What Does $100.00 Mean to You?

I own a small business.  I drive around in a pickup truck loaded with the tools and supplies of the trade.  If you look at my truck from the front, it just looks like any other pickup truck.  It’s not until you see it broadside that you can see the equipment.

The other day, I was sitting in a line of cars working their way out of a grocery store parking lot.  My truck has a high-profile so I could see the over the cars in front of me in the line and, standing near the first car in the line, a man holding a little folding piece of cardboard.  You’ve seen him.  Maybe not THAT guy but you’ve seen him.  I’m sure he could see me, too, but only from a straight on angle so…just another truck.  The man had written ‘Will work for Tacos’ on his cardboard.  Cute, right?  A small touch of whimsy to lighten the moment.  He was working the lead car and only glanced up at the rest of us from time to time.  As traffic cleared and the lead car moved out of the parking lot, my angle relative to the man changed, allowing him to see the bed of my truck – now obviously a work truck and with only one occupant in the cab.  The man immediately folded his cute sign, turned away from me, and walked off.  The man clearly was NOT willing to work for tacos or anything else.

I mention it so you know that I know they’re out there.

It’s been raining a LOT where I live.  Not rain forest “a lot” but it’s been fairly steady and sometimes quite heavy since October.  When it’s not raining, it’s cold.  The other night, I got to thinking about homeless people and what happens when the weather turns bad.  I don’t take an opinion about HOW they got there so much as thinking about how it must be BEING there.  Like many people, I’d like to help but like so many people, I’m only a few short steps from becoming their neighbor so the problem is far bigger than me and my oh-so-limited resources…

Then I got to thinking: what practical, actual thing could I do?  Maybe, if nothing else, I could help a homeless person stay warm.  I went to Amazon.com and found a waterproof, 4 season sleeping bag – 37 dollars.  That seemed so…reasonable.  The idea got good to me so I looked up inexpensive tents – 30 bucks with compact carrying case.  $67 dollars (plus shipping) and I could make one person warm and dry at least for a season.  I randomly rounded up to 100 dollars and figured I could put the difference on a grocery store gift card.  (As a bonus, I buy from Amazon through a program called Amazon Smile that donates to a local charity – in my case SNAP cats – whenever I make an eligible purchase…)

One hundred dollars.  For me, $100 bucks is a big deal.  If it went missing I would notice.  I wouldn’t be destroyed, mind you, the bills would get paid…but I would notice.  Then I realized the opposite; yes, I would feel $100 but it wouldn’t change my life much, certainly not the way that same $100 could change someone’s life for the better.  To be sure, not permanently but very definitely.

For me, the hardest part is getting beyond ‘Mr. Won’t-work-for-tacos.’  I have a bias: I don’t WANT to give $100 I work hard for to someone who won’t work at all.  But the truth is, I don’t think most homeless people are in their situation by choice, probably not even Mr. Taco guy, and however they got there, bad weather has to make it worse.  I don’t want to set myself up to decide who might be “worthy” and who might be “faking it” and I don’t want to let the reality that someone might be faking it keep me from helping someone who really could use the boost.

So I’m in.  I’ll put this small bundle in the cab of my truck and hand it to the next homeless person I see.  My attitude is ‘however it helps’.  Sure, I might make a mistake – give the bundle to someone who won’t use it as I’d hoped.  But I might actually make one person’s life just a little bit better; warm where they were cold, dry where they were wet and, for $100, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

So…what does $100.00 mean to you?

To My College “Peeps”…

When I was in elementary school, there was a kid who would sit in the back of the classroom banging his head against a water fire extinguisher.  This would continue until the teacher had to stop what she was doing, make this kid the center of attention, and toss him out.  The kid didn’t seem to care, he was getting the attention he wanted – even if it was negative.

I had occasion to see this campus troublemaker , Milo Yiannopoulos – who calls himself the “Dangerous Faggot” – on Bill Maher last week and all I could think about while I was watching him was that kid from my elementary school.  That kid was smart.  So, it seems, is Mr. Yiannopoulos.  (A tough spell…couldn’t be ‘Jones’, right?)  The kid was personable.  So is Milo.  But that kid was…off, somehow, and so is Milo.

