THE BOSTON MARATHON AND THE ‘WHY’ OF RUNNING

My sanity was questioned recently with this question: Why would anyone want to run a marathon? It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this so I determined to do what I often do when presented with a deep question: write about it. I run for so many reasons and it is often difficult to verbalize those reasons. But something happened after that question was asked that brought all my thoughts together: I ran the Boston Marathon.

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MONDAY, APRIL 17, 8:30AM:

So many thoughts and emotions course through me as I wade through the sea of humanity that has invaded the field behind Hopkinton High School, awaiting the start of what many consider to be the greatest race in the world. There is an enormous sense of pride in being a part of this remarkable event. There is also a humbling recognition that I’m part of a 121-year history that includes many of the greatest runners of all time—Bill Rodgers, Johnny Kelley, Kathrine Switzer, Meb Keflezighi, Catherine Ndereba; an epic race filled with stories of triumph, pain, great courage, terrorism.

There are also feelings of anticipation, nervousness, excitement, concern. Have I trained enough? Be careful in that first downhill mile. How can there be a 20-minute wait when there are at least 500 portable toilets in this field? Are my shoes tied too tight? What is that smell? Am I really ready for the pain of the next 3 hours? And maybe the biggest question of all: Why am I here?

As I stretch, jog, and munch on a power bar, the athlete’s village announcer continues his pre-race announcements: Don’t pet the guard dogs. Lather up with sunscreen. Don’t ask the official photographers to take your picture with your cell phone. Wave 1 runners, line up to head to the starting line. At 9:30, the 7,000 runners of Wave 1 begin the congested walk from the athlete’s village, up Grove Street toward Main Street. A block before Main Street, we cluster together as thousands of us line up once again in front of another hundred Porta Potties—effective hydration and limited toilets greatly contribute to this pre-race ritual of marathon runners. Knowing the start is minutes away, many of the runners—yes, including me–bypass the toilets and relieve themselves in the nearby trees, shame and shyness be damned.

At 9:45, Wave 1 runners are corralled onto Main Street. Hopkinton residents offer encouragement, cheers, a pre-race beer (denied by most). The sun is shining and the temperature hovers in the mid-60’s, on its way to the low 70’s. For spectators, it’s a perfect day. 27,000 runners aren’t so sure as the morning chill gives way to beads of sweat.

At 9:55, I snap a shameless selfie with my cell phone to try in some way to capture the magic of where I am. Runners press in on each other but we don’t mind—there is a camaraderie among these thousands of friends I’ve never met; a sense that we all belong together. For the next 3-5 hours, we will all be united, bound by a purpose to conquer this challenge we all volunteered to tackle. We will help each other along, perhaps without saying a word, understanding what each is thinking, feeling what each other is feeling, knowing we got to Main Street in Hopkinton by very different, yet very similar paths paved with sweat, hard work, dedication, and a few pair of smelly shoes. We’re all headed toward the same goal and that realization bonds us together.

The elite runners, lining up two blocks in front of me, are announced: Galen Rupp, Geoffrey Kirui, Meb Keflezighi. The mass of flesh presses even tighter, inching closer to the starting line. I turn to a nearby flag as the Star Spangled Banner is sung. My heart hammers in my chest. The rush is amazing. Finally, at 10:00 AM, the starting gun is fired.

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Just what is this fascination with running? Why do so many men and women from around the world have an insatiable drive to sacrifice their comfort, their time, and a big chunk of change to pile into school buses in downtown Boston early on a Monday morning and ride for almost an hour to the town of Hopkinton to spend 3-4 hours of great discomfort running to the very place where they started hours before? Common sense would ask, “Why didn’t all of you just sleep in and walk a few blocks to the finish line?”

After most races, my mouth feels like I’m chewing dried cement. My shirt and shorts are drenched with sticky sweat. My gut throbs and my legs ache. And my mind wrestles with what it was that drew me to this activity. In the middle of that mixture of bodily fluids and thoughts, the big question always hovers—Why? Why do I do this? What could possibly motivate a sane person to lace up a pair of lightweight shoes, put on a skimpy pair of shorts, and beat his legs senseless for hours on a surface created for Michelin and Goodyear, not Asics and Nike? What sadistic, inconceivable thrill can be found in punishing the human body in such a way?

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MONDAY, 10:04 AM

The human wall of runners inches slowly toward the starting line. I’m in Coral 7 of Wave 1 and it takes me 4 minutes of walking and slow jogging through the mass of humanity to get to the starting line. As I cross the bright blue and yellow line, a nearby runner kisses his hand and bends down to touch the line in honor and respect. Most of the first mile is downhill and I repeatedly remind myself to hold back, careful not to give in to the temptation to fly down the hill and burn myself out too soon. I’d heard the advice many times before the race: “Don’t go out too fast on that first hill or you’ll regret it later in the race.”

Compounding the temptation to over-exert in the first few miles is the cheering crowd. The adrenaline rush is intense and it’s a challenge to resist the urge to impress these new fans of mine. And yes, they are my fans. The wonderful truth about the Boston Marathon—in fact, about most running races—is that most of the tens of thousands of spectators who line the course from beginning to end don’t come out to just see the greatest runners in the world. They don’t leave after the elite speedsters pass by; they stay and cheer; for hours they cheer and high five and hand out wet cloths and ice and water to the mere mortals invading their neighborhoods. It’s icing on the cake to see the world’s best sail by, far ahead of the rest of us; but they are here to cheer me on, and the young kid next to me and the elderly lady and the college kids and the wheelchair racers and the thousands of other average folks like me who aspired to do something extraordinary with their Monday morning. I can almost feel the respect and admiration they have as they look in my face and see the determination and drive—and that admiration and cheering will work its way into my heart and soul and keep me moving forward for the next 26 miles, one step at a time.

As I pass the one mile marker I look at my GPS watch to see that, in spite of all the self-talk, I’m a bit ahead of my planned pace. I determine to hold back a bit in the next few miles—but that crowd, and the downhill, and the excitement…As we leave Hopkinton and enter the town of Ashland, the cheering continues and I work my way to the side of the road so I can high five the hundreds of kids and adults who excitedly hold out their hands.

Near mile two I grab my first cup of Gatorade, not really thirsty yet but recognizing the importance of taking in fluids, particularly on a warm, sunny day. The course is filled with aid stations every other mile, each one manned by volunteers who eagerly hand out Gatorade and water and offer cheers and encouragement to the runners. I am amazed by the enthusiasm of the thousands of volunteers, by their selfless giving and their positive attitude as they work for hours filling cups, handing them out, getting splashed on, shouting encouraging words, cleaning up the mess long after the runners pass by.

As I cruise toward the 10 Kilometer marker in Framingham, the temperature climbs steadily. A strong tailwind pushes us along but it would be nice to have some sort of breeze in the face to cool things off. With the sun beating down overhead, I work my way toward whichever side of the road is shaded by a building or trees. It’s not too uncomfortable yet, but with 20 miles to go, I’m planning for the future and doing whatever I can to reserve the energy I’ll desperately need soon. This also provides me the opportunity to keep the high fives going with my new friends and now favorite people in the world. The crowd is still huge—young, old, college students, a lady in a wheelchair, babies—all here to see the crazy people who decided that a Monday morning day off work would be best spent, not in a quaint New England café eating pancakes and drinking coffee, but seeing the beautiful countryside on foot in lightweight shorts and a sweaty T-shirt, pain written all over our faces.

I look at my watch again and see that I’m about on pace with my plan. I do a full body scan to assess my vitals—doing OK, feeling strong, but still cursing those 3 weeks of training I missed 2 months ago with a lower right leg injury. However, there’s no question in my mind that I’ll finish this battle because that’s what runners do.

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I suppose long distance running is not unlike climbing mountains. A few years ago I read John Krakauer’s book, “Into Thin Air,” the story of his expedition to the top of Mount Everest. Early in the book he explores the age-old question of “Why?” Why do some men and women have this avid drive to risk their lives—nearly 200 climbers have died attempting to reach Everest’s summit—and a great deal of money—a climber could spend over $60,000 to be guided to the top of the world—to stand on a very small piece of land in southern Asia?

