Friday, January 29, 2016

So if I can do it, why can't the TV talking heads?

Ask an honest question and get a straight answer, that is.  

It seems it isn't a good time to be a politician.  Thanks to 24-hour news, twitter, You Tube and the like, it's hard to say one thing to one crowd, and something different to another as was common in the "old days".

The current big political stink is Donald Trump refusing to participate in the last Republican debate.  He said they (FOX News) are being unfair to him.  I agree that most modern day "journalists" seem to be adept at asking "gotcha" questions, hoping to embarrass the candidates and enhance their own reputation.  Rarely do modern journalists press for a straight answer.  To see how IMO it should be done, see this, minutes 4-6.  (Thanks for the link Simon Butler.)

A short story:

Years ago Texas State Senator John Corona was the speaker at our homebuilders monthly luncheon.  He was introduced and gave his normal address, then invited questions.  

I stood up and asked him, "Sir, the Legislature recently passed SB 1234 (?).  Are you aware that that bill (relating to housing) does X, Y, and Z?  Did you vote for or against that bill?"

Sen. Corona replied something to the effect, "Thank you for that question.  I always enjoy coming to these luncheons where I can get close to my constituients and find out what you are thinking.  This feedback is what makes our system work.  Thank you.  Next question."

I remained standing and said, "Sir, you didn't answer my question.  Did you vote for or against this bill?  Were you aware of its implications?"

He again sidestepped my question.  "The only way we have to learn what is important to our constituients is to visit with you and learn what's on your mind.  These exchanges are what make Ameirca great.  Thank you."

I was still standing.  "Sir, now that you know the implications, would you be willing to work with us in the next legislative session to amend this bill?"

He said, "Thank you so much for inviting me, but I have another commitment I need to get to.  Thank you again..." and he grabbed up his papers and walked (briskly) toward the door.  Unfortunately for him I had a better angle on the door and caught up with him before he escaped.

I asked, "Sir would you be willing to work with us on this issue?"

He replied, "I have to go now, but if you'll give me your card I'll have my staff contact you."  I gave my business card to him, and not surprisingly never received a call from either him or his staff.

In retrospect I don't think he remembered the details of SB 1234 at all, which is understandable considering the volume of bills that come to a vote in the final few days of a session.  If he had just said so I would have sat down. 

For some reason politicians are unwilling to admit they are human and can't remember everything, and I think it's unfair of us to expect them to.  And I also think it is unfair of us to criticize them for changing their mind.  To me it's an admirable sign of critical thinking to admit that when new information is made available, it is acceptable to amend an opinion.

As mentioned, I never received a call from Sen. Corona, but I did continue to receive mailings from him asking for my vote AND MY MONEY.  (He received neither.)  Several election cycles later he was defeated in his primary.  I guess I wasn't the only one he dodged.  Karma.  ;)


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

When you come to the fork in the road, take it

After watching the Democratic  "Town Hall Meeting" last night, I now see why Bernie Sanders is surging and Hillary Clinton is lagging.  Oh, and there was that other guy there, too, Merlin O'Grady.

Bernie gets it.  He's genuine, down-to-earth, and transparent.  He oozes integrity.  He has tapped in to those issues that are bugging the other 99%, or 90%, or wherever the dividing line is between the have's and have not's.  This is that dangerous divide I predicted would eventually come to be when inequality between the two became a solidly entrenched "us vs them".  This is a wake up call.  Right now it's just a "political revolution".  Unchecked, it could someday become a violent revolution.

To be polite, Bernie has "socialist leanings".  He admits he likes the European model of social welfare:  universal medical care, child care, pensions, etc.  To those who say Bernie's agenda is "pie in the sky", he says no it isn't.  He points out that such a social platform already exists in much of the advanced world, and he's right.  But IMO he's ahead of his time....he misses one important historical difference.

Over the 30 years between the end of WWI and WWII, Europe convulsed and imploded.  Europe was missing two generations of workers and breadwinners.  Their cities and economies were in ruins.  The survivors were beaten down.  They were simply too exhausted and impoverished to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as we Americans like to say.  They were ready to let government take care of them, hence their socialist inclinations.

