Archive for July, 2009

Shame on us

I was rowing yesterday.  Not on Lake Casitas.  In the house on the rowing machine in front of the TV.  It’s a chore that’s made bearable when there’s something good on the screen.  Like news that’s actually news or a movie that I haven’t seen three or four hundred times.

I often wonder why people keep paying the cable companies outrageous fees for the privilege of seeing the same flick run over and over and over again.  And then I remember that I’m one of those fools.

Luckily, I stumbled on The Girl in the Cafe.  A 2005 made-for-TV movie starring one of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy.  Not a household name, but an actor whose versatility is extraordinary.  Whether as the vicious, overpowering chief vampire in Underworld or, as an introverted, somewhat pathetic bureaucrat in The Girl in the Cafe, Nighy tends to steal the screen whenever he appears.

In Cafe, Nighy is a third level bean-counter attending a G8 conference in Iceland.  As a result of a chance encounter, he is accompanied by a young woman, played by Kelly Macdonald, whose background is a bit hazy.  At the conference, the G8 wrestles with the tragedy that afflicts millions of African children who die needlessly from malnutrition.  The conferees agree that something must be done. But they are reluctant to negatively impact their own economies by providing financial aid to the suffering masses.

It’s the apolitical Macdonald who Nighy squired to the conference, who gives us a lesson in humanity and saves the day.  She interrupts and quietly disagrees with a dinner speech by the British prime minister.  As part of her lesson, given at a table laden with delicacies, she snaps her fingers every three seconds.  Every three seconds someone in the world dies of malnutrition.  Every three seconds.

At the end of the movie and before the credits roll, a Nelson Mandela quote flashes on the screen…Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.

It seemed an appropriate quote for what’s going on in the great health care debate.  Nearly 50 million people without coverage and a lot more that are under-insured.  Alongside the rest of us.  Us with Medicare, Companion Care and Who Gives a Care.

To compound and abet the selfishness, misinformation is a co-conspirator.  For example, Paul Krugman’s column in the NY Times highlights what the Party-of-No propaganda has accomplished…

At a recent town hall meeting, a man stood up and told Representative Bob Inglis to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” The congressman, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to explain that Medicare is already a government program — but the voter, Mr. Inglis said, “wasn’t having any of it.”

We hate the idea of government-run health care…oh, except Medicare.  People like me and the other bozo from South Carolina love it.  You’d have to rip it from our cold dead hands.  But mention “government option” and alarms go off.  It’ll be just like the Post Office. You’ll be found comatose in the dead letter file.

Or…It’ll be the end of private insurance.  You know, the kind that denies care, cancels you retroactively, increases your premium twice a year, and spends more than the government does administering similar programs.

But all that pales when one out of seven of your neighbors have no, zero, nada coverage.  We agonize over whether we can afford it.  Can we afford to roll those 50 million in with the rest of us?  Wait, you say.  It’s too expensive.  I’ll have to pay higher taxes.  And the biggest objection of all…My own care will be compromised.  It’ll be rationed.  I’ll have to wait in line.  I’ll die.  Woe is me.  Leave me alone.  I’m happy.  This, in a country where eight of ten people call themselves  religious.

Maybe we’re not the great generation that Mandela spoke of.  If so, shame on us.


Hey, it’s a small town

Grandson Morey was here last weekend.  He’s getting big.  Not so long ago he was a three-month-early preemie struggling for life while the Northridge earthquake was making the news.  Now he’s a gangly teenager who is miserly with the spoken word.

We downloaded a gazillion photos he had languishing in his digital camera, messed a bit with the mysteries of Photoshop and made our obligatory visit to Boccalis with Yoram and Bert.  As usual for a Saturday night, Boccalis was crowded, hot, noisy and almost uncomfortable.  Just the way we like it.

In between, we went to see Harry Potter at the Ojai Playhouse.  I admit it.  I’ve never read a Harry Potter book.  But I do like Harry’s movies.  We had a little trouble figuring out when the Saturday matinee began.  I must drive by the Playhouse marquee seven times a week, stare up at it, note the odd assortment of plastic letters, the substitution of a Z when they’ve run out of an S, and say to myself “How does this place stay in business?”

I searched the Ojai Valley News for show-times.  No luck.  Went to the web and found three different times for the Saturday matinee on three different movie sites.  But, hey, this is a small town.  So I looked up John Grant’s home phone number in the Ojai Valley Directory and called him.  “Hi John, when does the movie start?”  Without hesitation “Two-thirty.”   “Are you sure, John?” I said.  “No wait, one o-clock.  No, one-thirty.”  I said “Thank you, John” and felt at ease knowing that, since John is the manager, he’d start Potter at one-thirty even if that wasn’t the advertised time.

We got there about twenty minutes early and had our choice of any seat in the place.  A three minute ad for Besant Hill School (which I will continue to call Happy Valley School until my first stroke) was running on the screen.  A decent ad, professionally done.  It made me want to enroll Morey at the Upper Ojai campus except for the $30,000 price tag.  Lots of smiling teenagers, some telling me “I found out who I am” at the school.  The ad ended.  And it began again.  It ended.  And it began again.  By the time I had seen it six times, I could not have been trusted with a firearm.  A one-ad pony.  Hey, but it’s a small town.

Kudos to the new owners.  They spent a ton beautifying the lobby, brought the potties into the 21st century, eliminated the rustic west-to-east slant of the floor, and installed some great seats.  I had hoped that the seat installation would have improved my ability to see all of the subtitles, even with a poofy-haired matron or baseball-capped twenty-year-old sitting in front of me.  Alas it was not to be.  We are still restricted to viewing only the left and right edges of each line.  Annoying.  But hey, it’s a small town.

There are no subtitles with Harry Potter.  But just before the movie began, three teenaged boys plopped down in front of us.  Not a good sign.

Movie time!  And it started.  Not just the movie but the non-stop giggling, whispering, head-twisting, arm-raising, girl-searching antics of the three kids in front of me.  I was not happy.   “Come on Fred,”  I said to myself.  “Lighten up. This movie is for kids, not old farts like you.  Ignore them.”

And then the middle delinquent, who had obviously seen the movie twenty-seven times, pulled out his I-Phone, illuminated the theater with its LCD beacon of light, and entered the world of the web.  He was bored.  I would be too if this was my twenty-eighth Potter.

I went over my options.  Sit there and suffer for another two hours while I counted down the minutes to the blessed end of a much too long movie.  Kick the seat in front of me hoping the kid would divine my presence and think better of shining his blessed light.  Or, say something to him, risk a smart alec retort, and “I shoulda kept my mouth shut” feeling for the rest of the afternoon.

Bravely, I chose the latter option.  Leaning over, I deepened my normally thin, raspy voice and, as if the words had descended from above, said “You know, that light is really annoying.”  The kid shrank in his seat, shut down the beacon and remained immobile for the rest of the movie.  Just like in the school ad, he had found himself.

 And I didn’t charge anywhere near $30,000.


It will happen

I tore myself away from Fox TV last night in order to watch Obama’s press conference.  Covered by all the other major networks, Fox decided that their viewers had heard it all, had made up their minds, and shouldn’t be confused by the facts.

So for those Fox’ers who missed it, here are the facts…

  • Life expectancy in the U.S. is no better than in industrialized countries with “socialized medicine.”  We rank 50th in the world behind such powerhouses as Liechtenstein, the Faroe Islands, and Bosnia/Herzegovina.  Albania is 51st.
  • 17% of our gross domestic product is spent on health care.  That’s $2.5 trillion.  Other industrialized countries spend about 10% of their GDP on health care. If we could knock just five percentage points off that 17%, we’d save $750 billion a year, or about what we spend on national defense.
  • We have fewer physicians per capita than most other industrialized countries. Austria, Belgium, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Norway all spend at least a third less of GDP on health than the U.S. yet have almost four doctors per 1,000 population. We have 2.4.
  • We have fewer hospital beds per capita than the majority of industrialized countries.  Japan has triple the beds per capita and spends half what we do.
  • If we don’t do something to control health costs, the deficit will become more unmanageable than it already is, the Chinese will call in our IOUs, and, if you have a job, you’ll earn less and be working overtime to pay your nice, fat co-payments.
  • There are some people who know all this but don’t give a damn.