Thinking logically, it seems very strange that climbers start at the bottom of the mountain, spend up to six weeks of perilous hiking to get to the summit, then trek all the way back down to end up right where they started. Wouldn’t it make more sense to hire a helicopter to drop them off at the top, leave them for a while to take a few pictures, then pick them up? So much less work, so much cheaper, and the inside of the helicopter is heated. So, why? The well-worn answer is, “Because it’s there.” That’s what they have been telling us for years. This answer may not make sense to many, but I believe it resonates with most runners. We train for hours and hours, sweating and straining to get in shape and to prepare for the next race. We get up early and hit the pavement or treadmill when the rest of our family is still sleeping. We push our bodies to painful limits in workouts then do the same even more painfully in a race. Whether you are a casual runner whose goal is to finish a race, or a fierce competitor who is out to better your time or beat your neighbor, there is something in most every runner that pushes us to leap some unseen hurdle; to scale an imposing wall; to conquer some massive Everest looming large above us.

A legitimate question could be asked: “With all this talk of pain and effort, do you even enjoy running?” Absolutely! Although running competitively or to reach a challenging goal involves a great deal of hard work and pain, running is also an enjoyable and exciting activity that provides incredible health benefits, the opportunity to experience nature up close and personal, to travel and see the world, and the time to think and meditate or listen to music, audio books, or podcasts in your own quiet world. And there is nothing like the feeling of freedom experienced when flying down the road with the sky above, the wind in your face, and nothing but thin shoe soles between you and the earth.

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MONDAY, 11:10 AM

Near the town of Natick, 10 miles into the race, behind the wall of enthusiastic spectators, a train rolls past on its way toward Boston. A fleeting thought tickles my brain—it would be so nice to be on that train heading to the city in comfort. But the thought is brief as I remember that I’m in the middle of something life-changing and monumental. Why would I want to take the easy way when I have the opportunity to be a part of something so much more purposeful than comfort, more meaningful than just getting to a destination, something bigger than my own small world? To borrow from Masters runner Roger Robinson, running is a celebration of life and health and freedom—the freedom to get somewhere in my own strength because I put in the time and effort to make it possible. And in getting to my goal, I can look back with the pride of accomplishment, feeling like a hero surrounded by thousands of other heroes who are celebrating that life and freedom with me.

Boston is a “Point to Point” marathon—the start is in Hopkinton and the finish is in downtown Boston, 26.2 miles away. Much of my thinking time (there’s plenty of it during 3 ½ hours of running) is spent navigating the turns to run the fewest number of steps (running the “tangent”) and aiming for the shadiest spots. I’m also wondering how much longer I’ll have the strength to keep the high fives going. Fortunately, a few miles into the race, the clouds appear to provide some relief, but the temperature hovers near 70. As the sweat continually runs down my face, I feel thankful for my lucky sweat rag—a Disney Lilo and Stitch washcloth my daughter gave me years ago that accompanies me in all of my races.

As I near 12 miles, I ponder a decision I’ve wrestled with from the start: I have purposefully held back my pace the first half of the race to have the strength to finish strong; to run a negative split (faster second half than first half). I want to pick up my pace at some point and decide that I’ll try this at the 14 mile mark. My mile splits to this point are a bit slower than usual and as I inventory my body, it feels like there might be enough in the tank to do this. However, with this being my first Boston Marathon, I have little understanding of what the next 7 miles are going to throw at me.

Near the halfway point, I hear a gradually-increasing roar that has an intensity unlike any heard in the previous 13 miles. I’d heard about the famous “Women of Wellesley” and their “Scream Tunnel”—I’m about to experience it up close. For over 100 years, the students of the all-women Wellesley College have lined the Boston Marathon course that runs alongside their school to scream and cheer and kiss and high-five the thousands of sweaty runners who cruise past their outstretched arms. As I motor down the slight downhill, my right hand held out to high-five as many hands as I can reach to acknowledge their undying support, I’m filled with an adrenaline rush as it feels again like these are hundreds of my adoring fans cheering for me. I’m only halfway through this grueling experience but for a brief minute, I feel like I could run forever. Three long miles later, I’m beaten back to reality by the equally famous hills of Boston.

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The marathon race is named after the ancient Greek city of Marathon. The story is told that in 490 B.C., the under-manned Greeks defeated a massive Persian army on the plains of Marathon. A Greek soldier by the name of Pheidippides was sent to the city of Athens, about 25 miles away. His goal was clear: deliver the good news of the victory. Legend has it that when he reached Athens he declared, “Rejoice, we conquer,” and collapsed to the ground. The purpose, and sanity, of every distance runner since has been in question.

A few years ago, the brother of a good friend of mine ran the Leadville 100—a 100-mile ultra marathon in the mountains of Colorado. The race starts at an altitude of 9,200 feet and ascends up to 12,600 feet. The winning time that year was 15 hours, 42 minutes, 59 seconds. Many may ask, “What is wrong with you?” Hundreds of athletes train for months or years for the annual Ironman Triathlon held in Hawaii each year—a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. 80 ultra-marathoners each summer brave the 120+-degree temperature that saturates Death Valley to compete in the Badwater Ultramarathon: 135 miles of nearly intolerable torture. My physical therapist is running 5 marathons in 5 days later this month. 31 runners ran 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 different continents in January of this year. Why? The answer, and motivation, may be different for each runner. But most of these athletes are driven by something more than total insanity or the desire for a finishing metal. They long for the challenge of the unattainable; the beating of the unbeatable; the accomplishment of a feat they have never done before. This challenge instills within the runner a drive to push his or her body, sometimes to the brink of wreckage, to achieve something considered utterly foolish to many.

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MONDAY, 11:57 AM

As we close in on 16 miles, a steep downhill provides some coasting relief and I’m thankful for the chance to take it easy for a brief moment. As the 16-mile marker comes into view, I notice a large electric sign notifying runners that there is a medical tent at each mile marker. A thought crosses my mind: Not needed, I hope.

A few steps after the bottom of that steep hill, a strange heaviness overwhelms the lower half of my body as my legs seem to pick up an extra 20 pounds. In reality, I’ve just encountered the first of the many monstrous and deadly Newton Hills that have contributed to the infamy of the Boston Marathon. I had heard somewhere in the past that the hills weren’t all that bad—I’m not sure what the person who said this was smoking but I’d like to set the record straight: the hills are absolutely dreadful! Other marathons can boast of higher and steeper hills, but on this 70 degree day, at this point in the race, the next 5 miles of uphills chew me up, swish me around, gargle me, and spew me out all over Commonwealth Avenue. As I ascend these mountains, one after the other, I repeatedly wonder, surely this must be “Heartbreak Hill,” the last of the killer hills. But no, they just keep coming. With each hill, I curse so many things: gravity, pain, heat, my pasty dry mouth, the injuries of the past few months that interrupted my training, even Kenny Stevens, my friend who talked me into running track in the 7th grade.

The one thing I don’t curse is the spectators, who continue their amazing support, cheering, encouraging, handing out ice, water, wet rags, and popsicles and holding signs about how wonderful we all are. Near the 17-mile mark I grab my second energy gel but before I rip it open to squirt it in my mouth, I hear someone say something about “no caffeine.” Caffeine is good, right—pick-me-up, instant energy, and all that? Realizing I need every milligram of energy I can get, I toss the non-caffeine pack aside and grab a caffeinated gel pack down the line. I gulp it down on a straightaway between hills, hoping for some kind of surge of super-hero strength to make it through the Himalayas I’m crossing.

