Friday, December 31, 2010

Hello 2011

We are beginning our New Year's Eve welcoming ceremonies. We have our little rituals by which we welcome the morning, or the evening. And for New Year's Eve, we have followed a ritual for about the past 30 years.
We begin our nibbling at around a standard dinner hour. But our dinner this eve follows a common  theme:
1. A platter of baby clams in their shells, sauteed in garlic buter until they open. We consume these with a generous helping of wine.
2. A plate of cold shrimp.
3. A plate of Swedish meatballs.
4. A Caesar salad . . . again with some wine to help our digestion.
5. A sweet delicacy from our local Chocolatiere--always wonderful.
While this is going on, we will at some appropriate time, put on our standard movie--Casablanca--the most romantic movie ever made.
This year Casablanca will run until about 11:15, at which time, we will go in to our hot tub and soak for a while. Feeling properly relaxed, at around 11:45, we will don our night clothes, and go to the fridge for a bottle of champagne.
We will pop the champagne a few minutes before the ball begins dropping in Times Square.
Then we will issue our standard toast--"To us babe", and we will watch the people milling about in Times Square for a few minutes, then head off to bed, relaxed and ready to greet the New Year next morning.
So, to all of our family and our friends,
Happy New Year.
May yours be wonderfully fulfilling and safe.
And may the coming year include more happy moments  than the other kind.
Stay well . .. stay happy . . . stay healthy.
Happy 2011!!!!!!!!!
And below, since they start early is a picture from Oz, where they always have spectacular fireworks over the Sydney harbor bridge The Aussies know how to bring in the New Year. Click on the picture to see it enlarged. Wonderful.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011: A Wish List

The year looms ahead. Many days in which to revel in the joys and blessings of life, or to despair of mankind’s continued unwillingness to be kind. Which will fulfill our coming year? I hope . . . I hope for:
1.      The Pope – Since the pope continues to believe, or act, as though he still had some moral authority in the Christian world, it  would be nice to hear him begin to utter words about his priests doing penance. Maybe they need to do a bit more than say a few Hail Mary’s. Perhaps the more
morally degraded among them might be asked to spend the rest of their days working in leper colonies (do they still exist?), or feeding the poor in soup kitchens, and never again uttering a word to anyone.  And also. Mr. Pope, could you kindly butt out of other people’s business, and stick to Christianity?  I know that Muslims are always blowing things and people up, but really, you have enough to do to keep Christians on the straight and narrow. So, chill out on the other folks, huh?

2.      The President – I voted for you, I worked door to door to help get you elected, and I continue to believe that you are the brightest, most thoughtful guy we’ve had in a long, long time as the Prez. But, maybe in 2011, it’s time to move beyond the community negotiator thing. The PERPs who are trying to run you down (you know who they are) have no interest in compromising on anything.  So, start acting as our President, and Commander in Chief. If they are able to prevent accomplishing things that are right for the Nation, continue to try, but be sure the American people understand who is acting against their interests. We know that the PERPs are owned, lock, stock, and barrel by their corporate Lords, so they can’t really act differently. Their Lords wouldn’t permit them to act like civilized people.  Perhaps you need to go to the source—the Lords of the land-- and begin working with them.  Maybe invite the Koch Brothers to lunch.

3.      Haley Barbour, Sarah Barbie, Joe Miller, Newt Gingrich – put a sock in it for a while guys. I realize you will come out of your crypts during 2012, but give us a break for the coming year. Take up knitting or something, but please, just shut up.

4.      Our Military Command – Please, please, spend the coming year figuring out some way to get out of Afghanistan. If there is no way to “Achieve Victory” so as to make Old Man McCain happy, that’s OK. The Afghan’s intend to continue living in the 13th or 14th century, so let them. Bring our treasure and our guys home. Just leave a note as you leave—if they let Osama Bin Laden loose again, you will level the Himalaya’s, and turn it into a radioactive desert.

5.      The Democrats – Guys, it’s time to begin acting as though someone is in charge. You can’t continue acting like a bunch of dingbat frat boys and expect to win friends and influence people.  So at least pretend that you’re about something of value to America. Oh, and a little discipline please? When you decide to do something, get your guys on board first.  Say, here’s a thought. Ask Jon Stewart to come aboard periodically (part time, please, cuz we still need him to make us laugh) and tell you when it’s time to act like adults. Maybe a monthly lunch with Jon where he gets to yell at you would be good.

6.      There’s probably more, but that’s enough for now.  Don’t drink too much . . . oh, why
not?  New Year’s Eve is made for acting foolish, just do it at home, so nobody gets hurt. Ta ta . . .

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010: That was the year that was

Man this was an “interesting year, as in, “May you live in interesting times.” The election, of course, had been preceded by almost two years of negativity emanating from the Party of the Extreme Right Persuasion (PERP for short).  I mean, we had a witch (remember Christy O’Donnell) announce for Congress. Then Sarah Barracuda brought her kids into the lamestream media limelight by having the kid with the bastard child try to dance against people who actually knew how to dance.  And then she whined about how the media hated her . . . Um yeah, you moron, most thinking people hate you.
Then we had the census, that questionnaire where they ask you a few questions, mainly to see if you’re still alive. Only many good PERPs became confused, trying to figure out whether they should be rebelling, since the census is obviously a pinko-commie plot.  Then they finally decided to cooperate, once it began to be clear that not filling it in might disadvantage republicans everywhere. Turns out, with the gains in the republican corners of the earth, we might well have even more republicans in Congress (really scary thought), since they seem to be outbreeding the thinking part of our population. Well, that’s not the official explanation, but you’ll have to go elsewhere for that.
But the thing I found most interesting was the declaration that the most important objective of the PERPs was the defeat of our President, regardless of the cost to the nation. Yeah, assuring that Obama was a one-term president would outweigh anything else that might require Congressional action.  It was then clearer than it had ever been why the PERPs object so much to the new health care law, and in fact to Medicare and Social Security. They have been trying to derail all three and in fact vow to kill the new health care bill once they are officially in residence.  Why? Because they don’t want the 40-50 million people without health care to finally become covered? No, probably not.
Oh, it’s true they don’t care a fig about those people, but their objections are slightly different. No, they object because they think of these programs, not as programs that benefit millions of Americans, but as instruments of the democratic party.  See, they actually don’t care what happens to the millions of people who would be adversely affected if they privatized Social Security and then it failed (like the bank failures under George I and George II).  They simply don’t care. They see the world in simple black and white terms. There are things that benefit PERPs and things that benefit the other party. They want to kill all things that benefit the other party—consequences be damned.
So, this is their main party platform—kill the other party, by any means possible.
And we have a president who still believes in negotiation and compromise as the path to peace and prosperity. I wonder . . . would Atilla the Hun have been ready to compromise??
Makes for another interesting year coming up in 2011. Stay tuned.
And elsewhere, Haley Barbour announced that the Ku Klux Klan was really just a misunderstood social club, whose members simply got a little rowdy occasionally after a few too many drinks. They never meant any harm, and are sorry if people think badly of them.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Great Christmas Snow Event

So, I am told that the last time we received snow on Christmas in North Carolina was 1947. That's a long time ago. Well, I guess it depends on how old you are, but we didn't live here then, so it was a long time ago, by definition. For the better part of a week, the weather folks couldn't make up their minds. It was going to snow; no, it wasn't. Yes it was . . . a dusting . . . no a great wad. Maybe to the north of us, or to the east of us. Finally, all the weather guys threw up their collective hands and said, "beats us . . . wait and see."
So, we all went about our business.
Come Christmas Eve, we looked out the window. Nope. No snow. Finally, Christmas morning arrived. Still no snow, but a gathering of clouds. Maybe snow??
It's dinner time, and we all sit down to a sumptuous Christmas repast of surf and turf--steak and salmon--with scalloped potatoes, asparagus, green beans and almonds, and a wonderful salad. Then the multivarious desserts--pies, especially mince meat, but also apple, pumpkin, cookies galore . . .
Then one of the kids looks out the window and announces--it is official. The snow has begun to fall on Christmas.
Driving home that night, we couldn't tell. Would it stick . . . or not. So, we all went to bed.
When what to our wondering eyes did appear . . . on rising . . . but real snow. Wow!--Maybe four-five inches of heavy snow.
Wonderfully white, making the whole world around us look new, and fresh. What a nice present.
Snow on Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


