Is the State of the Union Speech a Joke?

My Congressman, Eric Swalwell (D-California), sent an email today to constituents today, asking, “What do you want the President to say in this State of the Union address? What are the issues most important to you, and what do you want him to do about them?”

Eric is an excellent young Congressman and does his best to work for his constituents. However, questions like these are obvious prerequisites for anti-Trump political statements. I don’t fault him for that, it’s what politicians do.

Following is my reply to him:

Dear Congressman Swalwell,

Responding to your query about the State of the Union address, I would like to hear the President say NOTHING. In fact, I would prefer cancellation of all future State of the Union speeches.

President Obama had the best oratorical skills of any president since Reagan. Nevertheless, his State of the Union speeches were dreadful. Like all Presidents, he gave us a lot of feel-good nonsense along with positive future promises that he would never fulfill. Added to those distractions, the Republicans acted like complete idiots, never applauding, but sometimes verbalizing their displeasure.

Trump’s speaking skills are not as polished as Obama’s. However, the Trump SOTU performance will be comparable, with two exceptions. 1). This time it will be the Democrats not applauding and acting stupidly. 2). Trump will use a word or phrase that the Democrats will claim to be racist, no matter how innocuous his intent may be.

One other difference will be that Representative Maxine Waters won’t select a floor position permitting her to share air kisses with the President. She only does that with Democrats.

My bottom line is that the SOTU is a political relic that should be retired. It adds nothing of value to the voting public.

BTW, what I would like to see is the President and the two Democrat Congressional leaders answering questions while connected to polygraphs. That would be worth watching.


Steve Vachss



Harvey Weinstein’s Place in History

Final-+hanWhat does Harvey Weinstein have in common with Gavrilo Princip, Christine Jorgensen, and Margaret Sanger?

Each of these people was an obscure individual who committed an act that sparked social or political change.

Gavrilo Princip murdered Arch Duke Ferdinand, thereby providing the spark that started World War One and caused 16-million deaths.

Christine Jorgensen was an American woman who was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery. Jorgensen’s decision created new beliefs and attitudes that are still widely debated.

Margaret Sanger changed social attitudes on birth control and convinced women that they have personal rights regarding their own biology, rather than permitting governments to control them with laws.

Harvey Weinstein committed egregious acts against women that resulted in the widespread exposure of abusers and an end to tolerating similar practices by other men.

Unquestionably the uproar created by the Weinstein revelations has ignited anger in millions of women who accuse former bosses or co-workers of sexual misconduct against them. The “me too” campaign on social media has continued to keep outrageous behavior in the public eye.

Nevertheless, sexual harassment remains a complex subject. Anyone who has committed sexual misbehavior deserves to be exposed, and in many cases deserves some form of punishment. However, there are many different kinds of wrongful acts, with some more damaging than others.

It’s easy to compel broad agreement that Weinstein is among the worst. If media reports are accurate, he may deserve legal justice including time behind bars. However, some of the exposed people may be guilty of lesser offenses.

Though I have never respected Al Franken as a Senator, by comparison to Weinstein, his offenses are relatively minor. He “stole a kiss.” Certainly, that was stupid and insulting. He set up a clownish photo miming himself groping a sleeping woman. That too was tasteless and stupid. However, these two foolish acts together fall short of forcible sex.

As described in media reports, misbehavior of resigning congressman John Conyers seems more like dementia in an 88-year old man. Does wearing pajamas at a meeting equate to Weinstein’s misdeeds?

Each accused man deserves to have a hearing, perhaps behind closed doors. Each act must be measured for its content, i.e., what did he do? We need to consider the timeline i.e., did the event occur thirty years ago, or one year ago. If it occurred thirty years ago, can the accuser or the accused perpetrator still remember the facts clearly? Experts in this area should be able to put some kind of measurement on answers to these questions.

My own experience judging settlement of accusations of sexual harassment does not make me an expert. However, I received an assignment to work with Human Relations people to make decisions on two such complaints. Both complaints were immediate with no disagreement of personal memories.

