Tuesday, December 27, 2016

End of Year Musings....

It being almost the end of the year, and seemingly, perhaps, once again, almost the end of the world, it seems like a good idea to sum up where my head is at, as we used to say back in the day…a day which seemed as cataclysmic as the world appears now. 

The big difference, of course, is in the day to which I refer I was young and alternately idealistic and fatalistic. And now I’m old(er) and….well, I guess not that much has changed. Back then I had to constantly figure out how I was going to make a living, though actually my goal as a hippie was not to have to make a living, but live off the land, or at least off the easy pickings of a wealthy and wasteful society. 

After graduating high school and spending one semester in college, I hit the road with my girlfriend (my “old lady” in the parlance of the day). I had briefly flirted with the idea of political activism against the Vietnam War, but after being pepper gassed during the November 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam march in D.C., I decided that being anti-war was too dangerous. I had already “turned on and tuned in,” but now I dropped out. After some hitchhiking adventures, we landed in rural central Maine in ‘71. I built a cabin out of poles and scrap lumber and lived off the grid—hauling water, chopping firewood, using kerosene lamps. I read a lot and I got a guitar and learned to play. As much as I hated to, I learned how to keep a car running, because I could only afford junkers that needed to be tinkered with every other day. I even rebuilt an engine. We were living off a couple thousand dollars saved over my childhood from what was supposed to be a college savings account. 

As the money began to run out, we found some odd jobs, and then I joined a bluegrass band playing bass. I’d never played bass before that, but she had, in high school, and she showed me the basics after we retrieved it from her parents’ house in Virginia. We spent three years surviving Maine winters before moving to the much more hospitable (though no less rural and poor) climate of West Virginia, where I still live, though now I live in town.

So now, in retirement again (I always called that period of time my early retirement…), I have time to pursue whatever interests I wish without worrying about where the money for food, shelter, and transportation will come from. When I first retired, four years ago, I thought I’d read, play music, and go contra dancing more, which I’ve done, though not as much as I thought I would. After the poisoning of our water system in Charleston, WV in January, 2014, I turned to environmental activism, vowing to raise money to support state efforts to end mountaintop removal coal mining, a big polluter of the state’s water, air, and destroyer of land. I found fundraising frustrating and not how I wanted to spend my retirement and after about six months work, during which I raised about $5,000, I put that to bed, joined with some people working on climate change issues (after all, stop burning coal, and the mines will close), and cut back on my commitment of time. In the interminable 2016 election season, I spent much too much time reading about it, watching cable news, and arguing with people on Facebook (mostly with progressives who I tried to convince to stop slamming Hillary).

Now, as a dangerous man has taken over our government with the help of a once decent political party that has become deplorable, I’m ready to drop out again (not into turning on anymore, and was never sure what it meant to tune in). My wife is off in Colorado for the winter where she is helping care for two grandchildren under 3 years old. I find myself reading more, watching entertainment TV (Netflix and PBS) rather than news. More and more, I’m turning to music (though I’m also going off to contra dance weekends). I play my fiddle every day, working on refining a few tunes to play in contests. But I’m also singing and playing guitar more. I’ve been attending a small weekly acoustic jam session and taking a bluegrass songbook along. I still play in a band, the Contrarians, which plays occasionally for contra dances, mostly in the southern Appalachians, and I write instrumental music for that. Sometimes I write a new song or tinker with an old one. I bought a small camper, which I’m planning to drive to Florida for the month of January, where I’ll also attend a couple contra dance weekends. I spend at least an hour almost every day working out (in summer, riding my bike, now at the Y). Oh, and I’m making an effort to learn Spanish. Maybe I can practice in Florida.

I thought when I started writing this that I might have some words of wisdom, but I’m not sure I do. I know that resistance and political activism is important. I know that if Trump turns out to actually be Hitler, I may have to live (or die) with the guilt that I did not do everything I could to stop him. But, I suppose I am still the child of the sixties I was in my youth: somewhat entitled, self involved, more into self-actualization than self-sacrifice. I did spend almost thirty-five years in the workforce as a social worker and an elementary school teacher. It’s hard to know the impact I made, but I worked hard with kids who needed a lot of help. This year, in addition to my state teacher’s pension, I’m eligible for Medicare. I plan to begin taking Social Security in 2018. Of course, if they mess with my retirement, I’ll be ready to march on Washington again. I dare them to gas an old man like me!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mr. Trump, Build that Wall! (around your business empire)

Open Letter to President-elect Trump

You have apparently won the presidential election by winning more electoral votes than your opponent while losing the popular vote by over 2%. As of now only 46% of voters have chosen you. Before the election, it was widely reported that you were one of the most distrusted presidential candidates ever to run for office as the nominee of a major party, and many who voted for you have said they did so despite their distrust. 

It is not surprising that you would feel appreciative to those who supported you during your campaign and want to fulfill your promises to them. However, every elected official in a Democracy has a responsibility to his constituents whether they voted for him or not. In this case, those of us who did not vote for you should not have to point out that we outnumber those who did and are deserving of a president who will work for us honestly.

We know that there is controversy over just what is required under the laws of the United States to meet the ethical and legal standards for a president to avoid a conflict of interest. Given the distrust the majority of the American people have for you, it would be in your best interest and the best interest of the country for you to err on the side of caution in avoiding even the appearance of such a conflict. Turning your business over to your children does not do that. Nor will it protect your from violating the Emoluments clause of the Constitution which prohibits you from accepting foreign gifts. Benefits and favors from foreign and domestic interests, whether you seek them or approve of them or not, are likely to come to the businesses your children run in your absence, and will benefit them now and you when you no longer serve. This is unacceptable, and will likely embroil the country in a Constitutional crisis as legal challenges are made to this arrangement.

When you decided to run for president, you decided to enter public service. People who enter public, or government service, make sacrifices and willingly give up careers in the private sector that could earn them far more than a government salary. Yet they willingly do so, some even considering it a patriotic duty. It is time for you to make the sacrifice you signed up for. Ideally, you would sell your businesses or immediately put them up for sale. Other very smart people, including Andrew Ross Sorkin have put forward other proposals short of that, such as hiring a “ ‘corporate monitor,’ an independent overseer with unfettered access to your organizations who will provide regular reports to the public about any possible instances of conflicts.” The Economist magazine goes a step farther, recommending you “must ring-fence (your) private interests and put them under independent supervision.”

