Transgenders, the military, and the folly of the liberal intellectuals

Much has been said today about President Trump’s ban on transgenders in the military. I have been listening to NPR and it seems to be the only story worthy of coverage.  I want to call in and suggest that, in their own best interest, they just stop.

In the six months leading up to the last election, it seemed that the top story that liberal politicians or the left-leaning media wanted to cover was which bathroom transgenders can use. While the Republicans were acknowledging the loss of opportunity, shrinking family buying power, and fears of national security, the Democrats were myopically focused on bathrooms for less than 0.3% of the population.

Before I continue let me say that I believe that transgenders deserve the exact same rights as all Americans, and if they are competent and wish to serve their country, they should be allowed to do so. But my point isn’t one of rights, but rather how political parties accomplish their objectives.

The simple fact is that issues around transgenders hurt Democrats. The press has been quick to point out that the amount the military spends on healthcare for transgenders – Trump’s reason for banning them – is really small. Yet they fail to acknowledge that part of the reason it is small is that there just aren’t many of them in the military. In fact, there aren’t many of them anywhere. This group isn’t getting anyone elected. Meanwhile, the really really big group that the Democratic party counts upon, middle-America union workers, lower-middle-class families, and veterans, simply isn’t supportive of this issue.

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Dr. Jennifer Conti, a surgeon and expert on transgender issues discussed the ban on NPR’s The Takeaway today.

But the intellectual liberal protectors of the Democrat party see this as an attack on their interpretation of the Democrat ideal. Equal rights are not negotiable, and when given the opportunity to stand self-righteous, they will rise to the call even if it puts them at odds with the majority of their party.

Trump didn’t put a ban on transgenders in the military because he thinks it makes the military better. He did it because he knows that it further fractures the Democrat party and distracts American voters away from the things they care about – like the President’s own failed promises on health care and immigration.

It’s bait, people. Don’t be stupid.

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Is the NEA really necessary?

The National Endowment for the Arts works for a few institutions and artists, but the amount of ill-will it creates offsets the good. The art world – and country – would be better off without it.

The NEA has lost its relevance. There was a time when the art world revolved around Europe. The creators of The NEA sought to ensure that the post-war America was as competitive in the arts as we had proven to be in manufacturing and commerce. Within a generation, they had accomplished their mission. By the mid-1980s, New York had overtaken Paris as the center of the art world. Today, the US has more galleries, art professionals, and museums than any other nation. We also have the most artists. In fact, there are too many artists and too much art being made.

Yikes, what? The art world hates to see this written but knows it to be true. Regularly, conversations between members of the community often try to quantify the problem. It seems that for every institutionally recognized artist, there are ten unheralded artists making a living through gallery sales. For every shown artist, there are another ten selling out of their garage. And for every one of those, there are another ten that will never sell any work at all. That is a lot – and an almost uncalculatable number – of artists working in the US.

 

The NEA isn’t needed. The private sector is very good – even better than the public sector – at supporting the arts. Every city has their benefactors and it is because of them (not the government) that we have public art and museums. In most cities, every new building must allocate a percentage of building costs to public art. And many organizations (US Artists, Bemis, Artadia to name a few) have demonstrated that they are better at giving out NEA styled grants than the government was. Of course, the community wants government money and more of it, but what community doesn’t want more free stuff? The arts in the US are thriving and would continue to do well without the coins tossed at it by the NEA.

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Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate known unofficially as the Bean. A $23 million dollar sculpture funded completely through private donations.

Accessible – easy to grasp and like – art doesn’t need the NEA to fund it. There are lots of ways to get this made and displayed. Benefactors put it up in parks, buildings hang it in their lobbies, and decorative galleries and design shops sell it out of their storefronts.

Really good art is inaccessible to a vast majority of the population and shouldn’t be paid for with tax dollars. It is often head-scratching and not pretty to look at. People may not care, or don’t want to invest the time and understanding. In some cases, they may even find it offensive. These folks would rather see that money go to something they care about – even if it’s only enough to fix a few potholes. Some argue, that this is precisely the reason the government should fund the arts, but again, there are plenty of better sources of financing available and far too much art already.

