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Purcell column: Let it snow

We could use a good snowstorm right about now.

I love a good dusting of snow. I love how it disrupts our routines and throws everything out of whack.

I lived in Washington, D.C., for nearly eight years. It delighted me how that city went into a panic every time forecasters predicted a few inches.

Not only are school delays common there, but the federal government often announces delays, too. It sometimes shuts down entirely, giving federal employees paid snow days.

Which is a delicious irony.

You see, Washington is full of self-important people who want to micromanage our lives through government programs, but are hopelessly lost when little white flakes fall from the sky.

I can’t think of anything that might disrupt D.C.’s increasingly partisan nastiness than for the self-important to be humbled. It’s hard not to be humble when you’re shoveling your sidewalk so the postal carrier or your neighbors don’t slip and fall.

Perhaps it’s because I live in the heartland — “flyover country” to some Washingtonians — that I love snow.

In Pittsburgh, you see, we know we can’t control the cold and snow, but we can control how we respond to them.

Our kids immediately appear atop the steepest slopes with a variety of sleds, then spend hours letting nature whip them downhill.

Our grownups abandon their typical routines to clear elderly neighbors’ driveways or bring them hot soup. Invigorated by the crisp air and a good sweat, we use this time to catch up with each other while sipping hot coffee.

One of my most memorable snowstorms happened on Christmas Eve 1976. We were celebrating with my mother’s family at my aunt’s house 20 miles from our home. The snow came down suddenly and thickly, and we knew we were facing a slow, potentially dangerous journey home.

I was 14. My sisters Krissy and Kathy, 17 and 19, were eager to strike out on their own. I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time all five of my sisters and I would ride together to a holiday party.

As we got onto the highway, the roads were already blanketed. It felt like we were in a big sleigh, quietly floating along the hills and valleys of Western Pennsylvania.

My father turned on the radio. Old-time shows were playing. Don Ameche and Frances Langford were performing in “The Bickersons,” a 1940s show in which a married couple got into hilarious arguments.

I remember the wife asking her husband if he’d had breakfast. He said he’d just eaten the oatmeal on the stove. “That isn’t oatmeal,” she said. “I’m wallpapering.”

My sisters, parents, grandmother and I laughed out loud. Later, we asked our grandmother to tell us stories about her childhood and what life was like when families sat around the radio.

It was a perfect night of peace and clarity — one made possible by the snow.

Look, a good snowstorm is a gift from the heavens. It’s intended to puncture our seriousness and self-importance.

As I said, our country could benefit from a good snowstorm right about now.

Copyright 2019 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. For info on using this column in your publication or website, contact Sales@cagle.com or call (805) 969-2829. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.

Chacos column: We love our guns, but how do we address it responsibly?

As a mother of three, I’ve spent a lot of time observing the esoteric connection children have with guns. A stick, a broom handle, or part of a cardboard box can be magically transformed into rudimentary weapons. Then, as my children got older, and they’re dexterity and imagination grew, I watched them make expertly shaped pistols made out of rolls of duct tape and play elaborate games of war.

I assured myself this primal behavior was cute and quaint because I actively parented my kids away from a culture of “boys and their guns.” I was confident peace would eventually prevail in my house.

Yet guns found a way to infiltrate our home even though I banned them over 20 years ago. We did not hunt, did not serve in the military, did not own video games, did not live near a shooting range, and did not watch television shows with guns. I never shopped the aisles of weaponry at the big box stores, and even went as far as demanding my husband rid our home of his childhood .22-caliber rifle.

I was basking in futility, so I slowly relented my stronghold against guns one foam bullet at a time. About five years ago, there was a Nerf gun birthday party for one of the kids in the neighborhood. I could either decline the invite or go in all guns a-blazing. Weeks later, we had a stockade of artillery protecting us from all the other armed kids on the street. I never felt so safe in suburbia and so shocked at my permissive behavior towards guns in my home.

Then, two years ago my children fell hard for paintball, and I found that nothing bonds three generations of family faster than a rousing game of Capture the Flag. Unfortunately, no one has ever admitted to tagging grandpa in the gullet with a neon green paintball. I can neither confirm nor deny my participation that sunny afternoon.

Now all my kids want to do is play airsoft. An airsoft gun replicates a real firearm and uses biodegradable BBs that produce a painful sting. The protective gear is costly, trendy and necessary unless you want one of your children coming home eyeless looking like they’ve been infected with chickenpox. And when a pack of teens dressed in ghillie suits come parading through your kitchen, it’s time to marvel at their elaborate hobby and bring up gun safety again.

