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Last updated Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fail-Safe it’s not: There’s an alarming article in the current issue of This Week magazine.  It reports that “[t]he Pentagon recently admitted there are ‘systemic problems across the nuclear enterprises.’” That bureaucratese translates to mean the defense-retaliation system created back in Cold War days has deteriorated to the point where 450 nuclear-tipped missiles are stored in silos averaging 60 years old that have not been properly maintained since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 – a full generation ago. Rather than being simply relics of a long bygone time, they have, according to the article, “enough destructive force to lay waste to every country on Earth.” Who’s watching over them? Air Force officers are standing 24-hour shifts in claustrophobic underground chambers “waiting for a launch order that will probably never come.” Anyone who’s been in the military knows the caliber of men – and, presumably, women by now – who draw such duty. It came to light last year that they were cheating in order to pass monthly qualification tests. It’s doubtful they’re familiar beyond in a vague way about procedures to follow and it’s probable they don’t know the launch codes were a need for them ever to arise. Reading the article brought to mind the 1962 novel and 1964 movie Fail Safe. What was comedy then could well have become terrifying reality today.

All for naught: President Obama last night delivered a forceful State of the Union address before Congress. His well articulated view of what the future ought to hold for America was, in a word, inspiring. It was, however, placed before an audience the majority of which wasn’t listening, having already decided on a far less worthy agenda for the next two years. I stayed around to listen to freshman Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa give the cliché-ridden Republican response. Obviously recorded before the President spoke, it unfortunately was likely an accurate portrayal of what we can expect from her side of congressional aisles. CLICK HERE to read the transcript of the President's remarks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Unwelcome mat is out: Muslims are a fast-growing minority in Europe. They make up 7.5% of the population in France, 5.8% in Germany, 4.8% in Britain, and 3.7% in Italy. They are only about 1% here in the United States. Non-Muslim Europeans consider them a threat – even more so in the wake of what seems to be a wave of terrorism on the continent. Muslims, on the other hand, say they’re discriminated against despite assurances by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande that those countries are not at war with Islam. Since there is little likelihood that the immigration wave will abate any time soon – the experts who study such trends forecast it to continue to grow between now and at least as far out as 2030 – it is certain discrimination which already exists will escalate and become violent. The distinction between the law-abiding and respectable neighbor and the Islamic extremist is hard to discern. The fact that many of the extremists are recruited in the West, trained in their former homelands and returned to do as much harm as possible, even to the point of sacrificing their life to accomplish the mission makes doing so even more difficult. Much of the Muslim world has been violent, not only for years but for centuries. The prospect of an improved quality of life is what compels those who can to emigrate. How to channel that into beneficial directions is a challenge that will last for a long time to come.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A hopeless cause: In his State of the Union address tomorrow evening President Obama will propose higher taxes on the fat cats on the top rungs of the economic ladder. Fat chance he’ll get them. So why ask? Quite simply he’ll be doing what the Constitution says he should. It requires the President not only to report on the condition of the country but also to “recommend to their (Congress’s)consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Closing the growing gap – a chasm – between the wealth of a tiny minority of Americans and most of us should become a national priority. Consequences of letting it continue unchecked will, sooner rather than later, be nothing short of grave. Specifically, Obama will seek higher capital-gains and dividends tax rates. Ninety-nine percent of that, it’s said, would adversely affect just 1% of the population. That should tell you what will happen when the proposal reaches Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. It’ll be pronounced dead on arrival. More than a generation ago President Reagan championed what came to be called trickle-down economics – make it attractive for the wealthy to invest and they’ll finance an expanded economy which will benefit everyone. He was dead wrong. The wealthy displayed their human nature and pocketed most of the additional money. For reasons many of us find inexplicable, Republican legislators – many of whom are, at most, upper-middle-class people – still cater to the well-heeled. Logic ought to tell thinking people that assisting with such things as child-care, medical care, tuition and basic needs of the poor should take precedence. I believe Obama thinks that could actually begin to happen before it becomes time to elect his successor in 2016.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Recycling rules: Many folk are still confused about what to recycle and not recycle. The Providence (R.I.) Journal recently published this guide, which is certainly applicable to Delaware -- Plastics - Containers up to two gallons in size. No foam, plastic bags, motor oil or antifreeze bottles, ‘compostable’ cups, containers that crinkle or rip (such as plant plug trays) or containers that shatter like glass (C.D. cases). Put plastic tops back on plastic containers before recycling. Do not flatten containers. Glass - Recycle only glass bottles and jars. Take metal tops off first and recycle both. No broken glass or Pyrex. Metal - Recycle only metal cans, foils and lids/caps from glass jars and bottles. Do not recycle coated lids and foil-like wrappers. Paper, cardboard and cartons - Recycle only paper and flattened cardboard that isn’t made to be waterproof (fridge/freezer boxes, coffee cups) or for sanitary use (paper towels). Recycle cartons (milk, juice), but don’t flatten. Textiles - Do not recycle textiles, carpeting, mattresses or dried hazardous-waste rags (such as motor oil).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Shared responsibility: Muslims’ objections to publishing pictures of Prophet Muhammad are difficult for an outsider to understand; their objections to offensive caricatures of him are very understandable. Christians certainly would regard any such portrayal of Jesus as blasphemous. Similar public disrespect for Martin Luther King would rile almost any American, especially this weekend. For that matter, Sony Pictures releasing a satiric comedy about a fictional plot the assassinate Kim Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea, was no more acceptable than putting out a movie centered on such a plot if Queen Elizabeth was the supposed target. Those  observations are, of course, not intended to condone terrorism or a cyber invasion. Nor do they deny that overall reaction was grossly disproportionate to the insult. What they are meant to say is that the victims of the horrible events in Paris contributed to the immediate impetus for them. What did they seek to gain from deliberate provocation? To claim it was an exercise in free speech is to ignore the well-established dictum that free speech doesn’t confer the right to falsely yell ‘fire’ in a crowded auditorium. The response this week by security forces not only in France but also in Belgium and Germany was commendable. If we’re going to rely on their protection, however, we should not irresponsibly make their mission more difficult.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A must read: Today's Washington Post contains an article that should be read by every American. Use this link to access it; then click on the photographs to access the individual stories.

