Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chupacabra Report

I saw Elizabeth Edwards on The Daily Show last week and she mentioned a CEO of a health insurance company who made so much money a couple of years ago that it worked out that he was paid one out of every seven hundred dollars the company received in premiums.

I found the story. In 2005, Dr William McGuire’s compensation as CEO of UnitedHealthcare totaled $124.8 million. This story didn’t exactly raise eyebrows in the business press because much of it came in the form of stock options, and Dr. McGuire had done a good job of growing the company, which now insures some 70 million Americans.

Hey, UHC was my insurance company back then. I remember getting socked with higher premiums every year, but there was nothing unusual about that either.

-But here’s the good part; in 2006 the SEC forced McGuire to resign after management was caught backdating hundreds of millions in stock options. McGuire had to relinquish his options, repay $468 million, and was barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company for ten years. But don’t worry about him, his exit compensation of over a billion dollars set a record for golden parachutes.

So this summer when Pharma and the HMOs start flooding the airwaves with the latest “Harry and Louise” commercials trying to whip up fear of “socialized medicine,” remember that the difference between the healthcare systems in other advanced countries and the bloated inefficient travesty we pay through the nose for is profit and overhead, like Dr. McGuire’s take.

Why not take a few minutes to email your congressman and tell him that you want this year’s healthcare bill to include a public option to compete with the for-profit companies. That way, if the HMO’s don’t stop stealing and screwing us, we can all migrate to the public plan. Wouldn’t it be funny if the “market-based” solution was a single payer plan?

“Honolulu just conducted our nation’s first all-digital election. This is so cool. No voting booths, people cast their votes online or by phone. Everyone here at ‘Late Night’ would like to congratulate Honolulu’s new mayor, a piano playing cat.”
- Jimmy Fallon

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

This photo accompanied a great post on Crooks and Liars by Susie Madrak entitled "For Every Death, A Hole in the World."

House of War

I’ve been reading James Carroll’s history of The Pentagon, “House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power.” I’ve been slogging away at it for weeks now, so you should know that it’s good. The last book that tied me up like this was Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA “Legacy of Ashes,” which is really a companion book about us, the pre-eminent nation on earth in the second half of the 20th century, and where we’ve been leading the world. Both of these works illustrate that despite our intentions and sacrifice of blood and treasure, we have effectively made the world a more dangerous place through our efforts to be safe.

Sometimes this book reads like an index of psychiatric disorders, starting with paranoia, epitomized by the case of James Forrestal, the first Defense Secretary, who literally cracked up, running down the street screaming “the Russians are coming,” finally jumping to his death from a high window at Bethesda Naval Hospital. There’s atomic amnesia, which forces us to learn the same lessons over and over, nuclear schizophrenia, exhibited in our professed strategy of targeting military installations instead of civilian targets, when most bombing casualties from World War Two on have been civilians. We read about Nixon’s “madman theory,” which had US and Russian forces at their highest state of alert in a game of nuclear chicken. And there is the retirement syndrome, in which military and civilian leaders speak out in favor of de-escalation and disarmament, but only when they’re no longer in any position of influence.

Here are the many crises –you didn’t think that the Cuba missile crisis was the only time we were on the brink of Armageddon did you? And missed opportunities , it seems that every time we had a chance to start putting the genie back into the bottle something happened to push us the other way. The arms race always won out, fueled by inter-service rivalry and domestic politics. If the Russians weren’t a threat, our posturing made them one. Hard liners on one side enabled the hard liners on the other until we had 100,000 atomic weapons between us. Even arms control measures fueled the race, as restrictions spurred developments in unrestricted areas, as when you squeeze one end of a balloon,it bulges out somewhere else.

I know that some people don’t like to think about nuclear annihilation, they close their mind to the possibility or fall back on fatalism. Myself, I think that we increase our chance of survival if we “learn to live in truth.” It’s said that it’s not what a man don’t know that makes him a fool; it’s the things he does know that just ain’t so. In light of the historical record, many of the beliefs that we hold turn out to be myths, and the truths we find are forgotten. A more thorough examination of the facts may well prove that our national defense establishment, our military/industrial complex, our permanent wartime economy and state of perpetual emergency have failed to make us safe; they have, rather, created the greatest threat yet to our continued existence.

