Archive for December 2017

2018!

No, I am not going to prognosticate. I have been reading the usual flurry of articles about next year and the best ones tell you the truth, we have no idea. Trump has the same numbers he did when he was elected, which are terrible, but he was elected. Republicans are fighting among themselves and have passed one piece of legislation that is hated by about everyone, but their House when they were not in power (President) did the same thing and they got re-elected. The markets are doing nicely when they were predicted to downturn and the answer for 2018 is really no one knows. It is all about investor/buyer psychology. So really, who knows?

The things that cause change are big upheavals and we have not seen one yet. Trump could be seen as a big upheaval except he keeps getting normalized as though this is just another way of governing. People who supported Trump then, support him now. The impacts of what he is and what he has done have not really seeped down yet. I used to think there was a level at which people got it, and without showing the usual signs of outrage, surprised the conventional wisdom at the polls. I don’t think that anymore with the election of Donald Trump and the almost election of Roy Moore. President DFF issued a Tweet about it being cold therefore global warming is a liberal plot and hardly anyone flinched.

The media (CNN/MSNBC) reports the obvious about collusion with the Russians, we are doing nothing about it, the lying of the President, his family, and staff (stories changing daily) and still Republicans are unphased and are in the process of attacking the messenger. So predictions? I will give you one. Mueller will either get fired after indicting Donald Jr or Kushner or he will implicate the President and Republicans will do nothing. Yes it is obvious and they don’t care. That is the one constant we can see going forward. Will voters care? I haven’t a clue.

So let’s look elsewhere for interesting tidbits. Paul Krugman wrote a really interesting piece about small cities and their future. The funny thing is that this analysis had nothing to do with globalization. According to Paul, small cities grew to serve what was in our early times an agricultural economy. Those that thrived moved to certain new markets/technologies. But as is normal to an economy, markets come and markets go. If small cities had lucked out to have a market that bred other markets in a changing world, they survived. Note big cities are much more diversified and do not have this problem. But the reality is that small cities of the future, unless they are around university or colleges, will probably stagnant. It is just the luck of the draw on whether your current market economy will spawn something new or hit a dead end. Small cities mostly doomed?

One last topic as we go into 2018, the pursuit of happiness. We go into 2018, many of us, making resolutions about being better persons, losing weight, eat less meat, go on a safari, whatever, and the question is, will that make you happy? So define happiness. There’s the rub. Will being rich make you happy? Does the accumulation of things make you happy? Is the love of your life your path to happiness? Anecdotally, I know those that have all of those, and they are not happy. I saw a definition of happiness the other day in an op-ed and it was a dimple word, aliveness. So what is aliveness?

Putting that into words is hard, but I think we all know how it feels. It’s that moment in the middle of something when we say or think, yeah! I know of few of mine. Slipping the surly bonds in an RF-4C at Mach 1.0 gave me one of those yeah moments. Running a 6 mile course and finishing with energy was a yeah moment. Catching a wave or snorkeling still gives me a yeah moment. Being with my son and wife in Hawaii listening to the ocean gave me a yeah moment. Doing a good job at something gives me a yeah moment. And sometimes being by myself watching the sun set over my vineyard and just feeling part of this amazing world all around me, gives me a yeah moment.

Everyone is different, but a good New Year’s resolution is to seek out more aliveness, especially since my aliveness is now on the clock. But I will leave you with this little wisdom I picked up from my first example above, flying combat in an RF-4C. That mission required us many times to hug the ground, flying low and fast, pop up over the mountains and then dive back into the valleys to dodge ground fire. So in that business you think in analogies of what we know. One of my fellow crew member once said to me, “You know, if it weren’t for the valleys, there wouldn’t be any peaks.” And in that analogy of topography is the wisdom of life, the valleys, our low points, give us our high points. They are an integral part of life. I will keep that in mind in 2018. See you next year.

The Grasshopper and the Ants

I used Aesop’s famous fable yesterday to describe where I think America is right now, but maybe I should have used the Roman Nero who fiddled while Rome burned. But the point is we are not paying attention. Well it is more than that. We like to think of ourselves as the hard working and practical Americans. But we are anything but based upon our political choices. I guess the first one is we think we can vote (mostly Democrats) once every four years and that person will fix things and we can ignore everything else. But politics of today is a complex game, and if you are not paying attention, you are easily fooled by reporting that in its attempt to be fair and balanced, does not point fingers when fingers undeniably need to be pointed. Maybe just simple fact checking of a political rant instead of moving on to the next question.

My favorite example of our we will get something for free is the Bitcoin. Who out there does not wish they had invested in Bitcoin when it went from a measly couple hundred bucks to over $14,000 this year. But like our dollar it is a fiat currency, no intrinsic value except what backs it up, and I would like to point out nothing backs it up but speculation. But American investors are all twitter about it. And that is Wall Street. Remember when stocks were really priced on capital and earning potential of the companies? For that matter remember when how Wall Street did reflected prosperity on Main Street. Neither hold true now, although listening to those invested in Wall Street, you know that the legalization of pot came much earlier for them than the rest of us.

