Regulations and Buying a New Home

March 16, 2017 10:23pm
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I just read a post on Facebook bitching about how much regulations add to the cost of a new home in America…

You know, like the ones that require builders to be licensed professionals who are going to craft the place where your family lives.

The ones that require your home to be built to best practices so that it’s less likely to catch fire or collapse due to shoddy craftsmanship.

The ones that ensure access to utilities are properly installed and accessible throughout the neighborhood.

The ones that check to make sure that the other guy is legally allowed to sell you your new house before you give him a huge amount of money.

And even the ones that help to protect the banks from risk so that they’ll be willing to loan you the money to pay for your new home.

Regulations aren’t all bad, and in a greedy, capitalist society like ours has become, government regulations are the common man’s last defense between the good and the bad. At least if you prefer your house with four walls and a roof over your head.

The Affordable Care Act has its flaws, there’s no denying it.

Healthcare costs are continuing to rise and with the individual mandate, it’s put a lot of people in a sticky situation where they can’t afford to carry insurance, yet they can’t afford to not carry insurance, either.

As President Trump apparently just realized what the rest of us have been saying for years, “It’s complicated…”

…BUT…

To say that the Affordable Care Act is “a disaster with nothing to love” is an insult to the millions of Americans who were able to get health insurance under the ACA, particularly those who have been able to get life-saving treatments thanks to their new coverage.

So the ACA has its problems … what do we say?

“We can’t afford to help sick people treat their cancer or their heart disease or their chronic diabetes because it’s just too expensive???”

Bullshit.

In 2015, Americans spent $3.2 trillion on healthcare – 17.9% of our GDP, and … like our defense budget … more than any other nation in the world.

And yet unlike defense, we don’t have the healthiest people in the world. The USA is 43rd in life expectancy and no surprise, we’re not the best at treating cancer, either. We’re really good at some types, like breast cancer, but we fall short in others and those where we do excel, we spend a lot of money to only be minimally better than those in our wake.

It was a historic step in the right direction when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2009, and as long as the USA still dwindles embarrassingly low in these types of quality of life statistics, we’ve still got a ways to go. But it’s blasphemously ingenuous – when Americans have used its benefits to beat life threatening diseases – for anyone, much less the President of the United States, to claim that the ACA was a complete and utter failure.

Was saving the life of this award-winning tech journalist a failure to you, Mr. Trump???

On Chelsea Manning’s Commuted Sentence…

January 18, 2017 2:18am
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I don’t think that I ever actually watched the infamous horrific video that was leaked by Army intelligence analyst Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning back in 2010 showing soldiers in Baghdad firing from the air on Iraqi civilians – including two journalists – but after stumbling across it this evening and sitting through almost twenty minutes of it … which apparently is only even half of it … all I can say is that this video is the quintessential example of why whistleblowers in our military deserve protection just as much as they do throughout the rest of our society…

I could never handle being in the military, however as one of 350 million Americans who ours represents to the rest of humanity, I don’t understand how anyone could watch a display like this and not argue that the United States has a grave need for more accountability in its armed forces. The justifications for shooting, the behaviors throughout the attack, and the blind defenses both in 2007 when the incident took place and even three years later when it resurfaced through the leak – they don’t speak of a noble cause fighting to defend freedom and democracy in a foreign land.

They speak of the iconic American cowboy – one who loves fucking and fighting – and whose bloodlust, while arguably necessary for such a job, question if this is really the kind of job that needs to exist in first place, at least in a country where we never should’ve gone to war in the first place.

Ongoing internal investigations that never seem to find themselves of guilt are the simple reason that we need people like Chelsea Manning because although I don’t want our solders’ safety to be compromised on the battlefield, I don’t want to see our country being rightfully accused of being the very terrorists that we claim to be hunting due to incidents like this where we won’t even accept fault after the cards laid on the table show that our motives in that helicopter were suspect at best. There are far more videos on YouTube than I’d care to listen to from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans themselves sharing gruesome tales of how this isn’t just an example, but an expectation in the American military today.

