Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Did Congress Sell Our Privacy?

Tuesday March 28th, 2017, you and I were sold out by the United States House of Representatives. They passed legislation rolling back rules set in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission that prevented internet service providers from selling your personal information. The Senate had already passed their version on March 23rd.

What this means is your internet service provider can continue to sell your private information. What information are they selling to third parties?

·         Web Browsing History
·         Which apps you use – including frequency, length of time per use, etc.
·         Location information
·         And more that the ISP’s won’t tell us and congress didn’t bother to find out. (Can you believe that?)

The most egregious part of this is the internet service providers don’t have to ask our permission to collect and sell our information. We have to ask them not to!

I wanted to be fare about this issue and find out the reasoning of those who voted for this rule change. I found one reason. The argument goes:

Google, Facebook, YouTube, and others are already collecting and selling your information and congress is just leveling the playing field for internet service providers.

This is a completely dishonest argument. If you are not using Google to search, Google is not collecting your information. When you leave Facebook or YouTube, they are not tracking you and collecting all the data. You can choose to not use a specific application. You can choose to not visit a specific website. What is nearly impossible to do is choose to not use an internet service provider.

If there is only one reason being spouted by the politicians, industry representatives, and pundits and that reason is shown to be false, than what other reason could our representatives and senators have for giant corporations to be allowed to sell our private information without our consent?

Theverge.com has one idea. If you would like to know how much money your Representative or Senator was given by the telecommunications industry (for their election campaigns, of course, nothing more. You believe that, don’t you?), than you can find out here.

There are still many unanswered questions regarding this piece of legislation.

Priority


What process did the Republican leadership use to determine the priority of this legislation? The Senate has so much going on, right now. We are facing the Judge Neil Gorsuch appointment for Supreme Court Justice that is turning into a partisan battle between the parties. In late April they will have to decide whether or not to raise our national debt ceiling again. They are neck deep in the investigations into the Russians influencing our national elections last year. They have the investigation into President Trump’s accusations of the Obama administration illegally surveilling the Trump Presidential Campaign. We still don’t have a Secretary of Agriculture or a Secretary of Labor. Add to all of this, nearly one hundred federal judgeships to fill. And the President also wants them to begin the process for tax reform.

The House Intelligence Committee is also very busy with its Keystone Cops version of the Russian Election Influencing investigation. The entire House of Representatives is busy as well with very important measures to label North Korea a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (again), and Condemning North Korea for developing multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles and “other purposes.” Don’t forget tax reform.

The point is, in the first one hundred days of a new administration (always a hectic and chaotic time), why was this particular piece of legislation pushed to the front of the line?

Are the internet service providers about to have a mass layoff if they don’t get an infusion of cash? Are they in some sort of financial trouble because the industry’s business model is unprofitable? Are they unable to be profitable unless they are allowed to sell our private information?

In 2016 AT&T’s revenues were up more than 22%. $40.5 billion.

Comcast had a Gross Profit of $51.96 billion in 2015. (2016 figures are not yet available)

Verizon says its total revenue for 2016 was $126 billion! This is down from the year before, but their profits went up!

Time Warner’s total revenue was more than $29 billion dollars. That is up more than $1 billion dollars over 2015's total revenues.

Obviously, the ISP’s are not in financial trouble and are not in need of a “leveled playing field.”


Next, we will look at top receivers of campaign funding from the telecom industry and which committees each of these top “earners” are members of. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Twenty-first Birthday

Yesterday was my daughter’s twenty-first birthday. She is my middle child. This is not new territory for me. So, I was surprised when I woke with every memory of her life rocketing Matrix-like through my brain all at once.

There was the night her mother and I made her. (That was fun.)

The night she was born. (Exhausting.)

The night she woke me screaming because all the stuffed animals in her room came alive in the middle of the night and wouldn’t let her out.

The time her baby brother threw up in her hair.

The day we had to explain to her we were holding her back in first grade.

