Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Jesus Rifle

This stuff just keeps on coming. When I wrote the article on World Opinion, Afghanistan, Haiti and Google,” and then The Bush Effect: The Activist Supreme Court Judges, Indiana and California, and Gibson, Tippecanoe and Alameda Counties,” I had no knowledge about “The Jesus Rifle.” I didn't see the ABC News investigation report about Trijicon coding Bible verses on their rifle scopes. That report appears to have been shown on ABC Nightline and I don't stay up that late.

The Michigan company, Trijicon, is contracted to make rifle scopes for military rifles being used in Afghanistan and Iraq for both our military and the police and military of those countries. Trijicon codes New Testament verses on its scopes, like these two (New International Version):

  • 2 Corinthians 4:6 - “For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of the darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

  • John 8:12 - “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Where do I start with this little news gem? When the world gets news of this, if it hasn't already, its opinion of us will be that we are on a “crusade,” no matter that President Obama says we aren't. And, when Muslim police and military in Iraq and Afghanistan get wind of this, if they haven't already, they will stop using the rifles... and probably revolt against our advisers teaching them. So much for wining hearts and minds in those, or any other Muslim, country. It looks, smells, and walks like a crusade to me.

This news is already stirring up our armed forces, some for and some against using the scopes. The Stars and Stripes, the “official” Armed Forces newspaper and which is surprisingly unbiased, prints several letters from servicemen and women on the subject. Just do a browse here to read letters to the editor. Personally, I stand with those against Trijicon.

And then there is that small “Constitution” matter of separating church and state. Trijicon is being paid $660 million to sell the scopes to the U. S. Military. I can see another constitutional battle forming for the Supreme Court to decide which these little inscriptions on the scopes are. Is this “political” speech or does this violate “the separation of church and state?” My bet is on the former, that it will be decided that the company can put anything it wants on the scopes because it is “free speech.” But, alas, by that decision, the Constitutional separation of church and state will be erased from the Constitution.

One of my favorite bloggers, David Kaiser, who is, by the way, an honest-to-God historian, unlike me, says we're going backward, but it's his opinion that we're not yet Fascist. I'm not so sure. Fascism doesn't come in one big wave; it comes by taking little chunks and chinks in the Constitutional armor we go by through nationalistic use of religion, sort of like what Nazi Germany did in the 1920s and 30s.

I've read the Bible a few times, and I never got the sense that those verses were to be used or interpreted that way, to be used to “shine light” on a killing field. In fact, if I could get Jesus to tell me what verse he'd prefer on the rifle, and since we're cherry picking from the New Testament anyway, I think He would like Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He may, in his absolute astonishment about Trijicon's use of the Bible, give us a whole new verse of choice words.

I wonder what God is telling Pat Robertson. But, Robertson seems to have a translation problem so I doubt that he'll get it right.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Bush Effect: The Activist Supreme Court Judges, Indiana and California, and Gibson, Tippecanoe and Alameda Counties

The title bar isn't really long enough. I should add to the title list: Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past. Still, that's not enough either. A title bar should, as briefly as possible, explain the article to follow and it's not long enough to do that. And, it's all because the Supreme Court's decision on January 21, 2010 turned the world you live in on its head. On that day, the Supreme Court said Corporations are human. They (corporations) have freedom of speech and can say and do anything they want in political campaigns and political proceedings, including smear a candidate, such as in the Hillary: The Movie, – anywhere. And, if you don't like it, they will bury you with their money. If they now have freedom of political speech, what's next? Will their lawyers go after the “truth in advertising” laws? Or, will they go after “truth in lending” laws, saying they have the “freedom” to do and say anything they want when lending you money?

I guess that if you voted for G. W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, or you generally vote Republican, then you're okay with the decision. I guess, too, that if you regularly pray the Prayer of Jabez, the so-called “Gospel of Prosperity” prayer, then you're okay with the decision because that prayer is prayed to become rich, to increase your holdings; the typical belief of corporate Christians. Republicans, as a general rule with few exceptions, haled the decision; they like that corporate money in their campaigns and from those lobbyists. Democrats, generally, disagreed with it; they believe individual citizens should be behind candidate contributions. I'm sure Presidents Reagan and Bush I agreed, too.

The 5-4 decision: Chief Justice Roberts (Bush II) and Justices Alito (Bush II), Kennedy (Reagan), Scalia (Reagan) and Thomas (the nut appointed by Bush I) wrote: “Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy – it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people – political speech mush prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence...” There's more, but this essentially gives corporations the right of free speech. Do you notice that all of these judges were appointed by Republican Presidents? Do you notice that G. W. Bush appointed the most recent two Justices and one is the Chief Justice? The Bush effect will live with us for a long time. Hey Massachusetts, dear God, who did you vote for? What was that? A brain fart?

