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Friday, March 29, 2013

God,Guns and Gays.

A letter writer from Goliad, Jeneal Jackson, asked citizens to write their federal congressional representatives to stand up for marriage between a man and a woman. What good is that going to do when only one republican has announced that he’s for marriage equality? Only the uninformed doesn’t know where the GOP stands on this issue. Gay marriage is now before the Supreme Court and is beyond the bounds of Congress.

The issue is about the constitutionality of proposition 8.and DOMA. I don’t think it’s a job of the Federal government to define marriage, no matter how many times the evils of homosexuality is mentioned in the bible. I did get a chuckle when Jeneal Jackson said, “even a non -Christian can understand this one.” Perhaps Mr. Jackson will someday understand that we should let the states police the marriage laws and not the feds or his definition of Christianity.

I recommend the Stonekettle Station blog (click on the blogs I visit) because he gives careful thought-out answers to another letter that is very similar to the one Mr. Jackson wrote.

Before 9/11, it wasn’t fashionable to be anti- Muslim. It’s not unusual to see a large gathering of people in a public restaurant holding hands and saying grace before their meal. I wonder why it’s cause for panic when two or three Muslims put down their prayer rug and start to pray? On any given Sunday, you can surely find a church service on television but you would be hard pressed to find a non- Christian service. An isolated incident is not a war on Christianity and neither was the incident where gunman killed six people and critically wounded three at a Sikh temple during Sunday services. I’m old enough to have gone through school where prayer was led by a teacher. I’m here to tell you that it didn’t make a difference. Mr. Jackson should read the statue because he’s either preaching ignorance or bigotry.

I understand the politics of the NRA and gun laws, but I also understand the consensus of the American people. Poll after poll clearly shows that Americans want background checks. I was horrified to learn that Senator Grassley(R-IA) was working to water down a gun bill in order to avoid Senators Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz's filibuster. So is the senate now catering to the tea party on such an important issue? Those three senators smell blood in the water and they are willing to hold up legislation at any cost.

As I said the other day, the gun advocates have one argument, and that’s their fear of gun confiscation. I read where the parents of Jared Loughner took his shotgun away because they feared what he would do in his condition, but he was legally able to purchase a Glock 19 at the Sportsman’s warehouse outlet in Tucson, Arizona. That’s on us because we allow the absolutists to hold up the 2nd Amendment as if it’s written in granite. If you’re a bartender, you better not get caught selling more liquor to someone who’s intoxicated.

In order to enforce stricter laws on straw purchasers, prosecutors need a paper trail but that’s what the GOP senators are objecting to. The message is “go after the entertainment industry and the records of the mentally ill but guns are strictly off limits.

The investigation of the Newtown shootings is nearly over, and we have found some startling evidence that proves Adam Lanza favored the Bushmaster and the 30 around clips, so he could kill as many schoolchildren as possible. How do we know this? He left behind the 10 round clips and other weapons in his arsenal that would slow him down. We know that they prefer rapid fire weapons with extended clips for maximum destruction.

Why is it that we can’t prevent a prisoner who was recently released from prison from persuading a straw purchaser to buy him a gun? The released prisoner knew he couldn’t pass a background check and probably knew that we don’t normally prosecute straw purchasers. A prosecutor can’t make a case without a paper trail unless they go through trouble of setting up a sting operation and then they have to rely on video evidence or a confession.

We no longer can fool ourselves, we know the motives of mass shootings, the weapons of choice and equipment and the flaws in our gun laws but some just want to shrug their shoulders and say “that’s unfortunate but that’s life.”

Have a good weekend,Good Friday and Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Trip back to Yesteryear

I had a lot of fun looking through the Victoria Advocate archives yesterday. I immediately noticed that the newspaper 25 years ago was only 35¢ for its 64 pages but advertisements were in abundance. It wasn’t unusual to be reading one column on page A3 and finish it on page A12 because the rest of A3 was filled with a huge Dillard’s ad.

The big local issue of March, 25, 1988 was a discussion on giving teachers a 6% raise. Of course that was nixed, so the sentiment hasn’t changed in 25 years. I was surprised that nationally, there was a report out against standardized tests for kindergartners. Why did we start testing them in the first place and are we doing that now? Hey, I was in my early forties and raising two teenagers; so I probably didn’t know this was happening.

Nationally, President Reagan was still answering questions about the Iran-Contra scandal. Even back then they were setting up a deficit panel. On the business front, DuPont discounted making CFS (Freon) because it was depleting the ozone layer. The Dow Jones average was a mere 2,026 points and trying to recover from the S&L crisis.

This particular day, Henry Wolff wrote about his latest visit to Matagorda Island and described it only as he could.

Remember the old “Hocus Focus” where cartoon characters would be involved in some activities on two different panels? The object of the game would be to pick out the differences between the two panels. For example, one character might be using his left hand to pound a nail into a board and in the other panel; the character would be using his right hand. I remember it becoming a race between my workmates to find the differences.

The ads were interesting, and it’s a good thing they were because they were everywhere. In this particular edition, Kmart had their plants on sale; a full steak meal at the Sirloin Stockade was only $5.49 and Jerry Lentz had a 25% off on all their sporting goods. Twenty five years ago, Montags  had their round steak on sale for $1.99 a pound, but I would have opted for their tenderized fajitas at the same price.

The entertainment section of the paper was also interesting. Hungry Jacks had their 80¢ draft beer the Armadillo band was playing at Schroeder, but they all had to compete with the local night clubs like Cody’s,Dallas,Peppers,and the Cowgirl Club. We had three movies theaters, Cinema IV, the Playhouse, and Salem Six where you could watch a movie for four bucks.

I used to have my head buried in the sports section in those days starting with the cartoon Tank McNamara and finishing with Julius Ermis’s outdoor section.In between the Cowboys and Astros were in their hey day,so there was a lot of material to read.

Whatever happened to the Town Crier section where you could catch up on the gossip and what was the L.M. Boyd section about?

