The Vaping argument is going up in smoke

The government is up in arms about the “rise” in vaping associated deaths.  According to Michael Siegel of the Los Angeles Time, there have been  530 cases of “vaping-associated” respiratory illnesses, 11 of which are fatalities.  Must add that Michael Siegel is a physician and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health.   Dr. Siegel is also a tobacco researcher and long time anti-tobacco advocate.  His column in the Los Angeles Times reveals the propagated ignorance of the US government by jumping on the panic band wagon without giving due process to reality.

The cry for a ban against flavored vaping e-cigarettes has reached banshee pitch without giving much thought to common sense. E-flavored cigarettes allegedly contain THC, a psychoactive compound that is found in marijuana.  Yet, states are legalizing marijuana and not the opposite.  The government and advocates against e-cigarettes do not seem  compelled to stop the legalization of marijuana, as more states vote to legalize “dope”, the hypocrisy does not accept me and should not escape you either.  Only a few years ago marijuana was public enemy number one.   My take on this argument is that we seem to pick and choose what we need to save our youth from.  They spend hours in a zombie-like state playing violent video games and the outcry is very limited.  The market economy takes care of that. Nobody seems to be getting any soul searching diaherria when kids drink flavored booze or smoke menthol cigarettes. 

There are deadlier health issues than e-cigarettes. According to the CDC, approximately 480,000 Americans die of cigarette related illnesses, and 50,000 die of alcohol poisoning every year.  Those turning to e-cigarettes, including my son, do it to quit cigarette smoking and tobacco use in general.  11 fatalities in a population of 326 million is a non-mention. More people die of obesity than vaping.  But the angst continues.

Like anything else, vaping among the youth is a fad that will probably run its course until the next best thing enters their lives. The government’s uber response to vaping is ridiculous seeing that kids always seem to find creative ways to get high or get sick. Point in fact; a few years ago some  kids overdosed on cough syrup.  Others inhaled cleaning products, while others discovered cough drops as the drug of choice.  Rubattsin, Raid aerosol, or Listerine Cough Drops have not been banned. But our local commissaries put them behind locked glass shelving.  Public health problems persist because we live in a free society where we have the unmitigated freedom to act dumb and often die from it.  But, we seem to pick and choose what we consider dangerous and to whom.

The anti-tobacco activists who become instant Stasi agents as soon as one lights up in public, seem to ignore other substance users. They don’t mind alcoholics throwing up outside bars and pubs on a Saturday night.  They don’t mind “dope” users either. All substances happen to be the poison of choice for our youth.  So what’s with the e-cigarette protection?  More kids are sent to hospital on Spring Break from alcohol poisoning than from any other substance to include cigarettes. The disproportionate response to e-cigarettes in comparison to other substances falls short of making any sense.   

Dr Siegel adds another dimension to the e-cigarette panic.  There is still no evidence that the 530 illnesses were directly related to e-cigarettes.  The smokers could have had other issues which vaporing  might have exasperated. But he threw in the social political element that always prompts a government panic. When the problem becomes a “white” issue than politicians pop their heads up in dismay. It is not an outrageous opinion or observation. Minorities, especially those of color living in poor urban areas are overwhelmingly prone to poor health and substance abuse issues, so we seem to take it fore granted and almost insidiously expect it. We do not send government agents into these areas and ban both substances.  Hell, in an act of pseudo kindness, we provide free needles to drug addicts.  The racial and economic disparity between users seems to be an important factor in raising public alarms.  When crack eventually appeared  in affluent white neighborhoods in the 1980’s, the federal government passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

Similarly, we are currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic.  The problem is not new.  Opioid has been around since the 1970’s but we only heard the Trump administration declare it a crisis in 2017.  In the 70’s opioid addiction was mostly in poor black neighborhoods.  Now it is prevalent among whites which elevated it to a “problem”.   I do not see any heart wrenching appeal from either the far left tolerant “racist” name calling happy Democrats, or the upstanding moral majority Republicans.  Where is the cry of “racism”? Where are the righteous bible thumping evangelists?  It seems that a health issue is recognized as an epidemic only if it creeps into affluent neighborhoods.  Then we recognize it as a national problem.  We must do something.  Good families are being torn apart. What we are saying is that we accept drug and alcohol addiction and death in poor urban neighborhoods, so why bother?  We do not seem to care about the 100 gun-related deaths a day either.  We are immune to the heartache and misery in poor urban neighborhoods.  I only hear silence in the liberal “racial disparity” social justice police department. 

