Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The elderly homeless population increases, as does the young adult group, especially in LA

Adam Nagourney has a booklet-length feature story in the New York Times on Tuesday, May 31, 2016, “Old and on the Streets: The Graying of America’s Homeless”, link here.

The story focuses on Los Angeles and skid row, but the trend for more old people to be living on the streets, casualties of multiple recessions and an individually competitive economy (“victims” overstates it) is quite noticeable.  Homelessness has actually gone up during the Obama years.

A majority of the elderly homeless are women.  One mother said her adult children had no idea where she was (filial responsibility?)

Younger adults are still losing “the best years of their lives”.

In Washington DC, as in many cities, it’s actually rather difficult, from a regulatory viewpoint, for churches to run shelters.  One starts wondering if the idea of “sponsorship”, sometimes suggested for immigrants and refugees, is applicable.   But I haven’t seen the libertarian think tanks propose it yet.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What's wrong with adult children moving back in with their parents?

Catherine Rampbell has a stinging column on p. A19 of the Washington Post on Friday May 27, 2016, “Mom and Dad’s basement is looking pretty good right now” or, more telling online, “want to blame someone for basement-dwelling millennials?  Try the Boomers”.

The compares live-in rates of adult kids in the US with overseas, and finds it not so out of line. Furthermore, she even questions whether it is “desirable” to encourage or expect singles to set up their own personal kingdoms before marriage with such bombastic individualized lives, buying more house than they can afford because of tax laws and market pressures (let alone 2008).

Still, they’re now moving back because older generations have spent their money, she says: on Medicare, maybe Social Security, and on overcharging for education in a student loan and debt collection racket.  It’s the fault of our generation.

I did this for a brief time in 1971, then went to my own apartment again, when taking a job in Washington.  But I moved back home at age 60 for eldercare reasons in 2003.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rand Paul introduces bill to completely end the draft

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced a bill to eliminate Selective Service and get rid even of any contingent conscription, according to the Washington Examiner story by Jacqueline Klimas,   This would come in the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

This contradicts proposals in the House and Senate to make women eligible for the draft if it is ever reinstated (force them to register).  But the House proposal had been stripped before being sent to the full House.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

DC Metro not alone in transit problems (look at NYC); unions might hamper late night replacement service

Some informal conversations at brunch today suggest that resistance to maintaining light night bus service during coming DC Metro early closings may be related to union objections to the hours and to security risks.  It may not be easy for night businesses to deal with this forever, but it is common in other cities.

The New York Times, in the meantime, is reporting similar issues with the NYC Transit in maintenance, especially in tunnels and bridges to outer boroughs, “How to save New York’s overwhelmed subways” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/21/opinion/how-to-save-new-yorks-overwhelmed-subways.html  And, last week, the Times featured an alarming story about the condition of the train tunnels (for Amtrak and commuters) under the Hudson. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A visit to the Woodrow Wilson Museum, and a sobering lesson about sacrifice

Yesterday, I visited the Woodrow Wilson Museum in Staunton, VA, after doing some filming at the Brown Mountain “Rocky Mount” fire site in Shenandoah National Park, VA, forty miles or so away.  The museum offers a 10-minute introductory film.

The exhibits stress that Wilson did make some progressive initiatives, establishing the Federal Reserve and eventually supporting women’s suffrage (but not race-based civil rights). However, in 1916 Wilson ran on keeping the US out of World War I.  He flipflopped completely after U-boat German attacks on American ships. The motto was "Make the world safe for democracy."

Wilson relied mainly on conscription to raise manpower for the War, with the Selective Service Act of 1917.   In comparison to the Civil War, it was no longer possible to “hire” replacements or buy your way out of the “risk”.

During WWI, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918 , and add-on to the Espionage Act of 1917.  People were actually arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the draft.  Compare all this to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.

The Museum offered very little material on conscription issue (despite the trench exhibit downstairs) or, for that matter, the influenza pandemic of 1918 that followed on to the War.  The curator admitted that it should be added.  There is a placard from 1916 saying to women “your husbands are not being turned into cannon fodder for the war.

History classes in public schools tend to emphasize the biggest items (League of Nations and suffrage) and not stress the sacrifices, often unwilling, made by millions of Americans.

I made a little video myself inside the trench exhibit, which simulates life for doughboys on the front lines.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Could someone be held liable for texting or tweeting a distracted driver who causes an accident?

Can someone who sends a text to a car driver who then has an accident while distracted in turn be held jointly liable as a defendant?

