Maine Writer

Its about people and issues I care about.

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Location: Topsham, MAINE, United States

My blogs are dedicated to the issues I care about. Thank you to all who take the time to read something I've written.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Science - facts are evident: reject Cretionism

Misguided individuals would have me believe in the hoaxes perpetrated by Bible Fundamentalists who believe that Noah actually existed as the lucky survivor of a flood.

Science is no hoax!
My opinion: Creationists who believe in a literal interpretation of the Old Testament in the Bible, are ignorant. Albert Einstein wrote in his famous God Letter:  "The Bible is a ‘a collection of primitive legends’". Although I can understand Einstein's point of view, I don't necessarily believe the entire Bible is a collection of legends.  Nevertheless, I believe most of the Old Testament Bible are oral histories, documented by many translations.)

If so, it was sinful of Noah to hypothesize that all the drowned humans were not redeemable sinners. (Old Testament interpretation.)

But I agree, the Biblical begats going back 6400 years only supports a hypothesis that this is when Jewish tribes began writing stuff down.

Since the development of oceans and atmosphere, millions of years ago, there undoubtedly have been innumerable floods throughout earth’s history. It is plate tectonics and orogeny* that have uplifted and pushed marine sediments and fossils up thousands of feet above sea level, not floods.

Although the occurrence of extremely large prehistoric floods, such as the ones creating the Channelled Scablands of eastern Washington, have been identified and scientifically proven, not one true scientist has proven the existence of a world-wide flood.

Scientists do not have, nor may never have all the answers, but at least they keep trying to find them instead of resorting to unquestionably false stories told in the Bible.

All scientific hypotheses and theories are testable by experimentation, are open for review, questioning, retesting, reinterpretation, given new relevant findings.

Scientific theories result from thorough testing of testable hypotheses. Except human errors that have not yet been discovered and corrected, scientific facts as we currently know them are true, whether or not you want to believe them.

(In other words, people are entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts.)

Assuming God created all matter, this includes radioactive isotopes which decay at a predictable rate and prove the Earth is over 4.5 billion years old.

The rate of geological events and change ranges from the nearly instantaneous (big bang) to the moderate rate of evolution to the agonizingly slow radioactive decay of certain isotopes.

There is not one thing that is scientifically true nor testable about James Ussher’s contention that the Earth is about 6,400 years old.
(MaineWriter- It's a ludicrous point of view for anyone to believe the ridiculous claim that the earth is only 6,400 years old....utterly ignorant!)

By the way, today the crust of the earth is an open rift at the divergent tectonic plate boundaries at mid-ocean ridges. Yet, the water does not drain away from the currently flooded ocean basins.

Makes me wonder how Noah’s worldwide flood could have drained away. I’m feeling giddyish about a potential scientific hypothesis about this!

I am proud to be an evolutionary decedent of a common ancestor of apes, and not a descent of Noah’s (Biblical) inbred, extremely limited gene pool. 

I am served by the scientific method.  From Bryan Hill, Skandia

Process in which a section of the earth's crust is folded and deformed by lateral compression to form a mountain range.

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Hurrican Maria and Puerto Rico recovery - rebuilding in spite of cruel "paper towels"

"We are trying to help those who really need help — those who can’t get it from anyone else."

"We wanted to do something to make life better than it was before."

One can only hope that Donald Trump's cruel image of him throwing paper towels to the desperate Puerto Rican Americans  after Hurricane Maria, will be overcome by the humanitarian relief provided by Rotarians.

A cruel Trumponian image:
Trump was irritated by video footage of him throwing rolls of paper towels to a crowd of relief workers on the island, according to The Washington Post. The footage prompted accusations that Trump lacks empathy. (Image published in Business Insider)
Published in February 2019, The Rotarian magazine by Vanessa Glavinskas with photographs by Alyce Henson

A year after the Category 5, Hurricane Maria* tore through Puerto Rico, local Rotary members continue to rebuild homes and lives.

Eladio Montalvo faced a stark choice: risk drowning in his one-story home or climb through a window into the house next door. It was under construction but had a second floor where he could escape the rising floodwaters. He boosted his dog through and scrambled in after him. The two huddled inside an upstairs bathroom for 22 hours while Hurricane Maria raged over Puerto Rico. With 155 mph winds and torrential rains, Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in more than 80 years.

After the storm, Montalvo went out to see what was left of the home he had lived in since 1958. The walls were standing, but the water inside had risen chest-high. Everything was destroyed. Without any family nearby, he had nowhere to go. He moved into his car.

"But after the storm came the calm," he says. "Good people came."

Faustino Rivera pats Montalvo affectionately on the shoulder. It’s September 2018, a year since Hurricane Maria, and Rivera and several other members of the Rotary Club of Mayagüez have stopped by to visit. Montalvo lives in a fishing town called El Maní outside the city of Mayagüez on the island’s west coast. He invites his guests inside to see the progress he has made adding a shower to his bathroom. There’s a pile of tiles that he plans to lay soon, and he has started painting the walls a light shade of blue. The home is neatly but sparsely furnished: a bed, a TV, and a few plastic bins, including one labeled camisas that has shirts and shorts tucked inside.

"He’s become my friend," says Rotarian Orlando Carlo, who checks in on Montalvo almost every week.

The Mayagüez club paid $4,200 for the materials Montalvo used to add a second story to his home. Made of concrete, outfitted with hurricane shutters, and built high enough off the ground to avoid flooding, the new addition contains a small kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Montalvo did much of the work himself, calling on friends and neighbors skilled in construction when he needed help.