We all deserve better, much less those brave and selfless enough to risk their lives to reveal such aberrational behavior for us to take notice.

Thanks, Obama…

January 11, 2017 2:52am
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Looking for a little political inspiration as we prepare to stare down the dragon with Donald Trump’s own inauguration now soon upon us?

I just finished watching President Obama’s Farewell Address and here at 2:30am with his last words now fresh in my mind, I will freely admit that I’ve nearly got tears in my eyes. I can only hope that I live to see another president who speaks with such eloquence and whose sincere spirit reverberates through every word.

Barack Obama has set the bar pretty high for future presidents of these United States.

Let us not forget the character that this office deserves, and the diligence that we the people deserve from this person who strives to be our leader both here at home from sea to shining sea as well as to the rest of the world.

In the face of adversity and uncertainty, quite frankly right now I feel more patriotic than ever.

Thanks, Obama.

Now before I get too far into this, I want to say that I’m not really sure if this is a good use of taxpayer money or not. Our tax dollars go towards lots of programs and I don’t necessarily think that every one has to appeal to every taxpayer because in a country of 300 million people, that’s simply not realistic!

Still I thought this was interesting simply because until five minutes ago I had no idea that such a program even existed…

The program that I speak of is called Essential Air Service and it’s run by the US Dept. of Transportation to help support air travel in rural areas that otherwise couldn’t commercially support it. The way that I discovered it was through a random news article shared on Facebook about a local airport back home in Northern Michigan adding direct service to Dallas for a limited time this summer, with a single line catching my eye…

“It costs more than a million dollars to add this service, but the United States Department of Transportation provided a $750,000 grant.”

I found this interesting because apparently a total of 8 small town airports around Michigan collect some $18 million in federal tax dollars each year through Essential Air Service, out of a larger $300 million nationwide.

Now Michigan is very bottom heavy with regards to its population distribution, in that the big cities across the bottom of the state – Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Detroit – have by far the most, and the further north you go, the fewer people you’ll find until you eventually get into the Upper Peninsula where you tend to encounter more deer than actual human beings. 😉

The problem is, deer don’t fly commercial flights, so if you want to travel anywhere you pretty much have to drive downstate in order to catch a plane, with Detroit Metro being the largest airport in the state. Though many smaller communities scattered throughout the state have airports of their own, they’re mostly limited to small planes and in most cases, they’re just puddle jumpers that connect you through Detroit to continue on to your destination anyways…

I’ve never actually flown into one of the smaller airports myself, mostly because they’re typically a lot more expensive. For example, several years ago I remember pricing out tickets to visit during the summer and while two round-trip tickets from Tampa to Detroit were around $200 each, tickets from Tampa to Pellston – a small town much closer to home – were closer to $750 each!

For reference, flying into Detroit leaves you with another 4 hour car ride to get up to my hometown, whereas flying into Pellston is maybe an hour’s drive at best.

So a few thoughts here:

  • How does the airline justify charging 3x the ticket prices when they’re also getting excess of a million dollars a year in taxpayer subsidizes just to operate out of that small town airport?!
  • Is this a good use of taxpayer funds, particularly with a sizable national debt?
  • Who really benefits from these subsidizes?

I’m kind of torn on this because up until reading this article, I assumed that the higher ticket prices in these smaller airports were what the airlines needed to charge to justify doing business in those regions … but to hear that they’re also getting taxpayer funding on top of those high ticket prices??? Sure, it’s the same thing that we did with telephone surcharges and now do with cable and broadband taxes in order to require those companies to service rural areas, but at the end of the day does it all just come at the fault of our country being way too spread out in the first place?

