Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rich people control Congress

A majority of U.S. Senators, and a majority of the men and women in the House, are millionaires.

The Center for Responsive Politics says it’s the first time in our nation’s history that this has been true.

Why aren’t the 99% voting more non-millionaires into office?

It’s obvious to everyone that Congress hasn’t been doing much lately to protect and enhance the interests of poor and financially disadvantaged folks.....or, for that matter, the middle class.

Are your members of Congress representing your best interests?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

.…and not a drop to drink….

Recently a foolish young man in Portland, OR, stood within view of a security camera and peed in a reservoir filled with water on its way to Portland residents.

The city is going to dump the water, all 38 million gallons of it. No initial word about how much that water is worth or how much of a hassle it will be to replace it.

Now, here’s the thing: folks who know about stuff like this say that The Boy Who Couldn’t Wait would have to relieve himself at the reservoir just about 167,000 times before he could produce a dangerous level of nitrates (from urea) in the water.

In other words, by any rational analysis, the water was still safe to drink after TBWCW did his thing.

I wonder if any of Portland’s domestic or wild animal population ever gets close enough to the water to pee 
in it?

I hope the city is making sure that birds don’t fly over the reservoirs, because, you know, ….

Monday, April 21, 2014

American companies are stalling our economy….why?

American companies are deliberately stalling the economy.

There really isn’t any other way to interpret the fact that American companies are holding more than $1.6 TRILLION in cash – and that’s not counting the banks and other firms in the financial industry, the total cash hoard is more than $2 TRILLION.

That’s an historic high—it’s a mountain of money the companies just aren’t putting to any good use.

Companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, as well as large and small firms in all industries, are building up more and more cash reserves, says Moody’s Investors Service, and they’re deliberately not investing it in productive ways or returning the money to stockholders.

You know how low current market interest rates are. Think about the interest you’re earning on your checking/savings account, or in your mutual fund money market accounts, or in short-term CDs or Treasury bills. These companies aren’t doing any better with their cash and their short-term cash equivalents.

They’re just sitting on the money, deliberately not using it, instead of spending the cash to stoke their growth and the growth of our regional and national economies.

Are they waiting for the end of President Obama’s second term?

What are they waiting for?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Another Chinese proverb (part 3)

“The farther backward you can look,
                     the farther forward you are likely to see.”

We are not condemned to repeat history.

Our history is a unique series of events, there’s no re-do.

Anyway, most of our history we don’t know.

Still, think about where you’ve been in your life.

Were you on the path to where you are now?

Of course you were.

Now you’re ready to think about tomorrow.

Are you on the path to where you want to be?

Are you doing what’s at the top of your list?

The art of John Donne

John Donne (1572-1631)
Of the English literati, one of the “metaphysical poets”

Recently I read some of John Donne’s sonnets, frankly, my first serious exposure to the work of this erudite man who churned language through the domain of his own expansive thought, and left a collection that sears one’s sensibilities on first reading….

In this particular instance, some of his sonnets were selected to amplify the rapture of the Stations of the Cross in an Episcopal service on Good Friday.

Some excerpts:

“What if this present were the worlds last night?”   (Sonnet 13)

“I durst not view heaven yesterday . . .”   (Sonnet 19)

“ ‘Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.”  (Sonnet 15)

The words of John Donne are somber, lush, impeccably vital language, relentless rhyme, stinging imagery….

I expect I’ll come back to Donne’s sonnets.

(All citations are from the Westmoreland manuscript.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

“A prominent Republican economist”….wha?

What exactly is “a prominent Republican economist”?

I noticed this descriptive phrase in an obvious “straight news” story in the New York Times, it wasn’t an opinion column.

If the author had meant “a prominent economist who is a Republican,” or “an economist who is a prominent Republican,” or something like that, I guess I’d understand well enough.

But let’s not blandly pretend that it’s OK to politically compartmentalize what a legitimate professional economist does.

If what we think we have—or what we really have—is “Democratic economics” and “Republican economics,” then we don’t really have economics at all.

We just have another way of spinning doctrinaire, partisan politics.

And we already have more than enough of that….

It’s politics, not faith….

The company that opposed the “Obamacare contraceptive mandate” before the U. S. Supreme Court has routinely provided contraceptive drugs to its employees, and has invested in companies that manufacture contraceptives.

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., is owned by folks who claimed that their religious faith prevents them from complying with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that their employee health coverage must cover federally-approved contraceptives.

Nevertheless, for years the company’s health care plan did cover two specific contraceptive pills (“Plan B” and “Ella”). These drugs were dropped from the Hobby Lobby health plan in 2012 when the company was starting to prepare the court challenge.

And another thing: three months after the anti-Obamacare suit was started, public filings by Hobby Lobby showed that $73 million of its 401(k) employee retirement funds was invested in mutual funds that included ownership of companies that manufacture contraceptive pills, abortion drugs and intrauterine devices.

So the whole Supreme Court gambit isn’t really based on any long-standing, conscientious application of the Hobby Lobby owners’ religious convictions.

It’s just doctrinaire partisan politics.

I don’t think a company has any business telling its employees that they can go in for gall bladder surgery but they can’t practice safe and effective contraception.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Did you loan money to Uncle Sam last year?

About 80% of taxpayers gave interest-free loans to the federal government last year, averaging about $2,742 per household.

That is to say, 4 out of 5 taxpayers paid too much tax during the year, and were entitled to a refund when they filed this year. says almost $200 billion was overpaid as excess federal taxes to the government last year. Yikes.

Now, at the current historic low level of interest rates, you only lost a few dollars in interest if you overpaid and got an average refund.

But still, for the nation as a whole, taxpayers gave up close to $100 million in lost interest because they didn’t fine-tune their withholding accurately enough.

If you like giving interest-free loans to the government, you know what to do this year….

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chant de mer

This sound, so hoarse and so huge….
   the roiling water makes it a dimension,
      boundless in its range.


This sound, this frothing, huge and muffled laughter of the sea,
   this elemental sound, this tumbling burst from quiet deeps….
      this very voice,
         this prodigy of sound that needs no ear.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Some people have too much money (part 6)

A very wealthy man in Shanghai recently bought this Chinese Ming Dynasty “Chicken Cup” at a Sotheby's auction for a little over $36 million.

OK, I get it, it’s his money, I presume he got rich legally, he has a right to spend it as he chooses. I guess he really, really wanted this piece of 550-year-old Chinese porcelain. It’s 3 inches in diameter.

But, I think it’s fair and it’s important to say that some people have too much money. Some people control too much of the world’s wealth, and that means that too much of the world’s wealth isn’t in circulation to enrich and benefit the people of the world.

What this gent paid for a tiny cup would have bought about 78,800 cows for poor villagers in Africa.

Just as an example.

And, by the way, if you need one of these cups to complete your set, now you know what it’s gonna cost you….
….or maybe you just want to buy some cows….


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

At the fault line….

Here’s a troubling and baffling headline:

“Republicans Are Quietly Trying to Kill No-Fault Divorce”

Suppose the headline was:

“Republicans Are Quietly Trying to Force People Who Don’t Love Each Other Anymore to Stay Together In Potentially Risky Marriages”

Aren’t both headlines more or less saying the same thing? reported that some Republican-controlled state legislatures and some prominent Republicans like Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are working to force folks in troubled or dysfunctional or dangerous marriages to do marriage counseling and endure arbitrary waiting periods before heading for divorce court. In some cases existing no-fault divorce laws are being directly attacked.

OK, I get it, these Republicans don’t like divorce. But where do they get off trying to impose their philosophical or religious convictions on other people?

Aren’t these the same Republicans who crowd our cable channels with chatter and ads attacking “big government,” “government intrusion in our lives,” “laws that limit our freedom,”….

Aren’t these the same Republicans who oppose “excessive government control” and “mindless bureaucratic tampering” and ….

Why don’t we call these folks on it?

If what they mean is, “we’re in favor of intrusive government controls on other people that satisfy our personal views on morality and good behavior,” why don’t they just say it that way?

I wonder how many divorced folks voted for those Republican legislators and high profile politicians?

Monday, April 14, 2014

The rain comes in

The rain comes in, spattering rain,
stains the sand where only sand might be.

Lofting seabirds, lifting, drifting
            through tympanic, clouded sky.

The rain comes in.

Silence….no, merely quiet....
            something is quiet in me.

At Bethany Beach, Delaware
July 8, 1991

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Don’t make your kid go to college

Don’t assume that the college track is the only life path that makes sense for your high school senior.

Try asking your child if she wants to go to college. Try asking your child what kind of career training he’d like to have.

Maybe the answers will surprise you.

Two recent commentaries are worth your time:

Michael Petrilli on   lays it on the line:
“Kid, I’m sorry, but you’re just not college material.”

Valerie Strauss on asks this policy question:
“Who should decide who is college material and who isn’t?

Obviously, parents and their almost-high-school-graduate kids are the folks who need to do the heavy lifting on this issue.

For starters, parents need to stop insisting that their kids must go to college.

Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post takes the trouble to point out that about 70% of real life jobs don’t require a college degree….
and yet, way more than half of high school graduates go to college (of course, not all of them actually get a degree).

In general, college costs way too much for what you get. If you want some amplification on this point, talk to a recent graduate who’s still looking for a job.

And here’s the thing: not everybody is qualified to be successful in college. Notice, I’m not arguing against the “right” of every kid to go to college, I’m just saying that a lot of college freshmen don’t have the skills and mental horsepower to get passing grades and graduate. For example, last year only 43% of the high school students who took the SATs scored high enough to be successful in the college classroom.

Too many college students end their college careers with no degree and lots of student debt, and too many college graduates leave the campus with lots of student debt.

The whole mantra about “every child should go to college” is based on wishful thinking and ignorance or indifference about the real-life certainty that a lot of kids couldn’t possibly succeed on the college campus. Neither their parents nor you and I (i.e., taxpayers) should spend a pile of money to pay for ultimate failure.

