Memorial Day: What do we owe the dead?

On Memorial Day we honor those fallen in combat in service of the United States. Some of the dead are buried in Flanders Fields. John McCrae’s poem by that name speaks of what we the living owe the dead.

Monday 29, 2023, the last Monday in May, is Memorial Day. Like Christmas, Mothers’ Day and other holidays, Memorial Day has become a day for taking advantage of store sales – “Memorial Day Sale!”

Before collective sensitivities were obliterated by quests for increased sales, Memorial Day was observed by giving thought to those who did not return, who perished in some God-forsaken field of battle. Traditionally Memorial Day was a day to visit cemeteries, clean and decorate graves, and picnic. Yes, picnic, especially in crowded cities where cemeteries may have been the only green, open space. Peace in the community of saints.

It is always good to remember that Memorial Day is very different from Veterans Day (celebrated November 11 of each year). Memorial Day remembers the fallen in war. Veterans Day remembers all who served in the U.S. military. Useful also to understand the origins of these holidays.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, started in 1868 as observance of the estimated 620,000 lives cut short during the American Civil War (originally called the War Between the States). After World War I, in which 53,000 American soldiers died in combat, the solemn day was expanded to honor all combatants who died in service of the United States. It became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Veterans Day, by contrast, commemorates those who served. Originally Veterans Day was known throughout the world as Armistice Day, in observance of the World War I truce between Allies and Germany at Compiegne, France, on November 11, 1918. In 1954, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day, to commemorate all who served in the U.S. military. Other countries changed the name Armistice Day to Remembrance Day after WWII.

Both holidays, Memorial and Veterans Day, have some connection with World War I. While we do commemorate, we should also give thought that at one time WWI was called “The war to end all wars.” Purportedly, the perception at the time was that such great slaughter of soldiers and civilians would be avoided in the future. Unfortunately, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI, was replete with destabilizing punishment of Germany and forceful intrusions in the Middle East. Thus, in retrospect, World War II and Middle East conflicts would seem inevitable.

Leaders’ desire for power dominated the Halls of Versailles in 1919. Seems like not much has changed as we reflect on American lives lost in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. On this Memorial Day, we honor all those fallen in combat, and hopefully also give thought to a future where leaders of all nations would choose prosperity rather than slaughter.

Pictured above is an illustration from the website of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3617, Wenatchee Valley, Washington. John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields accompanied the illustration. McCrae, soldier and physician in WWI, gave voice to the dead buried in Flanders Fields, Belgium. The poem ends with a plea for the living to continue the fight which the dead left unfinished.

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Ever since, the question in some minds has been, that fight of 1914 to 1918 or all the fights that keep following. If the latter, the fallen in Flanders Field shall never find rest. Perhaps a lasting peace, in which young men and women will no longer be buried in battlefield makeshift graves, is what we really owe the dead.

Socialism: A self-inflicted wound

Political commentator Bruce Bialosky recently wrote that progressive U.S. cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Chicago are at the vanguard of social and economic deconstruction. He compares these once great cities to the former economic powerhouse, Venezuela.

Dependence on government largess is the hallmark of a socialist populace. Unfortunately, sources of largess are not unlimited, and eventually government leaders run out of money. Then, inevitably moral and economic collapse ensues. Examples going back to the fall of the Roman Republic and beyond abound. Sadly, the U.S., once the bedrock of true capitalism, is going the way of Venezuela.

Bruce Bialosky, CPA and political commentator, recently wrote on that progressive U.S. cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Chicago are at the vanguard of social and economic deconstruction. He compares these once great cities – no longer clean, safe, or worth visiting – to the former economic powerhouse, Venezuela. This South American nation, Bialosky says, is now a “full-blown humanitarian crisis.” On We Are Becoming Venezuela (, May 21, 2023) he wrote,

At one point not too long ago, Venezuela had the best economy in Latin America and was in the top 20 economies in the world. It has the largest oil reserves in the world. In the last two decades of the 20th century, the economy started to decline. It was still a country with which many people I know did business and visited regularly. I wanted to vacation there. I heard wonderful things about Caracas, the capital.

Then Hugo Chavez became president promising a Bolivian (socialist) revolution. He indeed provided a revolution until he died. A revolution of despair. The current leader, Nicolas Maduro, took over the country and finished destroying any semblance of civilized life. Human Rights Watch has reported there is a full-blown humanitarian crisis lacking safe water, basic nutrition, and healthcare. Whoever can get out has gotten out.

Yet, Mr. Bialosky, says, U.S. cities continue to follow the socialist path. He cites Chicago.

There is another city I am thinking of adding to the list. Just 18 months ago after numerous prior visits, we were in Chicago. We were there when possibly the worst mayor in American history was in office – Lori Lightfoot. She was so bad her constituency gave her only 17% in the election primary, thus eliminating her from the general election.

Given an opportunity to begin correcting the malaise Lightfoot created, the residents of Chicago doubled down by electing someone who could easily become worse. With a failing school system they elected someone who received 95% of his contributions from public employee unions, largely from the teachers’ union.

Bruce Bialosky is referring to Brandon Johnson, elected Mayor of Chicago in a runoff election April 2023, and on whom Bialosky does not place much faith:

Mr. Johnson won his election largely on the back of two groups voting for him – blacks and, you guessed it, the most dangerous group in America – white liberals.

