Bill Ellis

The Big Red Scare

Joe Stalin, nothing like Bernie Sanders.

Joe Stalin, conservative boogieman

Beware! Be very afraid is the message George Will imparts in his commentary, “When history books make history,” published in the Opinion page Aug. 9. But to me the overriding theme is the hubris— excessive pride— Will attaches to the power of writers. He singles out Robert Conquest, who, according to Will almost single-handedly brought down the Soviet Union with his honest and truthful description of the evils of communism under Joseph Stalin.

Understand there has been no communism except in theory, especially under the brutal dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Everyone was not equal but there was a level of thugs at the top who were “more equal.” Everyone else followed orders or got sent to gulags in Siberia, or were shot. No writers brought down the Soviet system, and neither did Ronald Reagan as has been claimed for him posthumously. No, the Soviet Union collapsed in utter failure with a corrupt government, a failed economy and by investing in an arms race resulting in total disregard of its people.

By some estimates, Stalin had more than 20 million citizens murdered in order to instill his brand of communism. Stalin was guilty of “moral obtuseness,” meaning he said one thing and always did what he wanted, which usually resulted in breaking treaties and murdering anyone who got out of line. Liar and hypocrite are the most polite words we can associate with Stalin.

Yet, in his meandering punditry of 700 words, Will brands U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders with moral obtuseness. That is one writer’s hubris run amok. It is also disgustingly false.

So just what has Bernie proposed that is so threatening it receives a label the writer also chooses for the worst killer dictator in human history? Here is a sampling: healthcare for all by extending Medicare; eliminating tax evasion techniques by large corporations that offshore profits and jobs; extending Social Security to all by applying the payroll tax to income more than $250,000; raising the minimum wage to $15/hour; paying for parental leave and vacations; and foremost, getting big money out of politics.

These are major issues for the 99 percent of us who are being squeezed out of the middle class by stalled wages and benefits. Yet somehow Will and conservatives in Congress interpret our issues and Bernie’s common sense solutions as “socialist threats.”

America is a social country. Our history is marked by communities coming together to deal with tough issues. Every farming community has a cooperative that allows members to save money through bulk purchasing of goods and services at lower prices. Foremost though are the many benefits derived by all of us by combining our taxes for the common good: setting up public utilities and services, public libraries, public education, highways and roads top the list. Consider too that we have a national military, Social Security and Medicare.

Realize that many hardline conservatives like George Will consider social services undeserved entitlements. What is scandalous is the association of Bernie Sanders’ stand on providing for the people first akin to the moral obtuseness of Joseph Stalin. Rather, I believe entitled is the No. 1 characteristic of large corporations avoiding taxes and offshoring jobs. Entitled describes a Congress that votes itself better health insurance benefits and a better pension system than it allows the people it is supposed to serve.

Where Bernie would extend Social Security, conservative pundits like Will would cut it, limit benefits and raise the eligibility age.

A final thought. My friend Hermine is from Germany, a democratic socialist country. In a recent discussion she was asked about health insurance there. Her answer: Everybody has it. What about unemployment insurance? It never runs out. What about the homeless? She says there isn’t any. Parental leave and vacation pay? Yep, Germany has those too. Other studies point out the happiest people live in Scandinavia, where democratic socialism also exists with the benefits found in Germany.

In the next 15 months, pundits and politicians will try to scare you with demagoguery tactics like Will’s. “The Big Red Scare” was a farce perpetrated by radical anti-communist demagogues like Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Don’t believe the ghosts of that era posing as pundits and candidates for the presidency.

Bill Ellis is a local author; reply to bill-ellis@comcast.net
Bill Ellis

St. Vrain Valley Voices

Water for energy

While two former governors and our incumbent exult in the value of increased energy production, our supply of water is affected drastically. It has become necessary to remind our excited political leaders that you can’t drink oil. James Bond proved that at the conclusion of “Quantum of solace.” Double 07 allowed the villain a can of oil as his only liquid refreshment to get him through the desert. The results were deadly. Other deadly factors in the struggle of water for energy are:

Increased temperature. A recent report from the University of Colorado indicates our supply of water will be drastically affected by a projected two-degree increase in average temperature in the next 30 years, see http://cwcb.state.co.us/environment/climate-change/Documents/COClimateReportOnePager.pdf .

Irrigated agriculture. A dramatic decrease in the Texas, high plains, Oglala Aquifer—so named depending on where you stand—will force farmers to convert to dry land farming which is adversely affected by drought. See http://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/huge-aquifer-runs-through-8-states-quickly-being-tapped-out-f8C11009320. Also reported by the AP, Lubbock, TX Aug. 12, 2014. The aquifer runs from the Dakotas to Texas, and supplies the Mid-west breadbasket. It may last another 50 years, but some counties will run dry in 15 years unless recharging is increased.

Drought. Recharging is affected by draught and it is not keeping up with pumping out. All of California, most of the southwest and a good quarter of Colorado is in severe drought condition.

Fracking. “Fracking removes millions of gallons of precious freshwater from the water cycle.

Each well uses between two and five million gallons of locally-sourced freshwater which will be permanently contaminated by ground contaminants and toxic chemicals contained in the fracking fluid. About half of this water returns to the surface, where it is stored in steel containers until it can be injected deep underground in oil and gas waste wells.

“No one is entirely sure what happens to the other half of the water used in the process. Our best guess is that the water remains underground, though there are indications that at least some of this toxic cocktail makes its way back into the water supply.” http://www.cleanwateraction.org/page/fracking-dangers.

“Fracking companies begin slow shift to recycling wastewater.” See James Osborne, The Dallas Morning News, August 14, 2014

The “closed hydrologic cycle”. Yet the fact that Colorado is classified as semi-arid, a euphemism for “near desert,” is lost in the political battle over fracking. Many years ago I worked on a project for the Water Resource Division of the U.S. Geological Survey, and learned this simple fact: The amount of water on earth is constant.

“Water on the Earth is part of a closed system called the hydrologic cycle. Water evaporates, forms clouds, falls as rain or snow, collects in oceans, lakes and rivers and freezes as ice. No new water is created and it does not leave the system.” Except by fracking.

