Ideology and Politics

Ideology and Politics

Indiana Governor Mike Pence flatly states he is a Christian first and a governor second. That’s makes his religion a major influence on how he governs.  His approval of legislation to limit gay rights and abortion are surely a result of his religious beliefs, or at least his interpretation of them. This shows a disregard for the constitutions’ separation of church and state and brings up the whole concept of religion as ideology relative to government policy.

I’m sure, like all politicians, he considers himself to be a fair minded person, but all self-righteous leaders tend to be repressive if given the chance. In fact, any kind of legislation based on fixed ideology of any kind is likely discriminatory and cannot be considered government by the people, for the people.

This begs the question; how do those in congress who strongly identify themselves as conservative (most liberals tend to be less ideological) evaluate proposed legislation without prejudice. The very nature of their ideology is an obstacle for thinking objectively.

This is so because fixed ideology affects the perception of how information is interpreted. We all tend to simplify new ideas into familiar concepts we can easily understand. Our ideology acts like a filter that emphasizes the information that is consistent with strong beliefs and downplays or ignores what doesn’t seem applicable. It’s a given, strongly ideological people are inclined to evaluate complex ideas in a subjective manner.

It is my opinion Conservative members of congress are primarily responsible for the present gridlock in congress today because their rigid beliefs limit the scope and ability of the federal government to function. To some extent, philosophical differences have been around since the signing of the constitution. But in recent years, fixed ideology has eliminated the middle ground necessary to get things done. It seems Conservatives in general are OK with a do nothing congress that provides low taxes with minimal influence in the private sector.

Ronald Reagan personified this line of thinking with his famous quote:  “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are I’m with the government and I’m here to help.” This got lots of laughs, but I wondered why anyone with such a low opinion of government would want to be part of it, much less the chief bureaucrat. There are too many members of congress with similar views. We need people that can evaluate proposed legislation in a pragmatic non ideological, non partisan manner.


If you truly believe “promoting the general welfare” as stated in the preamble of the constitution is part of the government’s job, you have to have an ideology that permits the government to be an active partner in the economy. Those who create gridlock by refusing to be open-minded enough to compromise on their ideology should not be in government.




Fear Factor of Guns

Fear Factor of Guns                       7/20/016

In the quest for higher TV station ratings to appease its sponsors, many of the gun related 30,000 incidents of gun violence in the U.S. last year made the local evening news. Unfortunately, this appetite for news drama creates fear and insecurity among its viewers and  stimulates the demand for more and more guns.  Nothing sells guns like fear.  This fits perfectly into NRA’s Wayne Lapierre quote of “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” I’m sure the gun manufactures couldn’t agree more. However, there are several problems with this heroic logic.

This quote is a response to terrorism where someone is randomly shooting into a group of people to maximize fatalities.  When rapid gunfire breaks out in a crowded area, (like the nightclub in Orlando Fla.) invariably mass chaos sets in and people start running and screaming in all directions. From a patrons’ standpoint (even if armed), the first instinct is to get away from the gunfire not confront the shooter.

To get into a gun battle with a person or persons shooting indiscriminately with a semi automatic weapon during a stampede of people is just not logical. The bad guy has a plan, the element of surprise, doesn’t care who he shoots and is fighting for a principle or belief (however distorted), that is greater than his/her fear of death.

If armed citizens were to act courageously, they would first have to identify the shooter or shooters correctly.  But, how would they distinguish themselves or other good guys with guns from the bad guys?  It’s not like they are going to have labels stating; I’m the bad/good guy.   It’s unrealistic to expect the average citizen to make that kind of decision in a chaotic situation.  Trained police officers in Orlando Fla. took three hours to come up with a plan to minimize innocent bystanders and take out the shooter.

It’s totally inaccurate and grossly simplistic to break gun violence into good guys and bad guys anyway. Although gun violence from terrorism gets a ton of national TV coverage when it occasionally occurs, on a yearly basis, it makes up less than five percent of all shootings.  The vast majority of everyday incidents are the result of gang violence, out of control tempers, suicides or just plain accidents.

Unlike other weapons that can lead to severe injury or death, gun violence is in a category by itself. There are three obvious reasons for this:  (1) you don’t have to be close to someone to inflict damage. (2) It doesn’t require strength or skill to fire a gun.  (3) The fear of being shot leads to overreaction by others who are also armed.

Unlike being threatened with a knife or other hand held weapon, you can’t move away or fight back against a gun unless you have another gun.  Compared to other weapons, this makes accidental self defense violence a common occurrence.

The two recent police shootings of black men in Baton Rouge and St Paul are perfect examples of this.  You can accuse the police of racial bias, poor judgment or just plain incompetence, but if the suspects were unarmed, they would still be alive today. It’s clear the fear of being shot by the suspects was the deciding factor in the outcome. I’m sure both black men felt being armed gave them a sense of security; they didn’t comprehend the fear factor imposed by the gun.

The logic is simple; a gun is a tool. If you carry a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you carry or have quick access to a gun, your perception of being threatened and what to do about it, includes the use of your weapon for protection. This mentality leads to the assumption that many others are also armed and may use their gun first.

As a result, if someone overreacts during a heated argument and perceives a threat erroneously, the mistake can be deadly. The stand your ground law makes this scenario even more likely.  You don’t have to be a bad guy to be shot, just a victim of misunderstood intentions.

However, the probability for gun violence is heavily influenced by the type of gun, location and culture. In Switzerland, where rifles are in most all homes as part of a civilian militia, shootings are practically nonexistent.  It’s not much of a stretch to connect the low crime rate, lack of pistols and concealed weapons with this phenomenon.

