Egregious Environmental Emergency — Marine Life Matters!

People aren’t the only ones having a rough go during 2020. Marine life is also taking a big hit with an egregious environmental emergency in Mauritius. A massive oil spill occurred off this Indian Ocean island leading to deaths of dolphins and whales and a threat to the world’s third largest coral reef. Haven’t heard about this disaster? Exactly! Marine life apparently doesn’t matter to the U.S. media.

Part of the reason you may not have heard this news story is because the events didn’t take place in the United States. In fact, you may not even be able to find the location on a map. Ground zero for this coastal catastrophe is the Republic of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off of the southeast coast of Africa. For geography whizzes, Mauritius is due east of Madagascar. For the rest of us, we first need to find Madagascar to start the hunt for Mauritius. 

Mauritius, a former British colony, is comprised of four islands–Mauritius, St. Brandon, Rodrigues, and Agalega–which comprise part of the Mascarene Islands. With a tropical climate, it is (or at least was pre-COVID-19) a major tourist destination. Mauritius is also home to some of the world’s rarest plants and animals. The previously unknown species of bird, the dodo (only dodos haven’t heard of the dodo), was found when Mauritius was initially discovered. The island provided the only known home for the dodo, but that bird became extinct in 1681. 

Aside from varied flora and fauna, this island paradise is also home to approximately 1.3 million residents. And these residents are currently hot under the collar about a shipping accident and their government’s response to it. 

On July 25th a Panama flagged, Japanese owned ship, the M/V Wakashio, was tootling along the coast of Mauritius. (An “M/V” is a merchant vessel transporting cargo for hire for those, which would include me, who are nautically challenged.) The ship, on its way from China to Brazil, was carrying a cargo of oil. Its crew was a merry lot celebrating the birthday of a crew member. To add to the merriment, the captain decided to go off course a few miles and get closer to the coast so his subordinates could get a mobile phone signal to call their families. But the contact made was the bulk carrier striking a coral reef located a mile off shore and running aground. Oops!

The surf pounded the stranded ship which ultimately cracked, spilling approximately 1,000 TONS of heavy oil into fragile marine areas. Pretty much all of the Mauritian coast is a fragile marine area since the island is surrounded by the world’s third largest coral reef. The fuel leaked into the (now formerly) pristine and turquoise waters of the Mahebourg Lagoon, and  threatened two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park Reserve. The Reserve was set up to protect “the area’s rich underwater forest of rare corals.”  So much for that aim. The leaking oil also wreaked havoc on a small island that served as a bird and wildlife sanctuary.

Mass damage to the marine ecosystem was feared, and Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency. No worries, right? The government was in charge. On second thought….

In response to the declared emergency, the Mauritian government took several steps. First, the captain of the ship and the first officer were arrested and charged with “endangering safe navigation.” What? Wasn’t it marine life and wildlife that were endangered? Sure their ship had lodged on a coral reef, but no ships are supposed to be navigating there so who’s navigation was endangered?

Secondly, the decision was made to deliberately sink the stricken ship. This plan required pumping out the fuel in the ship’s two remaining intact large oil tanks. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?? This decision was, understandably, met with anger by the island’s residents who rely on pristine waters and beaches for fishing and tourism, mainstays of the country’s economy. Things were bad enough with the hit taken by the country’s tourism due to COVID-19 and the ban on international travel.

Adding to the discontent, the Mauritian government spent a hefty sum to hire some international consultants to advise them. Really big bucks were paid from the country’s coffers to hire foreigners when local experts were readily available and presumably already familiar with the area and the issues. Hey! Another oxymoron. Alongside military intelligence we can put the phrase “government intelligence.”  

Within days of the Wakashio’s sinking, approximately 50 dead whales and dolphins washed up on the Mauritian shores. According to experts, water-soluble chemicals in the fuel may have caused these deaths. Unfortunately, the fuel being transported by the ship was a new low-sulfur fuel oil being introduced to reduce air pollution; therefore, the long-term effects of the spill are uncertain. But the outlook isn’t positive. As a WHO spokesman pointed out: “Oil contains hydrocarbons…, sulfur, and even heavy metals, all of which are acutely and chronically toxic to marine and terrestrial wildlife, as well as humans.” 

Mauritians reacted similarly to Americans who are upset about an event. They organized protests to express their frustration with the government’s perceived slow response and the deep secrecy surrounding it. Nevertheless, unlike Americans recently, the Mauritians are capable of having peaceful protests. The first protest was held on August 29th and saw 100,000+ people in attendance. The second protest, on September 12th, had around 50,000 participants. Strikingly, these figures represent between 5% and 10% of the island’s population. That’s an incredible turnout! 

These protests, held in Mahebourg, an area affected by the spill, were quite creative. Many individuals carried and waved inflatable dolphins. They also waved clever signs lambasting the government such as “I’ve seen better cabinets in IKEA.” Well, at least the beleaguered Mauritians haven’t lost their sense of humor. The protesters also called for some specific reforms such as revising their constitution to call for greater rights for nature.

Whatever punitive action is taken against the Japanese shipping company and the ship’s commanding officers, the fact remains marine life has been unalterably damaged. A 100,000 year old barrier coral reef has been soiled and marine life has been threatened. Even revising the Mauritian constitution to give rights to nature won’t help the dead dolphins and whales. Perhaps humans need to take the concept more seriously about lives mattering. It’s not just human ones who are under siege in this world. If we don’t wake up and smell the coffee, some marine life may go the way of the dodo.

Just WONDER-ing:

Before reading this post, had you heard about this environmental emergency? What’s the appropriate action to be taken against businesses responsible for such incidents occurring? Should life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness be extended to marine life in constitutions? Were you aware that the dodo, when in existence, was found only in Mauritius?

 

 

Swarming Locusts Elevate 2020 Evils To Biblical Proportions

Just when you thought things had gotten as bad as they could in 2020, the year’s evil takes flight–literally. Now the unfortunate events of 2020 have been elevated to Biblical proportions with plagues of swarming locusts appearing on the scene. Modern day Africans aren’t welcoming an insect onslaught any more than Pharaoh and the ancient Egyptians did when Moses was around. What’s the scoop on these ghastly grasshopper goings on?

Lost in the 2020 bad news of the coronavirus pandemic, devastating wildfires, and social unrest is the story of billions (that’s billions with a “b”) of desert locusts who have been affecting East Africa for months. Swarms can grow so big  they could cover New York City more than once and can be traced via satellite images. (Note to any locusts who are reading: The Big Apple is just a nickname; you can’t eat skyscrapers!) Kenya’s agriculture minister reports that the largest locust swarm to hit that country earlier this year was made up of 200 BILLION locusts and measured 2,400 square kilometers. 

Swarms ravage agriculture and devour pretty much everything in sight. Holy hungry hordes of hoppers, Batman! A locust swarm is capable of eating enough food to feed 2,500 people a day. The agricultural devastation caused by these locusts has resulted in food insecurity for millions of Africans and threatened the livelihood of 10% of the world’s population. 

