Friday, June 22, 2018

Game Over

Donald Trump is arguably the most polarizing figure to ever occupy the oval office. I have confessed my sins and admitted voting for him. (I rationalize it by saying I voted against HRC, not for DJT). So far he’s done some good things: reducing regulations, appointing a conservative to the Supreme Court, opening a dialogue with North Korea, supporting our military and law enforcement. He’s done some not so good things: constantly tweeting and exhibiting language and behavior that is way beneath the office he is holding; picking fights with the media, starting a trade war, behaving erratically and inconsistently with his cabinet..basically just being the Donald Trump that we hoped he might leave at the curb when he moved into the White House.

But now he’s crossed a line from which he cannot recover. He’s taken crying children out of their parents’ arms. No matter that they came here illegally. No matter that these parents put their children at great risk during the journey to get here. No matter that we are following the letter of the law.

There are some things you just can’t do and we did it. Trump did it. And even though he scrambled around to “un-did it”, this one will leave a mark that won’t go away. Only the hardest of his hardcore base will stand by him at this point. Those in the big middle who voted just enough for him to win have abandoned him. Trump is finished and the Republican party is in critical condition. By inflicting what most are considering cruel and unnecessary hardship and trauma on children, Trump has committed the unpardonable sin. Game over.

“Never work with animals or children” – W.C. Fields

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ending It

The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have us talking about suicide again. It’s not a new epidemic. I reckon it’s been around since the beginning when the first man realized that he was sentenced to a life of working the cursed soil that would only bring forth thistles and thorns. And women would have an even tougher life bearing children, having periods, then menopause and putting up with men. And that’s before they started shaving their legs and wearing high heels.

So people have always had good reasons to seek a way out of the pain and misery of this life. And when celebrities, who seem to have it all, opt for suicide; two questions come to mind. The obvious first question everyone ask is why, why did these people do this? The second question is out there but seldom asked: why more of us don’t punch our own tickets?

The truth is that a lot of us do punch that ticket. Around the world there are over 800,000 suicides each year (World Health Organization). And even though women have it tougher, they commit suicides at less than half the rate of men. That fact seems to hold true everywhere on earth except in Southeast Asia where the women are apparently as miserable as the men and just as inclined to put an end to it on their own. Southeast Asia and Europe (especially eastern Europe) have the highest suicide rates. The United States isn’t the most suicidal nation on earth, ranking 48th out of 183 nations but we’re moving up the charts.

So, back to the questions, why some do and why more people don’t? The underlying reasons are complicated and specific to each individual. But that said, depression seems to be the common denominator when it comes to suicide. Why most depressed people do NOT commit suicide is the real question. Depression may take a person to the threshold of suicide, but what makes them take that final, fatal step or, perhaps more importantly, keeps them from taking it?

For some people it’s religious belief. All of the world’s great religions oppose suicide. Some oppose it more than others. Even within religions some groups oppose it more than others, i.e. Catholics more so than Protestants. Buddhism seems to have a more tolerant view of suicide and perhaps that contributes to the higher suicide rate in Southeast Asia. And, in heavily Catholic Italy, the suicide rate is one of the lowest. So, what one believes about the eternal consequences of suicide is a factor.

Some people stop short of taking that final step because they know it will hurt others, those left behind. Some suicidal people have even credited pets with keeping them from going all the way.

But, the number one reason for not going through with it has to be fear. Fear is part of the religious barrier to suicide. What happens to my soul if I do this? And even for non-religious people there is the uncertainty of what lies beyond. But the hereafter can also be a motivator toward suicide. Whatever is out there is likely to be better, so let’s get on with it. Still fear is a deterrent. Fear of the pain. Fear of the experience of death. Even people who have faith and are not afraid of leaving this world usually have a fear of the process. How much does dying really hurt when you’re dying?

People take their own lives because it seems to be the best option at the moment. They are not happy in this life. Success that didn’t satisfy or failure that seems final. Hopes that are gone or a hopeless future. Lost loves or lost fortunes. The end of the beginning or the beginning of the end or just the end period, depending on your eternal perspective.

My own mother committed suicide late in life. Shot herself. She was depressed off and on and severely for most of her life. She attempted suicide when I was a child. Tried to hang herself, but somehow failed. At age 70, loaded up on anti-depressants and assorted drugs prescribed by different doctors; she sat down on her back porch, put a .38 to her chest, pulled the trigger and with a shot through the heart was gone. I can only guess that, in the final moment of decision, she could find no good reason not to.

Why should those who suffer ever be born?
Why should life be given to those whose spirits are bitter?
Why is life given to those who long for death that doesn’t come?
Why is it given to those who would rather search for death than for hidden treasure?
Why is life given to those who are actually happy and glad when they reach the grave?

The Book of Job 3: 20-22

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Supply and Demand

I'm in the middle
The middle of life
I'm a boy and I'm a man
I'm eighteen and I like it.

Lyrics from the Alice Cooper song, “I’m Eighteen”

In the past I’ve commented on the truck driver shortage. I’ve even said that one possible solution would be to lower the age for interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18. But, I never said it was a good idea for the trucking industry. It may be a good idea for shippers and therefore for consumers (as long as the younger truck drivers don’t run over too many folks). But, I question why the trucking industry would want this.

There is now a bill being proposed in congress that would lower the age for interstate truck drivers to 18. There are restrictions designed to make it safer for these young newbies to drive trucks all over the country. On the surface it sounds like a good idea. We have a shortage of truck drivers, so increase the pool of available drivers and problem solved right? Well, that depends on the problem you’re trying to solve and the unintended consequences that are likely to accompany your solution.

When it comes to the truck driver shortage, it’s more of a supply problem than a demand problem. Yes the economy is growing and so is the population. So there is more freight. But, the population has grown enough that, all things equal (which they never are), we should have enough truck drivers. Especially given the way trailer sizes have increased over the last 40 years, the expansion of containerized intermodal transportation and the reduced size and improved packaging of freight.

But since the industry was deregulated in 1980, truck driver wages have declined dramatically. When adjusted for inflation, a driver today would need to earn over $100K per year to be on par with the drivers in 1980. Add in increased regulations and traffic congestion and the job is just not worth it anymore. Capable people who can pass a drug screen and are willing to work can find better things to do.

So over the past year we’ve seen driver wages and freight rates accelerate dramatically. They still have a long way to go, but they are trending in the right direction. And carriers are making more money which is not a bad thing if we want them to survive. But trucking companies are notorious for shooting themselves in the foot. Creating more capacity with an influx of 18-20 year old drivers may be doing just that. It will create some additional driving capacity in the short run, but with that additional capacity and the likelihood that the economy will slowdown in 2019 or 2020, we might well see freight rates drop and driver pay increases hit the skids.

We do need an entry point for 18, 19, 20 year old drivers. That should be AND IS intrastate driving. The intrastate restrictions do create some anomalies where a driver can drive hundreds of miles across the state, but not across the state line next door. Given that a lot of our major markets, especially in the eastern half of the country, are located near state lines this needs to be addressed. With today’s technology it would be easy enough to simply restrict younger drivers to a distance radius from their domicile. And that might vary by geography. A 300 mile radius for a young driver based in DFW might be just fine, but not so good for one based based in Pittsburgh. And maybe it’s 500 miles for a young driver in Billings, Montana.

But the industry should think twice about opening the doors too much in their efforts to increase the driver pool. To build a safe, sustainable population of drivers the compensation has to make sense. Get the freight rates where they need to be in order to do that. And then if you still have a shortage of drivers….raise the rates some more.