Friday, November 30, 2012

We're cooking the planet (part 7)

Billions for storm cleanup, but not a dollar to fight global warming?

Some governors are calling for $100 billion of federal disaster aid to clean up after Hurricane Sandy hit the mid-Atlantic coast.

I'm waiting for them to ask for another $100 billion to start addressing bandaids and fixes and remedies for the human impact on global climate change and global warming.

Of course the storm cleanup has to be done, the politicians agree. Why don't we have equally strong political leadership calling for a matching commitment—dollar for dollar—to scale back global climate change?

Are we just going to keep paying, over and over again, for the storm damage that's being made worse by global warming?

A recent piece on makes this point: the sea levels have been rising faster than even the concerned climate scientists thought they would. Rising sea levels mean that storms will bring even more water inland when they hit.

How many times do you want to spend $100 billion to clean up the Atlantic coastline?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

OK, let's talk about the "fiscal cliff"….

Too bad this really goofy and meaningless name got attached to the tax/spend debate that's going on now…

Yeah, they're two scary words that lend themselves nicely to the sound-bite journalism that pretends to be news coverage….but it doesn't convey any clear notions of meaningful choices or consequences…

Let's just call everything a spade:

The so-called Bush tax cuts never were a good idea for America, they need to be phased out because we have to start actually paying more right now for all the government services and benefits that we all want.

The partisan haggling about where to make spending cuts obscures some basic facts:

Yes, we have to scale back future Social Security benefits and we have to increase the revenue base (payroll taxes ) for Social Security benefits because present contributions won't cover future benefits—and we have to raise the "Social Security retirement age" because people are living so much longer.

We have to continue to reform health care so that everyone buys insurance (the "individual mandate") because America isn't going to stop turning away poor people from our emergency rooms.

We have to continue to reform health care so that doctors and health care providers are paid first for keeping people healthy and then also paid to make them well when necessary.

For the rest of federal spending, the first items that should be on the block are all the special interest exemptions/credits/loopholes that benefit the politically privileged few—unfortunately, there are a lot of them.

An aside on the federal income tax.....

Monday, November 26, 2012

The wisdom of Marcel Proust

"Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
  they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
French novelist, critic, essayist

Well, this is a light touch, "charming gardeners" caught my eye and tripped the "blossom" switch in my mind, I like the notion of having charming gardeners around me, I like the thought that I can be one of them…

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Drug companies "own" the N. E. Journal of Medicine

Remember Avandia? The diabetes drug that was taken off the market a couple years ago?...the Food and Drug Administration estimated Avandia had been linked to about 83,000 heart attacks and deaths.

A 2006 report in the New England Journal of Medicine described clinical trials that pointed to Avandia, a GlaxoSmithKline drug, as the best performer. Those clinical trials were funded by GlaxoSmithKline, and the NEJM report had 11 authors, each of whom had been paid by GlaxoSmithKline. Four of the authors were Glaxo employees who held company stock.

I guess you're thinking "conflict of interest"… I know I am. I guess you're thinking "why would the NEJM publish a report with such a provocatively apparent conflict of interest?"…. I know I am. If the NEJM isn't going to uphold its role as a guardian of academic and medical objectivity, then how is a drug report in the NEJM different from a magazine ad?

Who will watch the watchdogs?

Here's an excerpt from The Washington Post's investigative story (click here for full text):

"Over a year-long period ending in August, NEJM published 73 articles on original studies of new drugs, encompassing drugs approved by the FDA since 2000 and experimental drugs, according to a review by The Washington Post.

"Of those articles, 60 were funded by a pharmaceutical company, 50 were co-written by drug company employees and 37 had a lead author, typically an academic, who had previously accepted outside compensation from the sponsoring drug company in the form of consultant pay, grants or speaker fees."

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

watchdogs part 3

watchdogs part 2

watchdogs part 1

Saturday, November 24, 2012

That pesky national debt thing….

China ain't the problem, folks.

