Trump State of the Union I: Americans are dreamers too

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President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address last night. His speech couldn’t have been more positive for the country.

Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Party clearly demonstrated their political partisanship and personal animus towards this President all night long.

The Dems refused to applaud or otherwise positively acknowledge even the most positive developments involving programs and people they normally claim as their own.

This was clearly a victorious evening for a President who has been repeatedly attacked by those Democrats and their liberal media arm throughout his first year in office.

The economy and domestic policy. Defense and international relations. The President touched on all of the hot-button topics of interest to Americans today.

He began early in his speech by going over some of the tough challenges faced by the nation over this past year. The mass shooting in Las Vegas and the shooting at a Congressional softball game. Natural disasters in which “We endured floods and fires and storms.”

To highlight these challenges, the President presented and told the stories of specific individuals. 

Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert worked for 18 hours straight during Hurricane Harvey to help save 40 lives. Firefighter David Dahlberg rescued 60 children trapped at a summer camp during the California wildfires. 

Congressman Steve Scalise, who the President christened as “the legend from Louisiana” to roaring applause, fought hard to recover from gunshot wounds at that Congressional softball game, returning to work just a few months later.

“Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew:  that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans.  If there is a mountain, we climb it.  If there is a frontier, we cross it.  If there is a challenge, we tame it.  If there is an opportunity, we seize it.”

The President then segued into that seizing of opportunity in the economy: 2.4 million new jobs created. Rising wages. Low unemployment, including historic lows for African-Americans and Hispanic Americans. Massive individual and business tax cuts. A record-breaking stock market.

“This is our new American moment.  There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream. So to every citizen watching at home tonight — no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time.  If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything.”

The President used that positive statement to move through a couple moments of open patriotism. He emphasized a love for the American flag, the pledge of allegiance, and our national anthem.

He acknowledged America’s military and law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line daily for all of our citizens.

To help highlight the importance of patriotism, the President presented the story of Preston Sharp. The 12-year old California boy noticed that flags were missing from the graves of veterans. He began a movement that spread across the country, resulting in flags placed at the graves of more than 40,000 deceased American heroes.

 

“In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life.  Our motto is “in God we trust.”

This line as much as any that the President delivered all night perfectly highlights the differences between America’s modern political parties.

Democrats believe that government knows best, and want to regulate our lives through its bureaucracies. Republicans believe in unleashing the power of private industry and individual freedom.

Also, Republicans regularly fight to acknowledge the central role of God in our lives. Not just our individual lives, but also in the collective life of the American nation.

The President then moved through a list of accomplishments in areas vitally important to his base. The appointment of originalist judges, highlighted by SCOTUS Justice Neil Gorsuch. Fighting to protect religious liberty and the 2nd Amendment. Reform of the Veterans Administration.

He then rattled off a litany of achievements in various industries, including the automotive industry and energy independence.

The President then made an emotional plea and promise involving prescription drugs. The plea was on behalf of Americans seeking alternatives when suffering from terminal disease.

“People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure — I want to give them a chance right here at home.  It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the “right to try.””

As emotional as that plea was, his promise to reduce costs was equally forceful: “…I have directed my Administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities.  Prices WILL come down.

This led the President into one of his leading programs in the coming year, infrastructure improvements. He called on a congress to undertake a massive $1.5 trillion program to improve the nation’s “roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways…



He then proceeded to make a statement that once again highlighted the difference between the two parties: “We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity.

Every action taken by the President and the Republican-controlled congress reveals their belief in empowering individuals to earn their way to prosperity, rather than relying on government handouts to permanently enslave them.

Still, the President is not without heart for those struggling. He called for increased investment in vocational schools, paid family leave, and a second chance for certain inmates through prison reform.

And then President Trump moved into security and defense, both at home and abroad. He spoke of the importance of securing the southern border, highlighted by introducing the parents of two Long Island teenage girls murdered by the notorious MS-13 gang.



Turning the spotlight squarely on to his Democratic Party critics with he issue of the so-called “dreamers”, he reiterated the over-arching theme of his Presidency: America First.

“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream.  Because Americans are dreamers too.”

The President then presented a four-pillared immigration plan that was led by a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants. The other three pillars involved building the southern border wall, ending the visa lottery program, and ending chain migration.