Carroll’s Index

With apologies to Lewis H. Lapham, Carrol’s 500-page book is followed with 150 pages of notes and sources. Here’s a sample of the stats and facts that caught my eye..

-Truman’s estimate of US lives spared by dropping atomic bombs on Japan: 250,000.

-Churchill’s estimate: 1.5 million

-George H. W. Bush’s estimate, given in 1991: “millions”

-US Defense budget 1950: $13.5 billion

-US Defense budget 1953: >$50 billion

-US Defense spending 1998: $278 billion

-US Defense spending 2008: $800 billion

-Russian Defense spending 1998: $28 billion

-Russian Defense spending 2008: $40 billion

-US stockpile of atom bombs 1950: 300

-US stockpile 1953: 1,300

-US stockpile 1960: 18,000

-Number Soviet ICBMs 1961 according to CIA: 4

-Number Soviet bombers 1961 according to CIA: 200

-Number Soviet short-range sub launched missiles 1961: several dozen

-Number atmospheric nuclear tests worldwide 1950 -1963 test ban: 336

-Worldwide peak total: 30,000 nuclear and 70,000 thermonuclear weapons, 90% US/USSR.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hammer Still In Soup

Susan at Kiss My Big Blue Butt had a WaPo article about Jack Abramoff getting a $500,000 tax refund, and the Feds asking why he’s not using it to pay court-ordered restitution to the tribes he ripped off.

But the big fun here is the last paragraph..

“More than a dozen people, including an Ohio congressman and a deputy secretary of the interior, have been convicted in the wide-ranging federal investigation into the lobbying scandal, and Justice Department officials said the probe is continuing. Still under scrutiny are DeLay (R-Tex.) and former Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.).”

I wonder what they’ll have to say over at Fox News when one of their favorite talking heads is finally led away in shackles.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just Imagine Him Without Pants

Newt Gingrich is flogging another crappy book and so he’s all over the television this week. Not just on Faux with those other crooks and losers like Tom DeLay and Ollie North, he’s everywhere whining about Speaker Pelosi torturing people. I hope you don’t buy books by crooks. Hell, when I go to the library and see books by Newt or DeLay I want to hurl them into the trash before they hurt somebody but I don’t want the system to buy replacement copies. Next time I think I’ll just find a better place to shelve them, like in the 100’s with titles on abnormal psychology, or kleptomania.

Next time you hear about Newt being a party leader, or presidential candidate, remember:

That he married his high-school math teacher. She put him through college. When he decided to divorce her, he went to the hospital where she was being treated for cancer and gave her the news.

That while the House Republicans were impeaching Bill Clinton over sex, Newt was screwing a staffer twenty years his junior.

That he cheated on wife #1 with wife #2.

That he cheated on wife #2 with wife #3.

That he was fined $300,000 for violating House rules and lying to the Ethics Committee. He paid the fine out of his campaign account.

-Heck, I hope the Republicans do run him for president.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Go Big or Get Out.

I have spent the week involved in the usual human misery that populates my professional life, i.e. exploited children, workers, families, corrupt agencies, etc. And as usual, nobody seems to give a shit. They just don't. It has been that way for decades; whatever happens there are programs and agencies to take care of it. Wrong.

The unraveling of the social safety net in this country since Ronald Reagan took office was also attended by the largest transfer of wealth to the richest 1-5% of the population in human history. This seemed to escape people's attention as well. Tinkle the shiny object in folk's faces and they'll follow you anywhere.

Times are seemingly changing though since that black man became president, and watching conservatives howl like stuck pigs over his policies leaves me laughing.

I would love to see this go on forever, but the nice guy in me prompts me show some mercy. It is in this spirit of love that I say (on behalf of "liberals" everywhere) to them, please try not to fret. Everything in your worst nightmares will absolutely come true in the future, if it hasn't already. Here's what I mean.