The day I realized she was having so many problems with the other girls at school because she was the only one in her class who no longer had the same body shape as the boys.

The struggling to understand her during her teenage years.

The day she came out to me at Chic-fil-a (hilarious) during pride week.

The look on her face when I told her I’d already known for two years and I loved her.

And dozens of others.

For a moment I thought, “Wait, am I dying? And, if I am, why is my daughter’s life flashing before me? Shouldn’t it be my own?”




OK, that last part didn’t actually happen, but it illustrates my point. My daughter’s life is not mine. The entire point for the last twenty-five years has been to prepare her and her brothers to be able to live independently of me – or anyone else for that matter. And yet, our lives are so intertwined, in a small but significant way, her life is mine.


I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life focusing on helping my kids become healthy, fulfilled adults. So much so, that when I look back on my life it is filled with them. My kids are definitely not my entire life, but they are the most important part of my life’s work. For someone who set out in life to never have kids, I’m a little taken aback by this outcome.

And I wouldn’t change it for anything.


What about changing it to do it better? 

That question assumes I could.

Don’t take that answer the wrong way. Everyone who knows me knows I have to work hard to let go of the guilt I feel over the many ways I’ve failed my children through the years.

I’ve learned that from my mother – and, I’ve gotten pretty damn good at it.

I know better than anyone I’ve been nowhere near the perfect father.
At the same time, with the mind, character, and personality I have, as well as, the upbringing, the time I had to devote to raising them, along with the amount of time it took for me to grasp reality and learn how to ask better questions, I’m not convinced I could have done any better.

I have three great kids. None show any signs of becoming icons of our culture. In fact, I tried to raise them to be exactly the opposite. All three are flawed human beings. All three strive to be good at what they do and to be even better people.

They are starting life in a far better position than I did. They will be far better spouses and parents than I’ve been – if they choose that route.

I have a musical body of work I can be proud of. I have a growing written body of work I will be able to be proud of someday.

I have a family body of work I can be even more proud of.


I am a blessed man. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Remodel

Over spring break I remodeled my music studio. This is the place I’ve written my last four CD’s and recorded the last two. In here, over the past eleven years, I’ve taught hundreds of students to make music. It has looked the same the entire time. I decided a face lift was in order.

Before:



When I was working for other people, I’d heard that a simple paint job or changing light fixtures was all it took to reinvigorate employees with lagging motivation. I thought it was hogs wallow until, while working for a Fortune 100 company that paid its employees next to nothing, I watched it happen.

I was amazed. None of us got a raise. They moved us from a number of smaller offices into a bullpen full of cubicles. We all got “new” desks and chairs. They were new to us, anyway. This was not a better work environment by any means. More distractions, more oversite, less privacy. Yet, we were all excited and productivity rose for a few months after we moved across the hall. It was impressive. I’m not even sure the higher ups at the company were aiming for the bump in productivity. It was just that the company was growing so fast. We needed the extra space for all the new employees.

Remodeling my studio was difficult work because I don’t really know what I’m doing. But, it was a nice change of pace. It reminded me of why I am so happy teaching music. Years of construction work was not only unfulfilling, but incredibly hard on my body. My favorite thing about the drywall business is that I am no longer involved in it!

Although, I still remember driving my oldest son around Omaha and pointing out buildings and homes I’d helped to build. I did feel a strong sense of pride in the work I’d done.

Other Remodels

When I was twenty-four, I was involved in a multilevel marketing company. My up line (the couple who recruited my wife and I into the business) decided to get a large office just inside the 610 loop west in Houston. I helped paint the new office. I didn’t feel the excitement or any extra ownership in that office. Probably because I didn’t really work there. I’d show up for the Tuesday night recruiting meetings and the Saturday morning trainings, but I was rarely in the office. I was always out and about in Houston, meeting new people, delivering product, coaching my downline and my customers on how to get better results. That’s where I was happy, excited, and engaged. Ultimately, it didn’t work out, but I had a good time while I was working the business sixteen hours a day.

