All posts by Tygh Walker

How I Broke Bitcoin

Before I tell you about my experience with Bitcoin, I’d like to share a secret. My father is at a casino right now.

Dad isn’t a big-time gambler, but he enjoys himself. And like all occasional gamblers, or lottery players, he has a certain faith that he is perhaps slightly luckier or smarter than most other gamblers – most of whom leave the casino poorer than they enter. I have no such ideas about myself.

Gambling, for me, is about as enjoyable as folding $20 bills into paper airplanes and setting them on fire. This might be an apt metaphor for my brief dalliance with Bitcoin as well.

Why do Bitcoin?

My interest in the cryptocurrency evolved out of an interest and a concern with ransomware pirates who have had a few high-profile scores. They use bitcoin as a means of payment because bitcoin can flow in and out of wallets without necessarily revealing who received the payment, which is really handy for pirates.

My business or personal data could easily fall victim to an attack like this and I had no way of knowing whether I could even come up with a payment in the allotted time before my files disappeared. Even if I could do so, I didn’t have any experience buying or selling it and really wasn’t sure how it worked from the consumer’s point of view.


I am not going into all the details here, but there are a few things to learn when trying to acquire a little bit of Bitcoin. All you really need is a wallet and a human who is willing to sell you Bitcoin for dollars. I don’t know anyone willing to do that, so I had to create an account on an exchange. I used Coinbase.

Side note, setting up an account on Coinbase is about the least anonymous thing a guy can do.

I purchased about $100 worth of bitcoin through various mechanisms on Coinbase. The privilege involves a minimum 1.5% transaction fee. If you use a credit card, it is closer to 5%. If I want to leave it in my Coinbase account, then I’m done. However, transferring bitcoin from the exchange to my own wallet revealed a bit of a surprise. What the miners charge to move bitcoin around depends on the demand on the network. At the time I started the process of transferring to my wallet, the fee was $4.80!

This wasn’t Coinbase’s fault. They don’t mark up the fees here, but this was a sudden realization to me that Bitcoin, at least at the moment, is completely unusable for microtransactions, like buying a cup of coffee or paying a friend back for a movie ticket.

The Slide

From the moment I purchased my small amount of Bitcoin, the price began to drop. I started hearing news about it. First, China is making Bitcoin exchanges illegal. This isn’t a big surprise, but it did seem to have an apparent effect on the price of Bitcoin. Then came Jamie Dimon’s statement that Bitcoin was fraud and that he would fire any trader speculating in it for stupidity.

Now, I think whether or not he believes it to be a fraud is not really the point for me. It is potentially useful to the extent that it may be required to use it to pay a hacker to get my files back at some point. Furthermore, if it is in fact sound technology, (that is, it can’t be hacked and transactions are faithfully executed) I’d say that it isn’t a fraud per se.

But, I have some serious misgivings about Bitcoin. It seems to be founded on some arbitrary units of computer problem solving power that can’t be held, looked at, tasted, smelled or heard. There is a finite amount of Bitcoin that there will ever be (21 million coins) which is, I suppose, an interesting factoid. Each coin can be divided into one hundred millionth of a Bitcoin called a Satoshi.

A little back of the napkin math reveals the total number of satoshi’s there will ever be which is 2,100,000,000,000,000. This equals about 300,000 satoshis for each of the 7 billion people on the planet. That’s it. My $100 investment represents about 2 million satoshis more or less depending on the conversion rate.

At any rate, I am not sure what the future of Bitcoin will be, but the fact that there are already several other competing cryptocurrencies and even Bitcoin itself has fractured itself into Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash makes me wonder if it is sustainable.

Living With the Scars of Eagle Creek

Photo of the Eagle Creek Fire taken from the Washington side of the Bonneville Dam area on Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. (Photo by Tristan Fortsch)

As the Columbia River Gorge burns, we mourn the loss of thousands of acres of some of the most beautiful forest areas I have seen.

I live about 50 miles downwind. For the past three days, the sky has become increasingly hazy. The air smells like a sour campfire that I can’t escape. Ashes float down and leave a layer of gritty, gray soot on every outdoor surface.

The Eagle Creek Trail was a hike that I last enjoyed with a friend about 5 years ago. My dog was about a year old at the time and she came along for the adventure. Beautiful and ancient, it was a wonderful hike and I am grateful that I saw it in its prime.

To the best of our knowledge, there is a 15 year-old kid in custody for lighting firecrackers in these woods. The stupidity of doing such a thing is hard to excuse. We had experienced several days of near triple-digit temperatures and scant rain in months. By September 2nd, the forest was incredibly vulnerable. Nobody old enough to babysit a toddler should be capable of such poor judgment. Then again, age 15 is probably about the right age for such monumental idiocy.