E-cigarettes are a reasonable and good alternative to cigarette smokers serious in quitting nicotine addiction.  The 530 cases of vaping-associated respiratory problems are minimal compared to the approximate half million people who actually die of cigarette smoking related illnesses.  I am not minimizing the plight of the 530 (.0000017% of our population) who came down with vaping lung illnesses, but perspective must be maintained.   When compared to the three quarters of a million cigarette and alcohol related deaths a year, 11 vaping fatalities is a good thing. 

Prohibition is never wise.  The US should have learned that lesson a long time ago.  Prohibiting substances raises to the surface the criminal element that preys and extorts addicts and the vulnerable. The very people we are trying to protect like our youth.  The government should use its treasure and resources wisely. The FDA should look beyond the  implications of flavored e-cigarettes.  If they are serious about substance abuse among the youth, they need to go after other substances equally if not more  dangerous like flavored alcoholic drinks and menthol cigarettes.  Banning e-cigarettes will remove a relatively safe viable transitional product for those serious about quitting smoking.  One does not need to be a genius to compare 11 deaths to half a million. As Dr. Siegel so aptly put it; “…government…ought to consider how their efforts to protect one group may come at the expense of others.” Any other flavored vices the government would like to go after? Chewing gum comes to mind.

Siegel, M. September 30, 2019.  Vaping is not the only youth problem. Los Angeles Times. Stars & Stripes.

Climate Change and the wisdom of Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer

Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Krauthammer never beat around the bush on any issue whether political or personal.  This was a man who in his early twenties had a crippling accident, and while on his back in his hospital bed, managed not only to finish his medical degree, but graduate from Harvard Cum Laude.  A combination of scientist, political analyst, author, and philanthropist; I valued and still value his opinion.  In the latest combination of Charles’ columns for The Washington Post, (The Point of it All), one column in particular caught my eye.  Written in November of 2014, he unabashedly called it The Climate Pact Swindle.  I thought it appropriate as we face a global climate change mass hysteria.

As Charles unceremoniously declared, we do not know enough about our homeostatic mechanisms to make any definite generalization about the climate, however, pumping crap into the air is never good.  This sentiment did not give a pass to the “scientists” that in his own words are “arrogant” and “ignorant” in their claim that climate science has forever been “settled”. His skepticism comes from his own scientific background as a doctor in psychiatry and based on the fact that science is neither stationary nor absolute.  We only need to remember past claims of scientific absolutes that banished eggs, red meat, and butter to the back burner of the “food pyramid”.  Can anyone say KETO diet? Like any flavor of the month and our obsession with scientific “truth”, every  generation goes overboard with pessimistic fear of Armageddon.  Climate change has risen to the ranks of apoplectic disasters. 

In 2014, Charles succinctly pointed out that the Obama-Xi climate agreement was not only limpid in substance but a fraud at the expense of the US and other western nations.  China and India are the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions on the entire planet.  Both pollute without mercy. While the US and Europe have decreased CO2 emissions considerably, China continues to mine coal and other pollutants that include lithium; a toxic mineral used in batteries.  Even if every coal mine in the US would close down, global CO2 emissions would not be reduced significantly as long as China and India are allowed to continue on their present environmental course. 

