El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Current Events (page 1 of 8)

So What Laws did the College Admissions Scandal Folks Break?

We’ve all been following the story of the college admissions bribery scheme. The reporters have continued to call it bribery and fraud without actually saying what laws were broken. It drives me nuts, because by themselves bribery and fraud or lying (except in specific contexts) are generally civil matters or not against the law at all. I can pass a waiter $20 to get a better table. Is that bribery? Yes, yes it is. Is it a crime? No.

There are other situations where bribery or lying are decidedly not crimes. Are they unethical? Sure, but criminal they are not. In many cases, things will get you fired. You violated a policy. You accepted a bribe for special treatment for a client. You get fired. The company may sue you for damages, but generally law enforcement doesn’t get involved.

So, I ask, what was the crime that Huffman and the rest committed? If people can donate directly to the school in a quid pro quo fashion to gain admittance for their children, how were these modest sums resulting in substantial federal charges for basically the same behavior?

Why are they throwing the book at these people?

Felicity Huffman, “pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying $15,000 to have a proctor correct her eldest daughter’s SAT answers in 2017.

Because they used the mail.

If they had conducted these transactions in person only, they probably would have been okay, but because they mailed things and conducted the unethical behavior using the USPS, it’s now a Federal crime.

It really doesn’t seem fair to me honestly. Were they stupid? Yes. Are they terrible people? Yes. But these laws were meant to stop perpetrators of schemes to defraud retired Americans, stop multi-level marketing schemes, Nigerian prince, and other wholesale theft schemes. In my mind it’s a pretty big stretch to say these individuals deprived others of services. It’s an embarrassing episode, they should suffer repercussions, but I find the spectacle unnecessary and a waste of Federal resources.

9/11 Never Forget

It’s everywhere – all day long, “Never Forget.” I must admit it rubs me the wrong way and raises a question.

What are we never supposed to forget? Our anger? Who did it? The buildings? The lives lost? The endless war that followed? The thousands killed on that day and the millions more killed in the subsequent years? Is it a moment fixed in time that we are not supposed to forget, or is it the slow drag through time and in perpetuity of that thing called endless war?

Of all those things, I suppose the lives lost and the heroes rushing toward the disaster is the best “never forget” subject. I will remember the innocent people killed in a senseless attack, but we don’t really have to be so forceful with the “never forget” business. It sounds vengeful to me, which is why I suspect there’s an implicit “never forgive” there too.

If we need to heal and remembering is part of that healing, then I’m all for it, but I can’t help but think we are using the phrase to steel our resolve and appetite for endless war.

What I remember, and probably will never forget is how I felt in the days and weeks following the attack. Besides having my Reserve Army unit activated, I knew that we were going down the wrong path, that the US had thrown itself, foaming at the mouth, into a frenzy of bombs and troops and more young lives lost.

For what?

So we wouldn’t forget, stupid!

The Way Things Fail

Back in engineering school, we were taught all sorts of things, materials, statics, dynamics, math, factors of safety, design, even a little bit of public policy. We were taught to look for causes of failure, whether human (design, operation), fatigue, or even an act of nature. We walked through case studies of engineering disasters like detectives.

The takeaway: you can’t engineer away failure, and the cause of failure is rarely one thing.

In these case studies, there were usually small errors compounded by something unforeseen. Perhaps there was a bureaucratic process, a cost cutting measure, an edge case condition, and bam! you have achieved critical failure. How did it happen? Well, the pilot feel asleep. No that’s not it. The pilot fell asleep and there was a freak storm with tropical moisture at high altitude. No that’s not it, try again. The pilot fell asleep, there was a freak storm with high tropical moisture, which caused the air speed sensor to ice over and the junior pilot wasn’t able to deduce the problem with sufficient time to avert the tragedy of Air France Flight 447. We’ve got design flaws. We’ve got training flaws. We’ve got procedure flaws. We’ve got acts of God, all mixed up in a delicious failure soup.

The consistent commonality in these case studies was the fact that things go wrong. They will go wrong, and you should expect them to go wrong. See Murphy’s Law. Armed with this new knowledge, engineers must now ask themselves how they want fail. The engineer of the product or solution, must consider the modes of failure, how a thing may fail. It seems strange to plan for failure, doesn’t it? But you must, because you need to be able to control whether it will it fail gracefully or blow up in your face?