This time, because I now have two teenagers (and a third who is unfortunately privy to more than he should be at 11), we talk about current events at school and what they hear in the news. Children at this age know what to do in an active shooter situation, the unlikeliness of a mass shooting, and that suicide by a gun is the most likely traumatic event a high schooler may have to deal with in school. Therefore, my husband and I choose to loop them into the polarizing conversation between gun rights and gun control advocates.

Preventing my children from playing with toy guns as toddlers may have curbed their developing brains from patterns of violent behavior. I also know robust talk and education as they mature does not singularly decrease murder and suicide by guns. These are individual measures, mere tactics, that help me feel proactive in the war on guns.

Ultimately, what we need are tighter gun laws. First, no matter the point of origin of purchase, individuals in the United States must go through a comprehensive background check prior to being able to purchase a firearm.

What we currently have in place is a gun show loophole the size of Texas. All you need to do is bypass the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and avoid purchasing your firearm from a licensed dealer. Easy peasy.

Secondly, we can reduce gun violence by taking guns out of the hands of violent offenders. If you commit a crime you should not be able to own a gun. I’m not referring to granny running a red light; I am referring to individuals convicted of assault, sexual battery, robbery and domestic violence. Bad violent behavior predicates your Second Amendment gun rights. Period.

Lastly, and certainly not the only other measure beneficial in reducing gun fatalities, is the understanding that not everyone should have the right to carry a concealed weapon.

Just because you clear a background check, you may not be the right candidate for owning a gun. Responsible ownership must also address overall mental health and well-being if we are committed to reducing gun violence.

There’s a sense of power, protection and rugged individualism we intimately feel through our guns. And there are plenty of corporations, organizations, businesses, and lobbyists who will make sure the love affair continues.

As for my children, I’m convinced they enjoy playing with guns, in part, because they know I don’t approve. Years after I spent a day rummaging through thousands of Legos disposing of the little plastic guns, I am now spouting, “Check your guns at the door and never aim at your mother.”

Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.

Shannon column: Hospitals play pin the price on the donkey

Consumer knowledge is consumer power. That is why hospitals fight tooth-and-toenail against any efforts to post turnkey prices for medical procedures.

Hospitals want to maintain price opacity. If you ask a hospital what it costs to have your appendix removed, you get one of three replies: uproarious, table-pounding laughter; thinly veiled contempt at such an ignorant question; or dead silence.

In theory, health insurance companies should be staunch allies of consumers in this fight for price transparency. Unfortunately, health insurance companies are basically utilities run by bureaucrats who move paper instead of electricity. They’re content to be wards of the Obamacare state.

Fortunately, the Information Iron Curtain has been under assault by at least three local efforts.

The Dallas Morning News reports Crystal Roberts was rushed to an emergency room after a car crash. Fortunately, she was home in only three hours. Unfortunately, lacking insurance, she was billed at the ‘This Is Gonna Hurt’ rate and charged $11,037 for procedures that didn’t require hospitalization.

This exemplifies the greed and sadism that typifies hospital administrators. They attempt to charge the highest prices to people who have already demonstrated they are either broke or idiots because they don’t have health insurance in the first place.

It’s literally adding insult to injury.

Crystal found a personal injury lawyer working on commission and sued the hospital. The state supreme court, bless its heart, ruled if the hospital intends to prove its $11,000 walletectomy is “reasonable” it must “share … details about the discounted rates it had with health insurers.”

That’s real progress, but the danger is the rats will see their hospital ship is sinking and settle out of court without releasing the prices.

The Maryland Health Care Commission is our second example. It published a limited list of turnkey prices for medical procedures. Limited because the prices cover operations on women or the elderly or elderly women. But it’s a start. The numbers cover 21 different hospitals in the state and along with prices the percentages of medical errors are also posted.

Finally, the private sector has done its part. Kaiser Health News covered the North American Specialty Hospital company that offers its business clients a program where employees leave the country for less expensive surgery.

Donna Ferguson had a knee-replacement done in Mexico by a surgeon from the Mayo Clinic. You’re no doubt thinking, yeah Mexico this year but it’ll be Somalia in 2020 if greedy capitalists can save a dime. Our suspicion is misplaced. Donna had the option of staying in Mississippi. What made the difference was the $5,000 check she received from her employer for agreeing to the lower-priced package.