Many of those who did not vote for you have serious concerns about your lack of experience and basic ability to competently fulfill your duties of president. Your behavior in the past and in the present, such as your dishonest and incendiary Tweeting, continues to cause us concern. Yet, as President Obama exhorted us to do, we hope for your success as President, by which I mean accomplishing things that are good for the country and all of its people. Do yourself a favor and take this issue, an issue which could easily lead to an early end to your presidency, off the table. Do it now, before you take the oath of office. 


Paul Epstein

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

We Got "Bushed" for Eight Years, Let's Not Get "Trumped"

At the beginning of the 21st century, the American people got snookered by a Republican president who talked a good game and seemed tough and strong, but was incompetent. By the end of his two terms, we were “Bushed.” Now, we are being "Trumped" by a con man who wants to be the next Republican president.

George W. Bush did not know much about foreign policy, but people thought he was successful in business and Texas politics, very personable and persuasive so people trusted him. While he was born to a wealthy family, his father had been President, and he’d attended Yale, he had adopted a good old boy manner, and people perceived him as a man they’d like to have a beer with. He would be the "decider," who would listen to wiser, more knowledgeable advisors and make the best decisions based on his "gut." He seemed to be compassionate and was thought to be "centrist" on economic and immigration issues. Unfortunately, once elected, he surrounded himself with neoconservatives who believed they could remake the world by creating democracy in the Middle East by force. It turned out he was very much into trickle down economics, so...tax breaks for the rich. And Iraq War, formation of ISIS, Iranian nuclear program development, North Korea developing nukes, big deficits, and the Great Recession.

Trump doesn't know much about foreign policy, but he is a successful businessman, despite several missteps resulting in bankruptcies, and he is a master salesman of a certain kind (the kind who usually sells products on 30 minute infomercials). He won't need advisors and wouldn't listen to them, because he has a "very good brain," and knows "more than the generals,” he assures us. 

Jake Novak, a producer and columnist at CNBC, identified one of Trump's main tactics as puffing, a legal term that allows salesmen and businesses to make boastful claims about their products and services without fear of lawsuits. 

Trump, with a ghostwriter's help to make it coherent, acknowledged this in his book, Art of the Deal, "The final key to the way I promote is bravado...I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion."

So his language is full of "the most amazing," "fantastic," "unbelievable," which he might follow with, "believe me." The innocence of this may be true in a legal sense, except when he's made guarantees he can't keep and wanders into the territory of outright lies and fraud, witness Trump University and not paying contractors, fleecing investors, etc. He's had to settle hundreds of lawsuits, which means he went beyond "puffing" many times.

Because politicians have even more speech protection than salesmen, he has moved far beyond puffery to world class lying. When has a politician ever been sued or prosecuted for making unfulfillable promises or claims? After toying around with the birther issue and finding out that he could tell a big lie and convince 20% of Americans to believe it back in 2011, he decided he could up the ante, boost his brand, maybe get a Fox News gig, and who knows, maybe even win the presidency. As he said after a debate, "I am not a debater, but I am a winner. If I am elected I will make this country a total winner." He will do almost anything to win.

So he picked his issue, immigration, and started talking about the great big beautiful wall he would build to keep out all the drug runners, rapists, and terrorists. He uses playground bully's skills at humiliating his opponents and using what psychologists call "projection," accusing others of those things that actually apply to him (I know you are, but what am I? I'm rubber, you're glue) to paint his opponents as liars, corrupt, weak, ignorant, and on and on. He is also adept at manipulating the media, making outrageous statements and tweets that have kept him the lead story almost every day for over a year. He may succeed in winning the election.

So, the media and almost half the American people have been the victims of a masterful con man who seems to be unable to tell the truth at times. When he finally disavowed the birther lie, he found it necessary to add a new lie, that Hillary Clinton started it. 

What can we do? We are used to lobbying politicians, now we have to lobby the media. We need fair coverage. First, while we know Hillary can defend herself, we should demand the debate moderators are prepared. They shouldn't debate Trump, but if the curtains are red and Trump says they are blue, when Hillary responds red to which Trump repeats blue, the moderator should say, "For the record, these curtains have been independently verified as red curtains," and move on. It would be helpful if the networks would run a fact checking scroll during debates or at least show a fact checking website where connected viewers can see real time fact checks. 

News outlets should be using the words lie, untrue, false, falsehood, fabrication, deception instead of softer words like misstatement, inaccuracy, hyperbole. Hopefully, in the few weeks left until the election, those Americans who are being fooled by this man or, perhaps worse, are not fooled but plan to vote for him, will see him for what he is and understand the dangers of a Trump presidency. But we can't count on that. It may be a very close election. The best way to beat this man will be to show up at the polls and get everyone who has not been "Trumped" there, too.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Apple or Bomb? Your Choice on November 8

It’s easier to compare apples to apples. One apple is green, crisp, tart; the other red, juicy, sweet. It’s harder to compare apples to oranges. But how do you compare an apple to a bomb? 

In this election, how will you compare a politician who has spent her career working to improve the lives of children and families with a wealthy businessman and reality TV star.

Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed multi-billionaire who grew his inheritance by making deals that he acknowledges have benefited him while often fleecing others. Trump University, being sued in three class action suits, is described as “a straight up fraud” by the Attorney General of NY. 

Trump refuses to release his tax returns, so we assume he is hiding something. Is it that he pays little or no income tax? Are many of his businesses supported by foreign investors with questionable integrity? Many have speculated that it is his business interests in Russia that drive his admiration for their authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin. Newsweek recently reported after extensive research that “If Donald Trump wins this election and his company is not immediately shut down or forever severed from the Trump family, the foreign policy of the United States of America could well be for sale.”

Trump claims he “is the least racist person you will ever meet.” Yet he has consistently made racist statements about Latinos and Muslims, and his first foray into politics was based on the allegation that Barack Obama was not born in America, an accusation that African Americans correctly interpret as a racist effort to delegitimize the first African American President of the United States. He recently retracted it under pressure from his campaign managers who are trying to make him more palatable to mainstream voters. Avowed racists and white nationalists recognize him as one of their own, however, and have been enthusiastically endorsing and campaigning for him.

PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize winning fact checker, has rated 70% of his claims in this campaign as mostly false, false, or “pants on fire.”

It’s hard for the media to stop talking about Trump (hard for me, too!) because he’s so outrageous and skilled at bringing attention to himself. Just minutes after playing clips of Clinton referring to Trump and no clips about the policies that comprised the bulk of her speech, an MSNBC anchor asked, “Why doesn’t she talk more about policy?”

