The Chronically Blue & Red State of The Union

Robot Painting by Eric Joyner

Robot Painting by Eric Joyner

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”                                       Mark Twain

It has been nearly two months since the grand proclamation of that “new  American moment” proposed by President Trump in his State of the Union address–that moment when those forces that thrive and profit on the unraveling of that delicate weave that is the tapestry of American democracy will be swept away in the wake of some bipartisan epiphany. But according to those who make it their mission to measure the metrics of our discord, distrust, and discontent–our house is sorely in need of repair and reunification.

Even in those areas where one might expect that we were like-minded there are apparent differences. A recent Gallup poll tied to last month’s Winter Games in  PyeongChang found that liberals are 25 percent more likely than conservatives to ski. That may explain why so many of my Republican friends are so concerned about those so-called  slippery slopes.

While it’s easy to blame the pundits, politicians, and the President for what appears to be disharmony by design, there is also the possibility that the incessant polling and pulse taking  is also adding to both the political and cultural divide. We are being convinced by the mere statistical analysis of our beliefs and behaviors that we can’t possibly work together to find solutions or common ground. Even now, as the nation tries to come to terms with another horrendous mass shooting, those on both sides of the gun control issue have their defenses and data points ever at the ready for another predictable partisan debate. And afterwards, what we are left with is just another case of numbness and nullification by the numbers, and the prospect that the United States Congress might once again fail to enact any meaningful legislation.

While I agree with Mark Twain that the search for truth by way of some  numerical measure of reality is folly, nonetheless, in this instance, I am going to stir some additional stats into this already overcooked stew:

  • The murder rate in Colonial America in the year 1700 was 30 per 100,000 people. By the time our Constitution was fully adopted in 1788, the rate had dropped to approximately 20 per 100,000 of population. And when Teddy Roosevelt assumed the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, the murder rate had dropped to less than 2 per 100,000.
  • During the Twentieth century, the murder rate for that 100 year period reached its peak of just over 10 per 100,000 during the Carter administration. The rate then dropped under President Reagan, it rose under George Bush, and then again dropped during Bill Clinton’s time in office.
Murder and Suicide Rates 1900 - 1998

Murder and Suicide Rates 1900 – 1998

  •   The murder rate in America in 2016, the most recent year of complete FBI crime statistics, was 5.3 per 100,000.
  • Of the approximately 33,000 gun related deaths that now occur each year, roughly 1.5 percent are the result of mass shootings.
  • There are an estimated 73-81 million gun owners in the United States, of that number about 8 million, or 3 percent of the total U.S. population, own 50 percent of all legally purchased civilian firearms..
  • Depending on whose count you believe, the NRA, the group which claims to be the legitimate voice of all gun owners, has somewhere between 4 and 5 million members.
  • There are currently about 236 million people of voting age in America. Of that number approximately 200 million are registered to vote.
  • Nearly 84 percent of Americans, including a large majority of gun owners, favor some level of enhanced regulation of firearms.
  • While nearly 100 percent of Americans seem to have an opinion on just about everything, those opinions don’t necessarily find their way into the voting booth. The average turnout for a presidential election is around 60 percent, the midterms attract about 40 percent of the voting public, and congressional primaries tend to bring out less than 20 percent of eligible voters.

So based upon these numbers, here are some of my observations and conclusions on the overall state of our union and how that might pertain to the contentious debate over guns and the Second Amendment:

1). The steep decline in America’s murder rate between 1700 and 1800 can most likely be attributed to the rule of law versus some frontier interpretation of Old Testament justice–as in an eye for an eye or perhaps a scalp for a scalp. Those brilliant minds that crafted the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution helped to bring about greater social order and a fairer system of criminal justice. But we should not lose sight of the fact that even our Founders, as borne out by the Hamilton and Burr dispute, were more inclined to settle their differences with pistols than we are today.

2). If we examine the homicide rate throughout the twentieth century, many of our notions as to when and why we are most likely to pull the trigger don’t hold up. In 1901, a year when there were virtually no laws governing the sale or use of firearms, America experienced its lowest murder rate ever. Neither is poverty, prosperity, or war necessarily an accurate predictor of human behavior.

After the First World War, the murder rate climbed steadily for over a decade. But those soldiers who returned from Europe and the Pacific in 1945, were mostly content to leave the tools of their trade behind on the battlefield. And while America’s worst recorded murder rate occurred in the midst of the 1980 recession, during most of the depression years of the 1930s, the murder rate was well below that of the boom years of the Roaring Twenties.

3). The idea that we can legislate away mass murder is akin to thinking that we can stop tornadoes from occurring. But in both instances, we have the tools to better forecast the threat of an outbreak and the capability to reduce the number of dead and injured. When it comes to the regulation of firearms, commonsense and moral responsibility dictate that our laws address the mental health of those that have access to guns and the lethal potential of civilian firepower.

2nd Amendment

For those who view the Second Amendment as some immutable piece of inspired text, I would simply point out that  ever since the Civil War some of the best long robes and legal minds have not been able to find consensus over the use of twenty-seven words and two commas. Even the term “well regulated” has been the focus of rigorous debate. So for all the praise we heap upon the Framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it seems that even these enlightened mortals were susceptible to ambiguity, questionable punctuation, and bad grammar.

The common approach when dealing with any controversy that might arise because of the wording of the Constitution has been an attempt to glean the original intent of those that penned the document. The difficulty with that approach is whose intentions are you going to believe, Mr. Hamilton and his Federalists, or the Anti-Federalist crowd spurred on by the likes of Jefferson and Madison?  So picking your favorite Framer is like our choices for cable news, one can always find a source that will support their point of view.

While our Constitution is the result of some bitter philosophical battles and quite a few compromises, it is probably safe to assume that all those involved in its creation shared the common goal of insuring domestic tranquility for the greater good of all Americans.  The Framers certainly had their fair share of distrust of government, but at the same time, they also were somewhat leery of rule by way of the angry mob. I don’t suspect that they would have called for a well-regulated government sanctioned military entity without also considering putting some limitations on an armed civilian population.

4). With the next midterm election less than eight months away, there are those who are hanging their hopes on the next blue wave while another large part of the nation will opt for a rerun of the red tide. As for myself, I’m not concerned about the color of my state. The solution to our political problems has never been about more Democrats or Republicans–more liberals or conservatives. Positive change can only come about when principled people in power choose the welfare of the country over the survival of their party.

Later today, young people will gather in mass to express their fears and concerns about the violence that has ruined so many lives and shattered so many families. Those among us who we normally ask to march off to war on our behalf will be marching on the nation’s capitol and hundreds of public squares throughout America. Those long marches will be in vain if the rest of us fail to make that short walk to the voting booth!

Posted by: Chris Poh  for American Public House Review 

Author’s note: I began writing this particular piece several weeks ago after a long political conversation with my friend and musician Mike Kratzer. It took a very different path after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Here is a link to Mike’s song Chronically Blue which reflects upon those somewhat old age cynical leanings that even I give into after another one of these American tragedies.

 

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What’s In Your Bowl?

The Bar at Keens Steakhouse in Manhattan

The Bar at Keens Steakhouse in New York City

For better or for worse, those gifts from nature’s bounty that have fueled my occasional altered states of mind have been legal in all fifty states since the repeal of Prohibition. I have always preferred a cocktail over cannabis, the grape instead of ganja. and the hops in lieu of hemp. But I will not attempt to make a case for one over the other because I firmly believe that everyone has the right to name their own poison. Furthermore, that poison should be tailored to the mindset and metabolism of the individual. And no matter which way one chooses to go in order to fuel their recreation, I do not want anyone who has begun their day with either a bowl of Macallan or Meshmacan flying the plane or drilling my teeth!

When it comes to trying to understand America’s longstanding conflicted relationship with Dr. Feelgood, one needs to probably look no further than their own liquor or medicine cabinet to understand the precarious position of our physical and mental wellbeing. When we consider the tens of thousands of yearly deaths now being attributed to the nation’s current opioid epidemic, it is easy to understand the thinking of those who might call for stricter laws and another all out war against drugs. But we have fought and lost those fights before–and there is absolutely no indication or evidence to suggest that the heavy handed approach of the past will yield a different outcome this time around. But try and convince one Jefferson Beauregard Sessions of that reality.

Reefer Madness Movie PosterPerhaps it is some lingering childhood nightmare after seeing the film Reefer Madness in his high school health and hygiene class  that has pushed the United States Attorney General to wage a new war on weed after California’s legalization. More likely, its about going after some perceived left wing pot dealer as opposed to locking up the irresponsible physicians and pharmaceutical executives that helped to bring about our most recent addiction crisis. After all, the latter two groups are probably much more likely to donate to the Republican National Committee. Then again, maybe this is just a about a gentleman with deep red southern roots taking on the bluest of all states. And if that is the case, I would like to remind Mr. Sessions about all those years of service to his Alabama constituents who would rail against the idea of any intrusive federal reach interfering with the rights of a state to decide its own future.

Setting the politics aside though, when it comes to putting in place those policies that govern our natural inclination to indulge in the myriad of human vices–interdiction and incarceration have done virtually nothing to curb abuse and addiction. The solution to those problems will be found in better education, better parenting, access to treatment, and individual responsibility. So whatever one chooses to put in their bowl–I strongly suggest that the blend includes a mix of moderation along with the milk of human kindness!