I’ve never really understood the “attention at any cost” attitude.  The kid in school wasn’t working as the class clown.  The class wasn’t laughing with him.  He was just being obnoxious because it got him attention.  It was the exact same feeling I got watching Yiannopoulos.  He’s just an attention-seeking brat.

He doesn’t seem to have anything of value to add.  His only interest is inspiring rancor.  In the short performance I saw from him, he enjoyed baiting people and saying things calculated to irritate and anger people and when they responded, he smiled and seemed to be savoring his “victory”.  “I win.  Another person hates me!”  Yeah, some victory.

Last I knew, my old classmate was sitting it out in San Quentin.  He ended up using his intelligence and charisma to steal cars from dealerships and take them on interstate joy rides.  Unfortunately, Milo managed to stay out of prison.  Instead, he wrote a speech calling for withdrawal of federal money to colleges that don’t toe his far-right line and takes that speech to colleges.  Then, all he has to do is sit back and watch the fireworks fly.  (And if they don’t on their own, he’s got his agent provocateurs to initiate riots.)  In the end, Yiannopoulos is happy and everyone else is upset.

He’s very good at being a petulant brat so it won’t be easy but the solution is straight-forward enough: ignore him.  Don’t fight him.  Don’t protest him.  Don’t acknowledge him.  Ignore him.  Let him come to your campus, speak to the Young Republicans, and leave.  (I confess, I could see tearing down the flyers announcing his shit-show but other than that, ignore him.)  Unless I miss my guess, at first he’ll get MORE outrageous but, eventually, he’ll dry up and go away.  He’s a pimple, not skin cancer.  You don’t have to DO anything.  You could pick at it, making it more visible, or you can ignore it and it will go away on its own.

I’ll tell you this:  Between the Berkeley debacle and this piece, I’ve already written WAY too much about Milo Yiannopoulos.  Now, it’s time to ignore him…

Out? Already?!?

Less than a month and one of the so-called PotUS’ top advisors steps down in disgrace for “misleading” the “President”.

First, I’m going to give credit to Michael Flynn for his loyalty.  I have no proof but I simply don’t believe he spoke about lifting sanctions imposed on the Russians by Obama without talking to the so-called PotUS first.  But he fell on his sword to protect the Oval Office and that deserves respect (because it’s what you’re expected to do in those situations…)

Okay, but consider this: Flynn – the National Security Adviser – got caught because he didn’t realize national security agencies monitor foreign official’s communications in the US.  Let that sink in.  The National Security Adviser didn’t realize national security agencies monitor foreign official’s communications in the US!

So how much damage is this maladministration going to be able to do if they spend all of their time replacing disgraced Cabinet members?

I’ll tell you this: that’s a rhetorical question.  I don’t want to find out how much damage these bozos can do…

Driving the So-Called PotUS Craz(ier)…

I have an idea.

What if we all – and I mean everybody, real or imagined, who didn’t vote for him – what if we all joined Twitter, followed the so-called PotUS, and every time he tweeted something everybody tweet back “STFU, Donnie!”

Just that, nothing else but EVERY time.  What’s he going to do?  Would his overblown ego allow him to block us all?  Wouldn’t it be fun knowing he would actually try?

Who’s in?

On Deregulation…

It looks like we’re in for another round of deregulation coming from the corporate puppets running the country.  We’re told that regulations make it more difficult, more expensive to run businesses and that regulations stifle innovation.  Well, yeah.  They do.  In the same sense that laws make it more difficult for armed robbers to rob people at gunpoint, sometimes rules get in the way.  Do we care that our laws prevent an armed robber from “innovating” by switching from a .38 to a .45?

Despite what you might have heard, there’s one thing that people need to remember about business.  A business exists for one reason and one reason only: to make money.  They are not, by nature, moral or ethical entities and they do not make moral or ethical decisions.  A properly run business will make money by any legal means available.  That’s a key phrase “…any legal means available”.  This means that the society in which a given business is operating not only has the right to regulate business activity, it has an obligation to do so.

A business may consider moral or ethical positions when making decisions but they may not and if the people running the operation decide to put those considerations aside they’re still operating within the framework of what should reasonably be expected of a business.  But declaring business inherently evil is as incorrect as declaring them inherently good.  “A business would never do that” is a false argument as displayed by the many, many times in which business do exactly the things defenders say they would never do.