Chinese in pollution

Chinese cities live in haze of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury compounds, and other deadly pollutants.  The O-X agreement gave China a pass until 2030.  That is when China is expected to meet its promised goal of producing 20% of its energy from alternative energy. How generous.  In the meantime, liberal pinheads in Congress pound the gavel against the US and propose “a green deal”.  CO2 has atmospheric effects but does not poison the air; while China’s pollutants are toxic poisons that kill.  But that conveniently escapes the congressional pinheads.

Greta Thunberg

The climate change movement continues with a vengeance.  The current caped crusader is a 15-year old kid from Sweden, Greta Thunberg.  She is out to save the world.  Well, good for her.  Better saving the planet than sniffing glue, but her teenage bopping movement is rather disconcerting.  Greta Thunberg has not lived long enough to either be pessimistic or outraged at the rest of us.  Leave that to the idiot politicians.  It is admirable that the youth are taking interest, it is not admirable that they skip school, especially in the US where kids lag 46th behind other nations.  Maybe if they channeled their energy to real science they might learn first hand about our planet and what makes it “tick”. They would not need to follow the doomsday masses into truancy. They need to take to the books before they take to the streets.  I wonder how many of them have studied atmospheric homeostatic planetary mechanisms and the many variables of CO2’s effect on planetary life.

Coal Mining in China
Lithium mines in China

Are we responsible for the well being of our planet? We sure are.  Did we fuck it up?  Yes we did.  There are some waterways in the world which have been thrashed beyond repair.  Third world countries have polluted their natural resources so badly that drinking water has become a commodity. The current over development of the Amazon forests is criminal.  Which brings me back to Greta and her ardent young followers? An oxy moron because intermittent with their zealous climate activism is their addiction to technology. Probably unawares to them that technology is partially responsible for mining major toxic particulates like lithium found in most cell phone, computer, and android batteries.  Such mining often done through cheap almost slave labor and exploitation of the poorest.  Not an integral part of the green deal now is it?

Germany is now seriously thinking of raising fuel prices and taxes again.  The natives are not amused.  The idea is to discourage driving.  Really? As one impatient and angry German asked; is Merkel going to be taking him to work? Some cities and counties have already prohibited diesel vehicles from entering their domain.  Farmers and trucking drivers are up in arms.  Diesel is cheaper than gasoline and if they have to revert to gasoline then they are economically crippled.  They would have to raise prices and be driven out of business in favor of cheaper produce from overseas.  The distribution chain relying mostly on trucks, would also impact the consumer market and eventually the economy.

The climate enthusiasts in Germany  don’t seem to mind other countries having high CO2 emissions in lieu of cheaper imports.  Hypocrisy at its best.  As far as diesel being given a bad rap; new diesel engines are equipped with particle filters and catalytic converters. They are reasonably on par with gasoline engines in CO2 emissions. Research and tests have shown that in the cold (and Germany is cold),  gasoline cars can actually emit more CO2 crap then their diesel counterparts.  Also, in recent studies, measuring emissions from air born particulate solids and carbonaceous particulate matter, diesel did not fare better or worse than petroleum.  So why the angst? Merkel bending down to the environmentalists to preserve an already shaky coalition. Little to do with the well being of the planet and a lot to do with politics.

In 1993, Charles Krauthammer gave an address to the McGill Class of 1993 in Montreal, Canada.  His speech was entitled Three Pieces of Sage Advice.  The first piece is relevant to the current climate change breast beating anguish.  He reminded the students of past national hysteria that often gripped nations with little cause for a “bull horn” alarm.  We went from Cold War apocalyptic Nuclear freeze movements  to environmental movements  without giving much thought to the fact that nuclear weapons are not only still prolific but still dangerous.  Iran comes to mind.  Nobody is running through the streets asking Iran to disarm.  Hell, the European Union can’t go back to Iran fast enough and do business as usual.  When activism finds itself in a vacuum something else must fill the dooming void.  An addiction to global fear.