As the flames still rage unabated, my thoughts have turned to this individual’s mental health. I wonder how they will personally deal with the scope of this tragedy over time and come to grips with their guilt about the destruction they have caused. It is likely that a 15 year old kid has no perspective they can use to evaluate their actions and the consequences yet. Sure, they may eventually be incarcerated for a time, but my concern is more long-term.

When I reflect on my life, I have some regrets. I assume most people do. Often, it is the things I have said to people that I wish I could take back. I have had moments of insensitivity that I wish I could redeem and occasionally some mistakes that were life-threatening to myself or others. I’d undo them if I could, but we all make mistakes, and we try to move on.

Here we have a person who will grow up knowing that they burned down a 20,000 acre old growth cathedral of pines, deciduous trees, native ferns, moss and wildflowers. The area was home to countless thousands of animals many of which have been incinerated alive. It will likely be the defining moment in a life that has barely started. This act of carelessness will weigh heavily, having left behind a scar that will take generations to heal, and will never truly be the same.

It is hard to imagine facing a future of knowing this truth. People are good at compartmentalizing and I would imagine that this will be an important survival technique. But there will be nights for the rest of this person’s life filled with nightmares about being so incredibly careless one day in early September, 2017.

On Cultural Appropriation

The Yelp page for Kooks Burritos in Portland, Oregon, appears to be dealing with a wave of opinionated folks who haven’t bothered to actually try the food. The monitoring process at Yelp tries to ferret out reviews that aren’t based on the experience of eating at their pop-up food truck. As of this moment, they have settled on a respectable 4.5 stars, but there are several posts remaining that seem to reference recent news stories.

I haven’t tried the food either. The place is closed as of this writing. The reason given in various news accounts is the backlash from a Willamette Week article profiling their establishment. The article included accounts from the proprietors about how they learned some tricks from tortilla ladies on a trip to Mexico. They picked up basic recipes along with superficial and observable techniques from their interactions. These observations apparently included peeking into windows to get new insights.

For some reason, this came across to many readers as a confession of some sort of theft. If it wasn’t the theft of intellectual property (recipes), it was the theft of cultural artifacts and repurposing them to make a buck. Needless to say, the comment section of the Willamette Week went haywire. People took to Yelp as well and Kooks became famous enough to shut down. Some of the scorn seemed to be connected to the fact that these women are white, while the people they learned things from are brown.

I’m going to go out on a limb for you, though. I don’t think this was really about race. Well, it is, but only obliquely. The WW readers were outraged, but I am not sure that they, themselves fully understood why. The upshot: “This seems wrong.” The most concise characterization of why it seemed wrong, invoked the words “cultural appropriation.” This is, apparently, what they were angry at.

Incidentally, cultural appropriation isn’t illegal. Disaffected suburban teenagers appropriate rap culture in their parent’s car as the cruise by the strip malls. Clothing designers do it, music producers, ad agencies. bloggers… it happens every day.

Restaurants in America, especially chains, are breeding grounds for it. Seriously, “Yo quiero Taco Bell?” Qdoba? Chipotle? The are supposed to represent Mexican cuisine. However, the atmosphere of these places consists of a meaningless melange of artifacts that no more reflect real, Mexican culture than Chuck-E-Cheese reflects Sicily.

So why the outrage against these two women? Did people judge these individuals to have obtained their knowledge unethically? Perhaps, but I don’t see it as the whole reason. I think part of the answer lies in a vague sense of lost authenticity. Something about their perception of Kooks changed when people read the story.

Let’s assume that anyone who is upset by cultural appropriation would never eat at a Chevy’s. Let’s say, instead, that you eat at a little hole-in-the-wall place you know called Pablo’s. You’ve been eating there for years now and you know Pablo. He barely speaks English, but he makes the best Tamales! He says his recipes were his grandmother’s, only he doesn’t use lard so much.

Now, suppose you forget they are closed, and show up there on a Sunday (Domingo Cerrado). As you drive up, you see Pablo walking a well-dressed white guy in his 50’s out to a BMW. As they walk, Pablo is speaking perfect English and you overhear him discussing franchise opportunities and saying something about “keeping it real in the dining room.”

It has been a charade. Where are you going to eat now? How do you feel about the last 20 times you went there?