Somewhere in this climbing excursion I glance at my watch and realize that if my name was Galen or Meb I’d just about be at the finish. I’m quite jealous of Galen and Meb because they’re there, and I’m here, with the evil hills still tearing me up. I want to stop and walk so badly. It would be so nice to provide some relief to my throbbing legs but I’ve run enough of these things to not question why I’m still pushing through. I know why: because it’s there. Because I have a goal. Because I know that any goal worth achieving takes hard work and intense effort. I’ve been here before and I know what it will feel like to cross the finish line. And remembering that feeling, I lean forward and press on, past the pain, past the doubt, past the fear, past the 20-mile marker.

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The first Boston Marathon, a 24.5 mile route that ran from Ashland to Boston, was won in 1897 by John McDermott in 2:55:10. In 1924 the course was lengthened to the Olympic standard 26.2 miles and the start was moved west to the present day starting city of Hopkinton.

In 1966, the first woman, Roberta Gibb, ran the full Boston Marathon unofficially, hiding in the bushes near the start. In 1967, Katherine Switzer became the first woman to be issued a race bib when she entered her initials instead of her full first name on the race application. When race officials recognized along the course that she was a woman, they tried unsuccessfully to remove her from the race. A photographer captured the scuffle and Katherine’s bold move went viral. She finished the race but her finish was not recognized officially. However, her brave defiance of the gender rules helped pave the way for official women entrants in 1972. Roberta and Katherine are now considered heroes and Katherine returned to run the 2017 Boston Marathon, celebrating the 50-year anniversary of her brave act. Of the approximate 27,000 participants in the 2017 race, over 45% were women.

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MONDAY, 12:41 PM

As I near the infamous Heartbreak Hill that looms ahead before the 21st mile marker, a generous volunteer hands me half a banana. Potassium—good for regulating fluids and preventing muscle cramps; just what the doctor ordered for this point in the race. I consume the fruit, hoping for a miraculous relieving of the pains in my legs. A mile later, I’m quite disappointed in Dole—the miles and the hills have proven victorious over the banana. Heartbreak Hill feels more like “Leg-Break Hill” as it reaches down deep into my quads and other upper leg muscles and breaks them into near submission. But as hard as it tries, it won’t break my heart. The realization that this is the last significant uphill keeps me moving to the crest—most of the rest of the way is downhill. The sign held by the spectator at the top of the hill praising me for conquering the beast helps to keep me pushing on. The realization that there are 21 miles behind me and only 5 miles in front is enough to keep my legs churning in a forward running motion, knowing that stopping is not an option in my driven mind and heart. I’ve beaten the hill that promised to break my heart and I’m not about to let 5 measly miles keep me from being a Boston Marathon finisher.

Just past the 21-mile mark I bypass the energy gel offerings, counting on the Gatorade, water, banana, and 2 previous gels to get me to Boylston Street. The crowd is still massive and growing as we near Boston. Thousands of cheering fans pack the sidewalks along the course, in some places three and four rows deep. I muscle up the strength to high five a few of them in appreciation for their giving up a few hours of their lives to support me and my new close and smelly friends.

Even though the road from Heartbreak Hill to the finish is mostly downhill, there are enough short uphills in miles 22-25 to provide cruel mini-tortures. As the pain in my legs intensifies, I regularly slow to a jog for a block or two to rest the muscles and joints then pick the pace back up for a few blocks. I run this pattern for the final few miles, focusing on some landmark such as a traffic light or a road sign as my slow-down or speed-up spot. What started as a 7:10 per mile pace 2 ½ hours ago has become an 8:20 pace—so much for my goal of a negative split. So much also for any chance of a personal best—the missed training, the heat, and the hills destroyed that goal quite some time ago.

But there are other goals and motivations pushing me forward with 4 miles to go. I definitely want to hit my “C” goal of breaking 3:30. And there’s this runner I keep passing on my faster surges who then passes me when I slow to a jog—for some hard-to-describe reason, I’d love to beat this unknown guy. I suppose it’s because, like the marathon itself, he’s “there,” begging to be beaten. Sure, it makes little sense but it’s a reality and a purpose. I also keep pushing on because quitting just isn’t in me today—finishing strong is. And isn’t that what this city, and this race, and running, and life are all about—tackling some challenging, difficult, seemingly insurmountable obstacle and conquering it? Pushing through exhaustion, discomfort, and pain is a part of achieving success in so many endeavors of life. It may not always be physical discomfort, but in proving to myself that I can persevere in this race, I grow in the confidence that I can persevere through any of the inevitable difficulties life throws at me and become a better version of myself with each challenge.

Yes, I run for so many reasons: health, fun, comradery, competition. I run marathons, in part because they mimic life and challenge me to push myself beyond the limits of what I may have thought possible; they help me realize that I can do just about anything I determine to do. Runners enter marathons with a dream, a goal in our hearts. For some, that goal is to finish the grueling trial; for some, the goal is to beat a previous time; other runners dream of winning their age group; some hope to cross the finish line without walking. We also have dreams in life—landing the ideal job, getting a promotion, writing a book, overcoming an addiction, being a great parent. Something about achieving my dream on the long and difficult road between Hopkinton and Boston on a hot day in April convinces me that I can conquer any challenge that crosses my path.

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The 1980 Boston Marathon is remembered for perhaps the world’s most famous sports cheater. Cuban American runner Rosie Ruiz was the first woman to cross the finish line and was declared the female champion. But upon further examination of her time, physical condition, photographs of the race, strange responses to questions (when asked about her training and if she ran intervals in workouts, she famously said, “I’m not sure what intervals are.”), and interviewing spectators, it was discovered that she jumped into the race near the finish line. A few days later, Canadian Jacqueline Gareau was declared the official winner. As of 2000, it is reported that Rosie still maintains she ran the entire race.

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MONDAY, 1:13 PM

As my back-and-forth friend and I near the 25-mile mark, historic Fenway Park is on my right but I barely notice it. I want to notice it; I want to enjoy all the historic and natural sights of this wonderful city; I want to show each of the half million spectators that have lined the course since Hopkinton how much I love them and appreciate their love for us. But the reality is that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs kicked in miles ago and breathing, mere survival, and finishing have booted most other desires to the sidelines. I realize that many in the race have probably run smarter than me and have plenty of reserves in their tank to more fully enjoy this experience—after all, one of running’s great benefits is the opportunities it affords to see and enjoy the world. But this being my first Boston, I expended most of my reserves a few miles back and I’m in survival mode; and survive I will. I don’t allow myself to consider any other option.

I grab my last few sips of Gatorade and dump one final cup of water over my head as we turn right off Beacon Street onto Commonwealth Avenue. The crowd is growing along with my excitement about spotting the iconic finish line. A few hundred yards down Commonwealth we hang a right on Hereford Street. Up ahead is the final left turn onto perhaps the most famous marathon finishing street in the world—Boylston Street. And being a marathon of surprises for first-timers, there’s one more little unexpected nugget ahead—a small uphill onto Boylston that nearly derails me.

As I make the turn, I do a quick inventory to assess my condition for the final 500 yards. As much as my legs cry out for it, I determine not to walk any one of those 500 steps. I can’t let myself down; I can’t let my fans down. Of course they don’t know me from 27,000 others they’ll cheer for today, but it kind of seems like each of the thousands of cheering Boylston Street Bostonians is rooting for me to finish strong.

This thought brings to mind an amazing aspect of distance running that separates it from just about any other sport. At 10:00 in the morning, I lined up to “compete” with some of the greatest runners in the world. I didn’t show up to simply watch them or get their autograph; I’m participating in the very same race they are. When could I ever compete on the football field with Tom Brady or go up against LeBron James on the court? Yet here I am, running in the same race as Olympic bronze medalist Galen Rupp, Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, and Kenyan great Edna Kiplagat. Sure I’ll never see them on the course and there’s no chance I’ll come close to their pace, but I’m running the same course in the very same event in which the world’s greats are competing. And perhaps even more remarkable, the same spectators who cheered for them over an hour earlier are now cheering for me, with the same enthusiasm and energy. It’s a rush like no other I know of in the world of sports. And remarkably, these same fans will be yelling with the same passion two hours later as the final runners turn onto Boylston Street. They’ll erupt in cheers for the runner with a prosthetic leg. They’ll root with admiration for the father pushing his handicapped son in a wheelchair. They will scream for the runner with only half an arm. And they’ll cheer when two runners stop to put their arms around a limping runner to help him cross the finish line.

