June 23, 2017

OrangeVerse VIII: Indescribable

Six minutes is a long time, especially when you're the president, you're talking to folks at the American Leadership in Emerging Technology Event, and your son is the expert at cyber in your household.

Here are part of the president's remarks; I'll have more in an upcoming post.

I Know You!
Good morning, everybody, 
Very nice 
to have you here.
It's a great honor. So many of you, 
I recognize
And others I do from reading 
business magazines and other magazines.
You've done well.

I want to thank my Office
of Science and Technology - and
this has been a great office; 
they have
done such incredible work - 

The Hawkeye State
And we just got back
from Iowa last night.
A big speech
in Iowa. 
That was an amazing group
of people. Those people
were excited. 
I guess most people saw it,
but they were excited.

Oh Wilbur
I want to thank Secretary Ross
for joining us today...
Wilbur has done a fantastic job
and I want to thank you
very much for it,
Everybody understands it.
Wilbur, as Jeff - as you know - 
Wilbur is known just as Wilbur
on Wall Street. 
They don't even call him
Wilbur Ross. 
They just say, oh, Wilbur
is involved -- right?
He's done
a great job
Thank you.

And Mr Vice
President, thank you
very much for being here.
We've had some busy schedules
and we have a thing called 
that you might hear
is percolating
in the outside
as we've discussed.

And I think
it's going to come out.
is a disaster; it's 
Totally dead.
And we're putting in a
plan today
that's going 
to be negotiated. 

We'd love to have some
Democrat support but they're
They'll never support.
We won't get one
no matter how
good it is.

But we will
get something done
and it will be
something with
and very meaningful.

It's great to have you here
by the way.
You've done
a great job
I always say
you got a hell of a lot of money
for that sale. 
I don't think
you've been given enough -- 
I mean, I don't think
you were
ever given enough
credit for the deal
you did
for your shareholders.

What a deal that was.

June 21, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v92)

Another Wednesday already?  Where does the time go?

As I expected, talk about everyone 'coming together' in the wake of the shooting in Alexandria lasted only a few news cycles; now, we get a very brief update on Steve Scalise's condition, and we move on to the latest severe weather threat.

I did have to wonder what on earth the punditry thought was going to happen when the Dems and Reps got ready to play their charity ball game? Were they expecting them to stand on opposite baselines glaring at each other or something? Did the multi-million dollar talking heads forget that this game has been played since the early 1900's, without rancor, to raise money for charity?

What was up with all of the amazement shown when the two teams knelt in prayer before the game began? And why was it seemingly so hard for people to understand that maybe the Congressmen (and women) are human beings, regardless of how different their opinions and ideas? Of course, that makes me wonder, if this had been a contest between the gangs from Infowars, Breitbart and Fox News on one team and The Washington Post, The Rachel Maddow Show, and CNN on the other, what would they have done under the same circumstances?

Last week also had me wondering about three widely publicized court cases: the Bill Cosby trial, the Jeronimo Yanez trial, and the Michelle Carter trial.

In the first case, the jury of five women and seven men deadlocked after some 50 hours of deliberation, and a mistrial was declared. The prosecution vowed to try the case again, but I wonder if the outcome will be different. That dozens of women have claimed Cosby did to them what he did to the alleged victim in this case - drugs as foreplay followed by unwanted sexual advances - may not matter when push comes to shove about sending America's Dad to jail. It's not just that those other women cannot bring criminal cases themselves, due to statutes of limitations, but even if their stories do come in as indicative of a pattern of behavior, it's that they might not be believed, anyway.

The second case involved the police officer who shot Philando Castile less than a minute after pulling him over for faulty brake lights, or because he resembled a suspect the police were looking for. Either way, Castile ended up dead after Yanez fired seven shots into the car (five of which hit their intended target) in which Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four year old daughter were passengers. The police video released after the trial was the second one to become famous in this case; the first was the one that captured the aftermath of the shooting, filmed by Reynolds. Yanez was found not guilty of second degree manslaughter and intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety.

Finally, the last case involved the Massachusetts woman who was charged with - and convicted of - involuntary manslaughter because she encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide, after he had threatened to do so many times.  There were thousands of texts between the two teens presented as evidence, but it was phone calls the night of the suicide that led a judge to find her guilty. Carter, now 20 years old, could be sentenced to that many years in prison in August.

I can't help wondering how we can see a police officer acquitted of involuntary manslaughter after firing seven shots in the close quarters of a vehicle's driver's seat, while a woman is convicted of the same charge for firing only words across a communications network.

I have not been able to wrap my arms around this, and to be honest, I'm not sure I want to.

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v11)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
As many of you may have heard, there's a LOT of water in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, which together form much of the border between New York State and Canada.

What's "a LOT of water" mean? How's 6,000,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools full?  Four cubic miles - a puddle a mile wide, a mile high, and four miles long - of water?

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, in the six weeks starting April first, about four trillion gallons of rain water alone entered Lake Ontario. And it didn't stop raining, either.

All spring, we've been seeing and hearing about the incredible flooding, beach erosion, scores of houses and camps and trailers and restaurants and bars and parks under water. The marina and fishing camp owned by my brother-in-law John has received more press this year - for being under water - than in all the years he's owned it, combined, times five or ten  -- it's been that bad along lake, with no end in sight.  For folks like John, who own seasonal businesses which under the best of circumstances are at the mercy of a fickle Mother Nature, this spring has been almost incomprehensible. And yet -- it's inspired great creativity, as folks do whatever they can to keep their businesses open and customers well served.

