Interest Rates Low Because of Impending Doom, or the New Normal

I read this story today in the Huffington Post. The point of the story was that the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates low because they can see impending economic doom in our future.

Reporter Daniel Marans includes a lot of data and graphs and quotes, but it comes across as pseudo-economics. So I wondered about Paul Krugman’s take on the Federal Reserve decision to not increase interest rates.

Krugman took a very different view, he said that it’s poppycock to blame the Fed for keeping interest rates low, and that low interest rates are the new normal.

Nothing in the economic situation suggests that rates are too low right now. And don’t tell us that we need to start “normalizing”: all indications are that “normal” has changed a lot since 2008, and trying to set interest rates as if the old normal were still valid is a recipe for very bad outcomes.


Can Sanders Really Win?

I like Bernie Sanders. I think he would make an amazing president. If he could truly lead this nation, we could do so much to move this nation forward. But putting aside the liberal fantasy of a Sanders presidency, I don’t think it happens.

Sanders is doing OK against Clinton in Iowa. But let’s be honest, despite the public relations campaign to make it appear so, Iowa is not a bell weather state. New Hampshire is, and Sanders is kind of walloping Clinton. The latest CBS poll has Sanders beating Clinton 15 points.

Things start to turn sour for Sanders after New Hampshire. The next big primary state is South Carolina where Clinton currently leads by 43 points. Now that Biden is definitely out, things will shift in the polls a bit, but I’d wager most of Biden’s support will go to Clinton.

Imagine Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, where does he go from there? He might win Wisconsin, Washington state, Oregon, but where is his path to lockup the nomination? Maybe a wave of enthusiasm created by Sanders winning Iowa and New Hampshire will propel him to the nomination, but I just have a hard time seeing it happen.

I’m prepared to be wrong, but at this point, even though Sanders is my preferred candidate, this is Clinton’s nomination to lose.


The Hillary Clinton Email Issue Explained

Hillary Clinton
I’m an expert in information technology. I’ve been in this game for nearly 20 years, I’ve done just about anything and everything you could do as a technologist. I’m going to explain this Hillary Clinton email server story to you.

Set aside all of the partisan chatter and the lame attempts by journalists to understand Clinton’s decision as secretary of state to use a private email server, rather than the one provided by the federal government. None of these people understands the issue at a basic level and so none of their “analysis” makes any sense.

Here’s the real reason why Clinton used her own private email address and server. It was easier. The decision was made, as Clinton has said, out of convenience. If you’ve ever had to deal with a large organization’s information technology, you know why Clinton used her own server.

I’ve spent countless hours writing code to work around cumbersome information technology system in large corporations.

Large organizations put lots of restrictions on what you can or can’t do with their information technology, and for good reason. From an organization’s perspective, every new feature IT offers has to be supported, usually with the same staffing levels. So if Clinton wanted to be able to send and receive email using a mobile device, that might not have been available going through the government’s email server.

And on the issue of security, whether Clinton’s email server was less safe than the government’s servers, that’s a valid question, but there’s been no evidence the server wasn’t secure. But in terms of classified information, email as a mode of conveyance is inherently not secure. You can secure the sending and receiving of email from Clinton’s computer or handheld to her server, but once the email goes beyond her server, or the government’s server, it can no longer be considered secure. Unless you can guarantee that the email you sent to Frank in Baghdad never traverses an unencrypted pipe, you have to assume the information has been exposed.

What’s also silly is the argument that because Clinton’s email messages were stored on her own server, as opposed to the government’s, she is somehow shielded from reporters’ requests for information and the prying eyes of Congress.

The New York Times published a huge front page story, underpinning the reporting was this notion that Clinton’s email messages were outside the scope of a Freedom of Information Act request because they resided on her email server and not the government’s. That is not accurate.

Everything Clinton wrote down as secretary of state is a public record. It doesn’t matter where it resides. It could be a napkin at a bar or a sticky note stuck to her laptop. Those are all public documents and legally must be kept as part of the public record. Of course, Clinton could delete emails from her personal server in an attempt to destroy the public record. She could do that with the government server as well. If that happened, it would be pretty easy for computer forensics to determine whether email messages are missing.

So the notion that Clinton used her own personal email server in an effort to sidestep Freedom of Information Act requests or members of Congress is ridiculous. Those who think that don’t understand the concept of open records, public records and the Freedom of Information Act. Those who believe this “theory,” also have to provide some sort of evidence that shows Clinton engaged in destroying public documents, which is a felony.

The real reason Clinton used her own email server was because it was easier. It was the wrong choice, but that’s why she did it.

