My VIP Activities

As promised last week, here is a short description of some of the activities I’ve participated in as a Volunteer in Policing (VIP.)

Delivering Lovepacs

Lovepacs are boxes of non-perishable food, which are delivered to households of school age children who qualified for free or reduced cost lunches at school.

I spent several hours delivering these Lovepacs.

Crime Scene Actor

I assisted with a training activity for the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the police department.

In this activity, we created a simulated crime scene to which the CID detectives responded and investigated.

Two volunteers filled the roles as suspects while another volunteer and I played the roles of the responding officers.

We were told to make some “rookie” mistakes, which complicated the investigation.

One of our “mistakes” was that we allowed our two suspects take their purses from the crime scene.

This meant that the detectives would need a search warrant to search their purses.

If we had required them to leave their purses at the crime scene they could have been searched as part of the crime scene search.

SWAT Team Training Actor

I also participated as an “actor” in some training for our Strategic Response Team (SRT) also known as the SWAT team.

I played an innocent bystander / hostage in several scenarios.

Explorer Active Shooter Actor

The Colony Police Department sponsors an explorer post.

The explorer post had some active shooter training very similar to the SRT training.

In this case I participated as both a hostage and a shooter.

Citizen Patrol

Citizen Patrol is probably the most visible activity of the police volunteers.

We have two retired patrol cars, which have been re-configured as Citizen Patrol cars.

These cars still have lights and sirens but the lights do not include any red lights.

Also the Plexiglas separating the front and back seats has been removed.

We patrol in two (or more) person crews.

Before riding as a passenger we had to attend training on the basic procedures of patrolling and operation of the vehicles.

A total of 60 hours of training was required before being certified as a driver and trainer.

Approximately half of these hours were as a passenger and the other half driver under the supervision of a trainer.

Crossing Guard

The police department provides school crossing guards in The Colony.

As school began this year, we were short several crossing guards.

When there is no crossing guard available a police officer is usually taken off patrol to fill the position.

Several volunteers including myself have assisted in filling in for those missing crossing guards.

We haven’t been able to fill all the positions but each position we filled meant that it was not necessary to use an officer.

Each time an officer is used as a crossing guard, he/she is either taken from another duty such as patrolling or is being paid overtime

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Where has Chuck Been?

Well here I am again trying to explain why I haven’t updated this blog recently.
I’m not sure I have any excuses.
I have been busy, but have I been so busy that I didn’t have an hour here or there to make a small post?
Probably not.
So let me give a brief synopsis of what I’ve been doing since my last post in March.
Back in April, we spent a weekend in Austin where we spent a couple days with James and our nephew Jacob.
Jacob was in Austin for a two-week class.
It just so happened that James was also working in Austin those same two weeks.
This was only the second time we had seen Jacob. The first time was at Christine’s wedding in 2005.
While in Austin we attended a German festival in nearby New Braunfels
At that festival I picked up a brochure about the Sons of the American Revolution.
Recently while working in my family tree I had noticed that at least one of my direct ancestors was a member of the SAR.
When I returned home, I did some additional research and filled out an application.
Unfortunately the state organization was in the process of changing registrars.
During that transition my application was lost.
Just last week I re-submitted my applications.
For ten weeks beginning March 24th I attended a Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA) class.
I’ve attached the class syllabus below:

CPA Class Syllabus

I’ll talk more about of this later.
In May I ran for our Home Owners’ Association (HOA) board of directors.
While I didn’t win, it did serve as an introduction to more involvement in the neighborhood.
One of the “planks” I ran on in my HOA campaign was to start a neighborhood watch organization in the area.
During my campaign I also heard some residents express a need for some “children at play” signs near our new playground.
Since the HOA meeting I have been working on getting the city to install those signs and organizing a neighborhood watch program.
I plan on talking about both of these subjects in future blog entries. (I’ll try to write them soon.)
As result of attending the CPA class I’ve been spending some time in some new activities.
Those of you who know me may be shocked by the first of these activities.
On May 12th the subject of our class was “Firearm Safety / Gun Range.”
That evening, we visited the Lewisville Police Department’s gun range where we fired a police service handgun and a SWAT team’s automatic rifle.
After firing those weapons I was so embarrassed with my poor results that I decided I was gong to learn to shoot better.
As result I took some private instruction at a nearby gun range.
After some additional practicing I took the Texas License to Carry class.
I now am licensed to carry a handgun.
I don’t however own a handgun.
Upon graduation from the CPA class I became eligible to join the CPA Alumni (CPAA.)
Active members of the CPAA are also eligible to become a Volunteer in Policing (VIP.)
VIPs perform a number of roles within the police department.
I’ll be writing about some the roles I’ve been filling in the future.