I’m not sure if there’s much argument for transportation access for locals simply because – granted, depending on the area and the carrier – it’s hard for me to imagine most small town residents being able to afford those rates to fly local anyways! I know that whenever we flew and even now, we’d fly into the larger airport farther away purely because the time cost was easier to justify than the ticket cost.

Still, it makes it easier for travelers to come and visit these areas, and I’m ok with tax dollars going to support tourism … though I might suggest that the local states would be better off funding this reason than federal dollars.

There are jobs created – both direct and indirect – that the locals can enjoy, but again, I’m not crazy about taxes funding job creation if the markets can’t support them on their own … at least with regards to for-profit entities, for the most part.

So at the end of the day, is this just a $300 million Christmas present to an industry that’s kind of struggling, but let’s not kid ourselves when they still clear $16 billion a year in profits???

I’d be curious to know how much taxpayer funding it costs us as a nation – between transportation, telecommunications, and whatever other subsidizes like this are out there – simply to support everyone living so far apart. You’ve got to figure it also costs more in roads and bridges, there are probably expenses related to energy and other resources … what else?

And don’t get me wrong, there are certainly plenty of beautiful, natural areas around the USA that I wouldn’t exactly call for scrapping, even if the most utopian configuration called for populations in dense towers all crunched into a state the size of Texas!

Still, it’s interesting to discover a nearly unknown program that realistically affects a pretty small segment of our population, and to try and better understand the justifications for why it exists in the first place.

Short Fiction : Reckoning

December 10, 2016 12:20am
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The year is 2030 – some fourteen years after Emperor Trump was unknowingly elected to be the last President of the United States.

History books – what’s left of them, anyways – show that he ran under the decree that he would “Make America Great Again.” 

People even wore it on hats and posted the slogan proudly in their lawns.

Now barely more than a decade later it’s a phrase that is heard ominously across the landscape, from our institutions to our employers to our workforce itself, for failure to simply utter the words in response to a government official is paramount to treason in America today.

The only one who is afforded a Freedom of Speech in 2030 is Trump and Trump alone.

I spend a lot of time thinking while I’m at work about how things devolved the way they did so fast – it helps to make the manual labor move by faster during my daily 16-hour shift at the server farm. It’s a hot and grueling task to maintain the thousands of computers that support the Trump regime, but it’s better than building The Wall … I’ve heard that some men get tasked to work on the wall only to never see their families again, whether it’s the non-existent safety standards or the rogue patriots who still think that they can somehow make a difference in this world…

How they haven’t all been hunted down by Trump’s deportation squads, I have no idea, but admittedly there’s a small part of me that believes in what those guys fight for because rumor is that it’s what America was actually founded on centuries ago.

I understand the country had already begun to steer away from its roots by the time that Trump was elected to power. One half believed in the rights of the people, whereas the other half lived motivated by fear and antagonism, and it’s not hard to guess which side he chose to incite in order to take control of the American government. Some could see the writing on the wall and people protested in the streets, but they were quickly shutdown by his supporters who seemed to see Trump’s victory as a way for the like of them to clear the slate after having tolerated the other side for so long.

In fact, many were such ardent supporters of Trump after his election that they didn’t even realize what was really happening until nearly half the country had succumbed to his new style of leadership.

Unemployment fell to zero, namely because every able-bodied man was put to work in the national farms or underground in the mines or doing other menial tasks while at the same time females were banned from the workforce and expected to stay home raising the family, out of sight and out of mind.

International trade with other nations disappeared overnight as Trump declared that America would reject the global community and put to rest any reliance that it had on countries like China and Japan which were once known for making a majority of the goods consumed by Americans.

Immigration proved to be a rather simple problem to solve because long before construction even began on The Wall, illegal immigration all but ceased from our southern border as immigrants observed up close the rapidly deteriorating American lifestyle and thus decided that they were far safer outside of the American Empire in their own country.

