Saturday, November 24, 2018

Some random thoughts...

Haven't posted in an eon and thought, given the Thanksgiving Holiday, I'd post some random thoughts.  There is much going on in the world and too many things to talk about, so I'm just gonna post a bunch of disjointed things.
  • There was a recent opinion piece by Mark Penn and Andrew Stein (WSJ Article) that raised the possibility that Hillary Clinton would be a candidate for President in 2020. Mrs. Clinton herself has not confirmed nor denied whether she would actually be a candidate, but did state that she would like to be President.  Now, I know there are millions of Hillary fans and others out there who believe the 2016 election was robbed from her, because she won the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College.  Well, I'm sorry to all you fans out there, but having her run would be a huge mistake.  I've noted before in a previous post (See here) that even though lots of things worked against Clinton, the bottom line was that she ran a poor campaign and much like her loss to Obama, she and her campaign totally misunderstood how the election worked and what to pay attention to.  My views on this are somewhat reinforced by parts of Bob Woodward's "Fear" in which some in Trump's circle clearly believed he could win, because they understood where Clinton was failing.  I'm sorry folks....if the Democratic Party wants to win the next Presidential election, they need to find a new standard bearer.  Sadly, the current crop of candidates don't seem up to the task.
  • The Fourth National Climate Assessment was released on Black Friday this year (Click here to see the report).  The strategic release during a major national holiday weekend and a day where Americans hack and slash at each other to get a 50% discounted toaster actually didn't do much to obscure the fact that the report was full of bad news.  However, I was more amused that among the various discussions about what to do in the face of this report, the idea of blocking the sun's rays was once again raised.  If you want a good description of how this would work, or not as the case may be, click here. But, the one thing that came to mind as I heard this idea banted about pundits...isn't this pretty much how the Matrix started?  Sounds like a bad idea to me...
  • The recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings of now Justice Brent Cavanaugh was yet another illustration of how much our politics have degenerated to partisan bickering.  While this began way before Trump was elected President, I have to say that in my opinion, President Trump has taken politicization to a new level we have not seen in at least my lifetime.  He has put political labels on everything, especially when things are not going the way he would like.  It is amazing to me how he uses "Clinton," "Obama," or "Democrat" as adjectives to describe a multitude of things, whether it's appropriate or not.  Both political parties used to go out of their way to ensure that certain parts of the government and their operations remained as bipartisan or politically neutral as possible.  Yes, you can never take away one's political leanings, but generally-speaking, I think until recently our government has done a decent job of making sure things like national intelligence, the Justice Department, and other key agencies and committees remained as neutral as possible.  But this President has been politicizing every aspect of government and, even worse, there are members of his party that feel it's now OK to also politicize them as well.  The political light-weight Rep. Devin Nunez is a good example.  I'm not totally blaming the Republican party, because the Democratic party has taken to doing almost the same thing, just because the Republicans are.  These are very dangerous trends that people have to wake up to and push back on.  Americans are definitely better than this.
  • Which leads me to another point.   Our politicians, especially those in Congress, seem to have forgotten that our form of democracy is based on a "checks and balances" system where the Congress is one of three equal branches of government.  While it's OK for Congress to work with the Executive branch, Congress needs to push back when it is necessary.  Yes, there is partisan cooperation between Congress and the Executive branches when a single party controls both, but we've seen in the past how both branches can cooperate and work together even when either branch is controlled by the other party.  I've been extremely disappointed and distressed by the fact that the current Congress seems to be missing their huevos and can't seem to criticize the President when necessary.  There has been a deafening silence from Congress on a number of things where they should be pushing back.  I'm sorry, but when you need to criticize the President and restrain him on certain issues, you need to be doing that.  Not cowtowing to him because you're afraid of the consequences.  That's part of your responsibility and risk as an elected representative.  While I can comment on many issues where Congress should be speaking out, the one that concerns me the most is the racially-toned messages emanating from the White House and its staff.  I've previously commented on the fact that this line of messaging has emboldened fringe groups and has resulted in increased racist activities ("Out of the Shadows...").  It's only gotten worse since I made that original post.
  • While we're on the topic of government and civics, I've noticed posts regarding the composition of the Senate have been popping up on social media.  Comes in different forms, but the basic complaint is that states, regardless of their population size, each get two votes in the Senate and that this isn't fair, the argument being that states with larger populations should be more votes.  I think these folks need to go back and take civics again.  We have two houses of Congress, one based on population size and the other not, for a reason.  Go back and learn why.
  • I've been very interested in seeing how President Trump's support has not wavered much since the 2016 election.  I'm guessing that unless he does something to truly piss-off his base, his approval rating will continue to hover in the forty-something percent range (FiveThrityEight Poll).  What's of greater interest is who makes up that group that approves of his job?  There is clearly the base that will support him no matter what he does.  This group it seems is made up of ultra conservatives, but also the fringe racists who like the President's immigration policies, but also like the tone of his pronouncements.  There are those Republicans who lean a bit more to the right, but may not fully support everything the President has been advocating.  These probably include folks who support the President's general agenda, but really don't like the manner in which he communicates things.  There are those Republicans who currently support the President, but are having second thoughts based on his communication style.  I keep wondering how long these people can keep holding their noses.  Finally, there are the Democrats who supported Trump.  I'm guessing the latter is becoming a smaller proportion of Trump's supporters.  Well, you might say I'm just pointing out the obvious.  However, it is interesting how many support the President despite his demeanor, lack of compassion, personal attacks, and racially-tinged language.  Two, maybe three, of the subsets I described I would have thought would be second-guessing their support of the President, but that's not turning out to be true.  So, the big question is, what does this mean for America?  Are we destined to become a nation who will support someone regardless of how they behave?  Does this mean that honesty, integrity, and compassion are no longer important characteristics of our nation's leader?  Inquiring minds would like to know...
  • CNN changed the face of news.  It was said that Ted Turner created CNN and 24-hour news because he was upset he couldn't watch the news when it was on.  Sorry, I know there's an entire generation of people reading this that don't know that 24-hour news didn't exist and we could only watch the news at specified times, like regular programming.  Anyway, while the idea of 24-hour news was nice, sadly, there really isn't 24-hours worth of news all the time.  Hence, we now see news stories repeating ad naseum and, in order to fill the time, "analysis" and "commentary" have become blended into the news, blurring the lines.  Before, these were separate programs, which explains why we have the Sunday news shows like "Meet the Press" (btw, I really miss Tim Russert), "This Week," "Face the Nation," and others.  CNN and others have now started to run other news-related programs like "Anthony Bourdain:  Parts Unknown"....sorry, I liked Anthony Bourdain, but this program really isn't news per se.  The fact that all this stuff is now blended together is what contributes to the label of "liberal" vs. "conservative" news programs.  Also, many times you can't tell when the news ends and the commentary starts.  I have always argued that true television news programming ended when the networks figured out they could make money off the news.  The establishment of CNN just expanded this to a 24-hour cycle.  I've also argued that this format has led to the dumbing down of America, because nobody can tell where the news ends and where the commentary starts.  Viewers are essentially being told how to interpret the news, without giving them a chance to digest the news and form their own opinion.  This is a huge contributor to the "fake news" label that the President and his allies have used extremely successfully.  Personally, I can't watch the news anymore.  I get so little out of it and the "discussions" are simply people yelling and talking over each other, bending over backwards to distort information to support their own positions.  Again, I really miss Tim Russert....but I also miss the days of Walter Cronkite.  Heck, I even miss Bernie Shaw.  Anyway, it's really sad to see this chaos when it's really not necessary.  Yet another consequence of the all mighty dollar.
PhD Comics:
OK, time to stop rambling.  Although, one last thing.  All the chaos surrounding our political chaos has a price on America.  A small example is that as an educator, I see this in how students are reacting to what is going on.  Many of them are distressed, concerned, and are therefore not focusing on what they need to focus on.  It's already stressful being a student and they really don't need these distractions.  However, many feel they need to do something and for some, it costs them dearly.  So, rather than both sides of the political spectrum pulling further and further to the extremes, it's really time for Americans to embrace "compromise" again as a viable and acceptable principle, for our politicians to start governing again, and for Americans to be American again.  Although I'm a registered Democrat, I consider myself to be a centrist.  There are some things I'm liberal about and other things I'm conservative about.  I'm always reminded of the song "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel and the line "...clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you."  So why not join me and others in the middle.