Nobody can disagree with the statement Kennedy wrote, but who in their right mind will say that corporations “are human?” Corporations are “pieces of paper,” a document submitted to a state that “charters” a company. It is not born. And, who in their right mind will ever believe that a corporation will hold politicians “accountable.” That's a joke! A corporation has only one thing in mind: making a profit. It doesn't care about politicians' accountability and in fact usually takes advantage of corrupted officials for their own “profitable” benefit. Corporate lobbyist “use” easy politicians they can buy.

President Obama said: “With its ruling today, The Supreme Court has given the green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans... That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders and develop a forceful response to this decision.” I hope he can, but he's a David against a Goliath and everywhere he turns he has corporate interest against him. He won't win unless we, the people, get behind him. The “party of 'No'” likes the corporate money.

If you haven't thought the court's decision through, you may overlook who owns the corporations. Take British Petroleum (BP) for example. Do you like the idea that a British owned corporation now has the freedom to be in your political business? If BP wants an oil field in Iraq or Afghanistan, do you like the idea that BP lobbyist will give money to your congressman or woman to vote for war in those countries. What about Halliburton who makes billions from war? Do you like the idea that Halliburton's lobbyist will be giving money to your congressman for a vote for war? Did you know that Halliburton's headquarters is now in Dubai and Arabian Sheiks own large chunks of it? More than likely on its Board of Directors? How many non-citizens do you believe are on corporate boards who will now pressure your Congress members to do their will? A lot.

I'll bet you think the decision only effects national politics. Do you have a Toyota or Suzuki manufacturing plant nearby, in your state, county or city? Indiana and California and Gibson, Tippecanoe and Alameda counties, where I and several of my family members live, do. Who gave the money to the County Commissioners' and Council campaigns? And who pays for their perks, diners, trips to Japan, vacations to resorts, rental cars, and for union busting, etc.? Probably a corporation. Probably Toyota and Suzuki. Likely a corporation owned by foreign citizens or countries, such as the King of Saudi Arabia, or Chinese or Japanese billionaires. How do you like their nose in your business? Good luck with persuading them about American freedom, living wage, or even a job. The latest news on that is: They don't care. All they care about are laws that help them make money.

Corporations and their lobbyist have a huge advantage. The only way to come close to limiting corporate influence on our lives is to join a union and/or a political activist organization such as, or make your own activist group in your church and community. We will need to get a whole lot smarter about who is behind political advertisements and whose agenda we're following. We will have to boycott the company store that attempts to deceive us. This ain't our country anymore. It's corporate owned. A populist revolt might get it back... if we have enough money. We, you and I, are going to have to pay to fight back. And, for God's sake, stop voting Republican.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts - The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back

I guess we are not our brothers or sisters keeper after all. When money is involved, we don't care what happens to others or to America for that matter. We'll believe just about anything, especially outrageous claims, lies and tea party rubbish. We also don't really care what a politician's beliefs are as long as they “talk a good talk,” as loud as possible whether they walk it or not, and “smile and shake your hand.” We prefer to be ignorant. That's the message I got from the Massachusetts vote.

I suppose that the vote could be seen as a message to Washington to stop the dirty dealing, such as that done for Senators Max Baucus and Ben Nelson who got “special deals” for their states in the Senate version of the Health Care Bill. Maybe Massachusetts voted against “bribes for votes.” But, the bottom line is that this is what Massachusetts voted for when they elected Scott Brown.

  1. Stopping the Health Care overhaul because Brown said it was too expensive, despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the current two versions, the House's and the Senate's, will reduce the U. S. deficit. So, the poorest in our country will go without health care.

  2. Stopping the climate change initiatives because Brown says they're too expensive despite the fact that major industry leaders, such as General Electric, Duke Energy, Google, AT&T, Pacific Gas & Electric, and T. Bone Pickens, and a number of states, including California, see energy conservation and “Green” renewable energy as the only way to:

  • Ending our dependency on foreign oil, i.e., paying $700 billion a year to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Brazil and Columbia, to name a few, some of which don't like us.

  • Ending our environmental pollution. I guess Brown doesn't believe we do that.

  • Create new jobs in a new industry that we're already behind in. Should I mention how long ago we really invested in America? It's been a long time. Maybe Eisenhower was the last President to do so, with his Highways Across America project. How far could your car, or your highway cargo (say economy, stupid), go if he hadn't done that?