For the children who lost parents in Afghanistan, the longest U.S. war will never really end. Fourteen portraits — one for each year of the war — examine the lives of these second-graders and high school seniors, artists and athletes, strugglers and strivers.

Stories by Washington Post staff | Photos by Marvin Joseph

  

County crime drops: Police chief Elmer Setting told County Council’s public safety committee that crime in the county continued to decline last year for the fifth consecutive year. The 12,562 ‘criminal events’ were 8.2% fewer than the number recorded in 2013. His report, presented at a committee meeting this week, showed declines from the previous year in every major category, albeit less sharp than the dramatic drop in 2013. Setting credited the department’s use of a computer program which statistically tracks occurrences by location, day of the week, time and such. That permits timely deployment of officers to identified ‘hot spots’. Overall, ‘criminal events’, a measure of overall crime, dropped 16.1% from 16,934 in 2010 before the tracking system was used. Setting said he was most pleased by the 2.7% increase in officer-initiated activity. That followed a 24.6% increase in 2013 compared to 2012. There were declines in each of the previous three years. It shows a more productive allocation of resources. The chief, however, cautioned that “we’ve maximized our [manpower] resources.” He did not comment further. Here is a summary of the report:

Rally draws a good crowd: It was good to read that a rally last night  in Rodney Square, organized to show support for police and honor fallen officers drew a diverse turnout estimated to have been about 300 people. “I think that more than anything that was said, that sends a good message between law enforcement and the community in Delaware,” Attorney General Matt Denn said.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Shorter isn’t necessarily better: There are only about 30 days left before major league pitchers and catchers report to spring training and baseball returns to the land. It’s time to catch up on trades during the offseason and predict which teams will make it to the World Series next October. But before the fires go out in those proverbial hot stoves around which fans gather of a winter to discuss such things, it behooves them to consider a couple of things in the offing. In his current column posted on ESPN.com Jayson Stark – whom I and others consider the top commentator on the sport – says, “There are changes that the next commissioner, and the people around him, are determined to make. And no one in the sport has any doubt that some of them will be in place by opening day.” At the top of the agenda as team owners gather for their final confab before the season’s first pitch is how to speed up the pace of play and thereby shorten the games. If you follow the sport, you probably know that the average time set a new record last season, passing the three hour mark for the first time – by two minutes and 21 seconds. That was up from two hours, 58 minutes and 52 seconds in 2013 and marked the fifth consecutive season that the games have grown longer. To trim them a bit, the rule-makers will consider such changes as limiting the number of times a manager, coach or even a catcher may go out and talk with a pitcher, not allowing a batter to step out of the box during the entire time he’s at the plate, and how long a pitcher may wait between pitches. One thing you can be sure won’t be tightened is between-innings commercial breaks – two minutes and five seconds in a regular season game and 20 additional seconds in nationally televised ones. I, for one, think that’s all nonsense. But then, I wasn’t too happy with the designated hitter, post season playoffs, unbalanced random schedules or, if you go back far enough, expansion of the leagues beyond eight teams. I’m still undecided on replays. You may think me in favor of progress only if it doesn’t involve any changes. On this one, however, I have, thanks to Stark’s reporting, a respected observer on my side. He quotes Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter as saying,“[T]here are only two groups of people I hear consistently complain about the pace of games, and that's the umpires and the media, people who are at the game 162 times a year. But that family of four in the stands, those people who come to three games a year, I don't hear them complaining about the length or the pace of games.”

 

All content, unless otherwise noted, by Jim Parks

 

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