up from my grandmother, Bambi.). Making crepes is really quite simple. You can make the batter in five minutes. The trick is to have the correct pans (crepe pans), and then have the stove burners at the proper heat level. The difference between a crepe used for a meal and a crepe for dessert is the amount of sugar added to the mix. I have two pans going at one time so that I can keep them coming as they are rapidly consumed. We put out such tasty items to roll into the crepes like: cinnamon sugar, homemade jams with Cool Whip, or fresh fruit.

Less than twelve hours later we come back together at the house for Saturday morning breakfast. The choices are: Belgian Waffles, Fluffy French Toast, or Killer Pancakes. Then there’s my Puffy Omelet – Yum! The grandkids love this stuff!

So along about mid-week each week, Isaura and I begin to get excited about the weekend. Which grandkids are coming over? What special things do we want to do with them? Will they be staying overnight?

Ah! But it’s on Thursday night that gets things kicked off. Isaura takes Fridays off from her work, so we have twenty-one month old Alyssa Grace stay the night on Thursday. Her mom, Laura, has to be at work early the next morning, as does hubby, Ken. Driving the mile and a half (almost) from Laura and Ken’s to our house, Alyssa starts a sing-song chant, “Dandaddy – Meema – Dandaddy – Meema” The closer they come to our house the louder Alyssa’s chant becomes. Once inside the house and the exuberant greetings are over, Alyssa walks over to the stuffed chair, pats her hand on the seat, and in a tone that brooks no argument, says to me, “Sit down!” Once I comply, she grabs a book from her book basket, crawls into my lap, and waits for me to begin reading to her. The rest of the evening (besides reading numerous children’s books, often the same ones over and over again) consists of playing hide-and-go seek, peek-a-boo, ready-set-go!, a nice hot bath with her Meema, and finally having her fall asleep on our queen-sized bed.

Thursday night is only the beginning of our weekend! ‘Game Night” on Friday is up next, with Saturday morning breakfast right behind, frequently followed by dinner together on Sunday afternoon.

As my grandmother used to say – more as a statement than as a question, “Isn’t life grand!”

Psalm for the Day