Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 - The Year That Sucked

2016 was an awful year all around. We lost some of our musical greats and some of my favorites: David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Other famous people I've admired that we lost this year were musicians Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, Merle Haggard and Glenn Frey, actors Gene Wilder, George Kennedy and Alan Rickman, Gwen Ifill (journalist), Garry Shandling (comedian), Harper Lee (novelist), Pat Conroy (novelist), Edward Albee (playwright), Jose Fernandez (athlete), John Glenn (astronaut) and Mohammad Ali (athlete). I am from a generation of people who were the first to grow up with media saturation, the MTV generation, so it makes sense as we get older that we'd have a year like this year. The ubiquity of social media only makes it more in our face than ever before. I expect this may be the norm going forward. I was doing errands with my wife this weekend and I received a notification on my phone that Carrie Fisher died ... Bam! ... in your face. No getting away from it.

The election this year was incredibly divisive and seemed to go forever with two candidates that no one seemed to really want, the worst in my lifetime. It ended with a fascist in power and lots of people freaking out. The only good thing that happened this year, on a global front, was the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. The rest of year just sucked.

On a personal level, the year has been even worse. It was full of death. I lost my father. I am not very close with my family but among them, he is the person with whom I was closest. He made my childhood bearable and I still don't know how he had time or energy to be a father. He had a lot of jobs and responsibilities which should have made him exhausted but he always had time for me whether it was for going bowling, fishing, playing cribbage or a game of croquet. He never failed to make me laugh.

A friend of mine's son, Tyler, died of an overdose at the age of 32. This might be the first people that I've known since he was a kid to die. He had some rough times as an adult, but as a kid he was a shining star. My favorite memory of him was driving him from Boston to Detroit to transport him from his dads to this mom's. We got to know him very well on that road trip. Losing him was a shock.

We also lost four pets this year. It sounds like we have a real zoo here but we didn't have more than three pets at any one time.  Last Summer, we adopted a puppy, Margo, who was going to be a great dog if she had lived. On a windy day last Winter, our front door blew open and both our dogs got out.  When they came back, she was limping. It got worst throughout the week. Eventually, she couldn't walk and was in real pain. An x-ray showed she had a displaced a bone in her back and no chance of meaningful recovery. We assumed that she jumped at a car on the road by our house. This is a picture of her when we first met her at the shelter.

Our 14 year old cat, Mavis disappeared this year. She was sickly and never a very good cat. We'd go weeks without seeing her so we didn't look for her when she disappeared. She disliked people but she was a great mouser. She must have gone some place to die. We knew she was gone for good when mice started showing up. We replaced her with Jasper who was one of the best cats ever. He was a few years old and an outdoor cat. Even if we tried, we couldn't keep this cat indoors especially during the summer. He was full of character, affectionate, a good mouser and would snuggle up with us and the dogs. I loved that cat. I was looking forward to having him for another decade or two. One day in September, one of neighbors came to our door to inform us that a car had hit him. We had to go out to the road to get him. We tried to bring him to the vet with blood all over my shirt, but he died on the way. That is two animals we lost on our dirt road this year that has very little traffic.
A few weeks later we got Wrigley, a female cat who was very sweet. We had her for a very short time. She got outside and was attacked by an animal.
We have a new dog, Woodrow and a new cat, Lester. They are both great and doing fine. Hopefully, I won't have to go through that for a long time.