The conclusion is simple enough; it’s not the number of guns per capita; it’s the intended use of the weapons. If the guns were purchased primarily for hunting and as part of a standing militia (which is what the second amendment’s intent really was) it’s unlikely to be used as a means to solve personal problems. When guns are purchased as a crime deterrent, the fear factor ups the odds the weapons will actually be used in a reckless or deadly manner.

Although the NRA’s influence has prohibited statistical studies, (gee I wonder why they legislate against statistics) there is no evidence to support the idea that having a firearm will make you safer. If purchased out of fear, it’s more likely to result in accidental usage. All other things being equal, an increase in armed citizens will result in more gun violence because of the fear factor. You don’t need statistics to prove this, it’s just common sense.

Unless you are shooting at multiple targets that are close together, the large magazines available for semi automatic weapons serve no practicable purpose. If used in hunting, any animal would be long gone if not down by the fourth or fifth shot; ditto for an intruder in your house. In that case, all you really need is a shotgun for defense.

If you were a bugler and you heard the pump action of a shotgun in the next room, what would you do?  The fear factor can work for you or against you; it’s all a matter of circumstances.




Apple Vs The FBI

Apple vs. the FBI

In order to be effective, all security organizations weather it’s the FBI, CIA, NSA or the local police department need pertinent information to prevent, deter or solve crimes.   Sacrificing a degree of privacy to gather such information is necessary for these agencies to function and provide us with necessary law enforcement and crime prevention. Without it, society as we know it will deteriorate into chaos and tribal warfare.

In Apple vs the FBI, the president of Apple, Tim Cook, is portraying the request to help unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino’s killers as a civil liberty matter. But in reality, it’s a financial issue; a less secure phone loses some value and that has a negative affect on  Apples’  bottom line. Using the old slippery slope syndrome, Apple is trying to justify its lack of cooperation by creating worst case scenarios resulting from the phone being hacked.

To start with, Apple is not in the security business. They are not in the position to evaluate or predict what affect a less secure phone would have on information relative to personal use or national security. The transfer of confidential or top secret information has been going on for decades before the smart phone was invented, so it’s ridiculous to assume we can’t communicate securely without an encrypted iphone.

In this particular case, the phone could be sent back to Apple to unlock and returned without disclosing the method or software necessary to do the job.  The idea that Apple couldn’t internally contain the secret of unlocking the phone just doesn’t hold up. The R & D department has to have a multitude of trade secrets just to keep up with the latest updates or new product designs.  One more secret wouldn’t make much difference.

That of course wouldn’t solve the many other similar cases involving not only Apple but other encrypted phones, tablets or computers, etc.  There could (and probably should be) be a secret backdoor built in specifically for, and with the cooperation of, the FBI/ NSA which could use this information only for cases involving national security. The FBI and NSA have better things to do than spy on private citizens without just cause. For those citizens paranoid to believe otherwise, there are always: disposable phones, secure land lines, the post office, or trusted messengers etc.

However, sharing information  between the government and the manufactures could not be mandated because most of the phones are made outside the country. Therefore the companies would have to disclose the secret backdoor in cooperation with the FBI/CIA.

Unfortunately there is public support for not sharing such information because trust issues with the federal government are at an all-time low.  But, any agency of the government is no better or worse than the people that make up the agency. Despite all the negative press about the federal government, I would much rather put my trust in professional career criminal investigators than a bunch of high tech geeks of dubious integrity.

Remember when JFK famously said “Don’t ask what the country can do for you but what you can do for your country” Well, you can’t have a safe, fair and free country without federal agencies. Perhaps it’s a better idea to support and cooperate with them instead of being confrontational. That not only applies to individuals but companies like Apple who seem more concerned with their bottom line than national security.







Supreme Court Justices and the Constitution

The passing of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia nine months before a presidential election has created future legal and consequently legislature implications for both republican and democratic parties. Obama  will likely nominate a left of center candidate to replace the conservative minded Scalia   The  republican controlled senate has vowed to stall the process and hope the next  president (being a republican) can nominate a more  conservative minded candidate.  All  justices are supposed to be above partisan politics, but (assuming the nominee is a court judge) the influence of ideology on decision making can be reasonably deduced from public records.

As a representation of fairness without preconception,  (Lady Justice with scales, sword and blindfold) all judges consider themselves neutral in all matters. I doubt any judge considers himself or herself biased in deliberations leading to a verdict.  Ideology comes into play because decisions by the Courts are supposedly  based on the Constitution.  Although one of the most revered documents in the world, diverse interpretations leave plenty of room  for Justices to utilize their own  ideology, creating  philosophical issues regarding the function and fairness of the Court.   Consider the following:

The history of the document indicates there were vast  disagreements between the framers, particularly about the power  and scope (designated as federalist or anti-federalist) of the federal government.  In order to get the document ratified in 1778, interactions between federal and states were purposely left vague.  Controversial issues such as slavery and women rights were deliberately left out.   To appease some of the states about the clarity of civil liberties,  the Bill of Rights was added to the original document.  Still, disagreements among the delegates resulted in a series of compromises with only 39 of the 55 framers (probably many reluctantly) signing the much needed document.  It would be naive to think ,if alive today, there would be a consensus  agreement  by the founding fathers on today’s issues of contention.

The framers were great men, but they weren’t fortune tellers.  There is no way they could have predicted  how the interpretation of this magnificent document would affect future society.  The industrial revolution had not begun in 1787 and the wealth in this country was in the hands of land owners.  Lobbyist were a rare breed. Political office didn’t pay much; so there wasn’t much incentive for making it a career.

Fast forward to today where well paid career politicians, depend on special interest funding to stay in office.  Partisan politics and ideology fueled by these interest have created gridlock.  It’s clear “big money’s”  negative influence on legislation has not been understood by the supreme court because of the ill-defined language in the Constitution.