Growing up I remember being encouraged to donate to relieve hunger for starving children in Africa. Today, however, thanks to the locusts, it’s not just children who are starving. At the beginning of September over 10 million people in the Eastern African region were experiencing “acute food insecurity.” (Translation for us common folk? They’re starving.) This “acute food insecurity” is the result of  locust plagues which have ravaged enormous fields of food crops. 

So, other than the obvious (being a destructive creature), what’s a locust? It’s a large  grasshopper that swarms on all continents except Antarctica; North America and Antarctica are the only two continents with no native species. These insects are short-horned grasshoppers (who even knew grasshoppers had horns?) between 0.5 and 3 inches in size weighing about 0.7 ounces. Besides horns, they also have teeth. All the better to ravage crops with, of course. Locusts are capable of rapid reproduction and can increase their population by twenty times in three months. Time for some locust birth control!

Locusts are ravenous eaters, so don’t invite one over for dinner unless you want to be eaten out of house and home. A locust can eat its body weight in vegetation every day. Sure, a locust is a tiny little beastie, but when millions of them swarm, they can destroy 300 million pounds of crops in a single day. Oh, and when their food runs out they turn cannibal. Eww!

Other than being destructive, locusts are best known for their swarming. Actually, swarming is just the grasshopper “going through a phase.” This phase, known as the gregarious phase, occurs when environmental conditions are just right, usually when there has been a drought followed by lots of rainfall and moisture causing rapid vegetation growth. At this point the locusts change color and experience body growth. Sounds like the insect version of the Hulk! The locusts, typically solitary creatures, also become attracted to one another and form swarms. 

Making them even more dangerous is the fact that locusts are powerful fliers. They can migrate from place to place to wreak their agricultural destruction. Even more unnerving is their ability to travel great distances; they can cover over 81 miles a day. These flying creatures can remain airborne for long periods even traveling nonstop across bodies of water such as the Red Sea, which measures 186 miles. In 1988 a locust swarm flew from West Africa to the Caribbean (more than 3,100 miles) in just 10 days. Maybe they were just seeking a tropical vacation after all that hard work of ravaging African agriculture.

The locusts’ ability to travel should make Americans nervous. Currently, North America has no regularly swarming locusts. Nevertheless, locusts do have history here. High Plains locust swarms reached plague proportions in the American Midwest in the 1930’s during the Dust Bowl. Thankfully,  the Rocky Mountain locust became extinct in 1902. But if locusts can make it from Africa to the Caribbean, the U.S. could be the next landing target. These insects may tire of tropical beaches and want to check out Disneyworld. Desert locust from Africa are illegal immigrants who have no business entering the U.S.!

How do you get rid of locusts? The use of pesticides has been the most effective weapon against them. But I have a another suggestion. Let’s eat those grasshoppers up! Yes, these insects are edible and even considered a delicacy in many countries. Yuk! John the Baptist dined on locusts and wild honey while abiding in the wilderness. Why not expand your dinner menu and add some Cambodian peanut stuffed locusts to your family’s plate? Eating locust would kill two birds with one stone; we’d get rid of locusts and have food for those suffering from “food insecurity.” 

Unfortunately, I expect it’ll be difficult to get rid of locusts who have been around since ancient times. How do we know that? Ancient Egyptians carved locusts in their tombs. Um, no. My idea of heaven is not having my earthly remains watched over by locusts. And who could forget the starring role locusts played in Exodus? Summoned by Moses, they produced a devastating plague in Egypt which darkened the land and stripped it of vegetation. This destruction helped to convince Pharaoh (at least temporarily) to let Moses’ people go. 

And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sure it’s 2020, but we’re facing the same threat that the ancient Egyptians did–just on a bigger scale. The desert locust is now threatening one-fifth of the Earth’s land and one-tenth of the global population in over 60 countries. The future outlook is not bright either. Experts are worried that locust plagues will worsen in warming weather. Think climate change. 

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. With all that’s going on in the world, did we really need to add locusts plagues to the list of disasters facing us?  Locust plagues raise the evils of 2020 to Biblical proportions.But turning a blind eye to this plague simply allows the problem to continue and grow. Will millions more locusts in the world help? NO! We need to hop to it and get a vaccine for COVID-19 and a silver bullet to get rid of locusts.

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware locust plagues are occurring in Africa? Would you eat a locust if prepared in a “tasty” dish? Where do locust plagues rank in terms of world issues? How serious an issue is “food insecurity”?

 

 

 

Who’s #2? — The 411 On The Democratic Ticket’s Spouses

For every #1, there’s a #2–even in politics. While American citizens are bombarded with ads, commentary, and polls about the presidential and vice presidential candidates, important information is lacking. Who’s #2 for these contenders? The elected president and vice-president will each have a #2, a supportive spouse who will be the First Lady or the Second Lady/Gentleman. Should’t we get an earful about who would have the ear of our nation’s leaders? Time for the 411 on the possible #2’s.

The #2’s  for the Republican ticket are already a known quantity. President Trump is running for re-election with Mike Pence remaining as his VP. Thus, we’ve had four years to learn about their #2’s and see them in action. Melania Trump is her husband’s #2 as the First Lady or FLOTUS. (That’s First Lady of the United States for any of you who are challenged when it comes to acronyms.) Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, is his #2 as the Second Lady or SLOTUS. Perhaps it’s just me, but aren’t we taking these acronyms a bit too far?

When it comes to the Democratic ticket, though, less is known about the #2’s or, at least for Jill Biden, remembered. Joe’s wife was SLOTUS for eight years during the Obama administration. But, that was a long time ago (who can even remember pre-COVID-19?), so memories may have dimmed. A refresher is needed.

At age 69, former SLOTUS Jill Biden is nine years her husband’s junior. It may be impolite to ask a woman’s age, but when it comes to politics, all facts are apparently fair game. Although she’s blond, Mrs. Biden is no dummy. In fact, she’s extremely well educated, holding three graduate degrees–two master’s degrees and a doctor of education (Ed.D.). Her doctorate is in educational leadership and was obtained from the University of Delaware in 2007.

Jill Biden is also not easily swayed. She turned down Joe’s marriage proposals five times before finally saying yes. Joe was a widower with two young boys, so she wanted to make sure that what she was doing was best for all concerned. The sixth time was the charm, and Joe and Jill married in the Chapel at the United Nations in NYC–perhaps not romantic, but very diplomatic. Would that voters took as much time and thought about voting for president as Mrs. Biden did about giving up the single life.                                                                                     

Since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, one can assume that Dr. Biden, should she become FLOTUS, will have quite the schedule to juggle. She taught full-time during her husband’s two terms as Vice President serving as a professor of English at the Northern Virginia Community College, a post she’s held since 2009. As FLOTUS would she have to beg off attending a state dinner in order to get English papers graded? 

