How Fake News Kills Cops

The prevailing trend to choose what one believes in the media is not just problematic, it is dangerous.

According to some media outlets, there are two virulent plaques in America. The first is that the police are killing people in the course of their duties more than ever before. And that there is a racial bias to the shootings.

This is not just false, it is demonstrably false based on many data sources from official government agencies to multiple media outlets that show a consistent reduction in these incidents.

statistic_id585152_people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-2017-2018-by-race

https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/

The second dangerous misconception is that the number of officers killed in the line of duty is higher than it’s ever been and rising. Again, the premise is not supported by the numbers.

US officers killed as the result of crime, 1970-2015

(Green) Officers killed as result of crime      (Red) Preceding 10-year average

Cops killed

http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/

Preliminary 2018 Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities 

January 1 through July 15, 2018 vs. January 1 through July 15, 2017

2018 2017 % Change
Total Fatalities 76 73 +4%
Firearms-related 32 27 +19%
Traffic-related 27 28 -4%
Other causes 17 18 -6%

Please note: These numbers reflect total officer fatalities comparing
January 1 through July 15, 2018 vs. 
January 1 through July 15, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36826297

Now, this is where these two fallacies form a deadly combination. The perception of those inclined to unlawfully possess firearms or otherwise commit a crime, when confronted by police officers, tend toward a more violent level of resistance.

From the officer’s perspective, they anticipate each confrontation likely will pose a deadly threat to themselves or their fellow officers. Officers aren’t trained to apply different risk assessments of suspects based on skin tone. We teach them that every encounter is a potentially deadly one. It is a necessary survival mindset, but one that must be tempered by experience and sound judgment.

When officers operate in an environment rife with false or inflated perceptions of risk, the appropriate level of caution and tactics may be unreasonably amplified.

The false perception of a problem, promulgated and promoted by the media frenzy,  masks the reality and the results are deadly.

There is also the political factor officers face; both internal and external. Politicians and some members of the command staff, far removed from the realities of the street, are quick to criticize officers for political expediency or job preservation. Decisions made in difficult circumstances under enormous pressure with mere seconds to choose are autopsied for days by people who may have never found themselves in such situations.

Thus officers confront the perfect storm; all-to-common violent behavior by individuals with no respect for law, an atmosphere charged with perceived high levels of risk, and the possibility of being thrown to the wolves by politics.

Is it any wonder officers are shying away, either intentionally or by direction, from effective street policing. As a friend of mine, a former supervisor with a federal agency, liked to say, “Big cases, big problems. Little cases, little problems. No cases, no problems.”

Officers have the right to live and to protect themselves. We owe them the opportunity to do their job based on sound judgment and accurate information.

The loss of any officer is a tragedy. Even with the number of officers being killed showing a decline, one is too many.

Police officers must face the reality of the number of weapons, both legal and illegal, in this country. This almost guarantees a tragedy. Whether it is a felon with an extensive and repetitive criminal record on the street because of the incestuous nature of the lawyers (prosecutors and defense counsel) and judges minimizing cases for expediency or an angry and distraught individual, absent any prior criminal record, the guns pose a danger.

Add into the mix a “corrections” system that in many instances in nothing more than an advanced degree program for crime and you have all the ingredients for a fatal encounter.

Combine the misconceptions of these false and fable-like stories with the prevalence of weapons in America and tragic incidents like the most recent shooting of an officer and an innocent bystander in Weymouth, MA will become more and more common. The trend toward fewer police-suspect confrontations will end and likely grow.

Cops will die all because of a lie.

 

Guest Post: The Political Machine Reexamined by Professor Nicholas Easton

Guest columnist Nicholas Easton is a community activist, former member and President of the Providence City Council during the turbulent Cianci administration version 1, and Political Science Professor. 

My recent book, The Political Machine Reexamined, for which I am still seeking a publisher, examines in considerable detail, the political machines that so dominated American politics for over a century.  What is unique, though, is that I mount not a critique, but a strong defense of this phenomenon.  Furthermore, I make an argument that the Democratic party should return to building machines. I synopsize that argument herein.

democrat-donkeyTo begin let me lay out a few propositions. First is the idea that, generally speaking, for at least a century or so the Democratic Party has represented the economic interests of the poor and the Republican Party has represented the economic interests of the wealthy.

