Monday, November 14, 2016

The shell game of politics

We're a society of competitors. We learn what it takes to win. We fight fair, or we take a win-at-all-costs approach.

I'm lately of the view that Donald Trump is in the win-at-all-costs camp. He'd say anything to fire up a segment of disaffected Americans who believed government had passed them by. So we heard threats of deportation, of building a wall that Mexico would pay for, of repeal and replacement of Obamacare -- all without the legal or practical details these promises deserved.

After seeing the Lesley Stahl interview on "60 Minutes," Trump's supporters might be mollified to see him backpedal. He went from a wall to a "wall with fences here and there." He admitted that pieces of the Affordable Care Act would remain. Deportation of millions? Not so fast.

Hutchenspiel (shell game), 2008. By Holger.Ellgaard
 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (
licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Was this deceptive? Did Trump's blather and machinery distract everyone from the real strategy -- revving up the forgotten white middle class? Of course. It was a shell game, practiced upon a national canvas. 

All candidates make grandiose promises, and if elected, cannot keep them all. Trump said what he needed to, to blindside media pundits and sway voters who felt neglected by Washington. 

But, what troubles me is not Trump's rhetoric. Rather, three outcomes of Nov. 8 are more disconcerting:
  • Too many individuals took Trump's election as a green-light for open racism. Swastikas on baseball dugouts and in college residence halls signal that hatred need only the slightest open door to spill into our society. Their contemptible actions require more than a "Stop it" from the president-elect. Law enforcement must act swiftly to apprehend, convict, and incarcerate perpetrators of hate crimes.
  • Conservative talking heads talking about a mandate suffer from an anal-cranial inversion. Nearly 50 percent of the U.S. electorate stayed home and didn't vote. Of the 53 percent who voted, 62 million -- a little more than half of U.S. voters -- voted for Secretary Clinton. So, President-elect Trump earned. at best, approval of about 25 percent of the U.S. population. That's not a majority, let alone a mandate.
  • The Democrats need a thorough house-cleaning. I voted for Hillary, believing her to be the most-experienced, best-connected candidate. But I was disheartened at her uninspired choice of a white male Senator (Tim Kaine) as her running mate. What about a person of color (i.e., Sen. Corey Booker, Rep. Joaquin Castro, Rep. Michelle Lujam Grisham)? Packing the closing days of her campaign with diverse celebrities -- Beyonce, Katie Perry, and Jay-Z -- was just dumb. I never voted for a candidate because a celebrity danced on his or her behalf.
I don't know what's next. But I do know we all need to exercise extreme vigilance. Because the "win at all costs" mentality has served neither the major parties or the nation well. As of this writing, it's hard to see how anyone is a winner, except for Trump.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Can't write our way out

We can’t write our way out of this.

The best screenwriters working today would’ve been shown the door if they’d handed this treatment to a studio executive: “Bombastic, philandering real estate baron insults most of the public, then wins Presidency.”

(c) DKassnoff, 2016
Superb essayists at newspapers large and small ridiculed the gold-plated candidate from mid-Manhattan. John Oliver’s devastating commentaries on HBO dissected Trump’s failings. Journalist David Cay Johnston laid bare the candidate’s financial double-dealings in a best-selling book.

And he won anyway.

So writing isn’t the way to solve the dilemma of having a sexist, xenophobic, ill-tempered barbarian in the Oval Office.

But we can act. We can call out those whose reprehensible behavior and vile epithets toward women, minorities, and different religions are actual hate crimes. And we can demand our local law enforcement agencies prosecute their civic responsibilities. Or face recall at the next election.

Earlier today, in the snark-filled digital minefield of Facebook, a gloating Trump supporter posted this: “Better get you citizen papers in order or bye bye.” (SIC)

Citizenship papers? Isn’t that line straight out of Hitler’s Reichstag?

I have no citizenship papers. I don’t need them. But I’m appalled that, in 2016, with enmity flowing in the city streets, that anyone would raise the dark spectre of contemptible Nazi-speak.

Born in the United States of America, I carry one form of identification: a driver’s license. Occasionally, I include my passport, if I expect to travel internationally.

And, I pack a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution. I want to be prepared.

My pledge today is unchanged: I will stand with my fellow Americans. I stand for our democracy and freedom. And, I stand against hate, whether blatant or couched in the self-righteous cloak of political innuendo.

I stand in opposition to those who belittle other races and religions for their own aggrandizement.

I will stand against hatred – and, when I see it, I will act.

So say we all.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Kohl's and the Battle for Personal Privacy

The ZIP code for the White House is 20500.

The U.S. Pentagon has six ZIP codes, but the Secretary of Defense's is 20318.

I won't tell you to memorize these ZIP codes. But I'm using them. Every time some sales associate asks for my ZIP code instead of asking "cash or credit," I'm giving her one of these instead.

Retail transactions are no longer a simple, "here, take my money" affair. No, they call for key tags. Reward cards. PIN numbers. Phone numbers. Information the retailer likely already has or does not need.

I'm not paranoid. But I believe each time I give a store clerk my ZIP code, or my phone number, or some seemingly innocuous piece of data, I'm inviting them to look into my personal life.

THEY DON'T HAVE THAT RIGHT. They're merchants. They're not providing national security. They're selling me a shirt. End of relationship.

Flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens, 34234.
 (C) DKassnoff, 2013
My private war with retailers is the ZIP code battlefield. They don't need it, and you don't need to give it to them. So make one up. Take a few seconds to find a ZIP code for the Burger King in Spokane, WA. Or Sarasota Jungle Gardens (34234). Get creative. If you don't find one, I've provided two above.

No merchant does a poorer job of this than Kohl's, the clothing and cosmetics chain. Don't have your Kohl's Reward card? No problem. Just enter your Social Security Number.

My what?

Hey, Kohl's: SSIs are the Number One method used to execute Identity Theft. That's why government agencies urge consumers not to give them out.

Apparently, Kohl's couldn't find my SSI number. The poor cashier next asked for my driver's license. Then he wanted my phone number.

That's when I walked out.

Note to Kohl's: it's time to climb out of the cave where your rewards program was conceived. I'm no longer sharing ZIP codes, driver's licenses, or SSI numbers in exchange for a fat $2 off a $28 purchase. Your database doesn't need to know I bought a dress shirt.

Other retailers engage in ZIP Code harvesting, including Five Below. As if they're going to alter the inventory of their Made in China mother lode based upon my buying pattern. I bought a $5 charging cable. Quick, fire up the Big Data Machine!

You want to identify me when I don't have my reward card? TAKE A DIGITAL PICTURE OF 
ME, add it to my file. No numbers. No codes. I'm a bald man with glasses and a goatee. No one's going to confuse me with Brad Pitt. It's hard to go wrong here. My bank did this some time ago, and even if I get a haircut or wear a hat, the teller knows it's me.