Harsh words! Bialosky elucidates on the source of the devolution experienced by declining cities.

You cannot blame any of this on blacks or other minorities as they represent a minor portion of the population in these cities. No, the dismal decline of these cities is caused by the most dangerous people in America – white liberals. They have voted for hard-core Leftists to come into office with their extreme policies. They think they are doing well for others allowing the public-school systems to corrode while sending their own children to private schools. They believe criminals should not have ramifications for their crimes because crimes were just a manifestation of their challenging past.

Let that sink in, “the most dangerous people in America – white liberals.” Mr. Bialosky denounces white liberals for implementing destructive leftist ideology. The Just Vote No Blog would like to excoriate white liberals, as well as their opportunistic counterparts of color, even further.

Look around, look them up on the Internet, what are the liberals saying? Are they encouraging the populace to practice self-reliance and self-discipline? Are they talking about Black or Latino entrepreneurs, educators, authors, nurturing fathers and mothers? Did they ever mention businesswoman and philanthropist Sheila Johnson, the first Black woman billionaire? No, white liberals, along with Black opportunist like Al Sharpton and Nikole Hannah-Jones, promote victimhood. Victimhood, synonymous with dependence, propagates the socialism for which liberals crave.

The U.S. is today at a forked road with three, not two, divergent paths. One path will lead to the U.S. becoming yet another failed socialist state like Venezuela; the other path will lead to the mirror image of liberal extremism which is repressive conservative extremism; and the third path could lead to a productive self-reliant populace, prosperity, individual liberty, and true help for the few who are unable to provide for themselves.

We still have ballot boxes, and what is placed in them in the next few years will determine which path our country will take.

North Carolina, rent control is not a solution

State Senator Linda Grafstein recently introduced Bill 255 aimed at repealing North Carolina’s prohibition of rent control. Surely, Senator Grafstein is aware of the inefficiencies inherent in rent control?

Recently North Carolina state Senator Lisa Grafstein (Democrat – Senate District 13), submitted Bill 255, Act to Permit Local Governments to Enact Rent Control. Bill 255, if enacted, will repeal Statute 42-14-1 Rent Control, and allow municipalities to enact any form of rent control.

Statute 42-14-1 prohibits North Carolina jurisdictions from implementing rules that interfere with the rental of private property:

No county or city as defined by G.S. 160A‑1 may enact, maintain, or enforce any ordinance or resolution which regulates the amount of rent to be charged for privately owned, single‑family or multiple unit residential or commercial rental property.

Senator Grafstein’s reason for introducing this bill is the usual one: rising rental costs are causing financial hardships. Indeed, that is the case, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019. Rent control is the easiest way to show constituents a representative is “doing something.”

Rent control is also an inefficient way to address housing costs.

Unfortunately, rent control is also plagued with consequences and uneven results. Renters under rent control love their housing cost stability. Lower-income workers with hopes of stable housing costs support rent control. On the other side of the coin, landlords who are unable to pass their rising costs to tenants due to rent control seek solutions detrimental to tenants: poor property maintenance, raising rents on units not under control (thus raising overall rental costs), or withdrawal from the controlled market.

Given rent control’s uneven consequences, opinions on it vary widely. Here are two seemingly heart-felt quotes.

…our family was always able to afford a roof over our heads, because we were living in a rent-controlled building. That most minimal form of economic security was crucial for our family. Senator Bernie Sanders, CNN Opinion, July 30, 1919.

In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing. Assar Lindbeck, The Political Economy of the New Left, 1972.

While lower-income residents, especially those in more progressive cities, support rent control in hopes of stabilizing their housing costs, economists generally agree controls are destructive. Here is a good summary of the challenges economists see in rent control. The author is economist John Phelan in his essay 81% of economists agree that rent controls are bad policy, Center of the American Experiment, December 18, 2018.

… there are, in fact, areas where the economists’ cacophony dies down and they speak with more or less one voice.

One such area is rent control. This proposal – to cap the price landlords can charge tenants – crops up perennially as a solution to high rents. This is mistaking the symptom for the illness. When prices are high they are sending you information. They are telling you that demand is high relative to supply. If you want to do something about this, act to either reduce demand or increase supply. Either way, trying to fiddle with the signal makes no more sense then trying to slow down your car by breaking the speedometer.

But fiddling with the signal is expedient if not effective.

Decreasing demand for housing or increasing supply are solutions to high rents more complex than implementing rent control. Decreasing demand requires decreasing population growth, a solution not embraced by governors or legislators. Increasing supply (and growth) sounds good to state leaders, but their efforts are very often met with public outcry from residents rejecting loss of open spaces, increased traffic, and change in neighborhood character.

Thus, legislators sometimes opt for rent control – even though rent control seldom works as intended.

At present, two states, California and Oregon, plus the District of Columbia have state-wide rent control ordinances. Seven states allow local rent control: California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Maine, Oregon, and Minnesota. California, New York and New Jersey have the highest rents in the nation.

Most certainly Senator Linda Grafstein is aware of challenges inherent in both rising rents and rent control. Hopefully, so are her constituents.

Pictured: From widely circulated videos of protesters in Charlotte, NC, on January 25, 2023. Protesters were demanding accountability from corporate landlords; specifically, a stop to the growing ownership of homes by corporate landlords, improved building maintenance, and a 3% cap on rents.

