Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30, 2012--Hinesville, GA

North of Tallahassee, desperate to have breakfast at almost any place other than a Dunkin Donuts, we found our way to Thomasville, Georgia, which Rona said she knew about because they are famous for roses.

There's not much to see except, as advertised, the town is festooned with roses. I looked it up--more than 7,000 bushes are stuffed into every available front and side yard. Quite a display in this otherwise basic place that has seen better times. Like much of rural Georgia and the South more generally.

But we did find a terrific roadside place for breakfast. Henderson's which has been there since 1949, established--if that's the word for it--by Roy Henderson, an ex-GI who, when other things failed after he returned from WW II, set up a stand and started selling coffee and donuts.

The neon sign from that era flashed on and off--

Good Food  Good Friends
Good Times . . .

Years later Roy added eggs, country breakfast meats, and fancied things up just a little bit. The rest is history.

Rona, for example, had their egg and sausage casserole. It was so good I ate half of it in addition to wolfing down my own fried eggs with bacon, grits, and of course a couple of homemade biscuits. As Michelin would say--"Worth a detour."

Other than that, there was not that much to see--half the places were boarded up--and having Beaufort, SC as our destination we pushed on diagonally across Georgia.

A couple of hours later, after driving through pine forests--many clear cut for their lumber--and fields of spring grain, we got to Hinesville, which presented a vivid contrast to the "City of Roses."

Not only was there every conceivable food franchise from Pizza Hut to Chili's to Taco Bell--all packed--but new car dealerships, thriving real estate offices, banks, men's and women's clothing stores, and at least a half dozen real restaurants.

"What's going on here?" Rona was confused. "The surrounding land looks the same and I didn't see any large assembly plants. Nothing apparent that would bring about all this prosperity."

"I'm confused too. We're still sort of in the middle of nowhere."

"Another strange thing," Rona said. "Did you notice that all the billboards for the banks and car dealerships have pictures of soldiers in them?"

"I did see that."

"There's a road sign over there," she pointed toward the north. "Fort Stewart. That must be it. We've seen this in many parts of the country, especially in the deep south. Military bases all over the place. Parris Island, for example, is right near Beaufort, where we'll be stopping tonight. And I know tommorrow we'll be passing by Fort Bragg in North Carolina."

"I'm sure you're right," I said, "I don't know anything about Fort Stewart, but it must be quite a place to make the local economy so vibrant."

"Quite the stimulus program, no?"

"What do you mean?"

"Isn't Fort Stewart a government-financed program? Aren't all the troops federal employees?  Why is it OK to have this kind of stimulus program but not one to fix up all the terrible roads we've spent two days driving on? By the time we get to New York we'll need to get our wheels aligned again."

"Good point. But I thought we agreed not to talk politics while on the road. To keep us from getting aggravated. Leave the aggravation to the traffic and crazy driving."

On the other side of town, the very-different-looking African-American side, we pulled off the road to gas up, see if they sold bottled water, and, Rona said, to buy some Mega Millions and Lotto Tickets. "This is just the exact kind of place where winning tickets are sold. When was the last time anyone in New York City ever won $40 million?"

"Only on Wall Street," I said.

Rona groaned.

"I'll follow you inside," I said. "I need to make a pit stop."

"This is some place," Rona said when I reappeared.

"Did you get you lottery tickets?"

"I did. But look over there where they're selling them." She nodded toward what looked like a huge dinner table. One that could handle a family of at least ten. Every chair was filled and it was covered by stacks of lottery forms which people were furiously filling out. No one was saying a word, they were so focused and intent on what they were doing.

"Look at that." This time she was pointing to a huge cork bulletin board. On it were posted news and pictures of people from the area who had purchased lottery tickets there who won one or five or ten thousand dollars.

"No Mega millionaires, yet," Rona said, "But there's room for my picture. Though, to be honest, I'd feel guilty winning Wednesday's $40 million with a ticket from here."

"Let's worry about that next week I said. "We need to hit the road. We have another 250 miles of driving and I'm already pooped."

Later in the day I googled Fort Stewart and found that it's the largest military installation east of the Mississippi. There are more than 12,000 troops and the families housed on the base and these men and women of the 3rd Infantry Division support another 33,500 in Hinesville itself--all those Taco Bells, banks, and car dealerships. I further learned that it was the staging area for the invasion of Cuba during the Missile Crisis and after the threat was resolved President Kennedy visited to thank the troops for their efforts.

And, I discover, President and Michele Obama had been there the day before to sign an executive order to protect veterans' education benefits. (See linked article from the Savannah Morning News).

"I'm sure," Rona said, "the townsfolks there were having a hot time Friday night at Pizza Hut."

"And at Rosenhof's German Restaurant," I said, "It gets 4 1/2 stars on Trip Advisor."

PS--Rona didn't win the $40 million.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26, 2012--"It's the Economy And We're Not Stupid"

Thus spoke Mitt Romney Tuesday night after winning a spate of northeastern primaries.

Along with my progressive friends, I made light of these wins (after all, who was left to run against--Ron Paul?) and reminded myself that he's the one who pandered to southern voters by talking about how he loves "cheesy grits" and drove to Canada with the sick family dog strapped to the roof of his car. In other words, don't worry, he's a loser.

Here's a sample of reaction from the left-wing blogosphere:

So Mitt Romney won five states last night, finally breaking the 50 percent mark in a primary and officially becoming the presumptive Republican nominee. On the other hand-- A Smart Politics review of Republican primary election data since 1972 finds that Mitt Romney's performances in Delaware and Pennsylvania mark the first time a GOP frontrunner has failed to reach the 60 percent mark in a contest conducted after his last major challenger dropped out of the race. That's not exactly shocking given Mitt Romney's electoral track record: he lost his 1994 Senate race by 17 points despite running in the best year for Republicans in generations, he didn't run for reelection as governor of Massachusetts because he would have lost, finished third in his 2008 presidential campaign (Mike Huckabee was second), and he managed to become the weakest major party presidential nominee on modern history. 
It's no wonder that President Obama isn't exactly shaking in his boots.

On the other, other hand, if I were Obama I would be worried.

Not because the economy might not continue to improve through the summer and gasoline prices are likely to rise again as the holiday driving season begins, but because Romney is not the doofus progressives have been chortling about and might actually turn out to be a formidable candidate.

Take Tuesday's victory speech, for example. 

Here are Romney's opening remarks.

We launched this campaign not far from here on a beautiful June day. 
It has been an extraordinary journey.Americans have always been eternal optimists.  But over the last three and a half years, we have seen hopes and dreams diminished by false promises and weak leadership. Everywhere I go, Americans are tired of being tired, and many of those who are fortunate enough to have a job are working harder for less.
For every single mom who feels heartbroken when she has to explain to her kids that she needs to take a second job … for grandparents who can’t afford the gas to visit their grandchildren … for the mom and dad who never thought they’d be on food stamps … for the small business owner desperately cutting back just to keep the doors open one more month – to all of the thousands of good and decent Americans I’ve met who want nothing more than a better chance, a fighting chance, to all of you, I have a simple message: 
Hold on a little longer.  A better America begins tonight.

Pretty good, don't you think? 

Romney's campaign is already cleverly conceding that Obama is likable and a gifted campaigner; but, they are saying, when it comes to the economy, if you want to get the job done, hire a pro.

If Romney can stay on the high road, stay out of unscripted town meetings and diners, and speak only via a teleprompter he might prevail in November.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25, 2012--Stand-Your-Ground Pants

I was shopping for a few things at a local Florida men's store. Nothing fancy. Jeans and a couple of long sleeve shirts. They were having a third-off sale.

I like Woolrich so I walked over to look through their stuff. Featured were some chinos that were drawing a lot of attention. A group of beefy guys were especially interested. When I got close to where they were flipping through the racks, I realized they were looking at the latest pants designed to accommodate concealed weapons.

Since this is not my thing at all, I turned tail and drifted back to the Levi's. I was concerned that with Florida's now notorious stand-your-ground law who knows what these guys might be packing and what they might think about a New Yorker encroaching upon their habitat.

By coincidence, later that day, of all places on the front page of the New York Times there was a piece about what they called a "new fashion wrinkle" for "stylishly hiding a gun."

Woolrich has been particularly clever, the Times reported, about their new line that features an extra pocket behind the traditional front pockets where a guy can stash his pistol. Or, if he prefers, he can get chinos with a stretchable waist band, well designed not only to work for guys with paunches but for those who prefer to just slip their six shooter into their pants and underwear.

These new threads also have a special pocket in the back for the purpose of hiding accessories such as flashlights and knives.

And best of all, though not on sale, and none that I saw were, these slacks will set you back only 65 bucks.

Other companies, I learned, are also developing lines for concealed weapons permit holders. No surprise since we're talking about a bull market. With more and more states making it easier to obtain these licenses, their ranks swelled last year to seven million, up since 2008 from five million.

The Times quotes a 35-year-old Kentuckian who works for an auto dealership as quite pleased with the increased number of fashion choices--

"Most of the clothes I used in the past to hide my sidearm looked pretty sloppy and had my girlfriend complaining about my looks. I'm not James Bond or nothing, but these look pretty nice."

This has me thinking--maybe next winter when we're back in Florida I might . . .

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April 24, 2012--Snowbirding: Dead End

Can I help you?”

We had been visiting my mother and were heading down the hallway toward the elevator. In the other direction Rona noticed an elderly man who seemed lost.  He didn’t respond so she turned toward him and said, “There aren’t any apartments down that end. Just the staircase. It’s a dead end. If you want the fifth floor, it’s one flight up. But,” noticing his cane, “if you want to go up there or down, it’s better to use the elevator. That’s where we’re headed so if you want . . .”

“I’m looking for my girlfriend.”

I thought, considering who lives in the complex with my nearly 104-year-old mother, here’s someone else who is beginning to lose it. Sad. But isn’t it remarkable, I almost said out loud, that he has a “girlfriend.”

“Does she live on this floor? The fourth?” Rona asked as compassionately as possible.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m supposed to meet her. . . .  Somewhere.”

“Where?” By then Rona had walked to his end of the corridor. “Somewhere on the fourth floor?”

“No. In the lobby.”

“That’s on the first floor. Do you want to come with us? That’s where we’re headed.”

“Where’s that? On this floor?”

God, I thought, this is going nowhere and will take forever. We’ll probably have to traipse all over the building to find his girlfriend. Assuming he even has one. I was eager to get started so as to miss the rush hour traffic on I-95.

“No. Downstairs on the first floor. Come, let us show you.” Rona helped him turn around to face in the direction of the elevator and took his arm to walk side-by-side with him.

I strode slightly ahead thinking that if I moved it along they might speed up and we could help him with whatever and then get on the road. It was a quarter to four and I knew traffic was building.

“She’s a lovely girl, my girlfriend,” he said.

“How long have you known her?” Rona asked.

“I just moved in. I think it was three months ago or maybe last year. I get confused about time.” I turned back toward them and saw his apologetic smile.

“I do too,” Rona said reassuringly, “If I don’t get the New York Times and see the Dining section on Wednesdays and the Arts section on Fridays I wouldn’t know what day it is.”

“So you’re retired too?” He asked. “You look too young for that.” He winked at her and I realized that in spite of whatever deficits he had he was still quite the lady’s man.

“Thank you,” Rona smiled and tipped her head in his direction, almost touching his shoulder, “But I am older than maybe you think I am.”

“I try to read the Times at least once a week. Especially on Mondays. They have a good Sports section then. Though I get confused about that too and think maybe its Tuesday when they have Sports.”

“On Tuesday they have the Science section,” Rona said, “Because, as I confessed . . .”

“Otherwise you wouldn’t know it’s Tuesday?” He grinned, clearly proud of himself for knowing the sections of the Times and the days of the week.”

We were at the elevator by then and I pressed the down button, tapping my foot in a futile attempt to speed it up. It moves at a snail’s pace to accommodate all the residents who shuffle along with canes and walkers.

“What’s that you’re reading?” Rona asked, noticing the book that he had tucked under his arm.

“What floor are we on again?” he asked, still confused about where he was.

“We’re on four,” I said, noticing that one of the two elevators was out of service. “This is going to take forever,” I muttered to myself.

So I asked about his book. “The book,” I said, “The one under your arm there. What are you reading?”

“I just got it from the library. It’s new. Let me see. I forget titles as well as days of the week and numbers.” He shrugged his narrow shoulders.

“Let me see,” I reached toward the book, which slipped from under his arm and fell to the floor.

I bent to pick it up and as I did the elevator finally arrived and the doors trundled open. It was packed with residents, their aides, and a tangle of walkers. Frustrated, I signaled to let it pass by since there wasn’t room for the three of us. Perhaps Rona and I could have squeezed in but here we were, thanks to her, with someone we were now committed to staying with until he located his girlfriend.

The book of his, in the meantime, was quiet a surprise. Not what I would have expected someone as confused as he would have selected. It was something I too had just purchased and enjoyed —The Righteous Mind, by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

I couldn’t help but ask, “You’re reading this? He nodded. “Very impressive.” I tried to stop myself from sounding condescending.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “’How could someone who doesn’t know what floor he’s on read a book about moral psychology?’”

Before I could pretend to deny this, he waved me off. “Things, as well as people, aren’t always what they seem. That’s not the theme of the book, but it’s one thing you could take from it. How human motivation and behavior isn’t always the result of what appears to be true.”

“Interesting,” I said. “I agree with you, that’s a subtext of his main thesis.”

“Which is?” his eyes now were clear and sparkling. His girlfriend and what floor he was on now forgotten.

“It’s more about moral intuition and how . . .”

“You two fellows can carry this conversation on later,” Rona interjected. “We need to get on the next elevator and get him together with his friend. She must be worried sick, wondering where he is.”

“I doubt it,” he assured us, “To tell you the truth she’s the same as I.”

“Meaning?” Rona asked.

“That she’s probably in the other building thinking it’s this building. But then again,” he looked blankly off into the distance, “maybe she’s in the right building and I’m . . .”

“You’re just fine,” I said, now wanting to know more about his reading.

“Tell that to my sons,” he said. “They’re the ones who want me living here. I was fine in my condo in Miami. Who cares what day it is? As long as you have your mind. I mean the mind you need to read books like this one.”

“I agree with that,” I said.

“Here’s the elevator again,” Rona said. “And there’s plenty of room for the three of us. Let me help you. Don’t worry about the door. It closes very slowly.”

And it descends slowly. Enough so that he told me that he agreed with the book’s main point—that these moral intuitions are so powerful that our reason—Plato’s “reason”—stand in service to them.

“If you’ve lived as long as I have—I’ll be 96 next July, or is the one after?—and paid attention to world events—wars, poverty, bigotry—and studied human behavior, you know that he—Haidt—has it right.” Clear eyed, he was now smiling broadly. “About emotion and reason.”

I nodded to indicate sincere agreement.

“Well here we are,” he said as the elevator bounced to a stop on the first floor. “And there she is—my beautiful girlfriend. Say hello to my new friends,” he said to her. “I didn’t catch your names. But you are a wonderful couple. And it is Monday isn’t it? I read the Sports section this morning.”

And with that they walked off together toward the card room. “We play canasta every afternoon,” he said glancing back at us. “Every Tuesday and Thursday.”

He laughed at his own joke and whispered to his girlfriend so that she would be in on it. Our last glimpse of them, as they turned the corner toward the lobby, was of the two of them with their arms around each other.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23, 2012--Rove's Genius

During the presidential election campaigns of 2000 and 2004, and the off-cycle ones between, Karl Rove preached the gospel of "It's-the-social-issues-stupid." 

While the Democrats were saying "It's-the-economy-stupid," Rove was famous for getting individual states to place referenda on their ballots that focused on issues such as gay marriage.

 For two reasons--he knew it would motivate the GOP base--folks would be so eager to vote against anything having to do with gayness that they would come out to vote and while rejecting gay marriage they would also vote for George W. Bush and other Republicans up and down the ticket.

 And, second, he knew that if gullible conservatives got all focused on their fear of homosexuality and opposition to abortion they would not notice the economic policies GOP leaders and legislators were promulgating that were actually harmful to middle-class people--things such as tax loopholes and deductions for high earners.

 As we know, this strategy worked--Bush was elected twice and so were a host of conservatives. This time, however, things may turn out to be different. Now GOP pundits want voters to concentrate on the economy, feeling it is Obama's and the Democrats' Achilles heal.

 But there are so many social-issues initiatives on state and local ballots that Rove and his minions are worried that Independent voters will be so turned off by them that they will come out to vote them down and while at the polls vote for Obama and other Democrats.

 In Tennessee there is voter concern about a state law that protects teachers who want to question evolutionary theory; Arizona moved to ban all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy; Mississippi passed a law that will close the only remaining place where a women can obtain an abortion; Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin (who may no longer be in office come November) signed a law allowing teachers to teach about abstinence rather than contraception; and then of course there is the trans-vaginal scan debate in Virginia.

 I could go on.

The point, though, is that there are incendiary non-economic issues on the ballots and/or voted into law in numerous states around the country--including many swing states--and GOP strategists are worried that there will be a backlash against them and that their candidates, including Mitt Romney, will suffer.

 Wouldn't that be ironic--Democrats benefitting from Karl Rove's political brainchild.

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20, 2012--Men

"Men," she sputtered, "What is it that they say?--'You can't live with them, but you can't live without them.'"

This from a close friend who is not prone to expressing herself in such categorical ways. She has been happily married for 50 years and by every measure appears, in general, to be fond of men. Many of her best friends are men. Me included.

So I was surprised to hear how exasperated she sounded. We were having drinks at a local bar. "Anything I should know about going on between you and John? You still seem so . . ."

"No. Things with him are fine. He's such a dear. He would say the same thing about men."

"I'm sensing you may be feeling frustration about some of the political discourse concerning the state of gender relations."

"Spoken like the old professor you are. Discourse, gender relations. I thought you got out of college teaching long before everything was about discourse-this, discourse-that."

"Thankfully I did miss some of that. How everything is socially-constructed. But," I winked over my pinot noir, "I do try to keep current with what the youngsters are up to. The gender studies people who believed they had it all figured out must be feeling exasperated too. What with what goes for political discourse these days."

Sally chuckled at my again using the D-word. "I am not one of your gender professionals, but I am feeling as if I'm living in a time machine. One propelling me back decades. Perhaps even centuries. Not a day goes by when one state legislature or another, or one governor or another, passes or signs into law yet another restriction on what we as a nation thought we agreed were women's rights."

"I feel likewise."

"Can I have another?" she asked the bartender, sliding her glass toward him. "This time, make it a double. I think I need to tie one on. You're the designated driver this evening?" I assured her I was. The one glass of pinot would be my first and last.

"This is not just happening in Arizona where I would expect nothing less than a full rollback of access to reproductive healthcare, but in Wisconsin too. La Follett's state. Russ Feingold's state. Where Progressivism was born. What is going on?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing. I have my ideas but would prefer to hear yours."

"I think it's all about pent up frustration and even rage."

"Whose and about what?"

"Men's. About all the changes that have occurred during the past 40 years. Mainly descended from the women's movement. How do you think 'traditional' men,'" she made air quotes, "feel about all the women in the workplace? Having significant careers and maybe with a woman as a boss or supervisor? Including in places like investment banks and hospitals, your universities, and, lord help us, the military. I'm surprised we aren't seeing as much kicking and screaming about that as about gays in the Army."

"I think I know why that is."


"Because it's less politically correct to bash gays than women."

"My point exactly. And thus the frustration. In polite society--or not so polite society--it's more acceptable to make fun of gays than women. So there's no way to ventilate any misogynist steam. It stays in the system, builds up, and then, as we are seeing, explodes in a frenzy of anti-feminist behavior."

"I think you're right. I need another drink. We can always get a taxi to take us home."

"Women have also invaded one of men's last refuges--sports. There's an NBA women's basketball division and this summer you'll notice that the TV coverage of the summer Olympics will disproportionately favor women's events during prime time. There will be more women's gymnastics than men's weight lifting. And speaking of TV, until Katie Couric was not resigned at CBS, along with Diane Sawyer, two of the three network evening anchors were women. Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings were nowhere in sight."

I nodded.

"More than half of medical school students are now women which means that the next decade's Marcus Welby will be wearing a skirt. And the next time these guys have their prostates checked it will be a woman doing you-know-what."

That I felt.

"And isn't it true," she said, "that in most sectors of the workforce that are projected to grow--like healthcare--female-gendered jobs are the one's most likely to increase in number? This in spite of Mitt Romney's distorted take on women's recent job losses. Actually, in this recession men were more vulnerable--most of the precipitous job losses that occurred during George Bush's last two years were men's and only now women are catching up by losing theirs. Obama's bad luck."

"And isn't it true that in some communities and ethnic groups it's easier for women to find work, and in many two-worker families women are earning more than men?"

"And how do you suppose that makes men feel?"

"Not good. And very resentful, which is where you began."

"Exactly." She paused to take a deep drink of her gin and tonic. "And then," she leaned closer to me and whispered, "how do you think it makes men feel when their women say they too want to have orgasms?"

"Probably . . ."


Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19, 2012--Buffet's Gimmick

Just after Republican senators blocked the Buffet Rule that would have raised taxes for very high earners, Mitt Romney, who also opposes it, appeared on his favorite news network, Fox News, to be interviewed by one of his favorite hosts--ober free-marketeer, Larry Kudlow.

The Rule would apply a minimum tax of 30 percent to individuals such as Romney and Kudlow making more than a million dollars a year.

Kudlow threw Romney a soft ball:

KUDLOW: Listen, the 30 percent millionaires' tax, the Buffett tax was stopped in the Senate last night, you know that. Let me ask you this. President Obama, Vice President Biden and others, they're taking to calling it the Romney Rule. It's not the Buffett tax. It's the Romney Rule because they say that wealthy, successful people like yourself don't pay their fair share in taxes. I want to get your initial response to that, please.

ROMNEY: Well, you know, these kind of gimmicks that they've talked about, the so-called Buffett Rule, if they want to change the name, that's fine, too, they couldn't get it through their own Democratic Senate. And I think the reason is, people recognize that these gimmicks are not going to get America strong again, they're not going to create jobs. They're going to have the opposite effect of creating jobs.

The reason the Buffett Rule couldn't get through the Senate is because Republicans filibustered it. There are only 51 Democrats in the Senate and since a 60 vote majority is required to overcome a filibuster, with only one Republican joining all the Democrats, it went down to defeat. So Romney was wrong to blame its demise to "their own Democratic Senate." It was defeated by Republicans. If the Senate had majority rule for ordinary business, "their Democrats" would have passed it.

The reason Republicans filibustered it is because they know that the Buffett Rule isn't a gimmick. Yes, making sure that million-dollar earners pay more than at present yields "only" $47 billion over the next decade; but if we can't do even that, how can we realistically expect to handle the bigger fiscal issues we face?

Far from being a gimmick, the Buffett Rule is a start—and a wildly popular one. Seventy-two percent of Americans favor it, including a majority of Republicans.

The GOP criticism of it in the Congress focused on how small a portion of the annual cost of the government would be covered by the $47 billion--some senators said only 18 minutes of spending, others three days. But $47 billion is real money and would be a start in the direction of fairness and fiscal responsibility.

A start is not the definition of a gimmick.

It's both real and symbolic. Reality and symbolism are often equally important. They can be reciprocally connected. I sadly suppose we will have to wait until after the November election to get serious about the mess we've made.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18, 2012--In Quiet Rooms

After winning the New Hampshire primary back in January on the "Today" show, Matt Lauer asked Mitt Romney, "Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy?"

Romney responded, "You know I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms. But the president has made this part of his [public] campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach."

But now we know what Romney talks about in those quiet rooms. Or, in the case of the recent $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Palm Beach, a tent full of rich folks.

In public, Romney has been vague about just what he would do as president to cut the federal budget. But among the well-healed country-club set, overheard by a reporter, he let it fly--

"I'm going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I'm probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go," Romney said, according to NBC. "Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later."

HUD currently runs the Section 8 housing program and provides numerous programs and grants for development and housing for low-income families.

He also said he would take the Department of Education and "will either consolidate [it] with another agency or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller."

Then, acknowledging that he and his fellow Republicans have a problem attracting Hispanic voters, he said that they need a "DREAM Act" of their own because "we have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party." In contrast with his public statements that he opposes the DREAM Act (though he previously supported it while governor of Massachusetts) this seems to suggest Romney is in favor of some kind of path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

I am all right with many of these ideas, including others he revealed while under the GOP tent--to eliminated mortgage deductions for second homeowners and to close the tax loophole that allows high-income itemizers to deduct state and local taxes on their federal returns.

What I am not all right with is his propensity to not discuss any of this in public--with those of us he wants to vote for him and send him to the White House--but to reserve his most important policy thoughts for those who can come up with $50,000 each to hear them.

How ironic that he appropriately called out Barack Obama recently for his open-mic incident where he was caught telling outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev that after the election in November he will have "more flexibility" to negotiate arms limitation treaties. I am decidedly not all right with this--I want to know directly what my president might be up to with the Russians and not have to overhear it.

In fact, I am also not OK with what candidate Obama said at a fancy fundraiser in April 2008, in a quiet room full of San Francisco liberals, when he wondered out loud why he was having difficulty winning over working-class voters in Pennsylvania and the Midwest.

Claiming that because they had become frustrated with economic conditions, "It's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Again, like Romney he may have a point--not a politically winning point of view, but an openly discussable one nonetheless. The sort that we the people should be mature enough to debate.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 17, 2012--Gender Gap

Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen was justifiably excoriated last week when she sniped--"Ann Romney hasn't worked a day in her life." Forget the context and the Romney's affluence, it was stupid and anti-feminist.

Let's try to move on from that since she was speaking--or misspeaking--for herself and not Barack Obama. What really is significant are Mitt Romney's views about issues of particular importance to women.

Among other things, when asked about federal funding for Planned Parenthood, he matter-of-factly said that if he were to become president, "Sure. I'd get rid of it."

Since Planned Parenthood does not receive any taxpayer money to perform abortions this would mean the end of basic health services for millions of women.

Since Romney is trying to close the gender gap between himself and Obama, he and his staff, very much including his wife, are attempting to show that Obama, and not he, is waging a war on women. Thus his distorted claim that Obama's polices are responsible for a disproportionate number of women losing their jobs during the past three years.

But, in spite of his political problem with women, Romney is not backtracking on his pledge to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

Top Mitt Romney adviser Ed Gillespie was on "FOX News Sunday." When asked if Romney really meant it when he said he'd get rid of Planned Parenthood, Gillepsie said he would, but "getting rid of Planned Parenthood" wasn't really "getting rid of it." Because "defunding" isn't the same as "not having funding."

Here is the actual double-speak:

WALLACE: He also says that he would get rid of Planned Parenthood--federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

GILLESPIE: My point--look, people can disagree with that, but it's not fair to say not having federal funding for Planned Parenthood is defunding Planned Parenthood.

Only in Romney's universe does "not having federal funding" not mean "defunding."

Good for Chris Wallace for reminding Gillespie that no federal money for abortions goes to any women's health program. There is the Hyde Amendment that forbids this and even Democrats abide by it.

Beating up on Hilary Rosen won't get the gender gap closed. Women are too smart to fall for this diversion. But defunding women's health programs will only widen it.

As evidence, see this from the latest, post-Hilary Rosen CNN/ORC polling:

Thinking about the following characteristics and qualities, please say whether you think each one applies more to Barack Obama or more to Mitt Romney: Is in touch with the problems facing women today?

Obama 55
Romney 27

The gap two weeks ago was 18 percentage points. Now it is much wider. The Romneys are clearly trending in the wrong direction.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 16, 2012--Democrat Commies

While snowbirding in Florida our winter congressman is Allen West.

He's a rising star in the Republican party. For example, just last week Fox-TV personality Sarah Palin suggested he would make an excellent vice presidential candidate. Among other things that qualify him to people such as Palin is his personal story--he served 20 years in the U.S. military, including several tours of duty in Iraq and left the army as a lieutenant colonel. And, oh, he is the only African-American Republican congressman.

One thing Palin and other supporters fail to mention is that while on one tour West participated in the violent interrogation of a suspect who had allegedly threatened to attack his men. To get him to talk, West fired a pistol close to the suspect's head. No useful information was obtained and West was fined $5,000 for his participation. He paid it and shortly thereafter left the army.

West began to come to wider public attention back in January when at a Florida GOP dinner he had some choice words for Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress:

“Take your message of equality of achievement. . . . You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America." He called out Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi by name at the dinner, vowing to stop Obama from “destroy[ing]” the country.

But just this past week he really stepped in it. Outdoing even red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy, West claimed that there are "about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party."

This got me to thinking about how for decades the McCarthys and Wests of the Republican Party have been casual about smearing Democrats by labeling them socialists and communists.

I did a little research to compare how Republican and Democrat presidents while in office handled the America economy. If Democrats are really more socialist or communistic than Republicans one would expect to see Democrats' assault on capitalism causing declines in our economy--higher unemployment would soar since the "job creatures" would be so highly taxed that they would not be motivated to build businesses and hire people and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would increase more when free-economy-minded Republican were in the White House.

Let's then look at the facts from Republican Herbert Hoover's and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt's day to the present. Let's see if Allen West and his ilk may actually have it right.

"Communist" Truman left 2.5 percent unemployment to Eisenhower.

"Patriot" Eisenhower left recession and 6.5 percent unemployment to Kennedy.

"Communists" Kennedy/Johnson left 3.5 percent unemployment to Nixon/Ford.

Republican "Patriot" Ford left a recession and 7.5 unemployment to Jimmy Carter.

During his four years, "communist" Carter wasn't able to end the recession he inherited and neither were Republican "Patriots" Reagan and Bush who followed him and left recession and 7.2 unemployment to Bill Clinton.

"Communist" Bill Clinton left 4.2 percent unemployment to George W. Bush and hundreds of billions in budget surpluses.

"Patriot" George W. Bush left recession and 7.6 percent unemployment to "Communist" Barack Obama.

No Republican ever left office with unemployment under 5 %, including Ronald Reagan.

No New Deal Democrat ever left office with higher unemployment than he inherited, including Jimmy Carter who left the same unemployment rate he inherited from Ford.

Three out of four New Deal "Communists" left office with unemployment well under five percent.

In regard to GDP growth, here are the figures, listed from best to worst:

Kennedy/Johnson: 4.8 % average annual GDP Growth.

Truman: 3.8%

Clinton: 3.7%

Reagan: 3.4%

Carter: 3.3%

Eisenhower: 2.9%

Nixon/Ford: 2.8%

G.W. Bush: 2.2%

G.H.W. Bush: 2.1%

How did America do economically before and after the "Reagan Revolution"? For example, how many quarters of economic boom did we have--quarters where annnualized GDP growth exceeded 6%?

"Boom" Quarters in the 28 years before Reagan's inauguration: 34

"Boom" Quarters in the 28 years since Reagan's inauguration: 14

In addition, the national debt tripled during Reagan's eight years and tripled again during George W. Bush's eight years.

Then, how have capitalists on Wall Street fare under Democrat "communist" presidents? What did the Dow Jones Industrial Average do over the course of Republcan and Democratic administrations?

Republican Herbert Hoover: -90% (That's minus 90%.)

FDR/Truman: +525% (From 41 to 290)

Eisenhower, who refused to lower income taxes: +120% From 290 to 630.

Kennedy/Johnson: +51% (From 630 to 950)

Nixon/Ford: +2% (From 950 to 970)

Carter: +3% From (970 to 1000)

Reagan/Bush: +244% (From 1000 to 2440)

Clinton: +264% (From 2440 to 9880)

G.W. Bush: -25% (From 9880 to 7600)

Comrade Obama: +68% (From 7600 to 12800 last week)

From the actual evidence--not the rhetoric, spin, and outright lies--it looks as if my winter congressman Allen West and his Republican colleagues have things backwards:

With the exception of Eisenhower (who many thought was a Democrat and he almost declared himself one) and the Dow during the Reagan years, the so-called free market capitalist Republicans did worse by our economy that the socialist/communist Democrats.

Friday, April 13, 2012

April 13, 2012--Ayn Rand's Greatest Hits

Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about Ayn Rand.

She is the Russian exile author who in 1947 published The Fountainhead and ten years later, Atlas Shrugged. These are more than just page-turners because embedded in the narratives is adoration of individual efficacy that calls for the liberation of superior achievers from most of society' norms and restraints. Especially those controls that derive from governments.

In The Fountainhead, for example, the protagonist hero, architect Howard Roark, dynamites and destroys a skyscraper he designed because his plans were altered without his permission. He is put on trial and of course acquitted. To Rand, he embodies the human spirit, and his struggle represents the triumph of individualism over collectivism.

In Atlas Shrugged, to Rand's acolytes her magnum opus, she portrays a dystopian United States where society's most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations.

Led by John Galt, they go on strike. He describes it as "stopping the motor of the world" by "withdrawing the minds" that drive society's growth and productivity. In today's conservative political parlance, they are the "job creators." In their efforts, these people "of the mind" seek to demonstrate that a world in which the individual is not free to create is doomed, that civilization cannot exist where every person is a slave to government, and that the destruction of the profit motive leads to the collapse of society. The protagonist, Dagny Taggart, sees society collapse around her as the government increasingly asserts control over all business.

During the 1950s, literally sitting at Rand's feet in her Manhattan apartment squatted the young Alan Greenspan, taking it all in. Later, as chairman of the Federal Reserve, he supported Randian laissez-faire policies that led to the build-up of the housing bubble, which, when it collapsed, almost brought down the world's economy.

And, more recently, Congressman Paul Ryan, author of the Republican-supported Ryan Budget, though no relative of hers, is an fervent Ayn Ryan fan. He invokes her name and principles in speeches as he recently did before the Heritage Foundation when he warned his audience that “We're coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society and that could become very dangerous if it sets in as a permanent condition.”

Ryan is such a Rand devotee that he requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged, since he believes President Obama's economic policy is the nightmare described in it.

And of course, Ron Paul (remember him?) so loves Ayn Rand that he named his first begotten son Rand.

So, for the initiated, here below are her ten most quoted lines:

1. A government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.

2. Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves – or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth.

3. Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

4. Do not ever say that the desire to “do good” by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives.

5. From the smallest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from one attribute of man – the function of his reasoning mind.

6. Government “help” to business is just as disastrous as government persecution… the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.

7. I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

8. Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

9. It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.

10. Man’s unique reward, however, is that while animals survive by adjusting themselves to their background, man survives by adjusting his background to himself.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 12, 2012--Going Negative

During the same week that Mitt Romney effectively won the Republican nomination--Rick Santorum "suspended" his campaign--various Super PACs that support Romney announced that they are about to launch a wave of TV ads in all the swing states. If you live in places such as Florida, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, or New Mexico, brace yourself for the best (actually worst) that Karl Rove and his Super PAC, American Crossroads, are preparing to hurl at Barack Obama.

American Crossroads is primarily funded by Houston builder Bob Perry who put millons behind the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (my italics) that savaged John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Rove-Perry's favorite strategy when on the attack is to take their opponent's greatest strength and turn it into a liability.

In the case of the Bush-Kerry race, they knew that Bush had a problem seeming macho and militaristic because of his less-than-heroic years service during the Vietnam War in the Texas National Guard. He was mainly stationed in his home state in a decidedly non-combat role, even apparently many times partying and going AWOL; while Kerry actually was in Vietnam, actually in combat, actually wounded, and actually earned medals for courage and bravery while under enemy fire.

To deal with this "problem," or truth, Rove-Perry found Nam veterans who allegedly spend time there with Kerry and paid them to appear on TV ads, claiming that because he "lied" about his service on Swift Boats, he was "unfit to be President."

In fact, none of them served directly with Kerry and all but one veteran who actually did were enthusiastic supporters of Kerry, standing at his side during the 2004 Democratic convention.

But the ads were effective--Bush came off as a warrior while Kerry looked like an effete, dishonest wimp. And . . . Bush was reelected.

So get ready Barack Obama!

Expect to see your Chicago minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright resurrected; expect to see the reemergence of the birthers; expect to hear about your cavorting with "radicals" while at Harvard; expect to see photos of yourself dressed in African garb; expect to hear how you reject American "exceptionalism" and travel the world "apologizing for America."

But since Obama and his PAC groups know this is coming they won't be swiftboated. In fact, expect them to go negative as soon as possible.

Those of us who have been paying attention to the Republican nomination process--a distinct minority of voters--already know lots of "negative" things about Romney. But the vast majority of the electorate barely know him. They will begin to pay attention to him and the race during or shortly after the GOP convention. That will be the time when the Obama people will go after him and trade negative attacks. We may not like any of this, but it is inevitable when huge ambitions clash.

Obama has already been swiftboated--during the last campaign and through all of his presidency. We've heard "you lie" shouted at him during his first State of the Union; we've heard all about his birth certificate; we've heard about Rev. Wright; we've heard about Obama not being a Christian; we've heard about his black racism. There is not much more to lie about.

Now it will be Romney's turn.

Those who will be getting to know him for the first time will learn about his days at Bain Capital and his 14 percent tax bracket; they will learn about his plan to have 11 million illegal immigrants "self-deport"; they will learn about how "companies are people" and how he "enjoys firing people"; and of course they will learn about how he drove his family from Massachusetts to Canada with his dog strapped on top of his car. And then there is that picture of him with his Bain colleagues posing and grinning with hundred-dollar bills stuffed in their pockets.

Romney should be careful about casting the first stone, but he should be sure to duck.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April 11, 2012--The Code of Ur-Nammu

In my continuing pursuit of insight about human nature, I've been reading Jonathan Haidt's quite good new book The Righteous Mind.

He is a social psychologist with a particular interest in the psychology and evolution of morality. His work resonates with my own thinking in that he provides considerable evidence that our natures are largely controlled by intuition--we have nearly instantaneous perceptions about other people and the things they do, as well as judgements of right and wrong. And in spite of the Enlightenment and the beliefs of political liberals, reason can only tweak those intuitions, most commonly finding justifications for what has already been perceived and emotionally felt.

Among the many things he discusses is the Code of Hammurabi, one of the world's oldest written legal and moral codes which is most famous, from my high school recollection of it, for it's harsh call for "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

Rummaging around to learn more about Hammurabi and his more than 3,700-year-old Code, I stumbled upon an even older one--the Code of Ur-Nammu. It is the oldest known surviving law code. It was written in the Sumerian language in about 2100 BCE.

Below are its 32 surviving rules, some thankfully misogynistically archaic, though less severe than Hammurabi's; others by today's standards amusing; and still more that feel remarkably contemporary.

I thought you might like to see them. To help understand the levels of fines it imposes, the mina was equal to 60 shekels.

1. If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed.
2. If a man commits a robbery, he will be killed.
3. If a man commits a kidnapping, he is to be imprisoned and pay 15 shekels of silver.
4. If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household.
5. If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner.
6. If a man violates the right of another and deflowers the virgin wife of a young man, they shall kill that male.
7. If the wife of a man followed after another man and he slept with her, they shall slay that woman, but that male shall be set free.
8. If a man proceeded by force, and deflowered the virgin slavewoman of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver.
9. If a man divorces his first-time wife, he shall pay her one mina of silver.
10. If it is a widow who he divorces, he shall pay her half a mina of silver.
11. If the man had slept with the widow without there having been any marriage contract, he need not pay any silver.
13. If a man is accused of sorcery he must undergo ordeal by water; if he is proven innocent, his accuser must pay 3 shekels.
14. If a man accused the wife of a man of adultery, and the river ordeal proved her innocent, then the man who had accused her must pay one-third of a mina of silver.
15. If a prospective son-in-law enters the house of his prospective father-in-law, but his father-in-law later gives his daughter to another man, the father-in-law shall return to the rejected son-in-law twofold the amount of bridal presents he had brought.
17. If a slave escapes from the city limits, and someone returns him, the owner shall pay two shekels to the one who returned him.
18. If a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out ½ a mina of silver.
19. If a man has cut off another man’s foot, he is to pay ten shekels.
20. If a man, in the course of a scuffle, smashed the limb of another man with a club, he shall pay one mina of silver.
21. If someone severed the nose of another man with a copper knife, he must pay two-thirds of a mina of silver.
22. If a man knocks out a tooth of another man, he shall pay two shekels of silver.
24. If he does not have a slave, he is to pay 10 shekels of silver. If he does not have silver, he is to give another thing that belongs to him.
25. If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt.
28. If a man appeared as a witness, and was shown to be a perjurer, he must pay fifteen shekels of silver.
29. If a man appears as a witness, but withdraws his oath, he must make payment, to the extent of the value in litigation of the case.
30. If a man stealthily cultivates the field of another man and he raises a complaint, this is however to be rejected, and this man will lose his expenses.
31. If a man flooded the field of a man with water, he shall measure out three kur of barley per iku of field.
32. If a man had let an arable field to another man for cultivation, but he did not cultivate it, turning it into wasteland, he shall measure out three kur of barley per iku of field.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 10, 2012--Google Glasses

While in New York City recently for a quick visit, on the teeming streets we were run down frequently and literally by texters who couldn't take their eyes off their iPhones.

"It's just like driving on I-95 in Florida," Rona said. "All the cars drifting from lane to lane because the drivers are texting."

So she had a chance to try out her new strategy for dealing with this--refusing to alter her path on the sidewalk and allowing texters to crash into her. "I don't think we should do that on I-95," I said, "One can get killed. But it seems to be working on the streets of New York. People get the point that they should watch where they're going after they bump into me. Especially into my elbow."

It did work for a day or two until Rona was crashed into by a six footer who weighed at least 250 pounds. Even her sharp elbow didn't get the job done. "Maybe we should just stay in our apartment where it's safe," she suggested.

That proved to be a fleeting thought. There was too much to do and so we gave in, dodging and weaving when on the sidewalk so as to avoid disabling collisions.

But things are likely to be worse next time we're back in the Big Apple. That's because Google is about to unveil their latest gadget--internet connected eyeglasses.

These spectacles will include a see-through screen on the lenses that can project maps and other data . The wearer will be able to use voice commands to ask for directions or send a message to a friend. To make matters worse, for those of us who think smart phones already are a menace to safety, privacy, and sanity, be aware that Apple, not to be left in Google's dust, is also working on its version of a wearable computer.

To be sure they stay in the lead, Google is developing something even more ominous or, if you prefer, better--contact lens with embedded electronics.

Not far behind, I am sure, will be computers placed in our brains--or what's left of them--that will pass information directly to our nervous systems, obviating the need for "crude" things such as eyeglasses and contact lenses.

To market its new Google Glasses, they released a video that shows you what these specs can do from the point of view of the glasses themselves. It shows a man wandering the streets of Manhattan (with Rona nowhere in sight) "communicating" with friends, checking out maps, and snapping pictures--the eyeglasses include a camera. At the end, the video shows the man playing the ukulele (!) for friend over a video link.

Once this hits the streets I know for sure that Rona will want to move to the woods. I expect to be happy to join her there.

Monday, April 09, 2012

April 9, 2012--Fortune Cookies

After visiting my mother, I said, "Let's go for Chinese food.

Eating Chinese food when visiting parents is an ingrained tradition among Jewish people who grew up in Brooklyn where all the Chinese restaurants seemed to be in Jewish neighborhoods. But in Florida, where most Chinese restaurants are undistinguished, it so happens that quite near where my mother lives there is a distinguished one, Silver Pond, which Rona correctly feels could do well even in New York's competitive Chinatown.

So we did a twofer--first we had a sweet visit with my mother then we indulged ourselves in shrimp dumplings, soy sauce noodles (dry), baby bok choy, and beef with Chinese eggplant.

After packing up a box of leftovers to take home, the waiter brought us Silver Pond's traditional plate of quartered oranges and fortune cookies.

Rona pounced on her cookie while I sucked on the orange slices.

"Read this," she said, waving the sliver of paper on which the fortune was printed. "'When you feel defensive,'" she read out loud, "'examine what you fear.' What does yours say?"

In truth I don't like fortune cookies--neither the cookie itself nor the fortunes. I don't believe in them--they seem silly to me.

"Go on. Don't be such a grouch. Open yours."

Without enthusiasm I did and out slid my fortune. I brushed off the crumbs and passed it over to Rona, who, exasperated, snatched it and read--"Enjoyed the meal? Buy one to go too." She looked over to me, still with my face buried in orange rind. "I couldn't have said it better. You can never get enough Chinese food, even agreeing to take home doggy bags, which everywhere else you refuse to do. Now do you believe in these fortunes?"

I didn't get either Rona's or the fortune's meaning, but said, "Turn it over. On the back I think they give you numbers you can use when playing Mega Millions. Let me see." She passed it back to me. "On mine they are 51, 6, 22, 36, 46, 43. If we had played these in the recent drawing that paid out more than $600 million we would have had enough money to order Peking Duck."

"Let me have that," Rona took the slip from me--she had played the big lottery last week and got three or four numbers and won ten dollars. "I don't remember the winning number but I do recall the Mega Ball was 23. So your numbers would not have made us rich."

"But though the numbers are not 'lucky' as advertised," I teased her, "you still believe in the fortune?"

"I admit your fortune is silly but mine, don't you think, is a little profound?" She read hers again, "When you feel defensive examine what you fear. Not bad, right?"

I couldn't help but agree.

Then, as is my inclination, when we got home, I did a little research about fortune cookies, turning to the wonderful Wikipedia, from which I learned:

As far back as the 19th century, a cookie very similar in appearance to the modern Fortune cookie was made in Kyoto, Japan, and there is a Japanese temple tradition of random fortunes, called omikuji. The Japanese version of the cookie differs in several ways: they are a little bit larger; are made of darker dough; and their batter contains sesame and miso rather than vanilla and butter. They contain a fortune; however, the small slip of paper was wedged into the bend of the cookie rather than placed inside the hollow portion.

Most of the people who claim to have introduced the cookie to the United States are Japanese, so the theory is that these bakers were modifying a cookie design which they were aware of from their days in Japan.

Makoto Hagiwara of Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is reported to have been the first person in the USA to have served the modern version of the cookie when he did so at the tea garden in the 1890s or early 1900s.

David Jung, founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, has made a competing claim that he invented the cookie in 1918. San Francisco's mock Court of Historical Review attempted to settle the dispute in 1983. During the proceedings, a fortune cookie was introduced as a key piece of evidence with a message reading, "S.F. Judge who rules for L.A. Not Very Smart Cookie". A federal judge of the Court of Historical Review determined that the cookie originated with Hagiwara and the court ruled in favor of San Francisco. Subsequently, the city of Los Angeles condemned the decision.

Seiichi Kito, the founder of Fugetsu-do of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, also claims to have invented the cookie. Kito claims to have gotten the idea of putting a message in a cookie from Omikuji (fortune slips) which are sold at temples and shrines in Japan. According to his story, he sold his cookies to Chinese restaurants where they were greeted with much enthusiasm in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas.

Fortune cookies moved from being a confection dominated by Japanese-Americans to one dominated by Chinese-Americans sometime around World War II. One theory for why this occurred is because of the Japanese American internment during World War II, which forcibly put over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps, including those who had produced fortune cookies. This gave an opportunity for Chinese manufacturers.

Fortune cookies before the early 20th century, however, were all made by hand. The fortune cookie industry changed dramatically after the fortune cookie machine was invented by Shuck Yee from Oakland, California. The machine allowed for mass production of fortune cookies which subsequently allowed the cookies to drop in price to become the novelty and courtesy dessert many Americans are familiar with after their meals at most Chinese restaurants today.

"Pretty fascinating, no?" I said to Rona after reading this to her. "You have me half convinced that fortune cookies are not really silly. They have an interesting history."

She smiled at me, "Why don't you do a little more research to see if my fortune from dinner comes from Confucius because I think that classically--if I can use that word for this--most do."

So I did. And indeed Rona's fortune was quite Confucian.

Here are a few others, straight from Confucius himself--

Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.

Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and star.

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.

What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.

They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.

If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.

Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.

Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.

So there you are.

Next time we're at Silver Pond, I'll be sure to check my fortune cookie and plan to use the numbers when playing Mega Millions. One never knows . . .

Friday, April 06, 2012

April 6, 2012--Holidays

Have a happy holiday. I will return on Monday.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

April 5, 2012--Ladies of Forest Trace: Natural Causes

“I’m not doing well.” On the phone my mother sounded breathless and weak.

I was concerned. Though she is nearly 104, she has been in fine physical and mental health. “You do sound under the weather. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. I’m just not myself. More than under the weather.”

“Do you want us to come over?” It is unusual for her to make calls of this kind. She prides herself in being independent and self-sufficient.

“No. I just want to talk with you. On the phone is fine.” She panted, “I’m not up for a visit.”

“Are you using the oxygen? You know you’re supposed to do that when you’re short of breath.”

“As much as I can tolerate. But let’s not talk about that. I am so weak that I don’t want . . .to waste my energy . . . talking about how I feel and . . . oxygen. I have other things . . . on my mind.”

“Sure, mom, whatever you want.” I signaled Rona to pick up the other phone. I wanted her to hear whatever it was my mother wanted to share.

"When I turned 100 . . . that feels so long ago . . . everyone wanted to know about all the things I had experienced. You know . . . before there were cars and airplanes. And of course your computers.”

“I do remember. We all gathered in Florida and you gave a party for everyone at Forest Trace. You ordered dozens of pizzas and soda and there was a huge cake and music. It was so . . .”

“I remember that. They wanted to know about my life as . . . a girl . . . and as a young woman during Prohibition and the War. So many . . . too many wars. But that is not what I want to talk about now. So let me just talk. You don’t need to say anything. I know you keep interrupting me so I can catch my breath. But . . . I am all right.” She knew I was skeptical and so added, “Really.”

“Sure, mom, whatever you say.” Rona passed me a note saying that I should be quiet and let her talk.

“Yes, during my lifetime I did see all of those things. Those wonderful inventions. . . . As wonderful as they were . . . as they are . . . these did not make my life memorable.”

“What did then?”

“The other kinds of changes. For example, look at what happened for women. Not just the vote . . . which happened when I was twelve . . . . That was very important. It was a shanda that it didn’t happen sooner. Can you imagine . . . having to wait until 1920 to have the right to vote? The changes for women may be the most important thing to have happened in a thousand years. More even. I am not . . . exaggerating. Think about how women were treated . . . still are in so many places . . . and how much better it is now. Not perfect, but so much better.”

“I agree, mom, the changes have been historic. There is a backlash now—what some are calling the . . .”

“I know, the war against women. I have been hearing that. But even at the worst . . . including here in Florida . . . so much has been improved. We will never go back to the way it was. And do you remember the first time we came to Florida? To visit Aunt Fay?”

“I do. And I think I know what you are going to say—that . . .”

“Let me say it for myself while I still can. How we saw segregated drinking fountains . . . simple drinking fountains . . . One for Whites and a separate one for Colored.”

“And how, when we went to Miami Beach, we . . .”

“Saw that colored people . . . black people . . . couldn’t remain on the beach after dark. That there were special buses . . . for blacks only to take them back to Miami. To the mainland.”

“We were so upset when we saw that.”

“Even worse than that . . . or better . . . we were also angry, which was better. And over time . . . more and more people became angry and . . . after too much suffering and too many years we had a Civil Rights movement and later . . . as a result . . . Barack Obama in the White House. Don’t get me started,” she breathlessly added, “I don’t want to talk politics. We have been doing that for years . . . which has been wonderful . . . though now I don’t have the energy for that. But I do want to make sure we don't forget who our president is. The president of all of us . . . even those who . . . hate him.”

“You’re right. It is important to remind ourselves of that.”

“And of course we have been doing better with gay people. Remember your uncle . . . who was gay . . . and how he couldn’t tell anyone about it? Though everyone knew. If he did . . . he would have been fired from his job. He taught French in high school in Brooklyn. He was a wonderful teacher but they would have had to fire him. At that time . . . they didn’t even have don’t tell, don’t ask in New York City. . . . It’s hard to believe,” she paused, “isn’t it? . . . How far we’ve come.”

“Indeed,” Rona said.’’

“I’m glad you’re on the phone because I want you to hear this too.”

“I’m here, mom. I’m listening to everything.”

“I’ll need to get off in a moment. . . . I need to lie down.”

“Please do, mom, we can continue later.”

“It’s all right, darling. In my case there may be no later.” I could feel tears welling in my eyes. “And the same is true for old people like me who before the Depression did not have pensions. Most people just died . . . in poverty. And then later, Medicare. What would we do without it? Just die like some of the Republicans are saying? . . . Or implying. . . . There I go," she managed to chuckle, "talking politics again.”

She continued, “And look how much better disabled people are treated. Do you remember how they had to stay home? They couldn’t go out . . . they couldn’t work. . . . They lived in the shadows. The same for people with mental problems. Remember, across the street, there was Tommy who they gave a lobotomy to? And how he lived with his parents . . . alone . . . in a dark room . . . until he died?”

“I do remember that, mom. And how you made me visit him. And thanks to you I did, even though all we did was sit in his room together. Never saying a word to each other. But as I look back it was a wonderful thing you had me do.”

“I too have been thinking a lot about those days. . . . I know I am old . . . very old . . . and who knows how much longer I have and . . .”

“None of us do, mom,” I tried to sound reassuring.

“Thank you for saying that. I know that is true for everyone, but at this point . . . for me . . . it is not just a possibility. I am reminded every moment that it is the reality . . . of my life. To be uncertain.”

“But mom . . .” Rona tried to say.

“No buts, darling. There is a time for all of us . . . and I understand and accept that. Whatever is in store for me I am ready for. But . . . one final thing.”

Final was a difficult word for me to hear from her and so I covered the phone so my mother would not hear the beginning of a sob. Not of grief but of resignation and sadness.

“Again . . . as I look back over my life . . . about what I have been telling you about . . . I have been trying to come up with a way to summarize all of the things I have witnessed and lived through.”


“And, I think it’s all about . . . justice. . . . With liberty and justice for all. Especially justice.”

“I agree.”

“There is nothing more important than that . . . Justice.”

“I think . . .”

“I think I need to lie down. And use the oxygen. I don’t feel up to having dinner with the ladies tonight. . . . The girls will have to get along without me.”

“There’s always tomorrow,” I offered.

“Sometimes . . . there isn’t tomorrow.”

With that, she hung up.

I reached over to hug Rona.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

April 4, 2012--Day Off

I'm pooped but will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

April 3, 2012--Commerce Clause

The debate within the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will hinge on its views about the meaning and limits of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes."

Key here is the clause "among the several states."

The question before the Court is: does the Affordable Care Act do that--regulate commerce among the states?

To non-constitutional scholars (me very much included) the answer should be simple--health care in the United States represents at least 16 percent of our total domestic economy; and the care one receives crosses state lines in many, many ways--you may be a citizen of New York and pay for medical insurance there but require treatment while visiting Florida; your doctor may be practicing in California but was trained in Ohio; the CAT scanner used to diagnose you in Illinois may have been developed and manufactured in Connecticut.

Beyond this there are market issues, decidedly interstate one, including the costs of care and the need in some ways to contain and regulate them.

But things are not that simple. There is a long history of debate within the Supreme Court about the meaning of the Commerce Clause and its application in a continuously changing policy environment. For example, during the Great Depression and the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt, many parts of his New Deal legislative agenda were claimed to be constitutional because they effected interstate commerce--commerce among the states.

In 1936 Roosevelt and Congress were implementing New Deal policies and the Supreme Court, to illustrate, in Carter v. Carter Coal Company, struck down a key element of the New Deal's regulation of the mining industry on the grounds that mining was not "commerce."

After the Presidential and Congressional elections of 1936, Roosevelt began an assault on what he regarded as the Court's anti-democratic decisions. In the preceding years, the Court had struck down a long list of progressive legislation--minimum-wage laws, child labor laws, agricultural relief laws, and virtually every element of the New Deal legislation that had come before it.

After winning reelection in 1936, Roosevelt proposed a plan to appoint an additional Justice for each sitting justice over age 70. Given the age of the then current justices, this would have allowed a Supreme Court of up to 15 justices. Roosevelt claimed that this was not to change the rulings of the Court, but to lessen the load on the older justices, who he said were slowing the Court down. This assertion, of course, was bogus--Roosevelt wanted to enlarge the Court so he could appoint justices who would uphold his legislative agenda.

There was widespread opposition to this Court packing plan and in the end Roosevelt abandoned it. But in what became known as "the switch in time that saved nine," Justice Owen Josephus Roberts and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes switched sides and, among other cases, in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, citing the Commerce Clause, upheld the National Labor Relations Act, which gave the National Labor Relations Board extensive power over labor relations throughout the United States.

This now "New Deal Court" drastically changed the focus of the Court's inquiry in determining whether legislation fell within the scope of the Commerce Clause, and in some sense returned to the concept articulated earlier. Central to this theory was the belief that the democratic process was sufficient to restrain legislative power. Thus one of the central issues was whether the judiciary or the elected representatives of the people should decide what commerce is.

In response to that, the Court began to defer to the Congress on the theory that determining whether legislation impacted commerce appropriately was a legislative, not a judicial function. The debate over Commerce Clause jurisprudence includes philosophic differences over whether Congressional abuse of the Commerce Clause is best redressed at the ballot box or in the federal courts.

When examining whether some activity was considered "Commerce" under the Constitution, the Court would aggregate the total effect the activity would have on actual economic commerce. By this logic, activities within even a single state could fall within the scope of the Commerce Clause, if those activities would have any perceivable effect on interstate commerce.

In 1941 the Court upheld the Fair Labor Standards Act which regulated the production of goods shipped across state lines. In 1942, in Wickard v. Filburn, the Court upheld the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, which sought to stabilize wide fluctuations in the market price for wheat by stabilizing supply through quotas. The Court's decision rejected former decisions that seemed to focus on "Whether the subject of the regulation in question was production, consumption, or marketing."

For example, Congress could apply national quotas to wheat grown on one's own land, for one's own consumption, because the total of such local production and consumption was sufficiently large as to impact the overall goal of stabilizing prices nationally.

During the 1990s, with the Supreme Court stocked with Republicans, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, many described the Court's Commerce Clause opinions as the "New Federalism." The outer limits of that doctrine were delineated by Gonzales v. Raich in which Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy (still very much on the Court) departed from their previous positions to uphold a federal law regarding marijuana of all things. The Court found the federal law valid, although the marijuana in question had been grown and consumed within a single state, and had never entered Interstate Commerce. The court held Congress may regulate a non-economic good, which is intrastate, if it does so as part of a wide spectrum of legislation designed to regulate interstate commerce.

One can only wonder out loud why Scalia and Kennedy, who held that marijuana grown in a single state should still be regulated by the Commerce Clause, why they would then not find the Affordable Care Act to be equally constitutional since medical care represents 16 percent of America's GDP and is by almost any definition interstate commerce.

To me, this can only be because Scalia, at least, is engaged in a wide-ranging effort to drastically limit what is constrained by the Commerce Clause. In other words, return the Court to its pre-New Deal days and get back to the work of repealing the New Deal and its legacy--unemployment insurance, Social Security, and ultimately Medicare and Medicaid.

Monday, April 02, 2012

April 2, 2012--The Ryan Budget

The budget promulgated last week by Congressman Paul Ryan which was quickly approved by Republicans in the House of Representatives and then instantly endorsed by Mitt Romney will not only turn Medicare into a voucher system that will cost millions of seniors thousands of out-of-pocket dollars if it ever became law, but largely unnoticed or commented upon are the draconian cuts in Pell grants that have for decades enabled low-income students to attend college.

More than 1 million students would lose Pell grants entirely over the next 10 years under the Ryan budget, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Education Trust.

The Ryan plan would chop away at Pell grant eligibility, thereby reducing their total budget by about $200 billion over the next decade; allow the interest rate for federally subsidized Stafford loans to double; end student loan interest subsidies for students still in college; and make Pell spending discretionary—instead of mandatory—allowing further cuts down the line.

Pell grants, the largest source of federal financial aid, currently help more than 9 million students to afford college. Following last year's budget standoffs, next year's maximum Pell grant of $5,645 will cover just one-third of the average cost of college—the smallest share ever.

And it gets worse. Sixty percent of students who receive Pell grants also take out Stafford loans—twice the rate for college students overall—so they will be doubly hit by the Ryan cuts: In addition to receiving less Pell money, they would have to start paying interest on their loans while still in college.

Once again I cannot resist bringing up President Eisenhower. Even during the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, when we and Russia on numerous occasions faced the prospect of a nuclear exchange, in his budgetary struggles with Congress, when he tried to get them to appropriate money for school construction (his GOP colleagues refused to do so), to make his case, Eisenhower--the former general who led allied forces during World War II--argued that money spend to improve education was even more important to national security than dollars allocated to defense.

As then, Republicans such as Ryan and Romney still don't get it.