In the recent NBC National Security Town Hall, Clinton had to spend half her time explaining the complexities of her e-mails as Secretary of State, a controversy created by the wasteful House Republican investigation into Benghazi.  Added to endless Whitewater investigation against her and her husband in the nineties that ended up uncovering nothing except a man who lied about his infidelity, Republicans have succeeded in creating the perception that the Clintons are dishonest. If she were the liar her critics claim, somewhere in the eleven hours of Benghazi testimony or the hours of FBI grilling there would have been cause for a perjury claim.  PolitiFact has ranked 72% of her campaign claims as true, mostly true, or half true. Remember, Trump: 70% falsehoods. How do you like them apples?  

But let’s talk policy! There are many reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton besides saving the nation and the world from the turmoil of a Trump presidency. With eight years of steady leadership by President Obama, we have recovered from the Great Recession. We just learned 2015 median wages increased by a stunning 5%! Hillary Clinton plans to increase the job growth we have enjoyed the last 6 1/2 years through a variety of proposals, including increased spending on desperately needed infrastructure projects: roads, bridges, clean energy, high tech. She will work to raise the minimum wage, fight for equal pay and guaranteed family leave, child care and housing for those who need assistance. She will work to improve and expand the Affordable Care Act to cover more Americans and keep health care costs down. 

Unlike her opponent who makes up policies on the fly and makes false claims about the effects they will have on jobs and the economy, Hillary Clinton has devised her proposals over the last year with many top experts, including Bernie Sanders. Go to hillaryclinton.com/issues to read her proposals, including a highly detailed fact sheet outlining how she will invest billions revitalizing coal communities.

West Virginians are struggling. Democrats in our state government have not provided the leadership needed to move our economy forward in a declining coal market, so many have decided to give Republicans a try. Like their national counterparts, however, they spread divisiveness, attack worker’s rights, want tax cuts for the wealthy, and starve needed government programs. Historically, under Democratic presidents, the economy improves for working people and those on the margins more than under Republicans, whose policies favor the wealthy. That’s why I’m excited about a President Hillary Clinton. She may not be the “apple of your eye,” but she’s not the poisonous fruit some portray her to be, nor the time bomb that is the alternative.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Will Clinton or Trump Help Families of Murder Victims?

A mother or wife who has lost a child or a spouse to a shooting steps up to the podium, briefly identifies herself and describes the promising life that has been cut short. She tells the audience that the candidate she supports will stop more senseless killings like this one and the crowd, sympathetically cheers their courage. Clinton or Trump? Both. 

Clinton has brought to the stage families of African Americans who have died at the hands of police and Trump the mothers and spouses of those killed by undocumented immigrants.

Are the candidates using these families for crass political gain or are they giving voice to their grief in order to highlight a grievous wrong that they intend to fix as president? And is there moral equivalence in the solutions they espouse?

Because I support Clinton and abhor Trump, my knee jerk reaction was that there is no equivalence, and that there is something untoward in one white woman after another coming to the stage to name the Latino criminal responsible for a death. But, I asked myself, why was that different than the black women who came to the stage to talk about their children or spouses? 

The answer may have come slowly, but it came. There is equivalence in the pain these family feel, but there is no equivalence in the solution the candidates offer to solve the problem their family members’ deaths represent.

“There's no evidence that immigrants are either more or less likely to commit crimes than anyone else in the population," says Janice Kephart, a researcher for the Center for Immigration Studies. This fact flies in the face of Trump’s insinuations that immigrants from Mexico are primarily criminals. Roughly 2-3% of Americans may commit a violent crime. Yet in order to prevent violent crime of those who might commit it within the population of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States Donald Trump proposes on most days to deport all eleven million, and on some days to deport immediately any that have been arrested for anything and decide later what to do about the rest.

In order to reduce the shooting of blacks by police, Hillary Clinton proposes to increase training for police departments on the use of force and to help them buy body cameras so that after an incident police can be either prosecuted or exonerated based on hard evidence rather than witness testimony only.

So, on one hand, disrupt the lives of millions of people including millions of innocent women and children, some of whom are American citizens, and on the other hand spend some money to help communities improve their police forces. Where is the moral equivalence?

And for the record, while Clinton doesn’t specifically address violent crime by undocumented immigrants, she does plan to focus resources on detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety and reduce gun violence by getting more illegal guns off our streets and keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them by closing the gun show loophole and expanding background checks. Hillary has plans that will keep our country safe while preserving our freedom and our unique status in the world as a nation of immigrants. Trump would neither keep us safe nor keep us great. Trump’s America is like no America we have every seen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Unconventional Convention

The rise of Don the Con Man Trump and his warped ideas have been written about by so many that I’ve hesitated to add my two cents, but it might be worth trying to explain what’s going on at the Republican Convention for anyone who hasn’t been paying much attention.

Con Don won the Republican nomination because the Republican base abandoned their party leadership and voted for an outsider who ran against the establishment. He did that not so much by promoting outsider policies as by claiming that all politicians, Democrats and Republicans, are stupid and only he is smart enough to “Make America Great Again. The primary message he is running on, is be afraid of 

  • Muslims, because they might be or might become terrorists, 
  • Immigrants, because they are taking your (white men's) jobs, raping your wives, murdering your families, and taking advantage of free stuff,
  • African Americans, just because. He won't come out and say anything direct, but uses "dog whistles" like "Law and Order" which Nixon and others always used to mean put blacks in jail and get control of protest movements and rioting through harsher policing rather than addressing issues,
  • Other countries, which are taking advantage of us in trade agreements, by getting our protection without paying adequately for it, or by being enemies or terrorists. 

Many establishment Republicans abandoned him for several reasons. Some because they believe his strategy is a losing one (Paul Ryan, for instance, wants a more inclusive party); some don't trust him on the economic issues and are afraid he will make agreements with Democrats to raise taxes or bolster social programs; and some few actually have scruples and think he is too dangerous to be president.

Trump is ignorant of the nuts and bolts of government and doesn't know much about conventions--he wanted to put on a few days of entertainment that would get great ratings, since he views elections as popularity contests, but he couldn't get any A-list entertainers to cooperate. And the few grownups and politically astute people he is listening to (Paul Manafort, his campaign manager, family members, and maybe Republican Party Chairman Reince Preibus) must have let him know there had to be some regular speeches and other convention conventions....but really he's only interested in his own and his family’s appearances.