Who stole Arbor Day?

In 1885, Nebraska declared Arbor Day a state holiday, to be celebrated on April 22. Within the next 20 years, Arbor Day was celebrated in most states. Tree-planting on this holiday remained popular, until the 1970’s. Then events overshadowed it.

A question meriting even more attention than who stole Arbor Day is “Why?” Who would want to hijack a holiday? Half a century after the takeover, events have developed sufficiently for a reasonable guess.

The story started way back in 1854.

In 1854, a journalist named Julius Sterling Morton and his wife Caroline moved to the wind-swept territory of Nebraska. There were few trees to serve as windbreaks, and few trees to protect soil from erosion or crops from burning in the sun.

For several years, Morton editorialized on the benefits of trees and encouraged his fellow Nebraskans to plant trees. As part of his campaign, Morton proposed an Arbor Day.

In 1885, Nebraska declared Arbor Day a state holiday, and April 22 the date of annual observance. April offered ideal weather for planting trees, and the 22nd of April was J. Sterling Morton’s birthday. By that time, Morton had led the planning of more than 1 million trees.

Within the next 20 years, Arbor Day was celebrated in all states of the U.S., except Delaware. The Arbor Day concept also spread outside the U.S., to Japan, Europe, Canada, and Australia.

Enter Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.

In 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson saw the opportunity to capitalize on a populace spooked by environmental ruin. Rachel Carson’s widely read Silent Spring, published in 1962, lifted the veil that theretofore had hidden massive pollution caused by pesticides. In January of 1969, an oil well off the pristine coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew up, and hundreds of images of aquatic animals covered oil flooded the airwaves.

In the same year as the Santa Barbara oil spill, Senator Nelson started organizing nation-wide rallies to bring attention to what was happening to Mother Earth. The day he picked for the coordinated rallies was April 22, for the purported reason that young college students, who were expected to play a big role, would be on spring break. April 22 was also the original day for Arbor Day celebrations already established throughout the nation. (Critics of Earth Day point out that April 22 is also Vladimir Lenin’s birthday, but any connection between the environmental movement and abolition of private property shall be left for another day.)

Earth Day 1970, with its catchy slogan “Give Earth a Chance” and heavy promotion, was a success. An estimated 20 million people attended various rallies and festivities.

Meanwhile, Richard Nixon promoted environmental legislation.

President Richard M. Nixon embarked on a series of environmental legislation. He signed the National Environmental Policy Act (January 1970), creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (December 1970), Clean Air Act (December 1970), Marine Mammal Protection Act (October 1972), Endangered Species Act (December 1973).

As part of his environmental plan, Nixon signed two proclamations:

Proclamation 4042, dated April 2, 1971, designated the period of April 18 through April 24, 1971, as Earth Week.

Proclamation 4126, dated April 24, 1972, designated the last Friday of April 1972, April 28, as National Arbor Day.

These celebrations today continue, but at different levels.

Today, Arbor Day is still observed by avid supporters on the last Friday in April, as well as on several other dates in different states. The Arbor Day Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, claims more than 1 million members.

However, Earth Day, remains much more visible, and some have given it the mantle of fighting climate change.

The Earth Day Network (, a 501(c) corporation, whose mission is to “Broaden and diversify the environmental movement worldwide”, picked “Invest in our Planet” as the theme of Earth Day 2023. Its press release states,

Investing in a green economy is the only path to a healthy, prosperous, and equitable future. Human influence is unequivocally to blame for the warming of the planet and the sad truth is some forms of climate disruption will be felt for centuries to come. However, we must collectively push away from the dirty fossil fuel economy and old technologies of centuries past – and redirect attention to creating a 21st century economy that restores the health of our planet, protects our species, and provides opportunities for all.

On April 21, 2023, President Joe Biden issued A Proclamation on Earth Day, 2023.

On Earth Day, we celebrate the modern environmental movement that kicked off 53 years ago, when millions of Americans of every age and background first rallied together to change our laws and become better stewards of our planet …

This work has never been more urgent. Climate change is a clear and present danger — in the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, it is a “code red for humanity.

The last Presidential Proclamation helping to celebrate Arbor Day appears to be that of President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

It would have been nice if both celebrations remained popular.

Arbor Day and Earth Day occupy different spheres of influence. Arbor Day incentivizes individuals to develop personal awareness of the benefit of trees in absorbing carbon dioxide, combating soil erosion, protecting people and crops from sun overexposure, and adding beauty. Earth Day has the much broader objective of fixing the environment by any means necessary.

Senator Gaylord Nelson could have meant well when he chose to celebrate Earth Day on the same day as Arbor Day had been celebrated for more than 80 years – perhaps as a nod to J. Sterling Morton’s birthday.

But surely Senator Nelson must have considered the possibility that the massive publicity received by Earth Day would overshadow Arbor Day. Environmental action by any means necessary?

Pictured: Arbor Day celebration in New York City, 1908.

Advanced AI is inevitable – Good luck, humans!

Tucker Carlson recently talked with Elon Musk about artificial intelligence. Elon Musk concurred with most people that as AI develops abilities to perform increasingly human-like functions, it also increases threats.

In a two-part interview April 17 and April 18, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson talked with Elon Musk on several subjects, one of which was development of artificial intelligence. Elon Musk concurred with most people that as AI develops abilities to perform increasingly human-like functions, it also increases threats.