We've heard less about flooding around Montreal, unless we took the time to read or listen all the way through to the end. As noted in this article from early May,
The city, which is located at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers is experiencing record-breaking flooding. The river at Montreal Harbor is nearly four feet higher than normal for this time of year and "dramatic flooding in and around Montreal has forced the evacuation of thousands," according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Naturally, American politicians were unable to contain themselves any better than the lake boundaries could contain the water. Local, state and federal officials jumped on the International Joint Commission, tasked with managing the lake and seaway for the benefit of both countries and their billion dollar shipping, commerce and tourism industries. The IJC controls the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River, which is how and where lake levels can be controlled. The IJC is guided by something called Plan 2014, which updated guidelines that had been in place as long as I've been alive. Despite its name, Plan 2014 only went into effect this January; as such, it's been a focal point of many politicians as their constituents deal with water, water everywhere.

Our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, is no neophyte when it comes to lashing out - he's gotten pretty good at it. Three weeks or so ago, over the Memorial Day weekend,  Cuomo set his sights on the IJC, calling them on the carpet for the high water while visiting Monroe County.
There's not doubt but that the IJC blew it. They blew it... I think the IJC has made a series of blunders. Their methodology was flawed to begin with. They're doing tremendous damage and it has to stop now. 
Cuomo's comments followed on the heels of a letter he wrote to the IJC a couple of days earlier, in which he noted, after blasting them for not letting water out last year when levels were high or earlier this year before the rains came, and after tooting his own horn about financial assistance the state is offering to those impacted,
With the highest water levels in a century, it is imperative that the IJC take action to reduce lake levels and provide immediate relief to these shoreline communities. Failure to act now defies common sense and will exacerbate this growing problem. Local communities, businesses and residents are facing one of the most damaging and protracted flood situations in generations and relying on you to provide relief.
The IJC responded, noting that Cuomo had responded just last year to the opposite water issue.
...These near average supplies to Lake Ontario last year were the result of above-average inflows from Lake Erie, offset by well below average rainfall and runoff in the Lake Ontario basic, which you may recall experienced such a severe drought in 2016 that you declared a drought disaster in 24 counties in upper New York... (emphasis added)
They went on to explain things about ice formation, weather forecasting, how they used Plan 2014 and also how they deviated from it (as allowed) to manage the situation. Further, they noted
We and our staff are available to you and your staff to further explain the conditions, constraints and hydrology that affects these decisions whenever you would like. 
We applaud your action to dedicate $22 million to assist New York communities, businesses and homeowners to address the devastation that these extreme weather conditions have wrought.  We also hope that you use this opportunity to demonstrate your strong leadership to increase and improve coastal resiliency, as you did after Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, rather than merely repairing the current damages and leaving people vulnerable.   
I'm no scientist, and don't pretend to have the answers to what's happening to folks like my brother-in law. But I must say, I love a good throw down with our governor, especially when NY's own Environmental Conservation Commissioner notes that we'd have the same conditions whether we were following Plan 2014 or the 1958 plan.

And especially since, as the editorial linked above notes,
For six years, Governor Cuomo was silent as scientists, environmentalists and shoreline property owners debated Plan 2014, the water management plan for Lake Ontario...
Cuomo got his press coverage, which matters dearly to him. And he will take credit for putting assistance on the table, which matters dearly to him, and will help those who qualify. But the exchange with the IJC feels sort of like what I think it would feel like if I decided to publicly challenge my 9th grade earth science teacher.

I'd write a good letter, to be sure, but he would crush me with his expertise.

June 17, 2017

Sidebar: After the Bullets...

There has been no let up in the comments and discussions following the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and three others at the ball park in Alexandria, VA.

Calls for unity, and cooperation, and tamped down rhetoric, and bipartisanship across the spectrum, from regular people to public servants in Washington continue, even as a couple of handsfull of Republican men meet in secret to reform healthcare, one sixth of the American economy. (They must not have gotten the memo?) And while many are hopeful, most are not holding out hope that this will last any longer than these types of "calls for (fill in the blank)" typically last - five or six news cycles? Ten, maybe?

Lotf of people have mentioned out that Donald Trump, both as a candidate and since the election, has been a key factor in emboldening people on the fringes, through his 'textbook' racist comments and his denigration of, well, pretty much everyone, whether overt (women, Mexicans, POWs, Gold star families, the disabled) or covert (blacks, uneducated people, and more), via his hideously insulting professions of "love" for them.

Others have blamed Barack Obama (no specific examples, just in general), Bill Clinton (same), Hillary Clinton (her basket of deplorables), Congressional Democrats, liberals in Hollywood, free speech protesters at Berkeley, Congressional Republicans, Rush Limbaugh... even, again, regular people like me who express opinions around the vast water cooler that is "social media."

(Ironically, I've yet to see someone blame lifelong Independent Bernie Sanders, the candidate of choice for the gunman, according to his social media record. Sanders, by the way, is still widely and erroneously described in the media as the Democratic Senator of Vermont, which is mind-boggling to me, but that's a whole nother post.)

The bully pulpit, it seems, whether the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave or the one at The Little Garden in The Valley, where I sit, is actually filled with bullies.

This hand-wringing about the words we use and how we use them, would not be occurring to this degree had the gunman not targeted members of Congress. It does not occur, as I noted in my post, when extreme words about abortion lead to murder.

It did not happen, to this elevated level, when racist words and beliefs led to the murder of churchgoers at Mother Emmanuel.