(USGS – http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycle.html)

Excess fossil fuels? In a guest opinion, Congressman Gardner described how our exploding wealth of fossil fuels should be used to enhance foreign policy. Specifically, our government should force Putin to back off Europe because we would be able to resupply our allies with the natural gas they currently get from Russia. Rep. Gardner’s interest in water resources safety is zero.

Jobs? How many of those wonderful jobs generated by fracking are more than temporary? Anyone driving through the state can answer this question. Just about any road goes past oil and gas equipment erected to suck out the product. But I’ve driven up and down I-25 since I moved here in 1976 and not seen a single worker at a drilling rig.

The recent political compromise between elected officials and the fossil fuels industry solves nothing. Agreement on distance of fracking wells from humans misses the point. Our goal was to become energy self-sufficient and our most important natural resource is water.

Relevant history. As we all stood in lines for gasoline, President Jimmy Carter identified an energy crisis and increased funding for renewable energy. Then, the defense department’s share of federal energy consumption was over 98%. President Reagan ignored the problem by cutting renewable energy research 75% and increasing defense spending to drive up budget deficits. It was an amazing feat of legerdemain.

Who represents the people? Our governor joined the oil and gas lobby. Two former governors returned from political asylum to join the fray. As a card carrying member, Rep. Gardner lives in fantasy land. The Republican candidate for governor drops back 35 years to the bankrupt years of Reagan ignorance. He punts proclaiming it’s too early to invest in renewable energy. The conservative Republican alliance with the fossil fuels industry ignores conservation, its own founding principle.

The other day a friend asked if our emphasis on fracking would de-emphasize research on renewable energy. I’ll let you connect the dots. This latest panacea for energy consumption has a potential life expectancy in decades. It’s a neck and neck race as to which resource will run out first: fossil fuels or the aquifer wasted to free them.

Bill Ellis lives in Longmont. Reply to bill-ellis@comcast.net

1778 Lincoln St., Longmont, CO 80501

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Towards a national agenda

Bill Ellis - billelliswrites.com

Bill Ellis – billelliswrites.com

I am dropping out of “the battle of the billionaires” because the money poured into attack ads by both sides is irrelevant to a national agenda. Further, when I hear from anyone running for office I’m asked to sign a petition against the other side and send in another contribution. This strategy is armed by little folks firing petty cash into a black hole. It is also faux citizenship: contribute a buck get access like the big guys, just in smaller bits. With judicial consent.

Why is this irrelevant? By some estimates the 2012 general election was our most expensive ever with about $6 Billion spent. Honestly, did you change your mind based on attack ads? I thought not. Me neither. Basically, that money was wasted; it is a sorry state we’ve come to. And the elected representatives we count on to step in and fix the mess are entangled up to their necks, collecting donations to stay in office.

Just for grins, let’s see what that amount of money translates to if invested wisely, for example in hiring the unemployed at a minimum wage of $10 an hour:

$6,000,000,000/10 = 600,000,000 hrs./2,000 hrs. per work year = 300,000 jobs. It doesn’t matter that we only have elections every two years because campaigning and donation collection are continuous!

See the benefits to us? I see $6 Billion injected into the economy to create even more jobs; same amount saved from reduced unemployment claims; $60 Million returned to the U.S. Treasury in taxes; another $60 Million paid into Social Security; and another $Umpteen billion saved on servicing interest on the national debt. There’s more.

About 100,000 families would not go bankrupt. About 100,000 would buy health insurance with no penalty for previous conditions. Possibly 100,000 lives could be saved. I would contribute to a publicly-funded election for this goal.

Problem: Economic research (Google “oligarchy” and “wealth inequality”) warns of the loss of capitalism through wage inequality, and our democracy to the rule of a wealthy/corporate elite. Whether it is true or not, many believe this; the perception is real. Our constitutional system based on the power and authority of the people has lost credibility among all generations. Citizens across the political spectrum express doubt that our elected representatives answer to us, American voters. Billionaire wars via attack ads attest to our loss.

This conclusion answers many questions, foremost being why there has been no action by political parties and their wealthy backers to address national concerns. As long as left is pitted against right no common ground is developed to create solutions.

A national agenda: We don’t need a scientific poll to identify items for a national agenda. Try these reforms:

  • tax code;
  • immigration;
  • national health care;
  • election financing;
  • gun rights; and,
  • fair wage reform including a higher minimum wage and a maximum wage tied to rising wages below management levels. (Thank you Dick Montague.)

No matter what you have been led to think, we have the power and authority to change how our country is governed. The solution is advanced citizenship voting for national interests. Our government has more than enough money to operate if it spends our tax dollars for the right reasons. Speak out. Stop contributing to the elite power game. Vote in your own best interest for the country.

Bill Ellis is a local author. Reply to bill-ellis@comcast.net

Honor and privilege

During the last years of Muriel Harrison’s life, Bill Harrison would greet me at the door and then tell her who had come to visit — Muriel had been blind for several years. He would say, “It is my honor and privilege to take care of her.” Usually, we expect to read about a wife caring for an aging husband until his last days. But Bill Harrison was unusual.

One night in 2006, I waited for a new batch of writers to come to my door for a “Writing Stories” class I was presenting in our family room. The first arrival that evening was an elderly gentleman who sat parked in my driveway a good 20 minutes early. I motioned him to come on in, and although he’d grown stoop-shouldered in his 87 years, Bill was still several inches taller than I. He lived on the east side of town, he said, and often arrived at meetings early to beat the trains.

That night, Bill related the story of how his grandfather John H. Wolfe had given him his Civil War diary when Bill was 5. Now he asked me to help him create a book out of that diary. Of course, I agreed and asked for more background. And over the next few months, I read Bill’s drafts and gave him encouragement, although how much effect I had was debatable. We often laughed that I’d had to forgo any attempt to change his writing style to the active voice; he wrote beautifully in the passive.

