At age 100 mom wants to save Planet Earth…

October 30, 2010

So I’m whiling away the time waiting to go to my mother’s 100th birthday celebration. I just called her on the telephone thinking I might get a few quotes from her about being 100. I’ve been so busy with my own work that I did not think to maybe write a story about the occasion for publication in the local newspaper, although I understand she was interviewed by a reporter recently — but I am the journalist (or at least former journalist) in the family — I might still write that story. But when I called her she said: “I’m talking to someone; could you call back?”

But anyway I can tell you it’s pretty incredible. I don’t think mom ever thought she would live this long. But it should not be surprising. She has always been active — not really one to just sit around. Nowadays she is frustrated because she is confined to getting around via a walker in the assisted care home in which she lives, sometimes sitting on the seat of the thing and propelling herself backwards (it’s a walker, but it has one of those fold-down seats). But she tells me the care home people or maybe some of the residents are not comfortable with her doing this. She also is frustrated because she has this tricycle that she rides outside but rode inside when the weather was bad. But now that the weather is iffy again, she has been told she is not to ride the thing inside. Also her eyesight is bad. To add further to her frustration, mom is, and always has been, keenly interested in current events. Her latest interest is environmentalism, although in general she has always been an environmentalist, but she has told me that what she “wants her children” to know is that “there is going to be a revolution”. I think she meant there is going to be (or should be) major changes in the way we look at the environment. She wants to save mother Earth. Having said all this, though, what I mean is that her frustration is that no one where she lives seems much interested in the world outside of their immediate domain. Some of this may be due to age and loss of full mental faculties, something mom has not seemed to have suffered from yet, except the expected slight loss of memory all of us suffer from time to time. Okay, she does seem a bit muddled from time to time — but she is still with it for the most part.

Another frustration — I’m writing a lot about frustration, sorry — is that she is by her own description proud to be a “bleeding heart liberal”. That does not seem to fit the politics, that there may be, among the folks with which she shares the dinner table, and it certainly does not fit the geographical area in which she lives.

You know mom lived through the Great Depression — a young married woman at the time. And she bristles when she hears people extol the virtues of those times — you know, times were hard and we were poor, but we were happy even so. Mom says there is nothing virtuous or good about being poor.

But get this — mom voted for Richard Nixon back in 1960, something she’d rather forget. You see, neither one of my folks were religious and I think like a lot of people at the time she was concerned that John Kennedy might be too attached to the Catholic church. In the end, I think, she was happy with Kennedy — I don’t know that for sure, but he more closely matched her politics.

I’ve blogged about this before (very little new under the sun with me), but I credit mom with my early interest in current events and the world around me. For some strange reason the family television was in the bedroom I shared with my next oldest brother for a time and it would be turned on to the early morning news program even before I got out of bed. I once wrote in an application essay for a college graduate program that I was probably the only second-grader up on the Suez Crisis. I was accepted into the program, but I declined. I showed them, I became a truck driver instead.

Even though I recall my mom taking naps when I was at home with her, being the baby in the family (she has four children), I also recall that she was always busy the rest of the day. She cleaned house, prepared three meals a day, tended a flower garden around our house, did the grocery shopping and took care of our pet dog and so much more.

On the weekends if we were not taking a family drive, something she always encouraged dad to takes us on, she was outside raking leaves or pulling weeds or such.

Even today, although confined to a walker, she eschews non-physical movement. She said she has no use for a motorized scooter.

I also think mom has for the most part eaten healthy food, most of which she used to prepare herself, making most meals from scratch, as they used to say, with often a serving of fresh vegetables. Dad used to raise a vegetable garden when we had the space.

Strangely enough, mom used to smoke. And I recall that she smoked unfiltered Lucy Strike cigarettes when I was a little boy and then moved on to still unfiltered (not that filters were of any use) Pall Malls. But at some point she came to the conclusion that smoking was nonsense, so she quit cold turkey and never looked back.

But again, mom’s current kick is saving mother Earth. And I think that is worthwhile.