Possibly, at least in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and if the text sender has reason to know that the recipient is driving.

Newsworks has a major story, May 2, here.

it would be logical to extend the question to sending targeted tweets or twitter messengers, if the sender believes that the recipient will get smartphone notification. Possibly it could apply to other apps, including Snapchat, Instagram, or even Facebook (which has its own message notification app).

Monday, May 09, 2016

Legal fiasco over Uber and Lyft in Austin TX sets a warning example for other cities (especially DC, with its Metro crisis)

Ride-sharing (or "ride-hailing") companies Uber and Lyft have ceased operation in Austin TX, after the city passed a law requiring fingerprint background checks of drivers (which sounds pretty sensible to me), as of early today.  WJLA has a story here. Wall Street Journal has a story today by Douglas MacMillan and Rachel Silverman

Uber uses a service called Checkr. The companies say that the Austin Live Scan service is too slow and costly and would interfere unduly with signing up legitimate drivers.

Voters in Austin refused to overturn the law with a referendum Saturday.

Austin is the largest US city without Uber, but there seem to be issues with both companies in Houston.  Uber has had controversies in Portland OR, Las Vegas and Miami but resumed operations after reaching agreements.

I’m not aware of any problems in the Washington area, but Uber and Lyft could become critically important to area residents when Metro shutdowns weekend after midnight service June 3 as part of a year long track rebuilding plan.

Generally, city regulators and voters have often been callous on transportation and zoning issues, voting in regulations that force many businesses to close or move and cost many lower income jobs.  Complicating all of this is the politics of liquor licenses, too.  Washington DC could be tested again pretty soon.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

DC Metro chastised by federal government, even threatened with total shutdown, after issuing Safe Track Plan

In a rather shocking development Saturday afternoon, the Federal Transit Authority (part of US Department of Transportation) wrote a scathing memo to Metro  which seems to threaten to shut down the entire subway system indefinitely and orders major training stand-downs.  It sounds possible that the stand-down could require more day line shut downs this week, maybe next weekend before the May 16 training deadline.  It’s not clear that it can always replace service suspensions with buses.

The memo rebukes Metro management for poor handling of an arcing insulator incident at the Federal Center station (near the Capitol) on the Blue-Orange-Silver lines early Thursday morning, May 5.

On Friday, Metro announced its Safe Track Plan (posting here May 5) which may not be as disruptive as had been feared, but which closes midnight-3AM weekend service, maybe permanently, on weekends without a clear indication as to whether it can offer replacement bus or circulator service to help “nightlife” businesses that could be severely affected or even forced to close. 

But the FTA seemed dismissive of the plan, as if it had been not been radical enough.

It seems very poor that such a Safe Track Plan would be announced and published, before the FTA reacted.  It seems as though Metro and Paul Wiedefeld should have waited until hearing from the FTA on Thursday’s incident, rather than risk such an embarrassing and threatening reply. 

I was in Baltimore, Saturday afternoon, eating lunch on Charles Street and about to take the free Circulator (every effective service) to a film in the Maryland Film Festival, when the news story on the FTA threat popped up on my smartphone.  I thought it was a prank at first.

The NBC Washington story (Adam Tuss) on the memo with a video is here. The Washington Post story by Robert McCarthy is even more alarming.  It seems shocking that City councilmember Jack Evans would support a total shutdown if necessary. 
Tuss interviewed Wiedefeld on NBC Washington early Sunday morning. Riders will not get any discounts on rush hour fares. 

It appears that the Metro was not designed to be a 24-hour always on service the way NYC transit is.  It may turn out that even after the year long surge maintenance that hours of operation will be shorter.  It’s not clear that businesses have braced for this. For example, Washington DC has relatively little 24-hour public parking, at least in the areas of town that need it, given real estate development.  Private business should solve this customer service problem. 

Update: May 11

The US Department of Transportation issued another "threat" to close down Metro indefinitely Tuesday afternoon, again while I was out;  it popped up on my phone just as an opera lecture was to start. Adam Tuss and NBC4 reported on the matter here.  Adam Tuss got into a snarky series of tweets challenging DOT secretary Foxx's politicizing the mess, here, and I even joined in on my smart phone, waiting for the opera to start. 

Update: May 19

Metro published its revised Safety Surge schedule today here

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Metro Rail in DC will announce major ballast-up rebuilding Saturday, with likely long-lasting single-tracking and weekend service curtailments

Adam Tuss of NBC4 (NBC Washington) reports that Metro will make a major announcement on plans for rebuilding part of Metrorail, from the ballast up, Friday, May 6, 2016, at 11 AM at the downtown Metro headquarters in Washington.  The video report (not embeddable) is here.