It's more or less guaranteed. When someone starts to talk about the U.S. national debt that pesky bugbear China will be mentioned along with some version of "China owns our national debt, China owns us."

Now, I'm not trying in any way to whitewash the issue of the national debt. We owe too much and it's getting bigger every day. We don't want to keep adding to the national debt for the next 100 years….

But China's ownership of U.S. government securities, and thus, a piece of our national debt, isn't really the problem. China owns about 10% of our national debt, Japan owns a little less than that.

I bet this surprises you: Americans and American financial institutions like banks and mutual funds and the Social Security Trust Fund own most of the national debt. Yup, "we' own about 75% of the national debt.

Of course we need to stop spending a whole lot more than we're taking in, as soon as the economy gets rolling again. In the meantime, government stimulus is still a pretty good idea, and the only short term way to make sure that we start creating a lot more jobs now.

In the short run, the only good way to tackle the issue of the national debt is to raise taxes so we all start to actually pay for the goods and services we bought on credit in the past.

..more on the national debt

Thursday, November 22, 2012

White voters who didn't vote for President Obama….

Millions of American voters had a great many reasons in mind on Nov. 6 when they voted for Romney and not for President Obama.

Let's just put a frame of reference on the possible motivations of white voters in, say, Mississippi.

Exit polls done on election day suggest that about 90% of white voters in Mississippi voted for Romney. That is, Mississippi white voters were more than twice as likely as white voters everywhere to vote for the Republican challenger….nationwide, President Obama got the support of about 39% of white voters.

Now, Mississippi is not a bastion of the very wealthy, it's not the headquarters of scads of major hedge funds or big banks, it doesn't share a border with Mexico, it's not a thriving capitalist stronghold of entrepreneurial enterprise—no one ever heard of "Mississippi Valley"—it's not a natural breeding ground for small government enthusiasts, it's not obvious that Mississippians as a group would want major cutbacks in government spending……

See, here's the thing: Mississippi is one of the states that sucks up far more federal spending per capita than it pays in federal taxes – and that's big time, Mississippians get almost $3 worth of federal spending and benefits for every dollar paid in personal and corporate federal taxes. Only two states (New Mexico and Alaska) get more.

De facto, in the simplest terms of pocketbook politics, Mississippians actually love the federal government. In this simplistic view, they should be loving President Obama down in Mississippi.

I wonder why 90% of white voters went for the other guy?

Taxes in, benefits out, by state....

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Birthday to the income tax !?

Mark your calendar for next year, the federal income tax will be 100 years old. Celebrate in whatever way seems appropriate to you.

I should say, the current version of the federal income tax will be celebrating a 100th birthday.

There was no income tax during the Revolutionary War era. During the War of 1812, the U.S. government prepared to impose an income tax to help pay war bills, but the fighting ended and the tax idea was shelved.

The first federal income tax was voted in by the (Northern) Congress during the Civil War, again to pay the costs of the fighting. This 1862 tax included a 3% tax on incomes of $600-10,000, and 5% on incomes above $10,000 up to $50,000. In terms of the purchasing power of a dollar today, folks with income less than about $11,400 wouldn't be taxed, and the top rate of 5% would be imposed on incomes of approximately $190,000-$950,000.

This Civil War-era income tax was modified repeatedly, and finally expired in 1872.

Subsequently Congress tried dozens of times to re-institute the federal income tax but was stymied by provisions of Article 1 of the Constitution which limited the right of Congress to impose a "direct tax."

The ratification of the 16th Constitutional Amendment in 1913 paved the way for the modern income tax, which was adopted in the same year.

The first set of tax rates was pretty simple: a 1% tax on all income above $3,000, and surcharges ranging from 2% to 7% on income in the $20,000 to $500,000 range. By the way, the average annual income of Americans in 1913 was $2,367, so an awful lot of ordinary folks didn't have to pay the tax at all.

Ah, the good old days….

More info on the income tax

...and more....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another point on "job creators"….