Monday, March 25, 2013

We are Like a Dog Chasing its Tail

I never thought I would be agreeing with Michael Reagan, but he’s right. There’s just so many times that we can repeal Obamacare, revisit the different philosophical disagreements and pretty much “scrub, rinse and repeat” the same ol’ subjects’ day after day. In Mr. Reagan’s latest column, he was complaining about Sean Hannity running roughshod over selective liberals over the identical subjects' night after night. He said that was getting stale and I agree.

The different factions have been arguing gay marriage, abortion rights, immigration, sequester, gun control, and just about every fiscal policy under the sun. We’ve heard the arguments; let’s get to the solutions, keeping in mind that we can revisit the problem if we made the wrong choice.

The gay marriage or marriage equality issue will be before the Supreme Court this week but no matter how they rule it’s inevitable that gay marriage will not be an issue five years from now... The court may take a bold step and decided it as a human right issue or take the easy way out and kick it back to the states. This issue used to be stale, but I’ve noticed that the evangelicals are no longer using the scriptures to argue their case. Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Gary Bauer was using his own set of poll numbers and saying that the latest polls are skewed. Mr. Bauer said that over 30 states voted again same-sex marriage, but that was back in 2004. I think the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be ruled unconstitutional because the federal government has no business defining marriage. I think California’s Proposition 8 will be kicked back to the state, but no human issue should ever be on the ballot.

There’s no use arguing about brand new gun laws anymore because the opposition to them has settled on an answer. Any newfangled gun law is a step toward confiscation, so it’s no longer about the Second Amendment. The answer to background checks is that they don’t work because criminals in will not be prevented from buying guns. The politicians know that 92% of Americans want background checks, so they inserted a poison pill like the record keeping process. They adamantly oppose any type of record keeping or time consuming background checks for private sales. A watered-down version of a universal background check is a complete waste of time and resources. Instead of doing what’s right, it’s about passing a version that can get six Democrats elected in a red state and that’s just in the Senate. There’s no telling how much more water they’ll have to add to pass a bill that will get an up and down vote in the house. Perhaps they’ll settle on a lottery where only the unlucky few will have to go through a background check.

It’s funny how politicians from both sides of the aisle know that their budgets are dead-on arrival, and that they are too far apart to be reconciled. I can’t imagine any scenario where President Obama would say, “hand me those pens, so I can sign this budget that repeals my signature legislation." President Obama is going to have to enlist the help of Houdini if he’s going to submit a budget that both sides can agree on. Lately, he hasn’t turned in one that even his own party likes. I still think jobs, and growth projects should be the emphasis in the short-term and after the economy rebounds, we should immediately turn to fixing the long-term debt.

The abortion issue is going to get attention because once a state prohibits an abortion after six weeks, it’s begging for an immediate court ruling. There’s no doubt that a ruling like that is unconstitutional and the legislators know that. They’re begging for another chance for the Supreme Court to strike down Roe v Wade.

It’s not like the committees who are working on an immigration policy don’t have a template to work from. I heard a discussion between Governor Rendell and a GOP legislator this morning. Governor Rendell asked the legislator for a definition of a secured border. The legislator tried to avoid the question but Governor Rendell kept pressing asking him why E- Verify couldn’t be the answer. The representative said that he liked Rand Paul’s idea of revisiting border security on a yearly basis. That sounds like a delaying tactic looking for a perfect solution and one that labor markets will not be able to rely on.

I hope we can come to some kind of resolution on the issues I mentioned because we still need to start a discussion about our future energy policy, climate change, education, jobs, Wall Street and tax reform while we are working on world peace..

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Open Letter to Congressman Blake Farenthold

Congressman Farenthold,I read your column in our newspaper and I appreciate the concern and effort  but in the words of Senator Dianne Feinstein," don't talk to me like I'm a sixth grader.” The sequester is not about a family budget, and I know that it's not about a 3 percent cut.  Those cuts are to be made over a seven-month  period, and they're not across the board.

Congress and the White House knew that the cuts would be painful that's why they used it as a trigger mechanism to make both parties  come up with a better solution.

You are obviously in a situation where you now have to justify the sequester cuts because  they will affect your constituents.  If the Federal Aviation Administration had spared Victoria; there would have been another congressman complaining about his district being cut.  This didn’t  have to happen if your party accepted  revenues as part of a grand bargain to stop all these games.

Congressman Farenthold, what is it with discontinuing White House tours that binds your right-wing  colleagues?  It would be great if you showed that same anger for all the cuts, the poor and the elderly will endure.  You know the ones in the Ryan budget you recently voted for.  That kind of talk probably got you a fat check from your country club constituents, but I'm not going to lay awake at night worrying about White House tours.

I'm all for efforts like the Protecting America’s Civilian Employees Act you introduced to cut wasteful government spending, but we all know that  non- discretionary defense spending is not the problem.  Eliminating waste and duplication should be an ongoing effort despite budgets, continuing resolutions or partisan food fights.  I'll keep my cable, so I can keep up with the happenings in Washington.  That's how I know that the big-ticket items that we have to control is defense spending, Medicare, and Medicaid.  It won't take much to put Social Security back on a track of solvency for another 75 years.

Congressman Farenthold, keep looking for all those savings and let’s use that money to restore the Pell Grants the Ryan budget eliminates because that can create a bright future for our children.

Finally, Mr. Congressman, I just read a graph in the Washington Post showing that Congress is less popular than lice and colonoscopies, so you have some nerve trying to put all the blame of the sequester cuts on the president.  The president inherited a financial mess,he didn’t get any help from your party to clean it up, and now you throw the sequestered cuts on top of that and complain because the pain of those cuts are starting to show up.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Who Are you Going to Believe,Fox or Your Lying Eyes?

הענקת אות "עיטור הנשיא" לאובמה (צילום: גיל יוחנן)

Doing the last presidential election President Obama was portrayed by the right as being an enemy of Israel because of his disagreements with Prime Minister Netanyahu about pursing military action to prevent Iran from making a nuclear weapon. Remember how the right was outraged because the president did not invite Netanyahu to the White House while he was attending a United Nations meeting?

