Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Blunt Force Meets Immoveable Object

In my opinion, I doubt many undecided voters were persuaded to jump on board with either of the two leading candidates last night.  I am doubly sure their current supporters are more convinced than ever they are supporting the right candidate.
Reading the news this morning it appears that one side is all up in arms over the moderator “fact checking” Mr. Trump and not Ms. Clinton.  The other side seems to be greatly relieved that Ms. Clinton remained standing upright, looking serene, and not getting asked the hard questions about her previous roles or positions.  I assume Mr. Holt was in a hard position, attempting to keep the sumo fight debate on track and moderating some of the more extreme statements Mr. Trump makes from time to time.
This is offered as food for thought to those who may be undecided, and does not constitute an endorsement of either candidate.
Past Performance – past performance should matter.  While not 100% accurate, it is a benchmark to help judge how well an individual is prepared for the higher level of responsibility.  Both candidates have a history to judge, but those histories are in significantly different environments.  On the one hand Ms. Clinton has been in politics almost all her adult life, and since 1992 has lived in the sheltered world of the beltway with its lobbyists and benefactors.  After leaving the White House in 2000, Ms. Clinton claimed to be dead broke – yet she, her husband, and their foundation has amassed hundreds of millions of dollars through those political contacts.  Since Ms. Clinton has been in political life a lot longer than Mr. Trump she has a longer public record to assess.  Things I think about include, what has she done to keep jobs in NY when she was a Senator?  Is the middle east a safer place since she advocated for the over throw of the Egyptian and Libyan governments by radical Islamic clerics?  Is our relationship with Russia better today than before she used the infamous reset button?  How did she handle the now famous 3 am phone call on Benghazi?  Does the compromise of our highest level of secret information, or the fact she is handled differently than those less well politically connected, matter? Decide for yourself how well her background prepares her for leading rather than just following?
Mr. Trump has been a real estate developer, starting in NYC and expanding beyond.  He has taken advantage of all the tax benefits and shelters afforded him, and as far as I know has not yet been convicted of fraud and misconduct.  He has grown a business that has been valued in the billions of dollars, undoubtedly in the course of that growth he has cut some corners and rubbed some people the wrong way.  You can decide whether his in ability or unwillingness to deal with specific aspects of his record should be judged.  Does he have an ability to separate his reality TV personality from the international leadership personality he will need as President.  While I have formed my own opinion, each of us should know what we think and why.
Income Tax Returns – Releasing tax returns is a relatively modern idea (early 1970’s).  For the average person they will learn only what the media wants to tell you about as the “alleged” experts pick them apart.  Since we know the media is not neutral, form your own opinion on this issue the Clinton campaign (and the left) is making a big deal about, and Mr. Trump (and the right) is ducking the issue on.
It’s the economy, stupid!  To take a line from the 1992 campaign of Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush we should consider how the two candidates would address this.  Again, for Ms. Clinton we see the standard progressive talking points.  Make college free, forgive everyone’s existing college debt (i.e. the government pay the banks and make the debt a government cost), increase minimum wage, and increase welfare, while opening up the borders to more low skilled immigrants to compete for the diminishing labor market.  Meanwhile promise new high tech jobs in renewable energy for all those new graduates that will be pouring out of college.  These are essentially the same talking points the traditional government candidates have used since the 1990’s.  How well has this all worked out so far?  The point I find most interesting is how well Ms. Clinton spends other people’s money.  In this campaign she is outspending Mr. Trump by over $600,000 a day and what kind of return on investment is she seeing?  If money were the only variable, or the answer, she should be killing him in the polls.  Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has yet to lay out how he will deal with the disparity of wealth (if that is really the problem), or how he would guide the government to fix the hopelessness of the rust belt inner cities. The one historical comparison Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump agree on is he wants to reduce taxes on the rich (who play over 50% of all the taxes today), and return to President Reagan’s economic policies.  The ones hated by the Democrats and loved by the Republicans.  The major problem I see is neither candidate is willing to shrink the government; so all the small businesses and competition will suffer, allowing the drug companies, like the makers of the Epipen, to continue to charge uncontested exorbitant prices because of the government regulations.
Universal Healthcare – How is that working for you?  Private Insurance companies are bailing out, rates are going up significantly, and things like the Epipen cost $600 dollars…I am not sure I see the “affordable” in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Maybe you do.  If you want to see it continued in its present form, Ms. Clinton is your best choice.  If not, maybe she isn’t?
Finally, we come to National Security.  Everything up to this point is interesting, important and relevant, but the national security of the United States is an inescapable role of the executive branch and the President. In fact it is the first role identified for the President in Article 2, Section 2 of the US Constitution.
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States[emphasis added]; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
We have seen since the beginning of our nation the various Presidents fail or succeed in this role, and for the most part the nation survived despite their worst (or best) efforts.  Few of the Presidents have brought great military experience to the job, and that is probably a good thing, for history has shown that if they view themselves as military experts then we are likely to get involved beyond their ability to appreciate the complexity of warfare.  Within our recent history we have examples of both the good and bad of being Commander in Chief, but this is an area where “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  For me President Reagan and his Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger set the gold standard.  President Reagan set the policies and funding that that would reshape a broken military and lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the SECDEF set the conditions for employing the force that would ultimately lead to the defeat of Iraq in the first gulf war.  Since then the Presidents have torn down the military to fund their desires for social engineering or economic priorities in the social programs.  The willingness of the Clinton years to allow growth of the radical Islamic factions targeting US interests lead directly to the attacks on 9/11.  The splitting of US focus by the Bush administration has allowed both Iraq and Afghanistan to remain crisis points.  The use of drones as a tool to engage specific terrorist leadership has done little to resolve the on-going conflicts and tensions.  Mr. Trump has publicly stated he knows more about the problems, than all the Generals, while Ms. Clinton has shown she takes inputs from only her closest and most trusted advisors, so you decide who is most likely to be an effective protector of the nation.
Well that's about it for me, good luck with your choices.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Life Lessons

