Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A view from 35,000 ft of the Canadian Rockies and The Arctic

I flew from Detroit to Narita, Japan today on a 747 in business class.   With a window seat I might add.  The final destination was Pattaya, Thailand where I will be hanging out for the next week or so.

Here are some pictures I took out the window somewhere along the route.  Click on the photos for a closer look.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Politics and (anti) Social Networking

This year we have already seen a lot of political mud-slinging, unfounded accusations and super-PAC character attacks and those were just for the GOP primary elections.  The partisan warfare will no doubt heat up even more as we approach the general elections in November and the Republicans attempt to prevent Barrack Obama from winning a second term in the White House.

One thing to consider as we head into the Summer and the race boils down to Mitt Romney versus Barrack Obama is that this will be the first Presidential election in which the immensely popular social network website Facebook will provide a meeting place for political foes who also happen to be "Friends" to engage in political debate.  Actually, bickering is probably a more correct term than debate.

Facebook was here for the last Presidential election in 2008, but it was relatively new and the site has witnessed steady growth in the number of members since then.  Further, members who were there for the 2008 election have added new friends to their lists. I would also point out the political discourse in the last four years has grown uglier and nastier, to the point now that almost nothing a person can post can elicit much shock anymore.  What would have been considered blatantly offensive four years ago would hardly raise an eyebrow now.

Place the blame for the worsening behavior wherever you like; bombastic radio talk show hosts, advocacy journalism on cable and in print, conspiracy theorists joining forces on the internet, racist chain e-mails, the mainstreaming of the Bircher agenda into the GOP...  It doesn't really matter why people have become so prone to arguing and blaming and hurling insults back and forth, but it is obvious the nature of public political discourse has gotten meaner and nastier over the last few years.

The combined effect of deteriorating political discourse and the immense growth of social networking, and in particular Facebook, will serve to make this election season unlike any other we have seen.   As people make more politically charged status updates they will find that some of their friends will strongly agree and others will strongly disagree. And unlike in the blogosphere where ideologues can hide behind nicknames, everyone on your Facebook friend list knows who you are.  Instead of swaying opposition and undecided voters to their side, the campaigning on Facebook is more likely to just set off flame wars and waves of unfriending and ignoring by political foes.  This election may bring us a new term.. Anti-social Networking.  

I'm not sure anyone will change their political leaning or their vote based on something they read at Facebook, but I do know a lot of people will have a different friend list in November than they have now. And that is unfortunate for all of us. To bring the country back from the throes of radicalism and solve the wide range of massive problems we face, we need to communicate more with our political foes, not less.

So I think those of us who happen to have strong political views one way or the other and also have Facebook accounts where we keep track of family, friends and co-workers need to stay civil in our status updates and try to not be too offensive in the comments back and forth.  Easier said than done I know.  It will be interesting to come back and read this post six months from now to see how things actually turned out and if Facebook turned out to be the new political debate forum for the masses or if all the bickering and insults turned out to be the needle that popped the social network balloon.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mitt needs more than marketing to bring women back to the GOP

After months of waging political warfare against American women, the Tea Party / GOP are starting to realize that they have a huge problem if they want to prevent Barrack Obama from being elected to a second term.  Unfortunately for the conservative politicians, women were listening to them all along and as most married men know, women don't typically forget slights and insults tossed at them so easily.

After the nasty fights over women's access to birth control, Government forcing humiliating medical procedures as a prerequisite for terminating pregnancies, witnessing a female college student who testified before Congress repeatedly be called a slut on nationally syndicated radio, and watching GOP State legislatures around the country target public school teachers for budget cuts while leaving male dominated public unions alone, the GOP sees all the alarming polling data and concludes they apparently have some sort of marketing problem.  They think it will just take some tweaking of the message in order to bring more women into the GOP fold.  Call me a skeptic.

