Your Rights Are Not What You Think

“Aden described the scene in a Facebook post Saturday, adding that the officer who told him that he wasn’t being detained has an “ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution that should disqualify him as a customs officer.” (WTOP)

Regrettably for Mr. Aden, as well as everyone else that considers themselves a citizen of the United States, whether natural born or legally converted, the law is not that clear and the rights granted under the Constitution do not actually apply as you have been deluded into believing (and if you think a Founding Father or two just rolled over, join the crowd). The article What Customs and Border Officials Can and Can’t Do highlights this in chilling detail.

As more and more of us are learning, especially with the more tyrannical leadership under Number 45, the Constitutional provisions off you no protections within 100 miles of the United States Border. Let me say that again. According to the law, any member of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CPB) has the legal right to stop you, perform an unsanctioned search and seizure, and detain you without a warrant. If your jaw just hit the floor, join the club. If you are confused, think about this. The Border of the United States is not just with Canada and Mexico. There is an invisible border twelve miles off the coast of the United States. Take a ruler. Draw a line from that 12-mile limit one hundred miles into the interior of the United States. Draw it one hundred miles from the US/Canadian border and 100 miles from the Mexican border. Tell me how many cities are inside that border? Tell me how much of the population fo the United States lives inside that line. Upset yet? You should be. Inside that zone, many of the provisions of the Constitution can be suspended without cause and there is nothing you can do about it. And it is only going to get worse, not better.

The person in the street shrugs, security comes first [B. Cockburn]. If that is your attitude, either you never plan to travel anywhere, or you do not understand how damaging this is to our foreign relationships. But as this sort of nonsense continues, it is likely that the United States will see a departure of its citizens. Those citizens that have the option to go somewhere else. The brain drain started when the IRS cracked down, in many cases irrationally, on funds overseas. This resulted in serious backlash in financial markets that is already causing issues with US funds abroad. This type of harassment of citizens and foreigners alike will have negative impacts. Travel, tourism, and good will are important in international relations. When the country’s citizens are treated as criminals, the only one left will be criminals.

An Open Letter To Starbucks

Starbucks, it is time to rethink our relationship. It has been a good run. Almost twenty years of providing me a morning jolt, a quiet place to sit and prepare for the day, a quick breakfast on the way to any number of events. But I think we have come to the end of the run. Now do not get the wrong idea. The quality of the prepared food is still acceptable, and the coffee is still what gets me going in the morning most days. And least you think I am upset about the new rewards program, I am not. In fact, it suits me better than the old one. On any weekend I am expending $40 a day and only getting one star for that, the same as for buying a bottle of water. But I was not in the reward program for the stars. Heck, I probably have let more than a dozen free drinks fly by.

No, I am afraid the problem is service. Pure and simple. Starbucks used to be the gold standard for customer service. But lately, something has come off the rails. And not just a little. Allow me to illustrate.

I have two Starbucks within a mile of my house, pretty much on the same street. I pick one over the other by proximity. What we call in the business, the intervening opportunity. I visit the store that is closest to what I am doing at the time. Today, when I pulled up, there were fifteen cars in the drive-through. When I walked into the store, there were at least ten waiting to place their orders. This being a Saturday, you can expect that most people are ordering more than one item. I did not even pause, but turned on my heel and left. With only three people behind the counter, I did not have much confidence that I could get in and out quickly, and I had a bit of a time crunch.

Instead, I went to the other shop. Again, busy, but not as busy and the people ahead of me were only ordering one item. I placed my order and waited. This is where we come to the second problem in service, quality control. My daughter likes frappuccinos, but is not a fan of whipped cream. Go figure. So I always order hers without. Starbucks, if you could make one rapid improvement, it would be in the literacy of your baristas. In the dozen odd years I have been ordering her frappuccinos, without whipped cream, your baristas have got it wrong 50% of the time. And in 90% of those cases, it has been marked correctly on the cup!

I am not going to expect perfection. The baristas are human. Stuff happens. I expect that an order will be wrong on occasion. The problem is that the definition of occasion is not weekly. Worse, if this was something that happened in only one store, I would have a quiet word with the manager and that would be that. But it is not just one store. And it is not the only error, which have run the gamut from missing coffee in coffee drinks, missing syrups and sometimes straight up the wrong drink. I could go on. Since most of my drinks are coffee drinks, I am usually far away from the store before I notice something wrong at which point it is more of a hassle to go back.