  • To name a few...

  1. Waterboarding – say “torture.”

  2. Laissez Faire, buyer beware, economy. It's okay with Brown if you don't have consumer protection against credit card or bank predators. Fat-cat bonuses is okay with him. A company selling you a scam is okay with Brown. It's buyer beware, isn't it?

Just to name a few...

I would have voted against Brown simply because I'm against what he stands for. So, I guess I would have voted for Martha Coakley who, as far as I can tell, never said what she stood for. Still, that's better than Brown. Better a sheep than a wolf.

With the Massachusetts voter ignorance as indication of the widespread ignorance in America, I don't have much hope for the future. I should have expected it. Voter ignorance gave us Bush, Cheney and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann didn't it? Brown has the same spots.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

World Opinion, Afghanistan, Haiti and Google

Stay with me. Things appear complicated but they really are so simple. A few days ago I started an article on world opinion, that other superpower. But, that article became too personal with uncontrolled, PTSD driven, vivid images of Vietnam that lead to a personal confession. I decided on another approach, less revealing yet same subject: World opinion matters.

Whatever you've read or think you know about the fall of the great empires of history, Greek, Hellenistic (Alexander), Roman, Dutch, German, Russian or British you need to know that the ultimate reason they fell was world resentment; world opinion formed in response to ruthless and inhuman, oppressive policies of those empires and they died. People finally win in the end. A Gandhi arises. A Martin Luther King comes. These kind of people come when least expected and they change the world. They wake the world to injustice and the world rises up and applies its judgment on an oppressor who kneels in submission, eventually.

So, what are we as a nation? A cold, hard objective assessment gives every indication that we are an empire. A hegemony in the world, by large and small acts of oppression and deliberate deceit, in some cases, and naivete, in other cases, perpetrated, presumably, to preserve our national interest . But, if you ask most Americans, the majority will answer that they don't want to be this. They don't like being an empire. They don't want to oppress others and in fact deny that we do. I, too, don't want to be an empire, or to act like those of the past, and I want to deny that we do.

But, we can't deny the injustice of this story in the London Times. Most Americans did not see this story because it wasn't printed in the United States, nor was it on CNN, Fox, CBS, ABC or any other news report. It should have been because we need to know about these incidents. This is a story of U.S. Special Forces or Mercenaries we've hired killing ten people, including schoolchildren, in Afghanistan. “Western sources” and a “NATO insider” say the ten were terrorist, an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) cell operating in Afghanistan. They were, therefore, executed on the spot. The village Headmaster and an Afghan investigator, however, claim the ten were simply members of a family that included seven schoolchildren of the the family and another child visiting the family overnight. Whatever the case, one fact appears to be true; they were handcuffed and executed. No prisoners were taken.

Whatever version you, if you're an American, believe will not matter. What matters is what others, in other countries, believe and I suspect that they will believe the Headmaster and the investigator. Unfortunately, so do I. But, even the belief formed isn't the larger issue. If these ten people were innocent, it was an egregious act and if they were an IED terrorist cell, it is an equally egregious act. Was there no redeemable person among those executed at all? Not one? Is that our policy, according to “Western sources” and a “NATO insider,” that we have thugs of either U.S. Special Forces or hired Mercenaries roving Afghanistan executing suspected terrorist on the spot?

From all I've heard, those that are committed to the Taliban ideals are ruthless and I have no objection to executing the leaders and teachers, those Imams, of jihad and who recruit others to their cause. But, I've also read of young people coerced to the cause through threats and blackmail, so I have to ask again: Was there no one among those executed redeemable? Is there no law that requires us to at least interrogate them. To find out their real intent. It seems to me that we, Americans, are the terrorists in this case. The intent of such an act can be for no other reason than terror; a lesson to other Afghans to not join the Taliban, even if coerced beyond one's control. How did this happen?

I know the answer to my own question. Every sufferer of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, down to the last one, knows: 1) War causes humans, even those planning war not directly involved, to make inhuman decisions and do inhuman, brutish acts, and 2), humans are not intended to kill other humans under any circumstances. World opinion will judge and war atrocities will cause resentment against us, no matter how evil the Taliban is. The only way out of the hell caused by the ruthless execution is not to have done it in the first place.