To find people like Montalvo who needed help but didn’t qualify for reconstruction aid from the U.S. government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mayagüez club members worked with community leaders and screened each family. "We are trying to help those who really need help," Carlo explains. "Those who can’t get it from anyone else."

By the time Carlo met him, Montalvo had been living in his car for nearly six months. A local church leader introduced the two, hoping Rotarians could help Montalvo find permanent housing. "I could tell immediately that he was severely dehydrated from staying out in the sun and sleeping in his car," Carlo says. 

"He seemed stunned and needed guidance on how to start rebuilding. We assured him we were there to help him."

After the hurricane, Carlo was also living alone. His wife had gone to stay in Florida while he remained behind to run his construction business. But the lack of electricity and reliable communication meant his work projects were stalled, so he mostly spent his days volunteering. "It gave me a lot of time to help," he says. His home survived the storm, but the shortage of gasoline meant he had to plan his trips carefully. He rationed bottled water and food, eating what he calls a "hurricane diet" of canned pasta or sausage and rice.

"We didn’t have power back until the end of October," says Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, president of the Mayagüez club. "We could use one bucket of water per day. My teenage daughter learned that water is the No. 1 thing you need. She could live without electricity and even without her cellphone, but not without water."

Mayagüez is home to 75,000 people and to the island’s second-oldest Rotary club after San Juan. In the past, the club carried out smaller projects, but the massive devastation caused by Maria motivated members to do more to help their neighbors, especially the very poor.

"I’ve been a Rotarian for 40 years, and I’ve never seen so much help come from other Rotary clubs," Carlo says. After Hurricane Maria, clubs across the United States wired the Rotary Club of Mayagüez about $50,000 directly; more than half of that money came from the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle in California and a group of clubs in New York. As club treasurer, Rivera keeps track of every receipt and sends updates back to the donor clubs. A year after Maria, the club had helped 22 families repair their homes, mostly replacing roofs that were blown off by the hurricane.

Scanning the horizon from a hillside neighborhood nicknamed Felices Días — "Happy Days" — Carlo points out a less-than-happy sight: the many blue FEMA tarps that still stand in for permanent roofs. "There is still a lot of need here. This is not over," he says. "But we are willing to continue to help as long as it takes." And for Montalvo’s part, he has remained optimistic in spite of all he went through. 

"Hurricane Maria gave me more than she took," he says.

When Ken McGrath became president of the Rotary Club of San Juan in July 2017, he thought his most arduous task would be planning the celebration of the club’s centennial in 2018. Three months after he took office, Hurricane Maria hit.

"While Maria was a major disaster," McGrath says, "it had the beneficial effect of invigorating our club to show those in need the real meaning of Rotary."

By the time he was able to get an internet connection and check his email, McGrath had received 200 messages from clubs around the world offering to help. Rotarians in Puerto Rico started distributing food and water every Saturday. Working with other clubs, they coordinated the distribution of 300,000 pouches of baby food. They even put dog food out for animals that had been left behind.

Once the immediate needs were under control, they started to think about long-term relief.

"So much of the damage isn’t only to the infrastructure; it’s to the spirit," says John Richardson, a member of the San Juan club and a past district governor. To address mental health after the hurricane, fellow member Bob Bolte suggested the club do something unconventional: apply for a grant to support youth theater.

Bolte had met Antonio Morales in 1995 when the San Juan club installed a library in the housing project where Morales grew up. He was impressed to see that Morales, who was just 14 at the time, was running a theater group for other kids living in his tough neighborhood.

"Theater saved my life," says Morales, now a 37-year-old actor and director. "My father was a drug lord. My mother was a victim of domestic violence."

Even though his father had forbidden him to pursue acting, Morales persuaded his mother to secretly take him to an audition at the public performing arts school. "Everything I learned at school, I brought back to the projects," he says.

Eventually his theater group became an unlikely alternative to gangs in his neighborhood. "When boys reach a certain age, it’s very easy for them to join the drug gangs," Morales says. "We told them, ‘Come join our club, not them.’ Even the leaders of the gangs supported me. They didn’t want their little brothers to follow in their footsteps."

After the hurricane, Morales, who now runs the San Juan Drama Company and stars in a TV series called No Me Compares, started visiting housing projects with other actors to spread a message of hope and resilience to young people. "People were desperate. They were bored. They were depressed," he says. "We decided to go into these communities to give love. We didn’t have aid kits, food, or water to give — but we had our theater experience. So we said, ‘Let’s go and make these people happy.’" With schools closed and the power out, teens turned out in droves.

When Bolte learned what Morales was doing, he suggested Rotary could help. "These theater groups provide almost a second family to a lot of the kids," Bolte says. "I wanted to help him do this on a wider scale, across multiple neighborhoods." A $99,700 global grant has allowed Morales to expand the project to four theater groups so far and to pay a stipend to the facilitators of each group. Funding for the grant came from Bob Murray, a former San Juan club member who now lives in Arizona, where he’s a member of the Rotary Club of Scottsdale. In December 2017, Murray gave $1 million to The Rotary Foundation for the recovery effort.

Morales calls the project Teatro Por Amor, or Theater for Love.

Every Wednesday, the Santurce Teatro Por Amor group meets on the second floor of Federico Asenjo school. The sounds of laughter and cheering can be heard from down the hall as students, ranging in age from 11 to mid-20s, perform an improv exercise. Five members of the group squat down in the front of the room, and when the director yells "arriba," whoever stands up has to improvise a routine together. One boy stands up alone, so he takes off his shoe to pretend it’s a phone. He tells off the friend who "called," and the room erupts in laughter and applause.