Kooks Burritos didn’t pretend to be Pablo’s. In this way, they weren’t trying to be an “authentic” Mexican food truck. They did tell WW a small secret about the way they learned some of their techniques though. Suddenly, real, brown-skinned Mexican women involved who learned their skills the hard way from their abuelas. it seemed unacceptable that these white American women were doing this for a living. It was unforgivable.

By the time we eat something in a restaurant, we don’t know very much about where the recipe came from. Was it a test kitchen in Niskayuna, NY, or was it a 100 year old family heirloom that was lost when a pie cabinet was sold at a garage sale? Usually, we don’t know.  I might suggest that we don’t want to know. We want to believe our narratives and enjoy our lunch.

Look how annoyed a customer gets when she first learns that there is no “Ancient Chinese Secret.” It was something she could buy at the grocery store all along. This commercial ran for a long time when I was a kid. It’s horrifying, enjoy.

Capitalism and Healthcare

Capitalism's Answer to Healthcare
Martin Shkreli

While the House ponders its looming vote to roll back the ACA in favor of something that offers fewer consumer protections and withholds a sizeable chunk of funding from Medicaid, it might be worth asking ourselves why we should accept the arguments provided by either side as to why it is a good idea or bad idea.

Foundational Arguments

The key problem with getting this right lies in the issues either party, or both parties hold as fundamental facts. They may state otherwise, but as far as I can tell, nearly every politician in DC worships at the same altar when it comes to how healtcare costs are determined and paid for.

The first assumption, is that people buy healthcare as they would any other product, like a television or a car, or a house, or a box of crackers. They tell themselves that the services you should receive is a matter of personal preference and well within the capacity of a typical consumer to determine. When pressed, folks will often agree that the choices are more consequential, but they really have no other mental model when it comes to the exchange of dollars for services.

Because most people accept the first fact, the obvious implication is that the free market is an appropriate mechanism to determine how much healthcare costs, and as a side-effect, how much insurance costs.

What is the healthcare system for?

This is a legitimate question, because the healthcare system serves many purposes. It is enlisted in fighting epidemics through vaccines and analysis about vectors and threats. It provides preventive care and health maintenance. It provides remediation for acute medical emergencies and treatments for chronic or life-threatening illness. It also provides facelifts, tummy tucks, and aesthetic enhancement of various body features.

So there are public functions, preventive functions, emergency functions and elective functions. Who decides which is which is a matter for debate. Plastic surgery to deemphasize a large nose is certainly not the same, as reconstructing the smile of a young child who has been in an accident or undergone surgery for a life-threatening problem.

Let me suggest that the healthcare system is intended for all of the purposes it now serves and that it is up to the people of the nation to determine how access to those services is gated.


The Emergency Medical and Active Labor Act provides penalties for hospital emergency rooms that don’t accept all comers without regard for how they will pay for services. This legislation was fought by conservatives as part of a slippery slope toward socialized medicine; and they were partly correct.

If you force a business to provide a service for someone regardless of whether they can afford the service, you are getting into some non-capitalist areas. If I really need a car, the salesperson isn’t forced to provide one if I have no money. But emergency room treatment is viewed differently. Why?

Perhaps it is merely the optics of a patient dying in an ambulance who isn’t welcome at hospital A and is then required to travel further to Hospital B where they may or may not be welcome. Conservatives deny that this happens, but the law was enacted because people were, in fact, dying in this way.

Public Health and Preventive Care

If you can’t afford an inoculation against the measles, polio, or the flu, among others, I want you to have it. If you don’t get them, you could infect others and / or wind up in an emergency room. Moreover, I want a healthcare system to invest in new immunizations and new antibiotic technology whether or not they are as profitable as antidepressants or other psychoactive drugs.

Having an arsenal against infectious disease is as important as having one against terrorists. If the United States put half the federal cash into medical research as we do into bombs and missiles, we would certainly be the unparalleled leader in health technology… and we would still have the largest military on the planet, but that is a conversation for another day. As it stands, medical research that is happening now, is happening because of the incentive to turn that research into profitable drugs and devices in the future. These products may serve the public good if they aren’t too expensive, but that is probably more appropriately listed as a side-effect of the current system.


Insurance companies are, for the most part, in business to make money for their shareholders. If they can’t perform their services profitably, they generally prefer not to do those things. One thing that the ACA has demonstrated is that providing insurance for people who are sick is not a profitable activity.

The AHCA seems to reflect a recognition of this problem, but the solution is rather cynical. I would agree that a private system of health insurance that doesn’t cover what it needs to cover at a price that people can afford is a system that isn’t working. However, I wouldn’t suggest a solution to that problem would be to take sick, poor and old people out of the system and leave the young and healthy to be profited from. This is actually the worst possible solution.