It is this story of Anthropologist Paula Homes-Eber teaching U.S. Marines to think of the consequences of their actions that I don't believe, in that I don't believe it can be done. Ms. Eber is trying to teach Marines to be nice. “Blowing up a bridge,” for example, means “farmers can't bring their fruit to market.” Marines are supposed to think of this before they act. But, in the heat of the moment when the Taliban cross, or is known to cross, that bridge, the bridge will be destroyed and the farmer forgotten, except in world opinion. And, the Marine who calls that air strike, especially if innocent life is on that bridge, and maybe only by remembering the farmer later, will suffer PTSD. He will regret calling the strike, eventually, as will the those who executed the family whether they were really terrorists or not. The only way out of that hell is not to be there.

We, the United States, make the policy of empire that eventually lead to these brutal acts that, in turn, lead to world resentment. For example, I believe this sixty-minute long video, a story of Catholic Priest Father Roy Bourgeois and his struggles against the U.S. Army School of Americas, that he calls the School of Assassins, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Take sixty minutes to watch it. The opinion the story forms is one of a government policy, and an official school that implements it, that is responsible for most of the strife and conflict in Latin and South America. I can't help but think that if we don't want that other superpower, world opinion, to come down on us like a ton of bricks, then this school needs to be abolished. If you don't want that hell, then don't go there. There is no doubt in my mind that Latin and South America would have been a lot better off if we, the United States, hadn't gone there at all.

Who can imagine or even know of the suffering Haiti has experienced so long. The devastation there now reminds me of Vietnam; the only difference is that one is natural and the other man made. Our generosity will bend world opinion to our side, but it is fragile and a slight mistake may undo whatever good we do there. We should have paid attention to this nation long ago. See the warning on an ancient pottery shard that I cite, below.

Then we have Google in a face-off with the empire China. Google, a giant in its own right and who has in its Creed “do no evil,” is right, in my mind, to stand its ground, not only against cyber-attacks but against China's restrictions on its people. China, in the end, will back off its ideological stance because it has joined the global economy and its competitive advantage depends on the latest technology that Google brings to the market. And, world opinion is against any other outcome. China's leaders, after all, are human and will feel the pressure of world opinion.

Its a strange coincidence that while I'm thinking about these things and trying to write a comprehensible article about the world's opinion of us that this article suddenly appears at the top of Yahoo's home page. Yahoo's lead is “Discovery cast light on Bible's age” and the article's title is “Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests.” I think it's a stretch to say that writings on a 10,000 BCE pottery shard suggests the Bible is older than we think. It may well be, but I believe it's more accurate to say that people living 12,100 years ago knew better how to treat others. They had no idea, nor intent, of writing a bible even though they clearly chronicled their lives. They, 12,100 years ago, had already discovered civility and the needs of community. It's a philosophy. Maybe we would listen better if we did not think in terms of the Bible. Here's what's written on the pottery shard:

  1. You shall not do it, but worship the Lord.

  2. Judge the slave and the widow. Judge the orphan

  3. and the stranger. Plead for the infant. Plead for the poor and

  4. the widow. Rehabilitate the poor at the hands of the King.

  5. Protect the poor and the slave. Support the stranger.

Whatever Lord you worship, it's clear to me that governments, i.e., the King, has a duty regarding the poor, the stranger, the widow and the infant. You might say these who deserve protection are the ten in Afghanistan or those living in Latin and South American countries and certainly those in Haiti. I'm sure that the other superpower, world opinion, will agree and it will judge, eventually, and we won't like it. And, we who agree with the verse are still pleading for the poor and the unheard unfortunate. We haven't learned much in 12,000 years.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Palintology – The study of the phenomena of stupidity, or similarly, the study of fans of the latest Fox News commentator, Sarah Palin.

Palintologist - Me.