While many on the far right will not like the idea of citizenship for the “dreamers”, the fact remains that the immigration issue will never be resolved without bipartisan cooperation.

This olive branch to Democrats is accompanied long-term solutions to help keep the problem from developing again. This would be accomplished by enacting the other three pillars.

President Trump then called on full funding for our American military, including modernizing our nuclear arsenal “making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression. 

The President then highlighted the success of the American military over this past year in nearly destroying ISIS. He introduced Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck, who saved the life of CPO Kenton Stacy. 

The two soldiers had been working to clear buildings which had been rigged with bombs by ISIS, in order that civilians could safely return to those homes, schools, and hospitals. An explosion in a booby-trapped building left Stacy fighting for his life, and Peck’s actions saved him.

“Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil.  When possible, we annihilate them.  When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them.  But we must be clear:  Terrorists are not merely criminals.  They are unlawful enemy combatants.  And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.”

This statement led the President into an announcement to reverse a dangerous process entered into by the Obama administration. President Trump signed an order to keep the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay open, hinting that Gitmo can expect more detainees in the future.

The President then spoke of his formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He asked congress to fix the Iran nuclear deal, and mentioned increased sanctions on dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.

Introducing the parents of Otto Warmbier as “powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world“, the President moved on to North Korean aggression and provocations. 

 

Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation.  I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”

He further took a slap at the United Nations and challenged congress “…to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends.”

As his address drew towards a close, President Trump dropped in a reference to his ongoing campaign slogan in the following statement.

“Americans fill the world with art and music.  They push the bounds of science and discovery.  And they forever remind us of what we should never forget:  The people dreamed this country. The people built this country.  And it is the people who are making America great again.”

As he moved through his election campaign and first year in office, President Donald Trump pledged to “Make America Great Again”. In his address, the President specifically called on Congress to take the following actions:

  • empower Cabinet Secretaries to empower good workers and remove those who fail
  • give terminally ill patients a chance to try experimental drugs right here in America
  • produce a major $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill with state/local partnerships and streamlined permits
  • close immigration loopholes and support his Four Pillars program described previously
  • end the defense sequester, fully funding our military
  • empower our military, law enforcement, and intelligence officers to detain terrorists
  • pass legislation to ensure our tax dollars only go to foreign governments friendly to America
  • address flaws in the Iran nuclear deal
It would be a challenge to find fault in much of this message. Yet when the President look out on the Democrats sitting over on the right from his vantage point, he rarely found applause, and even less often received a standing ovation, things that happened numerous times with his Republican colleagues.

 

 

For example, most of the Democrats refused to applaud the 12-year old boy who inspired the flag recognition program for brave deceased veterans, or the parents of the two girls murdered by MS-13.
They even refused to applaud the lowest unemployment figures in history for African-Americans and Hispanic Americans, supposedly some of their base constituency.
At one point, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was even seen glancing around at her colleagues, apparently to ensure that none of them were responding positively to the President’s message.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia was caught rising to applaud once. As he rose, he looked around and saw that none of his colleagues were doing the same, and he quickly caught himself and sat down again.
This is the problem with American politics today. Our supposed “leaders” cannot even set aside their political partisanship and personal animus for recognition of fundamental humanity. As long those such as Pelosi remain in leadership roles, and others like Manchin remain fearful of displaying any independence whatsoever, then the problems within our political house will never be resolved.

Unless you are nothing more than one of those partisan political opponents and/or you hold a personal grudge against President Trump, it would be hard for you to argue that his State of the Union address proved that he is doing just what he promised – he is making America great again.

Russia causes a mess for the FBI and the American political process

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There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) over the last couple of years.

Much of that controversy involves what is becoming increasingly apparent partisan political activity by some in leadership positions in the nation’s leading law enforcement agency during the 2016 Presidential election process and its aftermath.

The key terms and the names of the players involved have been regularly splashed across news headlines. Fusion GPS, Russia meddling, deleted emails. Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Robert Mueller, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Loretta Lynch, Andrew McCabe. 

What is all the fuss about, and what is the truth? Who actually did what? Was anything illegal or improper done? If so, was it anything for Americans to truly be concerned about? Is this all just political gamesmanship? 

