Thursday, August 17, 2017

The new American conundrum



Our conundrum: People have a constitutional right to protest, I get that. Right, left, pro-life or pro-choice, Pro-Bernie, Pro-Donald, etc, sure.  Wall Street elites and the Occupy Wall Street movement go after each other every day, too. How can we pick and choose who to deny? 


If anyone deserves to be silenced, it's these White Supremacist's and neo-Nazi's. But the courts have said the right to protest is an all or nothing thing. Who should get the right to decide how much is too much?  The Supreme Court?  And who chooses them?  Right wing or left wing politicians, depending on which is in control at the time, that's who.  Justices are supposed to be impartial, but that line is becoming more blurred every day.

Maybe we could put them all in an arena, the pro's and anti's on any subject, and let them duke it out.  They could be 21st Century Gladiators, winner take all.  

No, wait....Charlottesville.  Bad Idea.

S


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We're from the Government, and we're here to help


Did you hear about this?....

"On 17 July, the DoJ served a website-hosting company, DreamHost, with a search warrant for every piece of information it possessed that was related to a website that was used to coordinate protests during Donald Trump’s inauguration. The warrant covers the people who own and operate the site, BUT ALSO SEEKS TO GET THE IP ADDRESSES OF 1.3 MILLION PEOPLE WHO VISITED IT, AS WELL AS THE DATE AND TIME OF THEIR VISIT AND INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT BROWSER OR OPERATING SYSTEM THEY USED."

While I don't support anyone who wants to foment violence, for any reason, going after anyone who even visited the site just smacks of 1930's Germany.  What happened to "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer"?  Our Department of Justice, who is supposed to be safeguarding our rights, is now violating them.  WTH? 

Why now?  True, Dubya Bush got some extra-special permission (the Patriot Act) to pierce some of our privacy laws after 9-11, but it was in DIRECT RESPONSE to terrorist attacks on our country.  But today, who is under "attack"?  Donald Trump? 

So if someone dares to object to something Prez Trump says, it's now OK to....what?  Invade their privacy?  Order an IRS audit of them?  Prohibit them from getting a student loan, or vote, or suspend their Constitutional Rights? 

Somebody who has a better understanding of the law, please tell me this is unconstitutional.

S

Monday, August 14, 2017

Why it's important to know history


Last night I saw an interesting show on TV about the origins of the American auto industry.  I pretty much knew the story, but a couple of things that were pointed out brought into focus for me how we got to where we are today.

Before cars, city streets were largely dirt, horses and buggies were common, and cleaning the streets and disposing of the constant horse excrement was an industry in itself.  Then came the Model T.  People now had wheels!  Roads needed paving, which required concrete, creating two new industries. And gas stations, and much more oil refining capacity.  And dramatically more steel production, and lots of tires, too.  Everything was inter-connected.  New industries and jobs were appearing everywhere.



Henry Ford was a visionary.*  He was the first to adopt the modern assembly line (from the meat packing industry) for industrial use.  The repetitive work was boring, but wow, could they pump out cars!  So fast, the unit cost to produce a "T" was cut in half.  

Here's were it got interesting:

Instead of just pocketing the savings for himself (and his rich shareholders), Ford DOUBLED the pay of his assembly line workers, to $5 a day.   Henry Ford shared this improved productivity windfall with his employees, and this was the birth of America's middle classAll of a sudden the repetitive work seemed more bearable.

People were literally walking off other jobs to go stand in line for a position with Ford.  Other employers eventually were forced to increase their pay to match Ford's or lose all their workers.  It was a ripple that became a tidal wave.

More people making more money bought more "stuff", which created even more jobs.  America's middle class / consumer driven economy became a juggernaut the likes the world had never seen, all because Henry Ford shared with his employees the savings realized from his more efficient assembly line.  Ford's workers could now afford to buy the cars they were making.  By "sharing the wealth" with his employees, Henry Ford didn't lose money (as his shareholders and Board of Directors feared) but made even more money for them all. 

