Thursday, January 31, 2019

I Believe in Love

I Believe in Love
(originally published in Tumbleweird February 2019)

by Ted Miller

I’m a believer in love. I believe in the power of love.

But what does that mean? When I sat down to write this column, I wanted to write a concise definition of what love means to me, but I didn’t know where to start.

Millions of words have been written to try to describe love. Stories about love have been told in every language since humans first developed the ability to communicate. We all experience love, yet every experience of love is different.

The capacity to love is fundamental to our human experience. In fact, love is essential to childhood development and to our physical and mental well-being.

Love binds us together. It is love that makes us care for each other. A mother loves her child unconditionally from before birth. Parents care for their children without an expectation of anything in return. Love keeps families together through generations. Love among friends and within a community leads us to pool resources together for the common good. Love is the thing that ensures our species survives. And love for our fellow humans can lift us all and make the world a better place.

Every major religion teaches about the importance of love, especially love for those who are less fortunate, those who are strangers, even those who are our enemies.

In Buddhism, the Dhammapada, 1:5 says, “For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an ancient and eternal rule.”

In Judaism, Leviticus 19:34 says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

In the Christian bible, John 15:12, Jesus says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

In Islam, Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 72, “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.”

Other religions have similar teachings. All are variations on the golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Or more simply, love each other like you love yourself.

When I think about the power of love, I remember Aesop’s story of the North Wind and the Sun. The Sun bets the North Wind that he can get the traveler remove his coat. The North Wind, thinking he is more powerful, accepts the challenge. But the stronger the North Wind blows, the tighter the traveler closes his coat. The Sun then comes out. The Sun’s warmth soon encourages the man to loosen and then remove his coat. The moral: warmth and kindness wins. To me, this story is a metaphor that means love is stronger than hate.

I’m not na├»ve enough to think evil doesn’t exist in the world. Humans have a terrible capacity for divisiveness and hatred. The daily news is full of stories of racism, homophobia, and misogyny. War, genocide, and slavery exist today. Although we have the resources and capacity to feed and clothe the world, millions of humans suffer in poverty and hunger every day.

All too often, people who don’t look like us, talk like us, worship like us, or think like us are not treated as one of us. The partisan division in this country is worse than at any time in my life. The hate I see on social media makes me wonder if we can ever come together as a country, let alone continue the long road towards justice and peace for all. Where is the love?

There are times I feel hopeless and want to just retreat from the world. But I refuse to give in to the darkness. I refuse to give up hope. I still believe we are capable of seeing the good in each other.

We can value the dignity of every human being and treat everyone with love and respect while at the same time protecting ourselves from those that would do us harm. We can work together to help those less fortunate than us. We can speak up for the oppressed. We can demand a government that works for the common good. We can remember the golden rule and choose love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

I believe in love. The alternative is too much to bear.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Greatest Threat To Our Existence

The Greatest Threat To Our Existence
(originally published in Tumbleweird January 2019)

by Ted Miller

“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” 

– Sir David Attenborough, United Nations Climate Change Conference, Katowice, Poland
December 3, 2018

There is a metaphor that says a frog put into boiling water will immediately jump out to save itself, but a frog placed in tepid water that is slowly heated will be boiled alive before recognizing the danger. Although I like this metaphor as a caution against complacency, it is not scientifically valid. In fact, frogs are ectotherms which regulate their body temperature by changing location. A real frog would sense the temperature change and save itself by jumping out of the water.

The temperature of our planet is rising. This is an incontrovertible fact that the climate deniers can’t make untrue no matter how hard they try. I can point you to websites and propaganda of those who are convinced the earth is flat, but that doesn’t make the earth any less round. I can point to historical studies that obfuscated the link between tobacco and cancer, but that doesn’t mean smoking is good for your health. And whatever doubt the deniers still have about the cause and significance of climate change, it is not based on data and scientific analysis.

Just because you don’t believe something doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment[i], Vol II, was released by the federal government in November 2018. It is an exhaustive, thoroughly researched report with input from hundreds of experts in wide-ranging areas of expertise. The source material is diverse and meets rigid scientific and quality standards. The report reflects the best information available on climate change and its impact on the United States and the world. I highly encourage you to read the report summary yourself (see nca2018.globalchange.gov).

