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 MoneyRates.com 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!

Who needs conventions?

Author: admin

So, the GOP national convention is over. Thank god!

Now, I’d like Democrats to call off their planned Philadelphia get-together. Everyone just stay home. I think the National DNC should collect the millions to be spent on the show and donate every penny to half a dozen deserving charities. Every cent.

Crazy idea? O.K., tell me this. Repub or Demo. Even if the Dems put on a bang-up show, lit up your old flat screen with fireworks, paraded the best speakers, made the most honorable promises, would it change anything? Would it change your mind? Would you suddenly be a more loyal member of the party? Or, would you run screaming over to do all you could to get Trumpy promptly installed in the oval office?

In sum, no matter what happens in Philly, at a cost of ten or so million dollars, would it change anything? Would the country be a better place to live? Would your mind be changed in any meaningful way? Even in a small way?

I sincerely doubt it. Nothing – absolutely nothing – will change at our house as a result of a second convention. The whole business and those millions – will have gone just to give all those out-of-town delegates a few days away from home and a chance to eat a real Philly Cheese Steak sandwich made with real Cheesewhiz. Hillary and Tim will be declared the “official” nominees, a few thousand balloons will be dropped, the cleaning crew will go to work and the convention center staff will go on to other business. At a cost of another ten million or so.

National political conventions – especially those staged before the time of the TV camera – used to be special events They were the epitome of flag-waving Americana, where everyone came away with good feelings of renewed pride in their citizenship, They offered seminal moments of what political conventions – and this country – were supposed to be. We were informed, entertained and proud!

Rigged? Most of the time. Predictable outcomes? Certainly. But staging – speeches – the presentation of patriotic spirit – the entire extravaganza – everything – all designed to re-baptize delegates, crank up their enthusiasm for the selected candidates and send them home to work their hearts out. Conventions used to be – almost always – successful. And, to the public, filled with positive messages and images. The “fix” may have been there from the beginning but the exercise served an honorable purpose.

So, tell me. When the Republican show in Cleveland ended, were you re-energized, newly filled with the spirit of citizenship, ready to go out and work hard for Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence? Did those four days personally change anything for the better in your life or as part of this big nation? Did you witness a life-altering experience? Or were you just mad the whole event caused the network to cancel four nights of “Walker, Texas Ranger?”

To our great national shame, both conventions will affect life in this country even less than those that came before. We already knew who the nominees would be, had already decided who we would support and who we wouldn’t and had our minds made up months ago.

One other thing we knew even before the GOP gavel came down – the divisiveness and anger of the citizenry at-large will remain unchanged regardless of what happened in Cleveland and what will happen in Philadelphia. What ails us – what’s causing chasms in our national relationships – what’s concerning other nation’s about our future stability and dependability – we knew none of that would be resolved by either party gathering.

What we need most to start healing this nation won’t be found on any convention floor or in either party’s machinations. It won’t appear as special programming or in-depth articles in our national media. We will not get up one morning and feel “healed,” “renewed” or find a special kindness and acceptance of people with whom we angrily disagree.

What we need most urgently is a huge one-on-one effort from each of us to stop rejecting new thought, end disbelieving in science and education-based fact, accept the humanity and personal worth of our neighbor as ourselves. And, we must reject – in the strongest possible way – demagoguery and the anti-intellectual fervor driving wedges in our country from border to border. We must demand – also in the strongest possible way – personal accountability and responsibility from leaders in every form of government under which we live.

But, even more necessary than all of that, we must each become more involved – more personally educated about the city, county, state and the entirety of this nation in which we live. Our national mess can be traced to two factors: personal ignorance about how this country is structured – how it functions – and a loss of a simple demand that people wanting to lead be educated, informed and able to work with others in the conduct our national affairs.

So, do we really need another convention? Or, do we need to just admit we need each other and start working on that?

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 there be an intelligent and experienced 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? Well, so far we’ve got Mike Pence who’s as scary as Trump.

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!

National doors

Author: admin

“You can’t control what’s happening, but you can control how you react.” Not sure where I read that – or when – but the words have become more personally important given recent political and social violence in our country.