Day 1 was pretty interesting, but only because there was a bit of parliamentary wrangling from the Never Trump delegates that delayed the first speeches of the evening. Then there was the David Copperfield smoke and mirrors entrance by the Don himself (gave me a kind of Hunger Games vibe) to introduce his wife, the very beautiful former model, Melania. She gave a good speech, but it turned out she or a speechwriter had lifted a paragraph or so from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention. Once it was detected, it went viral with Twitter, Facebook, and every news channel opening with first Michelle, then Melanie delivering their lines which were almost exactly alike, and, contrary to the claims made by Trump surrogates, not common language, “My word is my bond….” When was the last time you heard that? Yeah, right, 8 years ago. 

Instead of figuring out how it happened and owning up, they went for a couple days trying to deny, deny, deny, and even accused Hillary of creating the issue because, “…when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down.” 

They are so disinclined to backtrack or own up to mistakes because it’s a trait that comes from the top, “You make a mistake, you go forward. And, you know, you can correct the mistake but to look back and say: 'Gee whiz, I wish I didn't do this or that,' I don't think that's good.” I shouldn’t have to point out that there is no consideration here for the feelings of the person who is the victim of the mistake.

On day two, only the chanting of “Lock Her Up” as Chris Christie recited a litany of so-called indictments on Hillary’s judgement and character could break through the endless discussion on cable news of how off the rails the Trump campaign seemed to be (even Fox--I checked).

On day three, finally, a long time Trump employee, a ghostwriter, fessed up. But because it took so long, now no doubt they’ll have to deal with the fall out of when they found out, who knew, and when did they know. 

Why does it matter? That’s a valid question. Melania is not running for anything. It matters, as many have said, because it is an indication of what a Trump presidency would be like—stonewalling, accusatory, denying, and finally trotting forward someone to take the blame.

Thus far there has been little mention of policy during the convention. Trump doesn’t believe Americans care, and he may be right. His policy prescriptions, as I’m sure you know, are limited to a few broad strokes: build a wall on the border of Mexico, deport millions of immigrants, stop immigration of Muslims or anyone from “countries where there are terrorists.” Day 2 was supposed to be about putting America back to work, but none of the speakers talked about that except perhaps Senator Capito of WV who subscribes to the far-fetched promise that Trump would put coal miners back to work. 

The fact is that Con Man Don is not a politician, and he has no respect for politicians who make decisions based on their ideology or strategy or the advice of experts. He believes only in himself, his superior mind and his instincts—his gut. So far, his gut and his superior mind are not putting on a very successful convention.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bernie or Hillary? We'll Know Soon, No Fooling

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this is the most contentious primary season in a generation. Leaving alone for a moment the “Real Estate Developer” as at least one pundit calls Trump, refusing to use his name, Democrats are having their own argument among themselves. The idea that outsiderness is the flavor of the day can be applied to Bernie Sanders despite the fact that he’s been in Congress for 26 years. After all, though he usually votes with Democrats, officially he has never been elected as a Democrat, preferring to run as an Independent in Vermont, one of the most liberal states in the nation. He is a Democratic Socialist and proud of it. 

Sanders does not waver in his insistence that America can afford to give every citizen free health care, free tuition at state universities, paid family leave, an increase in Social Security benefits, while simultaneously rebuilding our infrastructure. Bernie says it would cost 18,000,000,000,000 over 10 years, that’s 18 trillion, 15T of which is federal spending—1.5T/yr when the annual federal budget right now is 3.2T. It would almost double federal spending. Republican heads just exploded: to them, Sanders proves Romney’s contention that they just want “free stuff.”

To pay for it, he would….raise taxes, mostly on the wealthy, on corporations, and on the financial and banking industries, because as he likes to say, we bailed them out, now it’s their turn. But he would also raise taxes on just about all in order to pay for “Medicare for All” and family leave. I’m not sure how the almost 50% whose health insurance is paid all or in part by employers make out. He doesn’t explain how he would convince Americans to willingly give up their private insurance policies, when just a few years ago Obama was vilified for promising Americans could keep their insurance plans if they liked them, yet only some 5% or less could not and screamed bloody murder. His projections of future economic growth are also considered a fantasy by most economists, and without the 5.3% growth rate he predicts, a rate not seen since the 1980’s, enough tax revenue would not come in.

He acknowledges that in order to achieve sweeping changes like this, it would not be enough simply to elect him President, since Republicans in Congress have not been willing to so much as close a corporate tax loophole for many years. No, he says it will take a “political revolution.” I don’t know how deeply his followers have thought through how unlikely this revolution is, but I know that when you are caught up in what feels like, and may indeed be described as “a movement,” it is easy to delude yourself that each success is inevitable and each setback is caused by a conspiracy (media isn’t fair, Democratic Party is against him, the system is rigged). 

Sanders’ opponent in his quixotic adventure is Hillary Clinton, a former First Lady to probably the most investigated president in American history (at least most investigated for false or inconsequential misdeeds). After 25 years of almost nonstop media coverage of Republican smears and phony scandals, her image is tarnished. Among liberals, this is compounded by her vote to support use of force in Iraq, a mistake she explains was that of believing Bush’s promise to pursue continued weapons inspections. Using a private e-mail server while Secretary, which the FBI is reportedly still investigating, also hangs over her candidacy. Bottom line: her credibility is doubted by the majority of voters despite the fact she polls as the most admired woman in the world, year after year.

One of Bernie’s biggest arguments against Hillary, which he applies to all politicians, is that because they have their own Super PACs often funded anonymously by big corporations or billionaires, they are corrupt and cannot be trusted. Only he and Chump (my preferred alias for the Donald) claim they are free of influence because Bernie takes only small donations from individuals and Chump spends his own money. Hillary agrees with Bernie that Citizen’s United (the Supreme Court ruling that treats corporate political spending as ‘free speech’) should be overturned, but maintains, as Obama did, that until it is, she must take donations from many sources to compete and will not allow these donations to influence her policy decisions. Bernie suggests otherwise, though he stops short of a direct accusation and has not produced any instances of her changing a vote due to a contribution. He is a master of skepticism and innuendo, inviting his chuckling admirers to just imagine how good her speeches must have been to earn her hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech. It's a lot of money, but not out of line for speakers of her renown: Colin Powell, a former Secretary of State as well, and not in political office, so presumably “not corrupt,” earns between $100,000-200,000 per speech.