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Reversal of Roles

The Dallas / Fort Worth area has two unusual outbreaks of tornados over the past three months.

On December 26th, a series of tornados including at least one EF-4 hit the area leaving major damage and 13 dead.

Once again last week on March 8th, another series of less severe tornados hit the area. Included in that batch was an EF-0 tornado, which hit The Colony where we live.

After both events there were news reports talking about the lack of financial help available from FEMA.

Let’s take a closer look at these two situations.

After the December outbreak, Texas Governor Greg Abbot applied for federal relief.

His initial request was denied, as was a subsequent request.

In this case, FEMA assistance was denied because that assistance is only available if the area meets a threshold of “underinsurance.”

While there were some underinsured individuals, the area as a whole did not meet the required threshold.

After last weeks outbreak there was a news report which featured a resident of The Colony who was complaining that there was no government assistance available to repair her home and those repairs were going to cost her $1,000 of her own money.

This storm had a small footprint causing major damage to just a few houses.

It was only the day after the storm that the National Weather Service classified the storm as an EF-0 tornado.

With such a small number of houses affected, government officials probably didn’t even consider requesting government assistance.

My interpretation of the situation is that the homeowner featured on the news story was complaining that she had to pay her homeowners’ insurance deductable.

As a homeowner she should understand how homeowners’ insurance works.

The lower the deductable, the higher the premium will be.

A responsible homeowner should select a deductable, which they can afford in the case of a loss and a premium, which is also affordable.

As a liberal you might expect me to side with the homeowners and expect government assistance to be available.

In the case of the December storms I do sympathize with any underinsured homeowners.

On the other hand, there is no indication the woman in The Colony was underinsured.

It just seems that she doesn’t feel she should have to pay her own deductable.

While thinking of these two situations, I thought it was ironic that Governor Abbot who seeks less government was requesting government assistance while I was saying the individuals need to take responsibility for the deductable portion of their own damages.

 

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More Spin

I’ve written several times in the past about how people “spin” information and data to emphasize their views.

Following this past weeks horrible shooting in California I’ve seen several examples of that spin.

In one example, California Barbara Boxer stated, “Sensible gun laws work. We’ve proven it in California. And we’re not going to give up.”

Not surprisingly this brought a quick response from the gun proponents.

Even I thought this was not this was probably not a smart statement to make after this tragedy.

The obvious response is that these laws didn’t do much to prevent this shooting.

Boxer’s defenders immediately responded that, “gun violence in California has fallen substantially since the state implemented a series of restrictions decades ago.”

This brought a subsequent response from the other side, which points out that “gun crime is down sharply across the board in the United States, including in states and jurisdictions with very permissive gun laws.”

As you can imagine, this ping-pong ball can go back and forth for quite a while.

Initial reports indicate that the weapons used were all bought legally.

Since it is my understanding that both these assault type guns and the large ammunition magazines that were used cannot be purchased in California, they were probably bought out of state and brought into California.

Indeed it has been reported that a receipt from a Texas gun and ammunition store was found in the alleged shooters’ apartment.

While I’m an advocate of sensible gun laws like those in California, this tells me that a state by state approach to gun control cannot be effective.

In another example there has been some arguments about how many mass shootings there have actually been this year.

The counts range from a high of 353 according to shotingtracker.com to a low of four according to Mother Jones.

The link at the bottom of this entry shows a table from today’s Dallas Morning News. It shows how these figures are calculated.

Now I can understand arguing about whether the shooter should be included or if the number should be three or four or even five.

On the other hand, I believe that when any efforts to excluding injured victims or certain types of incidents are just attempts to minimize those statistics.

As pointed out in the Dallas Morning News article the difference between gun related fatality and an injury can be literally a matter of inches.

As for excluding gang or drug related violence, it brings to mind the “black lives matter” movement.

Does this mean that the lives of gang members, drug users, and drug dealers don’t matter?

How about any innocent bystanders in these types of shootings?

It seems to me that requiring background checks would make it more difficult for these gang members and drug users from acquiring weapons.

Would these background checks prevent these people from getting weapons illegally?

Absolutely not, but it would make it more difficult, which I believe is a step in the right direction.

The Mother Jones tally excludes incidents of armed robbery and domestic violence.

In my opinion this is absolutely ridiculous.

How is it that when a robbery goes bad and four innocent people are killed is that not a mass shooting?

Likewise, how is it when someone shoots his or her entire family and then himself/herself, how can you exclude this from the mass shooting count.

In conclusion, do I think that gun laws like those in California will stop these mass shootings?

The answer is no, but I don think they can make it more difficult for these shooters to get their weapons.

Finally, one last thought.

I hear gun rights advocates say that there are plenty of laws on the books, which are not being enforced.

My question is which existing law(s) could prevented this weeks shooting?

DMN_2015_12_06_Page_28_cropped copy

 

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Trickle Down or Bubble Up

What is Trickle Down Economics?

It’s over a year until the 2016 presidential election, but the campaigning, particularly for the Republicans, has been in full swing for some time.

When it comes to economics the discussions tend to revolve around “trickle down” or “supply side” versus “bubble up” or “demand side” economics.

It was during Ronald Reagan run for 1980 presidential elections that I first became familiar with “supply side” economics.

Reagan ran on a platform that promised to lowering taxes and government expenditures while reducing government regulations.

His economic policies became known as “Reaganomics.”

During the Republican primaries, George H. W. Bush also called it “voodoo economics.”

Reagan claimed that the reduction in tax rates would stimulate more investment creating new jobs and resulting in a net increase of tax revenue.

Trickle Down Results.

When Reagan took office in 1981 the top tax rate was 70%.

He cut that to 50% in 1981 and then to 28% in 1986.

(Reagan also increased taxes in 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1987.)

During Reagan’s two terms in office the number of jobs increased from 90.9 million to 106.9 million. An average increase of 2 million jobs per year.

Despite Reagan’s promise of reducing spending, he increased defense spending dramatically, which combined with his tax decreases resulted in a $1.9 trillion increase in the federal debt.

Following Reagan’s cut of the top marginal tax rates, there was an immediate surge in the markets followed by the worst crash (at that time) since the Great Depression.

Those tax cuts combined with his deregulation resulted in the failure of the Savings and Loan banking system.

George W. Bush also introduced tax decreases and decreased regulation of the home loan industry.

These policies resulted in the “Great Recession” of 2007-8.

Bubble Up Results

While the recent democratic presidents haven’t specifically labeled their economics policies “bubble up,” their policies have tended to lessen the tax burden on the poor and middle class.

As I mentioned above an average of 2 million jobs per year were created during Reagan’s two terms.

As comparison, an average of 2.6 million jobs were created each year of Carter’s single term.

Under Clinton, 2.9 million jobs a year were created.

These numbers show that while Reagan did increase jobs, both Carter and Clinton did a better job.

Under Clinton the federal budget was balanced each year from 1998 through 2001. (See chart below.)

FederalDeficit

Conclusion

In my personal opinion based on the above results, it seems clear that bubble up economics produces better results.

I would admit, however that the economy is very complex and is subject to many external factors.

For example, how did the high inflation Reagan inherited from Carter affect the job market and the budget deficit?

We also know that the 9/11 terrorist attach caused “hit” on the economy.

I do think that the overall answer as to which policy is “better” can be deduced from an October 1, 2015 article in the Dallas Morning News.

This article discusses the City of Dallas’ proposal to require contractors who provided services to the city pay their employees a Living wage,” calculated at $10.37 for a single adult in Dallas County.

For that article they interviewed Markeese Griggs a sanitation worker.

Griggs makes between $1,300 and $1,400 per month over half of which is used to pay his rent.

He indicated that if he could make a little more than $10 per hour he would use the extra money to buy schools supplies for his kids and buy better work gloves for himself.

Now, you may ask, how from that, can I deduce that bubble up economics produces better results?

You may notice that Griggs did not mention anything about savings.

When the poor receive additional spendable income, they tend to spend all or nearly all of that money.

That money goes directly into the economy which both increases profits and the demand for jobs.

When the rich, on the other hand, receive additional money via tax cuts, they are much more likely to save some of this money which does nothing to improve the economy.

The bottom line is that “investing” in the poor and middle class whether it is by tax cuts or increased wages produces a much better economic return on investment.

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“Peter Pan” Video

Yesterday (10/7/15) some sort of large insect triggered the motion detector on our security camera. If you watch the video at full speed, it looks like Peter Pan flying around.

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Incongruous Beliefs

Back in July we were having our new house inspection when the termite inspector commented that there a lot of “weird” things happening. He specifically mentioned the military exercise Jade Helm, which had just begun the previous day.