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In 2013, the Boston Marathon made worldwide headlines when terrorism struck the cheering crowd surrounding the finish line on Boylston Street. 3 spectators died, including an 8-year-old boy, and 16 others lost one or more limbs when 2 bombs exploded near the finish. Eight minutes after the bombings, over 5000 runners who were still out on the course were directed by race officials to stop running. A four day manhunt by the Boston police resulted in one police officer and one of the two brothers who planted the bombs being killed and the other brother being captured—he is now in prison awaiting his death sentence.

In response to the terrible tragedy, the Boston community and the running community worldwide bonded together in unity in a movement that came to be known as “Boston Strong.”

The following year’s Boston Marathon was an epic and heroic event, not only because it displayed the resilience and bravery of the city of Boston and the 35,671 runners who ran but also because 38-year-old perennial favorite Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the race since 1983. Inspired by the names of those who had died in the 2013 bombings that were written on his race bib, Meb broke away from the lead pack midway through the race and was never caught.

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The beautiful bright blue arch above the famous finish line stripe calls out to me. Every step brings it closer to me. My body screams at me to let up, to coast in. I’ll still get the medal if I walk across the line. This isn’t going to be a PR anyway so what does it matter? But my mind and heart override the complaints of my deteriorating legs and sore feet. The competitor in me can’t let myself down. I know I have to give it everything that may still be left in me. I can hang on for one more minute.

With a quarter mile left, I find a final gear deep down. As if every swallow of Gatorade and water, the 2 energy gel packs, and the half of banana, along with the energy emanating from the cheering crowd, come together in my muscles and joints and send one final jolt to my legs. As I pass the 26-mile sign, I’m a reborn runner with a reserve of strength that propels me toward the finish line with a hobbling kick that drives me past a handful of runners.

Three hours and 25 minutes after I charged down the hill in Hopkinton, I surge across the blue and yellow finish line. Such a beautiful, embracing, celebrated line. So many emotions—relief, pride, an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. As I hobble through the finish chute, dozens of volunteers—those wonderful, beautiful volunteers—greet me with a warm smile and congratulations. I realize that these aren’t just volunteers checking a charity event off their to-do list. There is a look in their eyes that embraces me—a look of deep respect, for their city, for this historic race, for this old guy who pushed himself beyond the limits of sensibility to accomplish a goal set long ago and change his life forever.

So what is the answer to the why? I believe it’s something like this: In addition to the fun, the freedom, and the camaraderie, we run to fulfill a great longing to attain something that surpasses the typical; to give our all for something we set out to accomplish. And in that accomplishment, and the preparation it takes to achieve it, a confidence is built deep inside that embraces the truth that anything else in life we desire to achieve will be possible.

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Hillary Clinton – A Summary of Concerns

The election is tomorrow and I find myself feeling sad today that there isn’t a candidate whom I can throw my full support behind. I’m not a big fan of Donald Trump, although I do support some of his policies such as lowering tax rates for all, lowering the corporate tax rate, and reducing governmental regulations. However, if you’ve been reading my blog posts, you know that I have huge concerns with the plans that Hillary Clinton has for America. Yes, the reported scandals that surround her are very concerning, but I hope that when America goes to the polls tomorrow, voters will consider the potential damaging effects her proposed policies could have on America.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been blogging about these policies; if you have some time before you vote, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read these analyses, either beginning with the one at this link (or any earlier ones: http://bit.ly/HillaryFairShare. Or feel free to jump around the blog site to pick out a topic you may be wondering about.

Here is a one paragraph summary of the past few weeks’ posts that detail my concerns with Hillary Clinton’s plans for America: Based on her policy statements regarding health care, taxes, government spending, climate change, and many other issues, Hillary believes the government should play a major role in taking care of many of the concerns we see in America today. But in my understanding of freedom, the Constitution, and the government’s track record of waste and mismanagement, and in my study of the historical effects of excessive government intervention in both America and in many other countries, I believe that relying on the government to handle so many issues is unwise, unhealthy, and a great threat to the amazing freedom we so often take for granted.

My belief in the role of government is far different than Hillary’s. I would like to see the federal government only get involved if individuals, communities, and states can’t take care of an issue on their own; a strong, defensive military is one example of this. Hillary’s view, however, seems to be this: if the federal government can do something about a situation, they should often step in and get involved. This can be a dangerous, extremely expensive (increasing the tax burden on all of us) road to travel; a road that could have no end (exemplified by America’s current $19 trillion debt).

Her words and actions seem to indicate that she thinks those in Washington know best how to manage many aspects of our lives. In my opinion, a political philosophy such as this is an insult to the power of individuals to live their lives as they see fit. It is also a threat to our free society to implement so many policies that involve federal government intervention into private lives.

I don’t oppose all of Hillary Clinton’s policies—I support some of her plans to care for our veterans; some of her policies to combat terrorism could be effective. But her emphasis on greatly increasing the size and scope of the federal government is greatly concerning. Please take this into account as you vote tomorrow.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read these posts the past few weeks.

Government Spending – Is it Good for the Government to be in the Job-Creating Business?

Hillary Clinton has made it very clear that she would like the federal government to play an active role in the creation of jobs, including jobs that will help improve America’s infrastructure. Her policy statements include these:

  • “In my first 100 days as president, I will work with both parties to pass a comprehensive plan to create the next generation of good jobs. Now the heart of my plan will be the biggest investment in American infrastructure in decades, including establishing an infrastructure bank that will bring private sector dollars off the sidelines and put them to work there.”
  • “Clinton would increase federal infrastructure funding by $275 billion over a five-year period, fully paying for these investments through business tax reform.”

Secretary Clinton has provided details into what infrastructure she wants to build. Rather than analyze each project, however, I’d like to address the idea of governmental building of infrastructure in general.

This is yet another issue I have wrestled with for a long time. Certainly very good things have come from government’s investment in America’s infrastructure: The interstate system, the Erie Canal, numerous bridges, many technological advances supported by the government, airports, etc. However, as with many of Hillary’s policies, I’m still very leery of the efficiency of government involvement in economic matters and continue to wonder if some of their great successes could have been accomplished much more efficiently and effectively in the private sector. Some historical anecdotes will help me explain my wondering.

  • A 2012 New York Times article by Michael Grabell (along with many other studies) examined the “shovel-ready” jobs that President Obama touted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and found that the stimulus did little to bring about a sustained economic recovery. Far too many projects stumbled and struggled simply because of politics, government inefficiency, and bureaucracy. Much of the money doled out to states went unused or wasted. Rules and regulations imposed by bureaucratic officials stalled many projects. Hillary has stated that she will carefully monitor where the money is spent but I’m not convinced that her plans will result in any different outcome than many of President Obama’s infrastructure building projects.

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that a small percentage of the money intended to be spent on infrastructure in the stimulus package was actually spent on infrastructure. Yes, jobs were created but these jobs were created with tax dollars taken out of the economy then put back into the economy—would it have made more sense to let that money just stay in the private economic sector to be put to use creating jobs? Mr. Grabell came to the conclusion during his study that yes, the “government can create jobs—it just doesn’t often do it well.”

  • Here are some examples of the inefficiency exhibited in the government-sponsored projects created by the 2009 stimulus package:
    • Perkins, Oklahoma was given $1.445 million toward the cost of a new wastewater treatment facility. The federal conditions that came with the money increased the project’s cost from $5.26 million to $7.2 million.
    • The home airport of Congressman Jack Murtha in Johnstown, PA received $800,000 to install a mechanical luggage carousel for the three flights and 20 passengers it serves each day.
    • Businessofgovernement.org reported that there could have been as much as $55 billion of the stimulus package money that was lost to fraud or abuse.