Now the Trump administration has joined the fight. If you doubt the importance of access to pricing information, the response of hospitals to the Trump administration’s Hospital Price Transparency Rule makes my point eloquently.

They sued to block implementation. That’s because if it were up to hospital administrators, patients wouldn’t be able to find out what it cost to park until they tried to exit the parking garage.

The New York Times explains, “The nation’s hospital groups sued the Trump administration over a new federal rule that would require them to disclose the discounted prices they give insurers for all sorts of procedures.” Including the cash price it will accept from individual patients.

It’s interesting that while hospitals have no compunction about forcing Crystal to hold bake sales to make the monthly payment on her hospital bill, the effort involved in publishing price information would bring the friendly folks in hospital billing to their knees. “‘The sheer volume of data that the government is proposing health plans disclose is staggering — dollar amounts for every single item or service, for every single provider and facility, for every single individual and employer plan,’ wrote executives from America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.”

If that’s really the case, how do hospitals calculate the bill? Is it by taking the total overhead and anticipated profit for the month and divide it by the number of procedures? Or does the information already exist and they are simply lying through their lawyers?

Hospital price transparency has been one of the few sustained efforts on behalf of normal people from the Trump administration.

This fight is too important to leave to lawyers and judges. Consumers need to be heard. Call your congressman and tell him you support the Hospital Price Transparency Rule. And send an email to the Department of Human Services in support, too.

If consumers don’t make their voice heard you can be sure the vacuum will be filled by the blandishments of hospital lobbyists.

Copyright 2019 Michael Shannon, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Michael Shannon is a commentator and public relations consultant, and is the author of “A Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times.” He can be reached at mandate.mmpr@gmail.com.

Micek column: Republicans promote know-nothingness during impeachment hearings

It’s not often that you get to watch what conservative author Tom Nichols has called “the death of expertise” unfold in real time.

But that’s exactly what happened Wednesday as Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee sneeringly grilled a panel of law school professors as the academics — using facts, precedent and history — justified the case for President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

“No offense to our professors. But please. Really? We’re bringing you in here today to testify on stuff … that we already know, out of the classrooms that maybe you’re getting ready for finals in, to discuss things that you probably haven’t even had a chance to [read or watch],” Georgia Rep. Doug Collins scoffed during his opening statement.

The target of Collins’ criticism, Stanford University Law School professor Pamela Karlan, forcefully hit back at the Southerner’s attempt at mansplaining.

“Here Mr. Collins I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts,” she clapped back. “So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.”

But that was the M.O. for the panel’s GOP lawmakers who, in the absence of an actual defense of Trump’s impeachment-worthy attempt to strong-arm Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, resulted to the time-honored tactic of trying to tear down the witnesses.

“All I got to say is, if you love America, mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to Harvard or Stanford law school.” Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert quipped, apparently unaware of how hard it is to walk 10 feet on Capitol Hill without running into someone who holds a degree from either of those institutions.

That included Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Stanford law grad who groused how much he disliked his time there.

Gaetz also heaped scorn on Karlan, telling her that, from “the ivory towers of [her] law school,” that she could not see that she was condescending to “the actual people of this country.” By which, I suppose, Gaetz meant Trump voters. But no matter. The fight over who qualifies as an “Actual American” could fill an entire column.

There’s always been an ugly strain of know-nothingness at the heart of American life. And it’s one of the great contradictions in our national character. As much as we urge our children to work hard, to go to school, push them to achieve, and to make a better life for themselves, there’s still an unalloyed disdain for those who actually make it there.

In Trump’s America, this tendency has been weaponized and deployed for political ends.

Thus, American heroes such as Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, Russia expert Fiona Hill and former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch are assailed as emissaries of the “deep state” instead of being celebrated for their service and hailed as the very best that our nation has to offer.

I’ve written before of Nichols, a former U.S. Senate staffer and Naval War College professor, whose slender 2017 volume “The Death of Expertise,” should be required reading for every American.

In it, Nichols makes a clear and compelling case for the damage done to our culture by the unsupportable insistence that everyone is as smart as everyone else — that expert opinion is meaningless and that any attempt to dismiss such an argument claims is just “elitism.”

“The bigger problem is we’re proud of not knowing things,” Nichols writes. “Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of any public policy issue, is an actual virtue.”

Which brings me back to Gohmert gratuitously dumping on Harvard and Stanford, which used to be held up as aspirational places that would help our children reach that golden future we exhorted them to stretch their arms out toward.

