Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eggs 2

More Different Eggs

Were the eggs Paul and I bought tainted in some way that the Republican owners of the Vallarta Supermarket chain were aware off, hence the low, low prices to get rid of them... and maybe knock off their Democratic customers?
No, not likely.
Besides, I've already eaten a whole bunch of these eggs and I'm just fine............
Wait a minute please...........
Ooopps, just indigestion. I feel much better now, thank you.
Or do I?
But there does seem to be a problem. And not only with eggs.
Beginning August 13th a massive egg recall was announced affecting 550,000 shell eggs (eggs that are still in the shell) from two farms in Iowa, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, who share some of the same suppliers, one of them being the company, Quality Egg, which supplies chickens and feed to the two massive farms.
What's the problem? A little rod shaped bacteria called salmonella, first discovered in 1885. The second Wikipedia quote at the beginning of Part 1 of this post states: "About 142,000 Americans are infected each year with Salmonella enteritidis from chicken eggs, and about 30 die." which indicates the disease fortunately has a rather low fatality rate. Common symptoms appearing approximately 72 hours after infection, include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. In people with impaired immune systems (such as people with kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, or older people in general, can cause a life-threatening illness. As of last Thursday, the federal Center for Disease Control said that there could now be as many as 1,470 instances of illness linked to the current outbreak, which began in May, weeks before new regulations were scheduled to be enacted to reduce this risk.
Officials state they have detected the salmonella in feed provided to laying hens.
Wright County Egg and Quality Egg are both owned by businessman Austin "Jack" DeCoster, who has, since at least 1994, been designated an "habitual violator" of environmental regulations, has enacted health and safety violations, employment discrimination, allegations of animal cruelty have been made. The state of his farms have been described by officials as "simply atrocious," citing unguarded machinery, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful bacteria and other unsanitary conditions. DeCoster's farms have been cited, fined, raided, yet he is still one of the nation's leading suppliers of one of the country's favorite food staples.
Why? Well, if he doesn't do it who will? These types of operations have consolidated over the years, becoming increasingly "Too big to fail."
550,000 recalled shelled eggs (other egg products that are not still in the shell are still being produced by Wright County Egg and Hillandale, which are deemed safe as the products go through a pasteurization process) is a lot of eggs, but still only represents .7% of the 70 billion annual national output. And most of these eggs are produced on huge industrialized "farms" where a single barn may house more than 150,000 birds in tight proximity, mostly by hens who spend their lives in cages the size of an open newspaper, their whole lives in a space so confined they can never spread their wings. This close proximity allows infections to spread quickly and widely. No wonder there are so many recalls of food products.
So many? Yeap. Just since August13th, 6 companies have voluntarily recalled their products due to safety concerns, chiefly concerns about salmonella infection. From frozen mamey (a fruit product), to “Beef Filet Squares” for Dogs and “Texas Hold’ems” pet treats, to pistachio nuts, to alfalfa sprouts.
The funny thing about this egg recall is that it was largely preventable, not only through use of clean, sanitary, and humane production values and procedures (The European Union will bar small cages for egg hens as of 2012. Citizens in California demanded banning small cages by 2015, and the state will not allow the sale of eggs in California produced that way in other states. Michigan, Ohio and other states have placed limits on future caging of hens), but through vaccinations.
More than a decade ago Britain was faced with a similar outbreak of salmonella infecting thousands of people. A vaccination program was instituted which virtually wiped out the health threat.
So faced with the very same problem in this country, did regulators include a simple and effective salmonella vaccination program (that would cost less than a penny per dozen eggs), in their new regulations?
Nope. They stated there was not enough evidence that vaccinating hens would prevent illness. Not enough evidence, despite Britain's history. This is the U.S.A.! We don't want to be like those Europeans, now do we? No we do things our own way here in the states, and the Food and Drug Administration did not mandate vaccinations, and we have over 1,400 citizens sick all across the country, with half a billion or so eggs we can't, or shouldn't eat.
Why do these types of disasters keep occurring? Why the economic crisis, the Gulf oil spill, a massive egg recall. How's that free market, Milton Friedman/Alan Greenspan, deregulated market working out for us? Do I miss Bush, the T-shirts and billboard ask?
No, I do not. America does not.
I believe the Federal government exists in order to protect its citizens. From foreign threats, to domestic capitalistic concerns that would rip off the average citizen for as much as possible for as long as possible. From the banks that would foreclose our homes, and stick us with arbitrary interest rates on our credit cards, to food processors and providers, fast food chains, who would poison us, who have poisoned us, just to make a buck. To the oil industry, and the politicians they control who keep denying climate change and global warming is a threat to this world, to the fishing industry who is depleting our vast oceans. I believe the government has a vital role in safeguarding the public from runaway capitalism. And regulation of industry is a vital part of that.
The Republicans don't believe that. They say markets will self-correct. They'll say that the recalls discussed above were all voluntary which proves their point. It doesn't. The issuing companies were just aware of the problem and knew they would have to take action themselves or be forced to do it, and probably face massive liability lawsuits in the bargain. The market never corrects itself unless it is forced to do so because it costs money to do so, and money is their God.
A proposed amendment, S 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, requires among other things "the Secretary and the Secretary of Agriculture to prepare the National Agriculture and Food Defense Strategy.

Requires the Secretary to: (1) identify preventive programs and practices to promote the safety and security of food; (2) promulgate regulations on sanitary food transportation practices; (3) develop a policy to manage the risk of food allergy and anaphylaxis in schools and early childhood education programs; (4) allocate inspection resources based on the risk profile of food facilities or food; (5) recognize bodies that accredit food testing laboratories; and (6) improve the capacity of the Secretary to track and trace raw agricultural commodities." It's only goal is to make our food supply safer and secure.

This amendment has been languishing in committee since November of last year. Republicans don't like it because it restricts a free market with those dreaded regulations they hate so much, and they claim that small farms will be unduly restricted from doing business, their reason for opposing it.

I think I've we've heard that argument before, something to do with the Bush Tax Cuts expiring, and small businesses. S 510 doesn't affect small farms and individual, private producers, but it doesn't necessarily protect them either, so the Tester-Hagan amendments were added to S 510 to do just that. We'll see what argument the Republicans come up with to oppose food safety now. Maybe they'll come up with something new.

In any case it's time for me to make dinner... perhaps a nice cheese omelet is in order.

Oh yes, regarding the first Wikipedia quote at the beginning of the first part of this post... here's the rest of that quote: "The regulation was promulgated, according to the FDA, 'because of the public health impact of turtle-associated salmonellosis.' There had been reported cases of young children placing small turtles in their mouths, which led to the size-based restriction."

Just an FYI. Try and keep from sucking on turtles.

Hear that Erin?