Too much of what passes for good art today will not be remembered by history. Popular artists often make art that appeals to their contemporaries but lacks political balance. Most work in a political echo chamber where their fellow artists, curators, gallerists, and collectors all have very similar views. As a result, preaching to the choir – and doing so with hyperbole! – tends to get an artist noticed and may be required for public grants.

Yet, as I have argued for years, this does not make for good art! Good art – like good thought – recognizes that solutions are hard, people’s opinions are diverse (even those of educated ones), and that gray is more interesting than black or white.

The NEA provides little benefit relative to the other sources of financing available to the art community. Meanwhile, it creates significantly more negative controversy than other possible uses for the same funds. To repeat my favorite Penn Jillette quote,

You get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in [being forced to do it].

I put my money where my mouth is. I care about art and I support it. I buy it, I view it, and I give money to organizations that allow good artists to make more of it. I do not feel I have a right to force regular taxpayers to share in my passion.

 

[Featured Image. Honey Grid #2 by Karen Finley, an American artist who notoriously directed her 1980s NEA grant toward a shocking performance piece. This author was fortunate to see her at Metro (then Cabaret Metro) in 1991.]

And you are blaming whom?

An unbiased reading of the issue makes it clear that it isn’t the Governor who is at fault

Are you one of those people who thinks that the budget stalemate is all Governor Rauners’s fault?  If so, ask yourself this question.  Are you receiving your information from union sources and Michael Madigan’s political machine?  Are you subscribing to sites and publications that have union leanings or an interest in keeping Democrats in office?  If so, you must recognize that the demonization of the Governor is in the best interests of both the unions and Michael Madigan and the information they distribute will be biased.

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Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, speaks to lawmakers during a Pension Committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

If you want to truly understand what is going on in the state of Illinois, you must look to sources that have no dog in the fight except the betterment of all the people who live here. The best source of this information is the better newspapers in the state, in particular, The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. Now I recognize that journalistically, each has had their problems, but in general, their editorial departments are reasoned, logical people without a particular agenda. To that end, I suggest that you read today’s editorial in the Tribune, The governor who won’t back down: A focused Rauner says he’s running in 2018. If you enjoy your slanted sites – as is completely reasonable –  recognize that they are preaching to the choir and balance out that information with slanted sites from the other side as well. Learn both sides of the argument to make yourself smarter.  You might also want to consider Politico.com, a very good source for political news of all sorts.

Back to the issue at hand, the Tribune does a very good of pointing out that Governor Rauner, who takes no salary and has spent millions of his own money trying to right the wrongs of his predecessors, has prepared a very reasonable budget deal which Madigan has simply ignored. And while Bruce Rauner is traveling the state working tirelessly trying to sell it, the Speaker is, well, on vacation.

Forrauner years, the Democrat machine has purchased votes with money that the taxpayers would pay down the road. As the end of that road approaches, we are in a position of not being able to meet those obligations without hurting the taxpayers of today – regular Illinois people – you! The governor acknowledges that this is an inevitability, he simply asks, requests, maybe demands, that in return the Machine stop engaging in the practices that got us into this mess.

Meanwhile, the Speaker realizes that the loss of those “tools” will make it more difficult to keep Democrats in power. Without the ability to promise teachers, first responders, and government workers more pensions, higher wages, more job security, and reduced workload, Democrat candidates will have to run on their own merit. The playing field will be level as it is in most other states.

Political bickering aside, the Governor’s requests are not just reasonable but they are requirements of a properly functioning democratic state (democratic with a small “d”). We should all see this issue for what it is, an old man trying to hold and increase the power of him and his friends at all costs vs a reformer whose sole objective is to prevent that from taking the State down.

CTU should be more careful with its wishes

This morning as I was walking IMG_2346.JPGmy children to school a popular teacher enthusiastically handed me a flyer about the upcoming “Day of Action.” As I read it I was interested to note the things the Union hopes to accomplish on behalf of my children on April 1.

