Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Cat Blogging


An Welcome Solution

(Cartoon by Joel Pett/Lexington Herald-Leader (2/27/14) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge)

Another skirmish in the battle for human rights in this country is over, and this time the good guys won.  Arizona Governor Jan Brewer finally vetoed the bill which would give businesses the right to refuse service to gays on the basis of religious beliefs.  Given all of the ink and electrons spilled over the bill nationally, the veto came as no surprise.  What was a surprise was where the pressure to overturn the state legislature came from. 

I think Bill Dwyre got it right:

The issue had a number, SB (Senate Bill) 1062. It also had a label, the anti-gay bill. It was passed by the Arizona Legislature recently but vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday night. As written, it said that for religious reasons a business person may legally withhold services from gays, lesbians and transsexuals.

It was, of course, a hot topic. Prominent people weighed in. It didn't seem to have any political lines, just across-the-board amazement that it was passed by the state Legislature and disgust that it took so long to veto.

Those opposing the bill seemed to merely be battling stupidity.

The biggest wedge seemed to come from the leverage of sports. The Super Bowl is scheduled here next year, and the NFL's stance seemed quite clear.  [Emphasis added]

While it is true that those other businesses which benefit from tourism were also against the bill (it might very well have cost them millions, if not billions), it was the veiled threats from the NFL and MLB (a lot of major league teams hold spring training in Arizona) that provided the capstone.

So, while the reasons for the veto may have been based in greed, the outcome was a victory for human rights.  And that was a welcome reminder that the boycott, even the threat of one, is still a handy tool for political change.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Frackin' Mess

(Cartoon by Steve Sack/Minneapolis Star-Tribune (2/23/14.  Click on image to enlarge.)

The president still hasn't given any strong hint as to his decision on building the Keystone Pipeline.  In fact, he made it clear that the decision won't come any time soon.

From the L.A. Times:

 President Obama told the nation’s governors Monday that a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline could come in a matter of months, signaling he did not intend to let a recent court ruling derail his decision on whether to approve the much-debated project.

If that decision comes in the next two or three months, it just might land near the Primary Elections in many states.  I suspect that is his plan:  if he gives the green light to the plan, he's removed one of the issues from the GOP, at least temporarily.   The trouble is that he is going to piss off the environmental and liberal wing of his party who just might not show up.

And the excuse suggested by Steve Sack in his cartoon, that shipping by train is much more dangerous than a pipeline, just doesn't wash.

Stopping the fracking here and urging Canada to do likewise just might.  In the meantime, we'll just hope that governor's will get involved, like the one in Nebraska who got behind some property owners and who convinced a judge not to let the pipeline go through that state.

A pox on all their houses.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Unintended Consequences

(Cartoon by Lee Judge/Kansas City Star (2/25/14) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge.)

File this in the "Well, DUH!" box.

From the 2/21/14 New York Times:

Signaling how difficult the atmosphere for retailers remains across a wide range of customers, Walmart Stores and Nordstrom on Thursday both issued fairly weak forecasts for the coming year as they reported disappointing earnings for the fourth quarter.
 
Walmart cited international uncertainties like currency fluctuations and an economically struggling customer base at home as partial reasons for such sluggishness. ...

In a call with reporters, William S. Simon, the chief executive of Walmart U.S., said that cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, crimped the company’s results. An exceptionally ferocious winter with multiple storms also cut into earnings, Mr. Simon said, detracting from a positive performance during the six-week holiday shopping period. He said the storms “aren’t an excuse, but merely an explanation.”
 
Ken Perkins, founder of Retail Metrics, said the company’s central problem was the plight of its core consumers, who are still struggling with stagnant wages and have been left out of areas of economic growth, like rising stocks and home values.  [Emphasis added]

It doesn't take an economics genius to explain the drop in earnings and the forecast for more of same, and I'm not talking about polar vortices, either.  When people don't have money to spend because they either aren't working or are making too little in wages, they can't spend. 

Maybe Walmart and Nordstrom could set an example and start paying decent salaries and provide such benefits as health insurance.  Or their lobbyists could start lobbying Congress to pass a reasonable minimum wage bill and an extension of unemployment.

In the meantime, I am just bitch enough to rather enjoy these corporations' fiscal discomfort.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ain't Got Much Today

Cartoon by Joel Pett/Lexington Herald-Leader (2/24/14) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge.

NOTE:  I've had a couple of low energy days in a row and my haidbone just isn't working right now.  Hopefully by tomorrow I'll have something more substantive for you.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

More Hot Air

(Cartoon by Bill Schorr (2013) and found at Cagle cartoons.  Click on image to enlarge.)

There are some benefits to getting old.  The biggest one to my way of thinking is that in all likelihood I will miss the coming environmental cataclysm.  In my less selfish moments, however, I worry about what the coming generations will face as a result of the mistakes made by my generation and the ones before mine with respect to the environment. Sometimes sadness damn near overwhelms me as I see those mistakes being repeated time after time by the greedier and more short-sighted people currently running the world.

From the 2/22/14 L.A. Times:

The Obama administration's drive to regulate greenhouse gases could hit a snag at the Supreme Court next week as industry groups and Republican-led states ask justices to block what they call a "brazen power grab" by the president's environmental regulators.

Amid legislative inaction in a deadlocked Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency adopted regulations in 2011 that require new power plants, factories and other such stationary facilities to limit carbon emissions.

The agency said the rules were justified by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that held that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — seen as the chief culprits behind a warming planet — are air pollutants subject to EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act. ...

Now, the dispute is back for Round 2 in the high court in a legal fight over how far the EPA can go in adapting the 1970s-era antipollution law to the 21st century's gravest environmental problem.

It is also a political fight, with a partisan lineup similar to the healthcare case two years ago. ...

...when the EPA tried to expand those rules to stationary facilities, industry leaders and Republican-dominated states argued that the agency had gone too far. Justices agreed last year to consider six different appeals of the rules.