At the time I assumed that the inspector was one of the many people in Texas that believed one or more of the conspiracy theories that was being circulated at the time.

One of those theories I had heard was that the operation was President Obama’s attempt to invade Texas in order to impose martial law and take our guns.

I also heard that a number recently closed Wal-Mart stores were being prepared to hold political prisoners.

As I was writing this post, I read several news reports that Douglas County, Oregon sheriff John Hanlin had previously shared a Facebook posting which claimed the Sandy Hook mass shooting had been a hoax.

These got me thinking about some of the recent and not so recent conspiracy theories.

Besides these two conspiracy theories, other theories include:

  • The September 11th attacks were staged by the U.S. government
  • Space aliens (dead or alive) were being held in Area 51.
  • The moonwalks were faked.
  • President Obama is a Muslim who was not born in the United States.

All this has made me wonder how so many people believe so many wild theories.

One possible explanation is something I introduced a while a go which I call “psychological acceptance.”

This is when someone hears something repeatedly from someone they admire or hear something they would like to believe; they tend to accept it as fact.

In many cases, if they heard the same thing from someone they do not like they would probably not believe it.

While this may be a partial explanation, but I don’t think this can explain the vast numbers of people who believe these theories.

The bottom line is that I really don’t understand how some people can absolutely believe something that other people view as absolutely ridiculous.

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For Lack of Notes

So here it is late Sunday afternoon and it feels like I should be updated this blog.

Unfortunately I don’t really feel like I have a subject prepared.

I know over the past week there have been several times that I’ve thought, “I should write about that.” Somehow I didn’t take any notes at the time and now I can’t think of any of those topics. So here I am with nothing on my mind.

I guess this is a good time to just get caught up on what has been going on.

Christine moved into her house on July 27th and she’s been busy unpacking and making some updates.

Mandy had a medical procedure on the day after Christine’s move which means we haven’t been to her house since they day she moved in.

On our home front, we received our final loan approval this past week, so we are ready for our closing.

That closing is scheduled for this coming Friday, August 14th.

The sellers have a four-day lease back, so we won’t get possession of the house until the 19th.

We’ve scheduled the movers for Friday the 21st. This gives us two days (the 19th and 20th) to do any necessary cleaning and get any updates scheduled.

Currently the only thing we have scheduled is the ADT representative will be out on Wednesday the 19th to give us a bid monitoring and possible updating the alarm system.

Also this week, Christopher will be spending Thursday and Friday with us while Christine has in service training.

This means that Christopher will be going to our closing on Friday.

Since he also accompanied Christine to her closing, he will probably know more about closings than anyone else in his third grade class.

As Mandy has been recovering from our procedure, the bad news has been that we haven’t been able to get over the Christine’s new house for a couple of weeks.

The “kinda” good news is that I was able to get to the gym five times last week. (My goal is to get there between three and five times each week.)

I say that it was “kinda” good news because it has taken a toll on my back.

The issue started a week ago Saturday on August 1st. I was doing “bent dumb bell rows” when my lower back really started to hurt.

For the next day, I had a lot of back pain particularly after sitting.

Two days later, on the 3rd, I was able to go through that same program with no issues so I thought I was OK.

The next time I did that program was another two days later on the 5th.

Once again while doing the “bent dumb bell rows” I experienced lower back pain.

This time it seemed the pain did not want to subside as quickly.

I skipped the gym on the 6th.

I went back to the gym on the 7th but it was time for my alternate program, which does not include the bent rows. This allowed me to make my goal of five visits for the week.

I again skipped the gym on Saturday and even went out to buy a heating pad.

With everything coming up this week, I really wanted to make it to the gym today but my normal rotation called for me to perform the program, which includes the bent rows.

I thought about either skipping the rows or using lighter dumb bells.

Instead I did my cardio program.

Now that you have read this I’m guessing you are hoping I take better notes as “interesting” subjects come up this week.

 

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Behind the Smoke and Mirrors

Several times over the past few years I’ve talked about how the politicians here in Texas try to give the false impression that taxes here are low. (I’ve included links to those articles below.)

One of the “tricks” they’ve been using lately has been make most new highways toll roads.

Today I decided to put an actual price tag on those hidden taxes.

Until three months ago we lived in the northern portion of Fort Worth.

In May we sold our house and while we’ve been looking for a new house, we’ve been living in our RV in Arlington.

Our son lives in Haltom City very close to our old house.

