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

Will your tongue wag so much when I send you the bill?

In this edition: Hi, she’s dazed and I’m confused. TMI on my marriage. E-Z solutions to the marriage/civil union exchanges that frankly, I’m getting a little tired of.

Dazed and Confused

Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true
Wanted a woman never bargained for you
Lots of people talk and few of them know
Soul of a woman was created below.

You hurt and abused tellin’ all of your lies
Run around sweet baby, Lord how they hypnotize
Sweet little baby I don’t know where you’ve been
Gonna love you baby, here I come again.

Every day I work so hard
Bringin’ home my hard-earned pay
Try to love you baby, but you push me away

Don’t know where you’re goin’
Only know just where you’ve been
Sweet little baby, I want you again

Been dazed and confused for so long, it’s not true
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you
Take it easy baby, let them say what they will
Will your tongue wag so much when I send you the bill?

— Jimmy Page, 1969. Recorded by Led Zeppelin

Were you aware that there were copyright issues related to this song? As the story goes, the song was originally written by a musician named Jake Holmes, an American singer-songwriter from San Francisco. Holmes released the song 2 years before the Zeppelin release. Jimmy Page had toured with The Yardbirds–which disbanded in 1968–prior to joining Led Zeppelin.  Holmes’ band had opened for The Yardbirds at a NYC show and Page liked the song so much he decided to “borrow” it. The Yardbirds performed Dazed and Confused in concert but never recorded it as an album track. He brought the song to Led Zeppelin’s first rehearsal and changed the lyrics and melody enough that he thought they’d escape lawsuit. The lawsuit didn’t come until 2010 (!) and was settled by the band out of court, to Holmes’ apparent favor.

Page had begun using a violin bow on the guitar strings with The Yardbirds and the song features his bowed work in the instrumental passages. In the early Seventies the song was a jam staple at concerts, played for as long as 45 minutes.

Holmes was also a jingle writer (owing to a career slowdown). He is credited with the “Be all that you can be” U.S. Army recruitment song from the late seventies and eighties as well as the “Be a Pepper” jingle co-wrote with Randy Newman in 1977. In the 1960s, he was in a folk-music parody duo with his wife and trio with Joan Rivers in the group Jim, Jake and Joan. The clip below is from a movie “Once Upon a Coffee House” from 1964. Holmes on guitar. Clean cut folk kids living at the edge of beatnik sensibility.

***** Fond memory alert ******

Driving with my buddy in my 1961 Pontiac LeMans convertible (probably worth a pretty penny today) listening to Led Zeppelin I on the 4-track tape deck. The car looked a lot like this:


[shudder] And I return from my nostalgic fog…

The song portrays a “somewhat troubled” relationship where women are likened to demonic creatures but sought after anyway. I try to be a 70s guy all cool with women and stuff, but still, as I age, I fight the tendency to become more misogynistic.  One of my major influences in life is Joseph Campbell. He helps explain this:

“Marriage is not a love affair, it’s an ordeal. “

An ordeal in the sense of a difficult or painful experience that severely tests character or endurance. More like walking on coals than a walk in the park. Also from Campbell:

” Committing yourself to anyone, turning your destiny over to a dual destiny, is a life commitment,” and “In marriage you are not sacrificing yourself to the other person. You are sacrificing yourself to the relationship…”

And sacrifice I have (and I’m not so oblivious not to know that my wife would mirror this sentiment). So far I pass the test of character and endurance but I certainly wish it was all easier. Do we not deserve to have our relationships experienced as two pulling together toward the same end? Growing similarly, prioritizing similarly, valuing similarly, and enjoying our unfolding lives together? No, because that’s a bullshit self-delusion that defies any sense of realistic expectation.

Alain de Botton tells us the truth in Religion for Atheists.

“This is a particular priority for secular Americans, perhaps the most anxious and disappointed people on earth, for their nation infuses them with the most extreme hopes about what they may be able to achieve in their working lives and relationships.”

The author’s point in this section of the book is that devout Christian and Jewish marriages are entered into with the idea that there will be limited expectations due to the religious purpose of marriage, to assume an adult position in society and to nurture and educate the next generation. But secular marriage has the expectation of passionate adoration and unending interest and cooperation. Real marriages have friction and boredom and frequently include an underlying current of certainty that a different choice would have yielded better outcomes.

Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote these lyrics for Georgia on my Mind: “Other arms reach out to me. Other eyes smile tenderly. For that peaceful dreams I see, the road leads back to you.” Now that’s romantic hogwash!


I see an enormous irony that same-sex couples become so focused on the idea of marriage when I, for one, cannot dredge sufficient enthusiasm to recommend it to even strangers let alone friends.  I definitely have had a level of fulfillment as a father, and in many ways I’m well taken care of, but it seems like this could have been accomplished without the attendant sacrifice of my own best interests in the interests of the marriage. How much easier it would all be if I were incontestably driving instead of having the steering wheel of life slapped away from my reach.

At the same time, the opposition to same-sex marriage is all dependent on that one word, MARRIAGE. The word is shared by marriages performed in courtrooms and cathedrals. Ironically, Catholicism doesn’t have a Sacrament of Marriage, they have a Sacrament of Matrimony. And marriages performed by judges in courtrooms and by Justices of the Peace in Elvis chapels are rightly civil unions as they are established by civil law.

So how do we break through an impasse where the majority agrees to the idea of civil unions while at the same time many oppose same-sex marriage? Where civil union is considered to be second class to marriage, and where marriage is, unfairly I would say, co-opted by religion to represent church-based weddings?

Here’s 3 possibilities:

1. Call any civil law-based union a Civil Union and give it the same legal status as Marriage. (Instead of being married would a couple be considered unionized??)

2. Peel the word marriage away from its religious claims and consider church unions to be Matrimonies or make up a new word like “God-Cleaved.”

3. Stop worrying about that religious claim to the term “marriage,” U.S. laws are not established in a way that favors one religion over another or over no religion, and allow civil unions to be called marriages.

Of the 3, the last has the easiest implementation. I say we go with that.

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Filed under Marriage and Civil Unions, Music, Religion, Social Issues

And I get my sticks and I go out to the shed…

In this edition: Rumination on work: is all this excellence malarkey worth it? Fond remembrance of a more colorful Chicago. The Idiot’s Guide to Preferring Sequestration  Over Thoughtful Governance–$19.95 at Amazon. Finally, what’s with those bangs, Mish?

Bang the Drum All Day

I don’t want to work
I want to bang on the drum all day
I don’t want to play
I just want to bang on the drum all day

Ever since I was a tiny boy
I don’t want no candy, I don’t need no toy
I took a stick and an old coffee can
I bang on that thing ’til I got blisters on my hand!

When I get older they think I’m a fool
The teacher told me I should stay after school
She caught me pounding on the desk with my hands
But my licks was so hot I made the teacher wanna dance!

Listen to this every day when I get home from work
I feel so frustrated, the boss is a jerk
And I get my sticks and I go out to the shed
And I pound on that drum like it was the boss’ head!

I don’t want to work
I want to bang on the drum all day
I don’t want to play
I just want to bang on the drum all day

— Todd Rundgren (1983)

If anyone were to look back over my life they might find one or two moderately sharp turns but otherwise an easy-to-follow path. Musicians like Woody Guthrie (touched on in the last post) and Todd Rundgren have lives more like a series of lives stitched haphazardly together. Rundgren, turning 65 this June, has been in numerous bands; worked many solo projects; produced  respected albums (including for the New York Dolls, Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, Hall & Oates, Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, Shaun Cassidy, The Tubes, XTC, Cheap Trick, and Halfnelson, the first incarnation of Sparks), scored episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Michael Mann’s Crime Story TV show;  lectured and taught at IU; and pioneered MTV video, computer graphics, quad concert sound, social media, and Internet distribution of music (Patronet). He also helped raise Liv Rundgren, who later changed her name to Tyler (Steven being her bio-dad). GJ! on that.