Neither case involved physical touching. Both complaints were based entirely on spoken words. In one case, I felt that the man had not made a sexual reference per se, but was simply using off-color language. Though an apology is rarely enough, the woman agreed to forgive the man but requested assignment to another department.

The other case involved a supervisor who ordered a woman to pay charges incurred in entertaining a customer. This was a common way of handling expenses of this kind.  Both parties understood that the boss would sign the woman’s expense voucher to recover her expenses. When the time came for him to sign the voucher, he refused, unless she would perform a specific sexual act. He agreed that he had said that, but claimed he was only joking. I wasn’t joking when I had him fired.

These two anecdotes demonstrate that each case may include different circumstances, and may require different actions. So far, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. We will likely see many more accusations over the next few years. Some will be handled appropriately and some will not.

Overall, Weinstein may have helped to balance the relationships of men and women in the workplace. That would represent a massive social change.

We might ask why men do these things? The answer is “because they can.” And what will cause it to stop? That answer is “repeated examples of men who are treated harshly for what they have done.”

Congresspeople have suggested that men need training on sexual harassment issues. That seems laughable. Come on, guys! You know what you shouldn’t do. Your dads told you when you were seventh graders. Just stop!

Barefoot Days, Electric Nights


“Barefoot Days, Electric Nights,” by David Butwin, is a memoir of his life during Hawaii’s early days as the 50th State.

Butwin arrived in Honolulu to become a reporter at one of the city’s two daily newspapers. As a very young, inexperienced journalist from frigid Minnesota, he began with a scant understanding of the people, places, and nuances of island culture. He soon discovered a land of spectacular beauty, where everyone lived near an ocean shore, and islanders from many different places went everywhere barefoot.

David writes of his Hawaii days, with the clear prose of a seasoned reporter, yet creates an intimate memory of his work, the women he dated, and the prominent celebrities he encountered.

He often draws from an unusual documentation source: reams of detailed letters that he wrote home to his family, saved over many decades.

And for part of this memoir, he draws from an even more unusual resource: Me, (Steve Vachss) writer of this review article. Though we came from different work-worlds, we knew each other back then in Hawaii, as colleagues of a sort, and eventually as friends.

Assigned in Hawaii as an Army writer-editor, I became Butwin’s source for military news and background information. As an Army Reservist, David tells a compelling story about an enormous military exercise called Coral Sands II that involved thousands of soldiers, 13 US Navy warships, and the entire Island of Molokai. For nearly two weeks, David and I occupied a press tent on Molokai and created news stories, interviews, and press releases flown to Honolulu.

We later learned that perpetrators of the famous “My Lai Massacre” were apparently with us at Coral Sands on Molokai. A consequence of the operation later involved us both, especially David, in a blockbuster story that may have affected the history of the Vietnam War. With details never previously disclosed, David explains this incredible story and our involvement.

My other cameo appearance in Barefoot Days, Electric nights, deals with an incident of street violence that Butwin calls “my night of terror.” It’s a story we both would prefer to forget but which has lived in each of us forever after.

Notwithstanding my personal connection, I enjoyed “Barefoot Days, Electric Nights,” and highly recommend it. It’s beautifully written in a style that brings the reader face-to-face with a place and a lifestyle that no longer exists. A memoir of paradise.


Full Disclosure: David’s account of the stories around Coral Sands, our potential effect on the Vietnam War, and the “My Lai Massacre” are 100 percent accurate. However, I wrote a more personal detailed novel around the story, “The Victory That Wasn’t,” as an alternate history. Many details in my story are accurate, but some key issues are changed to “how we wish it had happened.”   



We Are Being Fooled Again!

Why would we ever believe Republican and Democrat statements about their Healthcare plans? Are we really that gullible?

Both the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and the AHCA (American Health Care Act) are frauds, beginning with their respective names. Neither one is about “Healthcare.” They are both about insurance. The ACA is about spending gigantic sums—billions of dollars—moving it from taxpayers’ pockets to poor people. The AHCA is about keeping a political promise made by every Republican for the past seven years: to “Repeal and replace” the ACA.

Neither of these two cynical goals has anything to do with Healthcare. Actual Healthcare is about highly trained practitioners, most of whom work unworldly hours to care for patients. To put a human face on it: Healthcare is about nurses who check on us every hour to ensure that everything is in order and that we are as comfortable as possible. They probably save millions, just being there for patients who may be experiencing the worst moments of their lives. Nurses are Healthcare. But we have far too few of them because we have far too few doctors to treat all patients that need care.

Doctors, of course, are the heart and soul of Healthcare. They diagnose, order tests, and often predict medical issues for patients who are unaware of dangers ahead. Caring for patients, they often raise morale by eliminating worries about non-existent maladies. Doctors are Healthcare.

There are an estimated 810,000 doctors working in patient care in the US, available to 326,474,013 people. That’s one practicing doctor for every 403 people. To improve Healthcare, we probably need to double that number.

SO LISTEN UP CONGRESS! Stop arguing about health insurance numbers. Put your efforts toward real Healthcare. Start with importing more offshore doctors by increasing the H1B quotas, and removing other impediments. We currently have 85,000 doctors from this source. Can we bring the total to 200,000?

Create more educational opportunities by setting up free tuition scholarships, building more medical schools, and training qualified instructors. Let’s build our doctor population to at least 1,500,000.

KEEP LISTENING CONGRESS! Both parties can share accolades from the American people if you actually improve Healthcare. But if you persist with this politically driven insurance numbers game, one party, possibly both of you, will feel the wrath of angry voters.

The ACA passed by a tiny margin in the Senate when the Democrats held a majority in both the Senate and the House. The Republicans now control both chambers but can’t come up with anything that’s much different from the ACA. The winners last time were the Democrats, and the result has nearly destroyed the party.

Republicans: Though they won’t say this out loud, Democrat leaders are praying for you to pass your own albatross, freeing them from blame. They will then flood the cable news shows with scenes from town hall presentations showing angry people whose lives are as bad as they were under the hated ACA.

Be smart. Don’t lie. Solve the actual Healthcare problem. Forget about your lobbyist buddies. They’ll get over it.

The Dirty Little Secret That Destroyed US Politics

PrintbookFinal8Most Americans are sick of hearing about “Polarization in Washington.” Voters are angry, and they demand change. However, neither party has been able to get much accomplished in the past ten years. Cable news channels have built an industry by exploiting the vast and growing gap between Liberals and Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats as the defining feature of politics in Washington.

What has created this apparent hatred that causes elected officials to refuse cooperation with one another? Pundits, retired officials, and long-time journalists all decry the situation and opine different potential causes. Most agree that the complete failure to cooperate with each other is a relatively new phenomenon. Some blame it on specific events, like the impeachment of President Clinton, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Affordable Care Act, Racial tensions, lies or misleading statements by years of White House occupants.

Others blame ideologies, including more than the simple liberal versus conservative beliefs. There are also libertarian, progressive, evangelical and mainstream voters. Each of these has advocates in Congress.

Though any of the cited issues may have had some part in the destruction of our political system, few people realize that one single event was the major driver of government incompetence. Technically it wasn’t a single one-day event like an election. It was an ongoing process that went under the radar. Very few Americans knew it was happening or understood how it would affect us.

The event, occurring primarily in 2010, was Redistricting. At first view, it seems to be a boring, technical, and benign process, but it created the havoc we see in Washington.

What is redistricting and how does it work?

Redistricting is a process of changing district borders in each state, to compensate for demographic changes. Theoretically, every state examines the borders of each of its districts and may make some changes, every 10 years. Some districts may become larger, some may become smaller, some may maintain the same amount of geography but may change shape. Any of these changes may affect demographics in any district. New district outlines typically reflect changes in population size, area ethnic population, average income level, average age, and (most important) voting registration history.

The change of a district’s shape, therefore, may determine which parties and candidates are most likely to win. Either party may gain or lose, according to the newly included and excluded areas.

A key tactic in changing a district is called gerrymandering. It is a process of making changes, usually for political reasons, that are not logical extensions or reductions. To visualize the result of gerrymandering,  consider a district map that was previously nearly round in shape, and changing it by adding a larger oblong area to the east and subtracting half of its previous boundaries from the west.