In his speech, Charles told Class of ’93 that there still exist nuclear and environmental concerns; but there is a difference between a problem and manic panic.  Charles was trying to instill in his audience a sense of balance and intellectual non-conformity to mass hysteria.  No one can predict the future based on human articulation and understanding of the science du jour. To even submit that we have solved the science of climate is beyond arrogant. Charles, like many of us question the sincerity of the climate apocalypticists who think that unless we quit eating beef, go back to riding horses (unless they also belch and fart and produce CO2), and get rid of all modern amenities, we are doomed.  But they only pass sentence on us. China on the other hand gets a 16-year reprieve and a hallway pass. Charles’ final thoughts: When confronted with a movement of dread and amplified doom: keep your heads.   

Remembering Cokie Roberts: the unassuming role model

This week the journalistic world, the real one, lost a great journalist, reporter, analyst, and woman; Cokie Roberts.  She finally succumbed to complications from breast cancer which she had been diagnosed with in 2002.  Born Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, Cokie was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in December 1943.  Her nickname was a derivative of Corinne which her kid brother could not pronounce.  She remained known as Cokie. Her parents, Lindy and Hale Boggs were Democratic members of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, in 1972, Hale Boggs’ plane disappeared over Alaska and was never found.  Lindy took over her husband’s seat.  One can deduce that politics ran in the family and obviously in Cokie’s  blood.

Cokie was best known for her positions at NPR and ABC, but her portfolio runs deeper than that.  Her first job was with WRC-TV in Washington DC.  She had a weekly public affairs program called Meeting of the Minds.  Having married another journalist, Steven Roberts, in 1964 she moved to New York City with him and for a short time worked as a reporter for Cowles Communication.  She was also a producer at WNEW-TV, until she moved again with her husband to Los Angeles and started working for Altman Productions.  Later she joined KNBC-TV as a producer to the Emmy winning children’s program Serendipity.  Following her husband again, she did a short stint in Greece as a CBS News part time correspondent in Athens.

Cokie is best known for her ten years as congressional correspondent on NPR, but her journalism, analysis, and congressional prowess was in demand and she became a “regular” on Morning Edition, The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and a co-host to This Week with Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts.  But through it all, Cokie remained a professional journalist without an agenda.  She was raised in a political family when politics were civilized and friendships were made across the aisle.  That demeanor remained with Cokie Roberts throughout her career.  She also served on the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization, and appointed on the Council on Service and Civic Participation by President George W. Bush. 

Behind the TV anchor and journalist was also an author.  In 2004, Cokie was interviewed by CNN’s Larry King on her book new book Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. This book was written and published two years after Cokie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In the interview, Cokie told Larry that she her profession helped write the book. As a congressional reporter, she witnessed debates on freedom of speech, religion, and bearing arms, bringing her “…closer  to the  founding fathers”.It was time she took a look at the women behind the men.  She brought to light the influence that wives like Martha Washington, and Mrs. Adams (Louisa Catherine) had on their husbands.  Through letters and notes, she put together the lives of these women at a time when men led and women followed.  Cokie discovered the resiliency of Martha Washington at Valley Forge, and Mrs. Jefferson who single handedly took over her husband’s position as Post Master General, and often protected her home with a shot gun.  Through historical letters and notes, Cokie managed to give us a glimpse at the founding mothers.  In a tribute to Cokie, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi described Cokie as a “trailblazer” who gave us stories on the “unsung women who built our nation”.

In 2018, a few days after the death of President George H.W. Bush, Cookie gave a short interview to David Greene host of Morning Edition. David asked her about her friendship with the former president, and the president’s  almost surreal friendship with Bill Clinton.  Cokie described her friendship with the Bush family as developing through Barbara Bush’s Family Literacy Foundation which Cokie supported.  According to her, the former president “exemplified decency”.  His relationship with Bill Clinton developed because of the former president’s “incredible decency”.  Cokie was close enough to the Bush family that one time she sent the former president a pair of Uncle Same Wants You socks from the National Archives. In true George H. W. Bush form she received a “thank you” note from him.  According to Cokie, the former president was big on sending “thank you” notes.