There were no toll roads between our old house and our son’s house.

While it is possible to use an “express” toll lane for a short portion of the route between our RV campground and his house, we have never used it.

Our daughter (and our grandson) lives in Plano.

The routes to our daughter’s apartment and now house from both our old house and our campground involve travelling on the President George Bush Turnpike.

During the school year we volunteer at our daughter and son’s school one day a week.

We also make frequent trips for family get-togethers.

Over the last three months (since selling our house) we have been making frequent house hunting trips to the Lewisville / The Colony / Plano area.

Trips to Lewisville and / or The Colony take a route very similar to the trip to Plano except that the Sam Rayburn Turnpike rather than the President George Bush Turnpike.

Overall I would estimate that we have averaged two to three trips a week over the President George Bush Turnpike and / or the Sam Rayburn Turnpike.

Last year we also made one trip to the gulf coast, which involved using the SH-130 toll road.

OK, now that I’ve laid out the background, lets get down to the actual costs of using those turnpikes.

Before I get too far, let’s not forget that driving on non-toll roads is not free.

Each time we buy gasoline or diesel fuel we pay federal and state excise tax, which is used to build and maintain highways.

The Texas state excise tax is twenty cents ($0.20) per gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel.

The federal excise tax is 24.4 cents ($0.244) per gallon of diesel fuel and 18.4 cents ($0.184) per gallon of diesel.

So we pay a total of 38.4 cents ($0.384) per gallon of gasoline and 44.4 cents ($0.444) per gallon of diesel.

We drive two vehicles, a 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid and 2013 Ford F-350 diesel.

For the twelve months that just ended we drove the Camry 12,804 miles and the F-350 12,300 miles. (This mileage excludes a two week out of state trip in October.)

During that time we bought 390.1 gallons of gasoline and 973.7 gallons of diesel fuel in Texas meaning we paid just over $592.20 in federal and Texas excise tax. (This calculation excludes 216 gallons of diesel fuel that was purchased during our October trip outside the state of Texas.)

At the same time we paid $640 to the North Texas Toll Authority who collects tolls based on our toll tags.

The bottom line is that these toll roads have imposed a “hidden” excise tax of 406,9 cents ($.469) per gallon.

To put it another way, our actual highway taxes of $1,363 was more than twice as much as the “advertised” highway taxes of $582.

Notes Regarding My Calculations

Our most common toll trip involved travelling the President George Bush Turnpike from the southern end of the Dallas / Fort Worth Airport to U.S. 75 in Plano.

Someone commuting from Plano to the American Airlines Headquarters in Fort Worth or to the General Motor Assembly Plant in Arlington would incur this same toll although their non-toll mileage would differ..

As I mentioned I estimate that we averaged two or three trips a week. A commuter travelling this route five days a week would incur significantly more tolls.

Most of the toll roads are in and around cities. Someone living in the country, west Texas for example, may seldom incur tolls.

Many of the formerly non-toll highways have been rebuilt with some non-toll lanes and some toll “express” lanes which allow drivers the option of “paying their way” around traffic issues.

I have never intentionally paid to use these “express” lanes. (I used one while it was being “tested” and we accidentally used another when we misread the entrance sign.

Links to My Previous Related Blog Entries

Tax Spin – Part I

Tax Spin – Part II

Smoke and Mirrors

 

 

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Moving On

The big news this past week was that Christine closed on her house.

Both our kids are now homeowners.

Ironically, we are still living in our travel trailer.

As I’ve told several people, we’re not homeless we’re just “houseless.”

Christine had her foundation repaired yesterday and has an electrician scheduled to correct some problems tomorrow.

She is planning on having the movers come on next Monday, July 27th.

I’ve been telling both Christine and Christopher that I was planning on buying them a “pooper scooper” as a home warming gift.

We actually have a couple of additional things we are planning on getting them.

Since Christine is about the only person who reads this blog, I’m not going to mention them here.

Good news on our house search front!

The offer we made on a house last weekend was accepted.

We had both our engineering and general inspections on Thursday.

The engineering inspection showed no problems with the foundation.

The general inspection only showed a few very minor items.

The only repair we are requesting is related to the stopper on the sink in the second bathroom.

We are only informally requesting that and not amending our contract.

Our option period is scheduled to expire at midnight tomorrow, so we should have an actual contract in less than two days.

During the inspection I took pictures of most of the house.

Unfortunately, I can’t upload those pictures to my photo albums since my iMac is in storage and I only have limited Internet access here in the travel trailer.

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