  • Demand: Tax the rich!
  • Expect that education and social services be properly funded
  • Put TIF money back into schools

Now first, I take exception to the idiotic and inflammatory “tax the rich” mantra. Our school is located in a neighborhood where the average home price is over $1 million dollars. Is the Union or that friendly teacher really hoping to hurt the parents of his students? Last I checked, they were already paying some of the highest taxes in the country. In addition, these are the most generous donors to the school. Whenever I hear these statements, I wonder if the writer believes that those better off really need to give more or if they need to be punished just for making more. But maybe I digress.

The rest of this all seems good. More for education means books, additional programs, a school nurse, and reduced class size. TIF Funds means physical improvement to the schools, improved HVAC, water fountains that work, and a general all around reduction in our school’s dumpiness. These are things I can get behind.

Unfortunately, in today’s newspaper the exact same CTU claims that Friday’s Strike (note their changing choice of nouns) is legal because it is in protest of the CPS’s failure to pay “raises based on experience and educational attainment.” (Chicago Tribune, 3/30/2016).

So in the document to get the parents on their side, CTU says that Friday is a day-of-action in support of better educational services and nicer schools. Yet to the courts, CTU says they are striking to get raises! Which is it?

If history is a precedent, the answer is pretty clear. Last time we had a strike, there were ten things on the strike priority list, the last two were compensation and job security. I wish I still had the list, but smaller class sizes, facility improvements, and even central air conditioning listed higher. Not surprisingly, when the strike was over, the only things that were addressed were issues compensation and job security – the only thing the Union really cares about.

This (in particular) is not a criticism of the Union. It is their job. The pipe fitter’s union doesn’t care about the lives of pipes. They are paid to care about electricians. By the same token, the teacher’s union is not paid to care about children, they are paid care about teachers. Now, do teachers care about students? Absolutely! But there is occasionally a conflict between what is best for a student and what is best for a teacher. The Union’s job is to take the teachers’ side, play the hardball, and protect the teachers from the associated ugliness.

Unfortunately, in this case, the Union is playing a game that they can win only if the city loses. Property taxes (for those paying them) have skyrocketed this year. City service fees have similarly jumped, while the actual services offered have been reduced. The only way to give the Union what it wants is to further increase taxes or further slash services. This environment of rising taxes and falling services is exactly what precipitated the exodus of the middle-class from Detroit.

People argue that this won’t happen here. People in Chicago are loyal and they love it here in spite of the machine politics, union corruption, and high taxes. Yet only days ago the Tribune ran this headline…

Chicago area sees greatest population loss of any major U.S. city [or] region in 2015

Be careful what you “demand,” CTU.

Chicago’s Game of Bags benefits no one

Much of the difference between common sense conservatives and common sense liberals is how much faith each group has in the government’s ability to solve problems. Liberals tend to think that a group of thoughtful politicians can influence people’s behavior through properly crafted legislation. Conservatives tend to believe that even well-meaning legislation is likely to be botched by unintended consequences. It is tough to imagine a law that makes the conservative point more soundly than Chicago’s ban on disposable shopping bags.

The problem, as it was described by the City Council and advocates is that too many disposable plastic shopping bags are produced, used and discarded. These flimsy menaces create litter, increase our carbon footprint, fill our landfills, and are largely unrecyclable.

The solution was to require retailers to offer only bags with handles that could be reused at least 125 times. The thinking is that stronger bags are less likely to be discarded and could be reused many times. Stores are given the choice between selling them and giving them away. Most give them away and those that don’t charge such a negligible amount for them – say 5-10 cents – that no one notices.

