Monday, October 31, 2011

Granny Bird Award: The Washington Post

It didn't take long for a new Granny Bird Award, an award which is given from time to time to individuals or groups who adversely affect the rights and interests of the elders, especially if they go out of their way to do so. I guess it's a sign of the times.

This one goes to the Washington Post for its article on Social Security.

Now, Social Security is sucking money out of the Treasury. This year, it will add a projected $46 billion to the nation’s budget problems, according to projections by system trustees. Replacing cash lost to a one-year payroll tax holiday will require an additional $105 billion. If the payroll tax break is expanded next year, as President Obama has proposed, Social Security will need an extra $267 billion to pay promised benefits.

But while talk about fixing the nation’s finances has grown more urgent, fixing Social Security has largely vanished from the conversation.
[Emphasis added]

The article is wrong on so many bases it's hard for a mere mortal to know where to start. Fortunately, Paul Krugman, no mere mortal, rather gracefully pointed out the most basic flaws in his blog post:

In legal terms, the program is funded not just by today’s payroll taxes, but by accumulated past surpluses — the trust fund. If there’s a year when payroll receipts fall short of benefits, but there are still trillions of dollars in the trust fund, what happens is, precisely, nothing — the program has the funds it needs to operate, without need for any Congressional action.

Social Security is not sucking money out of the treasury. It is still solvent and will be for a good while. Why the Washington Post didn't mention that fact is pretty clear evidence of what's really afoot: the GOP wants to dismantle the program and push us all into the stock market by privatizing a safety net and the paper is only too willing to help catapult the propaganda.

Atrios got it right

And, no, sensible liberals, there is no way to make this "debate" go away with some "grand compromise." Fake news articles like this should make that clear. The rich want that Social Security money, it's how they guarantee themselves a lovely tax cut.

Morons. Evil, evil morons.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Pablo Neruda

I Explain Some Things

You will ask: And where are the lilacs?
And the metaphysics laced with poppies?
And the rain that often beat
his words filling them with holes and birds?

I'll tell you everything that's happening with me.

I lived in a neighborhood
of Madrid, with church bells,
with clocks, with trees.

From there you could see
the dry face of Castilla
like an ocean of leather.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because everywhere
geraniums were exploding: it was
a beautiful house
with dogs and little kids.
Raúl, do you remember?
Do you remember, Rafael?
Federico, you remember,
from under the earth,
do you remember my house with balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Hermano, hermano!
was great voices, salty goods,
piles of throbbing bread,
markets of my Argüelles neighborhood with its statue
like a pale inkwell among the carp:
oil flowed into the spoons,
a loud pulse
of feet and hands filled the streets,
meters, liters, sharp
essence of life,
piled fish,
texture of rooftops under a cold sun that
wears out the weathervane,
fine delirious ivory of the potatoes,
tomatoes repeating all the way to the sea.

And one morning everything was burning
and one morning the fires
were shooting out of the earth
devouring beings,
and ever since then fire,
gunpowder ever since,
and ever since then blood.
Bandits with airplanes and with Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars making blessings,
kept coming from the sky to kill children,
and through the streets the blood of the children
ran simply, like children's blood.

Jackals the jackal would reject,
stones the dry thistle would bite then spit out,
vipers the vipers would despise!

Facing you I have seen the blood
of Spain rise up
to drown you in one single wave
of pride and knives!

behold my dead house,
behold Spain destroyed:
yet instead of flowers from every dead house
burning metal flows,
yet from every hollow of Spain
Spain flows,
yet from every dead child rises a rifle with eyes,
yet from every crime bullets are born
that one day will find the target
of your heart.

You will ask why his poetry
doesn't speak to us of dreams, of theleaves,
of the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!

--Pablo Neruda

Remote Control Poison

I wondered how other nations viewed the current use of drones to take out people the current administration deemed "dangerous," and my weekly trip to Watching America provided me with at least one answer. The writer of an opinion piece in France's L'Express raises the kinds of questions which have been troubling many of us here in the US.

However, their use brings about a wave of objections. Should the calm and cold technician who guides this unit from Nevada or Virginia (sites of CIA headquarters) be judged more innocent than a tense fighter pilot in his cockpit — and, thus, do “laws of warfare” apply? Can the person giving the orders, in this case the president of the United States himself, be permanently exempt from any questioning? By extrapolation, with regard to authoritarian regimes, one instantly thinks of Russia or China; would they one day be permitted the same freedom on the territory of their opponents, Georgia or Taiwan, or even on their own soil as in Chechnya or Tibet? Recall that in 2006 the Russian parliament authorized the president to hunt down terrorists across borders.

The most questionable point comes from the secret and highly confidential nature of these operations; they are run entirely by the CIA. From the elimination of a military adversary to targeted killings, there is only one step, which requires a minimum amount of monitoring over the decision. The fact that the U.S. Department of Justice had authorized the operation against al-Awlaki only on the grounds of intelligence pushes aside the presidential decree prohibiting assassination, demonstrating a disturbing breach in the system. It is now right to require that the use of drones by the CIA be fully integrated into the chain of command of conventional forces. Again, the performance “technology” of the United States cannot be accomplished at the expense of fundamental principles on which the nation relies on. Otherwise the U.S. risks this turning into the new Guantanamo.
[Emphasis added]

The use of drones on an acknowledged battle field (Afghanistan) is one thing. Using them in countries we are not at war with (Pakistan or, as in the al-Awlaki case, Yemen) is something entirely different. Even assuming that permission was sought and granted by the nation in question to invade their air space with these unmanned death-dealers, their use to kill, to assassinate, solely on the basis of a CIA intelligence report seems contrary to all international rules of conduct. Their use certainly is contrary to the American ideals of due process and a violation of the decades old executive rule against assassinations.

The fact that the use of drones cuts down on (but has not ended) "collateral damage", a despicable euphemism for death and injury to innocent civilians in the neighborhood, does not mitigate the use that the current administration has put them to. The use of unmanned drones in this context is another case of "we do it because we can."

Congress and the American people should be howling with outrage, but we have been so indoctrinated by post-9/11 propaganda that we meekly accept such conduct as fitting within the "Global War on Terror" doctrine.

And that makes me feel very ashamed.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (October 27, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep

(Photograph by James L. Amos and published at National Geographic.)


It's amazing what a little press coverage and a little consumer push-back can accomplish. Even the mighty banksters sometimes pay attention.

From an AP article on the new debit card fees:

On Friday, Bank of America bent. A source at the bank, who asked not to be identified because the policy is still evolving, said it likely it will offer ways for its customers to avoid debit card fees through using direct deposit, maintaining minimum balances or using Bank of America credit cards.

And it's not just Bank of America:

The retail banking arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co. will stop charging $3-per-month fees for using debit cards when its current pilot in Wisconsin and Georgia is completed in November, a source with knowledge of the bank's plans told The Associated Press. The individual asked not to be identified because the bank has not officially announced the program will not go forward. ...

And it's not alone in rethinking its actions. Wells Fargo & Co. began a similar pilot in five states on Oct. 14, testing a flat $3 fee for using debit for purchases. On Friday it also announced that it is cancelling its test program.

What happened?

Well, banks just are not in high favor right now, as the Occupy Wall Street movement has made clear. People of all ages and most political persuasions are not happy that these mega-corporations got bailed out with government funds while the rest of us are scrapping just to put food on the table. It didn't help that with the taxpayer monies, banks and their upper management are making more money than ever before while the rest of us are not making any money or making considerably less.

As soon as the press reported on the new fees, the outrage meter went past the red zone and customers threatened, and many actually followed through, to move their accounts to credit unions or to banks who hadn't yet implemented the change.