Think of your health insurance premiums as a tax. Just as you pay for roads you don’t drive on, agencies you never appeal to, and services you never benefit from. Your insurance premiums pay for reduced-cost access to healthcare that you hope you never have to use, and some care that you use in order to prevent problems down the road.

Now, with the AHCA, if you are young and healthy, you are insured by a for-profit corporation. They take your premiums and both of you hope that you never have to use it. Meanwhile if you are poor, older or sick, how do you get care? They will put you in a taxpayer-subsidized risk pool. These risk pools are taking the most expensive people to care for, and pulling them out of the insurance market. The reason for this, is to protect the profits of insurance companies. These risk pools have to be paid for by taxes, and they are the most expensive group of people to cover. Those expenses aren’t adequately offset by revenue in the form of premiums.

The free market has no answer for this. The only way to make a profit on someone who is sick, is to obtain more in premiums than their treatments cost, or to deny them the expensive treatment. Sure, insurance companies have ways to obtain revenue by investing premiums, but these mechanisms can’t bridge the yawning divide between what people can afford to pay for premiums and what caring for a patient with a chronic or life threatening disease might cost.

The Non-Capitalist Alternative

What if we had a national insurance plan? What if we had something new, something that people who used it liked? Let’s call it “Schmedicare.” What if what was covered and not covered by Schmedicare was something of a national dialog and our representatives would determine what services, as a nation we wanted to include in the baseline package. What if  every citizen would have this care as a tax-paying members (citizens) of the country. We would impose the required taxes in a progressive fashion to cover those costs. If you wanted more than the basic plan, you would go back to private insurance to cover the gaps between the two, but at least a basic level of service would be universally offered.

Why is this a bad idea? Medicare is actually successful as it is. If it were larger, and funded by premiums from every citizen through taxes, we would spread the risks of covering everyone’s basic services nationally. The system isn’t accountable to shareholders; it is accountable to voters.

If we paid for most basic healthcare as a community, then encouraging healthy behavior an preventive care would actually become a national priority. Dollars that we spend on getting people off the couch and getting them to put away the smokes, would save us all money.

Hospitals, would have simpler paperwork. They wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not a person coming through the doors has the ability to pay for services.

Employers would not be required to offer this as a benefit and it wouldn’t matter whether you worked for a small company or a large one; your healthcare wouldn’t have to change. You could start a business without fearing the loss of your healthcare coverage. You could live your life without worrying that an otherwise treatable  illness could easily bankrupt you.

There are many ways that this consolidation would benefit all of us, there is also plenty of room for private insurance companies to make money on expanded policies. As it stands, we are trapped by politicians who hold to the conventional wisdom of the free market as a solution to all problems. It is hurting us as individuals, and as a nation.

13 Infuriating Reasons Why

This is my blog, so I can express my indignity at something as silly as a television show if I want to.

I don’t know why I got tangled up in “13 Reasons Why”, but I’m sorry I did.

Everyone has their taste in television. All genres have their quirks and indulgences. Every Sci-fi show I have ever seen has had its share of lousy dialog and plot contrivances, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the entertainment – or at least enjoying the recognition of those very flaws. For me, what saves a show with sometimes deep flaws, is that it tells some truth that is worth telling and delivers a payload of satisfaction that makes it worthwhile.

I actually make the assumption that entertainment is supposed to do this. Truths are supposed to be the same, more or less; the contexts are merely delivery vehicle. At first, I thought my dissatisfaction was something along those lines, simply not liking the context. However, over the course watching the show, my relationship with each character, including Hanna, the main character, became weaker and weaker and not stronger.

My least favorite type of show – typically a type of movie – is what I call “The Good Son.” It’s where the bad guy looks like the good guy to every other character. Only you, the viewer, and the main character know the truth. Only we know that this bad person is hurting people and ruining everything. Such a plot is excruciating. It feels untruthful. This show has a little bit of that vibe to it, and it’s poison for me.

Speaking of poison. Was anyone else vaguely reminded of “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie fantasized about going blind from soap poisoning? Obviously, the series had a less comical outcome, but the whole collection of episodes seemed like a revenge plot for suicidal people who dream about making everyone else suffer when they are gone.

High school certainly sucks for everyone – even if on the whole most escaped without too much damage. Every one of us who has been in that environment has grappled with the struggle of defining themselves in the eyes of their peers. There is no perspective in that world; feelings over inconsequential events can run incredibly deep.

