Archive for August, 2016

What would you take?

Author: admin

World-wide calamities that cause death and destruction have been a part of all our lives since birth. So many, in fact, we most often give them little thought beyond saying something about the suffering, sending a dollar or two to some relief operation and go back to our normal lives. That’s been our family pattern.

Until it nearly happened to us.

For the last week, a forest fire has burned hotter and hotter on a ridge Northeast of us as it crept toward our little abode by the sea. Flames by night – smoke by day. We watched from our backyard which has thick, large old-growth forest on two sides. We watched large brown plumes which rose over 100 foot tall trees. Made daily living a bit tenuous.

This flare-up – which took nearly a week to contain – was mostly in a clear cut area that burned once before. But, in the 1930’s, lightening set off a huge fire near that same spot. It burned from that ridge in the Western foothills of the Cascades, down a mile or so, to stop only when flames had burned through most of our little town before reaching the Pacific shoreline. With that in mind, we’ve been more than a little unsettled.

But our pulse quickened when a sheriff’s robocall advised us to be ready for “possible evacuation.” There are three steps. First, an alert to warn to be ready to evacuate. Second, pack up stuff and be ready to go. Third, GIT! NOW!

It didn’t come to that. But it got me to thinking for the first time. What would we take? What, of all the important or valuable items – at least to us – do we load into the pickup? Food for us and Rat Terrier Winston and calico Clem – what kind and how much? Clothes – what kind and how many? Keepsakes – which ones and how many? Tools – which ones and for what use?

We have a standing 190-year-old clock. Do we take that? Or use the space it would occupy for more food and water? Computers? Which one and what peripherals? A dozen or so family albums and boxes of old, one-of-a-kind pictures. Take ‘em? Or leave ‘em? Books autographed by authors now gone. Take ‘em? Original and signed artwork? Barb’s many watercolor paintings? Basic kitchen utensils? Which ones and how many? Sheets, blankets, shoes, underwear, socks, first aid supplies, bottled water? How about bank records, office files, battery chargers, bottled water?

While all these questions filled our heads, we watched the smoke billowing over those very tall, old-growth trees and wondered if any progress was being made on the fire lines. If not, when would the order come to start packing? Or to “bug out?”

Very few seaside homes have air conditioning. So, on warm nights, you turn on a fan or two and sleep with the windows open. Which meant, during those warm nights, we slept with the ever-present smell of smoke. Not the recommended aid for a good night’s sleep.

In the end, 300 firefighters, several aircraft and a lot of ground equipment took care of things. We could breathe easier and stop thinking about all those questions. This time. But, what about next time? And, given the amount of forest we live near and the vagaries of coastal weather, there will be a next time. Will we have learned anything, answered all those evacuation queries and be wiser for the recent experience? Or will we relax a bit and say “Well, that was interesting and someday we’ll have to think about all that.”

I’d like to believe we’ll keep reviewing the activities of the recent days and come up with some good decisions. One by one, those questions require a lot of prioritizing. Maybe it’s time to give some of those things to the family inland ‘cause they’re going to wind up with them eventually. Maybe we need to cut down on some of the keepsakes and re-evaluate what we really need around us at this later time in life.

All this may sound unimportant to you because you may have never been faced with the loss of your home and valuables. Even so, it might be wise to look around your own abode, imagine some threatening situation arises in a life and property threatening crisis and answer some of those questions we’ve been wrestling with in case you’re ever faced with a fast exit.

Calamities almost always happen to the other guy. What if, someday, you’re the other guy?

One big legal ripoff

Author: admin

I hate writing about statistics. But, this is a column in which you’re going to have to wade through some, at times, confusing numbers to get the point. So, stick with me here. ‘Cause when that point comes, you’ll probably be as mad as I am.

The basis for my anger is found in an interesting report from the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), a coalition of 400 national and state-level progressive groups. While most members tilt slightly left politically, the numbers are real and the methodology pure statistical mechanics.

We, common variety taxpayers, have known since diaper-hood that corporations – large, faceless, and uncaring – have ripped off the tax system with loopholes, shifts, tricks, offshore stashes and bookkeeping slight-of-hand. All legal but foul smelling. But, maybe – just maybe – it’s worse than we thought.