The year was filled with a ton of other awful experiences. In August, I walked on a bee hive while mowing the lawn, getting at least eight stings. I ran yelling into the house. I spent a weekend in extreme pain. I had to get up early morning, while it was still cool, to kill the hive with bee bomb (see my outfit below).  In September, the well at our house went dry and this lasted into November. What made this worse is we had to turn the pump off, but we discovered the pump was hardwired to the house so we had to shut off one of the circuit breakers to stop the pump. A good part of the house was on this breaker, important things like my router, work phone, our freezer, refrigerator and both televisions. In order for me to live and work from home, we had to run extension cords throughout the house to have internet access and keep the frig and freezer on.  We lived like this, taking showers at friends' house, eating on paper plates and going to laundromats, for about six weeks. Ugh!
The only really great thing that happened this year, other than the Cubs winning, was that my niece Ashley came to live with us for about month this summer. I really love her and we got to spend some quality time with her playing games, kayaking and just hanging out. I also have been running consistently this year, about three miles every other day. I ran my first 5k race in 30 years. I hope to keep this up.

Let's hope for a better 2017. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Orange Is the New Black: Trump Log #7

I struggle with trying to find something positive with our new President. I've been looking everywhere in his decision making and I find little. Some things you just have to wait to see how they pan out. Take his trade policies, perhaps he's right, bringing manufacturing  back to the US may create jobs for the working class. But I doubt it. Most manufacturing jobs in America have been displaced by automation, not foreign competition. Also, the idea of having more manufacturing with a depleted EPA scares me. Are we going to back to the smog days of the 1970's with our rivers catching fire?

The use of Twitter as a communication tool to deliver complicated messages is very troubling. 140 characters is very limiting and leads to vague messaging. Trump's advisor keep telling the media "this is what he meant" ... perhaps he shouldn't be using a tool that has so many nuances. Are his administration's press briefings just going to be clarification sessions of the tweets of the night before?

This week's Trump Log:

12/27/16 - 10,000 doctors sign petition opposing Trump's nomination of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Source: New York Times)

12/26/16 - A trade war is coming. (Source: New York Times)

12/25/16 - While Trump himself is full of conflicts of interest, his cabinet picks are no different. His pick for Health and Human Services made a lot of money trading in health care stock while he created health care laws in Congress.  (Source: Slate)

12/24/16 - Trump aims to destroy Obama's legacy, this is obvious. But his recent comments on Twitter about expanded our nuclear arsenal, threatens the legacies of Presidents going back to Nixon not to mention the security of the planet. (Source: New York Times

12/23/16 - It is clear that the Trump administration is going to be pro-Russia and anti-China. His new created presidential office for US trade and industrial policy with be headed by Peter Navarro, a well known China antagonist. (Source: The Guardian)

12/22/16 - If you donate a large gift to the Opening Day Foundation, Trump's inauguration fund, you can get access to Trump and his family.  (Source: New York Times)

12/21/16 - Every businessman we have ever had as president has been an awful president. The skills don't necessarily translate. Trump's transactional diplomacy may not work on a global scale. (Source: Washington Post)

Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016
Issue # 5 - posted December 12, 2016
Issue # 6 - posted December 19, 2016 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Unbearable Lightness of Tweeting - Trump Log #6

I thought it would go away, but it just seems to be getting worse. Each day, I hate Trumps supporters more. Perhaps it is because Trump is revealing himself to be as bad as I suspected or even worse. I used to put Trump supporters in two categories, the morally corrupt and the complete idiot (with some crossover). Now I believe I have found a third category: those who wanted change and who were not turned off enough by Trump's racism/misogyny et al. They feel his behavior is a concern, but they can look past this. Lets call them the angry white voter. They are the people who are doing fine, but not as well as they'd like, so they could give a shit if them doing a little bit better would fuck over a good portion of the American public. I know one Trump supporter who talks about how difficult it is getting by, which is true, but this guy owns a boat, a huge boat, not a row boat or a commercial fishing boat, but a boat ... for fun. I'm guessing life isn't that bad for him. But hey, if we could kick a million Americans off of their health care, maybe he could have two boats ... and that's all that matters.

It is official, as of yesterday, that Trump will be our next president. Hopefully, I am wrong and he will be fine. In looking at his behavior as President-elect, I find this to be unlikely. His priorities seem to be out of whack. He doesn't have time to get daily intelligence briefings but does have time to tour the country for victory rallies, take P.R. pictures with Kanye West and be the executive producer of a moronic television show.