Some Republican leaders love to repeat the politically-charged canard that raising taxes on folks making more than $250,000 a year is a slam at "job creators."

Just not true. The Kauffman Foundation, an advocate for entrepreneurship, says that the great majority of entrepreneurs are middle class folks.

Anyway, 97% of small business owners make less than $250,000 a year….and, anyway, 3 out of 4 small business owners are sole proprietors who have no employees, these are folks who are in business for themselves, who like to "be my own boss," who have no intention of hiring the millions of people who are out of work right now.

And here's another point: the folks who are millionaires and billionaires have invested more than 90% of their wealth in financial investments: bonds, money market funds, stocks and real estate. Most of their wealth is not being plowed into a business that creates jobs.

And one more point about business taxes: forget about the public hubbub over America's "high corporate tax rate." says that in the 1950s, corporations paid $3 in taxes for every $1 paid by their employees through payroll tax withholding. Today, U.S. corporations are paying an average of 22 cents in taxes for every $1 of payroll tax withholding.

Corporate taxes are NOT too high, and the very wealthy should be paying more of their fair share to support the government services that all of us need and want.

Just think about where you're going today….are you going to drive over a bridge that needs repairs?

What are the so-called "job creators" doing.....?

Monday, November 19, 2012

We're cooking the planet.....(part 6)

The plain and simple truth: the planet is getting warmer, and it's not a random blip.

Human beings are cooking the planet—this is the only planet our grandchildren will be living on.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the average global temperature in October was the 5th warmest October on record. We got the hottest October in 2003. The coldest October in the record book was in 1912, exactly a hundred years ago.

But this is the ominous news from NOAA: in every single month since February 1985 the average global temperature has been higher than the average for all of the 20th century. That's 332 months in a row with elevated temps around the world. That's not a statistical oddity, it's a scientifically confirmed, enduring pattern. It's reality.

And by the way, check out the chart on this link – so far this year, the northeastern United States has been one of the hottest places on the planet, with consistently record high temperatures month after month.

We're cooking the planet, folks. We can't undo the damage that's already done.

For the sake of our grandchildren, we should be working at lot harder right now to slow down the human activities that are causing ever higher temperatures and global climate change.

It's going to be expensive.

Think of it as a gift to your grandchildren.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2012 All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Twinkies, Twinkies, little star…..

How I wonder….what's all the fuss?

For starters, I never was a Twinkies fan, not too sure I actually ever ate one of those little yellow spongy things…

And if your Twinkies experience over the years was similar to my experience with my all-time fave, Tasty Pies from Tasty Baking Company, then the Twinkies-lovers among you can just go about your business, no tears, the long dying has come to an end…

I'm guessing that in the good old days, Twinkies were bigger, moister, sweeter, spongier, creamier and tastier than they are now (or were, if your local dealer ran out recently…)

The sinister and unending conviction of consumer product marketing managers--that making a product slightly less everything in order to maintain a price point is a great way to maintain customer loyalty--is, well, sinister and unending.

For example, if you ate a Tasty Pie 30 years ago, say, as I did with passion, then you wouldn't be caught dead or alive eating the desiccated over-baked hunk of artificial dough with some flavoring smeared in it that comes in the Tasty Pie box now.

I don't eat Tasty Pies any more.

Sorry about your Twinkies.

Requiescat in pace.

Hostess pulls the plug on Twinkies....

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Job creators…..revisited

President Obama's tax plan won't affect most small businesses, and won't affect most of the so-called job creators. Plain and simple.

In the past week I've read a couple interesting facts about small businesses and the so-called job creators that I wish had been given widespread news coverage during the presidential campaign.

Turns out that the Republican mantra that "we can't raise taxes, that will hurt small businesses, they're the job creators" was mostly malarkey.

Let's talk about small businesses and jobs and taxes – here are a couple points that Romney and many Republicans forgot to mention, and for that matter, I'm mystified by the failure of President Obama and many Democrats to mention them…..

About 97 per cent of small businesses have less than $250,000 annual income. Thus, allowing the so-called Bush tax cuts to expire for high-income taxpayers won't affect most small businesses.

About 75 per cent of small businesses have no employees and are never going to have any. Why? About 75 per cent of small businesses are sole proprietorships, that is, they are one man or one woman who set up his/her own business so he/she could "work for myself, be my own boss." These people have no intention of creating the millions of jobs that we need to bring down the current high unemployment rate.

One of President Obama's high-profile policy commitments is to raise taxes on the very wealthy and the highest-income folks, to ask them to pay more of their fair share for all of the government services that we all need and want. Most small businesses and most of the so-called job creators won't be affected. Plain and simple.

And anyway – just to make the point – what are the so-called job creators anywhere thinking? what are they doing? Taxes haven't been raised on job creators (or anybody) for the last decade – I really haven't seen those alleged job creators hard at work anywhere…..

Friday, November 16, 2012

The wisdom of Thomas Edison

"The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

This piece of advice certainly has merit…..give it one more try…..

Lincoln on personal resolve....

The wisdom of Francis Bacon

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The wisdom of the Orient

"A man grows most tired when standing still."
Chinese proverb

Ain't it the truth?

When I was younger, without consciously thinking about it, I believe I was more willing to "stand still"…in many ways I believed I was satisfied with my life, and status quo felt real comfortable.

Life has changed for me, or, rather, a combination of circumstance and desire has changed my life.

A half-dozen years ago I reached the end of my working career, an explicitly bitter-sweet experience, I had a job that I loved, I worked closely and productively and wisely with a compadre who is still my very good friend, but my company (and industry: daily newspaper) was beginning to visibly implode….

Retirement put the status quo out of my life and out of my mind.

And I changed my outlook. I started working more with people, and enjoying the camaraderie, and I began to have some positive impact with organizations I'm involved in, and I made up my mind to do only the things that I want to do.

I'm not standing still, and I haven't gotten tired of it yet….

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin (part 4)

"Discussions should be conducted
          without fondness for dispute or desire for victory."
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Wish old Ben could be here now, so he could walk around the halls of Congress and whisper this piece of wisdom in every congressperson's ear.

It's foolish to think that the Democrats and the Republicans are going to put their differences aside.

I wish they would put their differences side-by-side, and then put a big red circle around the points on which they have some agreement, and then start working on actually voting to do something to boost our national economy and get people back to work.

Discussion.......information or ignorance?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mandate? … bet!

I'm amused by the wishful talk among some Republicans who are claiming that President Obama didn't get "a mandate" on Nov. 6, when he defeated Mitt Romney and won re-election.

I'm really disappointed that some in the news media and the cable TV talking heads and the political blogosphere are treating this loose talk as if it were news, something we need to discuss….

Here's the way I see it:

President Obama won. A majority of those who went to the polls voted for him.

Romney collected 2 million fewer votes than McCain got in 2008.

There will be more Democrats in Congress next year.

There will be a few more Democrats in the new Senate, and a few more Democrats in the new House.

On balance, American voters gave the nod to Democrats last week.

What did President Obama and Democrats get? It's what we call "a mandate."

In real simple terms, it's what the Republicans did NOT get last week. Apparently nearly all of them got the message.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The wisdom of Francis Bacon

"A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds."

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
English philosopher, statesman, scientist

Bacon is rather charmingly and, in my view, lugubriously known as the last person in Western culture who "knew everything." He was a polymath, that's the two-dollar word for really bright, and he was intensely curious and intensely well-informed about everything of interest in his 17th century world. He was an empiricist in a largely doctrinaire world. Bacon invented the scientific method---believe it or not, doing experiments to test theories and accepting counter-intuitive findings were not at the top of every thinker's list in the early 1600s.

I like Bacon's epigram above. It occurs to me that the opportunities we make are more likely to be the right opportunities than those we find.

It's a good idea to follow your own star.

Gandhi on personal vision...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.....(part 5)

"Always bear in mind
          that your own resolution to succeed
                     is more important than any other."