The Sayings of Fred

Caution: You will be tested on the contents of this lesson.
You ask anyone when “the good ole days” were, and most will say the years of their youth. It strikes me that that is about 25,000 years off. The “good ole days” were when that Neanderthal, Fred, finally had a thought. It may have went something like this.
Fred, sitting across the cave fire from Barney, nibbling on a Mammoth toe, looked across at Barney and Betty and the thought dawned on him that he liked these two Neanderthals, his neighbors. Also, as much a surprise to himself as he could imagine, the thought occurred to him that he liked his other neighbors. He looked around at his sparse cave at the things he owned. The long spear with the sharp flint head that Barney made. He was the best tradesman in the tribe. He made the sharpest spear heads. And, the soft double-bed made with soft and pliant grass stuffed in a sewn cave bear skin that Betty made. And, only last week the Shaman discovered the latest technological miracle: he melted mammoth tallow into an oil that kept those pesky insects in his bed from biting.
Ah, the wonders of this time. It was good to be alive. Who, in all this world, would have thought he would live to see such things?
Wilma, as usual, wasn't paying much attention to Fred, knowing that Fred has a tendency to wander in thought. That was the reason Fred wasn't the chief of the tribe. He was easily distracted.
You know, Barney, I've decided to do something different.”
Oh, oh,” says Barney. “Another cockeyed idea.”
Nope,” says Fred. “This is a good idea. I've decided to treat you like I'd like you to treat me.”
What?” says Barney. “That's not an idea. That's like a... I don't even know what that is. That's like air. It has no substance. Can't eat or smoke it. What kind of crazy idea is that?”
You're right, Barney,” says Wilma. “Fred is always coming up with these brain farts.”
Nope,” says Fred. “It's not a fart. Besides, air is important. If we didn't have air, we would die. So, you're right. My idea is like air. It's crucial. When I come to your cave, Barney, I'm not going to just barge right in like I always do. I'm going to tap on a rock and wait for your invitation. I'm not going to sell you mammoth fat anymore, I'm going to give it to you. And, when Dino shits in your yard, I'm going to clean it up. And, when you ask for warmth, I'll give you my coat. And, when you want to walk a mile hunting, I'll walk two miles with you. And, I won't put my stuff in your cave anymore and I won't claim any part of your stuff as mine.”
What the hell has gotten into you, Fred?” says Barney. “Have you gone soft?. What about your manliness? What about knocking Wilma in the head when you want some?”
I'm not getting soft. I like you and Betty and I'd like you to like me. Sort 'a like real friends. And, I'm not going to knock Wilma in the head anymore. I want her to like me, too - to freely give it up by her own will.”
Wilma looks at Fred with a surprised look on her face and thought a moment. “Why Fred,” she says, “I think I like this new Fred. We need a new word for this. It's like Human. Or maybe Cro-magnon.”
Yep,” says Fred, “It's a new day.”
Bet you thought it was Plato, Socrates, Aristotle or Jesus who thought up how to treat your fellow man or to use reason for that purpose. Nope. It was Fred.

The test:
Question 1: On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is “goddamned stupid”, 5 is “about average” and 10 is “super goddamned smart,” how much more smart is Fred than the modern human in 2010?

Question 2 (essay question): In ten pages, discuss the modern human and environment in 2010, including a brief history of achievements, and include in your summary paragraph your opinion on how much progress we've made in 25,000 fucking years.


  1. 10 – super goddamned smart

  2. Summary paragraph opinion: zilch.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Experian, Transunion and Equifax and Their Scams

There are three companies that say how good your credit is; Experian, Transunion and Equifax. These companies have a lot to say about your lives. They, at the drop of a report to your bank, your credit card company, your mobile phone service or your Internet provider can stop you in your tracks; make it hard for you to buy anything, even a necessity for survival.
I don't know when it was that I began to think that “credit ratings” were a bunch of hogwash, but it has probably been ten years, maybe fifteen years, when I ask myself, “Why would I want these three companies to control my future?” On that day a revelation came to me: screw those companies, I don't care what they think of my credit. The best thing I can do, I realized back then, is to get into a position where I don't have to depend on these companies or what they do. They became irrelevant to me, so I made up a few personal rules to follow (I'm sure someone else thought these up, I just appropriated them).
First is to buy only what I need and put the rest in a bank account; the “rest” being whatever remained of my meager paycheck. I've never been good at putting a specific percentage away, like 10% or 15%, but I've been pretty good at putting the “rest” of it away.
Second is don't buy on credit. So, if the only way I could buy something was to make payments on credit, then I didn't need it as bad as I thought I did. So, I didn't buy it. I guess the thing that surprised me was how quickly I forgot I needed something if I didn't buy it. The other thing that surprised me is how quickly my savings account grew when I didn't buy it.
Third was two things. First, if I had to use credit, for a house or a car, then make sure the monthly payment fit my paycheck and get it as low as possible. Second was to make sure there was no “early payoff” penalty. If I could meet these two objectives, then I could probably make higher than minimum payments WHEN I WANT TO to pay off the debts. (You could probably add “no goddamned fees” to this for gravy, too).
Fourth was another question: “What can I do to make good investments to save more?” The answer to this was a long time coming, but here it is: Learn how to read a company financial statement and buy and sell stocks of companies that have good financial statements. I was surprised to learn that you don't need a college education to do this. This ain't gambling. It's saving.
Of all the advice we hear in our lives, financial advice is the hardest to remember. Everyone says, “Yep, that's what I need to do,” but they never do it. This has never been “financial advice” to me. It's about “justice” and “fairness.” Is it “fair” to have three companies control what you do? Tell you what you can and can't buy? Is it “just” for three companies to make decisions about you without knowing you? What about your kids and grand kids? Do you want these goddamned companies controlling them? The answer is “no.”
The fact is that it should piss you off to have three companies control you and your kids. And, that's what makes these simple rules so easy to remember. A few years ago I had the bright idea to put my son and a friend of his in a painting business. They are painters, I'm not. So, I put up $50,000 to start it. I figured that in a year's time we should be making money. (Ha! As an aside, I learned that business people overwhelmed with worry about how to handle all those customer calls that are going to come isn't the kind of business person you want to invest in. The correct answer to all those customer calls you may never get, is don't worry about them. Worry about the customer you have now.)
But, I digress. One of the things that pissed me off about starting that business was Washington Mutual. They insisted we have a “good credit rating” of about 700, which is some concocted number ( pulled from we know not where ) from these three companies. We all know how well Washington Mutual has done in business, i.e., they failed. So, their word, and advice, is about as good as a pig's ear. So, I asked the clerk, “why are you concerned with my credit rating? If I have $50,000 and I'm going to deposit it in a business account, what's my credit rating got to do with the price of tea in China?” Well, I raised so much stink about this very minor thing, that they brought the bank manager out to talk to me. Finally, I said, “either start the account, or I'll take my goddamned money someplace else.” I had an excellent credit rating, over 750, but that wasn't the point. In the end, the bank opened the account WITHOUT doing a credit check. That was the result I wanted. I wanted to make those three, unfair, unjust companies irrelevant. And, I did. Two things mattered: 1) I had the money, and 2) I would stand on principal.
About a year ago I got a notice from a company, I don't remember the name, that notified me that my “personal data” had been stolen and that the company was going to arrange with Experian to send me credit alerts if and when my credit record changed. The only thing I remember about the company that lost my personal information was that I didn't know how that company came to have my information in the first place. I didn't have an account with them, didn't have a credit card with them and had never, to my knowledge, ever done business with them. Sometimes a good law suit is appropriate.
So, now Experian sends these monthly alerts that usually say “nothing happened,” even though I use my credit card, transfer money and generally buy stuff. Except yesterday. I bought a Nexus One Google phone with a T-Mobile plan and T-Mobile checked my credit. I don't know the result, but that simple credit check caused Experian to say, “SOMETHING HAPPENED! SOMETHING HAPPENED!” Awh, go fly a kite if that's what you alert on. I'm more interested is some jerk creating a new account with my SSN or using my card with a different shipping address than I am for a company checking my credit. Screw you Experian, trying to make yourself more important than you are.
So, what prompted me to get on this tangent? Aside for Experian alerting me to something that's no more important than a hill of beans, I happened by that place of infinite wisdom the other day, The Village Barber Shop. It was full of waiting patrons and one chair in a corner was the only one left, so I took a number and sat there. The chair was far from the magazine rack but a very lonely and isolated bookshelf containing several books of various titles sat in the corner beside this last chair. I picked through the books and chose a small book entitled “Monday Morning Leadership” by David Cottrell and began reading. I managed to read the first chapter, “Be a Driver, not a Passenger.” Cottrell told of being in mid-life crisis where he seemed to be lost and he asked the advice of a man wiser in experience about what to do. The man's advice, not on any particular problem Cottrell was having, was to “stop being a passenger. Be a driver.”
I knew that. That's what I decided to do years ago when those three, irrelevant companies got caught in my craw. I'd just never heard it put that way. Aristotle disagreed with those other philosophers who suggested controlling emotions was a better way to go. Aristotle said, “Emotions can be good. Take anger, for example. Misdirected anger is not good, such as vengeful anger, but constructive anger against injustice and unfairness is good anger. It is the anger that corrects wrongs and rights grievances.”
So, is this financial advice? Nope. Make this advice stick in your craw. Make these companies irrelevant by 1) putting yourself in a financial position to not care about what they say and do, and 2) keep doing it. Be a driver, not a passenger.
And, by the way, being a driver adds to your responsibilities. You can't, for example, be tempted to take in the scenery when you're driving. You need to watch the road. You're responsible for your passengers, so that means you need to step up to the plate for your family (and perhaps your neighbor, too) who, out of necessity, need to ride with you for part of their trip. Think about that, too. But, that's a whole 'nother subject.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pizza at Pavlo's