But experts do punch themselves in the face a few times. From the fatally false arguments about weapons of mass destruction that led us to war in Iraq to Karlan’s own ill-chosen remarks Wednesday about Trump’s youngest child, Barron Trump, this habit is undoubtedly bipartisan.

The real shame is, though, that America needs more of the kind of sober and well-informed discussion that unfolded before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

The hours-long session was a free master class on American political history and the Constitution. Instead of shouting at the academics, GOP lawmakers should have listened for a few minutes. Who knows? They might even have learned something.

John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at jmicek@penncapital-star.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.

Reagan column: Behind the glare of impeachment, Secretary Devos shines

Impeach! Impeach! Impeach!

Removing Donald Trump from office before he can get re-elected is the only thing in Washington that Democrats and the national media really care about.

But while Thelma Pelosi and Louise Nadler speed down their constitutionally crooked backroad to impeachment, the Trump administration has been quietly tackling issues like education that are actually important for Americans.

Covered by the constant media glare of impeachment, for instance,Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is doing a great job of fixing our broken public education system.

DeVos hasn’t just been delivering the usual canned speeches lamenting our sorry public schools or extolling the blessings of school choice.

She’s doing her best to get the federal government out of public education, where it never belonged.

Described on her department’s web site as “an unrelenting champion for America’s students, educators and taxpayers,” DeVos plans to do major structural things like combining the Department of Education and the Department of Labor and spinning off a new independent agency that would handle the federal government’s $1.5 trillion student-loan portfolio.

She already has a list of smaller accomplishments too long to detail.

She’s overhauled the management of her department, implemented a pro-taxpayer budget, cut staff by 10 per cent, transferred duties to other federal agencies, thrown out 29 major regulations and done her best to do what she promised she’d do from Day One – work herself out of a job.

She’s restoring local and state control of education by ending the failed Common Core program and implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.

She’s expanded school choice opportunities in Washington, D.C. and rescinded Obama-era guidance on school discipline that tied the hands of teachers and principals.

DeVos has introduced Education Freedom Scholarships, which the department web site boasts is “the most transformative K-12 policy ever” and would provide families with up to $5 billion in scholarships to help them get the best education option possible.

Meanwhile, in higher education she’s also stuck up for free speech and religious freedom on campuses and drafted new regulations on sexual misconduct that protect survivors, hold schools accountable and ensure due process for alleged perpetrators.

It will take all of these large and small reforms, and many more, to fix our failing public schools, return genuine local control to our classrooms.

We have a long way to go to provide maximum school choice for parents – and the Democrats, unions and education industrial complex hate everything DeVos is doing.

But too bad for them.

Before Jimmy Carter invented the Department of Education in 1979, our public schools were the envy of the world. Today, 75 percent of our black and brown kids are unable to read or do math at grade level.

The federal bureaucracy in D.C. accounts for about only 9 percent of the $700 billion-plus that we spend each year on public education. But in 40 years it has managed to spend nearly a trillion bucks and done immense damage to our education system.

If I had young kids today, I wouldn’t put them in public education if all they took was recess.

I’d either homeschool them or send them to a good private school. Millions of parents would do the same if they had the choice or could afford it.

DeVos wants every kid in America to have the chance to get the same high-quality schooling hers had.

The best way to attain that goal is to get rid of the Department of Education, which is something my father said in 1979 he would do if he were elected in 1980.

Unfortunately, he was never able to fulfill that promise as president, and until Trump and DeVos came along to drain D.C.’s swamps, Carter’s gift to the teachers unions survived and grew as it slowly ruined our public schools.

It’s not hard to see why Democrats would love to impeach DeVos, too.

Send comments to Reagan@caglecartoons.com. Follow @reaganworld on Twitter.

Manieri column: ‘Tis the season for phony outrage and made up controversies

Thanks in large part to social media, and in equally large part to the mean-spirited discourse of the day, virtually anything can be turned into a national controversy.

For Exhibit A, I go to Melania Trump or, more specifically, to the first lady’s coat.

If you remember last holiday season, Mrs. Trump was lambasted by the media and Hollywood types for her red Christmas trees.

This year, because there are no red Christmas trees or otherwise scandalous decorations in the White House, Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan went wardrobe on Melania.

“Melania Trump’s Christmas decorations are lovely, but that coat looks ridiculous,” Givhan wrote. She also called it “a discomforting affectation taken to a ludicrous extreme.”