Typically, stationary facilities would include power plants, but the challengers said the regulations could potentially extend to millions of others, including hospitals, shopping malls and universities.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the new rules, if put into full effect in 2016, would "erect the costliest, farthest reaching and most intrusive regulatory apparatus in the history of the American administrative state."   [Emphasis added]

Apparently the members of the Chamber of Commerce and oil industry groups don't much care about their own kids' and grandkids' future.  Maybe they are banking on their wealth and connections to keep their own families warm enough and cool enough inside their air conditioned estates, regardless of the conditions outside. 

I'm not so sure their gamble is going to pay off in quite the manner they think.





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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Poetry: Maya Angelou

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

--Maya Angelou

Sunday Funnies: Snake-Bit

(Cartoon by Joel Pett/Lexington Herald-Leader (2/18/14) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Cartoon by Mike Luckovich/Atlanta Journal Constitution (2/19/14)

(Cartoon by Steve Sack/Minneapolis Star Tribune (2/18/14)

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bonus Critter Blogging: Asian Elephants

(Photograph by ZSSD, Minden Pictures/Corbis and published in National Geographic.  Click on link to learn more about the way elephants comfort each other when they are distressed.)

Oopsie! Their Bad

(Cartoon by Eric Pertin (3/16/10) and found here.  Click on image to enlarge.)

I have to admit that the Tea Partiers occasionally made some sense, at least on some issues.  One of the characters from Mr. Pertin's cartoon really hit home after I read a news article yesterday.

From the L.A. Times:

...in certain cases, Medi-Cal, California's version of Medicaid, will be able to collect repayment for healthcare services from the estate after a recipient dies, including placing government liens on property. ...

Despite government assurances that the vast majority of Medi-Cal patients needn't worry about the state trying to claim their assets, growing numbers of new enrollees under Obamacare are voicing concerns after reading warnings on healthcare notices that after their deaths the state "must seek repayment of Medi-Cal benefits" for services provided once they turn 55.

Some advocates for the elderly say the "estate recovery provisions" of Medi-Cal could threaten family finances and discourage people from signing up for health insurance. [Emphasis added]

How's that for a chilling bit of news for recipients of MediCal and their family?  The article continued with assurances from a state spokesman that the move isn't as terrible as it sounds.

Established in 1993, the federal government's estate recovery program was chiefly intended to recoup outlays for lengthy nursing home stays and skilled nursing care, which are among its biggest expenses.

But California and other states have exercised an option in limited instances to recover payment for medical services, from doctor visits and surgeries to managed care payments and drugs.

Norman Williams, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Care Services in Sacramento, says only a tiny fraction of the 9 million patients using Medi-Cal will be affected by cost recovery actions against their estates. Less than a quarter of a percent of the more than $600 billion the state spent on Medi-Cal over the past 20 years has been recovered, he said.

Only costs incurred for patients 55 to 64 years old are involved, he noted. And collection efforts will not begin while there is a living spouse, minor children or surviving dependents with disabilities. Families also may apply for hardship exemptions.  [Emphasis added]

I don't find that explanation all that reassuring, quite frankly.  People who qualify for Medi-Cal have to jump through all sorts of hoops just to qualify.  To find out that their meager estates are going to be wiped out by the state has to come as just one more blow to a beaten down family.

Additionally, given the fact that the state has only recovered a "tiny fraction", why do they bother?  I'm sure that the procedures and paperwork involved cost the state at least the amount recovered, probably more.  It just doesn't make any fiscal sense.  Surely the state has other ways to save money, like cutting some of the tax breaks given to corporations.

You think?



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Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Cat Blogging


Eh! Unions, They're Useless

(Cartoon by Jim Morin/The Miami Herald/4/23/10) and found here.  Click on image to enlarge.)

For too long the general public has tended to see unions as outdated and unnecessary.  Employees could deal with their employers directly, thereby saving dues money, and get the same benefits.  Unfortunately, with the demise of labor unions came the loss of any power whatsoever for the 99% of the working public.  Wages have declined, even for the most skilled worker, while CEOs and the ret of the 1% have become wealthier, obscenely so.

Some unions, however, have persisted and new unions have arisen.  They have broadened their interests far beyond wages, benefits, and safe working conditions.  And, just as in the past, their efforts will benefit us all.

From the Los Angeles Times:

A healthcare workers union will launch its signature-gathering effort for a hospital pricing ballot measure Thursday, marking the latest front in a looming initiative fight that will pit labor against hospitals.

Thursday's event in Sacramento is the latest in a series of kickoff events SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West has held throughout to state to start its signature drive. This time, they're gathering right at their adversary's front door: outside the headquarters of the California Hospital Assn.

The union has been highlighting inflated prices for products and services at California's hospitals, such as a charge of nearly $40 for lip balm at Memorial Hospital in Sacramento. The ballot measure would prohibit private hospitals from charging more than 25% above the true cost of patient care.  [Emphasis added.]

Health care costs have been the two-ton gorilla in the room for decades.  Lab tests, ER visits, in-patient services, durable medical equipment, prescription medication:  all are so hugely expensive that even with insurance the costs are out of reach for most people.

The SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West members involved in this action know the difference between what care actually costs and what is being charged.  They also have been schooled in ways to change the situation (unions still remember how to do that). The members are working hard to give all of us, not just themselves, a better shot at health care.

It appears that unions haven't outlived their usefulness after all.  We all should be grateful for that.


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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Playing Catch Up At The Local Level

(Click on image to enlarge.)

We have been assured by lots of sources that the Great Depression is over.  Wall Street points to the welcome rise in the Dow Jones.  The White House points to the improving job numbers.  Multinational corporations point to increased productivity.  And yet ...

State and local governments aren't quite so sure that the crunch has finally over.  Infrastructure (roads, power grids, sidewalks, sewer and water lines) are deteriorating faster than budgets can cover.  Taxable incomes still haven't returned and sales taxes are still down because consumers still aren't and can't buy as they once did.