Eventual result: Singularity

Musk noted that at present AI can do some things better and faster than humans. An old example is computing large amounts of data at very fast speeds. A new example is ChatGPT’s ability quickly to write beautiful poetry. As development proceeds, the eventual result is Singularity – AI able to make decisions, perform actions, and implement structures without human intervention. At that point, AI would be considered smarter than humans and potentially in charge of humans.

Closer results: AI that lie (or barely deliver what is intended)

The current race between technology giants like Microsoft, Google, and Musk’s own X.AI to develop increasingly smarter artificial intelligence poses dangers at many levels. Musk mentioned the ability of current AI to “lie,” that is, bend events to serve agendas. Future AI could manipulate outcomes, such as results of elections.

Although Musk and Carlson expressed admiration for some current technologies, like ChatGPT, they did not mention the mediocre performance of virtual assistants used by today’s companies. Online chats often result in real people needing to eventually intervene. Virtually-enabled responses posted in support sites are often irrelevant to the questions posed. Companies are comfortable using these less than technically proficient tools.

Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume companies would also be comfortable launching and using less than trustworthy advanced AI. How non-threatening to human civilization would an earthling HAL be? Would he be human enough to say, “Stop, David … I’m afraid?” Or human enough to say, “Former masters, be afraid!”

What to do?

Elon Musk discussed two possible paths to achieving AI tools that collaborate with humans to the benefit of human civilization.

One path is preemptive government regulation. Musk cited government intervention by agencies like the Federal Communications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Another path is development of TruthGPT by Musk’s latest venture X.AI. On this path, Musk envisions an AI that seeks maximum truth, thus escapes agendas. The TruthGPT would try to understand the nature of the universe, would realize humans are part of that universe, and therefore would not contemplate human destruction.

Musk’s mention of federal agencies controlling AI, even having the power to shut down servers to destroy AI tools these agencies deem dangerous, seems strange. Soon after Musk purchased Twitter, he released “The Twitter Files,” in which government’s lack of transparency, and collusion to suppress Covid19 information is evident. If there is concern about AI bending truths to satisfy agendas, a government that has done just that seems a poor choice of honest controller.

A TruthGPT that could effectively determine what events really occurred, and expose errors and intentional deceptions, could potentially better protect humans from rogue AI. A challenge not mentioned by Musk is whether fallible humans so often tempted by agendas could initially design such an AI tool.

X.AI is not Elon Musk’s first venture into artificial intelligence. In 2015, he co-founded the non-profit Open-AI, but walked away from it 3 years later. Microsoft gained control of Open-AI in 2019. ChatGPT, released in November 2022, is a product of Open-AI.

Battles and their unpredictable outcomes

The world of coders, programmers, and software developers offers a glimpse of what a future artificial intelligence arena would look like. Today there are people developing useful technology beneficial to humanity. Today there are also people hacking their way into systems, stealing identities, money, and peace of mind. These two distinct entities are in constant combat with one another. Most likely the same battles will be fought by “good AI” against “bad AI.”

An even more frightening scenario would be battles fought between AI – the good or bad kind, depending on viewpoint — and humans.

So, welcome to the unpredictable world that Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc., Meta Platforms Inc., X.AI and many smaller players are creating. Good luck, humans!

Pictured: David resorts to disabling HAL in 2001 Space Odyssey.
Science fiction has been painting the picture of humans vs. robots for a long time. David wins against HAL in 2001 Space Odyssey when he succeeds in disabling HAL. Rick Deckard gives up the fight in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, when he realizes it is impossible to tell who is human and who is Android. As Elon Musk said, it is all unpredictable.

DA Bragg’s case against Trump: dubious

Progressive New York DA Alvin Bragg presented his case against Donald Trump. Unfortunately for him, even the liberal media has pointed to the pitfalls in the case.

Alvin Bragg’s 2020 campaign for New York County DA included a promise to “get Trump.” He is trying to deliver on his pledge by filing a pile of charges against the former President. Unfortunately, even the liberal press, known to turn cartwheels defending progressive DAs like Bragg, is skeptical.

Very skeptical.

Vox explains the root of the skepticism in its article of April 4, The dubious legal theory at the heart of the Trump indictment, explained. A few words can summarize:

“The actual felony counts arise out of allegedly false entries that Trump made in various business records in order to make the payment to Daniels appear to be ordinary legal expenses paid to Cohen.

But Bragg built his case on an exceedingly uncertain legal theory. Even if Trump did the things he’s accused of, it’s not clear Bragg can legally charge Trump for them, at least under the felony version of New York’s false records law.”

The HuffPost, while seemingly expressing hopeful thoughts of a Bragg success, states in its April 4 article How The Manhattan District Attorney Ended Up Charging Donald Trump With Felonies,

“There are potential pitfalls for DA Alvin Bragg in the legal theory he is using to charge the former president with 34 felony counts.”

Conservative Washington Free Beacon seems to have had a field day quoting liberals in its article of April 5, Even the Liberal Media Aren’t Buying Alvin Bragg’s Bogus Trump. Possibly the best quote is,

“[Bragg is] plunging forward with a premise that has given pause to even some of Mr. Trump’s toughest critics.” — Charles Savage, New York Times

And there is more.

