Monthly Archives: March 2012

Gas and Presidents

Gas prices are high. I don’t like it and I’m sure that you don’t like it. But if people are going to choose our President on the basis of the cost of a gallon of gas then I am very worried about America. In fact I do not believe that Americans are this superficial and self-absorbed. It is the news media that is keeping this issue front and center. They constantly underestimate the American people. They could report this whole issue in another way. They could offer facts about why the price is what it is. They could cover how much of the price can be attributed to taxes on gas. They could survey what gas costs people in other nations. They, however, enjoy treating this issue, an issue Newt Gingrich has made up, as a serious campaign driver. Would anyone elect Newt Gingrich just to get gas down to $2.50 a gallon? I sincerely hope not. I sincerely wish with all my heart that people would not elect Newt Gingrich for any reason whatsoever.
If the media is trying to point out what a ridiculous election item the price of gas is, then, by spending so much time on it, they seem to be accomplishing exactly the opposite. We have a long list of more serious variety of topics to obsess about and we are not making much headway with those. Although the price of a gallon of gas has a large impact on business and costs, we know fossil fuels will continue to get more expensive, not less. Please don’t pick our next President because of the price of a gallon of gas.
Since it is still paranoia week I do get to suggest that since Republicans have so many oil companies in their pockets perhaps they have talked their pals into keeping the price per barrel high enough to produce corresponding increases in the price at the pump. Maybe what we are seeing is a sort of reverse-lobbying with oil companies helping themselves by helping their buds win the 2012 election. I certainly hope this is just paranoia.

Here is a comment sent by the Republican in my backyard (He is such a Republican):

People vote for the president mainly I believe based on “what he is going to do for me.”  Today’s economic conditions are horrendous and the price of oil impacts not just the cost of gasoline, but the costs of your food products, any consumer good and all manufacturing.  The higher cost of oil impacts businesses by raising their costs, not just to heat their building but in the cost of electricity to make anything.  These higher costs to manufacturing or any business prevents them from hiring more employees, makes US products less competitive to the rest of the world and keeps the United States in a recession.  In the past, higher oil prices have triggered recessions and high inflation in the US.  Whether you like or dislike Obama, his policies are not only raising oil prices in the US, but will contribute greatly to the sustained higher prices in the future.   Obama makes the point that US domestic oil production is at an eight year high and US oil drilling rig count is higher than any year except the early 80’s.  However oil production is higher because of Bush’s policies, not his and oil production has been relative static since 2003. (and I don’t even like the Washington post J)http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/oil-war-the-ad-battle-between-big-oil-and-dnc-part-2/2012/03/30/gIQArZ0ilS_blog.html
If Obama allowed the keystone pipeline to go through (which his own EPA has approved) it would create tens of thousands of jobs directly as well as increase tax revenues and revive the economy in many parts of the states.  If Obama allowed drilling in the gulf and exploration of minerals from other national land, it would create tens of thousands of jobs and increase tax revenue.Do we really want to follow the European countries where gas is $10-12 a gallon because of taxes?  Think about the destruction it would cause to the economy of the US?  Do you really want a 20% VAT tax on all your goods?  Can you imagine the number of people that are living on the edge of poverty in the US how it would impact them?  The cost of food would double as would most consumer good because of the VAT tax.  Europe has an unsustainable model.  That should be apparent from the collapse of Greece, the coming collapse of Spain, Portugal and Italy.The media is the handmaiden of this administration.  Under any other administration, the media would be screaming about the cost of gasoline.  There are numerous articles criticizing Bush during his presidency and re-election campaign.  Do we really want to talk about the ½ Billion – BILLION dollars that Obama gave to his cronies – Solyndra – which then turned around and donated 100’s of thousands of $ back to Obama?
http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-4-22-dems-gas-prices_x.htm
The price of oil (gas) is a commodity.  There is some manipulation by  OPEC but they are not as effective today because the global reserve of known oil has grown by 5x  (just is the OPEC countries) since the 1980’s when we were told there would be no more gas.  This doesn’t not take into account Further OPEC no longer has a strangle hold on supply since there are many other countries – USSR, Canada, etc. that are now large exporters of oil.  Obama’s policies on CAFÉ standards are not necessarily bad, but even if they were put into place tomorrow, they would have nearly no effect on the price of gasoline in the US.  We should be exploring and processing more oil, where it is profitable to do so.  Put American workers to work.  Allow American corporations to make money and share it with their stockholders – US Citizens.  Rather than complain oil companies make too much money, invest in them and share the profits.  Oil prices are up because there is increasing demand (mostly from China and other developing nations), uncertainty in the middle east (certainly not helped by Obama promoting instability in Egypt, Libya and failing to control Iran) and a need for more production, to offset demand (failing to approve the pipeline, failure to build more nuclear plants, failure to open Federal wilderness to exploration, failure to allow drilling in the gulf – yet, lend money to Brazilian Oil to drill in the gulf).  If you want to be paranoid, it seems more like Obama is doing everything he can to destroy the US economy.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves

Trayvon Martin – I Don’t Understand

I could not be living in America this week without forming some kind of personal view of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Florida by neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman. Trayvon Martin who lived in the Miami Gardens Area of Miami-Dade County was in Sanford staying with his father’s girlfriend, Brandy Green, who he had visited on other occasions. He had been to a store where he purchased Skittles and Iced Tea and he was walking back to his temporary home on a February Florida evening and apparently talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. He had probably never heard about George Zimmerman or the neighborhood watch group but he happened to be walking by the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood where George Zimmerman lived. This is a gated condo community with a diverse mix of homeowners and renters and Trayvon often played football with other kids from the community when he was visiting Sanford.
George Zimmerman, 28, is the man who shot Trayvon Martin, 17, and he is not in police custody. He is hiding out somewhere and everyone seems to be protecting him. If any one of us shot someone I believe we would be under arrest. I do not understand why Zimmerman is not in police custody. As a neighborhood watch captain he had been told that he was not to approach whoever he was watching. He had been told that he was not supposed to carry a gun. He was told that very night by the 911 operator that he did not need to keep following his “suspect”. George Zimmerman, who had wanted to be a policeman, clearly got carried away with his role and, despite a really incomprehensible “stand your ground law” overstepped his authority.  
Are we upset that Trayvon was not meek enough when confronted with someone who was following him? Zimmerman was not a policeman, he could have been a sexual predator for all Trayvon knew. Are we upset that Trayvon defended himself, that he aggressively defended himself? This seems to me a normal survival instinct that is perhaps educated out of us as we mature. We eventually learn that not overreacting, even when angry, might work out better in cases where we are presented with an authority figure or someone who believes they are an authority figure. I wish Trayvon had not been quite so aggressive in his response to George Zimmerman (if he actually was as aggressive as they say) because then he would be alive. But we do teach our children about stranger danger. It is great that people like George Zimmerman but this is not a popularity contest and it doesn’t really matter who is nicer, Trayvon or George.
Haven’t we lost enough promising young black men? In my community we hear about another young life extinguished, the life of someone who could have had a great future, or even a fine peaceful life. There are reasons this happens over and over again and although we have studied and talked about the problem we have not yet found the way to end it.
If I was presented with a George Zimmerman following me in his car on a February evening would I be nervous? Yes I would. Would I fight? Probably not. I am a female who has not been trained to fight. Do I admire someone who sticks up for him/herself? Yes I do. I do not think that Trayvon Martin did anything to warrant his death. I do believe that George Zimmerman, however remorseful, overstepped the boundaries of his very unofficial role in law enforcement. I cannot imagine what other evidence will be available at this late date. If George Zimmerman is not tried in a court of law then the justice system in Sanford, Florida needs a serious overhaul. If they don’t deal very honestly with this young man’s death it looks like there will be repercussions.

http://www.tampa.com/news/humaninterest/trayvon-martins-killing-shatters-safety-within-retreat-at-twin-lakes-in/1221799

Rollerball Syndrome

 On Monday I read the article by Paul Krugman in the New York Times about the group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council funded by the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, et al). Actually I have read about this group before, but this summary was so succinct and clear it galvanized my vague paranoia into something more solid. ALEC is a group which introduces bills into state legislatures and which has been successful in having their bills passed in their original forms. This is a Conservative group and has a strong connection to corporations. This group seems to be working to privatize everything: schools, hospitals, health care.
This makes sense. If America is not going to be a manufacturing nation; if only services are left as profitable business endeavors then the corporations want to be the ones who rake in any profits that will be generated in these areas. They do not seem loathe to taking over the American government in a much more public way than they have in the past in order to line their pockets. The American middle class will truly lose any role they currently have in the governing of America, which happens to be almost negligible right now.

The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people. This decision will invade every corner of our lives. Corporations are like people in some important ways. They have a survival instinct and they can adopt whatever strategies are necessary to stay alive. They can reinvent themselves in new forms. However, there are differences; they can spend large sums of money to buy influence which most of us cannot and they can put pressure on our government which relies on business for its economic health. Capitalism is the best way to ensure a healthy economy, but capitalism on steroids, capitalism which uses money and influence to tweak the law so it favors business even when the people in the society are not benefiting from the profits of the corporations, puts most of us in the position of being at war with corporations because they seem to be stealing our rights, our votes and our money.

The argument is that we all have the opportunity to be wealthy and influential. This is the “if you can’t beat them, join them” view I guess. So look around and find that one thing that will make you rich, and once you are rich you will also be able to tweak the law. But be careful because you will probably want to influence the laws in different ways than you would have when you were just an ordinary citizen.

March Madness???

It is difficult enough to get on an airplane these days because the new security procedures that are designed to protect us all also remind us of all the reasons we fear flying. These procedures are also time consuming and somewhat degrading and we are never sure when we will be singled out for an embarrassing pat down or body scan. Our anxiety levels, our frustration levels, and perhaps our anger levels are already elevated before we even get to the boarding area where our regular flying nerves set in. It is a wonder more people are not having meltdowns on planes. However March has been a real stand out month for aviation because we do not have passengers causing problems on flights, instead the crew members have been losing it.
On March 9th we had the bipolar flight attendant on a Chicago-bound American Airlines flight out of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. She started screaming, “We’re going to crash and ranting about 9/11.” This is all I would need to send me running for the exit doors but the passengers did not panic. This plane was on the ground and it taxied back to the airport where the flight attendant was removed from the flight. Passengers continued to Chicago on a later flight. This woman was not really coherent; there was not a single theme to her rant, she was just as concerned about not having enough ice on the plane as she was about the need to return to the gate. She complained about the American Airlines bankruptcy and about the labor unions and said she was not responsible for crashing the plane. I would have been worried that this was some new kind of terrorist attack but she was so obviously irrational that it would be hard to explain what technique the terrorists would be employing unless perhaps it involved stealing meds or brainwashing.
March 27th brings us another strange incident with a crew member on a Jet Blue flight from New York City to Las Vegas, only this time it is the pilot. The Captain, sent to the bathroom by the copilot who noticed that the Captain was having difficulties, stormed through the plane saying “They’re going to take us down”. A third row passenger said the captain said there could be a bomb on board the flight. This plane was already airborne so there was no way to get off of the plane but the Captain looked like he was planning to open the door. In an even more bizarre turn of events there happened to be an off-duty pilot on the plane and he and the copilot locked themselves in the cabin and flew the plane to an airport in Amarillo, Texas. I guess it is reassuring that these flyboys stuck to the job of getting their passengers safely on the ground somewhere, but they had to leave the problem of the incoherent captain to the flight crew and the passengers. Fortunately there were some very brave or some very anxious, frustrated and angry passengers who tackled the pilot just outside the cockpit and sat on him for twenty minutes until the plane landed.
OK, it is hard to imagine how these two events could be terrorist attacks and I am sure, unless there is some drug being administered to flight crews, that these are just two separate, scary events that just happened to occur in the same month, both on airplanes, and both involving crew members. Perhaps the flight crew is just as anxious, frustrated, and angry before a flight as the passengers are (not a comforting thought). Perhaps living with the threat of terrorist activity preys on the minds of the flight crews even more than on the minds of the rest of us (also not a comforting thought). These two events also make me wonder how many of the people we depend on in airplanes are on meds. Let’s hope that when March ends so will the lunacy on airplanes.

The Doomsday Seed Vault – Altruism or Corporate Plot?

I started an article about the Doomsday Seed Vault. I thought, how awful, the apocalypse must be near. I thought, how nice, people are looking ahead to after the catastrophic end of the planet earth as we know it. But apparently the seed vault issue does not appear straightforward and altruistic to everyone. I found a fine can of worms and a story that reads like science fiction, but might be true, when the internet introduced me to F. William Engdahl who wrote an article called Seeds of Destruction, the Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation.
Remember these words from that Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth: Paranoia strikes deep/into your life it will creep/it starts when you’re always afraid:  
Reading Mr. Engdahl’s article brought these words to mind. I would like to totally discount Engdahl’s conspiracy theories about the seed vault because conspiracy theory is what he does and I sort of think of Bill and Melinda Gates, who have helped to fund this project, as philanthropists, but I know how deeply flawed humans are and it is just possible that there is some truth in the points that Engdahl makes. Why is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partners in this project with The Rockefeller Foundation (which has a Population Control arm) and the US agribusiness giant DuPont, one of the world’s largest owners of patented genetically-modified (GMO) plant seeds and related agrichemicals, Syngenta, a Swiss-based GMO company, CGIAR, the global network created by the Rockefeller Foundation to promote its ideal of genetic purity through agricultural change?
Mr. Engdahl sees a number of motives for this particular group of individuals to form a Doomsday Seed Vault in a mountainside on an island off the coast of Norway in the Arctic and none of these motives are the least bit altruistic. They are all designed to take agriculture out of the hands of small farmers and make the world dependent on three or four large agribusiness groups for our food and other plant products like cotton. They do this by making hybrid seeds the only seeds available. There is an element of eugenics in this says Mr. Engdahl, similar to the genetic purity experiments of the Nazis.
Hybrid seeds cannot be collected and replanted in a subsequent season because they are infertile. Thus the farmer must buy new seed from agribusiness providers every season. This eventually forces the small farmer out of business and agribusiness fills the gaps. The small farmers are driven to the cities to be used as cheap labor by manufacturers. (They are all in this together apparently.) Agribusiness currently has its eye on Africa and what Mr. Engdahl calls “the New Green Revolution.”
Engdahl also suggests that genetically modified materials are being developed as biological weapons and he suggests that in a recent campaign supposedly designed to prevent tetanus in Mexican women, contraceptives were actually administered along with the vaccines. I wish I could doubt this but America has been guilty of the secret sterilization of at least two populations in our past, and to my once great chagrin, I find that Americans can hardly claim that we have always stuck to the high road. I am not, however, saying that Engdahl claims any connection between the American government and his paranoid or real concerns about the true purpose behind the Doomsday seed vault.
This is certainly better than many science fiction books I have read although I am not prepared to make a judgment about whether or not the facts of the matter prove Mr. Engdahl’s theories. After all there is often more than one way to interpret facts. However, I am saying, that knowing what I know, once I have heard that the Doomsday Seed Vault may be another corrupt and greedy plot, I will not be able to totally discount this without compelling evidence to the contrary. A less suspicious part of me still wants to believe these rich folks are just into preserving seeds for future generations. It is also possible that these wealthy people are looking ahead to feeding the ballooning population of the earth which will reach nine billion by 2050.