The comprehensive numbers crunching by ATF this year dealt almost exclusively with Walmart. Previous deep dives into the books included the entire American fast food industry, auto companies and other large employers. In all cases, the bottom line was this: American taxpayers are heavily subsidizing all of them on the one hand – while being ripped off with tax breaks on the other.

Here are the Walmart numbers. And, this, my friends, is where you’ll find that elusive anger point I mentioned.

For the year 2013, “Walmart workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing. $6.2 billion right out of the ol’ taxpayer pockets.

Statisticians arbitrarily picked one Walmart superstore in Wisconsin. That store – that one store – cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year! Every year! That worked out to between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 employees!

ATF took the mid-point of that range ($4,415) and multiplied it by Walmart’s approximately 1.4 million workers. That’s how they got to the $6.2 billion direct cost to we taxpayers.

So, how did the numbers work out in our little Northwest neighborhood for just the Walmart ripoff? Well, Idaho has 7,026 Walmart employees for which the company receives $39.1 million in subsidies and tax breaks. Oregon’s 11,480 employees netted the company just over $70 million in subsidies and breaks. Washington had 19,350 employees and the company netted $120.2 million in government largesse.

Of the $6.2 billion overall cost to citizens, Idaho’s 7,026 employees racked up a $31 million hit to public assistance; Oregon’s 11,482 workers cost us $50.7 million and Washington’s 19,350 employees another $85.4 million drain to welfare programs.

Now, the “frosting on the cake” – how much Walmart’s U.S. stores took in through sales in just the food stamp program (SNAP). Bottom line in 2013 alone: $13.5 billion! Talk about taking it with both hands! That’s over 18% of all dollars paid out through the entire SNAP program coming back to Walmart!

And, if you’re wondering who was number two paying low wages which forced employees to use SNAP, that would be your famous “Golden Arches” folk who cost us all $1.2 billion more. And you can bet they sold millions of Big Mac’s to people who paid with food stamps. Again, gotcha coming and going..

Some of the crazier cretins along the Potomac want to badly curtail – or even eliminate – the SNAP subsidy. I would make a sizeable bet none of them have read the work of the Americans for Tax Fairness research. Or any other of the scholarly reports examining – in great detail – who the uses food stamps and why they have to just to survive.

But for the saner – and infinitely smarter – members of Congress, I’d recommend one of more than four dozen such tomes done by the Department of Defense. If they did, they’d find repeated conclusions showing more than 20% of food stamp users are in military uniform. And many of those are stateside families of one or more servicemen over in the live fire zones.

Come to think of it, that statistic makes me madder than the Walmart ripoff.

The next day

Author: admin

Much – way too much – media time and ink has been wasted on Trump – the worst-ever candidate for president of these United States. The ever-preening, contributing-nothing, obnoxiously-irrelevant, tasteless Kardashian’s filled our continual thirst for national B.S. for several years. Now, the scourge of Donald has replaced them – aptly described by all those adjectives and more: habitual liar, guaranteed loser, wastrel, phony and dangerous.

The embarrassment that is our national media makes sure we know where he is from minute to breathless minute, what’s he’s currently lying about, who he’s currently condemning and how little he knows about the ins and outs of government. His affluent effluence is everywhere 24/7.

But, what’s generally been ignored is what happens in our country after November 8th – the day you and I are supposed to decide who wins and who loses. Will the sunlight of the next morning see the Trumpster retire to his coffin atop Trump Tower? Will Mrs. Clinton quietly begin forming her new governing cabinet? Will the general population – us again – go back to our humdrum lives, knowing the national election is now a burden of history?

The answer is “NO!” If anything, we’ll likely find our political lives more twisted, more rancorous, more divided and angry than the day before. The 50 gallon drum of worms Trump has opened will continue to pour out more rancor, division and anger as he settles in for the long haul.

He’s already promised as much in his oft-repeated lie that the election will be “rigged” – that the “system” is against him and those who cling to him. Trump is not going away. He’ll continue filling the empty heads of millions of his “loyal followers” with lies, challenges to lawful authority, noxious legal actions and just plain crap as long as he has breath and dollars.

The discord, the gridlock, the irresponsible misuse of power by the majority party in Congress, the political abandonment of all but the upper 10% or so of society and the relentless drivel of the far right will continue to jam the wheels of government. For his part, Trump has all but guaranteed it..