I think this is a significant and a hopeful sign that masses of people have had enough. $60 a year doesn't sound like much, but it is a symbolic slap in the face to the 99% of us for whom any extra costs are burdensome. We've had enough.

Now, if we could just keep pushing back, we might get somewhere.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

(I still miss Spike the Avenger a lot.)

Say What?

I thought I had a pretty good handle on the 2012 presidential elections, at least its broad overview. I was wrong. I completely missed an issue: a third party candidate or candidates. I'm not talking about a Tea Party run by Sarah Palin or a run by a real liberal such as Russ Feingold. I don't think either will happen, but at least that would make some sense, given the current political atmosphere. I'm talking about a third party run from the center.

But, according to Doyle McManus, that's a very real possibility, and Mr. McManus is no idiot. He's done his homework and just such a movement is currently afoot by a group which claims enough signatures to qualify as a party on any California ballot.

Until now, handicapping for next year's presidential election has focused on how President Obama might fare in a two-candidate race. Could Obama beat Mitt Romney? Rick Perry? Herman Cain? (In all three cases, the answer is probably yes.)

But there's likely to also be a wild card in this election. Americans Elect, a well-funded "virtual third party," plans to put a centrist presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, and while he or she is unlikely to win the presidential election, the presence of a third candidate could still have a major impact on the outcome.

Americans Elect is a collection of Republicans, Democrats and independents who say they're fed up with the polarization that has poisoned American politics. Some of its backers have previously contributed to Obama, Romney or other candidates. Several are fans of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has flirted with the idea of running as a third-party centrist. The group's central figure is Peter Ackerman, a wealthy investor and former banker who considers himself an independent and who was active four years ago in a similar effort called Unity08.

Names under consideration, according to McManus, include Michael Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, and Jon Huntsman. A quick scan of that list shows that all are "centrist" by today's standards, which means they are fairly conservative. Huntsman is currently running as a Republican, but is running so far behind Romney and Cain and Perry as to be essentially out of the race. Clinton claims she is not interested in any further political campaigns. Evan Bayh retired after a blistering attack on both parties. Bloomberg considered a run as a Republican and may be interested as a third party candidate, but I doubt it.

Assuming, however, that any of them would be willing, the effect on the race would be an interesting one. In the past, third party candidates have acted as spoilers. Perot may have cost George H.W. Bush a second term and Ralph Nader may have cost Al Gore a first term. Americans Elect claims it is serious, however, and not just in it to spoil either party's candidate. That's pretty hard for me to believe.

I get the impression that Doyle McManus thinks that way, too, at least implicitly. Any of these so-called "moderates" would probably draw more votes from Obama than Romney, although if the GOP candidate is someone like Rick Perry, that might change my mind.

And even Americans Elect acknowledges that right now, it's not the White House which is in gridlock, it's Congress. Yet rather than trying to challenge the stranglehold the GOP has on any meaningful legislation getting passed, the group has decided to make its splash in the presidential race. That smells like bad haddock to me.

But if these folks are serious, it's going to take more than popcorn for me to get through the next twelve months and the four years after that.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Granny Bird Award: Supercommittee Democrats

It's time for another Granny Bird Award, an award which is given from time to time to individuals or groups who adversely affect the rights and interests of the elders, especially if they go out of their way to do so. This one has me steaming.

It was a Democrat who jawboned Congress into passing one of the most important safety nets in our history: Social Security. It was another Democrat decades later who jawboned Congress into passing another piece of the safety net as part of his Great Society program: Medicare. Now, to my absolute horror it is a group of Democrats who are offering to undo both programs in order to reduce the deficit.

From Reuters:

Democrats are proposing up to $3 trillion in measures to slash the U.S. budget deficit, including revenue increases and significant cuts to the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly.

The plan was unveiled on Tuesday at a closed-door meeting of a 12-member congressional panel -- the so-called "super committee" that is assigned the task of finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, congressional aides told Reuters. ...

It also seeks around $400 billion in Medicare savings, with half coming in benefit cuts and the other half in cuts to healthcare providers. Details of that proposal were scant but tackling the popular Medicare program is always politically risky for politicians.

If the supercommittee wants to cut costs, I have a few suggestions. First, tie all pay raises for Congress critters to the CPI. Second, cut out all government provided health insurance for members of Congress and their staff. Let them shop for it in the market the way the rest of us have had to. Third, drop the government funded pension plan that pays so handsomely. Let them set aside part of their pay in an IRA account, or hope that the corporation they go to work for after their service has a decent 401k. That ought to save us some money.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pay For Delay Scam

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that the Washington Post editorial board actually got something right in a recent editorial. The board strongly deplored the practice of pharmaceutical companies' paying off manufacturers of generic drugs in an effort to hold off competition when it comes to new drugs. It's an easy way to keep the dollars rolling in while the consumers foot the bill.

AN UPCOMING REPORT by the Federal Trade Commission shows that brand-name pharmaceutical makers continue to cut questionable deals with generic manufacturers that delay the introduction of cheaper drugs onto the market.

Such pay-for-delay arrangements hurt consumers and increase costs for federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by the editorial board. These deals are not illegal, but they should be. ...

In 2004, the FTC did not identify a single settlement in a patent litigation matter involving drug makers that raised pay-for-delay concerns. In its new report, the agency points to 28 cases that bear the telltale signs of pay-for-delay, including “compensation to the generic manufacturer and a restriction on the generic manufacturer’s ability to market its product.”
[Emphasis added]

Here's how it works: when a patent on a drug is about to expire, the patent holder fends off a competitor's attempt to market a less expensive version by litigation. Once the papers have been filed, the patent holder settles with the challenger, paying money to keep the generic off the market for a while. Both companies win, but consumers lose. As the editorial notes, all of this is at the present time perfectly legal.

Keeping the generic off the market for a year or longer has some steep consequences, as this AP article notes.

Drugs like Zyprexa can cost up to $500 per month. Generic versions can cut the cost by up to 80 percent.

That's a lot of money to be saved, especially for elders caught up in the doughnut hole dilemma in their Medicare Part D plan. Making approved generic versions available once the patent on the original drug ends saves consumers and the federal government a lot of money. Projections on the savings vary, but the Congressional Budget Office has it at about $3 billion over ten years. That's something that should get the Super Committee's attention.

Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) have offered a bill which would end the practice of pay-for-delay. This is one bit of bipartisanship I can live with. Whether PHARMA will allow the bill to pass remains to be seen, but it certainly couldn't hurt to contact your senators and urge their support for the bill.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A City With A Plan

And now, a breath of fresh air and some sunshine to lift your spirits. This story shows what can happen when a city decides to grow its economy by welcoming immigrants rather than shoving them out. The city is Dayton, Ohio, not exactly a hotbed of radicalism.

...It has adopted a plan not only to encourage immigrants to come and feel welcome here, but also to use them to help pull out of an economic tailspin.

Dayton officials, who adopted the "Welcome Dayton" plan unanimously Oct. 5, say they aren't condoning illegal immigration; those who come here illicitly will continue to be subject to U.S. laws.

While states including Alabama, Georgia and Arizona, as well as some cities, have passed laws in recent years cracking down on illegal immigrants, Dayton officials say they will leave that to federal authorities and focus instead on how to attract and assimilate those who come legally.

Other cities, including nearby Columbus and Indianapolis, have programs to help immigrants get government and community help, but Dayton's effort has a broader, and more urgent, feel.

Instead of courting large businesses with tax breaks and free land, Dayton is planning to help grow small businesses in the immigrant communities. The program is geared to increase employment (the city's unemployment rate is two points higher than the national average) and to increase the tax base. One healthy by-product of the plan is some very sensible community building over the whole of the city. Restaurants, music and clothing stores, businesses which will cater to not just the immediate ethnic community, but the entire city will receive assistance in some very tangible ways. And the entire city will benefit.