(Recognizing that some of you reading this may not have read earlier posts, I’ll acknowledge again that as soon as some read these stats, they will be able to list stats that back their belief that the stimulus package created good jobs—which I don’t deny—and was great for the economy. This is why I mentioned in my first post that my purpose for listing stats is not to prove a point, but to recognize that my big picture philosophy on these issues has factual, statistical evidence to back it up.)

  • There are a couple of examples from the “Green Energy” jobs created or supported by President Obama that I would like to mention also:
    • The most publicized waste of taxpayer money for green jobs was the Solyndra project. Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer, was granted a guaranteed government loan of $535 million in 2009 then filed for bankruptcy in 2011. A great deal of evidence has surfaced that the government did an extremely poor job of checking into Solyndra’s financial stability before the loan was granted. Could it be that this loan was granted more because there was an agenda to fulfill than because it was a sound investment?
    • Other examples of defaulted government green energy loans include Abound Manufacturing Solar, LLC, Beacon Power, and Fisker Automotive, Inc. One report shows that about $1 billion in loans under President Obama’s plan have defaulted; Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators said that many of the projects funded were risky from the start and had shaky credit ratings.

In fairness to President Obama’s plans, many of the green energy companies that were invested in are doing fine. And I don’t believe that all government infrastructure spending is bad. However, it seems that infrastructure investment will only contribute to economic growth if it is allocated to high-value projects and implemented in a cost-effective manner. Even though Hillary claims this practice will be followed, decades of experience show that federal involvement in infrastructure so often leads to waste and inefficiency:

  • Money often gets misallocated based on politics, and projects get bogged down in mismanagement and excessive costs; federal investments are often based on political “pork-barrel” factors rather than actual marketplace demands.
  • Investment is often mismanaged. Federal agencies typically don’t have the same strong incentives that businesses do to ensure that infrastructure projects are constructed and operated efficiently; so many projects go over budget. One famous example of this was “The Big Dig” tunnel in Boston in the 1990’s. 2/3 of this project was funded by the federal government and the project ended up costing 5 times more than projected.

Going back a few decades, in 1971, the government authorized the building of the  Clinch River Breeder Reactor, estimated to cost $400 million. The project went through $8 billion before it was cancelled, the reactor never completed.

  • Another problem with federal infrastructure spending is that it usually comes piled high with tons of regulations, all of which add to the cost. Often, federal regulations impose one-size-fits-all solutions on states even though the individual states may have diverse infrastructure needs.

An argument can certainly be raised here: bad business decisions are made in the private sector business world all the time, so what’s the difference? I see many big differences. For example, in the private sector, businesses are answerable to stockholders and consumers when poor decisions are made. When private investors invest in projects, they typically do a great deal of background work to make sure the investment is solid. The government often invests based on political agendas. When private businesses lose great sums of money, they risk going under. The government never goes under; if they lose great sums of money in an investment they simply write it off to taxpayer expense—in a sense, they’re playing with other people’s money.

The last seven years are quite telling regarding the success of the government building infrastructure and creating new jobs: President Obama has been a huge advocate of growing our economy and creating jobs through government-funded infrastructure growth and he has implemented many policies toward this end. Yet, our economy is still crawling at an anemic pace and unemployment is still very high (see some statistics quoted in an earlier blog title “Fair Share Taxing…”). It doesn’t appear that this practice is effective so why does Hillary Clinton plan to expand on it? It certainly appears to be a bad formula for jumpstarting the economy but politicians like Hillary, President Obama, Bernie Sanders, and many others keep marching down this quite ineffective path.

Here is a foundational truth that should always be considered: When the primary purpose of the building of infrastructure is to create jobs, what typically happens is that projects will be invented to provide the jobs. This is very different than beginning a project that is deemed necessary. In fact, why do Hillary and President Obama and Bernie even advance the notion of it being the government’s responsibility to create jobs? Where is this in the Constitution? Jobs are best created in the economic private sector and the best thing the government can do is to get out of the way and simply help by passing legislation that fosters economic growth, not government involvement (which, I must say again, is only funded by taxpayer dollars—money from you and me). If a job is created because it was decided that an infrastructure project was necessary and best performed by the government, that’s great.

So what is the best way to decide if the government should get involved? How about we find a reasonable balance? In the area of government building infrastructure, each project should be looked at very carefully. Perhaps it would be effective to always ask this question: Is the project too big for a private company to handle? If so, we shouldn’t assume the government has to do it, but only in these situations should it be considered. Otherwise, let the private sector handle it. The government is in charge of our military because they’re really the only entity that can do this effectively (and the Constitution backs this up). Also, the government has led the way in the space industry, and this was probably a good thing. (However, private corporations are now in the business of developing rockets and if they are successful, I would be all for turning over space exploration to the private sector, or at least a major portion of it.)

Many countries are moving to more privatization of infrastructure. They are recognizing that when private businesses are taking the risks and putting their profits on the line, the funding for projects is more likely to be spent on high-return projects and completed in a very efficient manner. Chris Edwards states (at http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/infrastructure-investment), “U.S. and foreign studies have found that privately financed infrastructure projects are more likely to be completed on time and on budget than traditional government projects.” He states that a “Brookings Institution study noted that the usual process of government investing decouples the construction from the future management of facilities, which results in contractors having little incentive to build projects that minimize long-term costs.” Mr. Edwards notes that “Public-Private Partnerships,” which shift various elements of financing, management, operations, and project risk to the private sector, help to solve this decoupling problem “because the same company both builds and operates new facilities.” Although I didn’t verify all of the points made in Mr. Edward’s article, his plan and logic make so much sense to me from an economic and business perspective. Private infrastructure building has proven very successful in our history. City transit systems used to be largely private. Prior to the 20th century, private turnpike companies built thousands of miles of roads. To quote Chris Edwards once more, “America has always been a land of entrepreneurs looking for new opportunities. Let’s give entrepreneurs a crack at improving the nation’s infrastructure by reducing subsidies and regulations, and encouraging market-based efforts to tackle our infrastructure challenges.”

To summarize this difficult topic, it seems very logical to me for the government to move in the direction of releasing much of its control over America’s infrastructure to the states and local governments, and especially to the private sector (perhaps utilizing more “Public-Private Partnerships”), not to get even more enmeshed in infrastructure building, as is suggested by Hillary Clinton’s plans. As I’ve mentioned in many other posts, it appears that when Hillary looks at a challenge or problem in America, her default action is to implement a government program, which can only be implemented at taxpayer expense and at the expense of freedom (please see an earlier post titled: “Freedom, Property Rights, & Patriotism” for more on this concept). This is my primary concern with a Clinton presidency. I would much prefer a president whose default action is to utilize the power of the free market and private enterprise to deal with the challenges we face as Americans.

Tomorrow, the day before the election, I’ll summarize all of my concerns with the policies of Hillary Clinton. Thanks so much for reading.

Climate Change & Politics – Part 2

In regard to climate change, the question was posed yesterday: Is it possible that the reason many scientists (and the media) promote alarmist, human-influenced climate change and tend to downplay scientific research that provides evidence to the contrary (please see yesterday’s post for some of this evidence) is that there are grants, government favors, and benefits available to those who support the former? Consider this: In 2007, Congress appropriated $5,856,000 for the National Academy of Sciences to complete a climate change study; the organization then sold its conclusions in three separate report sections at $44 per download. As Dr. Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at MIT, stated regarding the government’s possible agenda on this topic, “…regardless of evidence, the answer is predetermined. If government wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide.” I believe his assessment may have quite a bit of truth in it. In addition to the possible money and favors, it’s just plain unpopular in many circles to state anything different. I suspect that many universities put pressure on their professors to lean in one direction because that’s where the grants and public opinion are; in that kind of environment, it seems logical to me that many scientists will be looking for evidence that favors a particular view and may not be entirely unbiased in their research (possibly highlighting some evidence, ignoring other evidence, and jumping to conclusions prematurely).