A couple of Gin and Tonics before watching a baseball game at the Tropicana Stadium in St. Petersburg FL makes the game a lot more enjoyable.  The nice lady at the spirits concession by gate 6 now recognizes me because we have been to so many games this year.
Listening to the lady tell visitors what to do, or not do, when they visit the live rays tank is almost worth the price of admission.  Apparently you are not supposed to actually climb in and swim with them… who knew?
Ted Williams has a “Hitters Hall of Fame” at the Trop… I looked, his head was not there.
On a scale of 1 to 5 most of the food at the Trop is off scale low.  But the aforementioned Gin and Tonics help.
Finally, if your wife spends enough money on Red Sox memorabilia the Ted Williams group will give you a small piece of submarine sandwich and a couple of pieces of cold chicken to show their appreciation, but they won’t show you his head… I didn’t ask, so maybe they would.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Brief Discussion on Protest

A few weeks ago, just after the San Francisco 49er’s backup quarterback sat for the National Anthem, the internet and social media was alive with the condemnations and outrage over this disrespectful gesture. One of my friends was of the opinion the owners and the league leadership would weigh in on the subject and quickly put a stop to it.  In looking at league make up I was not sure of this at all.  The NFL is about 68% African-American and the European-Americans of the league’s front office, along with the player’s union are in a somewhat difficult position on these racially motivated protests.  For me, the first indication of the position the league would take was its rejection of the Dallas Cowboy’s request to put a sticker on their helmet to honor the slain police officers, shot just a few weeks earlier.

I see in the USA Today, that Commissioner Goodell has finally issued a statement. Roger Goodell praises player demonstrations for going from 'protest to progress'

     As I watch this all play out I am struck by a simple, unavoidable, fact.  The commenters who condemn Mr. Kaepernick are almost exclusively white.  The commenters who support Mr. Kaepernick are almost universally black.  What does this tell you? 

I am drawn back to a now famous tweet from November 2014, sent by a Jon Gabriel, “My favorite part about the Obama era is all the racial healing.”

My earliest recollection of an athlete using his stage to protest the political reality of racial problems in the US was the 1968 Summer Olympics when sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists during the playing of the National Anthem to recognize Smith’s winning the 200-meter race.

I don’t have a solution on how we achieve equality, and perhaps there is not one to be had as long as race is played as a central issue in every political discussion or agenda. What I have decided is this protest has a legitimate basis for being, but it will do little to move us towards a solution.   
The protests will grow and they will wane, and eventually the news media will lose interest and they will fade away.  In the end the tensions that separate us in America will remain, and perhaps be exasperated as we bring in more low-skilled immigrants to take the jobs of the low-skilled African and European Americans currently living near or at the poverty level, driving them deeper into economic slavery.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What Came First?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?  I think I was first  asked this philosophical question when I was in grade school.  It probably followed the equally deep -- why did the chicken cross the road?

 Of course the answer to this question depends on a couple of philosophical or theological choices of the respondent and as far as I know has never been answered with 100% certainty.  I don’t intend to enter into that debate, but I would like to re-frame the question into a more political one.