The role of First Lady has never been officially defined. Basically, it is just a title conferred upon the hostess of the White House. The position is not elected and carries only ceremonial duties but is highly visible. FLOTUS even gets her own office in the East Wing of the White House complete with a staff such as a press secretary, chief of staff,  and a social secretary. If Dr. Biden fills this position, she seems like a wonderful choice to write a FLOTUS handbook (grammatically correct, of course) with leadership tips.

But way more intriguing than Joe’s spouse is Kamala Harris’ husband. If the Biden-Harris ticket is victorious, the U.S. will, for the first time in our country’s history, get a Second Gentleman. Actually, I think we’d have to dub him Second Man because the SMOTUS acronym works way better that SGOTUS. Actually, the latter doesn’t work at all.

Like Kamala, her 55 year old husband, Douglas (“Doug”) Emhoff, is also an attorney. Brooklyn  born, he received his law degree across the country from the University of Southern California. Licensed to practice in both California and Washington, D.C., Emhoff is described as an “entertainment litigator.” Of course, his navigating the uncharted waters of a SMOTUS could be pretty entertaining in and of itself. 

As a partner in a global law firm with locations in over 40 countries, Emhoff is used to running with the big dogs. That background should serve him well in assimilating into the political power scene in D.C. If nothing else, he’ll have great cocktail party conversation fodder from his famous lawsuit involving the Taco Bell chihuahua in which he successfully defended the ad agency sued by Taco Bell. Drop that gordita, Doug!

Emhoff met Harris on a blind date arranged by one of her friends. The two immediately hit it off and were married within a year. That romantic devil proposed to the possible next Vice President in her apartment as the two discussed what Thai takeout to get. Awww! A courthouse wedding swiftly followed four months later. Whether Thai food was served at the reception is unknown.

The two lawyers have been married for six years now, and Emhoff is a regular presence with his wife during campaigning. To his wife’s amusement, he wowed the crowds with his dance moves at a Pride parade in 2019 as evidenced by a clip on social media. Yup, he’s an entertaining entertainment lawyer.

The role of a SLOTUS or SMOTUS is pretty ambiguous. Appearances at official functions seem an obvious task, but beyond that is anyone’s guess. With his entertainment world connections, Emhoff could throw some great events at the Vice President’s official residence, the U.S. Naval Observatory. Who knows? Maybe the Taco Bell chihuahua might even put in an appearance.

Even though neither FLOTUS or SLOTUS/SMOTUS are elected positions, they are nonetheless important ones. Spouses are a team, so the President and Vice President’s roles are supported by their #2. Or are they #2? With a marriage, the two become one. The political spouse is bound to be a sounding board at the least and certainly an influencer to some extent since they have their spouse’s ear for pillow talk. Thus, consideration of who a spouse is and how they might influence the elected official is a prudent one.

The winners of the 2020 presidential election remain to be seen. All that is known for certain is that whoever is elected, whether Democratic or Republican, will come with a spouse as a package deal. Given the overwhelming responsibility of filling the two highest offices in the land, the election winners will need all the support they can get from FLOTUS and SLOTUS/SMOTUS, their #2’s who are their #1 supporters.

Just WONDER-ing:

Since the position of FLOTUS carries significant responsibilities, should it be a paid one? How much influence do you think a spouse actually has on an officeholder? Is it possible to do a good job as FLOTUS or SLOTUS/SMOTUS if that spouse is employed full-time? To what extent, if any, do you consider a candidate’s spouse when voting? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Political Poisonings — Russia’s Cup Of Tea

Think politics is vicious here in the U.S. with scathing denunciations and name-calling by both sides? Americans have absolutely nothing on the Russians. If the allegations are true, a prominent and vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was poisoned last week to shut him up for good. Pour yourself a spot of tea, get comfy, and read on about the claimed poisoning from a cup of tea. 

The poisoning victim was 44 year old Alexei Navalny, considered the unofficial leader of Russian opposition to Putin. Back in 2012, the Wall Street Journal described Navalny as “the man Vladimir Putin fears most.”  He attempted to run against the sitting Russian president in the 2018 presidential campaign, but he was barred from doing so. The activist has publicly characterized Putin’s administration as being full of “crooks and thieves,” and his Foundation For Fighting Corruption has successfully exposed corruption among elite government officials. In July Navalny led protests against proposed constitutional amendments allowing Putin to remain in power until 2036. Bottom line? Navalny will never be Putin’s BFF. 

So if Navalny has been a thorn in Putin’s side for years, why would he just now be the target of an assassination? The short answer is that he has ticked off yet another powerful leader, Putin’s buddy, Alexander Lukashenko, the current (but perhaps not for long) president of Belarus. Lukashenko has been called “the last dictator in Europe.” And, as well as being an unpopular dictator, he’s not PC. He’s retorted that it’s “better to be a dictator than gay.”

In the days leading up to his poisoning, Navalny published videos on YouTube supporting Belarusian protests against Lukashenko. So he posted on social media. Big deal. Well, yes, it was a big deal. Navalny is quite popular; he has 4 million subscribers to his YouTube channel and 2.2 million followers on Twitter. That’s a lot of people to  hear him talk badly about two powerful and ruthless men. With both Putin and Lukashenko ticked off at him, is anyone shocked that something awful befell Navalny? Not me!

Now that we know Navalny had a target on his back and why, let’s find out what happened to him. Last Thursday Navalny was on a business trip to Siberia where he was meeting with activists ahead of upcoming local elections. Siberia? Can anything good happen in Siberia? All I know about that area is that it can get extremely cold there. But frigid weather had nothing to do with what befell Navalny. He boarded a plane in Tomsk headed home on a four hour flight to Moscow. Cue ominous music. Let’s just say Navalny didn’t make it to his destination.

After takeoff, the Russian activist began feeling sick. He broke out in a sweat and headed for an airplane bathroom where he collapsed. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in another Siberian city, Omsk. Yes, Omsk–as in Tomsk minus the “T.” Cell phone video posted on the Internet shows emergency personnel striding down the aisle of the plane back to the restroom while a man can be heard screaming in agony. (Go on. Check out the video. You know you want to!) 

Navalny was removed from the plane and taken to the hospital. Doctors state he would have died if an emergency landing had not been made. Although Navalny is alive, he is on a respirator and in a coma. His wife, Yulia, was initially denied access to see him because she didn’t have a marriage certificate on her person to prove her spouse status. (Like you’d rush to Siberia to see to a man in dire straits who wasn’t your spouse?) 

Being a healthy individual, this sudden medical emergency gave rise to claims Navalny had been poisoned. Specifically, it was believed that poison had been placed in a cup of tea Navaly drank at an airport cafe’ prior to boarding his flight, the only thing he had consumed all morning. But to exactly no one’s surprise, the Siberian doctors reported finding no poison in the activists’ system, just alcohol and caffeine. That finding was suspicious to Navalny’s family who pointed out that he was a teetotaller. Accordingly, they sought to have him transferred to Germany for treatment.