For example, the Great Depression was kicked off by an artificial housing bubble.  The Savings and Loans crisis of the 80’s was kicked off by an artificial housing bubble.  The most recent economic disaster was kicked off by an artificial housing bubble.  Clearly, business will do things that shouldn’t be done in the name of profit and they’ll do those things over and over again.  But they’re still not inherently evil.  They’re just doing business.

The thing is, when any entity is operating without any moral or ethical compass, it’s behavior will move into immoral and unethical areas eventually.  This is inevitable.  They don’t plan it but they don’t plan against it, either.  That’s not their jobs nor their concern and I would argue it should not be.  That should be, by rights, where society steps in.

For the most part, society doesn’t make rules or laws for no reason.  Somebody has to do something – often unimaginable prior to their doing it – before we react.  Prior to the Great Depression, for example, people mostly didn’t worry about investment banks and commercial banks blending their business because it would be foolhardy to take risks that might damage their own businesses.  But some clever sod saw an opportunity for profit and did it anyway.

Enter Glass-Steagall, the law that prevented such behavior by commercial banks by controlling their behavior.  Commercial banking became stable until President Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999.  (Please note, that is Phil Gramm (R), Jim Leach (R), and Thomas J. Bliley, Jr. (R).  Just sayin’…)  The masses were told Glass-Steagall had mostly been worked around, anyway, so this just finalized that process but it’s notable that the banking industry remained stable from the time Glass-Steagall was instituted until it’s provision were eliminated in 1999.

In the meantime, financial havoc was inflicted on an area of banking called Savings and Loans by a bi-partisan group that came to be known as ‘The Keating Five’ who blocked regulation in that industry in the early 1980’s, allowing financial players to inflate an artificial housing bubble in the Savings and Loans.  The Reagan administration saved the institutions that could be saved, heavily regulated their behaviors, then spun them off back into the private sector as Credit Unions.

Go ahead, take a guess at which segment of banking was spared the ravages of the 2008 meltdown.  Did you guess the heavily regulated Credit Unions?  That’s just one example, of course, and it’s certainly simplified for this purpose but the basic information is correct and the point is, we regulate when we discover we need to, not just to make it more difficult for businesses to do business.

There’s a caveat, here. For several years, now, there have been outside groups writing laws.  Groups like ALEC (I think that stands for ‘Assholes Legislating Evil Crap’ but I could be wrong…) write blanket laws and then work to have state legislatures enact them.  These are literally boilerplate, fill-in-the-blanks-with-your-information type laws.  They rarely, if ever, address actual situations that need to be addressed.  Instead, these laws are typically about expanding corporate powers and/or protecting corporations from interfering government intrusions.  I can see eliminating these rules as quickly as possible…

I’ll tell you this: as we prepare for the coming onslaught of deregulation, it’s important to remember that most regulations are put in place for a reason.  Yes, the regulations might slow profits and they certainly might interfere with innovations but the goal is to protect society and even the businesses themselves from their own avarice – something they should not be expected to do for themselves…

The So-Called Corner Office…

Today, just for today, I’m kind of laughing at our so-called POTUS.

It struck me in the wee hours of this morning that what we’re seeing with this flurry of poorly written, not vetted Executive Orders is the result of decades of false information that government should be “run like a business”.  It doesn’t bother me that the conservative rank and file buy into that fraudulent message but the President is supposed to know better.

Government isn’t run like a business and it shouldn’t be.  That’s because government has a different role in civilization than a business or even a household.  (I used to run my kids out of my favorite chair using the term ‘Eminent Domain’ but a household still runs more like a business than a government…)

Now, I know that when the corporate media feeds the ‘government like a business’ message into the conservative bubble, they only mean that government should have a balanced budget.  But even that’s not as important in a government as it is in your business.  (No, I’m not arguing in favor of deficit spending, merely pointing out that a government can get away with spending more than they have easier than a business…)  The fact is, the main thing business and government have in common is the word ‘budget’.  After that, pretty much everything is different.

