Archive for December 2014

So What’s Ahead?

It’s that time of year when all the news (unless Air Asia or politicians (this year Republicans) provides us a distraction) is all about the 10 best, 10 worst, top stories of 2014, and what to expect next year.  It puts me to sleep because I was awake last year and my top 10 list turns out to be quite a bit different from the mainstream media’s.  They are all running in a herd.  But having said that, politically let me tell you what is going to happen next year.  NOTHING!

Oh there will be smoke and mirrors, fire in the hole, sparks and small explosions, but we are in a climate where nothing is  really going to change.  Do you hear anyone saying the number 1 crisis facing us is the environment? And why is this important?  Because for most of us who are not in the 1%, it is really all about the economy stupid.  As Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman discussed in their interview, we are gridlocked, “It seems possible that we’re looking at a decade or more in which we have a political system that is essentially unable to make any forward motion on major problems. It might be able to respond to a crisis, but it cannot affirmatively legislate.”

Oh wait, the Republicans, due to some very stupid voting by the rabble, put them in charge of the Congress and our economy.  And according to political editor for MSNBC, Kari Dan, Republicans, if they can get by all their internal distractions, have “big bold ideas” to  put forward.  But I have to ask, what big bold ideas?  They don’t have any.  We have an economy that is moving further right and what we have been doing under Democrats and Republicans is facilitating the rapid growth of economic inequality.  So is Obamacare the problem?  Are immigrants causing the problem?  Are high taxes on the rich causing these problems?  Are too many regulations and government interference causing these problems?

The answer is mostly no yet the Republican big bold ideas are just more of what we have been doing, only more extreme.  And it is what has caused all these problems.  Obamacare, Immigration reform, reforming the tax code to be more fair, government regulations and looking at government regulations and seeing where improvements can be made are all attempts to address problems with solutions.  The Republicans are all about just undoing them.  How does that help? The problems don’t go away.  So no, we are not going to see big bold plans, just more attacks on the progress we have made.  That is their big bold plan, bring in the wrecking ball.

An aside here.  I just heard a Republican complain about how her insurance just went up.  So does that justify tearing down Obamacare?  What about the full coverage you now get including birth control, not being able to deny you insurance, and keeping your kids enrolled until they are established in their own lives?  Isn’t that how insurance works, those who are healthier pay more so those who are sick can be treated?  Do you want low insurance so others get none and when you really do have a problem, your claims can be denied?  If you have a pre-existing condition insurance can you now be denied, or in the small print, you are not covered? Oh, these people hurt my brain.  But the point is they don’t like it, but have not yet presented a better option (like a single payer plan?).

So there is a silver lining here in nothing getting done.  We really have some systemic problems that are not going to be addressed by minor tweaks of our economic system. Republicans are going to fracture into the Know Somethings (KSs), and the Know Nothings (KNs).  The KSs know that they must get somethings done even if they don’t want to really change anything.  The KNs want to gutt government and really don’t want it to be effective because they don’t believe it is.  So we are going to see internal ideological wars and the exposing of their inability to have any new ideas or lead.

On the Democratic side there is a choice to make.  Nothing is going to get done, at least nothing important.  Immigration reform has been purposed as a candidate.  It is never going to happen.  See the KNs and how they control primaries.  So if we are to ever move forward, the Democrat Party has to draw the line and move away from their middle of the road approach.  The beltway media will go crazy with their both sides do it, but in reality as the Democrats have compromised, the voting population doesn’t see much difference with the two parties and nothing is getting fixed.  It is time to clearly define the problem by not comprosing with it.

So what could get done is that the Democrats get their mojo back.  If they can resist the temptation to get something done, anything, to look productive going nowhere, they can redefine the conversation.  The new conversation is about populism and helping the middle class.  The conversation and the policies that follow are about redistributing the pie for the benefit of everyone.  They have to convince even the 1% that this growing inequality is going to be bad for them too.  After all, when they have all the money, who are they going to sell their stuff to?  I could make a list of the things that need to be done, but the critical one is to refocus the discussion on how to grow our middle class.  Once that is seen as the goal instead of growing the rich and waiting for handouts (called flowdown), the policies will follow.  Until we have changed the conversation we will be chained by the KSs, and the KNs to old arguments that get us nowhere.  That is what the next two years should be about.