A tense 12 hour standoff ensued when doctors refused to let Navalny be transferred abroad because they said he was too unstable to travel. Opposition figures claimed the doctors were under government pressure to cover up evidence of the attack by delaying his transfer until the poison in his system was no traceable. Navalny’s wife petitioned Putin directly to allow her husband’s transfer to Germany. Under pressure from European leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, Russia ultimately agreed to the transfer.

A medical evacuation plane transported Navalny to Berlin on Saturday where he was admitted to Charite’ Hospital. Again, to no one’s surprise, German doctors found indications of a substance used in pesticides and Soviet-era nerve agents in his system. What to do when a government critic has the nerve to oppose Putin, his government, and his dictator/buddy? Why make sure he unknowingly ingests a nerve agent, of course!

A pattern exists of Putin’s opponents dying under suspicious circumstances. Poisoning is his M.O., a familiar tool he uses against his opposition. According to Thomas Pickering, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, if a poisoning occurs, folks will believe it goes back to Putin. Multiple cases have occurred over the years of prominent Putin opponents being victims of poisonings or suspected poisonings at the hands of Russian agents. In fact, this is the second attempted poisoning of Navalny; a previous attempt occurred a year ago when he was at a detention center, his activism leading to his being in and out of jail.

European officials have called for a full Russian investigation of Navalny’s sudden illness. Russia has, of course, denied any involvement in the poisoning. Americans may be appalled, but the event is an internal Russian matter as it took place on Russian soil. Would Americans want the Russians telling our country how to handle a controversial police shooting? No, that’s an internal matter. Russians won’t take kindly to the U.S. telling it how to handle the Navalny situation either.

Regardless of how the politics plays out between the world powers or what investigators do or don’t find should an investigation go forward, Navalny is in a precarious state. He remains comatose with the extent of a possible recovery unknown. He may possibly suffer long-term nerve damage. There’s no free speech in Russia, and he’s paying for his comments opposing the powers that be with his health if not his life. And, for us Americans, the 2020 presidential election certainly cannot be as nasty as Russian politics. Russians kill with poison while Americans merely fling poisonous words.

Just WONDER-ing:

Does the Navalny poisoning sound like the plot out of spy movie to you? Do you think Putin is behind the poisoning? Should the U.S. get involved if the matter is an internal Russian one? 

U.S. Mail Delivery: Neither Snow Nor Rain — Just Money And Politics

Who would have thought that the speed of U.S. mail delivery would be a hot political topic? Well, it is 2020, so anything is possible. Cue the current uproar about the timeliness of delivery of vote by mail ballots for the upcoming presidential election. It’s not snow or rain that would be keeping the USPS from its appointed rounds. No, sir. Blame money and politics for the mail mess.

Why are mail in ballots in the spotlight? It’s a numbers game. The sheer volume of ballots expected to be cast in this manner for the upcoming presidential election is significant. Back in 2016, 1 in 4 ballots cast were submitted by mail; but a surge in mail in ballots is expected for the 2020 presidential election. In fact, a record number of ballots is likely to be sent by mail this fall.

Some states have already seen a demand for mail voting increase five times or more during the primaries. At this rate, it is possible that half or more of voters will cast ballots by mail for the November 3rd election. Using this method, they’ll figuratively be putting the stamp of approval on the candidate of their choice and a literal stamp on the envelope to mail in their ballot.

Mail in ballots are a popular choice due to the coronavirus crisis. Voters are wary of being exposed to the virus at the polls, and CDC has recommended mail ballots as a way to avoid the risk of exposure. Accordingly, an estimated 80 million ballots could be cast by mail in the rapidly approaching election. That’s a mass of mail!

Unfortunately, USPS is delivering some bad news as well as the regular mail. It’s warning states it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November 3rd election will arrive in time to be counted even if they are mailed by the required deadline. Some folks are thus sounding the alarm that voters whose ballots are not timely received will effectively be disenfranchised. “Disenfranchised” is a fancy-schmancy word meaning deprived of their right to vote.

So that we’re in good form for the upcoming election, let’s take a quick vote. Raise your hand if you have ever thought USPS delivered mail in a speedy or even timely fashion. (NOTE: My hand is NOT raised.) Although I couldn’t see your hands if they were raised, I’m betting there were none to see anyway. Hey, there’s a reason that traditional mail is called snail mail. Sure, it is way slower than e-mail is, but traditional mail was never fast to begin with. Ridiculously slow times for mail to be delivered have been occurring for some time. Of course, now that it is election time, slow mail delivery must be a political plot, right?

So the theory goes, the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy,  a major Trump supporter, is deliberately making changes to the USPS’s operations to benefit the president. DeJoy, a 63 year old former supply chain CEO, took the reins of the USPS in June. His assigned mission from the Commander-in-Chief? Make the USPS more profitable. This task is a daunting one given that the post office has lost money for years. In 2016, the postal service recorded its fifth straight annual operating loss–a whopping  $5.6 billion (that’s billion with a “B”) loss. USPS is in such dire financial straits that it is hoping to receive $10 billion from Congress  simply to remain in operation.

What has DeJoy done since taking over? He has reduced overtime (which increases payroll costs), restricted extra mail transportation trips (which result in more employee time and additional cost for operating postal vehicles), and cut other agency expenses. These measures, to no one’s surprise, has resulted in slower (and it was slow to begin with!) delivery times. AHA! A political plot for sure!

DeJoy is the first postmaster general in almost 20 years who is not a career postal employee. From the current fiscal state of the USPS, it doesn’t seem that a career postal employee makes a good top dog. DeJoy is a successful CEO with a proven business track record. Isn’t that who one would want to shake up an operation which is drowning in red ink? But no! Certainly DeJoy was only chosen because he was (GASP!) a Republican and a Trump supporter. The political plot thickens!

But wait. Is Trump improperly monkeying around with a government operation? Let’s consider what the USPS really is. The postal service, which is explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution (in Art. I, Section 8, clause 7 for you fellow political science majors), is an independent government agency of the EXECUTIVE branch. For you non-political science majors, the executive branch is the President. So President Trump is taking steps to shake up an agency in his branch of the government to make it more fiscally sound. How horrible!!!

The USPS is big business, but it is a business that’s in big trouble. How big a business it is? The postal service employs over half a million people and is the third largest civilian employer in the country after the federal government and Walmart. This big business’ big trouble is plummeting use and soaring losses.

With the increasing use of e-mail, the volume of first class mail has significantly declined. In addition to e-mail use, USPS is having to compete against private package delivery services such as Amazon, Federal Express, and UPS. Back in 2009, a proposal was made, but not implemented, to eliminate Saturday mail delivery as a cost-cutting measure.Plans were even  floated to close a number of smaller post offices to stem the flow of red ink from USPS. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t recall a hue and cry that these were political moves.