"You come here and you’re not in the streets," says 18-year-old Nandyshaliz Alejandro, who lives in the same housing project where Morales grew up. This is her first theater experience. "This is one of the few things I actually look forward to."

Felix Juan Osorio lifts the corner of his mattress. The underside is rippled with brown water stains, and it smells of mold. One year after Hurricane Maria flooded the family’s home, the mattress is still wet, but they can’t afford a new one.

"I never thought mattresses would be the No. 1 request," says Armand Piqué, a member of the Rotary Club of San Juan.

Piqué has been working in Loíza, a town not far from San Juan where the Osorio family lives, since he learned people in the area weren’t getting the help they needed.

"There are certain areas where it is difficult to get in if you don’t know someone," Piqué explains, adding that drug trafficking can make it dangerous for strangers to enter certain parts of Loíza. The Villa Santo neighborhood is one of those areas. 

So, Piqué worked with a community leader, Ángel Coriano, to find out what families needed. Coriano, who grew up in the area and now works for the Puerto Rico Department of Health, is the type of person who knows everyone.

"I was listening to what all these people were asking," Piqué says. "And I thought, our club cannot provide everything that’s on this list. I need to find the thing that is most pressing, something that they really need." 

Again and again, people brought up mattresses. Unlike other furniture, mattresses, once wet, don’t dry out. So far, Rotarians have distributed hundreds of mattresses across the island.

Before receiving her new mattress, Felix Juan Osorio’s neighbor, Maritza Osorio, had been sleeping on a damaged mattress, the springs poking her ribs. She suffers from pulmonary hypertension, and the lack of rest took a toll on her already fragile health. "I could hardly sleep," she says. "Now I’m comfortable. I’m able to sleep, and I’m feeling better."

It’s a bright, sunny morning in Rubias, a picturesque farming village in the mountains about 35 miles east of Mayagüez. In a few hours, that sun will begin to power a new water filter, providing the 100 families who live here with access to clean drinking water for the first time.

Water Is Life - Alyce Henson photograph
Ken Surritte is guiding José Lucas Rodríguez Fontánez, a member of the Rotary Club of Yauco, through the installation of a SunSpring water filtration system. 

Surritte founded the organization Water Is Life with the goal of installing Sun-Spring filters wherever people lack clean water. The Yauco club teamed up with Water Is Life to bring the system to Rubias and two other towns, with most of the funding coming from Bob Murray’s donation to The Rotary Foundation.

"Now the whole community will have clean water," says Rodríguez. "Because this system runs on solar power, it will work even when the electricity is out."

Rodríguez was governor of District 7000, which covers the entire island of Puerto Rico, when Maria hit. He became a primary contact person as clubs across the island began to organize relief efforts. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, he coordinated the distribution of necessities such as food and water. Now he’s focused on helping Puerto Rico rebuild.

"We wanted to do something to make life better than it was before," Rodríguez explains. The club decided to help the people in Rubias because it’s one of more than 200 villages so remote that they are not served by Puerto Rico’s sewer and aqueduct authority. Instead, families here had constructed a rudimentary electric-powered system to pipe water from a nearby stream into people’s homes. They use that water to wash dishes and bathe, but must drive an hour to the nearest grocery store to buy bottled water to drink.

Hurricane Maria decimated the town. "Everything we were growing was gone," says Yolanda Pacheco. 

Mudslides washed coffee and banana trees — along with a giant chunk of the only road in town — down the mountainside. The electricity was out, and the town was completely cut off. "My husband couldn’t sleep," Pacheco says. "He was going out of his mind with worry." For four months, the family’s only source of light was a flashlight. They collected rainwater to bathe.

Now, after six hours of work in the 90-degree heat and oppressive humidity, Surritte has the SunSpring system up and running. He explains how it works to a small crowd gathered around the tall silver cylinder.

"The filter acts as a block for the bacteria and contaminants," he explains through an interpreter. "So only the safe water comes out through the tap." He invites everyone to join him in trying the water. The crowd is a little tentative, but one by one, they fill up cups, smiling.

"God knew what we needed," says Mariano Feliciano, a community leader who will maintain the filter. "We’re so grateful for this water."

Eladio Montalvo’s neighbors gather in front of his home and marvel at its transformation. With its fresh coat of white paint set off by dark red trim, the house, Montalvo says, "is my palace."

On a Saturday in late October 2018, a group of college students from the Rotaract club at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez spent the day painting the exterior of the home.

"He was so touched that young people had come and taken an interest in him," says von Hillebrandt-Andrade, the Mayagüez Rotary club president, who organized the project with the Rotaract club. "The Rotaractors were also touched by Eladio’s story. Some of them never realized the hardships people went through during the hurricane, and his resilience is something I think they will carry with them forever."

A few weeks later, Mayagüez club members visited again, dropping off turkey, rice with peas, salad, and pie so Montalvo could have his neighbors over for Thanksgiving. "We’ve established a lasting relationship with him," von Hillebrandt-Andrade says. "Rotary is about touching other people’s lives, and in doing that, you’re transformed too."

*Maria......worst natural disaster on record to affect Dominica and Puerto Rico, and is also the deadliest

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Intelligence community speaking truth to power - no confidence in Donald Trump

Echo - By Charles R. Pierce in Esquire 

U.S. Intelligence Chiefs Are Sounding the Alarm About the Administration* They Work For
I don't want to alarm anyone unreasonably, but the heads of the entire United States intelligence community went before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning and testified that the President* of the United States doesn't know enough about foreign affairs generally, and the threats to this country in particular, to throw a cat. 

From the Washington Post:

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, speaking on behalf of the assembled officials, gave a global tour of threats, focused mainly on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Coats said that North Korea was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” which the country’s leaders consider “critical to the regime’s survival.” That assessment threw cold water on the White House’s more optimistic view that the United States and North Korea will achieve a lasting peace and that the regime will ultimately give up its nuclear weapons...And throughout the hearing, officials found themselves repeating earlier assessments on subjects that also were at odds with other public statements from the president.

The officials assessed that the government of Iran was not trying to build a nuclear weapon, despite the Trump administration’s persistent claims that the country has been violating the terms of an international agreement forged during the Obama administration. Officials told lawmakers that Iran was in compliance with the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as some officials had previously said privately. But Iranian leaders are discussing reneging on the deal if they fail to reap the economic benefits it was supposed to bring after international sanctions were lifted, Haspel said. The Trump administration has reimposed U.S. sanctions.

The intelligence community has earned every speck of every grain of salt with which its evaluations are taken in the wake of what happened in the run-up to the Iraq War. (So, in fact, has anyone associated with the late Avignon Presidency, no matter what their opinion of the current president* is.) But these are people saying now that the administration* is being unreasonably naive towards North Korea and unreasonably bellicose toward Iran. This comes out to being hilariously and dangerously incompetent on all counts.
Trump continues to equivocate on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election on his behalf, contradicting the unanimous assessment of all the top intelligence officials currently serving. At last year’s threats hearing, leaders focused much of their remarks on Russia, unanimously concluding that the country was trying to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections by sowing discord and confusion via social media, as it had two years earlier in the U.S. presidential race.

Yeah, that, too.

Coats and the rest of them have done everything except sound an air raid siren about this administration*'s bungling attempts to develop a foreign policy, and there's no indication yet that the Senate Republicans have mustered the gumption to act on the alarm. And John Bolton is making policy. This will all end splendidly.

Charles Pierce commentary:  "...president* (aka Trump) is only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*’s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart."

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

White supremacist zealots are dangerous, not innocent immigrants - echo from Utah

Echo opinion in support of protecting migrants and asylum seekers published in The Daily Utah Chronicle a University of Utah newspaperby Andrea Alvarado 

Alvarado: The Real Danger is White Supremacy, Not Refugees

Fox (propaganda) News and Donald Trump market the innocent immigrant caravan from Central America as the greatest threat to the safety of America. Lies! In fact, we must be worried about the supremacists that are inside our border. (MaineWriter: Refugees and asylum seekers are not dangerous, but white supremacists are radical right wing extremists who are capable of executing violence.  Supremacists are intent on perpetrating the evils of man's inhumanity to man.)

Legal and illegal immigrants in their majority are not violent criminals preying on law-abiding citizens. 

Studies have shown immigrants are less likely to commit a crime than a native-born citizen of the United States. Nonetheless, the general perception of immigrants from poorer nations is an inherent proclivity towards violent behavior which seems to justify refusal of entry for asylum seekers.

The existence of the migrant caravan has been known for months. Their stories have been documented and shared by the news throughout the world. Unfortunately, this hasn’t moved the president or his administration to consider hearing their plea for asylum. They claim open borders are the first step towards the corruption of American culture, even though these people escaping gangs and poverty from Honduras are only asking for an application for asylum. 
It is not a surprise attack or a threat to American sovereignty, but mostly for thousands of malnourished refugees who are so afraid for their safety. They have walked through countries to escape the violence at home. Nevertheless, they are still vilified as a plague, bloodthirsty criminals disguising as women and children.

Donald Trump and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen have defended their decision of firing tear gas into a different country! Not only did this violate international law protecting refugees seeking asylum, but the United States actively ignored the established Mexican border. 

Instead of allowing the refugees to present their cases and apply formally for entry to the country, the administration is challenging international agreements that are meant to keep nations safe from foreign intervention. In addition, the U.S. troops were deployed to the border to protect the country from tired and still distant refugees instead of spending Thanksgiving with their families. 

Even though the rhetoric surrounding the caravan has portrayed it as the greatest threat to the United States in modern history, the true terror is already inside our borders.

While Homeland Security is tear-gassing refugees on foreign territory, right-wing extremists are sending explosive devices to former and current government officials and slaughtering other American citizens in places of worship. But the narrative is drastically different when reporting these sorts of incidents. They are “mentally ill,” “delusional” or flat out “sick.” 

Meanwhile, these Central American refugees have been called “bad people,” “terrorists” and “criminals” without any reason. The president is afraid MS-13 and ISIS members are hiding amidst the caravan, but instead of advocating for a background screening of these refugees, he resorts to violence.

While Trump blatantly condemns this group of people that have done little to deserve it, he is failing to address the growing violence against minorities and his own critics. These acts of violence that can disrupt and end the lives of any law-abiding citizens are isolated incidents to the Trump administration and Fox News. The term “terrorism” is rarely used when describing these horrific events while a caravan of poor immigrants is rapidly labeled a national emergency. The truth is white supremacy and the anti-immigrant rhetoric go hand in hand.