Which brings me to the last issue. I would have words with the manager, but I cannot easily tell who the manager is. I am the first one to say that leadership and age are not synonymous, but sometimes the oldest person in the store is the worst offender and the youngest is the manager. Maybe if you make them stand out like the coffee masters, it would be easier to bring these issues to their attention.

Are these insurmountable issues? No. Are they resolvable? Yes, and in many cases, very easily. If it was just one store, I would chalk it up to that store and find another, but it is apparent that it is systemic. And because of this, I am considering my alternatives. Including making it myself.

Congress is Upset?

This morning, the Washington Post reported:

Some lawmakers, including top Democrats, express frustration that the U.N. Security Council gets the chance to vote on the deal this week, signaling the international community’s intention to dismantle the sanctions against Iran before Congress votes on it.NYTimes

I read this once, then I read it again. Then I forced myself to read it yet a third time. At some point, I thought the author was kidding. But no, if you read the New York Times article, you begin to understand something very important. That is that the United Nations Security Council, part of a a huge, multi-national organization is more responsive and flexible the the United States Congress.

The document in question is the Iran Nuclear Deal. About 180 pages in length. The United Nations Security Council members, apparently, has had sufficient time to read the deal and decided it knows enough to schedule a vote. The United States Congress, on the other hand, is getting ready to leave Washington for their summer recess, and therefore, will take the next sixty days to review the agreement, and then ponder whether it will vote. As a voting constituent, I ask two questions:

  • If this is such an important agreement, shouldn’t Congress delay their vacation to deal with the work in front of them?
  • If this is not so important, then why are they upset that the United Nations Security Council is voting before them?

Me thinks Congress doth protest too much. Either that, or they really are less interested in their doing their job, than they are keeping their job.

Enough With The False Anger Over Stores Opening On Thanksgiving

There is a current upset over stores opening on Thanksgiving here in the United States. Being born in Canada, I don’t care either way – Thanksgiving is not a sacred cow. But what I find amazing is the same people that are ranting about the stores being open on Thanksgiving seem to not care that these same stores maintain almost normal hours on Memorial Day, Labor Day, even Independence Day.  Nary a whimper about this.

In an article in the BBC, an article about “Life in a no-vacation nation,” it documents the, well shock, of an American now working in Australia where vacations are essentially mandatory. I have been making it my personal project to get the federal holidays repealed.  Why? Because no one, outside the federal government and a few select individuals get them. So why have a calendar full of them if you are going to have to work them anyway. I used to refer to the little four and the big five.  The big five were those sacred holidays – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  The little four were New Years, Columbus, President, and Veterans Day. In most real, non-retail companies, the little four were either forgotten entirely, or were shuffled around to make things easier, like the Friday after Thanksgiving, or the week between Christmas and New Year.

Lately though (since the turn of the 2000), even the big five seem to be pretty much ignored, especially if you work for a global company. The holidays are dates on the calendar and mean about as much as Saturday or Sunday do, or essentially, they are just days of the week that may or may not require you to be working. So why do we bother pretending that these days are “holidays.”

If we were serious, we would close everything on these days, much like what happens on Easter Sunday. Wait, what? Yes, until recently, Easter Sunday was the only day of the year when everything from retail to restaurants was closed. I mean signs on the door, we will not be open closed. And this was as recently as the middle of this century. Now things have changed and it is considerably less stringent than it used to be, but it does beg the question – if we can be closed for a non-holiday, why can we not close for such important days as the birth of the nation or Thanksgiving? Such false complaining really makes the rest of the world laugh at us more than they otherwise do. And by the way, why is the Friday also not a holiday?  Oh, that’s right, because we are all too busy shopping….

The TSA is behind the curve

This will come as no surprise:

The Homeland Security Department is banning all liquids from carry-on luggage for nonstop flights from the U.S. to Russia. The ban comes after the department warned airlines that terrorists might try to smuggle explosives on board hidden in toothpaste tubes. The warning said terrorist might try to assemble explosive device in flight or upon arrival at the Olympics. (www.wtop.com)

There is very little that I hear coming out of the Department of Homeland (In)security anymore that leaves me dumbstruck, but this was one of them.  The first thing that went through my mind was who is running the Game Theory office at the TSA/DHI, and have they ever seen a James Bond movie? Plastic explosives in a toothpaste tube is de rigueur in spy craft. Open any kids book on espionage and there it is.  So for the TSA to now, thirteen odd years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, ban liquids again is pretty stunning.

