Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unemployment, War and Billy Joel

The Social Significance of Billy Joel 

Whether or not you like the music of Billy Joel, who has been around for a long, long time, you have to give him credit for making some recordings which, besides being good listening, dealt with problems facing the nation.  One of the CDs in my car’s disc player is Joel’s old Nylon Curtain album.  I find myself pushing the replay button quite often for two selections on that disc. Although I found the most listenable number on the album  to be Scandinavian Skies, a piece of fluff  probably written when Joel and his group were on a European tour, l really want to direct you to what I feel are two works of "social significance" which will be played for years to come.

First is the disc’s lead song, Allentown. This is about the disillusionment of young people growing up there after the mines and mills had shut down taking job opportunities with them.  No matter how well they did in school, there was little for them to do except join the service (“they threw an American flag in our face”) during the 60s at the height of the Vietnam War. I understand one of Joel’s accompanists was from Allentown and inspired the song.  Joel, of course, was from Long Island.

And the Vietnam War is the subject of the album’s other great song, Goodnight Saigon. It starts with the sound of a helicopter’s blades beating as the last Americans are evacuated from Saigon as our military effort there collapsed, and recounts Marine boot camp at Parris Island and the terrors of young men fatalistically fighting the Viet Cong (“And we will all go down together”). Some of those boys from Allentown, in the words of the song, “came back in baskets as numbered corpses.”  

We are still dealing with loss of jobs today and our troops are dying in Afghanistan instead of  Vietnam, but I haven’t heard any anthems sung about these things as Joel did so well forty-five years ago.  And if I am wrong, and rap and hip-hop artists are indeed addressing these issues, it’s too bad that I can’t understand the words they’re singing.  Do me a favor. Try to listen to Billy Joel singing these two songs, and hang in there for Scandinavian Skies as well.  (I’ll even lend you the CD, but you have to promise to give it back after you listen to it or make a copy.)
JL

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Answering the Right Wing

Today, you will get some insight into my economic and political ideas when I comment on a recent Conservative columnist's views on "entitlements." Also, I include another right wing columnist's views on "Multiculturalism" as published in his column. I answered him with a letter published in the Palm Beach Post.  Feel free to pass on your comments to this blog.  I am sure there are many who disagree with me. 


But let's start with a story which Sid Bolotin wrote about eight years ago and which he likes so much that he has submitted it for your perusal at this time. Enjoy ! ... if that is the right word.  Let's start then with:


 LOIS IN LOVE                                   

 Sid Bolotin

Lois played out the last bridge hand of the afternoon with her usual skill and announced, “ Small slam, bid and made. Thanks, girls. Now I have to scoot home to make Jack his favorite supper. He’s coming over tonight for a romantic evening.”

The other card players in the clubhouse of Cascade Lakes were also departing to return to their homes after the usual Tuesday afternoon bridge games, and Lois felt delicious to be part of this retirement scene in Florida. She and her new boyfriend, Jack, had recently moved from up North into this gated, retirement community. She as a single woman from New England, he as a widower from New York whose wife had suddenly died shortly after they had bought their retirement home.

“You know, Adele,” Lois said as she walked to her car arm-in-arm with her new best friend, “I’m so glad that I joined the Singles Club. That’s where I met Jack and fell in love with him. I’ve never been so happy. At 55 I’m one of the younger people here, but this is a wonderfully accepting community in which I can make a new life.”

“I’m delighted for you, Lois. Everyone comments on what a lovely couple you two are. Your pale skin, bright, green eyes, and long, reddish hair compliment his olive, tanned complexion. He’s only slightly balding and a very trim 65. You both play tennis and are physically fit. He was so, so sad before he met you. Now, you two can rebuild your lives together. I know that you told me that you’re all alone because your family died off so unexpectedly.”