Take Republican economic theory. It assumes a free ride. Cut taxes and we will all thrive. Except of course it is another fable especially in an economy already awash in cash, but I confuse you with facts. The latest tax cut, which is all Republicans have for economic policy, except of course gutting regulations, is another free ride. But the one thing we know is everything has consequences. I have incurable cancer, but I am taking a new wonder drug that puts it at bay. But of course there is a price. Not only is it ridiculously expensive, about an hour after I take it I look like I just drank a keg of beer and then swallowed the keg. I will take it to the alternative, but my point is sooner or later we have to pay. If I were to somehow lose my health insurance, I will die probably in the next year. But we don’t need those stink’in mandates that everyone have healthcare. Get my point?

Here is the wondrous thing about snake oil salesmen, those that offer us miracle cures, there is always an element of truth in their spiel. Republicans tell us taxes are too high. Well for some of us they are, especially considering our return on investment. So do they offer a better return on investment like cheaper universal healthcare, improved infrastructure, affordable higher education? Nope, trust us, we will give all this money to the wealthy and they will bring you better jobs, and we won’t talk about all that other stuff. Now again, let’s consider, oh dare I say it, facts. What is the driving force in the corporate world? Maximize share holder value which then enriches the CEO through bonuses and retaining their job. Now pull out the old business plan on about any type of work and to increase profits, sell more and reduce costs. What is the biggest cost in most businesses? Labor. Can you connect the dots?

Wait a minute! What about those pesky regulations. They hurt business. Yes they do, but they also protect workers, our environment, and establish order. So there is a balance. In other words, yes regulations have become too cumbersome and in some cases ridiculous, but an all out assault on regulations is like a bull in a China shop. It may reduce inventory, but some of the inventory you need. But we look for simple minded solutions to complex problems and when snake oil salesmen come along promising a free ride, we, the hard working and disciplined American, fall for it every time based upon our voting record.

So what’s the cure? Remember no pain, no gain? Well that is about it. An analogy here: Look, as noted I have advanced stage prostate cancer. There is no cure and the best I can hope for is extending my life a little, hoping something else comes along. Sadly the treatment is to remove testosterone from your system as prostate cancer cells need that to grow. Eventually, that fails and then you must move on to a the treatment for “patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer”. Yeah, you read that right, “castration-resistant”. Initially you are chemically castrated to stop the production of testosterone, which the cancer cells feed on. So say goodbye to testosterone, hello another few years on this planet. But then you find that one of the side effects is the ability to burn calories and shed pounds like you used to. In that respect, you become an aging female who must fight weight gain everyday. Women of the world you have my profound respect.

Now when you have an incurable disease, you might say, heh, I think I will eat that whole container of ice cream, or eat a whole prime rib, and pass that beer. WTF anyway, right? But like the country who is buying into free rides, there aren’t any and there are consequences. Do you want to take in every tantalizing treat, or would you like to dance, and still feel good into the night? And this time it is going to be so much harder. Get the analogy? Things are much more complex and old ways of doing things don’t work anymore. Are we interested in getting back to the country leading the way, or do we just want those tantalizing treats that in the end, that free ride, that will make us worse? So far we got President DFF and the promised treats. That is the choice we made.

Now the country may start to see that their choices, the free ride party, may in fact not be a free ride. The chickens will come home to roost as the pounds pile up on my body. We may have to suck it up and understand that in the end, solving these problems will require all of use to do more work than we did in the past, and pay more, not less taxes. But instead of that money going for tax breaks to the wealthy, it has to go for investments in our future. We may have to understand that the Libertarian/Evangelical idea of freedom does not work in a complex society where one person’s freedoms is another person’s loss of freedom. It really is a village and we are all in it together. We can argue about the best way forward, but reinventing the past is not it. That requires throwing out the snake oil salesmen, but it also requires a vision of where we want to go that requires sacrifice and hard work from all of us. Have not seen the Blue party understanding that yet. I guess we are too used to promising free rides.

In a World Lit Only by Fire

Actually my title today is lifted from William Manchester’s wonderful book on the Middle Ages.

In the book, Manchester scathingly posits, as the title suggests, that the Middle Ages were ten centuries of technological stagnation, short-sightedness, bloodshed, feudalism, and an oppressive Church wedged between the golden ages of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

But I feel like that is where we are headed. I think what is so frustrating for me is that I have an engineer’s brain. My professional life from design to project management has been about solving problems, finding a way, fixing things. During that career I learned some important things about how when people work together, synergy does really happen. Yet we now live in a country trying to drag us back to a time that did not ever exist, separating and dividing people. Think about the quote above in terms of short-sightedness, fuedalism (read the 1% and the rest of us), and an oppressive Church (religion back into government-Roy Moore would have been elected had he not chased little girls), and see if it does not tell us where Republicans are trying to take us.

I think the one thing we are really missing here, is that they are pushing ignorance. That is to dumb us down so that we are in fact of Middle Ages caliber in the reasoning department. We have a whole industry out there pushing an alternate reality that allows policies to be put in place that will hurt us, not help us. It confounds me that seemly intelligent people cannot reason through the bullshit. Critical to this is to see where the world is going and (my engineer mind engaging) planning for our future. Instead, they are denying that future with a false reality that favors a very few, and in the end will hurt all of us.