At thirty-two, my last year in construction, I helped my church remodel a new space they’d rented. It was an old building in Council Bluffs, IA. At one point, we knocked out a wall to make the sanctuary space bigger. The pastor had located the breaker box and turned off the power to all the outlets. I was tearing out the wall. When I got to the wiring for the outlets, I asked if he was sure the power was off. He assured me it was. I tentatively tore out the wiring for the first outlet. All good. I began to work more quickly. When I got to the third outlet, I grabbed the wiring and pulled hard enough that my hand slipped to the end where the wires were exposed. I large spark and a shooting pain emanated from the contact point. I’d burned the pinky on my fretting hand pretty badly.

It turned out, the previous tenants had used the third outlet for the copy machine and, instead of using a forty watt breaker they used two twenties. You live. You get burned. You learn. I finished the remodel with a badly burned hand. I didn’t even attend the first service. I never felt any extra motivation or ownership there, either.

Back to the Studio

After: 



The space looks completely different. More vibrant. Larger. I am looking forward to teaching here. I am looking forward to creating new music here. I am interested to find out if the color I chose for the walls really does improve the concentration of my students. That’s what the research I found says the effect is supposed to be.


I am more motivated by the facelift, but I did all the work and made all the decisions. One would expect me to be excited. I am interested to learn whether any of my students become more motivated by the new look of their learning space. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

My Epiphany

Yesterday, I sat down to write today’s article. This is the week I scheduled to lay out President Trump’s plan to punish the poor. There is more than enough material to prove this is the administration’s and Republican congress’s plan. As I sat down to write, I felt an overwhelming urge to walk away. Go work in the garden or play guitar or piano.

That’s when I had my latest epiphany. All this political stuff is important and it’s depressing as hell.

I’ve decided, for my own health and well-being, I need to stick to my own wheelhouse. My purpose in life is two-fold:

        Create as much beauty as I possibly can in this world.
  1. Draw the attention of others to all the beauty and bliss I find already existing in this world.


Someone else is going to have to fight these political fights.

I’m out.

Here is the first piece my self-redirectioning has produced:




Safe



I sit peacefully on the front porch
Safe from the early March rain
Gentle and cold
It washes the pine pollen from
                the trees
                the air
Causing it to gather like greenish-yellow dirt
                in the cracks in the sidewalks
                in the gutters along the street sides

The wind picks up
Waving the pine boughs
I imagine they are palms branches
I am Egyptian royalty
Safe and wealthy on my front porch

A solitary dove calls from a neighbor’s tree
As I am about to answer,
                preparing to blow the avian call
                through my hands
Another of its own kind responds
                from the southwest

The wind calms
The thunder fades to the southeast
The rain persists
It sounds like bacon lightly frying
As it collides with the earth
Each miniature impact
Reminds me of my safety


I linger 

Monday, February 27, 2017

What is the Earth's Intrinsic Value? or Exploit the Entropic Environment

Last week’s article, Bully the Bad Guys, began a four part series on President Trump’s unfolding agenda. If you haven’t already, you might to read it before moving on to this week’s article.

In the Trump administration’s first week they put a gag order on all employees of the EPA and the Department of Agriculture. This order prohibits all employees from communicating with the press or public, including the use of social media. This includes all research scientists. As of February 26, 2017 this order has not been lifted.

President Trump also signed executive orders authorizing the immediate restarting of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone Pipeline. Both of these pipelines had been reluctantly stopped by President Obama after unrelenting public pressure. President Trump obviously felt none of that pressure.  

The administration nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. What are Mr. Pruitt’s qualifications to run the Environmental Protection Agency? He sued the agency fourteen times in his tenure as Oklahoma’s AG. Thirteen of these fourteen lawsuits were with oil and gas companies as co-parties. These same co-parties also happened to be large scale contributors to his election campaigns. A reported $300,000 in total.