If this dour prediction comes to pass, there’s only one thing you and I can do to ameliorate the situation. We’ve got to assure the new occupant of the White House gets a Congress of the same party. At least the Senate. Without that, Trump – and the miscreant Republican far right – can hold the country hostage to whatever machinations he – and they – can dream up.

The national Republican Party has been all but destroyed by Trump, those who’d follow him to the Gates of Hell and the billionaires wagging the tail of what’s left of the GOP elephant. Should he continue his disruptions after the election, the national GOP won’t have enough clout or bucks to do anything about it.

Serious-thinking, forward-looking Republicans, disenfranchised by their own party and Trump, must form some sort of “big tent” cohesiveness to create a new party – a party relevant to today’s economic, civic and ethnic situations. We badly need a fully functioning two-party system grounded in today’s conditions to deal with today’s issues. We need a Congress with more moderate members willing to put self-interest aside and work for the common good. Neither party has all the answers. But, both parties may.

The new political reality is that Trump is not going away. He’s poured verbal gasoline on a large collection of unhappy Americans, mad at a government that doesn’t work the way they think it should, yet ignorant of the civic and economic realities of governing. Illegitimate voices daily stoke their wrong-headed anger with misinformation, distortions of reality and outright lies. Near treasonous voices that blow the disaffected this way and that as they spew their verbal garbage.

We may not be a two-party country at the moment. We may be more a nation of two amorphous groups – the Trump followers and everybody else.

It’s up to us – the members of that larger, more reasonable, thoughtful and responsible group – to take the initiative and begin restructuring our political system. Trump is not going away. As long as the rest of us stay out there on the political playing field, too, he can’t win. But we can!

We Nor’westerners like to think we live in a very special place and that all of America wants to move in next door. We bask in our oceanfront properties, covet our mountains and the water streaming down to our gorgeous valleys. We love the nearly always blue skies overhead. Trees. Deserts. Wildlife. We’re full of self-love for our multi-state neighborhood and we think of it all as pretty special.

So, how would you react if someone told you Oregon (specifically) is one of the worst states in which to make a living? I mean, what if the sources of that terrible news were reliable? Sure got my attention.

Some background. A respected outfit called recently statistically examined all states to figure out where average workers could make a good living. And where they couldn’t. Five criteria were used and sources were multiple: (1) average wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; (2) cost of living from the Council for Community and Economic Research; (3) state tax rates from the research group Tax Foundation; (4) unemployment rate from U.S. Bureau of Labor; (5) incidents of workplace illness, injuries and fatalities compiled by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration folks. Pretty authoritative sources.

When computers regurgitated the results, Hawaii ranked as the worst state for workers based on all those parameters. Given the cost of living alone, finding Hawaii as the worst place for workers to get a break was not terribly surprising.

But what WAS a shock – at least to this former member of the everyday workforce – was that Oregon was #2. Or rather, 49th. Oregon! Right here in the middle of our Nor’western paradise! Oregon! And, even worse, that was down 11 slots from a year ago!

Again, using those same five criteria, cost of living here was determined to be almost 30% above national average. Average income was $46,850 – lower than 48 other states. Hawaii at #50 posted a $46,230 average.

Oregon has had recent high unemployment, though figures swing wildly depending on which county or which trade you’re talking about. And we’ve got a workplace safety incidence of 4.2 per 100 workers. We also had a numerical rise in workplace fatalities from 2014. I suspect timber and commercial fishing contribute heavily to those categories.

And in the fifth ranking – state taxes on average income – workers would pay about $3,982.50 on that annual income of $46,230. Plus federal. Only slightly more than Hawaii. But more.

Now, here’s shock #2. At least for me. The state rated second best for workers of all stripes to make a living was – was – Washington! Yep, our northern neighbor skunked us. But – ah ha – Washington slipped to #2 from the top spot a year earlier. So there! Wyoming was #3. But, consider this: neither state has a state income tax though they offer attractive employment opportunities and favorable cost-of-living environments.

So, who came out on top as the best state with the most favorable employment and living conditions for the American worker? Which state was considered nirvana for the 8-to-5 crowd? Where can you find the best of the best in all 50 states for working stiffs?