Without a doubt, the song represents the duality of our lives as we run (mostly) uncomplainingly in hamster wheels of our own design–faced with a heavy load of responsibility, routine, and financial needs while we occasionally pause and are struck with the understanding that our human spirits demand more. More love, more peace, more warmth, more laughter, and more reflection. The song’s protagonist handles it with a drum workout–but more than that the song creates a sense of transcendent  exuberance. There is still life there for the claiming if we can give ourselves the freedom to enjoy it.

The whole line of thought was triggered by two things. First, the nagging sense that I need to have more fun in my life and that I will not live forever. Second, a bit of an epiphany listening to a caller to a radio station in Chicago. Making a short story long, Dick Kay (the host of Back on the Beat and an ex-newsman), Alton Miller (political consultant and educator), and Monroe Anderson (journalist) were discussing the “good ol’ days” of Chicago politics and newspapers  in the 1970s and 1980s. Chicagoans of a certain age will certainly remember Council Wars, Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, Mike Royko,  Chicago Daily News (RIP 1978), and other long-lost icons of Chicago. The host and guests were drowning in nostalgia relating their stories of the halcyon heydays of hard-drinking reporters and outrageous political personalities. The caller made the point that back then, it wasn’t only the news industry that thrived on quirky personalities and a sense of personal independence (my words), but that even the workers at the supermarket he worked at as a kid were like an extended family sharing history and hilarity. Then he said, “it’s not like nowadays, when going to work is like being in the Army.” Bam, that hit the nail on the head. We are so employment-insecure that we’ve evolved the workday (and often the evenings) into a demonstration of continuous self-sacrifice. We’re like those stupid motivational posters of the soccer player throwing himself in front of the locomotive to save the shot from scoring (if, indeed, such posters existed). We chase a corporate-serving ideal of excellence but often live something more like despair.

The wisdom of Mike Royko:
“Contrary to popular belief. It’s much wiser to take money from the poor than the rich.”
(Seems like Republicans got that memo.)
And Royko hilariously tells us how to cure a hangover here.

So while I don’t want to beat on the drum like it was my boss’ head , (I LIKE my boss), I do think that Americans have largely lost their sense of self in deference to the need to be ideal workers. As recently departed C. Everett Koop once told sham interviewer Ali G, he could guarantee 100% that he (Ali G) would die and that everyone knows they will die. So we need to make sure that before that happens, we take the time to live.


Reading back on that relatively recent Chicago history brought to mind how Harold Washington’s fight against racism in Chicago and an entrenched political structure closely parallels President Obama’s fight against those in the House who seem to insist that he has no legitimacy. I found this article making the comparison. One big difference is that Washington’s first term was troubled by an Aldermanic block of 29 that would overrule his coalition of 21. Obama began with a majority in the House and Senate allowing him to get some legislation passed (when conservative Dems would join him to defeat Republican filibusters). Washington’s second term was a 25 to 25 split with himself as the deciding vote. Sadly Washington died early in that term. With the Tea Party House uprising in 2010, 60 new ultraconservatives were elected by virtue of having a single trait: anti-Obama extremism. Obama had little opportunity to enact policy after that great American misstep.

History will not treat the obstructionists well. (Yes I maintain my juvenile sense of justice learned from Marvel comics read at impressionable ages.) If the history books don’t take the Tea Party to task then it means that the oligarchs are writing them (and they are certainly doing that today).  In the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Congress willingly manufactured a lost decade by turning obstinacy into high art and dedicating themselves heart and soul to austerity even while slow-growing European nations disproved its benefits.  Fiscal austerity deflates economic activity causing lower tax revenues and higher social welfare payments (for unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps) and this leads to higher, not lower, deficits. What they sell as good for the country is only good for forcing us deeper into the muck and mire still plaguing us from the Bush Recession. And now we have Sequestration.

The Sequester was designed to be a policy so stupid that nobody would want to see it enacted. However, Obama and the Democrats greatly underestimated the capacity of their Tea Party opponents to act stupidly. Now Republicans back the Sequester cuts with the extreme Right-Wing being the tail wagging the dogs of the GOP middle (currently frightened into hiding). The Right’s cries of RINO and the billionaires’ money backing the Tea Party scares the bejeezus out of anyone that might actually consider voting across party lines and for the good of the country. The Sequester cuts will shrink government and that’s a simple thing their simple minds can get around. So instead of attacking waste, fraud, and abuse they attack all spending. And instead of getting to the heart of budget problems they force government agencies to cut not unnecessary programs but everyday staff because this is a part of their budget easily adjusted.

Almost everything related to the government is “stimulus.” Laws designed to give industries breaks are stimulus. Tax breaks to individuals and corporations are there to stimulate one behavior over another. Building an aircraft carrier is stimulus, sending money to schools is stimulus, building a bridge is stimulus, hiring an IRS agent is stimulus. We pool our money together to buy or pay for these things and in turn money flows out, workers spend paychecks and pay taxes, and the economy chugs along. Removing that money haphazardly is bad, and stupid, policy.

The annual federal deficit is dropping–see the graph below. The first and best approach to getting the budget in line with revenue is to increase economic growth, which means stimulating job formation and tax revenues–more jobs to generate revenues to pay down the debt.

Will the sequestration cuts result in 750,000 jobs lost and a .6% drop in GDP as some maintain? Will FDA cuts threaten food safety? Air Traffic Control cuts cause delays? Will talented government workers head for the door stinging from lost pay on top of hiring and wage freezes? I guess we all stay tuned. Meanwhile, the Dems really ought to stop using this as a hammer to pound their opponents with and take the high road of information over scare tactics.


News has a very short shelf-life these days. So I can’t help but feel we’ve already moved on from the Academy Awards. Still, I really enjoyed Argo star John Goodman’s rendition of Skyfall.


And I had no problem with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Best Picture presentation, but her bangs… I just don’t know.


The hand-off to Michelle via big video screens seemed to amuse the in-theater presenter, Jack Nicholson.


And if you can stand the smirky bastard, FoxNews host Sean Hannity loses control of his show and raises his big chin unprotected–but Congressman Ellison misses the K.O. by a wide mark.

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That side was made for you and me.

In this edition: The other side of the fence–one group’s liberty is the infringement of another’s liberty. Quite a conundrum. Everything old is new again as the oligarchs expose themselves, figuratively. Drawing a line between child labor and right to work laws.

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway;
I saw below me that golden valley;
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

– Words and Music by Woody Guthrie (1940)

Purists will dispute that 1940 date since history seems a little vague on when to credit the writing of that song. We’ll just pick this date and go with it. The date has some meaning since it stands as the watershed between the extraordinary trials of the Great Depression and the more or less unified “greatest generation” postwar American identity.

This is NOT a boomer song (no, I am not being defensive, just putting it in perspective lol). It’s from the previous generation and relates to the generation before that, the boomers’ grandparents’ generation. This generation was passing as the boomer generation found a voice seeking social change in the sixties and early seventies. The boomers were most likely to have heard the sanitized version of the song including just the first 3 verses, perhaps even sung in grade school or endured in an elevator or on workplace Muzak.

It came to my mind following an NPR piece on the publication of House of Earth. The novel was written by Woody Guthrie and has only recently been published by Johnny Depp’s new publishing imprint at HarperCollins named “Infinitum Nihil.” Depp’s publishing partner, historian and author Douglas Brinkley, tracked the lost novel down after stumbling across a reference while doing research. I have not read it yet but plan to–it sounds like a powerful exploration of life in the 1930’s Dust Bowl and the economic inequity produced by the sudden reversal of fortunes in that era. It also has sex, lefty politics, and a man negotiating the enactment of his dreams amid difficulties, including lack of spousal faith.

A couple of Guthrie quotes:

“There’s a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you have traveled and makes you travel it again. Sometimes when I hear music I think back over my days – and a feeling that is fifty-fifty joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shapes in my mind.”

“The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine.”

Guthrie’s life story reads like 5 ordinary life stories. His daughter (from a 3rd marriage if that tells us anything) keeps archival information at including an unapologetic biography tracking his Oklahoma birth in 1912 to his death of  long-undiagnosed Huntington’s Disease in 1967, just months before son Arlo released his classic album and draft-dodger “how-to”, Alice’s Restaurant.

I call attention to the last 4 verses of This Land. Caught up in the myth-history of Americana we tend to forget that the oligarchs–the small group of wealthy families and individuals that want to run our country–had moved against workers 100 years ago, employing Pinkertons, police, and even the National Guard to break up union demonstrations with beatings, imprisonment, and even shootings.

With the game stacked in their favor, those in control of industry and finance enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom in the 1920s. Then, as in the run up to the 2007-2008 crash, investors ignored any economic signs that were less than optimistic and rode a dangerous aura of invincibility, over-investing and speculating in stocks. Prices were inflated and businesspeople succumbed to the illusion of a robust economy. In the twenties a dollar would leverage ten in stocks. Because of greed, the whole economy came down on their heads, leaving workers to live with little support in a world where 25% were unemployed and another 25% underemployed.

Eighty years later the same aura of invincibility (driven by the same bad impulse: greed) drove the banks and investors to use similar leveraging, trading risky mortgages bundled into securities. The demand for the investments fueled lending which, with low-interest rates, fueled the housing boom and speculative purchases by buyers in the market who wrongly assumed prices would rise indefinitely. Unfettered free market capitalism, favored by so many these days, inevitably leads to a fall caused by greed.

Effective federal regulation and a labor force cognizant of the need for equity and justice are the balancing forces against greed. Yet, the mood is for less regulation and many of the masses eat their cold gruel and and say thank you; assigning god-like characteristics to the rich and powerful. The top 1% of earners’ real wages grew 8.2% from 2009 to 2011 while the real annual wages in the bottom 90% lost 1.2%. So many are willing to attribute this to some sort of moral superiority instead of understanding that the deck has been stacked against the average worker.  Forbes doesn’t tell us that 40% of the billionaires on their list received a start on their billions from wealth gained from family or spouses.

Certainly every regulation needs to be evaluated for its need and effectiveness, but those financing the candidates who seek to repeal all regulation are the oligarchs who would benefit from reduced legal constraints the most. Those building “defenses” against the equalizing power of unions are interested in only one thing: silencing the voice of the worker. Their reduction in labor costs is our loss of a living wage.

Union workers made up 32% of the workforce in 1953, 20% in 1983, 13% by 2007. The number will have dropped even more today since the economy continues to hemorrhage public sector jobs, often unionized.  In 1933, the number of labor union members was around 3 million. A decade before it had been 5 million. History repeats.

An argument against unions and against minimum wage regulation is that it drives up the cost of labor. To this I say good! I’m increasingly convinced that the answer to getting back some of the 5% of GDP that has moved from workers to investors and owners (and often from there to offshore tax shelters) is to attack the wage issue from the bottom up.

But does the higher labor costs leads to higher product costs argument even hold water? I think we have to think in terms of the unit price of labor. For example, if at the hot dog stand the owner is forced by a minimum wage increase to pay an additional $1.75 per hour per employee. That employee works a 4 hour lunch shift where he prepares and serves 240 hot dogs  (4 hours of a hot dog every 3 minutes–conservative numbers). This adds just 3 cents per hot dog to the labor costs. Now that 3 cents can be made up in any number of ways including efficiency. That concept of unit price of labor applies up and down the line. If the factory owner trades the union’s higher wages for the promised higher productivity of union standards then it’s a fair trade.

The auto unions, seeing the need to negotiate, made concessions to the manufacturers. This kind of common sense approach can work in all cases where the time-aggregated pay and benefits of workers exceed the necessities in changing marketplaces. Higher paid workers don’t hinder an economy, they benefit it because they are the drivers of demand. If we can learn one thing from the last 30 years, let it be this: demand is the driver of a robust economy, not supply.

How far would the oligarchs go? In 1910 there were 1.5 to 2 million workers in American factories that were 15 years old or younger. Hard to believe? “Businesses liked to hire children because they worked in unskilled jobs for lower wages than adults, and their small hands made them more adept at handling small parts and tools.”  Facing the outrage of ordinary people–and seeing pictures like the ones below–Congress passed the Keating-Owens Act that established the following child labor standards: a minimum age of 14 for workers in manufacturing and 16 for workers in mining; a maximum workday of 8 hours; prohibition of night work for workers under age 16; and a documentary proof of age. Sounds like it errs on the side of the employers, but in a display of social irresponsibility this law was later ruled unconstitutional on the ground that congressional power to regulate interstate commerce did not extend to the conditions of labor. We can guess who had purchased those judges.

textile2 textile1

No, I don’t propose that a return to child labor is imminent. Instead, I’m trying to raise the issues that this is how far the greedy have gone in the past, that human nature hasn’t changed in the past 100 years, and that these same impulses still live in the sociopaths who guide large parts of the energy industry, financial firms and banks, and corporations like Walmart and GE.

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We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other.

In this long-overdue post: Lincoln and Obama share a house divided. American reunification: Will we ever, ever, ever get back together? White guilt or long-overdue success? Killing us softly with Kardashians. Michelle Obama is real.


Is it getting better? Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blame.

You say,  one love, one life
When it’s one need,
In the night.
One love, we get to share it
Leaves you baby, if you don’t care for it.

Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love,
And you want me to go without.

Well it’s too late, tonight,
To drag the past out into the light.

We’re one, but we’re not the same,
We get to, carry each other, carry each other

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head.

Did I ask too much? More than a lot.
You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got.
Well we hurt each other. Then we do it again.

You say, love is a temple, love a higher law.
You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl.
And I can’t be holding on to what you got,
When all you got is hurt.

One love, one blood, one life,
You got to do what you should.
One life, with each other,
Sisters, brothers.

One life, But we’re not the same,
We get to,
Carry each other.
Carry each other.

– by U2 (1991)

The song One was composed during a session in Berlin for the album Achtung Baby and the single was released to benefit AIDS programs. The song was recorded at Hansa Studios (unrelated to the Hansa Foundation in the Lost milieu) in the period of German Unification. In 1989, negotiations between the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG/West Germany) produced a Unification Treaty, uniting the country in 1990 and returning Berlin to the status of a single city (the Berlin Wall had been constructed in 1961). So one shade of meaning for One is that historical event. Another shade of meaning is that the band was struggling with Bono and the Edge wanting to bring in European electronic and industrial sounds into the songs while bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. resisted. As they tell the story, the coming together of this song reassured the band that they could still successfully evolve their songs in studio jams and that the process could still produce good work.

If we have some level of awareness, we sometimes catch the universe beaming concepts to us from multiple directions. In this case, I was thinking about a song that would suggest post-election American reunification and found that the song had meaning in that way. Recent discussions I’d seen about why we (deservedly) care so much about the people of Newtown or those devastated by Hurricane Sandy were touching on the concept of oneness as Americans. (And the literature of spirituality expands that to the literal oneness of mankind–I save you from falling over the cliff because deep down I have the knowledge that you and I are one.)  Meanwhile, a book I’d picked up, “The Invention of the Jewish People” by Shlomo Sand, cast light on the ways that invented history and national fantasies produce personal identities intertwined with national identities often to bad ends. All gave food for thought about where we can go from here.

The election season was certainly bitter. The only way past it was through it–one insulting and obnoxious ad, robocall, and soundbite at a time. In my world, a vote for Romney was not a vote for the economic success of America as Romney’s campaign portrayed it to be. It was instead a brick in the wall of a country furiously dividing into the haves and have-nots. The classic Republican pro-business positions are all being carried forward by the New Democrats like Clinton and Obama while progressive ideas float around without impact and the GOP devolves, bound to some strange and half-realized philosophy of makers and takers.  The refutation of that Randian BS and the attacks on “You didn’t build that” is so easy that devoting even free and abundant pixels to it here seems wasteful.

Simply put, if you had a group of people who insisted on supporting their own subgroup factions instead of the good of the whole group you could expect less success.   “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” as Abraham Lincoln eloquently quoted in a speech accepting the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator in 1858. His single point was that looking forward, the states would have to be all free or all slave-owning because the issue was too critical to remain a sovereign decision of the States as his opponent Stephen Douglas (not Michael Douglas, who was just a child at that time) proposed. The anti-slavery North would never be able to turn a blind eye to slavery in Southern states, especially in light of their acceptance of ex-slaves as full citizens in the North.

Lincoln’s quote is from the gospel of Mark, but an expanded reiteration occurs in Matthew. The always-poetic King James Version gives us “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” And this is the challenge we face–letting our differences lead to our desolation instead of to the long and rewarding American mosaic that we enjoyed in the days before bitter divisiveness entered the mainstream through propaganda mass media and AstroTurf appeals to the uninformed.

It seems that now, fifty years after the federal government began to get serious about equality for all Americans, the vestiges of the Old South and State’s Rights have resurfaced due to a near Great Depression economic crash and the election of a black President. It’s part and parcel of the conflict around regulating guns, the overly-simplistic maker/taker dichotomy, presidential citizenship and scholarship, healthcare infighting, and widening American economic inequality.

President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural speech found Lincoln’s theme:

“Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.”

The U2 song has an interesting twist, the lyrics aren’t HAVE TO, NEED TO, or GOT TO carry each other, they say GET TO carry each other.


In discussion boards the theme sometimes comes up that lefties just like Obama because he’s black and that we wouldn’t give such support to a white Democrat. As a white person, I think there’s some truth in that. For 50 years we’ve believed and proselytized the idea that all people are equal regardless of the color of their skin. Obama proves that the majority of Americans are on the same wavelength in that way. So I celebrate the fact that we’ve made this progress and I celebrate his accomplishment. If the candidate in 2007 had been Hillary and she was President then I might give her a little leeway as the first female president. After the sheer lunacy of the choices made under GW Bush and the gang that couldn’t shoot straight I would probably celebrate Michael Dukakis as the best ever if he had run and won.


Sorry Gov. Dukakis.

At a party last weekend we peripherally spoke a little politics (it’s just such a delicate issue these days!). Once again, I am surprised that people didn’t know the truth as well as they knew the propaganda. One said of Obama, “He wasn’t a lawyer, was he?” Yeah dude, he worked for a big law firm that did some work for the Justice Department. That’s where he met Michelle. “Is she a lawyer?” Un-huh…. you didn’t know that? Guess that didn’t jive with the “community organizer who never worked a day in his life” meme. Another comment, “he raised taxes when he promised he wouldn’t.” Well, not exactly, we lost a temporary reduction in Social Security taxes that were intended as short-term stimulus in the still weak recovery. Otherwise, you kept your Bush tax cuts for your income under $450k.


So I don’t think Obama is what’s wrong with America. I think that the insanity of our fascination with style and celebrity is. Check this shoe out:


This is where America falters. Women, don’t be fooled. This is not attractive, will not make YOU attractive, and will probably lead to long-term orthopedic problems. Steve Madden, you should be ashamed.

More proof of the insanity? Click here.  Sears discovers you can make a lot of money rubbing a few Kardashians together.


Evidently Michelle doesn’t share Barack’s need for kumbaya. Bless her heart.

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How ignorant is Wayne LaPierre and how blind can NRA supporters be?

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, spoke during an NRA news conference (as opposed to a press conference where questions are taken)  in Washington D.C. today, Friday, December 21, just one week after the heartbreaking Newtown, Connecticut school massacre. The world did not end on the 21st as the Mayan calendar suggested, but my faith in it was seriously shaken.

“Think about it,” said LaPierre,  “We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses, even sports stadiums are all protected by armed security… Yet when it comes to our most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless. And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it.”

So to LaPierre and his soul-mates the way through the crazy chain of gun violence we have been facing is to shoot our way out of it. He blames the entertainment industry, the news media, politicians passing gun-free school zone laws, and a society that hasn’t armed itself against the “monsters” that stalk us. He missed one point though: if these 40 rounds per minute (semiautomatic), 100 round capacity, rapid fire killing machines weren’t available then these monsters would do much less harm.

He suggested the way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun at the ready. Despite the ridiculous yippie-ki-yay adolescence of such thinking, we have to ask, would it help? There are cases where armed civilians and off-duty police have stopped shooters, almost always after the shooting has stopped. There are also these cases:

In August 2012 Jeffrey T. Johnson shot a former co-worker by the Empire State building. The police opened fire on him and Johnson was killed. The police also wounded 9 bystanders–struck by bullets or shrapnel from ricochet. With trained policemen stray shots are commonplace; a study based on New York’s annual firearms discharge reports indicated that officers hit their targets on average just 34% of the time, suggesting that the pistol-packing cowboys that are convinced they will save any situation with their concealed weapon would put themselves and others at great risk.

In 2005, an assailant began shooting in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. A civilian named Brendan McKown confronted the assailant with a licensed handgun he was carrying. McKown did not stop the attacker, he was shot several times and six others were wounded.  (McKown eventually recovered after weeks in the hospital.)

Also in 2005, in Tyler, Texas, a civilian named Mark Wilson fired his licensed handgun at a man on a rampage at the county courthouse. Wilson—who was a firearms instructor—was shot dead by the body-armored assailant, who wielded an AK-47.

No time, no opportunity

When James Eagan Holmes began his July 20, 2012 shooting spree in the Aurora, Colorado theater he began by releasing tear gas canisters. He was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a bullet-proof vest, a ballistic helmet, bullet-resistant leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. He would have been more than a match for any armed moviegoer and in the chaos of that dark and smoky room the opportunity to have stopped the killing of 12 people and wounding of 58 more seems more like a teen boy’s fantasy than an alternative scenario. In fact, the police arrived within 90 seconds but even that was too late.

The appeals to heroism from LaPierre and gun rights advocates rings hollow. It attempts to obfuscate the simple truth that we are not safe when military-style assault weapons are broadly available. Add that to a lack of education and resources concerning sociopathic behavior (how to identify it, what to do when you suspect it) and a society where many feel powerless and seek remedies in the substitute potency of the “erect” gun barrel and the danger will continue to rise. The people in the Aurora theater, at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, at Fort Hood, at Virginia Tech, at the Wisconsin Sikh temple, at the Gabby Giffords’ meet and greet, and at the other 57 mass shootings in the past 30 years were all just as confident that something like that wouldn’t happen to them as you and I are. Today it’s difficult not to admit that none of us are safe when weapons that feature high-capacity clips, semi-automatic firing, military inspired lethal bullet design, and easy online ordering exist.

Why do they exist? Even if we accept the concept that such guns are fun to fire at ranges does it justify having them available to all? They aren’t good hunting weapons. They aren’t as good for home defense as a shotgun would be. At the very least shouldn’t they have more restrictive licensing then the more mundane weapons used for sport and self-defense?

A not-well-regulated militia

Should we all be worried that a core of liberal-hating idiots, incited by the right-wing propaganda machine, haven’t taken it on themselves to arm for the eventual bloody retaking of America? Does a class of reactionaries, unburdened by information and perspective, prepare for their attempt to regain imagined founding father rights and eliminate the challenge to white supremacy that having a black president represents? Their assertion of freedom means a displacement of the values of the America we’ve built. Yes, this is definitely the far edge of potentialities, but I challenge anyone who would maintain that it’s out of the realm of possibility.

What’s next?

I hope that we can push through the inevitable backlash and follow the matter through to meaningful change. We need comprehensive policies that slow or stop these deadly, mentally confused, insanely well-armed young white men from continuing their massacres of innocents. The president has initiated a task-force for this purpose and we can all demand that it produce meaningful discussion and common-sense action that is supported by all rational Congressmen and women. The irrational minority should be taught that the populace, not the gun industry, the NRA, or the fringe of overly zealous gun-lovers, controls their fate. They need to be part of the solution or they need to find a new home knocking about in the dustbin of history.


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I need to get back home to cool, cool rain

Today’s musings: The Who Live! Mods and Millennials. Healthcare industry backs ACA. McCain chose Sarah but rejects Susan in confusion over the meaning of “qualifications.”

Love, Reign O’er Me

Only love can make it rain
The way the beach is kissed by the sea
Only love can make it rain
Like the sweat of lovers layin’ in the fields

Love, reign o’er me
Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me

Only love can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky
Only love can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high

Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me
Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me

On the dry and dusty road
The nights we spend apart alone
I need to get back home to cool, cool rain

I can’t sleep, and I lay, and I think
The night is hot and black as ink
Oh God, I need a drink of cool, cool rain

Love, reign o’er me
Reign o’er me, o’er me, o’er me
Love, reign o’er me, o’er me

– Written by Pete Townsend, performed by The Who (1973)

I share this song because it’s still reverberating in my mind after catching The Who perform Quadrophenia live last Friday. Love Reign O’er Me is the final song in the 1973 rock opera. The musical theme surfaces in many of the songs–when it finally gets played in full there’s a huge emotional payoff.

The story involves a shallow and unreliable young Mod named Jimmy who takes too many amphetamine “blues”, can’t open himself to love, idolizes the wrong people, clashes with his family, and works his way toward suicide. Then, with nothing left to live for, he surrenders to the rain and finds a sort of redemption. As Townsend has said, “He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, you know, when it’s over and he goes back to town he’ll be going through the same shit, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he’s moved up a level. He’s weak still, but there’s a strength in that weakness.”

The concert featured 10 players playing like 100 and some virtual treats. Long dead Keith Moon sat in to do the “Bellboy” vocals via film (Bell-BOYYY, keep me lip buttoned down) and poor dead John Entwhistle soloed mightily from a video screen above the state in the song 5:15.

After the Entwhistle solo Townsend ripped into his own solo with a sly smile on his face. While both Daltrey and Townsend get a little ragged on vocals at times, Pete’s  guitar playing was incredible. Happy that he kept up with his mate, we saw him mouth “Fuck Yeah!” as he finished.

There’s a lot in the album that ties to our modern life. In the early 60s England was hitting the kind of prosperity that allowed youth the capital and leisure to act out as Mods and Rockers. The old days of sacrifice in post-War Britain were willfully forgotten. Style ruled over substance.

It’s possible that this kind of comfort leads us (30 years later) to the Millennials,  Gen-Y young people little plugged into politics,  highly plugged into communications technology, and with a sense of entitlement regarding employment and success, in what we Boomers (and every generation before us) learns to see and understand as cyclical developments. Boomers, having falling short of the expectations of their WWII-era parents, decided to treat their children with unconditional love and support. Little Josh never had to actually color within the lines to get approval. Now he thinks his employer is there to nurture him with a rapid succession of promotions and raises in return for average performance.

Jimmy ends up disappointed in the Bell Boy, whom he’d worshiped as a Mod leader called “Ace Face.” The former star Mod winds up working in a seaside hotel–and liking it. “Ace Face” speaks to the idea of glory days and compromise that many of us face whenever we have too much time to think.

Republicans have had time to think and Obamacare repeal apparently has less appeal. I work in healthcare and I’ve seen that the industry is mostly pro-Obamacare. So regardless of the pundits and your cousin’s husband railing against the ruinous nature of the law at Thanksgiving dinner, I thought I could share some insider’s views.

My thoughts on this started out with a newsletter piece pointing to this article at USA Today. “Weak Obama Debate Showing Hurts Health Stocks.”  Most stocks in the hospital sector tumbled between 1.5% and 2.5% after the first debate and Obama’s poor showing. Of course, when I went back to dig into this by checking stock prices after each debate and the election (as someone who makes a living doing analysis is wont to do), I saw that the market moved after each debate and after the election. But guess what, the market is always moving. I quickly remembered that Nassim Taleb in The Black Swan (a book about once-in-a-lifetime events, not ballet craziness) wrote of this. He discusses an instance where he caught the same media outlet explaining market movements in both directions using the same bit of news:

When Saddam Hussein was captured, Bloomberg News offered the following headline: “US TREASURIES RISE; HUSSEIN CAPTURE MAY NOT CURB TERRORISM”. But a half hour later, Treasuries moved lower. The headline was changed to “US TREASURIES FALL; HUSSEIN CAPTURE BOOSTS ALLURE OF RISKY ASSETS.”

So I abandon the stock market angle except to say that if Obamacare was going to punish the for-profit hospital industry or insurers it certainly isn’t showing in their stock prices.

So let’s read what some industry leaders are saying about the ACA:

Susan DeVore, president and CEO, Premier: “Now that the elections are behind us, we need to, on a bipartisan basis, get back to the task of removing the barriers to transforming healthcare. The payment and delivery reforms in the Affordable Care Act provide a framework to move us in the right direction. We need to build on those reforms to align payment incentives and measurement with effective patient care. Patients and healthcare providers will be harmed by continual payment cuts unless we empower providers with the flexibility to improve care and drive out waste.”

Lloyd Dean, president and CEO, Dignity Health: “We think that healthcare in a country like ours is something this is a right as opposed to a privilege. We have been, as you know, supporters of the ACA because we acknowledge that right and we believe through the results of the election that momentum and actions will continue to full implementation of the act. We continue to believe that this will allow us to do something that is very important, which is to address and bring forward solutions to the national healthcare crisis in our country. … One thing there is no debate about on either side of the political spectrum is that the current status of healthcare, prior to some type of reform, was not sustainable. … Even if the act itself had been modified severely, we would still move forward with what we think is important to figure out a way to reduce costs, improve efficiencies, to raise the bar for quality and to increase access.

Dr. Robert Laskowski, president and CEO of Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.: “We’ve always been great supporters of the Affordable Care Act and the principle that it embodies; there’s always a few things in there that could be improved but overall the direction is clearly the right way. What the election did was clarified and made our lives simpler. … In the longer run the direction of the necessity for us to pay attention to value, to improve care and to make sure that the care is affordable to all citizens in the country—that was going to be independent of the results of the election. But there would have been rhetoric changes if the election had been different, and it would have slowed us up in the work that we need to do. So we’re happy for the clarity and think that taking care of our neighbors is vitally important.“

Dr. Donald Berwick, former CMS administrator under Obama, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress: “If Congress reads this as an endorsement from the public of healthcare reform, I’m hoping we can move into a phase of further exploration and adjustments of the law. However, the current breakdown between the House and Senate remains the same so the risk is if the opposition remains intransigent and uses funding to starve the implementation processes. … I hope that all of the states come on board (with the ACA’s Medicaid expansion). The people who would be covered under the expansion are getting care now—they’re just getting it late, when they’re sicker and their care is more expensive. For the states that turn down this money, it doesn’t solve their problem. It increases states’ burdens to care for these vulnerable people. It’s an unwise policy and it’s an incorrect moral stance.”

This is what you can take to the bank: Our current system is very expensive. We pay twice as much per capita as other developed nations and have fewer people covered and more people going broke. The incentives in the system are all wrong as we pay doctors per procedure and visit instead of for outcomes and quality. The ACA was a step in the right direction and to get to the finish line we need an honest dedication to the truth, not political gamesmanship.


Bizarro World:

Senator John McCain of Arizona, said on Fox that he would be “very hard-pressed” to support Susan Rice if she were nominated to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. In 2005, President Bush was considering a recess appointment for John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, McCain said: “I would support it. It’s the president’s prerogative.” Flip flop or pure hypocrisy?

One thing we should remember, McCain, by picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, forever disqualified himself from commenting on any nominee for any high office.

House Republicans try to drag Social Security into the budget talks.

The Boehner “counter-offer” seized on raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 and cutting back on benefit increases. Heaven forbid we raise taxes on a billionaire when we can save money by taking it away from thousands of fixed income seniors!  Why don’t they watch this and learn from their guru?

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I’ve looked at life from both sides now. From win and lose…

Content: I got your JGTRRA and EGTRRA right here, buddy. Trying to work through what we know about the tax cuts for the rich (and everybody else) and what the options are. Joni Mitchell and I look at both sides now.

Both Sides Now

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev’ry fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

Written and Performed by Joni Mitchell (1969)

Okay. I was never a Joni Mitchell fan. Knew the songs and liked them, but it wasn’t my music. But my thoughts were wandering about how there is no denying that there are two sides to the tax changes and budget cutting associated with the fiscal cliff and this song came to mind. So I perused the lyrics over at (a nicely designed site that includes an awesome database of her lyrics) and they touched my heart.

My emotions tend to be a little closer to the surface than many people. I think it’s from the 80s and early 90s when I was all about yoga and meditation etc. Maybe I was born that way. Maybe I’ve been working too hard. Maybe all of the above. I noticed it recently when I was getting all teary-eyed watching Undercover Boss Kat Cole hand out rewards to random Cinnabon people she’d run into. As I wiped my eyes I noticed my wife rolling her’s.

So it’s no wonder the song touched me. That metaphor of looking down at the clouds and imagining fanciful landscapes and looking up at the clouds grounded to the earth and the day-to-day struggles we face fits so well. Youthful optimism vs. the cynicism of experience, the excitement of new love vs. the reality of making relationships work, the dreams and promise we start with and the reality of working for a living are all encapsulated in Mitchell’s song.

It’s even surprising that the song was written by Mitchell at the age of 24 or 25 and shows the kind of wisdom associated with, well, people my age.  In a recent interview with the L.A. Times she showed some very heart-warming iconoclastic smart-assedness.

“My first four albums covered the usual youth problems — looking for love in all the wrong places — while the next five are basically about being in your 30s. Things start losing their profundity; in middle-late age, you enter a tragedian period, realizing that the human animal isn’t changing for the better. In a way, I think I entered straight into my tragedian period, as my work is set against the stupid, destructive way we live on this planet. Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point.”

So, stupid and destructive as we are, we refuse to get together for the kind of long-term meaningful re-evaluation of priorities and spending that is so completely and sorely needed. The so-called fiscal cliff is about a mix of things. First, the sequestration agreement that was forged to allow the US to raise the credit limit on its massive credit card. Then there are the Bush Tax Cuts, bills called EGTRRA and JGTRRA. 2001’s EGTRRA had many tax provisions, but included these changes to personal income tax:

Changes in Marginal Tax Rate Brackets by Year, 2000–10
Maximum Taxable Income (2000$) Tax Rate
Single Married HOH 2000 2001 2004 2006 2008
$5,679a $11,357 $8,112 15% 10% 10% 10% 10%
26,250 52,500 35,150 15 15 15 15 15
63,550 105,950 90,800 28 27 26 25 25
132,600 161,450 147,050 31 30 29 28 28
288,350 288,350 288,350 36 35 34 33 33
39.6 38.6 37.6 35 35

Not leaving well-enough alone, President Bush and Congress passed JGTRRA in 2003 making the final column’s rates available immediately.  So the REAL view is:

Maximum Taxable Income (2000$) Tax Rate
Single Married HOH 2000 TODAY
$5,679a $11,357 $8,112 15% 10%
26,250 52,500 35,150 15 15
63,550 105,950 90,800 28 25
132,600 161,450 147,050 31 28
288,350 288,350 288,350 36 33
39.6 35

Note that the second tier, where the median income is in America, got no reduction (although the 10% bracket was new so the lowest earners might have benefited provided they paid income tax after deductions). The next 3 (upper middle class) received 3%. The top tier, received 4.6%. That’s one reason why these have been portrayed as tax cuts for the rich, but other changes including the reduction of capital gains, elimination of the estate tax, removal of limits for certain deductions, and the reduced rate for dividend income was where the real benefits lay for the 1%.

Now the tax cuts are expiring. Why is that? Well, they got a 2 year extension from their 10 year lifespan in the debt deal that brought us sequestration. But why did the EGTRRA have a 10 year life span in the first place? For two reasons, the first is the Byrd Rule, a rule that allows Senators to block a piece of legislation if it significantly increases the federal deficit beyond a ten year period. The second is that longer term views would have raised a lot of attention for the astronomical reduction of tax revenue. The 10 years reduced revenue by $1.2 trillion. Since we were in deficit spending that whole time, it represents an additional $1.2 trillion borrowed.

Some (like me) believe that this wasn’t accidental. The Bush administration aimed to bring the US into such dire financial straits that massive government downsizing would be the ONLY alternative. That’s the starve the beast theory. Interestingly, googling around on this uncovered this CATO document that not only lays out Republican thought on the topic but shows with statistical analysis that it doesn’t work and that reduced revenue is likely to lead to higher expenditures.

So the two decisions Congress faces (and only Congress controls federal spending) are what to do with taxes (both the Bush cuts and the Obama temporary payroll tax cut) and what to do about the mandatory spending cuts that result from the sequestration agreement. The irony of it is that higher taxes and lower spending may result in a shrinking GDP (in other words, recession).

From Tony Nitti at Forbes:

While going over the cliff would improve our current deficit by adding net inflows, according to the people who are paid to project this sort of thing,  real GDP will drop by 0.5% in 2013 — meaning we would experience negative growth — and unemployment will rise to 9.1%. In other words, the fiscal cliff will kick-start a recession. The reasons why depend on which component of the cliff we’re talking about: the reduced spending or the increased tax revenue.

While reduced spending is good in the long run, when the government is spending less, the government is buying less. This shrinks the GDP.

So for starters, punt on the spending cuts. We need to approach governmental spending in a different way. Instead of justifying changes to the existing budget, agencies should be forced to justify all expenditures. That’s called zero-based budgeting and it couldn’t be done overnight.

Second, let’s have Congress agree what they want to accomplish with subsidies and test the current expenditures against those rules. For example, we want to increase exports so we should find the subsidies to do that. We don’t need to increase oil exploration because oil is such a valuable commodity in itself. So we shouldn’t subsidize that.

It’s a relatively small number and not really in the budget, but let’s get rid of the 2% payroll tax cut. That was a stimulus that only helped working people and was intended to be temporary. Let’s not mess around with the Social Security fund.

Let’s either leave the Bush tax cuts in place, or compromise on the Obama plan to let the top two rates go to pre-2001 rates. A compromise could be 2 years of 33% going to 35% and 35% going to 37%. The fairness would be that those tiers would align with the 2% reduction for others. Then take that time to simplify and create equity in the tax code with the aim of closing the gap between revenue and expenditure.

Finally, I don’t understand the argument that dividends should be taxed much less than regular income. I know the idea is that it promotes investment. Well if you haven’t noticed, investment is the best way for capital to grow and it doesn’t need an incentive. So at the minimum, let the long term capital gains and qualified dividend rates return to 20% from 15%. Carried interest, a technique used by investors to turn taxable compensation into capital gains, should be reevaluated if not abolished. The Buffet Rule would solve that. Similarly, lower corporate tax rates don’t create incentives for hiring, they create incentives for hoarding. If you’re going to pay a lot in taxes then you need to increase your expenses.

If you are using deductions to reduce your tax liability and you have taxable income in the neighborhood of $150,000 then you get a 28% break on that. If you make more than that, then the reward is higher at 33% or 35%. So the richer you are, the more your tax deductions pay off. Not so fair! Cap the deductions to 28% of income.

The CBO analyzed a few different scenarios here. In the end, austerity and expiration of  EGTRRA shrinks the economy. It seems unlikely that Congress will be able to come to a solution in the next month suggesting that a punt will happen and that it is probably the safest bet right now.

This has gone overlong so I don’t get to touch on a piece I wanted to do about the healthcare industry’s take on the reelection and removal of doubt about Obamacare. I’ll start working on that next for a post. I’d noticed that after the first Presidential debate when Romney was showing “Mo” the for-profit healthcare company stocks dropped. For all the  drumbeat of reduced access to care, not having enough doctors, death panels, and government interference in the market, the market sure has favored Obamacare at every turn.

In other news, Romney is the new Republican punching bag (along with Gov. Christie who probably stands to benefit in the long run by having had Sandy wash off the stench of the Republican’s 2012 election cycle debacle). That’s fun to watch. Big money donors might as well of given the money to the gardener or butler for all the good it did them. Roberto or Jeeves or Karl Rove, it was all the same in the end. The American people dodged a major bullet, as Romney doubled down on his 47% video with this tidbit from a call to supporters on November 14, “What the president — president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government.”

I can only reply, hey, where’s mine? But seriously, how arrogant and out of touch is that comment?

From the party of business to the party of stupid.

Coming soon: what healthcare business-people think of Obamacare. Third party candidates mean more people unhappy with the results.

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You’d buy or bury everyone, for liberty and life… and just plain fun

Content:  Remembering Central American misadventures. Post election thoughts. Megyn Kelly’s legs. Pundit slapping.


Look away across the bay
Yankee gunboat come this way
Uncle Sam gonna save the day
Come tomorrow we all gonna pay…

Something dead under the bed
Local diplomats hang their heads
Never mind what the government said
They’re either lying or they’ve been misled…

Philippines was yesterday
Santiago and Greece today
How would they ever make the late news pay
If they didn’t have the CIA?

Here it comes, the loaded gun
“Must keep the Commies on the run ”
You’d buy or bury everyone
For liberty and life… And just plain fun

And it’s burn baby burn
When am I going to get my turn

Written and Performed by Bruce Cockburn (1974)

Cockburn is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose work had moderate success in the US. I heard the song Wondering Where the Lions Are and got interested in him many years ago. Burn is about the CIA misadventures around the world and especially in  Latin America but he has spoken that it intersects with a more cynical Canadian’s point of view that if the country were ever to move too far to the left they too would attract the CIA’s dirty tricks, assassinations, and destabilizations.

In 1973, an US-supported military coup killed Chilean president Salvador Allende for the sin of being a lifelong Socialist. That brought Augusto Pinochet Ugarte to power (with America’s blessing) who then proceeded to imprison over a hundred thousand Chileans. Their interrogation commonly included torture and rape. Pinochet terminated civil liberties, abolished unions, extended the work week to 48 hours, and reversed Allende’s land reforms. His political affiliation, by all accounts, was not Tea Party but the parallels are striking.

About six years after Burn the CIA went to great lengths to support a military-led government in El Salvador in a civil war waged against the guerrilla forces of the FMLN. El Salvador was a true Oligarchy ruled by “The 14 Families.” Their wealth, from coffee crops and exploitation of the Indian population, was concentrated to 2% of the population while 98% lived in poverty. El Salvador’s rich–a small wealthy elite among an impoverished majority–were characterized as greedy, imperious, brutal, and uncaring (the kind of people who would tell the President of the United States “Hold on, you’ll get your turn” during a debate).

The 1980-1992 civil war left around 70,000 dead (58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War by comparison). The US provided military funding (to the murderous government) to the tune of more than $5 billion.  Salvadoran and other regional military personnel were trained at the US Army’s “School of the Americas” where they were taught the art of execution, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents and sanctions. Manuals from the school referenced the use of “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum” to recruit and control informants.

At the same time the US was supporting Sandinista rebel forces in Nicaragua against the government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Support for Samoza’s fight against the Sandinistas was withdrawn by president Jimmy Carter in 1978. Israel, against US wishes, continued to supply arms but eventually backed down when confronted by Carter’s administration. In 1979, the government forces were defeated and the Sandinistas came to power. They believed in free elections, a participatory bottom-up democracy, and in nationalizing businesses in the Marxist model. Those previously in power sided with right-wing rebels and their movement was called the “Contras” rebelling against the new Sandinista government. Ronald Reagan became president and began funneling support to the Contras. Contra human rights violations, out of the School of the Americas playbook, caused Congress to cut funding. Ronald Reagan worked around this, eventually selling arms to an embargoed Iran to provide cash to the Nicaraguan rebels. This became known as the Iran-Contra Affair and the president avoided much of the backlash by having poor powers of recollection. Others in his administration, the National Security Council, and the CIA were indicted, some pardoned and some serving in prison. VP George HW Bush also emerged unscathed although his knowledge of the Congressional end-run was suggested in testimony.

Some might say, Lefty, why the history lesson? Kinda boring. It’s because such recent history, with so much in common with today’s world, shouldn’t be lost.

1. The Marxists of the seventies and eighties are like the “jihadists” of today with regards to the powers-that-be guiding US policy using fear and broad brush accusations. Nicaragua and El Salvador were never a threat to the US, we were simply protecting the interests of those making money in the region in the years before  Reagan, and then we became codependent to his bizarre 1950’s style commie-hatred.

2. Many are concerned about Sharia Law and Muslim rule in Egypt and other countries. Twenty years from now we will wonder what the fuss was about. The world does not need US approval to fulfill their own vision of governance (and International Law says we must not intervene). Let’s not repeat the past and allow the CIA free rein in affecting the outcomes of other nation’s choices.

3. Many politicians on the right, and the right-wing media, idolize Mr. Reagan. His end run around the Congress was not only improper and illegal it was immoral in the sense that he provided financing and training for the use of torture and terror in Central America with the idea that there was a higher good in stopping Communism. Imagine the pain and sorrow for families in a small country where 70,000 men, women and children were murdered, many in terror killings unrelated to fighting. This lesson must not be lost on the Obama administration, even if we need to bring it to the streets, because he has been placed as the civilian leader of the military and intelligence apparatus for the sole purpose of balancing their power and not as the provider of rubber stamp approval of mayhem.

4. One of Reagan’s ideological children is Mitt Romney. Romney appeared to have little trouble with notions of Oligarchy because his policies would promote that. One interesting element of the Central American oligarchies were that they essentially put the workings of their entire governments into the business of serving the interests and needs of the few. (Hello, Koch Brothers, take note–it can’t happen here. Zappa fans click here.) Under Romney’s proposed policies, more wealth would have moved upward to an American oligarchy through reduced taxation, particularly that money made by investing with zero percent capital gains and reduced corporate taxes.

While the GOP platform only mentions removing the minimum wage for the Pacific territories (American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam) it is a common GOP refrain that the minimum wage hurts business. Perhaps the way they intended to stop jobs from going to China was to import Chinese-style wages to American workers?

The platform’s Peace Through Strength plank is related to Reagan’s actions that reduced unemployment by pumping money into defense and turned the US from the world’s greatest creditor nation to the world’s largest debtor nation. This economic stimulus to the poor needy defense contractors was certainly part of a promise made to the military industrial complex and would surely have finished the job of bankrupting the nation that Reagan began 32 years ago. So while W. Mitt Romney has gone down in flames today, the legacy he represents is still alive and kicking. It’s also interesting to note that Romney was the candidate of choice for the elder Bush and establishment Republicans as well as Neocon holdovers from the Bush years.

This story never seemed to get the attention it deserved:

In 1984, Romney was selected by his boss at Bain & Co, a consulting firm, to create a spin-off venture capital fund, Bain Capital. They needed to find around $18 million for seed money, another $18 million coming from the firm itself. The money proved a little difficult to raise. Then, a Costa Rica-born Bain official, Harry Strachan, invited friends and former clients in Central America to a presentation about the fund with Romney in Miami. The group was impressed and “signed up for 20% of the fund,” according to Strachan (about $6.5 million).  Back in 1984, wealthy Salvadoran families were looking for safe investments as violence and upheaval engulfed the region. The SEC filing mentions Eduardo Poma, a member of the “14 families” and it’s likely that Bain Capital got its start with those Oligarch’s millions.

More at this article.

Thanks to Professor Google I found a page at  that details the US history of intervention in the Americas and the history is astonishing and begins in the mid-1800s.