To those who worry that Obama wants to turn the US into a European-style socialist state, you're right. He is. The US cannot afford a continued boom and bust cycle where only a few get rich and the rest of us get broke. These cycles corrupt our financial and government institutions. In a modern world, the US without labor protections, universal health care, effective public education systems and environmental regulations is less competitive with other countries. Europe and Asia are out-producing us, and their economies are stronger than ours. In the 21st century we must expect our leaders to honor their constitutional obligations to promote the general welfare, and that means that the fruit of American labor should go to the many and not the few.

To those of you who worry that Obama would tax you more, you're right. He will. The US cannot afford to continue to enrich the few with tax breaks while the majority of the people pay the piper, so to speak. As more and more government revenue streams into the economy, individuals earning a lot more than everybody else will pay a lot more than everyone else. Galt yourselves to the Randian Utopia where you can hold all of your money and curse the day when you could no longer lord over others with less. Get the fuck out if you can't understand why it is not unreasonable for the government to improve the lot of all Americans, and not just a few lucky people.

For those of you who worry that Obama is apologizing to the world for our past transgressions, you're right. He is. It's about time we took responsibility for releasing crusaders on the middle east that tortured their way into the hearts and minds of citizens all over the world. It will be generations to come before we are forgiven, if ever, and explaining how things will now be different is just a start.

There now, feel better? No?

Well, grab your guns, your Bibles and put your money where you mouth is then. I don't expect much in the way of actual action on behalf of the tiny minority of wealthy investors, management-types, politicians, preachers and media clowns that rank and file Republicans seem to want to go to the ramparts for. I am aware that Hannity and Rush got you guys frothy over Obama firing the president of GM as one indicator of the coming red menace, but they make 20 million or more a year pulling the strings on you stupid meat puppets, and it stands to reason that they will sacrifice you to the last man. Fact is, the Republican rank and file are about as militantly anti-socialist as they are militant anti-abortionists, in that they use firey rhetoric to call a legal procedure murder, but seem unwilling to take up arms against baby murderers when they know it's happening and where these killings take place.

It is hard for me to pay attention to moral cowards and bullies.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights

Shannon Buggs writes in today’s Chronicle that President Obama hopes to sign this bill by Memorial Day. I’ve written about this before. New York Democrat Christine Maloney has worked for two years to pass a bill ending the most egregious practices of the credit card industry.

Her bill, HR 627 passed the House on April 30th. It didn’t survive completely intact, of course: the banks still own the US Congress, but this measure earned bipartisan support, passing 357 to 70 with 84 Republican votes behind it. As usual, the Texas Republican delegation weighed in heavily on the wrong side with only five (Barton, Carter, Culberson, Hall, & McCaul) out of twenty voting for the bill.

My congressman, Pete Olson, voted against, but that’s to be expected from a protégée of Phil Gramm, the Senator turned investment banker who is as responsible as anybody for crashing the US economy last year. Remember this when Captain Pete asks for your vote next year.

This is my birthday dog. Isn't he a beauty?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More Bound for Grapes Pics

Thanks to Richard Redfish Stearman for these..

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chupacabra Report

News That Gets My Goat..

Sunday the Chronicle reprinted a NYT article about Republicans in Congress, who after unanimously opposing Obama’s stimulus package and budget, are starting to cross over and vote with the majority on other issues.

I saw this as a hopeful, if not significant sign, but the warm fuzzies soon fell away when I got to the weekly “how they voted” feature about how the Texas delegation voted on selected bills.

This week’s issue dealt with banking reform, and I soon saw that my Congressman, Pete Olson, was on the wrong side of all three votes.

House Resolution 1728, a bill to outlaw abusive practices associated with subprime loans and the U.S. housing meltdown passed by a vote of 300 to 14. Twelve of those fourteen votes against came from the Texas Republican House delegation, including Rep. Olson. I’ll have to write to him again and warn him that he’s going to make himself about as relevant as Ron Paul. Whatever he thinks, next year the people in his district are going to find themselves a candidate who’s not from batshit.

I know what his trouble is; he’s trying to vote like Phil Gramm would. He needs to realize that Gramm hasn’t won an election in thirteen years, and that he’s lucky if he doesn’t end up in jail like some other UBS executives who peddled illegal Swiss bank tax evasion schemes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bound for Glory/Grapes of Wrath

The stage..