In the news today, McCabe has “stepped down” as deputy director at the FBI. Per a report from Kelly Cohen at the Washington Examiner this afternoon, this move appears to be “tied to a forthcoming watchdog report on how the agency handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.



That email investigation began to develop some time around October 1, 2016. With the Presidential election just over a month away, according to a May 2017 piece by Peter Elkind at ProPublica: “agents sifting through files on a laptop belonging to the former congressman Anthony Weiner, as part of a sex-crimes investigation, had stumbled across emails sent by Clinton when she was secretary of state.

Per Elkind, over the next few weeks as the investigation into Weiner’s alleged relationship with a 15-year old girl unfolded “the agents concluded that the laptop contained thousands of Clinton messages.

This was problematic for a number of reasons. The FBI under Comey had already been looking into Clinton’s email practices for more than a year. 

During her tenure as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, Clinton had used her private home email server to send out official communications. More than 2,000 of these emails contained information that was classified at the time, or would be acknowledged as such later. Comey identified 65 of the emails as “secret”, and another 22 as containing “top secret” information.

Anyone who understands computers and the Internet can understand why the use of a private email server by someone like the Secretary of State is a dangerous practice. 

Without the protection of government-based servers, the emails could easily be intercepted by hackers. This could potentially send devastating classified information into the hands of those who would do our nation harm.

Hackers from Russia and Serbia were known by the Clinton team to both have awareness of the email server vulnerabilities, as well as to have actually made hacking attempts during 2011 and 2012.

As more information was revealed over time, the FBI finally began an investigation in 2015. The purpose was to determine whether Clinton and/or her aides had jeopardized national security. If so, to determine who could be held responsible for such actions.

The controversy deepened when it was revealed that Clinton had directed that some 30,000 emails should be deleted. 




They had nothing to do with work,” Clinton said per Mike Levine per ABC News. “I didn’t see any reason to keep them … no one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.

However, the FBI was able to recover some of those emails, determining that roughly 17,000 of the deleted messages did indeed contain work-related information. Can you just imagine that the name and candidate here was “Trump” instead of “Clinton”, having denied and then found to have been wrong or lied?

Enter Lynch, the first African-American woman to serve as Attorney General of the United States. An Obama appointee, she was being briefed on the investigation by Comey. She directed Comey that he should describe the investigation as a less formal “matter” instead. It was later revealed by the New York Times that Lynch had stated she would “protect” Clinton.

On June 27, 2016, Lynch was spotted on the tarmac at a Phoenix airport holding a half-hour conversation with former President Bill Clinton. Lynch’s apparent efforts to downplay the investigation coupled with this clandestine tarmac meeting led Comey to publicly announce results of the investigation.



Announcements regarding the ongoing email investigation into Clinton were used as key campaign fuel by the Trump campaign in the closing days of the election process. When Trump emerged victorious, many in the Clinton campaign blamed the FBI and Comey. Clinton herself specifically blamed the late Comey announcement on her defeat.

However, it turned out that the new President-elect wasn’t all that happy with Comey either. This was due to the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russians.

With knowledge of the attempts to hack the private Clinton email server have come allegations from some that there was collusion between the Russians and the team of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

The Clinton campaign and the DNC helped to fund a dossier put together by Fusion GPS, a Washington-based research and strategic intelligence firm, which attempted to detail Trump’s ties to the Russians during the 2016 election.

According to a January 2017 piece by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon for McClatchy, investigators from five different agencies have been looking into possible ties with the Trump campaign:

One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.

For his part, the President has stated that he does indeed believe that the Russians were involved in hacking attempts. However, he has termed any allegation that he or his campaign were involved with the Russians in such a way as a “political witch hunt” and a “complete and total fabrication.” He has also repeatedly termed the Fusion GPS dossier as “fake news“, and challenged his political opponents to show otherwise.

In May of last year, the President fired Comey. There were conflicting reasons for the firing. But it appears that the President was frustrated that Comey would not publicly announce that the President himself was not the subject of any part of the investigation. 



Following the Comey dismissal, former FBI Director Rober Mueller (2001-2013) was appointed as a special counsel to oversee the Russia election meddling investigation. That subsequently led to charges against Manafort, who helped the Trump campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 RNC and then briefly became the campaign chairman. 