Based on Givhan’s criticism, you’d think the first lady was wearing a fresh bear carcass with the head still on.

I’m no expert in women’s fashion, as any woman I know will attest. But I like the coat. I would encourage you to see for yourself, but in the photo released by the White House, the coat is draped over her shoulders. I’m not sure of the color. Looks like an off-white or beige to me, but I think it looks nice. But, as I say, I’m no expert.

Was it Sigmund Freud or Calvin Klein who said, “Sometimes a coat is just a coat.”?

For Exhibit B — and I could keep going down the alphabet but there’s only so much time — I take you to Twitter, currently abuzz with criticisms and parody videos of a holiday Peloton commercial made by angry people with incredible amounts of downtime.

CNN ran a story under the headline, “Peloton’s perplexing new holiday ad has incensed the internet.”

The internet is always incensed about something, so that’s not exactly breaking news. But the ad itself, which you’ve probably seen by now, features a woman receiving a Peloton indoor bike as a gift from her husband and then chronicling her fitness journey on video.

The ad has been called sexist, among other things.

In its report, CNN asks the question, “So what, then, makes this ad so offensive?”

The question, of course, assumes that everyone finds the ad offensive.

I don’t see what’s offensive about it. It seems to me that Peloton has actually exercised (see what I did there?) significant restraint, under the circumstances.

Peloton bikes feature an interactive screen with live and on-demand fitness classes led by a professional. Imagine the possibilities for offending.

“Pick up the pace, pork chop!”

“Why is your house so dark? You must be blocking out the sun. Pedal faster!”

“Come on! Imagine there’s a pizza at the finish line!

Now, that’s offensive.

As it stands, I don’t see what’s objectionable about a well-to-do, professional woman getting an exercise bike as a gift. But I’d clearly be in the minority in any survey of the frequently outraged and easily offended, a growing group which now includes Vice writer Katie Way.

“Her grim motivation that pushes her to drag herself out of bed combined with exclaiming at the camera how blatantly, inexplicably nervous the Peloton makes her paint a bleak portrait of a woman in the thrall of a machine designed to erode her spirit as it sculpts her quads,” Way wrote. “Titled ‘The Gift That Gives Back,’ the 30-second commercial is a mere glimpse into the barrage of horror its protagonist, a young wife and mother, slogs through daily.”

“Barrage of horror” might be just a bit strong. The woman is pedaling a bike, not landing on Omaha Beach.

These bikes aren’t cheap — about $2,500 — and given the woman’s luxurious surroundings, some have said the commercial smacks of “privilege,” which I suppose means a privileged person can be defined thus: Someone who has something I want but can’t afford so she shouldn’t have it either.

There is one thing a little odd about the ad. The woman featured appears just as fit at the beginning of the commercial as she does at the end. This is not a “before and after” scenario. The benefits of her fitness journey seem a little ambiguous.

But why should I care? My workout often includes hitting tractor tires with a sledge hammer. Whatever gets you through the day.

Was it Freud or Jack LaLanne who said, “Sometimes a bike is just a bike”?

Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at manieri2@gmail.com.

Polman column: Snarky mockery of Joe Biden is sheer malarkey

I know it’s very uncool — at least in the precincts of snarky lefty Twitter — to defend Joe Biden, but I’ll give it a try.

The Democratic front-runner is currently touring Iowa on a bus that’s newly emblazoned with his favorite Irish-American slang — “No Malarkey!” — which, for those unfamiliar with the word, roughly means “No BS,” a not-so-implicit swipe at Donald Trump’s serial lying. Biden has virtually branded the word as his own. During his first presidential bid in 1988, he assailed Republican rhetoric: “Don’t buy all this malarkey!” As the veep in 2012, he mocked Paul Ryan for spouting “a bunch of malarkey.” In 2016, he said that Trump’s promises were “a bunch of malarkey.”

Young snarky lefties on social media think it’s hysterically funny that Biden loves the adjective enough to put it on his bus. Over the weekend, they tweeted a flood of malarkey mockery: “Omg, your bus says malarkey?!? What is this the ’50s?” and “Man I can’t even troll this. Could someone from Biden 2020 please start explaining these things to him.”

On cable TV, Trevor Noah said that nobody knows what malarkey means “unless you’re over the age of 80.” New York magazine weighed in as well, because it’s important to be edgy. Its headline: 77-Year-Old Candidate Hopes ‘No Malarkey’ Will Excite Voters.