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Donald Trump should be required to have a mental competency exam - psychiatric experts echo

Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, mental health professionals have come forth in historically unprecedented ways to warn against entrusting the U.S. presidency to someone who exhibits what we have called his “dangerous” signs.

Echo opinion Published in The Conversation by Bandy X. Lee
Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale School of Medicine, Yale University

The observed signs have included “grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.”

As a psychiatrist and expert on violence, I worked with my colleagues to put our observations into a book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” responding to the hunger for understanding on the part of the public.

I was never interested in domestic partisan politics until it coincided with my concerns for public safety as a violence scholar

As a scientist and physician, my training leads naturally to making conclusions that are based not on ideology or personal preference, but on research evidence and medical needs.

Now, since the Democratic Party will have the majority in one-half of the legislative branch of government and can provide some oversight of the presidency, it seems a propitious time to begin an important, civilizing conversation about mental health in the presidency.

All American military personnel must pass a fitness for duty exam before they serve. Further, those who handle nuclear weapons undergo an especially rigorous screening process that is updated every year.

That United States commanders-in-chief are not put to the same test before they are allowed to lead the troops or to order the use of nuclear weapons is, I believe, a serious omission.

Assessing fitness for the job

Evaluations of fitness, or capacity, or competence, are specific to the requirements of a task or job. The exam can be suited to any job.

The U.S. Army’s field manual, for example, includes elements that are critical for fit leadership: trust, discipline and self-control, judgment and critical thinking, self-awareness and empathy.

One can deduce, for example, that the minimal requirement for a U.S. president is to have the ability to take in proper information and advice, to process that information and to think about consequences before making sound, reality-based decisions.

Fitness for duty tests also assess an employee’s capacity to work without putting their own or others’ health and safety at risk.

In the case of Trump, there have been numerous, concerning signs that suggest he may lack that capacity.

The potential for violence is best assessed through a past history of violence, including verbal aggression and incitement to violence, and a structured checklist of personal characteristics.

Courts and employers may legally request capacity evaluations, which forensic mental health professionals – who practice at the interface of mental health and the law – usually perform. They are independent of the interested parties and are not engaged in treatment with the person being evaluated.

Ideally, these exams would be given before a person takes the job. They can also be ordered after a worker has shown signs of incompetence.

Incapacity is not the same as mental illness. Mental illness per se does not make a person unfit for duty, just as one can be unfit and yet not have a diagnosis of mental disorder. Abraham Lincoln famously suffered from debilitating depression, which may even have helped him to be a better, more empathetic leader.

Mental capacity should inform political discussion
Since President Trump took office, news reports have revealed that discussions had been held among GOP members and even high-level government officials about the 25th Amendment. That amendment allows the removal of a president who is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

I have been asked to comment on the applicability of the 25th Amendment to Trump in multiple forums, including to members of Congress.

As a forensic psychiatrist, it is of utmost importance that I make the boundaries of my expertise clear. I should not comment outside my area, but within my expertise, I can speak authoritatively.

The removal of a president because of inability is ultimately a political decision, but politicians and the public would do well to proceed in an informed manner.

Disability, incompetence and unfitness are legal and not mental health concepts. Yet no court of law would consider making these determinations without input from medical experts.

To invoke the 25th Amendment without relevant evidence could also expose the process to endless use and misuse for partisan purposes. Medical expertise can serve as a neutralizing ground. It is based on verifiable clinical observations and uniform standards of practice. A panel of experts could bring forth consensus where there are sufficient, high-quality data.

In the current situation, if the patterns of impulsivity, attraction to violence and detachment from reality we are observing in the president are psychological pathology and not political strategy, it is incumbent on mental health professionals to inform the appropriate authorities, regardless of the context in which they are occurring. Non-experts can then be alerted to the need for more detailed examination.

The 25th Amendment

The proper role of the medical professional regarding the 25th Amendment is to wait for a consultation to be requested and not to interfere in the political process.

However, taking steps to protect the public’s health when there are dangers is very much the health professional’s domain and may entail alerting the public about the need for an urgent evaluation.

Scholars have pointed out at least four instances where the 25th Amendment would have been useful but was not invoked or not available. The most conspicuous example is the case of Ronald Reagan, who may have been suffering from early manifestations of dementia.

Furthermore, White House physicians have covered up presidential impairments in the past. (MaineWriter: For example, President Woodrow Wilson as described in this NPR report.)

To avoid this predicament in the future, we can require fitness for duty testing for all presidential and vice-presidential candidates, preferably before they take office and annually thereafter.

In a healthy democracy, it is reasonable for the people to require that their leader meet the minimal mental and physical capacity to serve in the office, and for them to be informed if he or she fails to do so.

Members of the National Coalition of Concerned Mental Health Expertsare already in the process of forming a nongovernmental expert panel, based purely on medical criteria, to serve in a rigorous consulting role if called upon or to advise on the need for urgent assessments.

We believe that Trump’s numerous signs of impairment have long called for an urgent evaluation.

In addition to a capacity evaluation, a thorough neuropsychiatric examination would help us to understand better if the president’s behavior will continue or rapidly grow worse.

Mental pathology can be powerful when severe. Decisions about impeachment or other measures to contain the dangers that Trump – or any other president – could present should not be made without this information.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Prediction for Wisconsin 2020: The Marquette voter poll should also include validating reliable voting machines!

What's overlooked in this report, published in the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel is "voting machines"!  Donald Trump's slim margin of victory in the 2016 presidential election in Wisconsin was compromised by voting machines that prevented recounts. 

Will the Wisconsin voting machines be fed paper ballots in the 2010 presidential election? 