Take the design of cars, for example. In the mid 20th century, cars were built as steel behemoths. No seat belts. Limited crumple zones. No air bags. We built cars, and we expected them to be rigid and sturdy. Engineers, unfortunately, underrepresented the driver and passenger systems, and the systems of other cars and drivers in their designs. What happens to a car when comes into contact with another? Engineers should have taken a holistic approach to the automobile, considering it as part of a complex and unpredictable system. They should have considered that cars were going to crash and crash badly. Just because a car’s intended mode of operation is not impacting other cars, doesn’t mean you don’t design for it.

The result in 1972 was almost 55,000 traffic fatalities; 55,000 people dead because cars were under engineered for failure modes.

Fast forward to mass shootings in these recent years. “It’s mental illness!” “It’s family values!” “It’s right-wing extreme ideologies!” “It’s video games! It’s toxic masculinity!”

Many of the mass shootings touch on these characteristics, and it would be easy to blame one thing. Maybe all of them and things we hadn’t considered are to blame for the desperate and aberrant outcomes we have witnessed recently. You are not wrong, but you’re hand waving. Remember our friend Murphy? “But but, cars aren’t supposed to crash! The driver was drunk. The driver was inattentive, going too fast. The road was poorly designed. The car was unsafe.” All of those things may be true, and yet still you’re addressing the accident as preventable instead of probable. American drivers experience on average one accident per every 165,000 miles driven. It’s probable that a driver will experience one or more accidents in their lifetimes. We can work to mitigate risk factors, but like an ashtray in an airplane lavatory, we have to assume some people are going to do the wrong thing.

But back to mass shooters – Maybe we have areas of sickness in our society. Certain facets of personal liberty and individualism create easy targets of isolated individuals looking to belong to something.

Whatever it is, I ask the following question: If you can’t stop car accidents from happening, shouldn’t you still look to control how they happen?

If mental illness, distressed individuals, violent video games, social isolation, and childhood abuse can lead to desperate acts, don’t you want to control how they happen?

We know weapons are not the cause of these terrible tragedies, but they do increase the severity of the failure. When things go wrong, there are no crumple zones. There is no air bag. There is no seat belt. There is only an AR-15 style weapon with a extended magazine.

El Paso Shooting

From his manifesto:

“Even if other non-immigrant targets would have a greater impact, I can’t bring myself to kill my fellow Americans.” The manifesto writer said he supported the Christchurch shooting citing the “Great Replacement” anti-immigration theory postured there. The writer says that his hatred of immigrants predates Trump so “don’t blame” the president.

Would this guy really have had to disavow Trump’s influence if their values didn’t coincide?

Hey guys, I thought of violence against immigrants first, so don’t give credit to Trump [even though we’re pretty much in lockstep with what we’d like to achieve, an America devoid of brown people].

Absolves Trump? I think it indicts him as morally complicit.

One of these things is not like the others

Trump Tweet: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”

Later in a round table discussion on the economy, Trump called Notre Dame “one of the great treasures of the world,” and said it “looks like it’s burning to the ground.”

Less than a month ago, 3 historically black churches in Louisiana were torched by a white nationalist terrorist, the 21 year old son of a local sheriff.

*crickets*

Trump initially expressed sorrow and solidarity for the victims of the massacre at a mosque in New Zealand. Recounting a conversation she held with him, New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern said, “He asked what support the U.S. could provide. My message was sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.”

*crickets*

Stop Treating Politicians Like Celebrities

Biden calls Pence a “decent guy.” The internet implodes. He’s not a decent guy, it says, he’s anti-LGBT, he’s a misogynist, he supports Trump’s agenda. BAN HIM! CENSURE HIM! And the pitch forks come out.

As it’s not an election year, you can’t really do any of those things. Pence is wrong, to be sure, but we the people as represented in the legislature are obligated to work with him and the current administration. We cannot simply disappear him ala R. Kelly or Kevin Spacey or any other celebrity who says or does the wrong thing. Haven’t you learned that by now?

We need to stop treating politicians like celebrities, because it leads us to dysfunction. They are elected representatives with millions of constituents, put there lawfully by a majority of the electorate (* well in most cases, but bear with me here for the sake of argument). We cannot just turn our backs on them, tune them out, or stop working with them, because barring some sort of impeachable offense (and most of the time even that’s not enough), we are stuck for better or for worse.