President Trump’s political opponents are currently railing against the cost-cutting measures implemented by USPS. They believe some voters will not have their votes counted if these measures take effect. To head off such a result, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back from recess for an in person (not via mail) vote possibly on Saturday. Specifically, legislators will be considering proposed legislation, “Delivering For America,” that would prohibit any changes in mail delivery service prior to the November election. Hmm. That sounds like a political move.

I personally am not in the least bit concerned that my vote won’t get counted. That’s because I’m not going to rely on USPS to timely get a mail ballot in for me. I’m going to go vote in person wearing a mask, socially distancing, and utilizing hand sanitizer after handling the ballot. I’ll put the marked ballot into the machine for tallying, so I have only myself to blame if the delivery is slow.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you plan to vote in the presidential election? If so, will you be voting in person or via mail? Have you ever voted by mail in the past? Did you have any concerns about doing so? If you were the Postmaster General, what steps would you take to get the USPS back in the black? It is unreasonable to expect an agency to operate in the black?

 

 

 

 

 

Are You As Cognitively Sharp As A Presidential Candidate?

It’s less than 90 days before the 2020 presidential election, and voters have lots of information-gathering to do in order to make an informed choice. It’s not only must the candidates’ positions on key issues which has to be ascertained, but the status of their cognitive abilities as well. With both Joe Biden and Donald Trump in their 70’s, so a decline in cognitive abilities is a real possibility, a huge concern where an individual is becoming president of the United States.

The issue of the state in which the candidates’ heads are came to a head recently when President Trump challenged his political opponent, Joe Biden, to take a cognitive assessment test. Is this a crazy notion? Considering that Biden is 77 and would be the oldest person to become president if sworn in on Inauguration Day, the concern seems reasonable. But Donald Trump, the current president, is no spring chicken himself. At 74, he currently holds the record for the oldest individual to assume the presidency. Let’s hear it for gray power!

At least for the Republican candidate, loss of basic cognitive abilities has not (yet) occurred. How do we know this? Because the Donald aced a cognitive assessment test achieving a perfect score. In 2018 this test was administered to him at Walter Reed Military Medical Center. And he hasn’t forgotten that he passed this with flying colors, confirming his memory is intact.

Just how is a decline in someone’s cognitive abilities detected? You can give them a MoCA. No, that’s not a coffee, it’s a paper and pencil test which is used to detect a decline in mental capabilities. President Trump was the first president to take the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test for Dementia, commonly known as MoCA. Abnormal cognitive function can be determined by this relatively simple and brief test. MoCA, used in more than 200 countries worldwide, is the most sensitive test available for detecting Alzeheimer’s.

Given the presence of the word “Montreal,” in the test’s name, it should come as no surprise that the test was developed at a public research university in Montreal, Canada. The purpose of the test is to detect cognitive impairment. According to the assessment’s creator, neurologist Zrad Nasreddine, MoCA was not meant to measure IQ or intellectual skill. 

Dementia is more prevalent with age. Thus, Nasreddine himself agrees that the status of a candidate’s cognitive abilities is a “pertinent question” when that candidate is over age 70. Joe Biden, however, bristled at the suggestion he take an assessment test. His test-y response was, “Why the hell would I take a test?” Um, perhaps because voters want to know if you are losing it before they cast a vote for you to become the leader of the free world? Backing up Biden was DNC Chairman Tom Perez who characterized a reporter’s asking Biden if he’d take an assessment test as “a stupid question.” Sorry, sir, but my momma told me that there was no such thing as a stupid question. And, if I may be so bold, isn’t it more stupid NOT to want to know if a candidate’s cognitive abilities are declining?

Assuming a candidate’s cognitive abilities need to be assessed, how does MoCA work? Well, it doesn’t take much time. MoCA consists of 30 questions which take about 10-12 minutes to complete. Thirty is the highest score which can be obtained. President Trump achieved a perfect score of thirty out of thirty. A score of 26 or up is considered normal. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)  is denoted by a score between 18-25 and can help predict dementia. Do we really want someone running our country who is “impaired” and possibly on the road to being demented?

The MoCA test questions relate to different parts of the brain and assess different cognitive domains. One such domain is orientation. An individual must be able to state the date (month, year, day), place, and city. With people stuck at home due to COVID-19, it’s not necessarily a sign of cognitive decline not to know what day it is. Don’t the days all just blend together when quarantined or working remotely?

Language abilities are another domain which is assessed. A couple of sentences must be repeated correctly and a list of all the words beginning with the letter “F” that can be recalled have to be listed. Hmm. This question might make the presidential debates more fun. Who can repeat a tongue twister twice without making a mistake? And what “F” words  can the debaters identify related to government or American history? Let’s see–Founding Fathers, Franklin, Filibuster, Felix Frankfurter, Freedom, etc.

MoCA tests abstract reasoning because that function is often impaired in dementia. Thus, a test taker must explain how two things are alike. A tough question might involve how Republicans and Democrats are alike.

A fun challenge in MoCA is to identify three animals which are pictured. If the test is to be given to presidential candidates, donkeys and elephants should surely be included. Inability to recognize the animal symbolizing one’s political party is definitely cause for concern about cognitive abilities.

MoCA may, however, need to be updated to be in synch with current practices. Test takers have to draw a clock face showing a specified time. Today, digital is in. No one may really know what time it is if we go back to looking at a a clock face.

As tests go, MoCA seems rather harmless in that it is short and fairly straightforward. While no one wants to take a test, taking it anyway has certain benefits. The stakes are high when it comes to running our country. Does it really hurt to take 30 minutes of time to assure not only the voters but yourself to rule out that declining cognitive abilities won’t impede your ability to carry out presidential duties?

Why not have both candidates take MoCA prior to the election? President Trump hasn’t taken the test since 2018. Things may have changed between then and now; the rest of the world sure has. Joe Biden is approaching 80. If he makes it to the White House, he’ll have his plate full of things to deal with. Let’s make sure in advance that declining cognitive abilities of the Commander in Chief isn’t one of them.

Sure we want to have someone who is cognitively sharp running our country. But don’t we want those electing them to also be with it?  And by with it, I don’t mean simply oriented as to date, place, and time; I mean voters should be informed on what the issues are and what the candidates’ stances on those issues are. MoCA tests ability, but voting should utilize knowledge. Let the candidates take MoCA while voters drink a mocha and get informed on the candidates and issues.

Just WONDER-ing:

When voting, do you ever consider the candidate’s mental health? Does it concern you that both presidential candidates are in their 70’s? If you were running for a political office, would you be willing to take MoCA and have the results released publicly? How much health information about a candidate is the voting public entitled to have? How informed are you on current issues and the candidates’ position on them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America’s Most Wanted — A Murder Hornet

In 2020, there are some things we don’t want to catch, COVID-19 for example. Authorities, though, really want to catch a murder hornet right now. Personally, I don’t want to catch either, but the government’s  desperately seeking a live version of the giant pest. Why is the murder hornet #1 on their wanted list? Let’s check out the buzz on this intriguing story.