As a matter of national policy, let’s decide that every high school graduate should have the opportunity to go on to get suitable training for a job/career that’s compatible with the student’s capabilities and interests.

So somebody can write a column with this headline:
“Kid, good news, you’re gonna get education/training that’s right for you.”

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The art of Mary Oliver (part 2)

Mary Oliver (b. 1935)
She’s an American poet, the way Walt Whitman would mean “American poet.”

Mary Oliver’s poetry stops me from doing other things, while I read her tender words….

I imagine you will find, as I did, that this example makes the sun seem very sufficient.

An excerpt from “The Sun”:

“. . . do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you 

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world—

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?”

From "The Sun" by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems: Volume One. © Beacon Press, 2004.

Posted on A Year Of Being Here website:

Friday, April 11, 2014

The wisdom of Kevin Phillips

“The Democratic Party
           is history’s second-most enthusiastic capitalist party.”

Kevin Phillips (b. 1940)
American writer on politics, economics and history

Naahhh, that can’t be right.

Wait a minute….



And then I thought of this sadly hoary gem:

“There is not a dime’s worth of difference
 between the
 Democrat and Republican parties.”
Alabama Gov. George Wallace, presidential candidate in 1968

Now, I’m not in the habit of quoting the late segregationist governor with approval or even respect, but he did say this one thing that makes at least a little bit of sense, at least on the national level. On too many issues, too many Republicans and Democrats see too much common not dealing with global climate change, not tackling sensible gun control, ignoring the need to deal with future Social Security shortfalls, you know the kind of thing I’m talking about….

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Koch Brothers get Obamacare money

Koch Industries has received $1.4 million from the federal government under Obamacare’s Early Retiree Reinsurance Program.

The $5 billion reinsurance program gives subsidies to corporations who provide health insurance to their retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

I wasn’t aware of this provision of Obamacare—it seems like a gratuitous handout to corporations, just one of many, the details of power politics can be ugly….

The other ugly thing is the Koch Brothers taking cash  under the auspices of Obamacare, at the same time as they spend their millions to fight Obamacare and derail the federal government.

The Koch Brothers are powerful and malicious, an ugly warp in the fabric of our politics.

Fewer people are working full-time  says 42.7% of adults are working full-time.

The percentage has been dropping since it hit a peak of 45.7% in late 2012.

Are you surprised? I was. I would have guessed that a solid majority of adults are doing the 9-5, Mon-Fri thing….

Our population is aging. More than 70 million Baby Boomers are starting to retire.

This has economic and fiscal consequences. Fewer workers are paying Social Security taxes, and more folks are collecting Social Security.

Keep in mind that people who are working full-time generally pay more taxes than those who aren’t.

For the record, Gallup counted only people who are working full-time for a paycheck, and did not count adults who are self-employed, working part time, unemployed, or out of the workforce.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Will the real Homo Sapiens please stand up?

This don’t make no sense:

Since September 2007, Microsoft has been telling customers all over the world that its tech support for Windows XP would end in 2014.

It ends today.

As of 1:00 pm this afternoon, Microsoft will no longer publish any patches or upgrades for XP, the 12-year-old program that is currently the second-most widely used operating system in the world.

More than a quarter of the computers on the surface of the planet are still running XP.

And this afternoon every one of them will become a potential target for every hacker and internet-based criminal….because Microsoft is no longer going to fix any newly discovered problems or bugs in XP. says some data suggest that businesses, more so than individuals, have been unwilling to switch over to newer operating systems like Windows 7 or Windows 8. That would cost a few bucks, of course….

Because of ignorance or misunderstanding or indifference or laziness or irresponsibility, hundreds of millions of computer users are going to be exposed to annoyance, danger and loss, starting this afternoon.

Who was the first person who assumed that man acts as a rational being?

Will the real Homo Sapiens please stand up?


Shame on the GOP….

Republican-controlled state legislatures continue to find more and more ways to restrict voter registration and actual voting—it’s an all-too-transparent attempt to prevent or minimize voting by minorities, the poor and disadvantaged folks who might be expected to favor Democratic candidates.

I think the Democrats are missing an important opportunity to tell this story over and over again, and to challenge minorities, the poor and disadvantaged folks to actually exercise their right to vote for the candidates of their choice.

I admit I am profoundly dismayed at the historic and current indifference of many folks, who are being skewered by bad politics and screwed by politicians who represent them in Congress. Why aren’t more of these folks going to the polls?

I’m afraid I know at least part of the answer: they’re discouraged, and they don’t understand or don’t care about the consequences of their indifference.

Shame on the Democrats for failing to educate them, and failing to tell the bald truth.

Monday, April 7, 2014


I stand alone at high tide’s edge.

The slope is firm, and yet, it gives
            my feet a careless, crumbling ledge,
                        a moment more, and I am
            falling to the sea.

I must atone, and I am nearer to the foam,
            the surf-encumbered shore
                  behind me
            and I am swaying,
      almost praying to the sea.


Another step.

That breeching wave surrenders life,
            this gasping wave, in torment, lives….

…it washes me….
            the sea forgives.