My suspicions lead me to wonder if there may be another reason so many scientists jump to the alarmist view of climate change so readily: There seems to be a wave of “let’s blame America for the problems of the world” today in the political and academic arena; this issue fits right in with that sentiment. It’s somewhat popular to find fault with America and since we are a major producer of goods for the world and a very wealthy nation, looking for scientific evidence that we pollute too much and are harming the world is in vogue. I believe this shades the research of many scientists as well. Again, these are my opinions (not just blind opinions, but based on research) and I readily accept that many will disagree with me.

“So what’s the big deal?” you may ask. “Why not just accept that many scientists see this as a big problem that we should do something about? Even if their estimations aren’t entirely accurate, isn’t taking care of our planet important?” Absolutely it’s a good idea to take care of our planet. I support the idea of pursuing green energy sources, promoting recycling, and reasonably reducing pollution. But considering what I know at this time, I don’t support many of the extreme measures that many in government (President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and so many others) are promoting because many of these measures will impose huge burdens on our economy, on scientific research, and on the welfare of the world.

  • The availability of efficient energy sources greatly impacts the welfare of the entire world since it is a key foundation for economic activity. The relatively easy access of carbon-emitting fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas has contributed immeasurably to improved health, safety, ingenuity, prosperity (not just for Americans but for much of the planet), comfort, and improved living conditions around the world. I wish for this truth to be more taken into account when laws are considered that limit the access and use of these fuel sources. To assume the world is in severe danger due to these fuel sources and then to limit their use, without factoring in the negative impact on the economy, the social implications, the livelihood of so many, etc. seems to be extremely unwise. To simply move ahead with climate change regulations and restrictions, without factoring in the many consequences of these regulations, could bring great harm to our world.
  • Greatly regulating and restricting these energy sources will lead to huge increases in the cost of energy. Higher energy costs will not just affect businesses like car manufacturers, oil companies, and other energy producers; it will affect all of us. We will see higher home energy costs, higher prices at the gas pump, higher automobile prices, etc. And the increased costs that do fall on businesses can’t just simply be absorbed by businesses without having a big effect on all of us—they will either pass those costs on to consumers or they will have to limit their growth or lay off workers or cut wages or benefits. At a time when we are, justifiably so, concerned about our economy and jobs and helping the lower and middle classes, is it wise to pass legislation that will lead to much higher costs for everyday goods and services, especially when the reasoning for these regulations and restrictions is based on science that is not necessarily definitive?
  • In response to climate change, President Obama (and Hillary Clinton has made it clear that she will build on the work of President Obama in this area) would like to enact plans to hugely cut carbon emissions in the next 10 years. This sounds great, until we consider the economic impact this will most likely have on everyone. Yes this will motivate car manufacturers and energy providers to work harder to produce cars and trucks and energy that are more fuel efficient and planet-friendly, but at what cost to each person? Many feel that this cost is justified; I’m not so sure, at least not to the degree that Hillary does.

I would say to those who believe that fossil fuels need to be phased out soon that a very strong case can be made that the earth is a much safer, more livable planet because of the advances that have come about in large part due to the use of fossil fuels. Humans (not just Americans) owe much of our ability to survive harsh winters, arid deserts, and other naturally dangerous environments to these fossil fuels. Is this a perfect source of power? No. Should we pursue alternative forms of energy? Absolutely. But it’s so important to weigh the positives with the negatives rather than to simply move forward with a plan that replaces fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

In regard to this, many other questions and thoughts come to my mind:

  • If estimates regarding how much proposed EPA regulations could cost the world (I’ve seen estimates of anywhere from 1% GDP to 11% GDP by 2100) are anywhere close to accurate, how greatly will this affect the millions of poor around the world who live with little or no electricity or clean water?
  • Is it really a good idea to not approve the Keystone pipeline when we’re looking for ways to create new jobs and become energy independent?
  • I wonder what kind of cancer or AIDS (or name the disease) research could be funded by the money that is instead being spent on combatting climate change? Is America and the world really tackling “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world?” I have my doubts.
  • Hillary states that because of climate change, “Sea levels are rising; ice caps are melting…” These are questionable statements (see some scientific statements in yesterday’s post), especially in light of the fact that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013 report showed that global warming has dramatically slowed or stopped in the last 15 years or so. Even the EPA admitted in 2015 that if President Obama’s Climate Action Plan were implemented, the global temperature would only be reduced by about .015 degrees C. I realize that many say we have to start somewhere, and if the United States leads the way, other nations will follow and the results will be more dramatic. But again, these temperature estimations are based largely on speculations.

I state all of this, not to try to prove that climate change isn’t a reality but to show that there are so many conflicting reports floating around that I question the wisdom of instituting dramatic regulations that will negatively affect so many in so many ways based on quite debatable science. I want my kids to grow up in a world with clean air and water; but I also want my kids to have the opportunity to have a good job in a free, thriving economy in which they can most effectively contribute to the betterment of the world. I would like to see us balance our care for the environment with great care for our economy as well. Yes, I believe we should work toward clean energy, but at a sensible, reasonable pace that doesn’t ignore the value and economic benefits of our existing sources of life-enhancing energy. We can trust the free market and people (through education, science, creative innovation, protests, etc.) to move in the right direction in regard to the environment. I support reasonable anti-pollution standards but not drastic measures that could bring many negative consequences to the world. As with most things, I would rather we err on the side of freedom, not control.

Finally, a country with a healthy economy has the resources to research and pay for environmental improvements. Look at how far we’ve come in regard to pollution, in large part because we have had the resources to invest in environmentally safer methods for advancing progress. The countries that have done the most for a clean environment are countries with great freedoms and free markets that allow for exploration and innovations to develop procedures and practices that are better for the environment. That innovation, in an environment of economic freedom, will do far more to lead to a cleaner world than stifling, economically damaging, forcibly-applied regulations. Is this a perfect way to go about reducing pollution? No. But I believe it’s a better approach than over-regulation based on science that often doesn’t factor in all research.

These are my thoughts on the theory of climate change based on what I understand today—I plan on keeping my eyes and ears open to additional research and will be open to modifying and fine tuning my views in the future.

Tomorrow’s blog will address another big government spending issue that Hillary Clinton plans to pursue.

Climate Change & Politics – Part 1

“Climate Change” certainly ranks high on the list of controversial topics in today’s politically-charged environment. Truth, fiction, misunderstanding, misleading statements, and politics all jumble together in discussions of this issue. It is a tough issue to tackle in a blog post but I’d like to take a few minutes to sort through some of the mess.

Hillary Clinton has said the following about climate change:

  • “Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time. It threatens our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures.”
  • “We Democrats agree that climate change is an urgent threat. And it requires an aggressive response that can make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” (Stated in an April, 2016 speech.)
  • In September 2014, at Sen. Harry Reid’s National Clean Energy Summit, Hillary called climate change “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.”
  • Secretary Clinton said in 2014: “The science of climate change is unforgiving, no matter what the deniers may say. Sea levels are rising; ice caps are melting; storms, droughts, and wildfires are wreaking havoc. … If we act decisively now we can still head off the most catastrophic consequences …”
  • Hillary is opposed to the development of the Keystone pipeline; in March she stated that her administration would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business;” Hillary has made statements indicating that she opposes offshore drilling in many locations.

I sincerely want our earth to be taken care of and for all of us to reduce pollution and waste as much as we can. But, as with just about every topic I’ve written about in recent blogs about Hillary Clinton’s policies (and I hope you will read some of the earlier posts), I believe there is much more to the story than what we hear from politicians, activists, and in social media. This is another of those topics that could take up an entire book and I still have much to learn about it. I’ve been reading both sides of the debate and would like to simply point out a few things here that I’ve found then tie these findings back to Hillary’s proposed policies.