To call them decent, or to speak positively about them in the places where our values may coincide leads us to find consensus, to productivity, and to progress. Turning our backs, holding our breath until our faces turn blue, and stomping our feet like petulant children is not how a representative democracy works. Well, maybe it does, what do I know.

The old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” holds true here, I think. And rather than as a nicety, concocted in the time of the Ward and June Cleaver status quo, it is a rather useful tool for not engaging in pointless battles. I think the old guard in Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden get this, but perhaps some of the newcomers may not. They were raised on the quickening pace of the rise and fall of celebrities and the power of the twitter take down. Politicians are not celebrities and I think they will learn soon enough that twitter rage isn’t enough to get what you want.

Somebody said it better, I think. “Uuuhhh, don’t boo. Vote!”

Walls Don’t Actually Work

Walls don’t actually work was the first lesson in my Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) class at my university many many years ago. I don’t remember why it was the first lesson, perhaps it was an easy to explain concept, disabusing us of poorly conceived defensive strategies, or trying to set a paradigm for future problem solving based not on defensive but rather offensive strategies. Gen. Patton’s pithy “Go forward” expresses the foundation of US Military strategy and tactics. In any case, our instructor launched into a brief and simplified explanation of why the Maginot Line was not an effective war strategy despite its costly and well engineered construction.

Simply put, undefended or underdefended obstacles aren’t effective. Walls aren’t substitutes for boots on the ground. The Marginot Line was insufficiently defended and provided a false sense of security. Although part of its purpose was to redirect any attacking forces, the mindset that a passive barrier could be effective undermined the goals and objectives of actually defeating the enemy. In short, a wall or obstacle whether of concrete, steel, mines, barbed wire, or whatever without an effective operational plan isn’t going to solve your problem.

You can slow down or redirect the advance of your opposition with obstacles, but you ain’t gonna stop them.

This was the point that was hammered home over and over again throughout my military education. You have to have a plan to win, and you must advance. Use obstacles to redirect your opposition and as part of your overall offensive plan, but don’t think they by themselves will stop the enemy or win you the day.

If you believe that a wall built along 2000 miles of undefended border with Mexico is sufficient to stop immigrants from crossing, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell  you. I’ll take it further; if you think it makes economic sense to first build a wall then place the military or Homeland Security along the entire border to stop a few thousand people who want to come work, something in the basic educational process has failed.

That’s why nobody wants the wall. As it’s being sold, it’s an expensive proposition that will do nothing. Exactly nothing. It would be nothing more than miles and miles of undefended ineffective wall no matter how big, no matter how tall, no matter how thick. If it were to be properly implemented with appropriate levels of vigilance, it’s now an even more expensive solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist in the first place.

If Capt. Bone Spurs had spent any time in the military perhaps he would have learned this.

More Unsolicited Advice for our Dear Leader

Yes, of course border crossings should be controlled and documented. I don’t think anyone is really saying that borders should just be open. I know the radical right likes to paint the left as “for open borders,” but that’s not really the case, and you know it.

What do you do when a mass of people arrive at the border and may perhaps just overrun agents tasked with processing and documenting their entries? What happens when people won’t respect the queue? It can happen, I know, but what do you do? Do you use force? I’d say that if you use force, you’ve already lost.

For starters, you begin by setting the conditions for orderly behavior. You see, once a crisis has arrived at your doorstep, if you have not established a plan, you’re going to fail. By whipping up the rhetoric, dehumanizing, demonizing, and terrorizing these migrants for weeks preceding their arrival, you’ve established the conditions conducive to chaos and fear.

What did you expect to happen?

I fully admit, perhaps this tough and horrifying scene, tear gas, desperate people trying to breach walls, etc, may have played directly into the strategy of our dear leader to further his aims with his base. Again, I know I am probably naive.

What should have been done, though? What would you do if you knew this large group of people was coming en masse, and you probably didn’t have the facilities to process them in a timely or orderly manner? Here is my three step plan:

First, you need to work with the Mexican government to coordinate healthcare, food, and housing for them on the Mexican side while they await processing. Receive them with compassion. Treat them as humanely as possible. These are human beings. I know it’s easy to forget, so I’m reminding you, dear leader.