AP: Challenges facing Romney in wooing female voters

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney is starting to hone his appeal to female voters, acutely aware as he turns to the general election that he has little choice but to narrow President Barack Obama's commanding lead among this critical constituency.
None too soon, say many Republican activists. They expect Romney, as well as his popular wife, Ann, to make an explicit pitch to female voters on the economy and jobs, their top issues.
The eventual nominee "needs to start recognizing the power that women voters have," said Rae Lynne Chornenky, president of the National Federation of Republican Women...
A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that gap lifts Obama to a lead across a dozen crucial states. The poll showed women favor Obama by 18 percentage points while men split about evenly between the two candidates. Taken together, that means women boost Obama to a 51-42 lead over Romney in those states.
Anyone who has been watching the Tea Party / GOP in action the last year or so has seen them double down on the war against women and then claim there is no concerted effort against women, and its just their imagination.  The GOP has never been the champion of women's rights, but the political primaries and televised debates have driven the candidates to prove their right-wing credentials and show the base just how conservative they can be in order to win support for the primary elections.

And while Mitt Romney's record may not be as radical as the others on the subject of women's issues, he was coerced by his advisers to join in the rhetoric in order to not lose support from the pundits, ideologues and primary voters.  He had to talk like a chauvinist to win the nomination, but now that he has won the nomination, his record will prevent him from winning the presidency.

So it is amusing to read how the GOP strategists think it will just take some tweaking of the message to woo the women back.  They seem to know that women, like men, are most concerned about the economy, jobs, and the price of gasoline.

But pointing put that will only drive the next line of questioning.  If you knew all along that economic issues were so important, why did you spend the last 4 years simply objecting every economic initiative the Democrats brought forth without presenting reasonable alternatives, why are you hell bent on killing "Obamacare" and why are you consumed with making sure women who have decided on having an abortion are punished and humiliated in the process.

And why were you so intimidated by Rush Limbaugh that you defended his disgusting behavior.  Had Mitt thrown Rush Limbaugh under the bus, he would still be the GOP nominee and his road would be easier.  He chose to side with Rush back then, he can't undo that now, even if Ann Romney tells everyone what a great guy her husband is.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Christianity and "Stand Your Ground"

I wanted to reflect on a passage from the Gospels in comparison to the "Stand your ground" law in Florida and other States.  First, the passage from the arrest of Jesus after he and the Disciples had celebrated the Passover meal on the night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot.

From the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 26: 47-52

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 

Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

 Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.  With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword..."

Hardly an endorsement for defending yourself against a lawless mob with violence.  Compare this passage to the Florida State law commonly referred to as "Stand Your Ground" 
Chapter 776.013 Justifiable Use of Force

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Granted, the laws are not intended to promote any sacred scriptures or religious views so the people of Florida don't have any requirement to make sure their laws conform to the Gospels.  But please, don't try to apply pretzel logic to try to convince anyone that this law isn't a direct rebuttal of the words Jesus uttered.

Read through the posts and comments in this thread at Christian Forums, a site where very Christian folks discuss news and politics and bless each other for espousing and following the teachings of Christ.  These are some very confused people, just like millions of other Christians who routinely avow hatred in the name of God.  A decent humble human who never heard of Christ would be closer to him than some of these haters who proudly display the number of blessings they have received from each other.  Here is the post that kicks off the party.

Christian Forums:  George Zimmerman Had Cause

Hypocrisy defined, Gun toting Christians who applaud homicide while proudly displaying their devotion to Jesus.  So busy reading their NRA pamphlets and posting on Christian websites that they forgot to actually read the Gospels to get a sense of what Jesus might say on the subject.  If Jesus were to walk into their house of worship today, they would pull their pistols and take aim at the dark skinned, long haired, socialist who didn't belong.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Detroit steaming toward financial collapse

The city of Detroit is on a vector toward financial collapse and it doesn't look like any of the parties involved have any idea what to do to change course, slam on the brakes, or even just downshift.  It is full speed ahead, into the wall.  Brace for impact.

After decades of a declining population, a declining tax base and rising costs for city services, there are no quick fixes, and unfortunately there isn't enough time for any slow fixes.  This is like watching a vehicle crash test in super slow motion.  You know the car is heading into the wall with a dummy in the driver's seat.  On the other hand, in Detroit the car is heading into the wall but no one is in the driver's seat.  Everyone is a passenger.