1935 – A Great Year, as years go.
A few biggies born that year.
Elvis Presley January 8th -- Tupelo, Mississippi, United States – great rock and roller
Sonny Bono February 16th -- Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Greatest idiot in Detroit.
Dalai Lama 14th - July 6th -- Taktser, Amdo, Tibet – Proving that some religious leaders are actually good for the world.
Julie Andrews – October 1st -- Great voice . . .
Luciano Pavarotti - October 12th –maybe even a greater voice, although he's fatter.
Woody Allen - December 1st -- Brooklyn, New York, U.S. Great writer-Director. Funny man, although weird at times.
Carol Schmidt (nee Foreman) – December 22nd – Tallman, New York – Great Wife-Mom-Grandmom-Great grandmom. Demonstrates that Goodness and love are still alive in the world, despite the other stuff that continues occurring.
Other Stuff that happened in 1935
Germany - The Luftwaffe is created as Germany's air force, thereby giving Adolph a false sense of security.
Iran - Persia is renamed as Iran. Ahmedinjehad is renamed Ahmedinajad, so that everyone can more easily pronounce his name, demonstrating Iranian concerns for the world outside.
U.S. - Amelia Earhart flies solo across the Pacific, even before Pan Am flew across the Pacific.
U.S. -President Roosevelt signs the US Social Security Act Providing Unemployment compensation and pensions for the elderly. Republicans protested en masse.
U.S. -President Roosevelt signs the Revenue Act often referred to as the Wealth Tax Act . The Death Tax was yet to be enacted, because republicans hadn't yet invented the name.
U.S. - The great Labor Day Category 5 Hurricane with winds approaching 185 mph strikes Florida Keys on September 2nd . George W. Bush was not yet in charge.
U.S. The Emergency Relief Appropriation Act on April 8th creates The WPA or Works Progress Administration to create millions of jobs . Republicans protested en masse.
U.S. 1,200,000 people face starvation in Illinois due to lack of funding. Republicans assert that we can’t afford to feed people just because they’re poor.
U.S. First Public Housing Project launched in New York . Donald Trump protests en masse.
Pakistan - Earthquake destroys Quetta in modern-day Pakistan - 26,000 dead . Quake blamed on America. Osama begins his climb to the top in protest.
Carol’s mom gives birth to a fantabulous female child, Carol by name. The little baby outshines everything else that occurred that year. Curiously, she actually lives up to her reputation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Birthdays and Other Stuff

December 17th 1903, the day of first flight, courtesy of Orville and Wilbur . . . an auspicious day it might seem. Who would imagine that those powered gliders would turn into stealth bombers? But Orville and Wilbur, we salute you.
But I'm thinking of 1934 right now. So, why was 1934 an interesting year?
Well, for instance, The FBI ambushed and killed Bonnie and Clyde. They also toppled the glamorous crooks Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger. It is the last time on record that the FBI did anything socially useful.
Inner City Slum Clearance began in New York, beginning in our old neighborhood.
Elsewhere in the world, someone (a Scotsman, who may have been tippling a wee bit too much) spotted the Loch Ness monster for the first time. Adolph Hitler declared himself Germany’s Fuehrer, clearing the way for the ending of the Great Depression. Joe Stalin was also up to no good in the vast wasteland called Russia. And then his USSR joined the League of Nations, thereby assuring the demise of that fledgling international entity.
In San Francisco, The feds opened “The Rock”, or Alcatraz, the first federal housing project for Republican politicians. And Congress passed the Securities Exchange Act, creating the Securities Exchange Commission to oversee the thieves on Wall Street. Unfortunately, Shrub and his republican colleagues invited them back in 2000.
And, while we think stuff is expensive today, in 1934:
Gasoline cost ten cents a gallon (as opposed to 13 cents when I started driving)
A new house cost $5,970 (whereas our first house after marriage was $5,000)
The average wage earner brought in $1,600 per year—my first job out of Stanford was $5,100.
A Studebaker truck cost $625. Our first car, a (used) 1952 Studebaker cost us $500.
So, all in all, I celebrate that vintage year for all the good things it delivered.
Oh, and my mom became pregnant in March of that same year. And then I came along, just before Rudy (dear old dad) got drunk and disappeared for the first of many such disappearances. Mom just "kept on truck’n", largely paying no attention to him. Unlike Rudy, She actually cared about her kids.
So, mom, I salute you. You did good, Daisy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ludwig and Stuff

December 14th . . . two days until Beethoven’s birthday. That was, as we all know, in the year 1770. A giant of a year that was. So what else occurred in that amazing year?
Well, let’s see . . . we have the Boston massacre on March 5th. That was a biggie, huh? A bunch of royalist goons in uniform decided to test their funky muzzle loaders on a bunch of Bostonians. Who knew they could actually shoot? Bummer.
And then James Cook (known to his buds in the hood as Jimmie) dropped anchor during April in what would be called Botany Bay, because of all the stuff, ya’know plants and thingies, discovered there. Yeah, that was big . . . and then Jimmie and his guys went on and discovered . . . are you ready . . . Australia! So, it turns out they named a town in Oz “1770” because of that biggie.
And Marie Antoinette of “let’m eat cake” fame arrived in France and married that guy soon to be King Louis XVI (who unfortunately lost his head . .heh heh heh). Marie baby . . . wow, dudes . . .and we think Carly and Justin are big. And then later that same month, they went and hosted a humongous fireworks display and killed 132 people . . . talk about a downer.
July 1st . . . a dazzling comet, Lexell by name, passed the earth, just barely missing –man, it was only 2,184,129 kilometers from us . . . we were almost toast.
And then, as the year was fading into oblivion, along comes Ludwig to dazzle us all. Every time I consider complaining about some “getting older” ailment, I think about Ludwig, conducting his ninth and last symphony, while he was so deaf he not only couldn't hear the orchestra, but he couldn’t even hear the audience applauding at the end. Someone kindly turned the not so old (poor guy was only 57 when he caught a cold and proceeded to die) guy around, so he could be properly and thunderously applauded.
Yeah . . . Ludwig, I salute you babe. You were a real mensch.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Infrastructure: A Modest Suggestion

As I was checking out a new mobile phone company, CREDO by name, I happened to check customer reviews at the same time. CREDO is a new provider that seems to be associated with Working Assets, a company that is careful who and what causes it supports. CREDO is trying to woo liberal or progressive customers away from AT&T, Verizon, et al.
CREDO apparently buys its actual services from Sprint. We were with Sprint at one time and dumped them for two reasons: 1) their service coverage was generally lousy; and, 2) they tried to bill us $1,000 for services not rendered—they had managed somehow to integrate with our bill the bills of two other Schmidts, but these two lived in the Bronx, whereas we live in North Carolina. It took a lot of calling to get them to admit they had screwed up big time. So, we dumped Sprint and have had no wish to return—reason number 1 still prevailed.
But it set me to thinking about our nation’s infrastructure, and how it is generally falling apart. That part which is relatively new, like the cell phone infrastructure really sucks—it’s spotty, being great in some areas and awful in others. When you travel long distances, you realize how screwed up is the cell phone infrastructure.
I realize in this country that many of our citizens worship at the altar of our private sector capitalist system. The same folks seem to hate anything associated with our Government, despite the fact that our Government actually performs pretty well—see Medicare, Social Security, and our Military, and other vital systems that protect us. But, I wondered what, for example, the national interstate highway system would be like, had we delegated it to the three major auto manufacturers. I can imagine not only bridges to nowhere, but roads to nowhere all over the country. This is essentially what we have done with our telecommunication system. At one point, we simply delegated it all to Ma Bell, and while not perfect, the phone system worked most of the time.
Then Jimmy Carter decided to break up Ma Bell in the name of “competition”. Yeah, that’s the ticket—deregulate telecommunications, break up Ma Bell, and just for the hell of it, deregulate the airline industry. Both industries have been a mess ever since. At one stage we had a healthy and competitive (globally) telephone system and airline system. After we deregulated, and brought in the holy grail of capitalism—competition-- both systems seem to implode. Oh we got a lot of competition, but most of it seemed counterproductive.
So, here we are 30 years later, and (back to the starting point . . . finally) everybody hates both industries. In reading over the customer reviews, the dominant kind of review was, customers who thought the coverage was awful, the service was worse, and an urgent need to carefully monitor their bills. The airlines, if anything, get worse reviews. I personally believe the airline industry is completely dysfunctional.
So, I’m thinking that maybe Obama should begin to talk about replacing the cell phone infrastructure with some national grid, designed by some NASA-like entity and contracted to the private sector to construct. The infrastructure would provide the same (high) quality coverage whether you were in some remote spot in the Bronx, or the wide open plains of Indiana, Kansas, or Montana.
Also, the system would operate such that the customers would be free to buy any piece of equipment they wished to own, from an I-Phone, to the least expensive Chinese-crap cell phone on the market, without regard to which cell phone company you wanted to use. Then you could select your carrier and the kind of service package you wanted, based on your needs. The carriers would have to compete on cost and quality of service, but your basic service, i.e., the ability to make a call wherever you happened to be standing/sitting would be a constant.
And maybe, under such a system, Apple’s I-Phones would actually be able to make calls. Now that would be novel, huh?
Oh, and the system would have to operate such that you wouldn't need both a cell phone and a "landline" phone service. One system would cover both needs.
Just a thought . . .

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thinking About Blood

I’m scheduled to give another pint of blood to the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas on my 76th birthday, coming soon this month. They love my blood—A negative and CMV negative. So, when I go to give blood, I feel special. My blood may be given to an infant whose immune system is compromised, or to anyone with a weakened immune system.
But why on my birthday? Well, I feel like it’s a birthday gift from me to some unknown person. And I feel good that I am able to do that. I always smile a lot afterwards, which is a nice thing on your birthday.  And the CBCC is a really nice organization to enable me to feel this good about something. First, they keep the blood within our North Carolina communities, and I like that idea. But they are so diligent. Generally, just to let me know I’m needed, I often will receive a postcard, an e-mail and a telephone call, letting me know of the next blood drive being held at our local hospital, a few blocks away. Then when I go to actually donate blood, the staff are pleasant, efficient, and really good at what they do (extract blood efficiently and painlessly). Afterwards, I receive one or two e-mails and a card thanking me for my donation—thorough people.
So, my hat is off to the folks at the Community Blood Centers (CBCC) for all they do to facilitate this exchange of healthy blood to people who need it. Think of that--an organization that actually functions efficiently and effectively. What a concept!!
Plus, they allow me to feel good about this gift of life.
So, keep on guys. You rock!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wikileaks & US

One of the more revealing elements of the most recent Wikileaks documents is the depth and breadth of the corruption among our Afghan “partners”. In a NY Times article, they report:
“From hundreds of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest official is a distinct outlier. Describing the likely lineup of Afghanistan’s new cabinet last January, the American Embassy noted that the agriculture minister, Asif Rahimi, “appears to be the only minister that was confirmed about whom no allegations of bribery exist.
One Afghan official helpfully explained to diplomats the “four stages” at which his colleagues skimmed money from American development projects: “When contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction, and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.”
Apparently this issue of corrosive, all-encompassing corruption is one of the defining characteristics of 13th century peoples such as the Afghans. It makes it difficult to impossible to contemplate seriously the now quaint notion of instilling anything remotely like democracy in this benighted pseudo-nation. Makes one wonder why we remain. Nation-building? Perhaps we might succeed in getting them to move into the 14th century . . . if we only knew how. Perhaps we should be consulting historians on this point.
But on a grander front, it caused me to begin thinking about America. We seem at the moment a 20th century nation contemplating a move back into perhaps the 18th century . . . you know, before the Civil War and all that nastiness about states’ rights and abolishing slavery. And I’m wondering whether our national mood (let’s all take a huge step backwards, people) may not be reflective of our own peculiar form of corruption at the level of our National government. We have always had our big joke that our Congress is the “best that money can buy.” It would seem now, though, that the joke is really on us. With the most recent absurdity issued by the Roberts’ Court that we needed more money in our political system, no Congressman can now afford to offend his royal owners, the corporate CEOs who bought this last election. In olden days, the peasants at least knew who the owners were—the Dukes, Barons, et al. It was easier in some ways, because at least you would understand who it would be dangerous to offend. The Roberts’ Court assured that we might never understand at whose trough our various congressional hogs were feasting.
Perhaps Mr. Assange might enlighten us on this point.
It would be helpful, as peasants need to know these things in order to survive.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Nation of Laws: Not

So, are we a nation of laws, or are we not? In an article in The New Yorker, author, Amy Davidson, in addressing the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s assault on government secrecy, discusses Joe Lieberman’s assertion that he can call to cut off Assange’s Internet connections, and expect to be obeyed. But, then she goes on to comment on other forms of coercion being argued by our Conservative brethren. It would appear, if the horde of neo-con thugs, aka Republicans, are to be believed, we have moved beyond that rather quaint notion of laws. Ms. Davidson reports:

There are worse things one can do than cut off a server; for example, cut off a head. That seems to be where other WikiLeaks critics are headed. Sarah Palin said that Assange should be hunted down like Osama bin Laden; Newt Gingrich said that he should be treated as an enemy combatant; and Bill Kristol wants the Obama Administration to think about kidnapping or killing Assange “and his collaborators.” Kristol doesn’t use the word “kill,” but rather “whack” and “neutralize,” as if some combination of slang and clinical talk made everything all right. Is that where we are? One question that came up in the debate about Obama putting Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, on an assassination list without even making a pretense of going through the courts was who else you could kill on the same grounds. It is striking to see how unabashedly that line of reasoning has been pursued. If we can shoot down Julian Assange, how about any investigative reporter who might learn something that embarrasses our government? We seem to have hopelessly confused national security with the ability of a particular Administration to pursue its policies.”

So, this is the group preferred by the Tea Party enthusiasts. The group that wants to “take back their country.” Yes, and return it to perhaps the 18th century, or maybe even earlier. Perhaps they have been taking lessons from Iran and Afghanistan.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

John Boehner: Art Critic Extraordinaire

So, John Boehner, the purported Speaker-of-the-House-to-be has now taken on the mantle of Nanny to America, telling us what is good for us kids. Johnny just weighed in on an art exhibit at the Smithsonian, a work involving a video called "A Fire in My Belly" by David Wojnarowicz. The work features a brief depiction of ants crawling over a crucifix. Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992, created the film, which includes images of a statue of Jesus covered in ants, as an homage to a former lover and colleague who succumbed to AIDS complications in 1987.

According to a report by Alex Pareene, just released in
The video, along with the rest of the Hide/Seek exhibit, had been humming along without a single complaint since Oct. 31. But then on Monday the right-wing CNS News suddenly got the vapors that "the federally funded National Portrait Gallery, one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, is currently showing an exhibition that features images of an ant-covered Jesus, male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show's catalog as homoerotic." It didn't take long for the Catholic League to get in on the act, sputtering that the video was "designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians." Just breathe a sigh of relief they left Ellen's breasts alone.”
Now, to be fair to Johhny, he wasn’t working alone, as the report reveals. The Catholic League, that group representing that part of organized religion that still practices child abuse routinely, greatly fears that the American cultural psyche may be damaged by such art. Yes, we certainly wouldn’t want to subject Americans to Art Abuse, when Johnny and his gang of Congressional thugs are poised to dump on America all of the vitriol they have been accumulating since the election of a Black, Indonesian-Kenyan, Muslim, Socio-Fascist President.
Johnny and the Catholics working together to protect Amurrica . . .
Oh, and a special thanks to the Smithsonian Institution for caving in to Religious Busybodies of America. You rock Guys.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

All the News That's Fit to Print

Ahh . . . the Sunday New York Times. What would a Sunday morning be without the Times?
This morning, it included fascinating article in which the Times had asked a group of economists for ideas on how to end the massive unemployment crunch created by the Republicans with their Great Depression II. As I read the article, I kept thinking . . . really guys . . . you actually asked economists for ideas on how to end the unemployment mess? Economists?? The only thing worse I could imagine would be asking Republicans.
The Times surely must know that economists are basically statisticians. The best of the group can tell you what happened last month, or perhaps last year, sort of like good weathermen. But why would you ask them for ideas on how to end the great unemployment mess? And, predictably, they had no real ideas. Perhaps the funniest idea was from someone who argued that, with the Boomers aging, we would need a lot more medical toys, so that might create a whole new industry.
No one argued seriously for a joint government-private sector alliance of the sort that sent men to the moon within a decade. As in some kind of joint venture in which the government might “invest” tax dollars (borrowed of course from China) in a massive new energy industry (really a new anything) that would create initially research jobs, that would then turn into production jobs (assuming our capitalists didn’t immediately send the jobs overseas to China). Like republicans, the economists all believe that government can’t create jobs of any value—that is the province of the private sector. But I would argue that we would probably never have landed men on the moon, creating a whole new space industry, without the government. Our greedy capitalists would never have made the needed investments. Yes, we need the private sector to manage the scientists and engineers and high tech manufacturing capabilities needed for such a venture. That’s why we would need an alliance. It’s also why republicans, much like economists, would never propose such a scheme—socialized engineering they would call it. But they do like their tax cuts—the original “charge and spend” guys. Ahhh . . . I can’t wait for them to take over. Think of how much fun they will have, while the rest of the country goes broke.
And then there was the Frank Rich column about the role of money in politics, and how much worse it has become since Tony and his other Supreme mobsters issued their ruling from the bench that corporations were really people and needed their speech rights. Tony imagined that the thing we really needed in our political system was more money. Yep, that’s what was keeping it from being a really, really great system—more money.
And Mr. Rich, demurring from that position, was explaining how both parties are now being corrupted, if not equally, then surely enough to eliminate the possibility that the American people would benefit from that new system. And if that’s the case, if both democrats and republicans are now corrupt, I wonder why we bother any longer with elections. Perhaps, we should quit playing “Let’s Pretend” that we have a representative democracy and instead acknowledge that we have instead an oligarchy, drawing very close to a new kind of monarchy. There is as yet no monarch, but we do seem to have a ruling class—dukes and barons so to speak. People like Rupert the Magnificent, the Koch brothers, the CEOs of our insurance companies, surely the banking CEOs might all classify as Dukes. Johnnie Boehner, the Newtster, the old man Johnny Mac, Mike Dingleberry, and others of that ilk might be classed as barons, all owned outright by their respective Dukes. The rest of us all would be classified as the “peasant class.”
Perhaps in the next iteration, Tony and the Supremes will simply reinvent the actual monarchy, Think of how much fun Sarah will have trying to lay claim to the new throne of America. Queen Sarah the First.
Has a nice ring to it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pay for Performance