Monday, February 19, 2018

The First Year...

I had intended to write this after the end of the first year of the Trump administration, but so much has been happening, it got hard to find a good break point.  I finally decided to just write this, since waiting for a good point didn't seem reasonable.  At the onset, I want to say that this post isn't meant to convince people of one thing or another.  I understand I'm not going to change peoples' opinions on the left or the right and I'm not going to convince people they need to step out of their respective bubbles.  More importantly, I'm not sure I'm even going to convince people to keep an open mind and constructively consider opinions other than their own.  But, I wanted to get these thoughts down and share with everyone, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, I can change a couple of minds.  Anyway, what follows are some random thoughts about the first year of the Trump presidency.

First, at some level, what we're seeing with this administration is what one might have expected.  Trump and his family are political amateurs.  Most of his appointees (and he still has a boatload of critical appointments to make) are political amateurs.  People criticize them as if they were just like any set of previous politicians.  However, these folks are mostly business people who've only dealt with business politics.  Now, they're mixing with the "big boys" and it's a whole different ballgame.  This is a whole different level of politics and their amateur status shows.  The ineptitude of a variety of things they've done clearly demonstrate they are playing a big game of catch-up and time is flying by quickly.  Yes, some of  you argue Trump is a smart guy and maybe he is.  But smart doesn't make up for experience.  Trump may be smart and a good businessman, but he'll never be a great surgeon or lawyer or seamstress.  Much in the same vein, he'll never be a great president, because he's not trained for it.  In fact, it may be his "smarts" that have prevented even greater dysfunction and disasters....who knows?  So, people need to give them a bit of slack.  However, at the same time the administration better get their sh*t together soon.

Second, this is probably the first president in modern history (well, at least in my lifetime) who is more concerned about himself and his image than doing the job he's supposed to do.  The level of narcissism and paranoia coupled with his brittle ego has given us a leader who is too self-absorbed to do anything truly productive for the country.  In fact, he seems to have forgotten, along with a large proportion of Congress, that they swore to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States and that they serve The People....not their political party and a selected subset of the population.  Example, the Russian interference in our elections.  This is probably the gravest threat to our democracy since the Cold War.  Sorry to you folks fearing North Korean nuclear strikes....not gonna happen.  Yet, our President is more concerned about the allegations of collusion, the legitimacy of his election victory, false notions about illegal voters, and his bromance with Vladimir Putin, that he's done nothing to protect our election process.  While I understand his concern about the legitimacy of his victory, at this point nobody is going to ask him to step down as president, because we're not sure if everyone who voted for him, would have voted for him if Russia hadn't interfered with the process.  Frankly, the President needs to be forcefully working with Congress to figure out ways to protect our election process and our democratic institutions.  His actions clearly show he is more concerned about his own image, than he is about protecting the country.  Similarly, if the President isn't going to do anything, Congress should.  However, they seem to be more concerned about vilifying or protecting (depending upon party affiliation) the President. 

Third, despite his self-proclaimed skill at negotiating, he has not demonstrated that skill in any of the legislation that has come forward during this first year.  In fact, his inability to stop tweeting has undermined many of his own initiatives and hampered many of his own negotiations.  I also think that he believes he's a great negotiator because as a businessman, he could always walk away from a bad deal.  In government, you don't always have the option to walk away.  Probably something that had never occurred to him.  Furthermore, my assessment been that Trump is a shallow thinker and doesn't consider how one decision might affect other things he's working on or purporting to be working on.  That type of shallow thinking gets politicians in trouble.