But the so-called POTUS doesn’t seem to know it.  That might explain why he keeps issuing edicts – apparently scribbled out over in the corner by his little racist sidekick – and expecting them to be carried out.  (It does not explain why he then holds them up like a five-year old showing off his macaroni art.  Perhaps he’s expecting praise for successfully writing his name?)

Apparently, he actually sees himself as the CEO of a company called The United States of America, inc.  He expresses “his vision” and expects people to do as they’re told.  He doesn’t care if his orders anger people and he doesn’t expect to be challenged.  (Hmm, come to think of it, there IS a form of government that operates that way.  It’s called a dictatorship.  Not good, bigly…)

In what appears to be an attempted return to Nixon’s “when a President does it, it’s not illegal”, this maladministration actually argued before the Ninth Circuit Court that the judicial branch has no right to second guess the executive.  Well, guess what, Cubby?  Not only do they have the right, it’s their job.  (Please have someone read you a little thing called the Constitution.  And I mean it.  Please.  Have someone read it to you.)  Turns out, business is easier than governance…

The GOP controls both houses of Congress and they don’t seem inclined to “notice” the violations of precedent, protocol, the law, or even logic emanating from this White House so long as it’s “their team” in control.  For his part, the so-called POTUS hasn’t seemed to notice the giant rubber stamp sitting just up the road and it seems it hasn’t crossed his so-called mind that he could use Congress to get what he wants.  Let’s hope nobody tells him…

I’ll tell you this: I’ve been a bit butt-clinched since January 20 worried about the next crazy thing the so-called POTUS might pull out of his…um…the air…amid concerns that our checks and balances seem to be on life support while a set of tiny little fingers tries to pull the plug once and for all and I was pretty relieved to see the courts do their job.  So today, just for today, I’m kind of laughing at our so-called POTUS…

Republican “Ethics”…

Republicans silenced Elizabeth Warren because #ShePersisted in trying to tell the truth about Jeff Sessions.  What is it about the truth conservatives have such a difficult time with accepting?

It’s a disturbing pattern.  The White House has tried to shut off information by shutting down government websites and issuing orders to various agencies not to make comments (or, more likely, corrections).  Now Republicans in Congress invoke an unusual maneuver to force her to sit down when she tries to repeat an unpleasant truth about an unpleasant Senator.  Rule 19.  So, he should be protected from his own history by an obscure rule that indicates, basically, that if one speaks truthfully about him it impugns his character?  The truth impugns his character?

If speaking the truth about a person impugns the character of that person, neither the  speaker nor the speech is the problem: it’s the person.

But this is the Republican way.  If the truth makes one’s position less defensible attack the truth.  But the truth doesn’t go away just because Republicans are willing to try to manipulate reality.

We need a new rule.  If a person who currently works for government is nominated for a Cabinet position and accepts the nomination, they must resign their current position before their confirmation hearing begins.  Sessions’ confirmation was scheduled AFTER De Vos’ confirmation so he could vote for her as Senator, THEN sit for his own – apparently carefully scripted – confirmation “hearing”.

What honest and honorable things are the Republicans doing that they dare not allow to be seen?

I’ll tell you this; it’s cowardly.  If they have to lie about their nominee, how are they NOT confessing knowledge that their nominee can’t bear up under scrutiny?

A Little History on ‘States Rights’…

There is much talk these days about “states rights”.  (In fairness, there has been much talk of “states rights” since the country was founded.)  It’s a very popular theme from the conservative sector of this country.  Basically, the concept is that the states should remain sovereign with the Federal Government acting as little more than the final arbiter of disputes between the states and handling military needs.  I suppose when the phrase is thrown casually about without much thought it sounds good but in practical application it doesn’t work.  That’s history, not hypothesis.  I know it doesn’t work because We, the People started off with that very form of government…and it didn’t work.

Essentially, the colonies declared independence and formed a new government under the Articles of Confederation.  The states remained sovereign.  Congress could settle disputes between states, make treaties and alliances, maintain a military (in theory) and coin money backed by the full faith and credit of…well, faith but that was it.  They had no real authority over the states.  Even in the ‘settle disputes’ part, they could rule but not enforce.