Through those years and beyond, we can simultaneously exist as sympathetic victims and cruel perpetrators. The people around us invariably judge us as happier and better adjusted than they are themselves, and in so doing, they aren’t seeing the whole picture.

Hanna confessed to mistakes, but she didn’t seem to feel that her worst, most unforgivable mistake was the vindictiveness of those tapes. Sure, a lot of people failed her in varying degrees. The punishment she delivered seems uniform at face value, but the impact was more severe for the people who cared about her most.

Now nobody can apologize to her; she withdrew her participation in the most selfish way possible.

My personal feelings about suicide are known to those around me. I have said many times that if they find my body, don’t believe the suicide note; look for the killers. I suppose I am lucky in this respect. In our modern society, there is a drug to help you quit smoking which can alter your brain and leave you entertaining thoughts of suicide. This is the most horrifying side-effect of any drug I can imagine. Cigarettes might literally kill you, but at least you won’t *want to die.

At any rate, I have nobody to blame but myself. I knew how this show would end from the first few minutes of episode one; I was hoping for more, but I got less. Hanna’s death didn’t achieve anything that her life couldn’t have achieved far more effectively, and beautifully.

Remember this Survey About the Media.

Yesterday, this happened. I wanted to post this here. It’s a list of (mostly) yes, no, no opinion or other type questions. It turns out that this is largely a riff on an earlier survey that the Trump campaign released during the election cycle. These questions are interesting on several levels. They use bias in order to uncover a perception of bias.

I put it here because it’s creepy. Some of these questions are topics in themselves to write about.

Mainstream Media Accountability Survey

  1. Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?
  2. Do you trust MSNBC to fairly report on our campaign?
  3. Do you trust CNN to fairly report on our campaign?
  4. Do you trust Fox News to fairly report on our campaign?
  5. On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)
    • Immigration
    • Economics
    • Pro-life values
    • Religion
    • Individual liberty
    • Conservatism
    • Foreign policy
    • Second Amendment rights
  6. Which television source do you primarily get your news from?
    • Fox News
    • CNN
    • MSNBC
    • Local news
  7. Do you use a source not listed above?
  8. Which online source do you use the most?
  9. Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?
  10. Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?
  11. Do you believe that the media unfairly reported on President Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting people entering our country from nations compromised by radical Islamic terrorism?
  12. Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump’s temporary restriction executive order?
  13. Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?
  14. Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?
  15. Do you believe that people of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media?
  16. Do you believe that the media wrongly attributes gun violence to Second Amendment rights?
  17. Do you believe that the media has been far too quick to spread false stories about our movement?
  18. Do you believe that the media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare?
  19. Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?
  20. Do you believe that the media creates false feuds within our Party in order to make us seem divided?
  21. Do you believe that the mainstream media has been too eager to jump to conclusions about rumored stories?
  22. Do you believe that if Republicans were obstructing Obama like Democrats are doing to President Trump, the mainstream media would attack Republicans?
  23. Do you agree with the President’s decision to break with tradition by giving lesser known reporters and bloggers the chance to ask the White House Press Secretary questions?
  24. Do you agree with President Trump’s media strategy to cut through the media’s noise and deliver our message straight to the people?
  25. Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?

APB and the Promise of Public Safety

How many of our problems are technical, resource-related? How many are social, constitutional, all of the above? The premise of this new Fox series called APB has the potential to explore some of these questions.

Television is an interesting medium; partly because it doesn’t have to deal with things like the 4th amendment. It doesn’t have the limitations of existing technology and it has the advantage of being driven by a script where the writers know how everything fits together before things even get started.

The best shows, however, do certain things for us. They show us a vision of what might be and allows us to think about what it might mean to us if the world were so. I don’t know if this is going to be one of those shows, but I will tell you that there are a couple of interesting ideas that are worthy of discussion.

Though not directly addressed in the pilot episode, we have the real, cost-effective technology today to do some pretty amazing things. One of these concepts is to post a drone at 17,000 feet and monitor everything that takes place on surface streets of a typical city in real time. What is more, the technology allows for long-term storage of this feed so that we can trace events in either direction from the time and place of a crime. If criminals are on the street, they would be captured moving from place to place and their movements would be potentially exploitable. The obstacle to every municipal police department deploying one of these things, is the 4th amendment.

One of the things that were addressed in the pilot episode was the introduction of more effective non-lethal weapons. The standard issue appears to be a taser that is as easy to aim at close range as a semiautomatic pistol. The effectiveness of tasers in terms of range and their ability to efficiently subdue a suspect must be improved in order for them to effectively replace lethal firearms, but I personally believe that this is the wave of the future.

