Saturday, December 1, 2012

The horrible night I lost my keys

Many years ago, when particularly exhausted during a drive home from a late-night shift at work, my right arm happened to hit my right thigh. Not feeling the ring of keys that I have always - ALWAYS - kept in my right pants pocket, I instinctively knew something was terribly wrong. I quickly checked my other pockets, though I knew that was futile. No keys!

Thoughts flew through my mind, as I got more and more panicky:

"Should I return to work to search for the keys?" "I don't know how to get in the building at this hour, so I've just got to go home." "But how will I get into the house when I get there?" "What's going on? I've never misplaced my keys before." "I guess I could climb into the house through a window." "It's still so early - should I wake someone to help me?" "Uh oh. I have to work again later today - how will I be able to get to work without the keys to start the car?" "I'll be trapped at home, helpless without my keys!" "Hey! Maybe someone TOOK my keys, so they could get access to my house or possibly steal my car."

"Car...," my sleep-deprived brain thought. "I know I'm forgetting something important about the car. Oh yeah! I'm driving the car right now!"

That awareness alone should have been more than enough. But, in my confused state, I actually had to look down to reassure myself that my ring of keys were, in fact, dangling from the car ignition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

RFK quotes

Today marks the 87th anniversary of the birth of Robert Francis Kennedy. Kennedy served as U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator. He was killed by an assassin's bullet about 45 years ago, as he celebrated an important win in his quest for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President.

Here is a collection of some of my favorite quotes from the very complex Kennedy.

"People say I am ruthless. I am not ruthless. And if I find the man who is calling me ruthless, I shall destroy him."

"How do you tell if Lyndon [Johnson] is lying? If he wiggles his ears, that doesn't mean he's lying. If he raises his eyebrows, that doesn't mean he's lying. But when he moves his lips, he's lying."

"There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of the comfortable past which, in fact, never existed."

"The advice 'bomb them back to the Stone Age' may show that the speaker is already there himself, but it could, if followed, force all of us to join him."

"Nations, like men, often march to the beat of different drummers, and the precise solutions of the United States can neither be dictated nor transplanted to others. What is important is that all nations must march toward a increasing freedom; toward justice for all; toward a society strong and flexible enough to meet the demands of all of its own people and a world of immense and dizzying change."

"I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil."

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." 

- Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Be like Mitt

HEY KIDS! There's still time to rush out and purchase your Mitt Romney Halloween costume. Degrade your gay friends, demean women, deceive voters, embarrass our allies and abuse the family pet, all while having a hilarious time!

The Mitt Romney Halloween costume is also an excellent bargain, as it comes with multiple contrasting faces, a can of spray tan, two boxes of Touch of Gray hair dye, a calculator that makes the answer of any arithmetic problem whatever you want it to be and a post-paid mailer for shipping your excess Trick-or-Treat candy to secret hiding places in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Romney plan: Cut taxes & keep your fingers crossed

Anyone who listened carefully to the recent Presidential and Vice Presidential debates understands that there is a heaping helping of wishful thinking in the GOP economic plan. In fact, wishful thinking is the ONLY thing that can make the plan work.

Romney-Ryan proposals would retain all Bush-Era tax cuts. These largely favor the wealthy in our country, but they also apply to middle class taxpayers (President Obama wishes only to continue the Bush cuts that provide relief to the middle class, so the difference between the two plans is essentially the tax breaks for the wealthy). The GOP proposals also would reduce federal income by slashing all income tax rates by 20 percent, by eliminating or cutting other forms of taxation and by moving to a "territorial" tax system, in which wealthy individuals and companies would not pay U.S. tax on moneys earned in other countries. (A number of measures are already in place to delay and reduce the amount owed on such foreign income - tax breaks that Mr. Romney is surely familiar with as they are represented in his own tax returns.)

Independent analysts have calculated that the overall effect of these tax reductions would deprive the federal government of about $5 trillion over ten years. Democrats have used the $5 trillion figure often, though Mr. Romney denies that the number is accurate. He has not provided an "accurate" number of his own.

Democrats charge that Mr. Romney will need either to grow the budget deficit or to make severe cuts to needed federal programs in order to provide unneeded tax reductions. They reason that the tax cuts are unnecessary, as the Obama plan would take care of continuing tax cuts for the middle class, and the wealthy apparently are doing just fine (growing wealthier every day) under the existing tax system.

A Romney answer at the Presidential Debate provided little clue as to how he would avoid either adding to our debt or dramatically diminishing our services.
- He pledged that he would support the continuation of Social Security and Medicare for everyone currently receiving them or soon to receive them - so, no savings there.
- He said he would close some tax loopholes, but not the loopholes that affect the middle class. Independent analysts say there is insufficient money in all of the loopholes used by the wealthy to make up for the tax breaks.
- And he vowed that he would continue federal support for education, find a replacement program for the "Obamacare" he wishes to scrap and increase spending on the military.

When pressed to indicate something - anything at all - that he would eliminate from the federal spending plan to make his proposals work, Mr. Romney stated that he would cut the small U.S. support for public broadcasting. (Federal support of PBS amounts to about one-hundredth of one percent of the budget. The $445 million that a Romney Administration might save by eliminating support for PBS would move it 0.089% toward covering the $500 billion annual cost of the proposed tax cuts. In other words: Scrap PBS, save $445 million; scrap the unneeded tax cuts, save more than 1,120 times that much money.)

In the Vice Presidential Debate, Romney runningmate Paul Ryan was even less specific about how the budget proposals could possibly work - he didn't even mention the small PBS subsidy. Ryan, known to be good with numbers, has been challenged repeatedly on the campaign trail to describe the arithmetic behind the proposals, and he has begged off every time.

That is because he knows that it is not arithmetic that makes the numbers work; it is voodoo. Specifically, it is Reagan Era "voodoo economics" (a phrase coined by Republican George H.W. Bush shortly before he climbed aboard the Reagan bandwagon).

Mr. Romney provided the clue in his debate answers. He argued that the tax cuts he is proposing would help to grow the economy and that would increase the income, the individuals and the businesses that the government could tax, hence increasing government revenue.

This is less a plan than a pie-in-the-sky hope.

To believe that such a plan has even the remotest possibility of success is to deny the evidence that is all around us. ALL of our recent history indicates that providing the wealthy with additional cash does not in any way result in a significant increase in jobs or investment in America. It merely adds to our debt, damages our economy and prevents our government from providing adequate assistance to those who require it.

To find a moment that any such hoping bore any fruit at all, you need to go back to the early 1960s, when a Kennedy proposal to reduce the top tax rates was adopted and assisted the U.S. toward a period of economic growth. In the Vice Presidential Debate, Mr. Ryan actually referred to Kennedy, but apparently thought better about explaining the reference. It is important that we understand that the Kennedy proposal lowered the top U.S. tax rate to 77%! Seventy-seven! The wealthy in our country pay half that now (some of them use deductions and foreign tax shelters to pay FAR less than half). This is a different time with a different tax structure. It is ridiculous to believe that wealthy Americans, already finding offshore investments for the cash that is piling up around them, would suddenly decide to contribute to the U.S. economy if we gave them even more cash.

It is ridiculous AND it has already been proven to be completely wrong. The Reagan Era tax cuts did coincide with some economic growth, but that growth never managed to offset the cost of the cuts and the expensive military buildup under the Reagan Presidency. As a result, the national debt ballooned under Reagan.

Similar flawed logic was used to support the tax cuts instituted by President George W. Bush. In that case, the effect was precisely opposite of what was desired. The economy slowed and stopped just as the nation was struggling to pay for two Bush-initiated overseas wars on an income squeezed by irrational tax cuts.

Nothing about our already low top tax rate is hindering the investment of the wealthy in our nation's economy, and nothing about a tax rate decrease would spur it.

Yet, here again, we have a Republican candidate for President telling us we can reduce taxes on the wealthy even further than Bush did, pay for a massive and unnecessary military buildup, and simply grow our way out of debt. The critic might ask if the one-trick-pony Republicans ever run out of wishful thinking, as the nation still has not recovered from the debt of Reagan's voodoo economics and may never recover from the debt of Bush's version.

For a lesson on economic growth, we must look to the only Presidential Administration in recent history to have notched a yearly budget SURPLUS and reduced the federal debt. That would be the Democratic Administration of President Bill Clinton. Clinton's methods of dealing with the economic problems he inherited from President George H.W. Bush were the following:
- Pursue disciplined federal spending that eliminates budget waste,
- Open trade around the world and insist on a level playing field with other countries,
- Provide federal funding for education and research that equips workers for modern jobs and opens the door to new services and new industries,
- Maintain low interest rates; and
- Raise taxes slightly on those who could best afford to pay them.

No voodoo. No miracle cure. Just common sense.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I've got his back

Response to a Facebook friend who, after watching the televised Presidential debats on Oct. 3, felt that President Obama has lost his faith in the American people:

John, I can agree with some of what you said. The President gave every physical indication of wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else. I don't think Barack Obama draws strength from the campaign trail the way that Bill Clinton did. Instead, it wears him down. In recent appearances, he has looked just plain tired. I guess that's something we should expect of a full-time President who is also a full-time candidate for President. I suspect that he also has grown tired of having to engage in the very same arguments over and over again, knowing that the facts are with him but the opponent refuses to yield to facts. How can one continue to reason with people who are unreasonable?

I do think that this President says what he means. But imagine the toll that the past four years have taken on him. A person who sets out with sincerity to govern for the common good by building coalitions finds himself blindly and universally opposed by Republican lawmakers and unprincipled media outlets not for anything he has done but merely for the fact that he exists. His citizenship, his patriotism, his religion, his wife have all been criticized and attacked. There is no question that opposition to the President has been irrational and unrelenting from the moment the election results were in. Some insist it stems from racism. It's possible. But the cause may be even more sinister than that. It may be that we now have a President who simply won't play ball. 

That brings me to what I believe is the single best reason for voting Republican this November, and it has nothing at all to do with who the GOP candidate is: We are watching as the opposition party attempts to play out its version of its favorite novel, Atlas Shrugged. They have phrased their opposition using the Ayn Rand charges of increased taxation and oppressive regulation, even though NO such things have taken place. (As them why they oppose the President, and you are likely to hear about government run amok, enormous tax increases, silenced opposition, etc. But no one can give a single example of any of it. It's pure fantasy!) 

This widespread obstruction has been orchestrated with the single goal of forcing Barack Obama from the White House, and it will not cease until its goal is realized or until it is convinced of the futility of its effort. The representative of that effort, Mitt Romney, has already expressed his certain knowledge that the economy WILL IMPROVE upon his election without him even having to lift a finger. And I believe he is right.

So, it seems to me, if you are concerned about hastening the economic recovery, freeing some of the capital held tightly in the greedy grasp of the right-wing wealthy and eliminating the gridlock imposed by a do-nothing Tea Party Congress, your best bet is just to let the miserable bastards win. 

Let them lower taxes even further on themselves, their businesses and their estates. Let them move their manufacturing plants and all the related jobs to overseas locations where slave labor, growing markets and lack of concern over the environment, working conditions and product safety will help them to greater profits. Free them to gamble with middle class homes and retirement funds. Allow them to end organized labor in the U.S. and dismantle public education and public healthcare and every other program created through our noble instinct to help fellow Americans in distress. Assist them in creating an even greater military that can protect their foreign businesses and investments, dominate governments around the world and establish the supremacy of the white capitalist conservative Christian culture, even as terrorists emerge across the globe to slay American civilians by the thousands. (Think I'm exaggerating? We've been through this before.)

For me, I respect our President. I recognize our many shared views and concerns. I believe he wants what is best for America, and I trust in his integrity. He has endured merciless beatings for doing what he knows to be right, and he has not wavered. From time to time, I have been disappointed with the results of his continuing efforts to build alliances with people who intend him nothing but harm. But I trust him. And, beyond that, I consider allowing any success to economic extortion and treason to be a horrifying prospect.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Taxes are complicated. Lies are simple

Taxation is a complicated issue. Americans seeking to understand it are not helped by false statements and graphics like this one (dating back to at least July).

I checked around, and I see no record in the Wall Street Journal of these tax increases being attributed to President Obama's tax proposal. That's because the Wall Street Journal did not make these statements and would not make these statements, because they are entirely baseless and false. I've run through the statements contained in the graphic below to trace their origin and provide more accurate information.

Some of the numbers in the image come from a projection of what MAY happen to the very top income brackets if CONGRESS allows all the Bush Era tax cuts to expire at the end of the year. Some of the numbers frankly come out of thin air and have no basis in fact. I looked closely at the Wall Street Journal and provide data from a couple of news articles ("More uncertainty for 2013" Feb. 18; "Obama intensifies tax fight" July 9). I also consulted  Forbes ("The Truth about the Obama Tax Hike Proposal" July 20) and the WSJ column written by Michael J. Boskin in July that seems to have triggered a great deal of misunderstanding (and perhaps the graphic itself).

"Income tax rate 35% to 39.6%"
The Bush Era tax cuts are due to expire at year-end. Those cuts lowered the top tax rate to 35%. President Obama wants to retain all the cuts for 98% of Americans (97% of small business owners) and allow the taxes to return to their pre-Bush (strong economy) levels for those earning more than a quarter million dollars a year. BUT, the increased rate would only apply to the dollars earned over the quarter-million-dollar threshold (a $300,000-earning household would pay $199 more than now). A "Buffet Rule" would ensure that Americans earning $1 million or more each year paid a tax rate of no less than 30%, regardless of their income source.

"Income/Payroll 37.4% to 52.2%"
This apparently is some sort of theoretical combination of income tax and payroll deductions for Social Security and Medicare in the year 2016 - apparently a product of Wall Street Journal columnist Michael J. Boskin (he actually went on to add in hypothetical state payroll deductions to come up with a number closer to 70%). For the record, President Obama supported the lowering of federal payroll deductions. Those cuts and other tax reductions have saved typical middle class families $3,600 during his Administration. The "Boskin formula" is based on a hypothetical federal budget for 2016, an expiration of ALL the current cuts in taxes and payroll deductions in addition to an utter neglect of the fact that top income earners DO NOT PAY Social Security on all of their income. Social Security payments are only made on the first $106,000 of income. (So, adding a full Social Security deduction to the top income tax rate of those making hundreds of thousands to millions per year is not only dishonest, it's stupid.)

"Capital Gains 15% to 28%"
The Capital Gains tax will automatically rise with the expiration of tax cuts at the end of this year - if that happens. The highest bracket tax will climb from 15% to 20%. There is no proposal for an increase to 28% The President's proposal would retain the 15% level for taxpayers earning under $250,000 a year in capital gains income and set a 20% rate for higher earnings.

"Dividends 15% to 39.6%"
With the expiration of the tax cuts, qualified dividends will be taxed as ordinary income again. The very top rate of that tax will return to the 39.6% level (the rates would be 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and 39.6%). The President's proposal would keep the 15% level for everyone except those in the top two income brackets.

"Estate Tax (2010) 0% to 55%"
HOLD ON! The estate tax was 0% in 2010 as a temporary one-year "repeal" of the tax. To compare the 0% in 2010 to a hypothetical 55% is ridiculous. The current (2011) estate tax is 35%, with an individual exemption of $5 million. That means, if the estate is valued at $5 million or less (that would be almost all estates), there is no estate tax and richer estates pay 35% of the value over $5 million. At year-end, that will automatically change back to a pre-Bush level of 55% with an exemption of just $1 million (estates under a million - that's still almost all of them - pay zero and the rest pay 55% of the amount over $1 million). But these numbers have nothing to do with a proposal by President Obama. Under the President's tax proposal, only the 0.3% (three tenths of one percent) most valuable estates - those valued at more than $3.5 million - would be subjected to ANY estate tax at all, and the top rate for the estate tax would be set at 45%.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Romney evolves on healthcare

(In his own words)

GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been remarkably flexible on a wide variety of issues, depending on the climate of the time and the audience before him. An observer might easily conclude that he actually has no personal position on any issue and is merely a political chameleon, blending in with whatever scenery he feels will best serve his political survival. His evolving theories on health insurance are particularly interesting, as the Affordable Care Act he now strongly opposes was a concept he personally installed in the State of Massachusetts when he was governor there.

Here is a look at Romney's changing views of healthcare for uninsured Americans. I have used the GOP nominee's own documented words - pulling from recorded interviews and his own writings - to illustrate how his opinions have dramatically changed over time. It is important to note that not much time has been required for this evolution of thought. The entire process appears to fit within about five years.

Just a few years back, in 2007, Romney stated that universal coverage accompanied by a government mandate for individuals with the means to acquire their own health insurance is "ultimate conservatism" and the use of emergency room treatment by the uninsured was a form of "socialism": 
   "When they show up at the hospital, they get care. They get free care paid for by you and me. If that's not a form of socialism, I don't know what is. So my plan did something quite different. It said, you know what? If people can afford to buy insurance ... or if they can pay their own way, then they either buy that insurance or pay their own way, but they no longer look to government to hand out free care. And that, in my opinion, is ultimate conservativism."

Also in 2007, he stood by that position with a sensible statement - equating the individual purchase of healthcare with "personal responsibility" - in an Iowa debate: 
   "It doesn’t make sense to have 45 million people without insurance. It’s not good for them because they don’t get good preventative care and disease management. But it’s not good for the rest of the citizens either, because if people aren’t insured, they go to the emergency room for their care when they get very sick. That’s expensive. They don’t have any insurance to cover it. So guess who pays? Everybody else. So it’s not good for the people that aren’t insured. We have to have our citizens insured, and we’re not going to do that by tax exemptions, because the people that don’t have insurance aren’t paying taxes. What you have to do is what we did in Massachusetts. Is it perfect? No. But we say, let’s rely on personal responsibility."

In the summer of 2009, Romney wrote an op-ed article for USA Today that opposed President Obama's proposed "public option" for healthcare and recommended that the federal government look to and follow the Massachusetts example of mandating health insurance: 
   "No other state has made as much progress in covering their uninsured as Massachusetts... Massachusetts also proved that you don't need government insurance. Our citizens purchase private, free-market medical insurance. There is no 'public option.' With more than 1,300 health insurance companies, a federal government insurance company isn't necessary."

Then in 2010, he stated that emergency room care for uninsured is not only "socialist" (see 2007 comment above) and irresponsible but also extraordinarily and needlessly costly: 
   "Look, it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care for which they have no responsibility, particularly if they are people who have sufficient means to pay their own way."

In May 2011, Romney spoke in Michigan about the primary problem he had to tackle in order to provide effective healthcare for the citizens of Massachusetts: 
   "What we found in my state was that we had a number of citizens who recognized that they could get ... healthcare even though they didn't have insurance. That's actually true in most states. If you don't have insurance and you develop a serious illness of some kind... you can get care, emergency care. You may not get the preventative care you need, you may not get all the followup care you need, but depending upon the state and the circumstances, you can get care without insurance. And many citizens who could afford insurance, having learned that they could get care for free, were saying 'I'm not going to buy insurance...'"

By September 2012, after his Massachusetts mandated coverage plan was put into effect at a federal level and Romney had positioned himself as the champion of Republican conservatism, he opposed the mandated coverage model he earlier urged the federal government to copy and also decided that universal health coverage is not even needed in the U.S. because the uninsured can make use of hospital emergency rooms. In a 60 Minutes interview, Romney dismissed the need for the federal government to provide healthcare to 50 million uninsured Americans: 
   "We do provide care for people who don't have insurance. If someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Apple iPhone 5

Well, the new Apple iPhone does appear to be a bit larger. But does it still qualify as a mobile device?
With the announcement of the new iPhone 5 yesterday, Apple also unveiled a number of new accessories for the device, including a twelve-foot stylus, a slick, glass and aluminum step ladder; a wheel-barrow-like carrying case; and a pair of jeans with REALLY big pockets.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Unemployment rate drop looks good but really isn't

So..., what's next?
The unemployment rate fell from 8.3% to 8.1% in August, but there's little reason to cheer. Despite the "look" of the declining unemployment figure, the monthly report contains bad news and worse news.
The bad news is the meager 96,000 jobs created during the month. While most expected August numbers to decline a bit, analysts were predicting something like 120,000 jobs created. With just 96,000 jobs, the unemployment rate should have gone up. About 150,000 jobs a month need to be added just to keep pace with working-age population growth.
The worse news is the reason the unemployment rate dropped. Many Americans - about 368,000 of them - simply stopped looking for work in August. The bulk of those who dropped out of the job market are young people, aged 16-24. We cannot attribute the decline to students heading back to school (as much as we might like to), because the statistics factor in those seasonal changes. This is a strong indicator that the economy currently has nowhere to put young people seeking jobs.
There were some bright spots in the report - or maybe we should just call them "less dark" spots - for adults 25 and older. The unemployment rate for both the "prime" 25-55 group and the over-55 group legitimately dropped due to hiring. The "prime" group unemployment rate fell slightly from 7.2% to 7.1%
However, the message of the report is clear: To get the economy back on track, American jobs will need to grow at far better than the 96,000 jobs per month rate shown in the August report.
My friends on the political Right probably will not be happy about it (Squawk as they do in this election year about the government not doing enough to put people to work, they really don't want government involvement in these matters), but this jobs report should trigger some stimulus measures by the Federal Reserve. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who had previously pledged action only if the economy worsened, recently indicated that action would be taken if the economy did not improve noticeably.
Just what the Fed will do to increase employment remains to be seen. But a likely course seems to be additional "large asset purchases," which would further improve the financial markets. (The Federal Reserve has already done this twice before.) Another option that has been mentioned is a promise by the Fed not to raise interest rates until certain economic objectives are reached.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Achievements of the Obama Administration

I know FauxNews  and the leadership of the Republican Party would have you believe that nothing at all positive has happened in the U.S. since President Obama took office. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney hopes that voters who felt great admiration for President Obama upon his election victory have felt no special moments since then. With enormous credibility issues and no concrete plan for doing anything other than making his rich friends richer, Romney is counting on a failure of Americans' short-term memory to get him into the Oval Office.

Personally, I have often felt pride in the Obama Administration's efforts and accomplishments. Serious pride. I mean, the lump-in-the-throat, tear-in-the-eye, wow-we're-really-making-a-difference sort of pride. And, while Romney can't (or simply won't) think of anything positive to say about the last four years, I have no trouble producing a list of what I view as the greatest achievements of the Obama Administration.

We may - and some of us probably will - argue about just how positive some of the things in this list are. Representatives of irresponsible oil companies, abusive lending institutions and neglectful insurance companies will certainly find plenty of reason to dislike some of the items. But even the President's detractors must admit that Barack Obama, despite an obstructionist, do-nothing Republican Congress, has been remarkably productive.

  • President Obama passed a stimulus program to get the economy started again and to begin a turnaround in the nation's unemployment problem. He has presided over 29 months - soon to be 30 months - of private sector employment growth. (The U.S. unemployment rate remains high at around 8%, but it is worth noting that the European unemployment rate has been rising and recently reached 11.3%. The jobless rate in Spain is over 25%, and the rate in Greece is at least 23%. France and Poland have 10% of their populations out of work.)
  • He initiated programs for home refinancing and loan modifications to allow about a million financially troubled Americans to keep their homes.Under his administration, home foreclosures have slowed, home sales have escalated and home prices appear to be improving.
  • He started the Cash-for-Clunkers program that not only helped revive the auto industry through hundreds of thousands of new-car sales but also removed inefficient and environment-polluting vehicles from U.S. roads.
  • He created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to guard American consumers against abusive and misleading loan and credit practices (Credit Card Bill of Rights). He backed new safeguards on the banking and investment systems in our country. (And, by the way, he did NOT bail out the banking system - that was Mr. Bush. But he did oversee the banks' repayment of 75% of the TARP program investments.)
  • He sat down with Republican opponents of healthcare reform to hammer out a compromise, worked Republican suggestions into his program, and despite continued Republican opposition got the Affordable Care Act approved by Congress and signed into law. And his administration successfully defended the act in the Supreme Court, even winning the support of the Republican-nominated Supreme Court chief justice.
  • He ended the Bush Administration's military operations in Iraq, a war that cost thousands of service men and women their lives and cost the U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars while serving no conceivable purpose whatsoever.
  • He dramatically decreased federal government spending and decreased the federal payroll while lowering federal taxes.
  • He saved the U.S. automobile industry and all the countless affiliated jobs when Republicans argued that it would be a useless waste of money and that the industry should be allowed to die.
  • He backed Wall Street reform that will prevent future taxpayer-funded bailouts of investment firms.
  • He supported legislation calling for equal pay for women.
  • He threw out Don't Ask Don't Tell, ending an unjust practice in the military.
  • He ended the torture of prisoners.
  • He provided expanded funding for Head Start and Early Learning programs in our nation's schools and for Internet access in elementary-level schools.
  • He helped to organize volunteerism on a national scale.
  • He drew the government-backed student loan program away from private banks that were doing no more than skimming from it.
  • Following the Gulf oil spill, he ordered a $20 billion escrow fund from BP, removed the cap on oil company liability for spills and created a safety review board for offshore oil drilling.
  • He supported the anti-dictatorship Arab Spring movement, which led to the fall of Libyan terror-supporter Muammar Gaddafi.
  • His administration eliminated the higher subsidies for the failed Bush administration experiment of the Medicare Advantage plans.
  • He provided tax incentives and federal dollars for renewable and clean energy options.
  • He nominated two superb Supreme Court justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan.
  • He dramatically increased federal efficiency standards for auto makers.
  • He halted the deportations of thousands of law-abiding children of illegal immigrants - children who entered the U.S. through no fault of their own and who know no other homeland - and permitted them to obtain work permits. He also asked Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would grant those young people a path to citizenship.
  • He refused to support in court the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, while he personally endorsed the quest for marriage of committed same-sex couples and extended marriage benefits and rights to same-sex partners of government employees.
  • He tracked down and eliminated international terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

White House Honey Brown Ale

The Obama Administration has finally released the recipes of the first documented home-brews produced in the White House. Now, I'm wondering if this is a subject that will come up at Presidential news conferences:

"Mr. President, if an American citizen resides in an area with hard water, should he or she omit the gypsum from your home-brew recipe?"

"Mr. President, it is difficult for many Americans to acquire White House honey. Can you tell us if the bees that make it are exposed to clover and dandelion or are they confined to the rose garden?"

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

School opens today. Shhhh!

Kids' first day of school.
Though I am in a celebratory mood, no party is planned here. The occasion requires a very different approach.
I'm thinking about a quiet moment with a mug of tea (toast would be far too noisy), a quiet uninterrupted shower, some quiet editing followed by some quiet research on the computer or maybe I'll do book-based research today to avoid all that noisy mouse-clicking, then a nice quiet walk around the property with the dog (when the bees and birds aren't too loud), a bit of quiet work on the house and some lengthy daydreams about the virtues of boarding school.
Basically... quiet.
I have formulated a contingency plan if non-quiet situations occur. If, for example, the phone should happen to ring or one of the kids' diabolical electronic noise-making devices should happen to squawk, I intend to toss it out into the middle of Route 30 and immediately erase the incident from my mind. (Just noticed kitty preparing to meow and then thinking better of it.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tough terrain

Living here in our old* Vermont farmhouse has provided unique exercise opportunities. Each morning, I get up and take a long walk up and down and across several significant hills, and that's just to get from the bedroom to the bathroom.
Yes, the interior terrain has been challenging. When we first moved in, I noticed that I was rolling out of bed in the morning far too literally. So we moved the furniture against different walls. Now, I can't get to sleep because I fear the bureau falling on me. (And the recliner doesn't seem to recline nearly as far as it used to, though setting it upright performs a useful dumping feature for the occupant).
Of course, I'm exaggerating a little here. There are hills and valleys in our old wood floors. But they're nowhere near as bad as some of the homes we considered buying. One house actually came with several sets of alpine gear to help you get from the kitchen to the dining room.

(* - The building is "old" by our standards of age. Relative to other homes in the state, it seems about average.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The problem with Mitt Romney's refusal to release tax returns

George W. Romney (father of Mitt Romney) released twelve (12) years of tax returns when he ran against Richard Nixon for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1967-68. He was believed to be the first candidate to release that amount of personal financial data.
The UPI reported at the time, "Many presidential candidates in the past have disclosed their net assets, stock holdings and other financial data which might relate to the public trust. But Gov. Romney was believed the first to make his income tax returns public - including his annual wages, dividends, interest, capital gains and other compensation."
The article mentioned that George Harris, senior editor of Look magazine, asked to see Romney's latest tax filing. Romney hesitated, saying, "One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show..." Romney then shocked Harris by compiling and releasing all the 1040 forms he and his wife had filed for the past twelve years, including the period of time in which he had become a millionaire while saving American Motors Corp. from bankruptcy.
The information was presented to Look magazine, which published it. According to Look, the Romneys' income for years 1955 through 1966 included $1.2 million in salary and bonuses; $106,820 from deferred AMC compensation; $1.6 million in dividends, interest and taxable capital gains for an adjusted gross income of $2.97 million. They gave $560,608 to their church and $115,205 to other tax-deductible charities. They paid just under $1.1 million in taxes on $2.1 million in net taxable income.
George Romney had plenty of reason to release the returns with pride: he had grown wealthy while saving an American company and many American jobs; he had generously supported both his nation and his religious institution.
With the precedent established by George Romney, it was then followed by nearly every major Presidential candidate in the elections of 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. That's ten elections, plus the George Romney precedent-setting one. At this time, anyone contemplating a run for President MUST be aware that he or she will be expected to release tax documents. Any other course would be unimaginable... almost.
George Romney's son Mitt (left) has been an exception. He has broken with that national and family tradition. He never released financial information during his run for U.S. Senate, Massachusetts governor or for President in 2008.
And, if he had his way, he would not have released any data for this campaign. As late as December 2011, he stated, "I don't intend to release the tax returns." Getting repeatedly hammered by his GOP rivals for the nomination convinced Romney to change his position. He released his 2010 tax return. That one, compiled several years after his first run for the Presidency (plenty of time, mind you, to clean up his finances), revealed a $3 million Swiss bank account and additional overseas investments, including large amounts of money in countries known as "tax havens." A recent article noted that fifty-five (55!) pages of Romney's 2010 return (it runs to 203 pages and can be read in its entirety here: ) dealt with the details of his financial transactions with foreign companies.
Given the likelihood that Romney did undertake a financial cleanup as part of planning his Presidential campaigns, we're forced to assume that the 2010 return - the only one he released - provides the most palatable view possible of his finances. Still, we have reason to wonder if he knew he was running for President of the U.S. or aspired to a similar post in Ireland or Luxembourg.
Calculations showed that Romney paid about 14% of his income in taxes in 2010. The fact that his income comes almost entirely through what is classified as investment income (the classification is ridiculous in this case, since the income is essentially regular payment for his "services") has lowered his tax obligation from the usual 35% in his bracket to just 15%.
Romney has released an estimate of income and taxes for the 2011 year and said the return would be made public after it is completed. Months after most Americans have filed their 2011 returns, Romney's remains secret (and possibly incomplete).
Personally, I don't care very much what the additional details of the Romney finances are. They won't change my vote. But his behavior on this issue is very troubling. His break with national Presidential tradition and his break with his own family history communicate that there is a serious problem. His continued refusal to release the information, despite the enormous pressure of press, public, rivals and allies, magnifies that problem.
Perhaps there would be some value to a law requiring full financial disclosures by Presidential candidates. I'm not sure about that. (I do know that I do not want to empower the IRS to make the decision of whose tax returns to release. The IRS has enough power to extort already.) I consider the precedent of voluntary disclosure of these personal financial documents to be much more important. President of the United States is a position of enormous responsibility and trust. We learn a great deal about a candidate - one way or another - through his/her handling of this particular hurdle.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Buffalo's sandwich in the Champlain Valley?

Recently tried the Vermont version of the "beef on weck" sandwich. I had been seeing it on restaurant menus around the area, and I had always been curious about the Buffalo, New York, creation. A few days ago, I could resist no more and placed my order for "beef on weck," drawing curious looks from my companions.

The sandwich was good, but I suspect the original western New York version is substantially more flavorful and more... well... damp. 

There was little in the way of salt/caraway seed crusting on the alleged-kummelweck roll (caraway is the "kummel" portion of the German kummelweck roll recipe). The mound of roast beef was more medium than the traditional rare. That was actually a relief, as there was no cow blood spurting from my meal, but it was not entirely authentic. Rather than dunk the top of the roll in beef juices, as apparently called for in the original Buffalo version, the Vermont sandwich was served with au jus on the side. 

A pickle and a good amount of fresh horse radish was also served on the plate. The horse radish is an essential ingredient in the beef on weck sandwich (as well as an incredibly effective decongestant), but it cannot be slathered on by the chef - its use needs to be carefully controlled by the consumer. 

A pleasant dining experience, I nevertheless have to assume that the Vermont sandwich was "beef on weck lite."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Resolving the Celsius-Fahrenheit Thing

Got a solution to the Celsius-Fahrenheit thing. You're probably aware that the war over conflicting temperature scales has been raging for the past 270 years or so. Well, I'm putting a stop to it here and now.

Celsius forces gradually have taken over much of the world (most of the conquest was achieved while they called themselves Centigraders, but we knew what they really were). The United States and fellow former British colonies the Cayman Islands and Belize are the remaining bastions of Fahrenheitism.

The solution to the dispute is fairly simple. I'll walk you through it:

Now, let's first agree that it would be stupid to drop °F for °C, because °F is a far more precise measurement. There are almost two Fahrenheit degrees for every Celsius degree. It frankly makes no sense to move from our slender, exact Fahrenheit degrees to fat, clumsy Celsius degrees. All those countries that have already done so are simply dumb. (Sorry. I know the truth hurts sometimes.) Making such a change also would be abhorrent to the many Americans who know that "F" really stands for "Freedom," and "C" really stands for "Communism."

Still, the °C people have a good argument for the freezing point of water being zero. That's a good place for us to start. Thirty-two degrees is really tough for people to remember - if asked the temperature of an ice cube, many careless Fahrenheiters would probably round down to zero anyway.

So, why don't we keep the precise °F scale but adjust it to a zero-degree freezing point? The zero then becomes a useful thermometer signal for putting on winter coats and using more caution when driving. And it makes all those freeze-approximating Fahrenheiters correct.

This simple adjustment happily drops the boiling point of water to a convenient 180°. I'm sure you will agree that 180° is a much easier number to remember than the current 212°F. One hundred and eighty degrees also makes good symbolic sense, as it is the geometric measurement of an about-face. So, under this system, the about-face of freezing is, as it should be, boiling.

You like that, don't you?

In order to avoid getting our new efficient temperature scale confused with the silly, outdated temperature scales, we should designate the new temperatures with a different letter than C or F. Why not use "T"? (No reason. I just happen to like it.) And, when the excited public demands that the new system be named for its originator, we'll have a convenient initial already in place. After all, the old systems were named for Danny Fahrenheit and Andy Celsius (really - you can look it up).

So..., from now on, water freezes at 0°T and boils at 180°T.  All agreed? Terrific. I'm glad we've finally settled this thing.

By the way, under our new system, normal human body temperature - formerly the cumbersome and entirely forgettable 98.6°F - becomes the far more memorable (apologies to the superstitious) 66.6°T.

The most pleasant side effect of this system: It was only about 68°T outside today!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The 'Wall'

Two hundred and ten years ago this month, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson noted with admiration the American "wall of separation between Church & State." Jefferson did so in a letter to a religious organization in Connecticut, which had expressed concern that specific religious views and opinions might be imposed by the relatively new national government upon its citizens. (That organization, the Danbury Baptists Association, understood what many church groups have since forgotten - that the establishment of a national religion would be a threat to all religious freedom.) The text of Jefferson's response is below:

"To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut. 
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem. 
Thomas Jefferson