Sometime after WWII things changed.  Companies began seeing great savings thanks to technology developed during the war.  But unlike Henry Ford, they kept their productivity  windfall for themselves.  By the 1980's the rich were just getting richer, while the middle class began to stagnate.  The wealthy business owning class obviously didn't recognize the problems they were creating.  All they cared about was maximizing today's profits.  This marked the beginning of the long decline of the American middle class.

Factories began moving out, cities went into decline, workers lost benefits such as health insurance, etc.  It was the exact opposite of the economy Henry Ford created.  This trend, too, began as a ripple, but grew into a tidal wave.

An increasingly fragile and unstable middle class has now turned mean, blaming "others" for their difficult situations, and are voting for candidates who promise to "get even" for them.  We've developed an "us vs them" mentality.  The number of hate groups is rapidly increasing, resulting in confrontations such as what we saw in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend.

Any student of history should have learned from Henry Ford that spreading the wealth is a net money-maker, not a money-loser.  My personal corporate hero, Southwest Airline's Herb Kelleher, saw this and shared SWA's wealth with his employees, and they've been on 40-year profit roll!  

But most of the rest in industry didn't, and their greed is directly responsible for the currently declining American middle class.  If it wasn't for cheap foreign labor, "creative" accounting, a rigged tax system, and easy credit, most would already be underwater.

Contrary to what Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) said in the movie Wall Street, greed is NOT good.  It's taking the middle class down, and will eventually precipitate a revolution (in some form) that will take down the upper class, too.  Of course it's much more complex than what these few paragraphs might suggest, but still, greed is at the core of it all.

Capitalism is great.  But capitalism corrupted by greed can eventually ruin it for us all. 

I myself may not live long enough to see how it all plays out, but things can't go on the way they are now.  The shrinking middle class will eventually stand their ground. 

S

* He was also an asshole, an anti-Semite, and more, but that's for another blog post.

 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

It was a cold and rainy night in Korea *cue the scary music*




Oh....never mind.

I'm constantly reading and watching the news, and being the current events junkie that I am, this North Korean nuclear crisis thing has become my Super Bowl.  I find it fascinating.  I've also observed this is a good time to be a retired General as they now have a steady paycheck playing armchair...uh...Generals on TV.  But I've played Battleship, and seen Patton three times as well as Kelly's Hero's twice, so I know a bit about military strategy myself.  Therefore here's my prognostication on who will be the last man standing:

First of all, there will be NO smoking holes in Korea, North or South, or anywhere else.  No nukes will be expended in the making of this crisis.  Behind-the-scenes diplomats will find a way to keep violence to a relative minimum.

Did anyone hear the report of the Chinese telling North Korea's Kim Jong Dung that they would have his back if he was attacked, but if he attacks pre-empitively, he's on his own?  This is a big deal!  I suspect the Chinese are actually rather scared of Kim themselves.  The Chinese liked the N Koreans poking the West as it took unwanted attention away from their indiscretions, but now they're realizing the unruly child they enabled has become a nasty juvenile delinquent. 

Meanwhile, the only advisers Pres Trump seems to pay attention to, General's McMaster, Mattis, Kelly, and perhaps Sec State Tillerson, will be calming the President down behind the curtain and looking for a way for the Prez to save face, without telling him what they're doing, of course.  It's all about stroking his ego.

The mid-August deadline for Kim Jong Dong to fire off his missiles will come and go.  The planned US/South Korean military exercises will go on as planned.  Kim might launch a test missile into the Sea Of Japan, no where near Guam.  Kim will go on local TV and strut his stuff, claiming he has backed down the Great Capitalist Satan.  

We'll fly B-1's and B-2's back and forth south of the DMZ during our joint exercise with S Korea, shoot Kim the "Trump bird", and the President will claim on the Fake News Channels his tough talk saved the day.  

The Short Fat One and the Tall Orange One will both enjoy plenty of fist bumps and back slaps at home, and things will return to the back burner where they've been for two decades.

