Friday, November 27, 2015

I'm probably going to regret this, but....WITH EDIT

I honestly DON'T mean for this to be incendiary, but I have a question:  To the best of my recollection, in all of the recent incidences of minorities, usually youth, being shot and killed by police, the victims were almost all "wanted" for one thing or another.  Do the victims, due to their life choices, bear ANY blame?

I know what many of you are probably thinking....I'm just an old white guy blessed with "white privilege".  That's no doubt true.  I was raised in an all-white neighborhood (in the 1950-60's), I went to an all-white elementary school, and wasn't around many people of color until junior high / high school.  Then I had no problem associating with any of them....they seemed just like everyone else.  

Please educate me on the ways of the modern world.

The most recent police shooting of a black youth was in Chicago, where he was shot 15 times and died.  FIFTEEN TIMES?  I can't imagine how that couldn't be considered anything but murder, but I'll leave that final determination to the justice system.  But the fact was, the cops were called out to investigate a youth who was wielding a knife and was seen trying to break into cars.  I believe it was later determined that he was under the influence of drugs, too.  If the kid had been home watching TV, or doing his homework, etc, he wouldn't have had the cops called to come investigate him.   Right?

I can remember a police shooting in Charleston, SC where a black man was stopped for something (?), when he jumped out of his car and ran.  The cop SHOT HIM IN THE BACK, which again, I can't see how could be considered anything but murder.  (TBD)  But it turned out the victim was afraid the cop would find out that he was waaaay behind on child support, and throw him in jail....again.  So why didn't he pay his child support?  Why did he run?  Didn't he think that might look suspicious? 

There was recently an incident near me in Arlington, TX where police shot and killed a black youth who jumped a barricade at a car dealership, vandalized some cars, then broke out the dealership's plate glass window and went inside.  He was under the influence of drugs, also.  The cop went in and wound up shooting the youth.  The cop was fired because he didn't follow department procedure by waiting for back-up.  Again, why was the youth out vandalizing instead of doing something benign at home or work?

I've heard it said it isn't hard to stay out of jail, and I agree.  I've managed to do it for 65 years now.  When a cop pulls next to me or behind me at a traffic light, I don't panic.  I KNOW I've not given the cop any reason to be suspicious of me.  If he wants to run a license plate check on me, he can go right ahead....I'm wanted for nothing.  Even if I was black, it seems to me "innocent is innocent".  And if harassment ensues, well, that's what cameras and complaint procedures and investigative journalists are for.

I've heard it said it's a matter of the environment these kids have grown up in, which is beyond their control.  It's cool to not study in's cool to go out at night and roam the neighborhood with friends.  How can any reasonable person, thinking of the adults here, NOT see that as a recipe for disaster?  

Is there any definitive proof that "midnight basketball" gyms will keep kids off the streets and out of trouble?  If so, lets put a gym on every corner!  Need more counselors and tutors to help kids stay in school?  Hire 'em, and hold off on hiring yet another few paper-pushing administrators! 

Cops often harass minorities, I get that.  It isn't right, and it must stop!  Cops who use excessive force must be held accountable, I get that, too.  But shouldn't the victims have learned that making poor life choices....taking drugs, disobeying laws, etc....might come back to bite them in a fatal way?

"Well, they were just kids.  Kids don't think things through all the time."  Bullshit!  I did when I was 12/14/16 (and 30/40/50) years old, and so did virtually every other kid I knew.

Regardless of race, creed, color, sexual preference....whatever, law-abiding people should have nothing to fear from the police.   And the police should know that body-cams, dash-cams, cellphone cams, CCTV cams outside many businesses, etc, will record any abuse they dish out, so don't do it!

I know my position is overly simplistic, but it seems to me that unless / until we recognize there is plenty of blame to go around, we'll continue to see more of the same.  It isn't just a minority problem, or a police problem, or a youth problem, but a SOCIETAL problem.  The problem is not one-sided!  

Enough already!