Second is the idea that, generally speaking, there are only two sources of power in our democracy, money, and people.

Finally is the idea that, given the two previous assertions, Republicans will win most political battles based on money and Democrats will win those based on superior organization and mobilization of people.

Many Democrats have come to recognize this problem and urged the party to focus more on capacity building and the so-called ground game. When it does so, however, it tends to approach the problem by trying to raise even larger sums of money and use that to support efforts to knock on doors and make phone calls before individual elections. While this seems to have worked fairly well in the special elections since 2016 one wonders if such an effort is sustainable with nationwide elections this year. There is also the question of whether Democrat’s recent success is simply a function of having a great enemy in Donald Trump.

There are two fundamental problems with this recent approach. First, it again relies on money, a game the Democrats simply can’t win. Second, it addresses only short-term wins and doesn’t really build capacity at all, it simply gins up turn out at a particular time. What’s needed is a fundamental reexamination of the way the party approaches elections.

My invocation of the machine model is not accidental as it serves several purposes. First of all, it is provocative and meant to be so. The Democratic Party needs a profound shakeup. It is absolutely ridiculous that the party that represents the interests of an overwhelming majority of Americans is so out of power. Second, the party needs to re-examine the fundamentals of its approach, not just individual pieces. Knocking on doors is great and communicating with voters is great but communicating with them only at election time is insufficient to building long-term change. And long-term change is indeed what is needed. The Obama election offered an opportunity for sweeping change, but it only lasted for two years as we got completely outmaneuvered in congressional elections for the following six years and with the possibility of losing complete control of the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future the party has to think about long and broad change in its approach.

Third, there are significant reasons why the machine model worked and I lay out some of those reasons in my detailed examination of 18 characteristics of the machine, characteristics that are both significant and separable. Foremost among these is the so-called “exchange system” which basically means you do something for people before asking for their vote as opposed to making vague promises of the Nirvana that will result from your ascension to power. Another very significant characteristic is the 24/7/365 full-time nature of the machine.

Finally, my book debunks the myth that machines were more corrupt than present-day politics. For example, hiring people based on a test as opposed to who they might know only assures that higher social classes will beat out lower ones for jobs that may not require any specific skills. Such practices turn the poor into Trumpers.  And contracting out public services means that jobs are handed out by the same people who contribute tons of money to Republicans to get the contracts, and they are certainly no less corrupt. Think Blackwater and Kellogg, Brown and Root (a division of Haliburton).

In my book, I examine these things in much greater detail. Thus, people can reject my central claim of a need to return to the machine and yet, by looking at how the machine worked, find many valuable pieces that can be very useful to rebuilding the party. For example, I note that machines were usually a coalition.  The present-day party which relies on women, African-Americans, Hispanics, environmentalists, gays, Jews and others has a lot to learn about the management of coalitions. I also included 80 interviews with former residents of the machine neighborhoods in Providence indicating strong support among the populace for this institution.

At this point in time, I find myself extremely torn. I believe and I hope that the outrages that we have endured under Trump will indeed bring the expected Blue Wave and bring Democrats to significant power in 2018. The question is, in their euphoria will they believe that the problem was messaging and now they found the right one and all is well. The problem is not the message it is the messenger and he needs and deserves a thorough self-examination.

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Forget the Silent Majority Worry about the Soft-Spoken One

U.S. President Richard Nixon on November 3, 1969, said, “And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.” Nixon’s plea to this so-called ‘silent majority’ is similar to Mr. Trump’s pandering to his not-so-silent and decreasing supporters.

Both presidents missed the point.

The majority of Americans are neither silent nor rabid. They are mostly reasoned, rarely pugnacious, and care deeply about their country.  They are neither “my country, right or wrong” zealots nor “America has failed in its responsibilities” apologists.

free speechIf they are guilty of anything, it is an innate sense that America can survive any administration, any do-nothing Congress, or any political crisis. Yet, when faced with such a mess, this soft-spoken majority will rise to the occasion and let their voices be heard at the polls.