President Obama spoke, frankly, to an auditorium full of youthful Israelis about Israel’s right to exist and how it was equally right for a young Palestinian to walk freely on the West Bank without being harassed by an Israeli soldier. The president received a standing ovation from the crowd but he would be booed if he said those same words before Congress.

After the speech President, Peres said, "I was moved by the way in which you spoke to the hearts of the young Israelis. Our youngsters, in times of need, are always willing to stand up and defend their country. Today, you have seen how much the same young people long for peace." It was then that Peres presented Obama with Israel's highest civic award – the Presidential Medal of Distinction. He became the first sitting U.S. president to receive the honor.

CNN and MSNBC covered the president receiving the prestigious award from our strongest ally in the Middle East while Fox viewers were watching  the 2010 Health Care Law legislation third year anniversary remarks.Then Fox broke to a commercial reminding their viewers to see Sean Hannity’s special about Obama being the enemy of Israel.

The president gave a remarkable speech because it took courage to say the words that needed to be said but has been avoided  by American presidents for fear of alienating either side.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My iPad Nightmare and How I Survived

I’ve owned computers for over 30 years but I never had the misfortune of seeing that blue screen of death. I’ve had the monitor go out and trouble with peripherals but I never had a hard drive crash on me. Last week, when I turned on my iPad, I could only see one half of my screen and I didn’t have control of the settings. Rather than panic, I got on the other computer to see if there were any fixes on YouTube or the Apple Forum. I started getting depressed when one of the suggestions was to give the unit a hard tap to the bottom, so I gave up for the night.

The next day I did a little more research and found a suggestion to my liking. I knew I had never backed up to iCloud (more on that later) so I thought I would restore the iPad to its default settings using iTunes but all that did was wipe out what I had in the unit and replaced it with a blank screen. I looked up the address for one of the Apple stores in Houston and found out I had to make an appointment using their Genius menu.

The next day I went to visit the Geek Squad at  the Victoria Best Buy but I found out that they can fix everything except the Ipad. I didn’t find out that out until I had to answer questions like “Did you buy it here and is it still under warranty?” I answered no to both irrelevant questions. I inquired about the availability of a new iPad but they didn’t have the model I wanted. The salesgirl told me that I could pay for it at the Victoria store and pick one up in Sugarland. Why would I want to do that?

Last Friday, we headed out to the Apple Store inside the First Colony Mall in Sugarland. I was immediately met by a representative who guided me to another person, so I could be checked off as the person who made the appointment. I was then taken to an iPad technician who told me that it would cost me $249 to try to retrieve my data, but he wasn’t sure if the unit was repairable. After consulting with my chief financial officer (wife) I decided to purchase a new one. It was then that I found out that I must’ve had a senior moment back in October of 2012 because I don’t remember backing up the iPad to iCloud. I was surprised when the representative asked me to type in my iCloud user name and password, and then I stood there amazed as my old data and apps were transferring to the new unit. I’m still leery;I think the old unit could have been repaired. I was really impressed with their service because we were in and out of the store in less than 15 minutes. In Victoria,it takes that long to get get a knowledgeable sales person and that's questionable.

There’s no getting around it, the iPad is an expensive toy and you have to adjust to using one if you are ever going to be satisfied. If my children had not bought me one three Fathers’ Days ago, I probably wouldn’t have one today. My wife asked me why I preferred iBooks to hardback books. I then listed all of what I thought were great advantages:
1. I can place my finger over a word and its definition pops up
2. I can highlight a word, sentence, or paragraph for future reference.
3. I can carry it with me.
4. I can instantly download whatever I want (saving myself a trip to Hastings) and save a ton of money..i.e. Average cost of a hardback is ~$18 and the average download cost is $9.
My wife wasn’t impressed because she said I already had several dictionaries, highlighters, and a book probably much lighter than an iPad and finally Amazon delivers, but she did gave me credit for download cost but not when you factor in the cost of the iPad. I had her beat on that point because my first iPad was a gift. If you want an honest critique;ask your wife because they don't hold back...;-)

I prefer my iPad to a desktop or a laptop and anyone who has a smart phone can relate. The iPad is like a Swiss Army knife with a 9” screen. I did have to buy a case with a built-in Bluetooth keyboard because I couldn’t get used to the built-in keyboard. I could write a blog on my iPad but I prefer using my desktop (larger screen, keyboard and mouse) for its usability. I use the iPad for quick responses to emails, (wherever I’m at) entertainment, quick research, and a place to store all the notes that I use in my daily life. I didn’t know how much I depended on it until I didn’t have it anymore.

I wish the iPad would have been around in my younger years because it’s like having a set of encyclopedias at your disposal for whatever question comes up. It probably has its tradeoffs like the hours I enjoyed playing sports or learning a subject using the old fashion methods of intensive studying. It probably would have interfered with the quality time I had with my family.

I love technology and but there are times when I have to question its feasibility because right now It seems like I have a personal programmer trying to make my life easier; for a nominal fee of course.

I see where there’s an app that allows you to show a police officer your insurance information but I’m not sure if they have to accept that. There’s also an app called Square Wallet for your smart phone that allows you to pay for your Starbucks coffee without taking out your wallet by scanning the price label. Wal-Mart has a pilot program where customers can use their smart phones to scan their purchases and pay by phone. Many stores already have the scanning booths, so this is just another way to pay. There is an app called Pageonce that I must have signed up for in my “mad downloader” days that literally scares me. The Pageonce company must keep up with my credit purchases and buying habits although I deleted the app a couple of years ago. I still get periodic messages advising me where I could have bought the item at a much cheaper price. That’s scary but then again Amazon sends me emails saying “you looked a this item,so you might be interested in this item.” Remember the days when you went through all the trouble of taking out your wallet,handing your cash to the clerk,hear the clang of the cash register and out the door you went and no one was the wiser?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This is Victoria Texas not Washington,D.C.

I don’t blame Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi for switching political parties, after all he is a politician, and it’s a wise move on his part. He’s likely to be the next Val Huver of county judges since he’s backed and supported by the local GOP.