Though the redistricting process is supposed to be nonpartisan, it’s different in each state. It is almost impossible to detect specific reasons for many changes, but each party seems to have an overall strategy for affecting changes in each district.

In 2010 redistricting, the Republicans apparently wanted to become dominant in the state legislatures by bringing new winning candidates into many small districts.

Democrat strategy was apparently a combination of two things. One piece was to strengthen the voting majority for existing elected seats in the House. The other was to take advantage of immigration and re-shape districts in which they could grow their base by appealing to minority voters.

Both parties got their wishes. Democrats got firm control of the states with the largest voting populations, like California and New York. They made inroads in Texas and Florida, largely by creating immigrant blocs, though not enough to win electoral majorities.

The Republicans won the majority of the governorships, state legislatures, and congressional seats. To the dismay of their mainstream leaders, however, most of their additions on the congressional  level were aligned with the so-called “Tea Party.” This group now dominates a separate group known as the House Freedom Caucus. Though this group publically defines itself as conservative Republicans, it operates much like a “fifth column,” covertly operating against programs supported by moderate Republicans.

How did those results affect Washington? 

Democrat leaders in the House found themselves in conflict with the so-called “progressives,” composed of disaffected young voters, millennial female voters who don’t subscribe to the traditional Democrat talking points of women’s issues, and followers of Senator Bernie Sanders.

House Republican leaders found themselves between two groups that are virtually irreconcilable: far-right conservatives and moderate mainstream members. Every proposed bill is either too conservative or too expensive for one group or the other.

The overall result is that few bills can move through the House since a majority vote depends on support from progressives, mainstream Democrats, far right Freedom Caucus members, and mainstream Republicans.

In the Senate, these splits haven’t had as much of an effect as in the House, because senators are elected for six-year terms, while House members serve only two-year terms before a turnover can take place. If advocates of term limits succeed, however, the Senate will soon face conflicts with newly elected members. 

The Ugliest Result of Redistricting

Finding themselves unable to pass meaningful legislation, both parties have fallen back to name-calling, negative hyperbole, anonymous leaks to the media, and other tactics to block success by either party. This is likely to go on, until the rise of a third party, or the virtual death of one of the existing two.

The press and pundit narrative of “parties that just don’t like each other” is false. Most honest lawmakers would like the situation to change. Some thought that election of a well-liked President might lead to compromise. But we haven’t had a universally liked President since the 1960s.

Are We At War With Ourselves?

Though this article reports numerous ugly statements and inappropriate actions by mass media, political parties, and social media posters, please note that the author of this article is a middle-road Independent with no affiliation or party preference. Negative remarks about President Trump, his opponents, and his critics, are results of public statements, for which this article has no partisan bias.

FullFinal-TVTW071016America has entered a new era that may be more dangerous than anything this country has experienced since the Civil War.

Following the election in 2016, we have had millions of people in bitter conflict with each other. Though most of the conflict thus far has been in social media, mass media, and political venues, we have seen a few ugly street clashes and destruction on college campuses. Unlike political fights of the past, however, the fight seems to intensify and is becoming more violent and hateful.

Of course, our country has had social conflicts before. The anti-war battles of the 1960s and 1970s are good examples, as are the African-American Civil Rights struggles of the mid-1950s and 1960s. Though there were millions of people on both sides of these movements, these fights were different from today’s conflict in one extremely significant way: insurgents in both of these battles were fighting for specific, concrete goals.

The anti-war movement fought to end the Vietnam War. When the war ended in 1973, the angry energy died down. Similarly, the Civil Rights activists fought for specific things: the end of segregation in schools and restaurants, voting rights for people of all races, the end of racial violence, and admission to all-white universities. Once they had achieved these objectives or at least had made significant progress, the violence subsided, and the movement moved to the courts and politics.

Many other protest movements had no clear goals and therefore only mustered luke warm energy. For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement involved millions nationwide but had no leadership and no tangible objectives that middle-Americans could embrace. The movement, therefore, collapsed of its own weight.