On top of all that, state and local governments are facing public employee pension shortages in the years to come if more funds aren't poured into them:

From an AP report in the Pasadena Star News:

California’s government will increase the amount it contributes to state employees’ pensions starting this summer, and cities and other government agencies will follow suit in two years, to help cover the cost of benefits for retirees who are living longer.

The board of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System approved new assumptions for the pension system Tuesday that effectively increase contribution rates.

Projections show workers are expected to live an average of as much as two years longer, driving up the cost of paying benefits to people until they die. Women retiring at age 55 in 2028 are expected to live to 87.

 Contributing more to CalPERS’ $282.5 billion pension fund means local governments will have less money to pay for services such as police, roads and parks. But delaying payments to the pension system would cost more in the long run. ...

Most county and city governments surveyed by associations agreed with CalPERS’ approach to phase in the increase over five years and spread the total cost over 20. But the new rate increases are on top of additional rate increases coming next year.

“Together, they are going to cause serious service reductions,” said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities.  [Emphasis added]

Many short-sighted citizens are screaming about funding public employee pensions on several bases.  In the private sector, employer paid retirements are a benefit of the past.  The very most workers in the private sector can hope for is continued contributions to their 401(k) accounts, however minimal those contributions might be.  Those who don't have even that are scrambling to add to their IRAs and are reduced to hoping that Social Security will be enough to live on.  They find the notion that their tax dollars are going to fund someone else's retirement repugnant.

Understandable? Certainly, but like I said, short-sighted in all sorts of ways.  First of all, most public employees who are either retired at this point or nearing retirement accepted jobs at lower rates of pay than their private sector counterparts because a pension was guaranteed.  Second of all, as more and more private sector employees rejected unions over the past decades, public employee unions such as SEIU swooped into play and negotiated better benefits across the board.  Private sector employees didn't have that bargaining power, but they shouldn't blame their counterparts for that.

Now, however, because of the disastrous ten to twelve years, state and local governments have a lot of catching up to do to meet the obligations.  With any luck and some kept-promises, that catch up will be eased somewhat by increased revenues.  If not, a lot of people are going to think wistfully of that "sandal in Florida."

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Banksters Always Win

(Cartoon found at Think Progress)

Here's one for the books.  I shouldn't have been shocked (even I'm not that naïve), but I certainly was.  I chalk it up to the meds I'm on.

Sometimes people get themselves into financial trouble; sometimes it's even their own fault.  Credit scores pretty much zero out as bills remain unpaid, cable access gets cut, cars get repossessed.  And even when the crisis is over and the poor slob either declares bankruptcy or somehow struggles out from under the financial load, that credit score is still ruined until someone is willing to extend a little credit, even a small amount, and that loan is paid off.

Unfortunately, that's when the less scrupulous of lenders swoop in.  "Pay Day" lenders are the best known, but bank owned credit card companies can sometimes be nearly as offensive.  To my knowledge, the most egregious scam has been the offer of a card with a relatively small amount of credit available but which also required a "membership" fee and charges exorbitant if not punitive interest rates.  Soon the poor debtor is right back where s/he started.

But wait ... there's more!

At least one credit card company has found yet another way to traumatize vulnerable debtors, and this one is a doozy.

Mike Lazarus points out this latest outrage from one such "EZ" credit sources in the Los Angeles Times.

From Mike's column:

Ding-dong, Cap One calling.

Credit card issuer Capital One isn't shy about getting into customers' faces. The company recently sent a contract update to cardholders that makes clear it can drop by any time it pleases.

The update specifies that "we may contact you in any manner we choose" and that such contacts can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a "personal visit."

As if that weren't creepy enough, Cap One says these visits can be "at your home and at your place of employment."

The police need a court order to pull off something like that. But Cap One says it has the right to get up close and personal anytime, anywhere.  [Emphasis added]

Mike checked with a lawyer and apparently this clear invasion of privacy is probably  perfectly legal.  The constitutional right to be secure in our homes, our right to privacy, applies only with respect to government entities such as the police, not to civil organizations.

But wait ... there's even more!

Incredibly, Cap One's aggressiveness doesn't stop with personal visits. The company's contract update also includes this little road apple:
 
"We may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose."
 
Now that's just freaky. Cap One is saying it can trick you into picking up the phone by using what looks like a local number or masquerading as something it's not, such as Save the Puppies or a similarly friendly-seeming bogus organization.
 
This is known as spoofing, and it's perfectly legal.

Perfectly legal, even if not exactly consumer-friendly.  But, hey! there's a bank involved. ...

Kudos to Mike Lazarus and to the L.A. Times for yet another great bit of reporting.


 

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Another Voice To Be Ignored

(Cartoon by Daniel Kurtzman, published the week of 3/3/13, and found here.  Click on image to enlarge.)

As of 2:00 PM (PST) on Monday 2/17/14, President Obama still had not announced his decision on the Keystone Pipeline.  As I noted earlier (here), it's an admittedly difficult decision.  No matter what he decides, there will be plenty of screaming from one side or the other.  So, he's continuing to listen and to weigh the issue.

A group I'm reasonably sure his administration has not been listening to is one which has a major stake in the outcome:  the Native American population located near the proposed pipeline.  In many respects, their concerns are even more serious than the rest of the people living alongside the construction.

Various tribes are trying to get their message out, and at least one major national news outlet is paying attention.

From the 2/16/14 edition of McClatchy DC:

In South Dakota, home to some of the nation’s poorest American Indians, tribes are busy preparing for nonviolent battle with “resistance training” aimed at TransCanada, the company that wants to develop the 1,700-mile pipeline.

While organizers said they want to keep their strategy a secret, they’re considering everything from vigils to civil disobedience to blockades to thwart the moving of construction equipment and the delivery of materials.