And then I am taken back to the Confessions of a TSA agent that appeared only a couple of weeks ago in Politico. The United States Government (in other words, you and me) are spending $150,000 per machine for full-body scanners, that do not work, and even if they did, there is a high likelihood that no one is watching the monitor anyway. And as been discussed numerous times, the x-ray machines, both above and below the security screening area cannot tell the difference between peanut butter and C-4, or chocolate powder and explosives.

So why, exactly is the TSA banning liquids on flights to Russia?  Because if no one complains about them banning liquids in this test scenario, they will be able to ban them in general, except for those of you silly enough to shell out $80 (or more) for their Pre-Check program, where the agency will, with your permission to boot, know more about you than anyone else.  All because they cannot procure, use, or understand the equipment that we are already paying too much for.

 

 

It is only November 1

I have a bone to pick with Starbucks. No, it is not about their product, but about their need to “rush” the season.  Today is November 1, not December 1, yet today the “Christmas cups” have debuted to replace their normal white cups for the “Holiday” season.

Companies that push the Christmas season earlier and earlier bother me. There is no reason why we should be decking the halls before the first of December.  Christmas and its consumption based marketing machine is already long enough at 25 days. We do not need companies pushing it before Hallowe’en – as KMart and Walmart have already done with this year’s season. Do we just leave the tree up all year long?!

If you want me to think good of your company, you will not get into the “holiday” mood until December 1.  I am willing to overlook those that feel that the first Friday after Thanksgiving is the start of the season, but only a bit.  And if you want me to actually buy from your company, you will not be celebrating in my face on the day after Hallowe’en.

Congress Has One Job

onejobThe Congress of the United States, the House of Representatives in particular, has one job, spelled out in the Constitution.

In Section 7 of the Constitution:

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

And Section 8:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

So, it is the House of Representatives sole job to allocate the resources that allows the government to function.  This is everything from keeping the lights turned on to keeping the web sites operational and more importantly, serving the American people. And they have failed.

The Affordable Care Act, which the Tea Party is holding the country over a barrel for, is a flawed law. It has issues, bugs, and serious problems. And frankly, I do not think it will do what it was designed to do.  It is not Universal Health Care as it is known in Canada or the EU.  It is not a panacea. But at the moment, it is the law, and the Tea Party does not have the votes to repeal it.  You would think that after more than 40 attempts at repealing the law they would get the message, but clearly they have not. And the Republican leadership is certainly not doing their job, which is leading. Instead they have caved and are following the lemmings over the cliff and taking the rest of the nation with them.

Congress has one job.  And it cannot even manage to do that effectively.  Again.

California “bans” Mapping Apps

A recent ruling in California bans drivers from using mapping apps like Google Maps, after a man was caught while checking his smartphone for directions. (Autoevolution)

Raise your hand if you still have a paper map book in your car? Raise your hand if you have a third party GPS in your car (a Garmin or some on board system). Raise your hand if you update either of them more than once a year? Raise your hand if you live in an urban area?

Chances are you answered yes to the last one but no to the others. Which means that the way you navigate is by some form of on-line, cell based mapping application. One of the questions I keep asking myself and my elected leaders, who thus far have not answered, is how to I get from place to place, when the tools to navigate are not allowed anymore? Am I supposed to print out detailed maps and carry them like me like old fashioned map books? Clearly, according to California, the answer is going to be “yes.” But what is worse, is the with the rise of the GPS device, the map book publishers essentially went out of business over night. I have not seen a current paper map of my region in at least three years, which means the maps I still have are grossly out of date, missing new roads, showing roads that no longer exist and a comedy of other errors.

Do not mistake me. I am all for laws that punish distracted driving. But this current spate of new laws for old purposes is little more than political window dressing. Distracted driving was around long before cell phones and will be around long after they are legislated out of vehicles. But not everyone has a car mounted GPS, either because of the cost of the upgrade or the practical reason of “but I have it on my phone and I am already paying for the service.”

This is not to say that electronic maps are always accurate. Apple proved that with their poorly thought out mapping app released as part of iOS 5, but the point here is that if you do not have a GPS, or you do not know the area, you are now unable to use one more critical tool to help you navigate your way. And that could be the difference between life and death.