But this foolish law which regulates only bags and retailers seems to be predicated on the assumption that bags reuse themselves and fails to acknowledge the actual decision maker in the problem – the consumer. Some consumers have long chosen to reuse bags and others throw them out.target bags

The law does not provide any incentive for those who chose to discard their bags to change their behavior. As a result, those who reused bags before the law continue to reuse them and those who discarded them before the law continue to discard them. Many pet owners depend on shopping bags to discard pet waste and have little option but to continue the practice. Even well-intentioned shoppers often forget their bags and after accumulating more than they need are forced to discard bags. The difference is that now they are throwing away thicker, bigger bags, with larger carbon footprints, and which take up more space in the landfill.

As a result, this well-meaning piece of legislation has likely accomplished the opposite of what it intended – due to unintended consequences or just lack of intelligent conception.

Let’s be clear, I support a law that accomplishes the goal of reducing disposable bags. It’s easy to design and it looks like this:

  • All bags must be made out of cloth or pressed cloth-like material.
  • All bags must be a standard size so customers don’t have to store multiple sizes.
  • All bags must be sold at a price which incents consumers to hold onto them – say two dollars each.
  • Cheaper or free plastic or paper bags cannot be sold or offered as an alternative at checkout.

But the problem with a properly-crafted disposable shopping bag ban is that it is effectively a regressive consumption tax. Because the value of the goods put into bags by poor people tends to be lower, they pay a higher tax rate than their wealthier neighbors which isn’t cool with our City Council.

So now we see that the problem as it was described was only half the problem. The other requirement was that it could not place a larger burden on the poorer south and west sides – areas that couldn’t care less about disposable plastic bags – than it does on the North side – where the wealthier residents and image-conscious mayor were seeking a solution. Creating a Chicago-wide law that accomplishes both of these objectives is simply not possible. They are in conflict. As a result, we end up with a stupid law that penalizes all citizens equally but offers benefits to no one.

This point goes to the common sense conservatives.

Trump University: Far from his most amoral venture

About 3 years ago a friend asked me to look into a multi-million-dollar, international, multi-level marketing company that she was considering. She had been recruited by a woman who promised her great things in return for selling bundled utilities at reduced prices. Maybe she trusted my analytical ability or maybe she just knew I had free time, but she wanted me to give her my opinion of it.

I went undercover on this project and was able to meet with a real rep who was trained in the company rhetoric. Assuming I was interested in joining too, she dazzled me with stories of reps who were making millions of dollars a year and had customized license plates on their Bentleys. But when I asked her to explain the formula for revenue she couldn’t do it. When I asked her how much I would make off my sales, my recruits, or the reps that they recruit, she told me that there were way to many variables for me to calculate on my own. She was quick to point out however that she knows another rep who makes so much money that she paints her poodles nails in real gold (OK, I may have made that one up).

Now I’ve created spreadsheets with hundreds of variables. There is no possible formula I can’t model-up in Excel – unless you refuse to tell me what it is! Furthermore, one of the things everyone learns in business school – or in life in general – is that a complicated revenue model is a doomed revenue model. Yet this clown just kept stonewalling on the important questions while playing to my fantasies. It was only when I found a question she would answer that the veneer started to crack. “How many reps fail before making any money?” I asked. “99%,” she responded, but then added quickly – “that just underscores how important it is to be the best and keep recruiting. Because the best…”. That’s around the time I stopped listening.

What she was telling me was that almost all the reps that join, pay the 500 dollar fee, sign up their 10-20 friends, and then drop out never making a dime. Meanwhile the Company keeps all the customers, the revenue, and maintains a steady stream of new recruits who are willing to chase the dream until they realize they can’t catch it, at which point they sulk away quietly, hoping no one notices.

This also suggests that following the introductory period, the Company is likely to raise prices. Without a rep to assist, converting back would be complicated and likely costly, creating a captive audience environment. I called my friend who by this point had signed up many of her family and friends and warned her to check the numbers on her earliest conversions. Sure enough, the promises she had been making to her closest circle were untrue. Prices were not lower, or about the same, but significantly higher.

She hadn’t yet made any money, and now she was faced with the task of calling all her customers, apologizing profusely for the losses they had suffered, and manually switching them all back – one customer at a time, one utility at a time. Drag, man.

