It’s cold out, so watch where you put your tongue.
Good frosty morning to ya’. It is 4:30 AM EST as we start looking at the news this morning. We have a wind chill of 15° as we let the dog out. I was careful to warn him to not stick his tongue against the fence post, which raises the question whether dogs, or any animal for that matter, have the same danger when they stick their tongue against metal as humans do. I’ve never seen a dog’s tongue stuck to a flagpole.
Either way, this is our first attempt at gathering news and comment in the morning. I’ll admit that my model here is the late Paul Harvey, whose morning news and comment on the radio was a staple of our mornings when I was a child. I hated having to watch television news with Poppa, but I enjoyed Paul Harvey. Not that we’ll actually emulate the master. I’m not that witty, nor that friendly, actually. What we want to do is make sure you have the facts with just a touch of opinion. We’ll include our sources and you can take it from there.
First up, the CIA has confirmed Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win
We’ve been reading since October about allegations the Russians were behind hacks into the DNC servers resulting in sometimes damaging information being published on Wikileaks. What we’re finding out now, according to a story in the Washington Post 1 is that the CIA believes Russians also hacked the RNC but held on to the information in an attempt to influence the outcome of the election. Outside influence of a national election is kind of a big deal, so it’s getting a lot of attention.
However, this isn’t the first time that the issue has come up. In announcing an investigation of foreign hacking of US elections, President Obama said they would be looking at the 2014 elections as well2 because of allegations that China was behind hacks to both the major parties during the off-year elections. Lisa Monaco, White House homeland security advisor, said on Friday:
“It is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after action, to understand what this means, what has happened and to impart those lessons learned, and that’s what we’re going to go about doing.”
There’s no question that this is new ground and it is highly possible that laws concerning this sort of spying and influence are insufficient to actually support any real retaliation should the incoming administration and/or Congress actually have the guts to do anything about it.
However, the signs are that neither the president-elect nor Republican leadership in Congress is quite ready to blame Russia for anything. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned the accuracy of the CIA report3 as did the Trump transition team who tweeted the statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction”. Granted, the CIA still has egg on its face from that massive foul-up. But that was 15 years ago. Methods of investigation have improved and this is a very different field of operation.
Nothing any investigation finds changes the outcome of the election. Influenced or not, you are still responsible for casting your own vote and we all have to live with the outcome.
1. Washington Post: “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House” Obama Orders Sweeping Review Of International Hacking Tied To U.S. Elections“ By Tamara Keith December 9, 2016
3. Business Insider: “The top Senate Republican had a defiant response to intelligence on Russia’s alleged involvement in the election” By Bryan Logan December 10
Meanwhile, killing people peacefully apparently isn’t easy
Robert Bert Smith, Jr. was convicted of brutally murdering an Alabama store clerk in 1994. There’s no question about that and no one is challenging that conviction. Smith was sentenced to death and after all the necessary appeals that sentence was carried out this past Thursday at 11:00 PM. However, things didn’t go as smoothly as everyone would have liked. According to a report from the Associated Press1, 13 minutes into the process Smith coughed and heaved his chest. His arms then appeared to move twice after two tests.
This is a problem and there’s going to be a lot of arguing about it. The eighth amendment of the Constitution specifically states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” That is why the method of execution has changed so often over the years. Our definition of “cruel and unusual punishment” has changed along with our understanding of how people die. We want people, even those convicted of horrendous crimes, to die quickly and painlessly. In Mr. Smith’s case, that does not seem to be what happened.
At the center of the controversy is a drug called midazolam which has been called into question in other states. Part of a three-drug cocktail, midazolam is supposed to render a person unconscious so that they don’t feel anything through the rest of the process. However, multiple incidents like this one question the drug’s effectiveness.
Where we ultimately end up, though, yet again, is questioning whether the death penalty is a valid punishment for capital crimes. There are plenty of arguments on both sides of the question2, 3 and the topic quickly becomes very emotional when the families of victims are questioned on the matter. The frequency with which these incidents are happening, though, demand that we take a hard look at a subject that forces us to assess our entire philosophy of crime and punishment.
1. Associated Press: “CRITICS: ALABAMA EXECUTION HELPS CASE AGAINST SEDATIVE“ By Kim Chandler Dec 9, 5:41 PM EST
2. Internet Journal of Criminology: Reasons for Supporting and Opposing Capital Punishment in the USA: A Preliminary Study By ERIC G. LAMBERT, ALAN CLARKE & JANET LAMBERT, 2004
3. “The Impact of Incentives on Human Behavior: Can We Make It Disappear? The Case of the Death Penalty,” The Economics of Crime: Lessons For and From Latin America, 2010” By H. Naci Mocan, Professor and Chair of Economics at Louisiana State University
What are you drinking this morning?