Granted, this isn’t the biggest issue in the world — especially now, with a lawless “president” finally on the cusp of impeachment — but it illustrates the chasm that separates the young mockers from current political reality.

For starters, Twitter (which skews young and liberal Democratic) does not mirror the Democratic primary electorate. The Pew Research Center says that only 22 percent of American adults use Twitter, and the most prolific 10 percent account for roughly 80 percent of all tweets. The disproportionate share of tweeters are typically outspoken young people; the disproportionate share of people who actually vote in Democratic primaries and general elections are older adults and seniors.

Or put it this way: Young people aged 18 to 29, who make the most noise on Twitter and mock Biden every day, consistently have the lowest turnout rates. Older adults and seniors consistently have the highest turnout rates. One of the earliest Democratic primary states is Nevada, where the youth turnout rate in 2016 was 5 percent. In South Carolina, another early Democratic state, it was 18 percent – which was actually lower than in 2012.

Biden doesn’t care right now about younger voters, because if they show up at all in the early primaries, they’ll likely choose Bernie or Warren. But older people vote in the greatest numbers, they don’t pay attention to Twitter or the late-night wiseacres, and they like Biden. They’re his base, and they’ve kept him at the top of the Democratic race. The “No Malarkey” slogan is designed specifically for them. Young people think the slogan is synonymous with old guy, but, as one Biden precinct captain in Iowa told Politico, “Older people know what it means, and older people vote.”

And regardless of whether you support or oppose Biden, you have to admit that the “No Malarkey” slogan attests to his authenticity. If he seems uncool, using a word that traces back to the Jazz Age and beyond, then so be it. He is who he is, take it or leave it. Voters tend to appreciate it when a politician eschews pretense and behaves like a human.

Of course, if Biden does win the nomination – propelled by older voters, and racking up delegates in the most populous states thanks especially to older black voters – he’ll need to gin up support among the young for the home stretch. But that’s a fight for another day, and if young people were to ultimately decide that their landslide hostility toward Trump is somehow outweighed by Biden’s profile as an old guy, the consequences for this nation could be tragic.

They would deserve the blame, not Biden. And that’s no malarkey.

Email Dick Polman at dickpolman7@gmail.com

Sundin column: The moral dilemma posed by immigration

Dilemma is defined in the dictionary as “a choice between equally unsatisfactory alternatives.” With Christmas approaching, we are confronted with the moral dilemma of immigration: the needs of humanity versus concern about its effects on the future of our country; exclusiveness vs. humanitarianism; protectionism vs. compassion.

On the one hand, there is the desire to preserve the status quo. There is real and justified concern about the impact of admitting large numbers of people into our already overcrowded cities, exacerbating gridlocked traffic and further driving up land and housing costs beyond what growing numbers of people can afford. There are also concerns about the social, cultural, economic, political and environmental effects of admitting large numbers of immigrants.

On the other hand, there are crying reasons for sympathy for people (especially the children) who are desperately trying to escape countries where law and order and economies have collapsed, and are fleeing for their lives due to ethnic or religious strife or because of gangs threatening to take “your money or your life,” or your children. There is also a need in our country to meet the growing demand for low-cost unskilled labor which immigrants have historically filled as a stepping stone to a better life.

We need to recall that except for the surviving descendents of Native Americans, we are all immigrants or descendents of immigrants. The Native Americans started a long tradition of those already here not welcoming newcomers.

Until 1820 most of the immigrants were English or Scottish, but from 1820 to 1880 the influx of millions of Irish (mostly Catholic) and Germans (largely Catholic) aroused a fear that the United States would be overwhelmed by Catholics and be controlled by the Pope. Many were also concerned that these immigrants would displace Americans from their jobs. But they were welcomed with open arms by corporate interests to fill the labor needs of rapidly expanding railroads and the mining, steel, textile and garment industries.

In the next several decades, they were followed by millions of immigrants from Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s several groups formed to restrict immigration, including the Immigration Restriction League to oppose Irish and German Catholic immigration and the “Nativists” (“old-stock” Americans) who feared negative effects from immigrants.

In the 1860s, laborers from China were imported into California to blast a tunnel through the granite Sierra Mountain Range (at a rate of a few feet per day) for the Transcontinental Railroad because they were skilled in working with nitroglycerine, were cheap and were expendable. In 1882 (when dynamite had taken the place of nitroglycerine) there was no longer a need for their skill, and Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibiting importing Chinese laborers — which was in effect until it was repealed in 1945.

