Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Recovery.gov

This new website - Recovery.gov - is supposedly going to be the place where we, as citizens, can watch the government dole out all the stimulus money.

While I think this is a great idea - if they hold to it - all this talk about "transparency" reminds me of one quite large black hole in the U.S. government's budget - the CIA. The CIA's budget has been a "black budget" - meaning that we are not allowed to know how much money is going there or what the money is going for - for many, many years now. Far too long. This secrecy allows them (us?) to get away with sticking their (our?) fingers in everybody's business around the world.

Why do we still have over 800 military bases around the world? Is it really necessary to have all those bases in practically every single nation on earth? To what end? I suspect that responsibility for the military bases crosses more into the Pentagon's budget than the CIA's, but can you prove that? You don't know what the CIA is doing overseas. You don't know which governments they are meddling in at this very moment. What gives us the right to have a presence in every country? Gee, could all those bases perhaps foment a little bit of resentment?

Oh, yeah, here's Obama on the Recovery.gov website:


The Spirit of Generosity

Now this is a nice story. It's a real antidote to the excessive amounts of greed and selfishness which seems to pervade this country.
This guy, Leonard Abess, Jr., was mentioned in President Obama's (I just love saying that) speech to Congress last night, because he gave away $60 million of his own money to his employees recently. I had not heard a word about this until last night. It just confirms that our media prefers to dwell on the BAD news.
You just KNOW this guy is a Democrat, or at least NOT a Republican, because there is simply NO WAY a Republican would EVER conceive of doing this. If I'm wrong, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Miami banker who gave away $60 million gets front-row seat to Obama speech

From left, Joyce Andrews, Peggy Foulkes, Jack LaMont, Leonard Abess Jr., Virgina Dunn, Linda Naueton, Carleatha Barbarby and Shirley Taylor surround their boss Leonard Abess Jr, CEO of City National Bank. Abess gave $60 million to employees after selling the bank to a Spanish bank.
CHARLES TRAINOR JR / MIAMI HERALD
Related Content
Obama tells nation: 'We are not quitters'
Great boss!
Generous banker sets example
Miami banker gives $60 million of his own to employees
BY MARTHA BRANNIGAN AND LESLEY CLARK

WASHINGTON -- Leonard Abess Jr., the Miami banker who quietly gave $60 million of his own money to his loyal staff of 399 current and 72 former workers, plans this evening to be watching President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress from first lady Michelle Obama's box.

Geneva Lawson, a 51-year employee at City National Bank of Florida, also will join the first lady for the speech. Lawson, the safe-deposit custodian at the Miami Beach branch, is among the 471 staffers and former staffers who were stunned by their boss' largess.

In a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon, Abess told The Miami Herald he feels humbled and ''more than a little nervous'' about all the attention he is getting.

Abess said he and Lawson are scheduled to go to the White House at 7 p.m. ''They said there will be a reception, and a bus will take us over'' [for Obama's speech to the joint session of Congress.]

Abess, 60, gave the hefty bonus last November after selling a majority stake in City National Bancshares and made no effort to attract public attention to his generosity. His story became public this month after he mentioned it offhandedly in an interview with The Miami Herald.

''Those people who joined me and stayed with me at the bank with no promise of equity -- I always thought some day I'm going to surprise them,'' he said. ``I sure as heck don't need [the money].''

Abess' story -- coming at a time when bankers are under widespread criticism for greed and recklessness -- was picked up or followed by numerous media outlets around the world, including in Brazil, Great Britain, Poland, Italy, Mexico, France and Hong Kong.

In exchange for an 83 percent stake in the business, the Spanish bank Caja Madrid paid $927 million in November. Abess retained a minority share and is still the chief executive officer at City National.
The original story is here. Way to go, Leo!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

CA lawmaker proposes legalizing pot

Long, long, long overdue. C'mon, you Californians, get with the program and get behind this guy! It will probably take forEVER for the U.S. Congress to move on this. Let's hear it for state's rights!

Calif. lawmaker proposes legalizing marijuana

A California legislator today proposed making the state the first to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

The legislation, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a Democrat from San Francisco, would allow people 21 and older to grow, buy, sell and possess pot. It would be sold, regulated and taxed similar to alcohol. The state would collect $50 an ounce from sellers, and growers, too, would be taxed.

He estimates that the cash-strapped state could reap more than $1 billion a year.

"We could in fact have the political will to do something, and certainly in the meantime this is a public policy call and I think it's worth the discussion," Ammiano told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think the outcome would be very healthy for California and California's economy."

The bill (AB 390) would ban use near schools and prohibit growing cannabis in public view. Also illegal, as now: DWS — driving while stoned.

A Republican colleague isn't inhaling, according to The Sacramento Bee.

"I don't think we're particularly well served in our society to further accommodate or even encourage something that's going to be unproductive and damaging to the individual, especially not for the reason of generating revenue," said Assemblyman Roger Niello of Fair Oaks.

A spokeswoman for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency would not comment.

Since 1996, California doctors can prescribe so-called medical marijuana to their patients.

See original here.

http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2009/02/calif-lawmaker.html

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fly to Europe?!

Amazing how airfares have fallen. Last summer they were getting sky-high, thanks to $140 oil. Now, nothing seems to be stopping the fall of oil prices, even in the face of OPEC supply cuts. We were being manipulated back then by speculators, and it feels like we're being manipulated this time too. By who?

I have to wonder what cut the Bush's are getting out of this. How close were Stanford and the Bush family?


This is not a paid advertisement. But....maybe it oughta be.


Continental Airlines
Monday, February 23, 2009

Sale fares to Europe starting at $137 each way
Travel to Europe for a fraction of the price
Treat yourself to a new adventure with a trip to Europe. With our sale fares starting at $137 each way, travel to Europe is as affordable as travel to California.*

Lock in our best fares of the season to Europe.
Pretty amazing fares. Some lower than I've ever seen them, but I'm not too tempted to jet off when things are so..."unsettled." We're spending a few bucks at home, but on real goods, and not on luxuriant vacations.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Today's Word: quondum

Ah, language. At least I have to say that it's nice now to have a President again that you can actually LISTEN to without CRINGING!

Word of the Day
quondam
\KWAHN-dum\ Audio Pronunciation
adj

Meaning
: former, sometime
Example Sentence
A quondam rodeo champ, circuit preacher, and peanut farmer, Baxter has settled into his new life as a stand-up comedian.
Did you know?
Looking for an unusual and creative way to say "former"? "Quondam" (which came to English in the 16th century from Latin quondam, meaning “at one time” or "formerly") certainly fits the bill. Or maybe you'd prefer one of its synonyms: "whilom," "ci-devant" or "preterit." Or you could really go crazy with "umquhile," a word that is extremely rare even in its more natural Scots English setting. "Quondam" itself isn't exactly ubiquitous, but it's used more than any of the other words above. If you're looking for something a bit more pedestrian, you might try yet another synonym: "erstwhile." Despite its wonderfully archaic flavor, "erstwhile" is a highly favored alternative.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mark Morford - Smoke This Recession

We could create an instant, huge market. Overnight. Tax dollars by the billions. Happy tax dollars. Will this nation pull its head from its bankrupt, hypocritical ass?


Smoke This Recession

It's simple: First we tax the booze. Then we legalize the pot. Done.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It is a time of strange bedfellows and bizarre contortions and extraordinary responses to extreme situations, all overslathered with gobs of panic and dread and oh my God, I might have to sell the Range Rover.

In other words, it is a time -- like you don't already know -- of plentiful alarmist rhetoric, resulting in weird outbursts of ingenuity and wanton ethics-loosening, all in a desperate effort to suck up some much-needed cash.

Translation: Money's tight, baby. City's in trouble. State's deep in the hole. Nation's broke.

Solution? Upend the system. Think differently. Get creative. Demolish Ye Olde Ways. And maybe get a really nice buzz on while you're at it.

Where to begin? How can the city/state refill their empty coffers and further gouge the populace to make ends meet? Increased bridge tolls? A new per-mile driving tax? Heavier parking fines? State parks abandoned and left to seed? Child's play, darling.

You want to raise funds in an instant? You want a sure-fire, double-barreled source of nearly limitless funds from a wary, burned-out citizenry? That's easy. Go after its biggest vices, its most beloved balms.

Up first: booze. Already local governments are quietly proposing jacking up the alcohol tax and loosening sales restrictions because, well, why the hell not? Aren't you, right this very moment, as you prepare your taxes and weep over your gutted portfolio and stare down one very bleak 2009, more in need of a drink or three than at any time in recent history except for the entirety of the last eight miserable, Bush-stabbed years? Well, there you go. Tax increases on cocktails, here they come.

But it's not just governments. Check out the happily shameless TV networks who, for the first time in a whocares number of years, are allowing ads for alcohol and K-Y lube during prime-time programming. Oh the outrage! Oh the debauchery! Who, pray who, will protect the children? Oh wait, the children are out buying daddy some more beer and applying for a job at Starbucks to help pay rent. Never mind.

New taxes on the other Great American vices: porn, gambling, prescription meds, pro sports, obesity, Miley Cyrus? Watch for it.

Now, let's get serious. Because there are, of course, bigger fish to fry in the sea of potentially lucrative, all-American inebriates. There is a far more potent, obvious solution to the state's budget woes, a huge, untapped revenue source, and now might be the perfect time to, you know, light it up.

Really now, could there be a better time to decriminalize/fully legalize pot? Or, more fully, to decriminalize pot, and then spread respectable pot shops and vending machines and dispensaries far and wide, instill quality control and decent oversight and then tax the living hell out of the glorious, stress-reducing goodness, as we stop wasting billions fighting its grand ubiquity and instead sink into profitable pools of warm, hazy progress? Don't you already know the answer?

It's difficult to imagine that some intrepid legislator hasn't already walked into Arnie "Pot is not a drug" Schwarzenegger's office and said, "Governator, now is the time. Light it up. Inhale the new reality. Pot is, by a huge margin, the single largest cash crop in the state unless you count porn stars and celebrity rehab. It rakes in upwards of $14 billion a year -- maybe a lot more than that -- and that's just from five clever hippies and a couple intrepid grandmas in Ukiah. Imagine what we could do if we went all-in."