So first let me give you a glimpse of how I see our future. The world economy is dominated by corporations. Capitalism has brought gains to the living standards of most of our planets inhabitants. The downside is that profit and shareholder value demands driving down costs. The biggest cost is labor. So moving corporations where labor is cheap has helped poor countries with jobs. But that same motivation will suppress their wages like it is doing in America today, with more and more of the share of the profits transferring to the wealthy. Add to that the power of money in any government, and power then migrates to the wealthy to enact a system of laws that benefits them. See the latest tax bill. Of course robots are going to take your job. They don’t have to be paid minimum wage or need health benefits. When they become obsolete, just junk them.

The other reality is global warming, of which we are the only industrialized nation to deny it. But science is finding that effects are happening sooner and more rapidly than expected. It’s not changeable at this point other than maybe we can limit the change. But what we could do is harden our infrastructure, prepare for bigger and more violent storms, and protect cities on the water. See these Republicans doing any of that? Oh, and we have ignorance in terms of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) on both sides of the political divide, a sign the dumbing down is working. We could be designing plants to grow in changing environments that don’t require as much water, or can stand heat, and prevent the mass migration and the ensuing conflicts that are going to arise. There is a great op-ed in the WaPo on our foolishness:

Of the several claims of “anti-science” that clutter our national debates these days, none can be more flagrantly clear than the campaign against modern agricultural technology, most specifically the use of molecular techniques to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Here, there are no credibly conflicting studies, no arguments about the validity of computer models, no disruption of an ecosystem nor any adverse human health or even digestive problems, after 5 billion acres have been cultivated cumulatively and trillions of meals consumed.

So what are we doing? Nothing. Transferring wealth to the wealthy increasing economic inequality and reducing the buying power of the general population, ignoring global warming, and robots, who cares. It is good for business. What could we be doing? Well, start by recognizing science and use it as a tool instead of running from it. Start programs to recognize the threats global warming poses and come up with strategies (and jobs) to ameliorate its impacts. Take a look at Scandinavian countries and how they have used taxes to help more people share in the wealth by having social safety nets (free education, universal healthcare, unemployment and retirement systems) that make fear of robots non-existent.

Instead we are dumbed down to think flow down exists, global warming is just normal variations, GMOs will kill you, inoculations cause autism, oh, and cigarettes do not cause cancer. We do not understand what facts are any more or what makes a fact a fact. And like the famous fable about the grasshopper and the ants, we fiddle while winter is coming. But what is even worse is we don’t seem to even recognize that this dumbing down is losing our basic fundamental beliefs and with it, our democracy. If we live in an alternate reality, now known as Trump World, how will be ever fix anything. We won’t.

America! We are Number 1!

Okay, I am being sarcastic. We have fallen behind most European countries in just about everything. But if you want proof, I am not going to give some link you won’t click on, I will just ask you, how was the internet yesterday, a bit slow? It was almost non-functioning for those of us outside city limits on satellite. This is the greatest country in the world and we have one of the worst bandwidths of modern countries?

While I was in Hawaii I download two movies because I was on somebody else’s (rental) network. Two hours and then when I tried to play them on the plane, they had holes in them (missing data). Of course when I got home to satellite, it was Christmas with everyone with their new toys on the internet, and it was slowed to a crawl. So I am still buying DVDs as the only reliable way to watch a movie. Is that sad or what?

So why is this? Why is not the market place clambering for my dollar by offering better faster service? Because the major broadband companies have a monopoly on supply and service and see no gain in improving (speed and access). Unless you missed it, treating the internet like a utility forcing companies to provide service to all got junked as the Trumpets turned it all over to the monopolies to decide who wins and who loses. We’re number 1!

Paul Krugman was writing today what I have been saying for years, Republicans are evil and they all have to go. Of course he did not say they were evil, but here is some of what he said:

So we can’t count on the consciences of Republicans to protect us. In particular, we need to be realistic about the likely results of Robert Mueller’s investigation. The best bet is that no matter what Mueller finds, no matter how damning and no matter what Trump does — even if it involves blatant obstruction of justice — Republican majorities in Congress will back up their president and continue to sing his praises.

And even if voters rise up effectively against the awful people currently in power, we’ll be a long way from restoring basic American values. Our democracy needs two decent parties, and at this point the G.O.P. seems to be irretrievably corrupt.

In other words, as long as Republicans control Congress, constitutional checks and balances are effectively a dead letter.

Like I said they are evil and the only way forward is to remove them from power. The Dems really are a two-party system with the moderates and Progressives. At least the Democratic moderates still believe in facts, data, and science. There are no moderates in the Republican Party. 2018 is looming large.

Paul did say one thing which I think he might be half wrong. Basically he made the argument that taking back Congress is going to be hard because the game is rigged. We have gerrymandering and voter suppression. But a Democrat won in Alabama because blacks got out and voted. Clearly the strategy going forward is to make sure that those who suffer under voter suppression are mobilized and registered to vote when the time comes with the proper ID. We can as a party do that.