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can,” said Greg Grey Cloud of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who attended a two-day conference and training session in Rapid City last week sponsored by the Oglala Sioux Tribe called “Help Save Mother Earth from the Keystone Pipeline.” He said tribes are considering setting up encampments to follow the construction, but he stressed that any actions would be peaceful. “We’re not going to damage anything or riot or anything like that,” he said. ...

Two weeks ago, an alliance of Native American groups approved a statement saying emphatically that no pipeline would be allowed in South Dakota and that tribes stand ready to protect their “sacred water” and other natural resources.

That includes Native women, who opponents of the pipeline say would become easy prey for thousands of temporary construction workers housed in work camps. According to the federal government, one of every three Indian women are either raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetimes, with the majority of attacks done by non-Native men. [Emphasis added.]

Now, me?  I would like the president to can the whole project, explaining to Canada and the rest of the world, that the US is finally ready to fully commit to energy sources that will not pollute in their use or transport.  Coupled with that announcement should be a proposal to fund further development and installation of alternatives to carbon-based fuel across the nation as a matter of national security

Far more permanent jobs would be created, and far fewer climate-changing chemicals would be dumped into the air, earth, and water.  Just as important, we would end our dependence on foreign oil and our foreign policy could be based on more rational and humane bases than it is at the present.

An old broad can dream, can't she?

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/02/17/218219/native-americans-vow-a-last-stand.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/02/17/218219/native-americans-vow-a-last-stand.html#storylink=cpy

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Acting Like Grown Ups?

(Cartoon by Steve Sack, published 10/10/13 in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Merciful heavens! Congress managed to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling!  And it was a clean bill, too.  The White House and the Democrats didn't have to give up anything to get it passed:  no (further) cuts to social programs, no demands for the beheading of a cabinet member, no strings whatsoever.  What happened?  Were the Tea Partiers hung over from all their victory celebrations? 

Nope.  Apparently, according to Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, the Tea Party was stung by the increasing drop in their popularity among even conservatives and decided, as voiced by Rep. Michele Bachmann, to pick their battles.

Here's what Doyle McManus suggests about the 'switch' in tactics:

To some tea party militants around the country, Bachmann's words sounded like surrender. But the Minnesota congresswoman and her colleagues on Capitol Hill were simply embracing lessons learned from October's disruptive government shutdown.

Back then, tea party conservatives expected the American public to rally behind their demand to defund President Obama's healthcare plan — but the public didn't rally. Instead, voters turned against the GOP for staging a needless crisis, driving the party's popularity to record lows.

From that experience, the tea partiers learned some crucial lessons. The first was: Don't stage a crisis without a plan to win something from it.

The demands made by congressional conservatives in the fall were nonstarters, given a Democratic Senate and a president with veto power. The only thing they could offer was obstruction, and Americans didn't like that. And that brought the tea party to lesson No. 2: Branding yourself as "the Party of No" only gets you so far.

A third lesson came from the calamitous rollout of President Obama's healthcare plan, which rescued the GOP from its slump. With that, conservatives in Congress learned that if you think your opponent's signature project is a train wreck, the best thing to do is get out of the way and let the voters watch it crash. [Emphasis added]

McManus points out that as part of the new strategy, they have forged links with more traditional GOP backers and think tanks and have taken some lessons on how Congress works and how to manipulate the media, presumably so that fewer people merely point at them and laugh and more people will pay attention to the Tea Party agenda.  They also intend to do a better job screening and training the candidates they put up each election.

None of this means that the civil war in the GOP is over, just that a smarter tea party may be less inclined to sabotage itself. Almost 90% of John Boehner's House Republicans voted against the speaker on the debt ceiling, but they didn't make a scene while doing it.  [Emphasis added]

Sigh ... I shall miss the funny hats.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Poetry: John Donne

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

--John Donne

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Sunday Funnies

(Cartoon by Jim Morin/Miami Herald (2/13/14) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Cartoon by Brian McFadden and published 2/13/14 by Daily Kos.)

 
 
(Cartoon by Lee Judge/The Kansas City Star (2/14/14) and featured at McClatchy DC.)
 
(As always, click on images to enlarge.)

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bonus Critter Blogging: Komodo Dragon

(Photograph by Stefano Unterthiner and published in National Geographic.  Click on link to see more pictures of this wonderful creature. Click on the image to enlarge.)

Say What? [Updated]

(Cartoon by Paul Fell and found here.  Click on image to enlarge.)

The Los Angeles Times quite surprised me by printing opinion columns on the Tennessee VW plant union vote on two consecutive days.  Both articles take essentially the same stance: against state Republicans who are appalled at the company's actually encouraging not only the vote, but also a vote for the union representation

From Michael Hiltzig's 2/12/14 column:

Reading the remarks of the state's GOP politicians is like a trip through cloud-cuckoo-land. Here's a statement sent to the Detroit Free Press by State Sen. Bo Watson of Chattanooga: "Volkswagen has promoted a campaign that has been unfair, unbalanced and, quite frankly, un-American in the traditions of American labor campaigns .... Should the workers choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, then I believe additional incentives for expansion will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate."

Apparently the "American" style of labor campaign is one in which the employer moves heaven and earth to intimidate workers and suppress their legal right to collective bargaining, not one in which the employer sees concrete benefits in a union presence on the factory floor.

The Republicans appear to be afraid that the UAW vote will eat into Tennessee's hard-earned as a right-to-work (read: anti-union) state. A UAW victory at Volkswagen, moreover, would be its first at a foreign-owned auto plant in the country. The politicians have expressed fears that other manufacturing companies will shun Tennessee if the UAW cracks open the door. [Emphasis added]

From Scott Martelle's 2/13/14 op-ed piece:

Thursday is the second of three days of a union-organizing vote at Volkswagen’s Tennessee auto assembly plant, and it’s being tracked like a congressional special election. Is it a bellwether for the state of modern labor? Or is it a one-off that says nothing of significance beyond the confines of the VW factory floor?