Monday, August 30, 2010

America's been Becked

Well America, do you feel transformed? I know I don't.
For that is what Glenn Beck, Fox News' mad prophet promised us. He told us a miracle would take place during his "Restoring Honor," rally last Saturday, and I wanted my freaking miracle!. Did the Potomac part so all of those Tea Baggers could scurry across into Virginia so they wouldn't see any black people? No, it did not. Did the heavens break open and God's voice come down to anoint Beck as the new chosen one? No, God didn't show up. Probably didn't want to upstage Sarah Palin, as it is common knowledge God is a Republican and wouldn't want to diminish her chances in 2012 (please run for president Sarah... Please!). Did Jesus step up to the stage and embrace Glenn as his new buddy and official spokesperson? Nope. Beck took that upon himself, letting us know that God speaks through him, in between sales pitches for Goldline doubloons.
Beck later insisted that a flock of geese flying overhead at the beginning of the rally was sent from God, and was his miracle since they'd been trying to get the air force to do the same thing for over a year and they wouldn't do it.
As Bill Press pointed out, if a flock of geese flying overhead is a miracle sent from God, then Washington D.C. must be one of the holiest places on the planet.
Beck had stated that 200 years from now we would be able to look back at this rally and say to ourselves this was the point that America turned back toward it's "traditional values," and began the process of "restoring it's honor." I doubt if anyone will remember the event 200 hours from now.
The scene was the National Mall in Washington D.C., the steps of the Lincoln Memorial specifically. The exact spot that 47 years previously the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Had a Dream," speech, which aimed to end racial segregation in public schools; laws prohibiting racial discrimination in employment, protection from the police for civil rights workers, and a $2.00 federally mandated minimum wage, among other things.
Beck states he choose August 28th arbitrarily without realizing it was the anniversary of MLK's most famous speech. Mr. Beck is a liar. Choosing that date automatically insured he would receive untold publicity which is exactly what happened. The day after the rally was announced progressive radio talk show hosts like Bill Press were rightfully outraged at Beck's blatant attempt to piggyback on Rev. Kings' memory and name, and spoke about the intended rally at length, even going so far as attempting to get the National Park Service to revoke Beck's permit to gather at the Lincoln Memorial (Beck didn't even have a permit until last Thursday). Beck needed publicity, and the media gave it to him.
Dr. Kings' March on Washington drew somewhere between 200,000 (police estimate) mostly black (75 to 80%) followers to 300,000 (leaders of the march). How many of Beck's Tea Bag lemmings were bused into D.C. for Saturday's affair (and I must be fair here, because I am a fair person, damn it! People were bused into the city in 1963 as well)?
Well the Park Service and police don't estimate crowd sizes anymore after being criticized for possible errors in the past, so... it's anyones guess really, but...
CBS, the television network, not the Calvary Baptist theological Seminary in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, hired a company to take pictures of the rally from fixed balloons, then took those pictures and gridded them out into little squares to count people in a somewhat methodical manner, and estimated 87,000 showed up, with a margin of error of 9,000, so anywhere from 78,000 to 96,000 attended the rally.
Nobody else thought to do that. NBC Nightly News estimated the number of people in attendance as “tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands” (wow! Talk about pinning it down). ABC somehow came up with, “the rally has attracted more than 100,000 people.” Fox News estimated the crowd at over 500,000. And not to be out done, certifiable Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who held her own rally after Beck's (is she actually too crazy for Glenn Beck?! 1,000 crazier people showed up for her) soliciting campaign donations, made this pronouncement: "We're not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today – because we were witnesses."
Beck himself most likely made the most accurate statement concerning the size of the crowd while addressing them, "I have just gotten word from the media that there are over 1,000 people here today.”
Quite the jokster that Glenn. Yeah, there were at least 1,000 there, that's for sure.
Who were these people? Why were they there? What did they want? What did Beck give them?
They were mostly white, "overwhelmingly" white the Washington Post reported. Many said they were afraid the country was going in the wrong direction, with the advances in health care coverage for more Americans and all. Restrictions on Wall Street skullduggery... that's just big government, and they didn't want big government, because big government would undoubtedly interfere in their lives some how, like providing for the common good, build roads, defend the nation, fund scientific research, attempt to regulate those unscrupulous businesses that would do us harm just to make a buck. They don't want that... except when it comes to their medicare or Social Security payments, then its okay (I won't even mention that those programs are socialist... won't mention it at all). They say they're very concerned about the amount of spending the federal government has been doing under President Obama, and they're worried about the deficit. Why? How does federal spending (which actually helps during a recession), or a federal deficit of any magnitude affect the average person's daily life? What do those concerns mean when trying to get a job? Being in a recession, or "economic downturn" as the administration would claim, does affect available jobs, so why campaign against tactics that have been proven to spur the economy and create jobs (such as infusion of cash into the economy by the federal government)? If I didn't know any better I'd say they were being coached by Fox News and the Republican Party. Not only that, they're being coached to ignore their own best interests, something the Republicans are particularly adept at doing.
And if I had to guess I'd say most of these people were not unemployed, or on Social Security already, and using Medicare.
When asked what specifically they want to see changed and why, very little direct information is given, just generalities, "things have got to change," and "Obama must go." Some were worried about taxes going up despite available evidence to the contrary.
What did they come to see?
Sarah Palin told the crowd, "We must restore America and restore her honor," before paying tribute to some personnel from the armed forces... which didn't have anything to do with the rally, but why let that dampen the continuing fervor over... what? Who knows? I sure don't. They weren't exactly clear about what they were all worked up about at the "Restoring Honor," rally.
And Beck himself... he came off like something out of "Elmer Gantry." Actually that story comes pretty close to describing Mr. Beck and his sermon on the mount on the Lincoln steps.
He ordered the crowd to "recognize your place to the creator. Realize that he is our king. He is the one who guides and directs our life and protects us." He asked his audience to pray more. "I ask, not only if you would pray on your knees, but pray on your knees but with your door open for your children to see."
What does injecting religion into... I don't know, I guess they're talking about politics, and "traditional American values" (like separation of church and state?), things like that, have to do with... anything?
I want to know one thing though, one thing that the name of the rally implies, and that I've asked myself and have heard others ask on some of the radio programs that I listen to. When exactly did America lose it's honor?
Huffington Post editor Roy Sekoff appeared on "The Ed Show" Thursday, and he asked the very same question.
"My question is, when did America lose that honor? Did we lose that honor when we invaded Iraq for nonexistent WMD? Did we lose the honor when we opened Guantanamo, when we allowed extraordinary rendition? Did we lose the honor when we said water boarding wasn't torture? Or maybe did we lose our honor when Glenn Beck said the President of the United States had a deep-seated hatred for white people?
"Because if it was those things," Sekoff added, "he's a little late to the game."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Carla (Gugino)!

Snake Eyes

Happy birthday wishes go out today for one of my favorite actresses, Ms. Carla Gugino!
A Florida girl (Sarasota), and Irish (with a smidgeon of Italian and English mixed in), Carla moved to Northern California when she was 4 years with her mom, after she separated from Carla's dad two years previously. She is very smart. You can tell just by looking at her. She was a straight A student and graduated school as the valedictorian, which is a pretty big deal. She's very pretty too... for a girl, and was discovered by a modeling agency when she was just fifteen years old, and moved to New York, where all of the models go.
But she's a little short person (5'5" 1.65m) and they wouldn't let her walk the runway at those fashion shows, so she moved back to California after a little while.
Her Aunt is Carol Merrill, who you may remember, dear readers, was the model on the game show, "Let's Make a Deal," for 14 freaking years (my dear mother was once in the audience of that program, but the host, Monty Hall, did not pick her as a contestant... the bastard). She suggested Carla study acting.
Which she did! She's been in many films and television shows, some of them her very own which she starred in, like; "Threshold," a short lived science fiction program which I thoroughly enjoyed, but CBS canceled with 4 episodes left unaired (the bastards). And "Karen Sisco," where Carla recreated the character first played by Jennifer Lopez in the movie, "Out of Sight." Again the bastards at ABC canceled the show before all of the first seasons shows were aired (bastards).
She's also appeared on the television programs "Who's the Boss," "The Wonder Years," "Quantum Leap," "Spin City," "Chicago Hope," and "Entourage," as well as many others.
I first noticed Carla in the 1998 Brian De Palma film, "Snake Eyes" (above pictures). For seem reason she caught my eye... I don't know why.
Some of my other favorite movies she appeared in (like Gene Hackman and Michael Caine, and a few others, Carla makes any movie or television show better just by being in it) are: "Jaded," "Judas Kiss," "Spy Kids" (and the other films in the series), "The One," "Sin City," "Night at the Museum," "Righteous Kill," "Watchmen," "Race to Witch Mountain,"and "Women in Trouble."
Carla lives right here in Los Angeles, though I've never met her. She lives with her "partner," writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez, and I'm told she spends her free time practicing yoga! Just like me!
I invite Carla right here and now to attend yoga class with Beth at Yogi Anonymous on Saturday evenings in Santa Monica. Come on Carla. Let's see what you can do! I'll even pay for your session ($14, suggested donation).
Anyway, all of us here at Joyce's Take wish Carla continued good fortune, and a very happy birthday.

Happy Birthday Carla!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Happy Birthday Kay (Parker)!

Happy birthday wishes go out this morning to one of my very favorite actresses, author, and a New Age metaphysical counselor and lecturer, my English rose, Ms. Kay Parker!
Kay was born in Birmingham, England, just like Ozzie Osborn and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. She got started acting in the late 1970s, and starred in such films as "Desert Winds," "Merchant of Venus," "Balboa," "Kate and the Indians," "Vista Valley PTA," and the immortal "Dracula Sucks."
Her film career wound down during the 80s (in 1982 she appeared with Burt Reynolds in the musical comedy, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"), and now counsels with an emphasis on Universal Truth and the attainment of the highest individual human potential, and I'm all for that.
I certainly wish Ms. Parker continued success, and all of us here at Joyce's Take wishes her a very happy birthday. Happy Birthday Kay!

Thursday, August 26, 2010




Jessi & Patricia

"The "Four-Inch Regulation" or "Four-Inch Law" is a colloquial name for a regulation issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1975, restricting the sale of turtles with a carapace length of less than four inches. Exceptions are provided for scientific and educational use, export, and private sale."
"About 142,000 Americans are infected each year with Salmonella enteritidis from chicken eggs, and about 30 die."

I like eggs. I really do. They are tasty, versatile, nutritious. They're fun to throw at people. You can dye eggs for central Christian religious feasts, and hide them so small children will never find them.
You can fry them. You can scramble them. You can poach them. You can bake them. You can microwave the hell out'a them. A lot of recipes simply insist that eggs go into them. You can cook them on just one side, or flip'em over and cook both sides a little. You can slather them all over bread and make French toast. You can even cut a round hole in a slice of bread and slip an egg in there and fry that! If you blow hydrogen into the empty shells they can be used as floatation devices incase your ship sinks, etc., etc., etc. See what I mean about being versatile!
One egg has 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, unsaturated fats and antioxidants, all for 60 to 70 calories. See what I mean about being nutritious.
Eggs recently were considered little "cholesterol bombs," and people who ate a whole bunch of them regularly were thought likely to keel over from heart attacks. Now they say that's not true, that folks can eat one or two eggs a day without risk.
And eggs are tasty. When I think about breakfast I automatically think about eggs. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I've eaten them all of my life and I've gotten used to them by now. I guess I can blame my parents for getting me hooked on eggs, an habituation I have to this day. Why I had two eggs just yesterday morning, microwaved (my lovely case manager, Erin, goes nuts when I tell her I like microwaved food. I don't know why. She even uses a microwave to heat up her soup for lunch. All a microwave does is make water molecules vibrate really fast. How innocuous is that? She is prejudiced against microwaved cooked food though. She thinks something is lost when you cook anything that way, maybe taste perhaps, or nutrition. She prefers conventional cooking methods, and cringes every time I mention putting something in a microwave. She's silly), with little chopped up onions and mushrooms in them. They were good. I wish I had some right now.
A week ago last Thursday I accompanied case manager Paul to the Vallarta Supermarket just up the street from my box, about a mile or so, on Whittier Blvd. in what is known to some as East Los Angeles. We were there to shop for the upcoming Cooking Club, buying ingredients for "Chilaquiles," which Paul wanted to make. Chilaquiles is an Hispanic dish (The name chilaquiles is derived from the Nahuatl (a branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family) word chil-a-quilitl which means "herbs or greens in chile broth) consisting of fried corn tortillas, salsa, and eggs (we scrambled them). You can add whatever you think might taste good with these as a topping, like onions, cilantro, sour cream, cheese, etc.
Normally my lovely case manager, Erin, would shop with Paul on occasions such as this, but she was off lollygagging at her doctor's office, or something, and was nowhere to be found, and Paul needed guidance and supervision so I tagged along.
The Vallarta Supermarket is a wonderful place. I shop there sometimes to buy frozen burittos, but they have a whole lot of other things there to buy. It caters to a mostly Hispanic community, and appropriately sells a great deal of Hispanic food and ingredients for Hispanic foods.
This was the first time Paul had been there though, and he really liked it. We were there as a direct result of Paul having read in the paper the page with the store's weekly specials, and one of them was 5 dozen eggs for $2.98. That's $2.98 for 60 freaking eggs (medium size). That's almost like a nickel an egg! That's better than the 99 Cent Store, where (1) they sell 1 dozen eggs for a buck, and (2) they often limit the amount you can buy to 2 dozen a customer.
Well our Chilaquiles recipe required eggs, so we bought 60 of the little bastards. We weren't going to use all 60, so Paul said I could have 30 of them. That's almost like half of what we bought! I took those 30 eggs to my box and had to find places in my small refrigerator to store them all. I still have some. I'm looking at some of them right now sitting in my vegetable bin. I'll eat them by and by.
We bought a whole bunch of other things as well, like about 200 corn tortillas (we only used about 70 of them), Mexican cream (whatever that is) and queso fresco cheese from the Meat Dept. Avocados, limes, ancho chilies, and so on.
I bought a little jar of mayonnaise for my personal consumption. I'd wanted one for a long time but no one would buy one for me. Not even Erin.
I would have bought her a little jar of mayonnaise if she had wanted one.
I also bought some chicken nuggets. Not very Hispanic of me, I admit.
We took all of our purchases to the Olympia Hotel just in time for the 11:30 Cooking Club as luck would have it. Patricia was there, Charlotte, Watson, Johannes, a few others. The Cooking Club regulars. I'm the only one from the Las Americas who shows up on a consistent basis, and I only do that to support my case manager in her endeavors so she won't lose her job and turn into a crack whore (hence my resentment concerning the mayonnaise).
Erin had finished her business with her doctor. She of course was on a special diet due to her tender throat and would not be able to eat what we were preparing, but she helped us make it.
At first I was put in charge of peeling the avocados and slicing them length wise into manageable pieces. I did this with cool aplomb.
Next I was asked to fry the corn tortillas. I cut each in two, immersed two of the pieces at a time into hot olive oil until they began to turn brown and crispy, at which point I took them out of the oil, setting them on a paper towel to drain a bit before transferring them to a large cooking pan where the final assembly of the entire chilaquile dish was to occur. I did this for about 70 tortillas, or 140 individual pieces, until Paul cried, "I think we have enough tortillas, Rick. You can stop now."
"But we have so many more tortillas," I explained to him. Indeed, we had many more and I wanted to fry them all!
"Yes, Rick, I know, but I think we've got enough."
So he wouldn't let me fry anymore, and what has happened to the remaining 130 corn tortillas... well, only Paul and Erin know, and they're not talking.
Next, I helped Erin scramble those 30 eggs. It is relatively easy to scramble eggs, even 30 of them all at one time. You just throw them in a pan and cook them until they're done. Erin and I made quick work of it (she did most of the work actually, and I'm proud to say she is a fine egg cooker).
I shoveled out the eggs on top of the tortillas. Paul and others dumped two types of salsa on top of that and we were ready to eat.
At this time Erin's mom, the lovely Patricia, who we've met before (see, Meeting Patricia 1 & 2, from last September), her lovely 15 year old step sister, Jessi, and her step dad (I don't remember his name, who cares?) arrived. They were visiting from New Jersey, and had recently been to Reno Nevada and Yosemite National Park. They were in L.A. for a few days to visit Erin. All of them would soon leave to spend the weekend up in Sequoia National Park.
Apparently they like trees. Perhaps there are none in New Jersey.
Jessi is adorable, with wide, bright eyes, and Patricia, is gorgous and, well, lovely, as you can tell for yourselves, dear readers, from the above picture.
Erin's step dad I can take or leave.
So all of us dug in and enjoyed Paul's chilaquiles. They were good. I put cheese, Mexican cream (Mexico's answer to sour cream, I guess), and avocados on mine. Erin ate some skinless chicken and veggies she had left over from the night before, while her family took up our Mexican fare.
I talked to Erin's family about the weather.
After eating Erin took her family on a tour of the Olympia (whoopee!). I ducted out with the 30 eggs that Paul had given me, and hurriedly made my way to my box to hide them.
Rarely do I consider what eggs actually are, or where they come from before I eat them. A lot of people don't. But eggs are actually cells, used by birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish to reproduce. I wonder if the "Right To Life," people eat eggs.
Last week, eggs gained a prominent place in the national news as outbreaks of salmonella had been reported with about 1,300 people getting sick from the bacterial infection. A recall of nearly half a billion eggs had been ordered.
And then I wondered why Paul and I had gotten our eggs so cheap...

To be continued.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Deficit Hawks 2, The Peacocks

"Deficit peacocks like to preen and call attention to themselves, but are not sincerely interested in taking the difficult but necessary steps toward a balanced budget." -Michael Linden, Associate Director for Tax and Budget Policy at American Progress

In looking for a good definition for the term "Deficit Peacock," the first thing that pops up on my Google machine is the January 20, 2010 essay by Michael Linden ( http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/01/deficit_peacock.html ) who probably coined the praise to begin with.
In it Michael points out four trends pundits and politicians follow when proclaiming to be all concerned about our growing national deficit ("The United States public debt is presented by the United States Treasury as two calculations: "Debt Held by the Public", defined as U.S. Treasury securities held by institutions outside the United States Government (i.e., China), and the "Gross Debt," which includes intra-government obligations (e.g., the Social Security Trust fund). As of July 28, 2010, the 'Total Public Debt Outstanding' was approximately 93% of annual GDP ($13.258 trillion)." -Wikipedia. GDP meaning a measure of a country's overall official economic output. To analogize, dear readers, your total income for your household for one year would be your personal GDP. And to put yourself in the position the federal government has gotten itself into (through many factors, the 2007/2008 recession being the main one, two ongoing military conflicts, and the Bush Tax Cuts adding significantly), you and your family's total debt burden would be 93% of your personal GDP, which a lot of families may actually face with decreasing housing values, low to zero savings, and high interest credit card debt. But considering the state of affairs the federal government is in, and the Bush administration and Congress that got us there, don't let Republicans calling out about irresponsible people living beyond their means get to you. They've done the very same thing, and for the very same reason).

1. "They never mention revenues"

That would mean taxes. Mr. Linden rightly points out that budget deficits occur when income declines and spending increases. To continue our personal analogy, my personal deficit would increase if I spent more than I made on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis, which is... as my lovely case manager Erin would say, duh! Not too hard to figure out. You put out more than you take in and you'll wind up with a negative total worth.
The Republicans, and a few Peacock Democrats like Senators Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, and Blanche Lincoln, will never mention raising revenues because that would mean talking about raising taxes ("Individual income taxes and payroll taxes now account for four out of every five federal revenue dollars. Corporate income taxes contribute another 12 percent. Excise taxes, estate and gift taxes, customs duties, and miscellaneous receipts (earnings of the Federal Reserve System and various fees and charges) make up the balance" -Tax Policy Center).
Raising taxes! That's not what the Republicans are about! Every single proposal the Republicans bring up to dealing with the national economy (the latest ridiculously labeled the "Economic Freedom Act of 2010," yeah, freedom for the top 5% of earners in this country, and multinational corporations) involves cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting spending on social programs for the lower and middle classes. Every single one! And these sociopaths propose these tactics with a straight face knowing they will do noting but increase the deficit and the mess we already find ourselves in, and which got us into this situation when the Republicans were last in power under Bush. Cutting taxes for the wealthiest of us does nothing to foster job growth (as proven for the last ten years while the Bush Tax Cuts have been in place), does nothing for small businesses, which they always claim (only 2% of small businesses would be affected by the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthy, and those 2% would be affected simply because they are already wealthy!), and absolutely does nothing to decrease the national deficit.