They do not focus on party affiliation, Congressional majorities, or rhetoric. What they focus on is ensuring the country steers itself back to the slightly conservative side of centrist policies.

It has been the hallmark of the most successful periods in American history.

Resisting involvement in European internecine wars until it became necessary.

Formulating trade and foreign policies guided by a modicum of consideration for any adverse effect on the rest of the world.

Implementing meaningful government programs to sustain and support people in need while assuring an equal opportunity to rise out of poverty through access to education and hard work.

Some would argue we have stepped away from that America.  I would agree. Post-World War II America went through growing pains as a world power, stumbling in places, i.e., Vietnam, South America, while achieving great things elsewhere.

The changing nature of asymmetric warfare, the growing number of nuclear-armed countries, and globalization has changed the geopolitical world we live in.

And we must change with it.

The fissure of partisan politics has grown over the last several Presidential administrations, hastened by the death of a Congress once guided by the art of compromise.

Through this, the majority of Americans may have lost their focus. But no more. The rising tide of change is evident everywhere. No longer will the majority of Americans sit back and let the screamers and the schemers control the field. No longer will lobbyists pull the strings of the PAC money addicted Congress. No longer will the country suffer a President who embarrasses America on the world stage

The soft-spoken majority will not raise their voices, chant slogans, or poison the public discourse with lies or ‘fake’ anything.  They will take to the ballot box and send a clear and unambiguous message.

“Give us back the America we love.”

Shakespeare’s God and Ghost

Whenever I write something that challenges (or perhaps outright denies the validity of) religious beliefs, I am often reminded by one of my favorite teachers from years ago (apologies Mr. Walsh) of this quote from Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Act 1, Scene 5)

william-shakespeare-194895-1-402

HORATIO
    O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
HAMLET
    And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

This quote is often used to counter such arguments by implying there are things we don’t, and perhaps cannot, know for certain.

The existence of an omnipotent god being the big one.

I would argue the opposite. The quote comes when Horatio sees the ghost of Hamlet. He denies what is right in front of him. Hamlet’s line is as much a criticism of the limitations of our beliefs as an argument that we can’t know everything.

I would suggest that Hamlet is pointing out that, in the presence of new information, long-standing beliefs change.

In Shakespeare’s time, the Copernican theory of a heliocentric solar system was still being met with death by fire at the hands of the Catholic Church. Today, we have found over 3000 extra-solar planets orbiting other stars.

Galileo, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was under house arrest for confirming the Copernican theory. Today, only the lunatic fringe cling to such ideas of an earth-centered universe.

Isaac Newton, born shortly after Shakespeare’s death, began developing Newtonian physics that held sway until the introduction of Quantum physics. Even those who study such things have barely scratched the surface of the strange world of quantum entanglements. Einstein’s characterization of “spooky actions at a distance’ now is accepted a fact.

My point being that much of the most dominant religious dogmas, Judaic, Christian, and Islamic, have their roots in times of limited scientific knowledge with widespread misunderstanding of natural phenomenon.

A first grader today has a more in-depth understanding of the reality of the physical world than the most educated Roman or Greek or Islamic intellectual at the time of the founding of these religions.

Professor Tom Nichols of the Naval War College writes in his book, “The Death of Expertise” about the demise of our ability to question things and seek knowledge. We have lost our ability to think critically. We’ve been “Googled” into relinquishing analysis and discourse.

He writes, “The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance,” He laments that many Americans are “proud of not knowing things. Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue.”

The idea that most Americans believe in Angels is astounding. They may argue that something inexplicable must have been an Angelic intervention but it doesn’t establish that as fact. All it does is illustrate that there are some things we do not yet understand.

Yet being the important word in that sentence.

I do not claim to have the answers, no one can. But I think history teaches us with each passing moment long-held beliefs based on faith alone have fallen to the inevitable progress of human inquiry.

By falling back on Shakespeare’s quote as a means of saying we must accept things because we can’t explain them or disprove them flies in the face of the progress of knowledge.