As I perused the morning newspaper, I came across an interesting article. In it, the author claims that Charlotte-area companies are now beginning to link year-end bonuses to company or individual performance. Gasp . . . what a concept. Linking pay to performance in the private sector. What will they think of next? The author states:
As the unsteady economy continues to pressure businesses in Charlotte and across the country, many year-end bonuses have disappeared, going the way of pay raises, 401(k) matches and lavish holiday parties. The ones that remain are often based on performance, paid only if the worker or company does well.
This year, there are hints that bonuses are returning. And experts say those performance-based incentives will be most common, as companies look for ways to keep employees engaged while keeping the company afloat.
The article drew me back to the recent yakking in the paper and elsewhere about this concept of pay for performance in the education field—paying teachers more only if they perform well—emulating, of course, that paragon of virtue, the private sector. But, you mean the private sector hasn’t always linked pay to performance? You mean, they just gave out bonuses, regardless of performance??? Like paying huge bonuses to auto CEOs, even when their company was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Or paying out large bonuses to banking and investment rogue CEOs, even after their firms had collapsed because of their crazed performance, and required the public (that’s you and me) to bail them out, lest the world should implode. Yeah, that private sector. The paragon of virtue that is apparently without virtue, and where all the CEOs wear no clothes . . . ya’know, like the Emperor.
It also drew me back to days of yore, when I worked for the Government during the Carter & Reagan administrations—when they were implementing Civil Service Reform and Pay for Performance for public sector employees. I was remembering that the experiment didn’t turn out too well. Oh, they put it into practice, and bonuses were paid out to the senior executives alright. But, as it turns out, few can discern the difference between high performance and average performance.
The entire concept of performance based pay, or even the broader topic of performance appraisal, is a topic worthy of study, but often, it seems, the systems are being implemented before any serious study has been accomplished. It turns out that pay for performance would require us to understand performance in more sophisticated ways than we seem capable. While an assembly line factory worker performing an entirely repetitive task could arguably be appraised on the basis of how well he/she carried out the task (that’s what industrial engineers have been doing for perhaps 100 years), how is one to assess the teacher of a mixed group of 30 fourth graders? Or how would one assess the performance of a biomedical researcher working on a new vaccine? Or how might one assess the performance of a design engineer working in a group of 150 other design engineers all working to produce a new design for a missile system? How might we assess the performance of a “journalist” who writes a weekly column for the Washington Post? Or how about the performance of an investment banking CEO when his company nears financial collapse?
It is true that there are relatively mechanical ways to assess performance of people such as the above. The teacher could be assessed on the basis of the performance of the students on standardized tests; the biomedical researcher on the basis of how well the vaccine eventually produced works to eliminate a particular virus (perhaps delaying his/her payment for ten years until the vaccine is developed and tested). Or the engineer could be assessed if he produced "high quality" design drawings according to an arbitrary schedule. We could, of course, assess the banker based on how well the overall bank portfolio performs for his clients, but, hahahaha, that would much too sensible.
All of the obvious approaches present problems because of external variables outside the control of the person being assessed. When we used to carry out performance evaluations of social or economic development programs, we used a thing called a “logical framework” to lay out the essential elements of the design and the evaluation schema. The framework laid out the series of cause and effect means and ends that would lead from a person’s specific work input (brains being applied to a problem) to an intended outcome. But after laying out that logic, we would add an element at each stage of the input to outcome logic. That addition was the question: “suppose you do everything correctly, what other external factors might weigh in to frustrate the achievement of the desired outcome?" The reason for adding that question was to see whether it might be possible to bring those external factors within the control of the program? If not, then at a minimum, one would want to measure those external factors to determine how they were affecting the achievement levels expected. In teaching that group of fourth graders, for example, the home situation of the kids might be such a factor. If the kid’s life at home is chaotic, the learning process will be negatively affected, and the teacher might not be able to work around that problem.
But in real life today, we don’t work that hard to develop our plans for performance pay. We measure what is easy to measure, as distinct from measuring that which is important. Or, in the case of the world of commerce—that highly vaunted private sector, we don’t bother to measure at all. We just put the bonuses into play, regardless of performance.
So, in the midst of all the chaos of today’s mixed up economy, it’s nice to see the private sector rethinking its bonus system. Maybe there’s light at the end of this very long and very dark tunnel after all. And perhaps we might envision the possibility of some bright soul rethinking the pay for performance concept as applied to our teachers. Couldn't hurt.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

I’m thinking of Thanksgiving. Amidst all the turmoil in the nation created by republicans and their corporate owners, I’m still thinking of Thanksgiving. We have lived a long life, and a full one. Happily, that full life continues. It is the Fall of the year 2010. As always, we will share our Thanksgiving table with family and friends. Some birds, many actually, will fill the groaning boards of America. A few, like the champ below, will be spared. He is a handsome dude, and so he needs to be spared. And so he shall.
I have many thoughts this Thanksgiving. Our daughter was diagnosed last Spring with breast cancer. She was treated and is now doing well—one of the fortunate survivors. She also just emerged from a scare—a misdiagnosed heart attack—they thought she was having one. Happily, she was not having one. She is home in the loving arms of her husband. For that we are thankful.
Our other children, and their families—spouses, grandchildren, even great grandchildren are all wonderfully healthy and happy. They grow, each day and change a little each day. But the family tree continues to sprout happiness . . . and that’s a good thing.
And at home, Carol and I continue to live and love together . . . 55 years and counting. So on Thursday, we will celebrate our good fortune, and our family, both near and far, and our chain link of friends hither and yon, scattered about this great globe.
So, to one and all, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, and however you celebrate this special day, please give thanks for our collective lives and the happiness brought to each of us, every day.
We love you one and all.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 1963

We were living in an apartment in San Francisco then. I traveled a lot. On November 21st, I had traveled to our company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A couple of us had gone to visit a client and were just returning. We had the radio turned on. Suddenly, as we pulled into the company parking lot, the announcer came on and informed us, solemnly that “ . . . the President of the United States has been shot . . .”
At first, nobody seemed to know whether he was ok, or not. Then the fateful words. “He has been killed. The President of the United States has been killed."
We were dumbstruck. Surely that couldn’t be true . . . but it was true. We had just lost John F. Kennedy, the most promising President in years. I was 29. JFK had appealed directly to me and to my generation.
But who would do something like that . . . here in the United States? This wasn’t some banana republic where violence ruled the day. We were a nation of laws . . . or maybe not.
It just all seemed like a bad dream, but on awakening, the same reality was present. Flying home the next day, I was still in a state of disbelief. On boarding the plane, and hearing the doors close and the engines begin their roar, I became aware of a sudden unease. I had always loved flying. I flew a lot, and the experience continued to delight me. On this flight home, however, I became nervous with every change in sound. Landing was both a great relief and an exercise in terror. Would the plane crash?
I was vulnerable. The flight had been entirely uneventful, but for the first time, I felt vulnerable. The feeling has never left me. The Nation has never been the same for me.
Sitting here, this November day in the year 2010, our Nation seems even more vulnerable. We are a nation at War with itself, a sort of latent Civil War. It wasn’t always so. It is now. Republicans insist.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Speaking to Murdoch

Finally, someone has spoken truth to power. Mr. Alan Rusbridger, at the Guardian, spoke in Australia regarding the threat inherent in the kind of media concentration being attempted by Rupert Murdoch here, in Great Britain and in Australia. I quote below from an article in the Guardian focusing on Mr. Rusbridger's talk.

"Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, today stepped into the debate over whether Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation should be allowed to take full control of BSkyB, by warning of the "chilling effect" that "one large media company can have on public life".
Giving a lecture in Murdoch's native Australia, Rusbridger said that the revelations of phone hacking at the News of the World illustrated "the nature of the problem" when one media group becomes too powerful in the UK.
The controversy, Rusbridger said, "raises questions which are not so much about hacking, troubling as those are, but about how other forces in society – whether it is other media organisations, the police, the regulator or parliament itself – behave when faced with the muscle of a very large, very powerful and sometimes very aggressive media group".
He added that "something is dangerously out of kilter" when MPs such as Adam Price on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee confess they have been "held back" from probing into News Corporation's affairs because of "fear of what that company might do to them" – or when former employees are "too frightened to speak publicly about what they know" .
In June, News Corporation proposed an £8bn buyout of the 61% of satellite broadcaster BSkyB it does not already own, a deal that would bring together the largest newspaper group in the UK, with nearly 40% of the average daily sale with the largest broadcaster by turnover. Combined, the two companies would have a turnover of £7.5bn, compared to the BBC's £4.8bn.
Rusbridger queried whether it could be "good public policy to allow a still greater concentration of power across not just one wing of the Fourth Estate but two". He said that while it was possible to come up with "all kinds of metrics" to justify the merger on competition grounds, "it would still feel wrong".
He said that the argument about the proposed buyout was not about the individual merits of Rupert Murdoch as a media owner, warning instead that "there's no one I would want to have that much power" – whether it was the BBC, the moderator of the Church of Scotland or even Sir David Attenborough.
Last month, a group of competing newspaper groups and broadcasters – including Guardian Media Group, publisher of the Guardian – signed a letter calling on Vince Cable, the business secretary, to refer the proposed merger to Ofcom on "public interest" grounds. The other signatories included the companies behind the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, as well as BT, Channel 4 and the BBC. Cable referred the bid to Ofcom in early November, after News Corp had formally notified the European Commission of the proposed takeover.
The deadline for submissions to Ofcom is today, with a range of media groups and thousands of individuals expected to put their views forward – including the members of the alliance of newspaper owners and broadcasters opposed to the deal. However, the BBC has decided to drop out of the group, amid a row at the corporation over whether it is legitimate for the public broadcaster to take a hostile stand against any rival."
Thanks to the Guardian and its editor-in-chief for having the courage to speak publically about the growing threat to democratic systems posed by Mr. Murdoch and his merry band of thugs.

Fox's Nazi-fixation

Roger Ailes, Rupert’s main henchman at The Faux News Network, is once again flinging the Nazi term at the “liberal” establishment—this time at NPR, one of the more moderate and unarguably middle of the political road organizations in the country. Now, it is well known that Rupert hates public broadcasting. He has been trying to trash it in Australia and in Britain for many years. Apparently, Rupert hates public broadcasting precisely for the reasons it is valued by so many millions around the globe—because it is objective, intelligent, and yes even interesting—kind of the opposite of the Faux News Network.
But it’s fascinating that he and his merry little band of thugs use the term Nazi so frequently. I have been wondering why. What drives them to toss this pernicious label at groups that are the exact opposite of what the term connotes? I’m now beginning to conclude that it is a distraction—an attempt to rid themselves of the label. That they are so close to the Nazi side of the political aisle makes them vulnerable to be so labeled. So, to deflect such charges, they fling the term at their opposition, hoping their audience won’t notice the “pot calling the kettle black” thing.
I keep thinking. Maybe their vicious shit is allowed here precisely because this Nation is open to all comers, including the crazy wing of the world. That Rupert, Roger & Co. would have been comfortable in 1933 Germany is scary, but defines the openness of our society. They clearly want censorship of opposing views, right out of that Nazi rascal Joseph’s playbook. They have even taken to calling, literally, for beheadings of prominent liberals. And nobody’s blown up their headquarters.
Is this a great country, or what?????

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Let’s Pretend

Increasingly, America appears to be living with a “Let’s Pretend” philosophy. That is, we would prefer, apparently, to make believe that things are as we imagine them to be in the best of all possible worlds, ignoring the reality of our daily lives. Example abound.
Business Ethics: what can one say here, but “business ethics” is now a classic oxymoron. We would like to think that private business people behave according to some ethical code, when we know, deep-down that no such code exists. Business people behave so as to maximize profit to themselves. Full stop. There are no ethical norms in business. Businesses behave "unethically" whenever it is in their best economic interests to do so. That is why businesses need to be regulated by outsiders, i.e., the government—to prevent them from behaving in such a way that the general public is harmed. We know about environmental concerns—recent mining and oil disasters only serve to punctuate the public concern here. Our last election (2010) was a grand exercise of “Let’s Pretend” in this regard. But even more fundamentally, we should understand that business people will behave periodically so as to damage your own economic interests, so long as the actions enhance theirs. It is not that they intend to hurt you; that would be a side-effect of their actions. That is a primary characteristic of pure capitalism in free markets, that philosophy so beloved by many in our country.
Political Ethics: Hmmm, perhaps, "Winning isn't the most important thing. Winning is the only thing."
Sporting Ethics: High on any list of “Let’s Pretend” in America is the notion of amateur athletics. While we long ago gave up any notion that Olympic athletes were “amateur”, we maintain this pretense big time when it comes to college athletics. In baseball, the major leagues created and largely own their feeder system—the minor leagues. Kids graduate from high school and the best of the playing lot go to a minor league team, hoping to make it into the big time—the majors. In basketball and football, though, the minor leagues are colleges. Frank Deford, perhaps our most daunting critic of big time athletics, recently called it like it is, in commenting on a case involving an Auburn football player, in which an “agent” was accused of trying to squeeze $180,000 from Mississippi State to recruit a young player, Cam Newton, into their football system. Deford goes on to say:
“Withal, the most illuminating tidbit in the whole saga is that Newton's father, a preacher, says he didn't want his son to go to Mississippi State because there he would be, "a rented mule.”
Well, that's the best definition of college athletes I've heard.
The NCAA said the running back was ineligible in 2005 because he received improper benefits.
Everybody makes real money –– some real big money –– except the athletes, except the mules, the Cam Newtons. They're not allowed to be represented by reputable agents, so of course, mountebanks come out of the woodwork. They're not allowed to be paid, so of course money will slip under the table. But the NCAA, in delusion, persists in trying to continue to prop up the failed concept of 19th century amateurism.
Yes, 50 years ago, the NCAA had company in hypocrisy. Many Olympic sports –– skiing, track, swimming, figure skating –– were supposed to be amateur then. So were tennis and rugby. By now, all these sports have realized it was impossible –– let alone immoral –– to be popular, commercial entertainments, but not remunerate the performers. In all the world of big-time sport only in American college football and basketball does the myth of amateurism still exist.”
How would this system change were we to ever stop playing “let’s Pretend”? Well, perhaps, we could allow the colleges to become the literal minor leagues of football and basketball. Let colleges hire football players and pay them salary levels similar to that which they might get were they minor league baseball players. The players would be full-time professional athletes, not students, so they wouldn’t have to play “let’s pretend” I’m an actual student, and college teachers would no longer have to play “Let’s Pretend” my student athlete has actually done the work. The students could still attend games and cheer for their team, much the way small towns around America still cheer for their minor league baseball teams. The athletes would get paid, some would go on to the majors and earn big bucks. The rest could decide after they fail to achieve major league professional careers, whether they wanted to try college as an academic activity, or simply go on to something else.
Judicial Ethics: Ahh, a big subject is judicial ethics. It was perhaps brought to the forefront of American consciousness when Antonin Scalia led the pack of Republican justices that voted to appoint George Bush President, rather than let the votes actually be counted in Florida, thus corrupting fundamentally our system of Democracy, and by the way, fouling the notion of non-partisan justice in the land.
So, building on that history, we have here in North Carolina, a system in which the people vote to install judges. In our most recent exercise in the “Peoples Choice Awards” we had a gaggle of people running for various judgeships. Now, the ballot identifies the judge candidates as “Non-Partisan”, i.e., their political affiliation is not identified, giving rise to at least the concept that we might expect our judges to act as non-partisan.
But it turns out that this is simply another exercise in “Let’s Pretend.” One of the candidates running for a judgeship, openly advertised himself as a Republican, with the elephant displayed proudly on his signs, announcing to everyone that, whatever the ballot might suggest, if you vote for me, you will get a Republican judge, with everything that means.
On protesting to the State Judicial Standards Commission, I was told, in response that:
”A judge or candidate may:
(3) identify himself/herself as a member of a political party and make financial contributions to a political party or organization . . .”
So, the announced “non-partisan” nature of the judicial election process is simply another of our exercises in “Let’s Pretend.” My response back was:
It is certainly good to know that you have a standard covering this last election.
And I suppose it is good for us, members of the lay public, to put aside this silly notion about non-partisan judges who will make decisions based on the law, as distinct from political affiliation. I have written to the Charlotte Observer, copying our county board of elections to urge that we now ask judicial candidates to identify their political affiliation and rid the system of the fiction that judges are non-partisan.