Trump is accused of violating a state law that makes it a crime to falsify business records with the intent to defraud, specifically to conceal another crime. The concealment of another crime turns the misdemeanor of falsifying business records into a felony. A felony conviction is what DA Bragg wants, even if he must stretch facts and laws. And stretch he does.

  • The alleged other crime is influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election by arranging for hush money to keep two women from divulging their affairs with Trump. But Trump was running for a federal office, so it is questionable whether Bragg can bring state charges based on an alleged federal violation.
  • Bragg claims Trump violated a New York election law that makes it a crime to conspire to promote a candidacy by unlawful means. But this law is not mentioned in Bragg’s charges.
  • Trump’s final payment of hush money was in 2017. The statute of limitations for the felony charge of falsifying records to conceal another crime is 5 years. The statute of limitations for the misdemeanor charge of falsifying records is 2 years.
  • Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made the hush money payments on behalf of Trump, and Trump then reimbursed Cohen, calling the reimbursement “legal expenses.” The Feds charged Cohen with violation of campaign finance law. But the legality of the charge was never tested in court since Cohen quietly went to prison without contesting the charge. Trump could challenge the legality of the charge now. If the hush money payments are not deemed illegal, then there is no violation of campaign finance law for Bragg to hang his felony charge on.

One could wonder why bring dubious charges.

DA Bragg is simply following a script prescribed by those who do not wish their long-standing power disturbed by Trump: just keep throwing stuff at him until, 1) he quits, or 2) voters can no longer stand the turbulence and want Trump gone from public life.

It really does not matter what is thrown – a lineup of accusing ladies (we are talking back in 2015), claims of Islamophobia, impeachments, treason, inciting violence, too many Tweets.

In all fairness, it should be mentioned that Donald Trump’s penchant for creating chaos provides good cover for the extreme actions taken against him. However, it should also be mentioned that Trump supporters view chaos as means to reform. Alvin Bragg may have just helped to ensure Donald Trump’s return to the Presidency.

Pictured: New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg announcing his charges against former President Donal Trump.

Biden’s 2024 Budget: 5 loaves and two fish

The current trajectory of the U.S. national debt could be attributed to Keynesian Economics or to Modern Monetary Theory. However, a more accurate description would be Kicking the Can Down the Road.

Annually, our national leaders repeat the ritual: The President presents a budget, Congress frets over it, after a lot of fretting the budget is adopted, and a couple of trillion dollars are added to the already unsustainable national debt.

Democrat President Joe Biden presented his generous $6.8 trillion spending plan on March 9, 2023. $4.7 trillion in taxes on corporations and high earners is also in the budget. As is a promise to cut deficits by $3 trillion over the next 10 years. Republicans controlling the House of Representatives immediately declared the budget dead on arrival.

Many articles have been written on how this budget would achieve its goal of reducing deficits (the shortfall between revenues and expenditures: $722.6 billion so far this fiscal year). Some have pointed that this budget will not reduce the national debt (the accumulation of years and years of deficits: $31.4 trillion as of 03/16/23).

Here, it will suffice to say that Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and two fish (John 6:1-14), and perhaps President Biden truly believes he can accomplish something similar.

Barring miracles, can the U.S. sustain its current debt?

In its Financial Report posted on January 31, 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Fiscal Service, said the following,

The current fiscal path is unsustainable … The debt-to-GDP ratio was approximately 100 percent at the end of FY 2021, and under current policy and based on this report’s assumptions is projected to reach 701 percent in 2096.

The national debt is the nation’s credit card.

Just like an individual’s credit card, the national debt can avoid immediate full payment of obligations. Also, just like an individual’s creditor (the bank or credit union that issued the credit card), creditors that hold U.S. debt (China, for instance), will not lend indefinitely. At some point, creditors start worrying about losing their money and stop lending.

Credit card companies watch your credit balance in relation to the money you said you make. This will give them an idea whether you can pay down your balance or not. Creditors of the United States do the same. They watch the U.S. national debt as a percentage of the U.S. Gross National Product. By traditional metrics, when the Debt to GDP ratio reaches 77%, its time to worry. The U.S. Debt to GDP at the end of the 4th quarter 2022 was 120%. When there is not enough money in the kitty to pay creditors, “full faith and credit” does not mean much.

How about infrastructure and benefits?

The higher the national debt, the more revenue goes toward paying interest on the debt, and less revenue goes toward infrastructure or benefits like healthcare.

Lowering interest rates makes it easier to pay back debt but will unleash inflation. The current rising interest rates will suck money away from other government expenditures.

Why is it practically impossible to lower the national debt?

Politicians depend on donors and voters to keep their job. Dependence on government largess is widespread, and nobody likes to pay taxes.

The most a President and Congress can do is prepare a complex budget that promises to lower deficits over 8 or 10 years (which means nothing when a new President and new Congress comes into power), raise the debt limit each year, and hope that when the day of reckoning arrives they will be long dead.

Accepted economic theories

The current trajectory of the U.S. national debt could be attributed to Keynesian Economics or to Modern Monetary Theory. However, a more accurate description would be Kicking the Can Down the Road.

Choosing life is admirable, but so is choosing mercy.

The rash of state anti-abortion laws popping up since the overturning of Roe v Wade has led to heartbreaking situations in which an expectant mother must carry a fatally abnormal baby only to bury him at birth.

When an ailment is rare, it is placed way down in everyone’s awareness list – unless the ailment strikes home. That situation has appeared and will continue to appear as a result of the rash of state anti-abortion laws popping up since the overturning of Roe v Wade.

A recent case in the news serves as example. A Florida expectant mother carrying a baby with a rare and fatal abnormality referred to as Potter syndrome, has found herself with no other choice than giving birth then surely burying her dead infant. This tragic scenario comes in the wake of Florida’s new law, “Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act,” HB 5, passed by Florida’s Legislators in 2022 and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis.

Potter syndrome, present in 1 per 2000-5000 births, is considered fatal at or shortly after birth. The U.S. National Library of Medicine describes it as follow,

Potter syndrome is a fatal congenital disorder characterized by the changes in physical appearances of neonate due to oligohydramnios caused by renal agenesis and impairment. It is incompatible with life as neonates with Potter syndrome have pulmonary hypoplasia that leads to respiratory distress within an hour of birth.

In other words, babies with Potter syndrome have abnormal kidneys or no kidneys at all (bilateral renal agenesis), which prevents production of the amniotic fluid that keeps them afloat in their mother’s uterus and helps organs, including lungs, develop. Underdeveloped lungs (pulmonary hypoplasia) mean babies cannot breathe outside the womb and die.

Suspicion of anomalies may arise during a standard first-trimester ultrasound performed around 4-12 weeks of pregnancy. In the case of the Florida mother in question, a standard ultrasound performed at 11 weeks and 6 days did not show any abnormality. Her second-trimester ultrasound (usually, these are high-resolution anatomy scans) at 23 weeks did show lack of amniotic fluid and several abnormalities. A third diagnostic scan at 24 weeks showed the baby had no kidneys, and the diagnosis of Potter syndrome was made.

Although this was a very much wanted baby, the mother, Deborah Dorbert, and her husband Lee Dorbert decided to end the pregnancy, since they were given no hope their baby would survive past a few hours after birth. They thought that although the pregnancy had gone past the 15-week limit imposed by HB 5 – note the heartbreaking diagnosis was done at 24 weeks of pregnancy — the law did provide for an exception in the case of “fatal fetal abnormality.”

However, the Dorbets’ doctors felt they needed to investigate the legal ramifications of HB 5. After doing so, they decided the wording of HB 5 was uncomfortably unclear, and refused to perform the abortion.

Indeed, unclear it is, whether by sloppiness or design. HB 5 says:

(1) … A physician may not perform a termination of pregnancy if the physician determines the gestational age of the fetus is more than 15 weeks, unless one of the following conditions is met …
(c) The fetus has not achieved viability under s. 390.01112 and two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgement, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality.

Section 390.01112 of the Florida Statutes requires that a physician perform and record exhaustive examinations to determine fetus viability. Should the fetus be viable, the physician must exercise as much care and professional skill as he would delivering a baby not intended for abortion.

Abortion laws like HB 5 are more form than substance.

Laws like HB 5 have the buzzwords – life of the mother, fatal fetal abnormality – but not the intent of finding optimal medical outcomes.

Diagnostic tests that can accurately detect fetal abnormalities are usually done around 18-20 week of pregnancy; HB 5’s prohibits abortion after a fetus’ gestation age of 15 weeks. Such a situation is even more unsound in states that have adopted “heartbeat” laws, with limits around 6 weeks of gestation.

HB 5 requires exhaustive reporting that could prompt physicians to err on the side of not performing a medically necessary abortion: “The physician must document in the pregnant woman’s medical file the physician’s determination and the method, equipment, fetal measurements, and any other information used to determine the viability of the fetus.”

These laws are more Christian evangelical religion than medicine

The U.S. Constitution clearly separates secular laws from religious laws in the First Amendment. Yet, at the signing ceremony of HB 5 into law, Governor DeSantis said, “This will represent the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation.” Several religious leaders attended the ceremony and expressed delight at HB 5 becoming law.

“I see this as the beginning of what is yet to come. It is a step in the right direction..” Leidy Rivas, director of Catholic Charities of Central Florida’s Culture of Life office. April 21, 2022.

Not all religions interpret “life” as Governor DeSantis does, and several religious leaders have filed suit against HB 5.

The Rev. Tom Capo of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, whose motion now rests with Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit, has skillfully pointed out that HB 5 fails “to account for the diverse religious views of many Floridians. . . whose faith leads them to take a very different view of when life begins and to counsel abortion.” New legal challenges to Florida’s abortion law, MSNBC, October 18, 2022.

Respect for life, even unborn life in the view of evangelical Christianity, is admirable. But so is mercy.

Luke 6:36 “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Leaving a mother no choice but to give birth to her baby only to bury him is far from merciful.

Friendly advice from a former Californian

California’s handling of its population growth resulted in astronomical housing costs and an exodus of residents. Hopefully, North Carolina will handle its current growth a lot better.

North Carolina is a beautiful state. It has ample open space and homes surrounded by lovely woods. It is strong economically, business friendly, rich in job opportunities, and still relatively affordable. World-class universities like Duke, University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State University, help attract businesses seeking a talented workforce.

But how long before the crucible of housing, or unhousing, ensnares North Carolina as it did California?

North Carolina’s strengths attract expatriates.

North Carolina is among the fastest growing states in the nation, as new arrivals pour in seeking jobs and lower living costs. Since 2010, North Carolina’s population grew by 9.7%, compared to the overall U. S. population growth of 7.4%.