Here's the front end of the Bound for Glory/Grapes of Wrath float. That's the Federal Reserve Bank in the background. Good place to play from the Woody Guthrie songbook, eh?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Jane Ely 1940-2009

As literacy declines, and people disregard current events in favor of infotainment shoveled in at sixty cycles per second, once-great newspapers are falling by the wayside.

And the reporters that used to work at these papers will be gone too. Some will go into public relations, some into law or teaching, some retire, and eventually, all will meet the ultimate deadline.

Reporter and columnist Jane Ely passed away Monday. She had retired from the Chronicle in 2004 and no doubt had strong opinions about this once robust daily going insubstantial. I wish I’d got to hear them.

Ely started as a police reporter at The Houston Post in the 1960’s. Her boss was the estimable Bill Hobby, whose family had bought The Post from Jessie H. Jones, who thought it unseemly to own both of Houston’s major newspapers. (Somebody ought to tell that to all the greedheads like Rupert Murdoch who are playing monopoly with the media today.)

When Hearst absorbed The Post in 1988, Ely joined The Chronicle, reporting on national politics until she became a full–time columnist.

When I was out somewhere and saw her, as when Paul Tsongas came to town to talk up the Concord Coalition, or at a Craig Washington fundraiser, where he wondered aloud why Sheila Jackson Lee was entering the race against him, I knew that I was at a real news event, and that somebody was fixin’ to commit journalism. She would sit up front, her gravitational force drawing folks around her, where they could get the jokes.

The press; get it while you can.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Jack Kemp 1935-2009

I grew up a Buffalo Bills fan so I first heard of Kemp about 1962, the year he received his draft notice for service in Viet Nam. He flunked his physical with a bad knee, but started four games for the Bills that year and was selected for the AFL All Star Team. (This draft thing came from WIKI, the way I remember it, he got called up with the Guard or Reserve in 1965 for the Dominican Republic invasion, but couldn’t serve because he had tennis elbow. That year he won the AFL Championship with the Bills, and was named MVP. Anybody?)

It was tough to be a Kemp fan in those days because he was starting ahead of Daryle Lamonica, who finally escaped the Bills to become a star for the Oakland Raiders, where he was a two-time MVP and three-time All Star, retiring with a 78% winning percentage, second best in NFL history.

But even as Kemp led the Bills to two AFL Championships, he was reading Barry Goldwater and Ayn Rand. Upon retirement from football, he got himself elected to Congress from New York’s 39th district.

In those days, I would see him when he attended Kiwanis Club luncheons at the Roycroft Inn. I would be working the service bar in Hubbard Hall when he showed up, the first blow-dried Republican with his helmet of hair sprayed in place to look like JFK. He would say a few words, and then show some old football films to the suburban bozos nursing their bar-pour manhattans.

Kemp was a solid vote for Nixon in those days so, being draft age myself, I voted against him over and over again.

Kemp ran for president in 1988, coming in fourth on Super Tuesday behind George Bush, Bob Dole, and Pat Robertson. He then served as HUD Secretary under Bush. In 1996 he ran for vice-president on a ticket with Bob Dole, winning his first vote from me.

Despite being a supply-sider, Kemp was known as a fiscal conservative. He was a moderate on many social issues. His views on race grew out of his experience playing on integrated football teams. Likewise, as a co-founder of the AFL Players Association, he had pro-labor views compared to many Republicans. After politics, he prospered on the speaking circuit, served on corporate Boards of Directors, and did consulting work around Washington.

Kemp died May 2nd in Bethesda Maryland, at the age of 73.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Art Car-Palooza

Art Car Weekend with the parade before 200K folks and parties galore is next Saturday, and we here at ZDD, and are inviting the public at large to come and enjoy the festivities.

This year's theme is "Bound for the Grapes of Wrath," and should prove to be Nite Trains' best effort yet. In fact, we urge everybody to complete their ballot for "best of" to include the Hairse and Co.

For more details link to the Orange Show or Venus Hair sites to your right, or contact me here. I'll get back to you right away.

See ya!