Thank you for clarifying this matter. You have been most helpful.”
I continue to like to play “Let’s Pretend” with little children about Santa Claus at Christmas Time, or with the “Easter Bunny”, or with the “Tooth Fairy.” But that’s because little children soon learn that we are just playing a game for their amusement. But that aside, “Let’s Pretend” on more adult subjects seems to me to render more harm than good. Perhaps I should speak to the bearded old white guy in the sky about this matter.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dumbing Down America

I was dismayed twice last week, filling me with questions about our nation’s education system. Here’s the scenario.
I’m in line at a large craft store, waiting to check out. There is a woman in front of me, trying to pay for her merchandise. One item was 40% off the retail price of $11.75. The cashier is looking through several sheets, on which is printed prices, discounts, and resulting sale prices. She can’t find this particular combination of $11.75 and 40% off. The woman trying to check out asks if there is some problem. “No”, says the sales girl, as she turns to another cashier, asking for a calculator. She is handed a calculator and begins fumbling with it. After a minute or say, with no visible progress, the woman asks if she can help. The sales girl gives up and says, “I don’t know how to do it.” “It” in this instance is taking a 40% discount off the $11.75 price. Huh, I think to myself? She cannot discount, using a calculator that would require her to multiply 11.75 times 0.6 to arrive at the new sale price (she could have done it the hard way also by taking the 40% off the price and then subtracting that from the retail price). Outside, I spoke with the woman who had checked out. She was as stunned as me. “Wouldn’t you imagine that they might have checked her basic math ability before hiring her?” Yeah, you’d think, huh?
By the way, this math problem could be solved by most competent fourth graders.
So, then, the next day, I am filling up the gas tank in my car, when a young woman walks up and says that as a thank you, she is going to clean my wind screen. Nice, I think. So, she is trying to engage me in conversation. “So, are you doing anything fun today” she says.
“Why yes” I say, “ my wife and I are going to the symphony tonight.”
Blank look.
She says, “What’s that?”
Not understanding the cause of question, I say again, “We’re going to the symphony in Charlotte.”
“What’s that” she says again.
“You know, a musical performance by a symphony orchestra?”
Evincing no clue, she says, “So, have you been before?”
“Why yes, we subscribe for the season.”
“Oh, well that’s why you’re going again.”
So, I’m thinking, this 25 year-old non-Hispanic, Caucasian woman has never heard of the term, “the symphony.”
Wow! And we think we can resolve the unemployment rate, with candidates like these?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The MSNBC Silliness

MSNBC has suspended (fired??) Keith Olberman for financially supporting the Democratic Party. And that is in furtherance of exactly what policy/standard? NBC has some standard that continues to pretend that its “news” channel, MSNBC, is objective?? That MSNBC? I suppose they are trying to make the “fair and balanced” (wink wink) Faux News Network feel badly. Oh, like Rupert cares what MSNBC thinks or does.
I thought, along with many other people, that NPR was stupid to fire Juan Williams for announcing to Bill O’Reilly that he is uneasy when he sees people in Muslim garb board a plane on which he is to fly. There may have been many reasons to fire Juan Williams (that he is a hack opinionator is tops on my list) but his commentary, however, stupid, wasn’t among them.
Now, I guess everyone is looking to Rupert to see whether he will make some gesture to pretend that his opinionators are not explicitly right wing republicans. The chances of snowballs surviving in hell comes to mind here.
Perhaps it is time for everyone to quit pretending that the “news” shows on TV (cable or network) are actually presenters of news, i.e. facts and stories about real events intended to inform the public about what is happening around the globe. We know there are shades here, or some kind of spectrum from left to right, with precious little in the middle, of programming about real news events. Mainly however, what we have on “TV news” shows, of whatever stripe, is opinion about what is happening, with the opinion more or less scripted by the owners. On the Faux News Network, the scripting is clear and up front—Rupert instructs his salaried minions what to say, gives them their bullet points and they mouth those points over and over again each hour. With MSNBC, something similar occurs, and the other “news” shows operate along similar lines, although less obviously than either MSNBC, or Rupert.
Let’s just call it a day on “news” shows, and everyone should quit pretending. First, there isn’t nearly enough actual news to warrant the absurd amount of coverage extant. Second, the opinionators are really much, much more annoying than any commercial currently playing on any channel.
Does anyone out there still actually believe anything they hear emanating from the “news” shows, especially but not exclusively the Faux News Network. Maybe we need a new title for these reality TV shows—something like the RUPERT THE MAGNIFICENT NETWORK. That way, we’d know what to expect—truth in advertising??
And elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal has decided that, despite all indications to the contrary, it will continue making believe it is a financial newspaper. hahahahaha . . .

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Oh Happy Days are Here Again

Well, it’s over finally—the election of 2010. I guess it’s reasonably final now that the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch won, although not as big as they had hoped. I assume they will now reap their rewards for all their investment in the fake grass roots group known fondly as the teabaggers of America.

Some of the crazy people, Rand Paul comes to mind, actually won, and a few of the nutcases lost—the witch in Delaware comes to mind. In Alaska, the darling protégé of Sarah Barbie, Joe Miller, perhaps the craziest of any of the candidates in this weird election, may not have won. The “write-in” apparently has won, and that would mean Murkowski has beaten the odds and the teabagger crazies.

As I was helping to clean up after the election, at our polling precinct, one of the men who was also helping his wife, asked me about the race and about people trying to rig the election through false voting. I said that the republicans had won in 2000 and 2004 by just that kind of corrupt electioneering practice, and he said, “Huh, I didn’t realize I was dealing with enemy.” See that’s the term that first sprang into his head—the enemy. And yet the Republicans shriek when Obama used that term to refer to Boehner. But that’s what it has come to in America. Each group regards the other as “the enemy.” And Boehner, the man poised to take over as Speaker of the House, now promises to spend the next two years trying to bring down the President—his words. So, instead of trying to solve problems (we have a few I understand) he will be trying to unseat our President—shades of Newt Gingrich. And everyone is surprised that people see each other as “the enemy”.

I continue to marvel that this group that wants to “take back their country” never ventured to try a take-back when Bush was launching unnecessary wars, spying on private citizens, employing torture and denying due process at will, while simultaneously running our economy into the ground. Nope, nary a peep out of the tea party fans. They were all happy campers.

So, we will now see what they propose, and what directions they wish to take our country. Who knows, maybe we will invade Canada??

And elsewhere, speaking of invading Canada, I understand that Americans are busily preparing their applications for migration to the frozen northland . . . just in case the “enemy” thing turns out to be real. Canada, are you ready for that??

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Restoring Sanity

It was great fun watching a rally featuring rational people, also people with a sense of humor—a scarce commodity in these troubled days. It is perhaps a bit sad that it took a couple of comedians to host such a rally, but I guess that is the state of our nation. How pathetic.

I wonder how the Faux News Network (“we lie so you don’t have to”) will cover the event—a lot of mouth frothing I imagine. Maybe Beck will even cry for us. Rupert must have been pissed to observe ordinary Americans behaving normally, that is, civilly. I always imagine Rupert having been born somewhere in the Outback, with nobody with whom he could speak. So, now he wants to control all public dialogues, whether In Oz, here, or in Britannia. Maybe Rupert imagines himself being crowned King someday by the hordes of stupid people he seems to own.

I keep hoping that someday, someone will tear apart the curtain currently shielding Rupert from public view, and the people will gasp and suddenly understand that they have been had by this pathetic little rich man. We have had many rich people in this country. Many have given back great riches to the country. Rupert and his buddies the Koch brothers stand apart as something we might call Rich White Trash.

May they rest in peace someday soon, sooner rather than later.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


So, it turns out that the Koch brothers are the ones who own the Tea Party. And here, all along, I thought it might be Rupert. He, I guess, is only their devoted head cheerleader. An interesting recent take on the teabaggers is available through the Guardian – see The Tea Party movement: deluded and inspired by billionaires, by George Monbiot of the Guardian.

The central question for me, raised by his article, is why this fairly public knowledge has not been broadcast across America. It is not exactly a secret that the Koch’s and Rupert are the central supporters of the Tea Party—an “astroturf” organization as characterized by Mr. Monbiot—astroturf being the term of art to designate fake grassroots organizations. His article says, in part:

“The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects. It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen – and the biggest Astroturf operation in history. These accomplishments are closely related.

An Astroturf campaign is a fake grassroots movement: it purports to be a spontaneous uprising of concerned citizens, but in reality it is founded and funded by elite interests. Some Astroturf campaigns have no grassroots component at all. Others catalyse and direct real mobilisations. The Tea Party belongs in the second category. It is mostly composed of passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting. We now have powerful evidence that the movement was established and has been guided with the help of money from billionaires and big business. Much of this money, as well as much of the strategy and staffing, were provided by two brothers who run what they call "the biggest company you've never heard of".

Charles and David Koch own 84% of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States. It runs oil refineries, coal suppliers, chemical plants and logging firms, and turns over roughly $100bn a year; the brothers are each worth $21bn. The company has had to pay tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements for oil and chemical spills and other industrial accidents. The Kochs want to pay less tax, keep more profits and be restrained by less regulation. Their challenge has been to persuade the people harmed by this agenda that it's good for them”.