 

 

The Cost of Safety

In a discussion of the Air Asia crash, the question was asked if the reason we do not have full GPS tracking of aircraft is simply a cost issue, the answer was that there is no limit on cost for safety.  Of course there is.  The cost/benefit analysis for life is conducted every day in almost every way.  You make it when you buy and drive a car, you make it when you complain about the high cost of regulations and codes.  In my old life, cleaning up the environment, the usual metric for how clean for cancer causing chemicals was a 1 in 1 million chance of death.  That is a cost analysis based upon how important a life is.

What may be shocking is when the actual calculation is exposed, especially in private enterprise, and you find out how little they value your life over their profits.  Of course we aid and abet them when we complain about high costs. Safety is expensive, and you get what you pay for.  Sadly what we find is that my family is priceless, yours not so much.

Sport or Thuggery?

Well it is bowl season time and with a bad cold, I am watching the games and becoming more and more disenchanted with the state of college football. Does it bother anyone that most of the athletes are black? Does anyone ask why? Could it be that the sport and its risks are just not worth it any more and white households are directing their kids elsewhere. I don’t know, but I suspect it, and as the majority of young people who fought our wars were from lower income backgrounds, so too do I suspect are our warriors in football.

I guess what really brought it home was watching the Texas A&M/West Virginia game and the thuggery that was going on on the field. There were two targeting incidents, where a player launches his body preceded by his helmet at the other players head. The aim is to do harm, serious harm. Only one was was called, I suspect because the officials did not want to eject a second player although he deserved to be ejected. The game was full of trash talk, testing the limits of rule infractions, personal celebrations (as opposed to team celebrations) and personal fouls.

What I found disturbing was while the media quickly picked up on a Texas A&M Assistant taking cheap shots at the WVU players if they strayed out of bounds on A&M’s side, there was no mention of the other thuggery going on on the field. We seem to think this is okay. We seem to think that the lack of respect shown on the field is the new way of playing tough. I know one thing, Texas A&M has a major coaching problem that can’t be swept under the rug by firing one assistant.

Not all games are like this, in the early going in the Stanford/Maryland game, when the score was still close, there was hard playing, but none of the disrespect. Very little of the cheap shots, and when the whistle blew the play really was over and it was time to get ready for the next one. There were very few penalties. It is the way the game should be played, although I may be prejudiced as a Maryland Alumni. Even with the loss, I was proud of both teams.

The NYT had an interesting article this morning about how college football has become professional football and the paydays are driving this trend to NFL type thuggery and personal aggrandizement. The violence, testing the limits of the rules, and basic thuggery is on the rise. I just wonder when we cross the line and become the Hunger Games.

New York City

I watched yesterday as the New York City Police Association President, with slick backed jelled hair, met with Mayor de Blasio, and then seemingly demanded an apology for perceived disrespect of the police. He would wait to see if the Mayor’s behavior improves to show the proper respect to the police force. As near as I can tell that “disrespect” comes from warning his half black son to be wary of police encounters and understanding the rage among protestors of the Eric Garner non-prosecution. I would warn my white son to be wary of police at this point and that is really not fair to the majority of them.

Respect is something that is not automatic, it is earned, and so far the police are losing mine as I see over-reaction after over reaction and the death of people who should be alive today. Today’s local paper (Sacramento Bee) reported about the clearing of two police officers in a shooting death 1-year ago of a mentally ill vet who brandished a knife. The police had been called by relatives to report the vets unstable state and that he needed psychiatric care. Why did he have to die? Why could not this encounter be dealt with in other ways? Oh wait, to ask these questions is to disrespect the police is the message I am getting from NYC.

We are getting this claim that police have a very dangerous and difficult job (they do) and we must not question them when things go bad because it hurts their feelings, and puts them in jeopardy. I simply don’t buy it. The danger and difficulty is why many go after the job. In some cases the wrong types of individuals are attracted to and abuse the power. The data is clear that young black men are being targeted and are dying. There seems to be a group mentality that it is us against them and shoot first. Someone needs to ask some questions.