If I had been advising Clinton when she started as secretary of state, I would have told her that she should not use her own email server. I would have said that using your own server is extremely risky politically. For instance, if her server had been hacked, and messages stolen and leaked, Clinton’s political career would be over. While there’s no evidence that the email server had security holes, if it didn’t, that’s because someone was actively managing it and applying all of the latest security updates. Properly managing an email server for a high-ranking government official is a big deal, and shouldn’t be taken on lightly. If done poorly, it could have been catastrophic for Clinton’s career. I don’t think the risk was worth the reward from a technological or a political perspective.


Refugee Crises: Will We Act With Dignity, or Fail, Again?

We as a nation will be judged by how we treat those who need help the most. And on that day, how will our response to the current refugee crises be adjudicated?
From Iraq to Syria, Afghanistan, Honduras and Guatemala, hundreds of thousands of people are running for their lives from war and gangs of kidnappers and certain death. Right now, these crises provide us an opportunity as Americans, as a nation, to lead.

If you haven’t been paying attention, just read Humans of New York for a week, and you’ll read tragic stories about people being killed and those how aren’t murdered, fleeing for their lives. Lives are being destroyed right now. The time to act is now. Not in a year. Not after the election. The time to help these people is now – they desperately need it. These mothers, daughters, sons and fathers need a safe place to live so that they can begin to rebuild their shattered lives. These are human beings that need comfort and support.

In ten years, we will look back at this time, like we do at previous tragedies which we failed to react with grace and dignity, like the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. But our history isn’t a total failure to act. After we helped destroy Vietnam and Cambodia, the global community, and the US, successfully resettled millions of people. It can be done, but we have to choose to do it. The only dignified response to this crisis, or any crisis, is to hold our arms open wide and say, “Please, come to America. We will help you.”


Bernie Attacks Corporation for Massive Price of Medicine

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants answers. Sanders is running for president and he wants to know why a company jacked up its price per pill of a drug called Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to $750.

Sanders and US House Representative Elijah Cummings wrote, “The enormous, overnight price increase for Daraprim is just the latest in a long list of skyrocketing price increases for certain critical medications.”

His opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination has yet to address the issue of medicinal price gouging, other than to say it’s outrageous. Hillary Clinton said, she’ll release a plan to combat this problem tomorrow.

Bernie 2016 T-Shirts and Junk for sale


On Writing Well: Strip it Down

When writing anything, one must strive for brevity and eliminate redundancy whenever possible. Doing so will result in writing well.

Take this sentence that I wrote today in an email.

I think it looks fine to me.

I thought that seemed too long, and I wrote.

I think it looks fine.

I didn’t need the “to me” part because obviously my statement is of my opinion. There’s no need to state that. Then I wrote.

It looks fine.

That’s all I needed to say. The “I think” was as unnecessary as “to me.” Unless I’m referring to someone else’s thoughts, the email recipient is assuming that what I’m saying is what “I think.”


Massacre 1913

Italian Hall Massacre Victims in Rough Caskets
Italian Hall Massacre Victims in Rough Caskets

On December 24, 1913, seventy-three people were trampled to death. Fifty nine of the dead were children.

That Christmas Eve, 500 striking copper miners and their families were having a Christmas party at Calumet’s Italian Hall located in Calumet, Michigan when one of the scabs poked his head through the door to yell, “Fire!”

There was no fire, but panic ensued. As people desperately tried to get out of the building, nearly 60 children and 14 adults were trampled to death.

Here’s how Woodie Guthrie described it in his song “Massacre 1913.”

A few people rushed and it was only a few,
“It’s just the thugs and the scabs fooling you,”
A man grabbed his daughter and carried her down,
But the thugs held the door and he could not get out.

And then others followed, a hundred or more,
But most everybody remained on the floor,
The gun thugs they laughed at their murderous joke,
While the children were smothered on the stairs by the door.

In the 21st century, workers have turned their backs on organized labor, along with the Democratic party. But if we forget what it was like when bosses ruled the worker with an iron, and often brutal fist, working people suffered gravely. There’s no guarantee we won’t, or aren’t, going back to a time when workers live under the boot heel of management.

Air Travel

Know Your Risk When Flying Jet Blue

The airline industry is booming in 2015. The industry has reported $3.1 billion profit in the first quarter of this year. But before you hop on a plane with the huddled masses, know your risk.

In a nutshell, anything you give to an airline to put in the belly of the plane, can be destroyed and the airline will give you nothing to compensate for your loss.

