New Shoes in the Rain

Monday, March 26, 2018

The next step

It's Monday.  A good bit has happened since our last visit.....

Saturday brought us the March for our Lives in some 800 locations throughout the U.S. and around the world.  About 1,000 people marched here in Lexington, and, of course, the largest gathering was estimated to be 800,000 in Washington, D.C.  Ironic that both President Trump and members of Congress were not in town when this occurred.

I watched some of the coverage and many of the speeches, but was most taken by Emma Gonzalez and her speech.  If you're not familiar with her by name, Emma is the young woman who wears a buzz cut and has become one of the primary faces of the movement she and her classmates from Parkland began.  Emma's speech was deliberately punctuated by a period of silence to ensure that the entire length of her appearance was equal to the amount of time that the shooter roamed the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day.  To see that girl standing before hundreds of thousands of people absolutely silent, tears streaming down her face, was remarkable.

I honestly believe that several things are beginning to turn a corner in terms of our political system, and these kids and their tireless efforts are at the heart of it.  It seems to me that they are making the idea of voting and participating in the electoral process essential to young people, and if they can help add that many voices at the ballot box, things really can change.

In a slightly different part of the political universe, Stephanie Clifford appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" last night.  Better known as Stormy Daniels, Clifford gave her long-awaited interview to Anderson Cooper, who asked reasonable questions, and appeared altogether credible in describing her one-night stand with Donald Trump in 2006.  Some of the details were uncomfortable, to say the least, and it isn't difficult to see why she, of all people, would be someone that Trump and his team would want to remain silent.

But it's out there now, as is her attorney, as he's making the rounds on the morning shows today, touting even more evidence.  President Trump has been uncharacteristically silent on Twitter and elsewhere since this interview aired last night.

Kentucky lost in their game against Kansas State last Thursday night in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, as KSU played their style of game and Kentucky never found its rhythm.  No matter, Kansas State was no match for the nun-powered juggernaut that is Loyola Chicago.  I think Kentucky probably would have lost to what is clearly this year's "team of destiny," despite their records, pedigrees, etc.

I pretty much lose interest in the tournament after Kentucky exits, whenever that happens, each year, but I did catch the second half and overtime of the Kansas-Duke game late yesterday afternoon.  A game between two teams I dislike, but, let's be honest, I dislike Duke a whole lot more than Kansas.  And I was rewarded by seeing Kansas prevail, though not until overtime.  Seeing Duke get a couple of calls against them late in the game was quite a surprise as well, as this seemingly never happens.

The Cincinnati Reds concluded their spring training yesterday with a loss, but, as the experts say, a team's spring training record matters little in the overall picture.  Perhaps, but more importantly, the Reds already have a couple of roster dilemmas on their hands and more than one player injury that may prove to be longer in duration than they'd like.  Guess we'll see.  All MLB teams begin playing for keeps on Thursday.

Have a good Monday.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I'd like to hear it for myself

Good Tuesday morning.  Here we are, just a couple of days from the calendar indicating that it's springtime, and my home area is under a winter weather advisory!

I suppose this would explain why my wife, who loves being outside, is adamant about not planting anything until Mother's Day, which she considers the absolute first safe point to plant anything new.  She's been proven right more times than I can remember, too.

So there are a lot of names in the news right now, not all of them for the right or best reasons, but many of them are people from whom we need to hear things, recollections of things that have already happened, plans of what they plan to do next, and so forth.  I doubt this is anything close to a complete list with respect to the news of the day, either.

THE NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT SELECTION COMMITTEE:  These folks have really done something I didn't see coming--they've created an upset-filled free-for-all with this year's version of March Madness.  Kentucky, for example, was left for dead months ago by a number of "experts" in college basketball, yet, due to a late season hot streak and numerous losses by the other higher seeds in their bracket, they are the highest-seeded team that remains in the South region. And this weekend's regional semi-finals and finals are to be played in Atlanta, a fan-friendly distance from Lexington.  Wouldn't surprise me to see the Cats playing in the Final Four the following weekend.

STORMY DANIELS:  I know, this is the most tantalizing name among those in the news right now, but despite her history as an adult film actress, it appears that her conduct has been mostly appropriate.  Yes, she gave a magazine interview some years ago that wasn't printed until recently, and she's made the rounds on late night and other places but still not really said anything.  But her lawyer has, and has made it clear that CBS intends to air a new interview with her this coming Sunday.  If you're keeping up with this you know that President Trump's legal team is working frantically to prevent that from happening.  But I'd like to hear what this woman has to say, and not about her apparent relationship with Mr. Trump, but how things have gone for her since he decided to enter politics.

Her lawyer has certainly been making the rounds on her behalf, playing the Trump game of controlling the news cycle, but she's who I think we want to hear.

MARK ZUCKERBERG:  The founder of Facebook has only said a little since it became known that his online service accepted questionable advertisements from Russians attempting to influence the 2016 election (paid in Russian rubles, no less).  The service later acknowledged that there were fraudulent accounts set up that promoted events and ideas that sowed political discord among users in violation of Facebook user policies.  Zuckerberg spoke some months ago about the need to get to the bottom of this, but when Congress "invites" the tech companies to testify on issues like this, Facebook sends some vice-president and Zuckerberg doesn't appear.

He should.  If his company allowed the hijacking of 50 million user profiles by Cambridge Analytica, to be used to influence the 2016 election here and other campaigns in other countries, he, and not an underling, needs to speak to Congress and to his user base on specifically what went wrong and what he intends to do about it.  I'm not a Facebook user, but use other social media, so the prospect that this has happened or will happen on other portals is very real to me.

REX TILLERSON:  And, no, I don't mean the pretend Tillerson portrayed so humorously by actor John Goodman on last week's Saturday Night Live (although the clip I saw was pretty funny).  I think his time will come that he'll consent to an interview with a major media source and tell his story.  Or not, since we've now learned that President Trump has "senior staff" sign non-disclosure agreements before they begin their employment.

But let's say that Tillerson does speak out.  Do you think he'll be up front about what he faced as Secretary of State?  How he was selected?  What he was required to do versus what he identified as potential priorities?  Did he receive any specific instructions related to specific foreign countries?  I'd like to hear it from him.

And finally....

ROBERT MUELLER:  The former FBI director-turned-special-counsel has been working with his team of investigators and prosecutors since late spring last year and thus far has identified a number of cooperating witnesses, brought several significant indictments and has interviewed countless others who were aware of or involved with some of what's being investigated regarding potential cooperation by the 2016 Trump campaign with the Russian government, obstruction of justice and numerous other sensitive areas of interest.

Why do I want to hear from him?  Because thus far, we've only gotten information from the indictments his team has brought, and many solid investigative pieces in the media.  If he's able to speak publicly, that would mean that he's concluded his examination of these issues.  I doubt we're anywhere close to that point, but hearing from him in writing or in person in some capacity would be extremely revealing.

So that's just a partial list.  There are more, and that list will undoubtedly change over time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Not here yet

Good morning to you, from foggy central Kentucky.  We had a quick reminder that spring has not yet arrived here Sunday night, as we awoke to around five inches of snow here in our home area.

Before leaving for some work in the field, I shoveled our driveway, weighing out whether or not I should.  A friend confided upon hearing my dilemma that I should have opted for what meant less work, but I persisted.  Turns out I could have left it exactly as it was and it would have melted, as the driveways of our neighbors were untouched.

Oh, well, I needed the exercise.

This is always an unpredictable time of year in our area.  I have probably mentioned before our plans to take the family to Florida on spring break, which one year was the first week of April.  We woke up to find that we had received four inches of snow, totally unpredicted.  That made for an interesting trip south.

I have to say that I'm more than a little pleased with myself in that I recently fertilized my yard, and that generally needs to be accompanied by some rain (or snow).  So my timing was just right this year.

For once.

Now, on to other things.....

Kentucky's men's basketball team certainly didn't get much of a draw in the NCAA tournament that starts tonight.  They were positioned as a 5 seed and will play their first (and second, if they win in round one) game in Boise, Idaho.  Not exactly around the corner from the heart of the Big Blue Nation, but a nice place to visit.

