Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gee, but I was told the Dems don't have a plan . . .

Republicans fond of slurring the out-of-power Democratic members of Congress will now have to come up with some more original lines. Today, the Democratic Party officially released a policy statement designed to outline their response to our current national crises. Entitled "Real Security", it is surprisingly brief and contains many broad swipes at Smirky's utter failure to lead our country. Neatly tying together military, energy, and diplomatic strategies, the statement addresses some of this Administration's most embarrassing, costly, and egregious "mistakes". Some of the highlights:
After September 11, all Americans trusted President Bush to take the steps necessary to keep our country safe. Since then, inadequate planning and incompetent policies have failed to make Americans as safe as we should be. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina showed that the federal government was still not prepared to respond.
Under President Bush and the Republican majority in Congress, the war in Iraq began with manipulated intelligence and no plan for success; our ports and other critical infrastructure remain vulnerable, while both soldiers in the field and first responders at home lack the basic equipment and resources they were promised. Both in the Persian Gulf and our own Gulf Coast, lucrative no-bid contracts have gone to companies such as Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown and Root, and others with friends in high places and records of cheating taxpayers. And despite record high fuel prices, our country remains heavily dependent on foreign oil because of an energy policy that benefits the big oil interests.

I especially like the description of how Smirky and the Republicans "manipulated intelligence", as well as the thematic linkage of "Persian Gulf" and "Gulf Coast".
Enact a GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century that guarantees our troops -- active, reserve, and retired -- our veterans, and their families receive the pay, health care, mental health services, and other benefits they have earned and deserve.
This is a nice slam on the almost unseen and unknown Republican stripping away of Veterans benefits and services through their budgetary manipulations.
Eliminate terrorist breeding grounds by combating the economic, social, and political conditions that allow extremism to thrive; lead international efforts to uphold and defend human rights; and renew longstanding alliances that have advanced our national security objectives.
A wonderful encapsulation of what our country should have been doing all along, and would have been doing currently, if it weren't for Smirky's accession to his perceived throne in 2001.
Provide firefighters, emergency medical workers, police officers, and other workers on the front lines with the training, staffing, equipment, and cutting edge technology they need.
Protect America from biological terrorism and pandemics, including the Avian flu, by investing in the public health infrastructure and training public health workers.

Well now, this just makes good sense, doesn't it? Why isn't this being done currently? Oh, right, because this would reduce our dependence on private sector capital/influence, wouldn't it?
Hold the Bush Administration accountable for its manipulated pre-war intelligence, poor planning and contracting abuses that have placed our troops at greater risk and wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.
Oh manoman--wouldn't that be sweet? And finally:
Increase production of alternate fuels from America's heartland including bio-fuels, geothermal, clean coal, fuel cells, solar and wind; promote hybrid and flex fuel vehicle technology and manufacturing; enhance energy efficiency and conservation incentives.
It's a nifty document, even in skeletal form, isn't it? After months of waiting for the Dems to put 2 and 2 together for the American public, after months of disappointments, after too many lies and scandals seemingly overlooked, we finally have a decently simple batch of objectives to bring forth to the voters. Yes, it's too bland and doesn't contain specific numbers or dates, but this is what a mission statement is supposed to look like. The Democratic Party, and anyone who ascribes to this set of ideas and ideals, are not in power--we don't have the ability to implement any ideas into action until we the sane regain some semblance of control over this madness. This should be an easy platform on which to stand for all patriotic Americans, and it becomes instantly clear that it is the Republicans, and only the Republicans (seeing as how they have controlled both Congress and the White House--if not the Supreme Court as well--for all but 18 months of the last 62), who have ignored or actively worked against achieving these objectives. Amen!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Old friends

I read an article in "Men's Health" a couple days ago about when to let old friends fall out of your life. The article essentially made the point that no matter how strong the bond created, eventually 2 people who have little in common other than their past will stop being friends, and that that's ok. I would add a corollary by saying that unless the two friends are in contact with one another in person often enough (and what that means is anybody's guess), it doesn't matter how much they have in common or how deep the friendship was at one point, the friendship will wither and die. The article showed the good side: our protagonist had outgrown his loser college friend, who had yet to find a career or any kind of life whatsoever. Most people, however, are probably living the down side, wherein old friends are people they want to keep in their lives forever.
Two of my oldest and closest friends live very far away from me, and have for many years, if not decades. One of them travels constantly, but only takes vacations, well, by my recollection he's taken exactly one vacation in the 27 years since we graduated high school. I've seen him on average about once a year when he's in town on biz over the last 10 years or so, and then only for a night or two. The other hasn't had the opportunity to travel too much lately due to his work, so we haven't seen each other in quite awhile either.
(Lest you think I'm a spoiled person and need my friends to visit me or nothing, let me add that I've visited each of them on numerous occasions, usually for a week or two at a time, and in one case, for a whole summer. I say this not to puff myself up in comparison--I've usually been out of work while they weren't, so I had the flexibility they didn't.)
I love these two friends, and at the drop of a phone would fly across the country to be with them in a crisis. I hope they would do the same. Even so, the miles wear on our friendships greatly, and the absences grow ever longer. Phone calls do little but remind us of those distances, and the strains of trying to catch one another up to date are tiring as well. I have little doubt that if we were to somehow find ways to see each other more often in person the emotional distances would close, but that's not likely to happen, I'm afraid. What that leaves me is in doubt as to whether I can keep these friends in my life--not because I want them gone, as our "Men's Health" author had the luxury of feeling, but rather because no one can abide too long an absence of a loved one without moving on (which was one of the nearly unspoken themes of "Brokeback Mountain", come to think of it).
Just to make myself clear, though, I'm not the one that moves on, usually. I have a powerful emotional memory, so I'm usually the friend that needs to be cut loose; I'm devoted to a fault sometimes. (Some would term/have termed this fault of mine, "living in the past".) It saddens me to think of not having people who are in my heart be in my life, but I'll try to be open to any goodbyes that need to be thrown my way. Now's your chance, guys!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

All clear!

Well, nobody said this would be easy, but I finally got the results back from my PET scan and I'm still completely clear of disease! Yay! Naturally, I had to do all the leg work; I called my doc's office around 9AM, and was told by her receptionist/assistant that she'd gather the info and the doc would call me back with the news. I waited until 4:30PM for that call, gave up, and called back to hear the good word. I swear, when these clowns aren't asking me what they're supposed to be doing for/to me (as has happened on more than one occasion at the scanning offices), they aren't contacting me at all!
Of course, as scout has pointed out, they did fix that cancer thing (so far) . . .
Next doctor's visit: May 11.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Public finance

I attended a Board of Education talk last week in which the speaker was asked what California schools could do to become adequately funded. (The talk covered the topic of what "adequately funded" actually means and how to assess that amount. The speaker's method, of course, was the one he recommended.) He responded, "Repeal Proposition 13." For those of you who don't know, Prop. 13 is the measure passed in 1978 that severely restricted the amount the state could collect in tax revenue from California's property owners by severely capping the growth rate by which the state could raise the tax. The property taxes assessed since then have been kept artificially lower than the national average as a consequence (and probably far lower than they could have become), although the volatility of property tax laws makes this a constantly shifting target to research. (One method of discussing property tax effects is shown here, but the figures are a couple of years old.) While lower property taxes has shown to be a magnificent benefit to the homeowners that were here then and for those who can afford the exorbitant cost of buying a home now, by and large I would argue that most people have lost out because of it. (Wikipedia has a fairly evenhanded discussion of the effects of Prop. 13 here.)
Most states rely heavily on property taxes to fund many of their civic services; I would argue that this is completely appropriate. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy a home owes a duty to their community to give back in proportion, imho. Artificially lower taxes on those homes has simply resulted in Californians buying bigger houses, driving the market ever higher and forcing builders to expand to the very edges of each lot to maximize the value of the house on it. Another unfortunate result of having less income in the state, of course, is that services become harder to fund, especially those that don't have an easily seen benefit to a community. Such as a library.
In California, the lack of a secure fiscal base statewide has forced local governments to try and raise the missing funds through local taxes, but not every community is successful in doing so, creating a patchwork quilt of library quality throughout the state. We are fairly well isolated from other systems here, so we don't get too much crossover, but I know that the patrons from libraries in those systems that lack $ go elsewhere for their wants/needs, placing an even greater strain on "well-funded" libraries' services in other locales. Which in turn reduces the usage of the home library, making it less demonstrably useful, etc. Eventually, underfunded libraries/schools close completely, making permanent the have/have-not disparity among communities. The cynical (or just the rabid free-market supporter) would say, well, that'’s what those communities deserve, seeing as how they don't want to pay for that service, and in some instances I might agree, merely to point up the systemic problem to everyone.
The problem affects more than just libraries, though (of course), since all public services are suffering from money drought, and I take things like public health very seriously indeed. As much as I might not be able to argue that the lack of a library truly hurts a community successfully to those who don't use one, it should be an easy argument to make that having the mentally or physically ill roam the streets uncared for is a bad thing, let alone having increasing outbreaks of contagious diseases or food-borne illnesses occur. I am simply appalled at the lack of civic responsibility those who want to eliminate government possess, and the rich aren't really to blame (although their stereotypical [?] NIMBY attitude is similarly sickening), since they are only voting in their best financial/economic interests. Those who aren't wealthy but vote as if they are present the real dilemma to our society; not only do they dilute the votes of those who are self-aware in their strata, but they also support the elite's view that they aren't really out of touch with the bulk of Americans. How can people not see that voting down taxes makes things both less livable and more expensive (even in the short run), not less, and that they aren't the beneficiaries of lower taxes overall anyway? Grrrr.