On an entirely different topic, as some of you know, I am a Vietnam veteran who flew the friendly skies. There is an interesting op-ed from a pilot who flew the Ho Chi Minh trail as I did, his job to interdict, mine to find targets and intelligence about what and where they were moving arms, people, and supplies into South Vietnam and Cambodia. First thing to note is the respect he had for his adversary. We learned the same thing. They never gave up.

But there is something very much deeper here as he talks tactics and I call understanding we were never going to win. Their tenacity was born of their patriotism for their country against the invader. Next time we decide to fight a war in another country, oh say North Korea, think about that.

I used to love it when people would say Iraq/Afghanistan is not Vietnam. Of course it is. Once again they are focused on tactics. desert is not jungle, but in many ways it was exactly Vietnam as we were just another invading army. Any war we get into we will have to understand that dynamic. Shock and awe is bullshit. Sometimes it just stiffens their resolve.

One last thing on this wandering blog today. A very good friend of mine likes to take me to task on my attacks on religion, especially when there are Christians who actually read the teachings of Jesus (Heysus) and try to follow them. But my point was really not that any one religion is any better or worse than another (well, current Islam and their treatment of women is worse, right there with fundamental Christians). There are Buddhist who treat their beliefs as religion and are no better. But here is the primary difference, Buddhism sees the power for transcendence (read salvation in Christian terms) is within oneself. The power to change does not require faith in a supreme being, but faith in yourself.

I have always thought when you are looking for someone else to save you, you may have already lost the battle. Certainly the belief in god does give some the ability to survive prison, get off drugs, or face a terrible loss. But in reality all it does is allow you to use your own strength and power in the name of a fiction. And belief does not make it true. He has a plan is negated by the chaos, randomness, and unfairness we see in the world.

When you believe you yourself have a power deep within you to overcome, the crutch is gone. In fact it enables you to act, not waiting for approval or a sign. Now once again my Christian friends will react to this with Christians act for good and some are very proactive in helping others. Of course some do as they are acting out the philosophy of Jesus.

But when you are depending on an outside force for whatever, it can also be used as a justification for evil. The Bible says or God’s word instead of your brain is justifying your actions. If you truly believe you are the only prime actor in this world, then good or evil is what you do and don’t do, and cannot be justified any other way. It actualizes your brain to consider what you are doing. It is quite apparent to me that a large portion of the population does not want that responsibility.

Okay, I lied, one last little thought. I will be fasting for a few days. Studies have shown the intermittent fasting is quite good for us, and there are studies in Germany and Russia that long-term fasting has a curative effect on many illnesses. It turns out that the body does not turn on the protein in the body (except maybe the second day) during fasting as it goes into a protective mode and will not until all the fat is gone to protect critical organs. It has been shown to reduce the side effects of chemo, while increasing the results. Let’s face it, we did not evolve having three square meals a day. So a couple of days fasting each week might really be good for us.

The first day is hard, the second day is easier, and after the third day, for me it is no big deal. I always get a feeling of well-being which has been documented in many studies. It is time, because I have so little left, to fight my cancer by getting in really good shape. There is no better time to do it. So instead of saying, so little time and so much steak, chicken, pie, cake, ice cream, beer and wine, I am saying I want to be light on my feet again.

Have you seen the opening to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1? When Peter Quill is dancing through the cavern to obtain the orb, it actualized me. I want to dance. I want to be around for Gaurdians of the Galaxy Vol 3 comes out. Pass the water.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or Whatever

WARNING: NON-BELIEVER MUSING. You know, I think maybe Buddha took over Christmas. And maybe that is a very good thing. Religion after all is supposed to give peace of mind to the faithful that they will be saved. Now from there you have all kinds of variations and the obvious conclusion is they can’t all be right about the word of God. Especially when each one assumes their’s is the only right one. Or not. Anyway, once they have the word of God, they can be at peace, except they never are.

They are hoping for no more second thoughts about what is right and what is wrong or what is going to happen to me. Roy Moore comes to mind as an extreme example that you can have the clarity of knowing your own religious discrimination and hate is sanctified by a Supreme Being. Or again, not. So what is going on with believers and non-believers of various kinds buying presents for each other, throwing some change in the Salvation Army bucket, trying to be nice to one another, and all the wishes of Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays? Hell, some people even go so far as to let you change lanes on a busy freeway.

Well step forward Buddha. Now you can look at Buddhism as a religion or a philosophy since Buddhism does cross all these boundaries in variations of the belief. Some believe he was a god, some believe he was just an enlightened man trying to transcend the everyday life to find peace and happiness. Some believe there is an after life, some don’t. You can also find all kinds of interpretations of what is the proper route to get there, kind of on the same level as whose interpretation of the Bible got it right. But whether you believe in a supreme being or not, Buddha and Jesus had a philosophy that touches us all.