Texas. TEXAS! Now, as Deano famously said “Ain’t that a kick in the head?” The state’s gross domestic product expanded 3.7 percent last year compared with 1.8 percent for the rest of the country. Cost-of-living is below average and there’s no state income tax. Only Louisiana had a lower record of on-the-job injuries or fatalities.

But, back to Oregon and the very low ranking as a good place for the average worker to live and ply a trade. While the state may not offer a welcoming statistical climate for workers, I’d like to see a similar ranking system for which states lure the most retirees. People with spendable incomes not looking for employment. People who contribute big bucks to a solid, active economic growth.

Retirees aren’t terribly worried about a state income tax or injuries on the job or average wage scales or even unemployment. If they’ve done their homework prior to retiring, and if the cost-of-living is deemed to be suitable, given Oregon’s spectacular spread of natural and scenic wonders, moderate climate and comfortable small communities, retirees can boost a state’s economy in many ways while not demanding a lot of special services aside from satisfactory health care.

Still, none of us likes to see our home state ranked at the bottom of most surveys. But this one especially galls. Texas? TEXAS?

Well, boys and girls, we’ve had ourselves a convention season. Two shows of entirely different tone and quality. Very different in messages. Word is the two of ‘em cost about $30 million.

So, let’s have a little display of hands here. You on the starboard side – has all the hoopla changed your mind about anything? Anything at all? Go ahead, raise your hands. We’ll wait.

Now you on the port side – same question. Did you watch ‘em and did it make a difference in your vote? Hands up, please. O.K. Are you sure?

Hmm. That’s how you feel? Really? After the $30 million and all. One hand in the air? My, my.

That’s about the sum of a recent little informal poll I’ve done with friends and correspondents in the wake of this overly expensive political carnage. People seem to have come away with little or no change in their views of the two presidential candidates. Or, of the two sponsoring parties. Or, much else.

In a way, it’s not surprising. National political conventions have just about outlived their usefulness. Going in, everyone pretty much knows what will happen, how their state will vote and who the nominee(s) will be. There’s no guesswork. No suspense. Just the show and a lot of words from many unknown people that even the networks have found so uninteresting they don’t broadcast many of ‘em.

With 50 states using 50 sets of rules to select delegates to these political moshpits, it’s hard to see any direct connection to the folks at home and how they look at things. This is especially true with the use of state caucuses that are about as representative of home voters as a hermit using a Ouija board.

Primary elections aren’t much better since some are “closed” to voters outside a particular party while others are “open” to any and everybody. Results so truly unrepresentative they reflect little value when used to measure a state’s political proclivities.

Since the voting rights act was wrongfully gutted by SCOTUS last year, many states have enacted new laws barring some residents from registering or, if already registered, from voting. Just last week, a federal appeals court ripped up new laws in North Carolina and labeled them for what they actually were: attempts to keep minorities from voting. I’d guess some other states – Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Georgia et al – are going to be affected, too. Good!

I know there are some cretins who scream and howl about all things federal, even when some federal actions benefit them. But, seems to me, the only way to clean up our befouled elections and their mystifying and questionable implementation, is to throw ‘em all out and start over.

I’d like to see a single federal statute for conduct of all races for national office. States would be given total power to conduct their races anyway they deemed fit. But, nationally, if we’d select delegates in the 50 states the same uniform way, there would be some consistency and consistency and more accuracy in results. Not the hodgepodge and grossly inaccurate mess we have now.

Then, we should take apart the antiquity called the Electoral College which has outlived its usefulness. At least in its present form. It’s become a bottleneck and results issued by the body can be – and often are – not truly representative of the popular vote. As it is now, if a candidate carries half a dozen states, he/she is a winner regardless of the other 44. That’s not right. But that’s what it’s become.

Some sort of electoral body is probably necessary to support a more truly voter representative and level playing field. Of course, what shape and how it would be structured are controversial. But, it could be done. And it should be done. Soon.

Which brings us back to conventions. And that $30 million. It’s hard to see what the two parties got for that lavish and disgusting expenditure. The GOP was actually out begging for $6 million from former benefactors just to pay the tab in Cleveland. Which gives you some indication of the resources the national GOP has on hand to help candidates in the November elections. Not much.

Besides, Republicans may have crowned a presidential candidate who won’t be in the field come November. You can get pretty good odds on that in Vegas these days. I may take a couple of retirement dollars that didn’t go to help pay for someone else’s meaningless convention and make a small Nevada investment. Could be.