This polling report does not mention "voting machines". Therefore, that's reason to worry about the assumption that Trump could win in 2020, in spite of his strong disapproval ratings. 

Marquette University, WI - Donald Trump faces an uphill climb in winning a second victory in Wisconsin, a battleground that will be at the epicenter of the next presidential campaign.

Here are three major takeaways from a statewide poll of 800 registered voters, released by the Marquette Law School, its first survey since the 2018 election:

High disapproval. Right now, Trump has a precarious path to victory in Wisconsin, a state he won by less than one point in 2016. His approval rating is 44 percent — higher than it is in most national polls, but lower than it was here last fall and weighted down by the unpopular government shutdown that just ended.

More importantly, polls throughout his presidency have consistently shown that close to half the potential electorate is dug in against him. In the Marquette survey taken Jan. 16-20, 52 percent disapprove of his job performance, 46 percent “strongly” disapprove and 49 percent say they will “definitely vote for someone else” in the next presidential election. 

His window for a potential victory is a very tight one (hopefully, the window holes will be plugged up, God willing!)

In 10 Marquette polls since Trump took office, his approval rating has never topped 47 percent. The share of voters who disapprove of him has equaled or exceeded 50 percent in the past nine polls dating back to June 2017.

Democrats more unified than Republicans. In a polarized age, a politically successful president needs a unified partisan base because he or she is likely to have a unified partisan opposition. But Democratic voters have been much more united against Trump than Republicans have been in support of him.

Consider how Wisconsin voters in each party answered this question: “If the 2020 presidential election were held today, would you definitely vote to re-elect Donald Trump, probably vote to re-elect Trump, probably vote for someone else, or definitely vote for someone else?”

Among Republicans:
  • 58 percent said they would definitely vote for Trump 
  • 22 percent said they would probably vote for Trump,
  •  6 percent said they would probably vote for someone else and 
  • 10 percent said they would definitely vote for someone else
  • = 37 percent will more than likely not vote for Trump
That is a party with a few cracks in it. Fewer than six in 10 GOP voters say they are certain they would support the Trump in the next election.

Among Democrats, there isn’t much doubt: 
  • None said they would definitely vote for Trump
  • 1 percent said they would probably vote for Trump
  • 4 percent said they would probably vote for someone else, and 
  • 95 percent said they would definitely vote for someone else.

You see a similar pattern when you look at Trump’s approval ratings. Democratic voters are almost all deeply negative, while GOP voters are not monolithically supportive. 

Among Republicans, 60 percent strongly approve of the president, 23 percent somewhat approve, 6 percent somewhat disapprove and 8 percent strongly disapprove. 

Among Democrats:
  • 1 percent strongly approve
  • 2 percent somewhat approve
  • 6 percent somewhat disapprove, and 
  • 89 percent strongly disapprove
Opposition more intense than support. The intensity of public opinion matters a lot in politics and it is not on Trump’s side
  • 30 percent of Wisconsin voters “strongly” approve of him, and 
  • 46 percent “strongly” disapprove.

These people (three-quarters of the electorate) are pretty locked in, to Trump’s disadvantage.

Nevertheless, the other quarter of the electorate is soft in its opinion: 14 percent of voters “somewhat” approve, 7 percent “somewhat” disapprove and 4 percent don’t know.

If you do the math, you see that as things stand now, Trump has to win an overwhelming share of these “soft” voters (whether they are pro-Trump or anti-Trump) to have a chance at carrying Wisconsin.

But the Marquette poll illustrates why this is a challenge.

Start with Trump’s base: the “strong” approvers. 

Again, that’s 30 percent of registered voters in this poll. 

Close to 80 percent of this group say they would “definitely” vote for Trump in 2020 and most of the others say they would “probably” vote for him, according to data from the survey provided by Marquette pollster Charles Franklin.

But because Trump’s core base of support isn’t nearly big enough by itself to get him re-elected, he needs the votes of the next tier in the electorate: the voters who only “somewhat” approve of him. Many of these voters have qualms about Trump’s honesty or performance as president or the direction he’s taken the Republican Party.

This second group comprises 14 percent of the voters in Marquette’s poll. But they are dramatically less certain to vote for Trump, according to the poll. Only 25 percent of these soft Trump approvers say they would definitely vote for Trump (compared to 76 percent of the "strong" approvers); another 45 percent say they would probably vote for him, while 30 percent either don’t know or say they’re likely to vote against him.

“I think what we see here is that within that 44 percent who approve of Trump overall, there is a large group who strongly approve and are very loyal for the 2020 vote,” said Franklin. 

“But when we go to those (soft approvers) who have some reservations, that voting loyalty drops off precipitously. That reflects a potential fragility of his coalition.”

Even if they unite behind Trump in the next election, these soft Trump supporters aren’t really numerous enough to put him over the top. (He would probably still have to convert some people who currently disapprove of the job he's doing.) But if these soft supporters don’t unite behind him, that would kill his hopes of winning the state. And at this moment, many of them appear to be in play.

The caveats in this analysis are familiar ones. No single survey is gospel. While Trump’s job ratings have been pretty consistent in Wisconsin, these numbers will bounce around a bit from poll to poll. Moreover, Trump will be running in 2020 against an actual Democrat with his or her own negatives, not the unnamed opponent he is being measured against in today’s polls. The fight for the Democratic nomination could prove divisive, leaving that party less unified that it looks right now.

And, of course, Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 despite high negatives — precisely because he won the votes of many voters who had qualms about him.