Second, the US needed to have put out the word, through NGOs in contact with the migrants that their asylum petitions WILL be processed. Tamp down the rhetoric. Calm their fears. When they get to the border, they will be accommodated in their immediate needs (it would certainly be a LOT cheaper than deploying troops to the border, d’uh).

Third, augment capacity to process them fairly on the US side of the border. It’d still be cheaper than troops. Just make sure you ramp up the numbers of bureaucrats, judges, and lawyers taking petitions. Expedite the process. Keep it fair. If the Trump administration’s inclination is to deny deny deny, so be it. But keep it fair. Do not separate parents from children. Do not unnecessarily inflict cruelty upon them. If you’re going to deny their application, have a sound and fair reason for doing so.

So you admit a few asylum seekers, and leave the bulk on the Mexican side of the border. Now what?

The next step would be to provide assistance to the Mexican government for temporary placement. I’m not saying that you have to do it all, but work with the Mexican government to resolve the matter of these people without homes. Jobs programs? Education? Healthcare? Good neighbors care about what happens to each other. Good neighbors have productive dialog. If you really do not want Mexicans or other Latin American folks coming to the US, work harder to foment stable conditions in their home countries instead of CIA backed right wing coups.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

“Oh, I don’t know about today’s youth, they just don’t have values,” an elderly woman confided to me. “The world just isn’t what it used to be.”

She was scared. She sounded worried, not angry, not judgemental, not self-righteous. She was in her late 80s, and clearly worried about what was to become of the world she helped construct. Even so, I couldn’t let the comment pass unchallenged. I never do.

“I don’t agree. By any objective measure, crime is down, teen pregnancy is down, divorce is down. There are fewer wars. Less starvation. Higher standards of living, not just here, but around the world. I think this generation is more accepting of difference. And just look at how active the youth were when Hurricane Maria hit us. They didn’t turn inward. They looked to help. Such energy, they have. I know for a fact that they are better than the generation that preceded them.

“You really think so?” She said, clasping her hands together. “Oh, that’s good to hear.”

I could have indulged her fears. I could have been quiet. I could have started complaining, mirroring her preoccupations and fear mongering, but how easy it was to change the entire dynamic with an profession of faith in the future, that we’re going to be okay, that things aren’t as dire as they seem.

How the future appears to be is a byproduct of how we talk about it.

So blessed are the peacemakers, who respond to our better selves, and help to foment the conditions where anxious people don’t become more fearful and lose themselves to despair.

There Are Two Kinds of People in This World

I was watching Fox News today, well, not really Fox News News, just the talking heads that seem to love being hysterical. There are certainly a lot of them, I am finding. It is surprising what passes for critical thinking on that network.

For example, I was surprised to learn that hoards of Honduran and Guatemalan people were streaming into our country in “caravans” of chaos and lawlessness. The gist of the breathless and hysterical “reporting” was grab yo’ money, grab yo’ wife – they coming for your way of life!!! All of it was unsubstantiated by the way. The “report” showed some footage of hundreds of brown people traveling along a road, some walking, some riding in trucks. We don’t know when this was. We don’t know who they are. All brown people look alike, don’t they? We don’t know how many there are. No facts were cited. No credible reports by any organization. Nothing. The talking heads slid easily into “people say” and “reports indicate that” and then hissed the conclusion, “there are thousands of these people streaming into our country every day, and they have been coached by socialist leftest organizations to claim oppression and danger in order to gain entrance.” And as Dave Barry used to say, “And I am not making this up” the talking heads speculated as fact that these migrants are kidnapping or borrowing children to facilitate their entry in the United States. Seriously? Truly you have a dizzying intellect!

Do people really buy this shit? Do people really believe these ignorant, uneducated, careless talking heads?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that there really are hundreds of poor people (now they are saying thousands… THOUSANDS of ILLEGALS ) from Guatemala and Honduras trying to seek asylum in the US, and that they have been told that if they have suffered persecution, that they should say they fear for their safety. I’ll give your factless reporting the benefit of the doubt. I’m naive, I know, but bear with me.

When you see these people, mothers, fathers, teenagers, children, grandmothers, grandfathers…

Do you see them as mouths to feed?

Or do you seem them as hands to help?

Because that’s really what it boils down to, doesn’t it?

Do you see people as takers or makers?

Your answer really says more about you.

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