Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Changing Horses

United States Senator Arlen Specter The Republican Senator from Pennsylvania has served since 1980 and has always been a bit of a counter voice among his party changed parties yesterday.

To show you where my flu addled brain wasn't yesterday when I first got the NY Times e-mail alert I wondered why this was important enough to waste ether space. But a friend called and reminded of just who Arlen Specter is. He has left his mark:

Arlen Specter’s five terms have made him the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Pennsylvania’s history. A voice of reason, his independence and balance have won endorsements from the AFL-CIO and high marks from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (100% in 2006), the National Association of Manufacturers (86% in 2006), and the Americans for Tax Reform (90% in 2006).

Time Magazine listed him among the ten best Senators in 2006. Knowlegis rated him the second most powerful Senator in 2006 behind only Majority Leader Bill Frist. A November 11, 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer editorial stated: “Senator Arlen Specter has more clout than some sovereign nations.”

The Republicans want us to believe he has left their party because polls showed he would lose in the primary in his state and this is all about staying in the senate at any costs. Senator Specter says it is the Republican party that has left him. During the last Bush presidency he counseled compromise and conciliation in a Congress which established new records for partisan discord. In foreign affairs, he advocated dialogue and accommodation as an antidote to belligerency and saber rattling. There definitely seemed to be a parting of ways. And his decision to change party affiliation is just the official divorce as it were.

It also highlights an interesting turn in politics these days. The Obama win showed a breakdown in the Red State/Blue State political Mason-Dixon line and now there seems to be less division between Republicans and Democrats - at last real division. The extreme ends of both parties are no longer the leaders as to direction, especially in the Republican party which is in shambles scrambling for a new leader.

Every year more and more voters define themselves as independents or class themselves as centralist on issues. And in these trying global times we want leadership and not party rhetoric. And a lot of us are very, very angry at the belligerency and saber rattling and witch hunting of GW's terms in office. We would like to heal this nation and work together. If that means a few party leaders crossing the lines then I am all for it. Way to go Senator Specter.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I would like to discuss plastic today. No, not the plastic of credit cards which may actually get reined in by regulation in the very near future.

I want to talk about plastic bottles. Specifically the plastic bottles we buy aspirin or vitamins in. Have you noticed that they never fill them up?

Vitamins bought at Wal-Mart and made in China are probably the worst in this regard. They are at a max half full. This really hit home recently when I ordered some vitamins on line from Swanson Health Products. The bottles were full! Not even room for cotton!

So on the average we are probably using twice the amount of plastic we have to use in order for it to look as if we are getting more for our money at Wally World. But adding twice the amount of plastic to our landfills is not just the problem. We are also paying twice as much to transport because half as much fits into a shipping container or tractor trailer rig or boxcar. So half of whatever fuel is used to move this product to our stores is also wasted.

Over-packaging is an epidemic in our country that produces enormous amount of waste. Because Swanson's does not seem to over-package I will be buying from them again. This is definitely one area that I believe we as consumers can effectively fight. Seek out those products that do not over-package or under-fill. And when you have no choice leave the excess packaging at Wal-Mart or another box store for them to deal with. They want us to bring our own green bags to save plastic but they still put DVD's in huge plastic cases, and Barbie Dolls in large cardboard boxes, and toothpaste tubes in unnecessary boxes.

So while you are sacking your products in the green bags leave the trash with the clerk to dispose of. I think they will get the message quickly. If not take your business elsewhere. Wally World is a large enough company it can force reform on the companies it deals with.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Confessions of a Liberal

I must confess that President Obama shaking hands with Chavez of Venezuela did not offend me. Here in the United States we shake hands with everyone. Now had he hugged him that might be another thing all together.

But I belong to that camp that was more offended when his predecessor, G W Bush, did not shake hands. That in this country is sort of a major shun and not good manners. In fact if someone extends a hand to you and you do not grasp it volumes have been said.

I'm told the handshake goes back to the days of swords and in this country gun fights. If you are shaking hands with someone you are not reaching for a weapon. And one of the reasons historically the left handed have not been trusted - because they could still be reaching for that weapon with their dominant hand.

I was also not offended this week by Obama extending the "figurative hand of friendship" to Cuba. About time is all I have to say. Those of us in this country that even remember the Cuban Missile Crisis are few and far between. And nothing ever was solved by not talking about it as was GW's approach to everything. Course if I talked like him I might want to keep my mouth shut too.

But how silly is it that we torture enemy compatants on an island we do not have diplomatic conversations with? The conservatives seem more upset that Obama revealed these conversations under torture than that the US under GW conducted them. First I would argue that it was no big secret but I am shocked that we used some of these techniques over 400 times against just two detainees. What is the big surprise was that some people still believe we got the truth! Torture me - hell, just threaten to torture me - and I will tell you anything you want to hear. And I am damn good at making things up. I aim to please.

And so do most torture victims. The Spanish Inquisition proved that.

So bottomline I am all for the handshakes and totally against the thumb screws. So despite the fact that I generally describe myself as a centralist on these two issues I am firmly in the liberal camp.

Friday, April 17, 2009


There was a time when I used to prepare and file my own taxes. I had a standard job and owned a house. My only deduction at that time was the interest on the house. Simple.

Well, till North Carolina. That was the year my company moved me three times and so in addition to federal there were the three states. Missouri was easy because it was a flat percentage of my federal tax paid.

Colorado I had done for enough years I knew the ins and outs. But North Carolina! I even looked up the literacy rates in that state to make sure they were able to read the form. Not! The first time I did it I owed them more money than I had made in that state. So I asked a friend of mine at work to look it over. He came up with a return figure greater than I had paid in. (Note we both worked in the cost engineering office of a major construction firm in control of a $2.1 billion project.)

I gathered it all up and ran to H & R Block. (It should be noted that year my federal form was the short one because I did not even own a house and I had already prepared Missouri and Colorado forms.) That little adventure cost me the better part of $100 but I did not owe anything to North Carolina. I have never done my own taxes since.

But every year when I write the check to my tax preparer I realize the tax code really has to be easier. Surely the time to receive and review and cost of forms creates a diminishing return for the IRS. I make a paltry amount of money and I had to file some ten pages between state and federal because I have a small home based business which no way puts me over supplemental earnings allowed for people on Social Security Disability.

It would be a perfect world it I could go to an Internet site and enter a couple figures and push a "Post" button and have taxes done for the year. Course that would probably put a lot of CPA's out of work.

Friday, April 10, 2009

OMG - Can the News Get Worse?

While various news talking heads were trying to decide of President Obama bowed to a certain head of state let me say it is definite President Bush held hands.

I was just getting lulled into good, liberal news on the world and local front (well, except for the economy) when the following confronted me on My! Yahoo news page:

As George W. Bush is beginning to emerge from seclusion, members of his administration will gather in Dallas next week.

What did we do to deserve this? I had just gotten used to no more GW Bush to kick around anymore and he has to rear his ugly head again. Sorry everyone but this man and the late President Nixon are two individuals I could go the rest of the century without seeing or hearing from. I feel the same way about Sarah Palin but she is good for a certain amusement factor. GW just embarasses me. The Dixie Chicks were ashamed he was from Texas like them. I don't want to admit I am of the same species.

Well, as they say that rant lowered the level. But every once in a while I think it is good to get things out. I am just hoping as he begins to emerge from seclusion he sees his shadow and goes back into hibernation. You would think he would be ashamed of the mess he made of things and slink off to another handholding session with his friend or Daddy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It is About Time!

I am frankly thrilled with the news out of Iowa and now Vermont this week.

The Vermont Legislature on Tuesday overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill allowing gay couples to marry, mustering one more vote than needed to preserve the measure.

The step makes Vermont the first state to allow same-sex marriage through legislative action instead of a court ruling, and comes less than a week after the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in that state. These victories are huge. Especially seen in the light of the dark ages of the Bush administration from which we have just emerged.

I have frankly always wondered what the big issue was about banning gay unions. The argument that it destroys the institution of marriage never rung true. I frankly think we ought to celebrate any committed relationship. And frankly I think there are none as committed as those thwarted by society. This was true of inter-racial marriages in the 60's and it is true now of the same sex marriages being disallowed in most of the United States.

As an artist and with a long history in the theatrical world it has been my pleasure to know many same sex couples that without the benefit of marriage have stayed together in loving relationships far longer than some of my friends in conventional marriages, moi included. I have always thought this is about health insurance. Companies and Medicare (and Social Security with survivor benefits) do not want this additional burden of having to provide coverage for same-sex partners.

It is sad if that is the reason we are banning love just because it does not fit our narrow definitions.

I applaud Vermont and Iowa. Way to go.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Don't take me to a hospital

I think the one thing I most support on President Obama's agenda for America is health care reform. This is the one thing the Republicans seem most opposed to. The are want to say we have the greatest health care system in the world. They obviously have not used it lately.

I just got off the phone with my ex-husband that is on is 3rd week in a wound care hospital after 2 weeks in a general hospital for a wound on his toe that would not heal. He likely picked up the infection in this wound when he was in he hospital for pneumonia. And now seems to have picked up an intestinal infection while at this latest hospital.

Despite definite instructions that he is to be on a diabetic diet (not that rare in wound care facilities) he has continued to be fed pancakes and syrup for breakfast. And is not getting the every couple hour snacks that are essential to maintain a correct blood sugar level.

He just received some of his bills for the first two weeks: $38,000 plus. Now that does include surgery on the wound. Since it was not healing it was necessary to make it bigger. Now he is trying to get out of this hospital and into home health care so he can get away from any other possible infections he might pick up. The doctor agrees but there is a dearth of home health care professionals in our area. Those we did have abandoned it for the more stable hospital salary in light of our current economic issues.

I have my own list of horror stories about medical care. And currently have any number of friends also going through hell in the medical/insurance realm. One is dealing with the aftereffects of radiation treatment she got for cancer. Did you know it can prevent any future skin graphs. Another friend's brother just died from the chemo they gave him for lung cancer. Oh, they cured the cancer but the chemo destroyed his lungs. And for this fantastic health care system, per the Republicans, we pay double what most of the civilized countries in the world do. It is why we are not competitive in the world market on goods we make.

And our insurance companies do not help. They could force medical professionals to hold to certain charges but no. And they could allow payment for holisitic and alternative treatments but no. And they could stop lobbying the Republicans to oppose any reform of health care or health care insurance but no.

So until there is some serious reform do not take me to a hospital. When I had to have my finger reattached they berated me for not getting there sooner. I had spent three hours in the emergency waiting room. And my major concern from the minute the admitted me was what awful bone or blood infection I might pick up there. I think it is healthier to stay away from those places. Certainly cheaper.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hints about the New Economy

Not liking mystery except in book or DVD form I have been trying to figure out what the new economy my might look like when we finally emerge on the other side.

The world leaders of the G20 are trying to determine that too. And it should be interesting to see what they come up with. I think ultimately there will be a lot more regulation on global commerce and definitely banking. I doubt seriously if any one company will ever be allowed to get "too big to fail."

But I think consumers may have as much to do with what the new economy looks like as the G20. I heard one of those very popular economic talking heads say today that this is the end of hyperconsumption.

My sisters said the same thing in a bit of a different way recently, "my days of spending wildly are gone." I know a single civil servant high up in the establishment that once told me, "I have not only bought everything I don't need but have gone on to buying what I don't even want."

I frankly am on a different level of consumer but have begun every shopping trip with a carefully made list; each item tested with the questions; 1) do I really need that, and 2) can I wait to buy it later. I allow myself one "extravagance" at the grocery store. Today it was a loaf of bakery sourdough bread. Once I used to bake my own. I seriously think I am headed back in that direction. My father, a child of the depression era, always said it is better to own one good pair of shoes than a dozen cheap ones. He applied that to a lot of things. My dad could shop. But he spent far more time shopping than buying. I dare say in the old economy we spent more time buying than shopping.

So if I had to guess what the new economy was going to look like I would think more shoppers and less buyers. More people spending more time looking for high quality goods that will last them and less bling that will be out of style tomorrow. The classic good suit will be back in style. And for women it better be flexible - dress down or up depending on accessories we already own.

More thrift store shopping and recycling of goods. More bragging about the good bargain we got on Craig's list rather than how much we spent at REI. Canning and freezing and making our own meals will be back in vogue.

And I think we will begin to view people in limo's and private jets with a far more critical eye. No shameless adoration of those with money. The money we do spend on extravagances will be well considered. I think that is why the art market will stay relatively strong while clothing and jewelry and home decor markets will definitely suffer. It may well be the end of the big box store selling us just linens and towels. And between Lowe's and Home Depot only one will remain. And Bill Gates better reconsider his game plan to make us all buy a new computer with Vista and all the new software that takes to get along.

It is not merely the auto industry that must come up with a new game plan. Every company that has enjoyed a hayday of wild an reckless consumerism in the last decade needs to readjust to a new leaner market with very careful customers.