In my reading, I came across a wonderfully balanced summary of the topic of climate change, written by climatologist Cliff Harris and meteorologist Randy Mann. Here are a few statements of theirs (quoted from: http://www.longrangeweather.com/global_temperatures.htm

“Until the early to mid-2000s, global temperatures were more than a degree Fahrenheit warmer when compared to the overall 20th Century mean. From August of 2007 through February of 2008, the Earth’s mean reading dropped to near the 200-year average temperature of 57 degrees. Since that time, readings have rebounded to the highest levels in recorded history in 2014 and 2015.

“We, Cliff Harris and Randy Mann, believe that the warming and even the cooling of global temperatures are the result of long-term climatic cycles, solar activity, sea-surface temperature patterns and more. However, Mankind’s activities of the burning of fossil fuels, massive deforestations, the replacing of grassy surfaces with asphalt and concrete, the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect,’ are making conditions worse and this will ultimately enhance the Earth’s warming process down the meteorological roadway in the next several decades.

“From the late 1940s through the early 1970s, a climate research organization called the Weather Science Foundation of Crystal Lake, Illinois, determined that the planet’s warm, cold, wet and dry periods were the result of alternating short-term and long-term climatic cycles…

“By 2020, some scientists state that solar activity will plummet once again that could lead to much colder weather across the globe. This recent “cool spell,” though, may have only been a brief interruption to the Earth’s overall warming trend. Only time will tell (emphasis mine).

“But, we should remember, that the Earth’s coldest periods have usually followed excessive warmth. Such was the case when our planet moved from the Medieval Warm Period between 900 and 1300 A.D. to the sudden ‘Little Ice Age,’ which peaked in the 17th Century. Since 2,500 B.C., there have been at least 78 major climate changes worldwide, including two major changes in just the past 40 years.

“By the end of this 21st Century, a cool down may occur that could ultimately lead to expanding glaciers worldwide, even in the mid-latitudes. Based on long-term climatic data, these major ice ages have recurred about every 11,500 years. The last extensive ice age was approximately 11,500 years ago, so we may be due again sometime soon. But, only time will tell.”

I appreciate their study because they analyze the evidence realistically, recognize that for centuries the earth has gone through quite dramatic cycles that didn’t much involve human behavior, and state that these cycles will most likely continue to exist. They also predict that we may have another major cool down later this century. And yes, they acknowledge that human activity may affect the earth’s temperature down the road, but “only time will tell.” My interpretation of their results, also based on many other scientific findings I’ve read, is that it is important to be careful to take care of our planet but that the situation is not all doom and gloom (most likely not “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world,” as Hillary stated) and may not require dramatic changes that negatively impact the world and greatly affect our livelihood and economy.

I see a big problem with simply accepting drastic, imminent climate change, brought about by human actions, as an undisputed fact. First, it ignores a great deal of scientific research that denies that human activity has much at all to do with global warming or cooling or other climactic events. There are many respected scientists who have weighed in on this.

  • Professor Lee Woodcock of the University of Manchester said this in 2014: “The theory of ‘man-made climate change’ is an unsubstantiated hypothesis…There is no reproducible scientific evidence CO2 has significantly increased in the last 100 years…”
  • Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Ivar Giaever is quoted as saying, “I would say that basically global warming is a non-problem.”
  • A 2014 survey published in the American Meteorological Society newsletter (http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00091.1) showed that a significant number of meteorologists do not accept the “fact” that human activity contributes to global warming.

Am I saying that these scientists are right and the others are wrong? Not at all. I do find it very interesting that the media tends to not report on what these scientists have to say, instead focusing on the work of the scientists who support the idea that the earth is dramatically changing and that we need to take extreme action soon. (In regard to this, I’m focusing more on the other side of this issue in this writing, not because I’m trying to prove the other side right but because it’s a side that isn’t represented much in social media or the news of today. I strongly encourage you to do your own research on this topic, reading studies that represent many different sides of the issue.)

As far as some evidence that has arisen that tends to downplay the certainty of dramatic climate change, here are just 3 examples from the studies I’ve read:

  • Contrary to the predictions made a few years ago that were used as evidence of potentially disastrous global warming, both the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice has been increasing in volume the past few years. Some might argue that this doesn’t disprove global warming but that sea ice volume is quite cyclical. This is kind of the point many are making about climate change—the earth clearly seems to follow cycles in regard to temperature, so to implement significant policies that greatly affect the world economy and lives of billions based on seemingly short-term observations may be a bit unwise.
  • A 2009 report written by the Polish Academy of Sciences PAN Committee of Geological Sciences stated that the purported climate consensus argument is becoming increasingly shaky. The report stated that “Over the past 400 thousand years – even without human intervention – the level of CO2 in the air, based on the Antarctic ice cores, has already been similar four times, and even higher than the current value…” (They were basically saying that it’s not necessarily a fact that the levels of CO2 we see today are all the result of man-made intervention.)
  • More and more evidence is coming out that much of the data used to prove that the earth has been warming has been strategically adjusted (see a report at: http://dailycaller.com/2016/01/28/300-scientists-want-noaa-to-stop-hiding-its-global-warming-data/) in favor of warming trends. In other words, some analysts are using faulty data in their analyses.

I realize there are many, many scientists who claim that climate change presents a dire threat to our planet and I’m not expert enough to try to discredit them. But I do wonder this: Why do we hear in the media and from politicians so much more about the scientists who perpetuate this threat and so little from the equally qualified scientists who state that the evidence is sparse, at best, that we are on a path to big trouble? As with so many issues, I believe the reality lies somewhere between the two sides. I also suspect, based on much reading and listening, that there is a significant political agenda and quite a bit of money and prestige to be had in supporting the threat of climate change. Could there be grants, government favors, and all sorts of benefits available to those who support the cause? I believe there could be—we’ll look at this in more detail tomorrow.

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Replace Obamacare With What?

Hillary Clinton wants to keep Obamacare in place and even build on it. Hard to believe with all of the negatives surrounding the Affordable Care Act (see the previous two days’ posts for details about this). Most Republicans, including Donald Trump, want to repeal and replace it. But replace it with what? Not many have said much about alternatives to Obamacare. With that in mind, here are a few ideas that capitalize on free market principles to improve our pre-Obamacare health care system with the goal of improving efficiency and care, reducing costs, and making health care coverage more accessible and affordable to millions more Americans. Yes, these represent more of a long-term, big picture approach, but isn’t it time to start exploring these types of solutions rather than simply handing the solution over to the federal government?

(Side Note: If this is the first post of mine you are reading, I encourage you to go back to previous posts that delve into many of Hillary Clinton’s policies—not the scandals that are filling the media today, but her actual policy statements—that I believe would be very damaging to America. My analyses of the plans she wants to implement as president are based on a deep appreciation for freedom and a belief that her policies are an affront to the great liberty we enjoy in this country.)

