Category Archives: Complaining

No matter what you do, you’ll never run away from you

In this edition: Get your kicks while losing your pride, a snapshot of success and dysfunction. Sticking to the wrong principles. The TP rejoices, “we stopped Obamacare!”(and then they woke up). War, huh, what is it good for and how GWB lucked out by failing to do a thing to prevent the Great Recession.

Kicks

Girl, you thought you found the answer on that magic carpet ride last night
But when you wake up in the mornin’ the world still gets you uptight
Well, there’s nothin’ that you ain’t tried, to fill the emptiness inside
But when you come back down, girl, still ain’t feelin’ right

Chorus:
(And don’t it seem like)
Kicks just keep gettin’ harder to find
And all your kicks ain’t bringin’ you peace of mind
Before you find out it’s too late, girl
You better get straight

Well you think you’re gonna find yourself a little piece of paradise
But it ain’t happened yet, so girl, you better think twice
Don’t you see no matter what you do, you’ll never run away from you
And if you keep on runnin’
You’ll have to pay the price

[repeat chorus]

Bridge:

No, you don’t need kicks
To help you face the world each day
That road goes nowhere
I’m gonna help you find yourself another way

Chorus:
(And don’t it seem like)
Kicks just keep gettin’ harder to find
(Oh, you don’t need kicks, girl)
And all your kicks ain’t bringin’ you peace of mind
(You just need help, girl)
Before you find out it’s too late, girl
You better get straight

–Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, recorded by Paul Revere & the Raiders (1966)

Learning more about this song was like peeling back the layers of an onion. Who knew? (Does anybody know where “who knew” and “ya think” originated? Two phrases used… excessively, that are now somehow central to American speech.) I digress.

We can start with producer Terry Melcher asking the songwriting duo of Mann and Weil  for a song like The Animals “We Got to Get Out of this Place.”  They came up with “Kicks,” and the inspiration was a friend who needed help with drugs (probably fellow song-writer and Carole King’s husband at the time, Gerry Goffin). Mann and Weil had written the song for The Animals, but lead singer Eric Burdon rejected it. Melcher brought it to Paul Revere & the Raiders.

Terry Melcher’s story: Melcher was the son of singer-actress Doris Day and trombonist Al Jorden. Day was planning to leave the abusive, violent Jorden when she found herself pregnant. Outraged,  Jorden demanded that Day get an abortion. Instead, she gave birth to son Terrance Jorden and filed for divorce. After the divorce, with maternal instincts more suited to Hollywood than Cincinnati, Day left the boy with her mother in Ohio, and went back to touring with big band leader Les Brown. Birth daddy Al Jorden visited his son infrequently and had little presence in his life. After divorcing her second husband, saxophonist George Weidler, Day married Martin Melcher, who would become her manager and produce many of her films. Melcher adopted Terry, giving the child his surname. Happy ending? Well… after Martin Melcher’s death in 1968, Day discovered that he and a partner had mismanaged or embezzled $20 million of her money. And that was ALL her money. According to an inflation calculator (inquiring minds wanted to know) that would be the same as around $135 million in 2013 dollars.

Terry Melcher recorded and wrote music himself, but ended up working for Capital Records. He produced the Byrds albums, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn!Turn!Turn! He worked with groups like The Mamas and the Papas and Paul Revere & the Raiders. He was also friends with the Beach Boys and even sang backup on their album Pet Sounds.

Beach Boy Dennis Wilson introduced Melcher to Charles Manson (to myself: WHAT?!?!?). The Beach Boys had recorded a Manson written song calling it “Never Learn Not To Love” (a double negative but better than Manson’s title “Cease to Exist”) with credits going to Dennis Wilson. Melcher wanted to do a movie about Manson and the hippie commune thing he had going, but later distanced himself after seeing some Manson craziness. Melcher had been living with girlfriend Candace Bergen in the same house on Cielo Drive that was later leased to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, and became the site of the Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate (8 months pregnant), coffee heiress Abigail Folger, hairdresser Jay Sebring, writer Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent.

Melcher went on to produce music, television, and the Monterey Pop Festival. He cowrote the song “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. Melcher passed on in 2004.

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s story: In the early Sixties, Mann and Weil settled into their writing partnership and married life. They worked in the Brill Building at Aldon Music alongside Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector. They were craftsmen songwriters, sitting in a cubicle with a piano and working all day to come up with lyrics and melodies. These writers would create songs that were offered to the bands and singers of the day. Some might go to Elvis, The Monkees, Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, or the Byrds, or in the case of “Kicks” to Paul Revere’s band through producer Terry Melcher. Mann and Weil wrote “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” with Phil Spector and “On Broadway” recorded by The Drifters with Leiber and Stoller.

Paul Revere’s Story: The band Paul Revere and the Raiders has substantial U.S. mainstream success in the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s. The early incarnation was a Boise, Idaho band having regional success. They fell under the guidance of Melcher, moving to L.A. in 1965.  Like many bands of the era, they copied the sounds and mod styles of British Invasion bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, and The Animals while adding a little American R&B feel.

The band appeared regularly on national television and especially on Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is, Happening ’68, and It’s Happening, the latter two of which were co-hosted by Revere and singer Mark Lindsay. Boomer’s found them on TV when they returned home from school, playing some songs with comedic interludes. Playing on Revere’s name, the group wore American Revolutionary War soldier uniforms, and performed slapstick comedy and synchronized dance steps while Mark Lindsay, cute and pony-tailed, lip-synced their music. The very thing that made them popular, their goofy wholesomeness, was the most detrimental thing they could choose to make a long-lasting mark in the world of Rock.

The Raiders were endorsed by the company Vox  (Revere used their Vox Continental combo organ, while bassist Phil “Fang” Volk was seen on television playing a Phantom IV bass —with “FANG” in masking tape letters on the back.

Imagine you are a music loving rock and roller and you get your Big Chance. But instead of living your dream–writing and performing music–you sell yourself out to image makers and profit takers. You clown for adolescents, lip-sync the songs, and don’t even get to play the instruments on your own albums. Instead of developing a unique sound you co-opt other people’s inventions. A manager tells you what songs you will play from the song factory. Instead of being an artist, you are scripted entertainer. I really don’t have a clue what all that meant to Paul Revere or Mark Lindsay but I know how I would feel. It had to be like heaven appeared to be within reach but with one step you’d know the clouds were cotton batting and the harps were made of tinfoil, cardboard tubes, and loosely tied string.

Looking back, I would have thought that the druggies didn’t really need to get off “kicks” until a decade later when Quaaludes and Coke were taking their toll. Still, Mann and Weill ran in circles where a stern anti-drug warning was required and Melcher was no innocent. The band’s lineup became fluid as the Raiders chafed against the manufactured media image that lavished juvenile attention on Lindsay while ignoring the music. To the band, I’d guess sounding more like The Animals and less like Herman’s Hermits would have been a welcome relief if they’d had a chance to be true to themselves.

Paul Revere has kept a Raiders band together with an evolving lineup since those early days. He recently admitted to an undisclosed health problem that prompted him to report that he got his “butt kicked but good.”

LB_Rule

Over the days that I spent on this post, the debt crisis in Washington DC was forestalled. The Republican Party is taking a beating in the press and polls. If you asked the core Tea Party Congresspeople about why they took the full faith and credit of the United States hostage they would maintain that it was because, unlike Paul Revere & the Raiders, they had to stick to their principles. They ran against Obamacare (or at least what FoxNews and conservative talk radio was telling fact-starved voters Obamacare was) and they dreamed that this was a battle they could win. They needed a little perspective. They are politicians, Obama is a politician. They should be able to put themselves in his shoes. Would he sign a bill that repealed The Affordable Care Act? That is the president’s landmark legislation. His place in the history books. He ran for reelection on it, with an opponent running on repeal, and he won by 5 million votes!

Grumpy realist Senator John McCain  (R-Ariz.) wondered what they were thinking. “We started this on a fool’s errand, convincing so many millions of Americans and our supporters that we could defund Obamacare. [That] obviously wouldn’t happen until we had 67 Republican senators to override a presidential veto.”

michael-dukakis-tankSo, they actually moved themselves away from hopes of getting 67 Republican senators anytime in the near future. And they’ll have to pick a stronger candidate than Gov. Mitt Romney to put one of their’s in the White House in 2016 (that is unless Hillary doesn’t run and the Democratic party pick is a misfire along the lines of Kerry or Dukakis–perfectly fine gentlemen but not strong candidates for the highest office in the land).

Someone who has something to say about economic matters is Jim Hines, Democratic Congressman from Connecticut. As he has put it so eloquently, “People need to understand that: It’s their 401Ks, their IRAs, interest rates which they pay on their mortgages or their credit card bills, all of that depends on the assumption that the United States Treasury is risk-free. If the Republican majority in Congress forces a default, all of the sudden, it’s not risk-free anymore.”

A recent Gallup poll reported:  “With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives engaged in a tense, government-shuttering budgetary standoff against a Democratic president and Senate, the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September. This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.”

LB_Rule

I saw this sign in a “quaint shopping village” in my area. Back in the days when people weren’t getting squeezed by the migration of wealth to top managers and investors, they would get plenty of folks walking around buying crafty doo-dads or dusty silk floral arrangements. Today, stores are closing and the average visitor keeps his or her wallet firmly enpocketed.

customers wantedLB_RuleI sometimes debate some right-wing maniacs in my suburban newspaper online comments section. Their belief, and probably many people’s belief, is that the bombing of Baghdad was done with surgical precision and low collateral loss of life. Well, when the media is casually regurgitating the public relations output of the state such misunderstandings can easily be made. Every bombing target had some amount of civilian loss of life, and 20 targets were identified as high collateral damage bombings and undertaken anyway. 10,000 of the bombs dropped by American and British planes were not precision guided at all. Recently, Wikileaks documents wrote of the deaths of 66,000 Iraqi civilian deaths that hadn’t been publicly disclosed previously. A new investigation into Iraq deaths over the last 10 years puts the total figure at nearly 500,000–2/3 from violence and 1/3 from breakdowns in health services and other factors.

The Iraqi loss of life, along with the loss of their health and economic opportunity, did not win us an ally in the region–just the opposite. Have you been paying attention to the DU (depleted uranium) issue in Iraq? Worse than Syria’s chemical weapons, the U.S. and allies used DU weapons that resulted in Fallujah experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia, and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945. Learn more here.

The Great Recession seems to have one positive effect for George W. Bush. It put Americans into such a state of worry and financial concern that they didn’t have energy to evaluate the effects of the Iraq War and place blame where it should be placed, on the heads of Bush and Cheney who squandered American taxpayer’s hard-earned money in an illegal and immoral war that benefited only international oil companies, Cheney’s Halliburton buds, and munitions manufacturers.

We could put this all behind us, but then we’d never learn the lessons we need to learn.

1. War is brutal and inhumane, and unfitting for civilized nations unless under direct attack.

2. Those in the war business, like those that knowingly produce products that poison us, give us cancer, or give others the power of life and death over us, are sociopaths who put the acquisition of wealth over human life–even the lives of children and babies.

3. When terrible things happen, like 9/11 in our collective lives or tragedy in our personal lives, our decision-making abilities can be weakened by emotional confusion, and we’re best off taking things a day at a time and acting in manners that leave us no regrets.

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Filed under Complaining, Economy, History, Politics, Social Issues

Practiced at the Art of Deception

In this edition: That’s right, you can’t always get what you want, but… The beat of another drummer. We’re Number 1! (number one jailer in the world). Obama nearly reaching the status of Bill Clinton (with regards to impeachment). Hijinks and Highlights.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she was gonna meet her connection
At her feet was a footloose man

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse”

[Chorus]

I went down to the Chelsea Drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was “dead”
I said to him

[Chorus]

I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception
Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands

[Chorus repeating]

– Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Recorded by the Rolling Stones (1969)

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is from the Rolling Stones’ 1969 album Let It Bleed. The London Bach Choir opens the song, highlights passages throughout, and brings it to its conclusion. Al Kooper plays piano and organ, as well as the French horn intro. Stones drummer Charlie Watts wasn’t on the recording. For some reason, he was having trouble getting the part and when Jimmy Miller, the producer, offered to show him he suggested Miller just do the drumming on that song. There’s some contention about whether that was done in a snit or not.

Jagger had developed the song on acoustic guitar, referring to it as “one of those bedroom songs.”  (If you didn’t know, all guitarists sit alone in the bedroom noodling on a guitar.) Mick thought a gospel choir would be a nice touch, but they didn’t find one. When someone suggested the London Bach Choir I think they shrugged and said “Wtf, mates, why not?”

In 1969 the world was awash in protest, the sentiment of brotherly love, and casual drug use. The song covers those topics, but in the fashion of the Stones love wasn’t about dreamy hippie generalized love, but more about the love of some bad girl practiced in the art of deception and with metaphoric blood-stained hands at the reception. In a way, it is a more down-to-earth view that points to the following decade’s creation of new sexual ethics.  The protest they attend features frustration and abuse. Finally, the drug use isn’t characterized in 1969 terms of stoned goofing or trippy psychedelia–we’re talking about people looking ill who say one word and that is “dead.”

Just as some wrongly heard song lyrics make their way into wide acceptance (like Creedence Clearwaters’ “There’s a bathroom on the right” or Elton John’s “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”) I seem to make the wrong connections with a lot of the classic rock music I am acquainted with. I’ve always connected the Chelsea Drugstore reference to the British National Health Service’s policy of allowing heroin by prescription. This practice peaked in the late sixties and declined with the rise of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. Many people go through methadone treatment without success, and in these cases it is still possible in the UK to get heroin by prescription in doses that avoid withdrawal symptoms but don’t give a strong buzz. There may be a lesson here for the U.S. as addicts create an underground market for the drug that spills over into the general population in varying and unpredictable strengths and purity.

The_Chelsea_Drugstore

The Chelsea Drugstore

Instead of a gathering place for addicts the Chelsea Drugstore was, in fact, more of a symbol of Swinging London (See YouTube below). The store was a modern building in West London where customers would find bars, a pharmacy, newsstands, record stores, and other concessions. They were also infamous for the “flying squad” delivery option. Those who used this service would have their purchases delivered by hand by young ladies adorned in purple catsuits arriving on flashy motorcycles. CVS and Walgreens take note.

Back-up singer Doris Troy is also featured on the song. She’d had an early sixties hit with “Just One Look” and was sought after as a back-up singer for British rockers of the time. She also sang on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, but was not the powerhouse singer who nailed the wordless melody in the song “The Great Gig in the Sky”. (That was Clare Torey.)

There’s an apocryphal story that Mr. Jimmy was actually a resident of Excelsior, Minnesota where the Stones had played to a small, unenthusiastic crowd. Mr. Jimmy was a kind of street person who knew everyone in town. I didn’t find much to sell this story, but you can Google Mr. Jimmy and Excelsior if you have the inclination. In a trip to St. Paul in the mid-eighties I had seen a man in a pyramid hat visiting bars and restaurants to universal welcome so I was open to the theme of Minnesota eccentrics. But I still don’t think that was in Mick’s head at the time. More about Minnesota eccentrics here.

In the end, the song is about the end of a period in London history, when the city was awash in top stars in music, film, and fashion. Mitigating the song’s gloominess is the chorus’ suggestion that while you can’t always get what you want, if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

LB_Rule

On August 12, 2013 Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will no longer charge nonviolent drug offenders with serious crimes that subject them to long, mandatory minimum sentences in the federal prison system. The speech serves to provide new guidelines for federal prosecutors. He’s also called for the expanded use of prison alternatives, such as probation or house arrest, for nonviolent offenders and for lower sentences for elderly inmates.

One big reason for the new guidelines is seen in this graphic.

federal-prison1The most significant factor in increasing prison populations in the 12 years portrayed is imprisoned drug offenders, followed by weapons and immigration issues. Nearly 50% of federal inmates are in for drug offenses. The U.S. houses a total of 220,000 federal inmates.  At the same time, the national budget for drug control has been on the rise, from $10.8 billion in 2002 to $15.5 billion in 2011. If it’s working then the problems are greater than we think!

Holder said, “We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken… And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.”

The federal prison population doesn’t tell the whole story. The states are housing about 1.4 million prisoners. While only about 20% of those prisoners are there on drug charges, the segment has grown by a factor of 20 between 1986 and 2004. And while the states are much more likely to imprison offenders on violent crimes, drugs still are common as secondary charges. Costs for these prisons and inmate care are in the neighborhood of $74 billion per year. Ten states now spend more on imprisonment than they do on higher education—six times more, in the case of California.

The average length of a prison stay is going up, too. From 1990 to 2009, the average length of stay for prisoners increased by 2.9 years. As a result of this progression, the prison population is not only growing, but also aging,  and due to costs of healthcare, prisoners over the age of 50 are twice as expensive to house on average. One in every 34 U.S. adults was under some sort of correctional supervision in 2011 – whether it be in prison or jail, or on probation or parole, according to figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This represents a slight decline from the previous decade’s numbers but is an incredible figure nonetheless.

To a relatively small subset of people, that $74 billion represents not an egregious line item on the state and federal budgets but an opportunity.  Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group are the nation’s first- and second-largest operators of for-profit prisons. These corporations are solidly optimistic about the future of imprisoning Americans. The GEO Senior Vice President John Hurley assured investors recently:

“We have a longstanding partnership with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshal Service and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. … We continue to see meaningful opportunities for us to partner with all three of these federal agencies. The federal bureau of prisons continues to face capacity constraints coupled with a growing offender population.”

The first quarter of 2013 represented a 56% spike in profits for GEO. This was partially driven from a tax break they and CCA received by successfully arguing to the IRS that they were not prison companies but were instead real estate companies with prisoners analogous to “renters.” As Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) they are subject to tax breaks as the intention of IRS rules was to modulate the taxes of passive real estate owning companies. Prison companies are not the only ones screwing the U.S. taxpayer by dodging their fair share, casinos and document storage companies are pursuing the same strategy.

When an ex-convict leaves prison, he or she has a 40% chance of returning within three years. One big driver is that it’s very difficult, especially in this economy where low-skilled workers have few opportunities, to enter the work force. There are both social and security stigmas that affect felons. Another key factor is that the drug use that led to imprisonment picks back up again. 65% of American inmates are clinically addicted to drugs, only 11% receive any form of treatment.

What many in the U.S. fail to appreciate is that the cycle of poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness creates downstream costs to the society that are increasingly difficult to maintain. As a nation we seem unable to create the kind of bold strategies that actually alleviate problems as our politicians quibble over ideological trivialities. We have to ask ourselves, “What kind of future do we want for this country?” Do we stick with the “I got mine” mentality that has driven us since the Reagan years or do we look at the stats, consider the causes, and drive improvement in the way that corporate America succeeds by driving process improvement throughout organizations?

Many statistics came from this Harvard Political Review article and this article at Think Progress.

LB_Rule

Hijinks and Highlights!

Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage landed in the national spotlight following an August fundraiser. According to two unnamed state lawmakers, LePage told a group of conservatives at a GOP fundraiser last week that President Obama “hates white people.” LePage denies it but the denial carries little weight.

Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz is the junior U.S. Senator for the state of Texas and the future target of a Democratic-led birther movement. Well, maybe not. It’s come out that Cruz, a GOP presidential hopeful, was born in Calgary, Canada and holds dual citizenship (he plans on renouncing that). His “supposed” claim to U.S. citizenship is that his mother was American (which although it sounds more like the proof you need to be Jewish should work). His father, like Obama’s, was a foreign citizen. Cuba not Kenya. However, since Obama was born to a Kansan citizen but is still under a cloud of suspicion about Kenyan roots then should the Left be willing to give Cruz a break? I think not, friends! Cruz’ politics are all about de-funding Obamacare, denying a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, spending more on walls and militarization of the Mexican border, raising the age for Medicare eligibility, denying reasonable gun restrictions, and restricting unemployment benefits that “exacerbate joblessness.” And did I mention de-funding Obamacare?

Whackjob “news” site WND.COM (World News Daily) is spearheading an “Impeach Obama” campaign. They support 12 reasons offered by the Overpasses for Obama’s Impeachment group, and if you have the stomach for it, they are found here. Portraying the Overpasses as a booming grassroots group they miss the salient point that 40,000 purported members represents just 1/100th of 1% of the population. No mandates there!

Tom Coburn, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, warns us that Obama is “getting perilously close” to the standard for impeachment (in Coburn’s head). Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) suggested that he’d like to impeach President Obama, telling a disappointed constituent that he would file such a bill if he could find the “evidence” to make it stick. Bentivolio said “You know, if I could write that bill and submit it, it would be a dream come true.” He needs more useful dreams for his constituents. Bentivolio is a former Santa Claus impersonator and reindeer farmer (no joke!) And in the same week, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) answered questions from a fervent anti-Obama constituent at a town hall, (telling the woman that he would take a closer look at her birther conspiracy document)  suggesting that House Republicans had enough votes to impeach the president. (Btw, the House begins impeachment but the Senate tries the matter.)

So the Tea Party spirit of Townhalls in 2009-2010 is revived with encouragement from the anti-American wings of the Senate and House of Representatives. When you disagree with a president’s policies you 1.) Cease the consideration of all normal legislation to assure said president’s “failure” and 2.) try to impeach the president rather than win a war of ideas.

That first tactic started on the night of Obama’s first inauguration, when a group of around 15 Republican Representatives and Senators (brought together by Frank Luntz) met for a boozy dinner in the Caucus Room, a “high-end D.C. establishment,” to discuss methods to “win back political power” and to “put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.” Those attending the meeting included Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Pete Sessions as the House Representatives and Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign, and Jon Kyl from the Senate. Newt Gingrich also spoke there. There’s something very disgusting about planning a president’s failure at the height of an economic downturn in order to be complicit in causing his failure to enact legislation to improve the lives of suffering citizens.

Cat_scratch_fever_coverBut I digress. On the topic of impeachment, the most eloquent voice remains with the wild-eyed legendary superstar Ted Nugent, who tells us there’s “no question” Obama should be impeached (in his head), blasting “the criminality of this government, the unprecedented abuse of power, corruption, fraud and deceit by the Chicago gangster-scammer-ACORN-in-chief.”

“It’s so diabolical,” he adds.

I think I’ll start an Overpasses Against Ted Nugent movement. Too bad, I still love “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Stranglehold.”LB_Rule

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Filed under Complaining, Economy, Politics, Social Issues, U.S. Prisons

As I walked out, felt my own need just beginning

In this edition: Give me some of what Cream was having, White Room not just drug-babbling, what advertisers must think of us, Men are from Mars (that would be cool).

White Room

In the white room with black curtains near the station.
Black-roof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings.
Silver horses run down moonbeams in your dark eyes.
Dawn-light smiles on you leaving, my contentment.

I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines;
Wait in this place where the shadows run from themselves.

You said no strings could secure you at the station.
Platform ticket, restless diesels, goodbye windows.
I walked into such a sad time at the station.
As I walked out, felt my own need just beginning.

I’ll wait in the queue when the trains come back;
Lie with you where the shadows run from themselves.

At the party she was kindness in the hard crowd.
Consolation for the old wound now forgotten.
Yellow tigers crouched in jungles in her dark eyes.
She’s just dressing, goodbye windows, tired starlings.

I’ll sleep in this place with the lonely crowd;
Lie in the dark where the shadows run from themselves.

— Written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, recorded 1968 by Cream

Cream was (as boomers among you will know) an early incarnation of the “Super Group,” wherein the musical natural selection process promotes top players closer and closer until they join forces in a new endeavor. Cream, a power trio, consisted of drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton. Clapton had the most visibility at the time having played in The Yardbirds and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and he was known as one of the top British blues players. Ginger Baker was part of an early sixties R&B/jazz group called the Graham Bond Organisation, which at one point featured Jack Bruce on bass guitar, harmonica, and piano. (Mahavishnu John McLaughlin played guitar in the Bond Organisation for a while.) Bruce also played with Clapton in one iteration of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers group.

Clapton and Baker discussed joining together to work in a band. Clapton felt constrained by his work in Mayall’s band and Baker was troubled by internal strife and the bandleader’s addictions in the Graham Bond Organisation. Apparently Clapton wanted Bruce as the bassist and this shocked Baker, who had nothing but trouble with Bruce in Graham Bond and was tasked with firing him from that band. The story is that Bruce continued to show up for gigs until Baker threatened him at knife point. The conflict between Baker and Bruce continued in the Cream and led to the band’s demise after just 4 albums and 3 years.

L-R Baker, Bruce, Clapton

L-R Baker, Bruce, Clapton

Although the band was envisioned as a collaborative with each player having equal status, the conflict between Bruce and Baker was overpowering the concept and the players weren’t listening to each other. Bruce was trying to drown out Baker’s double-bass drumming with stacks of Marshall amps and it was reported that at one point, Clapton quit playing at a concert and his bandmates never noticed. Baker stated in a 2006 interview with Music Mart magazine, “It just got to the point where Eric said to me: ‘I’ve had enough of this,’ and I said so have I. I couldn’t stand it. The last year with Cream was just agony. It damaged my hearing permanently, and today I’ve still got a hearing problem because of the sheer volume throughout the last year of Cream. But it didn’t start off like that. In 1966, it was great. It was really a wonderful experience musically, and it just went into the realms of stupidity.”

Immediately after Cream, Baker and Clapton went on to the group Blind Faith. Rick Grech played the bass in that band, with keyboardist and vocalist Steve Winwood rounding out the group’s personnel. Blind Faith lasted only one album, and Grech and Winwood stayed with Baker to form Ginger Baker’s Air Force, which also included Denny Laine (ex-Moody Blues) on guitar, Chris Wood (ex-Traffic) on sax and flute, and several other musicians; when that group ended, Winwood reformed Traffic with original members Wood and Jim Capaldi, and Grech joined as their bassist. The Air Force album had dropped out of site for 30-plus years but was re-released in 2005. The quality of the remaster may be inferior from postings I have seen but the content, a very textured jazz-fusion, was very interesting.

Poet and later musician Pete Brown collaborated with Bruce on the “White Room” lyrics. The song appeared on Wheels of Fire, the band’s third album. Jack Bruce sang and played bass on the song, Eric Clapton played overdubbed guitars, Ginger Baker played drums and a timpani, and Felix Pappalardi – the group’s producer – contributed by playing violas. The song features extensive use of the wah-wah pedal on Clapton’s guitar and the opening intro of tympani and viola is fascinating to this day.

The lyrics, considered sometimes to be drug-induced ramblings, are actually some pretty serious poetry. Much has been written about the imagery, and this site has an interesting exploration of the lyrics. In essence, we can see that it is boy loses girl, boy sees girl much later at party, time has healed the original wounds. A metaphor for tears like “Silver horses run down moonbeams in your dark eyes” was a little over the head of the 15-year old Lefty but can be appreciated these days with the onset of the serious maturity he now enjoys.

LB_Rule

The advertising industry is a good barometer of the culture since it is usually focus-group tested and targeted to the consumers most desired by corporate America. Some of the demographics used for content and placement are Teens 12-17, Adults 18-34, Women 18-34, and Adults 18-49. I’m convinced that the focus of the Women 18-34 targeting is “Men are Stupid.”

The Merriam-Webster definition of a meme  is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”  The meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas that become easily transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, images or even gestures. So the men are stupid idea becomes a meme that appeals at some deeper level to women consumers. Here’s an example, stupid man forgets to pay the credit card and goes out for milk and buys a puppy:

And this one makes my stomach churn. Premature ejaculation, really?

Keep an eye out for the “Men are Stupid” meme in advertising. It’s kind of disturbing. In a way, it turns the Women’s Liberation concepts on their heads. Instead of empowering women by enabling equal treatment, they raise women’s self-images by lowering their perceptions of men. Just saying.

Yet, in print advertising women are subjected to a number of ads that suggest they are not too discriminating in their ability to be influenced by stupid images. Here’s a women’s magazine ad my wife was looking at that I snapped in the waiting room last week:

salad dressing

I’d suggest we keep this guy from getting too close to the salad. Does that make you run out to get the salad dressing, ladies?

I took this shot on the wall at a Banana Republic store:

ouch

What were they thinking? “Look girls, you can straddle a wall comfortably with our new brightly colored jeans?” Just looks painful to me.

Meanwhile, retailers like Sears are milking the heck out of their association with the Kardashians, smushing them against each other in various configurations to appeal to someone (just not sure who). And the very fame of the Kardashians themselves makes aged ex-teachers in Russia and Eastern Europe remember the lessons they taught schoolchildren 40 years ago about decadent America and the evils of Capitalism. “See, see,” they exclaim. “We were right!”

kardash

So without sounding like a total misogynist, advertisers are simultaneously pitching women the “men are stupid” track while offering up advertising that makes them look a little stupid (of course, as a disclaimer, they AREN’T! Especially YOU, honey, if you read this!!!)

LB_Rule

But if you want to see real merchandising, visit a tourist town like I did this week. I couldn’t decide between the tee that said “I don’t get drunk, I get awesome!” and “I pooped today!”

P1020687

But I get neither drunk nor awesome, and “Pooped” is much more age-appropriate.

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Filed under advertising, Complaining, Social Issues

What it is ain’t exactly clear

In this edition: Okay, Buffalo Springfield, NOW I get it. Poor makers and rich takers. If we can’t pull them from their expensive cars and torch the cars while cheering in an unruly mob can we at least tax them appropriately?

For What It’s Worth

There’s somethin’ happenin’ here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Tellin’ me, I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speakin’ their minds
Gettin’ so much resistance from behind

I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

— Written by Stephen Stills, Recorded by Buffalo Springfield (1967)

Okay, so that song is about Vietnam war protests, right? Err… sorry, no. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

Though often mistaken for an anti-war song, it was the first of the Sunset Strip Riots which inspired Stephen Stills to write For What It’s Worth. Sunset Strip Riots? From 1966 through the early 1970s a series of protests occurred in Hollywood. Music clubs like Pandora’s Box and Whiskey A Go-Go were drawing thousands–mostly students, many under 18. The resulting noise and traffic issues caused police to enforce a 10:00 curfew for teens under 18. The law had been on the books but was not usually enforced. The rock and rollers considered this an affront to civil liberties and gathered for a protest that got out of hand, resulting in arrests and property damage.

Now I have a better understanding of the second verse’s “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” and the third verse’s “mostly say hooray for our side.” I always wondered why the commitment was so diluted and that explains it, the cause was not as righteous as others of the time. This was about young rockers facing a curfew not civil rights or the Vietnam war.

In 1966 James Meredith, the first black to attend the University of Mississippi was shot while on a march through that State. Congress defeated the 1966 Civil Rights Bill that would have ended discrimination in home sales and rentals. It had only been two years since 3 civil rights workers had been lynched in Mississippi. In Vietnam, troop strength had escalated to 360,000 soldiers. More than 5,500 Americans were killed that year. In antiwar protests, 20,000 to 25,000 marched in New York, and demonstrations took place in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Oklahoma City and in other countries, Ottawa, London, Oslo, Stockholm, Lyon, and Tokyo. Hollywood youths being told to go home early, not so compelling.

LB_Rule

Media Matters sent me email with this striking quote:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

I found it was from FDR’s Second Inaugural Address  made on January 20, 1937.

So obviously this demonstrates Roosevelt’s Socialist leanings. At least, that’s the way conservatives read the statement. (I think we need a little more perspective than that.) First, look at the times he witnessed. Second, consider his own story. While growing up, Roosevelt was surrounded by privilege and the associated sense of self-importance. He was educated by tutors and governesses until age 14, and the entire household revolved around him as an only child. He went to the University, married, had children. Then, he was stricken with polio at the age of 39. This affected him to his core. Through great effort he rehabilitated himself to get some use of his legs. So I’m suggesting that this thought of being concerned with those who have too little is really simple empathy (or even Christian values) but applied to the domain of government. The empathy was surely part of his nature (seems unlikely that it suddenly appeared) but his own struggle and the extent of the hardships he witnessed in the Depression certainly contributed to his contempt for the bankers and barons who had put their personal quest for wealth ahead of the country’s economy and even survival.

This issue, government as the solver of social problems, lies at the heart of the conflict between social conservatism and social liberalism. Social conservatives simply do not believe that it is the role of government to assume responsibility for services provided through churches and other charities. Social liberalism believes in the government’s role is to solve big problems including those of citizens in hunger and poverty (justified by the phrase “promote the general Welfare” from the U.S. Constitution’s preamble.).

More recently, social conservatives have moved into the realm of religion (here and in northern Africa and the Middle East) and adopted the issue of abortion as a critical political concern. The ability of conservatives to simultaneously over-interpret the second amendment’s juncture that the militia could be armed to mean concealed carry without restriction while ignoring the first amendment’s demand to keep religious views out of governance is a little mind-boggling. The Constitution taken á la carte.

Roosevelt went on to say, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

And this leads to:

Lefty Boomers Unified Theory of Politics and the Economy.

Point of View #1. The masses, their low success proving their lack of effort and ability, want free stuff. So they elect politicians that will give them free stuff. The free stuff must be paid for and the masses have little, so the industrious “makers” are robbed by the needs of the slothful “takers.” Obama won the election by promising Medicaid healthcare to low-income people, relaxed immigration policy for Latinos, free contraceptives for women, Food Stamps for millions, etc. This is the thrust of much of the conversation from the right after the 2012 elections–including defeated and humiliated but not humbled candidate, Romney.

Point of View #2. If you have wealth, you have the ability to begin to reform the law to give you more advantages. You can change tax laws, banking restrictions, anti-trust laws, avoid responsibility to keep air and water clean or externalize those costs to communities, and find various ways to poison Americans at profit. You can forge a Supreme Court that will say that corporations are people and money is speech so that the ability of money to influence politics becomes integral to the process.

So… one of these seems true, and one is not supported by fact.

Every single person in America gets benefits from the U.S. government. We get defended from invasion, we get roads to drive on, we get reasonably clean air to breathe, we get parks and schools and more. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to figure out that many, including those the conservatives might deem morally worthy, get plenty of stuff from the government. So that’s the first point–everybody gets something–perceived makers and takers alike.

Who gets more the wealthy or the poor? Consider this:  General Electric spends between $20 million and $40 million each year on lobbying. They lobby for changes to tax laws, win, and profit from it. In 2010, billions in profits, zero tax liability, and tax credits for things like wind turbines. We continue to hear that corporate taxes hurt American business at 35%. But few companies pay that rate. The GAO reports that the actual corporate tax rate overall is 12.6%. The next time somebody throws the 35% corporate tax rate at you, respond with oh no buddy, they actually only pay 12.6%.

Republicans passed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 under GW Bush. It contained more than $13 billion a year in tax breaks for corporations, many very beneficial to G.E. Some provisions seemed tailored for the company, and according to its 2007 regulatory filing, the company saved more than $1 billion in American taxes because of that law in the three years after it was enacted. The Congressman on the House Ways and Means Committee that introduced the House version of the Bill was Bill Thomas, who the year before had an adulterous affair with a female lobbyist, she became a VP of Eli Lilly corporation, which steered huge amounts of money back to Thomas’ campaign fund. That year, pharmaceutical companies were blessed with  Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 which gave prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients but prohibited the government’s ability to set the prices for those drugs (the way they do for hospitalizations and physician visits). She rewarded Thomas (in more ways than one), he rewarded Pharma, they rewarded her.

But moving away from the corporate benefits, wealthy individuals also do well. Warren Buffett famously pointed out that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. Carried interest is the skim that fund managers take from clients, and it’s taxed at the long-term capital gains rate of 15%, a 24.9% savings from the top rate. So Romney’s income of $22 million in 2010 would have paid another $5 million in taxes if the income was treated as ordinary income instead of sweetheart-deal-for-millionaire-hedge-fund-managers income.

Romney pockets $5 million, complains about those in the 47% who get a maximum of $2400 per year (individual maximum) for food from the SNAP.

Walmart is actively anti-union, wage suppressing, and supportive of conservative causes. They benefit to the tune of $500 million  SNAP dollars each year through payments for groceries. At the same time, because of Walmart’s low wages and benefits many of its employees are forced to turn to the government for aid, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, according to a report released Congressional Democrats. So the recession took away the low- and moderately-skilled worker’s ability to get a decent paying job and many were forced to work at Walmart. Their wages qualify them for food assistance, utility assistance, and possibly Medicaid. At the same time the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons have a combined income equal to the total wealth of the entire bottom 30% of wage earners.

Is Medicare morally superior to unemployment? Why would it be? They are both programs that you pay into and benefit from when need arises. But conservatives tip-toe around Medicare (because their constituency is largely older and white–the Medicare demographic) but attack unemployment mercilessly. The mortgage interest deduction isn’t morally superior to food stamps, even though conservatives like one but not the other. One subsidizes food and one subsidizes housing. It’s good to provide incentives for home purchasing, but it’s better for the lenders as a quick check of a mortgage payment times the months in the term attest.

The entitlements to the poor don’t compare to the entitlements of the wealthy (while those in the middle get little and complain little). Meanwhile, the conservatives send enough money to Karl Rove to solve any number of social problems in order to keep someone they perceived as sympathetic to the poor out of office.

So how do we know who is the taker in this modern world? Well, maybe the 20% annual growth rate in food assistance proves that the lower end of the wage scale is growing while more wealth is held at the top that than at any time since the late 1800’s Gilded Age. The number taking SNAP isn’t the issue, it’s the number NEEDING SNAP! The privileges of wealth have never been greater. Their taxes have never been lower. Thanks to Citizens United they are now free to use money to make and break candidates while suggesting the way their employees should vote. While wealth and income gravitate to the top the share of company’s income that goes to labor has dropped 4.5% in the past 20 years.

If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000. In the 1970s the top 1 percent received 8% of total income while today they receive 18%. Middle class income, adjusted for inflation, fell 7% in the past decade. The need for greed destroys our free market system because the workers can’t be good partners in the consumer sector.

The true takers are those that have the economic power to modify the system to benefit them. They cry about pennies to the poor while they push millions of dollars’ responsibility for operating the government onto the backs of their fellows. Enough never seems to be enough. Reiterating FDR’s point, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

LB_Rule

More on this topic at Mother Jones’ 12 Charts to make your blood boil.

Okay rude cellphone user, we surrender. Read about the customer holding up the line who when confronted had the nerve to say, “Er, excuse me? I’m on the PHONE?”

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Listen children all is not lost

In this edition: Sorry in advance for 2,000 words.  Whoa-oh “We can make it happen, We can change the world now, We can save the children, We can make it better” and other dreams I have. More labeling on products, less labeling on ideas. Saying goodbye to the 9-11 era–too soon?

Saturday In The Park

Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July
People talking, people laughing
A man selling ice cream, Singing Italian songs

Can you dig it (yes, I can) 
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday

Another day in the park, You’d think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, really smiling,
A man playing guitar, Singing for us all
Will you help him change the world
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For today

Slow motion riders, Fly the colors of the day
A bronze man still can, Tell stories his own way
Listen children all is not lost, All is not lost
Oh no, no

Funny days in the park, Every day’s the Fourth of July
People reaching, people touching,
A real celebration, Waiting for us all
If we want it, really want it

Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For the day…

– Written by Robert Lamm, performed by Chicago, 1972

8 of the 10 songs on Chicago V, the band’s 4th studio album, were written by Robert Lamm who was having an enormous creative surge at that time. Keyboardist Lamm performs the vocals, backed by bassist Peter Cetera. (The album is number V not IV by virtue of the album Chicago Live at Carnegie Hall.) We in Chicago at the time assumed it was about Grant Park in our fair city, but in reality the song’s inspiration, apparently like some brands of salsa, came from New York City and Central Park. Lamm came home from a day in the park inspired by what he’d taken in and wrote the song. Lamm was born in Brooklyn and his family had moved to Chicago when he was 15, so much of his identity might have been tied to his old home town.

Chicago was (and is–they still tour) an amazing band. Multiple vocalists, wide-ranging influences, the ability to incorporate rhythmic and textural complexity into 3 minute pop songs, and the tasty musical choices they favored. The early albums also explore the questions that were being asked in the late sixties and early seventies and to many degrees, today. Another song, Dialogue (parts I and II), from Chicago V portrays a conversation between two young people–one is socially conscious and the other is more or less blindly complacent.

Ultimately, a song like Saturday in the Park is about hope and the ability to rise above daily conflict to embrace joyful living. Friends, history will portray the first decades of this century as time when hope and joy were severely challenged. If we could only recapture this point in time, when change and hope were embraced not denigrated as meaningless slogans, then we might be able to break on through to the other side–and really move forward.

Chicago’s Dialogue (parts I and II) explodes musically at the end with repetitions of:

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better

Before continuing, get some inspiration watching this video. Guitarist Terry Kath’s Telecaster work, the rhythmic emphasis the horns add, the interplay of the vocals, the final gospel-tinged finale. Awesome. Note the “natural” haircuts (probably done by girlfriends or in the mirror) and the ubiquitous facial hair, hallmarks of the early 70s.

While not overselling the meme of inscrutable oriental wisdom, this story illustrates perspective. When President Richard Nixon made his groundbreaking visit to Communist China in 1972, he asked Premier Zhou Enlai what he thought about the French Revolution (1789). He replied: “Too soon to tell.” Similarly, we have to wonder how we can put society-shaking events like 9-11 and Great Recession into context with our long-term post-war economic boom, our continuous technological advances, and our current place as a world-leading nation. Is it too soon to tell?

I know this. We are not the same people we were before September 11, 2001. We fear more and we expect less and get it.

America went into a defensive crouch. A response to protect ourselves at any cost was triggered. We suspended our national ideals by:

  • Agreeing to government measures that eliminated the privacy of email and telephones.
  • Creating a large and over-powerful security bureaucracy and gave them the funds to cast a wide net that included much of American’s personal business when looking for bad guys.
  • Torturing terror suspects and publicly defending the notion through the Executive Branch.
  • Running a secretive prison in Baghdad where we abused and tortured Iraqis.
  • Violating all notions of due process for prisoners in our custody with “wartime” exclusions.
  • Re-electing George W. Bush even after he burned a government surplus and lied us into a war for the sake of his and few of his associates misguided ideology.

Following that, the American people were so trusting that we gave financial institutions free rein to gamble our wealth away and paid dearly when the housing and stock market collapses ravenously digested our home equity and nest eggs. We believed the notion that Afghanistan would be a better place to spend blood and treasure than Iraq (correct answer: neither). Then, we gave enough attention and credence to the Tea Party and its ignorant old fart notions that they became a political force that stripped the government of tools to manage the economy, take care of infrastructure, set national priorities, tax appropriately, or do just about anything else that exceeds the import of renaming a rural post office.

Having 20/20 hindsight, I can see that we should never have let airplanes fly into towers symbolic of American enterprise. While I feel sorry for the passengers they were really the only ones who could save themselves. And I think it’s even money that Flight 93 was shot down by the US regardless of the heroic tales that we’ve been told. Intercepting hi-jacked planes may be one of the only lessons we have learned. The financial industry is bigger than ever and more consolidated (if too big to fail then, they are really, really too big to fail today). No laws have replaced the Glass-Steagall Act and the taxpayer-revived financial sector can return to gambling when it deems it sufficiently profit-worthy. The fear and sense of retribution we followed into Iraq and Afghanistan returns anew as we flirt with boots on the ground involvement in Syria supporting rebels that will likely install Islamic rule and join the anti-American Middle East factions.

Today we are shocked that the NSA gets our phone and even e-mail records just by asking. But it should be “shocked” in the sense of Captain Renault’s shock in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” Croupier: “Your winnings, sir.” And while it is likely that the metadata only contains who we called and how long we spoke, and in parallel efforts who we e-mailed and cc’d, it violates the established principles of evidence gathering by casting a net far too wide to meet the 4th Amendment standards:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The acceptance of the NSA intrusions ignores another piece of historical perspective. J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI from its inception in 1935 to his death in 1972. During the time, he used FBI-gathered information to blackmail politicians and public figures like Martin Luther King. Today we may trust the government to be doing the right thing with that data–or maybe we don’t–but are we protected from all possible futures?

Now the hope and change part.

First, we must abandon all thinking based solely on identification with left and right, liberal and conservative. Oh I know, partisanship is a hard habit to break and labels have become so commonplace that we take them for granted. For example, as a progressive, I react against the Keystone XL pipeline. (Won’t be our oil, environmentally dangerous, yada yada.) But the truth is that there will be economic stimulus there. The effect will be somewhere in between the projections of the antis and the pros. Tar sand oil is coming, like it or not. The pipeline has risks but if we use the best possible engineering–sourced on-shore not off–then we could greatly benefit from a big step forward in technologies. There are union and non-union blue-collar jobs to gain, American manufactured pipeline and construction equipment. We could make it work. So if the president (through the Congress) comes out with a plan that trades the pipeline for higher coal-burning emission standards, then we get an incremental improvement that can not be gained in any other way. In a successful negotiation, both parties have to walk away with the sense of having gained something.

As a progressive, I support the idea of whistle-blowers like Manning and Snowden. They do a service by sparking the debate about important issues. But there are two sides to those stories and critical thinking is needed. We should take care in condoning the unauthorized sharing of classified information and we shouldn’t necessarily think we see the whole picture when the information shared is from someone who is struggling with perspective in their personal lives. If you want to see how the unauthorized sharing can work out, in this case sharing by virtue of outing a CIA operative, check out Valerie Plame’s memoir or the excellent film made from it, Fair Game.

Second, let’s abandon support for the politicians who live on uncompromising ideology. In the press and in our discussions with each other the intransigent need to be marginalized. Intransigence is antithetical to a governing structure like ours. Maybe we need a compromise rating system? Factor in voting across party lines? This week’s failure to pass a farm bill is an excellent example of the ideological problem and where it leads.

Lee Hamilton, once a Democratic Congressman from conservative Indiana, served 34 years in the House. He is now director of the Center on Congress at IU.  His common sense hits uncommon sentiments. See this article describing the difference between a functional government and the one we have today. Hamilton writes, “They can be politicians at election time, but once they reach Capitol Hill our Constitution expects them to be policy makers and legislators. So do ordinary Americans. The partisan maneuvering, the compulsion to send a message rather than legislate, and the lack of solid accomplishment have driven Americans’ disdain for Congress to record highs.”

Third, we need to lobby to change the direction of the War on Terror and exclude the military from the picture. For internal security, we should use the FBI and law enforcement to find those who would do us harm at home. The intelligence apparatus should be directed to locate and track our enemies and help us to predict their level of danger. Today we gather so much that individual pieces of valuable intelligence are swamped with nonsense. Terror groups are not foreign armies, they are small groups of people engaged in criminal action. Of G. W. Bush’s many, many missteps, this was one of the worst–framing our responses in terms of war. Let’s reward those who move the conversation from War to Law and push all the hawks and chicken-hawks into the wilderness of outmoded ideas.

It may be too soon to tell, but my sense is it’s time to move on. We screwed up the first decade pretty thoroughly. It’s time to right some wrongs and start moving forward. These are some of my ideas, feel free to add yours.

LB_Rule

I don’t do a lot with Twitter but I’ve been enjoying comic and Viewpoint host John Fugelsang’s feed. See it all here https://twitter.com/JohnFugelsang and sample some of it here:

– And God looked upon his Creation & saw that it was Good. And then His Creation created Anthrax, Auto-tune & Turducken.

– If men could get pregnant not only would abortion be legal, locker room schmucks would brag over who’s had more.

– Wow, Paula Deen hates other races almost as much as she hates everyone’s arteries. Paula Deen is so upset that she’s on the verge of a 2nd facial expression.

– I would call the Congressional #IRS hearings pure theater but actual theater creates jobs. Darrell Issa questioning your ethics is like Michael Lohan questioning your parenting skills.

– Actually quite a few straight people would love it if legalized Gay Marriage could somehow destroy their own. (LB: Ouch. Hmm. Ouch.)

– #NSA notices suspicious 1st-ever rise in sentences that include both “Kim Kardashian” and “Labor.”

– Well I’d hate government too if I totally sucked at it.

– Like Grand-dad always said, “Sex is like pizza. Even when it’s bad, you still have to pay for it.”

LB_Rule

Signs of what’s going on in America. I live in a suburb with a median income of $69,000. The new businesses are all “we buy gold” stores, thrift shops, dollar stores, and banks. The middle class is apparently selling grandma’s rings, wearing another family’s hand-me-downs, supporting Chinese too-cheap-to-be-believed goods, or paying for bank services that used to be free.

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Filed under Complaining, Politics, Social Issues

You can go your own way

In this edition: Don’t care? Repeal Obamacare. I had to pause the video and count Buckingham’s fingers because there just seemed to be too many. The Ryan Budget is one bad mother– watch your mouth! Shaft! GOP Hypocrisy! Hey it rhymes! Moon, June, Loons…

Go Your Own Way

Loving you
Is it the right thing to do?
How can I ever change things
That I feel?

If I could
Baby I’d give you my world
How can I
When you won’t take it from me

You can go your own way…

Tell me why
Everything turned around
Packing up
Shacking up’s all you wanna do

You can go your own way
You can call it
Another lonely day
You can go your own way.

– Written by Lindsey Buckingham, performed by Fleetwood Mac

Go Your Own Way was the lead single released from the 1977 classic, Rumours, from Fleetwood Mac. It was the group’s first top ten hit in the U.S. It is believed to be about the relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Other big airplay songs from the album were Don’t Stop, Dreams, and You Make Loving Fun.

The members of Fleetwood Mac were experiencing emotional upheavals while recording Rumours.  Mick Fleetwood (the 6′ 5″ drummer) was going through a divorce. Bassist John McVie was separating from his wife, keyboardist Christine McVie. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were ending their relationship of 8 years. Because they were trying to capitalize on the success of their previous album, Fleetwood Mac, and maintain career momentum, the band had to keep their personal lives separated from their professional lives in the studio, which must have been quite a feat.

Many of us were unimpressed by Fleetwood Mac and the soft rock turn that followed the addition of Nicks and Buckingham. Still, Lindsey is definitely an artist of high caliber. He’s unaffected, self-taught, and doesn’t read music. But due to his lack of training he invented the playing styles and tunings that would enable his “orchestral” expression. Check the video below for solo work in concert from 2006.

The excitement for rock fans at the time came from the British New Wave with musicians like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, Graham Parker and their American counterparts Blondie and Talking Heads. But it would be silly to look down on a group that has sold more than 50 million albums and features veterans of the 60s British blues scene as well the outstanding finger-picking of Buckingham.

That would be like a politicians looking down on the 50+ million Americans who voted for Obama last year and reaffirmed their comfort with his policies, and still going their own way. (Progressives, don’t jump at that “comfort” statement. It leads to my point, but doesn’t take into account the flaws of his policies on drones, energy, etc.) Yet a political party continues to flaunt “the will of the people” and return again and again to minority POVs.

This is what I’m talking about: Attached to the Senate Budget Bill last week was an amendment from Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s that would repeal Obamacare. By itself, that may be understandable since campaign promises have been made. Still, it was the !36th! repeal attempt in the Senate. The House has similar numbers of bills, passed with the Republican majority, but were simply theater as the Democratic Senate would not move the bills forward and in any case, the President would veto repeal.

So what’s the point? It’s kind of a mystery for grown men and women to act that way. Are they so cynical that they think that such displays cement the loyalty of followers? Do they expect a miracle? Divine intervention? Whatever it is, they just can’t quit. They keep holding the votes. They continue to act as though it isn’t settled. The news they didn’t get is that the law was passed, the Supreme Court addressed it, and the voters gave Obama the nod. It’s settled.

Obamacare is certainly not perfect. If you really want to reduce healthcare costs then you create a system where there’s a single payer, (no need for doctors to have large billing staffs), and allow commercial insurers to manage it as not-for-profit entities. And this was never going to fly. So instead, the administration went with the concept that Richard Nixon proposed and the conservative Heritage Foundation filled in 23 years ago. The concept: everybody in.

Most of the alternative plans work well for people who are already in the system. The lack of compassion seen in that camp is rather startling. By advocating for high deductible, lower cost plans for the uninsured they ignore the fact that people won’t go to the doctor if the expense is significant and they are already living paycheck to paycheck as 68% of Americans are. This increases the overall costs in the system by allowing many routine and treatable conditions to become  acute and costly. Not only that, but why should the poor be put in the position of ignoring symptoms and self-imposing a death sentence when other Americans are getting the early treatment they need? Like those that insist that our budgetary woes require cutting Social Security and raising the age for Medicare the lack of human empathy makes one’s skin crawl.

On top of all that, many are motivated by the fact that they believe that it is morally wrong for the haves to provide for the have-nots, even though this type of cooperative social behavior is consistent with both our species and our nation’s history. George Lakoff of framing fame explains that here.

It’s interesting that the GOP has championed clean votes on bills but continues to tack unrelated amendments without consequence.  The programs they publicly decry are privately lobbied for. This article details some of the hypocrisy. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) placed a hold on every single one of the 80 administration appointees who had been cleared for approval by Senate committees, explaining that he thought the Obama administration had a bias against his home state. He feared that defense dollars for tanker aircraft were going to bid and might not flow to his home state.  The senator felt holding up all nominees would place maximum pressure on the administration to ignore other contract bids.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) campaigned against the stimulus, and asked for the funds on behalf of constituents. His vice-presidential run seemed to be revolving around outrage that Obama was cutting $700 billion from Medicare but his budget leaves those cuts intact. He also leaves all the other Obamacare tax provisions in place but without the actual healthcare benefits they were designed to pay for.

The American people really dodged a bullet with that guy. He’s a zealot without a trace of self-reflection and not the leader he claims to be as evidenced by his steadfast dedication to ideology over public opinion. So while his constituents (and the rest of America) support Medicare and Social Security, he wants to shrink them. While the components of Obamacare resonate positively when detailed to the general populace, he wants to abolish it. His idea is that he should not be held accountable to his constituency because he is a leader and a leader changes the polls, not the other way around. The truth, Congressman, is that you are elected to represent your district. You need to act according to their wishes and needs. But, there’s nothing wrong with you attempting to move opinion. It’s just that you need to wait until the polls agree with you before you try to change the laws.

Believe me Congressman Ryan, a 25% maximum tax rate sounds good. You just haven’t told us how we can get there with the benefits and services we currently enjoy. Undefined tax loophole closing has the stench of snake oil. You hide big reductions for food stamps, college tuition aid, child nutrition programs, and other programs that help the least among us by lumping them together in large categories hiding the detailed costs.  In addition to the millions who would lose insurance from repeal of Obamacare would be the millions you would add to their ranks by cutting eligibility for Medicare. Your idea of premium support is a little wacky. Substitute premium support for a “serial DUI driver” for “85-year-old with health problems” and “car insurance” for “health insurance” and you may have the light bulb go off. Premium support for unattainable coverage means no coverage.

And what is the overriding principle that you stand by to hurt Americans in this way? Tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. The tax cuts, according to the Tax Policy Center and this Washington Post article, create a nearly $6 trillion shortfall over 10 years. Creating a budget that simply cuts revenues and programs that benefit the nation is not that great of an idea. Yet, Ryan is the guru and darling of the right. As H.L. Mencken wrote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

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Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried…

My MO at the Lefty Boomer blog is to feature the lyrics of a classic boomer song that leads to a meditation on politics or social issues. More than that, I would like to help my generation  remember the ideals that they once held so dearly. The music of the sixties and seventies communicated those ideals creating shared experiences for millions of young people. That half of America is ready to vote for Mitt Romney at this point in time shows that the ideals have truly been forgotten. While many of us spoke up against the Vietnam War, Romney was one of the knee-jerk conservatives (or just jerk, come to think of it) that shouted down protesters, cut the hair of hippies, and blindly supported bad government policies. Some things never change. That leads us to:

Reason to Believe

If I listened long enough to you
I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried
Still I look to find a reason to believe

If I gave you time to change my mind
I’d find a way just to leave the past behind
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried
Still I look to find a reason to believe

If I listened long enough to you
I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried
Still I look to find a reason to believe

Someone like you makes it hard to live without
somebody else
Someone like you makes it easy to give
never think about myself

Written by Tim Hardin (1965) recorded by Rod Stewart (1971)

Tim Hardin was a folk singer born in the Pacific Northwest who struggled with drugs, alcohol, and recovery for his whole life, dying at the age of 39 of a heroin overdose. He was a talented musician, singer, and composer whose career was derailed by cycles of addiction.  He also wrote If I Were a Carpenter, an oft-covered and enduring song. Rod Stewart’s raspy vocals served Hardin’s Reason to Believe very well, and early in his career Stewart was performing folk music himself. His early solo albums featured mandolin and the English/Irish folk influences suggested bluegrass to the point that songs have been covered by bluegrass groups.

Rod Stewart is an artist who fell into a near parody of himself as he became more and more stridently flamboyant, but his early music has a kind of intimate warmth that reflects a sense of modesty and sincerity. I recommend that anyone trying to remember his best days listen to Jeff Beck’s Truth album or Every Picture Tells a Story.

The song’s line “Someone like you makes it hard to live without somebody else” needs a little parsing to digest. It’s an acknowledgement that the subject is not worth living with because they “lied, straight-faced, while I cried.” And thus I segue to Mitt Romney.

Considering that bearing false witness is one of the Big 10 (sure it’s only #9 with only ox-coveting following but it’s still top 10!) then I wonder what a religious guy like Romney tells himself when he lies so profusely in public, as he did in the debates. There’s been plenty of fact-checking so I won’t recap that, but there’s a good short list here: http://www.thenation.com/blog/170623/romneys-seven-biggest-debate-lies#

Not everyone acknowledges Romney’s religiosity. In fact, some say he WORSHIPS SATAN. Like this site:

Vote Early and Vote Often

Of course, trying to score political points with the Benghazi tragedy is pretty despicable for a spiritual man. Does Romney really think that someone in the administration would have ignored the consul’s cries for help? It really doesn’t make sense, particularly in the light of heightened sensitivities in campaign season. The claims that the White House was monitoring the situation via drone video is pushed by the right-wing “press” without any proof. Fox News manufactures a false story and then whines that the “Lame Stream Media” doesn’t pick it up. They just don’t sink as low as you do, Mr. Ailes.

As I write this the East Coast is feeling the effects of Frankenstorm Sandy. We wish all those affected the very best. The pundits will  argue about which candidate benefits from the storm. One thing is certain, a major storm can cause $50 to $100 billion in damages. This brings to mind an Abraham Lincoln quote:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves.”

And thus the Federal Government’s involvement in disaster relief. Most people would acknowledge this as a practical fact, but Romney and Ryan are not most people.

At least three times, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have publicly demanded that the federal government only disburse disaster relief funding if Congress agreed to offsetting budget cuts elsewhere. Budget cuts are extremely difficult in the best of circumstances.  What is the likelihood of successful negotiations to restructure spending while an area of the country has been devastated?

GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is the main public face of disaster-relief-held-hostage although Ryan and Romney have both publicly endorsed the position. Last year, after a major tornado and flood struck the U.S., Romney was asked about federal disaster relief funding in one of the GOP primary debates. He suggests that the responsibility should be pushed back to the states, or ideally, to the private sector? Say what? Wouldn’t the private sector be devastated as well? Is he speaking of insurers? Or of federal monies doled directly to profit-centered corporate interests. Watch that special moment here:

Many of us are deeply troubled about the way that the Republican strategy, concocted on Inauguration night in 2009 by a Frank Luntz led group at Washington D.C.’s Caucus Club, appears to be paying off. That most Americans don’t know or don’t care that the GOP slowed recovery, used lies to sabotage Obamacare, voted against jobs bills, refused to act on frozen credit, and turned so far right so as to discuss banning contraception, bombing Iran, eliminating the minimum wage, privatizing Social Security, and throwing future Medicare recipients under the bus is mind-boggling.

Those who have turned to Romney because he sincerely said that the President was failing at home and abroad (when all indicators suggest this is false) and because he looked like a President (from central casting) are apparently unaware that Romney has said many unsavory things since the primary campaigns started last year and adjusted his image from ultra-conservative to moderate for the debates just like, say, hitting a reset button or shaking an Etch-a-Sketch.  Romney’s core values are fluid, like rainwater finding its way to the sewer.

 

So in the worst case scenario don’t move to Canada, consider this: the President simply doesn’t have the power that we think he does. He can’t spend money, he can’t make laws, he can’t repeal Obamacare, or sanction China, or change the tax rates. This is all done by Congress, and the Democrat’s position in Congress is likely to improve. Even if it doesn’t, the Dems have been taught by example in the past four years exactly how the minority can subvert the will of the majority and the GOP strategy will return to bite the obstructionists right in the ass.

And it will be most amusing.

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Somebody give me a cheeseburger

Livin in the USA

Stand back, dietician / Stand back, television / Stand back, politician / Stand back, mortician

Oh, we got to get away / Living in the U.S.A. / Come on baby, Owwww

I see a yellow man, a brown man / A white man, a red man
Lookin’ for Uncle Sam / To give you a helpin’ hand
But everybody’s kickin’ sand / Even politicians
We’re living in a plastic land / Somebody give me a hand, yeah

Doot do do do do doot doot
Living in the U.S.A.
I got to be free
Doot do do do do doot doot
Living in the U.S.A.
Come on try it, you can buy it, you can leave it next week, yeah
Somebody give me a cheeseburger

— Steve Miller, 1968 from his second album, Sailor

Doot do do do do doot doot indeed. If anybody can tell me what this song is about I’d really appreciate it. Is he criticizing the helpin’ hands or the world that needs them? Pro-U.S.A. or ironically smearing it? In any case, I heard it on the classic rock station and it prompted a meditation as I have just returned from two weeks in Poland and am happy to be back livin’ in the U.S.A. I’ll return to that.

Steve Miller’s story is pretty interesting. Born in Milwaukee. His Dad a doctor and recording geek, Mom an amateur singer. Dr. and Mrs. Miller were good friends with Les Paul and Mary Ford and they frequented the Miller home. Later the family moved to the Dallas area and his parents became friends with T-Bone Walker and others in the Dallas music world. He moved to Chicago and became a part of the 1960’s blues scene there, which featured Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy–and he played with them all. He also met blues vocalist and harp player Paul Butterfield. Later he found the San Francisco music scene and moved there.

Miller’s band launched the careers of William Royce “Boz” Scaggs and Ben Sidran. No sad ending for Miller, thankfully. He has recently taught at USC and released a 2010 album of blues covers. Lives in homes in Idaho and Washington with his 3rd wife and 450 guitars.

Which brings me to the Polish trip. [clunk] I attended the wedding of Justyna and Pawel. Justyna the daughter of my wife’s brother Zenon. Except for those two, the rest of the immediate family has relocated to the U.S.A. I spent two weeks there and the contrast was interesting and got me thinking. The European Cup football tournament (co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine) were also on, making for a happy buzz among the Poles. And fantastic wedding. Food on the hour, vodka on the half, over 12 hours of dancing and merriment. We made it home by 4:45 am but the hardcores put two more hours in. My thanks to the Mlody Pare and their parents.

When I was there 22 years ago, the country was just getting started on its trip to Capitalism. A decade earlier, Lech Walesa and Solidarity had successfully forced the government to hold nearly-free elections. In the end the influence of Communism was diminished and the Soviet Union lost its grip on the collar countries it used as a buffer. The people in power stayed in power, e.g. government employed factory directors became the factory owners instead, but the spirit of entrepreneurism started to bubble up and guys like Zenon made a good life owning small stores. Note to Occupy: study Solidarity.

There’s still a lot of private businesses run out of offices and homes. They haven’t consolidated to large companies a la the Walmart cancer so far and most shopping is done in 500 sq. ft. (or smaller) shops. In 1990 the bread store would close at 2:00 and I would say, jeez, if just one guy stayed open until people got off work they could make a lot of money. It’s better now, but the towns mostly close up business by 5:00. Advertising billboards and cloth banners are everywhere (even on private fences), to the point where it’s unsightly overkill. The larger cities are a different story and have large home stores, supermarkets, and malls. I also saw tons of graffiti suggesting that the youth are pretty disenchanted with the state of affairs. Overally unemployment is slightly worse than ours, with a lot of self-employed people, but youth unemployment is at 25%.

In the U.S.A. we see the road signs showing us the benefits of the ARRA. Over there, it’s EU money. The European Union is helping to build roads and bridges and signs were everywhere. I really got the feeling that the Poles were in a transitional stage that would lead them to being on par with any of the western European countries. English isn’t spoken commonly in the countryside, but I had no trouble in Krakow. The dollar went a long way. Things are expensive by Polish standards but to Americans getting a full meal for 5 bucks or a 4-star hotel room in a tourist destination for $175 dollars was pretty sweet. Income there is around $12,000 per year for a nurse, $9,000 per year for a mechanic or postman.

I sincerely hope they ride the prosperity forward and manage the societal illnesses of unfettered capitalism that we choke on daily. Which finally brings me to my first point. I rode on the airline LOT, Polskie Linie Lotnicze. It is 68% government-owned but ran as a private business with a balance sheet approach that caused it to recently cancel popular flights from Chicago to Krakow. The seats were cramped and the padding minimal. I was afraid I’d broken something down there after the 9 hour flight (other boomer men may sympathize with the loss of personal padding in the ass area as we age). The service was acceptable but not exceptional. My vegetarian meal request did not make its way from the travel agent’s office to the flight crew. I had to argue about not taking the chicken dinner. Like Bobby Dupea in Five Easy Pieces, “Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven’t broken any rules.”

The week before I’d flown on United Express to and from San Antonio and those planes had more legroom than the long haul flight from LOT. Of course, for a healthy premium you could fly Business Class and get a wider chair, WITH padding, and legroom. So the point of the story is that the marketplace should be driving quality of experience at LOT (or AA or United etc.) to entice passengers. But in a world where wages are flat and expenses are rising than we end up taking whatever they serve us to save a buck and get stuck with sore butts and grumpy attitudes and vows “never to fly that airline again!”

I can’t help but think that companies that focus only on the profit motive and treat the customer like dirt do just fine. There is no visible invisible hand guiding the marketplace. It’s them 10 and us 0. Our self-respect is thrown out the window because we’re given the meager dregs instead of a few extra percent of the CEO pay and like herds of sheep we obediently climb the walkway to the Mexican country bus amenities of the airline company.

But after all that griping, I’m very happy to be home. Eating the food I want to, sleeping in the bed I’m used to, and facing the mountain of work that awaited my return.

—————–

So the Supreme Court says that the mandate in the ACA is Constitutional. Son of a bitch. That was a shocker. No time lost turning the conversation to “I promise to repeal Obamacare.” Wait a minute dude, there’s good stuff in there. Some people see it as a victory for Obama, I see it more as a defeat for demagoging (obtaining power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace). I don’t think even the president could stand proudly in front of that baby, but it’s what the politics of the times and the pocketbooks of the special interest groups made it. 

What’s good about it? The Kaiser Family Foundation has done tons of work to simplify the bill but the monster is still a lot to read. This summary helps but it’s lengthy in itself. The administration takes a shot at Obamacare for Dummies with this page at Healthcare.gov.

Here’s what ACA has done for us lately:

  • Insurers are now bound to increased mandatory reporting of administrative data, coverage of children under their parents’ policies until the 26th birthday, strict limits on reasons for discontinuing coverage, and free preventive screening services for adults.
  • Nonprofit insurers faced a new requirement that they maintain a loss ratio of 85% or higher in the large group market and 80% or higher in the small markets in order to take advantage of Internal Revenue Service tax benefits.
  • Tax credits became available to small businesses (25 or fewer employees) to help with employee premium costs and the expansion of Medicare to small, rural hospitals and facilities.
  • Medicare beneficiaries began to receive free preventive care as well as a 50% discount on the cost of covered brand-name prescription drugs to tighten the Medicare Part D coverage gap (doughnut hole), and grants became available to states to develop programs aimed at delaying the onset and reducing the prevalence of chronic conditions in their Medicaid populations.
  • Hospitals also began to feel the impact of ACA this year when the federal government stopped paying states for Medicaid services related to certain hospital-acquired infections – a prelude to the planned reduction in Medicare payments for preventable hospital admissions scheduled to take effect in 2012. However, it’s important to note that HCA, a large for-profit hospital corporation, had a 10% jump in stock prices on the day of the SCOTUS announcement.

2013 will see some more Medicaid money to States to cover preventive care for recipients and additional funding for CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). 2014 is the final year of implementation and lifetime limits and pre-existing condition limits will be gone, state managed insurance exchanges will become a reality, and for-profit insurers will have to limit their profit-taking. The bundling of payment for procedures continues, that’s the provisions that say we won’t pay you for every effing thing you can think of to do to that patient, only the things that constitute good care–and if you screw up hospital, you eat the extra costs.

The mandate is a bitter pill to swallow (chuckle) but what the cons don’t understand is that it’s a protection against the free-loaders who don’t have insurance because they don’t think they get anything out of it–until they need it, can’t pay, and push the costs onto the rest of us. It’s like not buying car insurance and getting in an accident and expecting the community to pay for the repairs.

It’s not easy to keep a country as healthy as it can be, and it works best if everyone has their own responsibility to pay. If we stop caring about it then disease epidemics are more likely and the extreme costs of last-ditch-effort care drain valuable resources from the system. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep their neighbors as healthy as possible.

**********

Many are writing that the Robert’s Ruling will be a plus for the GOP because the mandate was defined as being more like a tax (which I always thought it was) and that now Republicans can run against tax-and-spend liberals (which they would have done in any case) and demagog a tax increase to individuals that doesn’t exist. Oh well, one thing we need to learn to live with is the legions of dumb white people who get manipulated oh so easily by the right wing and their self-serving pro-gun, anti-abortion, phony freedom pitches. Yeah Tea Party, talking about YOU!

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What’s my line? I’m happy cleaning windows.

From Cleaning Windows

By Van Morrison (1982)

Oh, the smell of the bakery from across the street / Got in my nose
As we carried our ladders down the street / With the wrought-iron gate rows

I went home and listened to Jimmie Rodgers in my lunch-break
Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner / And went straight back to work.

Oh, Sam was up on top / And I was on the bottom with the v
We went for lemonade and Paris buns / At the shop and broke for tea
I collected from the lady / And I cleaned the fanlight inside-out
I was blowing saxophone on the weekend / In that down joint.

What’s my line? / I’m happy cleaning windows
Take my time / I’ll see you when my love grows
Baby don’t let it slide / I’m a working man in my prime
Cleaning windows


I let the lyrics roll a little longer than my standard approach (apologies to the copyright holder) but it was important to develop the point. Van Morrison speaks of a man happy cleaning windows, playing saxophone on the weekends, and wringing pleasure out of everyday things like lunch, a tea break, and his enjoyment of a Woodbine smoke. It has a lot of appeal, but I see a huge disconnect between this point of view and the 21st Century American point of view.

We’re trapped in a world of striving. Even at my long-experienced career stage, with retirement hopefully just a few stop lights down the road of life, I have to exceed every expectation in the workplace to have status and rewards. Years of effectively doing your job means nothing,  what you might be able to do if you work a little harder, a little longer, and even a little quieter is what matters.

So I remind myself of the point of view that Morrison nostalgically relates: he’s carefree, content, and open to the day’s adventures. Somewhere between the stress of worrying about work not completed and what was said/not said/heard/not heard on one side; and the simple pleasures of enjoying your time (your rules) on the other;  lies the middle ground where we need to inject meaning into our relentlessly diminishing time on the planet.

Roseanne Barr is running for President. (I wonder if my clunky segues can be made into a drinking game?)  I haven’t been a big fan even though I recognized that her show, Roseanne, was ground-breaking in the portrayal of people with everyday problems. Turn on any TV show depicting modern life today and you’ll see people fantastically successful in their careers, dressed in thousand dollar outfits, driving shiny new cars. Now get out of the house and look to your left and right. Drive into the city and check the bus stops or train platforms. Go to Wal-Mart. Happy people maybe, but not shiny happy people there. Why are we watching these materialistic, selfish, and often whiny TV characters? How is it relevant to us?

Alternet’s Joshua Holland asked Barr that question.

Holland: But why don’t we see more of that? I mean, so many families are struggling you would think that our culture would reflect that once in a while.

Barr: I know. Since the success I had on the Roseanne show I have not been able to replicate that success anywhere. It just fell out of popularity and at the same time being an outspoken women and all that stuff fell out of popularity right around the same time.

JH: It’s a shame for our culture I think that we don’t see regular people dealing with the issues that regular people actually deal with.

RB: I don’t think that would be in the interest of the people who control what goes on here.

Certainly if you want to stimulate consumption then show beautiful people in expensive clothes and environments as the norm. This works conveniently against citizen empowerment. If the ideals we absorb are unattainable we tend to blame ourselves (the residue of the American Puritan Work Ethic) rather than question the ideals. While many would SAY they are unaffected by mere television shows, how many times have they laughed or cried while viewing shows and movies? How many catch-phrases have been launched making us think that resistance is futile? There is an underlying impact to television that needs to be acknowledged. It is a sophisticated culture-bending and product-pushing machine.

The Puritan (or Protestant) Work Ethic, espoused by early industrialists and deeply ingrained in American culture, proposes that 1. Hard work is the main factor in producing material wealth and 2. Hard work is character building and morally good. But while Americans typically spend 40+ years working hard, U.S. government figures from the eighties showed the average savings of a person reaching retirement age is less than $500.  More on happiness and the P.W.E. here.

So in addition to the work we don’t want to do, we should also keep a hand in at the work we do want to do, which will be specific to the individual and their psychic makeup. To follow our bliss, as Joseph Campbell suggested, we have to have to be aware of what makes us happy. In my experience, most people don’t get past searching for what makes them happy. That’s not terrible, it’s way ahead of not wanting or expecting to be happy at all.

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They Want to Coddle the Corporations

A letter to the editor author in my local newspaper wrote:

“There are four major reasons that jobs have been lost and will not return: high corporate tax rates, high labor costs, high litigation costs and high regulatory compliance costs. The emerging economies of China and India are not encumbered by such costs. Without relieving our business sector of the enormous costs imposed by our government we cannot hope to create viable, sustainable, high-tech jobs that can provide families with a reasonable standard of living.”

The concept that we need to allow the U.S. to mirror the economic climate of countries where the per capita income is $6,600 (China) or $3,000 (India) is ludicrous when our income per capita is around $45,000.

So where are the jobs? BLS’ Productivity numbers show that employers need to add workers, but they have fear instead of confidence. This is one of the waste products of the right wing propaganda machine. A graph from the Rachel Maddow show put the economic recovery in perspective, but it goes against the conservative meme that President Obama and the stimulus he proposed are a failure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHZRWGft7s4

The letter was just a regurgitation of the rw propaganda that has only one goal–portray the president’s successes as failures or face political defeat that might just move the country away from being of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. Reducing labor costs, compliance needs (safety), tax burden (gimme a break), and tort reform supports business at the cost of all workers. Why should any business with an ounce of quality, creativity, or ingenuity need to be coddled to that extent? It’s just another effort to transform the middle class into the over-working poor.

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