It did not happen, even, when the Sandy Hook murders were claimed to be fake; parents are still hounded by people who believed the words, and acted on them.

It did not happen when the citizenship of President Obama was challenged.

It did not happen, did it, when Hillary Clinton's lesbian-child-sex-ring from the-back-of-a-pizza parlor led to a man going there to take matters into his own hands?

When we challenge each other on the power of words, we're told they don't matter. Violent movies, video games, song lyrics? They have no impact, we're told, and besides, that's artistic freedom. Same with references to drugs, smoking, drinking and sex - mainstream movie sex, I'm talking about, not porn. Those don't matter, they don't influence anyone, that's just art. (Maybe someone should tell the ad agencies that their work doesn't matter?)

All of this, we're told, people know it's not real. They know it's fake. And yet, "fake news" influenced our presidential election, and continues to influence people's thoughts, opinions, conversations, and memes.

Words don't matter, we're told. Until something like this happens, and the political becomes personal. Then, everything matters.
But, as you all know, tonight's game has taken on a much deeper level of meaning. Beyond anything that we would have thought. By playing tonight, your are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence, or assaults on our Democracy. The game will go on.
Here are some words I think matter.
If people, politicians and pundits really believe that words matter, they need to believe that all of them do. If people, politicians and pundits really believe that inflammatory rhetoric matters, they need to believe that all of it matters. If people, politicians and pundits really believe that extremism matters, they need to believe that all of it matters. If people, politicians and pundits really believe that gunmen shoot innocent people because they have mental health issues, they need to believe that all of them have mental health issues.
If people, politicians and pundits want to show the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence or assaults on our democracy, we all need to play the game as if that really matters. 
Ladies and gentlemen, let's play ball.

June 15, 2017

After the Bullets, the Words Fly

Here's a smattering of comments I've read in the aftermath of the shooting at the ball field in Alexandria VA which left House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, critically injured.

Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a speech on the House floor that CNN's Chris Cillizza called 'spot on.' In it, Ryan (who seems to me an uncomfortable speaker) noted
We are all giving our thoughts to those currently being treated for their injuries at this moment. And we are united. We are united in our shock and anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us...
You know, every day, we come here to test and challenge each other. We feel so deeply about the things we fight for and believe in At times, our emotions can get the best of us. We are all imperfect. But we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber.
For all the noise and fury, we are a family. These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire... 
So before this House returns to its business, I want us to slow down and reflect, to think about how we are being tested right now. Because we are. I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come together, to lift each other up and to show the country - show the world - that we are one House. The people's House - united in our humanity.
It is that humanity which will win the day. It always will. 
Ted Nugent apparently had a "listen to your wife" moment, regarding his inflammatory language, which he blamed on his Detroit upbringing and adrenaline.
At the tender age of 69, my wife has convinced me I just can't use those harsh terms. I cannot and will not and I encourage even my friends/enemies on the left, in the Democrat and liberal world, that we have got to be civil to each other.
In case you had missed his comments, here's a recap from a post on ThinkProgress.org.
Nugent's 2012 comments about Obama - who he has called a "piece of shit" and a "subhuman mongrel" - are far from the only threat he's made against prominent Democrats. As the Daily Beast chronicled, Nugent discussed shooting Harry Reid during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in 2015. In January 2016, he called for both Obama and Clinton to "be tried for treason & hung." Nugent once called Clinton a "worthless bitch" and called for her to "ride one of these (guns) into the sunset." He told Obama to "suck on my machine gun."
FYI, this past April, Nuge enjoyed a quiet evening with his wife, Kid Rock and his fiance, and Sarah Palin and president Trump at the White House.

Former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence, offered words of condolence and hope.

And, from the peanut gallery, this anonymous guy, TOTAL, commenting on a Nancy Pelosi video.
I am a true blue Democrat and even I will admit it is the LEFT and our disappointment about losing a "can't lose" election that caused this tragedy. Our leaders and attached at the hip MEDIA (CNN, MSNBC) are the ones stirring the pot BLACK with their LIES and blatant exaggerations about our President to TAKE HIM DOWN. The Congressional Investigations are a WITCH HUNT to bring down a president the left (and some on the right) deem unacceptable so they NEED to control the narrative (which they have). This is their fault (OUR) and our fault as Democrats and liberals to believe the distortions and outright lies (Trump is not anti gay or a racist) and start living in the real world and get over a poorly run DNC election. An election that the DNC and Clinton tried to RIG from the beginning.

What happened, I wonder, in the past couple of years?  Remember when people turned guns on others because of mental health problems, like the shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs a couple of years ago?

Here's what Paul Ryan said then.
Clearly, we can do more... one common denominator in these tragedies is mental illness. that's why we need to look at fixing our nation's mental health system. 
Why, now,  wouldn't we make the same assumption when someone shoots at Republican Congressmen? 

Why, now, is it the rhetoric? 

June 13, 2017

Poll Watch: Opportunities and Blessings

I'm sure by now you've heard about the bizarre, "someone put something in the juice cups again" public portion of Trump's cabinet meeting. You know, the one where everyone sat around and told their fearless leader how fabulous he was?