I am one who knows how much we need a professional police force and we need to respect them. But right now I am seeing a good old boys club made up of mostly white men living in an echo chamber demand respect and see questioning of some of their tactics as disrespect. I am seeing police act like spoiled little children when their spilt milk is pointed out to them. I am seeing a police force that badly needs to earn my respect losing it. If they don’t rejoin the community soon and do some real introspection, it is going to get harder to be a police officer, not easier.

Perspective

I have read in several places and listened to the hack attack on Sony described in the media as “the devastating cyber attack” on Sony. Devastating? Did anyone die? Was anyone injured? Oh wait, could our industry that produces our fantasy world for us be threatened? Actually the answer to all the above is no.

It was a minor incident thankful on a meaningless movie whose only redeeming feature is that it showed how ill prepared for a cyber attack and what cowards the moguls of movies are. But for this to take over the news is a sign of our times. Oh wait, there is an airplane crash, get closeups of the floating bodies. Any questions why our media totally fails us? Is there anything to learn here or is it just voyuerism? Voyuerism I think.

End of Year Great Quotes From Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein interviewed Paul Krugman on Vox.com and here were a few gems (unless indicated they are from Paul) ([ ] are from me.):

Yeah, the way Ebola was covered was about at the same level as media coverage of shark attacks.  The Public would have learned nothing.

Our intelligence is really lashed to a lot of things that aren’t about intelligence, like endless generations of social competition in the evolutionary fight for the best mates. [Emotioal Intelligence anyone?]

I think at this point. Elizabeth Warren is now the visible embodiment of the wing of the Democratic Party that’s determined not to return to Clinton [Bill}/Blairism.  That makes her useful even if she doesn’t run as – I don’t know – a ghost or something looming over Hillary. [Clinton/Bairism was just moving the country right during a bubble in the economy, solved nothing and hastened the final collapse]

Ezra:  Can a president be successful amidst divided government in Congress?  Paul:  I’d say basically no … You can have the economy expanding, no foreign crises, and you can preside over a time of prosperity, which is kind of what happened with Bill Clinton.  But if anything actually has to be done, no.  Everybody in Washington has learned this very damaging lesson, which is that if somebody else holds the White House, by you have blocking power, sabotage works. [Italics mine]

Ezra:  And I agree with you, I think you have a level of political polarization that makes successful legislating very, very difficult amidst divided government. It seems possible that we’re looking at a decade or more in which we have a political system that is essentially unable to make any forward motion on major problems. It might be able to respond to a crisis, but it cannot affirmatively legislate. [That is where we are today with the Republican with no ideas and blocking everything]

One of my pet peeves actually is that people talk about policy as if, as long as you’ve avoided a hot crisis, things are okay even when they’re obviously not. The pet peeve that affects me personally is the cancellation of the Hudson Rail Tunnel in New York City, and it’s kind of perfect. Essentially, because of political partisanship, we still have the world’s greatest city totally dependent on a tunnel completed in 1910 for all public transit linkage to the west. That doesn’t show up in an abrupt collapse, but those sorts of things show up in a steady degradation of our prospects. [Total lack of imagination by Republicans and their continued austerity policies]

Yes, the unemployment rate is down, but we still have a lot of long-term unemployment. We still have a really lousy environment for new college graduates. This doesn’t show up in any dramatic event, but it means that we’re seeing a lot of dreams getting killed in ways that are going to take a toll on national morale, with hardly any focused political pressure to do anything about it. [The numbers look good, but most of us don’t see it]

I think if you really did something about wage stagnation you would find that it would have a pretty strong effect in curbing incomes at the top as well. I think if you try to understand the factors behind soaring incomes at the top, they are many of the same forces that are leading to stagnating incomes for workers. [It really is one pie and how you cut it]

Kind of sums up for me most of the major issues we face and the real problems solving them.  Too bad this, like all really good journalism, will get ignored.

 

 

Huh?

I am listening to the news this morning and there was a discussion of the third highest ranking Republican Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise who spoke before a white supremacist group in Europe in 2002 claiming he did not know what they stood for. Some Congressional Democrats like Vet Clark (Leader in the Black Caucus) are calling for an investigation. As reporter Kari Dan this morning in regard to the problem for Republicans, ”

“Well I think not just for Congressman Scalise but for House Republican leaders at least in the short run is going to be a big headache. Republicans wanted to go into this new Congress with a clean slate being able to bring forward big bold ideas, reaching out to new constituencies. This is going to take up a lot of oxygen …”

Okay I have two problems here with these statements by MSNBC reporters who appear not to examine their words. First, they reported on a Democratic call for an investigation into Congressman Scalise’s speaking to this group. That may be true but aren’t we a nation of free speech? What would the investigation be investigating, that Congressman Scalise exercised his right to free speech even though you don’t like it? He is what he is, but that is not a crime.

The second problem I have is the “big bold ideas” that Ms. Dan is purporting the Republicans are going to propose. Would that be repealing Obamacare with no alternative? Would that be tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by further cutting the safety net? Would that be bigger fences on our borders? Would that be forcing the Congressional Budget Office to use “dynamic” scoring of budget proposes to legitimize voodoo economics? What big bold plans? You would think instead of repeating their talking points, these ideas would be questioned instead of being part of the story that seems to lend credence to this nonsense.

On the aircraft crash, we have had three days of non-stop reporting of this accident without any news, all speculation. The plane is down, the weather was bad, and we are searching is all there was so why not report that and move on? Now we do know something, bodies, debris, and the plane slowing down, portending a stall. So the speculation focuses on a failed pitot system (airspeed) maybe causing the autopilot to stall the plane.

So with all this speculation, this old ex-navigator will speculate. The Air France plane that crashed in the Atlantic several years ago crashed because the pitot system failed and the autopilot stalled the plane, which the pilots could not, or did not recover from. The same thing may have happened here. Are we depending too much on systems and not on crew attention? Back in the day before we totally relied on GPS we navigators spent our time tracking the flight and paying attention to airspeed, groundspeed (not the same), true ground track (not the same as heading), and wind speed. We would know if airspeed was getting to low no matter what the airspeed indicator said.

It will be interesting to see if we solve this problem by installing some new system we will then depend upon, or will we hold pilots or crew members responsible for basic flying skills? Or have our systems gotten so complicated that human skills are no longer adequate to monitor them?

Miscellanious Extraneous Thoughts or Religion and All That Jazz

Human beings are an interesting species. If you watch animals for any period of time, you see that they are in the moment. Everything is now. They do not have a why in their little brains. They may feel love or fear, or wonder how, but they never wonder why. At least according to my very unscientific observation of the world around me. But we do.

It is what makes us human and what consumes us. Why do bad things happen? Why am I here? Why are we going to die? What happens to me when I die? Why am I better off (or lessor off) than others? And on and on it goes. It makes us fearful and it removes us from the now into the past and future. But shit happens. And that is the challenge. How to deal with shit when it does happen. Or said another way, how do we make ourselves less vulnerable. And of course when we worry about it happening all the time, we are no longer in the moment.

Enter religion, philosophy, and ideology. My small brain tells me that all of these things are coping mechanisms for preventing/tolerating bad things and making the world less hurtful. It gives us a path through life that turns chaos into order, or makes the chaos less threatening, because in the end, shit does happen. Life isn’t fair so how do you make it fair or less painful is another way to say ask this question.

Religion enters the fray to answer this question. Again my small brain tells me that God was invented to give meaning to the unexplainable. God’s plan, God’s will, Faith, Heaven, Hell, and the rules of the dogma give life a purpose, meaning, and the why is left up to God. And note it works for many many people. But for some of us, the why just won’t go away and you start wondering why God.

And note how politics (ideology) can get wrapped up in this why thing. Why am I rich and comfortable when others suffer so? Well because I have worked hard (followed the rules), while those that did not are punished for their behavior. Shit does not happen, God has a plan. Note the lack of empathy that has to go along with maintaining this belief system to deal with the chaos and basic unfairness of life.

If you look at the more secular approaches to this problem in philosophies like Buddhism, Stoicism, Taoism, and Epicureanism you find what Todd May’s describes in his excellent op-ed piece as, “Invulnerabilism [which] recommends that we secrete a distance between ourselves and the world so that ultimately it cannot touch us.” He defines this as follows:

… the belief that we can extricate ourselves from the world’s contingencies so that they do not affect us. We are capable of making ourselves immune to the fortunes of our bodies, our thoughts, and our environment, and we will live better or happier or more pure lives if we do so. Whether the task involves the abolition of desire, the elimination of emotion or the recognition of the ultimate oneness of all things, the guiding idea is that we can and ought to make ourselves invulnerable to the world’s vagaries.