This week's Trump Log:

12/20/16 - Trump's pick for the director of the Office of Management and Budget is one of the congressman who refused to increase the debt ceiling. If he takes this approach into the budget office, our economy and the world economy could really suffer.  (Source: Washington Post)

12/19/16 - Trump's decision making process is problematic. He seems to be swayed by the last person who talks to him before a decision is made, he has a disdain for experts and he lags an ideology so advisers generally don't know how he will stand on any particular issue. (Source: Washington Post)

12/18/16 - Trump is critical of everyone except for Putin. (Source: New York Times)

12/17/16 - If you are concerned about the humane treatment of animals, then you should be concerned about who Trump is considering as Secretary of Agriculture, Butch Otter. (Source: Politico)

12/16/16 - Trump continues to surrounding himself with advisers who are anti-science. Whether they are really this ignorant or just pretending to appeal to their political base of morons, is unknown.  This Trump advisor, Anthony Scaramucci, compares the belief in global warming to the belief in a flat Earth and thinks the planet is only 5,500 years old.  (Source: Slate)

12/15/16 - Republicans have few ideas on how to replace the Affordable Care Act. Whether repeal and replace or simply repeal, millions will lose their health care coverage. (Source: Washington Post)

12/14/16 - Another oil man joins the Trump cabinet. Ex-Governor of Texas Rick Perry, who once proposed doing away with the Department of Energy, is Trump's Secretary of that Department. He continues to appoint people who are hostile to the department they will head.  (Source: The Guardian)

Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016
Issue # 5 - posted December 12, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Electoral College

The electoral college votes next week, Monday December 19th. If they all vote "faithfully" based on the popular vote in their state, Donald Trump will win 306 to 232 for Clinton. However awful this seems, the orange one will be our President ... the world be damned. There is a big BUT here. Many of the state's electors are not bound to be faithful. They can choose to vote for another candidate ... anyone actually. If 37 of them decide to vote for someone else, he would not get 270 votes required to be president. Even if that happened, they'd all have to vote for Clinton for her to win. 

This is probably not going to happen, but what if it does?  What happens if the electoral college votes and no candidate has 270.  The House of Representatives gets to choose the President, among the top three electoral vote-getters and each state delegation gets one vote. The Vice President would be chosen by the Senate among the top two vote-getters. We could end up with Clinton as President and Governor Mike Pence as VP or Gary Johnson could be President and Tim Kaine could be VP.  Someone who wasn't on the ballot could be elected. The new Congress, 114th, will not be in office yet. The current make-up of the House is 247 Republicans and 187 Democrats (including the two Independents). Trump is not popular in his own party. The questions is how unpopular? Is he so unpopular that enough of them could vote against him. We could do all this and he could get elected anyway.  The Senate would most certainly pick Pence.

Why the madness?  We are the only nation that has such a system and the presidency is the only office that uses it. No state uses anything similar to the Electoral College to elect a Governor. The Founders feared a tyrannical demagogue, unfit for the office, being elected and also feared that as cities got larger, the rural voter would be ignored. What they envisioned was very different from what we have now. The political parties were in their infancy when it was created and certainly not quite so entrenched in the 18th century as they are now. They saw the Electoral College selecting from numerous candidates, debating their individual merits, and making compromises that benefit all regions and factions of the country. Under the Founder's vision, in 2016 states would have sent Electors for Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Cruz and Kasich, etc. to the college. In a close election, we would not have a President-Elect yet, and would be waiting for the result of the Electors. 

It really could happen this year. He fits the bill of an unhinge demagogue. We have had a total of 157 faithless electors in our nation's history which is not a lot. The most we ever had in any particular election is 63 in 1872 for Horace Greely who died after the November vote but before the December electoral college vote. He had a total 66 votes so three of his electors voted for him after he was dead.  

Arguments to eliminate the Electoral College and replace it with a popular vote runs across the political spectrum. This is surprising because a popular vote would really support liberals and, by proxy, Democrats.  Because it is in the original Constitution, it would require an amendment to remove it. In the last five elections, the candidate that received less popular votes became President which is bonkers.  A popular vote election would mean that candidates would spend most of their time in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami. Since big cities is where most of the liberals live, it would mean a turn to the left in the executive branch at least ... and why not? If most people are liberal, a Democracy's government should reflect that.

It is a long shot, but I am looking for some history to be made on Monday. Best case scenario, 270 electors change their vote to Bernie Sanders and we have our first Jewish Socialist as president. That would make me happy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The First Cyber Bully President - Trump Log #5

If you are wondering what it is going to be like to have Trump as president, look no further than the experience with Carrier Corporation this week. Trump campaigned to make corporations, that move job abroad, to pay higher taxes as a punishment. Yet, he does the opposite with Carrier and he portrays it as a success with most of the media is taking the bait. Carrier did keep about 1,000 jobs in the US which is great for those people who get to keep their jobs, but over 1,000 jobs still moved to Mexico. Also, those 1,000 jobs that stayed are going to be funded by Indiana tax payers. Instead of making a corporation pay, they are getting rewarded for keeping less than half of the jobs in the plant. Trump's Vice President, Mike Pence, is still the governor of that state which made it easier to get this done. You have to wonder if they are going to try to "make America great again" by micromanaging like this and how effective it is going to be when he doesn't have a governor in his pocket. All of it is difficult to bear, especially the backslapping from our hapless media outlets. 

Among Trump's picks for his cabinet so far we have an education secretary that is against public education, an EPA secretary that is hostile to the environment, a HUD secretary is against integrated housing and a small business director that has never owned a small business. Once again, we have an anti-government administration that will prove how ineffective government is by making it so.

Trump Log:
12/13/16 - Trump nominates Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, America's top diplomat. He is another oil man with a ton conflicting interests in the Middle East as well as strong ties to Russia.  (Source: Washington Post).

12/12/16 - Even though there are more states that have legalized pot (in one form or another), Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be more interested in going after potheads than hate groups. (Source: Politco)

12/11/16 - Trump continues to bring into question any information that doesn't support him and his agenda regardless of where it is from or who is stating it. This includes reports from the CIA about Russian hacking. He continues to miss daily intelligence briefings. You have to wonder what his relationship will be with the FBI and the CIA once he is president. (Source: Washington Post).

12/10/16 - Trump's Transition Team is creating a hit list of Dept. of Energy employees in the past who worked on climate change. (Source: Washington Post)

12/9/16 - Trump's erratic behavior and inconsistent message is making it difficult to do business in America.  The auto industry is stymied as to what the new President's policies are going be. (Source: New York Times)

12/8/16 - Trump appoints oil man and opponent of Obama climate change policies, Scott Pruitt,  as head of the EPA. (Source: New York Times)

12/7/16 - Isolationism affects more than just the economy. The world has less war today than at any point in human history, a global economy has a lot to do with us. (Source Washington Post)

Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Seatbelts on School Buses

Recently, a school bus in Chattanooga, Tennessee crashed causing the death of five children. This is a tragedy. You don't hear stories about deaths on school buses very often. When I do, I wonder, why don't school buses have seat belts? This seems like a no-brainer. Like many things, when you dig deeper, it is more complex than that. 

Currently, the US has five states that require seat belts on school buses (California, New York, Louisiana, Florida and New Jersey). Considering that lists of states, I am guessing that the rest of the country is going to follow. When I google this question, the big thing that does come up is the cost. It costs from $7k to $10k to add seat belts to a school bus. A lot of school districts are already strapped for money.

One of the arguments against this is that school buses are already very safe. Only four children die on school buses each year while 500 die during the same travel time in automobiles. It is also safer than walking to school which is what I did as a kid. I got into all kinds of trouble on my trek to school each morning. Why are school buses so safe? For one, school buses are driven slowly and usually, by a better driver. Also, cars tend to maintain a distance from a bus, I know I do, even when it is not required of me. School bus seats are also very padded and high. If a younger kid is thrown, chances are they will hitting the back of another seat's thick padding. This helps with quick stops, but not with rollovers. The chances of a bus rolling over is very unlikely. Spending money to prevent something that isn't a problem is hard to justify. In hindsight, I am sure the parents in Chattanooga probably feel that it would be a good investment.

Also, there are some logistical problems. If there is an accident, how difficult would it be to get kids out of the bus? The older kids would be fine, but the younger ones would need assistance. If there is a fire or a gas leak, you want to exit quickly. Try getting a bus load of preschoolers to take off their seats belts and exit a bus in a timely fashion, especially during the mayhem of an accident. Sounds messy. I would also imagine it would be difficult finding a one-size-fits-all belt.  Since shoulder belts are the only seat belts that are effective, you'd have to get one that would fit preschoolers comfortably and safely as well as high school students. You don't want a child to be strangled by a belt that is intended to save them.

Who enforces the seat belt use? You can have them on the bus but that doesn't mean that every student is going to use them. Does the driver or bus monitors have to guarantee that every student is wearing them before the bus takes off? How much work is this? Is this going to slow down traffic and increase the liability of the driver and/or monitor? What about the 6th grade boys (there is nothing more obnoxious than an 6th grade boy) who want to use their seat belts as weapons or nooses? It almost seems like seat belts would be more a problem than a solution.

Like most things labelled a "no-brainer," this is not one. I came up with more and more issues, the more I thought about this issue. I talked to one teacher and one bus driver before writing this. I am sure that there are others that disagree with them, but they seems right to me. We are better off without them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Art of the Misdeal - Trump Log #4

I've spent last weekend in Washington DC. I am guessing this is the last time in a while I will get to see this town before it gets Trumped on. I spent some time with some locals, friends and friends of friends, whose moods all seem to range from anger to depression about who will occupy the Executive office.  It is more a local thing outrage in their life. When their roads are blocked and a motorcade drives by, they don't mind so much when it is someone they like driving by ... they think they will mind when it is for a pussy-grabbing racist demagogue with delusions of godhood.  Most of us will just get screwed indirectly, but for the locals in DC, it is personal. 

Here is this week's Trump log:

12/6/16 - Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, refers to her work in education reform as advancing "God's kingdom," a clear violation of the separation of church and state. (Source: Politico)

12/5/16 - Trump continues to lie about "millions" of votes being cast illegally.  There is no evidence of massive fraud yet he continues to beat this drum. Belief in voter fraud usually leads to more strict laws at the polls, preventing more citizens from voting. (Source: New York Times)

12/4/16- If Trump follows through on his trade policies, it could not only badly affect our economy but also Mexico's.  When Mexico economy crashes, this usually mean more violence and more immigration to the US, legally or otherwise. (Source: Washington Post)

12/3/16 - Trump's tax plan just doesn't add up. His cuts in taxes are not matched by cuts in spending creating an even bigger deficit. If this is the way he used to run his businesses, this might explain those six bankruptcies that we heard so much about during the election. (Source: Washington Post)

12/2/16 - Trump's lack of using advisers is showing us how his administration will be run. Instead of tapping into the resources at his disposal, he will make decisions on a gut level giving the rest of us gas. (Source: New York Times)

12/1/16 - Trump has assembled the wealthiest cabinet ever, made of a people who have been born millionaires.  Instead of draining the swamp, he is laminating it in gold (Source: Washington Post)

11/30/16 - Trump says he is going to back out of the Iran deal because "it's a bad deal."  But backing out of deals made by previous administrations sets a poor precedent. Why would anyone deal with us in the future?  (Source: New York Times)

Past Trump logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016