I found this out the hard way when my wife had to fly for a funeral. We have a small child, he’s still a baby, and he nurses, so he went with my wife to the funeral. On the way there, Jet Blue destroyed our brand new car seat. It was literally tore apart. We got it snapped back together, but it went through a major traumatic event. The rule is that if your car seat is involved in a car accident it should be replaced. That rule needs to be expanded to include flying on an airplane.

On the way home, my wife watched as a baggage handler took our UppaBaby stroller and hurled it off the jet bridge 25 feet onto the tarmac. The fall and subsequent landing bent the stroller’s frame. It was a total loss. The stroller was a few years old, but it’s expensive to replace. One problem is that that stroller’s latest model doesn’t work with any of our attachments, so to replace what was lost would have cost about $1,200. Jet Blue offered us a $300 travel voucher. They said that that was a generous reimbursement for our loss and that because of their contract, Jet Blue isn’t responsible for any damage to any luggage ever. That includes a Jet Blue employee destroying a $1,200 stroller through that person’s own laziness and incompetence. So that leads me to believe that if that baggage handler had simply stolen the stroller, lit it on fire or drove over it with the plane, Jet Blue would have just shrugged, because according to them, they’re protected by their contract.

I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds like a bunch of malarky to me. I have no doubt that if I had taken Jet Blue to court over the destruction of my stroller, I would win. There’s no conceivable reason why the airline’s contract protects them from their own staggering incompetence. The liability clause is in the contract to protect the airline from damage as it relates to normal baggage handling. If something gets ripped or snapped off, or if a passenger foolishly puts a laptop computer in their checked suitcase, the airline shouldn’t be expected to compensate those people for their loss. But there’s no way the contract protects the airline against them from sucking at their job.

And while travel vouchers are nice, do I really want to fly Jet Blue when they can’t even load the luggage into the plane? That’s the easy part. Who are they hiring to keep the planes in the air?

So if you travel know that you’re checked items could be shot full of bullet holes, smashed to pieces with sledgehammers or ground into a fine dust, and the airline will just smile and point to their contract. And if you do have a damage claim, just expect that the airline will just pass you from person-to-person until they finally tell you “no.”

Before flying make sure your renters and homeowners insurance policy is up-to-date. That’s the only way you’ll be compensated for loss. Passengers are not only paying top dollar for tickets, they’re subsidizing the airline industry by agreeing to these absurd contracts.

Air Travel

Airline Profits Soar as Service Degrades

The numbers are in and the airline industry is doing very, very well, while quality of service continues to degrade.

According to the Department of Transportation, airlines recorded $3.1 billion profit in the first quarter of this year. That’s after-tax net profit. That’s up from $214 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. The first quarter in 2014, the industry reported a net profit of $507 million.

Airline profits are soaring right along with customer dissatisfaction. The Department of Transportation reports that in June 2015 there were more than 2,000 air traveler customer complaints. That’s an increase of more than 47 percent in June 2014, in which 1,393 complaints, according to the Department of Transportation data.


Republicans Cling to Last Remaining Social Issue – Abortion

It seems like out of nowhere, Republican politicians have taken the most extreme anti-abortion position – that all abortions should be illegal.

At one point, Republicans allowed for exceptions, like rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. But now, major Republican candidates have jettisoned the exceptions.

On CNN Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee explained why he supports forcing a 10-year-old to give birth to her rapist’s baby.

Marco Rubio has also staked out his position on when abortions should be allowed – never. Rubio said he doubts there are ever instances in which a woman’s life is saved from having an abortion. So no exception to save the life of the mother. And he said that while it’s a hard choice to make, Rubio thinks all rape and incest victims who get pregnant should be forced to carry that pregnancy to term. It’s easier for the victims of rape and incest if Rubio just makes the choice for them.

Rubio said, “I’ve personally reached the conclusion if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of life, on the side of protecting a human being.”

Scott Walker is also falling in line with this very extreme position.

During the first Republican nomination debate, Walker said, “I’ve said many times that that unborn child can be protected and there are many alternatives that would protect the life of the mother.”

He never said what those alternatives might be, but Walker’s certain that there must be, and if not, I don’t think he cares.

This hard right turn on abortion highlights the Republican party’s glaring problem. That is, how to keep people voting against their own economic self-interest by voting for Republican candidates.

Gay marriage worked for a little while, but that jig is up. Racism is still a viable issue for Republicans in gerrymandered US House races, but on the national stage, candidates can’t broadcast their racist views on national television. Racism has to be more subtle, but not abortion. With abortion the GOP can let their freak flag fly, and in the race to the White House in 2016, that’s what they’re doing.