EDIT:  For the record, for 18 years I sat on the Civil Service Commission of my mid-sized suburban Dallas city, along with two others, a black woman and a Hispanic man.  On a few occasions we heard appeals from police officers who were "indefinitely suspended" (fired) for using excessive force, although none resulted in fatalities.  Our Police Chief was a no-nonsense cop who acted firmly, fairly, and promptly, and we unanimously upheld him in his decision(s) to suspend.  There is NO PLACE for brutal, abusive cops, period!  So please don't accuse me of being an apologist for the police.  Wrong is wrong!

I would appreciate your insight, but please, be calm and respectful.

Monday, November 23, 2015

I'm getting scared....VERY scared

I'm not scared of THEM....the terrorists that have large swaths of Europe cowering tonight, and who want to see the same happen here.   No, I'm scared of US.

I admit talent as a political prognosticator has (so far) failed miserably.  I said months ago the voters will have their little fling with Donald Trump, and then move on to a serious candidate.  And I also said there is no way Hillary Clinton will still be a contender come Democratic convention time next summer.  So far I'm 0 for 2.

I do like the way The Donald speaks his mind and doesn't worry about what is politically expedient.  And I like the way he is self-funding his campaign, and doesn't have to sell his soul to the highest (campaign contribution) bidder.  Other than that, WTH is wrong with that guy?  He says the most screwball things, and the voters stand solidly behind him and just lap it up!  I don't get it.

And it looks like Hillary has already won the Democratic nomination before the first primary.  She has more skeletons in her closet than a Halloween haunted house!  I don't get her, either.

I can look at all the candidates from both parties and see bits and pieces from each that I like, but not enough to make any one of them an attractive over-all candidate.  Still, The Donald and The Hillary seem firmly entrenched as front runners, and might be the two candidates to face each other this time next year vying to be the leader of the Free World.   *gulp*



Friday, November 20, 2015

This is getting ridiculious!

Judging by what I'm reading / seeing on the news, on Facebook, and around the virtual water cooler, we've become a nation of twitching, babbling, scaredy cats.  Now lots of people are saying they'll stop reading the news altogether since it's just full of stories about terrorism and such.  Why?  Will not watching the news make them any more safe?  

Some nut case terrorists attacked Paris, killing 130 and injuring more....serious for sure, but think of it this way:  Paris has a population of 2,340,000 people, with another 5,000,000 tourists visiting each year, too.  Over the course of a year, your odds of being killed by a terrorist in Paris are roughly 1 in 6,600,000.

Other ISIS assholes smuggled a bomb on board a Russian plane in Egypt and blew it up, killing hundreds.  But that same day there were roughly 93,000 other airline flights worldwide.  Over the course of a year, the odds of YOUR flight being blown up by terrorists are 1 in 33,045,000.   

Judging by the paranoia I'm seeing we seem absolutely certain Mohammad the terrorist is waiting right outside our door holding a bomb with our name on it.

Meanwhile, your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 1,107,000.  Your odds of dying while swimming or jogging are roughly 1 in 1,000,000.  Your lifetime odds of dying in a car wreck are 1 in 6,700.  I won't even get into the odds of you dying due to a lifetime of smoking or heavy drinking or overeating. 

Yet we still play outside, swim, jog, smoke, drink, eat....and think nothing of it.  *Pffft....ain't skeered*

Of course, you shouldn't do "nuthin' dumb", either.  Don't stand in the middle of a golf course during a thunderstorm holding a 9-iron high over your head.  Don't plan a vacation to Syria or Nigeria or a cruise near Somalia.  Don't fly on an airline based in Africa or a few other third-world places (not to mention Russia or Malaysia).  If you see an unattended package in a crowded place, stay back and call the police.

GET A GRIP, PEOPLE!  Go about your business.  Work hard, play hard.  Be aware, yes, but don't live your life scared.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Unintended consequences

Have you ever pulled a loose thread on a sweater and found that instead of just breaking off, it starts a chain reaction that causes your sweater to unravel right before your eyes?

That's essentially what is happening right now around the world, particularly in Europe and the Middle East.  We've been pulling a string for some time now expecting it to break, but it hasn't.  