But he also won it by the slimmest of margins. Now that he is (an unqualified) president, he has fiercely mobilized the opposition.

What all the Trump polling shows is not that he can’t possibly eke out another victory in Wisconsin, but that his path to victory here appears to be both steep and narrow (and treacherous!).

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Senator Lindsey Graham - a political windsock: opinion echo

George Will opinion published in NewsOK, Oklahoma

Why do people like Lindsey Graham come to Congress?

Senator Lindsey Graham is a political windsock, as described by the opinion columnist George Will
WASHINGTON, DC  — Back in the day, small rural airports had textile windsocks, simple and empty things that indicated which way the wind was blowing. The ubiquitous Sen. Lindsey Graham has become a political windsock, and as such he — more than the sturdy, substantial elephant — is emblematic of his party today.

When in 1994, Graham, a South Carolina Republican, (Graham) first ran for Congress, he promised to be "one less vote for an agenda that makes you want to throw up." 

A quarter of a century later, Graham himself is a gastrointestinal challenge. In the past three years he had a road-to-Damascus conversion.
What happened to Lindsey Graham?
In 2015, he said Donald Trump is a "jackass." In February 2016, he said: "I'm not going to try to get into the mind of Donald Trump, because I don't think there's a whole lot of space there. I think he's a kook, I think he's crazy, I think he's unfit for office." And: "I'm a Republican and he's not. He's not a conservative Republican. He's an opportunist." Today, Graham, paladin of conservatism and scourge of opportunism, says building the border wall is an existential matter for the GOP: "If we undercut the president, that's the end of his presidency and the end of our party." Well.
Six years after its founding, the Republican Party produced the president who saved the nation. The party presided over the flow of population west of the Mississippi, into space hitherto designated on maps as The Great American Desert. (The Homestead Act of 1862 was enacted by a Republican-controlled Congress.) The Morrill Act of 1862 (Vermont Rep. Justin Morrill was a Republican) launched the land-grant college system that began the democratization of higher education and advanced the science-intensive agriculture that facilitated the urbanization that accelerated the nation's rise to global pre-eminence. The party abetted and channeled the animal spirits that developed the industrial sinews with which 20th-century America defeated fascism and then communism. Now, however, Graham, whose mind might not have a whole lot of space for pertinent history, thinks this party's identity and survival depend on servile obedience to this president's myopia.

During the government shutdown, Graham's tergiversations 
(abandoning something or someone, of changing sides; desertion)— sorry, this is the precise word — have amazed. 

On a recent day, in 90 minutes he went from "I don't know" whether the president has the power to declare an emergency and divert into wall-building funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes, to "Time for President ... to use emergency powers to build Wall." The next day he scrambled up the escalation ladder by using capitalization: "Declare a national emergency NOW. Build a wall NOW." Two days later he scampered down a few rungs, calling for his hero to accept a short-term funding measure to open the government while wall negotiations continue. Stay tuned for more acrobatics.

But stay focused on this: Anyone — in Graham-speak, ANYONE — who at any time favors declaring an emergency, or who does not denounce the mere suggestion thereof, thereby abandons constitutional government. Yes, such a declaration would be technically legal. Congress has put on every president's desk this (to adopt Justice Robert Jackson's language in his dissent from the Supreme Court's 1944 Korematsu decision affirming the constitutionality of interning Japanese-Americans) "loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need." Or an implausible one. However, an anti-constitutional principle would be affirmed. The principle is: Any president can declare an emergency and "repurpose" funds whenever any of his policy preferences that he deems unusually important are actively denied or just ignored by the legislative branch.

Why do they come to Congress, these people like Graham? 

These people who, affirmatively or by their complicity of silence, trifle with our constitutional architecture, and exhort the president to eclipse the legislative branch, to which they have no loyalty comparable to their party allegiance?

Seven times, Graham has taken the oath of congressional office, "solemnly" swearing to "support and defend the Constitution" and to "bear true faith and allegiance" to it, "without any mental reservation." Graham, who is just 1 percent of one-half of one of the three branches of one of the nation's many governments, is, however, significant as a symptom. When the Trump presidency is just a fragrant memory, the political landscape will still be cluttered with some of this president's simple and empty epigones*, the make-believe legislators who did not loudly and articulately recoil from the mere suggestion of using a declared emergency to set aside the separation of powers.

* follower or imitator

George Will is a political columnist

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Donald Trump using Federal Employees as hostages

The United States has a long-standing policy of not acceding to the demands of hostage-takers. 

An echo opinion published in the Idaho newspaper Post Register

This policy is based on the understanding that yielding to such demands only encourages more hostage taking.

This same logic is applicable to the predicament that Congress is in with regard to our President holding a large fraction of the federal government hostage, demanding $5.7 billion for a border wall. If Congress agreed to pay this ransom in order to reopen the government, this highly damaging tactic will have been rewarded and future use of it encouraged.

This is not just political theater. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers directly paid a heavy price, workers for government contractors paid an even higher price and millions of other citizens were being affected increasingly with every passing day.

Congress and citizens should repudiate such callous behavior by the president. Now that our government is reopened, a democratic process free of intimidation can take place to develop fact-based, effective and efficient steps to improve border security.

Bob Schaefer   Idaho Falls

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Sociology - cult behavior in the Trumpzi GOP

"Now, if Trump continues with this egregious, inhumane behavior, some of his people may actually wake up."

