In the “Careful What You Ask For” category, consider the timeworn political strategy of Republicans and their radio and television affiliates scaring the pants off the public.

It’s no wonder the Republicans are pulling out all the stops. As a conservative columnist noted recently: “America is in greater economic shape than any other major nation on earth. Crime is down. Abortion rates are down. Fourteen million new jobs have been created in five years.”

Not to mention the vast reduction in the number of Americans now in harm’s way amidst the endless religious wars of the Middle East.

So what are the threats that are said to eclipse an otherwise sunny future?

It’s the fearsome threat of all those “criminal” Latin Americans crossing our southern borders and, of course, a world full of dependably “murderous” Muslims anxious to bring down our democracy—all made worse by a sitting President who “spinelessly” fails to send armies to the Middle East to teach Iran and ISIS a thing or two.

Well, it has to be acknowledged that the fear strategy is indeed working again. In fact, it seems to be working a bit too well.

The GOP is finding its presidential race dominated by two Presidential hopefuls whose threats and tirades against illegal immigrants and Muslims etc. etc. are attracting large numbers of the nervous and frightened.

But these candidates’ success is sending shivers down the spines of the Republican establishment, according to a recent Politico story.

“There are at least two candidates who could utterly destroy the Republican bench for a generation if they became the nominee” says Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff.

One of these two candidates, who inherited great wealth, trumpets (pun intended) a brilliant business career more notable for the number of bankruptcies than for smashing successes. Of him, a GOP stalwart who served in the last three Republican administrations says, “he has repeatedly revealed his ignorance of basic matters of national interest”, adding that “he would be the most unqualified president in American history”.

The other candidate is full of bombast, venom and ambition (but flexible, if need be). He may not be able to get along with anyone, much less his Republican Senate colleagues. But he’s the darling of a narrow band of the Republican rich and faithful who are so far to the right of the GOP conservative establishment that they gave up on Ronald Reagan who they deemed insufficiently ideologically pure.

With GOP leadership hoist on their own petard with this unhappy state of affairs, it will be interesting to see how they get out of this pickle. They’d like to somehow build consensus around a more mainstream candidate. Problem there is, other candidates are now beginning to follow the path of Trump and Cruz seeking similar success, Marco Rubio being a prime example.

Meanwhile, Politico reports, some down ballot Republicans across the country are already figuring out how to put distance between them and a Trump or Cruz Presidential candidacy.

I guess this is the sort of stuff that makes politics so endlessly interesting.

My Left Knee

November 14, 2015 — Leave a comment

My left knee has served me well for over 70 years and I appreciate its faithful service.

But in the interests of the rest of my body, we’re parting company. It’s not the knee, it’s me. I need to move on.

I know that I will no longer be able to claim for myself a quality deemed of great importance these days: “All Natural”.

I don’t care.

It’s my decision and if people don’t like it, fine.

It’s all about the pursuit of my personal aspirations: to be healthy, good-natured, energetic, not limping.

The GOP Debate

October 31, 2015 — Leave a comment

The Republican Presidential candidates are complaining about the types of questions they received at the last debate and are threatening to set their own debate rules. To help out, here are some questions they might be looking for:

QUESTION 1: What is your favorite color?

QUESTION 2: Who was your favorite teacher?

QUESTION 3: What is the name of your favorite pet?

QUESTION 4: Is there anything else you would like to say?

My most recent post on Tuesday May 5 detailed how, during the three days starting April 28, I talked to a dozen or so Comcast employees by phone and in person trying to get internet and telephone service into the condo we had just moved into. Ultimately these services became available only because I kept calling for three solid days until I found someone at Comcast with the skills to address the problem.

I then pointed out my victory dance at this point was premature because while it was giving me the runaround, Comcast had cancelled our 45-year old phone number and given us a new one so that if we called someone, Caller ID displayed a new and unfamiliar number and that we were calling from Hobbs.

As I said in my last post, Comcast staff had promised on both on Friday, May 1, and on Monday, May 4, that we would definitely be getting our phone number back in 48 hours of my phone calls to them. The 48 hours from the Monday promise ran out on Wednesday, May 6, with no results.