After dropping Adele off at her house, Lois drove into her driveway, parked her car, and sat staring through the windshield. “God,” she mused quietly to herself, “I’m so lucky. My whole life has turned around. I feel like I belong, that I’m finally in the right place. It’s taken me so many years. The decision that I made five years ago was the right one, after all. No one knows me here, and I’ve made a brand new start. Jack loves me, and I certainly love him. He doesn’t probe with lots of questions, so my earlier life can remain a closed book. Like me, he’s just happy that we’ve found each other.”

             *       *       *       *      *      *       *

Five years earlier in the therapist’s office the loud wailing bounced off the soundproofed walls: “I can’t live like this any more, Dr.Myers. My mental anguish gives me no peace. I’m in turmoil all the time. I can’t take it anymore. I’m ready to commit suicide rather than continue this way. Talk-therapy and spiritual counseling have done nothing. I’m stuck with who I am.”

“Well,” Dr. Meyers said, “maybe it is time for you to take the final step. That probably would be best for you. With my continued support you should be able to cope. And, hopefully you’ll flourish. We’ve talked about this for a long time. You’ve certainly exhausted all other possible avenues. It’s worth a shot in my opinion. But the final choice has to be yours.”

“ I know that, Dr. Meyers. You’ve been great this past year, and I believe that I’m physically and mentally ready. I know that my surgeon, Dr. Zarren has spoken to you, and he’s in agreement.”

“What name will you settle on for the new you, Larry?”

“Lois, I’ll be Lois. That was my mother’s name; so I’ll be Lois after my sex-change operation.”

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****

Bribing America With Entitlements?

JL

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, an editor-at-large ot the National Review Online, recently wrote the following in one of his columns:  (the underlining is mine.)

“Our current fiscal woes, not to mention the riot of dysfunction that often goes by the name of “political correctness” and the *thumos-on-the-cheap that we call the self-esteem industry, are in no small part attributable to the perversion of our sense of self-worth.  For millions of Americans, it seems that respect must be paid in the form of cash tributeHow else to explain the inviolable sanctity of our aptly named ‘entitlement’ system?  Great civilizations die when the people believe that their personal dignity demands more than the society can possibly provide.  Sadly, that conversation has barely begun.”

(*Goldberg defines “thumos” as what the ancient Greeks called “spiritedness” encompassing the instinct for justice, respect, integrity.)

I take this to mean that if people are to stand tall, feeling good because they are on the right side of justice, respect and integrity, brimming with self-esteem, they must be paid off to do this, the payoff being Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other government funded benefits. If these indeed are Goldberg's thoughts, it is apparent that he does not think much of the American people. Goldberg maintains that our society cannot continue to provide that payoff, and like a traditional conservative, obviously wants to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, our big “entitlement” programs as his "solution.".

Despite his big words, Mr. Goldberg is wrong.  The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the world.  The problem, unfortunately, is the distribution of its wealth.  In America, no Socialist Robin Hood is going to take the wealth from the wealthy and distribute it to the poor.  It isn’t that simple.  But we do have a system to make sure that we all share in the wealth of America.  In its simplest form, this redistribution of wealth is known as taxation, which takes from those who have excess wealth and gives to the poor and the not-so-poor by providing services for them.. Unfortunately, the recent continuance of tax cuts for the wealthy assures that they will keep their disproportionate share of the nation's wealth, but for the others, it amounts to turning away from taxation as a solution to wealth re-distribution.

But there is another way to accomplish a more equitable distribution of America’s wealth.  Rather than sit on their wealth, individuals and corporations should invest it in a manner which creates an ongoing flow of permanent well-paying jobs in this country.  If this is done right, the unemployment problem will be solved and the need for benefits provided by the government will disappear because the newly created jobs will provide them, including health and retirement benefits.  Jobs means everybody gets richer, but those jobs must be within the United States, not outsourced to a cheap labor country.  The bottom line on business' profit and loss statements may be less that way, and the investments a wealthy individual makes may be somewhat  less profitable when directed toward "job creation" rather than toward "maximizing cash accumulation," but such sacrifices must be made. Job creation can be so strong a tool for wealth re-distribution that we might even be able to do away with parts of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for all but the poorest of Americans.  In this way, job creation can be used as a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth instead of taxation.