Which will still leave Kim Jong Poop with nuclear weapons.  We want him to give them up, and he'll steadfastly refuse.  To Kim they're his security blanket.  With those in his back pocket he knows the rest of the world won't take him out.

Our only hope will be for one of his own Generals to whack him, which we'll soon find will actually solve nothing.  The N Korean's have no knowledge/history of how "democracy" works, so all we'll be doing is replacing one dictator with another.  And then the new guy...let's call him Dung Slung Shit...will want nukes in his back pocket.  *sigh*

Just as we'd rather there not be a nuclear China or India or anyone besides us for that matter, fact is that Genie is out of the bottle.  Trump can't put it back any more than Obama or Bush or Clinton before him could.  We'll just have to hope that we all understand the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction and sheath our nukes.

OK, so there's my latest prognostication.  Maybe one of these days I'll get one right.

S


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Maybe they can settle things with a little one-on-one basketball?




By watching the Breaking News Channels I've learned that we should all be stocking up on Spam and Twinkies and Gatorade so as to get us through the upcoming Nuclear Winter.  I'm thinking this must be cable TV ratings week.  I just don't buy it that the Short, Fat One and the Tall, Orange One are going to step out back and settle this like men.

N Korea's Kim Jong Dung is threatening to launch four IRBM's toward Guam (a US territory) next week to show us how cool and powerful and worthy of respect he is.  The N Korean's say they aren't going to actually hit Guam, but hit just close enough to impress us with their technical prowess.

Pres Donald Trump is threatening to shoot down said four missiles, and maybe even lob a few of ours Kim's way, just to show him we ain't skeered.  Seems to me both have more to lose than to gain by their bluster. 

Based on past performance, the N Korean's missiles don't exactly have the best odds of making it all the way to Guam without falling apart mid-air, which would be a HUGE embarrassment to Kim Jong Dong.  

For our part, based on past performance, I think there is some doubt about the ability of our THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missiles, backed up by our slightly aged Navy Aegis anti-missile missiles, to knock down all four commie rockets if called on to do so. Our two most recent THAAD tests went well, but before that the previous four test's success rate was only 50/50.  If we threw all we had at Kim Jong Poop's third world missiles and one still got through, that would be a HUGE embarrassment to us.

And what if Kim missed the 100-gazillion-square-mile Pacific Ocean target and actually hit Guam?  Oops!  Then we WOULD wipe up on N Korea, and maybe light up S Korea and maybe China, too, in the process.  That's a lose/lose/lose/lose if there ever was one! 

I don't think either Kim Jong Un or Donald Trump wants to be seen by the world as a loser.  I think they'll just stand 7,000 miles apart and bloviate and shadow box.  It's just what Short Fat guys and Tall Orange guys with bad haircuts and tiny hands do.

Trust me, I'm an expert on international bloviation.  (I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express once.)

S

LATE EDIT:  I've just read that the last 15 THAAD tests have gone well.  (?)  If true, that will make Kim Jong Dud's missiles look even more pathetic.  Better to stand down, Dung, and not shoot yourself in the foot.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Downsizing

There is a lot of buzz these days about "downsizing" and small homes.  HGTV even has a series about it.  Unfortunately I don't believe many people think through all that the concept implies.  True, moving from a 6,000 square foot home to a 5,000 square foot home is technically "downsizing", but it's hardly a sacrifice.  But what about cutting your space in half, or less?



For decades I've made a living by building BIG homes for others.  If you have a family of 4 or 5 or more, downsizing is hard to do.  For them, bigger is always better.  If you have a home stuffed with fine furniture you've bought or inherited over a lifetime, and if you're unwilling to part with any of it, downsizing is virtually impossible.  But if the kids are grown and out of your space, if you don't have a lot of overnight company, if you don't throw big parties, and if you aren't married to your "stuff", downsizing is a great way to de-clutter and live simply.