Whether you’re drinking coffee, tea, juice, or bottled water, chances run pretty high that the Coca-Cola company had something to do with it. They are the most diverse beverage company in the world with holdings and products in every conceivable form of beverage that can possibly be marketed. So, when Coke CEO Muhtar Kent says he’s resigning1, it’s a rather big deal. Not only could this affect your morning beverage, but everything else you drink throughout the day.
Taking Kent’s place is chief operating officer James Quincey. Quincey has been an executive with Coke for a very long time so there’s little question he knows the business. What’s important is that Quincey is a strong advocate for cutting the company’s dependence on sugary drinks. He was the power behind the recent plan to reduce in the amount of sugar in soft drinks. More importantly, it is his strategy to put more emphasis behind “still” drinks, which is anything not carbonated, that is seen as the company’s best move forward.
Why is Coke moving away from soda? Because it’s not profitable. Soda sales are flat, at best, and have been declining over recent years. Meanwhile, last quarter Coca-Cola’s still beverages rose 3% mainly on higher bottled water and sports drinks volumes2. If this is where the profit is, be sure that Coke is going to emphasize those products more.
This doesn’t mean we’ll stop seeing soda on store shelves anytime soon, but with cities imposing taxes on sugary drinks and doctors warning of health implications, there’s little question we need to consider better alternatives.
1. Reuters: “Coke CEO Muhtar Kent hands reins to Quincey in widely expected move” By Siddharth Cavale and Sruthi Ramakrishnan Dec 9,2016, 1:58pm EST
2. Market Realist: “Coca-Cola’s Growth Strategy for Soda and Still Beverages” By
Have you tried getting tickets to a concert lately?
There’s no question that concert tickets, even for relatively minor and unknown acts, are expensive. As long as Live Nation and Ticketmaster hold the ticketing rights to the vast majority of concert venues across the United States, that little detail is only going to get worse. Ticketmaster has already had to pay out a $400 million settlement two years ago and there’s absolutely no sign that they’ve learned their lesson. This is what a monopoly does to prices, folks. We need more players in the game.
At the same time, though, it’s difficult to get tickets to some concerts at all when they sell out within minutes, or even seconds, of those tickets becoming available. How the hell does that happen?
Bots. Unscrupulous scalpers use special software to get around ticket limits and buy up as many tickets as they possibly can. Then, they sell those tickets to you at even higher prices than Live Nation or Ticketmaster was offering them. If you want to go to the show, you have to buy your ticket through a scalper.
However, that practice is now illegal. Congress passed what is known as the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016 this week1 and it seems certain the president will sign the bill. The new law makes it illegal to try and get around set limits on ticket sales or to sell tickets obtained by such means. While no one expects the use of bots to stop overnight, this gives law enforcement new clout in going after resellers who don’t play by the rules.
While this still doesn’t change the monopoly on venue rights, it should make a difference in how much one actually pays for concerts. Unfortunately, even at list price, most concerts are still priced out of reach for the average person.
1. National Public Radio: “Bots-B-Gone? Congress Bans Ticket-Scalpers’ Tool Blamed For Quick Sell-Outs” By Bill Chappell December 8, 2016, 1:27 PM ET
Finally, A Bit Of Good News
H.W. Good Elementary School in Herminie, Pennsylvania had a visit from a Secret Santa this week. An anonymous donor decided to pay all the outstanding meal charges for all the students with overdue accounts1. There is no mention as to exactly how much the generous donor paid to settle the accounts, nor how many of the school’s students were affected. I’m sure, however, that this gift put smiles on the faces of a lot of parents who struggle to keep their children fed.
School meal programs are especially critical in a number of towns and cities across the United States. Indianapolis is fortunate in that the school system here has resolved the problem by providing free meals, both breakfast and lunch, to all its students2. However, there is always some jackass who just doesn’t get it and wants to end or reduce the program3. They don’t seem to understand that the quality of our educational system is directly linked to student nutrition. Moreover, theses same elected jackasses are so out of touch they don’t realize that for many of these students their school meals are the only food they get all day.4
So, when someone steps up and gives to students like this, it is a gift of unparalleled reward. We can only wish that every school had a secret Santa like this.
1. Associated Press: “‘SECRET SANTA’ PAYS OFF MEAL ACCOUNTS AT PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL“ Dec 9, 9:06 AM EST
2. WFYI: “IPS Offering Free Meals” By SAM KLEMET MAY 28, 2014
3. Indianapolis Star: “Rep. Todd Rokita wants to restrict free school lunches”
That’s all we’ve got for this morning. Please do us a favor and subscribe to all our posts. This undertaking is a huge effort involving several hours of research and writing. Knowing that we have your support helps keep my coffee warm. You’ll see the place to add your email just below this article if you’re on a mobile device, or at the top of the right hand column if you’re old like me and still use a desktop computer.
Here’s hoping your day is a good one.