Manafort has been charged with conspiracy against the United States as well as to launder money in dealings with Russian contacts over a decade ago. Those charges have nothing to do with his work for the Trump campaign.

Two others formerly involved with the Trump team have also been caught up in the investigation’s web. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI regarding talks with a Russian ambassador in late 2016. 

A foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, George Papadoplous, has pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI. This was in regards to interactions with Russian sources claiming to have “dirt” on Clinton.

Per Kaitlyn Schallhorn at Fox News, Manafort attended a meeting at Trump Tower that was also attended by Donald Trump Jr. Also present was Jared Kushner, who is married to the President’s daughter and close advisor, Ivanka Trump.

That meeting was with a Russian lawyer. The New York Times claimed that the meeting came because the lawyer stated she had damaging information on Clinton. 

However, Trump Jr. has stated that instead, the lawyer “had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton.” This information seemed both vague and ambiguous, according to Trump Jr.

Officials at the FBI became embittered at Clinton and her campaign for publicly blaming them for her defeat. They have also been repeatedly antagonized by Trump, who sees the ongoing Russian collusion investigation as wasting both his administration’s time and energy as well as taxpayer dollars.

The following statement was made by Michael Steinbach, who retired as the FBI’s executive assistant director for national security in February 2017 per ProPublica:

It’s a mess she (Clinton) helped create from start to finish, with start being when she elected to use a private server. Even if you were to assume the investigation influenced the election, her actions created the environment. You can second-guess how it played out. But our guiding principle was to protect the American people and the Constitution of the United States.

There has also been bitter infighting at the FBI, with those aligned with President Trump facing off against those still loyal to the previous Obama administration. 

It has come to light recently that two FBI agents who were romantically involved with one another, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, had exchanged text messages which revealed that they were against Trump.

In their texts, the two agents stated that they were working as part of a “secret society” to shield Clinton from any charges involving the email scandal. This has led to calls for a second special prosecutor in the matter per Susan Ferrechio with the National Examiner.

Whether you buy into Comey as a true independent or not, the fact is that as time goes on it becomes more and more apparent that political beliefs and loyalties are playing a key role in the activities of agents and supervisors within the rank and file of the FBI.

Just in the last few days, the existence of a memo came to light showing that key figures in both the FBI and Justice Department, apparent holdovers from the Obama administration, spied on the Trump campaign back in 2016. This was done to bolster Clinton’s campaign, and to ensure a continuation of their own role within those agencies.



That is a major problem. The American people must be able to rely upon their lead law enforcement agency to be non-partisan. Law enforcement must be above the political process when it acts. 

The FBI is made up of human beings who will, of course, have their own political leanings. But the investigators and their leadership must have the integrity to go where the actual evidence of any investigation should lead, and resist the lure of those personal beliefs.

The Russians seem to have clearly made an attempt to infiltrate and effect the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. How they did that, and who, if anyone, helped them is a completely open question. 

You will have your own theories based on your own political leanings. But you certainly have no facts to back them up. One fact that cannot be denied by anyone on either side of the political aisle is this: the Russians have absolutely helped to create a mess for the FBI and for that American political process.



Of course there is another side to that story as well. Aside from whatever Russian operative hacked emails from the outside, the Russians cannot have much success intervening in American affairs without the assistance of Americans themselves. 

Greedy, lazy, immoral, and power-hungry American politicians, businesspersons, and others getting into bed with the Russians in order to affect the political process and/or enjoy some financial gain. That is the true problem at its base.

Last September, Christopher Wray was sworn-in as the eighth Director of the FBI. Following McCabe’s announcement today, the new Director stated …I can assure you that I remain staunchly committed to doing this job, in every respect, ‘by the book.’ I will not be swayed by political or other pressure in my decision making.

When Americans break the law and enter into relationships with foreign powers against our nation, we must be able to count on an impartial FBI and Justice Department to investigate and prosecute. We can only hope that Wray is not only good as his word, but also is able to spread that motto through his agency.

Safe injection sites and the ‘War on Drugs’

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There has been a great deal of controversy in recent weeks here in my hometown of Philadelphia regarding a proposal by some local politicians to open so-called safe injection sites.

The position of Mayor Jim Kenney and others is that such sites would help combat the exploding opioid crisis.

This would be accomplished by providing a safe place for drug abusers, but also by providing them with counseling.