His confirmation was pushed through the senate last week so he could be confirmed before thousands of emails from his time as Oklahoma Attorney General were released. This was done in spite of requests of democrat senators to wait for the emails so a more informed decision could be made. These emails subsequently revealed an extraordinarily close relationship with oil and gas companies. He even copied and pasted an email from Devon Energy onto his own letterhead and sent it as a complaint to the EPA he is now tasked to head.

He was found to again be copying and pasting language from emails from lobby group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers in a complaint he filed with the EPA about ozone limits.

Mr. Pruitt is on public record denying the science that mercury “poses public health hazards.” It should be noted that while he was Attorney General of Oklahoma the number of lakes in the state listed for mercury contamination went from fourteen to forty. His contention during his confirmation hearing that states should be setting and enforcing environmental protection laws also needs to be pointed out.

Is it Mr. Pruitt’s intent that the EPA allow states to deny environmental science and allow their jurisdictions to become continually more toxic?

I am sure we won’t have to wait long to find out.

According to Myron Ebell, who ran the EPA transition for the new administration, the Trump administration is planning a one billion dollar budget cut in the first physical year. The 2017 FY budget is $8.27 billion. Down from $10.3 billion in 2010.

As we watch the dismantling of the EPA and other agencies in the government by this administration, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

1.       Does the earth from which we are formed and sustained, our only home, have any value outside of profits corporations can extract from it?
2.       How important is clean air, clean water, and clean soil to me?
3.       Am I willing to stand by and watch as corporations collude with their political caddies in Washington to take us back to the fifties, sixties, and seventies with burning rivers, toxic smog, poisoned ground water, and subdivisions built on soil so fouled it causes cancer and birth defects in the residents?
4.       At what point do we value the health and vitality of flesh and blood humans, wildlife, and the ecosystem that makes life possible over the profits of soulless and rapacious corporations?


In his inaugural speech at the Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Pruitt called for civility. I wonder how long he expects us to remain civil while he ignores and suppresses the environmental science and insists on harming the population of the planet for the profit of his corporate donors.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

President Trump's Unfolding Agenda

We are now one month into the presidency of Donald Trump. He told us on Inauguration Day the time for talk was over and now it was time for action. He has kept that promise. He has signed a minimum of twenty-five executive orders to date. There is at least one more that is being talked about being signed today or tomorrow. It is supposed to replace the one a lower court put a stay on and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that lower court’s ruling.

One month has passed and the President’s agenda is coming into focus. So far, I can see four main parts:

1.       Reward the Rich (gutting already weak regulations designed to prevent another financial collapse like we had in 2008, Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs employee and former George Soros employee, as Secretary of Treasury, and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State – so much for draining the swamp, eh?)
2.       Punish the Poor (repealing Obamacare, reducing block grants to states for Medicaid, and beginning calls of “From Welfare to Work” and appointing Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education)
3.       Exploit the Environment (gutting EPA regulations, appointing a man to head the EPA who is opposed to its existence, and pushing through the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines over vehement resistance)
4.       Bully the “Bad Guys”

Over the next four weeks I will tackle each of these in reverse order.

One thing before we start. I predicted four weeks ago, part of the new administration’s plan to was to overwhelm the average person by doing so much the work-a-day individual with a job, family, and other obligations couldn’t possibly keep up with it all. This is a tried and proven effective tactic used by many governments, including Clinton, Bush, and Obama. It’s not just for dictators anymore. The administration has proven me correct to this point, but I won’t be patting myself on the back anytime soon. I would have much preferred to be wrong on this point.

Bully the Bad Guys

Candidate Trump made this one crystal clear on the campaign trail. Whether he was advocating torture of prisoners of war, promoting a policy of war crimes such as, “going after the families of terrorists,” or asking military consultants, “why do we have nuclear weapons if we aren’t going to use them?”, he put us and the world on notice:

                It would be “Open Season” on bad guys in a Trump administration.