Suspense

What will the Supreme Court decide about The Affordable Health Care Act? This is the week that the court will deliberate, hear evidence, etc about this issue which has been at the center of debates for the past two years. Will they decide that there are no really serious constitutional problems with the health care mandate or will they declare it unconstitutional?
The mandate is only part of the Health Care Act but it is a very key part. Making sure people who were using expensive emergency room treatment because they had no health care provider will be covered by health insurance so their care will not be as huge a burden for taxpayers, was the raison d’etre for the entire plan. Will there be enough value left in the plan without the mandate?
How much does the Conservative agenda inform the Supreme Court? Here is the breakdown

Conservative        John Roberts              G. W. Bush Appt.           Chief Justice
Conservative        Antonin Scalia             Ronald Reagan
Cons/Swing          Anthony Kennedy        Ronald Reagan
Conservative        Clarence Thomas         George HW Bush  
Liberal                   Ruth Bader Ginsburg   Bill Clinton
Liberal                   Stephen Breyer             Bill Clinton
Conservative        Samuel Alito                  George W. Bush
Liberal                    Sonia Sotomayor           Barack Obama
Liberal                   Elena Kagan                    Barack Obama    

There are 6 male justices and 3 female justices; there are 6 Roman Catholics justices and 3 Jewish justices. In light of these demographics it will be interesting to see the results. The Court is not dominated by Conservatives in the way it is dominated by Roman Catholics but as “court followers” try to decide which way each justice will decide there are certain justices who seem to be unpredictable and none are perfectly predictable. Justice Kagan has recused herself from most decisions since she was confirmed because her questioners were worried that she had dealt with some of these cases outside of the Supreme Court or some such conflict-of-interest concern. It sounds like we will remain in suspense until the opinions are handed down in June.
I have butterflies in my stomach; how crazy is that? Whatever decision is made life will go on. Will the Obama presidency go on? I don’t know and it does mean a lot to me to reelect Obama so he can save us from the extreme revisions the GOP wishes to impose on America. I don’t think most of us will fare at all well if the Supreme Court decides against the mandate and therefore against Obama and the dominoes start to fall like those well-planned displays, until America belongs to the wealthy and the rest of us are left to shift for ourselves in the muck at the bottom of the empty pond.

Like Crazy – Movie

In the movie Like Crazy Jacob and Anna meet at an LA university and fall sweetly in love. They are very happy together and cannot get enough of each other. We like them together. We accept them as a couple. Anna is from England and is in America on a student visa. Her visa will time out at the end of the academic year, but Anna wants to stay in America. Since she has to go home in September for her sister’s wedding she does decide to overstay her visa and she assures Jacob that it will be fine. The sweetness continues all summer and Jacob sends her home to England with a bracelet that bears the words “like crazy”. Promises have been made between these two.
But this is a post 9/11 world and overstaying a student visa is not anything modern nations take lightly. Even though Anna’s family has some pull, she cannot leave Britain. Jacob has bought a loft in LA where he designs and builds furniture (especially great chairs). He has an off-again, on-again relationship with his assistant Samantha (Sam), but he agrees to uproot himself and he moves to England to live with Anna. However, he needs his work and the move to England doesn’t work.
Jacob and Anna are torn. They are working very hard to hang on to their love in spite of distances and distractions.
I can’t reveal anymore without making readers who haven’t seen the movie angry. What happens to Jacob and Anna? Do we get the happy ending? Will I remember the movie plot in a few months? This one I can’t predict. I will have to wait to see if it stays with me. Sometimes I fall in love with a movie only after I see it again or after a period of time has elapsed. I liked the movie. It was a fine way to while away a Sunday afternoon. Will it be memorable? You will have to form your own judgment about this one.
Jacob is played by Anton Yelchin
Anna is played by Felicity Jones
Sam is played by Jennifer Lawrence
Simon (who you will meet if you watch the movie) is played by Charlie Bewley

Hugo – Movie

Hugo, a movie written by Brian Selznick and John Logan and directed by Martin Scorsese makes use of that newish form that uses real actors but smoothes them out so they look like cartoon figures (think Polar Express). Perhaps in a movie with a very elegant automaton which is being lovingly restored so that it will do the task it was designed for, having people who are not quite real is the right way to go. For me the jury is still out on whether I like this film technique or not.
The automaton, which seems almost more real than the people, is given to Hugo by his father just prior to his death. His father found the figure in an attic museum. Hugo is sent to live with an alcoholic uncle who happens to have the job of winding the clocks in the train station in Paris. Hugo’s Uncle teaches Hugo how to wind the clocks and then disappears. Since there is a policeman at the train station who likes to collar orphans and send them off to the orphanage, Hugo learns to keep a low profile, until he meets Isabelle, a young lady looking for adventure and then stuff happens – fast!
Hugo finally finds the key he needs to make the automaton work. Where he finds the key is truly amazing.  He feels that the automaton will write him a message from his father and he is right. The message, after some suspenseful adventures that make Isabelle quite happy, leads Hugo to a happy life and he takes everyone along with him.
This is a children’s movie, but parents won’t mind sitting through it with their kids. I was attracted to the Magritte-ness of it.
Ben Kingsley plays Isabelle’s father, George Melies  (with two accents which I don’t know how to type)
Sacha Baron Cohen plays the Station Inspector
Asa Butterfield plays Hugo Cabret
Chloe Grace Moretz plays Isabelle
Ray Winstone plays Uncle Claude

How Will Democrats Save Medicare?

Paul Ryan, our very serious Republican extremist (who is looking a little less possessed and edgy these days) has designed a budget which includes all the usual GOP requirements – no tax increases (in fact it suggests only two tax brackets, 10% and 25%) and it cuts the corporate tax from 35% to 25%. It also includes unspecified changes to unspecified loopholes. Mr. Ryan would restore all the monies that Obama cut from the military and would put the military back in the active mode that is it currently expected to stand down from. He would change Medicare completely and give it to a private entity to manage. He would subsidize our payments to this insurance conglomerate (with our own money) and, if I remember correctly there would be an oversight group.
This plan is not new. It includes all the delights the Republicans have been promising us. Unfortunately this budget makes us feel like this is Paul Ryan’s government instead of the people’s government. Fortunately we are assured it should not pass in the Senate.
Of course, I don’t favor this budget and I am crossing my fingers that it absolutely will fail in the Senate. However, it does bring up the constant worry we all have about Medicare. Everyone tells us that Medicare cannot continue forever as it is. I often think that I would like to see a version of Medicare for all of us. Right now, with such high levels of unemployment, putting everyone in the health insurance business and everyone who supports the health insurance business out of work is probably not a good move. Obama’s Affordable Health Care Plan was not really designed to save Medicare; it was designed to insure the uninsured. Perhaps the savings we get from this plan will be enough to rescue Medicare, but we’re not feeling it and I think we need to hear many more specifics about this from the Democrats. They need to reassure us by sharing how the “Affordable” plan will save Medicare or they need to come up with their next installment of a plan that will save Medicare. If they don’t speak up people might think the Republicans are the only ones who have any idea what to do, even if their plan will include forcing women to rediscover primitive ways to take care of their business.  You know what they say about “a bird in the hand”.  Where are the Democrats? This might be a good time to speak up.

Young Adult – A Movie

Sometimes people who experience personal success in high school seem to expect that their lives will keep providing the same level of exultation that they experienced on the football field, or as a cheerleader, or prom queen or king. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t
Charlize Theron plays an ex-prom queen, Mavis Gray, in the movie Young Adult (directed by Jason Reitman). After the end of her first marriage, after a particularly bad drunken one-night-stand, Mavis, a writer of a young adult series which is about to be discontinued, decides to go back to her small home town in Minnesota to renew her relationship with her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). She knows Buddy is married and that his wife just gave birth because she receives an email copy of the birth announcement.
Ms. Mavis still retains the beauty that helped her win her way in high school and perhaps beyond, but she is so obviously unhappy and in such a self-destructive state that she is only at her best when she makes an effort. She decides that all she will have to do is appear in Buddy Slade’s life and he will drop his wife and his new daughter as if they were a life he wandered into by mistake.
She is so deluded and her nuttiness brings her to the attention of the high school geek who had the locker next to her in high school but who she never knew existed, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt). Matt, who Mavis meets in a bar, is another broken person who once had a crush on her in high school but who now deals with some physical disabilities left from a beating and is bitter and stuck. His sarcastic and brutal honesty feeds Mavis’s current blue mood. They self-destruct together and perhaps become unstuck.
This is a movie about hitting bottom, growing up, and the way it is often impossible to recapture the past. Charlize Theron makes Mavis Gray a memorable character.