So, knowing this, what gives? How can this group of people allow themselves to be led around as though they are a herd of sheep being led to the slaughterhouse (or to a nation controlled by the Koch’s). Two possibilities occur:

1. The teabaggers are actually that stupid, perhaps they really have been rendered stupid by religion; or

2. They are willing participants in this game of selling the nation to the highest bidder, perhaps because they believe they will be personally rewarded by the Koch’s and others of their ilk; which probably also suggest profound stupidity

It is inconceivable to me, though, that the Liberal establishment has not been broadcasting this relationship in every venue in which they have appeared. Are they that timid, or also that stupid?

Stay tuned to see what November 2nd brings us. We will know then what kind of nation we have become.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Juan Williams Show

“So, Juan, Fox News would like to hire you and we have a $two million contract waiting for you to just say yes. So, what do you say?”

“Hmmm, sounds like an offer I can’t resist. I will have to give my NPR employer notice, however and that might take some time to arrange.”

“We have a better idea, Juan.”

“We would like you to get yourself fired by NPR. That way, we won’t have to wait. Plus, your firing will also be a cause for the network to attack NPR and attempt to get them defunded by the Feds.”


“Here’s the deal, Juan.”

“Bill here is going to attack Muslims for their 911 attack on the US. That always gets us good feedback by our viewers. They love it when we are politically incorrect. That’s our trademark. So, Bill will say some attack dog thing. Then, we will invite you onto the O’Reilly Show, and you can say something supportive. We suggest something like, “Bill, I think you were right in your commentary. I have to tell you, when I get on an airplane and I see someone in Muslim garb, I get this very uneasy feeling. I know it’s politically incorrect, but I can’t help it. They attacked us, and now I wonder whether they will do it again.”

“Hmmm, I guess I could do that.”

“Yeah . . . then we are guessing that NPR will be furious and want to fire you. “

“After they are securely in the trap, we will invite you back onto the O’Reilly Show and you can say something like, “NPR has wanted to fire me for a long time, because I don’t fit into their liberal mindset.” They really don’t like and don’t know how to manage true conservatives. We make them uncomfortable. So, they just used this Muslim remark as a pretext for doing what they wanted to do anyway.”

“How does that sound, Juan.”

“Hmmm . . . I like it. And $two million? Really?? When do we get started . . .”

And so began the Juan Williams Showtime . . .

Remember their motto folks:

“Fox News . . . we lie so you don’t have to.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Presenting the Republican Party of the 21st Century

This upcoming election could prove to be the most important one since, um, I don’t know . . . ever? It could define who we are as a Nation. And given many of the recent polls, who we are as a nation is beginning to look scary.

The current Republican Party has really recreated itself during the past two years:

Leadership – we have a shadowy field of putative leaders, with currently no clear winner. Michael Steele remains as the defacto chair of the party, but he seems to have been muzzled and is now on a very short leash by the shadow leadership. Karl Rove operates as he always does, in the shadows, but pulling the strings of his various puppets, as he raises money from the carefully hidden corporate donor base made possible by the republican justices on the Supreme Court. John Boehner continues to make noises within the government as he pretends to Congressional leadership, while answering only to his corporate donor base to which he is tightly tethered. John McCain is, well he remains old, very old.

It is tempting to make either too much or too little of Sarah Palin. She always seems to be striving for leadership, but mainly she continues to strive for billionaire status.

The true shadow party, and the wannabee shadow government, again thanks to the Supremes, is a hidden cast of corporate CEOs. We know about Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers who are at least out front about their attempts to return this nation to the early 18th century. We don’t know about the other corporate types who are currently pouring money into the congressional races, and will certainly pour even more money into the 2012 presidential campaign.

The Tea Party has taken on the look and feel of the party’s attack dog system—perhaps they are the Roman Legions of the Republican Party, willing to do anything, say anything, and promise anything to get back into power.

The Party has its own propaganda mechanism in the form of the Faux News Network, Mr. Murdoch’s personal PR machine for the party.

And then we have its brand new 18th century policy agenda. The Republicans have decided apparently, that almost everything enacted into law over the past 150 years is simply unconstitutional. So, they may well attempt to eliminate:

Social Security – privatize it, thereby giving control of all that money to the folks who brought us the Great Depression II in 2007. Alternatively, the newly formed “tenthers” within the party want to give over Social Security to the states—making it a state option to provide, or not to provide.

Similarly, Medicare will be up for elimination or turned over to the states.

All Department of Education programs will be eliminated, including things like student loan assistance, Title I grants to poor school districts, Pell Grants, and other current assistance to states and localities.

Sarah’s friend Joe Miller up in Alaska wants to eliminate child labor laws, as well as the federal minimum wage law, and unemployment insurance. Rand Paul wants to eliminate laws against wage discrimination, and other bans on segregation. Remember the whites only lunch counters? They were fun, weren't they?

Finally, although they have not yet proposed it, I am wondering whether the Republican Party of the 21st century would also consider reinstating slavery as a state’s issue. It could happen . . .

And this is the party of God, American Patriotism and freedom for everyone. Perhaps they have learned too much from observing Afghanistan’s inability to build a national government. And perhaps the Taliban-controlled system of warlords and strict sharia laws that existed before we intervened is their model for a system of (Christian) religious-based laws and local control.

Maybe Fox News will be the first network to bring you a real live stoning.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Tea Party Fantasy

I read an article recently in the Los Angeles Times by a Mr. Timothy Rutten. The article was well reasoned and an interesting take on the Tea Party. The problem is that I have a different take on that unhappy group.

Mr. Rutten argues that the Tea Party is both anti-politics and anti-government, and resembles in many important aspects religious fundamentalists. They adhere to a theory of government that is aligned with the original US Constitution, similar perhaps to a religious fundamentalist’s literal reading of the bible. He may be correct, in that the Tea Party appears to display a view of the world that nowhere exists any longer. He argues further that, given the philosophical differences within the Tea Party, they are likely to come apart in the not too distant future.  Fond hope springs eternal . . .

However interesting is that view, I think that it mischaracterizes the Tea Party.

On the view that they are both anti-government and anti-politics, I would argue that they are explicitly and hyper-partisan political. They represent to me the fascist wing of the Republican Party. Unlike, say, the Green Party, or even the Libertarian Party who nominate their own candidates on their own party line, Tea Partiers always nominate and support Republicans, and only hard right Republicans at that.

They represent the same types of "conservatives" as partied aboard the National Review-sponsored cruise, as described by Johann Hari in his 2007 article: " Neocons on a Cruise: What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren't Listening", by Johann Hari, Independent UK. Posted July 17, 2007.
Mr. Hari begins with this summary:
"The Iraq war has been an amazing success, global warming is just a myth, and Guantanamo Bay is practically a holiday camp. The annual cruise organized by the National Review, mouthpiece of  right-wing America, is a parallel universe populated by straight-talking, gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans."
In another passage, he describes a startling conversation:
"I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old California designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

Given the rage inherent among Teabaggers, this description would not seem farfetched.
So, anti-political, or anti-government??

I would argue instead that they are are simply "anti-being out of power." Their protestations about our out-of-control government spending, and our out-of-control government fail to ring true. They watched for 8 years without comment while Bush went on a spending rampage, building deficits never before contemplated, by cutting taxes to his rich friends. They watched without comment while Bush's government carried out a war under false pretenses, spied without warrants, imprisoned without trials, and tortured without regret. They watched without comment while Bush's laisse faire approach to commerce created the greatest economic crash since 1929. Yet, almost immediately, upon the election of a Black Democrat, they erupted in fury, demanding to take back their country.

I believe the closest approximation to their rage is what we observed in Germany during 1933, when Hitler roused the populace, blaming Jews for their having lost the war and their need to make reparations under the Armistice.

In this case, they are also rallying against "the devils", although in their case they have selected Obama, a Black president, and his "liberal" supporters instead of Jews. So, liberals (read Democrats), Blacks, and immigrants are to blame for all the ills that have befallen America.

They are not so much immune to data (even a casual reading of the facts would suggest to them that republicans are the prime cause of the nation's current plight) as capable of ignoring it--they perhaps epitomize Orwell's "double-think" approach to life. They are explicitly Republican. They lack only an actual, visible leader. Currently, their leaders remain hidden even from them. I would hold that the leadership of this fascist movement is Rupert Murdoch and others of his ilk (the Koch brothers come to mind). Someday soon, a real, flesh and blood and highly visible leader will move into their little world and they will follow him . . . or her . . . eventually to all our regret.