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

 

 

 

 

Another Holiday in Harm’s Way

 

Christmas Truce Headline in the Seattle StarChristmas Truce 1914

 

Frank Stem was a faithful American patriot, an ardent fan of John Wayne, and someone who knew a thing or two about the harshness of winter below the 38th parallel. By the time I came to know this tough, seasoned Cold War combatant, the boys at the Pentagon had already moved our contest against communism from the frigid Korean peninsula to the soggy, steaming jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. And Frank Stem had long since swapped out his M-1 Garand and Colt sidearm for a wooden pointer and a felt eraser. This soldier turned teacher now faced the daily threat posed by the longer hair and shorter skirts that filled the rows of desks at a fairly liberal leaning coed Catholic high school in northern New Jersey.

It was September of 1969 when I took my assigned seat in Mr. Stem’s classroom. While this tested warhorse would often espouse the benefits of military service, there was this soft side to his nature like that of the English headmaster, who worried about the fate of his own adolescent charges during the First World War, in the film Goodbye, Mr. Chips. And having acquired ample knowledge of American history along with a good dose of common sense, Frank Stem was probably a bit more inclined to heed the advice of those who had cautioned against getting involved in a land war in Asia. So in a schoolroom upon whose walls might hang a picture of the Duke on horseback, Neil Armstrong on the Moon, or Jimi Hendrix on the stage at Woodstock, this older warrior and his young aspiring activists would often find some middle ground. Unfortunately, in today’s political climate–that middle ground has become our own frightful version of no man’s land!

In the days leading up to Christmas in 1914, soldiers on both sides of the conflict abandoned their trenches and ventured onto that deadly stretch of ground along the Western Front–not for the want of war, but for the possibility of peace. As history has borne out on so many other occasions, there are wiser men among the ranks even when there are only fools at the top. And that simple fact holds true both on and off the battlefield.

I have no idea how Frank Stem would view the current standoff  at the 38th parallel. But my recollections of this intelligent, decent man lead me to believe that he, like myself, would be immensely concerned that the fate of so many lives are dependent upon the diplomatic skills of Donald Trump or Dennis Rodman.

In keeping with those other Christmases past, we at American Public House Review raise a glass to all our  men and women in the armed forces of the United States. We pray for their protection and safe return–and we look to that day when none of our soldiers will have to spend another holiday in harm’s way!

This haunting and poignant piece by John McCutcheon continues to capture that sentiment best.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

The Safety and Solace of a Sunday Morning

White Horse Tavern in Newport, RI

When challenged over the years about my somewhat spotty church attendance, I am proud of the fact that I never made excuses for my utter lack of piety based upon those hypocritical professions one tends to hear from the pulpit from time to time. So many of my like-minded  contemporaries had used conflicted doctrine and dogma as their convenient reasoning for not being on bended knee on the Sabbath. But my absence from the pew on Sunday morning usually had more to do with my presence on the bar stool on Saturday night. Sadly though, in present day America, one could actually make the argument that you’re safer in a bar than in a church.

The mass murders that occurred at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, once again exposed that seemingly insurmountable political divide that confronts this nation when it comes to regulating firearms. In this instance, the fact that Devin Kelly’s conviction for domestic violence, while on active duty in the Air force, was not properly reported to civilian authorities has somewhat dampened the normally contentious positioning that occurs after these shootings. Second Amendment advocates can point to the fact that the laws and procedures were in place that could have prevented this horrific event, and that it was the actions of another armed citizen that was instrumental in limiting the potential for any further loss of innocent  life.

What I personally find to be the real issue in this particular case is the almost bipolar response by our President depending upon the perceived source of the atrocity. There is that sad and somber tone accompanied by an almost sense of helplessness when the perpetrator appears to be one of our own, and then there is that aggressive, bellicose, and provocative air on full display when the threat is considered to be foreign in nature. An attack in New York committed by someone born in Uzbekistan will bring about that clarion call for extreme vetting at our borders, but those murderous rampages carried out by some homegrown natural born killer is apparently not even worthy of a conversation about extending background checks at a gun show. That lack of coherent leadership in the Executive Branch only adds to the paralysis that grips the Legislative Branch when it comes to our nation’s gun laws.

For too many years, we’ve been fed this idea that additional legislation will do little to curb the rampant gun violence that plagues the United States–and statistically that is probably true. In fact, it is estimated that we would only see about a 3% decrease in gun related deaths if we were to implement universal background checks, nationwide waiting periods to purchase, and tighter mental health screening. But in a country that now loses over 33,000 human beings a year to guns–a thousand less premature funerals and the many thousands of less shattered lives and broken hearts is well worth some sensible legislation.

Time and time again, we’ve been subjected to that shopworn slippery slope line of reasoning that asserts that any further limitations on the ownership and use of firearms will ultimately lead to the total abrogation of the Second Amendment. If that were true, those privileges granted under the First Amendment would have been lost a long time ago. Ever since the tail end of the nineteenth-century, the Supreme Court has done its fair share of legal tinkering with that celebrated first portion of The Bill of Rights. And while we may not always agree with the remedies and interpretations handed down by the Judicial Branch, I believe most Americans would agree that the intent and integrity of the First Amendment remains intact–so I suspect will be the case with Amendment II of the United States Constitution.

