Please take a few minutes to watch this!
According to the World Happiness Report 2018 by the UN, the US is the 18th happiest nation in the world. The list was taken from a Gallup survey that asked respondents to assess their lives on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). Americans got an average of 6.8. For comparison, the top three countries (Finland, Norway, Denmark) all scored above 7.5. What's worse is that the US actually fell four spots from last year's ranking (14th).
For a country considered to be the wealthiest in the world, it’s ironic that its citizens are not actually that happy. This result simply illustrates that happiness is not linked to prosperity alone.
Students from the University of Chicago recently conducted a survey asking one simple question: “If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?” This is in light of the US Mega Millions lottery jackpot, which reached $1.6 billion and made headlines across the entire country. In fact, USA Today reported that a Chevron near Los Angeles airport was filled with hundreds of people buying tickets, creating a line which kept clerks occupied from 6 AM to 7 PM. This was a common sight nationwide in the weeks before the highest lottery jackpot in history was finally won, although the craze was not entirely unprecedented. According to Lottoland, the US Mega Millions lottery has a track record of supersized payouts. Before its record-breaking $1.6 billion jackpot, the lottery provided the second-largest jackpot win of all time, which was $656 million. Even with that lower amount, the money is still more than enough money to sustain a life of luxury.
The results of the survey, however, revealed something surprising. 70% of the respondents stated that they would still continue working even if they won the lottery jackpot. Only 9% said that they would quit their jobs. In addition, 33% relayed that they would share the prize with others, which is actually true for many people who have won major jackpots. Contrary to popular belief, a lot of lottery winners avoid lavish spending sprees and instead give a considerable portion or even all of their winnings to others in the form of gifts or donations.
So it seems that while there are many unhappy Americans, their dissatisfaction may not be related to financial issues at all. And if the aforementioned survey means anything, it shows that most Americans place more value in making a difference than being wealthy.
But if money does not make people happy, then what does? An article from Brookings argued that it is meaningful work, not money, that buys happiness. They shared some words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama who seems to agree with this perspective. The spiritual leader stressed that “the problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies.”
Indeed, deep social inequality still remains in American society. As we have discussed in another article here on The Sun Bay Paper, it is this lack of empathy that further divides us. The minute we realize that happiness doesn’t lie in having large amounts of money but sharing it, we have already begun to make the world a better place.
Seven months ago we reported on the NASA Mission to Mars!
Mars InSight successfully landed on Mars on Monday after a long journey.
It's the first of several challenges NASA faced as it hurried to deploy solar panels necessary for InSight to power its scientific endeavors as it explores the Red Planet, learning about the interior of Mars and gathering scientific data that can pave the way for astronauts to eventually return to the moon and, one day, land on Mars.
Astronauts have been gathering data and performing experiments aboard the International Space Station in advance of the Red Planet landing, and now NASA has leapt over that with an accomplishment that would have impressed Jules Verne.
Continued exploration and, perhaps, one day, colonization are ahead, but for now, we should be proud to witness an accomplishment that can be shared with the world. On the ISS, scientists have been learning about how gravity affects health, plants and water, among other things. It may seem like a leap too far, but every major discovery seems that way in its initial stages.
Congratulations to NASA and all those involved in their mission. We look forward to the next discovery.
If President Donald Trump were paid a dime every time critics call his anti-illegal immigration policy "racist," he'd double his net worth. Never mind that at one time, President Bill Clinton, former Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid, former Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., all warned about the problems associated with illegal immigration.
Reid, for example, railed against birthright citizenship in 1993: "If making it easy to be an illegal alien isn't enough, how about offering a reward for being an illegal immigrant? No sane country would do that, right? Guess again. If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship." Apart from America, the only other rich, industrial countries that allow birthright citizenship -- automatically bestowed at birth -- are Canada and Chile. Not a single European country permits this.
As to legal immigration, Trump, too, stands accused of racism for seeking to end "chain migration" and for arguing that legal immigrants must benefit America, rather than the other way around.
But recently, Hillary Clinton, Trump's 2016 presidential rival, and former Secretary of State John Kerry argued that (SET ITAL) Europe (END ITAL) should enact more restrictive immigration policies. "I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame," said Clinton last week in an interview with The Guardian, referring to the hot-button issue of immigration among voters. "I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken by leaders like (Germany's) Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part and must send a very clear message -- 'we are not going to be able to continue (to) provide refuge and support' -- because if we don't deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic."
Eskinder Negash, the president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a migrant rights organization, told The New York Times that he "was kind of shocked" by Clinton's statement. "If she's simply saying you need to cut down on refugees coming to Europe to ask for asylum because they have a well-founded fear of persecution, just to appease some right-wing political leaders, it's just not the right thing to do," said Negash.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., called Clinton's words a "deeply misguided and unfortunate comment from someone who must know better." Former Clinton adviser Peter Daou tweeted: "Why is #HillaryClinton playing into the hands of right-wing haters? The problem isn't the migrants, it's the xenophobes. I try to avoid politics on #Thanksgiving but this is just wrong." Rolling Stone's Jamil Smith tweeted: "This is a sickening capitulation on her part. You don't stop racism by giving in to racists." New Yorker staff writer Osita Nwanevu tweeted: "Climate change, a crisis created by the developed world, is going to force poor people across the globe to move in order to survive. The approach Clinton is advocating will be a death sentence for millions and millions of people, and we should be clear about that."
In response to the criticism, Clinton blamed Trump. "Trump has made it worse with cruel abuses at the border," tweeted Clinton, "detaining children and separating them from their families. It's one of the most shameful moments in our history." But in her "clarification," she (SET ITAL) still (END ITAL) sounded like Trump. "In a recent interview," Clinton tweeted, "I talked about how Europe must reject right-wing nationalism and authoritarianism, including by addressing migration with courage and compassion. ... On both sides of the Atlantic, we need reform. Not open borders, but immigration laws enforced with fairness and respect for human rights. We can't let fear or bias force us to give up the values that have made our democracies both great and good. ... The EU needs a more comprehensive policy that builds societies that are both secure and welcoming."
Kerry, speaking at a recent event in London one week before Clinton's interview, also warned Europe about its immigration policy, which in the last few years has admitted millions of migrants, mostly from the Greater Middle East and Africa. Kerry warned: "Europe's already crushed under this transformation that's taken place because of immigration. Germany -- Angela Merkel, weakened because of it. And other places impacted, Italy -- significantly impacted its politics by immigration."
Then there's the Dalai Lama. Two years ago, before Trump became the Republican nominee for president, the Dalai Lama said, "There are too many (migrants) now. ... Europe, for example, Germany, cannot become an Arab country. Germany is Germany. ... From a moral point of view, too, I think that refugees should only be admitted temporarily."
The criticism Clinton faced from the left over her practical, commonsensical analysis says a lot about where Democrats stand on immigration -- legal and illegal. Much of the Democratic base ignores this issue, is indifferent about it or has done a cost-benefit analysis and believes that immigrants-turned-citizens-turned-mostly-Democrat-voters outweigh the financial, social or political price.
Not surprisingly, the "riots" along the southern border this week, with hundreds of Central Americans throwing themselves against the "walls" of the United States, have frightened many Americans.
President Trump says a lot of zany, strange and even stupid things, but -- let's be fair-minded for once -- his claim of an "invasion" rings true. Tear gas, employed by the Border Patrol, seems to many Americans to be quite appropriate, but the TV coverage of last Sunday's assault on the border was so ideological as to be monumentally misleading.
If more Americans understood what was really going on, they would be even more disturbed.
Let's start by throwing away the two extremes on this border crisis, which are grotesquely deforming much of the coverage.
On the left, with its soppy political correctness, the would-be immigrants are seen as quintessential good fellows, invariably family folks who had an unfairly bad time back home in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. While on the rigid and unfeeling right, these same folks are almost unequivocally viewed as liars, cheats and even would-be murderers.
Oh dear God, let me say a final goodbye to both of these absurdities!
First, the migrants. Only a small percentage of them would qualify for asylum in the traditional sense. Of course, there is terrible violence in that triangle of sad little countries, but that in itself calls only for different political and economic development policies than we are providing.
Most of the horror stories you hear about how our lack of viable border policies distorts and poisons everything and everybody are true. The Washington Post has run long, tragic pieces, including one memorable article about the village of Chanmagua in Guatemala, showing how impoverished mothers sell their babies to smugglers to take north.
Second, the problem is not primarily economic. Yes, these migrants have walked 2,500 miles and suffered intolerably. But one's sympathy dissolves when one learns from business leaders in Tijuana that they are passing up thousands of jobs available there in the maquiladoras, or Mexican-American assembly plants, in order to get better-paying jobs in the U.S.
The problem, my friends, is at heart political. There has never been any real land reform in Guatemala, and today farmers cannot live on the failing coffee crop. El Salvador, considered the "little Taiwan" of Central America in the 1950s, is now essentially ruled by criminal cocaine-running gangs, its over-the-top population growth forced upon it by the Catholic Church having doomed the country. Honduras' political class is so corrupt that President Juan Orlando Hernandez's own brother recently was indicted in Miami for drug and weapon-smuggling -- he had used the police, with machine guns, to protect his "products."
Third, when we get to the roots of the problems behind these caravans, we see these three Central American countries are suffering from the cursed history of the Spanish conquistadores. While the English Pilgrims were voluntarily signing pacts establishing how to govern themselves as they settled in their new homes, the "great" Hernan Cortes was saying, "I came for gold, not to toil the soil like a peasant."
The situation is getting worse, and not only in the Central American isthmus. With the clarifying events on the American border -- this mass movement of people -- that triangle of political injustice has become a metaphor and a lesson for the hemisphere.
The brilliant French thinker Guy Sorman wrote a sad article in the Spanish newspaper ABC recently titled "The Future Recedes in Latin America." The Latin Americans have tried everything institutionally to develop, Sorman writes, and still, most of the continent remains unstable and miserable.
Where to start? The United States could return to the spirit of FDR's Good Neighbor policy or, even better, JFK's Alliance for Progress, and use Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras as examples of what creative American policies could do. It would not be so hard; these are tiny countries where Washington has long had great influence, which it has too often used against, instead of for, political reform.
But we have to want to do it, and first, we have to free ourselves of the grotesque extremes and embrace the reality that is, in the end, truth.
Georgie Anne Geyer
Six years ago I wrote a book about Barack Obama in which I predicted that modern American liberalism, under pressures both fiscal and philosophical, would either go out of business or be forced to radicalize. If it chose the latter, I predicted, it could radicalize along two lines: towards socialism or towards an increasingly post-modern form of leadership.
Today it is doing both. As we saw in Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the youngest generation of liberals is embracing socialism openly—something that would have been unheard of during the Cold War. At the same time, identity politics is on the ascendant, with its quasi-Nietzschean faith in race, sex, and power as the keys to being and meaning.
In the #MeToo movement, for example—as we saw recently in Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle—the credo is, “Believe the woman.” In other words, truth will emerge not from an adversarial process weighing evidence and testimony before the bar of reason, but from yielding to the will of the more politically correct. “Her truth” is stronger than any objective or disinterested truth.
In the Claremont Review of Books, we have described our current political scene as a cold civil war. A cold civil war is better than a hot civil war, but it is not a good situation for a country to be in. Underlying our cold civil war is the fact that America is torn increasingly between two rival constitutions, two cultures, two ways of life.
Political scientists sometimes distinguish between normal politics and regime politics. Normal politics takes place within a political and constitutional order and concerns means, not ends. In other words, the ends or principles are agreed upon; debate is simply over means.
By contrast, regime politics is about who rules and for what ends or principles. It questions the nature of the political system itself. Who has rights? Who gets to vote? What do we honor or revere together as a people?
I fear America may be leaving the world of normal politics and entering the dangerous world of regime politics—a politics in which our political loyalties diverge more and more, as they did in the 1850s, between two contrary visions of the country.
One vision is based on the original Constitution as amended. This is the Constitution grounded in the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. It has been transmitted to us with significant Amendments—some improvements and some not—but it is recognizable still as the original Constitution.
To simplify matters we may call this “the conservative Constitution”—with the caveat that conservatives have never agreed perfectly on its meaning and that many non-conservatives remain loyal to it.
The other vision is based on what Progressives and liberals, for 100 years now, have called “the living Constitution.” This term implies that the original Constitution is dead—or at least on life support—and that in order to remain relevant to our national life, the original Constitution must be infused with new meaning and new ends and therefore with new duties, rights, and powers. To cite an important example, new administrative agencies must be created to circumvent the structural limitations that the original Constitution imposed on government.
As a doctrine, the living Constitution originated in America’s new departments of political and social science in the late nineteenth century—but it was soon at the very forefront of Progressive politics.
One of the doctrine’s prime formulators, Woodrow Wilson, had contemplated as a young scholar a series of constitutional amendments to reform America’s national government into a kind of parliamentary system—a system able to facilitate faster political change. But he quickly realized that his plan to amend the Constitution was going nowhere.
Plan B was the living Constitution. While keeping the outward forms of the old Constitution, the idea of a living Constitution would change utterly the spirit in which the Constitution was understood.
The resulting Constitution—let us call it “the liberal Constitution”—is not a constitution of natural rights or individual human rights, but of historical or evolutionary right. Wilson called the spirit of the old Constitution Newtonian, after Isaac Newton, and that of the new Constitution Darwinian, after Charles Darwin.
By Darwinian, Wilson meant that instead of being difficult to amend, the liberal Constitution would be easily amenable to experimentation and adjustment. To paraphrase the late Walter Berns, the point of the old Constitution was to keep the times in tune with the Constitution; the purpose of the new is to keep the Constitution in tune with the times.
Until the 1960s, most liberals believed it was inevitable that their living Constitution would replace the conservative Constitution through a kind of slow-motion evolution. But during the sixties, the so-called New Left abandoned evolution for revolution, and partly in reaction to that, defenders of the old Constitution began not merely to fight back, but to call for a return to America’s first principles.
By seeking to revolve back to the starting point, conservatives proved to be Newtonians after all—and also, in a way, revolutionaries, since the original meaning of revolution is to return to where you began, as a celestial body revolves in the heavens.
The conservative campaign against the inevitable victory of the living Constitution gained steam as a campaign against the gradual or sudden disappearance of limited government and of republican virtue in our political life. And when it became clear, by the late 1970s and 1980s, that the conservatives weren’t going away, the cold civil war was on.
Confronted by sharper, deeper, and more compelling accounts of the conservative Constitution, the liberals had to sharpen—that is, radicalize—their own alternative, following the paths paved by the New Left. As a result, the gap between the liberal and conservative Constitutions became a gulf, to the extent that today we are two countries—or we are fast on the road to becoming two countries—each constituted differently.
There is also today a vast divergence between the liberal and conservative understandings of the First Amendment. Liberals are interested in transforming free speech into what they call equal speech, ensuring that no one gets more than his fair share.
They favor a redistribution of speech rights via limits on campaign contributions, repealing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and narrowing the First Amendment for the sake of redistribution of speech rights from the rich to the poor. Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform called for amending the First Amendment!
There is, of course, also a big difference between the liberal Constitution’s freedom from religion and the conservative Constitution’s freedom of religion. And needless to say, the liberal Constitution has no Second Amendment.
If one thinks about how America’s cold civil war could be resolved, there seem to be only five possibilities.
One would be to change the political subject. Ronald Reagan used to say that when the little green men arrive from outer space, all of our political differences will be transcended and humanity will unite for the first time in human history. Similarly, if some jarring event intervenes—a major war or a huge natural calamity—it might reset our politics.
A second possibility, if we can’t change the subject, is that we could change our minds. Persuasion, or some combination of persuasion and moderation, might allow us to end or endure our great political division. Perhaps one party or side will persuade a significant majority of the electorate to embrace its Constitution, and thus win at the polling booth and in the legislature. For generations, Republicans have longed for a realigning election that would turn the GOP into America’s majority party. This remains possible, but seems unlikely.
Only two presidents in the twentieth century were able to effect enduring changes in American public opinion and voting patterns—Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. FDR inspired a political realignment that lasted for a generation or so and lifted the Democratic Party to majority status. Ronald Reagan inspired a realignment of public policy, but wasn’t able to make the GOP the majority party.
Since 1968, the norm in America has been divided government: the people have more often preferred to split control of the national government between the Democrats and the Republicans rather than entrust it to one party.
This had not previously been the pattern in American politics. Prior to 1968, Americans would almost always (the exceptions proved the rule) entrust the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Presidency to the same party in each election. They would occasionally change the party, but still they would vote for a party to run the government.
Not so for the last 50 years. And neither President Obama nor President Trump, so far, has persuaded the American electorate to embrace his party as their national representative, worthy of long-term patriotic allegiance.