It is naive to think this 229 year old vague, compromised document is the one and only consideration for equal justice under the law.  I’am not suggesting we do away with the Supreme Court or it’s  reverence to the Constitution. But,  when there is considerable disagreement on interpretation, the prudent consideration for Supreme Court justices should be to weight the consequences to society in today’s world, not the world of 1787.

If that is impossible to predict then there needs to be a mechanism for review and change without a formal amendment.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “No work of man is perfect. It is inevitable that in the course of time, the imperfections of a written Constitution will become apparent.”Most citizens are aware of the 27 adopted amendments, but few realize there have been 1,000 attempts;   maybe it’s time to amend the amendment process as well. Getting 2/3 of the current polarized, divided congress to agree on anything seems next to impossible.

Capitalism and Equal Opportunity

In the last 100 years or so, primarily under free market capitalism, this country has created wealth, measured as GDP/per capita that is the envy of the rest of the world.  It’s a given; the quest for maximizing profit has been the motivation for this success, resulting in a higher standard of living and creating the idea of “the American dream”.  However there have always been issues of fairness based on opportunities between individuals and businesses, with a system that is fixated on profits at the expense of everything else.

Capitalism’s basic premise relative to individuals is:   Competitions between people will drive the economy by rewarding those who work the hardest and contribute to society the most. But, if you ask billionaires how they achieved success, most will frankly admit luck played a huge role. If Bill Gates or Steve Jobs had been born 30 years earlier or later, nobody would know who they are today. Technology had to be at the right stage for them to achieve greatness.  If Elvis or the Beatles had been born 30 years earlier or later chances are they would never have amounted to much.  Sure they were talented, but the world is full of talented hardworking people who have struggled to put food on the table. Over 2/3 of  all new business start ups will fail in the first three years regardless of the dreams, money and toil of the entrepreneurs. At this very moment there are probably a million smart, ambitious talented people in the unemployment line.

Those who have created or invented things that have greatly benefited society are often poorly rewarded.  Do you know any of the following ?  Vladimer Zworykin invented the TV, Joseph Bequn- the tape recorder, Robert Goddard- Liquid fueled rockets, Frederick Banting-insulin, Garrett Morgan-the traffic signal.  There are hundreds of creators and inventors who have died without achieving great wealth or fame.   Luck and timing is often a greater factor to financial success than skill, hard work or one’s benefit to society.

Another major contributor to financial success is enhanced opportunity measured as family wealth or social connections.  College education or career assistance makes life much easier when parents and family members are wealthy and supportive.  If the student or young adult chooses poorly and things don’t work out, the wealthy family can provide other options without much difficulty.  In contrast, student loans will shackle the student of a poor family and limit secondary opportunities. Furthermore, family influence and connections often mean the difference between having a career or being unemployed. The old adage “it’s not what you know but who you know” is reality for anyone seeking to better themselves.  It’s not an accident that so many politicians have family members in the same profession even when their expertise and talent is lacking. George W. Bush for example; need I say more?

Even if luck, family wealth and personal connections were not a factor in financial success, outcomes will vary greatly because people are not in any sense of the word “equal.” There are vast differences in intelligence (measured as IQ) and nine types of innate natural abilities (such as mathematical, musical, linguistic, mechanical aptitude etc) which can contribute to our learning abilities and job performance.  Here again luck plays a large part. Suppose for example, you were born with a natural aptitude in music or mathematics but the culture you were raised in didn’t recognized or support the means to explore or expand on it. This amounts to opportunity lost that could have influenced someone’s occupational success.

Another personal contributing factor to success or failure is one’s own disposition.  Ask any parent to describe the differences in their sibling’s (even identical twins) personality. Chances are excellent the descriptions will include such expressions as: He/She is more adventurous, aggressive, talkative, competitive, poised, etc than the other sibling.  These differences in disposition (although hard to measure) will likely influence education paths and future job potential. If you are naturally inclined to behave in a certain manner, it will positively or negatively affect your job performance and achievements.

It’s a given, behind every Ethnic and religious conflict lies unequal economic factors. Even with all the equal opportunity laws present in this country, discrimination, of one kind or another can influence who is hired and who is promoted.

Any combination of the above reasons can affect the potential for financial success. When libertarians or republicans say “Anyone can achieve the American dream and if you don’t it’s your own fault” they are not dealing with reality. Its obvious individuals don’t share equal opportunities under a free market economy and neither do competing businesses.

Maximizing profit in a business usually results in increased gain in one company at the financial loss of another. That’s great for the price conscious consumer when there is a wide selection of businesses. However, it’s an obvious fact; the easiest way to increase profits is to eliminate your competition. If too difficult, the next best option is to collude with your competitors for mutual benefit and keep new businesses from entering the marketplace. This however stifles economic growth and the jobs they would create.

In the early 19th century this country let the rest of the world in manufacturing.  At that time, the major problem with a free market system was the tendency toward a trust or near monopoly. For example, the breakup of Standard Oil and the railroads under the Sherman Anti-Trust act was necessary to create a level playing field. This in turn benefited the general public by creating more opportunities for new businesses and eventually lower cost to the consumer. Competition outside the country was limited mainly because of high shipping cost, and poor communications. But over time, foreign imports in commodities such as sugar, corn, steel, cotton and lumber increased to the point where subsidies or tariffs were necessary to protect large industries in the U.S. from going out of business. We ceased having a pure free market system when government intervened to save these industries at their request.

Most people think of government subsidies as helping the poor but large corporation have benefited considerably more. The pattern of a love-hate relationship between big business and government was set: love governments methods to limit competition and increase profits, hate government regulations that protect the interest of the general public but drive up cost.