It’s a bit of both. The vote has attracted an extraordinary amount of outside interest and pressure, including misleading public billboards, bizarre claims on local talk-radio stations and a general frothing from the anti-union right that worker-management cooperation is the first step toward Stalinism. The organizing vote also seems to have brought out the worst in some Republican state politicians, who have threatened future financial help for VW projects if the United Auto Workers wins the election. As my colleague Jon Healey wrote Wednesday, that is an inappropriate threat.

But I go further: The politicians are wrong to oppose this (especially those who usually condemn government meddling in private business; why are they meddling now?). As is the Grover Norquist-led Americans for Tax Reform, which has been spending heavily to try to persuade the VW workers to remain unorganized (it’s mystifying what a private labor agreement has to do with tax reform). ... [Emphasis added]

The scramble by Republicans to thwart the vote for UAW representation by threatening the employer is appalling and reeks of the smell of fear:  not that other employers will stay away from Tennessee (a right-to-work-for-minimum-wage-and-no-benefits-or-protection state), but that workers just might catch on to the GOP's anti-worker stance and begin electing Democrats who will more adequately represent them.

Horrors!

Update:

The 712-626 vote (53%-47%) against unionization at the German automaker’s three-year-old factory in Chattanooga is a setback for UAW because labor experts had thought Volkswagen gave the union its best shot of setting a precedent to make inroads with transplants such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Nissan.  [Emphasis added]

I guess the GOP's interference worked, although this latest article does indicate the UAW will be appealing the results.

What a shame for Tennessee workers.



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Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Cat Blogging


Pipe Down!

(Cartoon by Ingrid Rice and found at Cagle.com.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Doyle McManus's latest column nicely summarizes the arguments for and against the building of the Keystone Pipeline.  President Obama isn't going to have an easy time making this decision.

The State Department's 11-volume environmental impact statement released last month attempted to balance the factors dispassionately. Yes, the report said, the oil from Alberta's tar sands is 17% dirtier than most of the oil extracted in the U.S., and its transport and refining could add 27 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year.

But the report also concluded that a U.S. decision to block the pipeline wouldn't significantly reduce that problem, because Canada intends to move the oil whether Keystone is built or not. Indeed, if Canada ships most of the oil by rail, the environmental consequences could be even worse, and the United States would lose out on the pipeline's economic rewards.

That's why some administration officials I've talked with — and even, privately, some environmentalists — are betting that Obama will eventually approve the Keystone project.

How that sits with voters, especially environmentalists, may depend on what conditions the president imposes on the project and what else he does to address climate change.

If he signs off on the project, liberals and environmentalists (the people who worked so hard to get him elected) will scream long and hard.  If he doesn't sign off, several Democratic senators whose states will be affected may lose their seats in the upcoming election, and the Dems will lose their Senate majority (not that the Senate Dems have used that majority very well).

If he signs off, he will be admitting this country isn't serious about fighting climate change.  If he doesn't, the power companies and our Canadian neighbors will ship the dirty oil by rail, which is even more dangerous.

He's damned if he does; damned if he doesn't.

 Sorry, Barack:   addressing tough issues is part of your job.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Move Along, Nothing To See

(Cartoon by Tom Toles, published 2/10/14 in the Washington Post.  Click on image to enlarge.)

We've gotten a little rain here in Southern California over the past week.  More importantly, Northern California got more rain and even some snow in the Sierras.  Of course, we didn't get nearly enough to take us out of drought conditions, and it is doubtful we will any time soon.

Michael Hiltzig had an interesting column in Sunday's L.A. Times which addresses the various issues presented by our climate.

Last week a clutch of Republican members of Congress from California agricultural counties arranged (with the connivance of House Speaker John Boehner) to pass a bill overriding mandates to keep water flowing in the state's rivers in favor of increasing supplies to farmers. They sounded the tired old cry about "putting families over fish," as though there aren't families in California dependent on healthy fisheries, too, and as though the water transfer in question would relieve what is shaping up as a record drought year.

The measure is opposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, state water officials and Democrats in both houses of Congress. It's nothing but a sop to credulous farm voters in the districts of Reps. David Valadao, Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes, its sponsors. It doesn't create a single drop of water, despite ridiculous claims that it will "solve California's water crisis" (Nunes), and abrogates jealously guarded states' rights over water allocations to boot.

Yet while this posturing was going on in Washington, the drought in California was growing worse and solutions more elusive. Even if it's relieved by the wet spell we've seen in recent days continuing through the rest of the wet season, it's a harbinger of more extremes to come, thanks to climate change. 

...
The most important factor in meeting the crisis is a recognition that California has made some bad choices in the past that would not be made today, knowing what we know about the likely trajectory of statewide water supply. We would plant fewer permanent crops like nut trees, and make fewer commitments of firm water to housing project developers.

Some of these decisions will have to be undone in the near term, some will be undone by the implacable economics of residential development and agriculture, and some we will have to live with for decades more. Fatuous political posturing to give some groups of users priority over others is a waste of time, and one thing we have less of every dry day is time. [Emphasis added]

I hate to say this, but this is one time I think Hiltzig's pessimism is well taken.  Not only are there no easy answers, at this point there appears to be no answers at all.  We are simply going to have to live with extreme conservation measures, backed by stiff sanctions, higher food prices as there is less water for the agricultural regions of the state, and more unemployment because fewer farm workers will have jobs.

About all we can reasonably do is issue fewer development permits and plant fewer water-using plants such as grass and flowers in those homes currently here.

We don't have such a bright future here, and that not-so-bright future extends to more than just California.




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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Horse Race

(Cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 2/9/14 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge.
I never thought I'd be linking to Jonah Goldberg, but his column in Tuesday's L.A. Times does provide some insight into who just might be the contenders for the 2016 GOP nomination.