It was funny right up until the moment Hillary Clinton conceded the election to him. Now, we are getting a more precise definition of what he means by “bad guys.”

Mr. Trump’s definition of bad guys includes all the undesirables a reasonable person might expect. Terrorists, drug cartels, criminal gang syndicates, and violent criminals who are also illegal aliens. A good list, so far. It also appears bad guys include refugees from war torn regions, and any media outlet that doesn’t simply regurgitate his preferred propaganda for the day.

President Trump seems intent on pursuing a scorched earth policy with any dissenters. If you call him on clear fabrications and lies, you suddenly become the liar. He doesn’t have to offer any coherent arguments or facts proving you are the liar. He doesn’t have to present any facts proving he’s telling the truth. He simply calls you dishonest over and over again and lets his supporters do the rest.

Whether beating people at his political rallies who disagree with his proposed policies, cancelling subscriptions, or boycotting specific retailers or news organizations, the President and his supporters intend to silence through intimidation and bullying, both around the world and here at home.

This bullying can be seen in how Mr. Trump cancels meetings with heads of state who have signaled they will not be giving him what he wants, such as the President of Mexico. It can be seen in his hanging up on the Prime Minister of Australia. It can be seen in the aggressive, confrontational style of his policy advisor Stephen Miller. It can be seen in the way he constantly pulls unsuspecting individuals off balance when he shakes their hands. (Rabbit trail: for a good laugh, check out the video of his hand shake with Prime Minister Abe of Japan. The Prime Minister's response speaks volumes about how other world leaders experience President Trump.)

One person who is conspicuously not on the list of Bad Guys is a brutal dictator who murders journalists, assassinates or jails political opponents and heads of state, and is hell bent on expansion of his own empire.


You might want to think carefully, however, before questioning the President on this matter. You might find yourself on that Bad Guy list. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Secret Poet

No words would come this morning. It is a rare occurrence. So, here is part of a short story I am working on. I'd love to get some feedback from you.


Fidgeting, Terri sat at her desk trying to write. The sun was already up over the desert behind the little adobe house. Her desk faced out the back window. She could see the desert becoming less still. She wanted to get out there and walk through it. But, she still hadn’t written her poem for the day. No walking until the poem was on paper. That was the rule.
                Terri had lived a life of very few rules. Almost none, in fact. This was a rule she had decided was important, so she kept it as best she could. She had spent her life exploring the world. Finding what she liked. That’s how she felt about hiking in the desert. Like she was just finding what she liked.
                As she walked through the desert she could feel herself soaking up the life. Pulling it from the sun, the sage brush, the undersized mesquite trees, and the undersized deer. Even when she didn’t see them, she could feel the rattlesnakes, coyotes, and the desert hairs. She’d gorge herself on the life that flowed through them.
                In the evenings, sitting on the back porch with a cup of coffee, her guitar, and a notebook, she’d savor the desert life she’d pulled into herself on the morning hike. She imagined pulling it up to re-chew, like a cow with its cud. She’d roll the life around inside of her, sending it to her limbs and bringing it back again into her body before sending it even further. This time to her hands and feet. Pulling it back in again to stir around inside her like a cake batter, she’d send it to her fingers and toes. Finally, she’d send all that desert life to her head where it would roll around like waves in the Pacific Ocean.
                Then the ideas would come. She’d jot them down, so she could use them for the morning poem. Only after the notes were safely ensconced in her notebook would she begin to strum her steel string guitar. Singing old songs with her husky voice.
                The singing and playing were like the poems – for her. She didn’t need anyone else to hear her play and sing. She knew she was good, not great. She took pride in being able to learn a song she liked or, even better, write a song she liked.
                She felt the same about her poems. She was working to become the best poet she could be, not for others to admire, but because she enjoyed it. She also felt a responsibility to whatever it was that gave her the abilities she had and enjoyed so much. God, the universe, genes, it didn’t much matter to Terri. Her main concern was to demonstrate her gratitude by being a good steward.
                She could feel the little desert dwelling warming under the strengthening sun. Dispelling the desert night chill. She looked at her notes from the night before. Still, nothing moved inside her. Nothing bubbled forth needing to escape.
                Often the poems would spill forth, fully formed, like they’d been wombed up inside her. The words, images, and metaphors would seem to have been nourished and nurtured by the life she had soaked up the day before. Like an egg soaks up life from a sperm cell and, feeds off the mother’s increased appetite until a completely new and different life is molded within. Finally, this new life bursts into the world. And all in just twenty-four hours.
                But today, no words, no images, no metaphors reveal themselves. Terri learned long ago not to worry over these times. That lesson was learned when she was trapping for a living in Alaska when she was a much younger woman.