In the United States, what came first, big government or big business?

Our government has grown, that fact is undeniable.  For comparison let’s use US census data[i] as our ground truth.

In 1790, the director of the census bureau was Thomas Jefferson (he was also Secretary of State), he had 56 people collecting and compiling the data on the 3,929,214 residents of the 13 states.  The cost of that first census was $44,000 or 1.1 cents/person.  The government asked it citizens 6 questions revolving around the makeup of each family group (i.e. name of head of household, free white males over 16, under 16, free white females, other free people, and slaves).

In 2010, the director was Robert M. Groves, he had 635,000 people collecting and compiling the data on 308,745,538 residents in the 50 states.  The cost had grown to $12,900,000,000.00 ($12.9 billion), or $47.78/person.  In an effort to get the word out, they spent $133 million in multi-media advertising in 28 languages, had traveling road shows to things like NASCAR races, ran commercials as part of Super Bowl XLIV (44).  Additionally, they awarded Lockheed Martin a $600 million contract to build the 2010 census “Decennial Response Integration System (DRIS).”  The census asked 10 questions covering thinks like name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship, and whether you own or rent your home.[ii]  To reduce the number of questions previously asked they now conduct an annual “American Community Survey” that seeks information on education, housing, and jobs.

So, just using this one small bureau of the government we see the following “fun facts” as the Census Bureau would say (by the way feel free to check my math).

  • Between 1790 and 2010 the US population increased 7,758%
  • The people hired to accomplish a single task grew by 1,133,829%
  • The cost per capita (cost/person) to complete the census grew 434,264%, but the total cost to perform this one task was 29,318,082% greater in 2010 than 1790.

At the same time the government was growing we moved from an agrarian nation, into a manufacturing giant, aided by a couple of world wars that slowed or destroyed the competition.  We are now moving into a service industry where information is king.  For example, we saw the airplane industry spawn and grow into around 10 or so major, and a myriad of minor companies from 1903 to the mid-1960s, and now, through government approved consolidation we are down to two major, and a few minor companies today.  The car manufacturing industry grew to over a dozen competing brands providing jobs to the nation, and now our domestic base is GM (Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, and GM), and Ford (with Lincoln).  All the rest is foreign owned (including Chrysler). 

The medical industry in the 1790s was essentially non-existent with barbers doubling as dentists.  The doctors were few and far between.  Today it is one of the largest industries in the States, with heath care spending exceeding $3.8 trillion each year.

So I come back to the original question.  Did government grow to support the population, or did it grow to support the businesses?  Personally, I would follow the money and believe if you follow the government growth, and all its regulations/spending you can usually find some industry they are trying to protect, rather than improve the lives of the average man or woman, although that story plays better to the average man or woman on the street.

[i] https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/fast_facts/

[ii] https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/overview/2010_overview_1.html

Monday, September 12, 2016

What is the Role of the Press?

I read much about how bias the press is against Mr. Trump, or in favor of Ms. Clinton.  The principle critics are, of course, the conservative media, who have their own bias.  It doesn’t take too critical an eye to see that what we view as the mainstream broadcast media, ABCNNBCBS, their subordinate networks, and affiliated stations all seem to have the same agenda in their selection of what news to feed us, and how to shape public opinion in support of their group's goals. 

It has recently become obvious that on-line search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing as well as social media giants Facebook and Twitter all do the same thing.  The anonymous editors, sitting behind their screens have been shown to fashion the trending stories to ensure their agendas rise to the forefront of any story line, or derogatory articles are buried deep in the search results.

Perhaps it has always been this way, but it is just more obvious now than at any time in my past because of the way we absorb the information that inundates us.  For example, look at how the press covered Franklin Roosevelt for the entirety of his Presidency.  From what I’ve read Americans knew he had polio, but never were shown the extent of his infirmity.  The White House and the press colluded to only release information that showed the President in normal views, sitting in a car, sitting on the porch, or standing to give the state of the union address to Congress.  They were led to believe he was a bit slow to walk because of the braces, but did not appreciate he was wheelchair bound or the full extent of his paralysis.  Was this wrong?  Did the public have a right to know?  Should his opponents have made a big deal over this as they would now in this age of ad hominem political attack?

In the later part of the 19th century, writing in the Fortnightly Review, Oscar Wilde said of the press.

“In old days men had the rack.  Now they have the press.  That is an improvement certainly.  But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralising.  Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate.  That was true at the time, no doubt.  But at the present moment it really is the only estate.  It has eaten up the other three.  The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it.  We are dominated by Journalism.”[i] 

 How true that appears today, where opinion far outweighs fact.  A time when journalists and other opinion holders (who fancy themselves journalists) abound, and platforms like Facebook and Twitter are based almost exclusively on shouting out opinions either for or against some social issue.

