The social and economic costs of smoking impacts each one of us—smokers
and non-smokers—it’s about $300 billion a year—that’s an average of almost
$1,000 a year for every man, woman and child—in smoking-related health care
costs and, importantly, lost productivity on the job. Smokers are out sick more
Look, with numbers like these, it’s obvious that smoking may be a personal
choice but it isn’t a personal issue, it’s not a private issue, it’s a public
issue, it’s an issue for all of us.
And let’s get real: there is no responsible way to smoke, unless you live
alone and you never leave your own home and you’ve got wads of cash stashed away
to pay full price for all your future medical care.
Why is it legal to sell cigarettes?
Think of the good things that would happen if we put a $50 tax on every
pack of cigarettes….
The vicious political
grandstanding about tens of millions of “lazy” chronically poor people is
Most people who get poor also
get out of poverty fairly quickly.
Less than 4% of Americans are chronically
poor, that is, poor for a long time, for a year or two or more. That’s something
like 11 million out of 317 million Americans.
And, yes, about 15% of
Americans were poor last year, with income below the official poverty line—for a
family of four, it’s $23,492 a year.
But the thing is, most of the
folks who were poor last year were poor only for a short time—the median is 6.6
months, meaning that half of the people who were poor last year were on the
skids only for a few months, possibly between jobs.
So, the 15% figure for folks in
poverty is the “annual poverty rate,” it’s AN AVERAGE for the year. Lots of
folks were in and out of poverty, and very few of the poor folks were in that
category for an extended time.
Brad Plumer, on WashingtonPost.com, recently reported these eye-opening details, and also this astonishing fact: during 2009 to 2011,
nearly a third of Americans were officially poor for at least two months. That’s
almost 100 million people, probably including some people you know.
These insights about poverty
are dynamite. They kick the you-know-what out of the ignorant, disdainful
argument against government aid for the poor because "it's just handing
over money to chronic deadbeats who live their lives in government-subsidized
Why hasn’t this report been
getting top billing by the news media and the cable TV talking heads?
Could you spend $53 million a day, every day, for a year? How many yachts would you buy?
OK, another question: what do the
richest 85 people on earth have in common with the 3.6 billion poorest people
Easy. Each group has total wealth
of about $1.65 trillion. That’s 1,650,000,000,000 dollars.
Yup, Oxfam reports that this
“global elite” group—the 85 richest human beings—controls as much wealth as the
poorest half of humanity. Each of those poor folks—men, women and children—has an average of $458 in total wealth.
That’s roughly the value of a cow in Africa.
Each of the richest 85 folks on the
planet has roughly $19 billion, in the bank, under the mattress, wherever you
keep that kind of stash.
See, my point is, that’s too much
money. If the richest 85 wanted to spend all their money, every one of them would
have to shell out more than $53 million a day, every day, for a whole year.
If they did that, the world would
be better off: they would create more investment, more commerce, more “multiplier effect,” more
jobs, more prosperity, a rising standard of living for hundreds of millions of people, maybe a lot more.
But the richest 85 aren’t doing
that. They already have too much money, and they’re working on getting more
wealth. And they’re succeeding. You know it’s true.
In his latest NYTimes.com column, Paul Krugman talked about the myth of “the undeserving poor” and the
counterpart myth of “the deserving rich” in America. Basically, he confirms
that inequality of wages and wealth is worsening in the United States. He pointed
to “the simple fact —
American capitalism as currently constituted is undermining the foundations of
Increasingly, Krugman noted, the
richest of the rich aren’t following the rosy storyline of the well-educated, well-connected,
well-married and well-employed white collar folks who are claiming the American
Mainly, the “lucky few” are “executives of some kind, especially,
although not only, in finance.”
You know them, many of these folks are the ones who dumped the U.S. economy
into the toilet about five years ago….
$25,000-a-night, the Bridge Suite, Atlantis resort, Bahamas
They have too much money, they want
more, and the grotesque imbalance of wealth is harming our economy and our society.
have theprivilege to knowhave the duty to act."
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
I am slowly teaching myself to
tolerate the awful reality that too many people don't feel this kind of
self-imposed, constraining reverence for decency, civility and the common good.
I feel it, and I act on it, in my
ways, small and not so small ways, private and public ways, for the sake of
decency, civility and the common good. I'm happy to say that.
How do you feel?
The British statesman, Edmund Burke, famously (possibly) said "All that is necessary for the triumph of
evil is that good men do nothing." Scholars agree that there is no documentary
evidence that Burke actually said these devastating words, but his known
writings include substantially similar sentiments.
And Plato said, "The penalty good
men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
And my friend Bill down the street says "If more folks would get
off their butts and do something good, do the right thing more often, this world would be a better place." I think
Bill nailed it.
This Johnny Depp/Christopher Walken film is unremarkable in
quite a few ways: at least, cinematography, script, acting are on the list….
But I was drawn to the central theme—the paralyzing horror of
I think Johnny pretty well covers the range of emotions you’d
think everyone would feel in his situation. His desperation seems real.
Realistic. Lost. Enervated. Pissed. Galvanized. The unremitting adrenaline,
pushing him to act, or run….or kill.
