Thursday, December 19, 2019

Left & Right Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Mark Guerringue again sits in the left chair.

The producer asks us if we think Mitch McConnell can administer an impartial Senate trial and if not should he recuse himself? I say, yes, he can. He’s a partisan, but he can be fair as much as anyone can, but Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over things.

Mark thinks this impeachment is much more partisan than previous ones, especially Clinton’s. He thinks Trump is guilty and cited reasons why including seventeen high government officials who testified before Schiff’s Committee. I begin picking apart some of that testimony but Mark interrupted me to say he didn’t want to talk anymore about impeachment — except to say one more thing. Then I respond to that and he responds to me… and on it goes.

We move to the Horowitz Inspector General report, which Mark says admits there’s no proof of shenanigans by the FBI and other Obama intelligence agencies. I counter that it says there was no documentary or testimonial evidence, in the first paragraphs of the 400-plus page report, but the rest lays out plenty of evidence, some of which I begin to cite. Then Mark interrupts again, but I go on.
Mark then brings up a discussion from a previous show about American oil production. Mark said I credited Trump with increasing production and he produced a chart showing steadily increasing production from 2008 when Obama took office to 2020. I accept the data on his chart and tell him that what I said on a past show was that Obama attempted to restrict hydrofracking activity by petroleum companies but was unsuccessful. He also restricted drilling on federal lands. Nonetheless, oil and gas production increased anyway. Trump, however, has cut restrictions on drilling and production has continued to increase at the same rate.

Mark then brings up a discussion we had last month about the Daleiden Trial in California. Daleiden was sued by Planned Parenthood for secret video and audio taping of conversations with abortionists at public conventions by Planned Parenthood. Then-Atty General Kamala Harris seized Daleiden’s computers and videos not yet released and criminally charged him. So, he was facing both civil and criminal charges for his actions, the only journalist in California ever to be so charged. I had claimed it was legal to secretly record a conversation if they were about crimes. Mark claims I was wrong about that.

I bring up how dangerous it is to wear a MAGA hat in public, especially in a “blue” area like Portland Maine. I had a 21-second video cued up of a 14-year-old Florida boy on a school bus being beaten by eight black kids for wearing a MAGA hat. Mark said he didn’t want to see it, but something went wrong with my laptop signal anyway so I couldn’t show it. He said I was looking for trouble when I wore my hat in Portland, and I found it. I said my objective was to show how intolerant the left is — that I should be able to wear a hat in support of the sitting president of the United States in an American city without being assaulted.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Diminishing Beauty

Beauty literally stops me in my tracks. It can annoy my wife when she’s in the car because I’ll hit the brakes unexpectedly, pull over, and reach into the back seat for my camera. It might happen anywhere and if I don’t capture that right away it can fade in minutes or even seconds. Photography is about light after all, and light is often transitory, especially with scattered clouds and a storm either building or breaking up. A shaft of light will illuminate something against a dark background and I have a brief window in which to get the shot. By the time I’ve stepped out of the vehicle, turned on the camera and framed the image, a cloud may have blocked the sun and the opportunity passes.

When I am successful though and I pull up the image later on my computer, it’s a great feeling. The photos I like best all convey whatever feeling I had when I saw the scene. If the photo kindles a similar feeling in others it will sell. The ones I’ve been paid for are images of things — landscapes, street scenes, coastal scenes, loons, sunsets, and so forth. Images of my loved ones are among my favorites but I don’t put them on the website. One did get on accidentally once when I was re-sizing a batch of coastal scenes and a shot of my grandchildren looking for crabs on a beach got mixed in somehow. I didn’t realize it until someone ordered a collection of photos and I pulled up the full-resolution version of that shot from my computer. Now it hangs in a northern Maine nursing home.

Shots of my grandchildren when they’re young convey an innocence that has universal appeal. Young children are genuine; they lack pretense. With a zoom lens they don’t usually know I’m photographing them. They see me with a camera so often that they’re seldom self-conscious about it. When they become teenagers, however, that natural, unaffected demeanor fades. They’re not sure who they are themselves and that uncertainty comes through in photos — especially when they know I’m shooting in their direction. Almost never do I ask people to pose because I much prefer candid shots.