The result was Bill’s 200-page historical tome, One Man’s War: Tired ’till the Day I Die, based upon memoirs of John H. Wolfe, Company F, 8th Michigan Volunteers, 1861-1864. Bill’s preface concludes with this sentence: “I am merely trying to show my amazement that Grampa Wolfe survived the ordeal of the Civil War physically and still landed on his feet mentally.”

Bill and Muriel had taken a year off and traveled to every one of Grampa Wolfe’s 47 battle sites. And that night chatting in my living room, he recounted many battles that had taken place in my home state of Virginia. He and Muriel had stopped at every silver metal sign designating battles and Lee’s retreat from Richmond along the “old Danville road,” today’s Route 360. I’d driven the length of that highway hundreds of times and never stopped.

The presentation of history in Bill’s tome is unique. For each battle, he presented two perspectives: the overall view by the generals who set the stage; and Grampa Wolfe’s view of the foot soldiers at ground level, the men who suffered death and hardship, assuredly no glory.

Bill later transcribed the diary into Memoirs of John H. Wolfe. Bill’s son gave a copy of this book to a board of directors building a museum dedicated to volunteer soldiers of all the wars of this country. Civil War experts have authenticated Grampa Wolfe’s memoirs, and the board will feature him and his unit in the museum. Out of 100 Company F volunteers, he was one of the eight to survive.

Last year, Dr. Bill attended meetings of the Civil War History discussion group at the Longmont library. We would meet there, and I gave him a few rides home. His slideshow presentation of Grampa Wolfe’s battles will long be remembered by that group. Bill later made copies of his transcription of the diary and gave them to members. They hold a treasure, a legacy handed down in 1924.

Many people will remember Dr. Bill as their family veterinarian, others for his beautiful marquetry. He was a kind and humble man who deflected praise. But I will always cherish those visits and hearing him say it was his honor and privilege to take care of Muriel.

Bill Ellis is a local author who can be reached at contact@billelliswrites.com.

The “n-word” is offensive and reeks of disrespect

One day when I was 4 years old, I ran to answer the knock on our front door. My goal was to get there before Tessie, our black maid and my day-care provider. It was 1945 in my hometown of Martinsville, Va., close to the North Carolina state line.

What happened next is burned into my memory. I opened the door to face a snarly white man who towered above me. “Whar’s your folks, boy?” he growled. Tessie got there to save me and pushed me behind her.

“They’re not here,” she answered.

“Wasn’t talking to you, n-,” and out spilled that vile and vicious word, dripping with so much hate it scared me. Tessie slammed the door in his face and went into the living room, where she sat and cried.

I was shocked and completely confused about how that one word could so upset my best pal, the woman who cared for me, who loved me. So I asked her what it meant.

“Don’t ever say it,” she said. “It’s what mean people say when they want to hurt us colored folks.”

And so it remains. Over the last eight years or so, I have been reminded that angry, ignorant white people and even some African-Americans continue to toss that word around like a hand grenade. It is the ultimate degradation to a race of people. How do I know this? I saw it on Tessie’s face in 1945. I saw her reduced to miserable tears. And I get an occasional message from an old friend back in Virginia who just doesn’t think our African-American president is real — code for less than human.

I admit I used to feel superior to the typical bigots down South, those uneducated folks stereotyped as automatically prejudiced just because of their accent and useless arguments bemoaning the “lost cause” of the Civil War. But then I discovered an ancestor in North Carolina in the 1700s who had slaves. It was clearly there in his will that charged his son to sell some land to buy a slave to care for his wife after his death.

Yet here we are, 250 years later, still without a clue. As an almost fanatically religious country, too many of us do not live our values and follow the golden rule to treat people like we want to be treated. Shamefully, we don’t even see a connection between going to church and practicing brotherly love the other six days of the week.

My Latino friend, Dan, reminded me the other day that the Army teaches equal rights. All soldiers depend on everyone. There is no place for racial, religious, and sexual orientation prejudice in the military. So maybe the solution is to put everyone through basic training.

Better, though, is for everyone to stand up for speaking with respect. Next time somebody throws out that word, call time out. Correct them. Let them know it is offensive to all of us because the word reeks of disrespect. My friend Dan knows that today that word and the bigotry it holds disrespects African-Americans, the next day Latinos, and then on to women, gays and lesbians, and everyone else.

I must add this: The maddest I ever saw my mother was when President Clinton’s political nominees were being disqualified because they hadn’t paid Social Security taxes for their nannies. “Did you pay Tessie’s?” I stupidly inquired.

“I certainly did,” she answered in a huff, and gave me one of those withering looks that showed she doubted I had a grain of sense. I’d forgotten the day she took me to visit Tessie after I’d graduated from college. Mom’s reason: “She thinks you’re as much hers as I think you’re mine.”

Bill Ellis (contact@billelliswrites.com) lives in Longmont.

The ‘Serious’ Generation

Bill Ellis

Bill Ellis – billelliswrites.com

Over tea and conversation at Ziggi’s on Francis Street, my friend, Bob Dacey, proposed a re-branding of our generation from “Silent” to “Serious.”

And why not? There are now more branded generations than could possibly fit in a century: The Greatest, Multitasking, Millennial, X and Boomer, Silver Tsunami. But none of those fit Bob and me. Together we have more years, over 150, than hair. And neither of us is silent. We have been writing and speaking out for a long time, as have others in our generation.

The problem is with those who should be listening. Here’s an example: To us, the “nuclear option” does not mean changing the rules of the U.S. Senate to a simple majority vote for approval. Members of the Serious Generation recall the Cold War days when choosing the nuclear option meant mutually assured destruction (MAD). Returning to a simple majority rule vote means getting back to mutual respect in Congress where both the majority and minority parties can cooperate to conduct the business of governing. The overwhelming need for changing rules was angrily acknowledged by Republican Speaker of the House Boehner when he finally blew up at the Tea Party. Reason? Those representatives had already denounced a bipartisan budget proposal without even reading the bill.

Realize the Tea Party’s goal has been lucid from the start: block governing; do not cooperate. Thus, there are no members of this loud minority in our recently re-branded Serious Generation. Speaker Boehner is hoist on his own petard.