Fourth, I have never seen a president who has politicized everything he touches or mentions to the degree Trump and his followers have.  The degree to which the President and his followers have politicized things has started to degrade the legitimacy of key institutions that have, in the past, tried to remain non-partisan in order to provide balance in our government institutions.  Again, reflecting his own insecurities, Trump has made allegiance to himself the primary standard for anyone serving in any government office.  Thus, bureaucrats in agencies that have traditionally been non-partisan are now under attack if they show even the slightest hint they oppose any policy from the Trump administration or reveal their own political affiliations.  Those serving in government are not apolitical....they all have their political views and party affiliations.  However, as professionals, they have all chosen to take their jobs seriously and to serve to the best of their abilities the American people under whoever serves as president.  Yet, there are those who feel Trump needs to be protected at all costs, whether that means lying, perpetuating lies, attacking the free press, attacking non-partisan institutions within government, and vilifying anyone who opposes them.  Congressional representatives who defend the President even when he's lying or destabilizing our democratic institutions and, even more damning, those representative who remain silent, are all contributing to the demise of our democracy.  They all need to go back to their civics lessons are remind themselves that Congress does not serve at the pleasure of the President.  Congress is an equal partner in the governance of our country.  Furthermore, from the President on down, these individuals have all forgotten they serve to uphold and protect the Constitution and serve the people of the United States.   
Fifth, in parallel with the point above, these attempts to defend Trump at all costs has contributed to the general dumbing down of America.  I have never seen people bend over as backwards as some have to defend Trump regardless of how egregious the act or even if it violates their own beliefs.  By the same token, those on the other side are just as bad, attacking every act by Trump and his followers as if they were all impeachable or prosecutable offenses.  Facts used to be facts and the truth used to mean something.  Now, people believe only what they want to believe, whether true or not.  This has grave consequences for the future of our country and our ability to uphold our own form of democracy and governance.  The fact that our President and other officials are trying their best to demonize the news and more and more Americans get their information from social media, which can be manipulated by the Russians and others, is just crazy and frightening.  I have always argued that real news died when networks figured out they could make money off of news.  Today, news is seamlessly mixed with opinion with much of the latter slanted one way or another.  News discussions are not discussions at all.  In fact, most just degenerate into people yelling over each other and political commentators are chosen more for their looks and ability to generate revenue, rather than their ability to analyze and probe.  God I miss Chris Matthews!

Sixth, despite what those on the left want to fantasize, Trump has yet to do anything that is impeachable, despite what you might think or wish.  Just because he's doing stuff you don't agree with or he's doing things in a manner you disagree with, doesn't mean it's impeachable.  This talk of impeachment is a distraction and really should stop.  Talk about it, when there's something to impeach.  Similarly, those pushing for the possible invocation of the 25th amendment can relax.  Members of the Trump administration do not have the inclination nor the cojones to invoke the 25th amendment.  Again, while you might not agree with Trump, he's not done anything to warrant the 25th amendment.  Granted, he's nothing like any other previous president in projection, manner, or style.  But, those are not things that are impeachable or warrant the invocation of the 25th amendment.

Seventh, as I noted above a couple of times now, members of Congress need to remember what they are there for.  I realize the Republicans need to have Trump in place for him to sign off on any legislation they pass, but at the same time, should they be doing that at the expense of protecting the nation?  This President has done and said things that break social norms, degrade our democratic principles, and put people at risk.  Yet, very few in Congress on the right criticize those actions.  The handful that do, are not seeking re-election, which tells you something about motivations among congressional representatives.  Time to stop being selfish and to think of something more than yourselves.  You all claimed to have run for office to serve the people and the country.  Now is the time for all of you, on the left and the right, to be taking that oath seriously. 

I could continue, but I think I'll stop here.  Let me close by saying that while I'm concerned about the next three years of this presidency, I still have faith in our democracy.  However, our elected officials have to dispense with political expediency and show more political leadership.  Leadership is something sorely lacking in the US right now.  I have to admit, this past election cycle I had a hard time deciding among the two candidates.  They were both equally bad in different ways.  But, I can continue to hope that our democracy is strong enough to weather the current storm and make it out to the other side.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Some thoughts on higher education...

I had originally intended my first post of 2018 to be a perspective on the first year of the Trump presidency.  However, recent events at work had me thinking about my job and generated some thoughts about higher education, the direction it's going, and the toll it's taking.  Apologies in advance as this post may end up being a bit more rambling than usual.

A little over five years ago, I took on the role of Vice Chair for Education for the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.  This job makes me responsible for our department's educational enterprise, which consists of undergraduate, masters, and Ph.D. degree programs with annual enrollments of over 700 students, in addition to some medical school teaching.  Ours is the only department in the medical school with this broad spectrum of degree programs and we operate more or less like a school within a school, which gives me a unique position to view higher education.

My job as Vice Chair has never been a walk in the park.  Like any job, it has its highs and its lows.  The lows include dismissing students from programs for various reasons with the highs obviously seeing our students graduate and succeed out there in the "real world."  I think the worst experience of my life as Vice Chair came just a few months after I took the position.  We had a student who was going to march in graduation, but was nowhere near degree completion.  The student thought they were close to being done and a sympathetic faculty member told the student they could participate in graduation; these things were extremely far from the truth.  Attempts to contact the student to let them know they could not march in the ceremony were unsuccessful and I was forced to have staff pull the student out of line at the graduation ceremony.  Needless to say, the student was not happy and neither was I.  However, there was no way we could allow the student to participate given their academic progress.  There were a multitude of procedural failures that allowed the student to think they could march in graduation, but also there was a complete failure of the faculty serving on the student's dissertation committee to provide appropriate oversight.  Sadly, in the end, despite various attempts by our faculty and myself to help the student make progress on their final dissertation, the student did not complete the degree.

Doonesbury - Garry Trudeau
So this gets to one of my first observations.  Many faculty are literally afraid of the students.  They fear poor evaluations that may affect promotion (see the Doonesbury cartoon), they fear the verbal threats of lawsuits made by students, and some just want to be liked regardless of what it means for the students.  Sadly, it's our job to be better educators, which is why we have evaluations to help make adjustments in our approach to teaching.  It's our job to make the tough decisions, but we also have to ensure we follow the rules and procedures in making those tough decisions.  We also have to explain to students why the tough decisions are in their best interests.  Having done so mitigates the consequences of lawsuits; a verbal threat made many times by students, but rarely followed through with.  I suspect many faculty do not follow protocol, which only elevates their fear of litigation.  It's not our job to be liked, although none of us wants to be hated either.  Part of our job is to try and help students find their way through their higher education and to steer them in the right direction.  Many times, that results in our having to tell students things they may not like to hear.  In the case of the student I had to pull from graduation, looking at the student's history it was clear faculty kept giving the student breaks along the way when they should have probably dismissed the student (at more than one point).  More importantly, the student showed zero skill in the field they were studying.  Another reason I was baffled the student had gotten as far as they had.  However, the student previously showed great skill in one of the laboratory-based sciences and really should have been pursuing a degree in a lab-based science.  The fact that no faculty member made that suggestion to the student was really a huge disservice.  Many times, students can't see what path they show promise in and instead choose a path based on other factors; parental pressure, perceived dreams, etc.  I think all faculty must pay closer attention to the student, rather than be overly worried about their evals or lawsuits.  The expedient path usually ends up being bad for all parties.