Have you ever seen any of the paintings of George Washington at Valley Forge?  Look closely at the men and you’ll see they lack pretty much everything one needs to support an army.  Do you know why?  States rights!  See, under the Articles of Confederation, Congress could ask states for money but couldn’t compel them to pay.  The states would promise money, men, and resources but then, focused on their own, local concerns withhold some of what they promised.  In short, each state acted in each state’s individual interest.

You can see the problem.  The name “United States of America” was first coined in the Articles of Confederation but we were not so much a “united states” as a loose alliance of independent republics, emphasis on “loose”.  During the revolution, Washington and Hamilton came to understand the need for a central government with authority to tax and to compel states participation because they were on the receiving end of “states rights”.  The loose alliance nearly cost us the war.  Then, it nearly cost us our nascent nation when soldiers who had deferred their pay for the war effort came to collect – and the states still couldn’t be compelled to pony up.

The Articles of Confederation – the first form of the United States – lasted about 10 years before it’s shortcomings became obvious.  Then it was replaced by the Constitution that became the Constitution we all know and love (and hate and fight about) today.  You and I might talk about Federal overreach and find agreement.  Certainly, there are areas of the document that could use some tweaks here and there.

But I’ll tell you this; every time I hear the phrase “states rights” I think back on the birth of this once great nation and how “states rights” almost ended us even before we got started.  It doesn’t make any sense to me to revert to a form of government that has already been tried and failed.  So why do I keep hearing about “states rights”?

Agent Provocateur, Not Just Lingerie…

An “alt-right” (newspeak for “white supremacist”) speaker gets invited by campus republicans (of course it’s republicans) to speak at Berkeley University as part of his – according to the Guardian – “Dangerous Faggot” tour.  About 1,500 progressives, predictably, had fallen out to protest.  By all accounts the protest was peaceful.

Then, a band of about 150 people – all with faces covered – come in from off campus and pretty much attack without hesitation.  No, not the protestors, the building the speech is scheduled for.  They set fires and break windows and just generally riot until the event is cancelled.

I suspect agent provocateurs.  According to Wikipedia, an “agent provocateur (French for “inciting agent”) is a person who commits, or who acts to entice another person to commit an illegal or rash act or falsely implicate them in partaking in an illegal act. An agent provocateur may be acting out of their own sense of duty or may be employed by the police or other entity to discredit or harm another group (such as a peaceful protest or demonstration) by provoking them to commit a crime, thereby undermining the protest or demonstration as a whole.”

I can’t say for certain, of course.  All I can do is look at the situation surrounding the events of that night but what I see is a peaceful protest in full swing.  Everything is going according to plan and everything is remaining peaceful.  Then a bunch of hidden faces show up and just start rioting with no provocation?  No.  For me, it just doesn’t pass the “smell test.”  Who benefited?

Well, the speech was cancelled.  But a speech that might have reached only a small handful of bigots now gets reported on a national and even international scale.  The peaceful protestors were made to look bad and the far right was handed just what they want as a propaganda tool.  Photos and stories of the violence can be – and will be – used to show that the left isn’t all that inclusive, after all.  The action undermined the demonstration – and to a larger extent the anti-Trump movement – as a whole.

I can’t know, for certain, that the violent actors were agent provocateurs.  I just know they fit the profile.  I could stubbornly insist they were but I can’t really know.  The right can’t know, for certain, that the violent actors were not agent provocateurs.  I presume they will, nevertheless, stubbornly insist they were not but they can’t really know, either.  The rioters showed up on campus with faces covered.

The only way to know for sure would be to identify the rioters.  Not the peaceful protestors, mind you, but the mob that showed up from off campus.  I can’t really recommend that peaceful protestors suddenly try to restrain the provocateurs for certain identification but that would be the best answer.  After all, the rioters came prepared for violence.  It’s why they’re there.  For sure, peaceful protestors should try to remove the face masks of the rioters and photograph their faces.  Let’s find out who these people are…and who they work for.

I’ll tell you this; people are going to be falling out for peaceful protests many times in the next few years.  All of those efforts are going to be undermined by agent provocateurs if we can’t find a way to identify the rioters.  The result will be that the actual message of whatever is being protested in the moment will be lost, again and again.  I could use a little help, here.  Any ideas on how peaceful protestors might identify the rioters without getting themselves injured in the process?