There is an extended podcast (audio only) of Tuss’s report here on WTOP radio.

The plans appear to include single tracking many lines for several weeks while rail lines are rebuilt “from ballast up”.  A few segments of two or three stations could be closed.  Night weekend service might be eliminated, which could have a serious impact on bars and restaurants unless effective bus transportation is provided along the same routes and the public has confidence in it.  (Security is an issue, as with yesterday’s incident in NE http://wjla.com/news/crime/police-metro-bus-hijacked-in-northeast-dc ).  Another problem would be late night transportation from sports games, especially the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball (who are playing well right now).

Under pressure from the FTA and NTSB, new general manager Paul Wiedefeld is cracking down.

Wiedefeld has hinted more recently that total shutdowns of entire lines for months probably will not happen, but single tracking and only weekday service for some months on some lines might happen.
A good question is, how often does New York City rebuild its own transit railbeds?

Update: May 6

The Metro Stations will start closing at midnight weekends on Friday June 3.  It is not known whether replacement bus service along these routes will be provided. The detailed Safe Track Plan is here.  

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Wildfire in Canada shows what can happen to anyone; does Donald Trump understand "humility"?

Imagine a city of 80,000 people with every resident evacuated, along one highway, due to a natural disaster, in this case, a wildfire.  That is what is happening today in Fort McMurray, Alberta, north of Edmonton, where it’s been warm and dry for too long.  CNN’s detailed news story and video is here

If there’s a moral lesson, it could be, “it can happen to anyone” – winding up living in a shelter for a long time, homeless.  How will  this many people be housed if the city is completely destroyed?

In fact, if someone retiring contemplates relocation, proneness to disasters – especially floods (hurricanes or 20-inch rain events), supercell tornadoes, and wildfires, and mega earthquakes, sounds like a major concern about choosing where to live.  In western states, make sure you’re far enough away from drying out forests or grasslands.  In the Texas hill country, make sure you’re high enough above any stream.  

The Washington Post has an even more chilling video of people driving through the fires on the only highway out. 

All of this demands a certain personal humility, something lost on the GOP establishment as it imploded last night at caved in to Donald Trump, with both Cruz and Kasich pulling out.

The New York Times pretty much gets it right, with “It’sDonald Trump’s Party Now”.  Trump, as recently noted, appeals to middle class workers (mostly white) used to the discipline of regimentation in life and fitting in to social hierarchy. It’s these persons whose lives have been thrown away as disposable.  It’s bad karma. 

Of course, a lot is written about Trump’s karma, having inherited his dad’s wealth, and bragging out his own lifestyle in mid-town Manhattan (he avoids Chelsea and south, because of infrastructure and power vulnerabilities, as Sandy showed). But, to give Trump credit, he handled his non-celebrity Apprentice people well.  His comments on candidate performance on the “board room” were usually on-target (before saying “You’re fired” or “You’re hired”) and he insisted that candidates show some personal humility before customers – remember the first assignment was selling lemonade (and don’t forget what happened to Troy McClain).

Wikipedia attribution link for Fort McMurray by Wood Buffalo Regional Authority, under CCSA 2.5.   I visited Edmonton in September 1983. 

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Donald Trump should level with white men who work with their hands

Richard Cohen offers a stinging opinion on p. A15 of the Washington Post Tuesday, May 3, 2016, “Trump should level with his base”  .

Cohen points out that many Trump supporters at his rallies are white working class men who work with their hands, and whose jobs can gradually be automated and replaced by robots.  He mentions a man who joined the Army for a second tour because he couldn’t find a job, and had to go through Army basic a second time because he couldn’t find a job. Back in 1969, when stationed at Fort Eustis, I knew someone in the chess club who had joined the Army a second time at age 28 for the same reason.
Of course, a lot of skilled contractor jobs would not be easy to replace.  How many of us can do our own plumbing, electrical wiring, roofing?

Cohen also points out that many very grueling jobs, like picking fruit, are taken by immigrants, and that Americans don’t want these jobs, or very likely can’t do them.  Such an observation brings up ideas about worker exploitation, from the Left.
As for today, Donald Trump is singing “Indiana Wants Me” (link).
Picture: Median street, Indianapolis, looking south toward downtown, from the site of an old RCA TV plant where I worked in the summer of 1970 as my first job (my 2012 visit).