Dayton officials say their plan still needs funding and volunteers to help put it in place; they hope by the end of the year. Its key tenets include increasing information and access to government, social services and housing issues; language education and help with identification cards, and grants and marketing help for immigrant entrepreneurs to help build the East Third Street section.

"We will be more diverse, we will grow, we will have more restaurants, more small businesses," said Tom Wahlrab, the city's human relations council director, who helped lead the plan's development.

Besides thousands of Hispanics, there are communities in Dayton of Iraqi refugees, Vietnamese and other Asians, Africans from several countries, and Russians and Turks who, officials say, are already living here quietly and industriously.
[Emphasis added]

Over the last five decades the American dream has taken quite a beating, but it clearly is not dead, at least not yet. Cities like Dayton still believe in it, and believe in it enough to keep it and their cities alive.

That's some badly needed good news.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Employment Insurance

You needn't feel sorry for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. His campaign for the GOP presidential nomination never took fire, so he dropped out, but he still has a pretty decent future.

After keeping a mostly low profile the past two months, Pawlenty was named Tuesday to the board of directors of RedPrairie, an international Atlanta-based supply chain company. The company has an office in Eden Prairie. ...

Pawlenty is also joining the board of Miromatrix, medical company, the company announced this week. ...

The company noted that it had "enjoyed significant support and cooperation from both the State of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota."

According to Minneapolis- St. Paul Business Journal, Minnesota loaned Miromatrix $250,000 in 2010 when Pawlenty was governor.
[Emphasis added]

And that, my friends, is how politicians line up their next job. Make nice to business interests while in office and then accept a cushy job on their boards of directors at a pretty nice salary. It's a career path, one trod by our elected officials on both sides of the aisle. Is it any wonder that our owners continue to rake in the dough while the rest of us suffer through bad times?

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Dylan Thomas


The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

--Dylan Thomas

Looking Backward

I admit that at lease part of my desire for justice is often colored by a desire for revenge, but I try to keep that emotion under control. Schadenfreude is too easy, and usually means I'm willing to lower my integrity to match that of the people whose behavior I deem unacceptably egregious. I don't always succeed, of course.

I had the mixed emotion response to this article from Germany's Neues Deutschland with respect to the war crimes perpetrated by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and many others in that administration. I hesitated a bit before deciding to select this article from several others at Watching America this weekend. Ultimately I decided to cop to my lesser angel and then discuss just why we do need justice in the formal and civilized sense of that word when it comes to issues like torture.

George W. Bush standing in the dock – many people around the world would welcome such a decision. Murat Kurnaz would especially welcome it because the German-Turkish citizen had to spend five years in Guantanamo, the prison camp in legal no-man's land where the United States warehoused terrorist suspects from all over the world after the 9/11 attacks. Many spent years in custody there without being charged with any crime, enduring inhuman conditions that included torture.

That's why Kurnaz and three other ex-prisoners have demanded Bush be subject to a criminal investigation. Charges were reportedly filed against Bush yesterday during the ex-President's visit to Canada. Several days earlier, several human rights organizations asked that charges be brought against Bush since Canada is legally bound to do so as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Bush is also said to have approved the arbitrary CIA kidnapping of suspected terrorists.

Many of us hoped that President Obama would at the very least decry those foul crimes committed in our names. Obviously we were disappointed when the new president who promised us "change" announced that there would be no investigations, no indictments, no trials, no open discussions of what should happen to leaders who openly and proudly flout international law and general standards of human decency. He wanted us to look forward, not backward. That's pretty much what President Gerald Ford told us when it came to an investigation into the Nixon administration's attempt to steal an election via burglary. As a result, some of the same mischief makers found their way back into public service, some of them in the Bush administration.

By refusing to hold the national leaders and those who wield the power in this country accountable for those actions which contravened the international treaties this nation is signatory to, it allows them and their successors free rein to continue such behavior. It means that they are above the law, all law. It means there is a class of people for whom constraints are neither possible nor desirable. It means the Bushes, Cheneys, Yoos, and Gonzaleses, like the Khadaffis, are untouchable until the crowds rise up and violently extract revenge.

In a sense, we are seeing that kind of justice-avoidance repeating itself today, this time in the economic arena. The people who brought us this economic disaster continue to operate in the same manner and to collect ever larger sums of money. There is no downside for their behavior. Why should they stop?

Apparently laws and codes of decent behavior are just for the little people.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Three-Horned Chameleon

(Photograph by Michael Nichols and published at National Geographic. Click on link to learn an interesting fact about chameleon's eyes.)

Bridges Don't Matter

Because the Republicans in the Senate wouldn't even consider passing President Obama's big jobs bill in package form, Senate Majority Leader Reid and the president decided to break that proposal into smaller bites, with a portion served each week. The first portion also didn't make it into an up-or-down vote, which was pretty surprising in that it dealt with plans to enable increased hiring of teachers and first responders (police and fire fighters). The next portion is scheduled for the coming week and involves money for improving highways and transportation.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Senate Democrats unveiled the next provision of President Obama's jobs plan they will bring for a vote -- $60 billion for highways, transit and airports -- as they attempt to pressure Republican opponents. ...

Polls show the public supports federal building on infrastructure. This proposal would provide $50 billion for highway, transit and aviation improvements, upgrading 150,000 miles of road and improving 4,000 miles of rail tracks, Democrats said.

The proposal would also launch a $10-billion infrastructure bank, which local agencies could tap for infrastructure construction projects.
[Emphasis added]

This last part of the bill surely resonated in Los Angeles County. Just a few days before this article was published, a report was released that a number of bridges in the area are "structurally deficient, including one that is heavily traveled each day:

A stretch of the 10 Freeway, spanning the Los Angeles River and a maze of surface streets near downtown, routinely carries more than 300,000 vehicles a day. Built in 1959, the bridge has cracks in its concrete deck and is in need of repair.

It earned particular notoriety this week when a transportation advocacy nonprofit declared it one of the most heavily trafficked structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. ...

Doug Failing, executive director of highways for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the group's findings are "reason to be concerned, although not reason to be panicked."

Structurally deficient bridges are not on the brink of collapse but are in need of repair to extend their life spans, Failing said. Most of the county's bridges were built in the 1950s and '60s with roughly 50- to 60-year life spans; putting off repairs will only multiply future expenses and could prove dangerous, he said. ...

Martin Wachs, director of transportation, space and technology at the Santa Monica-based Rand Corp., said infrastructure repair serves as a fast way to create jobs but that securing funding can be tough and unpopular.

"Politically there's almost no obvious reward for fixing something before it collapses as opposed to building something new," Wachs said. "We constantly turn our backs on the importance of our infrastructure. Eventually when we face the music, it's going to cost more and it's going to be more difficult and complex," he said.
[Emphasis added]

So, the public needs and wants improved infrastructure and that's one way to create jobs, but the chances of the Republicans passing this part of the package are rated to slight to none. Why? Because we're coming up on an election year and the GOP wants to deny Barack Obama and Democrats any kind of momentum. Apparently they'd rather bridges in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh actually fell down, killing people. Apparently they'd also rather grant more tax breaks to corporations than putting the rest of us back to work now.

Ordinarily I would say the GOP is taking a huge risk, that the American public will realize just what the GOP is doing and reject the obstructionism and calculated recalcitrance. Even I am not that naive, however. I didn't see any howling from the Democrats about the defeat of the proposal to fund more cops and firefighters. I don't anticipate any when this portion goes down either.

The hard times will continue.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Not For Wussies

This getting older has some downsides, as I've discovered. Still, it shouldn't be as difficult as it has just gotten for me and a whole raft of other elders when it comes to our Medicare coverage. Part A, the part which provides the coverage we've paid into and which deals with the most basic of healthcare access is easy. You turn 65, you get it. The tough part is Part B, which covers doctor's visits and diagnostic testing. It is a little harder to nail down and requires an additional premium which gets deducted from Social Security benefits. Elders have to research the available programs (offered by private insurers) and select the one that fits them best, given any special healthcare needs and income constraints.

I did the work: I checked out dozens of plans and finally settled on a Medicare Advantage HMO plan offered by Anthem Blue Cross. I signed onto it within the time frame allotted after my 65th birthday. I know, I know: after all of my posts on all the scams run here in California by Anthem, I should never have even considered this company, but the plan had reasonable co-pays, included a Part D prescription plan with a large formulary of medications covered, and its list of participating doctors and pharmacies gave me plenty of options in the area in which I live.

Now, six weeks later, I received notice that the plan is changing, and changing rather dramatically. I wasn't pleased at the thought that I now had to go through the process all over again. It turns out that I wasn't the only policy holder who was upset.

David Lazarus's latest column details another policy holder's shock at receiving two letters from Anthem. The first was sent right around the new enrollment period opened and stated essentially, "Relax. We've got you covered." The second, which arrived a week later, announced that there would be changes and those changes amount to less coverage for more money.

Kristin Binns, an Anthem spokeswoman, said the two letters were basically an example of one hand at the insurance company not knowing what the other was doing.

Anthem, she said, "sent an initial letter to our members to make them aware of possible changes coming with this year's annual election period." That was the happy, smiling letter talking about how Anthem "has you covered."

Right around the same time, though, the company mailed out its more in-your-face letter alerting people to changes in the Medicare Advantage program. ...

Here's what's going on: Anthem has been losing money on its Medicare Advantage plans in Northern California because of higher medical costs there.

But the company can't just fiddle with those policies, because it offers uniform rates and benefits throughout the state. It can't change terms for some people without changing them for everyone.

So Anthem is terminating its existing California Medicare Advantage plan, replacing it with 13 regional variations that allow it to set premiums and benefits according to local conditions.

In Los Angeles County, for example, the company's new Medicare Advantage PPO plan will have the same premium but "somewhat different benefits," Binns said.

Please note that the article deals with a PPO plan, which is a bit less restrictive than my HMO plan, but the changes are essentially the same. More premium dollars, more copays, less coverage.

I'm lucky. I can do the research on-line to see if I'd be better off with Kaiser or Aetna or United Healthcare, or whatever. Those elders who don't have that kind of access have to put up with insurance agents and bulky mailings which are difficult to decipher if only because the print is so damned small. And we only have until mid-November to get the coverage in place for January, 2012.


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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Unsurprising News

File this AP report under "Well, duh!".

Americans have yet to find a Republican they'd clearly prefer over President Barack Obama, although half say the president does not deserve re-election.

First of all, it's no secret that President Obama is not the most popular of men after nearly three years in office. The GOP has been relentless in its refusal to cooperate on even the most basic of issues, including the usually routine raising of the debt limit when necessary, with the man they promised would serve only one term. Additionally, the president himself has done nothing more than extend all of the worst programs of the last administration, thereby alienating the liberal base which played a large part in his election. And, of course, the economy is still in the toilet for most of us.

Second of all, and perhaps more important, the 2012 election is still more than a year away. We haven't had anything but a couple of non-binding, pay-to-vote straw polls to date for Republican candidates, all of whom are still trying to formulate their policies after seven very curious debates. It's simply too early to tell what the electorate has in mind. But the press needs a horse race to cover, so many of them are commissioning these polls to keep the narrative going.

At any rate, here are the numbers as of the day before Tuesday's debate in Nevada, which means the numbers might very well be already out of date:

In the poll, Romney was the choice of 30 percent of Republicans, with Cain about even at 26 percent. Perry was preferred by 13 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas topped the list of those in single digits. ...

Among all adults, regardless of party identification, 21 percent say they'd like the GOP to nominate Romney. Eighteen percent name Cain, 13 percent Perry and 11 percent Paul.

The first real test, that is, a primary or binding caucus vote, will come no earlier than December. If Nevada backs down from its threatened date, the first test will be the New Hampshire primary sometime in early January, 2012. Even then, there still would be eight months to the conventions and eleven months to the election. There's still plenty of time for the electorate to make up its mind.

I guess it would be too much to ask the media to cover more important issues at this point, like the 112th Congress and its failure to get things done which would actually help define the issues for the election.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

If you want a good visual representation of last night's GOP debate, check out the picture accompanying this Los Angeles Times article. It shows Mitt Romney with his hand on Rick Perry's shoulder as Perry points his finger at Romney. Both actions are generally held to be poor form. Romney's physically touching his opponent not only violates the concept of personal space, it suggests a paternalistic put down. Perry's waggling his finger makes him look both petulant and arrogant. Both deserved 15-yard penalties.

But the picture also suggests the tone of the debate where little, if any, new proposals were put forward or new explanations were offered. This wasn't really a debate (well, to be fair, these "debates" really aren't designed to highlight differences in a formal sort of way), it was a chance for the various candidates to enter attack mode. The main target turned out to be Mitt Romney, who so far appears to be the nominee-designate of the elders of the GOP, for his Massachusetts health-care plan. Herman Cain came in for some heat as well because of his 9-9-9 tax reform plan, which the other candidates pointed out added a new tax. Perry, who has done poorly in the earlier debates and who came out swinging for this one, got slammed for his claims of increased job numbers and his immigration stance back in Texas. The other candidates present came in for their share of nasty comments as well. The only current candidate who came through unscathed was Jon Huntsman, and that's because he refused to appear in Nevada because of the kerfuffle over that state's threat to throw the primary calendar into disarray.

And that's the problem with the debate-a-week plan: there's very little time to develop issues in a coherent way in the six days left before the next televised debate. Only obsessive political geeks are interested at this point, and the actual election is still more than a year away.

Even I can only eat so much popcorn.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Even Small Victories Are Important

[Note: The fund raiser announced here continues. If you have a netbook or laptop that you aren't using or don't need, please consider donating it for my blogging use. If you don't, but do have a little spare cash, please consider donating it so I can get a new one; just hit the PayPal donate button. Thanks.]

Americans appear to be growing increasingly testy, especially when it comes to big corporations overstepping all decent boundaries. Alaska, not exactly a hot bed of liberalism, had an interesting little election on the issue of whether an international consortium could build a huge copper and gold mine in an environmentally sensitive region. The locals said "NO!", according to the AP.

Voters of a small southwest Alaska borough late Monday narrowly passed a measure blocking a proposed gold and copper mine that critics say would have threatened one of the world's premier wild salmon fisheries in a local election that gained national attention, pitting environmentalists against business interests in a bitter feud.

The vote bans large-scale resource extraction, including mining, that would destroy or degrade salmon habitat. The measure was aimed squarely at Pebble Mine, a massive gold and copper prospect near the headwaters of Bristol Bay. ...

Critics say the potential footprint of the project could cover 15 square miles, with an open pit and network of roads and power lines. But project officials counter that neither a pre-feasibility study nor a formal mine plan have been completed.

The area involved includes one of the largest sockeye salmon fisheries, a major source of income for those in the region. The locals, including the Native Americans who depend on that fishery for sustenance fishing, rightfully are worried that the pit would degrade the fishery and the water and air around them. The mining interests are touting an increase of 1,000 "permanent" jobs, but that surely would not offset the loss of jobs and livelihood should the fishery collapse under the load of the mining waste.