Related to this is the fact that students are becoming more and more needy and faculty bend to that neediness.  I was appalled this past semester when two students in my undergraduate class complained to me about their overall homework grade, because they didn't get points for two assignments.  I told them they didn't get the points because they didn't turn in the assignment; seemed pretty straightforward to me.  At which point, I was informed that it wasn't their fault they forgot to turn the assignment in, because I neglected to remind the class that the assignments were due.  Really?!?!?  You can see why professor evals might be low....we don't coddle the students enough.  My colleagues and I have talked about the fact that we are noting an increased amount of neediness and entitlement among the students the past few years.  Each year, more and more students challenge me about their grading or the "fairness" of the course.  I don't know where this behavior comes from; a generational thing?  Is this what "millennials" are like?  If that's the case, I fear for the future of the world.  These kids seem to not understand that life doesn't just hand you what you want and you need to take responsibility and work for them.  I look back at what my parents endured after World War II and in their early days as parents and wonder how kids today are going to fare watching them have a meltdown when they don't have the latest iPhone.  Here again, faculty need not bend to these students and need to uphold a sense of responsibility and integrity.  I'd like to see one of these students pull off the "you didn't remind us" excuse out there in the real world.

Another observation are the crazy things undergraduates are doing to be "competitive" in the post-graduate marketplace.  Pre-med students are cramming every waking hour with study and activities, trying to make themselves stand out from the other pre-med students cramming every waking hour with study and activities.  Students obsess over grades and many feel like getting an 'A-' kills their dreams of graduate school.  These days it's not unusual to hear of students with double majors and one or more minors.  I recall one USC valedictorian at graduation being described as having completed two majors, both with dual minors, and several overseas experiences.  When do these people sleep?  Sadly, the vast majority of students cannot maintain that level of academic rigor and quite frankly, there's no need to be doing so.  Over the years, I've found myself encountering more and more students stressing out over their academic situation and their ability to "compete" with their peers to get into those precious med school or graduate school slots.  Quite frankly, it's not necessary and it's quite unhealthy.  More and more, I find myself telling students to ease off things, drop some of their courses or activities, and focus on doing well in a smaller realm of things.  I have a partial sense of where these students are getting these ideas from, but here again, faculty, mentors, counselors, and others have a responsibility to provide real guidance to these students.  Not everyone is cut out for post-graduate education.  Many times, students are again picking paths that do not fit their strengths.  I have to keep reminding students to think carefully about what they truly want to do in life, rather than what they think they should be doing in life.  I also have to remind them to think about how they're going to leverage their education to achieve their goals, rather than using their degree major to dictate their goals.

Finally, at least in my experience, we need to do more about students with disabilities.  I am among the first to advocate for access to education for students with disabilities, but there there are two things universities need to be doing to best serve these students.  First, if a student's disability directly contradicts their ability to perform in their area of study, students should not be provided accommodations to pursue those areas.  An extreme (and unrealistic) example would be if a quadriplegic wishes to become a microsurgeon, the university should not be giving the student accommodations to pursue medical school for that express purpose.  No issues if the student wanted to pursue another area in the medical field where their disability does not directly contradict what they wish to pursue.  Don't roll your eyes....I said it was unrealistic, but let me give a more realistic example that occurred at our university.  A student wishes to pursue a Ph.D. in a laboratory science and up to a point, the university has accommodated the student's disability, which requires a isolated and quiet environment.  The student now needs to pass their Ph.D. qualifying exam in which they propose some research project, must complete the experiments, analyze the data, and write up the results.  In order to do so, the student is asking for accommodation for their disability; an isolated and quiet lab space.  Unfortunately, no such lab space exists and the University does not have resources to build a person-specific lab to meet the requirements of the disability accommodation.  Furthermore, even if the University were to comply and allow the student to essentially have a private lab space to complete their degree, how will that student fair in the job market?  It is doubtful any other university would create a noise-free private laboratory (they might, but highly unlikely) and that definitely would not happen in the pharmaceutical or private biomedical industry.  So, once again, we have not done the student any favors.  Early on, the student should have been counseled on alternative paths that allow them to be within the biomedical research realm, but would accommodate their disability.

A secondary issue with disability accommodation is how that system has changed over time.  At least at my institution, the accommodation of disabilities was established to ensure those with disabilities had fair access to an education; mostly related to physical disabilities.  However, now it includes a wide spectrum of things and the number of students seeking accommodations has significantly increased.  While I have no specific data, my own anecdotal observation has been the following.  In the past I would, on rare occasion, have a student with a disability accommodation.  This typically was to accommodate a learning disability and typically consisted of extended time on assignments or exams; typically time-and-a-half.  However, the last couple of years, I have had multiple students coming in with disability accommodations and the accommodations have become more complex.  This past semester, I had six students with disability-related accommodations.  The most extensive one I have encountered to date was extended time (double-time) on assignments and exams, a personal note-taker, quiet space for exams (I had to schedule a separate room for the student), and flexibility on deadlines due to "possible flare-up" in the disability.  I didn't really fully understand that last one, but understood it to mean that if the student told me they had a "flare-up" in their disability, I had to accommodate that and change any deadlines for assignments or reschedule any exams.  I heard from other instructors of similar experiences.  Here again, while I support giving people with disabilities access to an education, there are limits. In fact, my own experience suggests some students have learned to game the disability angle to their advantage.  Sadly, in cases where students are clearly taking advantage of the system, faculty are fearful of calling their bluff, since the typical response is a threat of lawsuit.  Legitimate disabilities should be accommodated, but again there is a fine line between helping a student move forward and stringing them along.  Students with disabilities are no different than any other student.  If they show no mastery of the material and competency in the field, faculty should be helping them identify areas where they can succeed and make significant contributions.  We should not be discriminating against those with disabilities, but we also should not be blindly accommodating disabilities simply because of a threat of litigation.

I will be the first to admit that while I love my job overall, I never really enjoyed classroom teaching.  My having to do it, only makes me appreciate teachers even more, since it's many times a thankless job.  So for all you teachers out there, know that there are those of us who appreciate what you do, thank you for it, and encourage you to continue to serve the youth of America.  I do enjoy the mentoring of students in the research environment.  I get a lot of fulfillment out of that, although there are times when it's very taxing.  Over the years, students with various struggles I've tried to help have thanked me for my advice, which has been fulfilling, but those stories are few and far between.  Being in the Vice Chair position now for about six years, I have seen the best and the worst in education.  The primary thing that makes me sad is that many times, decisions regarding education are made only considering the fiscal or legal impact, not the educational impact.  The thing that makes me happy is seeing some of the best and brightest come through our programs and become successful professionals and academics making their unique contributions to society.  The issues I've noted above are just a small part of the education enterprise.  Somewhere, there's a happy middle-ground where we can make decisions that balance fiscal/legal impact with educational impact and move forward with the best interest of students in mind.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Legacy of Sadako Sasaki

Earlier this evening I was trying to catch up on all the stuff I had recorded on my DVR, as I'm starting to run out of space.  Among the many things I had recorded was an NHK program entitled "My Small Steps from Hiroshima."  This program examined the role of Kaoru Ogura, a Japanese American, who devoted his life to bringing the story of A-bomb victims and survivors to the world.  He was, for many years, the director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and is also almost solely responsible for introducing the story of Sadako Sasaki to Japan and the rest of the world.