The Networks are waking up.

Some people have had it with TV. They’ve had enough of the 100-plus channel universe. They don’t like timing their lives around network show schedules. They’re tired of $100-plus monthly bills. (WTOP)

According to Nielsen, who has been tracking household viewing habits since time immemorial (or at least as long as it has been a money making effort), there are five million folks who do not even own a television. That seems low to me. I suspect there are a lot of people that own a television, but have long since given up their connection to receive the traditional television signals. And, if you have watched television lately, you probably know why.

As pointed out in the article, people are tired of being tied to their televisions. More so, they are tired of being tied to schedules that have nothing to offer, either intellectually, or visually. For the one or two shows that you find interesting – and I suspect most people find fewer than five shows even worth the time – there are other ways to watch it if you really want to. The rest is a waste of time.

Lately, we have moved from relying on regular television to watching Netflix, Hulu, and any of our many DVDs rather than wasting time looking for something to watch on broadcast networks (and this includes cable).  We get our sports directly from the leagues, without the commercials and with the ability to rewind and watch the game later if we want to or have other things going on when the game is live. The rest is ignored in favor of other, more interesting things, like doing laundry.

And the networks are only just talking about this?  Here is the first light-bulb they should turn on – get rid of the anachronistic blackout rule. Just because I live in the same geography as a marketing area for a sports team does not mean I have any intention of going to see the game, and for a variety of good reasons.  If you think someone should have exclusive rights to show it, you are again ignoring those of us who have paid for the privilege of watching this same game, yet do not have a television, or, access to television. Sometimes I want to watch a game while working at the office.  There is no television at my desk, but the video stream works just fine. And did I mention, I have already paid for it?

By the time the networks, and their boards realize what is going on, people will have already flocked to other forms of media.  My daughter already gets more video from YouTube than she does from television and this is not a trend that will change any time soon. But it is good to see that the networks are taking notice. To bad it is five years too late.

My Doctor Is My Dealer*

Let me start by saying that I am not generally opposed to modern pharmaceuticals.  As a sufferer of kidney stones, I am very happy that morphine and its opiate relations are available to me.  But I have to wonder if we, as a nation, are not using modern pharmaceuticals a bit too much.  For example, at a recent physical, I was told my cholesterol was outside the norm.  So rather than tell me to lose 40 pounds – which would be a good idea and a goal I have – I was put on a commonly prescribed statin drug. One described as clean, meaning few side effects and few interactions. For grins, I will take it for a while and see what happens, but I will work harder at losing the weight.

Further, two reports made me sit up and take notice that this is getting worse, rather than better.  The first was that more than 25% of boys have been diagnosed as ADHD.  The second was that 1 in 50 children are suffering from an Autism spectrum disorder.

1 in 4 boys are suffering from ADHD?  And the solution for this is to medicate them?! ADHD is characterized by either significant difficulties of inattention or hyperactivity and impulsiveness or a combination of the two. Without getting into it too far, this describes most boys between the ages of 2 and 30 (and a number of teenage girls too). I am sure there is a standard by which the rather subjective definition of significant is, but I am also wondering if part of the problem is a simple lack of exercise. I do remember growing up, that we had a lot of running around.  Sports, recess, after school sports, and walking back and forth to school.  Today, not so much.  As I have written numerous time, we are seeing a serious decrease in exercise in schools.  Recess is almost non-existent, sports are more standing than participating, and we all know that walking to school is almost a vanished skill. So I am skeptical that medication is really the answer.  Or even the primary solution.

Autism is a little bit harder though.  The new guidelines lump a whole mess of spectrum disorders under the heading of Autism and do not take into account the level of severity.  Again, autism is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.  We are all familiar with the gross levels of autism, but again I have to wonder if we have not gone too far in the diagnosis.  Under these descriptions, I could be suffering from it, to some extent.  Of course, there are no drugs currently available, although I heard that a study into an Alzheimer’s drug might help some of the more severely affected sufferers.

This is not to say that there are individuals who are bona fide sufferers.  Clearly and without question.  But based on the two survey’s, these numbers are going up, not down, which begs the question – are we over targeting people that are not really suffering from these (or other) diseases, or has the genetics of humanity finally failed? Only time will tell.

* From Robin Williams’s sketch on Drugs, Alcoholism, And More Drugs, on Weapons of Self Destruction