Notes: Mosque Visits; PTSD Empathy; Defending Capitalism

05 Feb
by John, posted in election, immigration, President   |  1 Comments

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Notes are part of changes to Jumbo Tale – weekly short thoughts on the news.  Hope to have the new site up within the month.

Mosque Visit

President Obama visited a mosque this week. I gave up on the President’s rhetoric rallying the country about a week after the bin Laden killing. His address in the mosque was refreshingly balanced between tolerance and responsibility.

Nevertheless, I agree with Marco Rubio’s post visit observation generally about the President and I would include CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations):

Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque,” Rubio continued. “Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there’s going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves.”

“But again, it’s this constant pitting people against each other — that I can’t stand that. It’s hurting our country badly,”

There are still more hate crimes against Jews than Muslims in America.  Nowhere on the Statute of Liberty does it say America is offering an easy path free of discrimination.

 The President and CAIR would do better to distribute stories of decorated American Muslim servicemen and women (a growing number), stories of local groups reporting plots, while enforcing in court not the press their legal rights.  And I would suggest wrapping those steps in a theme on how lucky all immigrants, including Muslims, are to be citizens or residents of the US.

PTSD Empathy

Some of the worst conversations of 2015 for me occurred after the American Sniper premiere. Quite a few progressives slammed Chris Kyle for his tall tales about acting as a sniper on the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina and killing would be robbers at a gas station back in Texas.  None of the folks I confronted would acknowledge that Kyle’s PTSD was a legitimate explanation or even theory.

To some Kyle was a liar, a killer, a racist, and a proxy for conservatives.

It has been my honor to know several combat veterans.  Whether it was the combat fatigue of World War II, the unique issues of Korea and Vietnam, or  Iraq and Afghanistan PTSD they all suffered in the civilian world. That suffering manifested itself in nightmares, withdrawal, obsessive and compulsive behaviors, alcoholism, suicide, and mental illness.

Kyle’s tall tales hurt no one.  My belief is they were a result of his desire to be back in combat and were part of a fantasy return.  One vet told me last year that his desire to go back to Iraq as a contractor became so overwhelming that his wife forced him to go to the VA.  PTSD causes vets to act in ways almost incomprehensible to civilians.  Why would anyone want to return to Baghdad to fight?

Kyle’s suffering is a chance for empathy, not judgement.

I Like Capitalism

Bernie Sanders believes US capitalism is evil.  The effect is to pull Mrs. Clinton to his position even though she obviously does not believe it.  US capitalism is the key to our world position, the reduction in poverty across the globe, and reached its responsible height under President Clinton.

I wish Mrs. Clinton would stare down Senator Sanders and say the obvious:

“My husband’s terms expanded protection for the poor of all colors, grew the middle class, reached a balance budget, and drove economic prosperity broadly throughout America. Your policies failed in post-War Britain and have left Europe a slow growth basket case.  We’re moving forward to return America to prosperity.”

It is not just that Senator Sanders is unrealistic, it is he is wrong.

A Year In Public Service

21 Jan
by John, posted in Colorado Politics, Government Spending, Public Service Volunteerism   |  No Comments

shutterstock_183707495In the year since Governor Hickenlooper appointed me to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPW) I have learned a tremendous amount about state government and conservation.  CPW is the primary agency responsible for managing the state park system and wildlife.  I also represent CPW on the Greater Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board.  GOCO funds via lottery proceeds conservation projects in localities, open space, state parks, and wildlife.

CPW has over 900 people and an almost 200 million dollar budget, so it is not a small agency.  Nevertheless Colorado is a huge state geographically with parts of the state isolated from the connected Front Range cities of Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs.  It always amazes me it takes 8 or 9 hours to drive from Denver to Telluride.  That would take you from Boston to Richmond and from one distinct culture to another.   My biggest lesson of the last year is there is as much cultural difference within Colorado.

I was interested to see how many of my conceptions of government were accurate:

  1. How slow is it?
  2. How much waste is there?
  3. How political is public service?
  4. What is the relationship with the public?
  5. Is it a rewarding or frustrating experience.

Numbers 1 and 2 – Speed and Efficiency

In the private sector management expects to complete projects by the next day, the next week, or the end of the month.  In the government world with the requirements of notice, public comment, outreach to non-governmental agencies (NGOs), local governments, tribes, industry, and consultation with the governor’s office and the legislature, even modest projects take many months and sometimes several years.

I recall President Eisenhower’s quote on the difference between the presidency and being Supreme Allied Commander Europe in World War II.  In the military Eisenhower gave an order and thousands of men immediately worked to implement it.  In the presidency Eisenhower gave an order and it tended to dissipate into the federal bureaucracy.

But here in our state government and throughout the US citizens have adopted a structure of government that imposes layer upon layer of checks and balances.  It is easiest to visualize in an example.  In a public company you build a zero based budget. You review that with the CFO and CEO, perhaps the audit committee, then the board of directors, and the board votes to adopt it.  One oversight review from the board is it.

