Sunday, November 30, 2014

AARP's "New Guide to Tipping Etiquette": I Don't Buy It

According to a new AARP online piece, ' A New Guide To Tipping- Are You Doing Enough?, it seems I may not be what they regard as the "model American tipper"  as I rarely if ever give 20 percent (which is being pushed as the 'new norm'  for wait tips at restaurants, and regard a $1 tip for a $12 haircut as close to breaking the bank. The last time I delivered a 19.8% tip was in October when we took our visiting niece out to a dinner at Jose Muldoon's. The waitress nearly covered every base perfectly - including not pestering us every five minutes asking 'How is your food?' (Buffalo and steak fajitas) She just committed one miscue, delivering the wrong size beverage to our niece.

But then, I don't feel guilty in any case, since I am not the employer of these service people, and if they want higher remuneration they need to demand it from their bosses. It is not my job to subsidize their pay because they have chosen work which at base minimum - doesn't pay enough to keep bread on the table 

As I noted in earlier blog posts, the system in the U.S.  is really a very poor one, where wait staff basically sign on as indentured servants whose miserly (normal) scale pay, at $2.13 /hr. is usually quickly snatched up by the employer to pay whatever "expenses" he can think of, with the employee then scrambling to make enough in tips to pay the rent, or just groceries.  

Worse, none of the wait staff in the U.S. get anywhere near the two full weeks vacation that wait staff get in Germany, Austria. Or the health benefits. Why not? Because in this cheapskate Neoliberal bastion few want to pay the taxes that would support decent living wages or benefits for everyone. Then we scratch our butts and wonder why our Xmas is ruined by norovirus because we went to a restaurant where the wait staff had to come in sick - because of no sick days. 

A  piece last year on tipping  observed:

"People fall over themselves to brag of their tipping prowess and, despite the inherent and obvious injustice of a massive, scarcely-paid workforce scraping and begging for a wage, there has yet to be a true revolt of tipped employees. In a lottery-minded, American Idol culture, workers are loath to give up the chance for a Saudi Sheik to tip them a million dollars as reward for preparing a great smoothie."

The last line is especially apropos and accounts for the reason many in the service industry are loathe to change to a wage-based system.  I bring this up because waiting for a "lotto-sized" tip to push one into the middle class, is basically an immature and jaundiced perception .  About like believing one will win the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes,  when everyone knows you have to spend nearly as much on their over-priced garbage to win - so the top prize winner barely breaks even. Yet one guy who responded in a letter to a Denver Post's piece on tipping insisted he'd hate the salaried alternative because, get this, it meant "being trapped in socialism".  His reasoning: Well, as a salaried employee - even with benefits - he'd be paid exactly like everyone else, and there'd be no way to shine, get more tip money and rise above the rabble!

This kind of thinking is exactly what's wrong with too many in this country, who also believe taxes need to be always cut rather than increased. It also explains why one can never expect to see any "true revolt of tipped employees". Why should there be, if they all  - or most - believe they can get ahead of their brethren more via tips?  Never mind they still have to cough up for health care and get no paid vacation or sick days.

But they need to think about this scenario: what if  a new credit crisis is triggered owing to the collapsing oil prices (see the Weekend Financial Times on this prospect). Think people will pour into restaurants then, and even if they do - be able to afford even a 10% tip, far less the 20 % demanded by the likes of the AARP elites? Not a chance! People will simply eat at home or go to fast food outlets where they aren't hassled or hectored by unctuous media over tips.

All this could mean restaurants lay off more, but then many of the working public will also be laid off too. Those wait staff who remain - bear in mind all restaurants won't close - will be paid living wages because they'd have to be amongst the best to be retained. With that in place they will be more likely to garner self-respect instead of grafting for tips.

Grafting? Think of the word "servicing" itself, as the article noted:

"Tipping makes us into slaves and masters simultaneously in a confused, kinetic, and highly kinky social model. The service industry model carries over into the bedroom with the modern emphasis on oral sex and “servicing” one’s partner. And it is cross-cultural; the service industry accounts for most jobs in the post-industrial West— up to 80 percent in the US, a country that has exported most of its industry to cheaper places ."

In a Denver Post piece last year on tipping we also read:

" In some circles, according to Cornell University professor Michael Lyon, there has been talk about discontinuing the practice of restaurant tipping and adopting the European model, where waitstaff are considered professionals supported by salaries and benefits.

On a Freakonomics podcast in late spring of 2013, host Stephen Dubner asked Lyon (who has written dozens of academic papers on tipping), what he would change about the practice.

'You know,' Lyon replied. 'I think I would outlaw it.'

According to Lyon, there is enough race and gender disparity in how much servers get tipped (blond women more, blacks less) that "It's an ethically dubious way of rewarding workers."

Then why do it? According to the AARP it is simply the way things are and if we aspire to be model, decent citizens we will cough up those coppers as proper tips - to help these forlorn folks out. 

Well, sorry! But I'm not a charity, nor am I their employer. It is not my bounden duty to subsidize their pathetic pay, and certainly not to some artificial 'norm' defined-  mainly by the media elites  as "20 percent".  (These elites, like the consultants and professors the AARP cites, often make $250,000 a year or more which - if not the upper 1 percent - certainly puts them close to it. So their perception of what's required to tip is already biased at the high end.)

There's a simple way to test my claim: Next time you go to a restaurant ask the wait staff if they'd prefer a  consistent 15 percent tip from three fourths of patrons or... NO tip because those patrons are no longer coming  - they are cooking at home because they are tired of being hassled about their meager (15%)  tips. Ask the staff if they think they'd then even have jobs.