Another flaw in capitalism’s goal of maximizing profits is nearsightedness. When all businesses are fixated on their own financial interest, the cumulative unintended consequences can be disastrous for the general public or the country.  This is essentially what happened during the 2008 banking crises when due to a lack of regulations and transparency on trillions of dollars in derivatives (whose value plummeted with the fall of Lehman Brothers)  trust between banks disappeared.  This had a disastrous affect on the entire economy which relies on the secure transfer of credit to function.   Each bank was concerned with their own interest, not the welfare of entire economy. This concept of maximizing profits for the company to the detriment of society plays out in several other ways.

The negative effect on the environment is an obvious example.  When companies deal with externalizes such as water or air pollution, the natural tendency is to ignore or under fund treatment of the problem.   This is cumulative when multiple businesses fail to significantly reduce the amount of pollution thereby raising the consequences to the public at large.

Without doubt, the largest problem with maximizing profits in this country is the affect on unemployment. Reducing labor cost by specialization, automation and technology is an inherent part of capitalism and is necessary to make things more affordable.  However, the very nature of automation of any kind (reducing man hours) affects employment in a negative way.  Compounding this trade-off, and relative to this country, Multi-National corporations, in conjunction with many trade agreements, have shifted American jobs to other countries where labor, taxes and regulation cost is considerably less. Additionally, within the last 10 years, access to the internet and the ability to digitize dam near anything, has resulted in job losses too many white collar occupations previously considered safe from foreign competition.

The free market concept of maximizing profits has benefited owners of large corporations, at the expense of good American jobs and job opportunities. Highly educated technical people have done well but many previous middle class employees are either unemployed or working in retail for a fraction of the pay. The bottom line is: quality jobs created by globalization are considerably less than jobs lost.  The difference has created a diminished middle class and a widening gap between the rich and the poor.  Again, this is a cumulative occurrence, not one an individual company would likely be concerned about.  Maximizing profits at the expense of everything else creates a self-serving somewhat oblivious outlook for the entire economy.

Most conservative republicans and Libertarians continue their dogma of free markets denouncing government intervention claiming regulations and government intervention are to blame. It’s obvious the “trickle down, greed is good” theory of economics is only working for a small percentage of Americans who have a disproportionate amount of political influence.

It’s easy to criticize the government for creating dependency on handouts, but opportunities for gainful employment in this country are lacking due to the very free market system that brought us prosperity.  It’s about time we admit capitalism’s concept of “maximizing profits at the expense of everything else” has created an unacceptable amount inequality and lack of opportunity.

Presently, with the current laws, it’s easier for the rich to get a favorable return with less risk using financial tools such as derivatives or hedge funds than to expand or start a new company in this country.  However, moving money around just to increase wealth is neither responsible nor patriotic. It’s the self serving attitude of the very wealthy that has created inequality, loss of demand and stagnation

Instead of  vilifying the government for the expansion of social programs enabling the poor, the super rich (and there are 65, 000 U.S. residents with assets of over 30 million) need to step up to the plate and invest in this country.  By working with government  in research, education and  job training (similar to what Germany is doing), free market money can be focused on the country’s greatest needs, not just the most profitable for an individual company.

If we assume that government and economics are inseparable, it’s in government’s best interest to pass laws, support institutions and create opportunities for its citizens to prosper. A sure recipe for society and consequently governments’ collapse is to ignore the economic needs of the people.  Being a slave to capitalism and free market ideology is not working for the vast majority of Americans. To minimize inequality and maximize opportunity, Government’s role as a facilitator or partner should be incorporated into the economic system.

Presidential Primary Debates

Presidential Debates

If you’re like me, you’re fed up with the TV presidential primary debates; they are long on theater, but fall short on purpose. By that I mean, the intent of the debates should be to help citizens pick out the best candidate for the job of President of the United States. Instead what the debates continue to give us is entertainment and scripted information, which is of little value in evaluating competence.

Having watched several of the debates, my observation is as follows: The moderator asks a specific question to the candidate. The subject matter the question is derived from (being previously memorized) is discussed for two or three minutes. This, sleight of hand, makes the candidate look knowledgeable and hopefully the viewing audience will get confused about what the question really was and overlook the fact that the candidate didn’t answer it.

So, trying to determine a candidates’ knowledge or expertise is difficult. The influence of advisers or speech writers on how best to answer questions in a general way that appeals to the party’s base is undeniable. It’s difficult to evaluate what, strategy or plan if elected, the candidate would use to solve or minimize real problems facing this country. Donald Trump’s bold ideas are great theater but simple solutions to protracted problems are rarely without consequences or financial concerns, both of which he chooses to ignore.

The president has to wear many hats such as: commander in chief, guardian of the economy, chief legislature, head of all federal employees etc. The one quality that is necessary to attend to these diverse positions in a responsible manner is diplomacy. This should not be confused with Donald Trumps’ claim to be deal maker, which is usually a matter of financial leverage. A president’s diplomatic skills are critical for his performance in leading the country and getting things done.

In the real world there are very few major issues of contention that can be resolved with win-win strategies. Diplomacy is a give and take reality if we are to minimize tensions between parties, people, cultures and countries. Ideology that precludes compromise may sound good to those who strongly identify themselves as conservative or liberal, but is usually detrimental to resolving issues.

A more pragmatic approach to solving problems requires cooperation between Government and private enterprise. If you don’t believe in governments’ role in “making this country great again” per Donald Trump, then you shouldn’t be running for public office period. Like most things in life, a balanced approach usually works best and diplomacy is a lot more important than authenticity or bluster.

All politicians claim that, if elected, they will seek common ground and work across the aisle. But for that to be effective,  you have be open-minded enough to put ideology and party politics aside and focus on doing what’s best for the country. I doubt any candidate will disagree with that in principle.  So the question I have is: how would you go about doing that?  If they don’t have the diplomatic skills the job requires, they aren’t qualified to be president.