In Shakespeare’s time, there was disagreement at the point of a lighted torch on whether the earth circled the sun. Some four hundred years later, a man stood on the moon. Over the next decade, man will stand on Mars.

Not that science alone can offer all the answers, but the scientific method does offer a roadmap of how to get there. By questioning hypothesis, by repeating experiments, by continually adding to the sum of human knowledge we will grow our rationality.

All one need do is look around at the world today to see the risk of faith-based politics. Those who subscribe to mystical messages from unseen gods as a guide to managing human affairs are as much a threat as a terrorist bomb. Not one of the “inspired word of god” texts leaves out some cataclysmic end to the world with the saving of the faithful and the utter destruction of the unbelievers. Ever wonder why such blind faith is so important to an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being?

If you believe in hell and the promise of everlasting torment for those who are not “bathed in the blood,” or any other such dogma that is a true threat to the peaceful existence of humanity.

By thinking, we grow. “Cogito ergo sum” I think, therefore I am. The more we think and learn and investigate, the better we will live.

And that is why, despite Hamlet’s words, I question and doubt.

In All Fairness

President Trump nominated Judge Neil M. Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. The rancor and rejection by those who oppose Trump now rises to a new level of vitriol. I place myself in the ranks of those who did not vote for Trump. I find his initial actions in office to be counter-productive at best and terrifying at worst. I have great apprehension for the near future of this country.

But, with that said, let us not forget the process of government given to us by the founding fathers. One created to weather such storms.

Let us not forget the constitutional concepts upon which these nominations proceed to Congress. They are to “advise and consent.”

When President Obama (oh where, oh where have you gone?) nominated Judge Merrick Garland, the Republicans acted like fools. Spouting all sorts of nonsense about election year nominations being improper.

No doubt someone will point out that more people voted against Trump than voted for him. They’ll suggest this as a reason he should not nominate anyone.

Nonsense. As much nonsense as blocking election year nominations.

Republicans refused to give Garland a hearing. They subverted the constitution. They knew the hearing to “advise and consent” is not about the nominee’s positions, but about their qualifications. Garland was as qualified as Gorsuch appears to be, philosophical differences aside.

These differences are not a basis to reject a nominee.

We cannot scream about violating the spirit of America with a religious test (couched in fear) that bans immigration based on being a Muslim, then seek to block an otherwise apparently qualified nominee for the court because we disagree with his opinions.

Democrats need not follow the Republican circus act. They can follow the rule of law and Senate decorum.

Quotes are like friends, we pick them because we like them. Facts are like blood relatives, often uncomfortably embarrassing. We can quote all we like by cherry-picking decisions by Gorsuch. The fact remains that on the surface he appears qualified for the position. If a Senate hearing discovers otherwise, so be it.

And that is all the constitution requires.

History is replete with justices who turned out to be much less rigid than expected.

If Justice Gorsuch demonstrates his qualifications for the Supreme Court, the Senate should advise and consent. If we demand the Republicans follow the law, and criticize them when they don’t, we must ourselves take the high road.

To do otherwise is to cast aside 200 plus years of our way of conducting the people’s business. There are those in Congress who do not care, those of us with some rationality left should.

The alternative is inertia in government.

Father Bob’s Fatwah: Inteference in the Political Process

The Rev. Robert L. Marciano, from the pulpit of his church, has chosen to interject himself and the power of the church into the presidential campaign. Many of the Catholic faithful applaud this. His dire warning that one’s “immortal soul” is in peril if one chooses to vote for Hillary Clinton received resounding support among the parishioners.

Aside from the fact that the good father offers no proof of such claim other than his faith, he has put himself and his church at risk of breaking the law.

The Catholic Church, as with most recognized religious sects, is a tax-exempt organization. As such they are restricted from certain types of political lobbying or candidate support in which they may engage.

The law is clear.