Kenney was quoted by Aubrey Whelan for Philly.com just last week:

“We don’t want dying on the street and we want to have a place to administer Narcan if necessary. We also want an opportunity to speak to people about their future and getting their lives straight. They can’t do that under a train bridge or on a train track.”

Almost immediately, various members of Philadelphia City Council tried to apply the brakes. Per a piece by Claudia Vargas and Holly Otterbein for Philly.com, those concerns were summed up by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez: “There’s no plan,” Sánchez said, adding that the city’s official presentation on the proposal looked “like an intern gave it to them.”

I have a number of problems with the idea. Concerns over exactly where any facilities would be located, issues involving liability for the city involving death and injuries at the facilities, and many others.

However, perhaps my biggest problem with the idea is even more basic and controversial. This is especially so coming from me, as I spent most of the last three decades as a Philadelphia Police Officer, Detective, and Sergeant. That included a decade in the Training Bureau teaching officers, supervisors, and commanders.

My biggest problem is that the city would be basically endorsing and supporting folks who are breaking the law. Possession and use of illicit drugs such as heroin is a crime. Addiction is not a valid defense.

Now that statement is factual, so my problem may not seem immediately apparent. Until I reveal why I feel that it is a problem. It’s a problem because the city is supporting an illegal activity. But it is an activity that I do not believe should be illegal in the first place.

That’s right – I do not support laws against the sale, possession, or consumption of narcotics. And if you do, I want to hear the reasons. The real reasons.

Those reasons cannot have to do with health concerns for the individuals involved in that usage, or their families, or for the community. Not unless you also support criminalizing the use of tobacco products and alcohol.

The cost of alcohol addiction to the U.S. economy has been estimated at nearly $250 billion annually. This includes lost productivity, health care expenses, law and other justice costs, and motor vehicle crashes.

More than 40% of that cost, over $100 billion, is drained from government. In other words, you and I pay for it with our taxes. Another $3.5 billion in costs is incurred by individual states, who of course also get their money from we the taxpayers.

Even with all of the education regarding tobacco abuse and the decline in its use over recent decades, its use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in America today.

More than 55 million Americans continue to smoke cigarettes. Another 12.4 million smoke cigars regularly, 8.8 million use smokeless tobacco, and there are 2.3 million pipe smokers. These were the figures presented by the American Cancer Society as of just five years ago.

A 2014 study at Georgia State University revealed that cigarette smoking alone generates as much as $170 billion in health care spending annually here in the United States.

This doesn’t include the simple economic cost of smoking to the user. An average pack of generic cigarettes costs more than $5, with many brands costing even more. Most smokers go through at least a pack per day, so that’s at least $150 per month in basic costs.

Use a pack and half per day, you’re up to $225 per month. Smoke an $8 per pack brand or product? That same pack and a half is now $360 per month. What could consumers and their families do with $360 per month if they were not addicted?

President Richard Nixon first formally declared a “War on Drugs” in June of 1971. The basic cost to the U.S. government to fight that “war” had risen to $1 trillion per a piece by Richard Branson for CNN back in 2012.

And the fact is, we are losing the war. How many times have you seen a local news story in which federal, state, or local law enforcement displays some vast amount of narcotics, cash, and weapons recovered from a drug operation? Was that the last one you would ever see? No. These stories continue to come, month after month, year after year. You’ll likely see another on your local news any day now.

It’s obviously not that law enforcement isn’t doing anything about the problem. Brave police officers at all levels of government are working hard every single day and night trying to enforce the law. In this “war”, some of those brave officers have even lost their lives.

But just as with the prohibition against alcohol a century ago, the prohibition against and war on drugs is a losing proposition.

Throughout the 1920’s and into the early 1930’s, a great deal of law enforcement manpower, time, and financial resources were expended enforcing prohibition against the evil and illegal scourge of alcohol. Officers died enforcing those laws as well.

And then, alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933. It was all for nothing. Police did their jobs, as they are doing them today. It wasn’t law enforcement that was the problem. It was the law itself. It is long past time to revamp and even repeal many drug laws.