Table Tennis at Ekin Ave


The Ekin ave site in New Albany Indiana is a great place to play table tennis. You can’t beat the price and convenient playing opportunities.  However due to  a lack of foresight and poor leadership, there are serious  questions about the long term use of this great facility.

When I started playing there about 27 years ago play was limited to the west room (about 3000 sq. ft.) above the Boys and Girls club.  The club had to pay something like $27/hr to the parks dept. to open the door and utilize the playing area.  The gymnastic club occupied the 3000 sq ft adjacent east room.

About seven years ago, in a stroke of unbelievable luck, the gymnastic club and the parks dept. moved out and left the east room vacant.  The club  somehow ended up with two keys to the front door.  As a result we essentially were given exclusive use of over  6000 sq ft. of open space with wood floors perfect for table tennis.

Talk about Serendipity! That’s like winning the lottery.   Why would the city of New Albany let the table tennis club occupy 6000 sq ft of space with utilities and restrooms facilities for nothing?

It turns out; the City of New Albany spent a lot of money on handicap access bringing the downstairs Boys and Girls club into compliance a few years back but probably figured the cost of installing an elevator to the second floor just wasn’t worth it. Without handicap access to the second floor, renting it out by the city had the potential to result in lawsuits.

So….. Because the table tennis club had a long respectable history with some  positive press, courtesy of Gary Schroder and Paul Holligier, they decided to let us stay without a lease. Gordon was never shy about boasting about the C501c3 nonprofit status of the club to the players during group meetings, so the city was probably under the impression that the club was a non-profit.  It’s reasonable to assume, creating public good was part of the decision to give us keys to the front door and a free ride.

For the next three years however, table tennis play at Ekin continued to be on  Wednesday only and the club used the vacated east room for storage.   On Sunday’s I played at the Graceland Church in New Albany.  Jeff Napier was the coordinator and the only church member.  Attendance dropped off when, due to his erratic sales schedule, the gym wasn’t always open for table tennis play on Sunday.

I asked Jeff if we could move the Sunday play at Graceland to Ekin Ave and take advantage of the mostly empty east room.  I assured him I would be responsible for it being open every Sunday if I could get the key from Jeff Smith. He reluctantly agreed because the uncertainty of not knowing if there would be play or not was a problem for everybody.  Jeff Smith gave me the key and the OK for setting it up, but I got the feeling he didn’t care whether it worked out or not, just so he had another reliable key holder to open the club.

The floor in the east room was rough and uneven so I spent two days patching and sanding down the grooves to make it more playable. Terry Crowell and I added a fixture and improved the lighting at the far end of the east room. We worked on the air conditioner drain lines to eliminate the water leakage on the floor.  I got a team of volunteers together to scrape off the peeling paint and get the place painted.  It was dirty work, at one point the fire alarm went off and the fire department came.  Later, Gordon bragged to some visiting New Albany officials how we worked hard to get the place scraped and painted even though neither he nor Jeff Smith had showed up to do the work.

I got with Paul Holligier at  Beechmont who sent out an E mail to all the local players about the Sunday hours at Ekin, but even so, attendance was slow at first. There were several players that wouldn’t or couldn’t make the transition from the church to Ekin Ave. To boost attendance, I encouraged players at Beechmont, regardless of their skill level, to come over and check out the site at Ekin Ave on Sunday.

Terry Crowell was the best diplomat for new players; he always made newbie’s feel welcome regardless of their skill level.  That’s critical if you’re trying to boast attendance and expect people to come back.  Gordon Allstott  who didn’t come on Sunday’s  for about a year,  generally ignored new players unless they were near his competitive playing level.  Jeff Smith never showed up; even for  a cameo appearance.    Without a doubt, the success of the Sunday program was due to the effort and commitment Terry and I made when nobody else much cared.

Since we didn’t have any agreement with the city for the use of the building, it was obvious the club was on shaky ground.  I wrote two letters trying to persuade Jeff , John and Gordon  to make a donation to the city for roof repair and donate some money to the Boys and Girls club. There is a long list of organizations who donate to the Boys and Girls club,  the table tennis club is noticeably absent . We would look considerably more worthy of this incredible gift given to us by the City if we had some “skin in the game.”  By not responding to the letters, it was obvious, they didn’t think it was any of my business.

I reasoned the club belongs to everybody, not just three guys. If the club loses this facility, everybody suffers the consequences.  Jeff’s idea of going down the road with twenty grand or so and opening  another facility was just ludicrous.  It would probably cost  a million just to build, and twenty grand a year for taxes, insurance and utilities.  If we moved into an existing facility and shared space with volleyball and basketball, our prime time, low cost playing opportunities would be gone.

With the success of the Sunday program, Cameron  Luo wanted to start play on Fridays to give us three playing opportunities a week.  But, because we only had two keys, he and I had to pass the key back and forth to ensure someone would be there at the appropriate time to open the door.

Soon after the Friday play started, the club donated ten grand to the City towards roof repair.  Gordon, who opened the club on Wednesdays, started showing up early on Sundays and Fridays  supposedly to sweep the floor.  But, the floor wasn’t being kept clean, there were dead flies on the playing room floor in the east room for months at a time and  a white ball would turn gray after a few hours play.

I thought it was probably a control issue with Gordon, he just wanted to get credit for opening the club.  I reasoned,If we worked together as a team, surely we could do a better job of keeping the club clean, but Gordon didn’t want a group effort, that apparently would dilute his control of the club.