I didn’t vote for Don Pozzi because he was a Democrat. I thought he was the most qualified to hold that important position but him being a democrat was just more icing on the cake. I’ll probably continue to vote for him despite party affiliation because as he said, “labels such as Republican or Democrat may not have much importance on the local level.

I wish Mr. Pozzi would’ve stopped talking while he was ahead in my books. I can understand a personal decision such as my party’s position on abortion and contraception when it comes to health care and a woman’s rights, but he didn’t elaborate other than to say it was a local disagreement. I did take notice when he said “I have continued to disagree with some of the ongoing policies in Washington, and I feel I can no longer align myself with the Democratic Party.” Really, so you now align yourself with a party who has a 29% approval and have you forgotten that this is the party that got us into this mess in the first place? I’ve seen many party switches in my lifetime, and 99% have to do with political posturing, so I have no reason to believe that this move doesn’t fall into that 99% because he would not elaborate. I wish Mr. Pozzi would have shared his views on how to strengthen the Democratic Party from within but I would’ve loved to hear his thoughts on core Democrat values.

What’s keeping the seven remaining localized officials from switching their party affiliation, especially since 18 of the 25 of the Victoria County offices are Republican? I think it's because party affiliation does not matter at the local level. That’s why I continue to ignore local elections; it’s like “whatever” for me.That’s not to say that a candidate or an issue will not get my attention in the future but most of the time it’s about the status quo.

Victorians are falling into the trap they complain about. Our local government will never discuss abortion, gay marriage, Iran, or the latest Supreme Court decision unless it has a direct reflection on city policy. Comparing the small solar project the city council rejected to Solyndra is grandstanding at the lowest form of intelligence.let's use our energy and thought s to improve Victoria and less time comparing our city to Washington,D.C.

Let’s take the letter from Toney Corte calling us spineless for not believing his right-wing rhetoric. Every industrialized nation has a socialist component in their government. We have citizens who would be astonished or won't want to believe that every Medicare recipient today receives $3.00 in benefits for every dollar they paid in. There was an article in a financial magazine that stated that European countries used the savings from not competing with the United States military-industrial complex on social programs for their citizens. The feeling was that the United States would always be there, so why waste their money on a costly defense system. Toney Corte wants to read the constitution and come to the same conclusion he does. We do petition our elected officials; it’s called a ballot box.

I believe wholeheartedly in the two party system and I've never said that the Democratic Party is without fault but the vote I cast is my own and I don't have to answer to anyone for that.

I can understand why people remain Republican regardless  of  what some national politicians do or say. I'm a proud Catholic despite of what the hierarchy of the church say and do at times. It's about core belief of what one was and can be again. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

This Is The Way I See IT….GOP

CPAC came and went like a super train, and it didn’t stop to leave anything worthy. This year's convention put a giant spotlight on the differences between the two factions of the party. Rand Paul is clearly the leader of the libertarian wing and Marco Rubio might have an edge on the other half, but we’ll never know because Chris Christie did not attend. It is interesting that Christie beat out Paul Ryan.CPAC is a meeting of conservative minds and is attended mostly by young college students. Liberals and Democrats have Net Roots, but it doesn’t have near the national appeal that CPAC has.

The gang on “Morning Joe” dubbed the convention as the meeting of the “Whacko Birds” and Joe Scarborough kind of agreed but then he couldn’t stand it anymore. He said the democrats had their own “whacko birds” and the panel nonchalantly agreed; knowing that there is no moral equivalence at this time. Joe said the first time he ran for Congress he only had 3% of the African -American vote but the next time he ran he received 50% of their vote I don’t have the energy but I hope someone researches that and puts it in better context. Joe might have left out some important facts like that he ran against a former Klan member but that’s an exaggeration on my part.

Rand Paul’s speech was mostly about liberty (no surprise), but he needs a lot a work on his economic plan. He won’t find one economist who will agree with his plan to balance the budget in five years. Rand Paul, like his dad never met a government program to his liking. His economic plan is as follows:
  • Cut $9+ trillion from the budget over the next decade
  • Eliminate 4 departments (Energy, Education, Commerce, and HUD)
  • Repeal ObamaCare in its entirety
  • Reform entitlements
  • Balance the budget in five years, and
  • Stop the debt
It’s a libertarian wish list that will never see the light of day.

The crowd was enthusiastic about Marco Rubio’s plan but to me it sounded like superficial rhetoric like when he said“As soon as I'm done speaking, I'll tell you what the criticism on the left is going to be," Rubio said. "Number one, he drank too much water. Number two: that he didn't offer any new ideas.
"And there's the fallacy of it. We don't need a new idea. There is an idea: the idea is called America, and it still works."
That’s a plan,Senator Rubio? Bill Clinton could have said those words with much more eloquence “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

How ironic, after mocking President Obama for being a community organizer, RNC Chairman, Reince Priebus rolled out his plan to spend $10 million for community organizers in Black, Hispanic and Asian communities. The chairman admitted that the GOP of the past, parachuted their operatives into those communities four months prior to an election but continued to get trounced because the Obama campaign lived in those communities. Joe Scarborough said that many republicans will be surprised by the lack of outreach of his party. Come on Joe, they are not that naïve, as long as they were the majority it didn’t matter. The republican community organizers will have a tough job in states where GOP governors and legislators are making it harder for minorities to vote. The GOP is seen as a party that aches for the days of old. The country has given up on supply side trickle-down economics, so good luck trying to rebrand it as a plan for upward mobility. They’re going to have to explain why there is money in the Ryan budget for tax cuts for the wealthy but no money for Pell Grants and grandma’s Meals- on- Wheels program.

I don’t know why people like RNC Chairman, Reince Priebus, can’t figure out the obvious. People vote for candidates who they can relate to; whether it’s appearance, rhetoric or basic trust. The reason for winning elections might be creative gerrymandering or lack of interest. For example, Victoria usually has a 17% voter turnout in non- presidential elections. Under those conditions, it’s not hard for the same people or political party to maintain their power. Victoria has an older population, so it’s only natural that they consistently vote for conservative republicans. Protecting the wealthy and being seen as less tolerant will not win many national elections. And that’s just a start because being the anti-science, anti-government, anti-women’s rights doesn’t appeal to our nation as a whole and the election results bear that out. Comparing local and state elections results to national ones is a classic “apples to oranges” ordeal.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Let That be a Lesson to You..Senator Ted Cruz


It was like a breath of fresh air when I saw Senator Dianne Feinstein hand the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, his head as he sit there with that frozen smirk on his face. The very idea of a brand new senator questioning the constitutionally of a matter before the judiciary committee is laughable. All proposed Constitutional Amendments have passed through the Judiciary Committee; even Senator Feinstein’s initial ban of semiautomatic weapons.  Her legislation lasted 10 years without objection from the Supreme Court. Ted Cruz’s lectures are better suited for Tea Party rallies than they are on serious matters before the committee. 

Senator Feinstein held back a little because she had enough ammunition (no pun intended) to really embarrass Ted Cruz.  Yesterday, the final report on Sandy Hook was released.  It was reported that Adam Lanza fired off 152 rounds in less than five minutes.  He had one round in the chamber of his AR15 and a 30 round magazine and then switched them out four times. The mass murderer used one round in his semi-automatic hand gun to kill himself. She could have said, “Senator Cruz, Adam Lanza researched mass murders before he decided to act out his fantasy. If the Bush administration and the GOP would not have let the assault weapon ban sunset, the killer’s mom would not have been able to purchase the AR15 or the 30 round ammo clips. Do you think Adam Lanza would have tried this massacre with 14 ten round magazines?” Then she could have concluded by saying, “never mind, I yield the rest of my time.” 

 A few weeks ago, Senator McCaskill scolded the young Senator Cruz for insinuating that Chuck Hagel had received money from North Korea.  Senator Cruz is being dubbed, Carnival Cruz, these days because of his McCarthyism tactics. Ted Cruz is like having Allen West, Michelle Bachmann and Louie Gohmert all rolled into one person.  It’s a shame because Ted Cruz got his law degree from Harvard, so he’s not a dummy.  It’s shameful and how he’s using his antics for fund-raising and self-promotion.  I can’t place all the blame on him because GOP leadership is allowing him to get away with his behavior.  It’s highly unusual for a freshman senator to be on two prestigious committees. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Charm Offensive?

The media has termed the president’s recent outreach to republicans and as being a charm offensive tactic. The president is supposed to be all smiles as he listens attentively to the GOP concerns. Last night, Lawrence O’Donnell said that the president received a standing ovation from the Republican wing when he entered the house chamber and received the same as he was leaving. That’s good, those gestures offsets the warning of not getting too close to the president because it might hurt their chances of reelection. Doe we really have that many small mined hateful voters in America?

Last week, the house voted to defund ACORN even though it has been out of business for three years. The GOP also renewed their sights on repealing Obamacare, and are currently taking steps to ensure that the work provisions in the welfare program are strengthened; even though they were never weakened. The other day, Born2Bme enlightened me of their motives. I couldn’t understand why we were revisiting the issues of the 2008 and 2012 election. The house GOP is on a permanent reelection campaign, so they must constantly feed the red meat to their base. As I was watching a TV host explain the "free phone for votes" hyperbole being used as an Obama political strategy,  I decided to do a little fact checking. I was wrong because I didn’t think such a program existed, but I was right because it wasn’t an Obama “phones for votes” program. This is how Forbes magazine (no liberal rag) explained the program “The federal program wasn’t started by President Obama. It dates back to 1996, as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act did a number of things, including increasing internet access to doctors and patients in rural hospitals (for consults with specialists); subsidizing internet and phone coverage for schools and libraries and providing free or subsidized coverage for families who can’t afford it so that they have links to emergency and government services. The Act was not taxpayer funded… exactly. Taxpayers do pay for coverage but not via federal income taxes. Instead, the Act “mandated the creation of the universal service fund (USF) into which all telecommunications providers are required to contribute a percentage of their interstate and international end-user telecommunications revenues.” So that little fee on your phone bill labeled USF? That’s what you’re paying for.”

As we go back and forth on what will and won’t get done, I can see the wheels turning on both sides, so we might get a small bargain but the differences are too huge to be reconciled in one or two legislative sessions. Paul Ryan and the GOP thinks that since they presented their plan to balance the budget in ten-years, the president should use the same parameters to counter their proposal. I’m glad that the president said that balancing the budget is not a priority but the path to bringing down the cost curve of the debt is. Republicans in the house and the senate are open to tax reform by eliminating tax loopholes but they differ on what to do with the savings. The GOP wants to cut tax rates with the savings but that’s just like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic to keep it from sinking. They don’t mind eliminating the loopholes that the wealthy receive because they give it back to them in a form of a tax cut. The democrats want to use those savings to further reduce the deficit. The deficit is coming down on its own with the newly enacted tax revenues, so the democrats aren’t that keen on trading tax increases for a big entitlement reform package.

And yet we have another local yokel, Mike Beeson, who wrote a letter titled “Victoria doesn’t need federal grant money.” The writer takes a local teeny weenie solar project and compares it to the problems with our nations alternative fuels in a “drill baby drill” fashion. I don’t think anyone expected the grant to produce the next solar boom and besides energy experts all agree that solar will certainly be part of the mix as we continue our path to get off fossil fuels and our dependency on foreign oil. The writer doesn’t mention the tax incentives the oil companies receive nor does he mention their tax shelters in the Cayman Islands which are designed specifically to legally avoid U.S. tax.

Yesterday my trusty iPad broke so I'm going to Houston Saturday to hopefully get it repaired. While  I'm there I think I'll go to Costco and get me a jumbo bag of popcorn to enjoy as I watch the CPAC circus this weekend . I'm taping the whole event because I don't want to miss a word...:-)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How Dumb Do They Think We Are?