The report concludes “that the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising.” 

This conclusion should not be taken lightly.

Scientists have understood the physics of global temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for almost 200 years.[ii]We have known since the middle of the last century that human activity, beginning with the use of fossil fuels in the industrial age, has greatly influenced the earth’s climate. And now the impacts are becoming more dramatic and self-evident. Consider the following:

-       Arctic ice is melting fast. The amount of sea ice has decreased dramatically and the seasonal changes are more pronounced. The arctic is warming faster than any other part of the planet. 
-       Land ice and snow packs are melting much faster than they are being replaced. The ice cover over Greenland and Antarctica is shrinking. Glaciers are receding. 
-       Sea level is rising. Some low-lying islands will be completely underwater within the next few decades.
-       Desert areas are becoming hotter and more arid and more desert is being created in the subtropics.
-       Rain and snow patterns are changing, leading to increased flooding in some areas while other parts of the planet see more drought. 
-       Wildfires are becoming more severe.
-       The oceans are becoming more acidic and are getting warmer. Both of these trends have a significant impact on the ecosystem. Coral reefs around the world are dying. 
-       Extreme weather, including hurricanes and winter storms, is becoming more common.

The consequences of climate change on humans and our environment are potentially devastating. Mass extinctions are possible. Famine and poverty will likely increase as land becomes more uninhabitable, crops begin to fail, and diseases from warmer temperatures spread. Agriculture, the economy, and human health will all be negatively impacted. Climate change will affect every aspect of our lives.

But the situation isn’t hopeless. Action to reduce atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions can limit the global rise in temperature. International agreements can establish achievable goals with concrete actions. National and local governments can consider impacts on climate with their policies, regulations, and initiatives. Investments can be made in research and technology to replace carbon-based energy sources and science and engineering solutions can be implemented. 

And, perhaps most importantly, individual citizens can hold their elected officials accountable for decisions affecting the climate. We must do everything in our power to reverse this trend. Subsidies to the petroleum industry must be eliminated and clean, carbon-free energy sources must be incentivized. Individual choices and environmental habits are important, but only governments can drive the change we need to save the planet.

Like the proverbial frog, we are at risk of boiling alive. But, like the real frog who can save itself, we know what is happening to the planet and we are fully capable of saving ourselves and the natural world.

We just have to feel the heat and know that it is real.



[i]U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II. The complete report may be accessed at nca2018.globalchange.gov.

[ii]Ibid, p. 39.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

War and Peace

War and Peace

by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird December 2018)

One hundred years ago we fought the “war to end all wars.” The war was devastating. Over ten million people died and many times that number were injured in what was then known as the Great War. New weapons like poison gas, tanks, and aircraft made killing more efficient than ever before. The horrors of that war were so grim that many thought mankind would never go to war again. 

This sentiment was summarized by H.G. Wells in The Daily Newson August 14, 1914 when he wrote:

“This is already the vastest war in history. It is a war not of nations, but of mankind. It is war to exorcise the world-madness and end an age… For this is now a war for peace. It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing for ever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war!”

How wrong we were. The war that ended on Armistice Day a century ago was just another in the long history of wars among men. We even had to rename the Great War when just a few decades later we were in the midst of World War II.

I have always felt that a strong military promotes peace by acting as a deterrent to war. As a submarine officer on patrol carrying nuclear ballistic missiles, I believed that if we ever had to carry out the orders we were trained to execute, it would mean our mission of deterrence had been an utter failure. Success was the avoidance of nuclear war. Success meant peace. Success was met through strength.

As I was preparing to commemorate the centennial of the World War I armistice at the Bells for Peace gathering on November 11, I reflected on my thirty-year career in the military and my thoughts on war and peace. Did military strength really ensure a lasting peace? That certainly hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I realized that the horrors of war do not alone lead to a lasting desire for peace. 

Hundreds of millions of people have died as a direct result of war in the last century. Hundreds of millions more have been displaced. Today, the wars in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq continue to destabilize the world. Armed conflict is ongoing in Africa, Mexico, Asia, and Eastern Europe. And the United States is at least partially involved in every one of them.

We are currently fighting the longest war in U.S. history. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we invaded Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and have been at war in that country ever since. 
We have become so inured to the war in Afghanistan that it barely makes the news. We celebrate our veterans, but forget the fact that we are still at war. Fewer and fewer Americans serve in the military and the majority of us are insulated from the reality of war. 