It was just fine for the minority members of his faction-bound party to block governing as long as the result was perceived as damaging Democrats. But now the blowback threatens Republicans in the run-up to next year’s election. So Speaker Boehner does not qualify for membership in our Serious Generation either, as long as he sticks to his own failed strategy now belching backfires.

Here’s the truth: Generation S respects the ebb and flow of power from one party to the other. We know that’s how our system is supposed to work. That’s healthier than absolute power controlled by one faction for too long, and we’ve been around long enough to see it. Here’s the awful truth: While our generation is criticized for hogging resources — the euphemism is entitlements — like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the governing class (generation “G”?) has captured benefits for itself and is aligned with big money to ensure its continuation in power. The bottom line: The evidence is overwhelming. There is no sharing in our economy, only the continuing rise of profits and wealth to the top.

The shame in our economic system is this: When citizens seek their fair share they are immediately branded as liberals demanding redistribution of wealth. It is the vilest conundrum spun by lobbyists to define sharing wealth as socialism.

As the great leader, Mandela, is lauded for his reconciliation and forgiveness, snapshots of poverty in South Africa continue to remain solely of black settlements. As conservative columnists continue to deprecate proposals to raise the minimum wage, more and more Americans fall below the poverty line. Why? Because interrupting the flow of money to the top is anathema to our profit-centered economy.

I’ll let Bob explain it: “It is inevitable that all community values will be tested and measured in economic terms and in a business-like way. However, not all human qualities and personal values have a dollar sign attached to them. Sometimes the right action is not the most cost-effective. Sometimes the smartest choice does not have a price tag. We devalue the human spirit when every human transaction is reduced to a business contract.” — Robert Dacey.

Longmont resident Bill Ellis is the author of “Paradigm Shift.”

reply to contact@billelliswrites.com

Paradigm shift from fighter-nation mentality needed

Are we a fighter nation?

Are we a fighter nation?

My June 29 guest column in the Times-Call generated a variety of responses via email and on the Opinion page, leading some respondents to ask for a follow-up, so here goes.

I often use personal stories to make a point, connect the dots. These stories are true. I don’t make them up and readers tell me they appreciate them. I was appalled during Army basic training to have my sore feet questioned and see many trainees pummeled into submission with challenges to their veracity. But at least I had boots and the times were different. Our military needed more fighters in Vietnam and petty excuses were not acceptable. I do remember receiving much better medical treatment as an officer, though. I hope that has changed over the past 47 years since I went through training.

One respondent cited a New York Times article claiming more than 50 percent of assaults were to men. Another referred me to Marine Capt. Lindsay Rodman’s Wall Street Journal column, which concluded the statistics on sexual assaults were based on a bad survey resulting in bad math, with projections, not actual assaults that others have hyped out of reality.

Per Capt. Rodman, “The actual number of reported sexual assaults in the military in 2012 was 3,374, up from 3,192 in 2011. Of the 3,374 total cases reported last year, only 12 percent to 14 percent were reported by men. … We in the military justice system want victims to come forward, and to seek accountability through the system. We want them to feel empowered to report, and to know that their command will take the allegation and their recovery seriously. An increasing number of reported sexual assaults, at least in the next few years, should be viewed as a positive sign that this message is being heard.”

Another respondent, a retired Navy public relations officer, described having written a report on sexual assaults that was covered up by the chain of command. And a grandmother wrote concerned about a grandson who might be making a bad choice by enlisting in the military.

All of these perspectives, including mine, are valid. Our military is a huge amalgamation of people. In many ways its members are characteristic of society, yet military service is not the romanticized life portrayed in enlistment commercials flooding TV. Previously on this page, I applauded a young Marine recruit who signed up for the possibility of receiving valuable training while serving his country. Yet he also understood the dreaded alternative of being sent into combat and being killed. Anyone seeking military service must weigh these alternatives.

Personally, I believe everyone should serve this country for at least two years. There are many alternatives to serving in the military and I’ve described some on this page before, especially AmeriCorps. But public service of some kind is necessary to gain a commitment, an investment, in our country.

Over the last half-century, military spending has gobbled up resources that should have been used for education and health care. Yet, doomsday spokesmen tote up the national debt and find no way out of rapidly increasing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending other than to reduce benefits and raise taxes.

Our political leaders are looking at the wrong issues. Incrementally, we have drifted into a fighter-nation mentality. Our priorities are out of whack and we now equate bloated military spending with adequate defense spending. Statistics show we have had enough defense for a long time. We must have a paradigm shift of priorities, a change that puts people first.

Bill Ellis is a local author. Reply to him at contact@billelliswrites.com,

Arrogance of command protects sexual assault offenders

Clearly, someone needs a good boot in the pants.

Clearly, someone needs a good boot in the pants.

The first time I showed up at “sick call” during Army basic training, 16 in my company of 250 filled the first sergeant’s office displaying blisters worn through to flesh. Both of my Achilles were bloody and I could hardly walk, much less run in combat boots. This ailment stayed with me through four months of infantry training and six months of officer training, the latter including “jorks,” jogs of five miles carrying an M-14 and wearing a fully loaded backpack.

Periodically, an Army doctor would prescribe low quarters, regular shoes, so I could continue training. And to this day, nerve damage in my left foot causes pain and numbness in several toes.

I relate this sad tale to demonstrate this point: Of the 16 complainers that day, only four of us withstood the first sergeant’s shaming condemnation and actually went to see a doctor. The other 12 were bullied into submission, made to feel like cowards and laggards. Our treatment then was matched with another warning. Don’t write to your congressman and complain because the chain of command will send that letter to your company commander and you will be in hot water.

No one who has served in the military should be surprised that there were 26,000 cases of sexual assault recently reported. I wondered about the huge jump and asked a friend, a woman who served four years and left the Army as a captain. She related that a male senior officer had harassed her on her first tour of duty. It didn’t matter that she was married and warned him off. She is an attractive woman, and, as she said, “boys will be boys.” Today though, she believes the overall environment has improved, leading more women to report sexual assaults and harassment. Regardless, she said, there is still an arrogant “good old boy network” protecting offenders.