Cokie Roberts personified journalism as it was but unfortunately has not remained.  She was never crass, biased, rude, over bearing, or partisan flag waving.  Whether she discussed, interviewed, analyzed, or reported; Cokie remained true to her upbringing and her professionalism.  She might have had different political ideology but she never wore it on her sleeve.  Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura described her as talented, tough, fair, and a great “friend of the family”. Former President Obama said that she was a role model to women when journalism was dominated by men.  The latter is very true.  Her ten-year tenure on NPR gave her the fond title of “founding mother of NPR”.   

What made Cokie Roberts admired and liked, was her ability to agree or disagree politely and graciously.  She was in the same league as Barbara Walters, who also had to struggle and punch through the male dominated profession of journalism.  Barbara once told a story how on a set everyone man had a chair with their name on it, but hers said “woman”.  These women were special because they worked hard and did not demand or expect entitlements.  They forged through the chauvinistic world of their profession by using their brains not a bull horn.  They were the silent activists that conquered through intelligence, diligence, and professionalism that could not be ignored. 

Cokie Roberts represented decency and ethics in journalism, two qualities dangerously absent today.  The New York Times comes to mind. It’s unethical journalism once again showed its ugly head with an unsubstantiated almost made-up story against a Supreme Court Justice just for politics’ sake.  It does not get lower than that.  As Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post called it: “impeachable journalism”. Cokie Roberts was the opposite. Cokie Roberts “…disagreed agreeably…listened, offered advice, showed patience and poise…” (Kellyanne Conway). Thank you Cokie Roberts for representing the best in us on and off the screen.  Rest in peace, your story is yet to be told.

What a difference 18 years make: 9/11- 18 years later

New York City 9/11 Memorial Park and Museum

18 years ago our nation stood together in pain and resolve against the forces of evil that managed to kill almost 3,000 of our citizens in premeditated attacks in three locations.  We wept, we prayed, and we stood as a nation without partisanship and hate.  We were united not only in grief but also in patriotism and resolve.  There were no Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or Socialists.  There were only Americans.  That was that, and this is now.

There are American kids who 18 years ago were not born yet.  What have they learned? What story have they been told? Who is teaching them about a moment in time when our country stood still in horror? How many of us thought it was a movie as we watched planes determinately fly into the Twin Towers? How many of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the attacks changed the New York Skyline forever?  Does anyone care anymore?  How many will actually remember?  How many will continue to remember? On this 9/11, we might tune in to watch the annual remembrance ceremony in New York City, and we may even remain tuned in to listen to the slow and somber reading of the victims’ names.  Then we will continue with our day. 

010917-N-7479T-509 Ground Zero, New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 17, 2001) — An aerial view shows only a small portion of the crime scene where the World Trade Center collapsed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Surrounding buildings were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers. Clean-up efforts are expected to continue for months. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Eric J. Tilford. (RELEASED)

Lower side Manhattan has been rebuilt and a new tower looms above the 9/11 Memorial Glade fountains and 9/11 Memorial Museum that keeps the memory viable and also brings in much needed visitor dollars.  The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is partly funded by private donations and memberships.  The first time I visited “Ground Zero” it was still in rubble and the scars and pain were still fresh.  Pictures of those missing hung adjacent to placards of united support on a make shift wire fencing that surrounded the debris and the hot steel.  A cloud of dust and smoke still hung in the air. People moved about slowly and in relative silence; some wiping tears that were unintentional but honest.  I was one of those people.  It was difficult standing there and looking down at a crater filled with smoldering twisted steel. It was easier watching it on television from the comfort of a couch.  Surrounding buildings were covered in steel netting and American flags flew from their bare walls paying tribute to the lives that had been lost a few months prior.  On 9/11 all lives mattered.