With the proper gear, we don’t need to execute suspects on the street even if they are armed and pose a legitimate threat. The solutions that technology like this would solve are immeasurable. It is the mission of the police to apprehend suspects. Even if those suspects are in the act of attempted murder, it would not be necessarily to kill them if they could be disabled and neutralized as effectively or even more effectively than with a bullet.

The relations between the police and the people they serve would be immensely improved especially in places where high-profile mistakes are made leaving unarmed civilians dead.

At any rate, a show like this has potential, but especially if it spends significant time addressing social issues around technology within reach over the coming decade or so. Improvements to the criminal justice system can change the future to one where public safety is preserved as police force effectiveness gets even better.

Day Two

Marchers across the nation came out in numbers. Real numbers, lots of star power, lots of peaceful people across the country took to the streets with a strong anti-trump message. The grievances were many; healthcare figured prominently, reproductive rights were front and center as well.

The lack of response from the administration was notable; the only mention of it I heard today was from Sean Spicer who forcefully, and absurdly declared that the president’s inauguration was attended by more people than any presidential inauguration in the history of the United States. He referred to the protests today only as a point of reference to indicate that by his estimate, the number of people at the inauguration far exceed the number on the capitol mall today.

Trump himself obsessed about the crowd size estimates characterizing press coverage as lies while addressing the CIA this morning. To his eyes, there were at least a million, maybe a million and a half people at his inauguration. He took almost half of his time with the agency today to complain about the press.

He talked about how lawn protectors had not been used in previous inaugurations, but it turned out that they were. Spicer also threw out some numbers for the DC Metro that were more than wrong; they were actually easy to debunk. The true numbers were as follows:

2017: 570,557
2013: 782,000
2009: 1.1 Million

So why do this? Why simply declare something so obviously contradicted by facts? This was yesterday’s news. This whole story was over at noon if they hadn’t kept it alive by flatly lying about something so inconsequential.

More tragically, they missed an opportunity to talk about the National Women’s march across the nation and the world today. This opportunity was not a small one. After the apocalyptic address Trump made yesterday, there were a few things he said that weren’t awful. First and foremost, he promised to listen to all Americans. His words were inclusive; I didn’t believe them then, and his response thus far to the voices on the mall today tended to validate that position. These are voices from people who do not agree with his party platform on many issues; they don’t agree with his appointees and they are trying to make sure that their voices are heard.

Is Trump listening?

The Big Inaugural Address

Donald Trump’s first address to the American people as President of the United States did not resonate with me. There were many reasons for this. The first and most obvious reason is that while it came out of his mouth, it did so in words that did not reflect the voice of Donald Trump.

This isn’t to say that the sentiments weren’t genuine. But the expression of those sentiments seems at odds with his idiom. Metaphors of factories “scattered like tombstones” and “wind-swept plains” and “carnage” are just so incredibly out of character that I couldn’t help but wonder who wrote them. Was it Trump himself, sitting at a desk by the Mar-a-lago cloakroom in front of that mosaic wall, next to a statue of an eagle perched on a marble and bronze plinth?

I am sure that he believes that the United States has become a dumpster fire over the past eight years; that the military is depleted; that the inner cities are aflame and people feel hopeless and helpless. Trump, no doubt, believes that the medicine he brings will turn this awful disaster of a country around. I am not so confident. As he promised that the voice of the people would be heard and that the forgotten will no longer be disregarded, the web site was being rebranded. References to climate change were being removed, references to LGBT issues and other heartfelt concerns of real Americans were being swept aside.

So to all Americans in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again.

My personal feelings are that my voice is weaker, not stronger. It is as if the Electoral College vote somehow settled disputes between the politicians and the scientific community over climate change and pollution and whether regulations and biodiversity are important. These things are not subject to electoral math; they are questions of the study of the natural systems in which we live and breathe.

He spoke of Washington elites, but not corporate elites. Do I believe that government corruption is a good thing? Of course not, but should I believe that the best people to run the government are corporate tycoons whose meteoric rise to success has choreographed the very environment of disparity that we are seeing today? My personal concerns about conflicts of interest are being disregarded; when the President Elect mentions a $2 Billion dollar deal that he was offered at a press conference mere days before his inauguration, why does this not bode well to me? Why did he say so many times that he is not required by law to divest himself of his holdings at all? Why was the integrity of the presidency not worth it to him to divest his entire organization and retain his holdings in a blind trust? This is what was expected; this is the standard, and it wasn’t worth it to him. He appointed his biggest donors and supporters to high office – in many cases without regard to qualifications. He did this as he decried cronyism. So no, I am not confident that the era of Washington corruption has ended on this day.