In 1939, the SS St. Louis carrying about 900 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany sought admission to the United States after being denied asylum in Cuba and Canada. Responding to anti-Semitic sentiment in the U.S., our government also rejected their appeal, forcing the ship to return to Germany and the likelihood of their extermination. But after the end of World War II the U.S. passed the Displaced Persons Act granting several hundred thousand refugees from Europe (many of whom were Jewish) admission into our country. And following Fidel Castro’s taking over Cuba in 1959, the U.S. admitted several hundred thousand Cuban refugees.

Today, immigration of refugees fleeing their homelands has become a worldwide problem. For the United States, the primary concern is the large numbers of people fleeing poverty and the ruthless gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. We also need to be on guard to protect our borders from Muslim terrorists. They are easy to differentiate from Hispanics, and because they are primarily from the Middle East there is an ocean separating us from their countries of origin. Hopefully, we have learned our lesson from the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

Europe (primarily Italy, Greece, Germany and Sweden) is being invaded by large numbers of refugees fleeing the internecine warfare between Shiites and Sunnis which is consuming their homelands, and it is difficult to distinguish between Muslim refugees and Muslim terrorists.

How the United States should respond to this dilemma between concern for the plight of refugees and concern for their impact on our country is something that all of us should weigh in our hearts and minds.

Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. “As I See It” appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com. Contact him at asicit1@hotmail.com.

Graves column: Deck the halls and hit the deck

Yes, I am one of “those” people.

About 30 minutes after Labor Day has officially ended, I feel a strange compulsion to binge on my mother’s iced sugar cookies shaped like snowmen while listening to Nat King Cole croon about chestnuts. I usually resist breaking out my collection of “international” Santa figurines — including Las Vegas Santa indulging his gambling addiction on the slots — until after Halloween. But once I’ve polished off my kids’ trick-or-treat candy, I go into full-out Christmas-prep beast mode.

I realize that my premature Yuletide activities irritate some folks, and I place the blame partly on the retail economy, which starts celebrating HallowThanksMas around the time when we East Texans are suffering from acute Eskimo envy in the sweltering month of September. And I must admit that it’s a little disconcerting to go to Walmart for a new giant unicorn pool float and walk past a tempting display of Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes. Thankfully, I can usually limit myself to five or six family-size packs.

Another reason for my pre-season holly-jolly spaz attack is the sheer magnitude of our Christmas swag. I spend most of the year expecting our ceiling to collapse under the mass of nativity sets, Christmas villages, and countless other seasonal dust magnets stockpiled in our attic. In fact, I’m resigned to the probability that I’ll eventually be taken out by a Rubbermaid tub full of decorative nutcrackers. Seriously, though, I figure if I don’t start dragging out the décor soon enough, I’ll still be stringing up lights when it’s time to overdose on Velveeta dip and chicken wings during the Super Bowl.

As an example of our fanatical festooning, we don’t allow Santa to squeeze out of our gas-log fireplace until we’ve erected not one, but two Christmas trees in our living room. One serves as our “fashionable” tree, adorned with ornaments accumulated from several trips my wife and I took overseas — before we had our three daughters and started hemorrhaging wads of cash on dance lessons, cell phones, and salted-caramel iced mochas.

The other tree features mostly homemade ornaments, many of which include photos of our daughters at various ages. This tree is a favorite of my wife and me, and when the girls aren’t vociferously expressing their unmitigated disgust at the pictures of themselves with toddler bangs or missing baby teeth, they secretly compete to see who can maneuver their own photo ornaments to the highest and most visible branches.

Eventually the tree develops a distinct top-heavy list, threatening to topple over and impale our full-figured Siamese cat, who spends most of the holiday lounging at the tree’s base and wistfully gazing upwards, wondering what it might be like to muster the energy to climb it — or even paw at a low-hanging baby Jesus made of Styrofoam and pipe cleaners.

The pinnacle of our home decorating frenzy involves the death defying installation of exterior lighting. Each year, I entertain the neighbors and risk permanent paralysis by hanging several strings of C-9 bulbs from the unnecessarily steep eves of our house. This process inevitably requires that I actually climb onto our roof for a public performance of uncoordinated acrophobia.