Professionals required

Author: admin

I’ve recently undergone serious surgery. (Is there any other kind?) But, before they wheeled me in, I told the physician I didn’t want him in the room at the time. I’d already asked the guy in the next suite of offices in the same building to handle the cutting and snipping. He sells mutual funds and has no medical background. But better him than those damned professional doctors.

Such is the current nutball thinking abroad in our land with all those poll responders who say they won’t vote for a presidential candidate who’s a “professional” politician. “NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY” is their mantra. So, they’re jumping on the loud, three-wheeled Trump bandwagon in record numbers. Suffice to say, a more unqualified, doomed-to-fail, ego-scratching candidate for the office of commander-in-chief has not appeared on a national ballot since that damned Palin woman.

If one knows nothing about how our political system works, if one is uninformed or misinformed by a favorite right-wing media, hasn’t spent the time to understand how our government works or is ignorant of the whole process and determined to stay that way, I can understand the dumb and dangerous response to national pollsters. But it would sure play hell with our country if that ignorance prevailed.

There are, I think, four major reasons for such misplaced anger. First, our higher and lower educational systems are graduating students who have absolutely no idea how our government works. I run into it every day in conversations with white collar, blue collar or no collar folks. Even many PhD’s are “civics challenged.” Simple queries about government form and function draw off-the-wall responses or blank stares. Too often – far to often – the response is “I have no idea” or “I don’t know.” Makes it damned tough to call yourself an educated voter or to cast an intelligent ballot.

The second reason for a sizeable part of the uneducated electorate being mad at “professional” politicians is they’ve elected too damned many of ‘em who should’ve never been candidates in the first place. We’ve filled our legislatures and congress with nice looking, smooth talking people. They either have no idea what their job descriptions are or they have singular agendas for or against something and don’t give two hoots in Hell for governing or anything else. They are strident, ignorant and dangerous voices with nothing to say. And, an elected platform on which to say it.

A third factor is loss of respect for anything challenging a person’s thinking. We’ve developed a media system and, in some cases an educational system – to which people can turn for reaffirmation of whatever philosophy they have. Fact or no fact. I get in more arguments lately when I challenge someone. Their favorite media source or favorite politician or even their favorite bartender has convinced them of the “rightness” of a certain view and no other facts need apply. Further, their challenge to me is to “convert” to their thinking. There is no middle ground. No acceptance of the right to disagree without being disagreeable. No thought they could be wrong.

Finally, we’ve created a political system where winning is the goal – not filling an office with someone who both understands and can do the job. Go with someone who can win – not necessarily someone more qualified. Both parties do it but Republicans have become masters of the process. Cruz, Lee, Cotton, Ghomert, Bachman, King, McCarthy et al. are just a few who’ve contributed nothing – will contribute nothing – and who’ll muck up the process every day of their tenure in office.

People have a right to be mad at “professional” politicians. But they have a prior – and larger – responsibility to assure an intelligent and qualified person is elected and given the opportunity to become “professional” by fulfilling the duties of that office in a “professional” manner. If they don’t, chase ‘em out. Then find another real professional.

Imagine a Trump presidency. Who would be in his cabinet? Would it be a John Kerry or a Colin Powell at the State Department to conduct delicate but dangerous negotiations with nations we oppose? Would Joe Biden or a John McCain be vice president to assure smooth continuity of an administration? What professional voice would be at Treasury to guide the country’s money policies? At the Pentagon?

Professional politicians – really professional with no quotation marks – are necessary at all levels for this country to survive. The political stakes are no longer simple enough for just anyone to fill elected office. Our universities should be turning out trained, talented and qualified graduates ready for careers in public service – careers in politics. We need “best and brightest” in the Capitol, the White House, city hall and the court house. To a very large extent, we’re in the divided and uncontrollable mess we find ourselves because we made poor choices. Wrong choices. Tragic choices in too many elections.

No, I had the surgeon do the cutting and snipping. He’s a professional and right for the job. Upon recovery, I may wander over to the office next door and talk to the fella there about an investment opportunity. He’s a professional, too.

Right people in the right jobs. Seems simple enough. Why have we screwed it up so many times at the polls? Because a lot of folks were not “professional” in their voting. And look at the mess we’ve got!