Jesus (Pronounced Hey-sus:  I like to use the Spanish pronunciation because it makes him more human and pokes a finger in the eye of all those immigration bashers) had some really good ideas, that get jumbled in heaven, hell, God saving you, and interpretations we see today leading to discrimination and hate. But that is not my Jesus, right? Buddha on the other hand found “salvation” within oneself. We have the power to save ourselves through transcendence. I think some Stoicism is really part of Buddhism. The difference is the stoic takes the pain of life and his reaction to it as his badge of honor, stoicism (shit happens, so what). The Buddhist is just about being and taking the self out of the equation to actually experience the moment without judgement.

But at Christmas or the Holidays or whatever, what we are all really trying to do (well most of us, I am never really sure what President DFF is doing except trying to demonstrate he is the center of the universe) is be in the moment. Enter Buddha who said enlightenment comes from being in the moment and losing the self in the equation. As she who must never be mentioned here will tell you, I am never going to lose my self, too many toys, so not to worry about some ideological rant here. But in being in the moment you loose judgement and just experience. All of a sudden everyone is part of the humane equation and you can almost feel their pain. We all become fellow travelers. So we are nice to each other for a fleeting moment before the holidays pass and we can get back to pushing and shoving to get to the front and assuming the other guy/gal is the real jerk. Could not be us, right?

I might argue that some of our favorite Christmas parables (current ones, not that manger stuff) like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story, A Christmas Carol, even It’s a Wonderful Life, is really about stopping and seeing the world around you and what is so beautiful. The Grinch’s heart grew, the family in Christmas Story found joy and laughter in the moment, Scrooge found his empathy. Even George* understand that he is among a wonderful community.

So with all that, the discrimination and hate generated by some religious beliefs, or just selfishness in general resulting from a lack of empathy for our fellow-man who some see as deserving their fate, not recognizing that their own fate was determined by a roll of the dice, not some supreme being anointing us to our favored position, when we stop and take a moment to be in the Christmas spirit, to take in our fellow-man and for a few moments actually care, whose day is this, Jesus’s or Buddha’s. Well they both got some things right, but Buddha gets my vote for what we really should be paying attention to. Stop for a moment (well at least slow down), smell the coffee, realize that guy or gal next to you is in the same human mix master your are, and maybe offer a hand if not a smile. Happy Buddha’s Day or Merry Buddhamas.

*I have a take on It’s a Wonderful Life which is a little different than maybe the contemporary worship of that movie if you are interested.

So When do You Draw a Line in the Sand?

We got the government continuing resolution through January 19th, a minor extension of CHIP aid, and maybe an agreement not to automatically start gutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid when the tax cut proves to be a pie in the sky, but what about the Dreamers? A bridge too far? Did Democrats not make a promise? I thought they did.

Now they are taking major heat and they promise to get on it for those January 19th votes, but what is the leverage then? Apparently Democratic leaders saw more loss than gain for standing up for principles and promises. I am one who does not think so. Talk is cheap and actions speak a million words and once again we are faced with what do Democrats stand for other than anti-Trump?

I guess my basic question here is when do you make a stand? When do you say no and mean it? What are basic principles that Democrats are willing to shut down the government for? I don’t know the answer to that. Here is how the NYT described the bill:

The extension of government funding saves Republicans from what would have been a colossal embarrassment just after they celebrated passage of the biggest tax rewrite in decades. But the lack of a resolution to several pressing issues leaves lawmakers facing a tough task when they return after the holidays, with the possibility of a high-stakes showdown when the next government funding deadline approaches.

It looks like they just kicked the can down the road (actually that is exactly what they did) and I don’t see how they would have more leverage than now. I think the thinking is that when you are responsible for shutting down the government, you get the blame from voters. But when is enough, enough?

A good friend of mine sent me a list of 17 things that happened this year that were good outcomes. The idea is to get some perspective and things are not as bad as them seem. Actually, 17 things or not, things are as bad as they seem*. We need to not mollify ourselves with good new anecdotes when we should be angry, damn angry. Angry enough to go into the streets because that and voting in mass for Progressives is the only way this country can begin to pick itself up again. This is not some minor swing from normal, but destruction of democracy and our values as we know them. Oh, and you don’t have to be a Progressive, you just have to support people who believe in facts, data, and science and make policy based upon them, not ideology.

In the last couple of weeks we had the monumental vote in Alabama. Yeah, they finally picked a Democrat over a child molester. It tells you where we are when that in monumental. In the Virginia legislature we thought we had maybe changed the face of that body, but now we are drawing straws. The Democrats were on a roll and there was a clear difference between the two parties for those that don’t pay attention. Then they passed a short-term financing bill and left for Christmas break, kicking the can down the road and you are left thinking, same as it ever was.

These are not normal times and I don’t think the old calculations (especially Democratic ones that have lost them the Presidency, the House, and the Senate) work anymore. Maybe Christmas was not the right time to shut down the government, but sooner or later the Democrats have to stand for something. I think it has to be January 19th, or they will see many, many primary challenges with people who will stand for something. Maybe that is not a bad thing. Just try to keep in mind, all that is going on is not normal and only we can right the ship.