There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.

The idea that God will protect us is somewhat strange to me as well. As a non-believer, I would prefer we didn’t really bring him into this. Trump has promised to be the best jobs president that God has ever created, but the blind assertion that the United States is God’s chosen nation (assuming some, specific manifestation of God) and the implication that Trump is a vehicle, also chosen by God seems to me to be a step into a new realm. Faith-based assertions can eat away at the hard work that is required to make important changes. I’ve heard with my own ears from Christians who place issues of large scale pollution, climate, poverty and even controls on capitalism in the hands of the all-mighty. These beliefs are counter-productive because they minimize the important job of the people to ascertain the root causes of problems, establish remediations, and adjust our collective actions to make things better.

In closing, he promised to make the strongest nation on earth strong again. He promised to make a nation with 6 of the 8 wealthiest people in the world wealthy again, and, again, he promised to make us great again. It’s hard to reconcile that with the events of the day. By overstating our problems, appealing to nationalism and painting a picture of an apocalyptic wreckage of a nation, the administration is set to throw the babies out with the bathwater “from mountain to mountain”. It’s not truly a promise to listen to all Americans, it never was. It’s a promise to listen to different Americans who believe different and less nuanced things about jobs vs. the environment; sabre-rattling vs. strength; science vs. religion; and crassness vs. decorum. It’s an affirmation of extreme right-wing priorities around opportunity, equality, and supply-side economics.

Donald trump is not listening to me. He is uninterested in my views and ideas. I didn’t support his campaign, and with every tweet decrying how awful and unsuccessful his detractors (enemies) are, he make it clear that my opinions are no longer relevant. My facts and experience have been voted on by the electoral college, and determined, in a free-and fair election, to be lies.

The outcome of this election is an American tragedy wrapped in appeals to jingoism. We are actually less great today than we were yesterday.

Trump’s Cabinet Priorities

I find myself being told a lot of things about how to interpret the goings on with the incoming Donald Trump administration. Supporters of the President Elect seem to universally deny any alarming characteristics of appointees for the new government.

Donald Trump asserted on many occasions how great the government would be under his leadership. It would be the most efficient, the most effective, the most ethical government we have seen in our lifetimes. I really don’t think anyone believed he had an explicit blueprint for this greatest government in history, but I do think that his supporters believed that he wants his government to be the best ever. I personally believe he wants that, but unlike his supporters, I don’t believe that he has an awareness of what that looks like.

As an executive, you can’t micromanage. I would never accuse the President Elect of being a micromanager. I think he does understand that you have to hire leaders who will take your vision and make it their vision and translate it into an organization or P&L that will run efficiently and execute on the goals you supply. The President of the United States runs a bureaucracy so vast that it would be hard to imagine that any president would have a detailed vision for each department. That doesn’t mean that they don’t do important things, but it does mean that at different times various agencies need different amounts of attention.

Trump’s government agencies likely fall into a couple of categories. The primary agencies are front-and-center in Trump’s mind. In these cases, his advisors have helped him to identify appointees who conform to some of the broad messages of his campaign. Then there are the second tier (to him) agencies that he is filling, some with loyal supporters, and some with individuals preferred by his advisors. I suspect that these agencies aren’t well understood by Trump in terms of their scope or mission. Mind you, this is all inference based on my perception of the appointees at this point. I have no visibility into the process.

Primary Appointees:

Appointees in the first tier include General Mattis, who may well turn out to be an excellent Secretary of Defense. What I like best about him so far is the reports that he is rejecting transition team candidates to pentagon jobs. This report has been disputed in a recent Breitbart story, but if true, it supports the popular characterization of this man as a competent person who will support the president, but won’t bend too easily under pressure from the administration.

Rex Tillerson, State – Former ExxonMobil CEO. This is possibly the best or worst appointee he could have chosen for this post. On the plus side, Tillerson has cut ties with ExxonMobil and was praised by the head of the Office of Government Ethics for his divestment of his personal assets. I won’t agree with Tillerson on many things, but he took his nomination seriously. On the down side, while he lead a major energy company, they skirted sanctions on Iran by trading through an company owned by ExxonMobil. His ties to Russia are even more troubling. I didn’t like his confirmation hearings because of the unsurprising way he avoided questions about climate change. I actually think he is potentially vulnerable to disclosures about what Exxon’s own scientists reported to their leadership about the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the climate. Regardless of my personal thoughts, I do believe that Trump meant it when he appointed him. It wasn’t arbitrary; it wasn’t cynical; it was serious and Tillerson is a serious appointee.