Watching the election results I grew nervous as many surely did. When Ohio fell for Obama and the election was called in his favor I had trouble adjusting to the sudden change in fortunes. The reasons are that the media kept calling it a horse race and suggested momentum in Romney’s favor. HuffPost seemed to be backing away from their earlier Electoral College predictions that had Obama at 303. I was watching Nate Silver’s numbers and up until those last few days, the race did seem tight. Obama’s “odds” went from around 8 in 10 to 9 in 10 over the course of a few days at the 538 Blog but it was hard to feel comfortable about it. In retrospect, that WAS the place to keep an eye on.

In the days before the election Gallup had Romney ahead with “likely voters.” Rove was writing in the Wall Street Journal of a Romney landslide. On ABC, George Will was assuring the nation of a Romney landslide as well. Now some of this is certain to be strategic, aimed at the low percentage of voters who are likely to be swayed by wanting to fall in line behind a winner. Much of it was related to the self-delusion caused by living in the bubble where they simply could not believe that America didn’t see the same horrific truth they believed they saw in Obama and his leadership. More on those top deluded pundits here. Add Peggy Noonan to that list. She thought Romney was “stealing in like thief with good tools,” (but I doubt he’d do more than hire a thief with good tools).

I had the pleasure of switching over to Fox News channel in time to see a shiny-foreheaded, baffled, and stammering Karl Rove placing his objections to the Ohio call and to hear Megyn Kelly from the anchor desk say, “That’s, that’s awkward.” Megyn Kelly played a key role in Fox’s attempt to mollify kingmaker Rove (aka Bush’s brain).  Producers at Fox decided to follow Kelly, on camera, from the anchor desk to the analyst’s bullpen. Purportedly from a Fox News insider: “This is Fox News, so anytime there’s a chance to show off Megyn Kelly’s legs they’ll go for it.” More at ThinkProgress on this tidbit.  Kelly also asked Rove, “Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?” Ouch!

Who’s Megyn Kelly? I didn’t know until that night, but I was intrigued. Is she a right-wing nut, or does she just play one on TV? Idk. Sadly, I’m succumbing to the same psychological warfare that is used on Fox News viewers and it threatens to pull me to the dark side. So CUTE! Megyn Kelly!

Closing out my election meanderings, this AlterNet piece about 5 Very Bad Things That Happened to Karl Rove in Just 2 Days is fun.

On the back burner for posts in coming weeks: My solution for the Fiscal Cliff. The “other side” of embracing third party candidates.


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The World (of political ads and emails) is Ending (for a while)!

Made it to my Village Hall for early voting on Saturday. There was an hour’s wait but I decided to stick it out so I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I’d be on time to the polls on Tuesday. The sign said 11,427 people had voted there prior to Saturday and it looked like they were continuously serving several hundred people an hour on Saturday. So it appears that early voting is on the rise and that we need to have more flexibility in the way we accommodate people in today’s America. (Giving us a 13-hour span to vote on a weekday seems archaic.) The voting machines were touch screen but they ran a printout that had to be approved by the voter prior to final submission which was very nice to see.

Early voting draws crowds

If I saw that people were old I assumed they were voting for Romney. That was a fairly large contingent. By old I mean older than me! If they were young I assumed they were voting for Obama. If they were young and angry-looking then I wasn’t so sure. If they were women I assumed Obama. If they were 50-ish and constipated-looking with haircuts from the Mad Men era, then I’d say Romney.  If they wore Civil War re-enactment clothes I’d figure them for Ron Paul write-ins.

I had the distinct and lingering pleasure to vote for Duckworth against Walsh as I was recently re-districted into IL-8. (I got a little thrill just thinking about it now!)  Goodbye Joe, your type of BS doesn’t play here. It’s interesting that in my old district, IL-10, moderate Republican Bob Dold has been strongly challenged by an out-of-nowhere candidate named Brad Schneider. It’s likely that Dold will keep the seat, up +8 in a poll I just looked at, but I can’t help but think that he understands that the challenge was strictly due to the nature of lock-step Republican voting and the damage the Tea Party Caucus has done to the GOP brand. While Dold pushed a record of independence–including pro-choice and environmental credibility–the truth remained that he was just another guaranteed vote in the “Stop Obama at all Costs” House voting club. The gap in the polls moved in Dold’s advantage in the past week suggesting that the dozens of negative TV ads I saw were effective.

The National Republican Congressional Committee threw tons of money against Schneider with some pretty negative TV advertising. It’s interesting that the PAC money never is pro-candidate, only anti- the opponent. National political parties and independent super political action committees have poured more than $42 million into Illinois races this fall alone. Guess it’s good for the local media economy.

I think that the national PAC money commonly misses the mark. For example, much of the direct mail was trying to tie Schneider or Duckworth to Nancy Pelosi. People in Illinois don’t see Rep. Pelosi as an evil Dragon Queen. They think she’s a nicely dressed, well-spoken and sophisticated woman who’s achieved a lot. Likewise the anti-Duckworth ads tried to focus on tying her to jailed ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich, in whose administration she worked. Well, guess what, the people of Illinois view Blagojevich as being kind of a fool who talked big but was not overwhelmingly corrupt. There is an exception, of course, the 10% or less of people who are hard right extremists that  flood the Letters to the Editor sections with letters decrying Illinois corruption and Chicago Style Politics. Hey, we LIKE Chicago Style Politics. It’s a brutal game at times, but it’s mostly on top of the table and undertaken by players who love the city. Chicago and the suburbs often have an identity with this–the Machine, Mayor Daley I, Mayor Daley II, Harold Washington, Council Wars, and now Iron Rahm Emanuel.

My format changed this week in not leading with a boomer song.  But… I recommend “Almost Cut my Hair” by CSNY (with YouTube below). To close this off,  I want to address 3 Romney claims we’re hearing in these final days as closing arguments. (I promise to circle back to “Almost Cut My Hair” one of these days for what it’s worth.)

1. Vote for me or wreck the economy. Romney: “You know that if the President is re-elected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress… He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them. The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.”

So Romney warns us vote for him or the GOP will derail the economy? Is that the behavior that works? Use extreme partisanship (“make Obama a one-term President” ) to destroy compromise in the Congress and then blackmail the American people into changing course? But Romney vetoed more than 800 bills in Massachusetts! Vetoes were overridden 97.5% of the time, suggesting that there was indeed bi-partisan efforts, to defeat his veto pen. He left office with a 34% approval rating. Story here…

2. A Romney presidency will make North America energy independent.

This should have been one of Obama’s debate zingers-like aircraft carriers with (gesturing) planes landing on them. Unless Gov. Romney is nationalizing the oil industry (which is HIGHLY unlikely) then he has NO CONTROL OVER WHERE NORTH AMERICAN OIL GOES. That’s right. We can line the shores with oil rigs and destroy every National Forest but the truth is that oil is as likely to go to India or China as it is to Main Street gas stations in a world market where oil goes to the highest bidder.

3. President Obama has been an economic failure.

Yes, the recovery has been slow. Congress gets some blame for not acting more aggressively. On the other hand, President Bush’s years took away two known stimuli: tax cut and lowered interest rates. By 2009 we couldn’t drop taxes or interest rates much lower than they were. Obama went with a tax credit in the Stimulus Bill and with lowered payroll taxes but there was little room to maneuver. Still, the jobs graph tells the story. The ARRA worked and the economy is on a slow heal. Green shoots are peeking through.

Is it just me, or is Romney’s argument that the President has been unable to create jobs jive with Romney’s position that government doesn’t create jobs? How come America isn’t smart enough to call him on that the minute it escapes from the mouth of his second face?

Economically speaking it all depends on whether the glass is half-empty or half-full.

We also hear Romney touting a 23 million figure for unemployment. That number – the broadest measure of unemployment that the Labor Department calls “U6” – includes people out of work, those who have given up looking, and part-time workers who want a full-time job but can’t find one. So it’s absolutely the starkest way to judge employment. But even that wider jobless rate has shown improvement, falling from 16.0 percent a year ago to 14.6 percent last month.

As we say in Chicago, vote early and vote often. Peace.

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