Unfortunately, this won't be the end of the issue. The mining companies are filing suit claiming that the vote was an unlawful usurpation of the powers of the local planning commission. The state's Attorney General has declared that the ordinance is unenforceable and will probably come out in favor of the mining companies. The locals may lose on the issue, but at least they did something about it.

I take as much comfort in that vote as I do the Occupy Wall Street movement. It shows that there is a limit to what the 99% of will take lying down.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Fund Raiser

Well, I need your help. The laptop I've been using the past couple of years, the one that some friends gave me because their son hated it, is dying. The plastic on this pos (the son was correct) is warping because of the heat generated. Last night, the plastic securing the flip-top screen completely broke away. This means that the screen has to be propped up with a book, and some wires which I am sure are necessary to connect the screen to the guts of the machine are exposed. I don't think this makeshift arrangement is going to last for long.

I'm working very few hours these days, and I'm existing just on my Social Security check. My budget doesn't have room for a new laptop or netbook. If any of you folks are in a position to help out, I would appreciate it. Again. If you have a spare laptop or netbook which you don't need and could send my way, I would be grateful. If not, and if you have a few extra bucks, please hit the PayPal donate button on the upper right.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Poetry: William Butler Yeats

The Stolen Child

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we've hid out faery vats,
Full of berries
And the reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters of the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he's going,
The solemn-eyed:
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal-chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
From a world more full of weeping than he can understand.

--William Butler Yeats


The articles, as a whole, weren't terribly interesting yesterday at Watching America, but that might have been because I still was suffering some minor heat exhaustion symptoms. One article, fortunately, did grab my attention. It's an opinion piece published in Germany's Junge Welt and provides good insight into the US claim that we had disrupted an Iranian plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US. I thought the whole episode smelled for various reasons, and this article fleshed out my suspicions nicely.

In reality, all participating U.S. agencies admit that there is no evidence that the government of Iran is in any way involved or complicit in the plot. The fact that nearly every mainstream media outlet in the West is reporting exactly the opposite is neither surprising nor, from the American point of view, undesirable. It's the only way the U.S. can justify the new sanctions against Iran that were announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She announced at a press conference that the U.S. would “work closely with our international partners to increase Iran's isolation and the pressure on its government, and we call upon other nations to join us in condemning this threat to international peace and security." She added that the plot “crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for.” She then triumphantly announced that this case would fortify the distrust many countries felt toward Iran.

This supposed assassination plot that justifies “punitive measures” against an entire nation was apparently another in a series of so-called sting operations that have been increasingly popular recently with the FBI, CIA and other American security agencies, all of which are designed to prove the dangers of “Muslim terrorists.” Using this plot, unstable individuals were systematically involved in fictitious conspiracies constructed by police and intelligence agencies. The conspiracies originated overwhelmingly in the imaginations and machinations of those agencies. They ranged from identifying assassination targets to providing explosives and weapons.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, yes, and yes.

I would only add that in addition to providing cover for more sanctions, this "nefarious plot" also gives a the whack job sector of our nation an opportunity to call for yet another war against the Muslim Infidels. Sadly, the current administration might be sympathetic to such a call.

We still haven't moved beyond 9/12/01, and the rest of the world has noticed.

How humiliating is that?


Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (October 11, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge).


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Albino Ratfish

(Photographer unknown, but published at National Geographic.

This Is Very Cool

Every once in a while I come across a little news article that really takes the freezer burn off my heart. This is such an article, and it talks about a new movement in Germany.

Take a book, leave a book. In the birthplace of the printing press, public bookshelves are popping up across the nation on street corners, city squares and suburban supermarkets.

In these free-for-all libraries, people can grab whatever they want to read, and leave behind anything they want for others. There's no need to register, no due date, and you can take or give as many as you want. ...

The public book shelves, which are usually financed by donations and cared for by local volunteer groups, have popped up independently of each other in many cities across Germany including Berlin, Hannover and Bonn, and also in suburbs and villages.

Each shelf holds around 200 books and it takes about six weeks for a complete turnover, with all the old titles replaced by new ones, he said.

The program has been so successful that other countries have requested information on the process. While the Germans are still fine tuning, they have been willing to share that information to increase reading habits. And book sellers are beginning to notice that the availability of free books hasn't cut into their business at all. In fact, several have reported an uptick as the reading public is, well, reading more.

Would such a program work in the US? I don't see why not. Yes, we have free public libraries, but many of them are either closing or cutting back the hours and days they are open because of state and local budget crunches. Most of them are located inconveniently far from those who because of their own budget crunches can't take advantage of them. Having these small book shelves in different areas takes an edge off those problems.

It's a nifty idea, one that I hope succeeds all over the planet.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging: A Look Back

(And my bed STILL hasn't been made.)

Super Secret Committee

Because Congress couldn't play nice in the traditional manner, someone came up with the idea of putting together a "Super Committee," one that would be bipartisan and would find a way to reduce the federal deficit. Congress then decided to give it "Super Powers" by which any consensus reached by the committee would be entitled to an up-or-down vote without debate. Congress also gave it an additional power:

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is a 12-member, bipartisan panel that has been meeting,mostly in secret, to devise a proposal to cut deficits by as much as $1.5 trillion over the decade. The committee was created from the summer debt ceiling deal, and has wide-ranging authority but a short window to accomplish its task. [Emphasis added]

That's right, the committee work is being done in secret. We don't know what is being considered for remedies to the economic miasma, we don't know what exact input is being given the committee or from whom, and we won't know until a bill is reported out. It's bad enough that a committee has been created with extra-constitutional powers of any kind, but that it is allowed to operate in secret is horrendous.

On the somewhat brighter side, we won't have to wait long.

...The committee has until Nov. 23 to vote on a proposal. If a committee majority passes the proposal, it would be presented to Congress for an up-or-down vote, with no amendments, by Dec. 23. By January, the committee, by law, disbands..

So much for a transparent government. This doesn't even rate one cheer for democracy.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Very Long March

Silly season is about to get even longer. New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the first primary in presidential campaigns, is refusing to give up that cherished position. The state is now threatening to hold its primary in December, just about two months from now.

New Hampshire's secretary of state says that it is "up to Nevada" whether his state is forced to move its presidential primary into December, with that vote possibly coming in just less than eight weeks.

The kink in the campaign time table began with Florida moving its primary up (against national party rules), and Nevada responded by threatening to move its primary up to January. This was New Hampshire's response.

Now, I like a good campaign, but even I can't envision eating popcorn for that long. The election is still nearly thirteen months away, and we've already had seven debates, a couple of straw polls, and more jet fuel burned than a baseball team over the course of a season. Why should it take so long to pick a nominee and then a winner? Is it any wonder that the American electorate gets turned off?

And lengthening the season has some serious ramifications. Michele Bachmann's detractors have pointed out that she has missed over 50 House votes because she has been too busy campaigning. I'm not so sure that's a bad thing, but, still, she was elected to represent her state. Congressman Ron Paul has also missed some votes. Both have undoubtedly missed a lot of committee meetings and have given short shrift to their other congressional duties. Texas Governor Rick Perry has been out of his state during some pretty contentious times, and he's only one year into his latest term. These people are getting paid to do their jobs even as they fly around the country to raise money and to get votes for the next job. That's hardly fair to their constituents.

I am not suggesting that we bar current office holders from the seeking higher office, merely that our campaign season has become way too long, especially since there is a period of time before that when potential candidates are scurrying around picking campaign staff, running focus groups, and dialing for dollars before declaring their candidacy. Other countries manage elections in far less time and for far less money.

Besides, I'm frankly getting sick of popcorn.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Klown Kollege

I found that the Los Angeles Times has a pretty good snarkmeister on staff, Paul Whitefield. His post on the 2012 presidential campaign had me chuckling this morning as he quite accurately assesses the tactics and strategies of both President Obama and the GOP cast of "Keystone Kampaigners" so far, with the election still more than a year away.