As I write this, Bernie has won several Western caucus states with staggeringly good numbers and is claiming a path to the nomination, though Hillary has over 250 more “pledged” delegates (delegates won in primaries/caucuses) and 450 more superdelegates (elected officials, party chairmen and such). The delegate count is 57%/43% in Hillary’s favor, 67%/33% if you include super delegate endorsements. Bernie has been strong in some parts of the country and among some demographics, particular young people, white men and in caucus states, but there are only a couple of caucus states left. Hillary has been very strong among African Americans and in the South, but the South has largely finished voting. 

Bernie has to win consistently and strongly to win the nomination. If Hillary wins even just a couple of the remaining states or wins some with strong numbers, Bernie can’t catch up in the pledged delegate count, and unless the political revolution he needs reveals itself now, it’s going to have to wait for a future election. To quote FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, the statistics ‘wonder boy’, if Bernie manages to surpass Hillary in pledged delegates, “this scenario would represent such a massive sea-change that superdelegates really might have to reconsider their positions. You might even say it would require a revolution, a profound rejection of Clinton and the status quo.”

We should know by April 26 when we will have results from NY (April 19), Pennsylvania, and several other Northeastern states. If Bernie hasn’t significantly closed the gap by then, I think Hillary can claim the nomination.

And though I’m publishing this on April Fool’s day, I ain’t fooling.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Trump and Sanders are Populists. So What?

The rise of Donald Trump and the candidacy of Bernie Sanders have brought up a label of which I was ignorant, Populism. I had to look it up and read some history to come to an understanding. I had thought of Populists as adhering to popular ideas, wanting to change the establishment or status quo, or not being ideological, which is about right, but misses the history and connotations.

The first "Populist" movement spawned a political party in the 1890's that Bernie Sanders could have led: “ ‘The fruits of the toil of millions,’ the Party declared in 1892, ‘are boldly stolen to build up the fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind.’ The Populists also called for a secret ballot; women's suffrage; an eight-hour workday, direct election of U.S. Senators and the President and Vice President; and initiative and recall to make the political system more responsive to the people....The Populists embraced government regulation to get out from the domination of unregulated big business. The platform demanded government ownership of railroads, natural resources, and telephone and telegraph systems.” (Copyright 2016 Digital History)

But Populism came to be viewed  “as merely empathizing with the public, (usually through rhetoric or "unrealistic" proposals) in order to increase appeal across the political spectrum…. Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell define populism as an ideology that ‘pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice’.” (Wikipedia: Populism). That certainly describes Trump.

The common thread that seems to unite Sanders’ and Trump’s Populism is what many see as unfulfillable promises. Campaign promises always contain an aspect of aspiration. If the economy is bad, the candidate promises it will improve. If there is trouble in the world, the candidate promises security. If we are engaged in an unpopular war, the candidate promises to end it. What a savvy voter does and what a healthy campaign process and debates are supposed to do, is to expose and evaluate the plans the candidates have to solve the problems or improve the economy.

Chump tells the voters to trust him, his skills as a successful businessman who negotiates great deals will make America Great Again, as in, respected and feared by the rest of the world, which will then make favorable trade deals with us.  The grand gesture (or crime) of rounding up 11 million illegal immigrants and sending them out of the country and constructing a wall on the southern border to keep them out, along with barring Muslims from entering the country will solve our immigration problem and open up jobs for American citizens he promises. Bellicose pronouncements that he would be willing to torture foreign prisoners and kill the families of terrorists without regard to international law and norms gives some people a sense that he would be a strong leader who would keep Americans safe. In short, he “otherizes” people who are not like his most fervent supporters, less educated white males and their families, and he makes what many believe are unfulfillable promises.

Sanders, on the other hand, does not demonize groups of people, he demonizes the elites: Wall Street investment firms and bankers, greedy corporations, and politicians who he accuses of being corrupted by the money these people and groups spend on their campaigns or pay them in speaking fees. He makes promises to provide free healthcare for all, free college education, and other reforms that will require new taxes or elimination of tax breaks adding up to several trillions of dollars in coming years. Most economists regard his projections of costs and revenues to be unrealistic, and even Bernie acknowledges he couldn’t pass any of this legislation without a “political revolution” — support so YUGE, that a new Congress would be elected, not only of Democrats, but of leftist Democrats willing to basically remake the American economy to be more like the European one. 

On the corrupting influence of money, Trump and Sanders are remarkably close. Trump doesn’t talk about solving the problem, he just notes that he’s rich enough that he can’t be corrupted. It’s not clear how he would persuade those he accuses of being corrupted to pass the laws he wants except through his superior abilities as a negotiator and a leader.  Sanders promises to change the campaign finance laws, which at this point would either take a Constitutional amendment, or a Supreme Court willing to overturn their ruling on Citizen’s United. 

Are they right that U.S. politicians are corrupted by the influences of huge campaign contributions and unlimited spending of PACS and issue groups? I’ve been reading Jane Mayer’s new book, Dark Money, and it’s easy to conclude from that that the money the Koch’s and other billionaires are spending on elections is changing how America is governed, putting tax, regulation, and environmental protection averse Republicans in charge of Congress and state governments. It’s harder to prove that these politicians wouldn't hold these views regardless of dark money, though she does show instances in which some have changed their positions in order to gain the favor of wealthy individuals or groups, evidence of quid pro quo. Bernie Sanders asserts that Hillary Clinton is similarly tainted by having accepted speaking fees and donations from Wall Street firms and those who work there. 

The bottom line is that Populism is too general a description to give a voter information about a candidate. You could almost substitute “Panderism” for Populism. A Populist candidate panders to the aspirations and/or to the fears and prejudices of the voters without necessarily offering realistic plans for achieving those goals. The young and the less educated are perhaps more attracted and vulnerable to such appeals—the young to the aspirational candidate, the less educated to the promoter of fear and what some have described as an attraction to authoritarianism. I shouldn’t have to say that I am not equating Sanders and Trump in any other way. I would only vote for Trump if I had a gun pointed to my head (and, at my age, might not then….I don’t fancy living in a world with him in charge). I will willingly support Sanders for president, but at the same time fear he will lose badly, or winning, face even greater opposition than Obama as president. My hope is that the great American middle will step up and elect Hillary and usher in an era of pragmatism and effective government. Yes, that is likely a pipe dream, as she is likely to face as much opposition, if elected, as any Democrat from Republican politicians. 