For years much of the "progressive" (Western) world has tried to either help the oppressed people under the boot of some of the most notorious dictators ever, or has tried to help themselves to the assets (oil) of those same evil Mid East dictators, depending on your degree of skepticism.  

What is now happening is the implosion of many of the institutions that we've taken for granted for the past half century.  They call it "unintended consequences".  We may have wanted to take down those evil dictators, but I doubt we wanted to destroy entire countries.  Remember what Gen. Colin Powell said:  "You break it, you own it."  Ouch!

The bad news is the world is unraveling right now, and it's going to get a lot worse.  The good news is, this is truly a battle of "good vs evil", and just as in WWII, I believe good will eventually prevail. 

Our politicians keep talking about reestablishing some degree of stability in the Mid East so that all those millions of refugees now on the move can go back home.  

HA!  Dream on!  Not gonna happen!  

There are too many competing clans and tribes and sects for [the countries formerly known as] Syria or Iraq or Libya (and probably a few others) to ever be put back together as they were.

Those Mid East countries' utter collapse appear to be the first of the unintended consequences.  Next might come the collapse of the European Union.  For decades they have welcomed oppressed refugees from vastly different cultures to their shores, then patted themselves on the back for their compassion.  Then they segregated them in essentially ethnic ghettos where their isolation led to them becoming "second class citizens".  Next came their radicalization, and now violence.

After the attacks in Paris last week, French President Fran-swa O'lon (aka Frank Holland) has invoked the European Union protocol that requires the EU to come to France's aid in their war with ISIS.  Most will, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  

Some EU countries are worried about stirring up their own Muslim populations, and some lack the financial means to contribute very much.  All this on top of calls for each member country to accept their "fair share" of the  Muslim refugees now streaming in.  And to add even more to the Continental stress, this is also on top of the recent financial crisis that saw a massive transfer of wealth from the northern tier to the southern tier.  

The European Union is slowly but surely moving towards "every man for himself".  They simply have different fundamental national interests.  We'll see how they react to the considerable casualties likely coming their way.  Just as in WWI and WWII, Europe is going to bear the brunt of this latest war, too.

So will the United States be able to absorb the violence that will sooner or later find us, too, or will we be so "casualty averse" that we quickly throw in the towel a la Neville Chamberlain?  We talk a mean game for sure, but when we're faced with physical violence right here in our back front yard, are we going to cut and run?

I believe we still have the integrity and intestinal fortitude to see it through....barely.  The alternative will be so heinous that we'll have no real choice but to suck it up.  The war against ISIS in the Mid East is proving successful.  We're shrinking the territory they control and their casualties are mounting.  But desperate people do desperate things, and the more we hurt them there, the more they'll attack us here.  Hold on....this isn't going to be pretty.  

Just never forget....


Monday, November 16, 2015

What kind of half-assed war are we fighting?

Has our military gone all squishy between the ears or is it their civilian handlers who are too busy playing with dolls to conduct a proper war? 

Think about it....Al Qaeda is admittedly hard to hit.  They are a rag-tag group of individuals with small arms.  They can duck into a building or a hut or a cave anywhere to escape the prying eyes of aerial surveillance.  If you can't see 'em, it's hard to hit 'em.  But the terrorist group ISIS isn't Al Qaeda.  ISIS owns territory.  They have tanks and trucks.  They control producing oil fields that make millions of dollars (?) to fund their operations.

It seems to me it should be be a fairly simple thing to see a tank in ISIS territory.  If you see a tank, and it isn't one of ours or our allies, it's theirs.  Push the damn button!  Boom!

They have convoys, complete with flags.  Push the damn button!  Boom!

They even have victory parades.  Push the damn button!  Boom!  *I know, I know....collateral damage*

This morning I read this:  "Our spokesperson Colonel (Steve) Warren previously stated that we were going to start going after ISIL's financial abilities."  

"START" to go after ISIS financial abilities?  Shouldn't we have done that on the first hour of the first day of our "war" with ISIS?

Have you ever seen a producing oil well?  They're NOT stealthy.  They have pump jacks, and storage tanks, and pipelines, and manifolds.  If it's in territory ISIS controls, it's theirs.  Push the damn button!  BOOM!