War on Terror continues with thwarted attacks on U.S., but conventional tactics don’t work for us…

October 30, 2010

I guess when times are good foreign policy is the hot political issue, but when times are bad it’s all about the economy.

But the thwarted attack on America reported over the last 24 hours, with airplanes carrying printer cartridges with hidden explosives coming out of the Arabian Peninsula nation of Yemen, are a reminder the War on Terror or the threat of terror, presumably from the seemingly loose-knit organization Al Qaeda, persists, with the Christmas underwear bomber attempt still fresh in our memory, not to forget the foreign- inspired attack by one of our own military officers at Ft. Hood last November, as well.

Maybe not THE reason, but certainly an important reason, or contributing factor, for our ailing economy is the tremendous monetary burden our current war effort in Afghanistan and our continuing efforts in Iraq cost us — trillions of dollars. And we are doing this all in the name of a War on Terror, as our just-previous President George W. Bush declared it to be.

Living in the Northern California rural hinterlands as I do, I feel as if I am in a kind of foreign policy vacuum. I seldom hear anyone even mention the war effort in the Middle East, except to say we ought to “support the troops”, but even that line is delivered as some kind of generic utterance, meaning simply, be proud to be an American, support the home team, or when you’re running down my country man you’re walking on the fighting side of me (copyright credit to Merle Haggard on the latter). No one seems to even be concerned as to what is really trying to be accomplished. Some people have children or spouses or other loved ones in the war. All they can logically think is that is their job that they were sent by our government to do.

The war is usually reported as being unpopular — well then why are we still fighting it?

It’s as if we have realized it is a losing proposition but are reluctant to quit because then we would lose and that would dishonor those who have sacrificed and make us all look bad. Call it the Vietnam syndrome. We know how that turned out.

I have not heard the Tea Party say much about the war, except “support the troops”, equating that with patriotism, but failing to address the underlying policy that has put us where we are.

While I still think George W. Bush has to be one of the worst presidents the United States has ever had, I reluctantly have to admit we are seemingly forced into the War on Terror, even though I once noted in a blog that instead of fighting another nation, as usually is done in wars, we are fighting a concept or a noun (the word terror, being a noun).

How we choose to fight back in this war is open to question or debate. Personally I could not argue with our original invasion of Afghanistan. As I recall, the government there, run by the Taliban at the time, was harboring Osama Bin Laden, et al, and refused access to him. So we had an identifiable leader and force that had just killed some 3000 people on our own home ground (homeland sounds kind of Hitleresk) holed up in a country overseas that was refusing to cooperate so it became an accomplice to this Pearl Harbor-like attack (and remember, that neocon group with direct ties to the Bush administration the Project for the New American Century who wanted us to take control in the Middle East said we needed a Pearl Harbor. Curiously we got it — but forget that, I just had to mention it). But it seems conventional military tactics don’t work in things like this — we find out a decade later.

Of course it didn’t help we inexplicably let ourselves get sidetracked in Iraq, which I feel obligated to mention had nothing to do with 9/11 (at last I have heard). And it did not help that the Bush administration inexplicably gave up on the hunt for Bin Laden, by its own admission, that is Bush admitted looking for Osama was not really that important to him anymore about half way into it all — he did not say why, as I recall. I mean it was important enough to go to war over in the first place.

But along comes President Barack Obama (not Osama, as his detractors like to call him), condemning our effort in Iraq but vowing to continue our already-lost effort in Afghanistan (Bin Laden and much of Al Qaeda already reportedly having long fled to Pakistan) and in fact upping the ante with thousands more troops and much more money to throw at the corrupt government and local strongmen there too.

And we are still losing.

Perhaps if we had gone directly after Al Qaeda in the first place and with a larger force we might have been more successful, but that would have taken leadership, civilian, in the form of a president who could urge sacrifice for the war effort, rather than urge us all to go shopping, and generals willing to offer their military knowledge rather than just what they think their commander in chief wants to hear so they can move swiftly on to retirement at full rank. But I hate to be too hard on the military, it is subject to the whims of and subordinate to civilian authority.

We can have some comfort that our security apparatus, with the help of that of other nations overseas, does seem to be helping us thwart subsequent attacks. And it is apparent that we will have to continue our efforts in the War on Terror, but conventional military actions may not be the answer, and I do not mean new type military strategies, such as counter-insurgency or surges or whatever are the answer.

To me the answer is what the public really wants — that is to rebuild our own nation. Maybe that is why foreign policy is not an issue in these mid-term elections.

Yemen is a hotbed of terrorism because for one thing it is one of the poorest nations on earth.

We can spend our time trying to bring the rest of the poverty-stricken parts of the world out of their misery or we could spend the time rescuing ourselves.

Charity begins at home. And if we do not get serious about rescuing ourselves, we won’t even be able to send foreign aid to anyone, much less wage war.

P.s.

Yes. I believe in “supporting the troops”. Not supporting the troops is sending them to war but failing to define what victory is and failing to go all out, to include sacrifice from the civilian sector, but instead letting things drag on into stalemate and letting troops die or get gravely injured for no purpose in the end.


Are corporate taxes really too high in U.S.? and, you could pay lower taxes in Oklahoma, but you’d have to live in Oklahoma…

October 29, 2010

Time and time again I hear the claim from the pro-business or conservative set that corporate taxes in the U.S. are uncompetitively high and that is why the U.S. is at a competitive disadvantage and furthermore that taxes in California are sky high and that is why the Golden State is seen as unfriendly to business and therefore that is why California government is in such dire economic straits.

The notion that corporate taxes are higher in the U.S. than in other industrialized nations is virtually accepted as a truism among the conservative/pro-business set.

I really don’t feel I know the facts in this and I can find no easy way to get the answer.

At first reading, all I get from Wikipedia is that comparing corporate tax rates among nations is difficult because of the complexity of tax laws.

While I hear the constant refrain from Republicans on the radio that corporate taxes are too high and are higher here in the U.S. than other industrial nations, I just heard an admittedly left (or Democratic) – leaning “expert” claim that corporate tax rates in the U.S. are lower than many of the other industrialized nations — who to believe???

Also I just heard on the radio (well recently, now) and read an article that claims that far from business unfriendly, California has lower tax rates than even Texas, which seems to hold the claim among the conservative/business set that it is the most friendly to business state  — of course I do not know the accuracy of this article, interestingly enough, written by a chamber of commerce,  and that has to be difficult because chamber hacks must always slant articles to claim that taxes are too high, unless it is in their own territory and they are trying to attract businesses.

I also read that California offers a number of tax breaks to businesses, despite the actual tax rate. So businesses that know how to take advantage of such incentives or to game the system put themselves at an advantage.

And I also heard that despite Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s call to fire a lot of state workers to save money, California — the most populous state in the union — actually has fewer state employees per capita than many other states (but the statistics to back up this claim might be suspect — you have to realize that lobbyists, say for the public employee unions, churn out all kinds of propaganda and contact news outlets suggesting good story ideas).

Unfortunately those seeking the truth in all of this are at the mercy of those who under the guise of providing information actually provide one-sided propaganda — whose statistics do you want to believe? Objective analyses are not so easy to come by. The press has been weakened in this regard by falling profits of major old-time reliable news outlets and the pressure to produce more copy with fewer staff members and to not waste time on all that investigative stuff. Thank heavens that some outlets, such as the LA Times, are still at it, finding out such things as the inflated city manager and other top employee salaries in the city of Bell and other communities.

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Add 1:

And now  I read a news story that reminds me that not only City of Bell managerial staff were raking in the dough, so were four elected and part-time city councilmen, to the tune of $100,000 per year each. The city manager was essentially paying himself close to $800,000 per year, plus it was estimated he netted some $1.5 million from illegally created contracts. In fact city officials are charged with misappropriating $5.5 million from the city where one in six people live in poverty — all this according to an Associated Press story.

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(Belying to an extent my assertion of the lack of media watchdogs are those fact check or keeping-them-honest features you see from time to time — I hope that instant research is accurate.)

And here’s another point:

If you live and work and/or run a business in California, you might get by with cheaper taxes in, say, Oklahoma. But you would have to live and work in Oklahoma (no offense intended to Oklahoma).

Few people like taxes, but they are necessary in order to have a government and government is necessary in order to prevent chaos. While we may say some taxes are too high, we may actually be objecting to how they are being used. As long as the taxes are being used for a legitimate public purpose, it seems to me that it is wrong to simply call them unjust (although they still might be too high). But if they are really being used literally to line the pockets of public officials, such as was exposed in the Southern California community of Bell, then of course they are unjust. But other than that, the reason taxes are what they are is the result of policy made by elected representatives put into office by the vote of the people. It is not necessarily the government that is the enemy, it may be the majority of the people who indirectly gave their sanction to the policies government carries out by voting those who voted in the policies in the first place, or by being too busy, such as Meg Whitman claimed to be, to pay attention in the first place.

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Add 2:

As an afterthought, I now realize that I should have mentioned that regardless of tax rates in the U.S. we always hear those stories about various major multi-billion corporations paying zero taxes, due to tax loopholes. So really the term tax rate becomes nearly meaningless.

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 P.s.

I try not be anti-business, for even though I do not own a business, I know that most of us earn our living thanks to business. Then I hear this caller on a right-wing radio talk show say that he runs a small business in California and that he does not think taxes are the problem. What is the problem? Employees in California have too many rights. It’s a challenge for me to be pro-business — but I try.


A slight difference, maybe, between commentator and analyst…

October 23, 2010

Not that it makes much difference, but in my just-previous post addressing the firing by NPR of Juan Williams I referred to him as a “commentator”. But I came to realize that NPR refers to him as having been a news “analyst” and furthermore, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller makes a distinction between the two terms in explaining why NPR feels William’s remarks about his personal feelings were out of line.

The distinction really is not that clear. When I took newspaper type journalism in college I was told that opinion pieces belong on the opinion page, not the regular news columns, except that one could run what is called an “analysis” piece, if marked as such, among the regular news columns and it could include opinions by the author. In addition there is a further muddying of the waters of objectivity in most (good) news stories in that the writer will feel it necessary to provide some at least limited background information to explain what people are talking about or even to point out an inconsistency, such as when a politician claims to be in favor of one thing but it is pointed out by the writer that the day before he said something entirely opposite.

(Outisde of journalism, I could see a real difference between a written report, such as on an investment, that offers a true objective analysis, the pros and cons, if you will, and a promotional flyer, which of course would only tout the claimed merits of something.)

One more thing, even though I continue to question the judgment and motives of NPR, which does receive public funding, for firing Williams, I also question Williams’ credibility for even being associated with FOX News. Perhaps it’s the millions of dollars FOX offers. Money makes ethics fly out the window.

Journalism is a strange business. Being a former working journalist, I have true empathy for all those journalists who worked so diligently for all those years for such low pay only to see these hot-shot TV and Cable TV so-called journalists pull down multi-million dollar salaries with some or many letting their ethics be compromised along the way.

I do not think that money always corrupts people, but at the same time I have observed that it often does.

I’ve gone a little crazy on this link to articles thing, but a good discussion on the Williams affair can be seen at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/juan-williams-offends-npr/?hp


NPR accuses Juan Williams of being not fair and unbalanced and fires him, but that is not right

October 22, 2010

In firing news reporter and commentator Juan Williams for remarks about people wearing “Muslim garb” while he is getting on an airplane making him “nervous” I believe National Public Radio has made a grave mistake. A news commentator — note I said “commentator” — should not be fired for telling the truth and for, well, commentating.

If his sole job was that of a reporter where his duty would be only to report facts, not his personal opinion, then he would have been off base.

It seems by what I have read so far that NPR was already displeased that he was working for another network, FOX, where he made his remarks.

While I personally would question William’s judgment for working for an outfit which does not even put on a pretense of objectivity and yet claims itself to be “fair and balanced”, I still think NPR was wrong.