Republicans want an outsider, which is why the senators aiming for the nomination — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — spend much of their time denouncing the city they work in. The governors — Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mike Huckabee, formerly of Arkansas — have it easier, but they certainly never miss an opportunity to express their disappointment in Washington. Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Romney's running mate in 2012, is the one candidate who could claim next-in-line status without setting off a riot, but he's unlikely to run. Jeb Bush is beloved by the party establishment, but nothing short of a name change would appease the tea partiers. [Links provided in the original.]
One of the first things I noticed about this list was the absence of Chris Christie, and I admit to being surprised at the omission.  I guess even Jonah was appalled by the alleged thuggery of the New Jersey governor.  Still, it's early in the process and I think he's got time for a "rehabilitation."  The American electorate has a short memory.

What  surprised me a little was the inclusion of two Hispanics, Cruz and Rubio.  It may very well be that the Republicans (at least some of them) really are ready to consider an immigration reform bill.  At the very least, Republicans might realize that they have to do something to attract Hispanic voters.

What is clear from his column is that he believes that the Tea Party will continue to shape the Republican Party.  If he is correct, it's going to be a long, contentious ride into the convention in 2016. 

I recommend investing in popcorn stock.



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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

About Damned Time

(Cartoon by Joel Pett/Lexington Herald-Leader (1/9/14) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge.)

I've written before of the shameful way we have treated our veterans.  Those who have served this nation during times of war (declared and undeclared), who have sustained injuries which are visible and invisible, have returned only to find that many of the promises made to them remain unfulfilled.
The results of those broken promises are heartbreaking.

One of the most shameful of those results is that there are so many homeless veterans with various kinds of disabilities including drug and/or alcohol addiction, brain damage, and post traumatic stress disorder.  It took a long time for Congress to wake up to these needs and to appropriate more (but not enough) money to the Veteran's Administration to begin addressing these problems. 

And the VA is starting to do its job with the money allotted.  Here's the first hopeful sign I've seen in a long time.

From the LA Times

For years, the effort to establish housing for chronically homeless veterans on the VA's sprawling West Los Angeles campus has been painfully, shamefully slow, as mistrust and inertia have impeded progress at the same time that two wars have dramatically increased the need for action. Finally, there may be a chance for a breakthrough. A new piece of legislation, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would clear the way for the Department of Veterans Affairs to enter into long-term lease agreements with developers and service providers to transform two vacant structures, known as Buildings 205 and 208, into housing with therapeutic services. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) is expected to introduce a companion bill in the House.

It's disturbing that anyone is homeless in the United States, and it's particularly disgraceful — as Feinstein noted in a statement — that so many military service veterans are homeless. An estimated 6,300 live in Los Angeles County, the largest concentration of homeless veterans in the country. The VA has said for years that it would renovate three buildings on its grounds to house the homeless. Work is currently underway on just one, Building 209.

Like I said, it's only a start.  Renovating the two buildings will mean housing for 200 homeless vets.  That's only a drop in the bucket, but as the vets move into these structures and get the treatment they need, many will be in a position to move on with their lives, find more traditional structures to live in, perhaps even secure jobs.  That means others will move into the structures on the VA grounds.

 Additionally, if this works, it will hopefully open the door to shelters for more of these homeless vets in Los Angeles and provide a model for vets all over the country.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

How Amusing ... Not!

(Cartoon by Lee Judge/Kansas City Star (1/17/14) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)

Leave it to the Republicans to find a new way to raise money, at the expense of the Democrats, of course.

From the L.A. Times:

The National Republican Congressional Committee bought up hundreds of URLs ahead of the 2014 election cycle and has created nearly 20 websites appearing to support Democratic candidates in all but the small print, a spokesman for the campaign confirmed Thursday.

The websites include donation forms that accept credit cards and encourage viewers to contribute up to $500, but instead of money going to the Democratic candidates, it goes to the NRCC. ...

But NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato defended the committee’s strategy, calling the Democratic candidates’ official websites “deceptive” for omitting support for President Obama’s policies. He also dismissed concerns that the sites were misleading, characterizing the language contained in the websites as “clearly negative.”

“I think they are crystal clear about the perspective they are coming from,” he said. “And the Democrats don’t want this information out there. Therefore, they’re freaking out about them.” [Emphasis added]

The Republicans claim they have violated no FEC rules (although that is disputable, as the article points out).  The GOP simply went out and bought the website urls from the internet authority before the candidates got around to it.  In addition, claim Republicans, if one actually reads the material on the bogus site it is clear that it is asking for donations to the NRCC and not to the candidate whose picture appears.  In other words, if Democratic voters don't read the fine print they should be ripped off.

Watergate it ain't.  But sleazy and slimy?  Absolutely.

I think the GOP must be more than a little nervous over the upcoming elections.  I sure do hope so.

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sunday Poetry: Maxine Kumin

In The Park
You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
--you won't know till you get there which to do.

He laid on me for a few seconds
said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell
about his skirmish with a grizzly bear
in Glacier Park.He laid on me not doing anything.I could feel his heart
beating against my heart.
Never mind lie and lay, the whole world
confuses them.For Roscoe Black you might say
all forty-nine days flew by.

I was raised on the Old Testament.
In it God talks to Moses, Noah,
Samuel, and they answer.
People confer with angels.Certain
animals converse with humans.
It's a simple world, full of crossovers.
Heaven's an airy Somewhere, and God
has a nasty temper when provoked,
but if there's a Hell, little is made of it.
No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire,

and no choosing what to come back as.
When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down
on atheist and zealot.In the pitch-dark
each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.
--Maxine Kumin

Sunday Funnies

Cartoon by Keef Knight and posted 2/4/14 at Daily Kos.

Cartoon by Tom Toles and published 2/4/14 in the Washington Post.

 
Cartoon by Brian McFadden and published 2/6/14 at Daily Kos
 
As always, click on images to enlarge.
 
 
 

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Bonus Critter Blogging: Flamingo

Photograph by Nicole Miller/Adelaide Zoo/EPA and published in National Geographic.  Click on link to learn the sad news about this particular beautiful bird.

But None For The Rest Of You

(Cartoon by Jack Ohman/Sacramento Bee (2/7/14) and featured by McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge.)

