Thoughts from Sandy

I think any governor, like say Christie, who trumpets their belief in downsizing the federal government and complaining about the bloated overspending, should not be able to get federal help cleaning up. States’s rights? Go for it, Christie.

Secretly, Mitt’s creaming his pants, because think of all the jobs created by the frankenstorm! Oh, wait, all that uncertainty created by Obama means those construction and clean-up companies just can’t bring on employees.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 — 1 note

The United States now is busy shrinking its middle class. The homes of millions of people have been plunged underwater. Jobs have been offshored and unions have been weakened so that wages are lower, hours longer and job security a virtual oxymoron. What is it like to be 50 and suddenly out of work? What is it like to send out your 100th or 500th résumé? What is it like to spend your savings on long-term medical care so that you get reduced to poverty?

Not for a second did I think that Ann Romney got it. This has nothing to do with wealth. After all, the Kennedys were rich. So were the Roosevelts. Someone who appreciated the plight of the poor would not have trivialized it with campy stories from her let’s-pretend past. The challenge is not the isolated person who has fallen on hard times who Mitt and Ann have helped — I applaud that! — but the utterly impoverished, the erstwhile homeowner, the financially precarious old and those who have flunked out of the middle class. They too have stories about eating off an ironing board and stuffing themselves with pasta and tuna fish. Only it’s not about the past, but about the present and, worse, the future.

Richard Cohen, writing about the cluelessness of Anne Romney’s tale of “voluntary poverty” and its disconnect from real poverty and the hollowing out of the American middle class.

[…]our unemployment problem really isn’t of the math-and-ATMs or nobody-is-buying-stuff variety. It’s of the politicians-are-failing variety.

Ezra Klein, Washington Post, writing about two competing views of the unemployment rate, structural vs. demand.

Tension between idealists and pragmatists is inevitable in politics, but the struggle taking place within today’s Republican Party is extreme. The GOP believes in limited government that stays out of our business and lets us live our lives — but also wants to police every pregnancy in the land.

The party says it wants to cut wasteful federal spending — but also insists on showering the Pentagon with billions for weapons systems the generals don’t even want.

The party says it wants to balance the budget — but endorses a plan, authored by Ryan, that cuts taxes for the wealthy without specifying the offsetting budget cuts that would be required to keep deficits from ballooning out of control.

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post op-ed. He noted that government grows much faster under Republican presidents than under Democrats, further putting the lie to the GOP trumpeting itself as the party for small government.

This isn’t to excuse Obama for stretching the truth about Romney. But those who portrayed the president as a Muslim radical who pals around with terrorists aren’t in a good position to be complaining that Romney is being painted as a vulture capitalist. …
[…] A better strategy would be for Romney to get back in the time machine and eliminate the phrase “retired retroactively” from the record. While in the past, he might also pause long enough to take his dog Seamus off the car roof.

Dana Milbank, Washington Post, writing about Romney’s special time machine for retroactive retirement.


There’s little in Romney’s finances to back up the contention that the rich are insufficiently rewarded for the risks they take, and there is much in his history to support the idea and that safety nets have a role to play in empowering people — even wealthy people who don’t run the risk of economic ruin — to take on risk. But Romney’s policies seems to reflect the inverse of these lessons: They increase the rewards for taking risks that pay off handsomely while reducing the baseline level of security people need to take those risks. In that way, his platform seems likely to widen the economic gap between the rich and the poor, as it will be even harder for a working class father who can’t count on having health insurance for his family to leave his company and start a new business, but it will be even more profitable for a son of privilege who doesn’t face any severe risks to take a sweetheart deal to start a new business.
There is a sense in the United States that the rich play by different rules than the poor or the middle class — rules that make it easier for them to get even richer. Romney’s history shows he has been aggressive in taking advantage of those rules, which is fine. But his proposed policies would make it even easier for the rich to stay rich and even more difficult for the poor to scrape by, which is not fine. As Romney likes to say, the American people don’t resent success. But they do resent tax cuts for the rich at the cost of health care for the poor.


Lost in the Great Recession: Customer Service?

Thanks to the machinations of the Wall Street “geniuses” who played fast and loose with other people’s money, America’s economy continues to stagnate. And, as a result, customer service has taken even more of a plunge from its already pretty poor state.

I have witnessed it in multiple contexts:

  • At a Safeway grocery store, already with notoriously bad service, a cashier assigned to the end “express” lane has to stop serving the current customer and rush over to the adjacent self-serve lane to help customers deal with the problematic software in those lanes. Over the weekend, it took me an extra 5 minutes in the “express” lane, with a total of four items, to get checked out, because the cashier left my station four times to help the self-checkers.
  • Multiple taxicab companies that share a single dispatch call center, leading to a recent experience in which I tried four cab companies on a non-holiday Saturday afternoon to arrange for a cab the next morning; I was put on hold with the same exact message and voice by 4 companies, and after giving each one 5 minutes of waiting, I gave up and found a cab company where a live human answered, promptly, and got my business.
  • Radiology centers that no longer do “wet reads” of their imaging, including mammograms. A friend who was a nuke tech years ago said that in the old days, radiologists read images while the patient waited. These days, apparently the reads are farmed out to some radiologist off site, who reads them overnight. Thanks to this customer UN-friendly policy, every time I go in for a screening mammogram, I get called back for a diagnostic scan, entailing additional work time and expense—not to mention worry—for me.

The underlying thread is that businesses small, medium, and large have pared their staffing levels to the bone, at considerable inconvenience to customers/patients. Not only do we get treated as if our time has no value, but more and more jobs are lost, meaning fewer and fewer consumers to patronize the businesses. It’s a vicious cycle that will be increasingly hard to escape from. The zeal for maximizing profit at the expense of everything else is a sorry legacy of the worship of free markets.

Monday, May 21, 2012

When listening to the debate about American health care, I find that many of the most fervent critics of government involvement argue almost entirely from abstract theoretical propositions about free markets. One can and should reason from principles. But one must also reason from reality, from facts on the ground. And the fact is that about 20 foreign countries provide health care for their citizens in some way or other. All of them—including free-market havens like Switzerland and Taiwan—have found that they need to use an insurance or government-sponsored model. All of them provide universal health care at much, much lower costs than we do and with better results.

Fareed Zakaria, writing in the March 26 issue of TIME. 

You really should read the entire article, because it provides a lot of data on just how overpriced and inefficient the U.S. model of health care is.

It also details how GOP political posturing has led Republicans to reject a health care model that the conservative Heritage Foundation championed just a few short years ago.

(Source: TIME)

Cartoon by Matt Bors: Government should be small and unobtrusive so women don’t notice it in their uteruses.

Cartoon by Matt Bors: Government should be small and unobtrusive so women don’t notice it in their uteruses.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II practically ran to the courthouse on March 23, 2010, the day the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, to argue on behalf of the commonwealth that it was an illegal abuse of power for the federal government to require citizens to purchase health insurance they didn’t want.

Less than two years later, the commonwealth has enacted a statute requiring women who want an abortion to purchase an ultrasound procedure they don’t want and their doctors don’t believe is necessary. Am I missing something?

George Chuzi, McLean, in a letter to the editor in the February 4 Washington Post.

Virginia’s middle finger to taxpayers

Ah, the good old days, when Democrats ran the statehouse: Those of us with moderate incomes (in fact, all of us, I seem to remember) could file our state tax form by phone, and then by e-file, for FREE.

Now the free-market worshippers have made arrangements with e-file vendors to offer free state e-file but only if you fall into a few subsets. Oh, I could qualify based on AGI, but I’m older than 52. Yes, not only do you have to make under $55k, but you have to be younger than 52!


Ok, Bob McDonnell, you want to take away a benefit I used to have to pick up the phone and file, so here’s my response: MAIL me all the goddamn forms at the state’s expense. Screw you telling me it’s “better” for me to use my printer and printing ink to print out the forms to give you even more of my hard-earned, well-below median salary. Let’s not even get into not getting state employees ANY salary increase for 4 years, even after being promoted.

I cannot wait to vote your ass out of office.

Friday, January 20, 2012 — 20 notes

Target stores: I expect more but am I paying less?

There are a lot of things I like about Target: you can find nicely designed home goods, get 5% discounts using your Target card, and it’s close by.

But two things I HATE about Target, that I think are deceptive advertising practices, are:

  1. No unit pricing on grocery items. How can I compare a 7-ounce package of cold cut A to a 16-ounce package of cold cut B, if you don’t tell me either the price per pound or ounce? Every grocery store in my state, and I think in most states, requires shelf price tags to show the unit cost; it’s a basic consumer protection. Why is Target’s grocery exempt? 
  2. Mystery “sale” prices in circulars. Putting the words On Sale in front of an item tells me nothing. What was the non-sale price? If you mark down a $200 item to $195, I want to know.

Target, I expect more. But I’d also like to know if I really AM paying less.

Sunday, January 1, 2012 — 1 note

More proof that Congress doesn’t represent you and me

Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House has risen two and a half times, according to financial analysis undertaken by the Washington Post. Over the same time period, the wealth of the American family has decreased slightly.

And yet many folks, like those in the Tea Party, somehow continue to labor under the illusion that Congress represents the interests of the people. That‘s true only in the sense that corporations are now people, thanks to the Supreme Court.

This is why politicians can fail to grasp that Social Security and unemployment benefits barely help folks get by. Just because they made out sucking at the public teat, it doesn’t mean that those collecting benefits are somehow lazy cheats.

It is impossible to have a representative democracy when elected officials simply don‘t represent the reality of the vast, vast majority of their constituents.

Monday, December 26, 2011 — 4 notes

Barney Frank and small government

Given what Barney Frank had to say during last Sunday’s “Great American Debate” hosted by Christiane Amanpour, the country has lost one of the last remaining true political leaders, who actually seek to govern and not to act as lapdogs for corporate interests.

According to a report in the Falls Church News Press, this is what Frank had to say:

Yes, we have too much government. And yes, we have too little government. There is this mistaken view that says…we have a fight between the people’s money and the government’s money. It’s all the people’s money.

I understand the appeal of tax cuts, but in all my years of government, I have never seen a tax cut put out a fire. I have never seen a tax cut build a bridge or clean up toxic atmosphere.

The point is that there are some things where we are inevitably together. We are interlocked in the economy. We’re all subject to the same environment, we all have the same public safety needs. And there, I think, we sometimes have too little government.

Thursday, December 22, 2011 — 9 notes