I can, and did, many years ago, and here's how it all started:  One evening (back when I was single) I noticed my closet shelves were dusty.  I took everything out, cleaned every surface, then started to put things back in.  That's when it dawned on me I had tons of stuff I never, and I mean NEVER, used or wore.  Like jeans that *ahem* must have shrunk in the dryer, and shirts that went out of style back during the Clinton administration.  And empty boxes that I kept in case the contents turned out to be defective and I had to send back, but of course never did.  When I put back in only those things I used, I realized my closet was waaaaaay bigger than I needed.

That got me to thinking about what else I might be holding on to that was just taking up space.  Soon I was like a commando on a mission.  Every closet, the linen cabinets, every chest and drawer, underneath every lavatory, everything got inspected and culled.  Then I began thinking about furniture.  Why do I need a sofa and 3 big chairs in a den when I only have one butt?  And what's the point of having bedrooms that never were used?  (I finally gave up on the Swedish Bikini Team ever paying me a surprise visit.)  Or a dining table with 2 leaves and 6 chairs...or was it 8 chairs?...and a hutch?

Then I put a pencil to what all this was costing me.  The payments for a large house that I didn't need, plus the taxes, utilities, insurance, maintenance and upkeep, that @%&# yard....it was depressing!  Eventually I met and married K and we decided (me enthusiastically, her grudgingly at first) that we could do just fine with half the space.  The "For Sale" sign went up, a deal was struck, and then it was time to put my money where my mouth was. 

By the time the movers arrived we had given some stuff away to friends and family, put some in storage (it's still there), took some with us, and sold some on Craig's List.  My moment of truth was when I was packing up my 450 +/- books.  K asked me if I ever re-read any of them, and I said no.  Then she pointed out that all I really had were 450 hardcover dust catchers.  *Hmmm, good point*  I kept a few volumes that were special to me and gave away/sold the rest.  Today I pretty much read only kindle books.

We moved into temporary quarters in a 2 bed, 2 bath apartment, but found it such easy living we decided to just stay put and let maintenance handle all those pesky old chores I so hated.  We have since downsized from even that as we still had more space than we needed.  I'm now thinking about 1000-1200 square feet, or about the size of the den and kitchen shown in the photo at the top of this post, would be perfect.

My friend who lives full-time on a 35' boat in St Pete, FL would be proud of me.  He taught me to keep only what I needed and nothing else.  That's only a slight exaggeration.  We do have to stay vigilant as it's easy to backslide and buy things that wind up stuffed in the back of the closet a few weeks later.



I would consider building a home again if I could ever find the right site to put it on.  Not to sound picky or anything, but I could probably be happy in a small, cozy little place like this, complete with a similar view, of course. 

S


Sunday, August 6, 2017

So do you pick what's behind door #1, door #2, or door #3?

On August 3rd, after being forced (Senate override guaranteed) to sign a tough sanctions position against Russia, Pres. Trump tweeted:



To which Sen. John McCain replied:



Now think about this for a second.  Which sounds more rational?  Did the US and our allies impose sanctions on Russia originally for no reason?  Did we just want to be jerks?  Or did we impose sanctions on Russia in response to their military invasion and annexation of Crimean Ukraine?  Who started this chain of events?

I can only imagine three possible explanations for Pres. Trump's position:

1.  President Trump and his campaign knew of and welcomed Russian assistance in helping their 2016 election campaign.  (The Russians would then be expecting a "thank you" easing of sanctions in return from a President Trump after his inauguration.)

2.  The Trump election campaign knew of and welcomed Russian assistance, while Pres. Trump was kept in the dark at the time, but is now trying to interfere and discredit the Special Counsel's investigation to expose the collusion.  (This is the same type of obstruction of justice vs the crime itself that brought down the Nixon White House.)

or

3.  This "smoke" is all just a coincidence and there is no "fire".  Pres. Trump simply has a serious infatuation with Putin, Russia, and their billionaire oligarchs and the organized-crime-like way they are able to conduct their business without interference from government regulators, honestly elected civil servants, and a free press.