War is expensive, not only in lives, but in dollars. The wars in the Middle East have cost U.S. taxpayers $5.9 trillion since 2001.[i]Those costs will continue to grow well in to the future as we care for veterans and pay for ongoing obligations in the region. 

Is the cost of war really worth it? If the goal of war is indeed peace, perhaps there are other ways to achieve it. 

I know that peace isn’t easy. I know that evil exists in the world and that we must protect ourselves from those who would do us harm. I agree that we should be ready to use our military strength to defend our allies and ensure stability in the trouble spots of the world. But I also think that we can use our strengths and resources to combat the things that lead to war. 

Poverty, hunger, social injustice, and a lack of education tend to lead to civil unrest that spills over into violence and war. War, in turn, leads to more human suffering. Breaking the cycle can reduce the tendency towards war and help usher in an era of peace.

We should be promoting peace through humanitarian efforts backed up by our economic, diplomatic, and military strength. Our resources can be better spent helping others instead of funding the military industrial complex for an endless cycle of war. I’m not anti-military, I’m pro-peace.

We need a strong diplomatic corps to promote peaceful solutions. We need to work with our allies to resolve conflicts. War should be a last resort. 

On November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to commemorate the first Armistice Day with these words:

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

If only we could promote peace and justice around the world without going to war to do so.


[i]“Costs of War,” Neta C. Crawford, Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, Brown University, November 14, 2018.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Taking a Knee is Not Disrespectful

Taking a Knee is Not Disrespectful

by Ted Miller
(Originally published in Tumbleweird November 2018)

I am a veteran. My parents are both veterans. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy, swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States, and served thirty years defending my country. I am proud to be an American.

Members of the military are taught specific rules of respect for the symbols of our nation. We stand and salute when the flag is raised, lowered, or passes by with a color guard. We stand and salute whenever and wherever the National Anthem is played or sung. When driving on a military installation during morning or evening colors, drivers pull over to the side of the road and stop out of respect. 

We do these things as a sign of respect for our country because the flag and the anthem are symbols representing the ideals that bind us together as citizens. And those ideals are embodied in the Constitution. Not a person, not a party, not the President of the United States. Not a piece of red, white, and blue fabric. We show respect for an idea—an idea contained in a document that we swore to support and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

And so, not standing, not paying attention, or ignoring the National Anthem can seem disrespectful. 

But people disrespect the flag and the anthem all the time. Many fans don’t bother to pause for the anthem while buying their beer, finding their seats, or making a last-minute dash to the restroom. The flag is used for commercial marketing, clothing (including bandanas and underwear), and countless ways contrary to the United States Flag Code (Title 4, U.S.C., Ch. 1). Where is the outcry over that?

In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, remained seated during the National Anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he explained to Steve Wyche of NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he said.

Shortly after Kaepernick’s initial protest, former Seahawks player Nate Boyer, also an Army Green Beret, reached out to Kaepernick. He suggested kneeling instead. "Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave, you know, to show respect,” Boyer said on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. So Kaepernick began kneeling instead of staying seated.

The backlash began immediately and has continued ever since, with angry rhetoric on both sides. President Trump has said that any player who refuses to stand is a “son of a bitch” that should be fired. Fans are boycotting the NFL. Social media memes and arguments continue to flare up. When Nike made Colin Kaepernick their spokesman for a new campaign, people started burning their shoes in protest.

Some say that Colin Kaepernick should protest on his own time. They falsely accuse him of grandstanding instead of donating time and money for his cause. But the reality is that he has donated over a million dollars to charities that support oppressed communities. Many professional athletes have done the same and more. This year, basketball player LeBron James funded and partnered with his hometown of Akron, Ohio, to open a school specifically designed to overcome the challenges urban kids face.
But charity work to combat racism and police brutality has not gotten near the attention as Kaepernick’s simple, respectful protests. 

Systemic racism and police brutality are a real problem in this country. Black people are much more likely to be killed by police, are incarcerated at much higher rates than white people for the same crimes, and are all too often stopped or questioned by police with no probable cause[i]. We’ve all seen the viral videos of 911 calls on black people for doing nothing other than going about their business. 