The intriguing irony through all this is the fact that many of those same politicians, including the President, that are reluctant to limit what comes out of the muzzle of a gun would love nothing more than the ability to limit what comes out of the mouth of a reporter.

As I’m writing this, exactly two weeks have passed since the shootings in Sutherland Springs, and already our narrowly focused, short attention spans have been shrewdly targeted away from the serious and toward the salacious. Our back fence and bar stool chatter is now consumed with the possible improprieties of those who seek power and those who have already found their seat at the table. Keeping score on Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, and Al Franken is far less taxing on our social conscience than coming to terms with the body count at a Baptist church.

Closing Time at the Indian Rock InnThere are still those moments when I long for the safety and solace of those Sunday mornings past–but for now this old bartender will remain content with the silence and sanctuary of those Saturday nights after last call.

Posted by: Chris Poh for  American Public House Review

Lady Justice is a Ghost on Halloween

Marion Hose Bar in Jim Thorpe, PA

What better place to either stoke or put out my penchant for political fire starting than in a prominent old firehouse that has been tastefully renovated into a restaurant and lounge? And that is exactly what transpired during a recent afternoon into evening session at the newly opened Marion Hose Bar in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. While there we were joined by the always affable owners of the Gilded Cupid Bed and Breakfast, Bob and Sheila.

In the course of our communications, there was some speculation about which path Lady Justice might take concerning the ongoing probes into the past and present shenanigans of the Executive Branch of  our government. All of us have been around long enough to know that even the most well-intentioned of Roman allegorical personifications has been known to take off the blinders when it comes to dealing with the rich and powerful. Most certainly, that fact was on full display there in Jim Thorpe, then known as Mauch Chunk, on June 21, 1877.

Ghostly HandOn that date, Alexander Campbell’s supposed last gesture before facing the hangman’s noose, was to place his soiled hand upon the wall of his cell and then swear that his mark would remain for all time in proof of his innocence. Three other men, all Irish coal miners, would share the gallows at the Carbon County Jail that day, and six more would also hang in nearby Pottsville. Though tried for murder and various criminal activities associated with the secretive Molly Maguires, the real purpose behind the trials and resulting executions was not about serving justice, but more likely part of an overall strategy by the bosses and owners to eradicate any attempt at organizing labor in the Pennsylvania coal industry.

While. historians continue to argue the guilt or innocence of those involved, and now even question the source of that ghostly aberration on the wall of cell 17, that image serves as another grim reminder that justice is not always evenhanded.

The Ghost at the Calaboose GrilleFurther evidence of the fact that even death does not automatically deal us that “Get out of Jail Free” card can be seen in this rather intriguing photo taken at the Calaboose Grille in Owega, New York. Click here to read more about that haunted location.

During these scary times, one begins to wonder what terrifying future specter might materialize on that dreary prison wall or be captured by the camera’s lens? I don’t know about you, but the thought of Paul Manafort in an orange jumpsuit frightens the hell out of me! Not that I have any difficulty with that potential outcome, it’s just that the image of that individual or any of his ilk in that particular piece of Federal fashion garb  is more than my visual cortex could endure.

Happy Halloween from American Public House Review!

Posted by: Chris Poh

 

 

Arming for Armageddon

Jupiter Ballistic Missile

As far back as I can possibly reach into my conscious memory, there has been some person in authority warning us of the impending possibility of our earthly expiration. From the preachers in the pulpit to the pols in the public square, there has been no shortage of voices giving us reason to cower under our actual or metaphorical desks. The latest message of an approaching Armageddon is being delivered by Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. And in a rare break with my usual inclination of wanting to shoot the messenger, at this particular crossroad–I actually share the concerns of the courier.

As the  President prepares for his trip to Asia next month, I question whether or not there is either the capacity or the judgement needed to bring about a peaceful curbing of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. But ever since the Second World War, we’ve spent trillions of dollars, risked armed conflict, and sacrificed thousands of American lives in order to put limitations on the firepower available to those nations and outside groups that were perceived as threats to our national security. While those policies of containment may have been a necessary evil, one might question why there is not the same resolve or expenditure of resources when it comes to protecting our citizens from those legitimate threats that exist within our own borders.

Why is it that our leader’s and legislator’s eagerness to regulate the killing potential of those seemingly unstable and unfriendly types that inhabit our planet tends to always stop at the water’s edge? Perhaps it’s because terrorists and rogue regimes may possess the firepower, but in most instances–they just haven’t yet acquired the lobbying power.