For those of you not familiar with the story, Sadako was two years old on August 6, 1945 when the atomic bomb named "Little Boy" was dropped from the B-29 "Enola Gay" on the city of Hiroshima.  Although Sadako survived the actual blast, ten years later she developed leukemia.  There was a significant increase in the incidence of leukemia among children after the bombing; a consequence of exposure to radiation from the bomb.  Sadly, many young children, especially junior and senior high school kids, were organized into special brigades tasked with clearing streets after bombings.  The idea was for them to clear the streets to allow fire and rescue crews to navigate damaged areas to fight fires and rescue survivors.  Unfortunately, many of these kids who rose to the occasion and did their jobs, were exposed to some of the highest levels of radiation and many died within days; others developed various cancers and they lived relatively short lives.  Anyway, I digress....there is a Japanese tradition that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes (tsuru in Japanese), you will be granted a single wish.  Putting her faith in this tradition, Sadako began to fold paper tsuru in the hopes of being cured of her leukemia.  She died October 25, 1955 at the age of 12.

Mr. Ogura was instrumental in getting not just Sadako's story out to the Japanese public and the world, but also the stories of countless other hibakusha (A-bomb survivors).  Many of these individuals have lived their entire lives suffering from scars; physical, psychological, and emotional, from that fateful day in 1945.  Although he has passed, his wife, Keiko Ogura, carries on his legacy by continuing to talk to school children across the world about her own experiences as a hibakusha.  The story of Sadako and the cranes is now very widely known and children across the world fold cranes in her honor.  Every year, thousands upon thousands of cranes are brought to Hiroshima to be placed at the statue commemorating Sadako or at the Children's Memorial.  It's very impressive to see all these tsuru from across the globe that continue to honor the legacy of Sadako.

After watching this show, I started to reflect on my own connection with August 6, 1945.  Although I'm a 4th generation American of Japanese ancestry, my parents were both in Japan during the war.  My mother is a Japanese national, but my father is a 3rd generation American of Japanese ancestry.  My grandfather moved the family back to Japan prior to the Second World War, so my father spent his formative years in Japan, before returning to the U.S. in 1955.  Both my parents and the vast majority of my relatives in Japan are hibakusha.  My parents rarely, if ever, talk to strangers about their wartime experiences, but I have been fortunate in that they have been very open with me about what they saw, experienced, and felt during that time.  Needless to say, their experiences have left a deep impression upon me. 

Even after seeing photos and visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, it's still very hard for me to fully appreciate the horrors they witnessed.  My maternal grandfather was a naval officer and stationed near the famed Hiroshima Dome, the epicenter of the atomic blast.  We assume he was instantaneously vaporized; sadly, he was one of the lucky ones.  I lost other relatives whom I'd also never meet.  The unlucky were the ones who slowly died of burns, radiation poisoning, various forms of cancer, or other radiation-based diseases.  Countless thousands lived the rest of their lives with permanently melted flesh, deformities, or microscopic shards of glass embedded in them.  One of my mother's neighbors never wore long sleeved shirts, because if he did, the fabric would lightly snag on the tiny shards of glass embedded in his arms, which would cause him immense pain.  Sadly, he wanted to wear long sleeves to hide the significant scarring on his arms, where his flesh had essentially melted due to the intense heat of the blast.  Still others had to live with the stigma and discrimination of having been exposed to the bomb.  Single female hibakusha in particular found it impossible to marry, since it was thought that exposure to the radiation would result in their giving birth to deformed children, regardless of how healthy they were. 

Aside from my family's story, I never gave much thought to the legacy of Sadako Sasaki, aside from the poignancy of her story and the powerful message it conveyed.  However, it all came full-circle for me on May 29, 2016.  Many of  you know that I volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum as a docent and photographer.  May 29, 2016 was the opening reception for "Above the Fold," an exhibition about origami (Japanese paper folding) and it's role in art, science, and industry.  What was special about that reception was that the museum was to take ownership of one of the original tsuru actually folded by Sadako Sasaki.  Her older brother (Masahiro Sasaki), nephew (Yuji Sasaki), and the grandson of President Harry Truman (Clifton Truman Daniel), came to present the precious artifact to the museum.  These three have tirelessly worked to not just keep the memory of Sadako alive, but to also spread the stories of hibakusha and to speak out against the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Only a handful of the tsuru are out in the public, let alone outside of Japan, so the museum was very honored to receive this artifact from the family.  The tsuru is on display at the Japanese American National Museum and as you can see from the accompanying photo, it's very small. 

Photo Credit:  Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi
I was one of the photographers that day, but I got a chance to meet Masahiro Sasaki and briefly talk with him.  I shared with him that my parents were hibakusha and that at some level, I understood what he and his sister went through and how much I appreciated his sharing his and his sister's story.  However, what struck me most was what he told me.  He encouraged me to convince my parents to talk about their experiences to the public (something I've not been successful at doing), but he also said it was more important for me to share my parents' story, especially after they pass.  While that was something that I knew and understood, there was just something about the way he encouraged me to do this, that made it seem even more important. 

So, after watching "My Small Step from Hiroshima," I recalled what Masahiro Sasaki told me.  I also started to think about Sadako, her cranes, and her legacy.  Here was a young girl who was an innocent victim of war, faced one of the most horrific weapons of war, put her faith in the story of a thousand cranes, and faced the challenges of fighting leukemia; a battle she eventually lost.  However, her friends, her classmates, children across Japan, and children across the world continue to fold tsuru in her name and in the name of peace.  In some real sense, the countless millions of tsuru folded over the decades form a physical link between August 6, 1945 and today.