Hillary could certainly learn from the Populists and start making sweeping generalizations about the amazing progress a Hillary Clinton presidency would bring! One thing is clear about what American voters want at election time: an inspirational leader who will promise a better future. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Conquering Hunger

A couple years ago I implemented an eating plan of two days a week with virtually no carbs and the rest of the week a Mediterranean diet consisting of few carbs, many vegetables, lean meats and fish, and small amounts of unsaturated fats as recommended in the book The 2-Day Diet: Diet Two Days a Week, Eat Normally for Five, by Dr. Michelle Harvie and Professor Tony Howell. Over the course of several months of following this regimen more or less (I became less strict about portion sizes over time), I lost 30 pounds. The book recommended maintaining the eating plan, but dropping the two days of zero carbs to keep weight off, but to go back to it if need be. Though I largely stuck to a Mediterranean diet, I fell back into some bad habits regarding carbs, eating whole wheat crackers and cheese as a snack, and allowing myself a glass or two of wine at dinner and to browse the snack tables at parties. As of January of this year, I had added back 15 pounds over the last year and a half.

While I was following the plan, I had largely learned to control my hunger, at least compared to any other time in my life. I learned to become much more aware of levels of hunger, and began to separate the feeling of an empty stomach from a feeling of hunger. The book explains what I had learned but never quite internalized: carbs are addictive, especially “simple carbs”: sugars, potatoes, and refined grains, also known as foods with a. high glycemic index. Foods with a lower glycemic index (this is something that diabetics learn about, but is also important to the rest of us) take longer for the digestive system to turn into a form we can use—sugar. When we eat high glycemic index food our blood sugar levels spike. It doesn’t take long before it dives, and when it gets low our body starts craving more food. This process can make us binge, or at least it can cause us to eat more and more often than we should.

Having this knowledge, and even having had the experience of losing the weight, did not make it easier for me to hold the line and return to the 2 Day Diet eating plan, though I tried a few times. I needed some inspiration, and after hearing a radio program, “The People’s Pharmacy,” featuring a scientist describing his research on dieting, I bought his book, Always Hungry? Conquer your cravings, retrain your fat cells, and lose weight permanently, by Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School endocrinologist Dr. David Ludwig.

His approach is very similar to Harvie and Howell’s, especially regarding the role of carbs in weight gain. As you might surmise from the title, he promises that following his plan will teach you how to reach your “set point” or healthy weight, by controlling hunger rather than counting calories or measuring food portions. As with any good book that purports to help people eat a more healthy diet that will help them lose excess weight, he offers a lot of advice about recognizing and implementing habits and behaviors that trigger overeating and might undermine your efforts. I am at a point where I don’t feel I need that help. What I found most helpful was the detailed science that he provided.

Ludwig explains that we need body fat. (I’m going to do my best to summarize the science, but I may get some details wrong). Our large brains use about 1/3 of the energy we consume, even when resting. If we had no reserves, we would lose consciousness and die in a relatively short time. So our body relies on stored fuel, and fat cells are the containers. Fat tissue contains about 3,500 calories per pound, while carbs and protein (found in liver and muscle) have only about 600. Fat cells take up excess calories when we eat and release them for use when they’re needed.

Insulin is the hormone that orchestrates this. It is the insulin level in the blood, or lack of it, that creates hunger. Insulin levels rise as we eat to do their job: they regulate the metabolism, the rate at which our body uses the available sugar in our blood, sends it to storage in fat cells, or frees it from fat for use. When we eat high glycemic index foods, the pancreas produces too much insulin, which triggers fat cells to hoard their stores—they shouldn’t be needed since there is so much sugar in the blood. So when the blood sugar level drops quickly and we get hungry, the fat cells don’t release their stores, and now our body tells us to EAT or DIE! If we don’t eat, if we exercise amazing will power, the fat cells will eventually respond and release needed stores, but how many of us will wait? No, those of us susceptible to these carb cravings (and judging by obesity rates, it must be well over 50% of us) are much more likely to have a little snack—some chips, candy, a cookie, crackers and cheese. 

For dieters who try to restrict their calorie intake and/or increase their activity, Ludwig has some bad news, especially if you’re eating processed carbs, even the ones made from whole grains. If you’ve experienced the thrill of starting a diet and losing a few pounds in the first days or week and then hit a wall despite not increasing your food intake, he confirms that your body can and will slow down your metabolism to protect its fat stores. The cycle of peaking blood sugar, insulin production, and the extreme hunger that follows he says produces stress hormones in an effort to unlock fat stores, but “if these cycles occur frequently, our metabolism suffers a slowdown, which can make weight loss nearly impossible.”

His recommendations: at least for a time, cut out all carbs from processed foods, including whole grain products from flour. Stick to whole or mostly whole grains themselves, like brown rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa, steel cut oats. Avoid all “fat free” products, because they often add sugars. Eat seeds, nuts, whole fat dairy products like yoghurt and cottage cheese (all in moderation, of course). Use olive oil or other mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, and for a sweet treat, eat dark chocolate with at least 85% cocoa (15% or less sugar). 

His promise is that this will end the carb addiction cycle. His book includes 3 phases, or levels, of carb strictness to begin your journey, but as I’ve been practicing a diet so similar for a few years, I don’t feel a need to follow his specifics or use his recipes and behavior logs, etc. But if much of this is new to you, I recommend following his plan. For the past couple weeks, I’ve cut out the bread, crackers, and “fat free” foods I had been eating and have found my appetite reduced to a level in which I can even comfortably well past noon or six pm without feeling like I need a snack to “hold me until dinner.” If, like me, those words are part of your daily vocabulary, you may be a carb addict as well. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Old-time Fiddler Found his Muse in West Virginia

The following story was written by Sandy Wells and appeared in the January 25, 2016 edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail (links below)

In his Fort Hill home, champion fiddler Paul Epstein demonstrates the musical prowess 
that earned him a first place award in the senior division of the Glenville Folk Festival last year. 
A founder of FOOTMAD, he performs regularly with his contra dance band, the Contrarians

He hitchhiked around the country. He lived in a cabin in Maine. A quest for warmer weather lured him to West Virginia. A back-to-the-lander from Pennsylvania, he found his sweet space in Roane County.

He settled eventually in Charleston. He counseled troubled teens at Daymark. For 25 years, he taught school. For a decade or so, he worked with the West Virginia Writing Project. Now, he’s making a new label for himself as an environmental activist.

But nothing in Paul Epstein’s intriguing life defines him more than the music. Through it all, there was always the music.

In West Virginia, he discovered old-time mountain fiddlers and recognized his true calling. Something about the fiddle touched his soul. So he learned to play. Taught himself. Just like that.

With kindred old-time music fans in Roane County, he started the Booger Hole Revival, a band bent on bringing back mountain music.