He then argues that what we really want is not total extraction from our every day vicissitudes, but just some padding so we can survive them. In other words, if shit happens and you are indifferent, you really aren’t alive. Remember one of my favorite movies, The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind? The story plot was that two damaged people fell madly in love and the breakup was so painful they erased the memory of each other from their minds. Then they fell in love again and were terrified they would repeat themselves. They needed their memories, even the most painful, to grow.

Said another way, we are the sum total of our experiences, painful as well as happy. To deny them is to deny life itself. To cut yourself off from reality in order to protect yourself from the pain when shit happens simply makes you a lessor person. To assume God has a plan removes the responsibility of life from your shoulders and puts it on God’s. Taking Todd May’s approach,

… the way to think about these things has less to do with the invulnerability promoted by the official doctrines, and more to do with, one might say, using these doctrines to take the edge off of vulnerability, to allow one to experience life without becoming overwhelmed or depressed or resentful or bitter, except perhaps at the extremity of loss

That I think is the key. Some of us are more fearful than others and they cut themselves off from reality and in doing so cut themselves off from the learning that not only could make them a wiser person, but from acting on what they have learned to help others.

Oh, and one note on atheism of which I am one, sort of. Atheism is not a religion in and of itself, at least for me. I don’t need you to believe or not believe. But my atheism gives me a somewhat stoic view of the world. Shit happens for no particular reason. You just have to deal with it. And because it is not God’s plan or some test to show I am unaffected, it is a lesson that we are all in this together. Life is an amazing gift and we must work with each other to make this a better, fairer place. Because if we don’t, there is no one else who will. That’s how I deal with the why.

Moderates and Other Topics

Okay, I think the grace period around Christmas has expired so I can now launch on some of my favorite topics. The first being moderate Democrats. Here is the headline that got me going: As 2016 looms, Democrats face a liberal-moderate tug-of-war. Words are loaded weapons and in this case totally biased toward “moderate”. I mean, really, isn’t moderation the best policy. Are liberals immoderate? Just the phrasing biases the discussion.

The article is about who is going to control the agenda for the Democrats in the coming Congress and the 2016 election. So I will ask this question, who are moderate Democrats and what do they stand for? Well a bunch of them just got replaced by Republicans because they energized no one. Let’s see:

  • They were against Obamacare
  • They were for guns
  • They are strong on defense
  • Some were for more coal and not discussing global warming
  • Maybe that torture thing is okay
  • They are fiscal conservatives and did not want to run on our improving economy

So we want more of them? They were grossly rejected at the polls by people who want someone to standup for middle America. That will never happen with “moderate” Democrats because we have been on the wrong path that is increasing inequality with these moderate Democrats enabling Republicans. The last election screamed go populist, not Republican Lite. Was anyone listening?

The next headline that got my attention was this: After Scrutiny, CIA Mandate Untouched. The article is pointing out that after the Torture Report, unlike past scandals in the CIA, nothing has changed. You want to know why people don’t go to the polls? It is because data and information which tells us to change direction don’t matter anymore. Here is where leadership is really important and so far we see little in a government that shows us we are willing to make changes that really count.

Next comes this: Some States See Their Budgets At Risk As Oil Prices Fall. It is always about the incentives and in this case the money. Whether it is coal or oil, if your pocketbook is controlled by it, whether it is good for your environment, future, or national interests, your are controlled by your short term greed. It’s hard to do the right thing when your pay check depends on you not doing it.

Finally in the vein of irreverence, I am noting the great show of police mourning for the two police officers senselessly murdered for perceived police indifference to the rights of blacks. But where is their sense of sorrow for a child needless or mistakenly shot by a police office. If they would turn out in the same numbers when these things happen instead of circling the wagons, maybe people would see police in a different light. Then every death is a travesty and waste and we are all working together for the same goal.

Merry Christmas From Lightner Vineyards

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Full Disclosure – This was from winter past. Winter present is sunny and nice. It is a lovely day, enjoy your family, no politics, just peace, joy, and love. Oh, and if you can’t find something to laugh at in a family gathering, it is time to get a new family. I have a few family members I will lend you.  Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad