Friday, July 29, 2011

July 29, 2011--Friday Off

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 28, 2011--EBT Cards

It was stormy here and I was having difficulty staying asleep and so I again last night tuned into Red Eye Radio, Doug McIntyre's unusually intelligent overnight talk show. Most of the calls were about the deadlock over extending the debt ceiling and the overall state of the economy, especially as it affects working people.

It was 3:40 AM in Indiana when Doris called. She was out delivering USA Today to supplement her income. During the rest of the day she works as a checkout clerk at a supermarket. She is a divorced mother of two--college and a high school sophomores.

She was angry but not ranting about some of her customers with EBT cards.

Electronic Benefits Transfer Cards look like ordinary debit cards and allow low-income people to charge food to their Food Stamps account. Doris was not questioning the need for the Food Stamps Program, just, she claimed, that it allows recipients to, as she put it, "eat better than me."

There is some out-and-out fraud and abuse--she and McIntyre both spoke about a video on YouTube of someone filmed on an iPhone who paid for a basket of food with his EBT card and then proceeded to load his groceries into a $40,000 Land Rover--but Doris was pointing to the fact that you can, for example, buy "gourmet cheese" with an EBT card and any cut of meat your Food Stamps monthly limit will allow.

As long as this federally-funded but state-administered program allows that, Doris from Indiana posed with rising frustration, what incentive is there for many able-bodied recipients to work?

McIntyre noted that most who are eligible for SNAP benefits (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the successor to the Food Stamps Program) are children and older and disabled people who are not capable of working. "How," he put to Doris, "would you deal with them? Let them starve?"

"No, of course not," she said, "But there must be a better way to administer the program."

SNAP serves 40.3 million people, about 15 percent of the U.S. population. To be eligible a family of four has to have a net income equal to or less than $1,838 a month--the official poverty level. Those in greatest need--earning much less than that--can receive up to $668 a month in assistance; but the national average is $227.

Federal and state guidelines allow SNAP recipients to buy cheese, including what Doris would consider to be gourmet; but unless parents are not using their SNAP money to buy milk and eggs and bread and chopped meat, I suspect very few have much left to buy fancier foods.

But Doris' frustration should not too quickly be dismissed by those of us fortunate enough not to have to rely on Food Stamps or, for that matter, by what I have just said about the limits of the program and how there is no evidence that more than a small percentage are taking advantage of it.

Even as a liberal, out of a version of fairness, I am not sure I want to see low-income people able to by imported cheese paid for by hard-working but struggling taxpayers. If we were to agree to this largely symbolic restriction, with bar codes and such, it would be as easy to control what can be purchased with EBT cards as the program has ways not to allow recipients to buy pet food, cigarettes, or alcoholic beverages.

This may seem mean-spirited but there are more than 40.3 million Dorises working at least two jobs who are barely managing to stay above water and it feels unfair to expect them to subsidize more than basic assistance for those with legitimate needs.

If I needed more insight into what is contributing to fueling the frustration and anger of an increasing number of Americans it is the kind of things that are on Doris's mind. We need to do more to clean up our act if we are ever again to become one people.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 27, 2011--Roughing It

Now I understand why John Boehner and his Republicans are fighting so hard to preserve tax breaks for owners of private jets.

It's not about jobs, as they claim. It's not concern about what all those pilots will do if the folks they work for have to pay a couple of thousand dollars a year more for their Gulfstreams.

My summer governor, Maine's Tea Party favorite Paul LaPage has got it figured out.

While eying the line up of private jets along the runway at Augusta's usually sleepy State Airport, he was overheard saying, "Love it, love it, love it. I wish they'd stay a week while they're here. This is big business."

He wasn't referring to an elite conference of corporate CEOs, such as the one hosted by Allen & Company each year in Sun Valley where the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, and Rupert Murdoch show up to hobnob. Rather the jets he was ogling were ones that had just delivered children and their parents to summer camps in the Maine woods.

Why jets? Why not just drive up here from New York, or wherever? Well, it seems, it's a long drive. And since it "only" costs $3,800 to fly a private turboprop from New York to Augusta, to quote Blue Star Jets president Todd Rome, "You don't have to be a millionaire." Though I'm sure it helps. (See linked New York Times article.)

The manager of the airport does all he can to literally cater to the needs and wants of his summertime customers. For return flights he arranges the catering. He reported that orders traditionally include sandwiches and fruit trays. But some are a little more idiosyncratic. One youngster, for example, ordered a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, ordinary enough, but also a banana, brownie, and fruit cup with a single strawberry.

He also reports that in spite of the economic downturn, the private jet business this year is booming. The number of incoming flights has already increased, as compared to last year, by more than 30 percent.

But some are concerned about the not-so-subliminal messages being communicated to the children of the very rich who their parents also want to see taught "good values." There is, to say the least, some contradiction between flying your 13-year-old in a private jet to camps that emphasize the simple, rustic life. No TVs, no Internet connectivity, no text-messaging. Hard work, ecology, and survival skills are what's on the agenda at these camps where tuition for six or seven weeks is at least $10,000. Nothing appears to be in the green curriculum about how much jet fuel was wasted flying around in private planes.

One parent, troubled by seeing so many of her children's camp friends arriving in such a privileged way decided--"Enough." Instead of sending her kids to camp in Maine she now packs them off to camp in Europe where I assume they bunk side-by-side with Algerian immigrants.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26, 2011--Stay In School

It pays to stay in school. In fact, it literally pays to stay in school for as long as possible as there is a direct correlation between educational attainment, unemployment, and annual income.

Here are the facts from as recently as June of this year.

As you can see, though the national unemployment rate is 9.2%, it isn't anything near that for those with graduate or professional degrees; and it is much higher than that for adults with only a high school diploma, and even worse for folks who dropped out.

Schooling . . . . Unemployment Rates . . . . . Annual Earnings

Doctorate . . . . . . . . . . 2.0% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$80,600

Professional Degree . . .1.8% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83,700

Master's . . . . . . . . . . . .3.4% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66,100

Bachelor's . . . . . . . . . . 4.9% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54,000

Associate . . . . . . . . . . . 6.3% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39,900

Some College . . . . . . . .7.7% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37,000

HS Diploma . . . . . . . . . 9.6% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32,600

HS Dropout . . . . . . . . . 14.2% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23,100

What better evidence is there that we are facing a complex, interconnected crisis? The solution is not just a matter of employers hiring people; it is also that we have a more and more poorly educated workforce who are becoming structurally unemployable. We need to do the budget cutting necessary to bring our deficit under control--as well as begin to quell the political rage that has overtaken much of the population--but we also need to figure out how to make our schools work for everyone.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011--Monkey Bars

I dropped Rona off at the Rising Tide, our local organic store, to get some raspberries. Since it was hot I waited in the air-conditioned car and leafed through the Times.