Sometimes humanity matters. Take tonight at Pavlo's in San Ramon. The “L” in Pavlo's is unlit, so the sign looks like “Pav O's.” Two isles over is a young family, the man and woman are blond, with a blond son about twelve, and they are talking and smiling and enjoying their pizza. The son leaves with his glass and returns with it empty and he talks to his mother (I presume). The young lady hostess comes, without prompting, and gives the boy something and he leaves again. He returns shortly, smiling, with a full glass of soda and sits and talks with his family. I can tell they are enjoying themselves. The boy looks like an older Mason, my great nephew, with the same smile and glint in his eye.
At another booth a father, facing me, is talking to his son. The boy looks so much like the man. A woman with her back to me sits beside the boy. The boy gives the woman a big kiss on the cheek, and I think, “what a nice gesture.” The father laughs. The boy, too, leaves to fill his soda glass and returns. Later I see that the woman is not a woman at all, but a young girl just a few years older than the boy. His sister, I presume. Still, a bond is there and it pleases me to see that.
In the booth in front of me is a woman, a little overweight, facing her young son of about seven. He has an infectious smile, too, and he's talking to his mother. I watched him enter Pavlo's, at least ten steps ahead of his mother, unafraid. A single mother? I guessed. Then she got her order to go, so, I think, perhaps she is taking the pizza home to a husband/father and she's not single at all. I hope not.
What a time to get something in my eye, in the middle of a half pitcher of beer and pizza. It was good beer and good pizza at Pavlo's.
Tonight the half pitcher of Bud Lite, that I've learned is exactly 2½ mugs of beer, and the friendly chatter of family made me feel good. So, when I started up the hill out of San Ramon on Crow Canyon Road I wasn't really in the mood for racing. Just a leisurely drive home was all I had in mind. But, I, in my Chevy 1500 pickup, was third in line of the only four vehicles on the road. In front was a Honda, second was a Mercedes, and behind me was a BMW. The Mercedes hugged the bumper, in a peculiar irritating manner, of the Honda and the BMW hugged my bumper (I couldn't see his headlights behind my tailgate) and it was clear to me that the Mercedes and BMW had a thing going. Just to show my pique, I inched up to the Mercedes until my headlights, much higher than his rear window, lit up the entire interior of his car. Another inch, and I would have bump-drafted him into a ditch. But, I backed off. Crow Canyon Road is a dangerous, curvy, twisty-turny, mountainous-style road and should be respected and it takes more than a half pitcher of Bud Lite to get too careless.
I could have outrun all of them. A Chevy 1500 pickup V-8, 350 cubic inch engine is bigger than a Mercedes and BMW. But, when we came to that quarter-mile double-lane stretch of road, I let the BMW go around me, and he and the Mercedes lit out for the end of the stretch. The Honda, too, had apparently had enough of the Mercedes bumper hugging, so he was in the running, slightly ahead of the Mercedes. They all went around the curve in the distance that narrowed down to a single lane together, nearly neck and neck, and I expected to see all three in the gully when I got there. But, the BMW must have had more guts, because it was his taillights that I saw in the distance at the end of a half-mile straight stretch. The Honda beat out the Mercedes and had slowed, presumably just to piss off the Mercedes who was still hugging his bumper. No matter how fast you go on Crow Canyon Road, the slow guy behind always catches up at the slow and dangerous spots.
Me? I tailed along behind, leisurely making my way home, thinking of the boy who looked liked an older Mason, who says with a big smile when he sees me, “Hi, Uncle Dave,” and the other young man who kissed his sister, and the other boy who enjoyed talking to his mother, as I gradually caught up to the Mercedes and Honda. Something is in my eye. Pizza at Pavlo's is good.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Health Care Bill Killing

Mark deserves another honorable mention. He took exception to my Slime-Ball Lieberman post. Mark suggests that we should be satisfied with the Health Care Bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve as a first step to a future end result instead of killing the bill. He cites two arguments he agrees with; one from Ezra Klein (which leads you to another Ezra Klein post, here) and one from Jonathan Bernstein. He suggests that the real problem is the 60-vote requirement to invoke cloture, to end the argument and stop the Republicans from filibustering the bill into Lala Land. He suggests that we go back to a simple majority prior to 1919, 51 votes, to pass legislation.