So unemployment has dropped to 6.7%, and there was cheering throughout the land.  Well, big freakin' whoop.  As the Los Angeles Times has pointed out, that figure doesn't tell the whole story, and there are fewer jobs and fewer employed people than this "wonderful" set of reports seems to be implying.

From the L.A. Times:

Despite last month's sluggish job growth, the nation’s unemployment rate again edged lower, to 6.6% in January from 6.7% in December. That is the lowest since October 2008. The jobless figure has dropped sharply since October when it was 7.2%.

The unemployment rate is calculated using a separate survey of households, which sometimes doesn’t match up with the payroll job counts that come from a survey of employers. Based on the household survey, the employment picture for January looked considerably brighter. Unlike previous months, workers did not drop out of the labor force in January, according to this survey.

However, analysts put more weight on the larger survey of payroll job changes. By that measure, the last two months suggest that the economy and jobs recovery are slowing again, which could complicate the policy decision-making for the Fed.  [Emphasis added]

So, those in Congress who voted against extending unemployment benefits will point to this report and say, "See, See?"  To those unfeeling (and wealthy -- see Ohman's cartoon above --)  monsters I would reply, "Get your spectacles adjusted!"

As if that wasn't bad enough, those same greedy bastards voted in a Farm Bill which cut the Food Stamp program.  A trip to  Open Secrets will provide some insight into the bill which President Obama cheerfully signed:

Last year, the farm bill was the sixth-most heavily lobbied measure on Capitol Hill, with 350 organizations spending cash to get their voices heard as it was being shaped. Much of that lobbying was done by agricultural groups like the American Farm Bureau and the International Dairy Foods Association, which listed the bill on a combined 34 of their disclosure reports in 2013; crop insurance was the issue that appeared the most frequently on these reports. And the two groups weren't alone in their push. Since 2006, the American Association of Crop Insurers and the National Association of Wheat Growers, for example, have each mentioned crop insurance in lobbying disclosure reports more than 60 times.

Together, the agricultural services (in the case of AACI) and crop production (in the case of the wheat growers) industries have some serious lobbying heft. In 2013 alone, the industries combined to spend more than $57.5 million on lobbying. Leading the charge among those groups were chemical giant Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau, which over the past five years have spent $36 million and $27.9 million, respectively.

But crop producers and other agricultural groups haven't just been using their cash for lobbying; they've also sunk money into the campaigns of much of the congressional leadership in charge of crafting this year's farm bill.  [Emphasis added]

I left in all of the links (which I hope work!) from the cited article in case you'd like to check further and to use this data if/when you call your reps in Congress and scream loudly and long.

It's a terrible time to be among the 99%, isn't it.

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Friday, February 07, 2014

Friday Cat Blogging


Big Freakin' Deal

(Cartoon by Joel Pett and featured at McClatchy DC 1/15/14.)

The headlines in all of the major news outlets all noted that CVS Pharmacies, one of the most ubiquitous drug store chains in the land, had announced that all of its stores would cease selling tobacco products by the Fall of this year.  This move will allegedly result in the loss of several billions of dollars to the corporation.  The reason given for this move is that the sale of killer tobacco was inconsistent with CVS's role in providing the means to good health.

Yeah, right.

At least one journalist, Frank Giradot, saw the move for what it was:  rank hypocrisy.

From the Pasadena Star News:

Interestingly, [CVS CEO] Merlo said nothing about booze, which his stores also sell. I know I bought a bottle of Bailey’s there this weekend.

 There’s a bit of hypocrisy in CVS’s stand when you consider what the Center for Disease Control says about fermented beverages:

“There are approximately 88,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. ... excessive alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation ...is responsible for 2.5 million years of potential life lost. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2006 were estimated at $223.5 billion.”

Hmmm.
 
He also left out candy or sodas with elevated levels of high fructose corn syrup.

Some researchers believe that high-fructose corn syrup or added caloric sweeteners play an important role in the development of obesity, again according to the CDC. Guess what?

Obesity leads to death too.

Merlo didn’t mention questionable over-the-counter cold remedies that can be used to manufacture methamphetamine. There was no scorn heaped upon cheap toys made by slaves in Southeast Asian sweat shops. Nor was there a commitment to limit access to other products with a range of serious side effects that include “massive loss of blood pressure,” “heart attack” and/ or “sudden death.” [Emphasis added]

Nor did Mr. Merlo mention that the government was going to outlaw tobacco sales in drug stores soon any way.

So, the shelves behind the counter or off to the side under lock and key will provide room for other products for sale.  I'm betting the new merchandise will be nicotine patches and gum and possibly even e-cigarettes.  I wouldn't worry too much about CVS's bottom line.

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

And This Is Surprising How?

(Cartoon by Mark Streeter and found at Cagle.com.  Click on image to enlarge.)

It's not just the GOP using the Affordable Care Act for gain, our capitalist market place has added an niche as well:

From the L.A. Times:

To hold down premiums under the healthcare law, major insurers have sharply cut the number of doctors and hospitals available to patients in the state's new health insurance market.

Now those limited options are becoming clearer, and California officials say they are receiving more consumer complaints about access to medical providers. State lawmakers are also moving swiftly to ease some of the problems that have arisen.

"It's a little early for anyone to know how widespread and deep this problem is," said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "There are a lot of economic incentives for health insurers to narrow their networks, but if they go too far, people won't have access to care. Network adequacy will be a big issue in 2014." [Emphasis added]

Because the state Insurance Commissioner is keeping a close watch on premiums in "California Care" (the state version of the ACA), the insurers are paring costs (and maintaining profits) by paring the list of doctors in their network.  Doctors willing to accept reduced billing rates are promised more patients in return.  It's a sweet deal for both the insurance companies and the medical establishment, and a not-so-sweet deal for the patients..

Many patients suddenly discover (often mid-treatment) that their doctors won't/can't accept the patients' insurance.  For a cancer patient, this can be devastating. Even if the patient locates another doctor for treatment, the wait for an appointment may be extensive.