I asked a CPW employee to draw me a diagram of the CPW budget process.  I stopped counting at seven the number of entities with oversight and review rights over the CPW budget.  Some of the entities reviewed the budget more than once.  The governor’s office, the oversight committee in the state Senate, the Department of Natural Resources, various legislative and joint committees, GOCO, and others play some role.  Checks and balances do not equal speed and efficiency.

But it is the government voters have chosen.

Number 3 – How political is public service?

Not very.  Although we discuss the political ramifications of decisions, we strive very hard to reach consensus and reasonable compromise.  There is no campaign funding or partisan leadership driving boorish behavior.

Number 4 – What is the relationship with the public?

The environmental community, sportsmen, agriculture, outfitters, recreationalists (bikers, hikers, ohv owners), and others are interested in CPW’s mission.  But they tend to only attend meetings when they are being denied or granted some benefit.

Recently we had a major turnout for a discussion of wolf reintroduction in Colorado.  The room was packed and we had chanting protestors outside.  All for a vote with at best symbolic meaning.  CPW has no power to introduce or not introduce wolves.

But every meeting we do make big, strategic, important decisions and exercise our power over state parks and wildlife.  And most times the public is absent.

Number 5 – Is it a rewarding or frustrating experience?

Deeply rewarding – I should pay the state for the privilege of serving.  Over the course of a year I have learned from CPW employees, my fellow commissioners many of whom are deeply experienced in local and state government, NGOs, and the public. And the stark difference between the Front Range and the rest of the state is my most striking lesson.

Nazis, Politicians, and the Media

09 Nov
by John, posted in Nazi, Remembrance Day   |  No Comments

I know. You are not allowed to say that word and make a comparison to any events outside 1945.  Because you might offend someone.

This is a pernicious modern philosophy routinely promulgated across mainstream media and politicians who should all know better.

Readers of my blog and other writings know that this is the time of year, Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom, that causes me to reflect upon the Nazi killing of my grandmother, infant aunt, and another little girl huddling in their London house during the Blitz.  It was October 13, 1940 and the bomb that killed them and eighteen Belgian war refugees sheltering in the subway below somehow missed my mother.  That is how close I came to non-existence.

Mom was the only survivor in the rubble where she spent a night and morning with the corpses of her family.

Bomb Crater Cedars

Mom’s house morning after bombing.

I want that picture seared into everyone’s political conscience through repetition.  It was the consequence of great evil.  It was the consequence of polite politicians and media types saying “You can’t say that about Hitler, Mussolini, and Fascism. You might offend them, while we your enlightened leaders make peace.”

Ruth Marcus wrote a typical story for the Washington Post recently.  Ms. Marcus is an excellent writer, but here she is doing the work of Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax, and Stanley Baldwin (the three British politicians most responsible for appeasing Hitler).  She writes from the perspective of modern Germany and its memorials to the Holocaust and the horror of 1945 fully revealed.

But that is not how the Nazis came to power in 1933.  They won an election in the non-majority way that many European countries are run to this day.  Once in power they gradually used the power of the German state against targeted groups – political opponents, the LGBT community, Jews, and others.  It was five more years until the tightening screw of persecution culminated in the unrestrained violence  of 1938’s Kristallnacht.

And still the polite smart people in Britain said, “you can’t say that about Hitler, because we have peace in our time.”

That is not the perspective of 1945.  The six million dead Jews, the ten million dead Russians, the millions more dead all across Europe, Africa, and Asia were in the future.  General Eisenhower had the concentration camps of 1945 filmed not just to document the horror of the end game, but a reminder of the banal beginnings of Nazism.

Nazi rule began with an election not a concentration camp full of corpses.

So the question is not, is the IRS the Gestapo?  More properly it is, did the IRS use the type of government intimidation against conservatives that the Nazis used through the German government to quash dissent in 1933 and 1934?  Is there any doubt Senator McCarthy was doing exactly that in the 1950s?

If these questions spark a genuine debate that includes an education for voters on Hitler’s rise to power through the gradual perversion of democracy, how is that a bad thing?

We have a modern political discourse that pushes everything to the extremes.  And on the left increasingly the answer to unpleasant speech is not more speech, but “sush, you can’t say that.”

So, Mr. Carson please keep bringing up Nazis.  And if others have a different view of the import of Nazi Germany on modern events in the Middle East, Europe, or even here in the United States, then make your point on historical fact not law review articles.  We need a continued robust debate on the Fascism of yesterday and today.

Because, I have never met a victim of Nazi Germany whose answer to any question was “sush, you can’t say that about Nazis”.

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At the gravesite in the mid-1990s.

Good News on Las Animas

13 Sep
by John, posted in environment, Policy, West   |  No Comments

Friday I finished a fantastic Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting as a sportsperson’s representative from Boulder.  There are public Commission records of people observing the terms “sportsperson” and “Boulder” are not normally used in the same sentence. We were in Craig this meeting on the Western slope and the town was humming with sportsmen and women arriving for the season.

About a month ago I wrote about seeing the Las Animas river from the air near Durango as the pollution from the Gold King mine flowed down the green river turning it to orange.

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The contaminated water from the Gold King mine near Silverton was pouring heavy metals into the river. For me the event broke down into two crisis events:

  1. The EPA’s breach of the mine retaining wall spilling pollution downstream; and
  2. The crisis management response of EPA.

