Minimum Wage

Kevin Drum at Calpundit has an interesting formula for coming up with a more suitable minimum wage rate: 10% of what is currently the roughly $75 per hour paid to US Congress persons, which would then go up each and every time the Congress votes themselves a pay raise (which they do each year, regardless of how poorly they've behaved in their elected capacity).

Wired Take on National ID Card

Here's a link to a Wired.com article on how to institute a national ID card that may have far less intrusion value than most of those proposed so far. Alas, however, I do not see that this will solve the problem.

Safe but...

With all the talk of the orange-status Terror alert and placing air marshals on foreign flights coming into the US, and how we're checking more shoes.... how is it that in less than a week, two different bodies have been discovered in the wheel wells of planes coming into New York airports? If these planes were being checked so carefully, wouldn't the wheel wells - an unfortunate, relatively frequent, and usually fatal way people try to get into the US - be checked?

The body found on a JFK plane last night may have been there since Christmas Eve/Day, when it took off in Nigeria. A week - during what's been called the tightest screening process ever.

Now, I doubt any terrorist would choose this route to travel, because he or she would probably want to be alive to reach his/her destination to inflict the terror. But what it says about our security is frightening.

So, too, was the fact that a small plane was allowed to circle around a Manhattan landmark - containing a convicted murderer, btw - for a period of time before the pilot was intercepted (by a helicopter of heavily armed cops - were they going to shoot him at 20,000 feet?).

More frightening is that airplane cargo is still not being aggressively screened. So we can overwork these air marshalls all we like, make as many grandmas as we desire remove their shoes to be frisked, do facial and background scanning all we bloody well please, and yet what lies in the belly of the ship, beneath all those unsuspecting passengers, could yet harbor just about anything.

Now, I'm not a big believer in giving my life over to fear, especially a fear of terrorism. While I still have nightmares and occasionally tears over what occurred on 9-11, I recognize that in the US alone, we lose 12x the number of people to influenza each year than we lost at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in that Pennsylvania field. I've been to New York since the tragedy (it remains one of my favorite places in the world). I have little doubt that tonight's New Year's Eve celebrations will provoke no attack.

What I do fear, however, is the dumb stuff (shoe screening, refusing foreign journalists and scholars entrance into this country, and a wealth of other ignorant processes) we seem willing to do in the name of fear, while refusing to check things like plane cargo and the like. And I find myself suspicious/incredulous of our measures to force foreign airlines to place - and pay themselves - US air marshals onto flights when such a tiny percentage of US-only flights have no such air marshal.

I keep thinking, "What would a single air marshall have been able to do on any one of those three flights on 9-11?" The answer is we don't know.

US Rep Christopher Shaps (R-CT) took flak yesterday for suggesting that people heed the terror warnings and perhaps stay home from places like NY's Time Square tonight. Mayor Bloomberg in NY had a hissy fit - and I can understand his PoV, too. But Shays said something that may need to be said, that there can be no 100% assurance of safety and that if you are actually concerned, you should stay away. We seem to want to place ourselves in bubble wrap and pretend that everything is normal... but as long as conditions exist that are anything but normal... we either need to heed the warnings or insist that our government supply more than bubble wrap and yes, duct tape.

Me? I've got some cheap champagne, some good Vermont cheese and crackers, and plans here with my family and a few friends tonight. I wish everyone safety and sanity. I also hope that we as a country get far smarter in 2004, less afraid to look at the bigger picture in what's causing us to feel so unsafe.

About Time (Plame Investigation)

Word was out everywhere last evening that US Attorney General John Ashcroft had finally decided to recuse himself from the investigation into high-ranking White House leaks that led to the uncovering of "superspy" Valerie Plame, who is also the wife of former US Ambassador to Gabon, Joseph Wilson. Good for Mr. Ashcroft; it was the right thing to do.

I would tend, however, to agree with The New York Times that this should have happened some time ago, that there is much investigation yet to be done and that the very recusal itself doesn't mean true answers will be sought, and that we may never know the extent of the damage done because of the delay in months before Mr. Ashcroft chose this route.

We can't say we value those who risk their lives in "the war on terrorism" (this appears in quotations because the administration means very different things when it invokes this term which it does with seeming carefree abandon) in one breath, while allowing "high-ranking White House sources" in another to "out" operatives just because they don't like something the operative's husband said.


Greetings from the Other

Although I'm a bit less acerbic than our cranky editor, I wanted to chime in here with my list of New Year's Resolutions... not just for things I would like to change but that I would like to see the country embrace in 2004:

* Trust the mainstream media less and do our research more to understand what is going on; this country is involved in a tremendous amount of issues both here and abroad and we can no longer trust the media to try to keep us apprised in a fair and balanced way (oh dear, Fox will sue me)

* Better appreciate that issues are not always black and white

* See ourselves more as a responsible community and identify ourselves less by our divisions (GOP vs. Dem, black vs white vs Latino vs.., Christian vs. Jew vs. Muslim vs....)

* Think more, watch reality TV less

* Have a much better voter turnout in 2004; voting is a primary responsibility in a representative democracy

* Not just grin and bear the intolerable; whether the injustice is being visited upon ourselves or others

* Use our First Amendment privilege strongly and wisely

* For those who believe in a higher power, perceive Him, Her, or It as more compassionate than we are and that the best gifts tendered to us were our minds and our free will; such gifts should not be squandered

* Understand that a "recovery" of any type can only help so much if that recovery is not offered to all

* Listen more carefully to voices different from our own

* Treat each day as a fresh opportunity with which to learn and to grow

Remember: "I'm a uniter, not a divider."

George W. Bush spoke those words repeatedly during the presidential campaign of 2000 and yet, despite the fact that people (let's use the term loosely, shall we?) such as Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly insist all the "good" American people are behind the president, polls, discussion, and so much else indicates that this country has never been more sharply divided.

We're divided over war (and divided in our reactions to Afghanistan vs. Iraq), national security interests, Israelis vs. Palestinians, over national health care, over both Patriot Act I and II (with the government trying to make librarians out to be dissidents), over whether school vouchers should be implemented or whether Medicare should undergo a massive change, over tax cuts in the face of mounting deficit... the list goes on ad infinitum.

I'm reminded of Mr. Bush's oft-used quote this morning reading EJ Dionne's piece about the Republicans being wrong that Howard Dean (and no, we have not endorsed a particular candidate yet) and the Democrats are leaning so far to the left that they cannot hope to win in 2004 (308 days to the day we vote, people). I, like Dionne, think there is strong unity - not just limited to Democrats - among the base of people who feel that we're making some serious missteps in the War on Terrorism, on education, on health care, and on so much else.

Most people who identify themselves as strongly hanging to the left on most issues tell me they do not at all see Dean a leftist. As more centrist, I believe, in my own orientation (feeling that the US has to represent all people and not just those within a particular spectrum), I have to admit feeling that Mr. Dean leans a bit to the right of where I think. I base that not on campaign speeches but on living and working in the state he governed.

In Vermont, Dean was neither particularly pro-corporation or anti-corporation.

He opposed the passage of medical marijuana law (as someone who worked with cancer patients and hospice programs, I've seen marijuana produce some excellent results for some, if not all, who often had to argue ethically with themselves to try it for pain and nausea relief).

He helped push through the legality of civil unions while stopping far short of true equality for homo- and heterosexuals alike.

He helped institute a program that gave greater health care coverage to Vermonters (although not every Vermonter is guaranteed coverage, there are programs in place for those who earn particularly low incomes and full coverage for children in that boat) to the point where almost 94% of Vermonters have some form of health insurance.

He could be hard-headed and aggressive, yes. As usual, it depends on the side you were on relative to Dean whether you saw this as aggressive and bone-headed or impassioned and committed. We see this same phenomenon relative to George Bush.

Perhaps I live in a strange little shell here, but I don't go anywhere or participate in or overhear any converation between two or more people in which people don't seem quite divided already by the policies put in place (or arrogantly ignored) by the current administration. So I don't see Dean as whipping up and inflating the anger felt by so many; I see those already angry and scared and hopelessly disappointed in the current direction of our country responding to Dean because he shares some of their views.

Paul Krugman and the Boom

This morning's Paul Krugman column in The New York Times nails it perfectly in his discussion of "Our So-Called Boom". The economic recovery, he writes, is a rather exclusive party to which relatively few of us have been invited based upon data that has been telling us for some months that while luxury items are selling quite well (thank you, Bush tax cut!), more mortal sales are distinctly less robust.

"An aside: how weak is the labor market? The measured unemployment rate of 5.9 percent isn't that high by historical standards, but there's something funny about that number. An unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed, and many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed. Such measures as the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs continue to indicate the worst job market in 20 years."

Krugman's OpEd pieces are always sobering and almost always very well thought out.

What Did 2003 Mean for You?

It's that time of year when our thoughts inevitably turn to the year(s) past as we consider what has gone right and wrong.

Yet, while the TV pundits are busy patting the president on the back for having such a fine year, crediting him with turning around the economy, catching Saddam Hussein, winning the war in Iraq, and looking like a stud in that flight suit when he arrived on the deck of the Lincoln back in May, I'm just not at all certain that everyone is so much better off.

For example:

Perhaps you are one of the many people still looking for a job after 2 years. See, the government changed the way it reports unemployment statistics. Once you've been unemployed long enough, you simply aren't counted any longer because you're.. shall we say... inconvenient. Congress went on holiday break without extending unemployment benefits to many. Remember to give thanks for that!

Or maybe you're one of many watching the jobs you do have go overseas while the Republican Congress is working so very hard to give additional tax cuts to the very companies moving your jobs to India.

You might also be one of the record number of people still suffering from the grave economic losses from the collapse of the Enron/WorldCom bubble.

Or you may be one of the people in Connecticut struggling to get by while the Republican governor gets state contractors to pay for improvements to his expensive cottage in Litchfield County.

Or you could be among the record number of people in this country without health care... or close to the time when you'll depend on the Medicare system that Mr. Bush is very compassionately dismantling.

Or counted amidst the record number of people losing their homes to foreclosure.

Or the rising number of folks who live paycheck to paycheck - some studies suggest that MOST Americans now live with way, up sharply from just a few years ago.

Or perhaps you're a member of the military - or family/friend to someone who is - who finds that enrollment is extended indefinitely while Mr. Bush and Congress are cutting programs to support you and your family. Just being in Iraq or Afghanistan right now seems like danger enough without having to spend each waking moment worrying whether your kids are fed and educated and whether your spouse can get medical care or pay the mortgage.

Or maybe you depend on one of the many social services such as Meals on Wheels that are being cut back so that huge tax cuts can be directed to the most wealthy Americans.

Or you watch as your kids have their school weeks shortened by a day or more because more and more of the federal tax dollar goes to Halliburton and Bechtel rather than educating your children.

Or you lost someone you loved on 9-11-01 and noticed that funding for the investigation of the loss of the Columbia shuttle and its crew was more than 12x that of the money given to investigating what allowed 9-11-01 to occur. And the committee investigating has been stonewalled by the administration again and again.

Or your business has lost a mint because whenever poll and confidence numbers for the administration begin to slip, the terror alert warnings go up, impacting business, travel, and almost everything else.

And this is just the very tip of the frigid iceberg we're living in right now.

Just remember: 308 days to Election 2004.


What's Worse than Being Bill O'Reilly?

Well, besides being someone inclined to worship believe Bill O'Reilly, that is.

We've decided there is actually one entity worse: trying to be Bill O'Reilly. Sadly, that's all MSNBC's Joe Scarbrough does. He tries to be just as disingenuous, just as twisted, just as blithely impervious to reality, and just as anger-provoking. Thankfully, he's got just a miniscule percentage of O'Liely's O'Reilly's ratings.

This seems to be MSNBC's success strategy: try to be Fox, which means not being a news channel. Keith Olbermann remains the only reason to ever turn on MSNBC.

Call the firing squad - he's carrying an almanac!

The Associated Press via the Chicago Sun-Times informs us that the FBI spent Christmas Eve warning police throughout the country to be on the lookout for anyone carrying an almanac.

But I suppose it should be no great surprise that this administration lives in great fear of anyone who might consult a reference book. I mean, we have a president who doesn't watch the news or read newspapers - who feels that his best intelligy (his word, not mine) comes from his advisers - the same people who don't listen to their own intelligy. The mind shudders.

Oh yeah... 309 days to Election 2004. Let's elect someone who knows how to read this time, shall we?

Your cranky editor

Ne acclametur times? This roughly translates to, "Are you afraid to be booed?"

We are not. Thinking people never are.

Welcome to the blog.

Your cranky editor.

Greetings from the So-Called Socialist Republic of Vermont

If you want to better understand our POV on the above issue, visit here.

If, however, you would like to better appreciate our views on Halliburton, Bechtel, the Carlyle Group, and a few select others, there's an ancient Latin quotation that seems unfortunately all too appropriate:

"Cui dubium potest esse quin opulentiam istam ex sanguine et miseriis civium pararis?"

Roughly translated, this means "Who could doubt that you have reaped the opulent wealth of yours from the blood and misery of the people?"

In any event, the blog is open, along with our main site. Enjoy but more importantly, think.

Your grouchy editor.