It must be done either way, through higher taxation or domestic job creation through investment.in America of the wealth that is sitting there. If we do not find a way to redistribute it, even though we are the wealthiest nation in the world, Goldberg’s pessimism is justified.  But the result will be far from a benign one.

******     ******      ******

Is Multiculturalism a Danger?
JL

Here’s a column by the conservative columnist, Cal Thomas, which appeared in the Palm Beach Post on Februrary 12, 2011.  I have never agreed with anything Mr. Thomas has ever written, ever, and this is no exception.   I responded to his column with a letter to the Post which was printed on their editorial page on February 23.  I include my letter right below his column, the point of which he finally makes in the next to last paragraph.  (Underlining is mine.)  Whether you agree or disagree with me, please pass on your thoughts.  That’s what the “Comment” procedure on this blog is for.

Thomas’ Column:
One of liberalism's many problems is that once an idea or program is proved wrong and unworkable, liberals rarely acknowledge their mistake and examine the root cause of their error so they don't repeat it. Take multiculturalism ... please!
In a speech to a security conference in Munich, British Prime Minister David Cameron declared state multiculturalism a failure. For good measure, Cameron said Britain also must get tougher on Islamic extremists. Predictably, this has angered Islamic extremists.  A genuinely liberal country, he said, "believes in certain values and actively promotes them. ... Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law, equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality."  Cameron said in Britain different cultures have been encouraged to live separate lives: "We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong."
Here I would take issue with an otherwise excellent speech. It isn't that Britain has failed to provide such a society. Rather, many of those coming to Britain (and increasingly France, Germany and the United States) don't want to become a part of those cultures, which they regard as corrupt and anti-God.
Britain's policy should be to require -- yes, require -- immigrants to become part of a melting pot and not individual vegetables floating around in a multicultural stew. Otherwise, they should not be admitted. When critics of multiculturalism and unbridled immigration warned of the inevitability of a loss of nationhood and national identity, they were denounced as alarmists, even racists.  The late British parliamentarian Enoch Powell suffered such attacks (and earned many kudos) when he repeatedly warned about the dangers of open-ended immigration without assimilation. In a controversial speech to a Conservative Party conference in 1968, Powell began his address, known as "Rivers of Blood," with what ought to be an obvious statement: "The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles, which are deeply rooted in human nature."  Powell argued that when it comes to multiculturalism and immigration, Britain had failed in that mandate. Looking into the future, Powell accurately predicted what has come to pass from mass and uncontrolled immigration:
"Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population."
Powell wasn't so much railing against immigrants, though his critics read it in those terms, but against Britain's refusal to integrate them into British culture.
And then Powell let the timid class have it with this line: "There could be no grosser misconception of the realities than is entertained by those who vociferously demand legislation as they call it 'against discrimination', whether they be leader-writers of the same kidney and sometimes on the same newspapers which year after year in the 1930s tried to blind this country to the rising peril which confronted it, or archbishops who live in palaces, faring delicately with the bedclothes pulled right up over their heads. They have got it exactly and diametrically wrong."
In 1968, Britain still had time to reverse course, but because its leaders didn't want to be called "racists" and immigrants were doing jobs British citizens were increasingly reluctant to do (sound familiar?) the floodgates were left open. It may be too late for Britain, as it may be too late for France and Germany.
It isn't too late for the United States, though it is getting close. Too many American leaders suffer from the same weak-kneed syndrome that has gripped Britain. Who will tell immigrants to America that the days of multiculturalism are over and if they want to come to America, they must do so legally and expect to become Americans with no hyphens, no allegiance to another country, and no agenda other than the improvement of the United States?
Enoch Powell was right four decades ago. David Cameron is right today. If British leaders had listened to Powell then, Cameron would not have needed to make his Munich speech.

My Letter in Response, to the Post:
It would be nice to be able to agree with Cal Thomas whose recent (Saturday, Feb 12) column talked about the need for immigrants to assimilate, and skewered the concept of multiculturalism.  It would be nice if today’s immigrants followed the path of past immigrants who, after one generation or so of clannishly preserving the culture they came from, gradually stepped into the mainstream of American culture.  Thomas asks who will tell today’s immigrants that the days of multiculturalism are over.  It better not be the government, whose stepping on individual rights is something conservatives such as Thomas usually oppose.

This country allows immigrants to refuse to get into the American mainstream, if they so choose, as evidenced by the Amish enclaves in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the Hasidic Jews of Brooklyn and those Chinese who still prefer to live in “Chinatowns.”  Insofar as such manifestations of multiculturalism present a danger from extremists, that can occur among assimilated immigrants as well.  Multiculturalism and disloyalty should not be confused.










Monday, February 21, 2011

Truth: Whatever You Want it to Be!

Poison from AOL
This evening I watched a video that came across my monitor from AOL News. I was so incensed by it that I am including my thoughts about it in this blog. The AOL “news” item was headlined “Was Alexander Hamilton Ever President?” Several academics were interviewed and said that he was never President, but the interviewer persisted, insisting that because the “winners” usually write what passes for history, we cannot believe what is in the history books, no matter how well it is documented. To back this up, several “man in the street” interviews hinted that “people” just don’t know whether or not he ever was President, and that was considered evidence. The video left the question open, as something still open to debate. I was shocked.

Why? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but everyone is not entitled to their own facts. On the skimpiest of evidence consisting of (1) interviews with people whose knowledge was extremely limited (two examples: ”Alexander Hamilton, he had something to with the telephone, right?” or “He must have been President because he’s on the ten dollar bill.”) and  (2) the questioning of the veracity of a documented historical fact which the clever interviewer felt he had the right to challenge without any supporting evidence, AOL puts this on their front news page! Wow!

This is historical revisionism at its most blatant. Believe anything you want. Deny any fact that you want. If you can get a brand name label like AOL to headline the question, “Was Alexander Hamilton Ever President?,” you give credence to this attempt to deny the indisputable fact that Alexander Hamilton was never President of the United States. This is truly the world of George Orwell’s 1984 where there is no longer anything that is true. Truth is what you want it to be.

Is it open to question whether or not there was a Holocaust?
Is it open to question whether or not Al Qaida flew planes into the World Trade Center, destroying it?
Is it open to question whether or not the world is shaped like a globe?
Is it open to question whether or not the sun rises in the east?
Is it open to question whether or not Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for best Actress in 2010?


Sure it is, if you are ignorant enough to believe anything you see on the internet, and too many of us are. Stay away from the forces of darkness on the internet, and today AOL took the prize for that.
JL

*** *** *** *** ***

Jack’s Recipe for a fine Springtime in Florida Drink

1. Pour 1 ½ ounces of tequila into a mixer half filled with cracked ice.
2. Add about ½ ounce of Triple Sec or Cointreau.
3. Add about three ounces of Orange Juice.
4. Stir gently and drain, leaving ice behind, into a martini glass

If you are trying to impress anyone, add a maraschino cherry or a lime wedge.
This isn't quite a Tequila Sunrise, but it tastes pretty damn good.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Health Care "Mandate," Poetry and a Short Story

Today I am going to burden you with some thoughts I have on health care reform. If you agree or disagree with me, your comments are welcome, and if you wish, they will be published on the blog. Once you've had enough of health care, enjoy a poem by Sid Bolotin and a new short story from the pen of Harvey Sage, touching on abortion, gun control and Presidential politics, not necessarily in that order. New contributors are always welcome on this blog. Have a nice day!