While the phrase is certainly true, so is this: I’m having more trouble controlling my reactions. As violence escalates and our national political stew rots, efforts to control reactions to them have taken more personal strength and have sapped more willpower to keep my reactions under control.

Violence in our society is not new. But, in the last couple of decades, it’s become more prevalent – more pervasive – more deadly. Now, with the bloodshed of recent days flowing across our nation, it seems to have picked up intensity and has become more far-reaching – involving more and more of us.

One fact is extremely clear: we are in a national state of flux in all segments of our society and we are never – never – going back to where we were even four or five years ago. In anything.

It’s hard to describe. One way I’ve come to visualize it, is to imagine the largest, thickest bank vault door ever built, slowly closing on our nation, blocking from sight everything comfortable and familiar. At the same time, imagine a door of similar size beginning to open to reveal – reveal – what? That we don’t know, but you can be sure it will be a country and a society unlike anything we’ve ever known.

Here are some examples. We twice elected a President of mixed race. From day one, he’s been blocked, undercut and pilloried while doing his job. His performance in office can be debated, but one thing cannot: he’s been the target of the most vicious racism we’ve seen directed at a national public figure. Oh, it’s not called “racism.” No. It’s been couched in more politically acceptable terms like “typical two-party politics,” “liberal versus conservative” and “the normal friction found when one party occupies the White House and the other control the majorities in Congress.” Pure B.S..

I strongly believe the vision of a “black” man in the White House has become an excuse for racists and extremists of all stripes to come out from under their rocks and openly challenge authority without reprisal. Whether it’s Bundy or the NRA, Mitch McConnell, the apparent revival of the KKK or quickening pace of murdering Black Americans, it’s less about politics and more about race.

Another case: the dissolution of the National Republican Party. In about four decades, the cancer of extremist thought and the purging of anything different have gutted the GOP. The emergence of a dangerous buffoon like Trump is not surprising. He and the GOP have been looking for each other for years. The only questions is “what took so long?” And states with Tea Party-backed governors have seen resources squandered and several are so awash in debt they’re considering bankruptcy. Kansas, anyone? Michigan? Arkansas? North Carolina? Florida? Texas?

Another: Democrats have failed miserably to create a “loyal” opposition, have not been effective dealing as a minority party in Congress and have not built a “bench” team of up-and-coming people to challenge the majority for years to come. Anywhere.

Another: Both parties are becoming less viable as national representatives of voters at-large. Both are losing members. Both are less in-touch with Americans than just five-10 years ago. That trend will continue. A week ago, the respected IPSOS polling firm found 21% of registered voters – more than one-in-five – want someone other than the leading presidential candidates of both parties. That number will go up before November. Bet on it.

In some instances, this nation is close to becoming one run from the streets. The Dallas police killings and the documented and recent unwarranted police murders of several black men are galvanizing people of more races than just Black America. Whatever accountability – if any – that comes as a result of these slaughters will come because people in the streets stayed in the streets and demanded it. That’s not how an effective and lasting society works for all but that’s where we are. It will get louder and more violent in those streets until justice comes. In whatever form.

Maybe worst of all, the November election will have little, if any, positive effect on all this. The day after will be just as disruptive, just as raucous, just as violent and just as filled with national seething as the day before.

No one individual has all the answers to our national quandary. No one can make good on “taking the country back.” Our nation is in the throes of great change in every area of society – change that, at the moment, is undirected and uncoordinated.

One huge vault door has closed. The other is slowly opening. Behind that one is our national future. Unseen. Unknown. Out of full sight. But the first glimpses are not comforting. Not comforting at all.

I’m a cancer survivor

Author: admin

Physician examining rooms are usually small and windowless, with no comfortable place to sit. They’re lined with cabinets and drawers you just know contain all sorts of demonic tools with which to inflict pain. Likely on you. The usual minutes go from 60 seconds long to 240 seconds. It seems.

Finally, the door opens, doctor walks in, and the first words out of his mouth are “Hello. You have advanced prostate cancer and if you hadn’t shown up here two months ago, you’d be dead by now.” Word-for-word. Great bedside manner.

He hands you a copy of the biopsy report from last week’s visit. It’s all right there in pictures, diagrams, diagnostics by scale and the lab’s conclusion.

That was my lab report, cooly handed to me on a grey coastal day last Fall. Several depictions were cross-sections – “slices” of my prostate divided into nine regions. The lab used the commonly accepted Gleason scores ranging from zero to five with five being very bad. Mine showed a 4.9, a 4.8 and down – or 90% and 80% positive. No need for a second opinion here. The evidence in my hand was black and white. And conclusive.

I hadn’t made my first appointment with this urologist because of any bodily symptoms. With prostate cancer, there are usually no symptoms you can feel. What got my attention was a PSA score that had gone from 1.8 to 4.8 in six months. PSA means “prostate-specific antigen” and is determined by a normal blood test. Many doctors don’t give it a lot of importance. But it can be a good predictor that something is wrong if it changes radically in a short period of time as mine did. My primary care doc seemed unconcerned. But I insisted on a second test. That second test saved my life. I also got a new primary doc.

There are four major procedures to deal with prostate cancer: surgery to remove the prostate performed either by a surgeon the traditional way or with the DaVinci robot remotely controlled by the surgeon; radiation; chemotherapy; cryosurgery or a combination of two or more of these.

Most often, surgery is not “medically appropriate” – insurance talk – for seniors because of cost, compared to how much longer a senior may live without dying of some other problem. Radiation and drugs are often used in combination. But I’d had previous personal experience with both and knew the bad side-effects. I researched everything I could find, then opted for cryosurgery and hormones.

I took nine powerful hormone shots in eight months. The PSA reading went from 4.8 to 0.01, meaning the drug was killing the testosterone – the life-blood of prostate cancer. It also was shrinking the gland to be a better target for cryo.

Cryosurgery is done with two surgical rods. A cut is made in the lower body area between front and back. Both rods are inserted. One is shoved firmly into the prostate while the urologist watches using a tiny TV camera. During the two-hour procedure, gasses are used to freeze the prostate. First shot is -125 degrees and lasts for as long as the doctor believes necessary. Then wait. The second shot drops to -187 degrees. The idea is to kill as many cancer cells as possible on the first try and weaken the rest. Then, after a warming period, hit the weaker cells even harder. The second rod is a warming instrument to try to protect the bladder, bowel wall and other vital spots from being damaged in the freezing.

None of this sounds very comfortable. But, four weeks after the procedure, there’s been no pain from day one. I’m eating anything I want, bathroom habits are normal, I’ve been housebound but able to walk freely and do most daily activities. I feel great.

Based on his years of experience with cryo, the surgeon believes he got all the cancer. I’ll take the hormone shots for another four months. What we wait for now is a blood test and the PSA reading in about 70 days. We know it’s 0.01 today. If it’s at or close to that on the next test, we’ll have won this round.

One bad issue with prostate cancer is it often returns, no matter what procedure is first used. Maybe a year or two, or 10, or 12. With each return, you have reduced options depending on age. For me, at my age then, if it returns in a few years, the only options will be hormones and radiation. Eventually, the body will figure out how to make testosterone a different way and drugs will be needed to starve it again. May add another one to four years of life at that time.

Prostate cancer is a man-killer. But survival odds are getting better. Cryosurgery, while relatively new, is also improving, as my own experience shows. Medical science keeps working on this universal male problem and is improving the odds for all of us.

I didn’t describe all this to pander for attention. I want to make the most important point – in the strongest possible way – that males – ALL males – NEED TO GET REGULAR PSA TESTING! At least very six months. Especially after age 40. Most insurance plans pay for it once or twice a year. Do it! Pay for it yourself, if necessary! It’s not expensive. Record the results to track the trend between tests. A slight movement up is usually not cause for alarm.

But, if it climbs quickly, as mine did, get to a urologist immediately. He’ll probably recommend a biopsy so you’ll both know better what’s going on. With local anesthetic, it’s painless. And it’s damned good information. Quick and easy life saving information.

Now, GO. You’ve been warned!

Damned Brits

Author: admin

It’s a day or so after Great Britain’s Brexit vote and I’ve been sitting at the old computer machine for several hours watching the bottom drop out of my IRA. Nearly 40 years of saving and, at this hour, the listed value of my retirement plan is about $38,000 less than the cash amount I put in over all those years. Forget the interest. Others, I’m sure, are seeing that and much worse.