You can observe these bias agendas in action as the latest Clinton or Trump controversy plays out.  Today, more than ever before, we are left to our own intelligence to determine what is real and what isn't.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The End of Summer

With the passage of Labor Day, we see the end of summer approach.  The shortening of the days becomes noticeable, the cooling of the days and nights, and the leaves begin to turn from their summer greens to their autumn hues.  Here in the South, the children had returned to school a month ago, but with the passage of Labor Day they may now be returning in the northern states as well.
There they will rekindle friendships of those they’ve been apart from, and create new friendships with those they had not known before this year.  If they are lucky a few of those will become lifelong.
We forget that this is perhaps the most important time of year for the farmers.  They will be harvesting the grains, the corns, the grasses and all the other crops that feed this nation.  The apples of the Hudson Valley are ripening and await the coolness of the first frost to impart its crispness to them.
The vast fields of wheat stand golden on the plains of the mid-west waiting for the harvesters to cut them from the ground, shake them from their stalk, and prepare them for the trip to the grain silos where they will wait their turn to be made into some foodstuff or silage.
The corn, grown now for both energy and food will be harvested across this land.  Some with go to silage to feed the cattle in the winter, but much more will go to create ethanol or to be prepared for our tables.  The development of ethanol as a fuel additive to our gasoline is a somewhat interesting study in which came first the chicken or the egg.  Did our government experts decide ethanol should be added because it cleaned up the environment, or used up the overabundance of corn left in the field?  Perhaps we will never know.  What we do know is don’t let it sit in your tank for more than 30 days or it will turn to jelly.
In Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant, the industrious ant has been preparing all summer and into the fall for the onset of winter and its dark days and lack of food.  The grasshopper, on the other hand, has spent the summer enjoying all that nature provides, living in the moment would be the popular expression.  The grasshopper sees the ant and the methodical method of his existence as boring and unnecessary.  Soon the error of his thinking will become apparent as the first snows fall and he has nothing to eat.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Why Math is a Problem for Liberals.

A FaceBook/High School classmate posted this a few days ago.

Occupy Wall Street FaceBook Post
It, along with a couple of on-going protests, have been gnawing on me and I’ve tried to put my thoughts on the protests into some kind of semi-logical forms, but without success.  This on the other hand is pure stupidity I would like to talk about for a moment.
The picture comes from the folks at “Occupy Wall Street” and you can see the “facts” they lay out and the argument they make for increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  The picture, more so than almost everything I’ve seen illustrates why our education system  will leave the upcoming generation wondering what hit them when they are left to lead the nation.  The idea that people of my generation look at this stuff without question is disturbing, but there isn’t much I can do with that.
Let’s review the facts as Occupy Wall Street has laid out.
In 1981-82 college tuition cost $2,870 in a public university, and the maximum Pell grant a student could borrow was $1,800.  By working part time at minimum wage the student could hope to make $2,820 to cover the cost the Pell grant would not and provide some $1,750 to pay other expenses.  While I doubt the veracity of these numbers; since OWS calls them facts I’ll go with that.
If everything were adjusted for the rate of inflation[i] since 1982 everything would be 149% larger.  That is to say, tuition would be $7,157, Pell Grants would equal $4,489, and the expectation for earnings from a minimum wage job would be, 7,032.  But that is not what the “facts” show according to OWS.  They believe there facts show we need a $15/hour minimum wage to make everything right.
Pell Grant payments have gone up 220%, the OWS estimate on what you would earn at that same minimum wage job has gone up only 116%, but college tuition has gone up 581%. I easily grant that the minimum wage has not kept pace with the rate of inflation.  When you are looking for the government to do something they are notoriously slow in keeping up.  If you doubt this, look at whole debate on climate.
But lets focus on the real problem.  Where is the outrage over the massive increase in the cost of a college education?  How do the idiots that run OWS not see the most significant problem on their fact sheet is not the minimum wage, but rather the costs an individual is expected to pay for tuition to support the salaries of the tenured professors being paid in the mid to high six-figure range, or the administrators paid in the high six-figure range, or the coaches paid in the 7-figure range?  
By the way, one last thought… I don’t know what the average minimum wages are where you live, but if the $3.35 figure that OWS used were adjusted for inflation it comes out to $9.60.  Around here I think our minimum wages are pretty close to that.

[i] http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/
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