The last estimates I read were that the city is about $10 billion in debt and that the city spends about a $1 million more than it takes in every three days.  It can't go on like this much longer, maybe a couple few weeks before financial Armageddon.

I don't want to get too deep into the blame game for how it got this screwed up. I'll just say, as the population shrank, the city did not. And by letting the city become dominated by vacant lots and empty buildings, the city has forfeited any semblance of efficiency in providing services to those who remain.  Garbage trucks have to go down streets where just a few houses remain occupied.  Police patrol blocks in which most houses are empty and waiting to be tore down.  It can look almost apocalyptic in places.  As much as 40 square miles of Detroit real estate sits empty and abandoned.

A big part of the problem is poor leadership and rampant corruption over years that diverted diminishing resources away from neighborhoods and infrastructure into the pockets of crooked politicians and businessmen willing to "pay to play".  The residents of the city may want to lay their problems at the doorsteps of the suburbanites that abandoned the city, but the residents of the city were complicit in the collapse if for no other reason than they continued to vote in unqualified and unethical civic leaders who pillaged the coffers and made the first priority to promote their friends and business associates.

Enough of that.  I wanted to propose a few ideas for the city of Detroit as it ventures into bankruptcy and eventual reorganization.

1) Allow the people who work in Detroit and pay the 1.5% non-resident income tax to vote in city elections. If Detroiters want suburbanites to help, perhaps the best way would be to give those who drive into the city to work a chance to help elect leaders.  This idea might shock some residents, but they need to face the fact that the residents have done a spectacularly poor job of picking leaders for whatever reasons.  It is time to enlist the ones who are helping pay the bills.

2) Sell off some of the city's assets.  Belle Isle comes to mind. So does the City of Detroit water system.  So does the City Airport.  So do the 40 square miles of city owned property also come to mind.  How can a municipality that is flat-ass broke own 40 square miles of land is beyond my comprehension.  WTF are they waiting for to sell?  

3) Relocate people from the mostly abandoned neighborhoods and give them a house and real estate in other neighborhoods that are still viable.  This is somewhat akin to defragmenting a hard drive on a computer to make large usable blocs of empty space.   Once large blocs are vacated of people, then bulldoze what is left into large blocs available for redevelopment.

4)  Shrink the city.  Let adjoining cities in Downriver, the East side, the West side, and Warren annex property in Detroit.   All are welcome to buy a piece of the perimeter.

5) Allow businesses to hire people for daily jobs and pay the workers cash at the end of their shift.   There is so much work to do in the city and a lot of unemployed people looking for work that this idea is a natural.  The way to kick start the economy is to invite people back into the workforce by allowing them to work day labor jobs for cash, and not get everything hung up in red tape and paperwork.  It won't do residents much good if the city gets funding to fix a road or tear down vacant houses and all the city does is go out and hire a suburban contractor to do the work with a suburban workforce.  And if all the work is funneled to union contractors,  it leaves the unemployed on the sidelines.  Most of the desperate unemployed  can not wait two weeks for their first pay check.  Until they become more established, they need to be paid in cash every day they work.

6) Combine the 46 separate unions in the city into one or just a few.   There is no feasible way a city facing so many huge financial problems can take on the task of negotiating with dozens of different unions to fix the finances.  The unions need to combine or face the specter of total annihilation when the bankruptcy hits.

7) Eliminate many of the city's stoplights and replace them with 4-way stop signs or Yield signs.  The city was made for 3 million residents but only about 700,000 live there anymore.  There is no justification for many of the stoplights dotting the side streets and avenues.  By eliminating many of them, we could improve traffic flow and reduce maintenance costs and utilities.

8) Do a better job of collecting taxes due to Detroit from both the residents who work outside the city and from suburbanites who work within the city.

Well those are a few ideas, I am sure everyone else can come up with a few more ways to help revive Detroit and make it live long and prosper..   Can we do it? Yes We Can..