It was Customer Appreciation Day at the Tide, and the way they showed appreciation was by turning their parking lot over to various organized versions of fun-and-games for kids.

The most merriment seemed to center around something called a Bouncy House.

For the uninitiated, it is an inflated rubber playpen sort of contraption. A 15-by-15-by-15-foot cube packed with slides, climbing places, and things from which to hang. Its most noteworthy feature is safety. A kid can crawl to the highest spot and then, intentionally or not, tumble off only to be trampolined back up to another padded shelf or bounce off one of the swollen walls.

To keep kids for suffocating in wall-to-wall plastic and from bouncing onto the asphalt of the parking lot, the otherwise open sides of the Bouncy are secured with flexible nets. I saw a number of kids crash, screeching with pleasure, into these and then ricochet back onto a pile of others tumblers. A good time, clearly, was being had by all and the mothers (the parents were mainly mothers) could feel secure that their little-ones, in what otherwise looked like mayhem, in fact were safe.

But wouldn't you know, that as I sat there in comfort with my paper, in the Science section there was a revisionist article about children's' playgrounds, safety issues, and the unanticipated consequences of making these places too safe.

Eagerly, as a kid who grew up in hardscrabble Brooklyn schoolyard playgrounds, where we had 10-foot-tall sliding ponds, splintery seesaws, and rickety steel-pipe monkey bars, all riveted to cracked cement, I eagerly read on. (As can you via the article linked below.)

In New York and pretty much elsewhere the playground games of my youth are kaput. There are no more tall slides, seesaws have been banished, and monkey bars are even more difficult to find. Also, these days the ground beneath the Bouncy Houses and other plasticized, "safe" playground equipment is securely fastened to interlocked rubber mats.

So if somehow Little Billy or Sally figure out how to escape or topple from their Jungle Jims, at most they will "suffer" a modest bruise and wounded ego. And urban litigators will be left with only ambulances to chase.

But there are now critics of safety-first, litigation-proof playgrounds. First, they claim, there is no real evidence that these newfangled schoolyards are safer than the ones in which I hung out. More important, they say, for developmental reasons children need to encounter managed risks so they can, step-by-step, as life's realities encroach, overcome unreasonable fears. Further, rubberized playgrounds are boring and no longer are supplying enough of the excitement, thrills, and challenges kids require to become appropriately risk-taking adults.

And when they do fall off the monkey bars, if they are fortunate enough to still have one in the neighborhood, rather than that experience engendering fear of heights, studies show quite the opposite. Even children who before the age of 9 have been hurt in a fall are less likely to fear heights than teenagers who didn't.

Thanks to the parks commissioner who grew up in the neighborhood, the Upper Westside of New York, in Fort Tryon Park a 10-foot-tall set of monkey bars has been preserved. And just as the new studies are showing, kids still find it exciting and challenging.

Ten-year-old Nayelis Derrano was recently observed about halfway up, at the third level of bars. She paused, looked over at her mother to check to see if she had climbed high enough. Her mother smiled, indicating she could go even further, which she proceeded to do. She made it all the way to the top and when she descended-obviously thrilled with herself--said, "I was scared at first. But my mother said if you don't try, you'll never know if you could do it. So I took a chance and kept going. At the top I felt very proud."

She paused, then added,"It's kind of dangerous, I know, but if you think about danger you're never going to get ahead in life."

I wonder what the kids in the Bouncy House would have to say to that.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22, 2011--Twilight

I'm a twilight kind of guy.

I like the lingering end of things; and what better manifestation of that, as well as a metaphor for much in life, is the time after sunset when the western sky is still illuminated.

The sun has dipped below the horizon and common sense would suggest all should be dark but yet there are these after-sunset moments when we are drawn to not yet turn on any lights, to linger in contemplation of what is still possible.

Knowing from science why there is this afterglow, of how this residue of former direct sunshine creeps up over that horizon behind which the sun has already settled is neither needed nor satisfying. Simply rest in the wonder and wonder.

But now I know there is more.

Before turning to this page each morning I check the weather forecast on the Weather Underground. I type in the zip code--04554--and via the miracle of the Internet up pops what is to be expected for today and the next ten.

Today I did that with some trepidation since it is predicted to be infernally hot in the northeast, with temperatures as close as Boston predicted to reach 100. And here, without air-conditioning, with only one small fan, anything approaching that would be disabling. But fortunate as we are, perched right by the Gulf of Maine, where the water temperature is still in the low 50s, the Underground assures me that it will get to only 88. With just the mote of a breeze, this is manageable.

Feeling both guilty to be thus fortunate and with some guilt gleeful that today will be endurable here, I scrolled down the page to check the times for sunrise (5:15 AM) and sunset (8:12 PM). Why I do not know but I do. And then right below was information about the twilights.

Yes, twilights plural because there are at least three--Civil, Nautical, and Astronomical

Civil Twilight, I learned, is actually of two types--Morning Civil Twilight, or Civil Dawn, begins when the geometric center of the sun is 6° below the horizon and ends at sunrise. My passion, Evening Civil Twilight, or Civil Dusk, begins at sunset and ends when the geometric center of the sun reaches 6° below the horizon.

Noteworthy, the brightest stars appear during at that time, as well as planets, such as Venus, which is known, of course, because of twilight, as the morning and evening star. During this evocative time outdoor activities do not require artificial illumination. Sitting in rapt contemplation rarely does.

Nautical Twilight, about which I need to pay attention, perched as we are on Johns Bay, is the time when the center of the sun is further below the horizon, between 6° and 12° below, and it ends when navigation just using the sea's horizon as a reference point is no longer reliable.

But during Nautical Twilight, sailors, without GPSs on board, can take reliable sightings of well-known stars, using the remnants of the semi-visible horizon to aid them. The end of this period is also the time at which traces of illumination near the sunset point of the horizon are very difficult, if not impossible, to discern. Most boats should be in port and sailers should join me with a finger or two of bourbon.

Then there is Astronomical Twilight. It is when the center of the sun is still further below the horizon, between 12° and 18°. From the end of Astronomical Twilight the sky (away from urban light pollution) it is dark enough for serious astronomical observations.

Most casual observers--which surely includes me--would consider the entire sky fully dark even when Astronomical Twilight is even just beginning, and though astronomers can make observations of most stars, faint items such as nebulae and galaxies can be properly observed only when Night, with a capital N, falls.

Night, technically, is when the sun . . .

Setting aside the technical definition, for me night--no capital--is a whole other thing. There is sleep. And, perchance, dreaming. And of course more metaphors.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21, 2011--Michelle's Migraines

Now that she is the Republican presidential front runner, Michele Bachmann and her family are coming under closer scrutiny. Her husband Marcus, for example, has been shown to believe that gayness is a lifestyle choice and not a inborn condition and thus at his Christian counseling businesses homosexual clients, among other things, are led to pray away their gayness.

And just yesterday it was reported in the New York Times and elsewhere that the candidate suffers from migraine headaches of such severity that she at times needs treatment in emergency rooms. She claims that though she does get intense migraines they would not interfere with her serving as president and commander in chief.

Of course if she were to become president, at all times she would have her own personal physician right there in the White House as well as on Air Force One. But access to treatment is not the point--rather the question remains would she be able to serve effectively as president 24/7, 365 days a year.

This is because not all migraines are the same. Some are fairly mild, consisting mainly of one-side-of-the-head headaches while others are totally disabling. The fact that she has had to have treatment in ERs suggests that her version may in fact be more of the incapacitating kind.

Unfortunately I know a great deal about these. I have suffered with disabling migraines all my life.

In my case the first symptom of the onset of an attack is blurred peripheral vision. It progresses quickly so that in about half an hour my vision is so blurred and disorienting that I can barely see, I certainly can't read, and because the resulting dizziness is so severe I need to lie down.

Next, numbness in the fingers of my right hand begins to manifest itself. Over and hour or so that numbness works its way up my arm , shoulder, and then reaches my face. It halts when half my face is totally numb and without feeling. My tongue is affected and so I am unable to speak. The effects of this can last a number of hours. Then, again beginning with my fingers it begins to retreat. During this time, my disorientation is such that my thinking is affected.

Nausea, vomiting, and a massive left-side headache are next. This too can last for two or three hours at which time I need to take to bed and fortunately always seem to manage to fall asleep. The sleep is very deep, can last for many hours, and it is very difficult to be roused. When I do awake, the headache has substantially passed but for up to another day there is a lingering residue of pain. I can function at that time but with difficulty.

At times in my life I have been afflicted by migraines at least once a week. Others, sadly, get them more frequently. Happily, there are now medications that at times are able to limit some of the symptoms, but not always. Again, it depends on the nature of each individual's vulnerability.

Bachmann and her spokespeople, including her son who is a physician, say that she is not disabled by her migraines. But one of her advisers, who did not want to be identified, says that she "carries all sorts of pills" for her migraines and at times is "incapacitated." Bachmann's campaign denies this.

Her doctor son says, "She is probably not going to run a mile, but in terms of being able to engage, she can comprehend and assess information--without a doubt."

If she gets closer to the Republican nomination, we will have to know a lot more about this because if she has migraines in any way similar to mine, I for one would not want her handling those 3:00 AM phone calls because one verified cause for the onset of a migraine is severe stress. And we know about stress and the presidency.

According to the Times (article linked below) Bachmann has "blamed the headaches on uncomfortable high-heeled shoes." Her son says that she wears them all the time but doesn't get migraines all the time.

Before voting for him we probably should have known about John Kennedy's Addison's Disease and the side effects of the meds he took every day to treat it. We probably should have known about the extent of Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's Disease before voting to reelect him. Hopefully Michele Bachmann's migraines are relatively infrequent and mild. Maybe all she has to do is wear flats. But knowing more about her condition is a fair concern.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20, 2011--Midcoast: You Need to Be Fair to Your Screwdriver

For someone who until recently didn’t know that to remove a screw you need to turn it counterclockwise, what Rona said came as quite a revelation.

Over coffee, Ken and I were talking about screws. We had been working together on an old table, to cut the legs about four inches shorter so it could serve better as a side table, when we discovered, after chipping away some paint, that the screws the table maker used had square drives.

“I hadn’t seen square screw heads,” I said, “until the other day when we were removing a rotted plank from our picnic table.” Ken smiled at me and at my still naive sense of wonder. “I was glad there was a square-shaped screwdriver in the shed.”

“The fellow who built that table of yours must have been among the first to use them. They came out not too long ago since the square slot takes a power drill nicely. The bit doesn’t jump around as much as it does with the traditional slotted drive or the Phillips for that matter.”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” I confessed—in fact until this year I hadn’t thought much about screws of any type—“I’m used to the old-fashioned type, the ones in common use before the advent of power tools.”

“You go back that far, do you,” Ken said, playing with me. I nodded that indeed I do. “I’ll bet then that you never heard of the Pozidriv drive.”

“To tell you the truth, no. Sounds sort of Russian to me. How do you spell it?”

“I’m not that good a speller,” Ken said. “Ask Rona. She’s always doing her New York Times crossword puzzle. I’m sure she’s come across it.”

“Not really,” Rona said. I was surprised that she was even listening in on our chatter. As I said, she has been uncertain about which way to twist a screwdriver when driving or removing screws. “What’s unique about the Pozidriv?” She gave it a full Eastern European pronunciation.

“Best I understand it,” Ken said leaning across the table to ignore me now and give full attention to Rona, “it’s patented by the Phillips Screw Company. And to some of us it looks like a modified Phillips drive. You know, I’m sure, what a Phillips looks like?”

Rona rolled her eyes to indicate that of course she does. “The head has a sort of cross on it so it must be twice as secure as your basic slotted head, which is like half a Phillips.” Ken now was doing the nodding.

“If you look at one closely—I wish I had one in the tool box in my truck so I could show it to you—if you looked right down on a Pozidriv you’d see they cut four more little incisions in the head so there are eight all together as opposed to four for the Phillips.”

“I suppose the advantage must be,” Rona suggested, sounding now like quite the expert, “that it handles a power bit even better than a Phillips drive or a square one for that matter.” She was grinning across the table, especially toward me.

“The name, Pozidriv, is thought to be an abbreviation of positive drive,” Ken said, putting on display his expertise. “Its advantage over the Phillips’ drive is its decreased likelihood to cam out, which is a fancy way of saying the tool doesn’t slip out easily. This means you can apply greater torque, which is important when using those newer heavy-duty power tools. Pozidrivs haven’t caught on here that much. They use them more in Europe. But for driving screws into wood decks I’m sure more contractors will be discovering them.”

This was moving pretty fast for me and so I asked Crystal to refill my coffee cup. She had been standing nearby to take this all in, enjoying every minute of Ken’s initiation of Rona into the world of screws.

“I’m learning a lot about tools this year,” Rona wasn’t ready to change the subject. “Especially how having the right one can make all the difference in the world. You know in cooking there’s a gadget for everything—to make lemon zest, to pit cherries, to shave butter, literally hundreds of tools—but Steven and I are quite minimalists when it comes to kitchen gadgets. We like to use our cheese grater to make our lemon zest and on those very, very rare occasions when we need to pit some cherries . . .”

“Which is never,” I said, happy to join in a new subject.

“When that never-time occurs, I’m sure we’ll figure out how to pit our cherries without a special tool.”

“Which costs ten dollars,” I said.

“Even if it costs $2.95, which is probably more like it, who needs it?”

“You know what,” I said, “I’ll bet we could punch out cherry pits using the end of a chopstick. Chopsticks we have.”

Rona rolled her eyes again. “But about carpenter or painting tools—I’ve been doing a lot of painting this summer—I feel quite different. I want my one-inch and my two-inch brushes. I want my bristle brushes and those newer-fangled sponge ones. There’s a specific purpose for each and it’s best not to use a bristle brush when you’re painting between the narrow slats of some of our outdoor furniture. Am I right, Ken?”

He smiled back at her and nodded. Thus encouraged, she continued, “You wind up ruining the brush and the job doesn’t turn out as well as it does if you use one of those sponges.”

Ken turned to wink at me as if proud of his best student. He has been tutoring Rona since last year and was clearly feeling good about her new knowledge and confidence.

“One more painting story,” Rona said. “Since I’ve been doing a lot of painting obviously I’ve needed to open cans of paint quite regularly. Until a few weeks ago I was using a screwdriver for this—the one for slotted and not square or Pozidriv screws. It was working pretty well until Steven showed me this tool we have in the shed designed just for opening paint cans. It’s got a curled end that fits perfectly under the lid and with just the simplest application of pressure it pops it right off. Even when there’s lots of dried paint around the rim.”

“In the old days,” Ken recalled, “they used to give you one of these for free when you bought a can of paint. Now-a-days I’m sure they charge for them. But I agree that it’s a great tool.”

“I’m coming to think that using the right tool for the right job is the way to do a job the right way. Don’t get annoyed with me,” Rona quickly glanced my way, “but the other day when we were working on the picnic table, to get to the screw head he,” meaning me and looking at Ken, “he had to chip away some paint. I saw him using a screwdriver to do that. I can’t believe I even noticed this considering unmechanical I’ve been all my life, but it didn’t seem right.” I was feeling a bit embarrassed to be thus exposed. “I mean to use a screwdriver that way. I assume there’s a tool for that too. But not a screwdriver. The way I’m looking at things these days you need to be fair to your screwdriver.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. My Rona talking about being fair to a screwdriver? What’s next, I wondered.

Ken just kept smiling.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 19, 2011--What's the Matter with America?

I'm poaching the title of Thomas Frank's 2004 best seller, What's the Matter with Kansas?, in an attempt to better understand how corporate and Republican leaders have been so successful in getting middle-class, working people to support a political agenda that primarily does the bidding of the nation's most successful and wealthiest individuals. Even to get people who are struggling financially to risk seeing the U.S. tumble into default rather than agree to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires.

To Frank--and I agree--the sleight of hand conservative elites employ is to deflect class-based analyses of government-facilitated inequality in favor of pressing social issues such as abortion, prayer and creationism in schools, and the current galvanizing one--same-sex marriage.

One only needs to follow the career trajectory of Michele Bachmann to see this on full display since it was her and her husband's fierce attack on gayness that propelled her into Congress and her current front-runner status in the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

Many on the left felt that the Culture War was over. That they had won. They saw a tense but general consensus that these kinds of matters were settled both in law and public opinion. Not everyone agreed, of course, but those passionate about ending abortion, for example, were sufficiently marginalized that we could move on to more substantial issues such as growing the economy and securing our place in the world.

But then there is the Tea Party and concomitant Michele Bachmann phenomena. Whipped into a gossipy frenzy of frustration and anger by entertainment media masquerading as news and journalistic organizations--the collapsing Rupert Murdoch empire is the latest case in point--social issues are again front and center, serving as ideal distractions from the hard choices we would otherwise be forced to confront.

Bachmann was launched into prominence in Minnesota by her outspoken opposition to homosexuality itself, ignoring the science that it is a "condition" and asserting it is a "preference," a "choice of lifestyle." She called it a form of "enslavement," "bondage"; and claimed it could be cured by therapy that included counseling and especially prayer.

Not to be outdone by his wife, Michele's husband Marcus, who compares homosexuality to "barbarism," runs a number of for-profit Christian counseling businesses that specialize in this very thing. What he calls "reparative therapy," or gay-to-straight counseling. (See linked New York Times article.)

To understand how reparative therapy works ABC News had a reporter pretend to be a gay "patient" and filmed one of Dr. Bachmann's counselors tell him that "God designed men's eyes to be attracted to women's breasts." It sounds like Clockwork Orange time in Minnesota.

Back in the 19th century Kansas was a center of left-wing populist sentiment and political activity but less than 100 years later could be counted on as a bellwether of conservative social doctrine. In his book Frank traces this metamorphosis. How the consolidation of family farms into industrialized agribusinesses propelled new forces into prominence in the Farm Belt; and to protect and nurture those interests, with the connivance of local and national political leaders who were bankrolled by these companies, Kansans, among others, were weaned away from economic populist thought and action to embrace a new form of social and cultural populism. To get more riled up by concerns about same-sex marriage than tax breaks for oil companies.

By concentrating on social issues and not the widening gulf between the rich and working poor, Kansans by electing cultural conservatives who promised that they would outlaw abortion (which they have effectively managed to do in Kansas) and bring creationism to the public schools (not yet accomplished) wound up voting for economic policies that have proven to work to their own disadvantage.

We are now seeing this same sort of self-destructive behavior spreading beyond Kansas and affecting much of America. We need right now to take heed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011--Bush-Obama Tax Policy

The stalemate between President Obama and Republican congressmen centers around tax policy--

Obama says that to reduce the deficit those corporations benefitting from tax breaks and individuals making $250,000 a year or more need to "pay a little more" in taxes.

Republicans counter by saying they are "job creators" and that asking them to ante up more is a "job killer."

This encapsulates a fundamental difference in ideology between the parties. But ideologies are belief systems and not based on evidence; and since we are facing a short-term as well as a long-term existential crisis that is real and not theoretical, ideologies--beliefs--are not helpful in seeking solutions.

If the argument is ultimately about jobs, in seeking the best fiscal approach to create and sustain them, it is not useful to trot out ideologies. We have nearly two decades of clear evidence about what kinds of approaches to taxation, in fact, help create jobs and which kinds do not.

Here, then, are some of these facts:

During Bill Clinton's eight years in office, the marginal tax rate for America's highest earners (the one primarily being fought about at the moment) was 39.6 percent.

During the Clinton years, 22.7 million jobs were created. 11.5 million during his first term and 11.2 during his sceond.

These tax rates were lowered to 35 percent early in George W. Bush's first term, and during those four year literally no new jobs were created. Zero. During his second term, things improved slightly--1.1 million were created.

There were other factors at work than tax policy--for example, during Clinton's terms worker productivity soared thanks to efficiencies that were the product of computing and the Internet--but 22.7 million versus 1.1 million is strong actual evidence regarding which approach to taxation is better for job-creation.

There is even more evidence.

During all of Barack Obama's two-and-a-half-years in office, Americans, in effect, continued to be taxed at the same rate as under President Bush. Actually, Obama's so-called stimulus program included more money for additional tax cuts than for direct job creation. He had to accede to this to secure the two Republican votes needed for the Senate to pass it.

And just last December, Obama caved in to Republican demands to extend the full Bush-era cuts through 2012. So we have thus far had 10 1/2 years of Bush tax policy. Though now, in fairness, it should more accurately be called Bush-Obama tax policy.

And we know about job creation thus far during the Obama years--there has been less than none. 1.8 million jobs have been lost on Obama's watch.

So, in total, Bush-Obama tax policy over more than a decade has resulted in a net loss of 700,000 jobs.

I do not understand why Obama and the Democrats do not cite this evidence while continuing to make their own empty ideological arguments to counter the Republicans. If we are talking about how to create jobs, we know a lot about what works and, equally, what doesn't from our own recent history. We need to have a real and meaningful debate about how to get out of this mess. When it comes to tax policy, we know what to do. Spouting ideology, on the other hand, may score some easy political points but is otherwise useless. Actually, worse than useless.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15, 2011--Day Off

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14, 2011--The Sooner the Better

“I don’t know what the problem is.” I was having coffee with a friend. “It’s working for me.”

“What’s that, Joe?”

“Chapter whatever.”

“I’m not following you.” In fact I wasn’t.

“Chapter 7. Bankruptcy. Personal bankruptcy. I declared it, what, about 18 months ago.” I nodded sympathetically. “Best thing I ever did.”

“How’s that, Joe? I’m not sure I understand. Doesn’t it mean you can’t have any credit cards or borrow money? Among other things, I mean.”

“That’s half the reason it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I was addicted to those cards. They got me into a peck of trouble. And my mortgage, which of course I defaulted on.

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Thanks but there's nothing to be sorry about. As they say about all people who get themselves in trouble, I had to hit rock bottom. That’s where I hit, but now look at me.” I turned to face him. “I don’t look so bad do I?”

I had to admit he didn’t.

“I’m getting my act together. A step at a time. It’ll take a few more years to dig out for sure, but then I’ll be able to start all over. All the better for it.”

“Not that I’m disagreeing with you, Joe, but you’re still a relatively young man with responsibilities. You have a nice family. I don’t know a lot about Chapter 7, but doesn’t it mean you're not eligible for many kinds of jobs? I mean when you apply for something at, say, Walmart, don’t they run a credit check on you? And wouldn’t that mean . . . ?”

“Yes, that they wouldn’t hire me. Don’t get me wrong. There are real consequences. You don’t get off scot-free as if you did nothing wrong. But that’s the whole point—I did do something wrong and there is a price to pay. But the price I’m paying is leading me to a better place. As they used to say, ‘There’s no free lunch.’”

“I agree with that,” I said.

“And what’s more, what’s good for me would be good for the country.”

“Again, I’m not following you.”

The U.S. of A. We’re bankrupt too. Just like me.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that.”

“We owe more than $14 trillion, right?” I nodded. “That’s our national debt, right?” I shrugged my shoulders. “Tell me what’s so different?”

“For one thing we have by far the world’s largest economy, China not withstanding. Ours is at least four times the size of the Chinese economy and we have way fewer people. About a third as many. Which means that we’re very productive and there’s a lot of tax money streaming into the Treasury. Money they use to meet our obligations.”

“Fair points; but tell me this—how are we ever going to pay down that $14 trillion?”

“Many economists say that for an economy the size of ours carrying that much debt is not as big a problem as it sounds. I know that doesn’t feel like common sense, but that’s what they say.”

“I can name other economists who say exactly the opposite. It’s not an exact science. In fact, it’s far from anything resembling science. But that’s neither here nor there because even Paul Krugmans—he’s one on your side, right—even he can’t tell us how to get out from under our obligations. In fact, if your Obama had listened to him, we’d owe another few trillion and still be counting.”

“But you’re ignoring how we got into this predicament in the first place. Your George Bush . . .”

“That’s old news. What we have to do now is face our situation the way I did. It’s cold-turkey time. I use that expression because like me the government is addicted to borrowing and spending. The only way out is to face the fact that we’re at rock bottom.”


“Which means exactly what I said. What I did. Like me the government has to say, ‘No mas.’ No more. It’s time to face the reality of our situation. We’re in a hole we can’t dig out of.”


“Whatever chapter it is, the U.S. has to declare bankruptcy. Reorganize.”

“You mean not pay what we own to our bond holders?”

“Among other things.”

“And these include?”

“Look, when we declare national bankruptcy the economy continues. People still have their jobs. They still get paychecks. They still pay taxes. But what we do with those taxes would be different. Rather than pay the Chinese we continue to send out Social Security checks, we pay veterans benefits, we pay our soldiers, we even keep paying for Medicare. The only thing we stop doing is paying our foreign creditors.”

“But you know that many other institutions and foreign governments hold our Treasury bills? We’d stop paying them too?”


“Wouldn’t that mean, with all due respects, that like you who can’t apply for certain kinds of jobs or buy a car or house, the United States would become a pariah economy? That nobody would ever trust us again or be willing to do business with us? To trade with us, for example? Do you think the Chinese would ever again export stuff to us?”

“What would be so bad about that? They’re killing us now by not playing by the rules. Wouldn’t we be better off without having all those goods produced by cheap labor flooding our country and taking away jobs from Americans?”

“Some of this may be true, but if we walked away from our obligations wouldn’t we be risking the collapse of our economy and wind up totally isolated from the rest of the world? What you’re proposing would be quit a roll of the dice with potentially cataclysmic consequences.”

“As far as I’m concerned we’re already living with a cataclysm. I say, ‘The sooner the better.’ Waiting for the inevitable to happen is not the solution. Facing up to the reality of our situation and doing what needs to be done is what we have to do. And I mean now. Again, as I said, like I did.”

“It may be working for you but for the country, which is a whole other matter, I’m not so sure. I’m not willing to risk all our futures on something as radical and untested as what you’re proposing. look at what just the possibility of Greece defaulting has done to the world economy.

"And frankly," I continued, "your Republicans aren’t being responsible either. They taking cheap shots to scare worried people into voting for them. There’s one Congressman I read about yesterday, Austin Scott, who’s part of the Tea Party freshman class, who said that, yes, there will be some, ‘short-term volatility,’ but, to quote him, 'in the end the sun is going to come up tomorrow.'"

Joe chuckled at that.

“I don’t know,” I said, “if he was evoking Ronald Reagan who told us that in spite of our problems it was still morning in America, or Annie. I suspect Annie since he clearly doesn’t know his history. During Reagan’s time the Republican Congress voted casually to raise the debt limit a number of times. And during his eight years Reagan tripled the debt, increasing it from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. But I assume you believe that he was still a pretty good president.”

Joe just smiled at me and said, “You really don’t get it, do you?”

* * *

Maybe I don’t, but I did look up what President Reagan wrote to then Senate Majority leader Howard Baker back in November, 1983, urging him to have Congress raise the debt limit:

The United States could be forced to default on its obligations for the first time in its history.

This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world. The full consequence of a default–or even the serious prospect of default–by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate . . . . The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.

I thus wondered who in fact doesn’t get it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 13, 2011--Endocannabinoids

It's was hot yesterday even on the coast of Maine and so I had a light lunch of yogurt, cashews, and pecans.

As usual, though I took just a handful of the nuts to keep me from finishing the entire can, I couldn't stop from eating at least twice as many as I intended. The only thing that worked was to push the nuts way out of arms reach and have a good talk with myself about my lack of self control. Which didn't entirely work since when Rona got up to answer the phone I snuck another handful and gobbled them down before she returned.

The day before I had tuna salad with tortilla chips. Rather than make a sandwich using bread or a roll I thought a half-dozen chips would be better since they have fewer calories than two slices of whole wheat and thus scooping the tuna with the chips would be healthier and dietetic. But, as with the nuts, I couldn't restrain myself and ate my entire stash. At least 30 chips.

I use the word stash intentionally--a word I used frequently in the past to describe my . . . well, you know what.

Stash seems appropriate since in Tuesday's New York Times Science Section there was a fascinating article (linked below) that cites the latest research findings as to why all of us have a hard, often an impossible time not finishing the entire bag of potato chips, the full can of Planters mixed nuts, or dozens of Doritos.

This happens, it seems, because these foods, high in fats, release endocannabinoids, which stimulate the brain in ways very similar to cannabis and leads to the same kind of uncontrollable cravings--or munchies--that marijuana induces.

Leave it to the Italians to figure this out. Scientists there gave rats liquids high in sugar, fat, or protein; and wouldn't you know it, from the moment the fatty liquid hit their taste buds--as compared with the sugar or protein water--the rodents' digestive systems began to produce endocannabinoids and as a result they went crazy, begging for more.

Just like I used to do when under the influence I desperately needed to get my hands on Chinese food. Not the steamed vegetables, but the greasy fried rice and fatty spareribs But that was another time and another story.

According to Dr. Danielle Piomelli, "We have this evolutionary drive to recognize fat, and when we have access to it, to consume as much as we possibly can."

For those of us who are trying to control our waistlines, there is more bad news from the world of science. For example, when obese individuals were shown pictures of high-calorie foods, their brains showed more activity in regions associated with seeking pleasurable rewards than was true for slimmer people. To make matters worse, scientists have found that these brain reward centers are also hyper-stimulated when the over-weight were directed merely to say "chocolate brownies." How unfair does it get?

And, speaking of chocolate brownies, there was this time when I . . .

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 12, 2011--"Dr." Ziefert

Back at my Brooklyn public school, PS 244, "Dr." Ziefert was in charge.

The "Dr." is in quotes because he was not a doctor of any kind. Just an educational force of nature, and the students as well as his teachers, and they were surely his, conferred this title on him, a version of an honorary degree, because it reflected his authority and his accomplishments.

To be fair, his accomplishments were the result of the work his teachers did and what the kids were able to achieve. But they derived from him--what he expected, what he inspired and if necessary compelled, and how he worked tirelessly to maintain the quality of all of our efforts.

He was never known to use his office. He was always roaming the halls to make sure his version of proper discipline was being enforced and popping in on classes.

When he would show up, always unannounced, we were expected to carry on as if he wasn't there. Actually, since we knew our teacher would get a full report from him about what he observed, including unvarnished criticism if he noticed anything that wasn't working and that if there was a continuing pattern of less than excellent pedagogy her job would be in jeopardy, we raised the level of our performance--our posture improved, our spelling lessons moved along more crisply, we ripped through our multiplication tables, and we didn't answer out of turn. Or at least we attempted to.

And by the evidence of achievement-test scores; the kinds of high schools we moved on to; and longer-range how we fared in life, PS 244 worked.

There are today very few "Dr." Zieferts in charge of public schools. The general breakdown of authority and respect, the power of unions to regulate working conditions as well as how teachers are evaluated and tenured, and the formal limitations on principals' powers have contributed to the decline in the quality of our schools.

In regard to principals, nothing symbolizes their lack of authority and inability to function as a school's lead educator as the restrictions on their ability to visit classrooms and, based on what they observe, work with teachers to improve their craft and, more tellingly, use these visits as one way to evaluate teacher performance. And, if all else fails, move to have the teacher dismissed.

Being able to in this way hold teachers accountable for their work with children is so rare that when a school district moves to change the rules to permit principals to actually observe classes, it is big news and can even find its way onto the front page of the New York Times, as it did last week.

An article about an experimental program in Washington, DC that allows five classroom evaluation visits a year is linked below.

Project Impact uses "master educators," supervising teachers, as well as principals for these visits and by the numbers appears to be working. Washington has 3,000 public school teachers and before Impact, before the union contract permitted classroom visits, by the tepid methods that were in place, more than 95 percent of teachers were "highly rated," and virtually none were ever dismissed because of poor classroom performance.

Last year in DC, 165 were let go and this year it is expected that another 200 to 400 will get pink slips. This is still only about 10-20 percent of the teacher corps but begins to reflect what even common sense would consider reality. Washington has been one of the most dysfunctional school districts in the nation, and it is hard to believe that the schools' problems were all the result of poor parenting, poverty, and a lack of community interest in how children fare (the classic excuses to explain away schools' failures). Some of the responsibility, much of the responsibility must be assigned to ineffective teaching and poor leadership.

It is a shame that it has taken decades to get back to this point where all the educators in a school are held individually responsible for student learning. "Dr." Ziefert, if he is still around, I am sure he would be wondering what took us so long.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11, 2011--Big Things

Barack Obama repeatedly claims that America is still capable of doing "big things" even while he works to make a deal with the Republicans to cut $4.0 trillion from the deficit.

Don't hold your breath about either of these--the big-things or the deficit cutting.

About the latter, neither Obama nor the Republicans really want to make a deal, in spite of all the bloviating.

Republicans don't want to make a deal if it requires asking even billionaires to pay one penny more in taxes. And, politically, they want to be able to saddle Obama with responsibility for the deficit even though most of it was amassed by Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. If the GOP agrees to a deal with Obama he might then be able to get credit for cutting spending, something Republicans want exclusive credit for even though they were in the majority in Congress when the U.S. went on a spending spree and borrowed more than at any time in our history.

Obama doesn't really want a deal because to agree to one that would get to $4.0 trillion in savings would require deep cuts in Medicare and Social Security, and he doesn't want to let the Republicans who voted to end both as we know them off the hook. It would be difficult for Democrats to run TV ads in 2012 accusing the GOP of endorsing the Paul Ryan plan--a potent political gambit--if Obama and the Democrats cave into Republican demands to cut these popular programs.

So look for some tepid, short-term deal that kicks the deficit down the road until a non-election year. No profiles in courage are being written in Washington these days.

On the big-things side of the equation--a look back to the America that built the great dams and interstate highway system, that landed men on the moon, and expanded higher education opportunities to millions of new students--don't expect very much. Is there anything currently underway that even resembles any of these massive social and infrastructural projects?

Forget high-speed rail. There was some money in the stimulus package for this, but governors in Florida and elsewhere turned back the funding in part because it came from Obama. Forget all the hopeful talk about a lunar-landing-sized effort to come up with alternate forms of profitable clean energy, a new industry that Obama claimed wold employ millions. Forget a Marshall Plan to nation-build in America in place of such efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead Obama had us triple down in Afghanistan and there is no real end in sight for that hopeless and costly war.

In the meantime, in China, where officials must be delighted that we are in the process of bankrupting ourselves--there will be no need for them to invest in an American style military in order to "conquer" us economically--they are spending their time and money on the very things that we should be doing.

Not only are they the only game in the world when it comes to developing and manufacturing products for the sustainable generation of energy, but all along the coast of the China Sea as well as inland they are making huge investments in their major cities.

According to a recent report in the New York Times (linked below) in Wuhan, China's ninth-largest city, over the next seven years they will be spending $120 billion to build a 140-mile-long subway system, two new airport terminals, a new financial district, a cultural district and riverfront promenade, and an office tower that will be half-again as tall as the Empire State Building. All in seven years--the amount of time New Yorkers will need to complete a two-mile subway extension along Second Avenue.

And Wuhan is far from unique in its ambitious plans. Dozens, yes dozens of other Chinese cities are engaged in similar infrastructure projects.

Now that's what I call doing big things.

Friday, July 08, 2011

July 8, 2011--History Lesson

What follows are the opening paragraphs of a New York Review of Books review of Jeff Madrick's recent book, Age of Greed. There are chiling lessons here that we would be wise to heed:

Suppose we describe the following situation: major US financial institutions have badly overreached. They created and sold new financial instruments without understanding the risk. They poured money into dubious loans in pursuit of short-term profits, dismissing clear warnings that the borrowers might not be able to repay those loans. When things went bad, they turned to the government for help, relying on emergency aid and federal guarantees—thereby putting large amounts of taxpayer money at risk—in order to get by. And then, once the crisis was past, they went right back to denouncing big government, and resumed the very practices that created the crisis.

What year are we talking about?

We could, of course, be talking about 2008–2009, when Citigroup, Bank of America, and other institutions teetered on the brink of collapse, and were saved only by huge infusions of taxpayer cash. The bankers have repaid that support by declaring piously that it’s time to stop “banker-bashing,” and complaining that President Obama’s (very) occasional mentions of Wall Street’s role in the crisis are hurting their feelings.

But we could also be talking about 1991, when the consequences of vast, loan-financed overbuilding of commercial real estate in the 1980s came home to roost, helping to cause the collapse of the junk-bond market and putting many banks—Citibank, in particular—at risk. Only the fact that bank deposits were federally insured averted a major crisis. Or we could be talking about 1982–1983, when reckless lending to Latin America ended in a severe debt crisis that put major banks such as, well, Citibank at risk, and only huge official lending to Mexico, Brazil, and other debtors held an even deeper crisis at bay. Or we could be talking about the near crisis caused by the bankruptcy of Penn Central in 1970, which put its lead banker, First National City—later renamed Citibank—on the edge; only emergency lending from the Federal Reserve averted disaster.

You get the picture. The great financial crisis of 2008–2009, whose consequences still blight our economy, is sometimes portrayed as a “black swan” or a “100-year flood”—that is, as an extraordinary event that nobody could have predicted. But it was, in fact, just the most recent installment in a recurrent pattern of financial overreach, taxpayer bailout, and subsequent Wall Street ingratitude. And all indications are that the pattern is set to continue.

(Full review linked below.)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

July 7, 2011--The Dirt Under His Feet

I am a lifelong Yankee fan, which wasn't easy growing up in Brooklyn where the Dodgers were worshipped. And thus I am caught up with Derek Jeter's pursuit of 3,000 hits. As I write this he has 2,997 after going 1 for 3 last night against the Indians. Only 27 in all the history of baseball accumulated at least 3,000 and none while playing only for the Yankees. So this is a big deal.

What to me isn't a big deal is all the cashing in surrounding the impending event. According to an article in the New York Times(linked below), so-called baseball memorabilists have figured out dozens of ways to make a quick buck.

Scams, sorry, merchandising ideas--under the DK-3K logo--include selling commemorative T-shirts, caps, jerseys, bobble-head dolls, decals, wall murals, fabric patches, bats, baseballs, license plates, and cellphone skins, whatever they are.

More "authentic" and of course much more expensive will be the opportunity to shell out very big bucks for the actual bases Jeter touches when he gets his 3,000th hit. I suppose best would be if he were to hit a home run since that would mean they have four bases to hawk.

Then there are his spikes (shoes for the uninitiated) as well and his uniform, wrist bands, batting gloves, the bat itself of course, as well as his warm-up jacket and cap. No public mention of his unmentionables--his, well, jock and such--but I assume they will find their way to eBay.

There is even talk of his repeatedly changing his uniform after he gets his penultimate hit so there will be more to peddle.

Also there is the matter of the playing field itself. When the old Yankee Stadium was torn down after the new one was opened eager fans gobbled up bricks, seats, and even handfuls of the outfield grass. This time, after Jeter gets his 3,000th a grounds crewman will race around with a little shovel and pail to scoop up a bucket or two of infield dirt. That gathered at jeter's position, shortstop, will undoubtedly be the most valuable.

How to market teaspoon amounts of dirt is proving most challenging. But the sports hucksters are rising to the occasion. Small amounts of the sacred dirt will be put in tiny vials which in turn will be hooked to key chains or attached to necklaces. Some will be placed in disks which will then be mounted and framed with commemorative photographs. They are calling these "dirt collages." Why not. If collages worked for Picasso why not for Jeter.

This is out-and-out hagiography with jeter being represented to us as a saint of sports with everything he touches, runs on, or sweats in being pawned off and cherished as if they had the power of holy relics. But then again there is my Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card and my . . .

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

July 6, 2011--What Would Thomas More Say?

Last Wednesday in the first appellate review of the 2010 health care law, the Obama administration prevailed as a three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that it was constitutional for Congress to require that Americans buy health insurance. (See linked New York Times article.)

The heart and soul of all the advancing legal challenges to the law is the mandate that uninsured Americans be required to obtain medical insurance. Those appealing claim it is unconstitutional to compel and fine those who do not want to do so. That is an abrogation of their right to, in one of the appellant's arguments in the Sixth Circuit, to remain "inactive."

The majority opinion found that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution is sufficient to justify this requirement since to permit the uninsured to remain uninsured affects the larger health care economy. In effect, we all wind up paying for the care of the uninsured when they show up, for example, at emergency rooms seeking "free" treatment.

We will of course see what the Supreme Court has to say about this. Knowing the ideological lineup of the Court it can be assumed that almost all have already made up their minds. Thus the outcome of the case, and the fate of Obamacare, will reside with one or perhaps two potential "swing" justices.

Beyond the merits of the case, I was curious to see that it was the Thomas More Law Center that took the lead in seeking to have the health care law declared unconstitutional. Aren't they the ones, I wondered, who in 2005 in Dover, PA, aggressively sought to require that creationism be taught in its public schools?

I found that indeed they are. And so, wondering further, I sought to learn what else the Center, established in 1995 as the Christian alternative to the ACLU by Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, has been up to, who its leaders are; and, since they invoke Sir Thomas in their very name, what might he have thought about the work the Center engages in in his memory.

There is of course no way to know, since he lived between 1478 and 1535. But the question remains curious.

Recall that More was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important counsellor to Henry VIII and for three years toward the end of his life served as England's Lord Chancellor. He is recognized as a saint within the Catholic Church and was an opponent of the Protestant Reformation and in particular of Martin Luther.

He is best known for courageously opposing Henry VIII's leaving the Catholic Church in order to marry Catherine of Aragon and as a result More was confined to the Tower of London, tried for treason, and beheaded.

The Center, named for him, has been one of the most active groups in America, pursuing an ultra-conservative agenda by engaging in litigation that, according to its Website, focuses on "religious freedom," "family values," "the sanctity of life," and perplexingly, "national defense." Thus it is understandable that they would press legal challenges to abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and pornography. But American troops accused of killing Iraqi civilians and Obamacare??

As a humanist, Sir Thomas, who was interested in the early manifestations of what ultimately became the "new science," would undoubtedly have agreed with the judge in the Dover case who in a 139 page opinion found that "intelligent design" is not science but essentially religious in nature, and consequently inappropriate for inclusion in public school biology classes.

And anyone familiar with More's novel Utopia, would know that he would likely be uncomfortable with many of the More Center's other views. I suspect, even its challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

For in Utopia, a fictional traveller, Raphael Hythlodeaus describes the political arrangements of the imaginary island country of Utopia, a Greek pun meaning "no place." It is a place that More contrasts with the internal struggles tearing at the social fabric of then existing European states, an island nation with communal ownership of land, where private property does not exist, and men and women are educated alike. It is also a place where there is almost complete religious toleration.

Thomas More, even more than the More Center alleges is true for Obama, is an early version of a socialist and, as such, I feel certain, would be an enthusiastic supporter of Obamacare. Actually, as an advocate of communal property, there might even be no need for a "commerce clause" in his Utopia's constitution; and thus I suspect he would have been a strong advocate for a single-payer option for those without health care. In other words, for true socialized medicne of the sort we find in Canada and all developed countries.

Too bad the folks at the Thomas More Law Center don't know their Thomas More.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

July 5, 2011--Not to Worry

We should calm down already.

Yes, we know many who are unemployed. Yes, we see all those vacant stores along America's main streets. Yes, our own house may be under water. Yes, we may owe the bank more than our condo is worth. Yes, America owes more than $14 trillion to its creditors. Yes, thanks to the Republicans, we may be about to go into default on our sovereign debt (what we owe the Chinese). Yes, and yes again.

But the Dow Jones Average is about twice what is was when Barack Obama was inaugurated. How good is that? And, above all, our nation's CEOs, who are still laying off workers to pad the bottom lines of their companies, are doing very nicely, thank you.

The New York Times reports that their average compensation packages for 2010 rose--are you seated--23 percent. Don't ask what the rest of us saw in our paychecks last year, assuming we were fortunate enough to still be receiving one. (Article linked below.)

Most generously taken care of was Philippe Dauman of Viacom. He received a whopping $84.5 million for his year of hard work, about 30 percent more than in 2009. CBS, which had another poor year in 2010, nevertheless paid its CEO, Les Moonves, $56.9 million, 32 percent more than the year before. Though at least he figured out a way not to have to resign Katie Couric. Michael White of DirectTV, which at least is doing pretty well, "earned" $32.9 million, 20 percent more; while Disney's Michael Iger, another company that did not soar in 2010, was paid a cool $28 million, about 22 percent more.

In percentage terms, in second place is Glenn Britt of Time Warner Cable who received 40 percent more, but he was topped by News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch who gave himself a 42 percent raise. Thank you Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.

Again according to Republican trickle-down ideology, these guys, and they are pretty much all guys, as "job creators" will some time soon stop cutting jobs and begin to do some hiring. Not just lawn care people for their places in Greenwich but maybe a few at their companies.

But if this doesn't help to boost the economy, one thing that surely will work in time is the practice of "grossing-up" executives' salaries. This is the practice of increasing their pay to compensate for any taxes they might have to pay for the perks they receive--use of private jets and company cars for themselves and their families, apartments in multiple locations, and limitless expense accounts that cover personal as well as business expenses. Though since this practice is under criticism by shareholders at a few places it is being scaled back. This thus is serving as another argument for keeping taxes for the super-compensated at historic lows.

Overall, for top executives, 2010 was a very good year. Enough to make them think that happy days are here again. Then why are the rest of us not feeling so optimistic? It must be Obama's fault.

Monday, July 04, 2011

July 4, 2011--The 4th In Round Pond

I have to run.

To get a good spot in Round Pond to watch their legendary 4th of July parade, legendary because of its revisionist irreverence, we need to leave at the crack of dawn (when I usually do my blogging).

To give you a flavor of what is in store for us, among the local favorite parade participants are the Tacky Tourists.

They are an "elite" group who sport knee socks with sandals, outdated Hawaiian shirts, oversized cameras and Bermuda shorts that are pulled up entirely too high.

They march carrying lawn chairs, and when their ringleader blows the magic whistle, the real fun begins. A choreographed dance number ensues, during which the chairs are flapped, spun and ultimately sat in amidst the cheers and applause of spectators. Truly classic stuff.

So you will understand that today for me will be devoted to these kinds of higher pursuits.

Friday, July 01, 2011

July 1, 2011--In Transit

From Florida to Maine. I will be back on Monday with fireworks.