It is disingenuous to claim that kneeling during the anthem is unpatriotic and disrespectful to veterans. To me, it is those claiming to speak for all veterans who are being disrespectful to those who fought and died to ensure Kaepernick’s right to protest.

Blind loyalty to the country, blind loyalty to symbols, and blind participation in patriotic displays isn’t patriotism. Coercing respect for a symbol is no respect at all. Respect must be earned, not demanded. We respect the United States and its symbols for what we as a nation aspire to be. That we can be a more perfect union with dignity, equality, freedom, and justice for all of our citizens. Taking a knee to call attention to how we’ve fallen short of those ideals is as American as it gets.



[i]Police shootings and brutality in the US: 9 things you should know,” edited by German Lopez, vox.com, September 11, 2018.

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Free Press Keeps Us Free

A Free Press Keeps Us Free

by Ted Miller
(Originally published in Tumbleweird September 2018)

Our government has always had an antagonistic relationship with the press. 

Breaking from a tyrannical monarchy, our founders didn’t trust a government without checks and balances. The Constitution divides power between three branches of government, each with the responsibility and authority to hold the others accountable. But still, some were afraid those checks and balances weren’t enough. They knew that a well-informed citizenry was essential to a government accountable to the people. 

There is a reason the press is specifically protected by the first amendment. It is the press that tells us what our government is doing and shines a light on darkness, corruption, and abuse of power. 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” And Ronald Reagan said, “Our tradition of a free press as a vital part of our democracy is as important as ever.” I would say that is even more true today.

Not since the founding of this nation has any president so virulently and consistently attacked the press as Donald J. Trump has. “Fake News,” he shouts whenever something unfavorable is reported about him. He repeatedly labels the media the “enemy of the people.” He incites his audiences against reporters at his rallies. In Trump’s divisive world of friends and enemies, anyone critical of him is the enemy. And enemies of Donald Trump are, in his mind, enemies of the country.

But the press is not the enemy of the people. To the contrary, the press is the protector of the people. Journalists are members of our communities. They have friends and families, pay taxes, and live and work among the rest of us. They are our eyes and ears. And when they find something that isn’t right, they report it.

Watergate was exposed through investigative journalism, in spite of Nixon’s efforts to control the media, leading to a criminal investigation and ultimately to Nixon’s resignation. Publication of the Pentagon Papers told the public how they and Congress had been lied to about the Vietnam War. Reporting of sexual abuse and coverup continues to drive reform in the Catholic Church. Every day, local and national news organizations dig in to the stories and issues of the day to report it to the people. Local governments are held accountable through local media.

But the continued demonization of the media by those who try to control the narrative has undermined the trust of the people.  It is unfortunate that so many in our country are no longer willing or able to trust any media source other than the ones that align with their beliefs. To some, it doesn’t matter whether the “news” they are consuming is rooted in fact or is made up fiction to rile the masses and appeal to their base. The result is deepening division and an inability to find objective truth.

The truth is under attack. Statements like “alternate facts,” “truth isn’t truth,” and “your truth is different than my truth” question the very existence of objective truth. 

It is not a stretch to say we live in Orwellian times. In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on July 24thof this year, Donald Trump said, “"Stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. ... What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

That sounds eerily like George Orwell’s 1984 where he wrote, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” We are in peril if the only source of “news” people believe becomes that promoted by the occupant in the White House.

There are such things as facts and objective truth.  We as citizens must sort through the noise to find it. And the free press is our constitutionally protected source of that truth.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Freedom of the press is essential to the preservation of a democracy; but there is a difference between freedom and license. Editorialists who tell downright lies in order to advance their own agendas do more to discredit the press than all the censors in the world.”

Yes, there is such a thing as “fake news.” Editorial spin and propaganda have grown rampant with the information explosion enabled by the internet. Social media is a terrible source of news, yet unverified memes and fabricated conspiracy stories spread like wildfire when they align with what we already believe to be true. It is much too easy to hit “share” without fact-checking, and the truth suffers.

Discerning the truth is hard work and we have to protect ourselves from becoming isolated in our own echo chambers.Opinion, gossip, entertainment, and tabloid are not the same as reporting and investigative journalism. Those who fail to understand the difference and cry “fake news” at anything they disagree with are part of the problem.To lump all media into the “fake news” category undermines efforts by the press to hold to journalistic standards and ethics.

As a nation, we must protect the freedom of the press. We need to support responsible journalism so the press can continue to do the job the founders envisioned. Recognize the difference between opinion and objective reporting. Cut through the spin and biases of multiple news sources to find the truth. Don’t spread the stories you see on Facebook and twitter without fact checking. Be skeptical but open minded. And avoid the cynicism that leads to hopelessness and inaction. 

Cherish the right to a free press. It helps to keep us free.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Vote As If Your Life Depends On It

Vote As If Your Life Depends On It

by Ted Miller
(Originally published in Tumbleweird August 2018)

If you neglect to vote because you think your vote won’t count, you are correct. You have to vote for it to count. Yet almost two-thirds of registered voters in the Mid-Columbia didn’t even bother during the last mid-term election.

Last year, the outcome of Virginia’s 94th legislative district was decided by a single vote. Democrat Shelly Simonds was running against Republican David Yancey. Yancey was ten votes ahead after the initial countless than one hundredth of one percent margin. An automatic recount put Simonds ahead by just one voteAfter a challenge by the Republicans, a panel of three judges ruled that ballot with questionable markings was valid and should be counted for Yancey. That one ballot put the race at an even tie with 11,608 votes to each candidate. In accordance with Virginia law, the election was ultimately decided by a random drawing and Yancey was declared the winner (source: reuters.com).

In the Virginia case, not only was the election decided with onecontested vote, but control of the evenly divided state legislature was decided with this single race. Imagine how the democrats in that district who failed to vote felt about the outcome. Never think that your vote doesn’t make a difference.

Statistics tell us that voter turnout is overwhelmingly higher for older, more affluent whites than for any other demographic. For a variety of reasons including cynicism and barriers to voter participation, persons of color, young people, and low-income citizens are disproportionately less likely to vote (source: americaprogress.org). And yet the younger non-white demographic, particularly those in a marginalized group, are more adversely affected by regressive policies that favor corporations and the wealthy. Issues like equality, gun violence, health care, immigration, wages, and education are only addressed when we who care about those issues make our voices heard.

Following the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, student survivors responded with political activism. They started the March For Our Lives movement, inspiring national protest marches and vigorous debate about gun violence. Gun rights advocates vilified them and gun control activists hailed them as heroes. These teenagers organized their efforts and used their unexpected fame to call for change. And unlike the responses to previous shootings, theknew the key to change was the ballot box. They began a relentless call to register young people and are working across the country to electrepresentatives who will take action to address the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. These young leaders know that the path for change begins with local elections. 

We the people have the power to make change, and the way we do that is with the power of our vote. 

We live in a representative democracy. The Constitution gives citizens the right to elect those that best represent them at all levels of government. In some areas of the country, voter suppression, district gerrymandering, and similar efforts to maintain politicalhold on power against the will of the people are very real. But as long as the Constitution standswe the people have the power to ensure our own future. We have to exercise that power to make a difference.

When you vote, make sure you are an informed voter. Remember not to believe everything you see in a meme on social media. Seek out multiple sources of informationResearch the candidates and how they stand on the issues important to you. Vote your values. Don’t ever think your vote isn’t important, or that it “won’t count” because you think your opinion is in the minority. That cynicism is why the demographics of our elected officials often do not reflect the demographics of our communities.

Washington makes voting easy and accessible. Registration is simple and can be done on-line in most cases. Voting is secure with paper ballots filled out at a time convenient to the voter. Ballots can be mailed (postage-free starting with this election) or placed in a local ballot box. There are relatively few barriers to voting in our state. 

If this is the first time you are old enough to vote, make this the first in a lifetime of regular voting. If you are eligible to vote but aren’t registered, register now. If you are registered and haven’t yet voted in the primary, do so today. If you missed the August 7th primaryelection daymake a commitment to register and vote in the general election this November.

I believe in progressive values and I believe there are those who want to reverse the progress we’ve made on women’s rights, LGBT equality, help for the poor, tax fairness, expansion of health care for all, and legal protections for the most vulnerable in our society. I vote for the candidates and the issues that best reflect my values. I encourage you to do the same.

If you want your government to reflect you and your values, vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. 

Because it does.