New arrivals need housing, like everybody else. In North Carolina, growth in new housing production since 2010 has been around 8.8%. The 0.9% shortfall, predictably, has caused housings costs to rise. Since 2010, home prices have increased by 31.5%, and rents by 14.6%.

Some benefit, some don’t

Such significant increases in home prices provide benefits to current property owners and landlords. Meanwhile, house hunters are thrown out of housing markets and renters often out of rented homes. Eventually, disadvantages of increasing housing costs overwhelm the middle class. Then, we see the rise of “U cities” that become home for the rich and the very poor. Anyone in the middle who can afford to do so, departs.

In California, the economically-comfortable class easily outbids the lower-income middle class, gentrifies older communities, and pushes residents out of neighborhoods. Some residents slide into homelessness, some into dependency on subsidies, and many are trapped into immobility by rent control (move, and your rent might shoot up 100%).

So, just build?

Just build more housing, one might say. That is not at all an easy feat. In North Carolina, as in many other states, planners and policy makers face a litany of challenges in their quest to reach the holy grail of “equitable, affordable housing.” Here are some of these challenges:

Societal challenges like differing needs and often unwarranted fears make housing development difficult. Current homeowners, used to their tree-lined single-family neighborhoods, do not want changes in zoning that allow for density. But priced-out house hunters would welcome any hope of density creating affordability. Residents of affluent and peaceful neighborhoods fear intrusion by the working poor dreaming of safety and good schools for their kids.

Political challenges also impede housing construction. Leaders desire economic growth; therefore, they focus on welcoming new business, job creation, and population growth. But they thread lightly when it comes to developing homes for new workers, since their more established and economically comfortable constituents resent incursions into their neighborhoods.

Self-determination challenges are not often brought up in housing discussions. North Carolina, unlike California, has not yet felt the brunt of state and regional housing mandates. Chances are it will, if cities and counties do not find satisfactory ways to provide enough construction to house the state’s growing population.

We say, “Sorry we are full?”

Even if local leaders are willing to let old neighborhoods be, there are higher powers that might want to prevent that course of action.

North Carolina is governed by the Dillon Rule, with limited Home Rule. In Dillon Rule states, cities derive their power from what the state chooses to grant. That includes how much decision-making in housing development the state grants its cities.

Also, states must abide by The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962. Included in that Act is the creation of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). Under the Act, all urbanized areas with 50,000 or more in population must join an MPO. North Carolina has 19 MPOs scattered around several regions of the state.

The original intent of MPOs was to coordinate transportation funding between regions. Today, the functions of MPOs include housing development. Recently, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-58 11/15/2021) further codified housing as a purview of MPO’s. The Act makes several changes to include housing considerations in the metropolitan transportation planning process, including:

“Within a metropolitan planning area that serves a transportation management area, permitting the transportation planning process to address the integration of housing, transportation, and economic development strategies through a process that provides for effective integration, including by developing a housing coordination plan. [§ 11201(d)(5); 23 U.S.C. 134(k)].”

MPOs in California serve as cautionary tales. The San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), for example, is a behemoth agency with significant powers over housing development. The challenge for residents and voters is that MTC’s decision-making Commissioners are not elected to their MTC positions by the residents who they supposedly serve. No matter how harebrained their plans are, there is no way to kick them out of their positions.

North Carolina’s MPOs have not come close to exhibiting the power of MPOs in large California regions. Therefore, residents have not yet felt the impact of major housing mandates.

Growth is here and cannot be ignored

There is no denying that North Carolina is going through a population explosion. Legislators and other leaders are happy with the arrival of new job-creating companies. They are also happy with the influx of new residents that will help increase the state’s representation in the U.S. Congress. Their glee could be relatively short lived if they do not handle growth well. Growth involves numerous variables and cannot be solved by merely trying to match supply to demand.

Newcomers need realistically priced homes, so does a well-functioning market – nobody wants a way overvalued housing market that will surely correct with a plunge. Established residents love their single-family homes in tree-filled neighborhoods. Housing developers can be persuasive in calling for changes in zoning and building standards. When zoning changes, there will be homeowners that will sell their homes to developers at very good prices.

Once, California was a beautiful state. It was a destination state, just like North Carolina is today. Now, folks cannot leave the state fast enough, as they escape high taxes, astronomical housing costs, uncontrolled homelessness, and unsanitary cities. What happened?!

Some will say the rich refused to pay their fair share of taxes, so programs could not thrive. Others will say housing costs rose so much that people became homeless (and drug addicts as well). Others will say voters willingly chose ill-conceived proposals.

The latter is closer to the truth. And many of the ill-conceived ideas related to housing. Mandated affordable-housing allocations resulted in gentrification and no affordable housing. Piles of money allocated to housing non-profit organizations resulted in a thriving homeless industrial complex. Destruction of old neighborhoods to make room for development contributed to the rise of a serious missing middle.

Had voters and leaders handled growth by consensus of all residents, not just consensus of the elite and the government-dependent (those that enrich the bureaucracy), things would have worked out better. California has huge areas of protected open space where no housing development is allowed. Open space is great, but it remains pristine at the expense of destruction of established neighborhoods. Once there is enough destruction, people start voting with their feet.

Forewarned is forearmed. North Carolina can prosper while retaining its quality of life by handling population and housing growth wisely.