The conflict we see today is a new kind of beast. Though political conflict typically has the Far-Left on one side opposing the Far-Right, the bitterness today is not only a political skirmish between Democrats and Republicans. There are splits in both parties. Conservatives fight with mainstream Republicans, and Progressive Democrats on the left remain furious with their party’s leadership and behind-the-scene operatives.

Nasty rhetoric began in the months before the November election, but when Donald Trump became President-Elect, opposition voices became more strident than at any time in recent history. Traditionally, new presidents have a so-called “honeymoon period,” in which mass media and opposition leaders permit the new Chief Executive to begin an administration free of bare-knuckle politics. Most new presidents have three to six months of this respectful courtesy. The honeymoon for President Obama was even longer. President Trump received no such courtesy period. In fact, the bombast against him began during the transition between administrations, long before his inauguration.

Many statements by leaders of the opposition party continuously use name-calling and false narratives with language and depth far worse than we have ever seen. Recently, a long-time Congressional Representative referred to the entire Trump cabinet as “a bunch of scumbags.” Other leaders have loudly called for the impeachment of the President. Despite the fact that there is no evidence of any offenses, other than Mr. Trump’s often annoying statements and tweets, his opponents continue to make nonsensical claims.

How did this fighting develop and continue to grow?

Though this unprecedented bitterness has several different causes, the growth of social media may be its strongest driver. Since President Obama’s victory in 2008, the number of social media users has nearly tripled. Moreover, President Trump’s highly publicized Tweets may have attracted more people to express themselves through this medium. Social media messaging has gained credibility with some people, especially people in the age range designated as ‘millennials.’ Though there is no way to measure this effect, social media users now seem to post or repost statements without any reliable source. In many cases, they admittedly “make stuff up” to fit a narrative, without concern for fact-checking of any kind.

More troubling is the new practice of media reporters—the internet, print, and cable news—to use social media, especially tweets, as support for a so-called news story. With so many different voices adding themselves to the fray, misinformation often takes on an aura of truth and becomes used as proof statements.

Whether antagonistic remarks are from political leaders, media opinions or whimsical social media posts, Americans read them, or hear them from others and repeat them, often augmenting them or using them out of context. Since they typically come from one side attacking the other, the aggrieved side fires back with equally irrational statements.

Why this war from within threatens America

Leaders of every country in the world follow internet reports and form opinions and strategies based on their analyses of America’s strength. Watching our current turmoil, our friends and allies may view the US as being out of control, and view American leadership with great skepticism. Our enemies may see our exaggerated conflicts as an opportunity to ignore America and continue policies that hurt our economy and safety.

For example, opponents of the President have nurtured a storyline that the Trump campaign plotted with Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump win the presidency. The so-called ‘proof’ of this story, is that candidate Trump stated in his election campaign that America might benefit from an improved relationship with Russia. Opponents add that Trump hired a campaign advisor for two or three months who once had consulted with the government of Ukraine.  Ukraine, of course, considers Russia to be an enemy of their country. A consultancy relationship with Ukraine has no bearing on a US relationship with Russia. Further, the former US  Director of National Intelligence has stated that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collaboration of any kind. Nevertheless, Congressional leaders have kept this allegation alive and begun investigations in multiple committees. Stories like this one shake the confidence that our allies have in American leadership.

Domestically, we will soon have an environment of lawmakers who are unable to vote for or against any issue unless it is supported by a majority of the combatants in their states and districts. This will result in leaders who are unable to lead, in a gridlock that leaves individual Americans suffering in anger.

How can we end this foolish quagmire?

All Americans have the right of free speech, guaranteed by the Constitution. Nevertheless, our leaders and mass media writers have the tools to tamp down rhetoric that makes America look foolish to the rest of the world.

Though social media enhances the viciousness, the White House, Congress, and the mass media are the original sources of it. Following are some recommendations on steps these leaders must take lower the public temperature and create a positive national direction.

Recommendation One: President Trump should limit his Twitter tweets to issues of policy, or significant announcements. Criticism of celebrities and argumentative dialog with critics add fuel to the ongoing fires.