America emerged from both World Wars relatively unscathed.  We certainly, sadly, suffered hundreds of thousands of causalities, but they paled to the number of causalities suffered by the European warring nations.  And those wars were actually a tremendous boon for our infrastructure and economy.  We emerged richer and more powerful than we could have ever imagined.  We had a can-do spirit, the feeling that there were no limits on our imagination and where we could go.  We didn't need government to look after us....indeed we wanted government to get out of our way!

That worked fairly well for most, but not well at all for a few others.  The majority ruled, and we steamrolled ahead.  But over time the schism widened, and more and more began to fall behind.  Regardless of why, fewer and fewer climbed higher and higher, while more and more found themselves stuck in place or sliding backward.  It's at this point when too many lose hope of a better future for themselves and their children that they begin to listen to non-traditional American ideas, like those coming from Bernie Sanders.

I believe it was that great American philosopher, Jerry Lewis, who once said "United we stand, divided we fall".  Judging by the large, enthusiastic crowds who attend Bernie's campaign rallies, it seems many Americans are today where many Europeans were in the late 1940's:  ready for government to step in and provide.  That is clearly (to me) where we're headed....but we're not quite there yet.

It's a numbers game.  Unchecked, the masses will prevail.  There is a lot of historical precedence to support this.  The American political / economic aristocracy should take note.  They would be wise to put their greed aside, reach out, and try to get the majority of Americans back on the gravy train with them instead of picking their pockets.

In a few words:  "A little piece of a big pie is better than a big piece of NO pie."


EDIT: Plain English....Populist politicians are no doubt watching what Bernie is saying, and how it is being received.  Bernie will fall short IMO in 2016, but 10 (?) years from now, if the conservatives don't wise up and squash their ultra-radical conservative faction and become a more inclusive party where everyone can thrive and prosper, Bernie's revolution will become reality.  Fair warning.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What if they gave a party and nobody came?

Since I have been such a highly accurate *snicker* political prognosticator so far this election year, I'll swing my bat once more and go for the home run....or will it be strike three?

So far I've predicted the Tea Party would run its course in due time as they were just a bunch of radical extremists (redundant?), but they're still here.  I failed to take into account the American people's ignorance / indifference / gullibility (choose one).

I predicted Donald Trump's ongoing reality TV show would eventually flame out, but it hasn't.  Oops.  I predicted Ted Cruz would be unmasked for the pure McCarthyesque pot-stirring opportunist he is.  Double oops.  The rest of the field hasn't made a move, and might not be able to in time.

I predicted Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the Democrats as her only competitor was a life-long avowed Socialist.  He's smoking her....didn't see that coming, either!

So what's next?  IMHO....

The Republicans will nominate The Donald.  His star power will be hard to overcome.  The conservative special interests will line up behind him as they will see him as "one of them", despite his protests *wink*.

The Democrats will nominate Hillary C.  I don't think Iowa or New Hampshire are representative of traditional Democratic voters....both states are ''too white".  When the primaries move to states with sizable numbers of minorities, Hillary should climb back on top.   *heehee...not going there*  She might come across as a poor man's champion, but Wall Street owns her lock, stock, and barrel.  She would sell her soul to be elected president, and they know it.

If Trump is elected, will he appoint good advisers, and will he LISTEN to them?  And if he wins, and the Republicans have control of the House AND the Senate AND the White House, will they govern like a bunch of drunk sailors on shore leave?

If Hillary is elected will her presidency be doomed from the get-go?  Let's face it....she's reviled by many, and considered untrustworthy by even more.

So it's a choice between being stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Saturday Night Live should have plenty of material to work with.  That might be the only good thing about this election year.


Friday, January 15, 2016

I'd better hurry or I'll miss the boat (pardon the pun)

Do you have prejudices, at least subliminally, against certain countries?  I remember my dad would not buy a German or Japanese car, saying "I fought those bastards in WWII, and I'm NOT going to drive one of their cars today!"  His reaction was obviously a generational thing as my generation loves both German and Japanese cars.  I've had Audi's and Honda's and Mazda's and loved them all.