Trump, of course, is new to this, and his party in Congress is basically pre-Trumpian. He did not win the 2016 election by a very large margin, and he was not able to bring many new Republicans into the House or the Senate.
Nonetheless, he has the opportunity now to put his mark on the party. In trying to do so, his populism—which is not a word he uses—will not be enough. He will have to reach out to the existing Republican Party as he has done, adopt some of its agenda, adopt its electoral supporters, and gradually bring them around to his “America first” conservatism if he is to have any chance of achieving a political realignment. And the odds remain against him at this point.
As for moderating our disagreements and learning to live with them more or less permanently, that too seems unlikely given their fundamental nature and the embittered trajectory of our politics over the last two decades.
So if we won’t change our minds, and if we can’t change the subject, we are left with only three other ways out of the cold civil war.
The happiest of the three would be a vastly reinvigorated federalism. One of the original reasons for constitutional federalism was that the states had a variety of interests and views that clashed with one another and could not be pursued in common.
If we had a re-flowering of federalism, some of the differences between blue states and red states could be handled discreetly by the states themselves. The most disruptive issues could be denationalized.
The problem is, having abandoned so much of traditional federalism, it is hard to see how federalism could be revived at this late juncture.
That leaves two possibilities. One, alas, is secession, which is a danger to any federal system—something about which James Madison wrote at great length in The Federalist Papers. With any federal system, there is the possibility that some states will try to leave it. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have gone their separate ways peacefully, just within the last generation. But America is much better at expansion than contraction. And George Washington’s admonitions to preserve the Union, I think, still miraculously somehow linger in our ears.
So secession would be extremely difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is that it could lead, as we Americans know from experience, to the fifth and worst possibility: hot civil war.
Under present circumstances, the American constitutional future seems to be approaching some kind of crisis—a crisis of the two Constitutions. Let us pray that we and our countrymen will find a way to reason together and to compromise, allowing us to avoid the worst of these dire scenarios—that we will find, that is, the better angels of our nature.
Charles R. Kesler
He is the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished
Professor of Government at
Claremont McKenna College.
He earned his bachelor’s degree
in social studies and his A.M. and Ph.D.
in government from Harvard University.
Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.
On November 8th, while Floridians were all wrapped up in election recount and ballot stuffing, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) board unanimously passed a measure, to extend a sugar company's lease on 16,500 acres south of Lake Okeechobee, land where a reservoir to mitigate discharges from Lake Okeechobee is to be built.
The existing lease was not to expire until March of 2019, yet the board unanimously approved it. The immediate red flag for this vote is that it was added to the agenda at 9 p.m. the night before.
On the same day, the board voted to vacate a 30-year-old "consent decree," a potentially seismic move which ultimately could end federal oversight designed to ensure water sent south to the Everglades meets pollution-reduction standards.
These two monumental measures could have a huge impact on water quality in our region and beyond
Didn't see it in the news, didn't hear anything about it, coincidence? Probably not!
At worst, they broke state law, requiring published notices of "intention to lease." At best, they showed a total lack of transparency. Either way, their actions were another example of a breach of public trust as the SFWMD continues to manage South Florida's Waters as an irrigation system for the sugar industry at the expense of Floridians,
Please let the SFWMD board members know they have once again broken your trust to benefit the sugar industry at the expense of the will of the people of Florida.
District officials insist both decisions complied with state sunshine laws. Environmental groups will surely be questioning that assertion in court.
District officials had to know there would be intense interest in both topics. Yet the speed with which these pivotal decisions were brought to the table and passed, stinks of what one can only call corruption.
The board ignored requests by U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Palm City Republican, and GOP gubernatorial candidate, now Governor Elect, Ron DeSantis to delay the vote on the lease for a month.
The district has three more scheduled meetings before the lease was to expire, so their claim that it had to be done doesn't hold water! (pardon the pun)
Many years ago I learned an old line that get its fair share of use in politics, it says "it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission." Without a doubt, had the water management district made these moves public prior to the vote, there would have been opposition.
The proposals would have been scrutinized, debated, long before going to a vote. In other words, the process would have worked exactly as it's supposed to.
That it didn't suggests the district views transparency as an obstacle, and the public as an opponent.
Please let the SFWMD board members know they have once again broken your trust
to benefit the sugar industry at the expense of the will of the people of Florida.