As the father of four daughters and grandfather of six granddaughters, I see the existence of a network of men who will lie to protect other men as so far from honorable as to be repulsive. Military officers are sworn to tell the truth. Always. They are also expected to uphold positive leadership characteristics including empathy, dedication, judiciousness, loyalty, trust and understanding. Note that arrogance is not one. Yet I saw it many times from officers who believed that once silver or gold bars, oak leaf clusters, eagles or stars were pinned on their shoulders they were automatically imbued with greater intelligence and overriding power. And that first morning on sick call was my first encounter with its corruption.

Years before the reality of Hillary Clinton as a viable presidential candidate, my wife asked a good question: Where are all the women running for president? That was in August 2000, when we didn’t like any of the candidates. The idea for a book struck me, so one night we sat down and brainstormed to describe the ideal first woman president. She had to be “flameproof,” and Hailey MacMurray, the leading lady in my novel, was certainly that. She was spick and span, highly intelligent, smart, an All-American athlete and attractive. Hailey would attend the Air Force Academy and graduate at the top of her class on the way to becoming a jet fighter pilot. And become a widowed, single mom. How could the hawks vote against such a phenomenon?

Then real life intervened. Almost between chapters in my writing life at home, I was introduced to the daughter of an office secretary where I worked as part-time gofer. Personable and well-mannered, she was an all-state volleyball player, and as a freshman at the Air Force Academy was so good she was on the starting varsity.

Then she was sexually assaulted at the academy. Her mother’s grief at work was palpable and mixed with the fear that her husband was threatening to take his gun to the academy and shoot somebody, anybody. But on top of the anguish of the assault came this message to the young woman from the “brass”: Resign. Quit school. That’s what all the other women have done.

Say again? Where was the empathy, loyalty, trust and understanding?

Twenty-six thousand sexual assaults tell me the chain of command does not work and should not be considered for reporting such felonies, court martial offenses. Yet the Inspector General reporting system is set up for just such cases. If the IG system is not working, then it’s time, in Army lingo, to take names and kick ass.

Bill Ellis is a local author who can be reached at contact@billelliswrites.com.

Down the corporate greed rabbit hole

Capitalism, gun to headWhen did making a profit turn into greed? Greed has been around from the beginning of time, but my guess would be it was unleashed in the1980s when American voters bought the farce that wealth would trickle down to them. There was no proof of this theory, but politicians kept saying it over and over until a majority of people began voting against their self-interests: Electing congressional representatives who approved lower corporate tax rates and numerous business deductions, but were against that job killer, increasing the minimum wage.

The fear tactic

When companies downsize, the actual work does not go away. One employee leaves; her co-worker takes up the slack, receiving extra duties. Or technical assistance is transferred to a phone bank in India. The fear tactic is deathly subtle: Either work harder and longer hours or you’ll be out of a job. Result: less overhead, more profit. Improving procedures and workflow? Not in the picture because that worker picking up the slack will stay at the same pay. What’s to change?

The early-out two-step

Older workers on the cusp of reaching retirement are offered a quick out — with reduced benefits. The work remains but will be done by lower-paid rookies. Conservatives in Congress refuse to compromise on solutions to fully fund Social Security. Their best thinking is to push up the retirement age and reduce benefits. Does anyone who’s been out looking for a job after age 40 really believe you can find one after 50? 60? Or even 70?

The possibilities?

I retired on an early-out offer at 51. In the succeeding 20 years I have worked in several full-time jobs and a half-dozen part-time ones. My job experience: toll booth operator; free-lance writer; warehouseman; multiple-choice question writer; online accounting system tech writer; AmeriCorps writing mentor; law firm runner; para-educator; sole business owner writing and selling books; writing coach; creative writing instructor; concierge; writer-in-residence. There were pluses and minuses. I wanted to write after I retired, so the keyword “writing” is sprinkled among my various jobs. But among the good experiences was a nasty confrontation with exhaust fumes in that toll booth — it was either that or wear a Donald Duck costume and walk around Walt Disney World in 90-degree heat. Worse was physical exhaustion in the warehouse doing a job designed for someone 30 years younger. Yet I discovered the joy of writing at home and selling a few books.

Something different is needed

A paradigm shift in thinking would lower the retirement age, not raise it. Consider this: What if the tax code favored workers who wanted to retire early, even at 45 or 50? Going further: What if big business/large corporations got a tax deduction only if they created jobs? Moving us older workers into retirement earlier makes room for younger folks. Let’s tell it like it is. Is it more cost-effective to pay hundreds of thousands of workers unemployment insurance or to rewrite the tax code making it feasible for older workers to leave earlier? Perhaps more would sample the work world as I have done and create their own job. Or start a small business.

Slurping at the federal trough

Entrepreneurs know where the big money is, in that trough filled with our taxes; politicians need money to keep their jobs. It has become a traditional tradeoff. The push for an independent Congress requires getting money out of elections. Changes to thinking, especially for a tax code favorable to American workers, require publicly funded elections, setting term limits and abolishing political parties. While we’re at it, let’s throw open primary and general elections to all voters no matter their political affiliation. No one really won the 2012 general election. Less than 24 hours after the votes were counted, stalemate returned, or really, simply remained. Does anyone really like gridlock? The work of Congress has become winner take all. Any vote is not for the people but for the particular party’s ideology. Meanwhile political spin managers try to convince us that our friends and neighbors we know to be moderate and independent are actually out to destroy our country. Preposterous.

Bill Ellis is a local author and can be reached at

contact@billelliswrites.com

 

What price combat?

vietnam_injuredThe final step when I reported to the Army intake center in Roanoke, Va., in February 1966 was an interview with a doctor. That day is memorable not only as my first one in the Army but also one observing draftees being inducted who were illiterate; others couldn’t speak English.

In a desperate attempt to increase the ranks of its fighting men in Vietnam, the Army had lowered its mental requirements. Physical qualifications were a moving target as I discovered during that interview with the doctor. A young man was brought over for an expert medical evaluation to determine his ability to serve. The specialist held up the boy’s arm bent permanently at a 90-degree angle and asked with obvious doubt, “Is this enough to disqualify him?” The doctor’s reply was a disgusted “yes!”