2. "They offer easy answers."

As Linden points out, "Beware anyone offering easy answers" (emphasis mine), and I would add, about anything! Like most problems in life they tend to be complicated, needing a complicated, nuanced response, and a disciplined response to be dealt with in a responsible, pragmatic fashion in order to actually solve the problem. To really deal with the situation rather than to pretend to deal with it as the Republicans do with their silly proposals that actually do nothing to fix the problem, but make it worse by following their own selfish agenda, which is to continue to rape the economy at our expense, the lower and middle classes.
Al Gore and John Kerry lost their bids for the presidency because they provided real answers to the difficult problems this country faced, and still faces. Complicated answers that did not fit nicely into fifteen second sound-bites that Bush and the Republicans are so fond of, and that their own constituencies are only able to understand. The more complicated the answer to an issue the Democratic candidate presented, the easier it was for Bush to make fun of it and turn it into a joke (remember "fuzzy math?" I don't even know what that means! What the hell is "fuzzy math?! Apparently Bush and the hordes of self-deluded voters and media that put him into office... two times (I won't go into how the Supreme Court gave him one presidency, and he stole the other, I just won't go into it), do not accept the study of quantity, structure, space, and change that the real world uses to solve real problems. It would appear a steady diet of Fox News tends to lower the average intelligence quotient of their viewers, as exampled by these latest polls that indicate a freaking fifth of the population of the United States believes Barack Obama is a practicing Muslim! As I heard John Fugelsang point out last Friday on the Stephanie Miller Newscast, this nation faces a greater threat, not from foreign terrorists, but from domestic morons.
As Michael Linden writes, "There are no easy answers to our budgetary challenges. We have an aging population, rising health care costs, and a tax code full of loopholes, exceptions, and targeted subsidies. It is going to take more than simple solutions to meet these challenges. If you hear the words, “all we have to do to balance the budget is…” then you know whoever spoke them hasn’t fully grasped the scope of the problem."

To be continued.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mosque Smasque

45 Park Place

I really dislike writing on this topic, or giving it any type of credence as the corporate media has done such a great job of promoting this non-issue. And if the corporate media keeps promoting it, than commentators of every ilk feel the need to put in their two cents.
I suppose to a degree the phenomenon of intolerance must be addressed whenever it sprouts its ugly head, and that's why I'm putting my two cents in as well.
But I loath to do it as it is just another contrived wedge issue that has no bearing on the real problems Americans are currently facing.
Let me make my position perfectly clear: There is no mosque at ground zero, planned or otherwise. There may be a community center with space set aside for prayer (just as there is a non-denominational chapel (which means Muslims can pray there too) in the Pentagon, and I don't see any protesters there). Even if you wish to designate it as a mosque it is not at ground zero. It is between two to five blocks from the planned location of the September 11 memorial. Even if it were a mosque and it was smack dab on top of the planned 9/11 memorial the religion of Islam, nor the Muslim people, were not responsible for the 9/11 disaster, just as the Christian religion and Christian people were not responsible for the bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima during World War II. It is perfectly legal for the community center it to be built there. There is already a "mosque" within four blocks from the World Trade Center site, as well as a strip club, why no demonstrations decrying sympathies toward 9/11 victims at these locations?. Not all of the families of the victims of 9/11 oppose the building of the community center, perhaps not even the majority, who knows, the media will not investigate because it is not in their interest to do so. Muslims died during 9/11 as well. This "controversy" is one that has been manufactured by Right wing extremists who wish to divert attention to their dearth of ideas to help real people deal with real problems, and who wish to confuse, alienate, and divide the American public on issues that do not affect their daily lives, and the lives of their families in any significant way, helped by a willing corporate media striving for sensationalist stories to drive ratings, and perhaps influence upcoming elections.
To put this more succinctly than it already is, as I'm afraid it will need to be often repeated:
There is no mosque at ground zero. There is already a mosque near ground zero, and a strip club, why no condemnation of those? Not all of the families of the 9/11 victims oppose the building of the community center. The community center has every legal right to be built at the proposed site. This issue is a manufactured "controversy" developed by the Right to divide public opinion and influence the 2010 election, as they have no real answers to the real problems real Americans are now facing.
Lately the issue of the proposed building of this community center in Manhattan is being covered everywhere by everyone. As I wrote this yesterday morning I was listening to the Thom Hartmann radio program, and he pretty much devoted his entire three hour show to the issue. But to his credit he framed the issue as it truly is, a device developed by the Right to fear monger the public to develop an unreasoning mob mentality for those who are easily influenced, and a sad portrayal of religious intolerance and bigotry in this country which was founded on the principles of freedom of worship.
Practically everyone else is unevenly reporting on this issue simply because everyone else is reporting on it, and no one is attempting to investigate the cause, or if there is any real substance toward the arguments of those who oppose the building of the center. Why would they? That might end the story.
And the reporting is quite often skewed to keep alive the idea that those who oppose the center have a valid argument. And those opposing the center are getting more press. Two print articles I read Sunday concerning the issue made this clear. That day demonstrations were held in New York by opposing sides, those who were for the building of the center, and those against (Pamela Geller, the insane Right wing blogger (she advocated legislation that would effectively outlaw Islam in the United States by imposing 20 year jail sentences on practicing Muslims.) who started this whole mess, said the NYPD estimated her proponents numbered 5,000 or more. The NYPD said they don't provide estimates, making her what we already knew she is... a liar. Those who were there estimated the size of the crowd of center opponents at close to 2 or 3 hundred, similar to those who championed the center's right to be built). One article headline stated "Families of 9/11 victims oppose mosque," when that was in no way clear, and reported no where else. Some family members were there, but from the sound of that headline you might think the demonstrators were entirely made up of grieving husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters of those lost on Sept. 11th.
Another I read at least mentioned that there was a significant number of demonstrators demonstrating against the policies of fear, hatred, and intolerance. However, I counted the amount of words devoted to the opponents of the center: 357, to those of the proponents: 88. What's up with that?
What's up is that hatred sells better than reason, common sense, and regard for the law.
This is the United States of America. Our forefathers came to this country to escape religious persecution. The Constitution that eventually formed and for which is the basis, the foundation, on which this great nation is based, sets us apart from any other nation, and is the greatest democratic/liberal experiment this planet has yet witnessed. It guarantees freedom of religion. It does not choose one religion over another. This is not a Christian nation, this is a nation for everyone, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and every other, and even for those who do not practice a religion, like me. There are those who would subvert the Constitution to pursue their own selfish and short sighted ideals, or for personal or political gain. They like certain parts of the Constitution, lets say the Second Amendment, that guarantees the right to bear arms, and they want to get rid of the parts they don't like, such as the Fourteenth Amendment, that allows citizenship for babies born within our boarders. I'm sorry. This is grown up time. You don't get to pick and choose (a very similar analogy can be made with the Bible, and Right wing evangelicals) the parts you like or don't like. We take the document as a whole, accept it, live with it, protect it. If it needs to be changed there are proper ways to do so. As far as this community center goes it does not need to be changed.
I could go on and on, I could take on each of these talking head pundits on Fox News (whose 2nd largest stockholder, by the way, is helping to fund the center, so according to Fox News, Fox News is part of an Islamic terrorist movement!) one by one, take on Pat Buchanan on MSNBC, take on any of them, and just repeat the sixth paragraph of this post which they have no argument to rebut, and have never tried to.
In conclusion I'll end with some excerpts from Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on this issue. He is a much better writer than I, and certainly more eloquent. And he enjoys the added distinction of being right:
"There is, in fact, no "Ground Zero mosque." It isn't a mosque. A mosque, technically, is a Muslim holy place in which only worship can be conducted. What is planned for 45 Park Place, New York City, is a Community Center. It's supposed to include a basketball court and a culinary school. It's to be thirteen stories tall and the top two stories will be a Muslim prayer space... since Sept. 11, Muslims have been at far greater risk of being victims of terrorism in the United States than have non- Muslims... this place, Park 51, is not even at Ground Zero, not even 'right across the street.' Even the description of it being "two blocks away" is generous. It is two blocks away from the northeast corner of the World Trade Center site. From the planned location of the 9/11 memorial, it is more like four or even five blocks... Oh, and what was that about Iraq? Why did we go into Iraq, again? I don't mean the real reasons or the naked, vengeful blindness that enabled the forging of a nonexistent connection between Iraq and 9/11. I mean, the official explanation: to free the world, and especially Iraq 's citizens, of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. That's its supporters' defense of the invasion, to this hour. Well, who lives in Iraq? Muslims. I hate to reveal this to anybody on the Right who didn't know this, but when they say Iraq is 65 percent Shia and 32 percent Sunni, you do know that Shia and Sunni are both forms of the Muslim religion, right? We sacrificed 4,415 of our military personnel in Iraq to save Muslims, and there are thousands still there tonight to protect Muslims, but we don't want Muslims to open a combination culinary school and prayer space in Manhattan? ...And do you think 45 Park Place is where it ends? The moment this monstrous betrayal of our America gained the slightest traction, the next goal was unveiled. 'No more building permits for any mosques in this country,' brayed a man from the euphemistically-named "American Families Association." Of course, he said, maybe the permits could be granted if the congregation, quote, "was willing to publicly renounce the Koran." ...But "Masjid-Manhattan" opened in early 1970. Four blocks away, the World Trade Center opened, in December 1970. The actual place that is the real-life equivalent of the paranoid dream contained in the phrase "Ground Zero Mosque," has been up and running, since before there was a World Trade Center, and for nine years since there has been a World Trade Center. Running, without controversy, without incident, without terrorism, without protest. Because this is America, damn it. And in America, when somebody comes for your neighbor, or his Bible, or his Torah, or his Atheists ' Manifesto, or his Koran, you and I do what our fathers did, and our grandmothers did, and our founders did; you speak up." - Keith Olbermann, Special Comment 8-16-2010.

Happy Birthday Courtney!

Happy Birthday to one of my lovely case manager, Erin's, dear friends, Ms. Courtney C.!
I had the pleasure of having dinner once with Courtney (don't tell Erin!), at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on the Santa Monica pier, which happens to be in Santa Monica, here in California. She lives in New York City now. I don't know why. That was the only time I've ever met her, but she is very nice... and doesn't like the taste of water (many don't, you know).
By looking at the picture above you would think that Courtney (she's the one in the foreground) is in her mid-twenties, or so (as well as being very beautiful... for a girl), but no one really knows how old she is. She could be one of those vampire girls like in the Twilight movies, and as old as the hills.
In any case, everyone here at Joyce's Take wishes her continued good luck in whatever it is she is doing, and a very happy birthday!
Happy Birthday Courtney!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Barbara (Eden)!

Happy Birthday wishes go out today for one of my favorites Genies (she's my only favorite Genie), and actresses, Ms. Barbara Eden!
My gosh, Barbara has had such a successful and busy career it's hard to find a place to start. Maybe the beginning would be good.
She was born Barbara Jean Morehead in Tucson, AZ. Her parents divorced when she was just 3, and she and her mom moved to San Francisco, CA, that bastion of evil liberalism, where her mom got married again. They were still living in the midst of the Great Depression, during the late 1930s (the Depression did not end until the advent of World War II), which greatly affected the family. Barbara's mother used to entertain her children by singing them songs, which Barbara took up, and took acting classes as she thought that might improve her singing. She graduated High School, and was elected Miss San Francisco in 1951.
Then she got busy! She made appearances on television shows like; The Johnny Carson Show, Highway Patrol, I love Lucy (where she has stated she had to literally hide from Desi Arnaz in order to escape his amorous advances), Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Bachelor Father, Father Knows Best, The Andy Griffith Show, The Virginian, etc., etc., etc., and those are just the shows I'm familiar with.
Hollywood discovered her when a film director came to a play she appeared in with James Drury (who played the title character in the television show, The Virginian, mentioned above. He is one of the few actors I can remember who owed my father money (through my dad's liquor store) on a continues basis), and asked her to come to 20th Century Fox (way before Rupert Murdoch).
Alright, I'm going to stop here because Ms. Eden has been in so many films and TV shows I'll go crazier than I already am trying to list some. Let me say this, I first saw her (or her pretty legs actually) as she descended a ladder (stairs are called ladders in the navy, I don't know why. In this instance however, she was really descending a ladder... feet first) in the submarine Seaview, in the 1961 film, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," which also is one of the few films I saw with my dad (and mom, and sister. We went to a drive in. For my case managers, lovely Erin and Paul, drive ins were at one time outside movie theaters where you could sit in your car and watch a movie). I didn't know it at the time, and the studio sure wouldn't have publicized the fact that in that film she was acting alongside her husband, the successful actor, Michael Ansara (Barbara has been married three times, and had one son, Matthew Ansara, who unfortunately died in 2001, at the age of 36), who is still around, recently doing voice acting.
She was also in the only Elvis Presley movie I ever actually liked, 1960s "Flaming Star."
Of course, and I think she is okay with this, she is best known for her role on the 1965 to 1970 television show, "I Dream of Jeannie." That was her name on the show, Jeannie (and she was a Genie... get it?). She starred opposite Larry Hagman, and was at first turned down for the part as she was a blonde. But Sidney Sheldon, the producer, gave her the part because he couldn't find the right brunette.
I used to watch that show all of the time, if not first run episodes, then later with re-runs. And I'll tell you, her performance certainly had an impact on this young man, and I spent a great deal of time dreaming of Jeannie, quite often while I was awake.
I don't know why.
She has been a musical guest star (still singing) in over 50 variety TV shows, including 21 Bob Hope Specials (I'm thinking he liked her), The Carol Burnett Show, The Jonathan Winters Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, This is Tom Jones, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and Donny and Marie.
Everybody knows Barbara, even today's youngsters! My case mangers Michelle and Marisella, both in their 20s, couldn't believe it was Barbara Eden in the movie "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," which happened to be playing in the lobby one day. I assured them it was, and comforted them the best I knew how.
Anyway, Barbara is still going strong and still working occasionally (she may be a conservative, as she appeared on "Hannity," just last year. But I'll forgive her for that. I'll forgive her for anything)., and all of us here at Joyce's Take are extremely honored to wish Barbara a very happy birthday. Happy Birthday Barbara!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Salvation Diary 40

"Salvation" artist Amanda Milke

July 3 Wednesday Day 295

Poor old Bill Raushemplat was sent over to the warehouse this morning. For some reason he thought he would get his old, nice, cushy job back in the phone room. But they were fed up with him there as well, and he wound up on the dock unloading trucks. His attitude was such that after only forty-five minutes his fellow dock workers needed to be restrained from dismembering him. So a wise Bill Richardson (dock foreman) removed him from that work station, and gave him over to Charles Parsons to work in the sorting room. After five minutes there Raushemplat went to Ed Reitz's office and complained bitterly about his roommate, Luis Rublacava. Bill demanded to be moved to another dorm stating irreconcilable differences. Ed listened to him patiently, sent him on his way, then phoned me and told me to keep him in the same dorm for the time being. Bill went from Ed's office, down the hall to Clarence Orion's office and began to give Clarence a hard time. Bill claimed he wasn't feeling well and demanded a bed rest pass. Clarence, mainly to get Bill out of his hair, gave it to him. So Bill came back to the residence where he stayed mostly in his dorm, grumbling at all who came near.
My day was rather peaceful in the morning, maddeningly hectic in the afternoon, and satisfyingly calm in the evening. Kathy came tonight. I must say I don't know how to approach this girl, or even if I should. Maybe that would be the worst thing possible for our respective recoveries. Maybe I think too much. I do find myself genuinely drawn to her. She keeps giving me little glances. Of course I wouldn't know that unless I was giving her glances of my own. After she wished all of the guys hanging out in the lobby a "safe and sane and sober" holiday, I wished her a good weekend and cautioned her to drive safely. She then left.
Darrell Sipp looked at me and said, "I think she has a thing for you. A small thing, but a thing." What an odd statement for him to make.
I just happened to be strolling outside as Kathy was pulling out of the parking lot. She waved at me. I waved back.
Later I went upstairs to the bathroom in the sample room to have a cigarette. I remembered that I had seen Kathy standing outside earlier talking to Ron Collins. She was smoking a cigarette. Hummm. Maybe I won't quit for a while after all.

July 4 Thursday Day 296

The Fourth of July! Independence Day!
Last year I was at the Van Nuys center getting ready to be framed and tossed out, and beginning my last relapse. This year I'm nice and sober again, and looking forward to a sixteen hour shift of joy and happiness.
The day turned out alright really. Much more relaxed than yesterday. In the morning I had some business with the trailer in the thrift store parking lot. Then paperwork. Schimmele and I walked over to Music Plus where I rented the video, "Born on the Fourth of July." And later we gave away six door prizes, one every hour from 9:00AM to 2:00PM. At 10:00 Mr. Pandolfi picked my room number out of the barrel, and I won. It was in no way fixed. I won fair and square. Really. I was meant to have that Irish Spring deodorant.
Most of the day was spent reading articles out of old issues of Omni magazine. And eating. The buffet was laid out from 12:30 to 4:00.
Yum yum.
Most of the guys who stayed near the residence today laid around, catching up on sleep, playing pool, doing laundry. Some faithfully watched the famous July 4th Twilight Zone marathon on channel five. I must admit, I checked in on a few episodes.
A family from Demark, Copenhagen actually, were staying with us in the upstairs apartment. They would be with us most of this month. A man with his wife, and two young sons. All blonde. They seem like nice people. I don't know what their connection with the Salvation Army is, or if they're here on some sort of business. They don't seem to be. They've been seeing the sights; Disneyland, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, places like that.
At about 9:00PM, when it got dark outside, I gave them a call up in their apartment and told them (I'm quite fluent in Danish) that if they looked out of their balcony window they might be able to catch a glimpse of a very unusual sight. Indeed, a very American sight.
Up above the Rose Bowl, directly north of the residence, the multicolored skyrockets exploded and exploded.

July 5 Friday Day 296

I got up early, took a quick shower, and with Marvin Gardenhire, went to see the new release, "Terminator 2, Judgment Day." The movie stars Linda Hamilton, Arnie Schwarzenegger, and special effects. Like "Predator 2," this is a faithful sequel, and very good, very action packed. The director, James Cameron, wrote and directed the first Terminator movie as well as this one, so you might say it was a labor of love. I enjoyed both films equally well, which says something about expanded budgets for making movies, and the real importance of story and characterization. The first film cost less than 15 million dollars to produce, while the sequel, it is rumored, cost between 80 and 100 million. The cost of the sequel is what most film producers would consider a tremendous success if their own films generated anything close to that amount in revenue.
Going to the movies was a pleasant way to spend this hot and smoggy morning in any case.
After the film we returned to the residence, and I got ready for my afternoon shift.
I wrote in the lobby before work, and continued to write throughout the somewhat busy evening. Roger Collins is now on the desk (imagine my joy), replacing Bill Raushemplat. I spent some time showing him the various ropes.
George Staub was expected tonight for a brief visit. He was scheduled to stay overnight in the small apartment.
Later, after going to bed, I would sleep and dream of Natalie Wood and Jill St. John fighting over me.

July 6 Saturday Day 298

George Staub came in last night at about 9:00. He looks the same. He acts the same. He didn't remember my name. He kept stealing glances at my identification badge to find out what my name was so it wouldn't appear as if he had forgotten it. He needn't have bothered. He could never remember my name even when he was still working here.
He seems alright. He works for the Salvation Army in Phoenix now. He says it's hot there. I have little trouble believing him. He also says there is less of a traffic problem in Phoenix that there is here in LA. I have even less trouble believing that. Anywhere has less of a traffic problem than Los Angeles. He says he and his lovely wife eat a lot of popcorn for dinner, and that eating popcorn saves them a lot of time in the evenings.
I suppose it would.
He asked me how I was doing, then went to bed. He said we would talk later.
He always says that. He used to say to me, "You and I should have a little talk," when he was our program director. We never did. I'm sure he was sincere when saying that, and that he really did wish to talk with me. He just never got around to it.
George was long gone, and well on his way back to Arizona when I got up this morning.
So much for George.
Bye, bye.
I came down and had a little salad for lunch. Then I talked to Robert. He wanted me to go get the weekend movies again. Tom Rotsch went with me. I picked "Chinatown," and it's sequel, "The Two Jakes." I have not seen the sequel, so I will show it tomorrow night so I can watch it.
I went to the park and laid out in the sun for an hour or so. I listened to good Led Zeppelin music on the radio.
My shift went so smoothly I had the time to finish reading the Licit and Illicit Drug book from Consumers Union.
I highly recommend it.

July 7 Sunday Day 299

David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash. They woke woke me up at 6:30 in the morning singing about helplessly hoping.
Noisy bastards!
I got out of bed with great expectations, for this was the day of the great employee picnic. I showered then dressed in my picnic clothes, for I had surreptitiously gotten the word that all of us picnic goers would not be required to attend chapel.
So I was all happy and everything, like a kid let out of school an hour early.
My happiness was short lived. I had just returned from an 8:30 trip to the store to buy cigarettes, when Mr. Vasquez announced that the Major wanted all of us picnic goers to attend chapel. This meant several things. First it meant that I would have to change clothes in a hurry as chapel would be starting in half an hour. Second, since us residence picnic goers were the ones bringing the picnic supplies; food, games, sodas, etc., the festivities would not be able to start until we got there, and a scheduled 10:00 picnic would now probably not begin until noon. Third, and most important, I would have to sit through another hour long chapel service.
I must admit I was a little ticked off when Robert told me this. I dislike abrupt changes in the plan. I calmed down quickly enough. Just one more disappointment to deal with in this veal of tears. Nothing to drink over.
Chapel got out fifteen minutes early in any case. Then Tom Rotsch, Richard Hendrickson, and myself, with the help of Harold Eversley and Joe Brown, packed up Red Shield 12 with picnic goodies, and were on our way.
The picnic was to be held at the Santa Fe Dam Recreational facility, in Irwindale. And we almost made it there before we realized we had forgotten the two thirty gallon containers of ice, and all of the water. We turned around and went back to the residence, picked up those items of necessity, then turned our direction once again toward the dam.
It's a lovely park. It has a lake and everything. The lake is about a mile long and a couple of hundred yards wide, which sail and paddle boats made use of, floating around at a leisurely pace, gliding effortlessly across the calm surface.
Our picnic area had been reserved a head of time, which was a good thing because the park was very crowded on this Sunday afternoon. There was high cloud cover to give us some relief from the hot, July sun, so all in all it was very nice.
I didn't know most of the people there. It wasn't because I was a new employee. It was rather for the fact that the girls in the front office or the warehouse didn't show up, neither did the truck drivers, or the guys from the Transition House, except for Charles Parsons, all of whom I came into contact with on a regular basis. Most of the people who did show up were employed at the various stores the Salvation Army maintains in the San Gabriel Valley, and whom I didn't know from beans, and would usually never have occasion to meet. So this was an exciting opportunity to get to know everybody, and make myself known. It's too bad that I'm so shy and all, and socially inept.
Ed Reitz and his lovely family helped to break the ice by immediately involving a bunch of helpless victims in a water balloon toss, myself included. I even won the damn thing! Me and my partner, Dan Jones, the former resident, now warehouse janitor. We were the ones with the last intact balloon.
Very exciting!
Chow time after the toss. I made a big pig of myself by having two burgers and a hot dog. They were good.
The Major and Mrs. Johnson showed up eventually, with our Danish guests. They ate and then took off. The Major is prone to skin cancer, it seems, and cannot stand around in the sun for very long.
Later we played a little volleyball. Again I found myself on the winning team. We trashed Ed Reitz thoroughly.
Poor, poor Ed.
Tom Rotsch, enthusiastic fellow that he is, made a flying dive into the lake (fully clothed) going after the ball.
I almost damn near won the egg toss as well, but I gave my partner, Tom, a short throw, and the egg squished in his hands. Harold Eversley, and his beautiful ladyfriend, Ellie, held on to become the winners.
After the picnic everyone began to leave in small groups until the same bunch of people who had loaded the truck got stuck with the job of loading it back up again with leftover picnic trash and garbage. After we finished all of this loading, we left.
I got back just in time for "Star Trek, the Next Generation," but it was another rerun, and I soon fell asleep, tired out from the day's activities.
Kevin Rockoff woke me up an hour later by knocking on my door. He needed me to come down to the desk because the breath-a-lizer was acting up. He thought it needed a new battery. It had given Keith Kinsler a reading of 8.80, which would have meant that (1) that Keith was dead, and (2) his body had been floating in a vat of alcohol for the last three weeks. Kevin had been right, the breath-a-lizer did need a new battery. It began to work just fine after we put one in. Good enough to bust old Keith, who it turns out had in fact been drinking. He registered a .07. Keith said, "Bullshit!" He said he didn't believe the device was working properly. I blew in it myself and showed him the .00 reading, then had him blow again.
He went upstairs to pack his bags.
I got a front row seat for the Sunday Night VCR Movie, "The Two Jakes," the sequel to "Chinatown." Jack Nicholson starred in "Chinatown," of course, and starred in and directed "The Two Jakes." I was very impressed. usually sequels appear about a year or two after the original, maybe four or five, as to capitalize on the success of the first film. In this instance there had been fifteen years between the making of Roman Polanski's stylish detective drama, and "The Two Jakes." I got a little nostalgic thinking about it. Both films are period pieces, set in Los Angeles, before and after World War II respectively. And both were saturated with atmosphere, which made it easy to become nostalgic. As Nicholson's character, J.J. Getties, found himself looking into his own past toward the events first introduced in "Chinatown," I found myself thinking and remembering what my life had been like since I first saw that movie in the mid-seventies. I saw how Nicholson had changed, and saw how I had changed (Boy, Jack sure has gotten a lot older (and fatter). I remembered the supporting characters in the sequel who had also appeared in the first film (boy, they've gotten a lot older too). I wonder what it must have been like to have all of those people after so many years get back together once again for this project. What it must have felt like to take up where the first story left off. I wondered how much the actors lives had become intrinsically involved with the lives of their film characters, who had lived and changed just as they had. How odd it must have felt.
And I knew that by remembering my life, then and now, that watching those movies at two different and distinct periods of my life, these films have certainly become a part of me, a part of my make up, my existence. My fate has in some small way been influenced by the creation of Robert Towne, mixed inexorably with the fate of Jake Getties, Noah Cross, and the tragedy of the Malway women.
That's the beauty of film I guess. You never know what will happen and how they'll make you feel.