I've had more than a week to think about this, and to get over the H1N1 flu virus that kicked my butt, and Mark is right in that we shouldn't kill the bill and let's hope, and pray, that the Senate and House can come to some agreement on the bill, without too much water added, to get it through. There is so much misinformation about what's in the bill that only one fact coming out makes me think it's the best we can do and we should support it. That fact is that the insurance industry is against it. They, the insurance lobby and companies, are so much against it that they're taking their money and influence to the state level, as this article explains. If they are willing to do that, then I'm for the bill. There is great danger that if you live in a “Republican State,” you won't benefit from the Health Care Bill. You're going to have to get health care as best you can and if it breaks your back or bank account, then that's tough.

Another fact is that the source of most of the “Kill Bill” misinformation is the Republicans. Even the liberal activists who want to kill the bill are being misinformed by Republicans and Republican supporters. Liberal activists want the “Public Option” to once and for all give the scamming Insurance Companies a bloody nose with in-your-face competition. So do I. I want that so bad that I'm fed up with insurance scams and Republican scams. But, with a political party so willing to distort the facts and, literally, scam you, how will going back to a simple majority solve the problem? It could happen in the future, maybe in 2010, that a simple majority of Republicans could easily try to reverse any progress made in helping the people of this country. And, I say “helping the people” intentionally, because it is clear that the Republican Party does not want to and will not do that. I'm inclined to think that a super-majority, 3/5ths, is a good thing as long as the Republican Party has got its head up its ass. It means that if they get a majority of over 50 senators, they still won't have enough votes to reverse good progressive legislation or pass some other Liassez-faire crap we will have to live with. They will need 60 votes just like the Democrats do.

What really bothers me is how easily people, including the media, suck up the Republican propaganda and how easily people forget what the Republicans have always stood for. It's a difference in philosophy and for the past 40 or 50 years the so-called conservative philosophy has been sold to us to the point where we think it's un-American to think any other way. The truth is entirely different.

In every case for the past 50 years when Republicans controlled legislature pro-business bills are passed while social bills are watered down or not passed at all. It is okay with Republicans that credit card companies charge usury interest rates and scam you with hidden fees and hidden clauses because that's what we've been told is “free enterprise” and “freedom” in America. It is okay with Republicans that insurance companies cancel policies when you become too expensive to treat. It is okay with Republicans to bust unions that try to get a decent living for its members or a decent health care policy for its members, union busting similar to Indiana's Gibson County's latest shenanigans here .

You name it. If it's pro-business and anti-social, Republicans are for it and, as a general rule, Democrats are more pro-social. Want to privatize a government program? Republicans are for it even when it's more expensive than the government alternative. They privatized the higher education school loan program and millions of students went into debt while the SLM Corp (Sallie Mae) CEO went home with $200 million in bonuses and stock options. They privatized the U.S. Military ancillary services, such as mess-hall functions, to Halliburton and it costs billions more to feed the troops than if the troops did it themselves.

Contrary to what we've been told, and sold, all these years mostly by Republicans and their supporters, Capitalism is not the end-all to our problems. Capitalism is a ruthless endeavor in which cannibalistic companies eat smaller ones in cycles of greed to grab more market share. It is a cycle of creative-destructive processes. It creates welfare more than it provides opportunities. Free enterprise does not mean that a company should be allowed to do whatever it wants at the expense of society. Companies that get “to big to fail” should not be allowed to exist. Usury should not be allowed simply because a company can do it. But, insurance companies will, in the end, figure out a way around limitations in a watered-down health care bill. You can count on it. Insurance CEOs take their bonus whether the company succeeds of fails or whether you have good health care insurance or not and you, the taxpayer, will pay his bonus as long as you vote Republicans in office.

The 2000 – 2008 period was, hopefully, the peak of Republican power, policies and philosophy that we'll have to experience for a long while, if ever again. It was the worst period in recent history in which “zero” jobs were created, in which a working stiff who invested $10,000 in 2000 got $9,000 in 2008 (a 10% loss), and in which you may have sent your son, daughter, husband or wife, or father or mother to die in war. Follow the links. It was the decade of the Republicans and that was the problem. That's the point we need to recognize: the difference in philosophy. We are badly mistaken if we think we can choose the Republican philosophy and ignore society's needs.

It is the Republican philosophy that's watering down the health care bill. Until the Republican Party, and blue-dog Democrats for that matter, gets a good dose of common sense, these people need to be voted out of their jobs. It is that same philosophy that's keeping unemployment high, food stamps as primary source of food, homeless shelters in high demand and a growing poverty rate that will eventually kill the country.

The latest news is that the Senate-House negotiations over the final health care bill will simply ignore Republicans in both houses. That's okay with me. I've been writing congress for months to do that.

So, thanks, Mark, for challenging the Lieberman sliming.