Today, Congressman Paul Ryan rolled out his hyper partisan budget for the third time, and it will be ignored like the others. He’s not being disingenuous because he actually thinks his proposals are what America needs and wants. Paul Ryan believes his own newspaper clippings because he is hailed by the right as being a being a brainy budget scholar. I have to admit; I was taken in by his appealingness until his work came into scrutiny because the math didn’t work out. The media treats him like a budget maestro with no equal. This morning Joe Scarborough said that Paul Ryan would present his budget, and the Senate will present theirs, and then the American people will decide. Andrea Mitchell quickly corrected Joe by saying that the voters made their choice in November. In GOP speak, it’s usually two out of three, or they keep going until they win. They never accept the results; remember Karl Rowe on election night and prior to that, all the polls were wrong.

Paul Ryan uses a simple Ayn Rand template to balance his budget. The idea is to cut everything except defense spending, and then the government won’t need as much money, and he’ll have the “the survival of the fittest” country he wants. He has the charm of a snake-oil salesman, and he tries to use that to say that he’s saving Medicare for his mom and others. He justifies leaving in the revenue from the fiscal cliff deal because he says he doesn’t want to fight old battles, but he wants to repeal Obamacare and replace Medicare with a voucher system. In reality, the savings from Obamacare and the tax increases helps him balance the budget in 10 years, and he admits that. You can tell where his heart is because he makes drastic cuts in food stamps and other social programs, block grants Medicaid to the states and wants to have only two tax brackets, a 10% one for us and a 25% rate for his wealthy friends. He can’t achieve his goal, unless he raises taxes on the poor or the middle class. We just went through that in the last presidential campaign. Chris Wallace said, “that’s not gonna happen” when Ryan acknowledged that repealing Obamacare was a major part of his budget. Ryan knows he doesn’t have enough votes to override a presidential veto, so he’s making a political statement, and his cohorts will follow him over that bridge once again.

I guess lying to your constituents is contagious because house GOPers are bragging about voting in favor of the recent  “Violence against Women Act” when in fact they voted for their own version which was defeated. Most republicans opposed the final version because it included expanded protections for LGBT, illegal immigrant, and Native American women, so Speaker Boehner had to rely once again on Nancy Pelosi and the democrats to carry the bill to the finish line.

Republicans will whine and cry foul because the lame stream media is being so unfair to them; yet they dominate the cable networks. Can you imagine what the headlines would be if Obama wanted to raise the rates on the wealthy again? The media keeps crying for the president to lead but don't ask the GOP to do anything because that’s like trying to herd cats. Republicans are fighting among themselves(except on spending cuts) and it’s just the quiet before the storm because Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich,and Donald Trump are making their way into Washington for the annual CPAC Conference which starts Thursday.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Silence From the Right is Deafening

Stock Market Rocket

Our stock market had four straight days of record breaking highs and then to top it off; the jobs' report came in Friday showing that our economy added 236,000 last month. The joy from the right was invisible. The lone exception was Jack Welch saying that the president’s regulations are putting a stranglehold on corporate profits. Jack probably doesn’t believe the jobs numbers because somehow President Obama is manipulating them. I’m cautiously optimistic because the stock market was at a high mark just prior to the 2008 financial crisis and besides, Wall Street is borrowing money at such a low interest rate that it would be fiscal malpractice if they weren’t achieving their goals. It’s sad at what could’ve been because the job numbers will surely drop with the sequester cuts.

Mr. Greg Zowarka wrote a blog about the sequester cuts titled “Is the sky really falling?” The short answer to that is no, but it’s nowhere as simple as his mathematical point. His numbers are off because our fiscal budget ends in October, so now we’re making all those cuts and cramming them into seven months, and they weren’t evenly applied across the board. I will concede that the administration hyped up the cuts to make a political point, and that’s wrong. Eliminating waste from the Federal budget should be a daily occurrence but the sequester is the wrong approach because it represents austerity, which will only delay our recovery. You see Mr. Zowarka the answer is one grand bargain using a balanced approach and not the continuing crisis to crisis road we are taking. Right now we need consumers and yes that includes public workers,so laying off people won't help our jobless recovery.

The austerity mindset is prominent at the community level, and it reared its ugly head the other day when a couple of local city council members wanted to turn down a grant to send Washington a message. Another poster said it’s the reason Washington had out of control debt problems. Our country’s debt problem is due to the recession, and federal grants have never been the problem. I don’t know that much about solar energy and that project may not be a good expenditure right now but having a closed mind about accepting federal grants because of ideology is not what our city needs. To pull up a budget from four years ago and saying that servicing the debt has tripled since that time is meant to scare off future expenditures. For example, our own personal mortgage (“which could be viewed as excessive but manageable”) outlays for interest are initially higher, and they gradually go down. I have to agree with Councilman Polasek, the $35 million spent for the Sam Houston and Laurent projects, at today’s cost of material and low interest rates will probably be worthwhile.

Federal grants are an investment in our future, and they don’t have 100% reliability but as I always say, “we should never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” At the local level I think it’s getting a discount for something that we can’t always measure. We’ll always have amateur number crunchers, but it’s a good thing President Eisenhower didn’t listen to them when he built our Federal highway system because we were in a recession when he did that. That project started in 1956 and was supposed to last for 13 years, but it ended in 1991.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Confusing Liberty with Rule of Law

In ordinary times, we would be praising the captor and extradition of Osama bin Laden’s brother –in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, to stand trial for his crimes against the United States. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was in on the planning of the 9/11 attacks and makes no bones about his plans to destroy America. As a nation we should praise the Muslim nations Jordan, Turkey and Kuwait for their efforts in his capture and willingness to turn him over to us.

It didn’t take long for Senator Lindsey Graham to take to the Senate floor to complain because the prisoner was not immediately taken to Guantanamo Bay. I think Senator Graham wants the Middle Eastern countries to know that we have detention centers that rival their dark sites. I have a lot of confidence in our justice system, but I will admit that it will put a strain on New York’s security measures, but they are more than capable of handling it. I’ve been to New York, “if the terrorist were to escape, he best not cross the bridge into Brooklyn because they don’t fear an aging fat man who runs his mouth.” I think he will become a martyr if he’s sent to Gitmo but not so much, if he’s tried like any other criminals in our justice system. I have the utmost confidence that the FBI can extract information without using enhanced interrogation methods that would make any information they obtained useless in our court system.