July 8 Monday Day 300

Wendy, the beautiful blonde counselor who comes here on Monday mornings, gave me a great big, gorgeous, unsolicited, smile this morning as I sat in the lobby reading the business section of the L.A. Times.
Wow! She's never done that before. She's been working here for as long as I've been around and she usually acts very shy and will hardly say hello. But I guess she must think I'm okay now, since I've been helping her get her clients from the warehouse when they are slow in showing up.
That smile was sure worth any effort I put out. It brightened my whole day.
Considering it was raining outside that was quite an accomplishment.
I stayed in the lobby (hoping for another smile?), and wrote. After lunch I helped Robert with the massive amount of urine that we had collected over the weekend. One complication after another kept me there until dinner time.
We discussed the different stages of recovery in our relapse prevention workshop. We also talked about the brain's capacity to sustain damage, which fortunately for all of us present is considerable.
I watched an interesting program concerning the Actor's Workshop In New York City. Then on Nightline, a show focusing on a famine in Ethiopia, and how the relief supplies have been diverted by corrupt local officials.
I really could not bare to watch this program for very long. The rapid interchange of images illustrating scenes of mass starvation, fly blown bodies, and sun baked graves, sprinkled with new car, beer, and bubble gum commercials was just too much.
I turned it off and thought for awhile, then went to bed.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Deficit Hawks?

Why in the world would anyone not in the top one percent of income earners, and CEOs of multi-national corporations, vote for a Republican?
Okay, so maybe you don't go along with some of the Democratic ammendments trying to make there way through Congress, and you approve of the record number of filibusters used by the Republicans to obstruct these bills.
But what are they obstructing?
Let's remember now that the Republicans in the House and Senate are currently acting as Deficit Hawks, so, so concerned about the bulging budget deficit, seemingly above and beyond any other consideration. Never mind the fact that when they were in power, and when George Bush had the White House, you never heard a peep from them about runaway budgets. War funding was hidden away in emergency spending measures not part of the official budget. What did they think, because you couldn't see it in the budget it didn't exist? Maybe.
I had a friend one time, Richard Bennet from "The Salvation Diary" book, that used to place electrical tape over the flashing red warning lights on his car so he could continue to drive with some peace of mind. Maybe that kind of denial works for the Republicans as well, but in my mind it is a form of the highest irresponsibility one can manifest.
Well one of the reasons the deficit is so high is that President Obama has pulled the cost of these military actions (I hesitate to call them wars, as they have advanced, or declined, to the point of being "occupations") out of the shadows and into the world of reality. Yes, the numbers are daunting, but so is the amount of my cable bill... I still want to know how much it is though, so I can do the responsible thing and pay it.
So the Republicans are complaining about the deficit and obstructing, well, they're obstructing everything, using the deficit as the reason for their "do nothing" policies (as they have no policies of their own other than the "cut taxes," "deregulate," and "keep the wars going as long as possible," tactics of the previous administration, the very same policies that have got us in this economic downturn that the Republicans are now bitching about!
What happened to Dick Cheney's position that deficits don't matter? I guess they've forgotten all about that. Now they say the deficit is all that matters, because the size of the deficit is the only tool they have to rationalize their constant obstructionism. And they obstruct simply because they don't want anything the Democratic Congress or the Obama Administration proposes to advance the country as a whole to pass. Anything!
Anyway, there's a big hoopla about keeping the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in place. Keep in mind the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 (let's not forget this was the only time in American history when taxes were cut during a time of war) have cost the country (estimates vary by who is providing the information, but even asking representatives of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the following amounts are probably correct, give or take 25%) 1.8 trillion dollars in lost revenues, thereby adding to the deficit (and adding interest costs to maintain that deficit), and if made permanent, as the Republicans wish to do (all of the sudden they are very concerned that raising anybody's taxes during this weak recovery period would be detrimental to the recovery as a whole, as are some Blue Dog Democrats), it would cost the country "$4.4 trillion, assuming that the tax cuts remain deficit-financed." - Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
$4.4 trillion. That's 4.4 thousand billion, or 4.4 million million dollars. Probably more than I'll ever make.
A lot more.
And whose saving all of that money, who is gaining from these tax cuts, who has been gaining from these tax cuts for the last ten years?
Those who need it least, those top two percent of income earners, and CEOs of multi-national corporations I spoke of earlier, that's who.
As usual our friends on the Republican side are dead wrong about this issue, as they are with most others they are confronted with (the DNC is finally stepping up to the plate and airing ads asking "If the Republicans (RNC) can't handle their own finances (losing money in its recruitment of big donors, caught spending $2,000 at a lesbian-themed nightclub, etc.), what makes anyone think they can handle the country's?).
Of the five or six strategies designed to stimulate this weakened economy (due to Republican malfeasance, remember), the Congressional Budget Office found that the least effective was extending tax cuts for the wealthy. Why? "The higher-income households . . . would probably save a larger fraction of their increase in after-tax income," the CBO said.
There our more effective ways to keep the stimulus on track other than to continue providing tax breaks to those who don't need them. Helping to pay for the states Medicaid programs would be one, as well as providing money to keep teachers from being laid off, both which have been voted down by the Republicans (fortunately the Democrats were able to finally pass a state aid bill).
Of course the Republican reaction to the idea of letting the Bush tax cuts expire is to lie about it, claiming the country will now face the biggest tax increase in history, laying the phoney blame squarely on the Democrat's lap.
Again, taxes will increase for those making $250,000 or more. Taxes will remain the same (after having been cut already due to the stimulus, and Recovery Act) for those making less.
The Republicans frame the issue in a fallacy. They would have you believe that taxes will increase for everybody, hoping the general public is too stupid to investigate the issue on their own, or simply rely on Fox News for their information. They may be winning the debate. Various polls report various findings, but many Americans state they belive tax cuts should be extended for everybody.
I can't believe that if presented with the facts... the real facts, that Middle Class Americans would continue to promote tax breaks for the top 2% of the country's wealthiest individuals (let alone corporations that do not pay taxes at all, many actually receiving subsidies, being paid tax payer money to stay in business and avoid their fair share of the tax burden).
The Republicans are Deficit Peacocks (those who "like to preen and call attention to themselves, but are not sincerely interested in taking the difficult but necessary steps toward a balanced budget. Peacocks prefer scoring political points to solving problems." Michael Linden, Center for American Progress), not hawks.
To be continued.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Liz 2

My grandmother, when she was a teenager, drove a wagon in the land rush that settled Oklahoma. Her mother was dead, and her little brothers and sisters were in the back of the wagon. Her father had ridden ahead and tried to find a piece of land that might be somewhere near water--a hard task in Oklahoma. She grew up in that part of the world, she met my grandfather, they got married, they started building one-room schoolhouses and little modest homes across the prairie. They had kids, they stretched, they scratched, they worked hard, they made a little money, and they put it aside, put it in the bank. It got completely wiped out in 1907 in an economic panic. But like many American families, they came back. They started scratching and stretching again, and having more babies--and then the Depression came. And they got wiped out one more time.
You see, my grandmother was born into the world of boom and bust, boom and bust, as it had been from 1794 until the Great Depression. But my grandmother also lived in a world of economic transformation. Because coming out of the Great Depression, just three laws fundamentally altered the course of America's history.
The first one, FDIC insurance, made it safe to put money in banks. The second one, Glass-Steagal, tried to separate the risk-taking on Wall Street from your local community bank. And the third one, SEC regulations, provide some cops to watch the robbers. And so, out of that, what we got was 50 years of economic peace. No financial panics, no meltdowns. And during that 50 years, we built a strong and prosperous middle class in America.
Now, my grandmother, when she died in 1970 at the age of 94, had been part of that. She owned a little house, she had plenty of groceries in the cupboard, and she had some cash in the bank. She was part of the growth of middle-class America. As were her children and her grandchildren. But shortly after my grandmother died, within a few years, we began unraveling that. Part of it was on the regulatory side. We hadn't been clever about regulations. They stayed ossified. The regulations put in place in the 1930s had not been updated. They had not adapted to a new world. And along came a new group of people who said, "Let's just get rid of the regulations. What are they there for anyway? They just cost money. Dump the regulations." And so the regulatory framework, or the "cops," who were on the beat began to disappear. They lost their effectiveness.Another thing happened in that period of time, and that is the foundations of middle-class America began to erode. Start with income. Income and productivity across America had been intertwined after World War II. So every year, basically, productivity was going up--so were wages. But starting in the late 1970s those two begin to diverge, so that productivity continues to rise--indeed rise at a somewhat steeper rate--while incomes flatten out, so that today a fully employed male makes less money than his father made a generation ago, once we adjust for inflation.
On the income side, they're flat, but on the expense side, these families are not. The core expenses for the middle class--housing, health insurance, day care, college, the things that make a family safer, the things that make a family middle class, the things that let them invest in their children and the future--those went up, adjusted for inflation, by more than 100 percent. Families spent more, but they had flat incomes.
Now, anyone here can figure out what happens next. And that is, savings begin to decline, families who had put money away could no longer do it, and debt begins to rise. And families end up with more mortgage debt, more credit card debt, more car loan debt, more debt of every form. The credit industry then smells an opportunity. It says, "Wait a minute. The old regulations are gone, and middle-class families are under a lot of economic stress. There's money to be made in this situation." And indeed there was.
At first it was just the money of lending more, right? More money lent, more income coming in. Got that one. But over time, with the regulations having changed, the business model itself changed so that the old form of lending--the notion that you put the agreement out there, you can see what the interest rate is, you can see how often you have to make the payment, and what the payment is, and that's the deal: both sides get what the transaction is that model gave way to a very different pricing model. A "tricks and traps" pricing model. One in which the promise gets cheaper and cheaper: 7.9 percent financing; 3.99 percent financing; zero financing. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Why? Because the real plan is to make the money on the back end. The real plan is to bury the tricks and traps in the fine print, and make really big money back there.
Now what's the consequence of doing that? Well, the consequence is families can't price it. You can't tell up front how much it costs to take out these credit agreements, and more importantly families can't compare. So the old notion of a competitive market, where you compare products and the best products survive and the worst products get washed out, goes away. Who can tell in here--lay four credit card agreements in front of you--which one is actually the cheapest one? Which is the one that carries the lowest risk? Without a competitive market, the consequence is a big hole in the boat for consumers on credit, so that last year--you watch your numbers?--about $150 billion flowed out of the pockets of ordinary, middle-class families on penalty rates, on penalty rates of interest, on regular rates of interest, on credit cards, on payday loans, on check overdraft, on kickbacks on car loans, all out there coming out of the pockets of ordinary, middle-class families.
So that's where the market stood, and now we are here at an historic moment. President Obama signed into law the strongest financial reforms in three generations. And in my view, the strongest of those financial reforms is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It's tough.
And I want to be clear: the president is the one who led on the consumer agency. He insisted it be in there, and he never wavered on that. So we have now the tools on the table to make significant change. The tools to let us get to a time when credit card agreements can be two pages long. When it's obvious what the cost of a mortgage is, and it's easy to compare across four mortgages or six mortgages. We can move to that time, but we gotta pick up the tools and use them. This agency must be built. It doesn't come--think about this statute that's just been passed. It has a few pieces in it about changes in specific law, but what it mostly is is about the tool of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
I wanted to talk to you for just a minute today about what it is that we might do with this bureau. What it is that--when we're building something new--what you want to build into its DNA. And so I thought of four things that we should think about as we begin to build a new bureau.
The first one is, it must stand for families. We've had long enough where there's been no one to stand for families. Now what does that mean? It means, in part, in the case of the credit agreements that we've been talking about, a level playing field again. It means that there's someone there to make sure that both families, and lenders, understand the terms of the credit agreement. That it is as obvious to one side as the other. That when they come together, they get what this transaction is. The cost. That we create competitive markets so that the products are products that are not only priced so that consumers can understand them, but they're priced well in the marketplace.
But it also means something else to stand on behalf of families. When powerful people get together in our government, and they start to divide up where things are going to go, when they start to make decisions about who is going to be helped and who is not going to be helped, there needs to be at least one person in the room who asks the question, "How will this affect America's families?" Not just how will it affect America's banks, not just how will it affect America's businesses, but how it will it affect America's families. One of the things this bureau can do is be there on behalf of American families.
But a second thing I think is really critical about this agency is it must be reality-based. It's not good enough to have a great theory. And frankly, it's not good enough to have just a good heart. It's got to be grounded in how things really work on the ground. So now I'm going to give you an example of that: small banks. If the consequence of this agency is to put in enough new bureaucratic obligations that it crushes community banks, then the agency will not have been successful. If the community banks are driven out of business, that creates more concentration in the banking industry. The big get bigger and the small go away. But it also means there are fewer of those banks around to lend to the small businesses that we're counting on to restart this economy. And it means that families themselves have fewer choices between small banks and big banks. And that's a choice we've got to preserve.
So ultimately what this agency has to be about is, yes, the first one on the side of the families, but second, the side of creating workable, realistic markets. Sustainable markets over time. Markets that work for consumers, but that also create a viable, functioning credit system. It's got to be part of what goes into this.
The third part is the bureau has to be able to grow and change. Part of what went wrong in the 1930s was that we didn't keep the rules up to date. The world changed around it. The markets changed around it. How families behaved changed around it. But the rules were not changing. They were not vital. And so, what this agency--what we have to think about when you're building in at the beginning is, "How do you build change? How do you build some creative destruction into the agency itself?"
I come from the world of bankruptcy. It's what I teach. Bankruptcy is littered with the businesses that didn't adapt to the world. Government doesn't have that same discipline in it. And so part of building this agency is building in how it will change and adapt over time. That it has the right structure to do that.
And then the last part I want to mention is part of why I'm here. This will be the first agency we have built in a wired world. Think about that for just one minute. The relationship between government agencies, between bureaucracy, between the government and its people. At the time we built all of the earlier agencies, it was one of... the government labors in relative obscurity, and you send out some information, and people get it through their newspapers, or watching television, or radio, or whatever they listen to. This is an agency that will be the first to be born digital. It will be an agency that will have the capacity to communicate with millions of Americans by just hitting a send button. It will also be an agency where millions of Americans have the capacity to communicate with the agency by hitting a send button. The possibilities here are endless. The notion that part of how one comes to understand and define the problems in the credit area will change if we hear--if this agency hears, if this bureau hears--from people who are experiencing it. This can be built into the research function of the agency. If the agency can hear from people and communicate with people, it changes the concept of how regulations work, of how regulations are tested, of how regulations are communicated, and of how they are enforced.
I think of this as a real opportunity, as we build this agency, not to replicate what was built last time when we had a consumer agency in the 1970s, but to try a whole new model. To think about this agency from a different perspective. That's why I came here today. I bought a plane ticket and showed up here because I have a specific task.
I wanted to talk to people who have a voice, and that's why I came to talk to you. There are three things I want to ask you to do with your voice. I want to ask you to use your voice on behalf of economic security for middle-class Americans. In a world in which so many people face so much insecurity, I want you to give them voice. I also want to ask you to use your voice for ideas. This is the place to let ideas be born, to let them bounce around, to let them get tougher, to let the bad ones die out and the good ones advance. This is where ideas should come from. And the third is, I'm going to ask you to use your voice as a voice of conscience in a world that sorely needs more conscience. You are our collective conversation on conscience.
I'm going to wrap this up by saying we have an opportunity now to pick up the tools that were laid out in this new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Unused tools don't do anyone any good. The point is to pick them up and use them. And it's going to be tough. The era of my grandmother in the Great Depression, it was tough then. Remember, Franklin Roosevelt faced his economic royalists. Remember, it took him years to get his entire economic package into place. It paid off. It was tough, but it paid off. So what I want to think about is what we do from this moment going forward. If you have any doubts about where we're headed and how much change we can make, I ask you for just one second to glance back over your shoulder at where we have traveled over the last year.
I was in Chairman Barney Frank's office just a few weeks ago--and Barney Frank deserves as much credit as anyone on this planet for keeping this Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and making it strong. So, Chairman Frank and I were talking about some details about the bureau, and what might happen, and not, in conference. We got to the end, and Barney looked up in that way he does--you know, over the top of his glasses, and he growled--because that's the only way I know to describe a conversation with Barney--he said [speaks in raspy, growling voice], "You know, Elizabeth, a year ago this idea wouldn't have even qualified as a pipe dream. And here we are."
And here's the best part of it when you're thinking about what we can do. We're not here today because the banks gave it to us. The banks did not, a year ago, say, "Well, we're really sorry we broke the economy, and, um, uh, we really appreciate that you put $700 billion and a few trillion in guarantees on the table to help bail us out, and therefore we're gonna support some regulation for ordinary families to kind of level the playing field, and just make sure everybody's getting a fair deal here, that you can read your credit card contracts and mortgage agreements...."
They didn't say that. They fought us every single inch of the way. They announced in August of last year that the consumer agency was dead. And why was it dead? Because they were going to kill it. They were quoted in the "New York Times." They were that sure of themselves. The lobbyists came out and said, "We will kill the consumer agency." And they announced it, and they re-announced it, and they re-announced it. They announced its death over and over and over. If you check the papers, the agency was still dead as of February of this year. But we didn't give up. We scratched, and we bit, and we hung on. And we didn't give up. And today here's where we are. With a good, strong set of tools to change the consumer market.
So let me wrap this back around. Is this going to save the middle class by itself--the consumer agency? I've written about the middle class now for two decades--and if you want to give me another couple of hours I could bend your ear about all that's happened here--and the answer is no. There's frankly too much that's broken. We've got to have change in labor policy, we've got to have change in health policy, we've got to have changes in education policy. That's what it will take to restore a middle class. But we also have to have changes in consumer credit policy. And the new bill is a big step in that direction.
So, here's what I want to say: One way or another, I'll keep pushing for the middle class. I hope you will too.