Jeff Sessions, Attorney General. This appointment, like Tillerson, appears to provide backing for his campaign promises. His pro-police, law-and-order-president persona is reinforced by Sessions. In keeping with this persona, Jeff Sessions appears from his confirmation hearings to be concerned about investigations into patterns of abuse in police departments across the country. Sessions seems extremely reluctant to entertain the possibility that some police departments may foster biases that result in problems in how the law is applied to minorities. He appears to believe that the accusations and the investigations are the primary problem that creates tension between the police and the community as opposed to any actual bias. Again, this is a serious appointment and it was on purpose. I just think it is very divisive.

Steven Mnunchin

Next comes the influx from Goldman Sachs. At least 5 alumni from this investment bank are stationed at the highest levels of the Trump cabinet. They are not arbitrary appointees, however, they are such an incredible cliché that it is hard to take Trump’s “drain the swamp” battle cry with any seriousness in light of these appointees. Didn’t he criticize Hillary for being too chummy with the investment banks?

Andrew Pudzer, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which is the company that franchises Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and Jack in the Box outlets among others. As Secretary of Labor, this man will take on the responsibility of representing the workers of the United States. CKE restaurants employs about 20, 000 people not including the employees of the individual franchises. I think this one is a wild card. It seems cynical despite Puzder’s credentials. Before now, nobody would have considered him a champion of labor. He is poised to undo many of the labor protections that have made his own career more challenging in recent years. Interestingly, his stated opposition to the ACA is that because people have to pay health insurance premiums, they have less money to buy hamburgers. There may be a small amount of irony here, in that buying fewer Carl’s Jr. burgers may help keep you out of the healthcare system in the first place.

Thank’s for Your Support:

Dr. Ben Carson

The process that went into appointing the head of Housing and Urban Development is a mystery. I have no idea where it came from. By appointing Dr. Ben Carson, a campaign supporter, instead of a person with demonstrated leadership in urban development, urban planning or housing policy, he sends a different kind of message about this agency than for the previous examples. My most prominent concern about this appointment is that Carson isn’t really a natural leader. As a surgeon, his people management skills are virtually unimportant, but as the leader of a major government agency, they are. By my estimation, this appointment isn’t obviously cynical, but it isn’t serious.

Linda McMahon

Similarly, Linda McMahon has been offered a role, it would seem, primarily for her early support of Donald Trump’s campaign. She reportedly donated $7 million in two separate donations to “super PACs” supporting Trump. Sure, she is the chief executive of a successful business, but it isn’t clear what he expects her to do as the head of the Small Business Administration. She is more qualified than Dr. Ben Carson to run a large bureaucracy. Her company employs about 800 people, whereas the Small Business Administration employs about 3,200 people. I am sure she is sharp as a tack, but because of the size of these donations, this looks like a bald faced political favor.

It might be worth noting that the of the top 5 contributors to President Obama’s 2012 campaign, nobody gave nearly that much, and none of them were given a cabinet position.

All in the Family

Leveraging Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner is questionable with respect to anti-nepotism regulations on the books, but for me, it merely shows a broader lack of imagination. Kushner is in a role that may create a number of conflicts of interest as well. As with Donald Trump, he is not divesting from his businesses and is not putting assets in a blind trust. He will be involved in high-level discussions that concern foreign and domestic policies that can not help put affect the business interests of Jared Kushner. If it weren’t for Kushner being directly in the cabinet, even having his wife Ivanka, in her west wing office would be problematic.

In Trump’s first press conference, he told the world that since the election, he was offered a $2 Billion deal that he declined. I am not sure why we were supposed to feel good about that. It occurs to me that our failure to praise Donald Trump for the absolute minimum amount of decorum required of the office might create resentment. If we don’t collectively say “thank you for not selling the presidency for $2 Billion”, could this devolve into a spiral of cynicism that leads to him accepting future opportunities? I certainly hope not. Will Jared Kushner be offered similar opportunities? Will they be turned down? Our visibility into those dealings will not be as transparent as I would like, but I do hope that investigative journalism stays healthy over the next several years.

These have been just a few notable examples. There are confirmation hearing in progress for appointees that require them, and I’ll probably have more to say as time progresses. I try not to rehash old news and I’ve already called out DeVos who appears to be anti-public education, Pruitt, who appears to be anti-environment and Perry, who suggested that the agency he will be leading should be eliminated.

It is safe to say that I’ll be writing about these and other appointees over the next several months and years.