Finally, I strongly disagree that tipping falls under the umbrella of "etiquette". No it does not. Blowing your nose into your shirt in public is a matter of etiquette, so is whether or not to cut a fart. Deciding how much to give a wait staff person is a subjective personal financial assessment, based on personal quantifiers- including one's financial means - that must be respected from the individual's POV. Thus when I read drivel like this from the AARP website:

Tipping is important. There are so many services where people aren't even paid minimum wage," says Debby Mayne, etiquette guide for the resource website

My reply is: Sorry, but it's not my job to ensure service workers' jobs pay above the minimum wage! I am not a charity and I am not their employer - or the gov't. Nor can I be held responsible for all the services in this country where people aren't paid properly. I didn't create that low pay service system, and indeed, I'd toss it out in a heartbeat via higher taxes to create living wage jobs with benefits - IF I could!   But I can't so all I can offer is my heartfelt sympathy, and perhaps the hope that one day the majority of our countrymen will wake up and see what their cheapskate tax preferences have caused. (And their cheapskate voting preferences have engendered!)

In the meantime, if service staff feel they aren't being paid what they believe they should be, they need to take it up with boss man, OR find another job.  As for tips for takeout, already ordered food - or pick up (like the pie we collected for Thanksgiving from Village Inn) forget it. No tips for those! Pizza delivery - well I always give a buck but no more, because I note delivery charges are already there. It's not my fault if the business doesn't give it to the actual delivery person. Same with Chinese food delivery.

Instead of being subservient slaves to tipping culture and its false etiquette we need to impose rational standards and as long as companies underpay workers, that will always be a subjective decision - evaluated at the time by the tipster. If those like the nabobs at AARP don't like it, they can shove it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanks to Frackers, We'll Soon Be Drinking Recycled Toilet Water !

    A chemist checks the quality of water recently removed from a sewer in Colorado and recycled for drinking.

No, not necessarily people in other states - but here in bone dry Colorado, where ever larger influxes of newcomers (mainly because of the MJ retail markets) and fracking, are driving our water demands into the stratosphere. Because of those ever increasing demands and with ever diminishing water reserves, the ghoulish idea of recycling waste water from toilets - otherwise known as "toilet to tap" - has entered the aware citizen's lexicon. Colorado water providers, facing a shortfall of 163 billion gallons, acknowledge there's little choice than to turn to waste water.  They're calculating that if the worst sewage can be be cleaned to the point it's safe to drink, then our state's dwindling aquifers and rivers can be saved.

But the cynic must ask the incisive question: How is it we got to this parlous point of facing a shortfall of 163 billion gallons of decent fresh water? Therein lies the rub!

Are we ready for consuming water that not long before was flushing down assorted turds of differing morphology and dubious composition? To be honest, I am not sure. According to a Denver Post article (Nov. 21, p. 1D) "Front Range utilities will push the practical limit in re-using water to the maximum potential and that includes implementation of 'toilet to tap' recycling".  The soon to be announced 'Colorado Water Plan' is expected to mandate that Colorado residents must "re -use all available waste water as a pre-condition before state officials accept new trans-mountain projects".

Look here, this is serious shit! NO laughing matter! Major obstacles remain including:

- The huge costs of water cleaning using multiple filter cleaning systems

- The legal obligations in Colorado to deliver water downstream

- The disposal of the contaminants purged from waste water - mainly thousands of gallons a day of super -concentrated salty mixes that must then be injected into deep wells or buried. The mixture is so toxic it can destroy skin on contact.

- The "Ick" factor - i.e.  when consumers know the water ingested was only recently used to flush the effluent of another's bowels.

- Safety and monitoring - This entails installing water monitoring and testing systems sensitive enough to track a wide array of pathogens (including E. Coli. cryptosporidium etc), suspended particles and hard to remove specialty chemicals (i.e. tossed out contraceptives, diet pills, laxatives,anti-depressants,  pain killers etc. found in waste water - not to mention synthetic chemicals such as in herbicides.

How did we reach this sorry state? FRACKING!  The frackers - thanks to our Neoliberal guv, have been allowed to run amuck - drilling up to 50,000 frack wells across the state with each one consuming up to 5 million gallons each to enable hydraulic fracturing of the soil to release shale oil and natural gas.  Do the math and you will see that the total water lost to fracking actually exceeds the shortfall noted earlier by nearly 37 billion gallons! (Using a 4 million gallon per well average consumption) Note again, this is going on in an already arid state that has suffered over seven years of drought.

Colorado is already implementing limited re-use in places like Aurora, which entails filtering partially treated waste water through river banks.  This water is then treated again at Aurora's state of the art plant. At all times, as the Post piece notes, the challenge is ensuring that any engineered water-cleaning system is just as good as what nature provides with its slow settling and filtration.

State PR honchos also desperately want to change the language - getting rid of the god-awful (but accurate)  "toilet to tap" description in favor of something like "sequential water modification". Once they can finally get people to start using the correct lingo, they believe they can mostly remove the 'ick' factor from suspicious brains.

And don't think Colorado is the only state facing re-use of wastewater or "toilet to tap" planning. (Sorry, I don't use goofy, fulsome euphemisms.) A Texas state water plan calls for increasing re-use of waste water eight fold by 2060. The Texans have clearly seen the future and it looks dry - maybe as dry as the opening scenes of the dusty landscape from 'Interstellar'.

Meanwhile, California cities devastated by the current drought and other towns looking at a dry future, are also considering waste water conversion for drinking water.

Don't laugh! It may soon be coming to a town near you, if not your own!

Friday, November 28, 2014

How Long Before A Drone - Commercial Aircraft Collision?

I estimate about 6 months, given the recent reports of very close encounters between unmanned craft and commercial aircraft - which now fill FAA records. Right now, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that drones remain below 400 feet, making it difficult for most potential users (including farmers, cops etc.) to use them effectively,

The problem is when the regulations are flouted for the sake of effectiveness (or by loonies with no business flying them at all)  hundreds of  people's lives are put at risk, those passengers in commercial airlines - such as a Delta plane last Sunday that came within 15 ft. of a drone at JFK, according to the pilot - who had to dodge it.

Though small, most of them range between the size of a typewriter and washing machine - they generally lack any "sense and avoid" technology which predisposes them toward collisions with aircraft landing or taking off.  Should these pests strike a vulnerable section on a plane - such as engine or cockpit - the result would be catastrophic. Such a collision would lead to the potential loss of hundreds of lives. Then, and only then will we likely take action.

According to the account in yesterday's Denver Post ('Close Calls with Drones', p. 13A):

"Pilots across the United States have reported a surge in near collisions and other dangerous encounters with small drones in the past six months at a time when the FAA is gradually opening the nation's skies to remote controlled aircraft, according to FAA records."

Which begs the question of whether the FAA ought to be "opening the skies" at all, given the spreading dangerous encounters and the unwillingness of the drone runners to obey basic rules - even now. As I pointed out before, the drones should not be allowed to fly ANYWHERE - until ironclad regs are in place. And those regulations ought to demand that drones and drone operators obey the same rules as commercial aircraft. Yes, it is indeed a steep demand - but it is consistent with the peril and calamity of a drone-commercial aircraft collision. The precautionary principle itself demands drone operators prove their craft are safe - before they can fly at altitudes that imperil commercial craft.

This is demanded by the content of the FAA records cited in the Denver Post, which include the fact that since June 1st, "pilots and air traffic controllers have reported twenty five episodes in which small drones came within a few seconds or a few feet of crashing into much larger aircraft."

This is totally unacceptable and the FAA needs to act now, as opposed to sitting on its butt - paralyzed because it feels caught between safety margin expectations of airline pilots and a push by congress (bought and sold whores) and the drone manufacturers to get as many into the skies by 2017 -  to fill their pockets and enhance profit margins.

Incredibly, we wouldn't even know about the latest spate of incidents had long standing public requests for information (by the Washington Post and other organizations) not been fulfilled. (Another reason citizens cannot afford to be asleep at the switch - including concerning past historical events like the Kennedy assassination - for which we are will awaiting all files to be released).

According to the Denver Post (ibid.):

"Until Wednesday the FAA had disclosed only one other midair near collision between a drone and a passenger aircraft. - a March 22 encounter near Tallahassee, FL between a U.S. Airways plane and what the pilot described as a 'small, remotely controlled craft at 2300 feet'".

The fact the FAA could try to conceal these incidents, analogous to how the National Archives has tried to conceal the Kennedy assassination files, is bad enough - but to refuse to act in the interest and welfare of airline passengers is inexcusable. Also, outrageous!  Especially so, since the 25 near midair collisions were among 175 that were reported by pilots and air traffic controllers near or in restricted airspace.

Thus, when I see and hear commercial poppets bloviating this morning (on CBS Early Show) about 'soon to come' drone package deliveries, it makes my head spin and I wonder what these people are drinking or smoking. Also, the FAA - as this blather goes on. When are they going to step in and slam down the hammer or are they waiting for the first catastrophe?

Pilot have described most of the drones putting their planes at risk as "small, camera -equipped models that have become increasingly popular with hobbyists and photographers."

Which underscores even more the need for rigorous controls. Any manjack can now go into a hobby store and plunk down a couple hundred and get his own drone to fly near commercial aircraft - because he's stupid or oblivious to the risks. These people need to be controlled for their own good!

As noted by retired Air Force General Fred Roggero, quoted in the Post piece:

"The potential for catastrophic damage is certainly there."

The FAA was to have issued regulations controlling drone flight in commercial airspace - but so far they are dragging their bought out asses. According to a disturbing report in The Denver Post ('Flying Blind', July 6, p. 1D)

" agency official reportedly has warned that the entire rulemaking process could take up to a decade."

A decade! That means the rules governing unmanned drone flight won't be available until 7 or so years AFTER the drones take to the skies!   The Post article goes on:

"Although rule-making for small, unmanned devices could begin by the end of the year, even the Inspector General of the Transportation Department has concluded 'the FAA will not meet the September 2015 deadline for safe drone integration and it is uncertain when it will be achieved,"

Then the solution ought to be obvious to our illustrious congress critters and all but the brain dead: the integration of drone flight into commercial airspace needs to be postponed! No unmanned drones going up until such time the FAA has its house in order and proper regulations published and mandated. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What I'm Thankful For: A Cancer Under Relative Control

A remote brachytherapy afterloader of the type that delivered my cancer radiation treatment exactly one year ago, Sept. 25, 2012. It's an electro-mechanical system by which 16 transfer tubes  with radioactive Iridium -192 needles are inserted into catheters in a fixed template (stitched to the perineum) to deliver radiation directly to the prostate gland. I received a total dose of 1920 cGy (centigray), in a treatment delivering one single high dose

It was my sister-in -law, Krimhilde - an Eckist- who first reminded me that gratitude is a "metaphysical concept" that transcends all human cultures and religions. As she put it during our last extended conversation: "Gratitude acknowledges one's basic relationship to the universe as a whole, and giving thanks acknowledges one's place as a spiritual being within it."

In terms of Thanksgiving there are always the usual things people have to be thankful for: good home, loving wife or family, ample food, successful kids, and maybe a general joie de vivre. Others have additional cause, beyond the normal gratitude, especially including having a cancer under relative control, or even being cancer-free.

In my case, the prostate cancer detected in July, 2012, for which I had treatment at the Helen Diller Cancer Center at University of California- San Francisco, in September that year, e.g, see:

at first shocked me, including that I had to have treatment (radiation or surgery) as opposed to just watching and waiting. The months after the final PSA spike was detected were intense and included not only a biopsy but also flying to San Francisco to be evaluated for treatment and then receiving one of the first single high dose brachytherapy administrations. The follow-up PSA - done two months after treatment- showed 2.0 and seemed to indicate the single dose radiation had worked (radiation which also triggered severe urinary urgency and burning)

In my most recent PSA test result, taken 9 months after the last, it was up slightly to 2.68 (from 2.5) I sent this info to my radiation oncologist at UCSF (Dr. Hsu) and he replied that there was no worry, as the result is only up very slightly from the last time. This means that after two years of testing the PSA is just about 0.68 above what the lowest value - two months after treatment. If I am correct, the 'bounce' period is over (PSA varies somewhat at each test) but I have not yet reached the PSA "nadir" the lowest possible value. Dr. Hsu doesn't believe that will happen until the 5 year mark.

He also inquired into the main side effects, which so far appear to be minor burning during urination - which I control by using cranberry extract in capsule form, and erratic erections - which can vary by time of day, from quite hard to flaccid. (Also, with the potential to 'collapse' within a minute or so!) The reason for this behavior was originally described by Dr. John  P. Mulhall:

"Radiation attacks the DNA in our cells. It causes breakages in the DNA, and when this occurs, the cells commit suicide, a process known as apoptosis. Normal cells have better repair machinery to fix some radiation damage while cancer cells do not.  As well as killing off the actual prostate cancer cells, radiation causes injury to the blood vessels that supply the cancer."

The last effect is confirmed at a site (of the National Cancer Institute) which states:

 "Radiation damage to nerves and blood vessels may occur with brachytherapy, and higher doses of radiation may cause more damage"

Re: adverse effects on the arteries from the high dose (1920 cGy) of radiation delivered, I originally tried to counteract these by eating more Omega 3 rich foods, more often and also more veggies. However, by about a year or so ago, I noticed have reached a stage of "diminishing returns" for lack of a better term. Interestingly, if Dr. Mulhall is to be believed (and I am certain he is) then "erectile success rates for surgery and radiation reach the same stage after 24 months."  And since I have now just passed the 24th month, going into the 26th, I can say he is correct.

Some might ask, 'Why be thankful for losing the reliance on your sexual apparatus?', but that misses the point. The point is one is striving for quality of life that first and foremost allows life! Secondly, I can be thankful I don't have to be running around wearing 'Depends" as 50 % of men do after radical prostatectomy-- and 25% after radiation. In the end, it is all a matter of placing things in proper perspective- and besides the "sexual apparatus" can be used in more than one defined way for a loving couple.

Last year, according to Johns Hopkins University stats, there were some 239,000 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed with 29,000 deaths. It remains the 2nd leading cause of cancer death for American males. Rather than fretting about losing one's sex drive, men need to be more concerned at catching it before it spreads secondaries - which can lead to a slow, painful death.

Can We Say Republicans Are Craven Budget Hypocrites? YES - We Can!

The Republicans are so full of it, one could almost roll on the floor laughing at their blatant budget hypocrisy. You know their song and dance! Always yapping about "deficits" and "debt" but when crunch time comes - or they win mid-term elections in both houses, or the Presidency - all of that goes by the backboards.

A case in point, revealed in a recent front page Financial Times article ('U.S. Congress Considers Host of Tax Breaks', Nov. 26) is congress' plans to "blow the budget open" with a whole swatch of tax breaks, some of which could be made permanent. Let us bear in mind these nitwits, mainly Repukes, are doing this in an environment which, as the FT notes- has seen a dramatic fall in in the federal deficit, from more than 10 percent of GDP 6 years ago to 2.8 percent of GDP now.

So why the hell go nuts and break the bank when things are just now turning rosy and the fiscal future appears much better? Well, because as is their usual shtick - the Reepos and their lackeys and useful idiots (like Peter G. Peterson and his Foundation, Fix the Debt etc.) want to generate enormous added debt via tax breaks and giveaways in order to justify cuts to social insurance programs like Social Security later. (Indeed, I just received an advanced alert yesterday from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare that this is precisely what these callous assholes would do.)

One of the most egregious parts of the "mooted deal" - to use the FT's parlance - is the plan to expand and make permanent the R&D tax credit for corporations, which lets companies write off R&D expenses against their tax bills. While it sounds harmless enough, in the past grievous misuse has included writing off 2-3 time more R&D expenses than companies actually used. The FT estimates this could cost $160 billion over ten years, but I suspect that's a gross underestimate. Look instead for it to top $200 b, especially when Big PhRma starts exploiting it.

The FT notes this also "changes the starting point for future tax reform". Indeed! If R&D write-off is made permanent the business sector will have much less reason to back broader reform. Why should they when the pukes are handing them so much on a silver platter? The FT piece adds that it "also lowers the tax base for a revenue neutral package".

All of this is insane given that currently the nation's spending and remaining debt is some 15 times larger than its income via taxes. Our infrastructure alone is literally falling apart with each year it goes untended for maintenance or replacement. If any tax credit ought to be given, it is for company investment in repair of our crumbling infrastructure- water mains (some of which, like here in COS are over 100 years old), sewer lines, and bridges.

And don't for a minute believe the Dems are innocent little angels in all of this! No, they just aren't as bad as the repukes (that dysentery vs. Ebola comparison again). The FT notes, for example, it would include "mass transit and college tuition tax breaks" - likely made permanent - for Charles Schumer of NY.

But the worst omission? The presumptive deal would not make permanent the Earned Income Tax Credit so important to the working poor (i.e. those at Walmart where that store has requested more well off employees to help those in need, with food, care packages etc.)

The FT reports that the White House has "threatened a veto" and in my opinion, they ought to make good on that threat. Indeed, they need to veto this whole absurd  proposed tax package which would send us back to higher deficits we can't afford and allow the debt mongers to after the programs people need.

Leave it to the Reeps to f*ck the country up just when it's beginning to get on the right financial track including lower deficits. Another reminder that elections have consequences and Dem voters need to get their butts out and vote in mid-terms as much as they do in general elections!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Liberals Can Also Be Misinformed And Ignorant In Parsing Our History

On reading an article ('Can We Ever Recover from the Murder of John Kennedy?') by Harvey Wasserman, on the liberal blog two nights ago, I was impressed by the insight displayed and why we as a people still haven't come to terms with his killing. However, many of the comments were another thing - demonstrating every manner of ignorance and idiocy one could imagine. It confirmed my belief that liberals are as woefully ill-informed about our 35th President and his record as right wingers. And while not quite in the "Larry Schweikart" "mold they aren't far behind from what I read.

Some examples:

1) One bonehead who goes by the monicker 'RE James50' claimed Kennedy had issued "Reaganesque supply side tax cuts"when President  This ignorant bollocks came straight from the playbook of Charles Krauthammer, resident WaPo neocon, who used it in 2001 when the initial Bush tax cuts were being promoted. It ought not be necessary to say this, but any liberal who incorporates false arguments and claims from the likes of Krauthammer is as misinformed as he is. (Krauthammer attempted to convey a veneer of truth by citing  a JFK speech before the New York Economic Club in December, 1962.  JFK's speech endorsed a general tax cut, and let's bear in mind at the time that the top rate was 91%. JFK proposed lowering it to 65% for the wealthiest, still nearly two times what the current top rate is for them (after the Bush tax cuts).

When a well-informed commentator tried to correct James he simply doubled down on this bullshit - even after the sane contributor presented evidence of Kennedy's proposals from Donald Gibson's excellent monograph: 'Battling Wall Street- The Kennedy Presidency'. To remind readers of what that evidence was,  JFK's tax cut proposals included:

- The elimination of all tax breaks set up in the form of foreign investment operations or companies

- The repeal of all tax advantages by corporations operating in low tax countries, such as Switzerland

- The repeal of the 100% charitable contribution write-off by the wealthy

- Withholding tax on the investments, dividends and capital of the wealthy to ensure revenues could not be lost by too many shelters or at the 'end point'.

- Tax on investment dividends so that all those earning in excess of $180 k would pay a much higher rate.

-Devices that would prevent 'high bracket taxpayers' from concealing income from 'personal holding companies'.

- An anti-speculation provision that would ensure property or investments were kept at least one year - else no benefit from existing capital gains rates would apply

-The elimination of special 'gift' transfers as well as repeal of the $50 dividend exclusion and the 4% dividend credit.

(Source: 'Battling Wall Street - The Kennedy Presidency', by Donald Gibson, Sheridan Square Press, 1994, pp. 22-23)

In addition - again omitted by the conservos - JFK targeted large oil and gas producers who had been manipulating a (1954) law to avoid taxes and gain an advantage over smaller producers.

The character ('RE James') on smirkingchimp averred it didn't matter because Kennedy "didn't get his proposals passed". But this is unmediated rubbish that fails to grasp that what ended up on the table was a compromise that was the best Kennedy could do with a Repub congress,  Granted then that most of his provisions didn't survive the compromises forced by congressional committees (which held JFK's Medicare, and Civil rights legislation up for ransom)  but it represented the best he could do under the circumstances- and in no sense were the cuts "supply side" - first because supply side hadn't even been invented yet! (By Arthur Laffer). and second because supply side is always tilted much more to the richest.

A bit of background:

In 1974, Arthur Laffer,  then an economist at the University of Chicago,  traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Donald Rumsfeld, Gerald Ford's then chief of staff (though Rumsfeld subsequently fobbed him off on Dick Cheney).   Laffer had a new theory on why tax rates were inefficient and high, or one might say "inefficiently high. Laffer then proceeded to sketch his infamous diagram on a napkin on why the rich could be said to be "over taxed".

Laffer's crude napkin diagram is shown here for reference. As drawn, it was totally convincing! Especially for a guy like Cheney with minimal math skills. Note the line defining the highest marginal tax rate of 70% for Gerald Ford's presidency. What Laffer's curve sought to show is that by cutting that rate down, say to 50%, one could increase the revenues by nearly 35%! Of course, the 50% turned out to be wholly arbitrary and in fact after Reagan became President in 1980 the rates were cut down to 50 by 1981, then to 28% (by 1988). After all, if one could increase revenues by cutting taxes 20%, imagine what one could do by cutting them more than 40%!

Thus did Laffer's curve become the basis of Reagan's tax cuts and the whole tax cut meme ever since, despite the fact that in reality no community or even human body has mamanged to GROW by virtue of starving! But try to tell the bulk of Americans, who continue to buy into this codswallop at a mind-boggling rate! (Or that Kennedy actually prescribed them too!)

But the difference between taking a top 91% rate down to 65% and keeping already ridiculously low rates of 36.5% is the difference between night and day. And imposing tax cuts of the magnitude of Reagan's in an already debt exploding environment ($1.5 trillion already splurged on defense by mid -1985) is fiscal insanity. By comparison, idiots like James were totally unaware Kennedy still had a healthy surplus (as opposed to deficit environment) to work in, so could afford his tax cuts without doing untold damage.

Were Kennedy's tax policies really as maimed as RE James suggests? Go look at the record in the press at the time then decide!   For example,  Fortune accused him of an attempt to "manipulate the tax level against the business cycle". ('Activism in the White House', June, 1961, p. 117).  Why the hell would such an organ of finance capital bellyache like this if Kennedy's tax law was a hollow fake?

Two years later, Fortune implored Congress to stop JFK from "using tax policy as instruments to manage the economy". ('The Dream Businessmen Are Losing', Sept. 1963, p. 91).  Again, why the whining if Kennedy's tax cuts were so wussy and "supply sided"? All James had to do was look at the media record, but like too many liberals he was more invested in buying into Kennedy's weakness than his strengths and accomplishments. (Something I partially blame on Kennedy "historians" like Robert Dallek who have no remote clue what the man actually did, and also critics like Noam Chomsky and Seymour Hersh - with his several books, articles on JFK's dalliances)

Along the same lines, the "central organ of finance capital" - The Wall Street Journal, launched various articles and diatribes accusing JFK of being a "statist" and other things. Some of those articles include:

- 8/6/62 'No Cause for Celebration'; p. 6;

- 3/26/63 'Too Much Money, Too Little Thought', p. 18;

- 8/15/63 'When Friends Become Foes', p. 8

Meanwhile, Henry Hazlitt, contributing editor at Newsweek (The Washington Post's sister publication) was airing many of the same complaints against JFK. These polemics, appearing regularly in Hazlitt's 'Business Tides', included taking JFK to task for his tax policies - including the proposed tax on U.S. business earnings abroad while he also chastised Kennedy for "welfare spending".

Never mind! The cynical manipulators out to brainwash citizens are betting that most are ignorant of recent American history and they will surely exploit that deficiency to play their little game. As long as useful idiots and tools such as RE James exist, they will keep on doing it.

Sadly, in scanning the comments, James' foolishness didn't stop there, he actually also took the sane and rational commentator to task for "quoting Curtis LeMay" as evidence that Kennedy  saved the world by refusing to bomb and invade Cuba. In fact, the commentator had referenced the actual transcripts of the tapes at the time in the book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis’, by Ernest R. May and Philip K. Zelikow (1997, President and Fellows of Harvard College).

The transcripts included the specific reference (p. 347) that "Strategic Air Command moved from the general Defense Condition 3 to Defense Condition 2, the level just below general war. In addition to ICBMs and submarine-based ballistic missiles, every available bomber – more than 1,400 aircraft- went on alert. Scores of bombers, each loaded with several nuclear weapons and carrying folders for pre-assigned targets in the Soviet Union."

But the moron insisted "Khrushchev deserved as much or more credit as Kennedy". He did, in the aftermath, in finally resolving the crisis - hence proposing  the removal of U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing theirs from Cuba. But, Khrushchev was not in the Crisis room with JFK facing down the rabid Joint Chief hawks like Lyman Lemnitizer and Curtis LeMay. Thus, it was on Kennedy - man on the freaking spot- who denied them the bombing campaign they wanted followed by invasion. If Kennedy doesn't stand his ground in the Crisis Room, nothing Khrushchev does later matters.

Indeed, as Robert McNamara makes clear in his 'Fog of War' documentary ('Lessons 1, 2) , had Kennedy succumbed to the Joint Chiefs'  demands nearly 160 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (and 93 tactical nukes)  would have been unleashed on the eastern U.S. This McNamara learned when he met with Castro in 1992 for the 30th anniversary of the event. McNamara asked Castro if he;d really have seen his country destroyed in the potential altercation and he responded firmly, "Yes, and you'd have dome the same if faced with massive bombing and invasion of your country -with likely takeover".

McNamara could hardly believe what he heard, but he likely forgot - 30 years after the fact - that the motto circulating in the US of A was "Better dead than Red"

Another doofus weighing in on the comments thread claimed that Kennedy had only managed to get "one minor piece of legislation passed in all his time in office". Which is yet more ignorant drivel and I have noted JFK's major accomplishments in other posts, including:

1) JFK established and promoted the "Alliance for Progress' to enable low-interest loans for Latin  American nations, thereby outraging the 'Street" and the other capitalist bastions of thought which believed this to be a "giveaway"    Because of the program, economic assistance to Latin America nearly tripled between fiscal year 1960 and fiscal year 1961. Between 1962 and 1967 the US supplied $1.4 billion per year to Latin America. If new investment is included, the amount of aid rose to $3.3 billion per year during this time span while the total amount of aid was roughly $22.3 billion. Sadly, once LBJ got in, the amount of aid did not equal the net transfer of resources. 

2) Perhaps the one move that may have signed JFK's death warrant was when he attempted - via Executive Order 11,110 issued on June 4, 1963 - to challenge Fed control of the money supply. (Which under the Constitution authorizes only Congress to create paper money not a private entity) This EO authorized the creation of some $4.2 billion in U.S. Notes - to replace Federal Reserve Notes. These U.S. Notes were issued by Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon, and bore his signature.

After the assassination nearly all the notes were recalled. I was fortunate in being able to obtain two from my brother who still had them- a $2 note with Jefferson on the front, and a $5 with Lincoln. Both display the serial numbers in red ink. Not green, like Fed notes. See e.g.

In effect, JFK's issuance of U.S. Notes was a shot across the Federal Reserve's bow, as well as the banking class. By releasing all those debt-free notes out of the Treasury he not only undermined the Fed's financial hegemony but challenged their national authority and decision -making powers on money matters. Many observers believe that this alone might well have been enough to put JFK in assorted cross-hairs.

On the level of executive orders, it was perhaps the most daring ever issued, and we remind ourselves again (as RE JAMES  and Robert Dallek ought to) that Presidents can wield power in other ways apart from legislation.

3)Issuance of  National Security Action Memorandum 263, to pull out of Viet Nam by 1965. Many still quibble about whether this was actually done or mere smoke and mirrors  - but any energized citizen can find out for himself if he gets off his butt and digs into the document track!  He would find the main body of the memo actually appears in The Pentagon Papers, while the preface letter (to McGeorge Bundy) is what lazy researchers usually cite.  Bottom line is that NSAM 263 shatters another absurd trope put out by this same "liberal" poster that JFK actually was responsible for all those deaths in Vietnam by first sending personnel - oblivious to the fact it was LBJ's "Tonkin Gulf Resolution" in August, 1964 that ushered in the expansion of the war and tens of thousands of deaths.

4) Though JFK was reluctant for sure, since he could foresee the effects would lead to the now dominant GOP "southern strategy" - he nevertheless federalized the Alabama national guard in the fall of 1963, to protect black students trying to attend academic institutions.

In August, 1963 he outraged the extreme right fringe by signing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with Khrushchev. (They were particularly enraged at the ban on anti-missile systems)   Another useless dolt on smirkingchimp  ('J Madison') asserted that the "generals were always in favor of doing that anyway" - trying to diminish the achievement again, but he's as clueless as his bosom buddy RE James. In fact none of the military or Pentagon wanted any part of it! As McNamara shows in his documentary (Lesson 2) they were well on the way to developing a 100 megaton H-bomb - one of which had already been tested. So why the fuck would they be in favor of a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to outlaw such tests? Don't these people read? Don't they think? Are they this clueless about recent history? 

In addition, the Pentagon and Generals wanted no part of any Treaty that prohibited the development and use of anti-missile  systems, which they believed left the U.S. open to attack with no credible defense strategy.

6) Launching the Peace Corps, in which more than a quarter million volunteers have already served around the world - helping millions of impoverished people while letting them see the best face of America - as opposed to the usual 'war, invasion and bombing face'.These PC volunteers have 
worked in such diverse fields as education, health, agricultural development, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, protecting the environment and developing water resources,.

  I myself served 4 years and an damned proud to have been a part of Kennedy's program, teaching science to rural kids in Barbados - many of those kids having since gone on to productive careers, i.e. as airplane mechanics, electricians, pharmacists, librarians, college lecturers and police- security officers. Making a solid contribution to their nation as opposed to joining a "brain drain" leaving it.

7) Rapprochement with Fidel Castro, starting in late 1962. This has been well documented by National Archives contributor Peter Kornbluh, and paved the way to normalization of relations, including trade. (cf. 'Kennedy and Castro: What Might Have Been', by Peter Kornbluh, in The Baltimore Sun, Aug. 22, 1999, p. 1C)

National Security Archivist Kornbluh shows (by reference to documents he has accessed), it was William Attwood,, a Washington lawyer (who had negotiated the original release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners), who was instrumental. Attwood was charged with becoming the first American emissary to secure Castro’s ear and trust in a year-long rapprochement. In particular, to show good will and good faith, Attwood arranged for $62 million in medicines and food aid as part of the prisoner deal. All this was approved by JFK and likely sealed his death warrant in the Agency.

8) Space- The Apollo Moon Program:   
After the ignominy of the Russian satellite Sputnik, launched on Oct. 4, 1957, the U.S. received a wake up call in respect to its science and technology deficiencies. JFK knew that in order to technologically compete, a single program and focus was needed to capture the nation's imagination and to propel it toward a future where it wouldn't be left behind. Thus the manned space program was launched, and Kennedy declared in 1961 that "before this decade is out we will land a man on the Moon". With this single -minded focus the national resources were summoned through NASA, and he was as good as his word, with the Apollo astronauts setting down on July 20, 1969. Look at most of us who became interested in math or space science, especially physics - at the time - and they will tell you it was Kennedy's challenge of going to the Moon, and manned space exploration in general.

Sadly, if people (including professed liberals)  knew more, became the alert citizens Jefferson hoped for, the manipulators and their slick propaganda and disinfo wouldn't stand a chance in diminishing accomplishments such as those of John F. Kennedy. I leave readers with those famous words, from Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia:

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. AND TO RENDER THEM SAFE, THEIR MINDS MUST BE IMPROVED"

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson Verdict Was A Foregone Conclusion

Video records from the body camera - such as this one worn by a Denver policewoman-  will ultimately be the only way to provide enough evidence to prevent future Fergusons.

With the outrage that erupted in Ferguson, MO last night - after the grand jury verdict was announced- it was as if too many never saw this coming (Officer Darren Wilson not indicted given "no probable cause") but they ought to have if they followed the legal analyses on many different venues. Bottom line, the grand jury had mainly Officer Wilson's testimony (and images of his injuries) to go by and his claims - including:
"...... I never at any point had contol of him...he manipulated me while I was in the vehicle completely...I felt like  a five year old child holding onto Hulk instantly turned to how do I live through this..."

Also, by Wilson's account, he was literally at the mercy of this "giant" black guy the size of a pro football defensive end, and so he had no other option than to fire -  eight shots at that. Was he lying? We don't know because there were no on the spot visual records to go by and other witnesses who stated that Wilson fired shots at  Michael Brown (while he was down) were dismissed as having lied. Were they? We only have the presented evidence (mainly forensic - in the autopsy of Brown) and as seen this morning on assorted news shows. As one CBS Legal analyst observed: "Many witnesses changed their stories after the forensic report became available."

Let's also bear in mind, as the same legal analyst noted on CBS Early Show yesterday, that Missouri gives police enormous discretion on when to use lethal force, if they even think they are in mortal danger. Indeed, as she pointed out, the Missouri law even allowed an officer to fire at the back of a fleeing suspect.

Lastly, there was the makeup of the grand jury itself: 9 whites and 3 blacks, and the fact that all that was required for a dismissal verdict was nine votes. In effect, all the white members had to do is band together (we don't know this actually happened) and the verdict of no probable cause could have been arrived at - without any of the black members votes needed.

All of the above showed me that the verdict, no matter when it arrived, would be "no probable cause". It didn't take a mind reader to see it, or special powers - only understanding the legal choices the jurists had, their composition and Missouri law as it applies to such incidents. This ought to also have been obvious to any of those who flew into a rage last night.

All the preceding discloses that any similar incidents in Missouri - or many other states - will never receive the legal scrutiny they need until police are held to more account - with visual records available that can be admitted into evidence - say for a grand jury.

In other words, arguably Ferguson and its aftermath could all have evidently been avoided. How?

Via the use of a special miniaturized digital body camera worn on the side frames of officers' glasses or sun glasses. The tiny cameras record every last detail in any encounter with the public for any reason, and hence provide a firm and accurate document of the officer's actions and the perp's responses or crimes. Basically, it is insurance to protect police from false allegations of excessive force, and also suspects from overly aggressive police actions. The body camera ensures literal, visible accountability. According to Denver Police Chief Robert White :

"The body camera will clear up those moments of conflict"

And it will also provide supplemental evidence to any forensic findings, as well as officers' own accounts.

Other precincts have already been  authorized to use these cameras as a standard operating procedure.. For example, in Laurel, MD,  crime has dropped 46 percent and the police force has seen accountability for all arrests enhanced by virtue of everything being on  visual record. (In a few cases, as noted in an Aug. 29  Denver Post piece, p. 5A), "people making allegations against the police have withdrawn complaints when they learned their encounters were recorded.")

One instance shown in Laurel, MD involved an officer stopping a speeding vehicle. The entire transaction was recorded including when the officer asked to see identification and the perp floored her accelerator and left the scene - soon later apprehended down the highway.

The benefits from this digital camera system became self-evident. It was no longer a case of the officer's word against anyone else's because he could provide the evidence in the form of the digital recording.

Thus, had Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson been outfitted with such a miniature camera - like the police in Laurel, MD - it is doubtful things would have gotten to the stage they did in Ferguson.  All the events would have been immediately accessible and there'd have been no "fatal span" of time within which witness accounts conflicted.  The grand jury, as opposed to only being exposed to Wilson's account and images of his injuries, could have also seen events as they actually went down. No human witnesses - who might be swayed to lie for the dead victim - would be needed.

Had Wilson had this device and used it at the time of his confrontation, none of the Ferguson turmoil might have ever occurred. But 'coulda, shoulda, woulda' doesn't help anyone now - least of all Brown's family or sympathizers who rioted last night. Meanwhile, George Stephapoulis asked Wilson if he could have done anything different and he said 'No'. But he could. He could have backed off, called for other backup and not pursued in an aggressive fashion.

Clearly, these body camera devices need to be dispensed throughout the U.S. to all police departments,  and I would say as a vastly higher priority than dispensing militarized gear like Humvees.   Unless, of course, we want to relive more incidents like Ferguson.

See also:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Obama's Executive Move On Immigration - Paints GOOPS Into A Corner

As the crazed Reepos continue to scream and froth at the mouth over Obama's executive action on immigration (see Sen. Ted Cruz's latest fulmination on 'stopping this lawless administration and its unconstitutional amnesty') we see that the end result has been a brilliant strategic move - with the public now favoring any kind of action forward on immigration (See: 'Public Favors Immigration Order', The Denver Post, Nov. 23, p. 6A).

Basically, a funny thing happened after the mid-terms: Instead of Obama coming out all meek, self-pitying and weak, he came out like a ball buster and handed the Reeps their nuts with his audacious immigration address and the issuance of an executive order the next day. Never mind this order is in fact relatively modest, i.e. it only sends immigrants to the back of the deportation line - and even then they'd have to have  been in the country at least five years. So one wonders why the Reepos have so easily lost their minds over this.. (Many immigrants,  on learning the limits, are actually now complaining a bit as noted two days ago in a Miami Herald piece.)

Maybe it's because Obama, basically, has painted the GOP into a corner on an issue that could spell a monstrous loss for the Rs in the 2016 presidential election. Why? Because if the little fuckers go too far off the deep end - shutting down the gov't or trying to pull funding from immigration programs or trying to impeach Obama, they WILL lose at the ballot box.

They will antagonize millions of Hispanic voters, for one thing, and this is the same demographic that was critical with Obama winning back in 2012. They will also outrage many sane Americans who now demand some kind of action on immigration - via Obama's executive orders, if not actual legislation.

As the Denver Post article puts it:

"With the public favoring changes in the immigration system, the Republicans' best short term response appears to be purely rhetorical...Beyond that their hope of reversing his policies appears to be either a years long lawsuit or the 2016 presidential election."

But as the article also notes:

"GOP congressional leaders are desperate to squelch talks of a government shutdown or even impeachment."

Why? Because such moves, even if undertaken and unsuccessful, will ensure the demise of any GOP presidential election hope in 2016. They will simply piss off too many voters who will take out their anger via the ballot box by voting for the Dem Presidential nominee.

So basically, like a classical pin move in chess (using one piece, e.g. knight,  to neutralize two of the opponent's pieces) Obama has pinned the Reepos. If they go crazy and shut down the government over this, or over-react and try to impeach him or even refuse to vote on his assorted nominations, they will lose at the polls in '16 and big time.

Obama has thus won by being headstrong and forceful as opposed to taking the mid-term defeat personally (as a rebuke) or as an obligation for him to be a pusillanimous supplicant to the belligerent Reeps. And this alone drives them crazy.

Apart from the above, it is well to take a meta perspective on the whole kerfuffle. Why, exactly, are the Repukes working themselves into a lather over a minor immigration executive order when congress as a whole has abdicated its most important powers for the past 60 years? If you are going to be a Constitutional fetishist, I would think you'd be a purist about it and not pick and choose which constitutional powers you're going to demand while ignoring the most critical. (Or, using rhetorical ploys to explain away the ceding of war powers!)

Thus, in Article I, Section 8 we read the full swath of congressional powers - all prefaced with the words: "Congress shall have the Power to......"

To what? Well everything from to "lay and collect Taxes, Duties and Imposts to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States" to

"coin money, regulate the Value thereof"  and

"To declare war, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal"

But what have we actually observed?

Well, recent congresses (Demo and Reepo)  have done little or nothing in the way of laying Taxes to provide for the general Welfare - specifically our crumbling infrastructure - now featuring some 70,000 bridges on the verge of collapse, as noted on '60 Minutes' last night (about which I will have more to say in a future post).

As for money, Congress (and the Treasury Dept. by extension), has basically ceded the printing of money - bills - to the Federal Reserve. Recall this entity (not in any way associated with the federal government proper) lays interest on every note made and this is passed on to the banks. The Federal Reserve also has the foremost power in the valuation of money,  for example by its implemented policies such as "quantitative easing" and hiking or lowering interest rates.  (QE and lower interest rates makes every dollar cheaper - which the stock market loves - and raising interest rates makes each dollar more dear and which the stock market hates.)

Where's the beef there? I guess maybe congress- especially the Reeps - forgot they had any say to do with money.

Last but not least, is the congressional  power to declare war, missing since World War II. In each of the wars that have occurred since - for whatever reason - Congress has allowed the executive branch to define either a "police action" (i.e. Korea, so not specifically requiring formal declaration) or some "resolution" (Gulf of Tonkin Resolution for Vietnam War, Iraq War Resolution for Iraq War) to finagle congress into ceding its own war powers and declarative power in favor of passive votes on the executive's resolution. And now these wussies are whining about the executive having "too much power" and presidential "lawlessness"? Give me a freakin' break!

Any moron and his pet monkey knows, or should, that war powers have far greater repercussions than almost any other and indeed their execution can influence a nation's debt and future welfare. This ain't rocket science, or astrophysics!

Author Gore Vidal pinpointed this absurd willingness of congress to cede power to the executive  when he noted (Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, 2002, p. 124)

"Since 1950 the United States has fought perhaps a hundred overt and covert wars. None was declared by the nominal representatives of the American people in Congress…they had meekly turned over to the executive their principal great power to wage war. That was the end of that Constitution”. 

So now the Repups are squalling because a President delivered a moderate executive order on immigration? No wonder this country is in the crapper - too many have lost touch with reality-  or the actual touchstones of history showing how the constitutional landscape has changed- and how THEY contributed to it by abdicating too much power to the executive.  How can we put this so they understand? Oh yeah! It's a bit hard to corral all the cows back into the barn after leaving the barn door open! DOH!

Maybe they all need to go back to school, and maybe take remedial history 101.