Terri drove into King Salomon, Alaska the first week of August. After storing her bags in her tiny cabin, she went straight to the guide service office. She and her guide left the next morning. They didn’t seem surprised at all when she showed up alone. The guide treated her like a one hundred pound, eighteen year old girl showing up to hunt caribou was nothing out of the ordinary. She liked that.
                On day three she killed her first caribou. They packed it back to the guide office. The office sent it over to the butcher. Terri asked the woman at the office to tell the butcher she wanted the hide. She and the guide went right back to the bush. It took five days this time, but she got her second caribou. They repeated the process one more time.
                Terri asked if there was a family or a tribe she could give the meat of the second to. After delivering the meat, she asked if they had someone who could make her a coat of the two caribou skins. The old woman they introduced her to made Terri a coat and a pair of gloves. They were the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
                The following day she showed up back at the guide office and told them she was ready to go to work. Ove the next three seasons they trained her as a hunting and fishing guide. She worked hard and learned fast. The entire time she was learning to be a guide she was also learning how to trap for pelts. After five years of working as a guide she felt she’d learned enough and saved enough to spend the winter trapping by herself.
                She made five grand her first year.
               

At twenty-six she felt like she’d found her calling. She spent her summers guiding fishermen, August and September guiding hunts, and winters trapping for furs. Terri didn’t think there was any way she could be any happier.
                The young woman lived this way for over a decade. The season become a liturgical rhythm in her life. The Alaskan bush, her cathedral. Fish, hunt, trap, recover and make repairs. It was a sacred circle she could count on. The challenges were many, but understandable and solvable. She could see the progress of her skills, her career, and her place in the small community.  She never thought of her life as lonely. Solitary and satisfying was how she would describe it. Besides, every guide assignment she was meeting new people.
                Then the letter came from her cousin, Fernando. Her parents were both getting older and needed help. It was becoming difficult to get out to the homestead often enough to make sure they were OK. Would she be willing to come home and help?
                Of course she would. Terri didn’t even consider it a sacrifice. It was just the way life worked. They had given her life, raised her, and helped her become the woman she was. Now it was time for her to return the favor.
                It was difficult saying goodbye to her friends and way of life in Alaska. It was the first time she’d cried in five years. She’d been out on a hunt. The dirt gave way under her while she was walking a short ridgeline. She fell and rolled a hundred feet or more before being stopped by a boulder in the middle of the hill. She cut her leg badly. She had to stop to make camp, disinfect the wound, and stitch herself up before they could continue. The client had been a proper Texas gentleman and offered to go back to the office, but she refused. They lost half a day, but she made sure the client filled their tag.
                Terri sold all her traps and her snow machine. She made arrangements with the one real estate office within fifty miles to rent her place out for her. She gave her truck to a family she knew could use it and headed to Anchorage to buy a plane ticket to Phoenix. Then a bus ride to Santa Fe. Fernando picked her up.

                The heat was far worse than she remembered. She’d spent nearly the same amount of time living in the arctic cold of Alaska as she’d lived in the desert. Living in the shadow of the last ice age for half her life had disoriented her from the heat.