I got a quote of $3000 from a reputable electrician that would improve the  overall lighting in the east room and get rid of the extension cords. To ascertain if this was a good use of club money, I took a quick survey from 14 random players. The survey ask the question:  Using the recent purchase of two replacement tables (for a total of $3 grand as a yardstick),  is this a good use of club money? 12 players said yes, 2 abstained.

When Gordon overheard what was going on he was livid. I wasn’t surprised; he had previously stated he would oppose any and all ideas I had for the club period. He said he would get with Jeff about an alternative plan to improve the lighting. I wasn’t surprised when Jeff ignored the issue entirely. I sent John Allen an E mail to see if he had an opinion on this issue. It was never answered.

There were occasions during the winter of 2014-2015 Terry and I met at the club to hit a few balls, I didn’t see the harm in it. Apparently, that made Gordon furious but he never said much to me about it.  In early spring those opportunities stopped because Terry’s lawn service took up most all of his free time.

Around the first of July, Gordon called Terry (who was an excellent handyman) about replacing a light at the club. Terry called me because he didn’t have a key. When we got there we found the inside doors with padlocks on them.  Gordon had the club all locked up to make a point that he was in charge!  The whole thing was just a setup and an ego trip for Gordon. Terry, the best diplomat and handyman this club ever had, never came back to the club.

Why would Gordon piss off two retired guys with the time and desire to help take care of the club? It just didn’t make any sense.   A truly nonprofit club would welcome any and all volunteer help they could get. ( I never received a dime for anything) This confirmed a suspicion I had had for some time; Gordon was getting paid to open the club and sweep the floor; it wouldn’t look good if other people were helping the club on a regular basis for nothing.

Of course it’s not illegal for the club to pay a member for services, but the deceitful way this was handled just wasn’t right.  I figured, there had to be a backdoor financial  agreement between Gordon and Jeff Smith.   I turned in my key the following week and told Gordon and John, from now on, I’m here to play ping pong, that’s it.

Considering the lack of  interest in the public good or spending money to improve playing conditions, it’s obvious the club has morphed into a for-profit to benefit Gordon and ?   Unfortunately, that jeopardizes  the clubs future at  Ekin Ave in two ways.

First it’s illegal to dissolve a nonprofit corp. without surrendering all your assets. You can’t just decide to convert the club into a for-profit because it has become more profitable.  Second; what would the city of New Albany think if the club dissolved the nonprofit status(and pubic goodwill)  as a result of  the Cities generosity?  What would you do if you were the Mayor and this came to your attention?

It didn’t have to be this way. The club could have remained a non-profit and used excess funds for charitable purposes, like donations to the Boys and Girls club.  It would be easier to recruit volunteers to clean and maintain the club if we (as a non-profit group) worked together for the good of the club.  That’s what small club non-profits are supposed to do.  By changing the club into a for-profit, we have jeopardized relations with the city of New Albany and created legal issues with the state of Indiana.

The root cause of all this is lack of transparency and leadership. Jeff Smith has been both president and treasurer (that combination was a bad idea to start with)  for over ten years. He wants to run the club like he owns it.  He doesn’t own it, the players are not his employees.  He avoids play on  Fridays  and Sundays and has had nothing to do with promoting the expanded playing opportunities.  Yet, he is resistant to suggestions as  to how the money  is spent.

Some questions need to be answered;   Why hasn’t the club had an election or an audit  in over ten years? Will there ever be a plan to promote the sport beyond a “good old boys club.” What are the club’s bylaws ?  What are the club’s plans or goals for the next 2-5  years ?  What are we saving club profits of over $6000/yr for?  Maintenance fees ?  You got to be kidding; it took 3 years to fix the men’s toilet! 

For the players who pay only $3 to play on excellent club owned tables,  it all seems like a great deal; the apathy is understandable. But, the value of those tables is meaningless without a facility to put them in. They have the  same  worth as a 40 ft boat restricted to your back yard.  Our #1 financial priority should be to retain this great facility.  If club money is not being directed to this purpose, players need to find out why. In this regard, present management seems to be deceitful and inept.  

Post-script   After a years absence, Terry came back to the club to play. Neither he nor I talk to Gordon.  No club money has been spent on club lighting or anything else.  Nobody seems to care where the money goes. 



How to Defeat ISIS


Like any kind of war or conflict, it’s imperative to know your enemy to expose weaknesses necessary for victory. The first step in understanding ISIS is to know what their goals are, how they hope to accomplish them, and what’s the motivation behind their success.

It’s generally assumed ISIS is a product of mistakes made after the Iraq war that galvanized discriminated Sunni Muslims against the newly formed mainly Shiite government.   The consensus is, if we had not invaded Iraq and disbanded their government and military, ISIS would not exist today. All that may be true, but the roots of ISIS and Al Qaeda  go back before the turn of the century.

Although ambiguous, the interpretation of the word “jihad” became synonymous with armed conflict during the war between the Taliban and the Soviets.  The Koran plainly states war is justified when, or if, the Islamic religion is under attack. The obvious question is; what is meant by “under attack”.  Is that a physical assault on Muslims as occurred in Afghanistan or a denigration of their ideas? The distinction is critical when trying to develop a strategy to defeat ISIS or other radicalized Muslims.

The suicide bombers from Saudi Arabia responsible for 9/11 were not responding to a direct threat of any kind, so it’s reasonable to assume their motives were derived from culture or religious differences.  Wahhabism, a brand of Islam preaching hatred of infidels and western culture in general, has been exported and proselytized from Saudi Arabia to many other Islamic countries. Ironically the profits from oil that have helped the Saudi Arabia economy prosper have spread  Wahhabism,  creating rancor and hostility against many of their own western customers.