The story of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are important today as they were over 70 years ago.  I know many will argue of the military necessity to end the war and the countless lives that were saved.  One could make that calculus and defend it and I don't mean to directly comment on its morality.  I just know that those who survived the initial blast did not deserve the horrors or the challenges they faced afterwards.  I am very fortunate that among all my relatives who survived August 6, 1945, none suffered from any long-term least to my knowledge.  Even my father, who was buried under rubble and had to dig himself out, was very fortunate to have not suffered any major injuries or long-term effects like others.  But members of my family are among the minority.  In this day and age when more countries are developing nuclear weapons, with some not adhering to or becoming signatories of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and with countries with unstable leadership, like North Korea, developing nuclear capabilities, it is important to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Note:  All photos were taken by me, except the cover of the Sadako book and the credited photo by Dr. Takasugi.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Health Care Battle

As I write this blog, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is still trying to resurrect the Republican effort to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), so-called "ObamaCare."  This post isn't intended to be a discussion of the health care debate per se nor my own views/positions on this issue.  There's enough opinion out there to keep people amused for a while.  However, I did want to make a few points that I think are being lost among the rhetoric from both sides of the argument.  Apologies, as this post may end up being a bit disjointed, given the complexities of the issue.

The first thing that comes to mind is that the ACA nor the American Health Care Act (AHCA) really has anything to do with health care per se.  This is an insurance debate, which under some conditions will improve the health care for some Americans, especially those who previously could not previously access affordable health care, but does next to nothing to actual tackle the problems of reducing the overall cost of health care nor actually improving the quality of health care.  So folks should not be under the illusion that either plan actually improves the quality of health care in this country.  While on this topic, it is important to emphasize that despite being the richest country in the world, the United States does extremely poorly in terms of actual health care for our citizens; we definitely are not ranked at the top.  That's extremely sad that a country so rich cannot ensure that its citizens can get adequate and competent health care at a reasonable price.

Since this does boil down to a discussion of insurance, access to insurance, and the cost of insurance, it's important to remember what insurance really is.  One side seems to think health care is a right and everyone should be provided health care.  The other side seems to think insurance is a product, should be treated as such, and therefore free market economics apply.  Sadly, both sides forget that insurance is about risk and managing risk.  Access to affordable health care (insurance) does not equate receiving adequate health care (actual care).  In order to provide affordable insurance for all, the risk has to be spread across all.  Therefore, if you want insurance to be affordable, you either need to do something about the actual cost of health care or you have to spread the risk across everyone.  Ideally, you want to do both.  Since Congress is very unlikely to want to regulate actual health care costs, that only leaves the option to spread the risk.  So, the argument that healthy people should not be forced to purchase health insurance only weakens any plan to provide accessibility to health insurance for all.  Look at the example of car insurance; not a perfect analogy, but sufficient to make a point.  In almost all states (I believe Virginia and New Hampshire are the exceptions) everyone who drives is required to have some form of car insurance.  It doesn't matter whether you've had an accident or not.  By doing this, the risk and subsequent cost of insurance is spread across all drivers. Yet, I'm not aware of loud protests of forcing "safe" drivers to have insurance.  In fact, since nobody knows if/when they'll have an accident, spreading the cost of the risk across all drivers makes sense.  The same is true of health care.  None of us knows if/when we're going to get sick or whether that illness will be something minor or major.  Can you imagine what car insurance costs would be like if "safe" drivers were exempt and only "unsafe" drivers were required to obtain insurance?  I fully support the idea of freedom of choice advocated by some, but if you really want everyone to have access to affordable health care, then some sacrifice to that freedom will be necessary, in the absence of going to a model of socialized medicine.

Which brings up the issue of cost.  There are those who would argue that free market economics should apply to health care and that competition will drive the market and reduce costs.  Sadly, these folks seem to forget that's what we essentially had prior to the ACA.  While the principle of free markets sound good, the health care market isn't like buying a car.  Pricing is hidden from the consumer and even if there was transparency in pricing, "shopping around" is made more difficult based on the fact that you're care is typically tied to a particular physician or health care plan.  Research shows two-, three-, and sometimes multi-fold differences in pricing for the exact same procedure across health care providers in similar geographic regions.  How can the same procedure, performed in nearly the same way, have such a large cost differential?  More importantly, how can competition drive pricing if you don't know what the prices are and health care systems are unwilling to reveal those prices?  Free market forces will only work in health care when transparency becomes more of the norm.  Yet those advocating for free markets are not likely to create legislation to make those markets more transparent for consumers.

Politicians always talk about what the American people want.  I've heard people on both sides of the aisle start their statements with "The American people clearly want blah, blah" and then justify whatever thing they're talking about.  You can usually find support on either side of an argument and depending upon which part of the country the politician represents, that statement can have some truth to it (although, they probably should say "Americans in my district" or "Americans in my state").  However, in terms of the health care debate and the AHCA, it appears that very few, if any, health care constituencies support the AHCA.  Overwhelmingly, insurance companies, health care providers, professional medical groups, public health advocates, disease-based non-profits, and other parties have all raised concerns about the AHCA at one level or another.  Clearly, those entities that need to be a major part of the AHCA don't think this piece of legislation is good for Americans.  Yet, the politicians don't seem to hear their views and keep talking about what "The American people want."  This is one issue where politicians need to be listening to the professionals.

I have constantly harped about political expediency and lack of political leadership.  Well, we're seeing a good example here in the health care debate.  The ACA was a reasonable attempt to improve access to health care in the US, but it was not perfect. But, rather than trying to fix and improve upon it, foes of the ACA chose to run on the idea of repeal.  While President Obama was still in office, there were multiple attempts to repeal the ACA.  These were politically expedient votes, because those against the ACA knew their votes could generate the appearance of a principled stance that had very little risk of any real responsibility, since President Obama would always veto the bill.  Now, that political expediency needs to morph into political leadership, these individuals are now finding their path to "repeal" or "repeal and replace" is fraught with all kinds of difficulties.  Rather than show leadership, govern, and fix the ACA, they are now trying to maintain their "repeal" positions while trying to come up with an alternative plan.  Why does there need to be an alternative?  Why can't these individuals work with others across the aisle to help Americans get what they need?  Why is loyalty to party more important than loyalty to country?  This issue should not be used as a political football, since peoples' lives and livelihoods are at stake.  However, what puzzles me the most is how these people, like members of the House, can stand there have big smiles on their faces, claim the alternative plans they've proposed are "better" when millions would lose health insurance and others would end up paying more.  Those millions are real Americans with real health care needs and they are not likely to get adequate health care and are at extreme risk for a short life span.  How can politicians justify playing with peoples' lives with a big smile on their face?  In fact, the extreme need to defend their own plans, however bad, leads to some to justify their vote in support by saying ridiculous things like Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) - "Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care."  The least they can do is admit coming up with comprehensive legislation for health care is difficult, look a little somber, and say they tried their best to meet the expectations of all their constituents, but that some will have to pay more for insurance or not be covered at all.  These smiles and claims of victory just show these people are not serious about the real-world consequences of health care legislation. Oh, and by the way, the claim that the ACA is "failing" or "is in a death spiral" or some of the other descriptors is really self-serving.  The reason for the turmoil in the exchanges has to do with one of the weaknesses of the ACA; it relies on funds to be approved by Congress.  Without those funds, plus the ambiguities of the future of health care legislation, both falling under the responsibility of the Republicans, the exchanges in some areas are teetering on collapse.  However, most of that would disappear if Congress votes to provide the subsidies or provide a clear vision for health care.  Thus, they are primarily responsible for the so-called "collapse" of the ACA and people having difficulties finding insurance or having to pay more for it.