World markets are drowning in red ink, keepers of the economies of nations around the world are wondering what the Hell just happened and the Brit’s home ground is cracking beneath their feet. Politicians everywhere are struggling to get on the “right” side of what’s happening although most have no idea which side that is.

For many years, I’ve privately clung to the belief some important national issues should never be given directly to the public to decide en masse. Brexit is one such. One proof of that is how many millions of Brits and others were asking Google “What does Brexit mean” and “What is the EU” the day AFTER. Where were they the day BEFORE and in the last few weeks as England’s media covered little else?
You know how the enormously complicated Brexit issue got to a referendum ballot? We’re told it’s ‘cause PM David Cameron, his chief of staff and a couple of other British politicians were sitting in a pizza shop at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport a few months ago and wondering what to do. Cameron was trying to come up with an idea to heal some of the many riffs in his nation’s populace at-large. He wanted home folks happier.

One of the four hit on the idea of a referendum on whether the nation should remain a member of the European Union or go its own way. So, the pizza gang – after a brew or two, I’d guess – decided nothing could be more “unifying” than a vote on the country’s entire economic future.

So, how did that work out? Well, Cameron resigned the morning after the vote and it can only be deeply hoped the others – with tomato sauce and cheese on their fingers – do so as well.

Thanks to those four pepperoni-loving pols, a nation previously dealing with a number of far lesser political disagreements is now one deeply divided smack down the middle. About 52% on one side- 48% on the other. And the economic wreckage will pile up for years. Yes, Sir. Nothing like a good, old popular vote to smooth everything out.

Like it or not, the British system of government – and ours – requires the election of people to public office. It’s how we do things governmental. Once in office, their chief responsibility is to research and study issues, use the committee process to get all the facts, make an educated recommendation to the entire larger body for that body – with a studied committee report in hand – to decide what to do. It works, most of the time. But odds of it working are a whole lot better than dropping this terribly complicated question into the laps of millions of citizens when most of them are unprepared to cast an intelligent ballot using whatever facts may – or may not – be at hand. Or even knowing the facts at hand.

Suppose, just for giggles, our nation faced the question of whether to return to the gold standard. Our Congress studied, researched, conducted endless committee meetings and came up with no clear decision. So, over a large Domino’s, the powers-that-be decided to put the issue on the good old American ballot. Let the voter decide. What kind of a well-informed, fully educated, studied decision would be forthcoming? Look up and down your street. How many of your neighbors would you think could cast a fully-informed vote?

Yes, there are issues which should be in the hands of the electorate. Most questions should be decided by those who will have to live with the consequences. But, once in awhile, a subject comes along that defies the ability of the public-at-large to come up with a researched, intelligent decision. That’s why we have a government. Why we elect people to office – to study issues of great import and make decisions based on research and recommendations of well-informed experts. Think seriously about that the next time you vote for someone.

Most Americans have no idea what the implications of switching an entire nation’s monetary system would mean. But that ignorance could be the basis of the collapse of an entire economy. Or, the world’s.

Such, I think, was the case with Brexit. Rather than cold, hard facts that could be understood by “the least of these” – if they cared to pay any attention – the issue was handled like a major marketing program. Thousands of slick TV commercials, newspaper pages filled with thousands of fancy ads and wall-to-wall talk radio going in all directions. If there was a repeated, easily accessible program of facts and a full disclosure of lasting, national effects either way, it was hard to find in the flotsam.

Our own little Faux News proudly proclaimed Great Britain was “pulling out of the United Nations” – which it isn’t. The Trumpster on his way to Scotland tweeted how happy he was the Scots had voted to leave the EU – 64% of Scots voted NOT to leave. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan called the vote “the worst economic happening in my more than 40 years of public service.” And on and on and on.

Well, the market is now down another 150 points in the last hour. That’s about $500 more cash loss to the retirement plan. I think it was Mark Twain who quipped “England and America – two nations separated by a common language.” Given today’s dire effect on my standard of living here in the senior years, that separation hasn’t been near far enough.