*Roger Cohen did an elegant job of making my point in a great op-ed this morning. Here is a quote I truly love:

If this is America, where the Great Leader wants you to believe that 2+2=5, and would usher you down his rabbit hole, and struggles to find in himself unequivocal condemnation of neo-Nazis, and you recall perhaps the words of Hannah Arendt, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e. the standards of thought) no longer exist” — if all this you have lived and felt and thought across this beautiful and spacious land, then you must be prepared to “watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.”

The old politics will not suffice and if we continue to try to normalize this we are headed for disaster. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schummer are too much of the old guard and if we really are going to make America great again, we have to take back our government and banish those who do not believe in rational debate, facts, data, and science. That would be all Republicans, even your friends who are so nice but enable this evil. Merry Christmas.

Last Day in Paradise And Then Back to a Sinking Ship

 My how a week can fly by. I am just beginning to get my bearings and tomorrow we head home. Downloaded a few podcasts and a movie to watch on 5+ hour flight home. Now the rest of the day will be focused on fun. Went to a restaurant in Haleiwa last night that specialized in seafood (Joe’s Grilled Seafood). I had the whole cooked fish. I am eating pineapples and fish like it is going out of style (must not forget the vinegar and salt wings at Foodland). Today another trip to Shark’s Cove and then maybe a hike in Waimea Canyon Park, then maybe one more trip to the ocean.

I am a mass transit nut and Hawaii has an excellent bus service. #55 runs about every 25 minutes (both ways) (weekdays) and goes from the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu to North Shore (actually stopping at Turtle Bay) all the way to Haleiwa. If you wanted a shopping trip or to get where you have trouble parking, this is the ticket. You can get a one-day pass from the bus driver for $5.

Okay, one last Hawaiian thing. I have been struggling with the names of streets, towns, you name it until I came across this website. The Hawaiian alphabet has only 12 letters, 5 of which are vowels. The consonants sound pretty much like how we normally pronounce them except “w” which after an i or e is “v” most of the time. If you see a ‘, it means a pause. Vowels once you get them allow you to pronounce Hawaiian words and they go like this:

a – ah
e – eh
i – e (as in easy)
o – o as in pole
u – oo

Meanwhile on the sinking ship (Mainland), I see that employees are leaving in droves at the EPA now that they have forsaken science for business. Something like 700 employees have left since the nation put President DFF in office (If you a new here DFF means Dub Fact F*ck). I would expect the same at FDA and the CDC for the same reason, and a mass walkout at Justice if they go after Mueller. Also note the moral and dislike of President DFF at the intelligence agencies, CIA, and FBI after his attacks on them. Some government we got going on here. Remember some of those science fiction stories about the United Federation of Corporations? We may have arrived.

Did you see the Bit Coin just took a 25% hit. I believe that is what is going to happen to the stock market after the Euphoria of the tax cut wears off and the reality of this massive mistake sinks in. Oh, of course not, The bit coin is based upon pure speculation and market psychology (herd) and Wall Street is built on …Uh oh.

But what depresses me the most is my own home town/state where I read in the Sacramento Bee yesterday. The state has passed an 12 cent tax increase on gas and raising license fees to fund our badly needed infrastructure improvements. Now it appears in a latest poll people want to repeal it:

A new poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found 52 percent of likely voters would support an initiative repealing California’s recent increases in gas taxes and vehicle license fees, while 46 percent said they “strongly” support repealing the charges. Republicans overwhelmingly favor repeal, with 80 percent of them indicating that they’d support rescinding the gas tax.

Voters in the Bay Area are most supportive of the tax increase and transportation improvements it’s projected to fund. Inland California voters especially oppose the tax, and voters in coastal counties narrowly oppose the new charges.

Read that as liberals for, conservatives against. I wonder how they think we can repair our infrastructure if no one is willing to pay for it. I think this is what President DFF has brought us. Selfishness. I think this best represents my thinking here:

“The Bay Area is a much more liberal-leaning, progressive electorate that I think puts more stock in the greater good. That’s a progressive value, if you believe the greater good is served by this modest increase in gas taxes, versus others who say, ‘I’m already paying too much in taxes, therefore I’m in favor of repeal,’” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll.

President DFF and Ronald Reagan have a lot in common in this attitude best expressed by Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street, Greed is good. Ronald started that whole trend that government is the problem and I got mine screw you of today’s Republicans (also known as flow down). So California was headed in a good direction and now in the era of President DFF we are hunkering down to take care of ourselves. I live on a hill with a gate, how about you?

Aloha and Salutations to Mainlanders Who Are Now in the Winter of Their Discontent, Officially

We have been studiously not watching the minute to minute news of the tax bill or the stealing of an election in Virginia, or the lies about the tax bill, but it does seep in. Bing! Computer announces more bad news. Appropriately it has been cloudy and rainy yesterday to befit the news. This does not stop snorkeling, but does put a damper on boarding (waves are way bigger than a breadbox). But since the nation seems to be rushing off the end of the cliff, today I challenge the big waves. What was it that Worf, the Klingon in Star Trek Next Generation used to say, “It is a good day to die?”

Okay, the tax gut passed, with Corker, Collins, and Flake, well, flaking. Now why is this bad? Hell, my own newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, said this:

Business owners and economists said the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts should produce a surge in capital investment and improve job growth. Corporate income taxes will be reduced drastically, and there’s a special tax break for small-business owners. The bill also will cut taxes for businesses that invest in new plant and equipment.

Except that on the economists part, it is not true. Well actually most of it is wrong. Why would corporations already awash in cash decide to invest in capital improvements when they could buy back stock and improve CEO’s positions on bonus and their pay. Why would CEO’s pass the money down as pay raises and lower their bottom line hurting their stock prices and the CEO’s bonos? Remember when Bank of America downgraded Chipotle’s stock because they “paid their employees too much?” Sure a tax cut in lean times does help spur investment, but we are not in corporate lean times. Estimates of improvement on GDP are weak at best. As for flow down to the middle class, see above.

Try to keep your ball on the prize. Think about a business plan you are trying to sell a bank (and most corporations don’t need loans and money is cheap). Where is the demand coming from? If we don’t create jobs and give workers more income to spend, the demand remains stagnate. You have to show adequate demand to make your plan work. Where again is that coming from?

83% of the benefits go to the wealthy. Economic inequality just got a lot worse which in the long run does not bode well for the world economy when fewer and fewer of us can afford homes, education or have money to buy stuff corporations want to sell, except for maybe opioids which apparently our Republican Congress see as a real growth industry and gets rid of “the surplus population.” Oh, and what of that horrible non-competitive tax rate on corporations of 39.5%, the highest in the world? They don’t pay that and pay on average about 24% (world average is about 21%). And did you see the Republicans close any loopholes that will allow most large corporations to drive their tax rate to almost zero? No you did not. 20% of big corporations pay zero corporate taxes and my guess is it will be more now.

Oh those facts and data. How they do inform if we would just use them. This whole tax charade makes no sense. We just gave away at least $1.5 trillion dollars to wealthy people who don’t need it that we could have spent on infrastructure, education, healthcare. Oh wait! That stuff will be taken care of by the market place. And wait to you see the new actual tax rules next year, more complicated than ever. And the Republicans are already talking about cutting Medicare and Social Security to hold down the deficit they just created. Oh the winter of our discontent.

But to add fuel to the fire, the odds of President DFF firing Mueller is almost certain as you see Democrats realizing that their Republican counterparts are starting to attack Mueller with frivolous claims (absolutely no evidence of any wrong doing, just innuendo). Senator Mark Warner warning the firing of Mueller would cross a red line was a veiled threat to Republicans. He sees it coming and so do I. When Mueller drops the Donald Trump Jr. or Jarred Kushner indictment, it will happen including pardons. Then we are over the cliff. It is clear that Republicans are trying to stymie the investigations, and try to tarnish the real one Mueller is conducting, so it is tick, tick, tick.

The only thing I am wondering is if Democrats as a group are recognizing both realities, Mueller will be fired* and Republicans will not act. Then what is the game plan? What is your game plan? If the wheels of justice don’t turn, what can we as citizens do? Oh I know, vote third party again.

But here in paradise the sun is starting to peak out, and surf is a little calmer so I am going to spend the shortest day of the year attempting to kill myself on my body board. Can’t think of a better time when the future is now.

*If I were Mueller, and he is probably much smarter than I, he has prepared a departure package. Now in normal times the honorable thing to do is just walk away as government works out the kinks. But these are not normal times and normal thinking like can the two sides just get along, and we all need to step back simply do not apply. The democracy, so carefully founded, is being destroyed by a Republican controlled Government and a truly despicable man unsuited for the presidency in charge. So I would have my farewell package ready to drop if shit happens and it is going to.

Oh and one other thing. Considered the attacks on scientists, FBI, and Intelligence Agencies, has not President DFF and the Republicans set us up for a mutiny if the rule of law no longer applies. Those would not be my chosen enemies.

Aloha and Tribalism

Another day in paradise, except paradise is delivering waves so big, only the few are hitting the beach. Did try some snorkeling in a protected cove and it was a real fight against currents, but still, beautiful fish with no apparent fear from the floating human above them. Tomorrow is suppose to deliver a better chance and I will take it, better or not.

In the meantime, a good friend of mine sent me this essay/lecture by Jonathan Haidt called The Age of Outrage, What the current political climate is doing to our nation and our universities. It is basically about how tribalism is in our DNA, we have a government designed to counter those tendencies, and how it has failed. He also indicts Universities for narrowing the minds to reinforce tribalism.

Here is the fine-tuned liberal democracy hypothesis: as tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life…They [the Founders] built in safeguards against runaway factionalism, such as the division of powers among the three branches, and an elaborate series of checks and balances…Thomas Jefferson wrote, in 1789, that “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government;” he backed up that claim by founding the University of Virginia, about which he wrote, in 1820: “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error as long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Okay, it is not the world we live in today and the author blames runaway tribalism both in universities and in our political system which breeds intolerance to “other’ thinking. The author then lists some of the whys that have caused this. He indicts both the way things are now taught in universities and Republicans, especially Newt Gingrich who came along to change Congress to fracture it into tribal groups. On liberals he hangs identity politics. I found he made very good arguments, and almost everything he said is true, and yet in the end, it totally missed the mark.

What he missed was the asymmetrical nature of this tribalism. Does tribalism make us check our brains at the door? Apparently for Republicans it does. We have a tax plan that facts and data tell us will be a disaster for our country, and Republicans don’t care. They live in an alternate reality that even allows them to ignore overwhelming polls against this bill. But that is just one example. Remember repeal and replace Obamacare? Did you see the last three nominated judges by the Trump administration that were totally unqualified for the bench. They have gone off the deep end on an ideological bent and tribalism lets them off the hook, because by inference, it takes two tribes.

Ezra Klein ask in a recent Podcast with Paul Krugman this insightful question that makes my point:

You and I both get, I’m sure, a lot of emails from extremely intense liberals, and I do not find those emails to be all that different from the emails I get from extremely intense conservatives. I don’t think individual liberals and conservatives are different in what they’re willing to believe, and I think a lot of research supports that.

But liberal institutions — the Democratic Party is one, but much more broadly the think tank community, the academic community, which leans liberal, the journalistic community that is left of center — has been much more resistant to some of the bullshit that has infected the conservative community. There seems, to me, to be an asymmetry in the responsibility of the core mediating institutions.

When we rely totally on tribalism, we get lost in both sides argument that gets us nowhere. And while there is a tendency there, the asymmetry is so pronounced that there is something else going on. I think back over the eight years of Obama trying to find middle ground not realizing that other tribe had decided there could be no middle ground.

And here is the most important thing: They have got most things wrong, and facts, data, and science has no impact. Is that tribalism or is it something much more dangerous? Do you think denying climate change is about tribalism? You could go through the whole litany of Republican positions and find no basis in fact, data, or science. In other words, debate no longer counts. Remember repeal and replace Obamacare and there was no cheaper better plan, yet they still push that fiction?

So if you buy into the tribalism argument, then we need to rein ourselves in and listen to the other side. But that is what Obama believed in his soul and we now have all levers of government controlled by those who were not interested in listening. Now I will give you the truth. Republicanism is destroying the country and our values. Republicans, those who still back or vote Republicans are enabling this demise no matter how they say they are dismayed. Liberals lost the war, and it was a war, back in 2009 when Mitch McConnell and the Republicans decided on a scorched earth policy when they were thrown out of power.

Policies should be based upon our values, facts, data, and science. We are never going to have a rational debate again as long as Republicans do not have to deal (are in the minority). So call it what you want, if the country is going to be saved, the tribe that believes in science, data, and facts has to win. That is the war we are in. In the meantime, maybe I can hit the beach tomorrow and love everyone.

AMTRAK Crash is Our Infrastructure

When you see a picture of the crash, the first thing you notice on the new high speed route is the graffiti on what is for sure an aging bridge where the train came off. According to news reports this morning, the speed limit was supposed to be 30 mph on the bridge and the train was going 80. Or was it? I noted that the area where the train came off the tracks looks like it is straight before the turn. Again all speculation from an amateur.

First thing that comes to mind as an old crew member flying dangerous missions, what was the pre-brief like? First trip with passengers so wouldn’t you discuss the route and any dangerous spots? Wouldn’t you discuss any speed limits and places and times where you have procedures for slowing down? Without safety automation installed on the tracks to either tell you to slow down, or actually slow down the train, could you have planned the mission, oh, sorry, the trip, based upon actions at certain times? Maybe they did and there was no warning about the bridge. Maybe they just assumed the old rules did not apply on the new route, or maybe the speed had nothing to do with it.

What is truly sad is we are now running trains designed for higher speeds maybe 20 years ago, on tracks and infrastructure put in 30 or 40 years ago and hoping it will all work with some minor upgrades. Infrastructure on the cheap. Maybe it is time to really invest in high speed rail in corridors where it makes sense with above grade (or below) train tracks to avoid vehicles, straightened for the speeds, and welded tracks to provide smooth rides. I am sure the Japanese or Europeans could give us a few tips if we would listen. Oh wait, I forgot, we just spent that money on making the wealth wealthier.

President DFF said he was watching this closely (so am I so what does that mean?). He also indicated that people need to get on board with his infrastructure plan. What infrastructure plan? Is that where we privatized everything and only the rich can afford the toll roads and high speed rails? Show me the money! Did it occur to him that after this giant giveaway to the wealthy called a Tax Cut, there is no money left to do anything. Did it dawn on him that as the deficit goes out of sight because of all the magic plans for growth don’t work, that the Republicans will (are already talking it up) start cutting everything.

Trump’s Banana Republic is becoming a reality with corrupt leaders (See Corker and Collins for the latest, and don’t let John McCain off the hook after whining about normal order) and morons for supporters on a witch hunt to purify America of everything that once did make us great. If you were to make this up, it could not be more representative of what we have today. Anybody connecting the dots yet?