In November 2016, Elevations Health published a piece on the financial costs to the U.S. taxpayer to continue fighting this war. The piece included this summation of those financial costs:

“In 2015 alone $36 billion was spent on the war on drugs, but that number was just for law enforcement and some social services, and does not take into account the cost of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders once they are arrested and sentenced to jail. Roughly $80 billion is spent each year on incarcerating American prisoners and since 50% of our prison population is serving time for drug-related crimes that means that an additional $40 billion needs to be added to $36 billion price tag for the war on drugs, bringing the grand total to $76 billion.”

The fact is that human beings have used and abused substances almost since the beginning of our existence as a species. Many of the substances now considered illegal were not so at a previous time. The same can be said for other vice crimes such as prostitution.

It is my position that not only would cost to taxpayers go down with decriminalization, but in some cases we might find revenue streams. This is already happening today with the widespread and growing trends involving marijuana.

Can you imagine the decrease in violence which is currently perpetuated in the trafficking of illicit narcotics by cartels and street gangs? What kind of impact would the loss of that violence have on our neighborhoods?

If we continue on, trying to fight this losing battle, we will never find out. We will simply continue with the status quo. And trust me, there are many who are just fine with that status quo. Their own livelihoods depend on it.

More importantly, if we can get to decriminalization we can begin to treat this as what it really is, a health problem. Focus dollars instead on education, prevention, and treatment.

So called “Safe injection sites” might then become some piece of a viable treatment opportunity for folks who were fighting this particular addiction.

Want to argue that the abuse of heroin and the current opioid crisis is killing people every day, while cigarettes and alcohol are not? Seriously? Now who is being naive?

The CDC estimates that cigarette smoking accounts for 480,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. Do the math. That’s 1,315 people dying every single day.

Per the NHTSA, in the year 2016 in the United States there were 10,497 people killed in car crashes involving drunk driving. These were crashes where a driver had a BAC of .08 or greater. Again, do the math. That’s roughly 29 folks every single day.

There are some who are going to question my conservative bona fides after this piece. There are many in law enforcement who are going to think that I have either lost my mind or gone over to some “other side” now that I am in retirement from the profession.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is something that most people are unwilling to deal with. The truth is that this isn’t a war that we are losing – it’s a war that we lost a long time ago. It’s one that we should have never begun fighting, in fact.

There will always be a criminal aspect to drug abuse. If drug users and abusers commit some crime while high, they will pay for that crime, just as drunk drivers and others who commit crimes while intoxicated on alcohol have to pay for their crimes.

In his CNN piece, Branson quoted H.L. Mencken, one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. On the issue of prohibition, Menchen had this to say. The same sentiment can be applied to the war against drugs:

“Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society.”

“There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

Tell me why this is a criminal issue rather than strictly a health issue. I’ll wait. Meanwhile, safe injection sites are not the answer as long as drugs remain illegal.

Dealing with that bigger issue is what has a chance to make a real, significant difference in the lives of individuals and communities in the long run.

Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ is the Church

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When it comes to their faith lives, folks with a deep conviction can be extremely defensive. I’ve even heard some go so far as to claim that those who don’t follow the same belief system and faith practices they do will even end up in hell when they die.

The fact is that neither you nor I, nor anyone else on this planet, has any idea whether any individual human being is going to end up in heaven or hell for eternity. That lack of knowledge holds for everyone from your local rabbi to the Pope. Our ultimate fate is God’s alone to know.

My own faith is rooted in Jesus Christ. I practice and celebrate that faith in the Catholic Church. That is mostly because it is the church in which I was born and raised. I went to Catholic school for 12 years as a child and teen. I even later graduated from a Catholic university as an adult.

While it is my belief that my Catholic Church is the best way to practice the Christian faith, in no way to I believe it is the only way. In the end, it’s not about the Mass or the building or the priest. The Church is none of those things.

The Church is Jesus Christ. He is not only the center, he is everything.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of  all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the famous verse of John 14:6, Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Nowhere does Jesus say that in order to get to heaven you must go to church – any church. He says that all authority is his. He says that he is truth and life. He says to follow him and his teachings if you want to be assured of eternity with the Father.

Don’t get me wrong, church is important. That is especially true of the Catholic Church. As I’ve written a number of times in the past, Jesus Christ founded His Church. It was important to him to have authoritative leadership and teaching continue.

In Matthew 16:18 we find this foundation: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus founded one Church. The word “catholic” itself means universal.