Trump, of course, tooted his own horn.
Never has there been a president, with few exceptions - case of FDR, he had a major depression to handle - who has passed more legislation and who has done more things than what we've done. I think we've been about as active as you can possibly be at just about record-setting pace.
Oh, the #winning and the #recordsetting, #Icantstandit I truly can't. I don't know that anyone was prepared for Reince Priebus and his remarks, though.
On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve you agenda and the American people. And we're continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals. 
In light of his statement, and that of the others talking about the "honor" and "privilege" to serve this president, when they were simply asked to introduce themselves and the department they work in, I thought it would be fun to juxtapose the Cabinet members' sentiments with those of the American people.

Here are some key callouts from a recent Gallup poll
  • Trump's approval - 37% 
  • his weekly disapproval - 58%, highest of his administration
  • only 8% of Democrats approve; 83% of Republicans do.
The approval rating among republicans is down three points from his average, which is not a great sign, I don't think.  Among independents, his approval rating of 41% is five points lower than his average there. 

And, let's see what people are saying over at Public Policy Polling.

  • Angela Merkel (+11), Justin Trudeau (+11), Emmanuel Macron (+7) and even Theresa May (+4) are seen more favorably by Americans than our own president (-14) based on their net favorability scores/
  • Clinton voters particularly like Merkel and Trudeau; Trump voters only like the British PM.
  • Only 24% of all voters support the AHCA (aka the WeDon'tCare Act), with 55% opposing; only 42% o Republicans support the darn thing
  • Staying on health care, the ACA is the preferred path, with 51% approving vs. 34% not, and 35%  think the Republican's repeal and replace the right answer; 59% favor keep and fix.  

Dean Debnam, the president of PPP, tells us that
Six weeks after the initial passage of the AHCA voter anger over it isn't subsiding. It continues to be the biggest issue driving a Democratic advantage in 2018.
Why? Because, according to their polls, voters says they're less like to vote for a member of Congress who supported the ACHA (48%) than someone who favored it (24%).

Quinnipiac polling tells a similar story, one that is not all that positive for the president, regardless of his bigly opinion of himself. Let's look at Russia for example.

  • A majority of Americans think there's something amiss with Trump's own dealings with Russia; 31% this he did something illegal, with another 29% saying he did something unethical.
  • When it comes to Trump's campaign advisors, 40% think there was something illegal going on and 25% think there was unethical behavior. 
  • 54% think Trump is too friendly with Russia; 68% are "very" or "somewhat concerned" over Trump's relationship with Russia, a country 45% of voters think is our adversary, not our ally (only 8%). 
Those numbers aren't out of line, given the general lack of consideration for ethical behaviors show by everyone from the lawyers to the cabinet members, and of course there's the Trump Organization, and the bad charities, and the Access Hollywood tape, and more.  Back to the poll:

  • Trump's approval rating is even lower -- 34%, down from 37% in May and 35% in April.  
It gets worse.
  • 68% say Trump is not level-headed (although 64% of Republicans think he is).
  • 59% think he is not honest
  • 58% think he doesn't have good leadership skills
  • 58% think he doesn't care about average Americans
  • 64% think he doesn't share their values
There was some good news, though, which I'm sure will make it into an early morning tweet.
  • 62% think he's a strong person; 57% think he's intelligent. 
Even at Fox News, the poll is not showing great things.
  • 53% think Trump's agenda and presidency are coming apart
  • On taxes, 54% think our current system is worth keeping, with some tweaks - but not major changes
  • On the AHCA, 54% oppose the bill; 45% strongly oppose it. 
  • 53% think Obamacare has been good for the country (in 2014, 52% thought it was bad for the country)
  • Only 51%  are concerned about illegal immigration, a drop from 71% back in September 2010
  • And, finally, on climate change, the pendulum has swung from 46% concerned (February 2013) to 60% in the most recent poll

Sure, Reince, the blessings are great, but even among his most friendly audience, things are not looking so good. 

Perhaps there are some other opportunities out there you might want to look at?

June 11, 2017

Sunday School 6/11/2017

Boy, it was a hot one today, no air conditioning in the school, since it's the weekend and all. I only had the energy to visit one classroom today, and it was a good one: This Week with George Stephanopoulos, on ABC.

One of George's guests today was former US Attorney Preet Bharara, who, you might remember, is the guy who brought about the end to the reigns of Shelly Silver and Dean Skelos in the New York State Legislature, and who was also not shy about delving into potential ethics violations by New York's Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, his close associates, and less-close associates affiliated with Cuomo's Buffalo Billion and other economic development activities. He was not thrilled with the premature shuttering of the Moreland Commission, either.

Right here in Syracuse, he's got the leaders of COR Development under indictment; motions are still being filed in those matters, even as COR continues working on our Inner Harbor project, where they have exclusive development rights. Bharara's firing has not yet had an impact on the cases, and I hope it doesn't. Better to see these go through the legal process than to have things messed with simply because we have a new administration in Washington.