Here, once again, we must all be careful what we wish for.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Banker’s Mess

It’s hard to know what to make of this mess we call mortgage banking. I was already of the opinion that bankers were generally a beer or two short of a six pack—kind of like Bush-Lite. Perhaps they too spent their college years snorting illegal substances to the point that their brains resemble turkey jerky.  But this latest thing, where nobody even read the foreclosure paperwork before they started to evict people really goes beyond mere intellectual shortfall.  I guess they were so busy trying to calculate their next bonuses, that they neglected to instruct their subordinates that the “paperwork” part of mortgage banking IS mortgage banking, and that it is to be taken seriously.
So, really, folks, NOBODY read the paperwork? People signed off on foreclosures—you know the formal, legal notices that result in people being kicked out of their domiciles—without understanding or even reading what it was they were signing? Surely that falls into the category of criminal negligence, no??? Surely, even beyond the fines, the involved bankers need to be spending time in a Federal prison.
But if we fine them to the max, then the entire banking system collapses?
Well, ok, then it’s time to reinvent the banking system--you know, make it less like a college frat party, and more like, oh I don't know . . . a business.
It’s clear to everyone by now that our current crowd of bankers should not be given any public money to play with—none . . . nada . . . zilch.
Perhaps, an appropriate penalty should be that the people should be allowed back into their homes under, say, IMF approved loan terms, or maybe the World Bank should be placed in charge of our home mortgage business. And the Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and all the other mortgage banking institutions ought to be placed on permanent leave from anything to do with mortgages—that’s
anything—no direct mortgages, no mortgage derivatives, no mortgage hedge funds. Perhaps banks should be moved way back in time to where they accept people’s money in savings accounts and checking accounts—full stop. Because maybe that’s as far as we can trust American bankers.
And on yet another planet, the conservative (Republican) NYTimes columnist David Brooks thinks that the financial problems occurring within most states now are the result of greedy unions and those nasty public pensions--nothing to do with rich, greedy bankers and that financial collapse thing. Way to go David.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yoga is Spooky?

Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist persuasion is warning his constituent believers to avoid yoga, and Pat Robertson thinks that yoga is “spooky” . . . hahahahaha. Here is a putz who goes about telling  people that he speaks with an old white bearded guy somewhere up in the sky and that ethereal guy listens and responds(?).  And he thinks yoga is spooky?
With all this talk about Christian church leaders wanting to somehow ban yoga, I ask myself, why? Why would they find this simple and, by most accounts, useful relaxation technique threatening?  And it isn’t even simply Christian church leaders. Now, Muslim clerics are getting in on the act, too.  They want yoga somehow banned from the universe.  Now, one could simply dismiss these crackpots as paranoid schizophrenics acting out, or they are up to something else.  That they seem delusional is obvious to even the casual observer, since they all profess to some direct connection to a Godlike creature, who at least advises them what to do.  Hearing voices is, I think one of the surer signs of a schizophrenic.
But, suppose, they’re just charlatans, and don’t really think that they hear anything from a higher authority. Suppose they just make believe in order to extract money and authority from ordinary folks who apparently need to believe in something beyond their own miserable existence.  Then what could they be up to in this instance?
Well, it’s at least possible that these doofuses need to periodically scare their target audiences into thinking that “the other” is threatening to their belief system. That “the other” should be stopped, or at least walled off in some way—“the other” in this case being those poor sods who actually like yoga as either just a simple relaxation technique, or as a way to become better in touch with themselves—their inner being as it were.
But why can’t the Pat Robertsons and Al Mohlers of the world just leave people alone? If somebody wishes to practice yoga, what’s the harm?
Well, that’s the thing with weird religions like Christianity and Islam. They’re so terminally weird that they need to protect their boundaries at all times. Anyone doing anything that suggests there are other ways to achieve inner peace is viewed as a hostile, mainly because others within the weirdo cults might suddenly decide that their cult is just too weird and maybe they’ll look to this other practice for their inner peace.  So, Pat & company would then be out of work, and might have to find a real day job. And none of these bozos have any actually useful skills. If they can’t con you out of your money by promising you really weird things, then what else could they do?
So, apparently this yoga thing defines just how insecure the religious weirdos of the world are.  And remember these are the same guys who want government out of their lives . . .
so that they can be the sole judges of officially sanctioned behavior.
Now that’s a really spooky thought.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

To Pay or Not to Pay

There has been a spate of articles lately about a fire department in Tennessee that refused to put out a fire at a burning house, because the owner had opted out of paying the annual $75 fee.  This “event” has given rise to many articles and comments about the issue, virtually all of which are on strongly opposing sides:
Side One – the owner gambled, he lost, tough shit.
Side Two – what kind of community fire department would stand there and allow a house to burn down? Of course they should have intervened.
Whether in this instance the fire department had a moral obligation to intervene is, to me, not clear cut.  The department was operating according to the rules set by the community itself. But it raises a host of other similar moral questions.
Suppose someone who could pay for health insurance makes a conscious decision to go without, and then becomes sick. Does the health care system have a moral obligation to care for him? In our current system of care, that question is answered generally in the affirmative. The health care system asks about insurance, but will engage the patient even if no insurance is present. Hospitals then try to get reimbursed from the uncompensated care fund, paid out of Medicare. But many would argue that the health care system should not be forced to subsidize the uninsured.  The trouble in health care is that the uninsured are not always uninsured by choice.
The central issue, for me, raised by this fire department policy is how a community could decide to so “privatize” the fire department function? What is it the community as a whole expected from this policy, and did they ever debate the situation that actually occurred (and that occurrence was inevitable)? I have difficulty imagining how this policy was moved from an idea to a final community policy. Did they, for example, only debate the positive side of this concept (assuming there is one)?  Did nobody raise the scenario that a fire department and a group of neighbors would be forced to watch someone’s house burn down? It is troubling greatly to consider that an entire community could have debated such an issue and then voted to adopt such an approach. What kind of community would do that, and would I ever want to live in such a community?
I find it troubling precisely because that fire department policy defines, on a small scale, where our political process is heading us. It defines the Tea Party, for example, and what I perceive the Republican Party has become—perhaps they are the “pay to play” party.  No, that is wrong. Republicans never actually want to pay for anything. But they do seem intent on denying a bunch of “other people” services that have become an accepted part of American community life.  They want to “privatize” social security, returning us to the system under which my grandparents operated, and under which they ran out of money, mainly because the depression robbed them of their savings. They want health care returned to the purely private sector, eliminating any chance of providing access to care for all of our people. They seem to want to “privatize” education, if their insistence on charter schools is any indication. 
The central problem with privatizing is that, eventually, the privateers will figure out ways to maximize profits by denying services to some subset of people. It isn’t a question of whether, but only when they do that.
And that raises the question of what kind of nation we will be if we consistently opt for increasing private profits over the general welfare of the people.  Perhaps the election of 2008 will answer that question.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

To Vote or not to Vote

wonder whether the good folks at, you know, just plain old folks who live and work and vote in America, will approach this upcoming election? The right wing press—the Faux News Network folks—seem to think it’s all over and we really don’t have to vote at all. They’ll be happy to tell us how it is going to turn out, so it probably isn’t necessary to actually vote. The Tea Party wins and everyone else can go to hell.  
According to them, Christie O’Donnell will finally have a job and can pay her bills. And of course, those good folks of the right persuasion, people like Rand Paul, and Joe Miller, and Sharron Angle, and of course Michelle Bachman, will be leading the charge, right after the election, to impeach President Obama, roll back ObamaCare, cancel Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, provide the Koch bothers and Rupert Murdoch with their coveted tax break, and, of course, outlawing masturbation.
So perhaps, we of the “other persuasion” should begin thinking about moving to another country. I mean, since the group in charge, Rupert’s people, seem to hate anyone not like them, we might not be welcome any longer. The question then becomes, where do we go? Who wants a bunch of old people with limited income (remember, no Social Security) and relatively high medical bills?
The obvious first choice is Canada—we can drive there, so no big travel bills. But I would imagine they might balk at the idea of 50 or 75 million old people and the great ranks of the currently underemployed, arriving at their doorstep. We could try the “give us your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free” speech as we try to gain entry, but I suspect that would get old pretty fast. I can see the door closing smartly and firmly.
It’s a daunting thing to consider.
Maybe, instead, we ought to consider first, actually voting. Perhaps the Faux News Network’s polls aren’t as accurate as they claim? Who knows . . . crazier things have happened, huh? Maybe after real people actually vote, Christy O’Donnell can go back to flipping burgers, or Reality TV, or whatever she did before deciding she should be President, or senator. And Sarah Palin can go back to her million dollar job at Rupert’s, move to Manhattan, and start hunting moose in Central Park.  And
maybe that crazy ass Rand Paul will be hired by Rupert to work at the Wall Street Journal. I mean, it’s not a real newspaper any longer anyway, right?
And then Obama can get back to work trying to salvage what remains of the United States after the Bush wrecking crew debacle. Who knows, maybe we’ll catch up to Greece economically.
It could happen . . .