However, in John 14:16-17, Jesus said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever. That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you.”

Here Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come into the world. He also states that the Spirit will not only live with us, but will live in us.
 
Jesus founded one Church, and that universal Catholic church continues today, more than 2,000 years later. 
 
However, the Holy Spirit did indeed come into the world and into our hearts. The Spirit has worked to inspire men and women in ways that have contradicted that universal Catholic Church over the centuries.
 
It would be dangerous, in fact totally wrong, to say and believe that any and every possible means of practicing a form of Christianity is healthy and appropriate. 
 
Misguided men have formed many harmful practices over time in the name of a church. Any honest assessment of even the Catholic Church history would show that misguided men can do a great deal of harm in the name of faith and church.
 
Many have seen the abuses within various Christian churches and decided to maintain a personal relationship with the Lord. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not preferred, and you are cheating yourself if this is your practice.
 
In Matthew 18:20 we hear Jesus make his famous church and family proclamation: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” He tells us straight out that when we pray and worship him together, he will be present with us.
 
Whatever church you belong to, and even if you choose to maintain a personal or familial relationship with him, you cannot be making a mistake if your true center is Jesus Christ and his own words.
 
The teachings of the prophets in the Old Testament are excellent for education and inspiration. The preaching of the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, the teaching of Paul, and other New Testament works are outstanding guides to follow.
 
But the fact remains that where his Word is present, there is truth. If you follow that Word, those teachings, then you are likely to end up in the spending eternity in the presence of the Father.
 
In the end, Jesus Christ is the Church. 

Are your kids – or even you – becoming a screen addict?

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Are you, or is someone you care about, an addict?

 
I’m not talking here about an addiction to some substance. Illicit drugs, prescription pain killers, alcohol.
 
I’m talking about something that many people in 21st century America, certainly among the younger generations, take part in as a daily activity – video gaming.
 
Jacob Passey with the New York Post has reported that at some point later this year the World Health Organization will come out with their 11th update to the International Classification of Diseases.
 
The ICD is a well-respected and referenced guidebook which describes a variety of diseases. It further notes causes, symptoms, and ramifications.
 
The Post reports that an early draft includes “Gaming Disorder”, essentially an addiction to video gaming. The disorder includes a behavior pattern which “is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
 
In a look into the possibility of gaming addictions back in 2016, CNN interviewed Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile. He stated: The first study I began in 1999, to basically try to show video game addiction isn’t a real thing, and it turns out I was wrong!
 
Gentile went on to further describe the results of his research as follows:
Even though different researchers across the world may define the problem somewhat differently, or ask different questions in different countries with differently aged kids, we find almost the same results across the world. The estimates perhaps vary somewhat, but they all seem to come out somewhere between about 4 and 10 percent: that’s the amount of gamers I would classify as addicted.
 
The Post column stated that the American Psychiatric Association had considered the disorder for DSM-5, which was released five years ago. 
 
However, that latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders did not include anything in regards to an Internet or gaming disorder, stating that more research was needed before formal inclusion.
 
It’s not just kids who are developing potentially harmful habits where the modern information, communication, and entertainment tech is concerned. A piece for MarketWatch by Quentin Fottrell in December 2016 stated that “parents with tweens and teens (children aged eight to 18 years) spend over nine hours with screen media each day.
 
That may sound like a lot of hours. Surely you don’t spend that amount of time in front of a screen? But consider your usage. 

Many spend time at work in front of a computer screen. Then add in time spent watching television. Factor in social networking on a laptop, home PC, and your phone. And there are parents also involved in video gaming. It all adds up.
 
Parents need to be concerned about the amount of time that their children spend watching television, on their phones with social media and other activities, and engaged with Internet gaming. Get them involved in activities outside the home, where they actually must learn to interact in person with peers and adults.

Of course, being a good example yourself goes a long way towards getting kids to buy in to your parenting. Make sure that you are spending time with other adults outside the home. And perhaps more importantly, that you are spending time with your family in both indoor and outdoor non-screen activities.
 
I’m not trying to tell anyone to unplug and give up gaming, or social media, or watching television. It was the ancient Roman playwright known as Terence who first wrote “moderation in all things.” Some 2,000 years later, that saying applies well once again to the amount of time we spend in front of a screen.