It's what he had to say about the Republican candidates that really set the tone:

Give them the gift of an incumbent president presiding over a listless, jobless economy, and what do they do with it?

They take shots at Mormons, letting the religion be called a cult and non-Christian. Or they deride people protesting today's corporate greedfest as "jealous" Americans who "play the victim card" and want to "take somebody else's" Cadillac. And when a GOP debate crowd boos a gay soldier or calls to let someone without health insurance die, the candidates go mute.

Plus, they don't trust their front-runner. However, they also don't much care for their rear-runners. Witness how quickly political fortunes turn in today's GOP: Rick Perry went from toast of the party to Mr. BBQ Beef to Texas toast in, well, a New York minute.

And when they finally do get around to talking about jobs, their solution is to cut taxes. Making rich people even richer might win you hearts and minds (and money) on Wall Street, but down on Main Street -- where the jobs used to be before those rich folks shipped them off to China -- it doesn't play as well.

Last night's debate in New Hampshire, which happened after Whitefield wrote his column, pretty much validated what he had to say. It must be tough to be a Republican voter right now, but we Democrats have to be uneasy with what he had to say about the other side of the coin, President Obama and his administration the last three years.

Which brings us to question No. 2 and President Hope and Change, who has given us too little of the former and not enough of the latter.

There aren’t enough jobs being created. So the president does what Washington has always done: He creates a job-creation panel. Which creates jobs for people like Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and chief executive of American Express, and Jim McNerney, chief executive of Boeing, and, for diversity's sake, Xerox's chief executive, Ursula Burns.

And they know about jobs, all right: They know how to make them disappear. For example, as The Times' Alana Semuels reported, American Express, shortly before Chenault's appointment to the panel, "closed a facility in North Carolina and eliminated 550 jobs, or about 1% of the company's workforce."

Those are our choices for 2012. I guess it's not so funny after all.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mental Health Day

(Rough night, but maybe something later.)


Monday, October 10, 2011

Preach It, Brother Bernie!

Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) has a remarkably detailed post up at the Daily Kos. In it, he excoriates Wall Street and the federal government, and then provides some good sense solutions to the problems caused by the banksters and their style of doing business.

More than three years ago, Congress rewarded Wall Street with the biggest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world. Simultaneously but unknown to the American people at the time, the Federal Reserve provided an even larger bailout. The details of what the Fed did were kept secret until a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act that I sponsored required the Government Accountability Office to audit the Fed’s lending programs during the financial crisis.

As a result of this audit, the American people have learned that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in low-interest loans to every major financial institution in this country, huge foreign banks, multi-national corporations, and some of the wealthiest people in the world.

In other words, when Wall Street was on the verge of collapse, the federal government acted boldly, aggressively, and with a fierce sense of urgency to save our financial system from collapse with no strings attached.

Now that the middle class is collapsing and a record-breaking 46 million Americans are living in poverty, the Federal Reserve has failed to act with the same sense of urgency to make sure that small businesses receive the affordable loans needed to put millions of Americans back to work and prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes.
[Emphasis added]

Those too wealthy to fail got the benefit of an extraordinary bailout by the feds, so extraordinary that our government tried to keep it secret from the rest of us and almost pulled it off. If the move was necessary to keep us from utter destruction, why hide it? Was the government afraid that the 99% of us who paid for that extra bit of corporate welfare might catch on too soon that we were being sold out yet again? Apparently so.

Sen. Sanders then issues six legislative proposals designed to put Wall Street back under control in a manner they should have been so as to avoid the catastrophe --the near catastrophe for them, the complete disaster for everyone else. Go read them and then forward them on to your congress critters. Explain to them that there's a reason the Occupy Wall Street protests are catching on with the 99%.

And Bernie has a few words about those protests in his conclusion:

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are shining a light on one of the most serious problems facing the United States -- the greed and power of Wall Street. Now is the time for the American people to demand that the president and Congress follow that light – and act. The future of our economy is at stake.

Preach it, Bernie!

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sunday Poetry: William Blake

A War Song to Englishmen

Prepare, prepare the iron helm of war,
Bring forth the lots, cast in the spacious orb;
Th' Angel of Fate turns them with mighty hands,
And casts them out upon the darken'd earth!
Prepare, prepare!

Prepare your hearts for Death's cold hand! prepare
Your souls for flight, your bodies for the earth;
Prepare your arms for glorious victory;
Prepare your eyes to meet a holy God!
Prepare, prepare!

Whose fatal scroll is that? Methinks 'tis mine!
Why sinks my heart, why faltereth my tongue?
Had I three lives, I'd die in such a cause,
And rise, with ghosts, over the well-fought field.
Prepare, prepare!

The arrows of Almighty God are drawn!
Angels of Death stand in the louring heavens!
Thousands of souls must seek the realms of light,
And walk together on the clouds of heaven!
Prepare, prepare!

Soldiers, prepare! Our cause is Heaven's cause;
Soldiers, prepare! Be worthy of our cause:
Prepare to meet our fathers in the sky:
Prepare, O troops, that are to fall to-day!
Prepare, prepare!

Alfred shall smile, and make his harp rejoice;
The Norman William, and the learnèd Clerk,
And Lion Heart, and black-brow'd Edward, with
His loyal queen, shall rise, and welcome us!
Prepare, prepare!

--William Blake

Land Of Inequality

I've been going over to Watching America for years now, primarily because I want to see how the rest of the world views us, but also because I want to see news and analysis that is simply not being provided by our own press. Yesterday, I found this article from Germany's Die Tageszeitung which gives an excellent take on some of the reasons why the Occupy Wall Street movement has been gaining steam in this country.

Those up there on Wall Street continue to make themselves richer, while the majority of the population is battered by the crisis. This feeling that drives many of the protesters in New York and other U.S. cities does not deceive. The U.S. is a land of inequality — and the inequality is growing by leaps and bounds.

Only at first look does the development appear quite good. Before the outbreak of the financial crisis, from 2006 to 2007, incomes rose a steady 3.7 percent. Yet, that is just the average. In reality the increases for the most part went to those who were at the very top of the income ladder.

To CEOs, for example, whose salaries are 185 times that of an average worker’s wages. The top 1 percent of households saw a rise of almost 7 percent and so received 24 percent of the total earned income of Americans.
[Emphasis added]

Bingo! That gets it nicely, all the way around. It reminds me of a tee shirt my father once wore when working out in the yard: "The faster I work, the behinder I get." That's the way the other 99% of us feel each month when the bills come due, even if we are fortunate enough to have a job (or two or three part-time jobs). In the mean time, CEOs who get fired for doing a lousy job for their companies walk away with an addition $15 million to make their forced exits a little less painful.

And this is why those standing vigil in New York City, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Portland, and all the other cities coming on line are not just disaffected twenty-something hippies. There are elders in their fifties and sixties, and those without jobs in their thirties and forties with no hope of finding one at this point, and returning veterans from two abominable wars who can't find jobs either. There are teachers and cops and firefighters and school nurses who have seen their pensions and collective bargaining rights wiped out by local governments which don't have the money to continue paying them because the economy sank under the weight of the frauds perpetrated by the banksters.

And the most politicians in the pay of those banksters can come up with is "Corporations are people, too."

Well, our owners are beginning to get nervous, and they should be. If this movement by the rest of us gets much bigger, they are in trouble.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (October 5, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, October 08, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Mexican Axolotl

(Photograph by Stephen Dalton/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes and published at National Geographic. Click on link to learn more about this fascinating salamander.)