Taking the advice of my dad — a veritable Rembrandt of domestic holiday displays — I stay as low as possible while I’m scuttling around up there and trying to avoid hurling on the housetop. And I’m usually able to pick all of the shingle grit out of my ears and teeth by the new year.

Once all of the decorating is done and I’m in my easy chair nursing a pulled groin and a mug of hot cocoa with extra mini marshmallows, I look around at the twinkling lights, the radiant poinsettias, and the stockings hung by the chimney-insert with care, and I realize that it’s worth all of the trouble.

And if I start packing all of this away shortly, I can re-decorate the house in time for Valentine’s Day.

Contact Jase Graves at susanjase@sbcglobal.net.

Whiting column: Be accountable for the things we are thankful for

Lately, we seem to be focusing more on what we don’t have than what we do. Things may not be perfect or what we might ultimately desire.

At this holiday time, however, it’s important to be thankful for the privileges and opportunities our country provides its citizens; most of whom are the envy of the rest of the world. But that is not enough. Individually, we need to acknowledge and accept the responsibilities that accompany these same privileges and opportunities.

Initially, we must be thankful for our opportunity to be alive and live our life, which is what makes the other aspects relevant. Our responsibility is to not deny anyone else the same opportunity.

Thankful for the opportunity of a free high school education. Education is the No. 1 route out of poverty and facilitates the pursuit of the career of our choice. Our responsibility is to not only support schools but emphasize education not only for ourselves but our children. This includes not only English literacy but behavior.

Thankful for the aforementioned opportunity to choose our career and its inherent satisfactions, which is less common in other countries than we might think. Our responsibility is to actively develop this career, so we don’t have to settle for the job that finds us. We aren’t entitled to this career without acquiring the requisite skills and demonstrating work ethic; both at a high level.

Thankful for a higher level of equality than most countries. Our responsibility is to strive for total integration and assimilation. This involves viewing others at the same level of equality we would desire, avoiding self-segregation and not making decisions based on race, religion, gender or any other label we may generate.

Thankful for our ability to own property that cannot be seized by the government or others without due process. Our responsibility is to own it safely, which includes insuring against the possibility of its causing harm to others.

Thankful for a country that is relatively safe, both domestically and internationally. We effectively supply the national defense for Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe. Domestically, our responsibility is to not tolerate, accept or ignore the presence of crime. Internationally, it’s our responsibility to support our troops before, during and after all missions.

Thankful for a country that cares. We provide social and welfare benefits to citizens in need as well as the highest level of humanitarian aid to foreign countries. Our responsibility is to work to minimize our having to utilize these benefits. This facilitates fulfillment of our responsibility to be generous and charitable to others, given the caveat of avoiding doing so in a manner which enables laziness or other non-productive habits. It also requires our actively joining and participating in local civic organizations which work for the benefit of our respective communities.

Thankful for freedom of religion. Our responsibility is to not just tolerate but encourage others to believe and worship as they see fit, as we develop our own faith.

Thankful for freedom of speech and expression. Our responsibility, if we truly believe in freedom of speech, is to not only refuse to censor others whose views may not correspond to ours but fight for their freedom to say them. It means we cannot use adverse labeling as a tool against those with differing views. Instead, we must vehemently pursue ours in a reasonable manner. We must focus on the ideas or the words, not the people saying them. If we defeat the validity of their ideas, the people will disappear.

Thankful for the availability of quality medical care. Sure, the cost seems excessive and the health insurance issue seem difficult; but care is available. Twice as many people come to our country for care compared to our citizens who choose to go elsewhere. Our responsibility is to do our part by adopting a healthy lifestyle, purchasing the level of insurance we can afford, and not buying or selling drugs. We must remember that drugs are the same as any other commodity. They will cease to be present if no one buys them.

Thankful for our freedom of movement and choice. Our responsibility is to take command of our own lives and take responsibility for the good and bad decisions we make in that regard.

All these privileges and opportunities require we continue to promote the economic tenets of capitalism and the procedures of our democratic republic that have made us successful. We can and should continue to make small tweaks and improvements, but to abandon or work against what has been the reason for our country’s success is foolish. Our responsibility is to pay the taxes we owe, while working to assure our elected officials don’t feel they have “carte blanche” to take what we have earned.

When we accept and take advantage of the privileges and opportunities our country has provided, we have a personal responsibility to honor and respect our country, its pledge, flag and constitution.

Even with the presence of these opportunities, “you have to get off your butt to make a buck.”

Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than by government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: bwpersonalresponsibility@gmail.com