While I find the thought of ICBMs in Iran and Nukes in North Korea to be somewhat disheartening, that which brings the most discomfort to my domestic tranquility is the thought of bump stocks in the barnyard and that loose cannon in the West Wing!

Loose Cannon Hop 3

 

Personally, the only Loose Cannon that makes the cut in my life is that wonderful IPA from those exceptional brewers at Heavy Seas.

 

 

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

 

Lee’s Last Ride

General Robert E. Lee mounted on Traveller - 1866

General Robert E. Lee mounted on Traveller – 1866

“I am a Southerner by birth and a Rebel by choice. As I read and study, I pull for Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet. As I live, I thank Grant, Lincoln, and Democracy.” Richard”Shotgun” Weeks – Master Sergeant U.S. Air Force Vietnam Veteran/ Civil War historian

“The power of noble deeds is to be preserved and passed on to the future.” Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – commander 20th Maine at Gettysburg

For my part, I can barely fathom those forces that drive a human being to accept or even consider the possibility that they are by way of their race, creed, or national origin somehow superior to their fellowman. But then my own personal journey has caused me to reject any behavior predicated on any theory of innate supremacy or an overly zealous sense of nationalism.  Having virtually no knowledge as to the circumstance of my own birth or bloodline, I have become quite comfortable in the belief that a good portion of our individual lives is determined merely by genetic and geographic potluck without the hand of God trying to stack the deck in any particular group’s favor.

As for those among us that are prone to think otherwise, it is probably a combination of fear and a personal sense of inferiority that is the seed from which that invasive strangling vine of their own self-aggrandizing superiority complex sprouts.

As to the recent tragic events in Charlottesville and the somewhat troubling  response and mixed-messages offered up by our president, I think we need to be honest with ourselves as to who the man is and who he is not. Donald Trump achieved the office by relying heavily on those wedge issues of religion, race, and immigration that have been polarizing this country not only in recent years, but throughout our nation’s history. And while this political tactic is nothing new, it has never been so blatantly utilized by a presidential candidate. And although I can not state with any certainty as to what is truly in the man’s heart–it is safe to say that neither Citizen Trump nor President Trump has ever exhibited the capacity to construct much beyond a hotel, golf course, or casino. The building of consensus and bridges does not appear to be part of the plan. And while I do not totally rule out the possibility of an epiphany, in order for that to occur one must first be willing to admit to and address their own failures and shortcomings.

As for the president’s equivocation of the violence on both sides in Charlottesville, he seems to forget that our system of justice does in fact define by degree the nature of most crimes. And the level of intent and premeditation displayed by those involved in any criminal act normally dictates the assigning of responsibility and the resulting punishment. There is clearly a distinct and undeniable difference between planned intimidation and violence and the reflexive actions of those that are the targets and victims of such attacks. The end result may yield an equal number of causalities, but in American Jurisprudence shared pain does not equate with shared guilt!

Then there is the issue as to what may have actually sparked the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville. Since I was old enough to turn on a television set, I’ve watched scenes of  human beings beating each over the head either in defense of some cherished symbol or in response to some other group’s use of a symbol that was deemed to be offensive. Any blood shed over the veneration or demonization of some man-made expression of our affiliations or points of view  is blood that is shed for nothing. No book, no image,  no work in bronze or stone, and no piece of cloth hoisted up a pole can be reason enough to justify violence or the taking of life.

As for the fates of those monuments and memorials to the Confederacy,  I personally take no offense at their presence. But at the same time, I understand why others would opt for their elimination. I certainly would not expect the children of the Lakota Sioux to attend a  school named in honor of George Armstrong Custer, anymore than I would expect an African American family to comfortably picnic under the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest. We need to be sensitive to those people and communities that endured great hardships and countless indignities at the hands of those who would attempt to rewrite history by way of some public square glorification of a past that was often cruel and seldom heroic.

Travellor-Grave-PlaqueLastly, there is the matter of the ever haunting ghost of that Virginia gentleman who has once again taken  center stage in yet another civil conflict. While it seems somewhat ludicrous  to suggest that the removal of  a statue of Robert E. Lee might lead some to consider the possible purge of the likenesses of Washington and Jefferson–who can predict how the lens into our past will be adjusted by those in the future in order to be in line with their view of the present? But for now, the question may be worthy of some small measure of reflection. After all, Washington, Jefferson, and Lee were all thought to be treasonous, rebellious scoundrels by a large number of their fellow countrymen. And all of these men by current standards of thought could be tarnished by their apparent contradictions in character.

In the case of Robert E. Lee, while his religious convictions made him keenly aware of the inherent evils of slavery, he was of the opinion that the inevitable demise of that institution would only come about in accordance with God’s timetable. And though he viewed secession as being unconstitutional and an outright betrayal to the founding principles of the United States, his decision to lend his superior military skills to the state of Virginia would nearly bring about the destruction of the Union.