Ideology derived from Wahhabism, without a doubt is the root cause of groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram. No longer confined to Iraq  and Syria, the list of countries with ISIS like followers using suicide bombing as terror tactics includes Afghanistan, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Turkey, Bangladesh, and Chad.

The goal of ISIS is to form a caliphate by creating a war between Muslims and  non Muslims. They would like nothing better for the west to play whack a mole trying to stamp out ISIS fighters in all these countries. Indiscriminate bombing of cities where ISIS resides will undoubtedly result in killing innocent civilians and create gross collateral damage in the process.  That’s just what ISIS needs to gain support for the caliphate;  make the conflict against them look like a religious war against all Muslims.

Although differences in ideology have been used to motivate soldiers in most all conflicts, the dogma behind ISIS defines the justification for war like no other. Killing ISIS fighters may weaken the morale of the movement somewhat, but you can’t defeat an ideology of hate with more violence.

The only way to defeat ISIS is to debunk or disprove the ideology derived from Wahhabism.  We can’t do that without the support of Islamic religious leaders (Imams, ayatollahs) from various Islamic countries.  Since there isn’t a central authority in Islam, like a pope, it’s imperative for Islamic leaders to collaborate on creating a reformation or interpretation of the Koran that respects human rights and tolerance towards different religions. If they truly believe Islam is a religion of peace, this is what has to be done to make it compatible with the rest of the modern world. If these concepts can be supported by the vast majority of Islamic leaders, the motivation behind ISIS and similar groups will dissipate.

The news media has created the paranoia of Islamic terrorism in this country by letting attacks like the one in San Bernardino dominate the news for over a week.   They (CNN in particular) have created an unreasonable amount of fear by their obsession with over coverage.  As a result a recent poll indicated 29% of people are now concerned about being a victim of terrorism. “Really” OK, its tragic 14 people were killed, but there is an average of 100 people killed in drug related violence every week and over 80 people killed in traffic accidents every day. It’s time to put the threat of Islamic terrorism in this country into perspective.

Free Trade And The Working Poor


Most economists agree, globalization and trade agreements are not only inevitable, but generally beneficial to the world economy which we are all part of.  Better technology, transportation and communication have resulted in an increase in goods and services accessible and affordable to a greater number of people. As a result, globalization and trade agreements overall have increased the wealth of most countries.  However the increase in wealth has primarily benefited the very rich creating greater inequality relative to the middle class and the poor. It’s debatable whether the quality of life for the majority of poor people has improved as a result of international trade.

The rules of trade between countries as regulated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) have been predominately written by large multinational corporations.  As a result, many small businesses that once served local communities have gone under due to competition from these giant corporations. This is particularly true of small farms in developing countries.  The efficiency, yield and subsidies of large industrial farms have lowered the cost of staples such as corn, rice, soy and wheat and essentially driven the small farms out of business.

While the GDP of developing countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar has increased due to globalization, the loss of small businesses and farms in conjunction with overpopulation has done little to alleviate poverty.   Competition between these countries for international manufacturing jobs has resulted in low taxes for the host country, poor working conditions and near starvation wages for the unskilled labor.  Money paid to the manufactures is miniscule compared to the profits made by the Multinational Corporations in the developed countries.

Free Trade agreements based on Lasi fare or free market concepts has increased the profits of  International Corporations as a result of cheap labor and low taxes at the expense of many developing countries that are in dire need of employment. These large international companies and their influence in the WTO have taken advantage of conditions they help create.

To counteract these negative effects brought about by the WTO and subsequent trade agreements, the organization “OWINFS” (Our World Is Not For Sale) has created an international organization composed mostly of developing nations who are opposed to corporate globalization’s influence on international trade.  OWINFS is committed to a “sustainable, socially just and more democratic trading system”; in other words, better wages and working conditions for labor and increased profits for companies in the developing nations.

It is a noble endeavor to strive for greater human rights, sustainable processes and fair labor practices, but difficult to obtain without leverage over multinational corporations who have used the WTO for their advantage. What would help in this regard would be some kind of international union or agreement to keep manufacturing in these developing countries from being exploited.

Chief among these developed countries is the U. S., who has used various trade agreements, low import fees in conjunction with the IMF to increase the wealth of large banks and Corporations at the expense of job losses in their own country. When Globalization and outsourcing started displacing millions of American jobs (over 25 years ago) neither the Chamber of Commerce nor Washington politicians seemed concerned enough to ask a few basic questions, such as:

Were there any estimates of jobs lost as opposed to jobs created as a result of free trade agreements?

Did they really believe that millions of outsourced American workers, many middle age with no more than a high school education, could be converted to high tech, information technology or medical positions where new jobs were being created? What would be the social cost of jobs lost to the community and the nation as a whole?

Corporate America’s primarily consideration is, has been, and always will be short term profits to the stock holders.  The consequence of globalization on business decisions is only relevant if it affects these profits; social costs due to lost American jobs are of little concern.  With that narrow perspective the idea that “what’s good for this company is good for the whole country” still sounds like good policy to most CEO’s. There is something wrong with a system however, that rewards stock holders with increases when large numbers of U.S. workers are laid off due to outsourcing. It’s hard to estimate the social cost of lost jobs. The latest statistics on unemployment have the figure about 5.5%. But, that percentage is very deceiving and doesn’t address issues of inequality brought about by globalization. Consider the following:

Many people have run out of unemployment compensation and are no longer counted as unemployed. Among these are a record number (over a million) of homeless. Because globalization and technology has eliminated many good paying full-time positions, 7.2 million (twice what it was 20 years ago) are stuck in part time, mostly dead end jobs with no benefits, health care or chance for advancement.  Added to these numbers are the over 1.6 million incarcerated; the highest population percentage in the world.