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
16th President of the United States

I guess we need to remind ourselves, from time to time, that everything isn't up to the other guy.

I want to do well with the things that are important to me. That's a pretty good start on the day.

Save some energy for striving.

..when good men do nothing....

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What "immigration problem" ?

Too bad that Republicans are struggling to find a way to embrace our fellow Americans who are immigrants, only because the GOP lost the election, in part because notably immigrant minority voters told Romney/Ryan to take a hike.......

Too bad that Republicans haven't figured out how to embrace our fellow Americans who are immigrants, because they do work that most Americans won't do.

Republicans eat lettuce, I think. Republicans hire lawn care services and nannies, I think. Every Republican in America has at least one ancestor who was an immigrant.

Let's start focusing on the problems that are hurting all of us, instead of the so-called "immigrant problem" that basically isn't hurting anyone.

Yeah, I know that some new immigrants are criminals…let's find those few and put them in jail.

And let's welcome the rest of them and rely on them to be hard-working citizens of America, the melting pot.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Did political ads on TV change your mind?

For today I'm going to ignore the grotesquely dangerous and undemocratic reality of very wealthy people spending tens of millions of their own money to try to buy elections.

I've seen estimates that the Democratic and Republican campaigns spent more than $2 billion in this political season, and among other things, bought more than 1,000,000 TV ads. You remember all of those positive, upbeat political ads you saw on TV…..

So I'm just asking these questions today:

Did all of the political ads you saw on TV influence the way you voted on Tuesday?

Did all of the political ads you saw on TV change your mind about any candidate?

Do you know anyone whose mind was changed about a candidate or an issue, after he or she saw political ads on TV?

How about political ads online?

How about those little signs that people put up in their front yards?

How about bumper stickers?

When did you make up your mind about voting for President Obama or Romney?

…and here's another question: How much of the information—and the unrelenting harshly partisan commentary—that you got from the news media and the cable TV talking heads actually helped you to make up your mind about who would get your vote?

Our political campaigns are too long, too expensive, too wacky and too nasty….and, in many ways, useless.

too much money and politics don't mix

..elections for sale

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Same boat?

I'm not making any predictions, I've learned too many times how unsatisfying it is to be wrong.

I will say that I'm disappointed, I had hoped for something better in the aftermath of the election, but already it looks like America is still in the same boat as before.

Partisan gridlock. Short-sighted political maneuvering. The same staccato drumbeats for ideology instead of common sense.

Reid and Boehner hardly waited 12 hours after President Obama's re-election win to start the public grandstanding.

They were talking, mostly, maybe, about the so-called "fiscal cliff" of tax cut expirations and automatic spending cuts that—how easily they forget—they and a majority of their caucuses actually approved last year.

Boehner and Reid used words like "agreement" and "work together" but what they actually said and confirmed most emphatically is what they will refuse to do, what they won't do…..and it's the same old story.

No nasty tax hikes for the wealthy. No nasty benefit cuts for recipients. Somehow, they say, we can take our nasty fiscal medicine without feeling any pain.

This is the same goofy, untenable and irreconcilable impasse we've been facing for a long time now.

Apparently we're still in the same old boat. Call your representatives in Congress—they're probably incumbents, the same people who've been screwing it up in Washington, odds are you voted to send them back for another term—and tell them to start doing what's right for America and Americans.

Apparently we need new people at the oars.

Why are we re-electing incumbents?

Think your congressman has lost his mind?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Easy call

What do we do now? That's an easy call.

Now it's time for the president and the congress, Republicans and Democrats, to get to work, to start doing what's right for America and Americans. Let's try one more time to work together across the aisle, instead of throwing bricks.

Emphasis on "we"

Emphasis on "try"

Emphasis on "one more time"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vote today!

Nothing to say today except "Vote!"

Nothing to do today except "Vote!"

It's the American way.

Tell a friend.

More thoughts on voting....