  • Even though Marco Rubio is long gone from the presidential race, I like some of his ideas for keeping health care costs down and making it more affordable for more Americans. Here are a few of his ideas:
    • Reform insurance regulations to lower costs, encourage innovation, and protect the vulnerable. This includes transferring regulatory powers from the federal government to the states and allowing states to devise innovative solutions to the problems.
    • Promote innovation in the Medicaid program by giving states a per-capita block grant, which preserves funding for Medicaid’s unique populations while freeing states from Washington mandates. This could go a long way toward putting Medicaid into each state’s hands, where I believe it should be (more localized, better accountability, etc.).
    • Americans should be able to purchase coverage across state lines so they can seek out affordable coverage regardless of where they live. This is an action that many politicians have supported and would do a great deal to help prevent people from losing their insurance coverage when they move.
  • Consumer-centered products like Health Savings Accounts should be encouraged and expanded. My family pays many of our out-of-pocket medical expenses with a pre-tax health savings account and it works great for us. I would like to see more flexibility added to the use of Health Savings Accounts, such as allowing them to be used to pay for insurance premiums and allowing them to be used to pay for over-the-counter medicine, an option that was removed when the Affordable Care Act was passed. Health savings accounts’ success, in my opinion, is based largely on the logical truth that the more people are responsible for their own health care costs, the more likely they are to seek out more efficient, cost-effective, quality care.
  • Reform medical malpractice capabilities. One idea is to consider ending “American Rule” regarding civil legal cases. With American Rule, in effect in many states, each side in a civil legal case pays its own court costs regardless of outcome. This isn’t the case everywhere—in many places, the loser in a civil case has to pay the court costs of both sides. Might this reduce the number of “frivolous” lawsuits against doctors and therefore lower malpractice insurance and health care costs in general? (This isn’t to diminish the reality that citizens should have the right to pursue legitimate malpractice cases when they have been wronged by negligence.)
  • A number of creative health care alternatives have arisen in America in the past few years, including:
    • Medi-Share (essentially a health care cooperative): Under Medi-Share plans, families or individuals generally are responsible for regular medical costs, such as annual check-ups. Bills for unexpected illnesses or accidents are eligible for “sharing” by the group. Nationwide networks of Medi-Share participants help share each other’s major medical bills through what is known as health care sharing ministries.
    • Direct-Care Medical Homes: For example, with Seattle-based Qliance Medical Management, in lieu of insurance, members pay a monthly membership fee ranging from $39 to $79, determined on a sliding scale based on age. For this fee, they receive unrestricted access to all routine care, including blood tests, women’s health services, pediatric care, broken bones and ongoing management of chronic illnesses. With such a low monthly payment, participants can potentially save money that can be available for more expensive health costs, such as unexpected surgery. With a plan like this, it is recognized that most participants would still need a lower cost “catastrophic” health insurance policy to cover unforeseen surgeries or hospitalization.

Hillary Clinton and I share the same goal: to see more Americans able to get quality health insurance coverage. However, I believe this is achieved much more effectively by utilizing free market principles and not by grossly expanding the power and scope of government. Obamacare represents the mess and cost ineffectiveness that so often occurs when the government steps into a realm best left to the private sector. For those who are not covered by a plan, there is already a built-in safety net: Medicaid and Medicare are there to help many and most hospitals will treat emergencies for anyone. Is this ideal? No. But I believe the path to making it more ideal is found in making adjustments to the market and our already great system with the effect that health care will be more affordable for all.

Tomorrow, let’s tackle Hillary Clinton’s plans to deal with “Climate Change.” See you then.

Health Care – There is a Better Way

With all of the negatives of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) coming out lately, I don’t quite understand why many still support the idea that this much government involvement in an industry as immense as health care is a good idea. I mentioned a few of these negatives yesterday; here are a few more:

  • The participation of many health insurance companies in Obamacare is coming to an end. For example, UnitedHealthcare, the U.S.’s largest health insurer, says that it is considering quitting Obamacare in 2017 because they are realizing they can’t make money on the exchanges. Aetna insurance announced in August that it will stop offering policies on the Obamacare exchanges in 11 of the 15 states in which they operate. Aetna noted that it has lost $430 million in its individual policies unit since the exchanges opened in 2014. Other insurance companies have made similar decisions. (There are, however, some insurance companies who have stated their commitment to maintaining their presence in the exchanges and have said that their business has performed as expected in the exchange marketplace.)
  • A key federal program designed to cushion health insurers’ risks in the Obamacare exchanges has a massive shortfall, which could throw some insurers into a financial mess. Insurers requested $2.87 billion in so-called “risk corridors” payments for 2014, but will only receive $362 million, or 12.6%, said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which oversees Obamacare.
  • Story after story is emerging of people who have lost their insurance or have experienced large increases in premiums across the country (according to one report, half the states that offer Obamacare plans saw premium increases of 30% or more in 2016 – http://time.com/4466081/broken-obamacare-promises/). Even greater increases are expected next year.
  • Space limits me from going into details about so many other negative results of Obamacare such as how many Americans have had to change doctors, how many of the newly-insured are actually getting insurance through Medicaid now, which brings with it the reality that many doctors refuse new Medicaid patients, and on and on.

With all of these negative outcomes of the Affordable Care Act, this nagging question hovers: Has it been the plan of many in Washington all along to use Obamacare as a springboard to moving to a single-payer plan? Since a blend of government plans and private industry plans just isn’t working, are there some in Washington who will soon push for single-payer, using the logic that they tried to keep the private insurance companies in this but it’s just not working well, so it would be best to just let the government come in to save the day and take over the entire industry? I have great concern that this may be the case.

With this thought in mind, and recognizing that Bernie Sanders made a big push for a single-payer plan, I did a bit of studying of the health care plans of other countries that utilize a single-payer, universal health care plan. As expected, in my study of the health care systems in Canada and Great Britain, I heard and read about both positive and negative aspects of these systems. Many residents of Canada absolutely love their system and say that the long wait times and poor care that are claimed by opponents of “socialized medicine” are simply myths. Others from Canada will say these problems are realities. Here are a few brief facts and anecdotes I discovered:

  • Everyone in the “socialized” countries I read about is covered by the government’s health care plan.
  • Some say that doctors in Canada have lower overhead costs and generally better working conditions than American doctors.
  • It appears that Canadians can, for the most part, pick their own doctors, just like in America.
  • Doctors are limited in how much they can charge (it is mostly dictated by the government) so their earning potential may be limited.
  • The tax rate is quite high in Canada to cover the cost of the health care.
  • I have heard several stories about long wait times in Canada to receive care. Whether this is the norm or not, I’m not sure, but here is one true story: An Ontario man in 2006 was told by a medical professional in Canada, after he reported having seizures, that he would have to wait four and a half months to get an MRI. He even offered to pay for the procedure out of his pocket but was denied. He decided to head to Buffalo, NY and was diagnosed within a few days with a brain tumor. He headed back to Canada with the results and was told he would have to wait almost three months for surgery. He went back to Buffalo and had the surgery within about a week. I tell this story not to say that this is the norm in Canada but to point out that problems exist there with their system just like problems exist in the US with our system.
  • In Great Britain, according to generationaldynamics.com, their National Health System is in quite a financial crisis. The health care providers are forecasting a deficit of over $3 billion dollars in 2015-2016.

It is apparent that the universal, single-payer type health care systems in other countries have both good and bad elements. Regarding America’s ability to effectively sustain a government-run, universal healthcare system, some countries are finding it very difficult to continue funding these plans—I believe America would discover the same to be true eventually. Yes, everyone is covered, but it seems that countries are struggling to pay for all of it; and there is at least some evidence that the quality of care may be suffering some as well. In other words, it’s not utopia.

Government programs such as Obamacare require huge taxpayer expenses to build massive bureaucracies and enforce restrictive regulations that bring a large element of uncertainty and insecurity to the free market. How do these affect the market negatively? Consider this: look at what happens to the price of gas within a day of some uncertainty regarding the Middle East oil supply. The price doesn’t shoot up because the gasoline manufacturers are suddenly hit with higher prices that day; it fluctuates because of the speculation that something challenging is coming. Similar things happen in our everyday economy when government intrudes into the economic world—the uncertainty of what may happen often has a strangling, stifling effect that inhibits growth because of the unknown. Then, once the program gets ramped up and the uncertainty becomes certainty, all too often their intrusion into the market continues to have a negative effect on the economy, seen in higher taxes, slower economic growth, and, quite regularly, higher unemployment.

To give one example of great taxpayer expenses brought on by government programs, it was said in the 1990’s that Medicare would cost about $12 billion; the actual cost has been about $98 billion. It appears that the costs for Obamacare have far exceeded estimates from the early days. I say “appears” because it is so difficult to nail down the exact price tag with the way that pundits on both sides of the political aisle discuss the numbers; but I don’t believe there’s any question that it is extremely costly for the government to attempt to manage an industry that represents about 1/6 of the US economy. Since the passing of the Affordable Care Act, government spending on health care is about 8% of GDP. I find it interesting that this number was about 1.3% of GDP 50 years ago.

Is there a better way? I believe very strongly that there is. We’ll look at some ideas in tomorrow’s post. See you then