Anyway, today Bharara talked about James Comey and Donald Trump, answering some specific questions from Stephanopoulos. When asked if Comey lied under oath, the answer was clear:
It does not appear that way. I mean you've got someone who...has a reputation for telling the truth, someone who has contemporaneous notes of what happened... On the other hand, I think a lot of people will tell you that the president himself sometimes makes accusations that turn out to be not true...  And when it comes down to who's telling the truth and who's not, I think most people would side reasonably with James Comey.
Stephanopoulos asked about Comey leaking his notes, and whether there was "anything illegal" there.
So, I'm not in the business of making legal pronouncements on... what's legal or what's criminal anymore. But I will say, it sounds like more of a distraction... Nothing that was in the memo or in the conversations he had with his friend... was classified.
So I think the main point that people should be focusing on, from what I can see, is that you have... uncontroverted from someone who was under oath that on at least one occasion, the president of the United States cleared a room of his vice president and his attorney general, and told his director of the FBI that he should essentially drop a case against his former national security advisor. 
And whether or not that is impeachable or that's indictable, that's a very serious thing. And I'm not sure that people, you know, fully get that the standard is not just whether something is a crime or not, but there should - you know, whether or not it can be charged as a crime or Congress will impeach, it's a very serious thing.
And there's a lot to be frightened about and a lot to be outraged about if you have a president who, A, may have done it, although I know he denies it, but he hasn't (denied it) under oath yet. And B, he seems to suggest that even if he had done it or said words to that effect, there's nothing wrong with it. And you have other people who seem to be excusing it.  
 That's an incredibly serious thing if people think that the president of the United States can tell heads of law enforcement agencies, based on his own whim or is own personal preferences or friendships, that they should or should not pursue particular criminal cases against individuals. 
That's not how America works.
There's more, including a discussion on whether or not this is ever going to be more than 'he said/he said case'. Bharara doesn't know but did toss out this out there.
...look at the surrounding circumstances and indicia of truthfulness and those things include contemporaneous statements to other people. They include the track record of the witness... and whether or not one of the hes in the 'he said/he said' has a track record for lying or not both on the air and in legal proceedings...and I believe there is such a track record with respect to one of the parties.
We all know which one he's talking about, don't we?

Bharara himself was the recipient of a three calls from Trump, two from him as president-elect and a third after the inauguration, including the one Bharara refused to return. He was fired the next day. Regarding those  conversations, he also noted
The number of times that President Obama called me in seven-and-a-half years was zero. The number of times I would have expected to be called by the president of the Unites States would be zero, because there has to be some kind of arm's length relationship given the jurisdiction that various people had.
I miss Preet Bharara, I do.

See you around campus.

June 10, 2017

Shaming the VA on Memorial Day

At the end of last month, congressional Republicans released a video commemorating Memorial Day, honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice -  and, in one case, blasting the VA. Because that's how they roll, I guess.

Here's Rep. Jeff Denham of California, an Air Force vet, speaking in the video:
This is a day of remembrance and honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. But for the last several years, far too often, we're spending time talking about the inadequacies of the VA. 
Sure -  in between solemn ceremonies of remembrance, and collective breath-holding as high school buglers play Taps in cemeteries or at veterans' memorials, and 21-gun salutes at parades in just about every small town in America, and thinking about friends and family members who were lost, we bitch about the VA.

Or, maybe, we do that when we're test-driving mattresses, I don't know.

New VA Secretary David Shulkin, an MD who was appointed as undersecretary by President Obama in 2015, has been making concerted efforts - and progress - since then, well before he was nominated by president Trump to head the agency earlier this year.

In a White House briefing on May 31st, Shulkin vowed
to turn the VA into the organization veterans and families deserve and one that Americans ca take pride in. 
 He mentioned several priorities, such as reducing the backlog of vets waiting for care; the high suicide rate; quality improvements;and faster disability claim processing, and noted
Though we are taking immediate and decisive steps, we are still in critical condition and require intensive care. 
And, he made clear, there was no question he had support from the West Wing, including both Trump and Mike Pence.

Shulkin, the first non-veteran to head the agency, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate to lead the VA. He's also got a long track record of innovating in the healthcare world, usually successfully but sometimes not - which is OK, because the only thing worse than failing is not even trying, right?

In this NY Times story, we learn a lot more about Shulkin and his plans for the VA. For example, Shulkin regularly sees patients, in person and remotely via telemedicine. And he was more than a handful down Trump's list to lead the agency, having been in the VA leadership during the time candidate Trump regularly trashed the agency. 

He's already had the VA facilities post wait times and quality information, and this month the VA will start offering mental health services to vets with less-than-honorable discharges, a group full of folks living with PTSD. He's also working on changing employment practices to allow for quicker hiring and firing; he wants more vets to see private physicians; about a third do now, but he wants to increase that number. And, things like hearing aids and eyeglasses (the latter, Shulkin notes, you can get in an hour in any mall) should be handled outside the system so that more time and resources can be put into treating vets who have been wounded. 

That kind of thinking is consistent with how he handled himself in his previous VA role; it was as under-secretary that he challenged suicide prevention leaders to do more. After being told it would take a "summit meeting" and "10 months" Shulkin gave them one month - by showing them that some 6,000 vets would kill themselves while the VA studied things. They ended up getting it done in a month.  Remembering that meeting with the leadership, Shulkin said
For me, it was a very important day. It taught our people you can act with urgency, and you can resist the temptation to say we work in a system that you can't get to move faster. I think they learned that you can. 
So why does all this matter?

I was looking through old posts, and it was on May 31, 2014 -- three years to the day before Shulkin's briefing -- that I posted about Congress ignoring repeated reports, going back more than a decade at that time, from the VA about the scheduling issues, and how Congress responded to the resignation of General Eric Shinseki, Obama's VA secretary.