In the end, legislating health insurance is difficult.  There are difficult choices and significant consequences for each choice made.  This is one issue where those on the extremes of the political spectrum, have to take a step back and allow for governing from the middle.  No legislation will be perfect and there will be losers.  But we cannot be passing legislation where anywhere from 16 to twenty-something million Americans will go without access to affordable insurance.  That can't happen in a country that is as wealthy as we are.  Yes, freedom of choice is important.  Yes, government shouldn't meddle in our personal lives.  Yes, being fiscally responsible is important.  But these all can't be accomplished by abandoning a large segment of our society as if they didn't matter.  These politicians are playing with real lives with real life or death consequences.  It's about time they take real responsibility and come up with a responsible health care plan for all Americans.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

In 1966, a movie called "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!" starring Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Winters, and a bunch of others was released (Original movie trailer).  This film was a comedy that leveraged America's fear of the Communist USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, for those of you born before 1991) at the height of the Cold War.  The Russian Federation that was established after the fall of the Soviet Union has gone through its share of ups and downs, but now seems to have achieved some form of stability (if you want to call it that) under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.  Hence, the old Cold War-type relationship between Russia and the United States has started to return.

The recent revelation that Russia attempted to intervene in the US Presidential election has generated all kinds of news over the last few months.  However, like many things these days, there seems to be more of a focus on partisanship than focusing on the issue at hand.  Democrats are too busy trying to tie Russian interference with members of Trump's administration or campaign.  While there seems to be evidence for this, it's hardly concrete and, quite frankly, distracts from the bigger issue.  Similarly, those on the far right are too busy trying to protect the Trump administration from the allegations of possible collusion with the Russians.  Sadly, their efforts seem to be based on the conspiracy theory that the "deep state" is trying to destabilize and discredit the Trump administration.  Republicans, in general, seem like a deer in headlights and can't seem to figure out how to respond.  They seem to be all over the map with some showing concern about the Russian interference, some trying to protect the Trump administration, and some sitting on the fence and waiting to see what happens next.

One major problem is that much of what the media is reporting has come from leaks.  Our President and his administration have rightfully complained about this and the FBI and Justice Department should be investigating this, as these leaks MAY have broken the law.  However, rather than being concerned about the leaks themselves and what might be motivating them, the administration seem to be more concerned about the impact it has on their positions.  Sadly, it's these leaks that feed the conspiracy theory about the "deep state" that concerns the far right.  However, these individuals must understand that the actions of the President and his administration seem to only feed the need to leak information to the public.  The distortion of facts and outright lies by our President and his administration have not helped his current situation.

On the other side of the fence, Democrats have been too eager to embrace these leaks to make their case about possible collusion between Russia and members of the Trump administration.  Sadly, leaks aren't facts, and need to be viewed with a suspicious eye until verified.  Also, these are only small tidbits in a wider and more complex web of events.  Taking these isolated reports and trying to build a wider narrative borders on irresponsible.  In fact, I'm guessing the Russians are sitting back and laughing at our response to their handy work.  These leaks are almost no different than rumor, a tool widely used in the history of warfare to confuse your opponent.  Sadly, partisanship has gotten so bad, both sides of the aisle are grasping at anything to support their claims, which simply falls into what the Russians probably want.

The thing that has gotten lost in this whole mess is the fact that Russia has tried to interfere with the US election.  We have yet to see evidence of how Russia did this (lots of speculation in the press based on leaks, but no hard evidence has been presented to the public) and we have yet to ascertain how this interference might have affected the election (despite what Hillary supporters might think).  Remember, the only we've been told in public testimony is that there is strong evidence the Russians have interfered and that the investigation is on-going.  Nothing more, nothing less.  All the other stuff circulating in the media has been from leaks, speculation, and basically fake news perpetuated by those trying to protect the administration.  We have also not seen any comments on how we might prevent any future interventions by Russia or any other party.  All the other stuff people are talking about is secondary to the main issue.  Did Russia interfere, if so, how, and how to we prevent it in the future.  The key thing here is the erosion of confidence in our elections.  We've already got Republicans, and mostly our President, talking about massive voter fraud; something that is not supported by any evidence.  We don't need our confidence to be further eroded by intervention by a foreign entity.  It's why I keep saying that Hillary has to stop partly blaming her loss on Russian interference.  There's no evidence to support that contention.  The evidence suggests the Russians did favor Trump, but as far as I'm aware, there's no evidence the Russians actually tilted the election in his favor.  This is the thing that we should all be concerned about....left, right, Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, or did the Russians intervene in the election and did it have an effect on the outcome?  Everyone should be concerned about this question and we should all be supporting the various investigations to answer and understand this question.  Besides, answers to all the other stuff is likely to come out of those investigations.

This is something all Americans should consider to be a serious matter that deserves a serious examination.  We should not be politicizing this, because the stakes are too high regardless of your political affiliation.  We keep telling other countries how they should be conducting elections and how elections should be free and fair.  It's very problematic when we have to start questioning our own elections.  Let the various investigations move forward in a fair and non-partisan manner to get to the truth.  Only then, can we stop worrying if the Russians are coming.  I grew up in the Cold War era where as kids, we had "drop drills" in case of nuclear attack, regular testing of warning sirens, and people digging nuclear shelters.  We don't need to go back to those days and we don't need our democracy to be destabilized by outside interference.  The last thing we need is something like this.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

The First 100 Days...