Looking back, I felt that at least one person had enough sense to send that draftee home. The Army could not enlist someone physically disabled. Yet, what happens to our combat veterans disabled mentally or physically?

I was disgusted by the May 20 article in this paper, “Report finds combat troop discharges rising sharply.” The AP article quoted from an investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette: “The number of soldiers discharged from the Army for misconduct has risen to its highest rate in recent times, and some are wounded combat troops who have lost their medical care and other benefits because of other-than-honorable discharges.”

This is morally unacceptable to me, so I researched the full article through the Internet. The report got worse. Combat veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are among those being discharged. Several top generals are quoted saying how much discipline counts to maintain an effective military and that our troops are important. Convinced? Me neither.

PTSD diagnosis is the tip of the iceberg. Combat damages and ruins untold thousands. We’ve only named it recently. After their release from Union and Confederate armies, many Civil War veterans simply “walked into the west,” unable to adjust to civilian life after observing the slaughter of the battlefield. Nothing compares to it.

Perhaps the most thoughtful words in the report were spoken by Lenore Yarger, a veterans advocate near Fort Bragg, N.C. She said, “We have gotten very efficient at getting people to fight wars but are not prepared to deal with the aftermath.”

In my opinion, we have never been prepared to deal with the aftermath. Also, I firmly believe that once a young man or woman is sent into combat we can never do enough for their maintenance afterward. To my thinking, it is unconscionable to discharge anyone and deny them benefits if they have faced combat. What is the value of discipline once you’ve sold your soul?

Estimates range from $5 trillion to $10 trillion spent on defense in the past 50 years. The Obama administration has increased funding for veteran support and there are still waiting lines sometimes hundreds of days long. In my lifetime, no president’s administration has done enough to maintain our veterans.

In Rachel Maddow’s book “Drift,” she details how every president from Johnson to the present has diligently tried to avoid congressional approval needed to send our troops into combat. Corrupting the power of their “commander-in-chief” role, presidents have outright lied and bent analyses to have their way with our military. It is an equal-opportunity corruption shared by presidents from both political parties. And worse, staunch defense-minded politicians, a euphemism for hawks, have even argued that since we have invested so much in our military we might as well use it. Fight on.

Obviously, this conundrum demands a change in thinking. Active citizenship requires each of us to question our country’s penchant for war. We must ask a tough question. How much defense do we need? Not how much can we spend on our military to keep our economy strolling along.

In my view, for every dime we invest in new weapons we should spend millions on the humans ruined by war. And we must ask, what is the cause for dismissal from service? Can anyone know the contribution of combat?

Shame on us.

Bill Ellis is a local author and can be reached at contact@billelliswrites.com.

 

 

 

Corporate Greed, Corporate Bullying, Corporate Slavery

Featured in McClatchy Newspapers articles, Phil Richards, Joe Arredondo, and Lisa Weber are being pushed to their human limits while their employers use technology to measure every minute of their work in a “relentless push for efficiency.” (“A Tougher World: As employers push efficiency, the daily grind wears down workers,” and “Tracking workers’ every move raises stress along with productivity.” Business Section of the Sunday, April 14, Times-Call, page C6.)In Greed We Trust

The technology may be new, but the management strategy is quite old: Use threats and fear to maximize productivity. I saw it working summers in a sweatshirt factory where “efficiency engineers” used the technology of that era, stopwatches, to pressure workers to attain 200 percent of the going piece rate. We called those timers “Khrushchev” behind their backs; the Soviet premier at that time was feared by all blue-collar workers. Cutting wages to the bone and fighting off unions was the norm in the textile industry’s greedy, profit-seeking course as owners moved their factories from England, to New England, to the American South, to out of the United States.

I worked in a Florida sweatshop writing multiple-choice questions for a greedy man who joked as he gave me 25-cent-an-hour raise after a year. “Here’s some motivation,” he said sarcastically. The perks? We all got a turkey for Thanksgiving and a pound of venison sausage from his hunting trips for Christmas. The man flaunted his wealth and was always chipping away at working conditions, making life miserable. It worked. No one stayed long.

In my last part-time job working for a health food store, I was called into the office and given the choice of running to restock shelves faster or quitting. That was my last day.

My wife’s experience more closely mirrors that of many of today’s workers. In her HMO job, she gradually assumed the duties of exiting co-workers without any raises. Her company perk was a grand Christmas party. At her last one, the retiring CEO thanked everyone for helping him build a mansion on a Caribbean island. He said that? Really.

After we moved to Longmont, my wife started as a temp and again gradually took on duties of co-workers who either quit or left in downsizing efficiency moves. After two years she “earned” a 1 percent raise.

The American “business model” is dangerously flawed. Under the guise of a sacrosanct profit motive, and raising productivity to compete in the global economy, government and business leaders, stitched at the hips of special interests, have left out American workers. Just three decades ago Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis and author of “Up the Organization,” set an example by paying his management team members more than he got. Today that strategy has vanished. Multimillions go to the top while arguments to raise the minimum wage for average workers is fought as a job killer. It is absurd.

Today it is a rare event when a smart and conscientious executive like Harold Dominguez, Longmont’s city manager, shares bonus pay with a team of workers. Or, Don Haddad, superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley School District, rejects raises four years running.

In a negative paradigm shift, corporations continue to cry wolf about government regulation stifling business. But their lobbyists and congressional representatives, bought with campaign contributions, have manipulated the tax code to create deductions that virtually avoid their paying a fair share of taxes. Worse, many top earning corporations do not pay any taxes. According to the Corporate Tax Dodgers Report, a joint project of Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, for years 2009 and 2010 General Electric made a profit of $10.46 billion and paid no taxes. GE actually got a refund, with a tax rate of minus 45 percent.

My wife and I paid more taxes for 2012 than GE did in 2009 and 2010.

money_stacks_of_100sIn plain English, the untouchable profit motive has been used successfully in “getting government off the backs of businesses” and unleashing obscene greed. Workers have been pummeled with dehumanizing pressure so the big bucks can stay at the top. The middle class is threatened with unconscionable cuts to entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security while lobbyists and politicians rant against raising taxes for the wealthy elite and protect tax deductions that allow mega corporations to avoid paying taxes.