Shortly before his death in 1870, Lee spoke out against the idea of erecting monuments to the war. He believed those efforts would only hamper the process of national reconciliation. So perhaps now is the time for Lee’s last ride. But no matter what we as a people decide to tear down, we as a nation will be judged by what we chose to raise up.

At this moment in time, I will raise a glass to the people of Charlottesville and to all who stand their ground against discrimination, intolerance, inequality, and racism!

Please take the time to listen to this profound song of healing performed by Joe Jencks.

40 Mile IPAIf by chance you find yourself paying a visit to the city of Charlottesville, while there might I suggest raising a glass of  40 Mile IPA from Three Notch’d Brewing Company. This outstanding brew celebrates the ride of another famous gentlemen from Virginia Jack Jouett whose daring on horseback on the night of June 1, 1781, saved Thomas Jefferson and the state legislature from capture by British cavalry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

Secret GOP Healthcare Plan Revealed

The Bartender is In

If you are wondering what might be in the super-secret Senate bill on revamping the nation’s healthcare system–wonder no more. For I am about to reveal the details based upon some recent personal input on the matter.

Knowing full well that the Senate would be tasked with coming up with something a bit less mean than what the House presented to the President, and also being aware of the fact that the Senate can be just as mean and nasty as the House, I took it upon myself to formulate my own blueprint for the overhaul of healthcare.

Now one might be tempted to question my credentials on the issue. But as a working bartender of almost 45 years, I have been at the forefront of practical medicine for most of my life. And I am certainly no less qualified than the majority of those senators and congressman that will ultimately decide the issue.

The following letter was emailed to the offices of key members of the United States Senate, including all those that currently sit on the Healthcare Committee:

To the Honorable and Reasonable Men and Women of the United States Senate:

While I do not have any accredited expertise on the issue of providing healthcare coverage to the citizens of this country, with each passing day it becomes increasingly self-evident that the democratic process allows even the least qualified among us to lay claim to having all the answers. So as someone who has at least served as an elected official in municipal government and has had the benefit or curse of having worn numerous professional hats along with a number of inconsequential caps over the course of 63 years, please bear with me as I toss my somewhat shopworn chapeau into the ring.

First off, it appears that both the previous and current administration, either by design or default, became mostly fixated on how to placate and finance the insurance industry. In spite of the fact that most Americans would probably place the blame for their premium woes on the perceived greed of the insurers, and while certain aspects of the customer service practices of these providers might help to fuel those perceptions—most of these companies operate at or below the average profit margins of the majority of all U.S. businesses. While there are probably some legislative actions, such as tort reform and creating larger insurance pools, which could lower premiums to some degree, the real savings is in addressing healthcare practices and the delivery of services. The question then becomes how do we rein in the costs of that which represents nearly 20 percent of the nation’s GDP without harming the overall health of the economy? And what should be the role of government in that process?

There are those that propose single payer universal healthcare, and there are those that would prefer a totally market-based solution. Without giving away my own personal preference, let me just say that neither approach is realistic under the current political climate. So as usual, it will require creativity, compromise, and consideration from both camps to bring about any meaningful change. So for what it’s worth, here are a number of ideas and observations to ponder.

1.) During the last few decades our country has experienced a rather baffling rise in both the cost of healthcare and higher education. I say baffling because neither situation has produced the improved outcomes that one might expect when measured against the cost. And when you factor in the information technologies available to both professions, the qualified practitioners of both medicine and learning should in fact be providing a much better product at a more equitable price.

I am not suggesting that those dedicated men and women on the front lines of either healthcare or education be paid less for their services, but I suspect there are a great deal of savings that lie just beyond the doors of the classroom and the operating room. And while the factors that drive costs in either institution do not necessarily make the case for a valid comparison—one only needs to take a stroll on the lush grounds of an Ivy League university or walk down the corridors of a sprawling hospital complex to know that both healing and enlightenment could be achieved in much more affordable surroundings. The question is, who will take the lead in the creation and construction of those surroundings—the government or the free market?

2.) In order for actual market based competition to occur within the healthcare industry, I believe two things must be addressed: the lack of transparency when it comes to actual costs, and the other being what I like to call “Car Wash Medicine.”

As to the latter, the recouping of one’s investment and eventual profitability in an automated car wash is dependent upon a never ending stream of dirty cars passing through the machine. Thankfully, the owners of these car washes can depend upon the vagaries of Mother Nature and the capricious hygiene habits of our winged friends to guarantee a healthy supply of customers. But this is not necessarily true in the business of healthcare. While all of us will eventually become sick or sustain injury, and perhaps even come to harm as the result of some chance encounter with a bird, the successful treatment of those maladies is not always dependent upon being subjected to the expensive technologies afforded to us by modern medicine. And yet it seems that no treatment regimen is complete without first being screened and scanned. I guess the medical community can’t afford to let that expensive CT or MRI machine sit idle for too long.