I was on his side, but I did not want to be him.
Almost too dreadful to say it in words: kill, or see his child
I waited and watched for his escape, his release, his salvation.
I fiercely wonder how I would act in such a raging, tormented dilemma.
My salvation, right at the moment, is that I don’t have to make
I’m a confirmed tea drinker,
but I take a cup of coffee after an excellent meal, and I admit that a really
good coffee tastes better than my usual cuppa….
You may already know that
coffee was introduced from “Arabia” to London in the early 17th
century, and, as we now say, went viral.
By mid-century, there were
thousands of coffee shops in London , more or less everyone was drinking coffee
and talking in those first-ever chat rooms.
The “Vertue of the COFFEE
Drink” was proclaimed by a marketing-savvy coffee shop owner in St. Michael’s Alley
named Pasqua Rosee, who advised his customers that this “simple innocent thing”
was of good taste and would cure or prevent all manner of ailments, including
“. . . Fumes . . . Head-ach . . . the Cough of the Lungs . . . Dropsy . . .
Scurvy . . .Hypocondriack . . . Winds, or the like.”
Seems that drinking coffee took
up a lot of time. While men hung out in the coffee shops, the women of London
published a Women’s Petition Against
Coffee in 1674, arguing that “Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable,
Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE” was the cause of a decline in England’s
birthrate. The coffee shop boys denied it, of course.
King Charles II tried to
suppress the coffee shops a year later, because he was afraid that treasonous
talk might start cropping up in the establishments of Pasqua Rosee and others.
But coffee was too popular by then….the
rest is history.
Mr. Rosee said it best: coffee “
. . . quickens the Spirits, and makes the Heart Lightsome.”
Here’s a Fractured Fact about Prohibition, which went into effect 94 years ago on January 16, 1920: it didn’t make drinking alcohol illegal.
The Volstead Act (18th Amendment) simply prohibited the manufacture,
importation, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages in the United States. Industrious
private citizens, under the law, could make up to 200 gallons of wine and cider
each year, at home, for their personal use. But not beer or distilled liquors.
As you know from watching movies like “Capone,” a lot of folks kept on drinking
after Prohibition became law. While it was in effect (repealed in 1933), average
spending on alcoholic beverages more than doubled.
Some of that money was spent in speakeasy
clubs that sprouted everywhere. According to several estimates, in 1925 there were
at least 30,000 “speaks,” and maybe as many as 100,000, in New York City alone.
And, of course, as you know from watching movies like “The Untouchables,” organized
crime got involved in a big way. An informed guess is that more than $3 billion
a year was passing through the hands of gangsters, whiskey runners and club owners
who sought to provide a much-desired public service. Authorities never put enough money and resources into enforcement.
What were the “drys” thinking when they pulled the Prohibition caper?
An interesting aside from my trusted personal advisor: some Florida folks
figured out how to beat Prohibition with the comforting collusion of their
doctors and the barkeeper at The Palace Saloon,established in 1903 near the
waterfront in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, just north of Jacksonville. Under
the Volstead Act, doctors could prescribe wine for "medicinal"
purposes...and the local docs on Amelia Island generously handed out "prescriptions"
to their thirsty patients who got ‘em filled at the Palace….which now righteously
claims to be the Sunshine State’s “oldest continuously operated drinking establishment.”
A few days ago I summarized data from Gallup that indicated a growing number of people (42%) decline to call themselves “Democrat” or “Republican,” and claim to be “independent,” whatever that means….
I said there's no clear and accepted concept of what being "independent" means, and I'm pretty sure that the roughly 100 million Americans who claim to be "independent" have more than one concept of what that declaration implies….indeed, all but a handful of those "independents" readily admit that they "lean" to the Democratic or Republican side.
Now two political scientists have shined a bit more light on this murky “independent” thing.
Yanna Krupnikov and Samara Klar report that most “independents” really aren’t independent, either in thought or deed—they claim to be “independent” because it gives a positive impression, because it’s a socially desirable label, because they’re embarrassed to explicitly align themselves with a partisan political party.
In a WashingtonPost.com piece, Krupnikov and Klar mention that some folks try to distance themselves from partisan politics that are perceived as not socially acceptable.
But here’s the kicker:
“What we don’t find is any change in people’s actual political views. Even while reporting that they are independent, respondents repeatedly clung to the partisan issue positions they had held all along. Indeed, when we asked people to place themselves on either the Republican or Democratic side of a series of issues, they were not only consistent in which side they picked across all the issues, but reminding them of partisan disagreement had no effect.”
In other words, for many self-proclaimed “independents,” it’s about putting on a good face, not about any non-partisan inclinations, and it’s a cover-up for actual personal convictions and actual political views and actual ideologies.
Most “independents” are faking it, more or less.
p.s. ….the depressing reality is that people are not voting by the tens of millions, the ultimate critique of our political morass....
All the talk about independent/Democrat/Republican/liberal/conservative is just talk until people start taking their convictions and principles to the polls....
In case you were wondering about what cows sound like in up-country
England and elsewhere in the Sceptered Isle, wherever cows may moo in that general
location, I give you Sir Patrick Stewart to the rescue.
I know, I know, you’re thinking Sir
Patrick Stewart? What? That vaunted thespian? That gentleman of boundless
But "commuting" has a very American history, all the way back
to the 1830s in Boston.
Throughout modern human history (last 1,500 years or so), folks who
weren't doing farming or "cottage industry" work purposefully tended
to live within an hour's walk (or hour's travel time) from the place where they
worked. That makes sense, especially centuries ago, when there was no public
lighting and darkness tended to shut down a lot of activity, and so spending no
more than a couple hours a day getting to and from work seemed like a really
smart thing to do….and, of course, a lot of folks lived a lot closer than that
to their workplace.
In the 1830s, Boston investors and entrepreneurs started building the
railroad infrastructure that would create "spokes" of rail lines leading
from the central city "hub" to sparsely populated places that would
become Newton, Providence, Worcester, Lowell, Salem, Newburyport, Plymouth,
Now, here's the thing: these railroad pioneers built their lines to
handle freight. Gradually it dawned on them that they could profitably carry
people. Add in a little real estate speculation, and some homebuilding, and
upper class folks who wanted to get out of the city, and Voila! The first
approximation of suburbs appeared along the tracks extending outward from
The owners of the Eastern Railroad running to Newburyport, and the
folks at Boston & Worcester R.R. serving Newton, started offering reduced
price "season tickets" to regular users of their lines, that is, the
folks who lived outside Boston and went in to the city to work or do business
regularly. These tickets were said to have "commuted" prices—an
old-fashioned meaning of "commute" is "to change or
So these early suburban travelers taking advantage of the
"commuted" tickets came to be called "commuters." They
could live outside Boston and still have an hour or less travel time to their
By 1849, there were 105 commuter trains arriving in Boston every
weekday….and, y'know, they didn't have any traffic jams on the rail lines. We
could use more rail lines today.
sources for this historical tidbit:
Binford, The First Suburbs: Residential Communities on the Boston Periphery,
1815-1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 95.
O'Connell, The Hub's Development: Greater Boston's Development from Railroad
Suburbs to Smart Growth (Cambridge, MA, 2013), 42.
Maybe a sizeable number of
folks are just too embarrassed to admit that they are Democrats or Republicans.
Not too surprising if it's true—the national "approval rating" for
Congress has been down around 10% for a long time, generally we think our elected representatives are worthless.
Gallup reported recently that
the number of adults who explicitly identify themselves as a Democrat (31%) or
Republican (25%) is at the lowest level in the last 25 years—and the
ambiguously named "Independents" have been growing steadily for the
last several years.
In fact, about 42% of Americans
claim to be "independent" when first asked about political
affiliation. Now, let's be clear: all but a handful of those
"independents" readily admit that they "lean" to the
Democratic or Republican side (about an even split between the two traditional
I think the point of these
Gallup results is that a lot of folks don't feel comfortable calling themselves
a Democrat or Republican, and, I think, with good reason. The elected Dems and
GOP reps in Congress have been doing close to nothing for several years to do
their duty along the lines of boosting growth in our national economy and
helping to create jobs for millions of Americans who want to work.
But I think there's a lurker in
these survey results: there's no clear and accepted concept of what being
"independent" means, and I'm pretty sure that the roughly 100 million
Americans who claim to be "independent" have more than one concept of
what that declaration implies.
Very fundamental elements of
our presumed representative democracy are off balance, out of kilter and corrupted.
Millions and millions of voters are confused, conflicted and contemptuous of politics
and the "system."
Voter turnout has been dangerously
low for generations. What if we gave an election and nobody showed up to vote?
Shame on the Republicans in Congress who are "celebrating"
the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's War on Poverty by
claiming that it has failed.
I dare any one of them to
"live poor" for a month.
I also dare all of them to do
their duty, and start pushing legislation that will boost growth in our
national economy and help to create jobs for millions of Americans who want to
Now, suddenly, there's a media
frenzy of reporting on LBJ's kickoff of the War on Poverty 50 years ago, and,
as in this WashingtonPost.com story, we're getting a lot of senseless, partisan
malarkey about it.
F'rinstance, Rep. Steve
Southerland (R-FL) is claiming that government intervention to fight poverty
has failed, because we now have "more
Americans in poverty than at any other point in our nation’s history."
There are now almost 50 million Americans, including millions of kids, who live
poor and disadvantaged. That's 1 out of 6 of our fellow Americans who live the
way you and I wouldn't want to live. And imagine all the millions of folks whose
income is $100 or $500 or $1,000 over the poverty line—we wouldn't choose to live
like them either….
well, yes, that's about 10 million more people in the ranks of the poor since 1963,
more than any time in our history. But, wait a minute! The United States population
has increased about 125 million since 1963, and the percentage of folks living in
poverty has DECREASED from 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012. I'd say that's a positive
track record so far for the War on Poverty.
about 50 million poor folks that still need some work….
here's my free advice for the Republicans in Congress who push for cutting food
stamps and ending unemployment compensation and other generally lumpen efforts to
cut government aid for the poor: