Monthly Archives: January 2009

In case you missed it

Doing for oil what they did for homes. Hard as it may be to believe, but Morgan Stanley and Citigroup have taken some of the no strings billions they got from Bush, Croinies & Company and used $80,000,000 of it to speculate on oil prices. Doing as well here as they did with mortgages, the price of oil, of course, has continued to go down. So to store the oil, they have hired a supertanker at $68,000 a day to sit in the Gulf of Mexico waiting for prices to go up. Read the full story.

Obama shoots down Citigroup’s new $50 million jet. There’s no end to the hubris. Upon hearing of Citigroup purchasing a $50 million corporate jet from France with some of the $45 billion they got from TARP, officials of the Obama administration intervened and the jet was cancelled. All hail competent government. Read the full story.

4,600 kids sick with MRSA and we just now found out. A study just released that studied pediatric infections from 2001-2006 shows a dramatic increase that were the aggressive community Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) going from 12% in 2001 to 28% in 2006. We are just going to have to get our doctors to start washing their hands. Read the full story.

The economy is now so bad that the Pentagon met recruiting goals. The Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force all met their recruiting for December. How else are young people going to make a “living.” Read the full story.

Court stops Utah oil and gas leases. The Bushes held a surprise auction on December 19th as a last minute gift to the energy industry by attempting to sell the drilling rights to 110,000 acres of pristine land abutting the Dinosaur National Monument, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. On the Saturday before the inauguration, US District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina intervened telling the Bush administration not to cash the checks putting the fate of the land in the hands of the Obama administration who had objected to the sale. Read the full story.

Blood on His Hands

Blood on the hands of hope

He knew this day would come. He told us he was prepared for it. That he wouldn’t hesitate. This man who has spent his entire adult life in service. Who helped the downtrodden. Picked up the dispirited. Protect the rights and life of all. Didn’t. Whether the decision was active or passive, it was his. Just as if he had held, pointed and fired the gun. Bang. Bang. Twenty-one people dead. Three days into our idealism, surely he broke down in Michelle’s arms. I would have. Video games aren’t real. Predator drones are too real. The CIA surreal.

No comment from the White House. None from the Pentagon. Pakistan officials say the dead were pro-Tailban tribesman and Al-Queda militants. Evil doers and their families. Twenty-one mother’s children were executed by our new president without a trial, just a judge. They had no last wish. No moment to repent or seek forgiveness. No time to say goodbye to those who loved them. Or face bravely their fate in that last instant. Bang. Bang.

We knew this day would come. We should have been prepared for it. We believed he wouldn’t hesitate. It happened so soon that his soul would have to harden to live this life he has won. The blood is on our hands, too. Today, I mourn for all of us.

Fine Them Then Kill Them

Perp Walk Example

This week from the People’s Court in Shijiazhuang, China: in last fall’s milk cut with melamine case that killed six babies and made 300,000 sick – executives were ordered to pay multi-million dollar fines; three death sentences; two life-in-prisons; six terms of five to 15 years; and more cases pending (source: Bloomberg). The judge was not specific as to whether the sentences were a result of babies’ suffering or government embarrassment.

Let’s compare that to American justice in a similar case: the case of the greedy bankers and fund managers who conspired to water down the mother’s milk of main street with a toxic contamination that has resulted in death, hunger, sickness and government embarrassment around the world. I suggest we let the Chinese courts handle these cases. I know. I know. I know that we shouldn’t outsource precious jobs at the time when American attorneys have no real estate deals or junk-bond-funded mergers to close (if the Fed would pay the legal fees in bankruptcy cases, it would go a long way to solving the financial crisis in the legal system). But we-the-people desperately need someone we can blame to get their what’s-coming-to-them and restore our faith that sight has again been removed from the Bush days of “Justice-in-name-only” Department that couldn’t convict terrorists so we jail them for the next administration to deal with, allowed Ken Lay to die of natural causes, upheld Cheney vs. the rest of us, etc.

Eric Holder has yet to be confirmed and we desperately need our Skillings, our Kozlowskis, our Ebbers and our “Scooters.” Sure we have Bernie “Made-Off,” but the chances of his body parts being auctioned on eBay are almost nil. We cry out for justice. We need Nancy Grace to cover the Chinese perp walk of John Thain, no-Angelo Mozilo, Daniel Mudd, Franklin Raines, Richard Syron, John Mack, James Cayne, Richard Fuld, Martin Sullivan, Stan O’Neal, Kerry Killinger, Kennedy Thompson, Charles Prince (quick reference: CEO Crooks) and others in oversight and government way too long to list. We need to believe that justice will be done.

One last note of author’s privilege: I am and will always be anti-death penalty and anti-body-part-mining and don’t really believe we should outsource “justice,” but do imagine that as a society, we would feel better.

The Audacity of Nope

America with shack face

It’s going to be hard to give up my idealism. Oh, pragmatism, neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mind (apologies to John and Revelation 3:16).

It has been so long. Was it JFK? LBJ? Or RMN who was the last Dem to hold the office? Matters little. They have taught us for so long to compromise that I might as well accept my fate. After all, the difficulty of reaching out across the aisle is dependent upon on how far you are away. I must find solace in the lyrics of the Stones that “if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”

Short of the moments with my family, the election of Barack Obama is the greatest moment I’ve heretofore lived. I mean it with all my heart. I love to hear this brilliant man speak and to believe this his glowing face will be the symbol of American for the world. But we don’t want for tributes of this moment, my heart is elsewhere.

At this historic moment when all the planets are aligning (Obama, Democrat majority, the economic crisis, etc.) when it seems that all we need to do is reach out and we could touch the stars, the only reaching we are doing is across the aisle and to pick the pocket of our children to reward the hard work of thousands of lobbyists. At perhaps the only moment in our lifetimes when a blank check could be written and honored, we are choosing to use it to buy more roads, bailout banks, while only throwing a few coins in the can of the unemployed, the underemployed, the frightened, the homeless and the soon to be desperate. At a time when we could paint a new brilliant new landscape of dawn in America, we are choosing instead to touch up the shack face our hungover society is waking with after sleeping with Bush. Please don’t look in the mirror.

My Engine Is Idling

Great Depression

The economic pundits seemed convinced that this economic crisis will go on for a while – a year or two or longer. And we all know that cutting back will actually making the situation worse for others – after all, we are each other’s economic engine, but mine seems to be idling.

Always ahead of the curve, we felt fortunate to sell our home at a 25% discount before Hank Paulson made that practice the standard. We got out of the market when the Dow was in the low eights the last time. The seldom used second car was sold. Eating out anytime became eating out every now and then until it became reserved for a special occasion. As did travel. Gift giving turned into craft projects. Subscriptions weren’t renewed. Books traded. Software upgrades skipped. Insurance shopped. Coupons clipped, organized and used. Generics and store brands became preferred. Ironing and mending replaced the dry cleaner and the trash bin. Our hair got longer between visits. Prescriptions were second guessed or dispensed with. Routine doctor visits were no longer routine. Our light bulbs were replaced and turned off. HBO became a distant memory. With our thermostat turned down, I’m sitting here in my long johns and flannel pants, two pairs of socks, two shirts and sweater, eating my dinner out of a bowl for the uptenthed time… I apologize. I’ve tried to write that line where it will come across light or funny and can’t.

As an abashed baby boomer who occasionally ate breakfast out of a bowl, but never dinner, I am struck with how often, recently, we have done so. Made use of what’s in the pantry for a hearty soup or bowl of beans (in addition to being great at so many things, my wife is also an inspired, creative, resourceful and wonderful cook – if you are interested in some recipes, leave a comment and maybe she’ll post ways to make chicken soup out of chicken, well, you know). There is certainly nothing wrong with eating dinner in a bowl. In fact, it is very good for me, but… eating dinner in a bowl is a symbol of the great depression (so far our depression has not, yet, been deemed, “great”). I suspect we will all be eating out of bowls often for the next while and I wonder where cutbacks and downsizing will lead. No, I know where they will lead. The choices will become more like Sophie’s.

Mourning or whining about cutting back must be a terrible insult to those who defined their luxuries as a second helping of rice (and, perhaps, tedious to those who still benefit from Bush’s tax cuts). Despicable really, but tens of millions of heretofore well-to-do Americans are facing the fear that they may have waited too late. The stakes are high and it is not the only fear to fear.

I know, I know, Iknow that Obama and the new Congress are going to act decisively and quickly on an $825 billion stimulus, but have you seen the details? They are gut wrenching. The devil in the details:

  • $550 billion for new schools, even more highways, (infrastructure spending will create some precious jobs, but will take time) unemployment and health benefits for out-of-work Americans (this will help a lot people, but assumes you had a job to lose – I’m self-employeed, but not allowed to fire myself even for cause). Sounds okay, but look at what it really is:
    • $41 billion for special education, school construction and other elementary and high school programs;
    • $16 billion to retrofit public housing for energy efficiency;
    • $6 billion for mass transit;
    • $1 billion to renovate and build new public health centers;
    • $1.5 billion for worker retraining programs;
    • $1.5 billion for services and shelters for the homeless;
    • A temporary $25 a week (wow) increase in unemployment checks and welfare support for needy families;
    • Workers who have lost their jobs would get temporary health subsidies and extended COBRA coverage (why not just address universal healthcare?);
    • Low income elderly and disabled would receive a one-time additional monthly payment;
    • $3.8 billion for new military and VA hospitals;
    • $650 million for coupons so you can buy a gadget to get digital television (this is important, because most of us won’t have cable anymore and won’t be able to watch tv);
    • $350 million to refurbish the National Mall (not a shopping mall), the Jefferson Memorial and the Smithsonian (oh, boy);
    • $16 billion in extra college financial aid with increased student loan limits and a $500 Pell grants increase (good, but a stimulus?);
    • $32 billion in direct spending and loan guarantees for new electricity transmission and grid improvements that, at least theoretically, will eventually help get wind, solar and other renewable energy (for what Al Gore says we need $400 billion to do);
    • $4 billion for government and housing agencies (not consumers) deal with foreclose and abandoned homes;
    • $1 billion for Head Start, preschools;
    • $3 billion for airport construction;
  • $275 billion in tax cuts including:
    • a whopping $500 cut for each of us that make below $75,000 a year (I get chills thinking about what I could do with $500 spread out over a year, what about you?);
    • but no fix to the AMT or tax credit for new hires.

That’s it. Really. Is this a joke? There’s some talk that some of the second $350 billion Wall Street Bailout will go to help consumers with foreclosure, but that it. That’s all the help you are going to get. Enjoy your soup.

Mental Health Craziness

Sonny Perdue tips the scales of justice

That Atlanta Journal Constitution ( reports that Georgia governor Sonny Perdue has received a last minute bailout from vestiges of the Bush administration’s “Justice” Department. The “Justice” Department launched an investigation of state-run hospitals two years ago after the AJC reported, “at least 136 patients died under suspicious circumstances from 2002 through late 2007.” It is presumed that an anonymous source read the AJC story out loud to Bush Administration officials.

The bailout required Perdue to sign a pledge for Georgia “to undertake its best efforts to find enough money to transform the hospitals,“ according the AJC, but stopped short of Perdue actually admitting that any was wrong with a 136 crazy (or maybe just having a tough time) people dying and many others suffering injury and illness from critical errors, mistreatment, abuse and/or assaults by hospital workers. Anticipating the settlement, Perdue addressed the General Assembly this week seeking no new spending, relying instead on good intentions and increased spending on roads to lead to the pledged dramatic improvement in its state psychiatric hospitals.

In Case You Missed It

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday (source: Reuters) it would hear a challenge to the 44-year-old voting rights law aimed at preventing states and local governments from making it harder for minorities to vote. Nine states are affected by the voting rights law: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Think there’s any coincidence that from this list only Virginia voted for Obama?

Freedom around the world is down for the third straight year (source: Freedom House). Another example of a George Wrongway Bush goal (2nd Inaugural). The full list of other goals are too long to list, but lowlights include the results of the ownership society; compassionate conservatism; no child left behind; the uniter not the divider; immigration reform; peace in the Middle East; et cetera ad nauseum.

2008: the greatest loss of jobs since 1945 (source: Wall Street Journal). What happened in 1945? Oh, yeah. The war ended and our troops came home.

The estimated cost to insure the 47 million US uninsured affordable: $17.8 billion in first year; $188.5 billion in 2010 (source: The Commonwealth Fund) about the cost for a year of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The War in Iraq Costs
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Compare to the cost of Providing Healthcare, School Teachers, Affordable Housing Units, and more or find your individual cost. Source: National Priorities Project

Warning: Don’t Read This Blog

 Following in the footsteps of Greeley, Kent and Lane

There’s little risk here. Of the 200 million or so bloggers, there are only about 50 million blog readers (it is interesting, at least to me, that 62% of internet users report they don’t know what a blog is). It is so easy to write and cite to prove a point of view (especially if you unabashedly willing to use worldwide figures and compare to US figures or don’t mind that each citation has conflicting data, knowing that most people won’t bother to follow the links or the link’s links or read either.

Using a more appropriately “balanced” approach, so often found in “journalism,” would force me to present data that might confusingly conflict with my particular bias de jour (as well as type a lot more words, actually do research, read what I cite, and offer links to websites that, yikes, might disagree with me). For instance, the Wall Street Journal’s (not always a bastion of “balance”) point seems (“seems” is one of the clues that something might be a conclusion of the author while not necessarily something all people might find to be factual and probably isn’t) to be that no one knows what a blog is, who is a blogger, how many blog there are, how often they are published, how often they are visited by real people (could it be that the search engine robots are real people, too?) and if anyone actually reads anything before clicking to their next conclusion (SIC: snooze).

In spite of now clearly demonstrating (as opposed to proving) that no one will actually read this (one possible exception: bloggers who are reading blogs about blogging), it is incumbent upon me to acknowledge the skill and devotion to balanced reporting and grammar (at least, the New York Times Stylebook version) of journalists and newspaper professionals everywhere (except, and in particular, Fox News). Following in the footsteps of Greeley, Kent and Lane, these diligent, hardworking men and women of the Fourth Estate have given up so much (waistlines and potentially more lucrative careers, mostly) so we can be better informed and more effective citizens (and consumers). Thank you (and you know who you are) for so courageously laying the foundation of truth for which we bloggers everywhere now steal the bricks.

Old Year’s Hangover

Middle Ages Weekend

When midnight struck, “American Pie” was played. And sung. Yes, the long version. It has become a tradition for our group of friends who meet over New Years each year as part of Mid-Ages (aka: Dark Ages) Weekend (in no way associated with the best and brightest who celebrate Renaissance Weekend). Mid-Ages Weekend is a simple celebration of the best parts of the Middle Ages (drinking, storytelling, verbal jousting, funny hats, and general revelry) without the worst (inquisitions, crusading, plague, and sword wielding of all kinds). But mainly it is a group of liberal middle agers who “who dig those rhythm and blues” and “still remember when” at least most of the time. But I stray…

My new year’s resolution. After 8 post Bush v. Gore years of spending way too much energy being against things, I am resolved to be for things. Sounds simple enough, but most Old Year’s habits are hard to break. For instance, morning coffee is directly connected with mining the Op/Ed’s for harangue points to share with my wife who will wake a wee bit later. Without these political bitch sessions, I fear we’ll stop talking at all for fear of real life subjects like, “how the heck we are going to survive January or what bills we need, but can’t pay.” And then there is the whole self esteem connection with the sharing among friends the details of conspiracies and tales of corruption and incompetence. I must leave these behind.

Thoughts of wars, innocent death, cronyism, greed, suffering and hatred bounce off the walls of brain like the worse of Old Year’s hangovers. Stop. Change the subject. Be resolute. Be positive. Wipe the slate clean. Oops. It is clean. A void. Positive about what? Change? Hope? Faith in the new party. Patience. He’s not in office, yet and Cheney’s not actually said he’s agreed to leave.

Think about work. That’s it. A coping mechanism. Used it before. Mental slight of hand. Okay, work. Focus. Sh*t, the economy. Work stinks. Dead. Phone doesn’t ring. Clients don’t call. It’s stopped. Another blank slate. Yikes. Inventory not sold to be written off. Opportunity unused. Life wasted. Precious staying power diminished. Scary. Stop. Gaza. Blagojevich. Bailout. Madoff. Stop. Get me an aspirin. This harder then quiting smoking or loosing weight.

“But I knew that I was out of luck the day the music died. I started singing bye, bye, Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry and good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye singing this’ll be the day that I die. This’ll be the day that I die. I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and turned away. I went down to the sacred store where I’d heard the music years before, but the man there said the music wouldn’t play. Well now, in the streets the children screamed. The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed, but not a word was spoken. The church bells all were broken. And the three men I admire the most the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. They caught the last train for the coast. The day the music died. We started singin’ bye, bye, Miss American Pie…”

Intended Unintended Consequences of Co-Pays

Healthcare Prescription

Co-pays work really well for the chronically well and the chronically well off. Averaging about $40 for a doctor visit or outpatient procedure, $20-$40 for prescriptions and a little more for hospital admission. Might not sound like much every now and then. Insurance companies do this to prevent what they call a “moral hazzard.” I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that my healthy friends would spend as much time as possible in a doctor’s waiting room if were not for co-pays. Great way to catch up on your reading from, say, 4 years ago. Plus, everyone loves a good colonoscopy and what woman wouldn’t prefer an extra mammogram or two a year? Surely, the typical mother of three who makes minimum wages has no problem working 20 or so extra hours to get her kids an annual check up. Great idea. This is America, for god’s sake. Pay to play. There’s no free lunch here.

It even works great for the fully employed and chronically not as well. Seeing a doctor a couple of times a year to get a script so you can get your Lipitor is just the price of being able to eat at McDonald’s or have a little Häagen-Dazs. No big deal. But what happens as you age? Say you add high triglycerides to your cholesterol, maybe it leads to diabetes. Your blood pressure shoots up. You fall down the stairs and injure your back. You find a lump or aren’t preforming as well in bed. Your snoring gets worse and fear sleep apnea while your partner can’t sleep at all for fear of your snoring. You get depressed about it and need something to mellow you out before you are tossed out at work. Your bowels stop moving, but your bladder can’t stop. Then, you get the flu. Pick any four and multiple by $40 for the visit and $40 for your drugs. Now $320 a month isn’t so bad until you do it for a year and realize you’re out almost four grand. Then your spouse hits for the cycle and it’s now eight grand, plus the deductibles, plus the cost of the policy. But that’s just for maintenance.

Once every decade or so in middle age, odds are you’ll have something that will put you in the hospital. God forbid if you are self-employed or part time. Miss some work. Lose some paychecks. Do some caregiving for your spouse and your world will begin to unravel. Visa will find out and raise your rates to 33% while lowering your credit limit. Now you’ll have to choose: do I see a doctor and get my meds or pay Visa? Do I buy my kids new shoes or play Russian roulette with my heart? Do I pay my life insurance or risk dying? Or better yet, do I pay my health insurance and join the 47 million who don’t have it or use it one last time? Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

  • AP says “the ailing economy is leading many Americans to skip doctor visits, skimp on their medicine, and put off mammograms, Pap smears and other tests, a trend that physicians worry will result in sicker patients who need more expensive treatment later.” The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 36% of U.S. residents have delayed medical care in the past year because of cost. AARP reports, “Nearly half of Americans now report that someone in their family has cut back on their medical care or prescribed medications—postponing checkups, recommended tests and procedures; cutting pills or skipping doses of required medications; or not filling new prescriptions.”
  • The National Coalition on Healthcare says, “Retiring elderly couples will need $250,000 in savings just to pay for the most basic medical coverage. Many experts believe that this figure is conservative and that $300,000 may be a more realistic number.” Of course, there’s always Medicaid once you and your family are destitute.
  • This is pretty odd when you consider what that a study by GlaxoSmithKline (big pharma) says, “High prescription drug co-payments are associated with lower medication adherence and higher total healthcare costs.”

It seems almost silly to say that this can’t be healthy for our nation. It’s cruel, immoral and un-all-faiths, but is how we age in America. Well done insurance industry lobbyists. Well done. Makes us all proud.

Let me leave you with something from, “Right here in the U.S., Medicare demonstrates that we can eliminate some 17 percent in administrative expenses alone through a publicly administered system.” I know. I know. I know that universal care is a dead issue in the US and that statistics aren’t reliable unless they are on Fox News, but isn’t pretty to think that some of that 17% (works out to about $250 billion) could reduce co-pays?