Nor did our phone number come back on Thursday.

So on Thursday afternoon I made yet another call to Comcast. Yes, they said, we see the work order in your records and so we will now connect your old number.

[So, you might ask, why was this order just sitting there until I called? Maybe these people need some To Do Lists?]

After another 30-40 minutes of back and forth, I was told the new phone number was now transferred and in two hours it be working just fine.

Of course, the number didn’t come back either that night or the next morning.

So I called Comcast again on Friday and they referred me to the “Activation Center” which I had found typically operates from the Philippines. It employs ESL operators who work from a very limited menu of possible solutions. I had already had a number of disappointing experiences with the Center.

But luckily my call did not go to the support desk in the Philippines but instead to someone with good English and technical skills. While it took about an hour, I am pleased to report that we did actually retrieve our original phone number on that day, May 8 and it continues to work for all three of the days since then.

Hey, it was only 11 days that people were being told our number had been cancelled. And maybe some of them were telephone solicitors.

So what does this experience tell us?

Without competitors to Comcast, there will just be more of the same in our future, except that the price will keep going up. Comcast is not likely to have good systems then and it still won’t be adequately training its support staff.

Perhaps our condo building will switch over to DIRECTV after Comcast’s contract runs out. But then who will provide high-speed internet service? Comcast will do it but will the price be reasonable and can we deal with the hassle?

Other alternatives?

CenturyLink’s internet service is quite slow, a reminder of the dial-up days.

Google is expanding its internet service to more communities across the country and is actually laying fiberoptic. Albuquerque with its economic woes is not likely near the top of their list.

Perhaps if AT&T does buy DIRECTV as it now proposes to do, maybe it will find a way to provide reasonably-priced robust internet service to its DIRECTV customers in New Mexico.

And maybe those said to be planning to provide low-cost internet service with low-orbit satellites will do so sooner, rather than later.

There is hope.

In any event, the cable and satellite model of delivering lots of channels we don’t use or want for a fat price is on the way out. More and more first-rate programming will move to the internet just as HBO is moving right now. But that does require that we have reasonably-priced high-speed internet access.

It is possible that with the unbundling of cable TV programming and the increased availability of good programming over the internet, maybe the incumbent cable and satellite providers will somehow conclude they are playing a losing game and feel the need to start serving their customers far better than is now the case.

Maybe.

[FYI, if you want, you can leave a voicemail complaint about Comcast by calling the City of Albuquerque’s Franchise Authority at 768-5340. But don’t expect a callback. I’m still waiting.]

In April, we moved out of our longtime residence to a condo at Park Plaza in downtown Albuquerque.

Because the remodeling of our unit wasn’t to be done until late in April, we moved temporarily to a vacant unit on another floor.

There our Comcast cable, telephone and internet worked flawlessly for a month.

TUESDAY (April 28). We moved into our own unit. The same Comcast equipment was installed. We had cable but no internet or telephone service.

I called Comcast but they couldn’t fix it over the phone so a technician was scheduled to come between 9 and 12 on Wednesday.

WEDNESDAY. I stayed home all morning but the technician never showed. I called Comcast and was told that the reason no one came was that no one had been scheduled to come. I asked how that could be but there was no answer for that.

I asked that another technician be sent but I was told that the computer system would not allow another technician to be sent for unknown reasons. I asked to speak to a supervisor and was told the supervisor was in a meeting but would call in 45 minutes.

Never got that callback. So I drove to the local Comcast office and after a 40 minute wait, was told that the previous occupant of our new unit had not used Comcast services. Therefore it was necessary that some “back office” actions be taken. Once that was done, I was told, then a technician could be scheduled to come to our condo.

But it would take 48 hours.

THURSDAY. Not having got a promised status callback, I was back on the phone with Comcast. By some miracle, I managed to reach a person with technical skills. This person got both the internet and phone working. Without a Comcast technician had coming to our condo.

FRIDAY. I was relaxed and relieved to have finally gotten the Comcast problem resolved.

Then I learned that those calling our phone number were being told it was no longer in service. Called Comcast and was told we had been assigned a new phone number, replacing the one we had enjoyed for the past 45 years.

I expressed my consternation and demanded our old phone number. This could be done, I was told.

But it would take 48 hours.

MONDAY. A promised callback when the problem was resolved never came. Those calling our old number were still being told our number was no longer in service.

I called Comcast again. The person who answered said he would try to restore our original phone number. I suggested that failure to do so would have grave consequences. Back on the line, the support person reported that happily our old number was still available and was being assigned back to us.

But it would take 48 hours.

TUESDAY. Tomorrow, May 6, the 48 hours will be up. Will we really get our phone number back? It’s Tuesday afternoon and it hasn’t happened yet.

Any bets?

It’s hard to see why it makes any sense to approve the new Navajo gambling compact, especially when you consider that all the other gaming tribes are able to have the same agreement and all of them will live on for another 22 years.

There is little doubt that there is a serious problem gambling problem in New Mexico. Yet the new compact continues the practice of asking the gaming tribes to do very little about the problem they are creating.

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 1.2% of New Mexicans (18,795) are problem gamblers. The private agency selected by the gaming tribes and racinos to provide treatment to problem gamblers reports that it treated 196 problem gamblers in 2014.

The gaming tribes provide little money for treatment. For example, the new Navajo compact will only require the Navajo casinos to provide around $200,000 of their $80 million net win to support treatment of problem gamblers.

Plus we have no information about the nature of these services or the results.

At the same time, the Navajo compact would extend the hours of casino operation, allow casinos to extend credit to gamblers, and also allow them to provide more than $2 million in food and lodging to selected gamblers each year.

We can expect this will only add to the numbers of problem gamblers without adequate treatment.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times a few weeks back, the writer said he was glad to be leaving Albuquerque because it was a “land of violence” where the rate of violent crime was twice the national average.

While the article provoked lots of discussion locally, the writer’s views of the city were not challenged by anyone at the City or State or in the local press. As one who frequently travels to large urban areas around the country, I found it hard to believe Albuquerque is extraordinarily dangerous. Could it be that I’m oblivious to the level of crime in the areas of the City I don’t frequent?

The FBI Crime Statistics for 2012 (the most recent full-year FBI numbers available) do indeed state that the rate of violent crime in Albuquerque is twice that of the country as a whole.

So Albuquerque is the most dangerous place in the country, right? Not exactly.

It turns out that of the 74 U.S. cities with more than 250,000 people, only 7 had violent crime rates lower than the national rate. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure that large urban areas would experience more violent crime than do smaller cities or rural areas. The FBI numbers confirm that.

In the FBI ranking of large cities, Albuquerque comes in not at number 1 in violent crime but at number 29.

Among the 28 large cities that have higher rates of violent crime than Albuquerque, some a great deal higher, are Houston, Tulsa, Kansas City, Nashville, Oklahoma City and Las Vegas, Nevada. The writer of the Times article said he thought Albuquerque felt more like the Mission District in San Francisco than Tucson where he’d previously lived. Yet the rate of violent crime in Tucson is just below Albuquerque’s, ranking only 5 places behind it.

In any event, the FBI and the American Society of Criminology both caution against ranking cities based on FBI crime data.

The FBI on its web site says its data should not be used for rankings because they lead to “simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.”

In November 2007, the executive board of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) approved a resolution opposing not only the use of the ratings to judge police departments, but also opposing any development of city crime rankings from FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

The ASC resolution opposed such rankings on the grounds that they “fail to account for the many conditions affecting crime rates” and “divert attention from the individual and community characteristics that elevate crime in all cities”, though it did not provide sources or further elaborate on these claims.

The ASC resolution also states the rankings “represent an irresponsible misuse of the data and do groundless harm to many communities” and “work against a key goal of our society, which is a better understanding of crime-related issues by both scientists and the public”.

Certainly the City can and should do better in many ways but some perspective is in order.