In Charleston, he helped form FOOTMAD, an organization devoted to old-time music and dance. That spawned his current contra dance band, the Contrarians.

He retired from the 9-to-5 world three years ago. Now, music no longer plays second fiddle. At 63, still vibrant and involved, he finally can focus full-time on the instrument that captured his heart.

It’s paying off. He won first place last year in the state fiddling contest.

He believes his father, a violinist, would be proud.

“I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a city the size of Charleston in Lehigh Valley, about 60 miles from Philadelphia.

“My dad was a social worker, head of social services at Allentown State Hospital nearby. My mom raised four children, three boys and a girl. It was a good life. I excelled at school most of the time, though I was somewhat of a troublemaker at times, a typical boy.

“My father played violin in community orchestras. He loved classical music. I hated classical music. I grew up with popular music on the radio.

“I took piano lessons until I was a teenager and said no more. It didn’t fit my view of myself at the time. My older brother started playing a little guitar, so there was a guitar around and I learned a little of how to play. In my early 20s, I got my own guitar and started playing that.

“I dropped out of college and traveled the country hitchhiking with my girlfriend. It was 1969. The world was in turmoil. I was not excited to go to college. I went to a couple of big protest rallies. My hair was long. I guess I was a hippie for a few years.

“I had a few jobs to get money. I worked construction and drove a cab. I had a little money, like graduation gifts that my parents had saved for me, a couple thousand dollars that we lived on for a couple of years.

“My dad was pretty tolerant of all this. My mom was definitely fuming. I don’t regret it at all. Everyone grows up a different way, and I had to find my own way.

“It gave me more time to play music and learn more about music. I spent some time learning guitar and started playing in a band. I started on a stand-up bass in a band in Maine. They were playing bluegrass and some Irish music.

“I was hearing these melodies that I loved and I remembered them. I started picking out the notes on guitar.

“I got hold of a mandolin and started playing tunes on mandolin. Once I was in West Virginia and heard my first old-time fiddlers, the old guys playing at festivals, I had to start playing fiddle.

“We’d been living in Maine out in the woods. I built a little cabin there. We were looking for a warmer place. This was the early ’70s. I guess you could say we were back-to-the-landers. We landed in Roane County, a little place on a road leading to Green Creek beyond Frame.

“I settled in this empty building that had once been a church, just a wood frame 24-by-24 building. We lived there for a while. People referred to this as the Booger Hole Church. A booger hole back then was kind of a place of ill-repute. There apparently had been a moonshiner in the hollow and maybe some shootings, colorful stuff people could tell stories about.

A photo from the early 1980s shows fiddler 
Paul Epstein (left) with the Back Road
 Travelers, a successor to Booger Hole Revival, 
the band he helped organize in Roane County
“There were a lot of people there like myself there who had come from other places. We started a band called the Booger Hole Revival because we were reviving old-time music.

“I was playing fiddle. It’s the instrument to me that most defines old-time music, that and the banjo, but there was already another guy playing banjo. It was challenging. But the fiddle had all that energy.

“I never have taken a single lesson on guitar or fiddle. I just learned by ear and recording things and listening to records and tapes, just working on it.

“Booger Hole lasted six years, ’77 to ’83, when we changed our name to the Backwood Travelers. We didn’t have a lot of expenses in those days. We had been able to buy a piece of land. We raised a garden.

“We had the money that came in from playing in the band, and I would do odd jobs. I worked for a logger for a couple of years. In ’77, my daughter was born and I married the woman I traveled the country with.

“Then I started working for Daymark Inc., for Patchwork. I started taking college classes at West Virginia State and got into the teacher education program and continued with Daymark until about ’85 when I graduated.

“I had always said about social work that I wouldn’t want to do that. People said I was a natural at it. I grew up in a family of social workers, so I understood how to talk to people.

“I listened to these troubled teens and found out what their issues were and tried to help them set goals to do better. I enjoyed working with people, but you don’t get a lot back from troubled teenagers.

“I thought elementary education would be a good spot for me to get a job I could stick with. The burnout rate working with troubled teenagers is hard work. But so is teaching.

“I taught for 25 years, first in Clendenin, then I moved to Ruffner Elementary and moved into Charleston. I divorced.

“I helped start FOOTMAD (Friends of Old Time Music and Dance). I was the first president. A group of us got together and started having meetings about how we were going to put together a nonprofit organization to sponsor folk music.

“For a period, working full time and going to school full time, I didn’t do much with music. That didn’t last long. I started going to the FOOTMAD dances and joining the pickup band that gradually became a band to play for contra dances. We were called the Trusty House Band. FOOTMAD named us because we were always there for them. Then we became the Contrarians, our band now.

“In the early ’90s, I started writing a lot more songs. This was around the time I was getting divorced. I wrote a bunch of songs and did a CD of my own songs, ‘Lessons Life Taught Me,’ and I was playing as a singer-songwriter.

“The songs are folk-country, what they call Americana, a mix-up of country blues and whatever genre that would fit a song I was writing. I was also writing a lot of fiddle tunes and children’s songs.

“Before I did the CD of original songs, I did a cassette and then a CD of songs I had been writing for the kids at school. I called it ‘School Bus Comin’.’

“The Contrarians for the last 10 or 15 years have been playing once or twice a month. We started with out and backs, going out for a Saturday night dance in Columbus or Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Louisville or Lexington or Cincinnati. We are a pretty well-known band for contra dancing in the mid-Atlantic region.

“Sometimes we get hired for a dance weekend that will draw people from the region, maybe 200 people. They will hire two bands and two callers and there will be dancing all weekend.

“Last year I won first place in the senior division of the Glenville Folk Festival. I don’t consider myself much of a contest fiddler but in retirement, I decided to put a little more time into preparing for contests.

“As a teacher, I got involved with the National Writing Project. I took some workshops and classes from Fran Simone at the graduate college and eventually I ended up leading the local Central West Virginia Writing Project. I did that for about 10 years.
In 1996, Paul Epstein married Rita Ray, a name long 
associated with West Virginia Public Broadcasting. 

“I recently wrote a song called ‘Green Revolution’ about climate change. I have gotten more involved in environmental issues, especially after the chemical spill into the Elk River. I always supported environmental issues, but I never considered myself any kind of an activist. But I started writing more songs on that topic and wanted to share them with people who were activists.

“I went to many of the rallies and became involved in raising money for the West Virginia Environmental Council and actually formed a little project through CAG (Citizen Action Group) that I called AWARE (Artists Working in Alliance to Restore the Environment). I wanted to use it as a vehicle for getting other artists like myself to come together to help raise money for environmental issues in West Virginia. It hasn’t been wildly successful. We raised a few thousand dollars.