It's hard to imagine that one of the worlds absolute finest luxury SUV's...

...and most iconic sports car marques are both owned by an Indian company, Tata Motors (even though they are designed, engineered, and built in the UK).

My generation seems to have a problem with Vietnam and China.  I cringe when I pick up a coat, for example, and see the tag that says it was made in Vietnam.  And now I subliminally rule out Volvo as it is owned by a Chinese company, even though they are still Swedish in origin.  As we all know (?), most Chinese companies have their strings pulled by the Chinese government, the Chinese COMMUNIST government.  Ewwwww!

A few years ago I was given a private tour of the Boeing complex in Renton, Washington.  We were on the back loading dock where my guide asked, "See anything unusual about those shipping crates" (each the size of a small house)?  Turns out they were made of bamboo plywood, because they contained the empennage for a 737 (in this case the horizontal tail assembly) which was made in China...COMMUNIST China.  Aren't these the same folks that gave us kids toys made pretty by lead paint?  Ouch!  

Today I read the Chinese company, Haier, is buying the appliance division of General Electric for $5.9B.  It's hard enough trying to understand the customer service rep in India.  I shudder to think...

Now more than ever, it looks like the old saying "you can't judge a book by its cover" holds true. The terms "old"  "mature" and "change" sometimes are hard to reconcile.  *sigh*



Friday, January 8, 2016

The Status Quo Lives!....with EDIT

Did anyone but me watch the Townhall Meeting last night where Prez O'Bama politely sparred with pro-gun advocates?  As expected, when the dust settled, the status quo was still intact.  I can't for the life of me understand why the pro-gun side still believes the Federales are intent on coming for their guns (it's a physical impossibility), and why the anti-gun advocates believe that the pro-gun side will someday just say, "Oh, OK, we'll do it your way."  Square peg, round hole.

Full disclosure:  I have guns.  I enjoy shooting them.  I have a Concealed Handgun License.  I will not carry openly.  I am not a member of the NRA.  I'm a political skeptic.  I don't trust either side.  I (arguably) have a fair amount of gray matter between my ears.

On O'Bama's proposal to require background checks on all gun purchases, I don't see a problem with it.  If I were a federally licensed gun dealer, I'd be all for it in order to level the playing field.  Am I worried about having my name on a federal database identifying me as a gun owner?  Ha! I suspect my name is on a whole lot of private and government databases already.  What's one more?
If the feds someday come to my house to confiscate my guns, I'll just say "no".  I'll have a legion of Pro Bono lawyers line up to represent me (and enhance their reputation), and I'll win.  And when I do, I'll never have to buy another restaurant meal or beer ever again.  I'll be a folk hero.  Gun makers will fawn all over me, and will happily give me their products just to see me photographed holding one.   And the feds know it.  It's a DOA idea if there ever was one.

Will more background checks keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them?  Highly doubtful.  Will the NRA-types ever be willing to give it a try?  Lololololol!

So can we do anything to curb gun violence, something that both sides might buy into?  I think so.  It's common knowledge that convicted felons have, by existing law, forfeited many of their civil rights, including the right to own a gun.  It's also common knowledge that many convicted felons continue to own guns, and continue to use them.  So lets round 'em up and lock 'em away! little problem.  It costs LOTS of money to incarcerate a person.  I suspect we could get hundreds of thousands of felons in possession of guns off our streets if we would just put a concerted effort into going after them.  BUT WE WOULD ALSO HAVE TO AGREE TO PAY THE PRICE TO BUILD MORE PRISON CELLS, AND HIRE MORE PRISON GUARDS, and probably pay more welfare to the families left behind by their now-jailed breadwinners.