Still waiting . . .

Well, I had my PET scan last Friday and my Dr.s appt. yesterday, but I'm really no closer to knowing a definitive answer yet. Apparently, it takes a full week to get the final report from the group of docs responsible for reading these scans, and in all actuality, I'd rather they be more thorough than less, so I'm fairly ok with that. My bloodwork is good, so there's that, but we'll see. More news Friday.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The height of frustration

Those of you waiting for the results of my quarterly review/PET scan will have to be patient. I, however, have lost mine. The first screw up came as a result of misspeaking on UCLA's part. They told me to show up on Tuesday, Feb. 22 for my scan. (Waits a beat, while all of you check your calendars--hey, Feb. 22 was a Wednesday!) TBO and I showed up on Wednesday, Feb. 22 to be told that we had been expected the previous day, natch. Of course, the hour's drive on each way was for naught, as they were fully booked. We rescheduled for last Friday, and everything was smoothly proceeding when we got there. We were early, they actually took me in for prep early, and we were off. I made it all the way to lying on the moving table--for those of you lucky enough not to have had to get a CT/PET scan, imagine a tubular-shaped donut with a tongue-like table that moves through it, carrying the poor saps who have to remain motionless for 20-30 minutes with arms raised overhead continually. (It's harder than it sounds, believe me.)--before they informed me that the machine wasn't working quite right and they were "rebooting" it. Well, 2 1/2 hours later, they finally gave up. I had been waiting for about 5 hours+ (after having ingested all the barium sulfate solution--yummo!) to find out my fate, and it still didn't happen.
As you might imagine, I'm pretty anxious to get this scanning business underway, and since I caught a nasty cold Sunday that I'm suffering through currently, my fears have only been increased. We don't have a new date set, so I'm left wondering in the dark if the cancer's come back . . .

Saturday, March 04, 2006

It's all about fun when Hillary's in play

TBO, sporks, scout, and I were at dinner last night when I saw something amazing. A t-shirt with the slogan "Re-defeat Communism" above a "no-Hillary Clinton" symbol and a "2008". The ignorance of that shirt (and the unfortunate gentleman who was wearing it) astounded me. I mean, I know hating the Clintons has been a Limbaugh-inspired Republican hobby for over a decade, but equating either of them with communism is just plain stupid. I suppose if Bill hadn't gone along with every economic plan the Republicans wanted, with or without his wife's approval, it might make some sort of partisan sense to try to slur Hillary that way. Instead, President Clinton actually signed into law such pro-big-business legislation as NAFTA, supported the creation and expansion of the WTO, and supported the continuation of Reaganesque welfare "reform"--just as if he had been a Republican! His whole administration was like a continuation of Reagan's love letter to the staunchly conservative free-market business leaders of America. Communism? It's so ridiculous as to be laughable, except for the fact that morons like the gentleman last night (who presumably wouldn't know what communism was if THE STATE suddenly started reading his emails--er, wait, they are . . . gee, how ironic!) don't really care that they are being wildly misinformed. They only want to win, and will rouse the rabble any way they can, even if it means being massively inept in their slanders and libels. Who pays attention to reality on the Right, anyway? Sheesh. No wonder there is still 35-40% (as of 3/4/06) of the country that think Bush is doing just fine.
To sum up, then, the Clintons are to be blamed for everything that's gone "wrong" with the US since 1992 (although that's incredibly difficult to maintain, given that the Republicans have controlled Congress almost the whole time, let alone the White House for the last 5 years), but also for things the Republicans and conservatives desired, and now get to be castigated for being almost their polar opposite in political temperament?
Amazingly idiotic, that is.