The debate over what to do is overshadowed by the desire for power.  The opportunity to send Obama down in flames, leading to a Phoenix-like rise of the Party-of-No is all consuming.  But it ain’t gonna happen.

There are only two honest reasons why the Party-of-No is battling reform.  First, they want to see Obama fail…no good news is great news.   Second, they don’t want to piss off those who will gain the most from no change to the status quo…insurance companies, drug companies, and folks who make lots of money churning the system.

Will reform affect how much care I get?  Yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.  Will reform change my health status or shorten my life?  Based on the experience of other countries, no.  Then again, maybe less time spent getting poked, prodded, and institutionalized is a good thing.

Mark my words.  We will have a health care reform bill.  It may not be pretty to watch the legislative process leading to it.  It may not be everything that we need.  And it may take longer to reach Obama’s desk than I’d like.  But it will happen.  In my lifetime.

You betcha.


A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of US, a great calamity fell upon the land.  A pestilence so mighty that all of the people in the kingdom were afflicted.

King Bama gathered his council, lords of the kingdom, wise men, and even those with whom the Black King did not always see eye to eye.  They assembled in the Great Hall of the White Castle.

The King began. “Woe is US.  This pestilence shall be our undoing unless some noble and worthy actions are taken to defeat it.  It afflicts the best and worst of us.  And, yea, we have spent most of the royal treasury battling it without respite.”

The council member on the right side of the great table, Sir Newt, cautioned against any rash acts.  “Oh King, do not move precipitously to quell this pestilence.  Yea, truly it does afflict us all.  Yet those of us, you and I, live behind the battlements, enjoy the attendance of a host of court physicians, and will survive.  Nay, does it matter to us that lowly serfs and servants are without such benefits?  That is the way of our world.”

Sir Teddy sitting to the left of the Black King, having warned about the pestilence when it was yet a mere boil on the neck of the kingdom, disagreed with Sir Newt.  “I have devoted my long life to eliminating this pestilence.  Verily I too am afflicted and enjoy the benefits spoken by Sir Newt.  Yet I shall fall upon my sword before abandoning my quest to do unto others.”

The King’s personal mendicant, Merlin, weighed in.  “Oh great King, yea, these many years have I served you.  Nothing have I spared in seeking out whatever affliction, real or imaginary, has afflicted you, those in the Royal Family and anyone else who has the coin of the realm.  I shall continue to do so.  You need not worry.  Trust me to do what is right, regardless of the cost.”

The Black King considered what had been said.  “Yea, I believe that we shall survive.  But I, being a compassionate king, fear for my subjects.  There is not money in the treasury to offer them any relief from the pestilence.  Pray tell, perhaps we should have the royal physicians go to the countryside and service our people.  You, my wise council and the other knights, barons and lords could each contribute a pittance from your great fortunes, earned on the backs of those living in servitude, to reward our noble physicians for this additional care.”

Sir Newt rose and spoke.  “Yea great King, have not we, your strongest and ablest, contributed mightily to the treasury?  Another farthing and we shall surely cease to participate in any further grand crusades which have heretofore brought us untold riches.  Surely, there must be another way.”

Merlin rose and beseeched the Black King “Thou have a wondrous nature, kind to a fault.  However, I fear that the ignorant people of the countryside shall reject my overtures.  They are so fixed in the use of their own potions, incantations, and witchcraft that they shall reject me and my medicines.  I fear they are too set in their ways.”

Sir Teddy exclaimed eloquently. “Oh my King.  Lo these years have I labored to conquer this pestilence.  The time is now.  I fear that my energy wanes.  Do not listen to the counsel of those who have only their own welfare in mind.  Be brave.  Thou shall not have an opportunity such as this again.  Strike while the iron is hot.

The Black King rose majestically.  “Yea, ye who have served me and my people lo these many years faithfully and with great zeal.  Thou speak with great clarity and forcefulness.  I have considered what you have spoken.  My kingdom is at a crossroads.  To continue the ways of old in relative comfort while others suffer under the great pestilence.  Or to rise up beyond our petty arguments and, knowing full well the possible consequences of our actions, attack the pestilence with all our might.  My time here is short.  Shall I risk to suffer the consequences by acting with vigor or shall I remain motionless, comfortable in my own White Castle?”

At that moment, a great light shone down from the dome of the assembly hall.  A gentle wind blew and a voice was heard as if from the heavens. “King, thy choice is clear.  Be brave and risk all.  For to do less, is not why you are here.”

And the King did.  And they all lived happily ever after…except for Sir Newt.


No News is Good News

Daughter Nancy and grandson Morey came to visit yesterday.  It isn’t a long trip from Calabasas but it takes some effort to make the shlep.  Good girl.

We met at Bonnie Lu’s, one of our favorite eateries.  The waitresses are friendly.  The cooks, though at times a bit grumpy looking, plate up some pretty good food.  And, it doesn’t require dipping into your IRA to pay the bill.  I had the Yippie Dippie Veggie sandwich on wheat toast.  And balanced the healthy stuff with a big helping of fries.

Nancy is a bleeding heart liberal, a Democrat, and a champion of social causes.  We taught her good.  Our conversations generally include robbing the rich to give to the poor.  And, of course, the Bushies.  Like her mother, she finds it hard to get off that subject.

We talked about health care as we waited for lunch.  Nancy has a vested interest in keeping her job in that industry, so she supports the expansion of coverage to everyone, including extra-terrestrials.  But, she warns, keep your hands off the way we deliver that care.  I, having divested myself from a regular paycheck, argue for single-payer or, at least, a government option.  We were both woefully ignorant about the proposals lurching through Congress…except that the House version is 1,400 pages long.  Mercifully, lunch arrived before we could do serious damage.

In between bites of my sandwich, I mumbled about the news from the financial markets.  “Looks like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citicorp made a ton of money last quarter and seem to be headed back from oblivion.”

You’d think that was good news.  Months ago we all had thrown up our hands, wrapped ourselves in sackcloth and ashes, sat in the corner and said “Woe is me, the banks are failing.  The credit markets have dried up.  I shoulda kept my money in the mattress.  What a bunch of incompetents.  I’ll never trust them again.  Woe is me!”

My bible, the NY Times, spent huge sums on ink, paper and webspace bemoaning the situation, calling for a special prosecutor and recommending the reduction of executive compensation to that of a level one postal clerk.  Not a day went by without predictions of the second coming and imminent global destruction.

So you’d think the Times, having now witnessed the equivalent of  the rising of Lazarus, would have said something like…Ooops, we’re sorry.  Or…What a turnaround.  Who’da thunk it.

Instead, the Times, financial mavens, and others intent on ruining my day, bemoan the creeping stability evidenced by the banks’ profits.  Random wailings include…

  • They only made money by taking advantage of the increase in the value of their investments (I should be so lucky.)
  • They’re still getting away with murder because we don’t have any new regulations that will stop them from screwing us…again.
  • Who cares if they returned the bailout money we lent them.  They should never have taken it.
  • It’ll never last.  Doomsday is coming.

Now I don’t want the momsers (Google it) to profit at my expense.  But I would love a one day respite from the predictions of doom and gloom that fill the airwaves, the newspaper and my computer monitor.

Even no news would be good news.  Then again, be careful what you wish for.  To wit, one explanation  of the no news saying offers this warning…

I’m sure you’ve heard of the king’s joker, or merry-man, who loved to make puns, so much so that the king, in disgust, ordered him hanged. But the king’s vizier prevailed on him to grant the joker a reprieve. Upon learning it, the joker immediately said, “Well, no noose is good noose.” So the king decided to hang him anyway.


Flat Tax to the Rescue

Does it hurt yet?

11.6%.  One out of nine.  Two million one hundred and fifty-two thousand people.  That’s how many of your fellow Californians are out of work.  Sixty-six thousand more than last month.

Ho hum.  Another day at the office.  Harry Potter’s on the big screen.  The Dodgers are in first.  It’s cool at the Mall. The Governator and the legislature are arm wrestling.  Rome’s burning.  There must be someone who can put out the fire.

Maybe it’s the blue-ribbon commission that Ahnold and the Democrats put together this year to fix the state’s tax structure.  The world’s greatest newspaper, the Ventura Star, reported that the commission was about to hear testimony in support of a flat tax.  You know, that’s where everyone pays the same percent of their income.  The Star said, under a flat tax system, poor folks would pay more taxes while rich folks would pay less.  And all this time, I’ve been assuming that getting rich folks to pay more, not less, would help solve the state’s budget crisis.  Duh.