So, can we afford it?  No...and yes.  The original numbers to do all this would be staggering, and the Tea Party would no doubt piss and moan about it because all they know how to say is "cut taxes".  But then once some non-partisan think tanks examined it, I think they would find that since the perps would likely wind up back in jail at some time in the future anyway, and the cost of legal proceedings and public defenders being what they are, yeah, we probably could afford it.  It fact, it would likely be a good investment of taxpayer money. 

I'd love to see the NRA try and oppose such a strategy, try to oppose putting bad guys back behind bars.  The most hemophilic of the bleeding heart left might bemoan yet more people being locked up vs rehabbed, but I think they could be drowned out by the public applauding the lower gun violence numbers.

So why don't we think more outside the box to find things that could be agreed to by all sides?  Have we become that unimaginative?  *shaking head*


EDIT:  The news is reporting a Philadelphia police officer was ambushed in his car by an assailant claiming to be an ISIS sympathizer.  But beyond that, he also had a lengthy criminal record.  This is EXACTLY the type of gun violence that could be prevented if felons in possession of guns could be locked up.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

And you thought the broccoli salesman has a tough job!

I just listened to the President outline his plan to put an end to the "gun show loophole" and other measures to reduce firearm deaths in America.  I'm not sure people not interested in firearms understand what the gun show loophole actually is.  Let me shed some light on the subject for you:

There are hundreds (?) of gun shows every weekend in this country.  Interested vendors can rent a table from the gun show promoter and then display and sell their offerings.  Many vendors sell peripheral things like holsters and cleaning kits and ammo and such, while actual gun dealers sell their firearms.  

You or I cannot buy a gun directly from Smith & Wesson or Colt or Sturm Ruger.  If you inquire they will direct you to a federally licensed firearms dealer.  These dealers buy from the factory and sell to individuals, but they are first required to submit the buyers names to the Feds for an (almost) instant background check.  If the Feds say OK, money and guns can then change hands.  The dealers are routinely audited by Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and are rarely a problem.  These are the rules all licensed dealers follow, regardless of whether they are selling off a gun show table or from a brick and mortar store.

But the law says an individual can sell directly to another individual WITHOUT a background check.  If I want to sell one of my personal guns to a friend or relative, for example, I can.  That's not in question.  This is the scenario the law meant to allow.

The problem comes when an individual buys guns from wherever he can find them all week long, then takes them to a show, rents a table, and resells them for a profit to anyone who plops down their cash....WITHOUT A BACKGROUND CHECK.  That's the gun show loophole.  He might claim they are his "personal" guns, but that's a farce.  He might own them, but they are just products for sale.  It's just a way to make $$$ without doing any paperwork.  It's a cash business, no receipts exist, it's totally anonymous, and of course no taxes are collected from the buyers or paid by the sellers.

I can think of three groups who might buy from an unlicensed seller:  Those who can't pass a background check, those who prefer buying used guns (most of the guns sold through these sellers are pre-owned) because they are less expensive than buying new, and those who can pass a background check but simply don't want the government to know they own guns.  To them it's a privacy issue.

I don't think many of us have any sympathy for the group that can't pass a background check.  They can't pass a check for a reason.  And I doubt many of us would have any prejudice against those who just want to save money.  But I DO think many of us have a problem with allowing their names to be added to a government database that identifies them as gun owners.

The argument goes that with such a database as a starting point the government could build on it until they knew exactly who owns what guns and where they are.  Then it's just a matter of time before the ATF knocks on your door and says "hand 'em over" *.  It's this potential "mission creep" that worries gun owners.

And honestly, who trusts the government?  If you've ever dealt with the government at virtually any level, it's pretty obvious they don't act like they work for us.  It often seems like the tail is wagging the dog.   This is the problem.  

It's our government's habitually abysmal performance and blatantly non-transparent way of doing business that the NRA so easily exploits.  The NRA can hit that hanging curve ball out of the park all day long.  Until people believe their name will never appear in a background check database, at least this part of "gun control" will be a hard sell.


*  Never gonna happen.  By noon on the first day of "Operation Gun Roundup" there would be dead ATF agents littering the landscape.  Resistance would be violent, extreme, and widespread.  Not even the government is dumb enough to try it.

