Sunday, April 27, 2008

random thoughts on Sticker Shock

Do you think this photo was a dyslexic sign changer moment, or a portent of our future? I've got a bad feeling it won't be too long before that "high performance" price doesn't look so out of place!

I've sure been hearing some convoluted excuses for why our gas prices are so high. Here are a few being flung out by neocon justifiers:

1. Gas is not any more expensive today, considering inflation, than it was in the 1970's. {except it now takes two wage earners to supply the gas for one vehicle}

2. The problem with comparing today's gas prices to those of decades ago is that gas was too cheap back then. {so you don't believe in the free market anymore?}

3. Gas prices are being driven up because Democratic leaders refuse to fund more refineries. {if they are, it's the about only thing related to this oil war they've refused to fund}

4. It's only a temporary increase until we own the Iraqi Oil Fields. {I don't even know where to start with this argument. Since when do our gas needs justify human slaughter? Also, when you consider the expense of this whole war and the ongoing cost involved in future administrating & defending of any oil fields we happen to be able to "take over", what did we really accomplish?}

5. President Bill Clinton caused it by not killing Osama Bin Laden during his administration. {okie, dokie, so what's YOUR excuse?}

6. You should be proud to pay higher gas prices. It supports our efforts to Spread Freedom around the world! {well, when Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy are rolled back, so that they are Spreading Freedom to the same extent I am, I will consider if I am proud or not}

7. Americans are too in love with their SUV's. {so tell me again what you are filling your corporate jet's fuel tank with?}

8. We could have cheaper gas tomorrow if liberal environmentalists were less concerned about a few caribou in ANWAR. {drilling ANWAR today would only supplement our oil addiction for a few years, a poor payoff for adding to global climate change}

9. China and India are being wasteful with fuel. {if they are, who did they learn it from & shouldn't we now be leading in another direction? }

Well, I'm sure we've all heard these and many more "excuses" for higher gas prices. I've even heard that higher gas prices are good because it discourages consumption {like oh, that's all we were waiting for, higher gas prices, like we couldn't have a national alternative energy policy today if that's what it was all about!}

Funny, they never seem to mention what we all know ... that is, who benefits from soaring gas prices and why we are really engaged in oil wars ... Robber Baron Oil Boys who are all simply profiting too much on this deal & sense there are much more profits to be made. Just remember the rule of business is to "never leave any money on the table" (or in the buyer's wallet)!


Finally, here is something useful: want to know where the cheapest gas in your neighborhood, or wherever you happen to be driving, is? Mapquest has done it all for you! Click here , enter your zipcode OR street/town you are driving through, and they have it all mapped out, including directions & current prices for all grades of gas at each station.

Lowest prices in my area are hovering about $3.50 for regular. I will find out for sure this week at COSTCO.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Springtime Romance of Karl and Hillary


Let's all sing some Cole Porter:



Even educated fleas do it .... (for 23-seconds)

LET's DO IT !!!

OR, LET's NOT !!!
These photos were found in the National Geographic Photo Gallery. Karl and Hillary were found on FOX TV. Why doesn't she just get it over with and jump parties? Karl is waiting with open arms!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

God, Guns and Jobs: Pennsylvania Primary 4/22

Pennsylvania voters find themselves in a unique position today. They have the power to stop the implosion of the Democratic Party.

Senator Clinton has staked her campaign on a big win there, thinking Pennsylvanians will be swayed by stupid soundbites, meaningless trivia, negative attacks and outright lies. Her campaign engages in old-fashioned dirty politics. And she continues to do this even though the numbers show that no matter how big she might win in Pennsylvania or any of the remaining primary states, she will still lag behind Senator Obama. He has won the votes, and in a democracy, winning the most votes should mean winning the election. Apparently, Senator Clinton thinks otherwise. She thinks your vote only matters if you vote for her. She also thinks if enough voters don't vote for her, she will hurl the so-called superdelegates at the democratic convention. But then, we voters are only regular ordinary people. Our votes are added up individually whereas each superdelegate's vote equals 75,000 of our votes.

Large swaths of Pennsylvania seem a lot like my state of Utah and its sister state of Idaho. UT and ID are very religious states. UT and ID are socially conservative, tending to support the republican party line. UT and ID are gun-friendly states. Hunting and Fishing are not pastimes here, they are serious business. We should probably declare a state holiday during Deer Season since everyone has gone out of town to bag their deer. UT and ID are also made up of many small towns and rural areas. Oh sure, we've got a couple big cities (Salt Lake and Boise), but the main occupations outside those cities are farming and mining. UT and ID are not rich states, in fact our rural area population earns far less than the national average. Yet because of our family-oriented culture, there are virtually no ghost towns. Heritage and family keep us anchored close to the towns we grew up in, even though we might earn more money elsewhere. And do I need to say, neither UT or ID are very ethnically diverse?

The TV pundits have shown us maps of PA displaying a classic T-pattern, with Philadelphia on one side and Pittsburgh on the other. What they are telling us about the space in between those major cities sounds a whole lot like the spaces here in UT and ID. But the TV pundits are telling us that those spaces in PA belong to Senator Clinton and voters in those spaces will hand her a PA victory. Belong!?! As if she is entitled to them! Well, since I think we are much alike, I want to remind Pennsylvanians of the UT & ID democratic primary results, and encourage them to similarly vote their convictions:

UTAH -- Obama = 57%; Clinton = 39%
IDAHO -- Obama = 79%; Clinton = 17%

So it is really up to Pennsylvania voters today. They can decide in the voting booth whether the democratic party continues to fight amongst itself or moves on toward the future showdown with Senator McCain. If Senator Clinton continues with the same tactics she has been employing, she will ensure a compromised democratic nominee limps out of the convention to compete against the republican fixers. I just can't get the image out of my mind of a divided democratic party engaging the tired, but still vigorous, McWarDog!

This is what her antics remind me of (click to enlarge):
I am sorry if you find this rude, and I apologize to the hyena who is afterall only procuring her meal, not ripping apart the democratic party, not scurrying away with little chunks of her opponent, and hoping by doing so, she can persuade superdelegates of her electibility. By the way, there is a real children's book titled, "Hillary, the hyena who lost her laugh". While it sounds hilarious (click on link & read the little plot summary), I really think it should be sold in adult book stores ... haven't our children been scared enough?

OK, last but not least, when the polls close today and we start receiving the results of the PA primary, we should not forget Operation Chaos, which is Rush Limbaugh's shameful attempt to impose on democrats the candidate the republicans most want to run against. That would be ... (drumroll for all you pseudo-dems who are implementing Rush's dictum) ... Dittory!

8 AM update: already this morning, there is this report of malfunctioning PA voting machines. Looks like Operation Chaos is working just fine for Hillary.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Inflation is a bitter pill

Do you know what the real rate of inflation is?

Want to try and figure this out together?

Bear with me now, it's going to get a little personal before it turns political. And I'm very sorry, but taxes DO need to be discussed. Inflation is a bitter pill.

After filing my tax return recently, since I had all the numbers at my fingertips, I decided to spend time figuring out what MY real rate of inflation is.

The "official" government published inflation rate for 2007 is 3%. "Official" inflation figures for Jan-Mar 2008 are on track for an annual rate of 3 to 4% for 2008. Using the CPI (Consumer Price Index), our government has constructed a complex calculation of inflation that is highly subjective. It is subjective and therefore subject to political manipulation.

For instance, the "official" inflation rate does not include food or fuel. Is that a bitter pill, or what? If it ignores basic cost-of-living items like food and fuel, what else does it ignore? I'm sure it's not just me having trouble swallowing the bitter inflation fairytale of 3-4%. But why would our government deliberately deceive us? I'll get back to that in a minute.

First, I'll lay out my personal facts, gathered from my own personal tracking of my own personal expenses. Having worked for years in the accounting profession, I'm not completely inept at this sort of compilation. I've categorized my normal recurring day-to-day living expenses very broadly. Here are my major cost changes over the past year which I think illustrate the destructive power of inflation (in just one year):

Groceries and Household Items: Up 37% ! (the price of bread alone has increased by 50% in the last year)

Health Care: Up 50% ! (Rx meds alone are costing my husband & me $3,000/yr out-of-pocket)

Pet Care: Up 75% ! (yes I track pet food, pet supplies and vet care for my two old dogs separately)

Entertainment and Travel: Down 50% ... of course this is a discretionary category which we've cut way back on. Who can afford to travel and entertain much anymore? Not long ago, we were blowing 10% of our annual income on this. BTW, I include gas in this category, so you can see we are really going nowhere!