The Company is basically honest to its reps – her friends and family were her easiest customers, they may or may not save money but they will switch as a favor to her, and if she can extend her network to additional customers and reps she would make money. What they didn’t tell her was, it is more likely that her peeps will not save money, she is unlikely to extend her market, that the Company makes money either way, and it is very unlikely that she will ever make her initiation fee back.

The Company is publicly aware of its reputation and train their reps to combat it. They have been accused of fraud and operating a pyramid scheme. At least two states have brought cases against them. The Company’s General Counsel states that “[The Company] is aware of the bad press that’s out there on the internet, and we pretty much ignore it.” So how does a company like this continue to exist and even thrive?

The answer – it turns out – is Donald Trump! The businessman who touted playing into people’s fantasies in his book “The Art of the Deal” has extolled the virtues of this Company for years. He has praised the innovation of their business model in YouTube videos and twice featured the Company on his show the Apprentice. According to the Wall Street Journal, this relationship has netted “the Donald” millions of dollars.

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“I know nothing about that Company”  Trump has recently said of ACN

When I researched the Company several years ago, Trump’s picture and quotes were all over the Company’s marketing material. Today however, with his Presidential campaign steamrolling across the country, all reference of him has been removed from the Company’s website and he claims – in typical fashion – “I do not know the company. I know nothing about the company.” Still, YouTube is peppered with videos that demonstrate what a lie this is.

Trump’s attraction to this company isn’t the business model that sells a great product that people want. It is much more likely that he appreciates using the seduction of fantasy to encourage naïve reps to sell a lucrative but worthless product at absolutely no cost to the Company.

Donald Trump may have looked slightly presidential after his win on Tuesday, but his involvement with this sham suggests that he has no moral compass when it comes to business. Companies that do not add value, or prey on their constituents, do not have a place in society even if they can scam some money out of a few people for a few years. People who endorse and profit from such companies are nothing short of greedy hucksters.

And one more thing, I am going to go out on a limb here but a man who in one day publicly makes two references to his penis, one including proximity to Mitt Romney’s face, does not deserve to be President.

Apple should stand its ground.

Following the San Bernadino shooting a few weeks ago, the FBI bungled the investigation of the shooter’s telephone and now wants the court to compel Apple to crack it open so that their investigation can continue. Apple is refusing as they should. This is an important over reach of the government that anyone with common sense should oppose.

First, don’t believe what the FBI is telling the press. They say it is only for this one phone and it is only five lines of code. Those two statements are contradictory. If it is only five lines of code that need to be written, then either that five lines of code can be reused or edited to work with every other phone. Even if all 5 lines had to be completely rewritten, it’s still just 5 lines! Of course it could be repeated if required and it would be required over and over.

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The new iPhone will have tactile buttons and come in new colors. Security may or may not be included.

Second, Apple has built a phone that offers security to a market that requires it. The government is asking Apple to make the phone do something contrary to this required feature. This is akin to the government subpoenaing Tesla to make straight gasoline powered cars or Boeing to make planes that don’t fly.

Third, it is a dangerous precedent. Once these 5 lines are written for this project, then there are going to be 5 for another project, 50 for the one after that, and more and larger projects to follow – at Apple’s expense. There is nothing to stop the subpoenas once the gate has been opened. Eventually Apple may need to create an entire department to do the FBI’s job for them. In fact, every tech firm may suffer the same expensive requirement.

This is not Apple’s problem and their involvement increases expenses, reduces the value of their brand, weakens important features, and increases the risk that a government – out of their control – will subpoena additional potentially crushing exercises in the future. Instead, the FBI, DOJ, and NSA need to learn how to do their own jobs. We’ve been hearing things about the awesome power of the Government’s computer black ops for years. Assuming that wasn’t a ruse, I am pretty sure they can solve this problem.

Now, you geeky guy over there with the glasses. Go back to your desk, do your job, and stop bothering Tim Cooke. He’s a busy man, and probably working on some new wearable piece of technology that no one wants. Leave him alone.