Monday, November 5, 2012

The wisdom of Epictetus

"Nature has given us one tongue, but two ears,
      that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak."

Epictetus (55-135)
Stoic philosopher

Epictetus lived in the first and second centuries, so he never even heard of an American presidential election….some guys have all the luck….

Anyway, I'm thinking there's going to be a lot of gas and a lot of breathless, useless rhetoric in the next two days, until we figure out who's going to be in the hot seat for the next four years.

It might be that Epictetus never heard of socks, either, but I think another way to say what he said is to advise many of the folks who are still sounding off about presidential politics in an unhealthful way to "put a sock in it."

Let's stop the endless guessing and predictions about who's going to win.

We'll all know in about 36 hours.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Git out there and vote!

At this point, two days before the election, I think the only useful thing to say about some Americans' indifference to voting is: they're hurting themselves.

So if you're one of the folks who doesn't bother to vote, I ask you to sit down and think seriously for one minute about your own self interests. You know at least something about the two candidates for president. This year especially, I think you can't possibly believe that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between them. Pick the one who lines up best with your self interests, and git out there and vote.

And by the way, in 31 countries around the world darn near everyone votes, all the time. Like Australia, which adopted mandatory voting in 1924. Down under, about 95% of the eligible voters go to the polls every time. A few Aussies are sick or injured on election day, and a few don't mind paying the fine for not voting. First offense, roughly the cost of a traffic ticket, the amount of the fine goes up for repeat offenses.

Actually, I find that I'm profoundly ambivalent about finding a way to encourage or "force" everyone to vote. On the planet I'd like to live on, everyone of voting age would cheerfully want to vote to support his or her preferred candidates. On planet Earth right now, I look around and I think I see lots of non-voting folks whose judgment in the voting booth I wouldn't necessarily cheerfully endorse.

I'm not too sure that all of the folks who have steadfastly refused to vote are the kinds of people who will make voting decisions that are good for our republic, in the long run….

…I realize that last statement is a lot less proletarian and a lot less democratic than my customary point of view, still, just saying….

Undecided? Really?

Maybe your congressman is crazy...

another swipe at incumbents...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dark is beautiful…

Hurricane Sandy came and went. We were lucky…only lost power for 3½ days…

So, breakfast by candlelight was sort of fun, the first day…carrying all the candles upstairs at bedtime wasn't really fun, not even the first night…

A flashlight is a lot more portable, of course, but you have to keep it in your hand to get any real value out of it…I'm not complaining, mind you, just saying…

It's surprising how long the frozen raspberries will stay cold in the freezer, couple days at least.

It's surprising how dark it is at night, with the street lights out, and no "city glow"…..except the last night, absolutely cloudless sky and almost a full moon, that sucker is bright!...outside it looked like the old movies depicting nighttime, you know, the camera guy used some kind of filter so he could shoot in the daytime but sort of make it look like nighttime except for the obvious shadows cast by the sun….or maybe it was a full moon when they did the night shoots….

It's surprising how easy it is to get accustomed to only having "daylight" for illumination indoors, it's less exciting, slows you down a bit, maybe it's a bit more comforting, adequate for most purposes except maybe in the bathroom, I'm sure the pioneers didn't waste any candles during the daytime…

We only turned our cell phones on to actually make a call or check for text messages from family members who were affected by the storm….our in-home wireless network was dead, of course, computers were dark, I didn't even try to figure out how to get someplace where I could check my email, I survived….

Being disconnected from the frantic flow of news was a relief in some ways, anyway most of the news is such low quality that we didn't miss it much, no, correction, we didn't miss it at all…

We slowed down for several days, and wore extra layers, and we refused to complain, and we spent some quality time in front of our gas fireplace, and ate soup, and read books sitting near the window during the day, and by the way, O'Henry comes in handy at times like this….

…and by the way, gin rummy by candlelight is different from the regular game, a bit more relaxed, maybe, certainly cozier, really didn't matter who was winning…

…and talking across the dinner table, in candlelight, is nice too, that was good every night…