When kids in the 1960s went to spend their allowance or paper-route money on comic books, they had a choice between two major publishers: DC Comics, home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman; and Marvel Comics, which produced Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men and a host of other titles.
Even preteens came to appreciate there was something edgier about the Marvel heroes.
Superman and Batman were often depicted as being close to the embodiment of perfection. They had the occasional personal issue to deal with, and sometimes struggled to defeat the supervillains. But they were ideal characters, with superpowers that always helped them prevail.
They were drawn in a rigidly stylized manner, occupying one square frame after another.
The Marvel characters, by contrast, seemed tormented by far more than the kryptonite that occasionally hobbled Superman. They had complicated backstories, including tragic upbringings, difficulties with girlfriends, boyfriends or spouses and the loss of loved ones. They could have tempers, anger-management issues and even financial problems. In time, some struggled with race or sexuality.
Marvel heroes appeared in frames of different sizes. They even broke through their boundaries in the course of epic battles. Their quips, often self-deprecating, were funnier than the jokes of their DC counterparts. It is little wonder Marvel heroes became immensely popular when their stories were later turned into movies.
The credit for this comics revolution belongs largely to Stan Lee, who passed away Monday at 95.
Born Stanley Lieber in 1922, he grew up in New York City as the son of Romanian immigrants. He and his younger brother, Larry (who co-created the Marvel characters Thor, Iron Man and Ant-Man), were both fascinated by drawing, literature and the silver screen.
Lee was hired in 1939 to be an assistant at Martin Goodman's Timely Comics. It helped that his cousin Jean was the owner's wife, but he worked hard on the company's range of pulp magazines and comic books as an artist, letterer and text filler. In time, with a break for military service in World War II, he became editor-in-chief and art director.
Timely Comics rebranded itself as Atlas Comics, and then became Marvel Comics in 1961. Goodman sold his company in 1968 and remained its publisher until 1972. His successor, as you may have guessed, was Lee.
It was during these changes in identity and ownership that Lee transformed the way people looked at comic books.
Peter Parker, alias Spider-Man, was wracked with guilt about the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. Bruce Banner transformed into the Hulk after fits of rage and always struggled to keep his emotions under control. The X-Men were mutants, different from other people -- and isolated, even hated, by society. Unsurprisingly, young readers closely identified with them.
Lee also approved the inclusion of topical and/or controversial issues such as the Vietnam War, drug use, environmental protection and student activism, drawing elements of the real world into comics.
Fittingly, Stan Lee always ended his monthly Marvel column with the word "Excelsior!" which means "ever upward" in Latin. His important contribution to comic books, and our culture, created a positive, upward trajectory that will survive long past him.
Walk into any Catholic church in America and you'll find the same two flags somewhere in the sanctuary, usually on the altar.
One is instantly recognizable to Americans regardless of religious affiliation: It's red, white and blue and features stars and stripes. The other is gold and white and decorated by a pair of crossed keys and a tiara.
Once again this week, church leaders seem more interested in protecting the latter, the Vatican national flag, than they are the citizens of the former. With the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops poised to adopt measures meant to increase accountability for their handling of sexual abuse cases, the Vatican ordered them to stand down until Pope Francis can convene a global summit on the crisis next year.
The crisis management attempts come at truly the 11th hour. Diocese across the country have released lists of the priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor in the last month, building up to this week's conference.
Even this attempt at transparency was poorly executed: The diocese declined to issue a news release to the public or the media about the list.
As clueless as the American church leaders appear, the Vatican is clearly more inept when it comes to public relations. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meets on a regular basis, and the agenda is about as secret as the order of mass each Sunday.
To wait until the eve of the meeting's start to instruct the bishops to delay voting is dumbfounding, especially with a number of abuse survivors and reform advocates on-site and eager for the bishops to take action.
What's more, the proposed initiatives aren't exactly Vatican Council worthy. The recommendations are practical and long overdue steps to addressing the lack of accountability by bishops. Many Catholics find the scandal cover-ups, from Boston in 2002 to Pennsylvania this August, almost as despicable as the crimes, particularly when bishops respond to abuse by simply moving abuser priests to other geographic locales, where they are free to abuse again.
The U.S. bishops were set to answer parishioners' calls for change by creating a hotline for reporting bishops alleged to be abusers or to have covered up abuse, a review board made up of laypeople -- parishioners -- to hear allegations, a procedure to remove bishops determined to be abusers themselves, and a bishops' code of conduct.