Through my consecutive visits I watched as tragedy morphed into remembrance, memorials, museums, and eventually a quasi tourist attraction and park.  The wire fences are long gone, trees have been replanted, and One World Trade Center rises above the skyline as if in defiance.  But in my opinion, something has been lost in an attempt to keep the memory alive.  The two large deep fountains are etched with names of those lost in the three attacks.  Included are also names of those who had perished in the 1993 Twin Towers attack.  The memorial to the latter was lost on 9/11. Among the 9/11 names etched on the dark granite walls surrounding the fountains, are eleven with the significant byline: “and child”. Eleven mothers died with their unborn child. This did not escape me, but I am sure it escapes the many who pose to take selfies or who lean across the walls and etched names to take pictures, smile, and even imbibe in a Starbucks or two while “remembering”.  A jovial outing atmosphere in an otherwise morbid graveyard. 

I refuse to pose and take pictures leaning against victims’ names.  I refuse to forget the pain that we felt 18 years ago.  I refuse to be a tourist where 3,000 ordinary folk went to work on a beautiful New York City fall day and never returned home to their loved ones.  I refuse to give a pass to idiots who blame America for the attacks.  I refuse to forgive the terrorists who planned and carried out the heinous crime.  I refuse to  turn 9/11 into just another day.  I refuse to forget.

The first time I visited the new 9/11 Memorial Glade fountains, things were different.  The museum had not yet opened and the area was still relatively closed to the public.  Visitors had to go through TSA-like security, and One World Trade Center had not yet risen into the New York City skyline.  The park was still relatively quiet and those who had stood hours waiting to get in still maintained a semblance of respect and grief.  I remember looking down at all the names and feeling a knot in my stomach.  I suddenly realized that I was in the presence of a loss on a grand scale.  As I slowly walked the parameter of each fountain I instinctively ran my hands across each name.  Three rows of names etched on each of the eight fountain walls. Glancing down rapidly and stopping only at short intervals; it took me close to an hour to complete the eight walls. In the space of a lunch break, I managed to give each and every name relevancy and significance in my life. For a fleeting moment I made my acquaintance with each victim.  I do not remember any of the names, but I do remember every touch.

We fail to understand that the 3,000 murdered came from all over the world.  The Twin Towers were home to international investment companies and global corporations.  The victims had diverse religions, ethnic backgrounds, languages, and partisanship.  But terrorists don’t care about diversity, tolerance, or political correctness.  I doubt that they did roll call of who worked in the Twin Towers.  Their sole objective was to kill.  Those who now diminish the War on Terror need to take a short trip to the fountains and run their hands over all the names as I did.  They should visit the museum next door and see the quasi melted frame of a fire truck; it had gotten too close to the burning steel in an attempt to save lives and put out flames. They should walk around Lower Manhattan and visit a few fire departments where names of fire fighters are displayed on plaques. Over 300 of them gave their lives trying to save those trapped in the Towers soon after the attacks.  There should be nothing dismissive about 9/11.

Yes, 18 years have gone by but the deaths continue.  Recently, New York City has unveiled a new memorial  at the National September 11 Memorial.  Large boulders have been dedicated to the first responders, recovery workers, and survivors that assisted at the aftermath of the attacks.  Months of exposure to debris, dust, and smoke has caused cancer and other related diseases at an alarming rate to many 9/11 first responders and recovery workers.  These silent heroes are finally being recognized as relevant victims of the attacks.  Some have already died from the rapid onset of illnesses.  Another poignant reason why the story must continue to be told.

At approximately 1430 on September 11, 2001, I had just arrived at one of our bank’s customers to drop off documents.  I noticed the receptionist, a young man, staring at the silent television set in the lobby.  As I followed his eyes, I realized that he was looking at one of the Twin Towers with a large gaping smoking  hole in its side. I thought it was a cheap afternoon flick.  I joked with him about watching movies in the afternoon.  He did not smile. He just kept on staring at the silent television set.   I turned my head to the screen in time to see a plane hit the South Tower. In an ashen face, the young man uttered: “I don’t think it’s a movie Mrs. Brown.” “Neither do I”, said I. And all our lives changed forever.