From my 2014 post:
Since 2005, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued 18 reports that identified, at both the national and local levels, deficiencies in scheduling resulting in lengthy wait times and the negative impact on patient care...
Apparently these "well documented and systemic issues" which the VA OIG has been complaining about for years, were not important enough for Miller's committee to jump on, like they jumped on VA travel expenses, for example. Spending taxpayer dollars on conferences is one thing, but years worth of information on poor treatment of veterans, well that's something else entirely. 
I ended the post quoting former House Speaker John Boehner, and noted that while Shinseki fell on his sword, as usual, Congress pointed theirs at someone else.
General Shinseki has dedicated his life to our country, and we thank him for his service. His resignation, though, does not absolve the president of his responsibility to make things right for our veterans.  Business as usual cannot continue...One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over a systemic problem. Our veterans deserve better, we'll hold the President accountable until he makes things right.
Fast forward to this year, and we learn that Denham has sponsored or cosponsored bipartisan bills to help move things along at the VA. In essence, he's doing exactly what he should be doing.

Which leaves me to think that everyone would be better served - those we have lost, whom the Memorial Day video was intended to honor, and vets who are still with us and in need of quality services of all kinds - if he just continued to work to make improvements, instead of slamming the agency that is finally, with Congress's help, at least moving in the right direction.

June 8, 2017

Tidbits and Trivia (v4)

A quick look at some un-fact-checked facts, quotes and trivia:
  • According to a GSS-NORC/University of Chicago poll, 55% of white Republicans say black Americans are stuck in poverty due to a lack of willpower or motivation; 26% of white Democrats agree. 42% of white Republicans, and 24% of white Democrats, believe blacks are inherently lazier than whites
  • Under the failed version of the American Health Care Act, tax cuts to the 400 highest-income taxpayers (averaging about $7,000,000 each) would have saved more than the total Affordable Care Act subsidies to more than 800,000 people in 20 states and Washington DC ($2.8 billion). 
  • According to this article, published in mid-May, pizza franchiser Domino's stock has risen 5000% since 2008, (and more than 2000% since 2008, better than Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook, I read). Better taste, adoption of technology, and franchisee managing seem to be the keys. Domino's delivers more than 1 million pizzas each day.
  • According to this Bloomberg article, many of us are fools for whom parting with money is easy. Check out the opening paragraphs of the article:
"One of the most lavishly funded gadget startups in Silicon Valley last year was Juicero Inc. It makes a juice machine. The product was an unlikely pick for top technology investors, but they were drawn to the idea of an internet-connected device that transforms single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage. 
Doug Evans, the company's founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force - "enough to lift two Teslas," he said. Google's venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the costs of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a "Keurig for juice.""
Sounds good, right? Except that someone figured out that you could squeeze the juice packs with your bare hands and get the same - or even better results - than with the $400 internet-connected product. Another report noted that full refunds are being offered. 

June 7, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v91)

Welcome, one and all, people and non-people alike, to tonight's wonder-full adventure!

We've talked about the two different kinds of people - living, breathing ones and bricks and mortar ones a few times before in these pages, but I have to say this is the first time I've gotten to talk about non people, which might mean just Democrats, or it might mean anyone who doesn't like Eric Trump's daddy, I'm not positive.

In an interview with Sean Hannity on The Trump News Network, which was widely reported,  Eric had this to say.
I've never seen hatred like this. To me, they're not even people. It's so, so sad. I mean, morality is just gone. Morals have flown out the window. 
OK, let's stop right there for a second, and think about Trump's father and his nonstop campaign of insults and lies and personal attacks on his opponents during the Republican primary, and against Hillary Clinton in the general election, and against the Khan family, and pretty much everyone else? Lyin' Ted, and Little Marco, and Low Energy Jeb!, and "look at that face" Carly Fiorina?  Or his pussy-grabbing? Or his lying about being a member of a particular church? Or his assailing the Pope? Accusing Lyin' Ted's dad of being involved in killing Kennedy?

Or, how about pretending that Barack Obama wasn't even an American? That was Eric's dad, too. He started down a similar vein with Cruz.  Or how about calling John McCain a loser? That's some love right there, I've gotta say. Maybe not 'hatred like this' but certainly Trump's 'morality' seems long gone... I could keep going with this because there is so much ammunition, but I'm sure you get the drift. Let's get back to Eric's statement.
We deserve so much better than this as a country. You know it's so sad.
Wow - I couldn't agree more - I wonder how the hell that happened?

Next, Eric turns to the Dems.
You see the Democratic Party. They're imploding. They're imploding.
Darn it -- I thought it was the Affordable Care Act that was imploding? Or was it Trump's explanation for firing James Comey? Or was it Donald Trump himself?
They have no message. You see the head of the DNC, who is a total whack job. There's no leadership there. 
Sadly it's hard to argue with that part.
And so what do they do? They become obstructionists because they have no message of their own. They have no solid candidates of their own. They lost an election they should have won because they spend seven times the amount of money that my father spent. 
Now, does anyone wonder who spent more money on the presidential campaign? According to Open Secrets, total spending on Trump's behalf (campaign committee and outside money) totaled $408,396,207 compared to Clinton's $794,875,608, for a difference of $386,479,401. That's a whopping amount of money to spend, much less to outspend someone else. But it's disingenuous for Eric to consider only the amount of money Daddy spent ($66M) and not the totality of the money spent on his behalf.

It's also disingenuous to ignore the incredible value of the free publicity Trump received throughout the primary campaign and the overwhelmingly negative publicity Clinton received. Donald Trump, a man so media hungry that he used to call people pretending to be someone else and talk about himself, knew how to play the media, and play them he did, like a Stradivarius.