A cult expert finds familiar patterns of behavior: When an organization is totally loyal to a volatile but charismatic perceived leader who strictly enforces compliance.

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), now retired, openly worried that the Republican Party was "becoming a cultish thing" marked by forced fidelity to its mercurial leader. 

While he's not the first to make the point, his insider perspective carried considerable weight.

But is his description hyperbole, or an accurate assessment? While cautioning that not everyone who voted for Donald Trump falls into the mindless-follower category, an expert on cults leans toward the latter.

"I think he has touched on something important," says scholar and author Janja Lalich, who has extensively studied the phenomenon. "I think there are plenty of similarities—enough to be concerned about."

She continues: "The people around Trump, and the Republicans in Washington, absolutely kowtow to him, either out of fear they're going to anger him, or out of adulation. That behavior is very typical of a cult."

Polling suggests the party has been shrinking, and its remaining members are solidly behind Trump, giving him a remarkable 87 percent support in a recent poll. Even the policy of separating immigrant parents and children, which directly contradicts the traditional conservative belief in the sanctity of the family, was supported by more than half of Republicans before Trump rescinded it under pressure on Wednesday.

Is that decision to support the leader, even if it means ignoring long-professed moral precepts, cult-like behavior? Pacific Standard asked Lalich, a professor emerita of sociology at California State University–Chico. She has written or co-authored a series of books about the cults, including the infamous Heaven's Gate sect that committed mass suicide in 1997.

You write that members of "totalistic" cults—those that consider their ideology the one true path—share four key characteristics. They 

1) espouse an all-encompassing belief system; 

2) exhibit excessive devotion to the leader; 

3) avoid criticism of the group and its leader; and 

4) feel disdain for non-members. 

That all sounds unnervingly familiar.

Doesn't it? Charisma is a social relationship. It's about how people respond to that person, and how that person takes advantage of that. There's a kind of charismatic leader who is an authoritarian bully who rules by coercion.

I think you have to look at the effect of Trump's behavior and language on his base. He readily ridicules and chastises people. He readily pushes people aside if they're not worshipping him. We've all seen the videos of his aides praising him to high heaven. That's the kind of adulation cult leaders expect and demand.

Are the big rallies he held during the campaign, and still conducts periodically, an important way for him to bond with his followers?

Yes. Cult leaders constantly need to rev up their people. That's one of the challenges of being a charismatic leader. You have to keep people enchanted with you. Him holding these rallies is both a recruitment technique and a way to keep his followers happy.
He's showing him in their presence—being there for them, talking to them, relating to them. All of that helps to solidify their cult membership, so to speak. It reinforces the idea that they're a special group of people following this very special man. 

With Trump, it's not a religion, but there's the same kind of fervor.

Political scientists point out that President Barack Obama was also a charismatic leader who arguably had a cult-like following. But for the most part, he was carrying out policies Democrats have long championed, while Trump's policies often defy traditional Republican doctrine. What happens when a cult leader's dictates clash with the convictions of his followers?

Trump is happily making these pronouncements and expecting everyone to go along with him, and he's not getting much flack. Most of his followers have bought into his fear-mongering, which creates an us vs. them mentality that is typical of a cult.

Is that emphasis on real or perceived enemies one way cult leaders keep control over their adherents?

It breeds fear and paranoia in his followers, which leads them to think, "I'd better stick with him to be safe." His constant criticism and ridiculing and attacking "the other" also makes people feel superior. This sets up extreme polarization, which is always how cults have survived.

Separating the cult from the rest of the world is pretty much what all cults do. That doesn't mean you have to live in a compound. It just means that, in your thinking, you're part of this special elite, separate from the unworthy.

And you close yourself off from any information that might conflict with that.

Exactly. Once you internalize that, you're done for.

Can cult leaders override members' fundamental sense of morality? I'm thinking of his policy of separating children from immigrant parents, which he has now rescinded following intense, widespread criticism.

Well, he's not breaking up white families. He's breaking up families of immigrants. He ran on that tough-on-immigrants line. He already planted the seeds for this. So while it looks harsh and cruel and extreme from many people's point of view, including mine, for his followers, he's carrying out what he said he was going to do. Other of his followers, who aren't as hard core, are following suit because of the sway that he has. Their minds are closed to anything that challenges what Trump wants them to do, say, or believe.

So how do you get out of a cult? 

What typically has to happen to break free?

On an individual level, it's generally family and friends who do an intervention. When we have something like this on a national scale, it's much more difficult. I know many people who have argued and argued with members of their family, and then given up. Rational conversations at this point aren't going to work.

Now, if Trump continues with this egregious, inhumane behavior, some of his people may actually wake up. Some of the churches that have been supportive of him have come out to say, "This is too much." When the cultic behavior is on a national scale, [breaking it up] is going to take a national movement.

At some point, the Trump era will end. What happens to a cult when its leader dies, or has to step down for whatever reason. Do they disband at that point? Do his followers emerge from their daze, or do they start looking around for a new leader?

For some people, that will jolt them into seeing the light and realizing how they have been taken advantage of. But some hard-core believers will stick with Trump no matter what. Warren Jeffs is in jail, but he still has thousands of followers who believe in him.

Often, splinter groups will form, as when Reverend [Sun Myung] Moon, the leader of the Moonie cult, died. His three sons now have splinter groups. The followers split up and followed the one they liked the best. That's potentially something we could see.

That conjures up a surreal image of some Republicans aligning with Don Jr., while others gravitate to Eric, and still others to Ivanka.

The best bet is to go with Barron.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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