Recommendation Two: The White House should create private dialog sessions with all leadership groups, especially opponents and media leaders. All discussions should be kept confidential. Leaders need to work together to create ground rules for public statements. Ground rules must have mutual agreement and benefit to all parties. This approach will not muzzle anyone from speaking out on their opinions on policy. But it can depressurize the nastiness that has overtaken the country.

Recommendation Three: Unless new bills are likely to become future election issues, leaders of both parties should meet together privately to identify common ground. If possible, they should agree to limit public disagreement to policy issues. Regardless of the gulf between the parties, they should ‘sell’ their viewpoints without personal attacks or implying wrongdoing by the opposition.

Recommendation Four: The White House needs to reach out to the press, to create ground rules to benefit all parties. The President needs to speak with media executives privately and negotiate. Both sides in this kind of dialog have items with which to negotiate. For example, The President can eliminate statements about “fake news” and charges of lying. The White House can offer greater access in exchange for confidentiality. Media leaders can offer advance notification of stories to advise the Whitehouse of major negative stories.

Memo to the White House and Congressional staffers: The foregoing recommendations are seen through the eyes of an outsider. You may have better approaches. If so, we look forward to your success in changing the status quo. You have a responsibility to fix the chaos that is tearing the country apart. It’s not important to select the perfect plan. What’s important is making the plan work.

Memo to Mass Media:  Words matter. Careless words often matter more. Please tell the truth.

“To borrow from the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Never have so many been manipulated so much by so few.’” — Aldous Huxley



Here’s How the Press Can Regain Its Mojo

Most Americans believe that honest, trustworthy news media is important to keep watch on our government. Nevertheless, poll numbers show a starkly negative picture:FullFinal-TVTW071016

 Only 32% say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the media

*  Only 14% of Republicans express trust in the media 

The mass media industry can change, however, and it must.


Here is an open letter to all members of “the Fourth Estate,” with some suggestions for transformation.


Dear ladies and gentlemen of the mass media,

This is a sincere message to you, to recommend a positive path forward. It’s not a letter of complaint. You can get that from thousands of other sources. However, the world needs you to return to your historical position of thought leadership and integrity, as a counterbalance to a political world that has lost its way.

Most of the necessary changes needed must begin with print media. Print media perform most of the heavy lifting, finding and reporting the real news. Cable news and Internet news pages copy most of their material from print publications and make a fortune in the process.This one-way relationship requires change.

Recommendation One: Your first step should be to unite the top ten print publications into an agreement to permanently separate straight news from opinion columns. Many readers resent so-called “news stories” that mix a writer’s personal opinions with actual news reporting. Each publication can print a robust opinion page or even an entire opinion section. Nevertheless, readers want to understand the news without integrated lecturing. If and when the top ten (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc.) adhere to this change, most lesser publications will follow. Those who do not will lose subscribers. Cable news channels—most of whom broadcast stories already reported by print media sources—will transform themselves out of necessity. If the top ten publications unite to announce this policy change, they will bolster the reputation of print media within a few months.

Recommendation Two: Media industry leaders should create a new organizational consortium to deliver high-integrity news, somewhat like AP but executed by temporary one-year assignments of senior reporters covering a full spectrum of worldwide information. Assigned reporters would be equally balanced by political ideology. Over time, readers would gravitate to stories from this group, because they would trust the stories as written.

 Recommendation Three: Media companies need to minimize the free use of their work-product by Internet news providers. The free use of material between mass media and Internet news providers like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook evolved from the early 1990s when “more eyeballs” seemed to grow circulation. But the internet turned out to be a competitor and caused massive circulation losses. Media organizations need to work together to treat internet news pages as friendly competitors. One way would be for all of the top news providers to copyright their posted material and charge a small usage fee for each story used. Sites that refused to pay for usage would be legally required to pay court-ordered damages. The content-creation companies could share materials without paying royalties if they operated together as a consortium. Readers could visit the actual sites for each content provider for free.

Mass media companies, as experienced members of your industry, might have better ideas than my recommendations. If so, please implement them ASAP. Operating in today’s status quo environment damages America, and continues to diminish your previously authoritative reporting.

Most Americans are on your side. Are you on our side?