The good news is the pollution of the river is trending toward the most optimistic of predictions.

Patt Dorsey, Southwest Region Manager for CPW, briefed us on information that was largely already public, but in a very practical way.  Patt is one of many stars at CPW who managed to demystify most of the conspiracy theories and misconceptions.  Here is my list of important takeaways:

  1. The disturbing color of the water is from iron, which is largely not harmful to humans and wildlife.
  2. The leak at three million gallons is hard to picture, but Patt pointed out it was 9 acre feet of water.  An acre foot is the amount of water necessary to cover an acre of land in a sheet of water one foot deep.  A lot of water to be sure, but a tiny fraction of the river’s flow. This is the cause of the quick dispersion of the metals.
  3. There may be two or three years of discoloration as sediment is stirred in spring runoff.
  4. To date immediate wildlife harm is not measureable – mortality of fish, birds, beavers, and others appear normal.
  5. EPA is apparently planning to proceed now to overcome its inertia and build a wastewater treatment plant to address at least part of the mine runoff in the Upper Las Animas.

Enormously good news confirming Governor Hickenlooper’s early optimism and leadership (Hick drank out of the river within days).

Now I step out of my role as a Commissioner and speak only as a citizen.

None of this excuses the EPA’s bungling breach of the dam wall in the mine with a backhoe or lessens the downstream Native American experience.  Native Americans took a more cautious view of the spill, particularly agricultural irrigators, and have significant crop damage.  The shunting of such claims to the Federal Torts Claim process, instead of an immediate emergency funding, would never be publicly accepted from a private company.

As Congress moves forwards into hearings I hope they force EPA to:

  1. Develop and implement an improved crisis management plan, train to it, and adopt a continuous improvement culture around safety and crisis;
  2. Some level of emergency funding until the Federal Tort Claims process winds its way to a just outcome; and
  3. Complete the wastewater treatment plant(s).

Really the science on water quality is as good as we could hope.  Now it is time for some matching policy decisions.

True Bi-Partisan Opportunity on Gun Violence

28 Aug
by John, posted in gun violence   |  No Comments

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Based on CDC data and published in chart form in the The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

I realize it is impossible to imagine a civil conversation about this topic that includes advocates from both sides.  But this type of a chart always reminds me advocates are caught up in winning, not preventable deaths.  Gun rights or gun control groups both have made the decision not to seek a consensus path forward.

Advocates spend most of their time debating the effects of gun control or gun rights on the ability of criminals or the mentally ill to harm others.  That is the red part of the pie chart, which is roughly a third of gun violence deaths.  And this argument most often leads to mud slinging and little policy progress.

We should focus on the blue and yellow parts of the chart – suicide and accidents, which make up approximately two-thirds of the deaths.  As a country, without any winners or losers, we should commit to steadily but radically reducing those numbers.

Now, I am sure gun control advocates would argue that gun bans or other measures would greatly reduce suicides and accidents.  Even assuming that is true, it is politically impossible.  Do gun control advocates want to spend there time on impossibilities raising funds or do they want to reduce suicides and accidents?

Gun rights advocates are convinced that no gun control measure will ever satisfy gun control advocates.  That as each new measure is passed, fails to meaningfully change the situation, gun control advocates will return with a new measure leading to registration and confiscation.  Do gun rights advocates want to spend their time stonewalling in fear raising money or do they want to reduce suicides and accidents?

I believe an initiative on both suicides and accidents has to start with more training.  Even as gun ownership has soared in the United States, it is increasingly difficult  for the general public to find safe staffed shooting ranges with instruction.  As public ranges are closed the only real replacement are public lands or private ranges where pricing is a barrier to many.  Gun control advocates that resist safely run gun ranges believing they are going to reduce gun ownership are only driving more untrained gun owners.

In my experience the NRA sponsors most training at public and private ranges.  In the courses I have taken, the NRA delivers its message in a surprisingly nuanced way.  It may comfort gun control advocates to believe an NRA sales pitch is “Join or I’ll shoot you.”  But in reality it is more,  “We are going to show how you to be a safe gun owner who can ethically hunt and protect your family.”

The gun control advocates now rebranding themselves as gun safety advocates are completely absent from instruction along with their message.   It is a strategic mistake for both the government and gun control advocates to abandon to the NRA gun ranges and instruction.  Why abandon the debate?

At a gun range you can in a structured environment not only teach shooting, but safe shooting, safe storage, safe transport, children and guns.  You can empower adults and children on what to do if they encounter a gun in a home or business.  You can empower them that it is okay and how to intervene with a mentally ill family member or friend who has access to guns.

The military spends a lot of training time before any recruit gets near a gun.  Imagine a basic county and state funded facility staffed with range officers from both the NRA and gun control advocates able to provide training and their own take on gun ownership. Why would we not want to make available to tens of millions of gun owners training on storage, use, and intervention?

And both sides could continue pounding each other on gun control versus gun rights, the red pie slice, and homicides.  But, if we could make progress via training on reducing suicides and accidents due to a truly broad based initiative larger discussions might happen.  Because to work together both sides would have to actually listen.