Nice, eh?

But that's what happens when you let the insurance companies help in writing the law.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Rain, Rain, Come Our Way

(Cartoon by Ted Rall and found here.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Yes, California is in the midst of a three-year drought, and, unless we have a March Miracle, we will start rolling into a fourth year. Governor Brown's declaration, even if a little late in the game, has at least raised the consciousness of residents of the state, especially in the southern half, that we will be facing both water shortages and water use restrictions.  The griping has already begun as talks of fines for poorly adjusted sprinkler systems which water sidewalks rather than lawns have been mentioned in city councils.  Central Valley farmers (especially the agri-corps) have announced that there will be layoffs because there won't be enough water for many of the crops which are shipped all over the country and to other nations.  Food prices as well as water bills will rise for all of us.

OK, Californians have a history of wasting water.  We raise cotton and rice and other water-intensive crops.  We have beautiful green lawns in the middle of what is essentially a desert.  We have swimming pools in back yards.  We have a burgeoning population which just can't be supported by our geology.  Newspapers all over the country have been filled with articles on all of this, but few, if any, have said much about the story behind the drought:  climate change.

What amazes me is that world scientists (the rational ones, at least) know the primary cause of climate change -- the reliance on carbon-based energy generation -- and yet world leaders (especially those in the U.S.) have done nothing to dramatically curb the use of oil, coal, natural gas to generate power.  It's not as if there aren't existing alternatives and the technology for developing even more effective, non-lethal sources.

What there isn't, however, is the will and therefor the funding for such alternatives.

From McClatchy DC:

Investment in clean energy is faltering at the same time the United Nations and others say it needs to quadruple to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

New figures released at the U.N. on Wednesday show that global clean-energy investment dropped by 12 percent in 2013, the second straight year it declined. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance numbers show $254 billion in investment last year, far below the $1 trillion a year average that the International Energy Agency estimates is needed to avoid a climate crisis. ...

“This is incredibly important. The time is now,” said Lisa Carnoy, the head of global capital markets for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Carnoy was among some 550 financial executives who attended an investor summit on climate risk Wednesday at the U.N., organized with the investor and environmental coalition Ceres.
The overriding message was a call for more green investment. ...

He said America’s glut of cheap natural gas from fracking had made it more difficult to attract investment and that the news media had focused far more on clean technology failures than on successes, which helped drive policies in Congress.  [Emphasis added.]

Ironically (and sadly), it reminds me of that old motor oil commercial:  "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later."

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214636/un-investment-in-green-energy.html#storylink=cpy

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Elder Belle's Blessing: Esmeralda Bermudez

:
Elder Belle's Blessing is an award given from time to time to those who enhance or further the rights of the elders.  This edition goes to L.A. Times reporter Esmeralda Bermudez for her wonderful article in the Los Angeles Times on a Dial-A-Ride driver and her passengers.

From that article:

When the bus is full of women, anything or anyone is fair game. The men who get on board are wise to stay out of the way
 
"They sit in the back very quietly," said Armida Marquez, 70. "They don't want us coming after them."

Every day in Bell Gardens, the Dial-A-Ride shuttles around town picking up seniors. They catch rides to the grocery store, the hair salon, the hospital, the pharmacy. The trips are quick, five, 10 minutes at most, but here at least, they never feel alone — and the sorrow of old age is often loudly trumped by laughter.

Lots of it.

Bermudez lovingly relates some of the conversations on that bus ride, making it clear that the elder women consider the ride (and the driver, Laura Torres) an important part of their lives.  As a Dial-A-Ride user myself, I know the importance of that transport and of the friendships which can evolve from it.  But at no point does Bermudez refer to them "elderly," or "senior citizens," or any other tag which would suggest old age equals less than competent and somehow less than able.  She gives their ages but in no way suggests anything negative is attached to that number.  These are living, breathing, women who enjoy themselves and each other.  That is why I gave Bermudez this award.

 Go read the article with its terrific photos by Genaro Torres.  I promise you it will be worth the click.

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Monday, February 03, 2014

"Tougher Than A Boiled Owl"

(Cartoon by Jim Morin/Miami Herald published 1/30/14 and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge.)

The promise in his State of the Union address that because Congress wasn't cooperating in passing his agenda Obama was going to exercise his executive powers to get things done caused me to raise an eyebrow.  That promise certainly was a bit surprising, given his record so far (see Morin's cartoon above).  As far as I'm concerned, our president is a DINO:  "Democrat In Name Only," so I doubt we'll see much movement to the left from Mr. Obama.  So, no real news there, although there was one bit of news that I think was momentous enough to cause me some chest pain.

The news of Henry Waxman's retirement from Congress really stunned me.  I didn't think he'd ever retire.  The news also saddened me.  He is one of the last "real" Democrats in Congress, and I think he did a creditable job on behalf of his constituents and the nation as a whole. Doyle McManus paid a fitting tribute to Congressman Waxman in the L.A. Times.

 From Doyle's column:

Henry Waxman's wall has bills, dozens of them — bills he helped turn into law, along with the pens that six presidents used to sign them, going back to Jimmy Carter.

There's the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, which virtually invented the generic drug industry (Ronald Reagan signed that one). There's the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which put the now-familiar nutrition label on food products (George H.W. Bush). There's the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which reduced pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables (Bill Clinton). There's the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which launched Obamacare (Barack Obama).

That's certainly a great record, but in the op ed piece, Waxman lamented some of things that he wasn't able to get done: a public option as part of what became the Affordable Care Act and some strong action on climate change are two of his regrets.  Even so, his view of government is one I hope his successor keeps in mind:

"Government is the way we all get together collectively to do things for the public good," he told me in his big corner office overlooking the Capitol on the afternoon he announced his retirement. "The way we are protected from abuses in the marketplace is to have the government act as a referee so that people play fairly. If that stops, greed will take over."

We're going to miss you, Henry.

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