Divine Citizenship

The candidates for the big GOP slot in 2012 made their proper obeisances to the evangelical wing of their party, each trying to convince their audience that s/he had the right qualifications when it came to religious values. Even Mitt Romney dropped his moderate stance to woo the Religious Reich. It was quite a show, one that Los Angeles Times opinion writer Michael McGough found amazing, even if not exactly compelling:

"This century must be an American century," Romney said. "In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. God did not create this country to be a nation of followers."

This takes the invocation of the Deity a step further than George W. Bush's much-criticized 2003 State of the Union address, in which he said, "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity." Bush's line is actually anti-chauvinistic, whereas Romney is claiming a divine blessing for his assertion that "We're No. 1."

But that makes sense. God is an American, isn't he?
[Emphasis added.]

Snark aside, McGough is making a good point. By way of a rather weak circumlocution, Romney is asserting that God made the US, not the founders who were assiduously trying to erect a wall separating church and state. That's called pandering, something Romney, like his colleagues for public office (and I mean all of them, not just Republicans) is pretty good at. In front of this particular audience, however, it was a rather dangerous and disingenuous move. Romney is a Mormon, a fact that makes most in this wing of the party very nervous, if not downright hostile.

Romney's religious beliefs shouldn't be the focus of the race, and it's something that up to this point the candidate has been able to avoid discussing. By injecting God into the discourse, however, he lost the reins and a supporter of one of his opponents was only too happy to pick them up.

At the Values Voters summit in Washington, prominent evangelical leader Robert Jeffress told reporters that Mormonism was a cult and that Romney was not a Christian.

So, the shoe finally dropped, or, more properly, was thrown.

Not such a good move, Mitt.

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Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Target Practice

The Drug War continues under President Obama. The first signal that there would be none of the change he promised during his campaign was his administration's refusal to reclassify marijuana from the dangerous drug listing. The second is the announcement that medical marijuana dispensaries are being targeted for closure here in California.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Federal prosecutors in California are threatening to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state, sending letters to warn landlords to stop sales of the drug within 45 days or face the possibility that their property will be seized and they will be sent to prison.

The stepped-up enforcement appears to be a major escalation in the Obama administration’s bid to rein in the explosive spread of medical marijuana outlets that was accelerated by the announcement that federal prosecutors would not target people using medical marijuana in states that allow it. ...

The latest letters have baffled the state’s medical marijuana activists, who believe the president has broken his word. “Obama says, ‘Yes.’ The conservatives say, ‘No.’ So they get together and huddle and they settle on no,” said William G. Panzer, an Oakland lawyer who helped draft the state’s medical marijuana initiative. “The Obama administration has been incredibly disappointing on this issue.”

What is so infuriating about this move is that while dispensary growth did sky rocket in California, the state and local authorities had already stepped in and shuttered those too close to schools and parks, investigated "pot docs" who were writing the necessary "recommendations" without examining those requesting the script once the requisite "fee" was paid and referred them to the disciplinary boards, and enforced the rules for how much marijuana could be grown for medical purposes by each outlet. The state was keeping its end of the bargain.

This is a new policy, one that quite probably came as some kind of deal made with unhappy conservatives. And it's a deal that targets all dispensaries, not just those which don't comply with state law, something Obama promised wouldn't happen. That means people undergoing chemotherapy won't be able to obtain the pot that quells the nausea which accompanies such treatment. Those with AIDS who also depend on marijuana to assist in keeping weight on will also be shut out. Their only choice now is the dangerous one of depending on street dealers.

This isn't just a war on drugs, it's also a war on science, which has found that marijuana does in fact provide some medical benefits, something which the boneheads in the White House refuse to acknowledge.

A pox on them and on their misguided and antiquated policy.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Roster

Yesterday's announcement by Sarah Palin that she wouldn't be running for president in 2012 certainly came as no surprise. Most people, even those with only one foot planted in reality, knew she wouldn't give up her multifaceted money-making machine for the hard work of campaigning on a national level. She had pushed that elephant as far as it was going to go. She'll have to find another way to keep herself in the spotlight, but I'm sure she'll think of something. Having a gig with Fox will certainly help in that regard.

The more important announcement came on Tuesday when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that he wouldn't be entering the fray, even though plenty of the GOP leaders were pleading for him to do so. Smart man, him. It's late in the season, especially with several states pushing their Republican primaries/caucuses for January, 2012. Furthermore, he's less than two years into his stint as governor, which just isn't much of a track record for voters to evaluate. Even with the help of the national party, Mr. Christie's getting things organized to make a run would have been difficult.

Consequently, as a result of both announcements, the field for this horse race is pretty much set, barring any unforeseen events. Mitt Romney is still at the top. Rick Perry, who for the past two weeks has been portrayed by the media as flaming out, is close behind (if fund raising figures are an index of things), followed by a suddenly surging Herman Cain. Michele Bachmann, whose campaign probably is fizzling, is way back with the rest of the field. The base of the party is not all that thrilled by most of the candidates, but we're entering reality time, and the GOP wants to begin focusing on actually winning the White House.

And that is beginning to look possible, according to this latest poll of American voters.

Forty-six percent would vote for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney while 42% would vote for Obama, the poll found. Romney has been gaining in Quinnipiac’s head-to-head matchup. In July, Obama had a six percentage point advantage; by August, the two were tied.

If Obama’s Republican contender was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Obama would do better, but the race would still be tight, the data shows. Forty-five percent would cast their vote for Obama, compared to 44% for Perry. That’s within the poll’s margin of error -- 2.1 percentage points.

That's certainly not good news for President Obama and for those Democrats who are running in 2012 at the national level. Other polls have shown that the American public is sick to death of both the White House and Congress for their inability to get things done during this time of profound economic dysfunction. The Democrats are going to have a real fight on their hands and they deserve it.

If it didn't affect us all so deeply, I would be happy to sit back and enjoy the race, cheerfully munching on my stock of popcorn. As it is, I'm starting to get anxious. Very anxious.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Things That Make You Go "Wow!"

It appears that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are having some success. Not only has the phenomenon finally forced the mainstream media to notice, it has also spread to other cities across the US, including Laid Back Los Angeles. And here's the amazing part, at least some members of a local government body have noticed.

At an L.A. City Council meeting, a representative of the Occupy L.A. group in front of City Hall invited members to take a tour of the demonstration site. After the session ended, council members did just that. Not only did they go down to greet the protesters, two had a message for them.

From the Los Angeles Times:

It is customary that any time someone has news to share, the entire group echoes the words of the speaker, to make sure everyone hears. So when a man shouted out, "We’ve got two guests today who want to talk to the General Assembly,” the whole crowd repeated him.

“Do I hear any objections?” he asked. There were none.

Rosendahl and Garcetti, the two council members who remained, called for equality in fiery speeches. When Garcetti shouted, “This is your City Hall!” the crowd repeated, "This is our City Hall!"

“Stay as long as you need," Garcetti told them. "We’re here to support you.”

Rosendahl said he hopes to introduce a resolution supporting the demonstrators during Wednesday's City Council meeting.

Imagine that.

Are you listening, President Obama?

Are you listening, Harry Reid?

Are you listening, Nancy Pelosi?


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Granny Bird Award: Alabama Legislature

Yes, another Granny Bird Award, this time to be shared by the state government in Alabama. In the last edition of the Award, Florence suggested I consider an award for the state of Alabama for their harsh new immigration law. I did a little scouting about on the issue and decided she had the right idea.

The whole point of the award is to acknowledge those misanthropes who adversely affect the rights and interests of the elders, especially if they go out of their way to do so. This clearly falls into the "interests" category. We're concerned about more than Social Security and Medical, after all.