Routine repair & maintenance of home & autos: Up 16% (note these are actual expenditures & do not include a provision for buying a new car someday)

Fortunately, many categories like utilities, taxes & insurance remained about the same for us. Not for long! our utility provider has just received approval to increase their rates, and our medical insurance has also announced a premium increase effective in July. Since we cut way back on travel, gas price increases did not affect the overall amount we spent on gas (yet). We are very fortunate to NOT have gotten sucked into an adjustable-rate mortgage, so that helps. And with no children, we do not have child care or education expenses to cover.

Still, even with no increases in many expense categories and with the Entertainment & Travel category down by a whopping 50%, overall, we spent 16% more on normal everyday living expenses this year than last year! This is an important number as it represents my own personal true rate of inflation. I bet it's not that much different from many Americans. Why are our real inflation rates so much higher than the "official" government rate?

Well, there is that pesky reliance on the CPI (Consumer Price Index) which doesn't include food or fuel. A better indicator might be found in the Commodity Price Index (also known as CPI, just to confuse you). The Commodity Price Index is used by businesses in order to track the rising costs of their raw materials. I trust it because businesses need to know the truth about their bottom line. Using the Commodity Price Index for last year would yield an inflation rate of 15%. Sound eerily similar to my own personal inflation rate of 16%?

So let's think about it. Who benefits from publishing an "official" inflation rate that is far less than the actual rate? Certainly not people whose wages are tied to the "official" inflation rate, who are told their annual measly 3% raise at least covers inflation. Not retirees receiving social security and/or pension benefits, who think there is a true cost-of-living increase built into their plans. Not fixed income savers either, who depend on interest from their savings, which are being steadily eroded by a higher actual rate of inflation than is "officially" published. In previous inflation cycles, interest rates on savings closely tracked inflation rates. This time, interest rates are being artifically suppressed as true inflation rates are being purposefully underestimated. Coincidence?

Who benefits from that sort of manipulation? If true inflation rates were recognized, our government would have to deal with the facts or go bankrupt. The facts would dictate openly raising taxes. The Bush years have given the wealthiest among us a huge tax cut (unprecedented in a time of war when taxes are usually raised to pay for increased military operations). But politicians know rolling back those tax cuts is an unpopular solution for their wealthy contributors, so they repeatedly try the more subtle approach of manipulating the numbers and hoping we won't notice. They think we believe that the rate of inflation is whatever the government says it is. Do you?

If you do, then you are in for a lifetime of steadily decreasing purchasing power, even though your annual raise covers the "official" rate of inflation. It will be an incremental, year-by-year, systematic impoverishment of anyone whose income is tied to the "official" inflation index. In addition, there are many of us who will need to face that we won't be collecting anywhere near the benefits we paid for & were promised would be there for us in those annual social security benefit statements. Just another broken government promise about which I am bitter.

In the end, it comes down to trust. We need our government to tell us the truth. If the truth means raising taxes, then we must embrace the social economics of what constitutes a fair tax. If taxes are fairly collected and used wisely and fairly, to the benefit of society as a whole, for the betterment of citizen's lives, to provide safe infrastructure, and to ensure quality education and health care, we might just have ourselves something we could be proud of, something that we could proudly pass on to future generations.

So, trust, yeah .... what a concept in a presidential election year! This is what it has boiled down to for me. Who do I trust?
John McCain? No way, he has never even pretended to care about social justice.
Hillary Clinton? Which Hillary? She's all over the board, saying & doing just about everything (including the kitchen sink) to get elected. I don't even know what she stands for anymore. She now thinks the people's votes don't matter, so why would she think our concerns about inflation matter?
Barack Obama? Yup, I trust him. I trust him to pursue the facts, to analyze them & consider intelligent options, to explain to us what those options are, and then together we can go forward and solve the problem. He is a decent man who has not lied to himself or us.

It won't be easy. It's not reducible to a sound bite. But if we want to live in a fairer, more socially equitable country, then knowledge is our first and irreplaceable line of defense. To gain that knowledge, our government must stop lying to us. It would prefer to allow inflation damage to be hidden behind deliberately blurred & outright manipulated statistics, so that promises can be legally kept, while being broken in substance. That's why we must educate ourselves. I trust Barack Obama to help us in this quest for the truth.

By the way, while the "official" government inflation rate for 2008 is being estimated at 3-4%, the Consumer Price Index for March alone was up .8%, which would be an annual rate of 9.6% if this continues for the rest of the year. But, the Commodity Price Index for January-March 2008 is up 5.1%, which would yield an annual inflation rate of 20.4% for 2008. Which index do you think has more validity?

For me, if we are looking at a true rate of inflation of 20%, I need to make some personal changes. Since my 2008 income won't be increasing by more than 3%, I have to figure out how and where to reduce my living expenses by another 17%. And that of course ignores even trying to make up for 2007. Does your 3% Cost of Living raise still sound good to you?

Thanks for bearing with me as I sorted this out in my mind. It is painful to look inflation squarely in the face and realize that only by studying it & the deeply unfair ways in which it redistributes wealth can we hope to outwit it. Our currently blind government has in effect created an Inflation Tax on the people who can least afford it instead of an open & fair tax for all. If we complain, they say we are promoting class war. It's time for a real change! Otherwise we'll soon be choking to death on that bitter inflation pill. VOTE OBAMA!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Real Time gets real

Here's the opening monologue on Real Time with Bill Maher, April 18, 2008, with "bitter" remarks about The ABC Debate (5-minutes):

Even better, here is tonight's segment with Jeremy Scahill, featuring clips from his recent trip through Pennsylvania -- surprising to see the support for Obama in these "bitter" jobless, gunloving, religious smalltowns (4.5 minutes):

Finally, more of Jeremy Scahill & the Bill Maher panel tonight, discussing issues Americans would really like to see addressed. Cornell West talks about the economy. Markos Moulitsas weighs in on "bitter" (6-minutes):

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Sound You Heard

On Keith Olbermann tonight, one of his guests said the sound we all heard last night during "The ABC Debate" was 50 million shoes hitting TV sets across America. I think that was a conservative estimate.

Watching this giant disney crapfest, full of crap questions, poised by crap journalists, droning on and on, I did not throw my shoes, but that was only because I wasn't wearing any. Numbed by the excruciating triviality of the questions, but determined to see it through to the bitter end, I adopted the classic "Scream" posture:

THE SCREAM (painted in 1893) by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, depicts an agonized figure derived from an actual moment in Munch's life when he experienced an intense sunset that "filled the sky with tongues of fire". He wrote in his diary that he "paused, feeling exhausted and had to lean on a fence, trembling with anxiety, as an infinite scream passed through nature". The bloody sky was probably the aftermath of the Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883 whose ejected ash turned the skies red in most of Europe and Asia. The person depicted is not screaming but protecting himself from the scream of nature. It is considered a reflex reaction typical of anyone struggling to keep out distressing noise.

I think "The Scream" really captures the frustration that anyone watching last night's debate hoping for some real discussion of real issues must have felt.

This debate really was the worst I have ever seen. Many online sources and blogs apparently agree. Enigma has put up excellent posts on the debate itself as well as contact information if you wish to express your opinion about the whole debacle.

I can only add my personal feelings of despair over the media wasting so much time & effort on crap questions, forcing the candidates to explain things they have already explained many times instead of addressing the very real & urgent issues that our next president will have to confront.

Where were the real questions? This was nothing more than a shim-sham show of shameful sad sycophantic suck-up shills!

ABC could've incorporated Robert Reich's recent blog about Obama and Bitterness and Old Politics into their debate questions. He points out, "we are heading into the worst economic crisis in a half century or more. Consumers are at the end of their ropes, fuel and food costs are skyrocketing, they can't go deeper into debt, they can't pay their bills." He also notes, "HRC and McCain seek to make political hay out of choices of words that can be spun cynically by mindless spinners of the old politics ... demagogues on the right and left continue to try to channel the cumulative frustrations of Americans into politics of resentment ... but 80% of Americans know the nation is on the wrong track. The old politics and the old media are irrelevant now."

As if to prove Mr. Reich's point, Charlie Gibson and George StephanopoulASS focused on meaningless tacky flag lapel pins!