“It’s just another thing I’m interested in and will continue to do. As a retired person, I’m not looking for a full-time job or mission. I have my music, my environmental work and I continue to write songs and sometimes go out and perform them.

“It’s been a great life. I was glad to be able to retire when I turned 60. It gave me more time to focus on my music.

“I might not have had time or energy or desire to learn the music if I hadn’t had that period where I wasn’t driven to do anything else. If I had stayed in college and gone on the track that was set up for me in those days, I probably wouldn’t have had time to pursue those things.

“The things that didn’t go as well as I would have liked, I probably learned from. It made me who I am, and I like who I am. So I’m not going to waste time imagining what might have been.

“My dad died in 1996. I think he enjoyed the band and was proud of it. He was a very open-minded man. He loved music, and he loved his children. Even though I bewildered him sometimes, he allowed me to be who I chose to be.”

Reach Sandy Wells at sandyw@wvgazette.com or 304-342-5027.

- See more at: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/life/20160124/innerviews-old-time-fiddler-found-his-muse-in-west-virginia#sthash.DsfVHliP.dpuf

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lose Weight Permanently? We'll See

In November 2013, a little over 2 years ago, I embarked on a change in my eating habits, following the recommendations of a book called, The 2 Day Diet: Diet Two Days a Week, Eat Normally for Five by Dr. Michelle Harvie and Professor Tony Howell. This is where I started.

Beginning weight 11/3/13: 209
Height 5'8" Age: 61
Beginning waist size: 43 in.

By reducing carbs and increasing vegetable and protein intake severely two days a week and more moderately the rest of the week, over the course of eight months, I lost about thirty pounds and five inches in waist size. I continued eating a maintenance version of the recommendations, but over time slacked off and allowed more carbs into my diet. Gradually pounds started accumulating. A few time since then I have made feeble attempts to return my weight to 180, or 185, or 190 pounds, but each time after a losing a few pounds, weight loss eluded me, and I decided to be happy with the new weight and just hold the line. So here I am today, at 197, having gained more than half of the initial loss back, and imagining the possibility that I will soon be back where I started and no longer able to fit into the new jeans I bought when I reached my low point. 

For those of you who know me or followed my blogging back then, I was posting my progress several times a month and wrote about learning to control my hunger, getting over my carb addiction, and how much better it felt to conquer the cravings I used to feel. So why am I back where I was? 

Partly, it is the insidious addiction that carbs encourage, but, due to a new book I am reading: Always Hungry? Conquer your cravings, retrain your fat cells, and lose weight permanently by Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School endocrinologist Dr. David Ludwig, I now believe that there’s been something else at work—my own metabolism and the uncanny ability of the human body to store calories in order to preserve fat. 

Surprisingly, one of the reasons I may have had trouble keeping my weight off may be that I tried to eat not only fewer carbs, but also lower my fat intake and eat low fat foods. Dr. Ludwig recommends eating butter and other ‘healthy’ fats, like nuts, and warns that low fat substitutes often contain hidden carbs. Though I haven’t yet started implementing the recommendations in this book, I look forward to losing this weight again and keeping it off.

While I won’t post weekly “weigh ins” as I did last time, I will keep you posted on my progress. Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Guns Serious, Climate Emergency

Which is a greater threat to our health and safety—gun violence or climate change? President Obama suggests that everyone concerned about the stranglehold the NRA has over Congress should make the support of “common sense gun reform” a litmus test. In West Virginia, this would give us few choices on election day.

The NRA is at the heart of most politicians’ fears of supporting even the mildest restrictions, such as expanded background checks. But they have gotten a lot of help from the conspiracy theory President Obama referred to in a recent town hall meeting that the federal government has a secret plan to register, then confiscate all private firearms in preparation for implementing a totalitarian regime. 

Unfortunately, conspiracy theories and wholesale rejection of science that we used to be able to laugh off as ideas held by tiny slivers of the population are now cynically used by mainstream politicians to garner support from increasing numbers of misinformed, suspicious Americans. And the prime example of that is climate change, which I would suggest is a much more important litmus test for 2016.

Yes, guns in America kill and injure thousands, and reducing that number is an important goal, but failing to reduce the greenhouse gases (GHG) being added to the atmosphere every day has the potential of resulting in catastrophic impacts on a global scale. I should not have to list them: rising sea levels, increased droughts, disease, hyper-destructive weather events, extinctions, populations on the move, and more.

Most Republican politicians, and West Virginia politicians from both parties still either deny the planet is warming, deny that it is human caused, or claim that there is nothing we can do about it. They often say that China and India will continue building coal burning power plants that will offset any of our efforts.

The recent Paris Agreement belies this claim. Almost 200 nations, including China and India, agreed on a plan to implement measures to limit global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius, considered a tipping point beyond which already serious effects become catastrophic. 

No one is calling this agreement perfect. It is non-binding. Each country must set its own goals, decide how to achieve them, report back to the world on their progress every five years, and to the extent they are able, decrease their emissions goal over time. 

As a world leader, historically the world’s largest overall emitter of GHG, and the largest emitter per capita, we have a unique responsibility to make and meet goals under the Paris Agreement. This will not be easy, but it is certainly possible.

Let’s face it—we are addicted to cheap fossil fuels: coal, oil, natural gas. They have literally fueled American prosperity. We see gas fall under $2.00/gallon and cheer. We love our low electricity bills that have been provided by cheap coal. Hydraulic fracturing has brought cheaper natural gas into our homes. But what do they really cost? What will we pay in increased flood damage and worsening storms?  

As a nation, we were addicted to tobacco, and I remember buying cigarettes for $.30 a pack. What did it really cost America in lost time at work, doctor visits, heart disease, lung cancer and emphysema? Today cigarettes cost about $6.00 a pack, and many fewer people are willing to pay that price, which is saving lives. 

If we increased the cost of fossil fuels by applying a fee for their production and importation, we would make them less desirable and set the stage for the development, growth, and acceptance of alternative energy sources. Citizens Climate Lobby (citizensclimatelobby.org) has a proposal to impose such a fee and return all the money collected to households, which would in most cases reimburse them for the increased costs of fuel during the transition to alternative sources.

Find out what the position of candidates for office is on climate change and carbon fee and dividend legislation, and support those who face the future with optimism by dealing realistically with the biggest challenge of our time.

Paul Epstein is a retired teacher, writer, and musician living in Charleston.