Move Fast. Break Stuff.

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Obviously today’s rockstar entrepreneurs never bagged groceries.

Anyone who claims that moving fast and breaking stuff are the keys to success has never had a real job – or the discipline that comes with it.

These self-indulged snowflakes have always been able to fast talk venture capitalists into clever, do-nothing schemes that truly benefit no one except shareholders.

Eunice Pickering, my stoic seventh grade teacher would often prod laggards to ‘step lively’ – but gawd help us if we ran, or worse, broke anything.

Back then, disruption wasn’t a virtue – it was an act of selfish defiance. It was the surest way to end up in the principal’s office meeting with your parents. Unlikely that Ms. Pickering would ever note ‘disrupts class regularly – good work’.

Today’s world is all about fast, disruptive selfishness:

  • Mark Zukerberg – stole the concept for Facebook, now steals user data
  • Travis Kalanick – Former CEO of Uber who thugged his way to IPO
  • Eric Schmidt – Sat on Apple BOD, passed NDA iPhone plans to Google
  • Jeff Bezos – savvy planner, who jiggers prices so you actually pay more
  • Evan Spiegel – huckstered Snap Inc. into fast cash, fast crash

What’s behind all these bad boys?

Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and a host of others all exist because they don’t want to follow established rules, or regulation.  The whole taco truck phenom is part of that:  forgoing the regularity of location, and health inspections, so they can crank out tacos – flying under the radar of regulation.

In fact, Uber got busted by the USDOJ for data-mining their own smartphone app, to ferret out undercover regulators attempting to bust their scofflaw ways.

Strange how supposedly-legit business schools have embraced this fast and looser approach to discipline and accountability. Even curiouser that these same companies and disruptive concepts move quickly to the financial markets to cash in – and out – while the scam is still hot.

Business schools love that shit. It’s a great source of material – and money.

Meanwhile the move fast and break stuff movement is going strong.

Before you’re moved to accept the premise, just suppose the consequences if that credo were adopted by:  a FedEx driver, surgeon, museum curator, air traffic controller, and oil tanker captain, nuclear power plant engineer – or the guy at H-E-B that bags your eggs.

As long as hipsters are breaking things – there’ll always be opportunities for those that clean up behind them.

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Move Fast. Break Stuff.

DEADLY BY DESIGN

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Texas highways are killing people.

They’re not killing just reckless, distracted, or careless people – they’re killing careful people too. And it’s not just motorists, and bicyclists – they’re even killing pedestrians.

The Texas Highway Department was once admired for it’s fine road design, maintenance and innovation. Those days are long gone.

Today, as a politically-connected shill for tollway purveyors – TxDOT is a mere shadow of its formerly grand self.  In fact, they’re so disconnected from the realities of highway design and safety, they’ve given that task over to Regional Mobility Authorities – who now function as their proxy.

There’s an important difference – RMA’s lack transparency, and they collect tolls.

Traffic and Transportation departments in most Texas cities are no different. They’ve become expensive playground for hare-brained projects and priorities that sap taxpayer money, and offer up citizen-killing design and maintenance.

Austin is on-pace for another record year of transportation deaths.

Yet instead of examining poorly designed and maintained city streets – city engineers are busily implementing expensive traffic calming islands, circlets, stanchioned bike lanes, and a hodge-podge of offset lane markings to accommodate consultants – not drivers.

During comparable years, there were 101 motor vehicle deaths in New York City – Austin had 70.  Statistically, you’re safer driving in New York.

Wonder why Austin drivers are at greater risk?

Forget asking a COA Traffic Engineer, P.E. – they can’t be bothered answering citizen concerns – they’ll even tell you so. They’re too busy implementing more consultant-driven traffic optimization and calming schemes to make roads even more dangerous.

Those COA traffic engineers passed the buck saying that highway and street safety was a political issue – not a design one. When queried about whether they felt an obligation to report obvious design safety hazards – the engineers claim a crunching workload keeps them from reviewing deadly designs.

If we can’t count on TxDOT, RMA’s, or even cities – where can we look for solutions?

Some of the finest transportation research and design initiatives in the world are going on just up State Highway 21 at the Texas Transportation Institute in College Station. Tested and proven innovations from TTI have saved many thousands of lives since they were created in 1950.

We must now enlist their wisdom and insights to return Texas highways, streets and roads to their ‘best in the nation’ legacy.

This year, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) celebrates 100 Years. Instead of celebrating – they should take a year to study the dismal record of how dangerous Texas highways have become.

In the fast fifteen years – there have been ZERO ‘deathless’ days on Texas roads.

 

DEADLY BY DESIGN

NATION OF SHEEP

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We’ve been here before – gripped in a national nightmare of suspicion and blame.

The parallels are striking. Senator Joe McCarthy invoked lies and half-truths to promote fear, repression and retribution against innocent Americans.

Politicians, journalists, soldiers, housewives, even actors were targeted as being ‘commie sympathizers’. No one was immune. The intimidation was so intense – that none dared speak up against the rabid McCarthy tirades.

CBS newsman Edward R Murrow had seen the fear, the damage – as careers were destroyed and lives ruined by lies and innuendo. And he decided to challenge the seeming unstoppable flow of hate and falsehoods.

That historic decision – and series of broadcasts, are superbly chronicled in the George Clooney film ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’.

Murrow and his courageous team, with timid yet unflagging support from William Paley and Frank Stanton of CBS, faced down Goliath with the mightiest of weapons on earth – his own words.

The broadcasts sparked Senate hearings that eventually exposed McCarthy as a deeply-troubled and angry man who held America hostage on what almost became a long dark journey into a hateful night.

Those Murrow  broadcasts offer an important lesson.

When a powerful, unyielding zealot – especially one without proper temperament, reasoning or facts – browbeats and demeans those who factually disagree, or those who question his authority – a Joseph McCarthy, or Donald J Trump – or worse ensues.

The Declaration of Independence says, ‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’  We the people establish government – their powers are on loan from us.

Government is accountable to the people – not the other way around.

That also means it is our right – no, our duty – to demand answers and accountability from every government official, elected, appointed, or employed in our behalf.  If they refuse full access to facts, and full answers to our questions – we the people must revoke consent for them to govern us.

Our tricameral form of government has always enjoyed an adversarial Fourth Estate – the press. Their unfettered access, informed observation, and critical reportage allow them to function as our own Guardians of Democracy – the public eyes and ears in the hallowed and often-secretive halls of governance and power.

They get to ask the questions we can’t.

In recent days, the privileged and powerful have decreed they can can bar access to our own public witnesses and certain ‘troublesome’ members of the Press. The desire is to manipulate perception and spoon feed us propaganda from those who pander and profit from infotainment and partisan discourse.

We the People deserve answers – we must demand them. We must insist that the Fourth Estate operate freely as our surrogates to examine all records and facts. No secrets should be kept from the electorate – after all, government exists to serve us.

We must not be silent – or yield.

Murrow, in typical fashion, put it more bluntly:

‘A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.’

NATION OF SHEEP

NEWS. FAKE NEWS. AND HELEN.

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Helen Thomas would have never allowed Trump to become President.

Her life was devoted to discovering the truth. She’d then speak and write those facts regardless of the discomfort – or consequences. Helen was relentless.

She hated lies, and liars. Covering the White House – she encountered plenty of both. Her ground rules were clear – speak the truth – or stay silent.

Early on at United Press, her slight Lebanese stature didn’t command much respect. Until she spoke. Her voice and arrow-precise questions made her the biggest man in the room. Helen never played the girl-card. To everyone who knew her – she was ‘one of the boys’. And she liked it that way.

Lyndon Johnson often retold the time he ducked into a men’s room to avoid Thomas’ relentless questioning about the Vietnam War. Undeterred, Helen followed him in and continued demanding answers from the next stall. She got her answers – and her story. And the American people learned a bit more about the war we couldn’t win.

To Helen, journalism’s sole value to society is to: ‘… to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ The role was a perfect fit:  ‘I love hearing people sweat’.

When Helen died in 2013 – no one swooped in to fill her shoes.

In fact, Barack Obama was eager to ease her out the door as her health deteriorated. He privately observed that Helen’s abrupt style and pointed questioning was wearing on his geniality. Offering a birthday cake, and perfunctory well-wishes – he optioned her front row seat to a media soft baller.

With real journalism now contaminated by bloggers, social media, and other activist outlets – it’s now more difficult to ascertain credibility of the source, the media or the author. Facts are lost, obscured, or invented in the retelling, the packaging, or in the editing.

Journalism is no longer defined by real deadlines, or the kind of accountability that comes from your name hanging on a byline – with serious factual errors – in print editions of thousands of newspapers staring you down from newsstands.

Got that factoid wrong? CNN changes the Chyron next loop, or a webmaster makes a quick edit, and the problem goes away with the next screen refresh. That kind of factual fluidity has damaged journalism. Helen saw it – hated it – and called it out frequently.

She also knew that clicks meant death to newspapers. Facts no longer mattered. It was the glitz, the baiting headlines, and often the repackaging of stale or bogus stories that caught attention. Helen decried that William Randolph Hearst’s yellow journalism had returned, in 140 characters or slightly longer tomes surrounded by ads belched up by Google.

She mourned the passing of hard-nosed journalism.

But, Helen never stopped reading – it was her way to boycott shallow news. Her blue bag was always crammed with newspapers – majors, regionals and locals, and magazines of every slant and persuasion. Newstands in DC and airports loved her – as did loggers who supplied the pulp she consumed daily.

Helen Amelia Thomas would have loved to bring Donald Trump down to size.

He would have been mincemeat against Helen’s encyclopedic fact fact base and incisive analytical skills. Donald would have been reduced to rubble – bigly.

Sadly – Helen and America never had the chance.

In her last dozen years, Helen and I rekindled a long friendship – harkening back to my days as a fourteen year old stringer for UPI.  More on that another time…

NEWS. FAKE NEWS. AND HELEN.

YET, SHE PERSISTED…

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Sen. Elizbeth Warren knows the truth.

When she tried to speak it in the Senate, she was told to sit down and shut up. Dusty old Rule 19 was invoked – a seldom-used senatorial ploy to silence truth-sayers.

#LetLizSpeak became the hashtag of the day as patriots sought to alert largely clueless Republicans that their Attorney General nominee had been long-tagged as a bigot. If not a robe-wearing one – certainly one who ran the laundry.

Democracy under Trump has become shallow pretense.

The Constitution is being shredded and headed to a landfill – as Republicans bend over, in compliant stance to do Trump’s bidding.

Not that results have been totally bad. Thanks to Senate Republicans we’ve racked up quite a few major accomplishments – of which they can be duly proud:

  • US Secretary of Energy who once suggested abolishing the department
  • Secretary of State with deep interests in energy globalism
  • Secretary of Education completely clueless about public education or policy
  • Attorney General ambivalent of civil rights, voting rights, well, just rights
  • Treasury Secretary who headed the Wall Street giant that triggered financial crisis
  • Secretary of Transportation recycled from eight failed years as a Bush hack
  • Health Secretary who wants to nuke Medicare, and inside-traded pharma stocks
  • Secretary of Labor who had a workforce of 40% illegal workers
  • At least we scored a former brain surgeon as Secretary of Housing

Seeing a trend here?  These are not the best and the brightest – they are people with an agenda – and that agenda is not yours – as Senator Warren discovered.

It’s no coincidence that billionaires and Wall Street are running the Trump regime. They bought into his campaign as deeply as they did Hillary’s.

The message for Americans is clear – our voice has been priced out of the halls of Congress. Think I’m wrong – try calling or emailing your federal representatives. Your input will never be heard – not because they’re deaf, but because they’re bought.

Pissed off yet?  Good – go do something: march, yell, tweet, post blogs, talk to your neighbors, write letters, get loud.

But do it quickly – Rule 19 is so useful – it’s likely coming for us too.

 

YET, SHE PERSISTED…

Make America Care Again

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A country that doesn’t care – can never be great.

For all the nationalistic bravado – the United States does a poor job of taking care of its own. Homelessness rates for women and children are a national disgrace.

Yet when we see a street-corner sign, or someone asking for help – our first instinct is to divert our gaze, and think they’d be better off with a job.

A buddy once taught me a valuable lesson about caring for people.

Andrew had just finished running house sound for a Willie Nelson gig at the Broken Spoke. He called and wanted to rendezvous at the old Kerbey Lane and catch up – best yet, he offered to treat.

As we pulled into the already-crowded parking lot – a thin young man approached, beginning the standard ‘stranded, homeless in truck, with family’ story.

Without a pause, Andrew reached in his jeans and handed the surprised man two twenty-dollar bills, reminding him to take good care of his family – they needed him.

As we walked inside, Andy saw my disbelief: ‘Sometimes, we all need a little help. That forty dollars didn’t hurt me – and it just might help him’.

Cowboy Queso and chips gave me time to silently reflect on how generous – or gullible Andy was. I deeply suspected he’d been taken.

Leaving, we spied the same young man pouring gas into a run-down pickup with his young wife and child inside. They looked tired and cold that late January night.

Andrew passed away several years ago – but I’ve never lost the lesson.

There’s a young man hanging out behind Los Comales these days. He sleeps behind a church down the street: does odd jobs for cash, and spends his days filling out job applications, ever-hopeful he can find work.

Whenever I run into him, we venture to H-E-B for toiletries or trail-mix.

He’s a smart guy, educated, with no family to help. He’s always polite and deeply appreciative. Most of all, he’s thankful that someone looks him in the eye.

‘Make America Great Again’ is catchy – but it misses the point.

We will never be a great nation until we open our minds, arms and hearts as Andrew taught me years ago in that cold parking lot at Kerbey. We must all do our part.

Only after America cares again, about everyone – can we aspire to be great.

 

Make America Care Again

The torch must remain bright

You’ve probably seen the sad eyes of children, barely tall enough to see over the railing – catching their first glimpse of their new home.

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Often, through the fog – their first welcome was the bright electric torch, held high over New York Harbor by Lady Liberty. Emblazoned in her pedestal were the words of poet Emma Lazarus:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Those words have borne welcome – and comfort to generations of new Americans. Whether they arrived by choice, or chance – America welcomed them.

They became doctors, shopkeepers, seamstresses, factory workers, poets, musicians, and politicians. Each of them sought a new dream, in their new home.

Life was not always easy – but they knew that in America, dreams could become real if they worked hard.

I’ll never forget Grandmother Tess.

Fleeing her native Russia during the revolution – she lost her husband soon after they were cleared through Ellis Island.

Settling in a old but tidy brownstone in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn – close to other immigrant families.

Tess spent long days doing intricate lacework and tatting to earn her way in America. It wasn’t much – but she provided for her small family. Often, at the end of a long day – she’d often wander up to the roof and admire the nighttime skyline and give thanks.

As a kid, I remember visiting her one Fourth of July to watch the fireworks from the roof. While ooh’s and ah’s came from the small cluster of immigrant families gathered nearby, she pulled me aside and took my hand – speaking first in Russian she hugged me close and whispered ‘God Bless America‘– as she firmly pressed a silver dollar in my small hand.

Confused, I looked up to see she was crying. Putting her finger to her lips – she hefted me to her tired shoulders for a better view of the brilliant fireworks over the East River.

Her dreams never could have happened in Russia.

But they did in her small apartment in Brooklyn – from there her hopes for a new life took root. And although she was most comfortable speaking Russian – the first words of English she learned to speak were Thank YouPlease – and God Bless America.

We must never forget the lessons of millions of immigrants who arrived on our shores, and helped build America – with their dreams and with their backs. They are as much of our heritage as any political partisan or nationalistic zealot.

You see, when politicians say God Bless America – they think only of themselves – and not the millions of immigrants on whose shoulders they stand to celebrate our freedom.

 

 

The torch must remain bright