To remain tax-exempt under 501(c)(3), churches must abide by strict guidelines that prohibit election activity

  • Cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office
  • Cannot make any communication—either from the pulpit, in a newsletter, or church bulletin—which expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a candidate for public office
  • Cannot make expenditures on behalf of a candidate for public office or allow any of their resources to be used indirectly for political purposes (e.g., use their phones for a phone bank)
  • Cannot ask a candidate for public office to sign a pledge or other promise to support a particular issue
  • Cannot distribute partisan campaign literature
  • Cannot display political campaign signs on church property

The test for such compliance is clear as well

  • “Whether the statement identifies one or more candidates for a given public office;
  • Whether the statement expresses approval or disapproval for one or more candidates’ positions and/or actions;
  • Whether the statement is delivered close in time to the election;
  • Whether the statement makes reference to voting or an election
  • Whether the issue addressed in the communication has been raised as an issue distinguishing candidates for a given office;

I would say the good father may have violated several, if not all, of these parameters. The church, like other groups, has engaged in behind the scenes manipulation of elections for years. It was one of the reasons for including the separation clause. To mitigate the power of religion over the faithful and its effect on secular matters.

Now, the good father may answer that he follows the teachings of a man who also broke the law. That is true. But, if one accepts the teachings of this man, he also accepted the consequences of his actions.

If you cannot the see the danger of such religious interference in the selection of political candidates you are blindly tossing yourself off a cliff.

I wonder how those who support these actions would react if an Imam issued a Fatwah against Mrs. Clinton? I bet the reaction of the Catholic faithful would be a bit different.

Trumping America

I think I have figured out the Trump phenomenon. His success in the primaries comes from supporters who behave at the maturity level of 15-year-old boys and 13-year-old girls. They are not quite children, not quite adults, and driven by raging emotional responses to anything they cannot or choose not to understand.

They are willing to sacrifice civil liberties and constitutional protections in the pursuit of fighting terrorists. They are willing to employ torture as a means justified by their mistaken belief it will protect America.

They support a candidate who said targeting families, including children, is a worthwhile military strategy. One he is prepared to order our military to carry out. Trump, with all his pride in his Ivy League education, must have skipped history and ethics. His was a poison ivy education.

Here is a quote Trump and his supporters could adopt in support of effective genocide.

Raymond D’Aguilers, a witness to the victorious end of the Crusade of 1096-1099 in Jerusalem, wrote

‘Men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers.’

Men, women, and children not of the Christian faith dead at the hands of the faithful. Unbelievers meaning those who believe differently than the one holding the sword or the launch codes for nuclear weapons.

Trump must believe My Lai was the most successful operation during the Viet Nam war. Unless he missed the story on TV.

Trump’s idea is not even original. Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed thought it a good idea. If we follow Trump’s logic, flying planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was brilliant.

This country is in a lot of trouble if anyone, let alone a candidate for the Presidency, takes such policies seriously.

They risk destroying the very freedom and moral character that built this country.

Trump screams he will lead us to Making America Great Again. By what measure? By what means? He wraps himself in the flag, portraying himself as the ultimate patriot.

To quote Samuel Johnson, “Patriotism is the refuge of the scoundrel.”

Trump’s idea of patriotism encompasses all the evil of nationalism that no rational American should condone.

Out of this fire of ignorance, Trump emerged as the poster boy of xenophobia.

This pseudo-tough, swaggering, ne’er do well spouting invectives and threatening anyone not in lockstep with him. An American version of ‘das Herrenvolk.’

A schoolyard bully picking on the weak while his “fans” stand around with their cell phones recording and posting their childish voyeuristic nonsense, afraid to stand up for what’s right.

We face the real specter of a President whose policy platform consists of acting like a junkyard dog.

During the last debate, where supporters considered jokes about the size of appendages high humor, there was only one adult on the stage. Trump was not it. Yet his supporters are okay with that.

The reality that people are fooled into believing Trump represents the best of America is frightening.

Nevertheless, he is winning the primaries. True, he is winning Republican primaries under a system rigged to favor the lead candidate; designed to minimize the chance of a brokered convention. They never imagined the rise of the Donald and his living, but brain dead, hordes.

Keep this in mind; he is winning with at best 35% of the vote. Which means 65% of the vote went against him. Many of these are winner take all contests.

Staunch conservatives, like the Tea Party and others, deserve some of the blame here. As Stephen King so aptly wrote. “Conservatives who for 8 years sowed the dragon’s teeth of partisan politics are horrified to discover they have grown an actual dragon.”