But anyway -- back to Eric.
They try and obstruct a great man, they try and obstruct his family, the come after us viciously, and it's truly, truly horrible. 
OK, I've gotta wonder a bit on that last part. Not on the 'great man' part -- every child is allowed to think his or her father is a great man. But obstructing him? How is that happening? Trump hasn't done anything other than sign executive orders (something he said  he would not do) - and nominate a Supreme Court justice. He's been slow in getting legislation sent up, and his biggest obstructionists to date have been Republicans who only supported him so they'd have someone to sign their stuff -- not to implement his stuff.

He has failed to get nominations over for confirmation for literally hundreds of positions, some of them critical. He assumed that once he won, he could get everything he wanted, and is finding out that's not the case. His administration is fraught with leaks and, the leaks are to be believed, massive infighting among senior staffer. And he's played a boatload of golf. He is probably the biggest obstruction to his own presidency.

As to obstructing the Trump family, I can only scratch my head; what does Eric consider obstruction? If he means we don't like their conflicts of interest, or how they play fast and loose with their ethics, or how the Trump and Kushner families are trying to capitalize on the presidency? Or how we have to pay in the tens of millions of dollars to protect the extended family on vacations, and business travel, and so on?

I wonder, is that what he meant? Because if yes, then why yes, we are 'obstructing' the family of the great man. And why yes, our country does deserve better.

And, by the way -- Eric's assault on us non-people happened to come on the heels of an article in Forbes regarding how the Trump Organization at some point started making money off Eric's foundation, which gave millions to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. And how the foundation allegedly shifted money designated for St. Jude to other charities. And how Daddy's own charitably-challenged hand was in all of this.

I wonder if Eric sees that morality go flying out the window?

June 5, 2017

Trump in Transition (v18)

An excerpt  or two from president Trump's remarks at the Coast Guard commencement last month.
...I want to take this opportunity to give you some advice. Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.  
Look at the way I’ve been treated lately --  especially by the media. No politician in history -- and I say this with great surety -- has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. I guess that’s why I --  I guess that’s why we won.  
Adversity makes you stronger. Don’t give in. Don’t back down. And never stop doing what you know is right. Nothing worth doing ever, ever, ever came easy. And the more righteous you're right, the more opposition that you will face.  
I’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in a very short time as President. Jobs pouring back into our country. A brand-new Supreme Court justice -- who’s going to be fantastic for 45 years --  a historic investment in our military. Border crossings -- thank you to our General -- are down more than 70 percent in just a short period of time -- a total record, by the way, by a lot. We’ve saved the Second Amendment, expanded service for our veterans -- we are going to take care of our veterans like they’ve never been taken care of before.
I’ve loosened up the strangling environmental chains wrapped around our country and our economy, chains so tight that you couldn’t do anything -- that jobs were going down. We were losing business. We’re loosening it up. We’ve begun plans and preparations for the border wall, which is going along very, very well. We’re working on major tax cuts for all. We are going to give you the largest tax cut in the history of our country if we get it the way we want it, and we’re going to give you major tax reform. And we’re also getting closer and closer, day by day, to great health care for our citizens.
And we are setting the stage right now for many, many more things to come.  And the people understand what I’m doing, and that’s the most important thing.  I didn’t get elected to serve the Washington media or special interests. I got elected to serve the forgotten men and women of our country, and that’s what I’m doing. I will never stop fighting for you, and I will never stop fighting for the American people.
As you leave this academy to embark on your exciting new voyage, I am heading on a very crucial journey as well. In a few days, I will make my first trip abroad as President. With the safety, security, and interests of the American people as my priority, I will strengthen old friendships and will seek new partners -- but partners who also help us. Not partners who take and take and take, partners who help, and partners who help pay for whatever we are doing and all of the good we’re doing for them -- which is something that a lot of people have not gotten used to and they just can’t get used to it. I say, get used to it, folks. I’ll ask them to unite for a future of peace and opposition opportunity for our peoples and the peoples of the world. 
First, in Saudi Arabia, where I'll speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism, and embrace a peaceful future for their faith. And they’re looking very much forward to hearing what we -- as your representative -- we have to say. We have to stop radical Islamic terrorism. 
Then in Israel, I'll reaffirm our unbreakable alliance with the Jewish state. In Rome, I will talk with Pope Francis about the contributions of Christian teachings to the world. Finally, I’ll attend the NATO Summit in Brussels and the G7 in Sicily -- to promote security, prosperity and peace all over the world.
I’ll meet scores of leaders, and honor the holiest sites of these three great religions.  And everywhere I go, I will carry the inspiration I take from you each day, from your courage and determination to do whatever is required save and protect American lives. Save and protect American lives. We want security. You're going to give us security...
To every new officer, and to every new Coast Guard member here today, or out protecting life around the world on some of the roughest waters anywhere, you truly are doing God’s work.  What a grateful heart you must all have.  Because it is with my very grateful heart, and America’s cheers for the Coast Guard -- and America cheers for you often -- but we wish you good luck.
As your commander in chief, I salute you.... Great honor. Good luck.  Enjoy your life.

June 4, 2017

Sunday School 6/4/2017

6/5/17 Note: the link for the president's artwork has been corrected. 

I really tried to watch the videos of the Sunday news shows, and I really tried to plow through the transcripts, but my heart simply was not in it today.

Maybe it's because I've been reading too much news of the world this past week; I was on vacation, after all.

Maybe it's because I've been spending too much time weeding my garden, and I don't have the energy to pull the weeds out of the comments of the people who defend Trump on the news shows.

Maybe I simply lost interest this week, after all of the absurd tweets sent by #NotNowNotEver #NotMyPresident Trump.

Or maybe, it's just covfefe.