I have mixed feelings about Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster because he wanted to know if our government could kill an American citizen in this country using a weaponized drone. My read into the constitution would lead me to say “no” but evidently that wasn’t enough for Rand Paul, and his supporters. Some have faulted the administration for not being more forthright and perhaps they should have been but Senator Lindsey Graham said, this drone program was in place during the Bush administration and no one asked that question back then. If the filibuster leads to Congress taking a more active role in regulating drone use then I applaud it. I still think that Senator Rand Paul is the wrong messenger because of his penchant for hyperbole and conspiracy theories. I heard this morning that the filibuster makes Rand Paul one of the leading candidates for the 2016 presidential campaign. If that’s the case, the GOP didn’t learn its lesson from the clown show of 2012.

Senator Rand Paul loves to use the Hitler reference, although he tries to qualify it by saying that he’s not applying it to anyone here in the United States. He claims that a democratic system can lead to voting for someone like a Hitler. He doesn’t have much confidence in the American people or our 200 plus years of voting without even coming close to electing someone like Adolf Hitler. The other night he said that he had attended Tea Party rallies where he spoke ill of President Obama, so he mockingly pleaded for the president not target him with a drone. That kind of talk keeps the campaign contributions coming, and it keeps up the tyrannical government fear talk rhetoric the paranoid likes to hear and it’s all within his constitutional rights. What a great country we live in.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

This is One of the Reasons

I haven't watched Bill O'Reilly in a very long time because I don't take him very seriously. What's disappointing about a blowhard like him is that he has a very popular show which draws 2 million nightly viewers and it dwarfs its competition by a lot.   Sure,it's mainly 71 year old conservatives but they vote. Bill O'Reilly's audience prefers bellicose over substance and he provides plenty of that but that leaves very little room for substance.

The Bill O'Reilly's show ratings have dropped since the election (but he's still number 1 for cable TV) and so his recent outrages may be his way of boosting his ratings. That's fine from an entertainment point of view, but his viewers take him seriously and that's one of the reasons for the gridlock. His viewers will put pressure on members of Congress to refrain from any kind of compromise.

Watch the video so you can understand what the other side is watching and drawing their conclusions from. For example, the president has stated that he's willing to put entitlement reforms on the table for a grand bargain type of deal but O'Reilly wants specifics like the names of the drug companies, Medicare will negotiate with..O'Reilly praised Paul Ryan for naming a specific Medicare eligibility age that he wants in his plan but in reality, the GOP is negotiating with itself. The House of Representatives has the numbers to pass anything they want, but so far they have not passed anything that is negotiable. Representative Ryan's first budget wouldn't begin to balance the budget for 40 years, and his second one didn't cut one dime from the defense budget making the students, the elderly, and the poor take the brunt of his cuts.

Specifics cuts and revenues will be given when the interesting parties are ready to negotiate and even then the numbers and items will change each time CBO calculates the result.  Paul Ryan will have lunch with President Obama today to see if there is working room for a bargain without naming specifics. President Obama might want a little leeway to see if the Affordable Care Act can bring down costs before striking a deal that he doesn't have to. The president's luncheon (which he paid out of his own personal funds) with non leadership Senate Republicans last night may have laid the groundwork for future luncheons, where they can talk personally instead of grandstanding for the television cameras.The parties came away with renewed optimism but it didn't keep the GOP senators from blocking the president's judicial nominee to the  D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

 Bill O'Reilly hates taxes  as a lot of greedy rich old men do, but he's pushing for lowering the corporate rate to make American companies more competitive. If Bill ever bothered to read any financial charts or just look at the recent stock market news then he would have seen that the corporations are doing really well. On that note, I saw a couple of  my old conservative friends who were pretty pleased with their stock portfolios.That left the door open for me to tell them that President Obama has got to be the worst socialist ever, since the stock market is a reflection of our capitalist economy. I saw that silly little grin on their face, which told me that they knew what I was talking about.

I think we are through raising tax rates for the rest of Obama's term but trimming the fat can come from eliminating several tax loopholes, making hedge fund managers pay taxes at ordinary rates instead of the much lower capital gains' rate, and we could impose some modest stock transaction fees, so to say spending cuts is the only way to balance the budget is pretty short-sided.

Bill O'Reilly knows he can badger Alan Colmes and Kristen Powers because he can fluster them into submission and besides neither are economists.The are what the Washington Generals are to the Harlem Globetrotters. Bill O'Reilly is just a shallow man with a big mouth, and he caters to an audience who gobbles that stuff up.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

We Keep Focusing On The Wrong Questions and Answers

We are  concentrating all our efforts on who should pay for the rising health care costs instead of asking, “Why are we paying so much?” Right now, Congressman Paul Ryan is rewriting a bill to tinker with raising the eligibility age for Medicare but there is no legislator on either side working on lowering the rising cost of health care. Unemployment is at 8% yet;no committee is working on that problem because all the emphasis is long-term debt instead of where it should be;short term growth job and growth projects..

I’ve read the 24,105 word article written by Steve Brill(Bitter Pill ..Time Magazine) about four times because it’s unbelievable how we just accept that we have to pay more on health care than the next ten highest spending countries combined. Health care in the United States is a seller's market, and we are buyers with very little knowledge of how the system works and we don’t usually have the ability to negotiate. Little Johnny wakes up in the middle of the night crying out with pain, so we take him to the nearest ER and plop down our insurance card, and we won’t realize the cost until we get the bill in the mail. We have no idea if we could have saved some money by comparing the costs of another ER just down the road because that’s not practical. The Hospital takes full advantage of those who do not ask for detail billing and continues their practice of over billing; in fact,  overpayments  are 25% of our bloated health care spending.

Steve Brill has made numerous television appearances saying that Medicare because by law can pay hospitals only the approximate cost of care is the sole program that bends the cost curve. On that basis, he believes people should go on Medicare at a younger age if we are interested in reducing costs but that message is falling on deaf ears, for obvious reasons. He advocates allowing Medicare to competitively price and assess drugs because it would save us billions. Instead of of means testing Medicare recipients, the author thinks wealth individuals should pay a higher co-pays. I guess the idea is not to let Medicare taking the identity of a welfare program.