Coach John Calipari, never one at a loss for a comment or opinion, has always felt that his Kentucky teams fail to get adequate consideration by the tournament selection committee; even as a higher seed they still often have a more difficult path to the Final Four than other comparable teams.  I suppose an argument could be made either way.

Did you see the headline that the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee, or at least the Republicans on that committee, announced the conclusion of their investigation of potential Russian interference and collusion in the 2016 Presidential election?  They made the announcement late yesterday, over the objections of the committee's Democratic members.  Nothing to see here, move along, please.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is continuing its corresponding investigation, as is Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the latter, in particular, continues to identify additional possible issues and corroborating witnesses.  So whether or not there was or wasn't Russian interference or collusion is still debatable, depending on who receives the question and their specific motivations.

I also was amused to see that adult film actress Stormy Daniels, still wishing to tell her story about an affair with the President prior to his election, has offered to return the "hush money" she received just before the 2016 election in order to be released from her obligation to remain silent.  I don't think that's how non-disclosure agreements work, but I admire her for keeping the story alive all the same.

Movie review update:  we just purchased "Darkest Hour" over the weekend, which was a predictable move on my part, having been a major fan of Winston Churchill over the years.  As you may know, Gary Oldman won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Churchill, and he was mesmerizing and I highly recommend it.  Apparently he put about a year of effort into mastering the mannerisms of his role.  After a career of playing mostly villains and offbeat characters and then stepping into more positive roles in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" Batman trilogy, the Harry Potter series and other projects, it's nice to see a skilled actor receive his due.

Wish me luck driving in the fog later this morning.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What progress looks like

Friends, things are happening in a few places....

Congratulations first to the teachers in our neighboring state of West Virginia.  This state has long been known as one of the lowest spenders on education of its children (48th in the Union at last report) and their teachers finally reached a breaking point, striking for nine days until finally the state legislature voted to give all teachers (and many state workers) a 5% pay increase.

The only catch is that a member of the legislature acknowledged that the money will come from general cuts in Medicaid and other services.  So they're robbing Peter to pay Paul, it seems.

Regardless, the teachers uniformly stated that they knew when they became teachers that they'd chosen the wrong profession in which to become wealthy, but this was about creating stability for students, so that teachers could afford to stay in their positions.  That's a noble thought.  I sincerely hope it works out.

That would likely never happen here in Kentucky, where there is widespread panic over the state of the retirement system our teachers have relied on for a long time.  The latest developments center on benefits that retired teachers receive, including health insurance and cost-of-living increases.  And things will be different for new teachers, as they'll be put into a cash-balance retirement plan that is less lucrative than a traditional pension, but supposedly safer than a 401K plan like most non-government employees have.

Kentucky's teachers have reportedly been watching the goings-on in West Virginia and may be considering a strike over pay and retirement benefits.  Stay tuned on that.

Florida's legislature appears to be close to passage of a gun control bill, largely on the strength of the movement of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  The bill adds a three-day waiting period on the purchase of the gun, and those purchasing firearms would have to be 21 years of age before being allowed such a purchase.  And there are aspects that address arming certain school employees, but not teachers.  And it does not ban semi-automatic assault-style weapons.

But it's a start.

Contrast that with the United States Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that late last week that his body would not be taking up debate of any gun control legislation or any action toward the resolution of DACA, the controversial program concerning those young people and children brought to this country by emigrating parents.  The Senate, instead, is debating a banking bill that will ease some regulations put into place during the 2008 financial crisis.

McConnell is from my home state of Kentucky, of course.

I won't make an attempt to detail what the Russia probe, led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, has shifted focus toward in recent days, but suffice it to say that the number and speed of subpoenas for information and grand jury appearances probably indicates that his group is also progressing in carrying out its work.

About the only progress we're seeing from the White House is that they continue to jettison high-ranking officials with dizzying speed.  Late yesterday senior economic advisor Gary Cohn announced his resignation, in part because he could not persuade President Trump not to move forward with tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that could spark a trade war with certain trading partners.

Last but not least, I'll just mention that our weather seems to be in a pattern of confusion right now....our weather was sunny in the high 50's yesterday afternoon.  It snowed overnight.

Oh, well.