Yesterday French bombers attacked ISIS command and control facilities, weapons depots, training facilities, etc in their "capital" of Raqqa, Syria.  We shared our intelligence information with the French identifying the target's locations.   So if we knew where they were, why didn't WE bomb them weeks / months ago?   

Even the hacker group Anonymous has jumped in:   "Anonymous said Sunday that more than 2,000 ISIS-related Twitter accounts had been taken down in Operation Paris (#OpParis)."  So ISIS has had 2,000 Twitter accounts open until now and we didn't take them down?  Anonymous can find them but we can't?  REALLY?

If I'm going to get in a fight with someone, I'm NOT going to just flick 'em on the ear.  No, I'm going to hit 'em square in the face as hard as I can.  "Fair" and "war" don't belong in the same sentence.  I would lie, cheat, and steal to win and get it over with.

I'll admit I'm not a military man.  If any of you are, and can tell me why we haven't been fighting this "war" with a 100% effort, I'd like to hear from you.  As it is now, I just don't get it.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

You (almost) read it here first

Yesterday I read in the news that Jihadi John, the public face (eyes?) of ISIS, the nut case who was their designated beheader, was killed in a US airstrike.  Good riddance!  

Then the news went on to say that our strikes have been responsible for a mid-to-upper level ISIS leader being killed every few days since the summer.  And how anti-ISIS forces in Syria / Iraq have inflicted on them recent battlefield setbacks, and how ISIS recruiting is beginning to fall short of replacing their losses.  Again, no tears from me.

But then a little light bulb went on in my brain that reminded me of the old saying, "Desperate people do desperate things".  The one thing a military cannot do is lose momentum.  Once momentum is lost, supporters stop jumping on their bandwagon.  It seemed logical to me that ISIS would need to do something soon, something game changing, to regain the momentum.

Since the only thing ISIS is good at is killing, I expected to see them commit a major atrocity somewhere.  My thoughts were they could attack the US, but really, there were targets softer and easier to get to elsewhere that could be attacked and help get ISIS back on the offensive.  Logically, that would be somewhere in Europe.

Before I could put my thoughts on the internet, it happened.  As we saw last evening, they chose Paris.  Over a hundred souls are dead, with another 300 injured, many critically.  French President Francois Holland has now said "This is war.  We are going to be ruthless!"  And I just heard a French commentator say "No boots on the ground there (Syria / Iraq) will mean more blood on the streets here."

This is going to be big.  Really BIG!  Where many countries, many different political persuasions, have been holding back, the pressure to get involved in a more substantial way may now be too much for them to resist.  For a western country to agree to contribute a mere handful of aircraft to the anti-ISIS cause will no longer be considered enough.  And after the Rooskies lost a passenger aircraft to ISIS, you know they are going to ramp up their kick-ass-and-take-name offensive.  Strange bedfellows, huh?

Now I'm wondering what is going to happen to / towards the millions of Muslims who live in western nations?  It's hard to not look at them with suspicion, but to do anything overtly discriminatory against them could backfire in a big way.  And it's already started.  I just heard a Republican presidential candidate say "Our president needs to do more to protect the American people instead of trying to protect the image of Muslims."  I get that, but still, it's a slippery slope we're walking.

IMHO, the big winners:  Political hawks (read: Republicans), the pro-gun movement in the US (yes, we tend to over react), and the western world's military / industrial complex.  

Doesn't the fact that we will likely soon be spending more of our human and national treasure fighting ISIS mean that they win, even if they lose?  

Maybe I should stop thinking.



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A dirty little secret

But first, my Republican debate recap....

What happened to the sniping, and the jibes at The Donald's hair, and Ben's days as a juvenile delinquent?  NOTHING!  It never came up.  So boring!

Actually it was a fairly respectful exchange of real ideas.  For that I give credit to the moderators from the Fox Business News channel for doing an excellent job.  They didn't try to blindside anyone, they asked meaningful questions, and when the candidates gave rather soft, squishy answers, they followed up, "So to make this clear, you're saying you're NOT in favor, is that correct?"  Bravo!  They didn't let anyone do an end run as most politicians will do if given a chance.