Teaching peace: Muzzling America’s gun culture

A traveling salesman was lost on a lonely country road and stopped to ask a farmer for directions. The farmer thought a few minutes and finally replied, “You can’t get there from here.”

That conclusion matches how I feel about the current argument over the right to bear arms. Will gun control legislation reduce gun violence? Maybe. Maybe not. The situation is a lot like that farmer’s horses already out of the barn before the door is shut. There are enough guns circulating to give everyone, toddlers and above, at least one. And arguments against gun control laws whittle down proposed legislation using barn-door logic. It’s too late, why try?

Let’s think bigger than magazine capacity and assault weapon necessity. The “gun lobby” is about sales not rights. Just because the Second Amendment is in the Constitution doesn’t mean it is necessary. It is not. The Constitution has been changed 27 times; the Founding Fathers didn’t foresee everything that would require amendment centuries down the road. Excellent arguments have been presented on this opinion page documenting the fact that in 1791 a citizen had to bring his own gun to a militia call-up; one was not provided.

Gun guns and more gunsToday, the Second Amendment is superfluous. Assertions that citizens must be ready to overthrow tyrannical government are insulting to city and state law enforcement, the National Guard, and five branches of the Defense Department. Lost causes like that of rebel states in the Civil War are made by those who despise government in any form, especially the promise in the preamble to the Constitution to provide for a more perfect union. The “militias” of today hide behind stockades out in the woods hoping to evade taxes.

Bigger thinking today requires asking different questions. For example: Why is there a general perception that the NRA has congress by its short hairs? A recent survey shows the NRA’s Victory Fund spent over $11 Million on candidates in the 2012 election, with 0.44 percent supporting winners.

Peace sign - rainbowOr, how about a better question: How do we change our culture of violence? Arguments about gun rights divert our attention for a paradigm shift away from our role as the world’s policeman. Got trouble? Call in the Marines? Need military backup? We’ll build a military base anywhere. And we have. Need to overthrow a tyrant? We’ve got spies for that.

We’re built to fight and we expect to win. Why not? We invest in weapons from pistols to nuclear war heads inventoried by the thousands, enough to obliterate civilization five times over and leave the handful it will take to neutralize minor rogue states.

That farmer wouldn’t puzzle too long before realizing another you-can’t-get-there-from-here conundrum. Our culture is full of violence. Too much of our “entertainment” is based on killing whatever moves. And finally, we talk a lot about mental health, but leave out actual dollars to improve it. Many argue vehemently against a human right to healthcare, a fact staring each of us in the face, while insisting on an archaic right to bear arms and overthrow a tyrant king of the 18th century.

Longmont is a “happy town” because we have been teaching peace since 1996. It can’t be said too many times. The opposite of bearing arms in a culture of violence is community action to steer young offenders to law-abiding lives of peace. We even have a book for that written by Beverly Title called Teaching Peace. It is relevant today and tells the story of our restorative justice program now known as the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (LCJP). And partnership is the key word. Residents like you and me are working now in partnership with our police, our schools, and city government. Longmont is not sitting back waiting for the state of Colorado to act or Congress and the White House to decide magazine size or the necessity of assault weapons.

Here is relevant fact: Each year hundreds of our youths are referred to a community justice circle. They take responsibility and repair any harm done to victims and the community. The success rate is phenomenal. There is a 98% satisfaction rate by all involved in the circle, including community volunteers, offenders, victims, and the police who participate in 85 percent of all circles. This is our teaching peace process. Historically the recidivism, repeat offense, rate is about 7 percent compared to Boulder County’s 50 percent and a national rate much higher at around two-thirds!

Join us, stack arms and learn how to teach peace. Visit www.lcjp.org, or call 303-776-1527.

Bill Ellis is a Longmont Community Justice Partnership volunteer teaching peace.

Education matters; yes on 3A

1915 Fort Morgan, Colorado.

The St. Vrain Valley School District needs a mill levy override this November, and in my opinion approval of Ballot Issue 3A is more important than our vote for president.

Why? Providing quality public schools is a local responsibility. It’s up to us to pay for it. We will not be rescued by the federal government, especially by either presidential candidate no matter what the two men may promise. The state budget has been balanced, with not a dime to spare, by cutting funding to local school districts. Funding education is a national problem; virtually all 50 states are running a deficit and have chosen to cut education to balance their budgets. So Colorado is not unique, the St. Vrain Valley School District is not unique.

Rightfully, you may ask questions and raise arguments: Where did the money go? Why don’t they cut administration? I’m a senior on fixed income and can’t pay several dollars more a month. Teachers get a big pension and I live on Social Security. These arguments are familiar but they are aimed at the wrong institution. The overwhelming bulk of taxes goes for entitlements—benefits coming back to us in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and national defense to fund two wars at a cost of One Trillion dollars since 2001. Administration has been cut, and cut, and cut. Teachers do not get Social Security and their PERA retirement plan has been adjusted so they pay more and get less.

It is imperative that we understand there is a loud minority claiming public education must be privatized. Some in this group have a political agenda couched in conspiracy and myth. Don’t buy what they are trying to sell.

Recent letters and guest opinions on this page assert President Obama is a socialist with an agenda to turn America into a socialist dictatorship. Worse, one radical writer claims our schools have been educating socialists for decades, people now ready to take control of our government if the president is re-elected.

These writers hope their blatant falsehoods will divert your attention onto some ridiculous accusation you can blame for your misfortune. Where do they get this stuff? It’s everywhere. If it’s on a screen or in print, the propagandists hope someone will believe it must be true. In reality it is not. We have been fed a steady diet of tripe, garbage, lies, myths and conspiracies because ideologues know their putridia will strike a nerve somewhere, anywhere.

Please keep your eye on the ball. I know many people in Longmont; they are my friends and neighbors. And not a single one is a socialist just waiting to take over the government. But for your peace of mind, retrieve the September 30 issue of “Parade” magazine from your recycle bin and take Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s citizenship test. Pay close attention to question 3, “What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?” First of all, recall why the framers insisted on multiple checks and balances, and why there are three branches and that power is divided among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our national government.