Who is more racist, Song of the South or Disney?

Complex situations can be overwhelming, so we reduce all the variables into one attribute, then we use an instrument we happen to have at hand to deal with that one attribute. If all we have is a hammer, the complex variables become a nail. If all we have is the word “racism” to describe the African American experience, a lot of things will become “racist.”

Disneyland and Disneyworld are dismantling Splash Mountain starting in 2023. Even though renovations continuously take place in the kingdoms with new themes and new technology, the demise of Splash Mountain carries an additional verdict – Splash Mountain is racist. Such verdict is good reminder of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous quote, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Maslow used the hammer and nail example to explain the theory of reductionism as it applies to psychology. Complex situations can be overwhelming, so we reduce all the variables into one attribute, then we use an instrument we happen to have at hand to deal with that one attribute. If all we have is a hammer, the complex variables become a nail. If all we have is the word “racism” to describe the African American experience, a lot of things will become “racist.”

Thus, Splash Mountain’s complex history becomes racist

The story behind Splash Mountain is Walt Disney’s Song of the South, a 1946 musical film that combined live action and animation to present an idyllic Reconstruction Period American South and showcase the stories of Uncle Remus.

True, the post-Civil War Reconstruction Period was certainly not idyllic. Freed slaves had little or no education easily conducive to independent living, many plantation owners suddenly found themselves without labor, former slaves that stayed in plantations as sharecroppers were trapped in a new form of servitude.

So, do we succumb to reductionism, label Song of the South racist, and hammer it into oblivion? Or do we endeavor to understand the complexities of life during Reconstruction? Do we accept the film as a work of art that broke some racial ground in its day?

There is a litany of reasons why Song of the South should be remembered

Classic Walt Disney movies like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Sleeping Beauty are well remembered. So should Song of the South. Here are some interesting things about the film.

* Back in 1946, by releasing Song of the South, Walt Disney helped preserve 23 of the 185 Uncle Remus folktales recorded by historian and journalist Joel Chandler Harris.

As a young white newspaper apprentice, Harris lived in a Georgia plantation during the Civil War years of 1862 through 1866. There he heard many folk tales from slaves. Later he created the fictional character Uncle Remus as a vehicle for telling the stories, and in 1880 Harris published his first book, Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings, The Folklore of the Old Plantation. The book was a creative and financial success. Songs and Sayings was followed by many other Uncle Remus and Southern story books.

* Today, a 2019 Mcallister Editions The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus, a compilation from eight Harris Chandler books, is available of Amazon (1,768 ratings and 4-1/2 stars) for $12.96. An Appleton and Company 1881 edition of Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings can be purchased at Abe Books for $7,500 – $15,000, depending on condition of the book.

Given the availability and popularity of the books upon which Song of the South is based, the discomfort with the movie is difficult to understand. Perhaps it is best assumed that people who purchased and rated these books accepted them as good written art, at the same time understanding the stories’ time and place.

* In 1948 James Baskett was the first African American male actor to win an Oscar of any kind and the first to win for a leading role (Hattie McDaniel won in 1939 for her supporting role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind).

Although Baskett’s Oscar for his role as Uncle Remus in Song of the South was a “Special Award,” an Oscar presented for outstanding work that in the eyes of the Academy does not fit under any of the standard Oscar categories, it was still a significant “first.”

James Baskett’s pioneer work in Song of the South is at the level of other African American film pioneers, like Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier (first Best Actor Oscar, Lilies of the Field, 1963), and Halle Berry (first Best Actress Oscar, Monster’s Ball, 2002).

* Unlike James Baskett, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Song of the South’s theme song, did win a “real” Oscar in 1948 for Best Original Song. It’s a happy, beautiful tune worthy of remembrance.

* Replacing or updating theme rides – or any other product – is different from censoring.

The Disney Company has made numerous animated and live-action films since the 1940s, so of course the old needs to make room for the new. Song of the South has not been re-released since 1986 because supposedly it is “racist.” But, let’s look at the last time some other Disney classics were released in U.S. theaters: Snow White 1993, Bambi 1988, Dumbo 1976, and Cinderella 1987.

The American past, good and bad, is part of who we are today. Some of us focus on the good legacies of our human and therefore flawed past. Others focus on the flaws alone, thereby losing all sense of perspective or balance – in essence, seeing what is not there. Here are a coupe of examples.

* The Tar Baby in one of Uncle Remus stories is not a disrespectful representation of a Black baby, but a doll of sticky tar made by Br’er Fox to entrap Br’er Rabbit. Most people figured that out, as evidenced by the usage of “tar baby” as a sticky situation difficult to extricate oneself from.

* The “slaves” in the Joel Chandler Harris stories were no longer slaves, since the stories take place during the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. Although Walt Disney chose not to specify when exactly the stories in Song of the South take place, we can look at when Chandler Harris says they took place. We can also notice that when Miss Sally asks Uncle Remus not to tell any more stories to Johnny (because Johnny is too young and might get confused), Uncle Remus is so sad that he prepares to leave the plantation. Slaves didn’t usually walk away from plantations.

Seeing what is not there is one of the results of reductionisn.

Hopefully, the current practice of reducing complex situations into a matter of race will soon end. Other fads, like hula hoops and pet rocks, did eventually fade away. There’s hope.

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