We can only hope a St. George will arrive on the scene to slay the dragon before he incinerates us all.

If Trump wins, he will have at least given us one thing of value. We will need that slogan, Making America Great Again, once his Presidency ends. I fear, if there is a Trump presidency, we’ll be singing the line from the Paul Simon song, America.”We’ve all come to look for America…”

 

Neither a Democrat nor a Republican Be…

Not all that long ago, there was a time in this country when people defined themselves, politically at least, as either Republican or Democrat.

Voters took pride in entering a voting booth and pulling the master handle to vote for a candidate not for their positions on issues, not for their record of achievement, not for their ideas or proposals, but for their party affiliation.

Party affiliation.

Sounds eerily similar to the politics of the Soviet Union or Mao’s China instead of the promise of the Constitution and the brilliance of the Founding Fathers.

Which brings us to the politics of 2016. While in many places the master lever is a fading memory, the propaganda (there is that similarity again) of the parties is the same.

Depending on your political leanings, either the Republicans, representing a conservative approach, or the Democrats, representing a progressive approach, are the ONLY choice.

There is NO room for compromise, no room for a blending of ideas, no chance that anything proposed by one party will gain support by the other.

I have a friend who had an opportunity to have a private discussion, in a setting far removed from the media or public eye, with a former Speaker of the House. My friend lamented the lack of cooperation across the aisle and the seemingly endless process of erecting roadblocks to cooperation.

The Congressman assured her it was not as bad as it seems. This is good news, at first blush.

But upon reflection, it is one more indication of the dishonesty, disingenuousness, and outright lying that goes on for the sake of getting elected and, more importantly, staying there.

Either the politicians think so little of voters’ ability to recognize the necessity of cooperation and compromise in Congress and play to that ignorance or they have come to understand if you give the voter what they want to hear, they vote for you.

Then, you do what you want.

All parties have their heroes, their bright shining beacons that represent the best the party has to offer.

The Republicans had Reagan. Held up as the standard-bearer of less government. His famous quote during his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” touted as the best example of wise policy.

Reagan then went on to lead the biggest increase in government spending in decades. His Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which ultimately failed, led to enormous increases in technology research. This policy almost single-handedly built Silicon Valley and the technology corridor outside of Boston, Ma.

Reagan expressed his despise of big government. His legend used as the example of getting government out of the way. The reality is his SDI program, a holy crusade against the evil empire of the Soviet Union, was a huge government funded program.

Moreover, it worked. Contrary to all his vaunted statements, government programs worked.

Do I even have to mention Richard Nixon?

We ignore the truth for the sake of a slogan or false premise.

The Democrats have had similar icons. John F. Kennedy, whose short time in office created such hope and promise, also set the stage for our entering into the war in Vietnam. His promise of “we shall go to the moon…” stimulated a generation of optimism that we could do anything we choose to do.

President Clinton, his presidency marked with much success, supported and signed the ridiculous Defense of Marriage Act. His boldface lying to the American people corroded the many good things he accomplished.

Yet each of these Presidents, none of them perfect, succeeded by compromise. They sought cooperation to blend a solution.

Which leads us to today. The same, perhaps wider, chasm divides this country. Sanders is a socialist. Hillary is a liar. Cruz is a religious nut. Rubio cannot balance a checkbook. Trump is… I am not sure there is a word for it.

Each of these candidates has something to offer. Yet it seems the politics of this era compels us to pick one path, one philosophy, one political policy.

We deserve more.

If the reality of compromise and cooperation does exists away from the cameras and 24/7 media storm, the American people deserve to be trusted with that knowledge.

In our everyday lives, we make choices; we balance the things we want against the things we need. That is being an adult.

Those that scream the most about the evils and dangers of those they disagree with are like schoolyard bullies, trying to shout down and intimidate.

Standing up to a bully is the right thing to do.

A politician who claims to have all the answers, offers nothing but disdain and criticism of opposing views, and insists his (or her) policies are the only choice is not what we need. It is what we have been afflicted with for the past few years and it is time to seek a better solution.