Sunday, September 29, 2013

A shutdown is bad for everybody except….

A government shutdown is bad for everybody except….

….the small group of doctrinaire Republicans in the House who WANT to shut down the government, and have shanghaied the rest of their party to go along with this madness.

This is not "government."

This is not "representative democracy."

This is not "standing up for principle."

This is not "doing the right thing."

Why do we keep re-electing these people who aren't doing The People's business?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Smokers, take a $10,000 pay cut….

Do any of your employees or coworkers smoke? Each of them is costing your company, on average, about $10,000 a year. Maybe each of them should take a $10,000 pay cut…. has a new report that says the nearly 29 million U.S. workers who smoke are costing their employers about $278 billion a year in lost time, lost productivity, higher health care costs….

….and then there's the lingering smell of smoke in the elevator that most of them use to get to the parking lot out back where they go for their smoke breaks….

Compared with a non-smoker, the average worker who smokes is absent an extra 2.5 days a year for health reasons, gets the equivalent of about 9 days "off" for all those smoke breaks, and costs the company more than $2,000 extra for higher health care expenses covered by the company plan.

The boss could make a good case for cutting the average smoker's pay by about 10 grand.

…and don't even get me started about why the gov't should raise the taxes on cigarettes, cigars, snuff, Red Man Original, Skoal Longcut, hookah parlors….

Friday, September 27, 2013

College isn't for everyone

Let's stop assuming that "everyone" should go to college.

Only 43% of the high school students who took SATs  this year scored high enough to be successful at the college level.

This isn't a new finding. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has made similar reports for years.

The average score on the SAT is about 1500, as a total for all three sections of the test.

The College Board says a student needs at least a 1550 score to have a really good shot at grades of B- or higher in college….and in case you're old enough to be able to argue that a "C" student is getting average grades, you ain't seen what grade inflation has done to GPAs in the last couple decades. Trust me, you have to turn in a really, really disappointing performance to consistently get "Cs" in college.

So, bottom line is, the College Board reports the obvious: the average high school student, even one who's a teensy bit better than average, isn't prepared to do well in a college that's focused on a higher level of learning and at least a serious nod toward the classic ideal of a liberal arts education.

Let's stop assuming that "everyone" should go to college. Let's make big improvements right now in professional and career training after high school that doesn't require a traditional four-year degree.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Corporate welfare: one $80 billion chunk

Would you like to give $700 to some big companies in your area?
(Hint: you already did, last year). reports that U.S. states, counties and cities are giving about $80 billion a year to private companies This is money taken right out of the taxpayers' pockets….and we're not even mentioning all the federal tax benefits and handouts to businesses.

This corporate welfare takes the form of tax breaks and tax forgiveness for new installations, low-interest loans for construction and other economic development channels, often designed to "lure" a company to "build a new facility" that will "create new jobs."

The track record of these companies in actually creating the promised jobs is poor. Their success rate isn't great. Often, loans aren't repaid.

Details about the $80 billion in subsidies to business are in this New York Times report….and the Times says the total is almost certainly understated.

Now, $80 billion is about $700 per family. Imagine what you could do with that money.

What really bites is that many big corporations and companies who take these benefits are spending their own cash to pay for political activism that trumpets "small government," deplores our national debt and wants to cut benefits to poor people.

Why do we keep re-electing the politicians who approve this transfer of wealth from taxpayers to businesses?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

High tech got you down?

I've seen a few more changes of the seasons than a lot of folks have, some of the high tech stuff that's out there today is just too out there for me…..

I'm not afraid of it, you understand, I'm not a Princess-phone Luddite or anything, I have unlimited text messaging on my cell phone, I carry a flash drive in my pocket….

But, I confess, Google Glasses aren't for me.

So, here's the thing: high tech is in the eye of the beholder.

Check out this once-upon-a-time, state-of-the-art graphic of Civil War facts and chronology:

The Comparative Synoptical Chart Co. obviously published this in the 19th century, I couldn't get a date for it, but obviously it was high tech back in the day….

Maybe you should put the Google Glasses on before you tackle this one.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Could you repeat that question, please?"

What makes them do it?

Right now, I'm not talking about the Republicans in the House, who voted on Thursday to deprive almost 4 million poor people of food stamp assistance next year (and almost 3 million more—each and every year—for the next nine years). The right wing is in charge there….

No, I'm talking about the folks who live in Owsley County, Kentucky.

Owsley County, in southeastern Kentucky, is the poorest county in America. Half of the people in Owsley County receive federal aid to buy food. Food stamps help keep these people alive.

Now, Owsley County is red on the political map, it's a Republican stronghold, 98% white, 81% voted Republican in 2012.

The folks in Owsley County are represented by Congressman Hal Rogers (R), who voted "Yes" to slash food stamps.