Are the discussions ongoing? Are they passing the bong of possibility around the state Senate chambers? You're damn right they are. What's holding them back? Probably the usual: the negative PR, looking "soft" on crime, encouraging permissiveness, pressure from prison lobbies, and so on. Don't worry, Sacramento. Everyone's already plenty drunk/high on prescription meds trying to alleviate fears of losing their job to care about that nonsense right now. Get to it.

There won't be much pushback from D.C. President Obama's already stated that his upcoming appointee to head the DEA is going to knock it the hell off with the insidious raids of harmless medical pot shops in California, and wants to quit using federal resources to bash hippies and circumvent state laws.

Look. Is there really anyone left who doesn't already know the "War on Drugs" is a pathetic joke, an abject failure and a taxpayer nightmare, and the only reason it survives at all is to fund the CIA and fellate the prison guard unions and support a shameful prison system, and to let politicians say they're "tough on crime" so they can to deflect all those uninformed parents who relentlessly whine about pot in public schools just before dashing off a wine-tasting party to snort a nice line of Bolivian coke?

Anyone left, furthermore, who doesn't know that pot is far safer than booze, less addictive, nonviolent, more transportable, easier to light, and generally won't interfere with your ability to crawl across the carpet and lick cookie crumbs from your lover's thighs? And sure, while heavy, daily usage can make you slow and stupid and rather useless to the world, well, so can a six-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper and six hours of TV every day. Gateway drug? That's on Channel 2, right after "Oprah."

And another thing. Maybe it wouldn't be merely tax 'n' puff. Maybe California, already the pot-growing capital of the nation, could become something more. A hub. A world-class research center. Pot education, study, medicine, import/export, the works. We could ship our crop to various nations in desperate need of chilling the hell out, like Israel. Palestine. Pakistan. Russia. The N-Judah on a Friday afternoon. We could become the largest research and manufacturing center in the world. How proud we would be. You know, sort of.

Let's phrase this grand scenario in another way: Why the hell not try it? What have we got to lose? What, we could go more broke? We could get more desperate and anxious? Fact is, economic nightmares need not breed only miserable stories of lost homes and lost jobs and shuttered businesses. They can also spawn creative solutions, innovative thinking, widespread munchies. Now is the time.

Let's not get carried away. Pot's only one little inebriate, one mild and -- let's just admit it -- relatively boring feel-good plant. California is $40 billion in debt and we're running low on water and we can't give away those hideous tract developments out in Stockton. Milking the pot cow for all she's worth might net us, at best, a few billion a year. To get out of this massive hole, we'd have to legalize Ecstasy too. (Someday, honey, someday).

But it's something. It's radical new thinking that's not the slightest bit radical, or new, and in fact the notion is now even more obvious than it's been for the past 30 years. What are we waiting for? A match?

The original is here. Gimme, gimme, gimme.

iPhone Ocarina

I am soooooo tired of politics, I've been in relative hibernation lately. It seems like, no matter who gets in there, they all just .... oh, never mind.

I think I need to get an iPhone. I tried to last summer, but there no discount available thru my company, as there was with every other service, so I passed. The way the AppStore is developing, it will be a much more mature product by the time my current contract is up.

Turning your iPhone into a musical instrument? Wow....




And here is a column by David Pogue, a Tech writer for the New York Times, about this. Wow.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Selected Bill Maher quotes

I got one of those "Page-a-Day" calendars from a friend for Christmas.

This one is called "Real Time with Bill Maher," which is, naturally, one of my favorite shows on HBO, and Maher has long been one of my favorite comedians. His show is returning for another "season" on Feb. 20, on HBO. A link to that site is here.


And here are a few of the highlights from the January pages...

From Jan 2: "So what, if Iraq gets broken up? It's a made-up country anyway. There's only been an Iraq since 1932. It's seven years younger than Paul Newman."

Ok, since Paul Newman recently died, I now have to say that Iraq is six years younger than my father.

From Jan. 5: "New Rule - Tipping is for waiters, bathroom attendants and lap dancers only. What is it with coffee shops, delis, even dry cleaners all having little jars on the counter? Hmm, what's 15% of "blow me"? Waiters. Waiters get tips because they "wait" on you. If your job involves standing behind a counter cutting bagels in half, you're not waiting on me; I'm waiting on you."

From Jan 6:
"Big news, of course, on the diplomatic front: chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the U.N. today that Baghdad is cooperating, or to put it in terms that FOX News viewers can understand, "Hans Blix told the U.N. today that Baghdad is
NOT cooperating.""

From Jan 7:
"New Rule - Members of Congress have to stop referring to the other party as their "friend from the other side of the aisle." Please, you're a Republican from Mississippi; he's Barney Frank. You two aren't friends. You're a reality show on FOX."


From Jan 12:
"A female drill sergeant in the Air Force was removed from active duty because they found out...she was posing for
Playboy. And she wasn't just posing. They also once walked in on her with she was blowing Reveille."

From Jan 15:
"Poor Al Sharpton. He only got 345 votes total in the New Hampshire primary. Here's a tip, Al. You know, when you're driving around these small, white, conservative states, turn down the bass."

From Jan 16: "The president had another press conference this week, and he was really banging the war drum about Iran...He said the Iranians are sending weapons into Iraq. And he's sure it's reliable intelligence because this time he was in the room when they made it up."

From Jan 22:
"New Rule - Hillary Clinton will never be president as long as women keep acting crazy. Now, I know this is not fair. But, the truth is...you know how these guys think; women are ruled by their hormones. As opposed to what a president should be ruled by: the oil and gas lobby. Believe me, there are men out there who think a woman president might get PMS and do something completely rash, like start a war with the wrong country."


From Jan 24/25:
"The Bushes gave an interview...where they said their marriage is stronger than ever since they moved into the White House. Because they don't argue about little things, because like he used to leave the towels lying around. Now there's someone to pick them up. And that's the great thing about being President. You have someone to make up your room, and your foreign intelligence."


Some highlights from February later on.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Refresh your CPR Skills


Have you ever been trained in CPR? I'm certified, but, fortunately, or unfortunately, I have never had to use what I have learned.

Would be kinda cool to save someone's like, though.
Freshen up your skills here.

We Can't Handle The Truth

Dear RussBLib,

The subject line of this email isn't an admission of weakness. Rather, it is a cry of frustration. We have grown sick and tired of the Bush administration getting away with murder - figuratively, if not literally. And we are done watching Congress spin its wheels merely talking about it.

The latest outrage? Earlier this week, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called for the establishment of a "Truth Commission" to look into various unconstitutional actions by the Bush administration. As Leahy described the commission, "such a process could involve subpoena powers and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecutions for anything accept perjury in order to get to the full truth."

We don't want the "truth." We want a full criminal investigation led by the Department of Justice, with prosecutions where it is found that the laws of the United States have been violated. If you agree, click on the following link to send an E-mail to the Department of Justice:

http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2165/t/1027/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=26685

Why should we waste our time looking for "the truth" when the man who produced the legal memo setting the stage for torture under President Bush, John Yoo, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Bush -- on three separate occasions! -- authorized waterboarding, an interrogation technique universally recognized as torture? That is the truth. Now let's start the prosecution process.

Why should we waste our time looking for "the truth" when we have known for years that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program was conducted outside of the legal boundaries established by the FISA laws? That is the truth. Now let's start the prosecution process.

We know Bush administration officials defied congressional subpoenas. Attorney General Michael Mukasey may have even violated the law by directing the U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia to ignore a statute providing that he "shall" bring a contempt citation issued by Congress to a grand jury. We don't need to go through the charade of watching Karl Rove defy congressional subpoenas again.

We don't need the truth. We need the Justice Department to do its job and launch a criminal investigation. Please use the following link to ask Attorney General Eric Holder when he will start this process:

http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2165/t/1027/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=26685

Once you have sent your message, please forward this email widely to friends and family. In the alternative, you can use the "Tell-A-Friend" option on the AFC Web site that will appear after you have sent your message.

Thank you so much for taking action.

Steve Fox
Campaign Director
American Freedom Campaign Action Fund

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Happy Charles Darwin Day!


Darwin Day is a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.

On this website you can find all sorts of information about Charles Darwin and the Darwin Day Celebration. If you are hosting a Darwin Day event, you can post information about it on our events listing. You can also locate Darwin Day programs near you by searching our events section.

We have also provided resources for hosting Darwin Day events, including promotional support and a list of potential Darwin Day presenters.

Is there an event in your area? Find out here.

Mark Morford: Eat The Rich

Eat the rich
Politicians? Lawyers? Not anymore. Time to loathe the *real* American monsters
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Call it the backlash against the recoil against the collapse. Call it the completely natural response to the downward-spiraling times, though that seems a bit feeble and pansy-assed and not at all in alignment with the general attitude of raging seethingosity.

Call it, then, the death of all we once held dear, if what you held dear consisted of seven McMansions and three trophy wives and five revolving psychiatrists and four personal trainers and regular spa treatments for the Wheaten terriers, along with blatantly rubbing your aging genitalia against the stiff leather of your fleet of Porsche Cayenne Turbos after drunkenly nailing your mistress in your corner office at Goldman Sachs. Ahh yes,
that's more like it.

Whatever you call it, there's a bitter tang in the air, a nasty streak of anti-Everythingism, a collective bullet of disgust and frustration that's most violently aimed at the most precious American commodity of all: the rich, the overly entitled, the uberwealthy, the manicured bankers and CEOs and Wall Street cash jockeys we used to cherish like royalty but who now smell vaguely of death and foreclosure and Bernie Madoff.

What a strange phenomenon. From the public outcry against giant investment firms daring to hold fancy Christmas parties, to the image of those bloated Big Auto CEOs driving themselves to Congress in cute little hatchbacks, to Obama himself
decrying the obscenity that is the typical executive salary, it's like you can't swing a dead Gulfstream 450 these days without hitting a wall of anti-privilege outrage. Frugality might be the current national pastime, but it's also a mean sonofabitch.

Empathy, however, can be a difficult thing to muster. How many stories did I read in the NYT over the holidays about, say, those poor multimillionaire socialites who think nothing of strolling into the Hermes store and dropping five grand on a handful of pretty scarves to hand out as party favors, who then quietly asked the sales clerk for an unmarked shopping bag so as not to appear too out of place, too ugly an overspoiled diva amongst the hoi polloi?

Or what of those
shrill, heavily processed 20-something women with names like Laney and Chandler and Becca who all thought they'd hit the yuppie mother lode by dating young hotshot New York bankers, but now find their boyfriends are more interested in getting drunk and commiserating with their laid-off buddies than treating them to dinner and buying them new Jimmy Choos at Bergdorf's?

Or finally, what about just how difficult it really is to live the good life in NYC on
a paltry $500,000 per year, as Obama dared to suggest? Waves of pity are decidedly not rolling forth.

Then again, while some antipathy is understandable, it's often strangely misguided. Take the example of old Wells Fargo bank, recently forced by way of public outcry to cancel its annual Vegas junket, a moderately pricey parade of self-congratulatory silliness aimed at rewarding its top 1,000 employees with all-you-can-eat shrimp buffets and tickets to Danny Gans and free banana daiquiris at the swim-up bar at the Wynn.

Wells Fargo just sucked up $25 billion in federal bailout assistance. Cancel the frivolous corporate junkets? You're damned right they should.

But wait. Let us examine a bit more closely. It was reported that, in previous years, Wells employees heading to Vegas had been treated to fancy-pants "entertainment" from the likes of -- wait for it -- Cher and Jimmy Buffet and, um, Huey Lewis. There was horseback riding. There was wine tasting. There were little gifts left on their beds at night. Flowers. A nice card. Maybe some chocolates. Oh the gluttony!

"I was amazed with just how lavish it was," Debra Rickard, a former Wells Fargo mortgage employee, enthused. "We stayed in top hotels, the entertainment was just unbelievable, and there were awards -- you got plaques or trophies."

Let us hereby note how there is, of course, zero accounting for taste. But a Cher concert and some cheap Chardonnay and a shiny little "Associate Lender of the Month: Albuquerque Branch" plaque? Not exactly snorting cocaine off a caviar lid on the Italian Riviera with George Clooney, you know? Hating on mid-level Wells Fargo cube knaves who just want to enjoy their annual drunken hookup week in Vegas seems a bit, how do you say, out of scale with reality.

Here's the reality: The CEO of Wells Fargo is Richard Kovacevich.
According to Forbes, in 2007 our boy Dick raked in roughly $72 million, including bonuses and stock options and free happy endings at the corporate massage parlor in Bangkok (just guessing). In short, Kovacevich is, how do you say, f--king loaded.

Translation: If he so desired -- and of course he most likely doesn't -- Kovacevich could subsidize his company's entire Vegas junket, 1,000 people in a top hotel with all the shiny trimmings, from the spare change in his own pocket, from what he makes in about two days. Maybe three. Mmm, perspective. So bitter to choke on.

So then. Shall we hold our collective breath for CEOs like Kovacevich to begin giving back? Shall we imagine a time when the rules change and most overpaid zillionaire execs, even the best and most benevolent, begin behaving like they actually give a damn about balance and employee happiness and fiscal integrity? Better not.

Which brings us to the bad news: As
pointed out elsewhere, when it comes to overpaid CEOs and the boards of directors who fellate them, until the tax code changes, there will be no end to the obscene fact that the average CEO makes upwards of 275 times more than an hourly employee working for him. At least.

Sadly, the corporate cronies and tax attorneys involved in negotiating these vast sums are far smarter and more nimble than the politicians -- even the whip-smart Obama administration -- could ever be. So long as it's vaguely legal -- and even if it's not -- these kingpins will always, always find a loophole or 20 to keep them swimming in mountains of largely undeserved cash. It's just how the system is rigged.

But there is some good news. Despite the gilded CEOs, the overall culture of corporate entitlement and frivolous waste might be, much like the era of giant SUVs and blinged-out everything, fading to artifact. The tone is shifting, the public is vastly more wary, the shine is off the Lear jet. Well,
sort of.

In other words, it's now slightly possible that the American dream, while still front-loaded with a shiny new car and a vacation home in Hawaii and top-notch dental insurance, might become slightly less extreme, less disproportionate, less downright stupid, and might instead become a bit more humble, realistic, even (dare I say it) morally and socially compassionate. I didn't say it's likely. But it is nice to imagine.
The original is here.
Is the revolution starting? Check this out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Odd Couple

We saw this video recently on CBS Sunday Morning. I got lumpy. Thanks to Cary for sending it.

video

Sunday, February 8, 2009

C'mon. Get Happy.

Being happy, no matter what, is sometimes easier said than done. But it can be done. I think that humanity's natural state is one of happiness, unless and until we allow things and distractions to erode and cloud our happiness. Practicing Yoga can help calm the mind enough to allow happiness to bubble up.

You know that life is all in how you react to things. It's not really what happens to you, it's how you react to what happens to you. Psycho-babble, perhaps, yet it's true. It's a weird world.


C’mon, get happy: Experts say you can

First the good news: Overall, we’re a pretty happy society.

Now the bad: Some of us aren’t feeling the love.

A recent study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center finds 14 percent of Americans reporting they are “not too happy,” the highest percentage in the survey since 1972. Though the remainder of the respondents to the General Social Survey, to be released this month, said they were “very happy” (32 percent) or “pretty happy” (54 percent), the “not too happy” contingent caught the eyes of those who study happiness.

You don’t need to be in Mensa to figure out why a growing population considers itself to be down in the dumps. Everywhere you look there are more signs of trauma in the American economy: job losses, home foreclosures, bank failures.

“Those are salient, vivid changes. People are very sensitive to changes in their lives,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside and author of the book The How of Happiness. “It’s not surprising at all that our happiness would be affected.”

Tom Smith, director of the National Opinion Research Center, cautioned against making a correlation between the “not too happy” spike and the poor economy.

“It is not a direct correlation to the recession,” Smith said, adding that having more money doesn’t necessarily make for a happier person. (Being married, however, does: It’s the single biggest predictor of happiness.)

Be that as it may, it’s tempting to see the economic downturn as a reason for what may be a growing segment of less happy Americans.

“There’s an increase of discontent, uncertainty, anxiety and anger that’s a product of the recent changes in the economy,” said W. Doyle Gentry, a clinical psychologist and author of Happiness for Dummies.

But, he added, a rise in the number of people who describe themselves as “not very happy” (such as those in the survey) does not mean they are necessarily unhappy people.

“Part of what’s going on has to do with semantics,” Gentry said. “Happiness is a state of mind that is independent of other states of mind like anger, anxiety and so forth. People tend to think if I’m not happy, then I’m unhappy.”

That more people may be less happy today isn’t necessarily an indication that we are living in an unhappy society, Lyubomirsky said. Why? Because we adapt, she said.

“There’s a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation. It basically means that people adapt and get used to things,” she said. “Let’s say you suddenly have less spending power. You feel less wealthy because you have less money in the bank. That’s going to make you unhappy. What happens is that you get used to that. Our daily life is not determined by the size of our savings account. We’ll adapt to almost everything.”

We even have the power to make ourselves happy, said life coach Laura Berman Fortgang. Simple things such as getting more exercise and sunlight can result in shiny, happy people.

Lyubomirsky agreed, preferring (as happy people are wont to do) to look on the bright side of the survey — more than eight in 10 of us are at least “pretty happy.”

“On average, people are happy. Look how many people are still happy,” she said. “A lot of happiness is under our control.”

Happiness, she even suggested, is contagious. And she’s right.

A study released in the British Medical Journal in December concluded that happiness spreads readily through social networks of family members, friends and neighbors. The study found that knowing someone who is happy makes you 15.3 percent more likely to be happy yourself.

In other words: Smile and the whole world smiles with you. Or, as the Partridge family implored, “Come on, get happy.”

“Happiness is not something that finds you or falls out of the sky. You have to work at it. You have to work at it more now than when times are good,” Gentry said. “Put on a happy face. When people smile, it causes other people to smile. It’s a contagious thing.”

And a learned thing. We can get happy, Gentry said, if we put our minds to it.

“That’s where America distinguishes itself. We’re the most optimistic culture in the world. Americans remain largely upbeat,” he said. “Yes, it’s harder to be upbeat now. But people are still trying to put their best foot forward. And that’s how we’re going to get out of this. We’re going to ‘behave’ our way to a better time.”

greg.morago@chron.com


HAPPY GRUB

Feeling down? You can actually eat your way toward a happier place. Certain foods can make us feel better by boosting our energy or putting us in a better mood. These five foods might put a smile on your face.

• Cereal: Deficiencies in folic acid can make you feel depressed. Breakfast cereals contain folic acid, which boosts levels of serotonin, which regulates mood in your brain. Bring on the Cheerios!

• Walnuts: Foods high in fat can increase endorphins, which can make you happy. omega-3 fatty acids are found in walnuts. They’re also found in flaxseed and salmon.

• Beans and grains: Carbohydrate-rich foods contribute to higher levels of serotonin, which can lead to increased feelings of pleasure. Whole-grain bread, brown rice, potatoes and pasta are carbs that do the trick.

• Tofu: Protein-rich foods, including tofu, contain tyrosine, a mood-boosting amino acid. It also can be found in low-fat dairy products such as cottage cheese, in egg whites, and in lean meats and some fish.

• Eggs: Zinc helps regulate metabolism and promotes a more energetic body. Good thing eggs are a good source of zinc. So too are calf’s liver, raw cremino mushrooms and boiled spinach.


PAGING HAPPINESS

Happiness is ... a book on how to achieve happiness. These five titles explore the subject of happiness and how to get there.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World • by Eric Weiner: Part self-help guide, part personal-discovery memoir, the author, a foreign correspondent for NPR, takes readers on a global search of happines • s; not what happiness is but where it is.

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment • by Tal Ben-Shahar: Grounded in the positive-psychology movement, the author looks at happiness, self-esteem, resilience and goal-setting as part of a personal workbook toward happiness.

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill • by Matthieu Ricard: Drawing from Western philosophy, Buddhist thought and scientific research, the author explains how compassion toward others results in a greater state of happiness.

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment • by Martin Seligman: In need of an attitude adjustment? The author, a leader in the field of positive psychology, offers a practical map for cultivating happiness and building more and lasting positive emotions in your life.

O’s Big Book of Happiness by O, The Oprah Magazine: A collection of stories from the pages of O about chasing away the blues, fulfilling your dreams and putting on a happy face. Oh, and losing weight.

5 WAYS TO GET HAPPY RIGHT NOW

1. Make ’em laugh: Nothing’s better for the spirit than a good yuk. Tell a joke or play a joke. Get a gut buster going.

2. Color your world . . . YELLOW: Banana and daffodil hues are like instant sunshine. Yellow is a visual pick-me-up.

3. Hang time is good: Get with your girlfriends for a movie (bond over He’s Just Not That Into You). Homeboys, go see Fanboys together.

4. Get horizontal: Studies suggest that the more sex you have the happier you are. A healthy sex life is important to a successful marriage.

5. Start making scents: Good smells can trigger good moods. Try a new perfume. Buy some flowers for your desk. Wake up and smell the coffee.

THE SMILE FILE

Whether unhappiness is brought on by the economy, marital problems or just persistent blues, life coach Laura Berman Fortgang says there are ways to increase your happiness level. The author of What Now?: 90 Days to a New Life Direction offers five tips.

• Let the sun shine in: Lack of sunlight and vitamin D can cause the blues. Using brighter light in your home can help simulate spring and summer sunshine.

• Get the blood pumping: Exercise, join a gym, take a walk or anything else to get mobile and in motion. Staying active is beneficial to a positive outlook.

• Keep stress in check: If you’re facing unemployment or job instability, don’t take the stress out on your family. Have “venting time” and supportive friends to keep your challenges in check. Separate your work and home life to manage stress.

• Find meaning in small things: Appreciate what you have; focus on good relationships and activities you enjoy. Doing small kindnesses for others will make your own happiness rise.

• Take a mental inventory: At the end of the day, give yourself a pat on the back. It will help you focus on the positive things you did throughout the day.

Original story is here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Paul Krugman - On the Edge

Krugman says it better than I can. Duh. That's what they pay him for.

On the Edge

By: Paul Krugman
Published: February 5, 2009

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to economic recovery. Over the last two weeks, what should have been a deadly serious debate about how to save an economy in desperate straits turned, instead, into hackneyed political theater, with Republicans spouting all the old clichés about wasteful government spending and the wonders of tax cuts.

It’s as if the dismal economic failure of the last eight years never happened — yet Democrats have, incredibly, been on the defensive. Even if a major stimulus bill does pass the Senate, there’s a real risk that important parts of the original plan, especially aid to state and local governments, will have been emasculated.

Somehow, Washington has lost any sense of what’s at stake — of the reality that we may well be falling into an economic abyss, and that if we do, it will be very hard to get out again.

It’s hard to exaggerate how much economic trouble we’re in. The crisis began with housing, but the implosion of the Bush-era housing bubble has set economic dominoes falling not just in the United States, but around the world.

Consumers, their wealth decimated and their optimism shattered by collapsing home prices and a sliding stock market, have cut back their spending and sharply increased their saving — a good thing in the long run, but a huge blow to the economy right now. Developers of commercial real estate, watching rents fall and financing costs soar, are slashing their investment plans. Businesses are canceling plans to expand capacity, since they aren’t selling enough to use the capacity they have. And exports, which were one of the U.S. economy’s few areas of strength over the past couple of years, are now plunging as the financial crisis hits our trading partners.

Meanwhile, our main line of defense against recessions — the Federal Reserve’s usual ability to support the economy by cutting interest rates — has already been overrun. The Fed has cut the rates it controls basically to zero, yet the economy is still in free fall.

It’s no wonder, then, that most economic forecasts warn that in the absence of government action we’re headed for a deep, prolonged slump. Some private analysts predict double-digit unemployment. The Congressional Budget Office is slightly more sanguine, but its director, nonetheless, recently warned that “absent a change in fiscal policy ... the shortfall in the nation’s output relative to potential levels will be the largest — in duration and depth — since the Depression of the 1930s.”

Worst of all is the possibility that the economy will, as it did in the ’30s, end up stuck in a prolonged deflationary trap.

We’re already closer to outright deflation than at any point since the Great Depression. In particular, the private sector is experiencing widespread wage cuts for the first time since the 1930s, and there will be much more of that if the economy continues to weaken.

As the great American economist Irving Fisher pointed out almost 80 years ago, deflation, once started, tends to feed on itself. As dollar incomes fall in the face of a depressed economy, the burden of debt becomes harder to bear, while the expectation of further price declines discourages investment spending. These effects of deflation depress the economy further, which leads to more deflation, and so on.

And deflationary traps can go on for a long time. Japan experienced a “lost decade” of deflation and stagnation in the 1990s — and the only thing that let Japan escape from its trap was a global boom that boosted the nation’s exports. Who will rescue America from a similar trap now that the whole world is slumping at the same time?

Would the Obama economic plan, if enacted, ensure that America won’t have its own lost decade? Not necessarily: a number of economists, myself included, think the plan falls short and should be substantially bigger. But the Obama plan would certainly improve our odds. And that’s why the efforts of Republicans to make the plan smaller and less effective — to turn it into little more than another round of Bush-style tax cuts — are so destructive.

So what should Mr. Obama do? Count me among those who think that the president made a big mistake in his initial approach, that his attempts to transcend partisanship ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh. What matters now, however, is what he does next.

It’s time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive. Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk. The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

Original item is here.

It just blows me away that the Republican response to this crisis is to sing "TAX CUTS" in unison once again, either oblivious to the fact that huge tax cuts helped to get us into this mess in the first place, or because they are just locked into an ideological dry well. Have they no other ideas at all? How horrible to be in such a straightjacket.

Another 598K jobs lost in January

The accompanying story says that the unemployment rate shot up to 7.6% from 7.2%. This would be the highest since September 1992, which would be the last throes of the first Bush presidency. When are the people - the rubes, the Joe the Plumbers - going to get it through their thick skulls that Republicans are NOT good at ALL with money? And "the most job cuts since 1974" - hmmm, yet another Republican in office then too - either Nixon or Ford. This whole myth of Republicans being more frugal with the nations money is just pure bullshit and media spin.

I'm sure that Bush II is still obliviously "holding his head high." And the Republicans as a whole are still singing that same one-note opera: "tax cuts", "TAX CUTS!"

"TAX CUTS!!"

The recent "alternative" stimulus plan the Republicans put forward was 100% TAX CUTS! How fucking stupid can you get?!

598,000 jobs cut in January, most since 1974

WASHINGTON — The government says employers slashed payrolls by 598,000 in January, the most since the end of 1974, catapulting the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent.

The Labor Department’s report is grim proof the nation’s job climate is deteriorating at an alarming clip with no end in sight.

Job losses were far worse than the 525,000 economists expected. So was the rise in the unemployment rate, now at the highest since September 1992.


That's over one million jobs lost, JUST IN THE LAST TWO MONTHS. Original story is here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Institutionalized Scalping

Ticketmaster has been getting away with this shit for years now. I think it's time to bust up this monopoly called Ticketmaster. This is one reason we don't go to many large concerts anymore: the excessive fees they charge you just to buy a ticket. That, and the astronomical prices they're asking these days. Long gone are the days you could see a major act for under $20 a ticket. Long gone. Gimme a smaller venue with a local or regional band anytime.

And check out that pic below they put in the Chronicle. Is that Ticketmaster giving a red-hot fuck you to a bawling Bruce? Weird.

Springsteen, Ticketmaster at odds


TRENTON, N.J. — Bruce Springsteen said Wednesday that he is angry with Ticketmaster and believes its selling practices constitute a conflict of interest. (He visits Houston for a Toyota Center show on April 8, and tickets go on sale Saturday.)

When tickets for Springsteen's show at New Jersey's Meadowlands went on sale Monday, some fans got an error message on their computer screen that shut them out. The potential ticket-buyers then saw an ad for Ticketmaster subsidiary TicketsNow offering tickets for hundreds of dollars more than face value.

Springsteen said on his Web site Wednesday that he and the E Street Band are "furious."

"We perceive this as a pure conflict of interest," the band said. "Ticketmaster is there to ensure that we have a good, fair sale of our tickets at their face value plus normal ticketing charges."

TicketsNow allows people who have tickets to exchange, trade or sell them at marked-up prices. The band said it has received assurances from Ticketmaster that it will stopped redirect Springsteen fans to TicketsNow.

The snub to Springsteen fans on Monday prompted U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell to call on the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to investigate possible conflicts of interest involving Ticketmaster and TicketsNow. The New Jersey attorney general's office is also investigating whether Ticketmaster has violated any consumer fraud or ticket resale laws.

Several phone messages left Wednesday for Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. spokesman Albert Lopez were not returned. On Tuesday, a company spokesman said only a few fans reported problems.

But state attorney general's spokesman David Wald said the office has received more than 250 complaints since Monday.

Heather Dunham, of Great Meadows, said she and about a dozen of her friends were among those who tried to buy tickets when they went on sale Monday.

"The Web site just kept throwing us all off, telling you it was down for routine maintenance. That's the same message we got routinely for the better part of an hour," she said. "Then it started redirecting us to the premium ticket site," where prices were double.

"It was outrageous," said Dunham, who has previously purchased Springsteen tickets from Ticketmaster. "It's corporate greed at its worst."

At its worst? Naw, that would be more like starting a war on false pretenses and profiteering the hell out of it. Ticketmaster is more like typical corporate greed.

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