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President, he inherited a country that was in the throes of the worst economic crisis the country ever faced.  He proceeded to institute a flurry of Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders and worked with Congress to pass legislation that implemented what he called "The New Deal."  This flurry of activity was then used by the media as some new benchmark all subsequent Presidents were held to.  Frankly speaking, this is a silly benchmark and quite unfair to any subsequent President, since economic conditions, political climate, and thousands of other factors differ from the early 1930s.

However, it is useful to examine the progress the first 100 days of any presidency as a benchmark for how a given presidency is shaping up.  If you were thinking I was going to now proceed to pick apart the first 100 days of the Trump administration, you'd be quite wrong.  The media and a plethora of pundits have spent plenty of time doing that, so I suggest you Google the info and parse the various opinions.  However, I would like to note a few, what I think are, unique things about the first 100 days of the Trump administration.  Apologies if this post comes off as a bit disjointed and rambling.  However, there's much to talk about and I'm going to try to limit things for this post and leave more for later.

First, my very first post on this blog commented on the increase in racist activity that I felt was partly fueled by the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign ("Out of the Shadows").  The divisiveness of the country has gotten worse on multiple levels.  Trump's 100th day fell on the 25th anniversary of the so-called "Rodney King riots."  To me, we haven't moved forward from that tragedy and, in many respects, have actually regressed.  Sadly, our elected officials continue to ignore the signs and continue to show lack of leadership.  Our President has barely addressed the issue and his continued rhetoric and vitriolic behavior has continued to allow those with extreme views to come out of the shadows and claim the veil of legitimacy under the facade of political expression.  Maybe that's what he wants, since they obviously form a small percentage of his base.  If that were true, it's a sad comment on our society.  Sadly, the media has also decided this topic is not worth addressing simply because no political leader, is addressing it.  Our political leaders need to grow a pair and address the immediate aspects of this increase in racist activity.  It has serious implications for the near-term (and possibly long-term) future of our democracy.

Second, the media and some selected others have made a big deal about how the President has the lowest approval rating of any modern President.  Well, that may be true when one looks at the overall numbers, but a quick look "under the hood" is quite revealing (  The President's approval rating among Trump voters is above 90% and that number only drops slightly to 80-something percent when looking at Republicans as a whole.  His approval rating among independents hovers around 40% and his approval among Democrats is around 10%.  Yes, some in the media have talked about this breakdown, but what the media has not been discussing is what these numbers truly represent; an America that is seriously divided even in the face of a national leadership that has revealed a cornucopia of flaws and weaknesses. The general level of politicization has reached unbelievable levels, but also our current President has steadily attempted to politicize every aspect of our government, even those institutions that are supposed to be non-partisan.  While I know many don't believe "non-partisan" exists, you might be surprised by the bureaucracy.  Those working in the "non-partisan" parts of our government actually take their jobs seriously and understand why they need to remain apolitical.  Sadly, our current President seems to think that if a particular branch of government disagrees with him or does something counter to what he wants, then he needs to play "Apprentice" and fire people and attempt to place his minions in those positions.  This is very dangerous for our democracy.  Those "non-partisan" entities must remain non-partisan and not subject to the whims of the President, legislature, or any other entity. 

This leads to my third point....the total lack of huevos among our representatives in the legislative branch of our government.  There are times I think they need to go back to school and take civics all over again.  This cow towing to your political party and its goals, rather than doing what might be right for the country just illustrates my point above.  Yes, we all have differences of opinion when it comes to what is "right" for the country.  But, as Americans, we should be able to discuss those issues and come to some compromise that works for everyone.  This digging in of heels that's done by both parties gets us nowhere.  When did "compromise" become a dirty and divisive word?  However, what's even sadder is that as we see a President who tweets bold-face lies, tries to mold history to his liking, and shows ever increasing levels of political inexperience and narcissism.  In the face of all that, the legislative branch of our government seems to have forgotten whole idea of "checks and balances."  Time to put some of the politics aside and start doing things that we should all be able to agree is for the good of the country, regardless of what the President wants.

Take the apparent interference of Russia in our recent election.  While it's not clear whether there was collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign and/or administration, our intelligence experts seem to all agree that Russia did attempt to influence our election in favor of President Trump.  In fact, it's become clear they have tried to influence other elections across the globe.  As Americans, Republican, Democrat, and Independent, we should all be very concerned about this.  Yet, Republicans seem to want to ensure the President and his friends are semi-protected from investigation, while Democrats scream for further investigation into rumors of collusion.  Really, the House and Senate committees should continue their investigations in a non-partisan way, ignore what all the vested parties want, and see where the evidence leads without trying to influence the outcome.  Yet, both sides seem incapable of doing that.  Without thoroughly investigating this and figuring out what we need to do to protect our electoral process, all future elections are going to be subject to suspicion, only feeds the false narrative of wide-spread voter fraud, and erodes our democracy.

Fourth, all of this polarization has spilled into public discourse.  It's sad to see people screaming and yelling at each other, without taking the time to understand the other side.  Frankly, we've all forgotten that we have free speech in this country and shouting down and/or threatening the other side from expressing their opinion does nothing to advance our democracy.  Lately, the left side of the country seems to be less and less willing to be tolerant of listening and has led to incidents of, what are basically, intolerance.  Yeah, the other side may be advocating ideas and policies that seem extreme and exclusive, but at the same time, they are thinking the same about you.  We all form our opinions and views based on our personal experiences.  The only way to understand the other side, is to learn more about their experiences.  My first point about the recent polls about Trump's approval illustrates this.  Trump voters still approve of his job, despite all the things those on the left think are too extreme and horrible.  He's doing exactly what they want him to do.  Why is that?  It's time for everyone to come out of each other's bubbles and start talking, instead of yelling.  You actually might find a real person on the other side.  It's also time for the media to come out of their respective bubbles and start engaging in a much broader conversation.  These partisan approaches to news and information again does nothing to advance our democracy.  I've always argued that the day the networks figured out they could make money off the news, is when the news dies.  But getting back to the original point, free speech applies to everyone.  It's one of the principles our Founding Fathers understood would be a cornerstone of our democracy.  It's sad that many Americans are forgetting what it means.

OK, so enough for now.  I can ramble on about more, but this post is already a bit too long.  FDR's "New Deal" was the right thing at a critical time for the country.  As I noted at the beginning, he achieved many of the goals of the "New Deal", because there was, for the most part, bipartisan understanding it was what the country needed.  Time for our elected officials to understand what our country needs now and start to reach across the aisle to move our country forward.