So, the back story from a September 30, 2011 editorial in the Los Angeles Times:

This week Alabama became the first of several states that have passed draconian anti-immigrant laws to successfully defend key provisions of its law in court.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn found that parts of Alabama's controversial law didn't conflict with the federal government's authority to regulate immigration. That means that, effective immediately, state and local police must arrest and detain anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. Schools are required to determine the immigration status of students and provide it to district officials. And immigrants caught without proper identification can be charged with a crime.
[Emphasis added]

The whole law stinks, but it is the emphasized section which offends both Florence and I so deeply. In effect, the state is trying to get to the parents through their children. The parent's reaction to this is quite understandable, as this article makes clear:

Latino students have started vanishing from Alabama public schools in the wake of a court ruling that upheld the state's tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration.

Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home this week, fearful that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities. ...

Local and state officials are pleading with immigrant families to keep their children enrolled. The law does not ban anyone from school, they say, and neither students nor parents will be arrested for trying to get an education.
[Emphasis added]

Yeah, right. You can count on the state to keep their word on that, given the text and the intent of the entire law.

Look, many of us elders are the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Some are immigrants themselves. Furthermore, many of our neighbors and our friends are immigrants. Not all of the rules were observed in all cases, but things got worked out as the government made some intelligent and compassionate decisions. We're still waiting for President Obama to follow through on that campaign promise. Maybe Congress should get involved if the White House is too busy running to get re-elected, but the problem can be solved, and solved reasonably if our leaders would just get with the program.

In the meantime, the Department of Justice should continue to press to have these laws overturned so that these kids can get back in school, can get their education without their parents fearing instant deportation. This "sins of the father" thing is downright shameful.

Yes, Alabama, I said shameful.

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Unlikely Ally

Penn Jillette has made me uncomfortable in the past with his tirades against those who believe in a deity or deities. His atheism has always sounded too much like the rantings of an extremist, of someone wearing his non-beliefs a little too tightly around his ears. That said, I found myself nodding appreciatively and in agreement with what he wrote in this opinion/commentary in the Los Angeles Times.

Oh, the rant is still there, but it doesn't depend on deeply insulting reaches for nasty humor. He makes his point clearly and backs it up with a rather nifty historical survey on the role of religion, specifically the "Christian" religion, in American politics. Here's some of what he had to say in "Politics and the bugnut Christians":

When I was a kid, politicians wanted to avoid talking about religion if they could. John F. Kennedy couldn't duck the issue, being Catholic and all. So how did he address it? By reminding Americans that religion shouldn't be an issue, that he was concentrating on big things like poverty and hunger and leading the space race.

When he finally got around to talking about religion, here's what he said: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." Can you imagine a presidential candidate talking that way today?

It's what happened after that, particularly after Roe v Wade, that galls him, just as it galls me, a Christian believer. We get candidates who blame natural disasters on a God who is punishing the country for not being Christian enough by the standards of the Religious Reich. We get divisiveness in campaigns against the "heathens" and the "godless" as defined by those far to the right on the religious scale.

It is Jillette's conclusion that rang so true I had to stand up and take a walk around the apartment to calm down enough to re-read his essay:

Let's just hope our politicians keep expanding the group of people they want to serve. Rather than embracing Christian as the magic word of politics, we can move on to the truly magical word: American. And maybe we can even go a step further and make the magic word "humanity."

Trust me: the second reading was every bit as satisfying as the first. Click on over.


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Gerardo Mena


—For Corporal Kyle Powell, died in my arms, 04 November 2006

They said you are a spear. So I was a spear.

I walked around Iraq upright and tall, but the wind blew and I began to lean.
I leaned into a man, who leaned into a child, who leaned into a city. I walked
back to them and neatly presented a city of bodies packaged in rows.
They said no. You are a bad spear.

They said you are a flag. So I was a flag.

I climbed to the highest building, in the city that had no bodies, and I smiled
and waved as hard as I could. I waved too hard and I caught fire and I burned
down the city, but it had no bodies. They said no. You are a bad flag.

They said you are a bandage. So I was a bandage.

I jumped on Kyle's chest and wrapped my lace arms together around his torso and
pressed my head to his ribcage and listened to his heartbeat. Then I was full, so
I let go and wrung myself out.

And I jumped on Kyle's chest and wrapped my lace arms together around his torso
and pressed my head to his ribcage and listened to his heartbeat. Then I was full, so
I let go and wrung myself out.

And I jumped on Kyle's chest and wrapped my lace arms together around his torso
and pressed my head to his ribcage but there was no heartbeat. They said no. You
are a bad bandage.

They said you are a coffin. So I was.

I found a man. They said he died bravely, or he will. I encompassed him
in my finished wood, and I shut my lid around us. As they lowered us
into the ground he made no sound because he had no eyes
and could not cry. As I buried us in dirt we held our breaths together
and they said, yes. You are a good coffin.

--Gerardo Mena

(Found at War Poetry.)

Another Way To Steal The Election

Watching America had a pretty good range of articles on the US from the international press this week, and I spent more time than usual during my Saturday survey at the site. My ultimate selection was pretty hard to pass by, even among the other excellent articles. Who could pass by a story with the headline "Republicans’ War Against Voters"? Certainly not me.

It's from France's Le Figaro and the analysis is right on the money. Although the US press has noticed the uptick in state laws restricting voter eligibility, few have made the connection between those restrictive laws and the GOP. Even fewer have explained just why that connection exists. This op-ed does both.

It hasn’t been seen since the days of segregation. The Republicans have mounted a campaign, devised and financed by the Koch brothers, who have been accused by The New Yorker of "waging war against Obama," to prevent the largest number of Democrats possible from voting in the next election. According to the organization The Advancement Project, which campaigns for civil rights, "we haven’t seen such a decline in voting in a century." ...

In fact, as many as 38 states, led by a conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by the Koch brothers, have put restrictions in place on voting rights. For example, Alabama and Kansas require proof of U.S. citizenship before voting. Florida and Texas limit the actions that certain liberal organizations can take to enlist new voters. Florida and Iowa prohibit voting by those who were sentenced to long terms in prison. Vermont ended a practice dating back to 1973 to allows registration on voting day. There is no limit to the Republicans’ vision of control over the states.

Six states require those voting to produce an identity card. In the United States, more than 10 percent of Americans do not have them, including 18 percent of youth and 25 percent of blacks, two groups who vote heavily in favor of Democrats. “In my life, since we eliminated the racist laws, there has never been such an effort made to limit the right to vote,” said an outraged Bill Clinton in July. The GOP has tried everything to make Barack Obama a “one term president.” Their dirty tricks may well come back to hit them in the face next November.
[Emphasis added]

Why the sudden surge in voter restriction laws? Voter fraud, minuscule to begin with, certainly has not risen. The article makes no bones in explaining the reason:

In the 1980s, the conservative theorist Paul Weyrich said, “I do not want everyone to go vote. Our power is increased when participation drops.” ... [Emphasis added]

Weyrich is still around and his assessment, which is totally accurate, is still in play. Add to the mix the Citizens United decision from the US Supreme Court and the horrendous state of the economy, and the GOP sees a prime chance to take over not only Congress and the White House, but also state legislatures and governors' mansions. By making it difficult for the elderly, the poor, and the black and brown voters to vote, they see a huge victory come November, 2012.

And it just might work, unless, of course, we do something about it. It's almost too late for the Obama administration to challenge those voter restriction laws, given the time it takes an appeal to reach the Supreme Court. Consequently, it behooves the rest of us to take action by working to turn out the vote and by assisting those whose votes might be unfairly challenged to obtain the requisite proof of eligibility. It also means we might have to hold our noses once again while we actively start recruiting and supporting liberal candidates with enough spine to push back against the Koch brothers.

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