All imagery interests me, but especially other photographs. Again, my taste runs toward candid. We’re all bombarded by photos of men and women with physical beauty, but when photographed for advertising purposes they lose their charm. Subjects are paid to be pretentious. In my eyes, that disingenuousness comes through more strongly than anything else the advertiser intends. It’s worse when the models’ affectations have a sexual bent which is increasingly the case.

Often we see photographers following subjects in revealing dress and snapping away as the models try to look alluring. They strike various poses with ostentatious “come hither” expressions. Such scenes are meant to convey the alleged glamour of high fashion but it never works for me. The fakery is so obvious I can never get past it. It must work with most viewers though because that sort of advertising is ubiquitous. Some could be called soft porn, and it is always pushing limits of propriety.

And pornography which no one could call soft has become dangerously widespread with the internet. Images depicting sex without love would define it, and in my youth, Playboy Magazine was considered porn. It might not be labeled such today because still photographs of the Playboy type have given way to digital video. It’s a plague the young and old contract with the cell phones in every pocket. As with drugs and alcohol, pornography is addictive. Continued use requires stronger doses to reproduce the initial thrill and teenagers today produce their own with cell phone cameras. Our culture is increasingly coarsened in the process. Porn destroys relationships from teenage romances to marriages and professional counselors warn us there’s no end in sight.

Consumers are mostly male but females are catching up. A 2011 article the UK Guardian claimed one in three users were female and 17% of women were addicted. Porn actors degrade themselves and watchers degrade themselves vicariously. How widespread is pornography? Statistics vary: anywhere from 15-75% of Americans use it regularly. Extensive revelations of Jeffrey Epstein’s rich and powerful associates abusing underage girls seem to mirror trends in porn users toward child porn, the only kind that’s still illegal.

For how long will it remain so? That depends on how much society values the innocence of youth. Will Epstein Attorney Alan Dershowitz prevail in his arguments to lower the age of consent? Will Republican congressmen persuade Attorney General William Barr to prosecute internet porn producers more vigorously? There are forces at work both pushing and pulling.

Beauty, defined as: “a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense,” is becoming endangered when seeing images of fellow human beings. Beautiful landscapes, however, remain plentiful.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Left & Right Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Jim Wilfong again sits in the left chair. He's a former Maine legislator and worked in Washington for three administrations in the SBA (Small Business Administration). We open with a question from the producer asking if we'd like to see the White House participate in hearings by the House Judiciary Committee on impeachment. Jim would, citing the House's constitutional power of oversight. I wouldn't, citing rules made by the Democrat Chairmen of two committees rigged against the president and his supporters and denying him due process rights. Jim contends the impeachment process is more political than judicial given that there's no jury of peers, and "Politics ain't beanbag," as Harry Truman said. That leads to a discussion of Harry Truman, his association with Irish gangsters out of Kansas City, among other things. Nonetheless, we both agree that Truman was a man of honor who respected rules, and that trust is the currency in virtually all dealings short of war. I contend that even Irish gangsters had rules which they strictly enforced. Then we discuss the erosion of trust, especially between citizens and government, and that the impeachment process is exacerbating that erosion. Jim says our situation in that light is analogous to the 1850s just prior to our civil war. I cite the red/blue map of the USA as being red in the interior and blue on the urban coasts. In a smaller way, more urban southern Maine is blue while the rest of Maine voted for Trump. Jim picks up on that. He believes the divide coincides with an economic divide, that poor, rural people tend to vote red and also join the military. The producer's second question of us asks if Trump was being childish when he abruptly left the NATO meeting after a video of other leaders ridiculing him surfaced. Neither Jim nor I saw the video or were aware of any impetuosity on the part of Trump. We discussed NATO and the changing nature of war today. Though NATO was formed to counteract a WWII-type invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union, few military experts expect any such wars now. Instead, they expect things like proxy wars such as we're seeing in the Middle East. Ideally, we both agree, use of diplomacy is best when backed up by threat of, or use of, economic sanctions as America is doing now with Russia, N. Korea, Iran, and others. It's most effective when backed up by the plausible threat of, and use of military force. In that context I cited a new book about Jeffrey Epstein which purports that he was an Israeli agent, among other things, and that he had a handler in Mossad. It also claimed that he was closely associated with Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. I recall a visit to Israel a decade ago and seeing evidence everywhere of that nation being in near-constant state of war. Citizens are hyper-vigilant and many walk around with AR-15 slung over their shoulders, including what looked like 15-year-old girls. They probably were older, but they looked very young. When French President Macron claimed NATO was brain-dead, we speculated about what he may have meant. Jim guesses that he thinks NATO is stuck in a Cold War strategy and needs to change. Jim ponders motivations for US involvement in Middle Eastern proxy wars and suggests it involves control of strategic resources, which puts us in competition with China. I point to a former NATO official who is now a retired admiral in the US and speculates that Russia should be wary of China's designs on Siberia. We touch on with several other issues but end with using the next show to examine changing definitions of left and right, the title of our show. What issues define left and right? We will research the question.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Addictive Recidivism