One thing I do know is that, when it comes to school, it's important that we ensure a broad education, including focus on music, physical education, and the arts. So, to that end, instead of links to the news shows, here are links to some other educational videos.

The first is the president enjoying the national anthem at Arlington National Cemetery.

The second is the president enjoying golf, both talking about it, and playing it.

The third is a compilation of the president's artwork, courtesy of the @TrumpDraws Twitter account.

I hope you enjoy these distractions from our usual classroom discussions, and I encourage you to support public education in your school district.

See you around campus.

June 3, 2017

Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me (v1)

Poor poor pitiful me Poor poor pitiful me
Oh these boys won't let me be
Lord have mercy on me
Woe woe is me

Oh, Kathy Griffin, you poor thing you. Linda Ronstadt understands, she does.

I know you spend your time on the D-list, but does that mean you're living under a rock? Had you no idea that your highly offensive "comedic" video, you slowly raising your arm to gradually display a bloody, severed Donald Trump head, would bring consequences?

Did you really think that Trump himself, the victim of your prank, would be appreciative? Did you not know that the Tweeter in Chief, his family, staff, friends and supporters would rain down 140-character responses upon your (still attached) head?

And did you really not know that companies fire, suspend and stop sponsoring people all the time for even unofficial acts? Ask Juan Williams, Paula Deen, the Duck Dude, Helen Thomas, and others; there are plenty of examples out there.

I don't like the president or anything he stands for, and I don't like your video or think it was funny. I thought it was disgusting and pointless, to be honest, and I thought that it did much more harm than good to any message you might have been trying to send. (And not for nothing, but that little comment in the video about having to move to Mexico - sorta makes it seem you were prepared for the backlash that occurred even as you prepared to post the 'head shot.')

I thought your apology was over the top, and I doubted its sincerity (that's just me being cynical, I guess). Frankly, if you felt the need to apologize, it seems you don't even have the courage of your comedy -- but you expect your employers, sponsors, and co-workers to have courage on your behalf?

What to do? Hire a lawyer, schedule a press conference and complain that you're being attacked by our notoriously thin-skinned president!
A sitting president of the United States and his grown children and the first lady are personally trying to ruin my life forever. You guys know him, he's not going to stop.
You're right. The lashing out is not going to stop, whether it's directly from the president and his family, or from his supporters who respond immediately to any real or perceived slight of their leader.  Just as, you will recall, the lashing out against Trump, his business, his children and their businesses, is not going to stop.

Lashing out doesn't have a political bent - it only takes enthusiasm and a keyboard. That is the world we live in, and as a comic, you should know that. It's really just heckling taken to a higher level, isn't it?

You noted in your press conference that you had been bullied, both as a child and as an adult. If that's true, you should have intuitively understood that any parent would have responded quickly and harshly on behalf of their child at what you did. I've read that you took some stabs at Sarah Palin's children, and got a Mama Bear response from her when you did, so you appear to have some experience upsetting parents and facing a backlash.

In  your press conference, you noted
I'm not good at being appropriate. I'm only good at doing comedy one way. It's in your face. I'm going to make fun of the president. And I'm going to do it more now.
To that, I say go for it -- if that's what you do, then boldly go there. Own your shtick.  Don't apologize for it.

And don't expect me to apologize or make excuses for you.

June 1, 2017

Syria, Nicaragua, and US?

Late last night, the Tweeter in Chief sent this message out, signaling an end to his game of Will We? Won't We? Stay in the Paris Accord.

Pretty  much everyone thinks we're going to back out of the voluntary agreement, and join only Syria and Nicaragua as non-participants - I haven't seen anything suggesting we're going to stay in, even though Trump "learned a lot" when we met with world leaders on his #MAGAWorldTour.

A bunch of Republican senators -- illustrious leaders all -- sent a letter to the president encouraging him to back out, so that we can grow our economy (see the discussion with Scott Pruitt there) and become so flush with #winning and #jobs and #deregulation that we won't even realize we have #crappyhealthcare and we won't even be able to see all of the #oilrigs and #miningscars in our #NationalParks -- it'll be great! 
We have been encouraged by the steps you have taken to reduce the regulatory burdens facing this country. From your many Executive Orders to the signing of 14 laws rolling back regulations from the previous administration, it is clear that you share our commitment to reducing the regulatory burdens our businesses face in order to create jobs and grow the economy.
One of the most important executive orders you signed is EO 13783 Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth wherein, among other things, you instruct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to unwind President Obama's Clean Power Plan regulations.
We applaud this objective and encourage you to take every action necessary to ensure it is accomplished.
A key risk to fulfilling this objective is remaining in the Paris Agreement. 
The stated reason? Litigation under the terms of the Paris Agreement could prevent the Trump administration from fulfilling its duty to destroy the environment and obscure our purple mountain majesties and all those amber waves of grain. The hell with the fruited plain too -- that's all out the window.

If all goes according to plan, this afternoon the president will stand in the Rose Garden -- yes, a garden -- likely with the 22 Republicans who sent him that letter - to announce we're joining Syria (an international pariah not allowed to travel because of sanctions, and, you know,  kinda busy with that little war thingy that's been tearing that country apart for the past several years), and Nicaragua (the fourth most at-risk country, which didn't sign on because the Paris Agreement is voluntary, not mandatory) and not participate.

North Korea does. Russia does. China does. Afghanistan does. Libya does. Venezuela does. Japan does. And Germany, Iran and Iraq, Norway and Switzerland and Swaziland and everyone except Syria, Nicaragua, and ...