Writers and political ideologues pedaling socialist conspiracies are counting on your ignoring what is spelled out clearly in the Constitution. So read it. Satisfy your curiosity and doubt and consider the naysayers’ arguments for what they really are: desperate efforts to win an election by twisting the truth.

Never did I imagine the flip side of the education coin would be the warfare state. Heads you win and go to school; tails you lose and go to war half-way around the world. You can’t put a price tag on freedom. Education is our best defense, and simultaneously, our best offense.

Honoring Brandon Shaffer

Senator Brandon Shaffer

Senator Brandon Shaffer

As a recent opinion on the Times-Call website shows, writers can take any word and convert it into a mish-mush of distraction and speculation. It is the silly season where no one expects opposing candidates to give credit and praise to their opposite number. Regardless, I offer personal observation and experience to honor Senator Shaffer, a public servant who has indeed credited political opposites for their cooperation.

Brandon Shaffer truly works for the people. My admiration and respect for him grew ten-fold while watching him being interviewed on a major network newscast from Denver. The political reporter for the station asked him and then his opposite number, the minority leader, about results in the ongoing legislative session. Answers by the two leaders were telling.

Senator Shaffer was upbeat, positive about actual results being accomplished in cooperation with members from both sides of the aisle. He freely gave credit to the other party for their cooperation. The other guy not so much. In fact, if he’d been the only one interviewed, Coloradans would have been convinced it was time to move to Nebraska. Honestly, it was impossible for the man to acknowledge any progress even when news reports fully confirmed it.

But no one has to sell Brandon Shaffer’s candidacy for Congress to Longmont residents. We know how hard he worked representing us. We saw him frequently down at Abbo’s Pizza in town hall meetings reporting on the work in the legislature and always talking about meeting with senators from both parties, some even attended the same town hall meeting. His was the human face of state government for us.

My wife and I met Senator Shaffer and his family over coffee one morning. He and I had emailed a couple of times, swapping ideas on topics like civil discourse and education. After attending a couple of his town hall meetings, he invited us over. His reason was refreshing. “I need to get opinions and ideas from outside the bubble of Capitol Hill,” he said. My wife wanted to know how he could get anything done when the minority leader was always so negative.

We learned Senator Shaffer would meet with the minority leader before sessions to agree on an agenda—I can’t conceive of this tactic being used inside the Washington Beltway, but it would be refreshing. The result was a list of prioritized items that led to quick results based on negotiation and compromise. Tougher subjects where there was major disagreement were given more time for discussion, but they were not allowed to block all progress during the session. A by-product of this strategy is that one positive result leads to another and another.

As reported in the Longmont Times-Call August 26 (see “Shaffer faces uphill battleon page A3) Senator Shaffer’s campaign for Congress “…hinges entirely on an anti-incumbent mood.” This strategy seems logical since polls show 90% of voters don’t like what Congress has failed to do.

Our incumbent 4th CD Representative joined with his Republican Party colleagues in signing a pledge authored by lobbyist Grover Norquist. The pledge sounds simple on the surface as it promises not to raise taxes. However, the fiscal cliff we face in January could have been avoided with the passage of a compromise package that would have approved recommendations by the joint committee on the budget deficit. But, since the agreement included a tax increase as part of the package, the Norquist minions backed out of the deal.

I felt certain that my congressional representative had sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution by representing me. The simple fact is every government worker in the Congress and the White House works for us. They do not work for Grover Norquist. Boy Scouts learn this when they earn a citizenship merit badge.

There should be outrage by more than that 90%. I will show mine by voting for Senator Brandon Shaffer.

Bill Ellis is a local author. Email him at contact@billelliswrites.com

Rank has its privileges

Real leaders inspire, not intimidate

I was trained to be an army officer during six months of officer candidate school in 1966. And to this day those months were the best education in human relations I ever received; better than all 17 years of formal education spent earning a BA and MPA. The concept and pitfalls of RHIP were dispensed in daily doses during that training, mostly warning us against it. My three years of active duty as an officer showed me why. I ran into two types of army officers: good ones who never resorted to RHIP, and lesser men who found many ways to abuse it.

I separated from the army in late 1969 and it seems I have been waiting for the right cue to express my intense dislike of people who abuse their rank. Recent letters to this paper dealing with the privileges of Members of Congress have provided that cue. You know the ones I’m talking about, where MCs should buy their own health insurance, and join Social Security for retirement benefits. Where their term of office should be limited and then each incumbent shown the door.

I once taught citizenship merit badges to Boy Scouts and emphasized that everyone in Washington, D. C. worked for them. I hesitate to say that now.

During my army training I saw the company commander stand aside and wait his turn in the chow line until his men had been served. On active duty I saw a general officer treat his aide, my best army pal, like a slave requiring him to pay for everything and then submit a bill to be reimbursed a month later—this from a man who was paid at least ten times that of his aide. He did it because he could, not because he should.

After army service, I returned to graduate school and confounded one professor by saying Up the Organization was the best management book ever written. Why? Because author of the book, Robert Townsend, the CEO of Avis, paid people lower in the company’s management structure more than he paid himself! This would be inconceivable today with multi-million-dollar CEO pay regardless of results. But sadly, the only remnant of the practices in that book is a special parking place for employee of the month.

I eschew the cult of the individual. Men who fail to mention the people around them who contributed to their success never impress me. I admire Nolan Ryan, Hall of Fame pitcher who dwells on the plural personal pronoun WE, and you know he means the rest of the team and his wife who is always sitting beside him. If you watch any sports on TV you’ll see players pointing at each other recognizing contributions. This simple acknowledgement came from Dean Smith, an extremely humble basketball coach at my university. Coach Smith was big on we.

My grad school dean once said no one in public service would get rich because it was supposed to be a privilege. His profound words certainly applied to my public service which I’ll always consider an honor and a privilege. But at the highest level of public service, RHIP has been abused, is being abused. If Congress were an army officer, no one would follow.