And let’s be honest here: I have listened to public radio and television news over the years and have appreciated its wide-ranging and in-depth coverage. But while I have found public broadcasting to be more detailed and wide-ranging in its reporting than the others out there and somewhat more objective, I have also been aware that it does have that slightly left leaning stance. Many big three network correspondents had that too. So in reaction, FOX News was created. The only difference was that FOX, despite its claim to be “fair and balanced”, adding, “we report, you decide”, does not really give any effort to being fair or balanced. They are hard right wing, so much so that they are not a news organization that leans a little to the right, they are a propaganda machine.

But if the firing of Juan Williams stands, I’m afraid that NPR is in danger of becoming nothing but a propaganda outfit, as well.

I understand it does not depend solely upon taxpayer financing, but it does get some. If it is going to demand its news commentators only lean one way (and I do not understand really why getting nervous that someone might blow up your airplane makes you politically biased), then taxpayer funding should be eliminated. But I do not want that to happen. I think the person or persons who fired Williams should be fired and Williams hired back.

Again, I remind you that Williams was not just a reporter but a commentator. For that matter, as a former newspaper reporter, now that I think of it, I have almost never heard nor seen a broadcast news person yet who did not mix commentary with straight news, something that is considered a no-no in print journalism. The format and time frame for broadcast may make that necessary, I suppose — I worked once for a while as a radio reporter, although I do not recall mixing reporting and personal opinion during my stint.

Williams made his offensive-to-some-people remarks as part of a discussion about the perils of “political correctness” and thus became a victim of the same.

And in seems interesting and a bit chilling to me that the person who apparently fired him, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, later said something to the effect that Williams should not have made the remarks in public but instead should have told his “psychiatrist” (she later apologized for saying that — but she did not immediately fire herself). Accusing someone of having mental problems when they say something that does not agree with your political point of view is a tactic used by totalitarian governments, most notably communists — adding more to the claim that NPR is left-leaning (being as communists are said to be on the left — and I have always had a hard time with that since communists and Nazis act the same and yet one is said to be on the far left and one on the far right and even though Nazis are supposed to be on the right, and hate communists because they are on the far left, they, the Nazis, called themselves “national socialists“, but I have just digressed into a whole other issue or discussion).

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In case you did not see or hear this yet, this is how all this came down: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/opinions/view/opinion/Should-NPR-Have-Fired-Juan-Williams-for-Muslim-Airplane-Remarks-5479/

Or for a more analytical take on what Williams said: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036697/#39803146

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ADD 1

Don’t get to feeling too sorry for poor Juan, though, he has reportedly been offered a new three-year, $2 million contract by FOX (somehow you wonder if such journalists/entertainers feel the pain of the common man).

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P.s.

While good manners and civility are important, political correctness is Orwellian and a threat to free speech.


Is it in to be ignorant in the Tea Party???

October 20, 2010

I’ve read that the Tea Party is a kind of rebirth of the wacko movement of the mid to late 50s represented by the old John Birch Society — a kind of conspiracy-driven movement if you will. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/18/101018fa_fact_wilentz

But at least the Birchers pretended to be intelligent or were pseudo intelligent.

Some of the Tea Party crowd seem to exude ignorance and even seem to cherish it, although you have to have some smarts to even know you are ignorant.

This is not all to say that the whole movement is populated by the ignorant. I think the Tea Party (not really a single entity with a one registered name, so really I should not use upper case, but many are now) is a legitimate grass roots, populist movement made up of a cross section of the populace who are fed up with business as usual. Many of its followers, I suspect, have not paid a lot of close attention to politics — may not have voted — but have awoken to find things awry and are angered that the elite have let things get this way. They may think they all agree on what should be done, but in reality when it comes down to actually doing things they likely will have wide differences of opinion.

But back to this ignorance thing: First it was personified, in my opinion, by Sarah Palin. Now I don’t really mean that she is mentally challenged, what I mean is I do not think she has demonstrated that she has a working knowledge of civics or political or even general history or geography — reportedly believing that Africa was a nation instead of a continent, as an example, or her uttering of a word not in the dictionary, “refudiate”, with no indication she was trying to make a joke or pun. She certainly is smart enough to know opportunity when she sees it and cash in. And she may well run for president. And if the American voters were to put her into the president’s chair, well those who voted for her would deserve what they get (but what about the rest of us?).