A murder hornet is the world’s largest species of hornet. Typically it is about 2 inches in length. If you have difficulty envisioning this size insect, just look at your thumb. Murder hornets are the size of an average thumb. YIKES!

Baseball and apple pie may be American, but murder hornets are not. If you hadn’t heard of them until this year, there’s a good reason; these pests aren’t native to the U.S. Also known as the Asian Giant Hornet, this bug is originally from an area stretching from northern India to East Asia. So what are murder hornets doing here in the U.S.A.? Apparently they are adventuresome things and decided to catch a ride on some cargo, likely agricultural, bound for overseas. 

Americans on the West Coast need to be warned that the murder hornets (and not the British) are coming. The hornets  invaded Washington State in December 2019 after first being spotted in Canada in August. Government authorities are hot on the bugs’ trail and, after a mere seven months, were final able to capture one on July 14th in Whatcom County, Washington. (In all honesty, I’d never heard of Whatcom County OR murder hornets until just recently.) The massive hornet’s capture was aided by the fact the bug was dead, so he had little chance of escaping. 

The government’s goal is to catch a live murder hornet. Isn’t a dead hornet as good (or perhaps better) than a live one? Nope. The plan is to catch live hornets, tag them (with presumably a bug-sized tag), and track them back to their colony. Once the colony is located, it can be eradicated. And time is running out for this eradication. It is less than two months before murder hornet mating season begins; in mid-September queens will mate with male hornets to produce little Asian Giant Hornets. Destroying nests is the only way to prevent the spread of the invasive pest. 

Is this destruction really necessary? I mean how bad can a 2 inch bug be? The answer? MURDEROUS. In Japan, Asian Giant Hornets kill up to fifty people per year. Typical beekeeping clothing is not sufficient to protect individuals from their stings; the hornets’ stingers can also pierce denim jeans. On the bright side, murder hornets don’t generally attack people or pets; however, if they feel threatened, they may go into attack mode. Their potent venom can be toxic if multiple stings are inflicted. Oh, death, where is thy sting? For murder hornets, it’s in their 1/4″ stinger.

The name “murder hornets” comes from the insects’ barbaric behavior towards other insects. These beastly hornets go through a “slaughter phase” from late summer to early fall when they attack beehives. Adult honeybees are decapitated while larvae and pupae are eaten. A hive may be totally destroyed by such an attack in a matter of a few hours. 

OK, that’s not very nice to treat the honeybees so savagely, but why should we humans be up in arms about it and seek to do in the murder hornets? The loss of honeybees will negatively affect humans as a good percentage of our food supply depends on insect pollination; bees do a majority of that work. In fact, in Washington State, one-third of the food supply depends on such pollination. So if you wondered what a bee is so busy doing, now you know. They are pollinating plants so our food will grow.

Now that we understand why murder hornets are really bad guys (er, bugs) and should be on the most wanted list, we need to know what to be on the lookout for. As yet, no murder hornet wanted posters have been displayed in U.S. postal facilities. Thus, a mug shot (bug shot?) of the winged wanted one is provided as a public service at the top of this post.

If you don’t expect to come face to face with a murder hornet, a physical description of one is good to have. In addition to being about 2″ long, these pests have large yellow and orange heads with prominent eyes (all the better to see their victims with presumably), and sharp serrated jaws. Adults sport a “wasp waist” between their thorax and fashionably striped abdomen. .

Helpful as knowing the description of American’s most wanted hornet may be, I don’t intend to get close enough to a hornet, murder or otherwise, to see if its abdomen is striped. But if an alert citizen does spot a murder hornet, that sighting should be reported. Who ya gonna call? Not ghost busters or even hornet busters. You don’t even really call anyone. If you live in Washington State, simply go online to the Washington State Department of Agriculture website to complete a Hornet Watch Report Form  You can advise you spied with your little eye a murder hornet flying by.

Government authorities are working diligently to capture a live murder hornet. How do you trap a murder hornet? So far, the tactic has been to set bottle traps out to attract them. Mice like cheese (hence you put cheese in a mouse trap), but the murder hornet’s have taken a shine to a mixed drink composed of OJ and rice cooking wine. This delicious drink (to hornets) is placed in the bottle to lure them in. Over 40 such bottle traps have been set in the immediate area where the (dead) murder hornet was captured back on July 14th; over 1,000 traps in total are currently in the field.

What happens if a live murder hornet is trapped? I’m no scientist, but I’m guessing the bug will be mad as a hornet. No worries because scientists plan to help the captive chillax in a cooler full of ice until the hornet is immobile. At that point a small tracking tag will be glued to the hornet. Not sure if gorilla glue can be used or if pest paste must be obtained for this job. After the tracking tag is secured, the hornet can be revived and released. Scientists will monitor his movements as relayed by the tiny tracking tag. When the pest makes it home to his colony, a raid will be conducted to raze the hornet’s home and wipe out the hornets. 

While I am not fond of insects in general and stinging ones in particular, it does seem sad that murder is the solution to the problem. We have to murder the murder hornets before they murder the helpful honeybees and jeopardize our food supply. Perhaps a better title for this blog post would have been “Murder, She Wrote.”

Just WONDER-ing:

If you spied a hornet, would you stop and take the time to assess its length before moving away from it? Is the murder hornet’s “slaughter phase” when it savagely kills honeybees just a part of the circle of life? Were you aware that we have the technology in place to track insects?

 

 

 

 

 

In A Daze Over School Days–COVID-19 And School Re-Openings

To re-open or not to re-open schools; that is the current question. Sure school will start back this fall; however, no one is certain the form that start will take. Even if students return to traditional brick and mortar schoolhouses, their experience will not be anything which could be characterized as a return to pre-pandemic normal. There will be a new school normal in the schoolhouse, and pupils of all ages aren’t going to like it.

An education encompasses many facets. The experience includes not only classroom time, but time in the lunchroom, at P.E., in the hallways, and on the school bus. In fact, for many students, their school activities outside the classroom are their favorite parts of the day. Classroom or not, no school area will escape transformation in the new normal. What will the new normal look like?

To assist administrators and school boards in planning for school re-openings, the Centers For Disease Control (“CDC”)  issued guidelines in May. The “lowest risk” option was identified as virtual-only classes activities, and events. Maybe I’m not as creative as CDC scientists, but how are you going to have a virtual-only high school football game with no fans, no players, no coaches, no bands, etc.? The only answer my non-scientific brain can produce is “You can’t.”

Let’s assume a school board decides to take a risk and rejects the virtual-only school option. What’s the best way to have school in a school building? CDC provides “considerations” to protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff by slowing the spread of COVID-19. Note that CDC apparently concedes the spread cannot be prevented, just slowed. If parents think it will be totally safe to send little Johnny back to school if the guidelines are followed, they are living in la la land–and I don’t mean Los Angeles or Lower Alabama.

So what’s a school to do to protect those within the little red schoolhouse? Let’s consider the steps which must be taken and how this will affect the students’ school experience.

The Classroom

Modified layouts of classrooms will be necessary. Per the CDC guidelines, desks must be spaced “at least”  six feet apart. Forget buying your child a ruler as a school supply. A yardstick will be more practical. Desks should also face all the same direction, so there will be no circling of desks as the wagons are circled to protect against the spread of COVID-19. If table seating is utilized, students would sit on only one side of the table. That’ll have to be one long table to get more than one student at a table, just sayin’. 

For younger students receiving marks for conduct, this new normal will be their new “friend.” With desks spaced a minimum of six feet apart, it will be difficult to carry on whispered conversations during lessons. At that distance, a student would have to shout to be heard. Forget the old-fashioned “Psst!” or a tap on the shoulder of the student sitting in front of you. The time-honored tradition of passing notes will also become a thing of the past. Who can reach six feet to surreptitiously hand one over?

For older students, changing classes will be a thing of the past. CDC advises “cohorting,” organizing students and staff into small groups that remain together during the school day. At most changing classes might mean merely changing teachers. Rather than have umpteen kids mingle with different students the next period, the students could stay in place and their teachers will play musical classrooms. So much for students looking forward to seeing the cute guy or gal in biology class; they are stuck with playing the field with the same class of students all day long. Romance is doomed.

The Lunchroom

Lunchroom? What lunchroom? CDC recommends closing communal spaces such as cafeterias or dining halls. Individual meals would be served and eaten in the classroom.

Say what? Students live for lunch period. No, it isn’t the mystery meat they can’t wait for—it is a break from classroom lessons and prohibitions on their talking. Lunch is the time for socializing! But how much socializing will occur with students eating a minimum of six feet apart?                                                                                                                                                                 

Trading lunch fare will be a fond memory. Good luck seeing what your friend Timmy’s mother packed for him. Even if you can pick out a delicious homemade brownie from more than six feet away, how will you be able to trade your carrot sticks for it? Throwing the food item to be traded is the only option—and one frowned upon by school staff.

The Playground

A fate similar to the cafeteria awaits the playground. It is a communal area which CDC would have closed.

Approved activities for P.E. will be a short list. Tag? No, you must stay six feet apart and cannot touch anyone. That’s boring. Red Rover? It’ll be a breeze for someone to come right over because there will be no hand-holding line of defense to break through. Dodge ball? You could stay six feet apart while playing, but it isn’t sanitary for the thrown ball to touch anyone else and possibly spread COVID-19. Guess everyone will end up running laps around the field—six feet apart of course. What fun!

The Hallways

Time spent in the hallways will be more limited because having a mass of humanity walking in a crowded narrow space is a social distancing nightmare. Hallway lockers are way too close together, so using them is out. Who’s up for carrying their sweaty P.E. clothes with them all day? Good thing everyone will have to  wear a face mask; it can filter out some of the stink.

PDA will be DOA. Couples will not be able to hold hands, hug, or kiss in the hallways—well, unless they can do it from six feet plus apart. Blowing kisses it is. Or not. The virus is supposedly spread via respiratory droplets.

The Bus

Transporting students to and from school via school bus will be a logistical challenge since the requisite 6 foot + social distancing must be kept. Two to a seat won’t fly, and there’ll be no standing in the aisles when a student could “accidentally” bump into someone on whom he had his eye.

The same number of students cannot be packed in as they were pre-pandemic. A bus which previously accommodated 65-77 students now could seat only 9-11, requiring multiple trips to transport all the students to and from school. Sanitizing buses after each trip means increased transportation time. The school day would be almost over by the time all the students arrived. The school board for Duval County, Florida has astutely recognized that implementing these guidelines is “impossible.”

Schools re-opening will be a welcome return to routine activity. The new normal in which this activity would be conducted, however, will be less welcome. Pre-pandemic school is out forever.

Just WONDER-ing:

If you have school-age children, will you send them to school if you have the option of virtual classes? How safe do you think it is to send kids back to school even if the CDC guidelines are followed? Is implementing any or all of the CDC recommendations feasible? 

No Penny For Your Thoughts — Coin Shortage in the U.S.

In the wake of COVID-19, we’ve had shortages of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and meat. Now we can add coins to the list of what’s in short supply in the United States. There are no pennies available to obtain your thoughts, your brother can’t spare a dime, and the NFL may not be able to find a quarter to toss before games. At least we don’t have to worry about being nickeled and dimed to death if we survive the coronavirus. What’s going on to cause this coin shortage?

The short answer to the shortage question is that thing AREN’T going on.The typical flow of coins has been halted by the COVID-caused partial shutdown of the U.S. economy. With businesses shuttered, coins were not being used at car washes, laundromats, transit authorities, and vending machines. Circulation of coins depends on locations like these regularly deposit coins in the bank. Additionally, bank lobbies were also closed meaning individuals couldn’t bring in the contents of their piggy banks to exchange for bills.

Not only has circulation of coins been disrupted by the pandemic, but a slowdown of coin production also occurred. A 10% decrease in coins being rolled out was seen in April and a 20% decrease in May. Steps taken in the interest of worker safety in light of the pandemic caused the drop in coin production. “Only” a little over 3.2 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) coins were minted in the first three months of 2020. 

And just who is producing coins in this country? Well, it’s a government operation. The U.S. Mint is the issuing authority for U.S. coinage. Mint plants located in Denver and Philadelphia manufacture all of the American coins used in commerce. The penny, nickel, dime, and quarter are the circulating coins currently used in everyday transactions. Although the U.S. Mint produces half dollar and dollar coins, those coins are produced merely as collectibles. 

An estimated 48 billion coins are in circulation in the United States. With that mind-boggling number jangling in people’s pockets, saved up in piggy banks, and filling business tills, how can there possibly be a shortage? While adequate coins are out in society, the slowed pace of their circulation has resulted in an insufficient number of coins available where needed. If a large number of them are in coin jars in citizens’ homes,  then those coins are not available to merchants who need to make change. 

This lack of change is changing the way retailers conduct their business. Some retailers are asking customers to tender exact change so  change does not have to be made. Others are offering to place shoppers’ change on loyalty cards or convert what’s due into charitable contributions. Another option is to only accept payment by debit or credit cards. Of course, requiring forms of payment other than cash exacerbates the coin shortage because it means less coins are moving around. 

Going cashless does help on two counts. First, it eliminates the need for change to be made. Second, it also prevents employees from having to handle money which may have coronavirus lurking on its surface. Some are concerned that these developments are pushing the U.S. towards becoming a cashless society. That’s cashless in that money isn’t accepted; many are already cashless because they are unemployed and have no cash or even money in the bank as a result of the pandemic.

So what’s being done to address this nationwide coin shortage? The Federal Reserve is working with the U.S. Mint to produce more coins. Well, that’s a no-brainer. There aren’t enough coins so make more. DUH! I wonder how many bureaucrats it took to come up with that creative solution. The Mint returned to full-capacity production in mid-June and is even boosting production. At current levels, the Mint is on pace to produce 1.65 billion(that’s billion with a “b”) coins per month for the remainder of 2020. This amount is above the approximately 1 billion per month recorded in 2019.

Until more coins are rolled out literally and figuratively, coin rationing has been implemented effective June 15th.The Federal Reserve’s 12 regional banks are in charge of supplying coins to commercial banks. Monthly coin orders from commercial banks are not being completely filled since coin inventories are being rationed.

And what would a societal problem be without a task force created to look into it?  The Federal Reserve announced on June 30th that it has started a U.S. Coin Task Force whose goal is (another DUH!) to accelerate the circulation of coins. Serving on this task force are bankers, retailers, and the mysterious “others.”  

So, what can the average American do to help combat our country’s current coin calamity? Pay with exact change if you have it available.. If you are stashing coins at home for some rainy day, now is the time to take them into the bank; keeping them in the ceramic pig’s belly just exacerbates the problem. Finally, forget the adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned,”  often attributed to Ben Franklin. The U.S. Mint produces more pennies than any other coin, and the production costs exceeds the face value of that coin. But the coin is utilized so frequently in commerce that it is worth paying the price to produce it. Don’t save those pennies. Spend them to get those coins circulating! 

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you have a stash of coins in your house in a piggy bank or jar? Have you experienced a retailer’s request for exact change or payment being limited to credit or debit cards? Knowing there’s a coin shortage, are you likely to pounce on a coin you spy lying on the ground? Are you surprised to learn that it costs more to make a penny than its face value?

 

 

And Then There Were 51 — Statehood For D.C. Ahead?

COVID-19 may not be the only thing that rocks Americans’ lives in 2020. What if the makeup of our United States changed? Fasten your seat belts because a 51st state is now being considered by Congress. Could we see the first addition of a state since Alaska and Hawaii were added in 1959?

What? You hadn’t heard of this development? Trust me. Neither COVID-19 nor the possible addition of a 51st state is a hoax. But having to figure out where to put another star on the beloved Stars and Stripes apparently isn’t as newsworthy to the networks as “breaking news” about the latest number of confirmed coronavirus cases or deaths. With all that bad news being reported, the possibility having a new state join the union should be a distracting and welcome story. Let’s check it out.

On June 26, 2020, the House passed the aptly named H.R. 51, also known as the Washington, D.C. Admission Act of 2020, which proposes to make D.C. the 51st state. Only the new state’s name wouldn’t be the District of Columbia because, well, it wouldn’t be a district anymore but a state. How does Washington, Douglass Commonwealth grab you? This name honors both our first president, George Washington, and former slave, abolitionist, and D.C. resident of many years, Frederick Douglass. Nice thought, but that name seems too much of a mouthful to me. If would likely end up being referred to as WDC for convenience. WDYT? (What do you think?)

This 51st state would not only have a new name but new territory. Out of the current D.C.,  a small federal district, to be known as “The Capital,” would be carved. Monuments (at least those still standing at the time), the White House, the Capitol, the National Mall, and federal buildings would not be contained in Washington Douglass Commonwealth–er, WDC..

So why does D.C. need to be a state? Isn’t it enough that it is the seat of our nation’s government and a huge tourist destination? The short answer for some proponents? TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION, a phrase which appears on D.C. license plates.

As of July 2019, approximately 706,000 people lived in D.C., a population which is higher than the states of Wyoming and Vermont. Residents of the District are required to pay taxes. And pay taxes they do since D.C. has a higher per capita income than any state. But D.C. residents have no voting representatives in Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton serves as their delegate in the House, so she can speak on the D.C. residents’ behalf, but she cannot vote.

Other proponents of statehood for D.C. see it as an issue of racial injustice. Over 46% of the District’s population is black. Not allowing these residents to have representation in Congress, they claim, is oppressive. I’m assuming the other 54% of the residents, regardless of race, aren’t happy about their lack of representation either. Needless to say, statehood is strongly favored in the District. A November 2016 statehood referendum resulted in 86% of the voters backing the leap from district to state.

President Trump and Republicans oppose statehood for D.C. They see the push for the District’s statehood as a political issue. But then, isn’t EVERYTHING considered in D.C. these days a political issue? D.C. is overwhelmingly Democratic, having only ever elected Democratic mayors. So Republicans view the attempt to make D.C. a state as merely a power grab by Democrats to add 1 representative and 1 senator to the Democratic tally. Unsurprisingly, the vote on H.R. 51 was mainly along party lines. The bill passed the Democratic controlled House by a 232-180 vote with no Republicans voting for it.

But the legislation has a long and uphill way to go to become law. Next it heads to the Republican-controlled Senate where it is likely DOA. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell opposes the legislation, and senators are not expected to even consider it. Even if, miracle of miracles, the Senate also passed the legislation, President Trump has already stated that he would veto it.

Even if statehood for D.C. fails to pass this term, proponents have made progress. A similar bill proposed in 1993 failed. The June 26th vote was the first time a D.C. statehood bill passed either chamber of Congress. Maybe in the next 27 years Democrats can round up a few more votes to obtain passage in both the House and the Senate.

Politics aside, history does not support making the nation’s capital a state. The Founding Fathers were wary of giving too much power to a state by allowing it to permanently host the seat of the national government. They wanted the governmental seat to be independent of any state. Accordingly Article I, Section 8 allowed Congress to create a district to become the seat of government; that district was to be governed by Congress.

The District ultimately created with land ceded by Virginia and Maryland was named after Christopher Columbus (who’s apparently not P.C. these days). Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were at odds as to where the capital was to be located. Sadly, this disagreement did not make the cut to appear in “Hamilton,” so the average citizen isn’t familiar with it.

One solution proposed to D.C.’s Taxation Without Representation issue has been proposed by Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican representing Maryland. If D.C. residents want to vote, they can return the land where they are living to Maryland who donated it for the nation’s capital to be created. A new Douglass County, Maryland would result and VOILA’,  current D.C. residents could then vote. Hmm. That’s going from one end of the spectrum to the other. One minute D.C. is going to become the 51st state; now they could become merely a county in a rather small state of the Union.

There are some things Americans just don’t know such as when this pandemic will finally be behind us. But it’s a pretty safe bet that redesigning the Stars and Stripes won’t be on the country’s 2020 agenda. Even if a 51st state isn’t going to join the first 50, the possibility is an interesting topic of conversation. Certainly it is way more interesting than hearing ad nauseum about COVID-19. But, the media begs to disagree…

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.? Is adding a 51st state, whether or not it is D.C., a good idea? If you don’t like the proposed name of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, what do you suggest for the new state’s name? Is it fair that D.C. residents are taxed without representation in Congress? Is life always fair?