Health care is the only area where advanced technology has made it more expensive. It encourages more procedures and treatment by making them easier and more convenient. There is also that legal incentive because a doctor can’t be sued for doing too much. Since the same tests are given for a heart attack victim as one for symptoms of a one; new technology in the future may rectify that.

The author hits the non profits pretty hard because they don’t have to pay income taxes or shareholders,  so they funnel all the profits to expansion and CEO pay. A CEO of Sloan-Kettering justified the higher rates because they applied them to [wealthy] uninsured persons from overseas, which allows them to serve the poor. The chargemaster prices are so high (even with discounts and Medicare) that it has allowed them, to become high profile businesses using the charity distinction (1% of its funding) to have the best of both worlds.

Health care costs are over $2 trillion a year, and it will continue to rise unless more hospitals and doctors are aware of their costs. The Cleveland Clinic deconstructed the price of their top three procedures, so they could accurately measure their costs. They tagged all the instruments,equipment,medicines,and even timed the patients stay in post-anesthesia care. They then tagged and labeled their supply cabinets with their costs. They also stressed message of “ Without compromising quality ,consider cost-effective alternatives.”Unfortunately, many hospitals and doctors don’t know or have to know the true costs of their service because they can easily pass them off to their customers.

I hope I never get the displeasure, but if I ever get hospitalized, I will ask for detail billing now that I know what to look for. I will check on the level of room I am being charged for since hospitals charge their ER services by level, depending on the amount of equipment and supplies needed. Level one requiring the fewest.The hospital and doctor's level should be the same. I will question charges for additional reading of tests or scans unless it’s part of a second opinion or consultation. I will also make sure I was not charged for a canceled test due to high blood pressure or elevated blood sugar levels.

The article was packed with endless useful information, and I know that I did not do it any justice in the confines of this blog. I left –out so much because it was repetitive injustices that we continue to hear but don’t do anything to stop.  It reminds of Wall Street surpassing historic highs this week after shaking down America to the tune of $8 trillion, but the emphasis for some is on reducing welfare. The article also took me back to the old days of investigative journalism.

I left out the unlawful and hideous practices of the health insurance companies  and many new proposals that might work if given a chance but there's always manana.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Gun Advocates are Losing the Argument but Winning the War…For Now

A blogger, who calls himself Pythagoras, wrote a blog in our local forum because he’s tired of the ignorance of so many Americans. I’m not going to call those who disagree with my thoughts ignorant, but I am going to challenge the points he made in his blog.

I don’t know where we’re going in our local form but it’s hard for me to imagine a bible side –by- side on a table with a nine MM Glock with a 33 round magazine. Posters are interpreting scripture and reading the founder’s mind and their intent, to suit their argument. Let’s consider that not all American citizens are Christian and they don’t all believe in the same bible. The argument is not about where the you call a pistol a weapon or a gun. You can call it a lollipop, but it’s still a gun to me.

I’m going to assume that we are all adults and we can all interpret the Second Amendment as well as any other amendment. I think the 2nd Amendment was settled as recently as 2008 when in section (2) of the District of Columbia v Heller said “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.” Petition the Supreme Court and tell them that you want to file a suit based on what you think the founders said or what you think your God given rights are.

From what I see 92% of Americans want universal background checks. That includes those weapons, guns, or whatever you want to call them, that are sold out in the parking lots of gun shows. Legislators want to pass a federal law that imposes a 20- year prison term on those who engage in straw purchases. I can see this piece of legislation passing with some exceptions for private sales and for passed down weapons but I don’t know what language will be used to maintain the integrity of a background check.

I can see where banning the high-capacity ammo clips will be a little harder because it would forbid the manufacture, sale and importation of them. That hurts the gun manufacturers and gun shops, so they will pay a lot of money to legislators to prevent that from happening. The language is not quite clear to me but as I understand it, if you already own a high capacity clip you will be grandfathered. It’s the grandfathered clause that needs to be interpreted because as I read it- it says that “you may be forbidden to give away, sell or in any manner transfer the grandfathered item to anyone else.” I have yet to hear a legitimate argument for the use of high capacity clips other than a Rambo- like hypothetical. Let’s get an up –or- down vote on it; that’s the side of democracy that gun advocates never mention.

The Bushmaster AR- 15 will survive until another gunman uses it to massacre innocent human beings. Senator Dianne Feinstein has a bill to ban 158 semi-automatic weapons with at least one military feature. It would also ban fixed magazines that are capable of holding more than 10 rounds. The bill is too complex and has very little support but who knows if another massacre breaks out?

There are a very small group of gun advocates who don’t want any gun legislation other than what’s on the books right now. Some of them think they are entitled to the same weaponry the government has because they fear gun confiscation similar to those of tyrannical governments. I want law enforcement to have the upper hand on criminals, survivalists, and conspiracy theorists and not the other way around.

We are beyond the “guns don’t kill people…people do” or we would not have banned automatic weapons a long time ago. No argument, a gun is an inadament object but we regulate a lot of inadament things. The AR-15 and the high-capacity ammo clips represent a culture of violence and they’re too readily available for anyone who wants to cause a lot of damage in as little time as possible. As General McCrystal said “I spent a career carrying typically either an M16 or an M4 Carbine. An M4 Carbine fires a .223 caliber round which is 5.56 mm at about 3000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed for that,” McChrystal explained. “That’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America.”

I don’t expect the more intensive background checks and the banning of high-capacity clips to be a cure –all, but it’s a start because we can’t keep sitting on our hands hoping that the latest massacre is the last one. That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss the violent movies, games and mental illness but it has to be done as a separate issue.

The gun advocates will continue to use scare tactics like the one used by a poster when she said that police officers are only trained to save themselves and not the general public. She also criticized the response time but first responders have responded in less than 10 minutes in in all of the massacres I’ve read about. Those types always advertise their firepower and their anxiousness to use it.