As to the matter of transparency, most of my time alive has been spent living in New Jersey. And while I can’t speak about oversight in the other 49 states, if the Garden State is a typical example of how healthcare providers operate throughout the country, then one must come to the conclusion that in fact there is no true market based competition going on. Depending upon the location, the same identical routine tests and procedures can vary in cost by thousands of dollars. And since those costs are most often negotiated under the cover of nondisclosure, the average consumer, who normally finds his way into the system by way of an ambulance with very little choice as to where to go, becomes doubly victimized by the unethical price fixing and price gouging that is being done all in the name of medicine.

3.) The repeal of the Affordable Care Act will most likely lead to another spike in the number of uninsured people seeking expensive emergency room treatment. Those who cannot afford insurance or preemptive medical care are left with little choice other than to wait for a symptom to become a sickness.

By developing an extensive national network of free or low cost government supported community clinics for poor and low income Americans, we could greatly reduce the number of emergency cases that have brought many of our hospitals to the brink of financial ruin. And as an incentive to attract qualified personnel to staff these clinics, the government could offer to pay for the cost of nursing or medical school in exchange for two years of service in those areas of the country that are underserved by the medical community. Considering the fact that the average new doctor finds him or herself with nearly two-hundred thousand dollars of student debt before they even see their first patient, I believe many of these newly trained professionals would gladly be willing to work for a bit less money at the beginning of their careers.

4.) We could be just one breakthrough away from freeing up $175 billion a year of government monies. Currently, approximately 18 percent of the annual Medicare and Medicaid budget is spent caring for people afflicted with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. By 2025, that cost of care is estimated to reach $237 billion. While the Congress has already committed a substantial increase in research funding for this year’s budget, it is incumbent upon all of our elected representatives in both the House and Senate to guarantee that we will continue to aggressively fund those public and private entities that are engaged in the search for a cure. Other than the ravages  of cancer, no other present medical condition has brought greater sadness or suffering to humanity than Alzheimer’s disease.

5.) Finally, it is safe to say that there will be an enormous amount of push back from those who might be adversely impacted by any attempt to control and cut the cost of healthcare. And certainly an industry that makes up such a large portion of our economy will strongly plead the case for maintaining the status quo when it comes to protecting the current model of medical care in the United States. But for the sake and wellbeing of those who represent the other 80 plus percent of our gross domestic product, now is the time for our leaders and legislators to exhibit a little more conviction and whole lot more courage!

Furthermore, as we begin the process of considering cutting taxes on both businesses and individuals in order to spur growth, we should not lose sight of the powerful boost to the American economy that would come about simply by reducing the undue financial burden of runaway healthcare costs. American companies would become more profitable, government would see increased tax revenue—but most importantly, our citizens would be less stressed, more secure, and a lot healthier. Because nothing promotes the general welfare of the people better than knowing that they will have the means to enjoy the rewards of life–and the resources to cover the cost!

Thank you for your time and attention.
Sincerely,
Christopher M. Poh

Of course there is that distinct possibility that in the process of amending and reconciliation that my recommendations will not be fully incorporated into the final bill. In the event of that outcome, I will prescribe the following in lieu of genuine reform and repair of our healthcare system:

  • Get plenty of exercise. Lifting full pints of  ale is a good start. Dancing on the bar is aerobic, but not recommended for older patrons.
  • Socialize more. Take your eyes off the damn TV screen and engage in some constructive communication with the person next to you.
  • Finally, take two aperitifs and call me in the morning–but, please, not too early!

Click glass Bluecoat Gin Martini for additional treatment options.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

With Our Sincere and Humble Apologies to the Ghosts of The Molly Maguires

The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, PA. The site of the 1877 Molly Maguire Executions.

The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, PA

“How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?”   Charles Lindbergh

In the course of his recent Rose Garden rant and truculent travelogue, the President eluded to the opening of a new coal mine located somewhere between Paris and Pittsburgh. It turns out that somewhere is the small town of Boswell, PA. This community owes its very existence to the black bituminous rock that lies beneath the quaint brick homes and shops built by the Merchant’s Coal Company during the first few years of the twentieth century.  And soon, 70 more intrepid souls will join the ranks of  those that have braved the bowels of the earth in order to fuel America’s energy and industrial needs.

My own  knowledge of the collier’s plight has been mostly gleaned from conversations with old timers at the Molly Maguires Pub in Jim Thorpe, PA. Here there were plenty of tales about that secret society for which the pub is named.These sons and grandsons of  Irish immigrants spoke of a life that was as hard as the anthracite that was pulled from the clutches of those eastern coal seams. In order to keep their families fed, these early miners tolerated what amounted to an indentured enslavement to the bosses and the company town.