Though it’s been years since anyone has seen Emperor Trump’s face publicly, his name remains plastered in gold letters upon our most monolithic of structures that we pass on our routes between work and our own meager homes. His messages are broadcast out to every citizen via devices that we are required to carry on our persons at all times – he uses an application they refer to as The Twitter that shares his most prolific thoughts with his followers in near real-time.

I’ve heard that in the past, these incredible devices could be used to communicate with just about anyone else on the planet who also possessed one, however today they’re limited to only official communiques from @realDonaldTrump.

He mostly sends messages out late into the night when we are just returning home from our workday, and they’re almost never coherent, but you didn’t hear that from me.

I’m sure America wasn’t perfect back then, but it certainly couldn’t have been any worse than the world we live in today – a darkened industrial complex where it’s difficult to breathe outdoors, working long hours for only government-approved rations with no time left for rest or relaxation, much less personal expression or any form of belief other than an unwavering allegiance to Trump. There are certainly those who prosper – mostly people who had vast wealths prior to Trump’s election or his own personal friends and colleagues.

They’re the ones who fly around in their private jets and live in these enormous, glass towers and enjoy lives that the rest of us work tirelessly to provide for them. America is no doubt great if you’re one of them, never wanting for a thing in their lives and yet always wanting a little more of ours, too.

Maybe it was them who he was really talking to when he promised to Make America Great Again.

Can’t We Have Donald Trump From 2005 Instead???

November 16, 2016 3:08am
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Another YouTube video blog post … I suppose it’s just that kind of day, but I stumbled across these videos of Donald Trump being interviewed by Conan O’Brien back in 2005/2006 – plus one of him singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Regis Philbin?! – and I guess after watching his campaign for the last 16 months, I can’t help but think how…

…NORMAL HE SOUNDS!!!

I mean, I have to remind myself that 2005 was when that whole “grab her by the pussy” tape was from, and maybe it’s partly Conan’s personality driving the segments, but it’s so bizarre even trying to compare these interviews to some of the angry and crude rally cries that we saw from him over the last year and a half.

Here he seems eccentric, but still reserved; personable, and not just to his brain-dead loyalists; playful and even polite!

This was a few years into The Apprentice, so the “You’re fired!”-shtick had become a thing. I even remember specifically watching the season in 2005 because it was when Randal and Rebecca were in the finale and Trump asked one if he should hire both, which would’ve been well-deserved, but the guy said no and so he didn’t!

Maybe I’ll just go back through YouTube and only watch clips of Trump from at least a decade ago for the next four years to help get me through this Donald Trump Presidency™… 😛

Then Stop Doing Racist Things…

November 15, 2016 2:32am
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An ongoing theme that I’ve been noticing over the last week, and honestly something that I’ve keyed into for a while, is that frankly a lot of people don’t really seem to know what racism even is.

If they did, we wouldn’t keep hearing the same excuse over and over again – “I didn’t mean it in a racist way” or “My comment wasn’t intended to be racist…” The latter was the response given by the mayor of a small town in West Virginia after supporting the post of a county employee who wrote on Facebook“It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing an ape in heels.”

You know, because apparently West Virginia never got word that references to apes and monkeys have long since been established as ethnic slurs against black people.

Even earlier today I read a report quite literally from the local high school less than 5 miles down the street from my house where a white teacher said to a group of black students, “Don’t make me call Donald Trump and get you sent back to Africa.”

A high school teacher – someone who the community has trusted with teaching our children – doesn’t understand what racism is.

I get the impression that most people’s understanding of racism basically begins and ends at slavery and segregation, so anything that’s ever happened since the 1960’s can’t possibly fall into the same category – no jokes, no offhand comments, no words that they hear other races say that they can’t imagine why they can’t say them, too. These things are all said in jest and no harm is intended, so they can’t possibly be racist … and if they are, then it’s just the PC police pulling the race card to make everything about race.

Here’s a ProTip for you – If you don’t mean to be racist, then stop doing things that are racist! – it’s not complicated!!!