Why do the folks in Owsley County, and millions like them, continue to vote for politicians whose votes in Congress are explicitly contrary to their personal and economic best interests?

What makes them do it?

Could you repeat that question, please?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Same old, same old….

The House Republicans are going to do it again.

They are applauding themselves about passing a bill that everyone on the surface of the planet knows will not pass the Senate and will not become law. They're not doing "government," they're diddling.

The GOP will vote for a bill to continue funding the federal government and to de-fund the Affordable Care Act—so-called "Obamacare."

I think this will be the 43rd time for the House Republicans, in their useless quest to cut back or eliminate the important health care reform law.

They keep doing useless, headline-grabbing stuff like this, and they pay no attention to enacting legislation that will boost growth in our national economy and help create jobs for millions of Americans who want to work.

Why does anyone keep re-electing the people who aren't doing The People's work?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Takin' it easy….

See, I think a lot of folks don't really know how to take it easy, so, as a public service, I'm offering this hint:

Even if you're dressed to go to work, you can still take a few minutes for yourself, in the library….

And if you ARE taking it easy, tramping through the bosky glades, and you feel like you'd like to just flop for a while and read something, this is the kind of book store you need to find….


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The good old library....

The big old brass plaque on the wall in the library's entrance lobby said, in Roman numerals, MCMVIII.

So, OK, the women at the desk knew the library is old, one of them proudly said "1905" when I asked. And they were proud to point out the recent addition, a large room filled with stacks and filling up with people as we walked through minutes after the library opened.

The American history section was more than decent. That's my standard of excellence.

And the very big, very old carved wooden American eagle standing guard at the stairway was more than excellent. That's one of my standards of decency....

Books and birds and MCMVIII, I was loving' it....

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dream sequence....

Imagine waking up to find that everyone cared -- really cared -- mostly about the right things.

The other day the rector asked for contributions to an "End 68 Hours Of Hunger" campaign.

With initial disbelief, I heard him explain that the project aims to provide food to children who are so poor that they get nothing to eat in the 68 hours between the subsidized school snack they get on Fridays and the subsidized school breakfast they get on Mondays.

It's real hard to get an education when your stomach is shriveled from prolonged hunger.

For a sec, I though about trying to go without eating for 68 hours....then I dropped an appropriate gift in the plate.

On the list of "right things to care about," feeding hungry children is right up there.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Syria thing....

The Syria thing is a mess.

Shame on Congress for dithering, as usual, and failing to take a stand against the horrific use of poison gas against civilians.

Shame on Putin and Russia for obstructing justice (i. e., a swift international response to Assad), and for obscenely proposing to force Assad to voluntarily turn over his chemical weapons for supervised destruction....does anyone on the surface of the planet think that's going to happen?

Shame on President Obama for not staying the course and insisting that the U. S. do the right thing without transparent diplomatic shenanigans.....

I support Tom Friedman's idea: the U. S. should send arms to the good guys on the Syrian rebel side, and President Obama should insist every day, day after day, that every government on earth should condemn the Syrian government.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The first ring of Hell....

Yesterday I would have denied the possibility....

Today I spent enough time in a new book store to convince myself that I didn't see anything I want.

I think, clearly, that I just didn't spend enough time there....I'll guess it's the first time in 25 years that I walked out of a bookstore without a bag.

Je suis manqué.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Picking the right book….


See, you never can tell what's going to happen when you're in the middle of a book, so it's pretty smart to think ahead, make sure you have yourself covered and all….

Here's a clue about how to pick the right book:

On the other hand, this is a pretty good fall-back strategy:

Now, if you force me to pick one, I'm going to say "To Kill A Mockingbird" is the book I want you to pry out of my hands, when you find me….

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The wisdom of Jon Stewart

"I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way.
        I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house,
                 we had an enormous feast,
 and then I killed them and took their land."

Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz "Jon Stewart" (b. 1962)
You know who he is….

Yeah, the dark side of the Pilgrim saga…..

Stewart says in a sort of funny way what many of us never knew or maybe just don't think about too much….

In fact, most of the indigenous peoples on the Atlantic coast in the 17th century weren't killed by Europeans in battle…..they were struck down by the diseases the Europeans brought to America.

Within a generation or two after first contact with Europeans, 90% of the Indians were dead.

That's one of the reasons why successive waves of new colonists thought North America was "an empty  paradise"—most of the people who had already lived there were gone.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Income inequality getting worse….

Income inequality isn't going away, but you probably already know that.

By one measure, the income gap between "the 1%" and the rest of Americans got wider last year—it reached the widest split in records going back to 1928.

The Associated Press reports that the top 1% of folks who reported income last year got almost 20% of all income (that is, wages, pensions, dividends and capital gains).

The top 10% of earners raked in almost half of all that income.

Since June 2009—the bottom of the financial meltdown, more than four years ago—95% of all reported income GAINS went to the top 1 per cent.

Presumptively, most of those really high-earning folks did it legally. Let's say, sincerely, good for them….we can just forget for the moment about those obscene CEO salaries….

So, what's the big deal?

The big deal is that these folks aren't spending all those gains the way the other 99% would spend the money if they had it, and the national economy lags accordingly.

The big deal is that too much of this income is not actually being taxed "at the highest tax rate," what with preferential low-ball tax rates for capital gains and tax loopholes that the rich can use to their advantage, and stuff like that…

The big deal is that the richest folks, overall,  give a smaller percentage of their income to charity than the poorest folks do.

The big deal is that the top 1% aren't paying a rightful portion of their income in federal taxes.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 24)

"A change of season comes softly."
The wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

Indubitably, a change of season comes softly….

Life changes often come softly, I feel surprised, sometimes, when I realize that my life has changed, or I have made a new path, sometimes without conscious intention….if it's a good path, I welcome it.

The Cherokees also say:
"A woodland path is good medicine for a weary walker…"

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Who benefits?

Matt Miller at estimates that unreasonably high costs of drugs and health care, combined with ineffective and unnecessary  treatments, and outright fraud, cost Americans $1 trillion every year in "excess" health care expenses.

That's a trillion reasons why we need more effective health care reform as a national priority.

Of course the point isn't simply to save money—but saving $1 trillion, or even a big chunk of that big chunk, would make millions and millions and millions more available to pay for health care that actually makes you and me healthier, and makes lots more Americans healthier.

Why won't our federal government allow the Social Security system to negotiate on prices with big drug companies?

Why aren't we building new prisons to hold all of the quack doctors and flim-flam artists who are fraudulently draining the health care system of way too much money?

Why are we using federal government tax revenues to help pay for drug research, when Big Pharma is hauling Big Profits to the bank?

Friday, September 6, 2013

The real skinny from John Cleese….?

Some Internet sites report that John Cleese, British actor, writer and tall person, has issued the following alert:


The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved."

Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be right, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is cancelled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tom Friedman: some Syria wisdom….

Tom's back, folks, here's his Sept. 4 piece on what the U.S. should do in Syria to do the right thing: say "No" to use of poison gas.

Before taking instruction from Mr. Friedman, my position on this damnable Syria thing was pretty simple: it's despicable for a government to use poison gas on its own people (or any people), there should be a whole lot of outrage around the world to condemn it, the U.S. should take the lead and draw a line in the sand: No poison gas weapons. Punish Assad!

Honestly, I was hoping President Obama would order our very powerful military to bomb some military target in Syria back to the Stone Age….

But in his "Arm and Shame" piece, Friedman has shaken off the intellectual lethargy that's afflicted him for some time.

Tom says:  let's give arms to the "good guys" among the Syrian rebels, and bolster their fight against the brutal Syrian government and its military forces…let's publicly and stridently condemn Assad and Syrian leaders, in every international forum and in all our diplomatic contacts with other governments, and let's call out the world leaders and governments that don't join us…

Tom says: let's do an unlimited moral response, let's be The Good Guys in every way, and take a pass on a one-time military strike that won't stop Assad, but will be condemned by half the world….

Pass it on.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 23)

“When we lean solely on the past,
           we remember vividly the things that never were.”
The wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

Good one.

In the same category with “don’t learn how to fight the last war,” and this other gem from our Cherokee ancestors:

"We have the power to keep yesterday in its place
      and make the most of today.
           Yesterday was the foundation, but today is the house."

'course, you can't just order optimism in the drive-through:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

23,000 gun deaths since Newtown…. estimates that more than 23,000 Americans have died from gunshot wounds since the tragic murders of school children in Newtown, Connecticut, last December.

It’s an estimate.

Maybe the real number is only 22,871 who died because we have too many guns in America.

Would you feel better if the real number is only 22,462?

Monday, September 2, 2013

David Frost, R.I.P.

 “He’s turned his life around.
      He used to be depressed and miserable.
           Now he’s miserable and depressed.”

Sir David Paradine Frost (1939-2013)
British journalist, very smart guy

David Frost was, very self-consciously, a pretty smart guy. He was very entertaining, if your taste runs to very self-consciously pretty smart guys being themselves.

I suspect that David Frost was almost always being himself and was never lonely, at least not much.

He was a master of laconic verbal sparring, and rose to lofty heights when he interviewed the rich, the famous and the otherwise. His Nixon interviews are educational.

I don’t know who he was describing in the aphorism quoted above. Poor fellow.

David Frost, requiescat in pace.