In this part of Pennsylvania, the role of the Devil incarnate was aptly filled by Franklin Gowen, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal & Iron Company. With the assistance of his hired henchmen from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Gowen waged a war against those who attempted to organize labor in the coalfields–creating a living hell both on and below earth. Eventually, this reign of terror and the violent response by the miners would bring about a series of questionable arrests and trials that would send ten men to the gallows in 1877 and ten more in the following year. Among the latter was John “Black Jack” Kehoe, a well-respected constable and tavern owner who had provided aid to the miners and their families, and who had also become the outspoken voice for worker’s rights.

Such has been the story of coal throughout our history–a double-edged sword yielding great success for some and greater suffering for others. Current data suggests that 80,000 deaths per year in the United States can be directly attributed to airborne chemical and particulate pollution, with emissions from coal-fired power plants being a significant source of the problem. While the majority of these plants are located in the Midwest, the pollution is not contained within state borders. The mercury emitted from these plants ultimately will find its way into the human food chain as waterways and livestock become contaminated.

The threat globally is even greater. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization estimate that between 4-5 million people will die annually because of polluted air, and nearly 35 percent of those deaths will be infants or young children. And once again, coal will be a major culprit. So even if the scientific evidence connecting human activity to global warming were proven to be somewhat overestimated, there are still a few million good reasons to substantially lessen our dependence on coal.

As to our President’s break with the Paris Agreement, I have seen this pattern of behavior repeated many times over during my own lifetime. Whether it be about clean air, clean water, pesticides, food safety, tobacco use, or just shoddy manufacturing, the oft-told tale goes something like this: First, the facts are called into question by those who stand to lose the most amount of money if they are held legally responsible or become subject to government regulation. Second, those again whose pocketbooks are threatened enlist the aid of politicians to plead their case. Next, those same politicians brand those who initially raised concerns about a particular product or practice as being on the fringe, unpatriotic, or somehow just at odds with America and capitalism. And finally, when enough time has passed to allow those affected entities to settle their legal obligations and to develop alternate streams of revenue–we then suddenly accept and adopt those policies and procedures that improve our collective wellbeing.

That is why the Shell Oil Company is building wind farms in the Netherlands, and Exxon Mobil is working on ways to run an Alpha Romeo on algae.

As for those ghosts of the Molly Maguires, I will briefly defer to the skilled pen of Jeanne Kehoe_GraveMarie Laskas from her book “Hidden America” which poetically profiles the lives of those who continue to work those difficult and dangerous jobs that support the infrastructure of our nation’s economy: “There is no design, no geometry, no melody. A coal mine greets you with only one sentiment, then hammers it: This is not a place for people. This is not a place for people. This is not a place for people.”

And on that day when the last coal mine is finally closed, the dead will rest a bit more  peacefully–and the living will breathe a whole lot easier!

Click on the article titles below to learn more about the life of John “Black Jack ” Kehoe and the restless afterlife of one of the Molly Maguires.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

But the Jukebox Never Lies

 

Jukebox at J.J. Bitting Brewing Co.

“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.”  Otto von Bismarck

“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”   Jimi Hendrix

Of all those Divine edicts that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, the one that commands us to refrain from playing fast and loose with the facts continues to be the one that nearly all of mankind finds to be insurmountable. Perhaps it is because that a certain degree of deceit and double-dealing  is encoded into the very DNA of all life forms. Most strategies for survival are in fact  dependent upon a bit of  trickery and exaggeration.  As to our species, in order to get the girl, get the job, get the vote, or just to get along with one another we’ve all dabbled in some amount of duplicitous behavior. And since we’ve chosen the path of representational government, we must accept the fact that those charged with that task will also mirror our behaviors–the good and the bad–the truth and the lies!

Furthermore, a vast number of those that are considered to be the winners throughout human history have come to their successes by way of a good bluff or an effective poker face. From Waterloo to Watergate, and from Baghdad to Benghazi the potholes in those roads have been filled with a noxious mix of hyperbole and hypocrisy. So are truth and honesty dead having fallen prey to the misguided and disreputable purveyors of reality television and the fabricated offerings of cyberspace?

 As a nation we have faced similar threats to our collective integrity in the past. And those challenges were countered by those among  us who had the courage to strive for that greater truth. A truth that can be found in the brushstroke of the artist, the pen of the author, the lens of the camera, and the voice of the singer!

As someone who has spent more than my fair share of days engaged in bar stool politics, I have normally found that the greater truth is contained somewhere within the jukebox. While others were soothing their sorrows with songs of unrequited love, I was spending my spare change on the likes of Bob Dylan and Barry McGuire. So as we deal with the drama and dysfunction of The Donald and this current dilemma facing our democracy, I would like to drop just one more quarter into the old Seeburg to play one of those voices that still speaks truth to power.

Click on the image of the vintage 1948 Seeburg “Trashcan” model jukebox at the top of this post to hear some additional inspired points of view.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

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