Another real concern is our health care mess. If you watched the debate, you probably missed PBS's Frontline, Sick Around the World, detailing how five capitalist democracies have handled their health care. Click on the link to watch the full program, or view each country separately. Germany & Switzerland have systems that we could easily adopt here tomorrow. Taiwan's & Japan's systems would be more difficult, but are ones we could work toward. Great Britain's system has the longest history of providing health care as a basic right. One thing all these systems have in common is a national recognition that health care should be a non-profit enterprise.

Well, those are only two areas that ABC could've delved into. We all know there are many others, but most of the media seem to think we only care about crap. I wonder what Edvard Munch would've painted if he'd personally endured these debate questions. Instead of a bloody sky, I'm envisioning a cesspool sky (same agonized human, though).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What is a Progressive Patriot?

Politics Plus is a wonderful blog by the prolific Tomcat. Tomcat is a tireless researcher of data and pursuer of freedom. He prowls the back alleys and byways of life in ceaseless pursuit of information. Every so often, he honors fellow bloggers with a Progressive Patriot Award. I don't claim to satisfy the requirements he laid out in any but the smallest degree, but am still quite honored to have been featured in his April awards, and will attempt to follow his rules about passing the award on & displaying it proudly.


The following is a snip directly out of Politics Plus April 2nd post:

"... Progressive patriots serve the state with their consciences ...

"Here are the next three Progressive Patriots:

Buckdog: This is the first time I have made this award to a non-US blog. Dawg bites neocon butts north of the border and does a fine job of it. He is one of my favorite sources for progressive Canadian news.

Distributorcap NY: Like the name suggests, DC is a New Yorker struggling for progressive values in a clear voice with great humor as well.

Redheaded Wisdom: Red's blog is a mix of personal and political. She is dedicated to taking back our country and restoring it to the values of peace, freedom, and equality.

"Folks, when you pass this award along, please make these instructions clear to the people to whom you give it.

Politics Plus introduced the Progressive Patriot Award to honor bloggers with the courage to stand up and oppose those in power when they abuse that power to the detriment of the people and fight for progressive ideals, such as human rights, tolerance, non-aggression, freedom and equity. If you receive this award from me or another blogger, please do the following to accept it. Display the award graphic proudly in your sidebar. Copy this paragraph into a post on your blog. In that post, pass the award on to a minimum of three and a maximum of five deserving bloggers. If you receive the award from another blogger, reply to this message HERE with a comment including the name and URL of your blog and the identity and date of the blogger who awarded it to you. I will then add you to a special blogroll of Progressive Patriots here."


So, Tomcat is asking us to pass the award along? No problemo! There are so many bloggers that I would consider Progressive Patriots. Here are just a few that I read everyday:

Ramblings (Fran in Oregon writes with much passion and conviction about politics and everything else, with special razor-bladed sharpness in her condemnation of this war).

Immoral Minority (Gryphen in Alaska never misses a story and cuts to the chase so succinctly, he must have those laser eyeglasses we were all promised in the back page ads of Superman comics).

Watergate Summer (Enigma, whose fireplace mantle must be full of awards, is a muse of inspirational quality and is passionately dedicated to honesty, which might make her a little dangerous to those who would suppress truth).

Dada's Dally (even though he thinks people are evolutionary dead-ends and might profess to hate the label patriot, it is obvious Dada loves this country and even some of its people, which makes his criticisms that much more poignant ... and always well-written with that special Dada Zing)!

Grubstreet Journal (Cart is an Australian bloke who will hate being labeled as a progressive, but loves to whack away at conventional ideology & keep us informed of what the continent down under is thinking about ---I call that progressive).

Now, I will attempt to figure out how to "display the award graphic" in my sidebar. Thanks, Tomcat! May your catnip always be plentiful.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Over the Rainbow

Was going to put up a snarky spring romance tale today, but think this is better for a Sunday. I'll save the snark for tomorrow.

"Somewhere over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World"

This combo song version is performed by Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole who died in 1997 of weight-related respiratory illness. He was 38.
Wonderfully peaceful ... just his mellow voice and his ukelele.
Video scenes are of his native Hawai'i.

Want to understand more about "Iz"?
Read Legacy: A Wonderful World
and Why the Words are Wrong
and Activism Beyond Politics