Making jokes about lynching the president … who’s black … happens to be racist.

Continuing to use racial slurs that anyone over the age of about 22 knows are racial slurs … is a racist thing to do.

There’s no excuse for this stuff. My oldest son is 2.5 years old and actively working on talking, and we already have to steer him away from saying words that are only for adults. As far as I’m concerned, once you’re old enough to have taken a history class or two, you should start to understand that racism is bad and as a society it’s something that we try to steer away from.

Because the thing is, I’d love to give these people the benefit of the doubt and say that “they just didn’t know!” but come on now. These people are nowhere near 22 years old – one is a high school gym teacher, the other is the director of a non-profit – they’re both old enough to know better. They just don’t want to.

Disappointingly, I have friends and family who use the same excuses and it’s absolutely cringeworthy every time, not only because they should know better, too, but also because I like to think of them as better people than that.

It’s not “political correctness,” it’s you behaving like a racist.

If you don’t want to be called a racist, then don’t act like one.

Day #4 – A Trumped Stream of Consciousness, Part 2…

November 14, 2016 12:27am
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It’s hard to say whether things are truly cooling down or if social media has just gotten quieter over the weekend because people are actually out doing things instead of sitting at work posting 😉 , but the time to process and soak up opinions and information has been useful, I think.

In particular, I’ve been weighing a lot the idea of responsibility as a result of the “I’m not a racist, I just like what he says about ______”-argument and I think the reason why I struggle with it is because for me when we talk about all of the different political issues, I find myself dividing them up into different groups and prioritizing them. So while I’m also concerned about the economy and ISIS and immigration and whatnot, when there are civil rights issues on the table like repealing LGBT rights or marginalizing women, it’s hard for me to even talk about something like immigration because I don’t see how we can discuss other things when equal rights for our citizens isn’t the #1 priority.

That said, I do find it interesting how it’s already being reported that Trump is wavering on some of his key policies such as looking into amending Obamacare instead of repealing it altogether, softening his stance on immigration, and even using fencing for parts of his monumental wall instead of just miles and miles of infallible concrete as far as the eye can see.

Same thing for his cabinet – for an anti-establishment candidate, Trump certainly ran straight back to the well to pick top lobbyists and the current head of the RNC for his cabinet just like the politician’s playbook calls for, not so much “emptying the swamp” as emptying the swamp … right into his new administration.

I also read that there’s some confusion about how his businesses will actually be handled because traditionally it’s expected that a politician would put his assets into a blind trust to avoid any conflict of interest over policy decisions … however having the kids run the business in his place is a very different thing than a blind trust!

…particularly when it’s also being reported that he may desire to only live in the White House part-time and spend some of his days back in his penthouse in Trump Tower, which obviously has direct access to the office where he normally works…

I’ve got to say that it was a little weird reading about that suggestion because not only does it pose the question that a lot of people are asking about whether Donald Trump expects to be a part-time president, to me even more so it raises a lot of logistical questions about whether something like that would even be possible!

Already almost immediately after he won the election, the FAA declared a temporary No Fly Zone over Trump Tower in Manhattan until he is expected to move to the White House after being sworn in in January, however even though mum is typically the word when it comes to presidential security measures, it’s no secret that lots and lots of security is built into the White House and its surrounding area to protect the President and all of his staff.

Plus, his staff is all there, too! 

How would President Trump work from his golden tower in NYC while the rest of his support staff is left running around back in Washington??? Not that leading his own companies is a 9-to-5 job, either, but the president pretty much works non-stop all of the time … aside from maybe spending vacation time in New York, and even then, what kind of disruption to the rest of the city would it pose to have the president coming in and out on a regular basis?

Are the windows in Trump Tower bullet proof? And missile-proof?!