Alvin Rabushka, a Hoover Institution economist, has been trumpeting the benefits of a flat tax for twenty-eight years.  The Hoover Institution was founded by that great humanitarian and champion of the working man, Herbert Hoover.  For those of you standing in line for Harry Potter tickets, President Hoover presided over the Great Depression before being summarily dismissed by FDR.  The Institution’s mission statement includes…

Ours is a system where the Federal Government should undertake no governmental, social or economic action, except where local government, or the people, cannot undertake it for themselves.

In other words, fend for yourself, you wuss.  FDR is not on their list of distinguished fellows.  Condoleezza Rice and Ed Meese are.

According to the Star…

Rabushka…believes a flat tax is a prescription for prosperity because it would reduce the tax load on the very wealthy, freeing them to use more of their money instead for wealth-creating investment.

In other words, if less money is taken from the rich, they’ll use their new-found wealth to create more jobs and get you off your lazy, unemployed duff.  You’ll earn more, pay more taxes and restore California to its former glory.  Remember trickle down?

Not so fast says Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for state policies that benefit low- and moderate-income families.

The Budget Project last month analyzed the most recent income tax data released by the Franchise Tax Board (for 2007) and found the income gap between middle-income Californians and the wealthiest continues to widen. Since 1995, it shows that incomes of the middle-fifth of state taxpayers have grown by 9.1 percent. The top-fifth of taxpayers have seen their incomes rise by 51 percent.

Jean thinks trickle down is really trickle up.

Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee, thinks the flat-taxers have a long road to hoe…

…a flat tax “would be an incentive for stimulating the economy,” but acknowledges it would be a hard sell to voters since it would result in most of them paying higher income taxes. “It’s going to be complex and difficult to convince people to make the move.”

OK, so if you don’t like the flat tax idea, why not get out of the Harry Potter ticket line and do something useful.  Like solve the California budget crisis.  I found this really nifty “You Balance the Budget” tool that will show you just how easy it is to find an extra $26 billion dollars.  Try it.

Then you can get back in the Potter line.

 flat tax

Who me? Biased? Damn right.

So Jeff Beauregard Sessions, senator from the great state that’s a model for unbiased, let the chips fall where they may, equal opportunity says…You know Sonia, it’s really important that judges keep an open mind when it comes to applying the law.  You can’t let your upbringing, skin color or gender influence you.

I stare at the TV,  look around the hearing room, remember George Wallace, and try to imagine what’s going on in the minds of those sharing the spotlight with the senator from Alabama.

Sonia…You know Jeff, you’re a real jerk.  If you think that I’m not going to let my upbringing influence me, then you’re dumber than I think you are.  And if you’re doing this for the benefit of your constituents, then they should have found someone more credible than you, like Strom Thurmond.  Ooops, sorry.  He’s dead, isn’t he?

Jeff…If it was up to me I’d never let a woman on this court.  Especially one whose mother comes from a place where their only claim to fame is Roberto Clemente.  In fact, even though that Uncle Tom votes the way Scalia tells him, I’d kick his black ass off the court too.

Pat Leahy…Hey dip-shit.  You haven’t got a China-man’s chance of railroading this nomination.  If you want to make it sound like you’ve never heard of lynchings, segregated toilets, and Rosa Parks, go ahead.  And quit combing your hair over.

Sonia…Yes, you bet I meant it…in spades.  A Latina would make better decisions than old white guys whose only exposure to folks like me was when they asked “how much to clean my house…that much?”

Jeff…As soon as we kick Obama’s ass back to where he came from, we’ll get some real good nominees in this room.  Put here by our leader, the Snow Queen.  Folks who don’t make the law, but only follow orders.  Like Eichman and Mengele.

Pat…Must be getting close to lunch.  Won’t this guy ever shut up?  Doesn’t he know we got sixty votes?

Sonia…And another thing, white boy.  Those New Jersey firefighters.  One lousy vote by the Supremes and it would have gone in my favor.  And you’d be sitting here with your thumb up your fanny wondering what hit you.

Jeff…Wish I was in the land of cotton.



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