Mark O. Rubio is IMHO the slickest of the bunch.  He is an excellent speaker, has good hair, was never rattled, but seemed to use too much "politician speak" to suit me.  He often speaks in non-controversial terms like "promoting family values" and "my parents were working people who loved us and worked hard to provide for us".  Well duh....who isn't for that?  He's definitely the voice of the Republican Washington establishment.  He did have some concrete ideas for immigration reform, though.

Carly Fiorina came across as the most hawkish on a stage of (mostly) hawks.  I'm thinking Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were watching at home saying, "Damn!  She's tougher than either of us!"  But she was almost scary looking....properly erect, glaring eyes, not smiling, almost gritting her teeth when she spoke.  Her demeanor reminded me of one of those bad boy Germans from the 1930's.  Her proposal for a zero-based budget is good, but the crooks inside the Beltway are not about to give up their slush fund.   Not going to happen!

Jeb did his best, but he still fell short.  Dr. C seemed in control, if not break-out hot, Donald Trump managed to muzzle his mouth fairly well except for one jab at Carly, Rand Paul....or is it Paul Rand? still wearing his tin foil hat, and even Ted Cruz (I almost throw up in my mouth when I say his name) made some good points.  Being the pragmatist that I am, I liked John Kasich, but as he's not one of the "beautiful people", I don't see him going anywhere.  So be it.

Now for my dirty little secret....

The Repub's talked much about tax reform, the common thread being the popularity of a simple flat-percentage tax and doing away with most deductions and loopholes, except the home mortgage interest deduction.  They argue it promotes home ownership and therefore good citizenship.  The truth is "The American Dream" of home ownership doesn't need to be supercharged by the gubment.

Here's why:  Roughly 65% of Americans own their homes, the rest for various reasons rent or live in mama's basement.  Of those who own, approximately half itemize their taxes and take the mortgage interest deduction.  The rest either own their home outright and have no mortgage (and therefore pay no mortgage interest), or are at that point in the life of the mortgage that they are paying mostly principle and very little interest.  For them the standard deduction (short tax form) works best.  That means only about 33% +/- of us actually take the deduction.  The 2/3 of us who don't take the mortgage deduction are subsidizing the 1/3 who are.

It's rigged.  This whole scheme exists primarily to benefit the lenders (bankers).  When they make a mortgage loan, it is front loaded with the interest, the principle paydown (the part that builds your equity) not coming until the final few years of a 30 year (or 15 year) mortgage.  In other words the bank gets their profit up front, then if you pay the loan off early (usually by selling it to someone else who gets a brand new mortgage), they don't care.  In fact they love it....they can start their front loaded money making scheme all over again!

To help them sell this ripoff, Congress years ago (1930's) began actively promoting home ownership via the newly created FHA, necessitating new mortgages.  Cha ching!  (If you don't think it's good to have friends in high place, just look at the bankers!)

Congress isn't offering us a mortgage interest deduction to help us.  (But of course they'll tell us they are.)  They're doing it to help their banker buddies!

My industry, homebuilding, goes all ballistic when anyone suggests the home mortgage interest deduction be eliminated.  "But nobody will ever buy a house again" they squeal.  That's BS.  Up until the 1980's (?) we could write off the interest we paid on credit cards and auto loans, too.  Guess what?  When the IRS phased those deductions out over a number of years, people didn't stop using their credit cards or stop buying new cars.  Not at all!

If we were to, over a decade or so, phase this deduction out it would bring in hundreds of billions of additional dollars to the Treasury every year.  If that money could be used entirely to reduce the national debt and not be siphoned off by Congress to fund other pork projects (like the Social Security Trust Fund was), imagine the effect on our financial stability.  

Imagine how much less the government would have to spend on debt servicing.  Imagine how much our country's credit rating would improve.  Imagine how much lower interest rates would be.  WE WIN!

All of us except the bankers, that is.  That's why this will never happen.  *sigh*