Real ignorance and/or daffiness is personified by this Christine O’Donnel character running for the U.S. Senate in Delaware as a Tea Party Republican, who in a candidate forum seemed to indicate that she never heard of the separation of church and state and did not know that it comes out of the First Amendment to the Constitution. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment01/

Her defense from her campaign staff is that she simply meant the exact wording of the First Amendment (part of the Bill of Rights) does not mention separation of church and state explicitly. I could believe that and even give her the point on that one, but I saw the tape on the internet and she seems to indicate real ignorance.

Even if she was trying to make an argument that the doctrine of separation of church and state is an overreaching by the high court in interpretation of the First Amendment, she still gives off the message that she is ignorant. You do not have to be a history professor to know that there was an ongoing debate in our early days as a nation as to whether we ought to have an official religion. Kindergartners wear pilgrim hats around Thanksgiving to celebrate those folks who came over here for religious freedom. And you can’t have religious freedom if the state (the government) supports an official religion. So the only way out of it is to say that the government should take a hands-off approach to religion. Furthermore, constitutions are frameworks and often lack specificity, leaving that to statutes enacted in accordance with them. It may well be that some who supported the final wording of the First Amendment might have hoped that there was enough wiggle room — although I don’t see it — to allow declaring Christianity the official or semi-official religion. But nonetheless it has been accepted by most educated people through the years that government and religion don’t mix in a free society. Even Jesus seemed to note that government was separate from religion: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

I do think the courts and public officials get carried away, though, when they ban individual prayer by students in public schools or religious invocations at public meetings or football games. The First Amendment in my layman’s reading guarantees freedom of religion, but does not ban religious practice in any way. If the court can look the other way in allowing our money to have the phrase “In God We Trust” (that seems religious), then I think individual prayer (not led by a teacher or government official, but simply performed by the individual) is harmless to anyone — and maybe helpful to the individual.

Hopefully the Tea Party will weed out the ignorant over time from its candidate ranks. If not, then we may all be doomed, because as things stand now, I don’t think the movement is going away any time soon.

P.s.

Actually if the Tea Party were to take over it might soon realize it had no more clue as to what to do than anyone else and a new movement might have to spring up — the return of the elites.

P.s. P.s.

While O’Donnel is reportedly behind in the polls in Delaware, Sharon Angle, another Tea Party pick (officially she is Republican), who seems to be a little off kilter in her public appearances, is locked in a dead heat with Democratic Senator Harry Reid in Nevada. It is said by Reid supporters that her candidacy is the gift that keeps on giving to them, because until she was chosen to run against him political observers saw him losing to any Republican.

P.s. P.s. P.s.

Some observers have noted that the Tea Party seems to be putting up ignorant women candidates. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has a take on this: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/opinion/20dowd.html?_r=1&hp


We may be all God’s children but we are not all created equal…

October 15, 2010

First we are told that Ancestry.com had discovered that President Barack Obama is related, albeit distantly, to his predecessor George W. Bush and even Dick Cheney.

Now the most recent news from that entity is that our first black president (not Clinton)  is distantly related to Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.

At first glance I might find that all a bit startling and even hard to believe.

But if as the good book says we are all God’s children, then that should be no surprise after all. And haven’t we been told by paleontologists that everyone on earth today can trace their ancestry back to a prehistoric woman, whose bones were found in Africa, named Lucy (I don’t know if that is the latest thinking)?

I think it proves that just because one is related to someone else of exceptional intelligence does not mean he or she has the same or even nearly the same qualities.

We may all be God’s children and we may all be entitled to equal rights, but I don’t think for a minute that we are all created equal.

P.s.

I’m obviously implying here that Obama is the smart one. His detractors would likely only allow that he has a gift or oratory. I think it is obvious though that Obama is the more intelligent of the bunch. But there are a lot of intelligent people who run things and still things do not always come out as we would like them to or as they should. Still I would rather there be people with intelligence and critical thinking skills and some objectivity in charge.