IMO none of these three possible explanations are in the American public's best interest.  If you disagree, or can imagine a fourth possibility I haven't thought of, please state your case.  I would honestly, respectfully like to hear your opinions.

S


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Close....but no cigar


Looks like I'll have to wait until next week to make this beauty mine.  This weeks Mega Millions lottery drawing has come and gone, and sadly I missed winning $199,800,000 by only 5 numbers.  *sigh*

Don't tell me you don't think about it, 'cause everybody does.   "If I won the lottery I'd _______."  For myself, I'd build a small home on land (with a mountain view, of course) so far away from all the nut-cases running around the city even that Amazon drone thing would have trouble finding me to deliver groceries.  I would probably buy a few interesting firearms I've had my eye on for a while, and put a shooting range in my back yard.  

My spousal unit wants to set up some kind of senior dog refuge, which is fine with me, and she could probably use a new car, too.  My kids could enjoy some security, and my grandkids could get a good education on my dime(s).  Other than that, I'm good.  Oh, wait....t-shirts.  I saw LL Bean has some new colors, so I might spiff up my wardrobe.

Bling cars (despite the above photo), boats, trains, planes....not my things.  I'd rather fund hunting down and locking up animal abusers, child abusers, elderly abusers....I don't like abusers.   Food banks would be full, scholarships plentiful, and veterans would feel appreciated.  "Stuff" is very overrated.  (I've finally come around.)

Think it would be selfish of me to travel a bit before I clock out?  I think it would be fun to run with the bulldogs.

S  


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Do I dare hope...could something good be happening?

These are not congressmen working together.  This is just a generic photo.  There is word that a group of Democrats and Republicans are working quietly together, but there are no cameras there to record it.

Word is leaking out that a group of congressmen from both parties are quietly meeting together to try and find a way to at least stabilize the troubled health insurance market.  Our non-Leader, President Donald Trump, miffed that his preferred health insurance reform package failed in the Senate, has vowed to just let the market collapse, in effect saying "f__k the people if they lose what little insurance they might have. I don't care."  These congressmen are actually, hopefully, doing something positive and not just posing.

I'm sure House Leaders Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, are miffed that some of their members aren't toeing their parties "my way or the highway" line, too.  These renegades are stealing their Leader's thunder.

What's missing from this picture?  Bright lights and TV cameras.  The Donald and Mitch and Paul and Chuck and Nancy just LOVE to step in front of a TV camera and bloviate about how only THEY can fix _____.  They'll tell you their way is the only way, which is why we're in the mess we are today.

Kudos to these fearless congressmen who are willing to tell their Leadership to get out of the way.  May they lock themselves in a quiet room, bring in a platter of sandwiches and some beverages, and haggle until they can come up with something, not necessarily exactly what they would prefer, but something they and we can all live with.  And for Pete's sake, don't let a TV camera get within a mile of them!

S

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Fear Russia?




While Russia's capital city, Moscow, seems to have made it into the 21st Century....



....most of the rest of the country hasn't progressed much since the Cold War days.

Yes, they still have a formidable nuclear arsenal, and they're spending a disproportionate amount of their GNP modernizing their military, but Russia is only a second rate country on the world stage.  Consider this:

The Gross Domestic Product of California is $2.40 Trillion dollars.*

The Gross Domestic Product of Texas is $1.698 Trillion dollars.*

The Gross Domestic Product of New York is $1.44 Trillion dollars.*

The Gross Domestic Product of Russia is $1.324 Trillion dollars.*

This imbalance is why Vladimir Putin is so desperate to see Russia regain its former prestige and power.  He simply won't acknowledge they are not equal to western nations. Economic sanctions imposed by the west are hurting Russia, and they are pulling out all the stops to get them removed.  This is also why they are so very dangerous.  Desperate people do desperate things.  Watch them very closely!

S

* 2015 statistics