Cumberland County Jail
Everyone in prison was once in a jail; that’s how the system works. Someone is arrested and arraigned, then is either bailed or left in jail until trial. If found guilty, they may go back to jail if the sentence is short — less than a year, say — or to another correctional facility if it’s longer. The longest sentences are served in state prison, or federal prison as the case may be.

In the Cumberland County jail where I volunteer once a week, I’m assigned to a pod with a capacity of 85. It’s usually full but not always. The inmates wear either orange or blue depending on their level. Blue designates trusty status, which is earned. Trusties can work in the kitchen, the library, or around the grounds either raking or shoveling snow depending on the season. Work reduces their sentences according to a formula.

Those wearing orange in my assigned pod are awaiting trusty status. If they abide by the rules for a designated period they get their blue outfits, but they can also lose them by mouthing off to a corrections officer or some other violation. If it’s severe enough, they’re moved to a more restrictive pod to start all over again. Be careful not to “lose the blues” as inmates put it.

Chaplain Jeff McIlwain workin with female inmates

There are women in the jail but I don’t work with them. Sometimes I see individuals or groups of women in the corridors dressed in blue or orange and escorted by a corrections officer (CO). Once in a while, I recognize a former student, either male or female. If he or she looks away I don’t say anything. If they maintain eye contact, I’ll greet them. I’ve never conversed with a female inmate though because the opportunity never arises.

Every Thursday afternoon I arrive at the jail, empty my pockets into a locker, go through the metal detector, don my badge, sign in, and wait for 3:30 when I walk through the first of many sally ports and corridors to my assigned pod. All movements are monitored at all times by cameras wired to banks of monitors in a central location. Heavy steel doors unlock ahead of me with a metallic clang and lock again as they close behind me with another clang. You can never forget where you are or who is in charge — and it’s not you.

Each week there is about a 20% turnover on my oval-shaped, two-tier pod. I’ll report to the control center in the middle where there’s almost always a different corrections officer on duty. Sometimes it’s a woman in charge of 85 guys. On Thursdays and Sundays inmates can shave and razors are distributed while inmates are in their cells. Sometimes that cuts into the hour I have for Bible study because I have to wait for the CO to collect all the razors, one cell at a time. Then cells are unlocked and inmates flood the common area where they play cards, make phone calls, do pull-ups, or just walk around.

After my arrival, the CO announces Bible study in the small classroom and anywhere from three to twenty stroll in. Usually, about two or three are repeats from previous weeks, but sometimes they’re all first-timers. That makes it hard to plan a lesson. Some will come in with little knowledge of what the Bible is beyond that it’s some kind of holy book. Others will have studied the Bible for decades and know more than I do. Usually the latter are from the south and are often black. 

I never ask why they’re in jail but they often tell me. Once I had only two guys, one white and covered with tattoos, the other black and strong-looking. Both were addicts in their late thirties and had been incarcerated since sixteen on drug charges. They knew each other at the Maine State Prison and were together again at the Cumberland County Jail awaiting trial on drug charges. The black man knew his Bible very well. His mother taught him, he said.