Friday, January 1, 2016

This makes it real....

Most of us have seen scenes like this on TV and thought, "Oh my, how terrible", sometimes even adding a bit of colorful language to express our shock.  But then 10 seconds later the news topic is on to something else like what the latest dumb thing The Donald said today, and the storm story is just filed away for the next days water cooler conversation.

Yesterday I was called on to come see if I could help a victim of the south Garland, TX tornado that struck on Dec. 26.  What I saw there with my own 4 eyes (including the bionic parts) left me speechless.  It just went on for blocks and blocks....

This is what a F-4 tornado can do.  Regardless of whether it is a $ house or a $$$$ house, I doubt the result would have been much different.

These were modest homes built around 1980, most about 1800 square feet, and originally costing roughly $20K to $30K.  My research showed that they had recently been selling for somewhere between $140K to $170K.  The sad part, I found out, was that the owners had them insured for that current sales price (if they were lucky), NOT for the cost of the labor and materials necessary to rebuild them.  Our recent super-hot housing market and its accompanying inflation is going to hurt these already shell-shocked storm victims.  

Even the homes right across the street from the most severely damaged ones will probably still be considered total losses.  You can't really see it from this photo, but that southern wall is leaning out and is about to collapse.  And see the upturned A/C unit?....debris such as that, along with car parts, furniture (pieces), chunks of roof the size of bedrooms, splintered trees and telephone poles, and big pieces of metal that came from who-knows-where were all over the sides of I-30, just a few blocks away.

This is the home that I went to see.  The wall on the southern end is totally gone, and the oddest part....the roof was raised up at least several inches, and then set right back down again.  You could tell because when the roof was up, everything inside was being sucked up and out, and things such as window coverings/blinds, linens, etc were trapped in the once-open gap when it slammed shut.  And of course with the big holes in the roof, everything inside was totally ruined by the accompanying heavy rains.

The consensus opinion that I heard was that the City of Garland apparently had in place a very well developed and rehearsed disaster plan to deal with just such a catastrophe.  The streets were being cleared almost immediately so that emergency responders could get in and out.  By the time I got there several days later cars that were once crushed and on TOP of houses were deposited curbside along with mountains of cut up tree debris and were being hauled off by city crews.  The city also had brought in 3rd-party crews to clean up all the "stuff" littering the freeway shoulders and vacant fields for miles around the tornado's path.

Community response was nothing short of amazing:  I saw several big trucks/trailers from religious denominations bringing in volunteer laborers and supplies.  Teenagers on Christmas break wearing distinctive bright colored volunteer t-shirts were working like an army of little ants.  The Red Cross had a disaster relief truck on scene, and the parking lot of a nearby business was the staging area for free food and probably 10+ pallets of water available for workers.  

I heard stories of local businesses buying out and donating every shovel and rake and garbage can from every source within miles.  Police were all over the area, the scene was calm, and there was no evidence of looting.  The Dallas Builders Association is acting as a clearing house to help direct those needing assistance to reputable contractors, and away from the invasion of shysters who always show up hoping to fleece the already suffering.

Bottom line....KUDOS to the volunteers, residents, and the City of Garland for their exceptional response!

Miraculously no one in this neighborhood was killed inside their collapsing homes.  That advice we hear about getting to an inside room such as a bathroom and covering with mattresses, blankets, and such really works!  And the advice to stay out of cars during a tornado is also true.  The 8 (?) fatalities in the area were all killed when they were driving down I-30 (it was night time) when the sky opened up raining debris, then lifted up vehicles and slammed them back down again on their roofs.  They probably never knew what was happening to them.

Luckily the fiance of the lady I went to see is a residential remodeler.  Because they are going to be woefully short of insurance money to rebuild, I told them I could help get them a city building permit and could bring in my crew to build them a shell (walls, sheathing, roof), and then they could handle the interior (essentially cosmetic) finish out.  They just might be able to get things put back close to what it was without breaking whatever bank they had left.

Lotta work left to do, but it WILL get done!