It’s not much of a stretch to associate gangs, drug trafficking and robberies with the poor economy. Lack of employment opportunities results in stress, anger and poverty due to the loss of basic needs.  Bob Dylan said it simply “if you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.” With better job opportunities, poverty, crime rates and incarceration rates will decrease accordingly.  Few people would argue with that premise, but owners and managers of large corporations who have outsourced jobs to other countries have failed to make the connection to society as a whole.

It’s easy to criticize the government for spending too much money on social benefits for the poor contributing to a soaring national debt.  But, the loss of manufacturing jobs using both skilled and unskilled labor has expanded the need for entitlements. Many previous middle income workers are now working part time for less than $10/hr. They have become part of the working poor and pay very little if any taxes which negatively affects the national debt.

Globalization has given the very rich the option of saving or investing money in other countries or using financial tools such as hedge funds or derivatives to increase wealth.  Neither contributes much in the way of job opportunities for the working poor who are living paycheck to paycheck, spending most all of their income on basic needs such as food, rent, transportation and utilities. They are not interested in the stock market, GDP or other statistical measurements of the economy; their only concern is “keeping the wolf away from the door.”  The idea of “the American dream” is just that, a dream without appropriate opportunities for advancement.

In this country, it’s a given that globalization and free trade agreement have greatly benefited the very rich. There is much political conversation about inequality and the middle class wages not keeping pace with the top 1%.   But, the real issue should be globalization and inequality as it relates to the working poor. Politicians just don’t like to connect the subject of inequality with the plight of the working poor and the use of entitlements.

It’s obvious jobs created in the non-tradable section of the economy, primarily services, are mostly part time, low skill and consequently low pay positions.   Manufacturing jobs (with middle class incomes and benefits) that were lost to globalization or technology will not be coming back. So…….. There are only two options to help the quality of life for the working poor. Provide opportunities for training and education for higher skilled jobs less subject to off-shoring or increase the pay of positions in the non-tradeable sector. (Essentially a higher minimum wage) Unfortunately neither one of these options is feasible without some kind of government subsidy or monetary investment.

The problem is basically the same for both the developing and developed countries.  If the very rich use tax shelters and hide their money from the government, the government can’t afford programs that provide training and educational opportunities for the working poor to get out of poverty.  Charities may ease the pain, but means must be in place if the working poor are to improve themselves.

The root of the problem is a capitalistic system that rewards the rich and very rich with continuous growth.  If you ask a person making five hundred  grand a year if he considers himself/herself rich, the answer will be no. The person making a million a year wants to be in the same company as the person that makes ten million. The guy/gal who makes ten million wants to live the life of a billionaire. Whether we define the very rich as the 1% or the .1%, there is never enough money.

Dogmatic Ideology, Empathy and Conflict

Root Cause of Conflict

There have been many books written about the causes of war and why diplomacy failed to prevent it.  Logically justification for war between countries or cultures only makes sense if the gain in (territory, resources, wealth, power etc) is more valuable than the cost of lives and property spent waging the war. “To the victor go the spoils” a phrase popularized during the middle ages, could have political implications or simply mean winner gets the “stuff” left behind by the loser.

The promise of   bounty however is usually insufficient motivation for those risking their lives in combat. Leaders of every war have exaggerated and distorted differences in ideology to vilify the opposition.  Without the belief that we or our side is somehow better, more civilized or morally righteous, soldiers will perform poorly, or not at all.

The South Vietnamese inability to defend their own territory and the recent war in Iraq where the Iraqis army just walked away against ISIS are prime examples. In both cases, lack of respect for their own leaders combined with an unclear distinction of why the enemy was worse than their own government, left the soldiers without the desire to fight.

So, in my humble opinion, if you take away differences in ideology, support necessary for waging war will dissipate. That’s not to say government leaders won’t be tempted to start a war to gain territory, resources etc. but without an ideological cause for motivation, long term conflict will be impossible to maintain.

Before modern transportation and communication, it was easy to portray people of other countries or cultures as immoral, wicked or unprincipled. But, global business and immigration has created a diverse-melting pot of citizens for most nations. Additionally, live TV and the internet has provided an opportunity for private citizens to view, correspond and empathize with people of other cultures and countries.

The idea that all people have similar, if not the same, basic values, goals and fears is readable apparent to most everyone curious and willing  enough to use their brain. We may not be smarter than people who lived a hundred years ago, but we should be worldlier, less ignorant and consequently more tolerant of others. So the obvious question is, if people are more knowledgeable due to modern technology, why is there still so much war?

The simple answer is dogmatic ideology that has proven resistant to different points of view. In many countries, newspapers and  their content are controlled by the ruling party,  critical  views are grounds for incarceration.

The internet was supposed to be the great equalizer by educating the masses and unifying the world.  Instead we are all bombarded with propaganda, biased information and lies created by those who distort or edit the truth to fit their agenda. There is an overload of such information, disguised as news, supporting a multitude of various causes. Those with preformed ideology can easily find sources that confirm or reinforce their own convictions and biases.

Search engines make it easy to filter out or avoid sites that have a different or opposing viewpoint.  Instead of a greater understanding of political, racial or religious differences, bigotry is compounded into factions based on common ideology.

It is human nature to belong to a group of like-minded people suspicious of others who think or look differently. What’s needed to minimize tension is empathy which is derived from knowledge and familiarity between groups. But ideology creates prejudice which trumps these values out of ignorance and impedes assimilation of cultures.

It’s imperative to stay open-minded enough to search for flaws, distortions and lies that are portrayed as the truth.  Relinquishing fixed or dogmatic ideology and thinking for oneself is necessary to evaluate issues clearly.  Peace can be obtained by creating empathy between groups.   The golden rule of treating others as you would want them to treat you is the only requirement  and dogmatic ideology is the only obstacle.