They were afraid of being released and going back on drugs. Both wanted to get clean but were critical of rehab programs. Neither knew how to turn on a computer or use a cell phone and needed to learn those skills and others. “We’ve been away so long we’re out of touch,” said one as the other nodded. Rehab has to teach us those things and whatever else has changed out there. Then we need a transition house or we’re likely to use again, they said. Both were easy to like.

At least 75% of inmates I’ve encountered over three and a half years were addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many were in and out of jail or prison for most of their adult lives. Many had co-occurring mental illness of some kind as well.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Dearth of Babies

There are jobs for anyone who wants to work here in Maine but nearly every small contractor and small business person I hear from tells me they cannot find enough help. It’s true in western Maine and in the Portland area as well. South Portland’s famous Scratch Bakery recently opened a branch facility in a converted gas station down the street from our South Portland home. Called "The Toast Bar," it was packed with customers. Then, suddenly, it closed.

Why? The Portland Press Herald reported last month that the new bakery couldn’t get enough people to work there. Further out in Cape Elizabeth, a recently-built restaurant called the Bird Dog Roadhouse shut its doors for the same reason. My wife and I drove by and noticed the empty parking lot as well as a sign on the door saying:

Due to an acute ongoing staffing shortage, we’ve reluctantly hit the “pause button” here at BDR. We are not closing. We have a beautiful restaurant, a wonderful location, and fantastic guests. Our business is sound. All of our employees and vendors are paid. We are simply pausing restaurant service operations until proper staffing levels can be achieved…

The economy is booming and wages are rising, so what’s going on? Lots of things; for one, people just aren’t having babies like they used to. Last Saturday, Forbes reported CDC data showing fertility rates in the USA at a record low for 2018. Just to keep the population stable, each woman must have 2.1 children in her lifetime. In the US, however, that rate has declined to just over 1.7 and is still going down. It’s the lowest since the 1970s when Roe V Wade was enacted and abortion skyrocketed. Their headline read: “Another Record Low: Will The U.S. Fertility Rate’s Collapse Ever End?

Not unless and until marriage rates increase, according to economist and researcher Lyman Stone. His 2018 research study called: “No Ring, No Baby: How Marriage Trends Impact Fertility” makes a solid case that married women of child-bearing age have by far the most children, but fewer and fewer young women are getting married. He cites several possible reasons including student loan debt, but also that women now are generally more educated than men, making it harder for them to find compatible mates.

The biggest factor, Stone hints, is: “Changing cultural norms and values about sex, family, and religion may have reduced the value of the marriage proposition and tightened the criteria for ‘eligibility’ for marriage.” Is he saying that young people today lack the values of their parents and grandparents? Not explicitly, but he hints strongly at it. Unless you live in a cloistered religious community and never watch television, you'll see the evidence. I’ve written several times on this subject (a sampling here) and I’m not hopeful that the trend will reverse anytime soon.

If I’m right, it would seem that the only way to avoid economic decline would be to increase immigration. It has been increasing, but most of the unskilled, nearly-illiterate, illegal variety, or of “asylum-seeking” Africans, most non-English-speaking, coming over our southern border. Unable to support themselves, they tend to be more of an economic drain than a boost. If we simply returned to pre-1965 immigration policies that required immigrants to be sponsored and ineligible for social services, and then we eliminated chain migration for relatives who were not self-supporting, our country would be much better served.

As it stands now, every 2020 Democrat running for president is pro-abortion. The last pro-life Democrat candidate was Jimmy Carter in 1976. For more than forty years now, preserving Roe V Wade seems to be the most important issue for the Democrat party. Since the Roe V Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, there have been more than a million abortions every year in the United States. That’s about 50 million Americans who were never born. If they had been allowed to live they would have had at least another 50 million children of their own. Even if Roe V Wade were repealed by Trump-appointed judges, the legality of abortion would simply revert back to the states and not be likely to decline very much.

Although most would deny it, open borders is now the Democrat’s second most important issue. Every 2020 Democrat presidential candidate claims getting rid of President Trump is their biggest goal, but then what have Trump’s priorities been? Appointing conservative (pro-life) judges and stopping illegal immigration are highest on his agenda. That’s what got him elected and if present trends continue, those issues may well propel him into another term.