The postponement certainly appears to be an attempt to let reform demands cool, particularly in the context of similar attempts in the past.
American bishops moved to adopt their own measures following the Boston scandal, examining ideas such as a zero tolerance policy for priests as well as establishing a layperson review board. The Vatican ordered a delay on those efforts, too, and ultimately squashed them.
Time will tell if American Catholics are in a repeat. The pope has called the global summit for February, and the leaders of the U.S. bishops conference will attend. The full U.S. bishops conference is scheduled to meet in March and could adopt recommendations from the global summit then.
Anything less than the proposals tabled by the bishops this week would be disappointing. The Vatican has been negligent in its failure to look out for parishioners for far too long.
My tail feathers got all twisted when I read that the average American gains 27 pounds between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Eve.
OK, I'm pulling your leg. The statistic's more like 4 to 7 pounds, but even that's depressing -- enough extra poundage to make your jeans feel like a blood-pressure cuff.
Take heart! It doesn't have to be that way. We humans have choices. Dogs, cats and children pretty much have to eat whatever's piled in front of them, but we grown-ups are free to choose, free to make small meaningful changes in our life that lessen our risk of obesity and boost our well-being.
I'm a big fan of the Nutrition Action newsletter. In a recent issue, Caitlin Dow summed up important new research about overeating in an article called "How To Eat Less: What Works, What Doesn't." It's filled with surprises and helpful suggestions:
SHATTERING THE SMALL PLATE MYTH.
Remember when obesity experts were telling us that eating on small plates helped you eat smaller portions? Not so fast.
"Focusing on plate size is a diversion," says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional science at Pennsylvania State University. She's looked at the existing research, and done her own, and concludes that people do not eat less when they use a smaller plate. Sorry.
"I'm particularly fond of the buffet experiment," she says. "If we gave people smaller plates, they just went back to the buffet more times."
Eating off a small plate might be helpful if it's a visual reminder for you to eat less, but it won't stop you from overeating. In fact, she says, people who only have a small plate to eat off are likely to leave off the foods they don't really like, which are often vegetables. Much more important is to learn to love your veggies.
CHOOSE LOW-DENSITY FOODS.
It's not the size of the plate. It's what you put on the plate that really matters. Duh. "Half the food on your plate should be fruits and vegetables that have a low calorie density," says Rolls. Low-calorie-density foods are what you might expect: They are whole, unprocessed foods high in water and fiber. These foods fill you up, but they don't pack in nearly as many calories per bite as high-calorie-density foods, such as pies, cakes, cookies and candy. Knowing this is one thing; acting on it is up to you.
DON'T FORCE BREAKFAST.
We've been hearing this for years: If you want to control your weight, eat a healthy breakfast. It jump-starts your metabolism and keeps you from eating everything but the kitchen sink at lunch. (Don't you wonder how that expression got started?)
While research tells us that people who eat breakfast do tend to weigh less than people who skip it, it's not necessarily true that skipping breakfast causes weight gain. And the point is? If you feel better skipping breakfast, don't force-feed yourself all those extra calories first thing in the morning. Listen to your body. And don't think you're doomed to overeating at lunch. It may or may not happen. You're in charge.
BE MINDFUL ABOUT EATING.
In my opinion, this strategy has the greatest promise of all when it comes to lifetime weight control, because as your mind shifts, so will the needle on your scale. It's simple and profound at the same time: Learn to tune in to your own body's wisdom when it comes to eating. Your body wants to be healthy and eat well. If you listen to it and explore various options, you'll figure out how to bring your body back to balance. That's when the drama over dieting ends and you're free to move on to piano lessons or planting an herb garden.
"Mindful eating means that you tune in to hunger signals so you only eat when you're hungry and stop eating when you're satisfied," says Drexel University psychology professor Evan Forman. "It also teaches people to slow down and to not eat out of boredom or in an automatic, mindless way."
That level of body awareness may sound impossible to you, but know this: It isn't.That's why mindfulness training is booming. It's not 100 percent effective, but nothing is. Well, that's not true, either. Downsizing your portions -- sharing an entree, eating starters -- always works!
"Eating crappy food isn't a reward -- it's a punishment." --Drew Carey