It’s kind of like the same reason why he won’t be able to use his own jet that he’s used for years as well as the entire campaign. The two jets currently used today as Air Force One are highly customized aircraft between being able to also transport his entire support staff and also hosting security features managed by the defend the President and his staff against everything from other aircraft to even the EMP that would result from a nuclear blast.

It’s not like they make an aftermarket air force defense kit that Trump can just pick up to have installed onto his own plane, and I would think that the same thing would apply to Trump Tower, too.

Would they just close Fifth Avenue whenever President Trump feels like sleeping in his golden bed instead of the public housing that taxpayers pay for at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave?!

Ultimately I’m sure a lot of this stuff will work itself out, and for what it’s worth, Donald Trump is allowed to have anxiety for the job just like anybody else would … even though right now some people are interpreting all of these things bundled together as a question of how much he really wants the job in the first place.

Is there any possibility that Donald Trump actually wanted to win the presidency more than he really wants to be the president for the next four years, where his every move will be choreographed by Secret Service agents and his gold anointed life as a billionaire in Manhattan will have to be put on hold for him to hold this otherwise highly coveted office that only forty-four other men have ever held in the history of the entire country?

 

I may end up writing a whole series of posts on this topic – we’ll see how it goes – but in spending a lot of time over the last couple of days thinking about how both our election process as well as the day-to-day democracy in general could be improved, I feel like a BIG AREA that is ripe for improvement … though I admittedly don’t know exactly what these improvements are … is around the area where a lot of folks from both sides of the aisle have been pointing their fingers – the media.

Especially here in the age of information where groups of all sizes, individuals, and even people just creating memes can be “news sources” for people online, it seems like it’s more difficult than ever to get information in front of people that’s unbiased and factual…

For those who still get their news from TV, it doesn’t help that more likely rely on commentators than actual reporters – arguably because that’s what happens when you’ve got 24 hours to fill with coverage without 24 hours of legitimate reporting coverage to offer.

And for those who get their news from the Internet … whoa boy! Where to even start?! Almost every site sways one way or the other, some quite blatantly so, some are deliberately just spreading fake news and not with humorous intent like I do, and social media can be an absolute mess – as Facebook is currently arguing right now – with regards to best distributing the posts of the users while also taking care not to promote false and defamatory content along the way.

I certainly won’t go so far as to say that online and especially social media doesn’t still offer news value, however I think it’s reasonable to say that regardless of format, what the American people need more than ever is news outlets who can be relied upon to report the news and do it fairly, accurately, and reliably … which admittedly gets tricky in this divided country that we currently live because right now so many people want their news slanted the way that they do, which just exacerbates the problem of having highly polarized news outlets catering to party lines instead of ones down the middle that report on the entire landscape equally.

Even when we have those professional sources to fall back on, that still doesn’t help the fact that far too many Americans literally get their “news” from soundbites and memes and Facebook shares where they don’t even necessarily read the article as much as they allow themselves to get riled up by the headlines that show up in their news feeds as they scroll for the next issue that queues up in their social media echo chamber.

really don’t know how you ween people off of unreliable social media “sources,” but I’ve got to think that it starts with having solid, reliable news sources for both sides that you can point people to as an alternative.

Right now I hate the idea that in a way people are really able to “choose their own facts” because each side has their networks and websites that lean in their directions which reliably contradict the other side, so it’s easy enough to just label the other side as liars whenever any conflict comes up and they’ve almost automatically got “news sources” that they can point to in support of their position whether in reality something is really actually true or not.

We need to get past this desire to spin every story in the direction of the target audience and instead be able to rely on our media to report the news in the best manner fit to serve the facts that are actually present.

I think only when we can get the people back to a point where both sides can trust a single news source collectively instead of their own niche versions can we expect them to really come together and realize that maybe the two parties’ beliefs aren’t all that different after all. But as long as people have their own version of the truth to point back to, we’re never going to get anywhere.

In short – there’s only one true version of fact, and we need to be able to rely on our news media to deliver that information to the people.

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