*** *** *** *** ***

Paying for Health Insurance

Here’s a little mental exercise to think about. Imagine that a particular hospital’s bills for the services it provides over a week’s period adds up to $5,000,000. Of this, including the adjustments (deductions) which Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies get, $4,500,000 is paid. That leaves $500,000 which must be recovered from patients. Let’s assume that some patients are able to reach into their pockets and collectively pay $100,000 of this amount. That leaves $400,000 of unpaid bills for the week. And over the year, that comes to about $20,000,000. That’s a lot of money. Let’s now look at where the hospital can look to recover this missing money.

The easiest approach is to take that $400,000 and spread it out over the amounts which patients whose bills get paid in one means or another end up paying. So they increase the amount that everyone gets billed by about 8% and that takes care of the freeloaders who never pay, resulting in increased insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and out-of-pocket costs for the others. I think that’s the way it works today. All bills are higher than they should be to cover the cost of caring for those who do not pay.

Now if there were some mechanism to get rid of these freeloaders, hospital bills (and doctor bills for that matter since doctors do the same kind of thing to cover their non-paying patients), the problem would be solved. For years, advocates of health care reform have advocated a program whereby the government would step in to insure the freeloaders. I believe actuaries have found that the cost of doing so, which would have to come from taxes paid by everybody, would be less than that 8% mark up mentioned above which is paid not by everybody, but only by consumers of health care whose bills are already being paid.. But this approach, even in the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, has never been able to muster enough support to come into being.

Instead, the approach that Republican opponents of broader health care reform have been advocating for decades, a private approach involving private health insurance companies, was included in the Affordable Health Care Act. This approach, I repeat, the Republican plan, mandates that those without health insurance purchase it privately if they can afford it or with government aid if they cannot. In this manner, without taxing everyone, that sneaky 8% increase in everyone’s health care bills would be unnecessary. This is the “mandate” mentioned so often in the news and the subject of various court decisions as to its constitutionality. Remember, it is a Republican idea which the Democrats have adopted, a truly non-partisan approach.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have renamed what was originally their own proposal “Obama Care,” and are now trying to repeal it. Most Republicans still do not realize that doing so will leave the country with the choice of (1) remaining with the present way of handling the problem which means that hospital and doctor bills for "paying" patients will continue to be increased to cover the cost of service for those who do not pay anything for their care or (2) turn to the oft-rejected “government option” whereby the government will insure those who presently cannot pay their health care bills, rather than have this burden continue to be carried solely by paying consumers of health care.

JL

*** *** *** *** ***

Don't Think Of ...

by Sid Bolotin

At twilight ‘tween sleep and wake

Once again my mind unleashes

Like a rambunctious puppy

Free of its restraint

It gambols through my “don’t think” list

Like a dog romping through the rubbish

Ah hah!” An “if only” bone

Lovely to gnaw on . . . suck its marrow

Oh! Look! Look! Here’s a tasty “what if”

With much succulence to chew into

“Oh, great joy!” it seems to shout

Spotting a tangled mat of “changes to come”

“Stop! Stop!” I bellow, think happy! Think now!”

As mind blithely ignores my plea

Am I not mind’s master?

Am I not in control of its wanderings?

If not me?

Then who?


*** *** *** *** ***

THE VINDICATOR

Harvey Sage

T’was the season for assassinations, and Vee was in good form. No one noticed her as she approached the target area. Slender, slouched over, with a low fitting baseball hat over long brown hair, and wearing a long sleeve shirt worn outside the pants, Vee came on like a soldier on patrol, one measured step after another. Though she didn’t look remarkably dangerous that would soon change in a flash of terror.

Vee walked within the midst of a stream of people who had come to meet and greet Senator Sam Jessup, a dynamic Mitt Romney look alike whose rising poll numbers had him pegged as a presidential contender. Signs, pennants and buttons were displayed by the faithful, proclaiming the Jessup mantra. “Jesus loves Jessup,” “Abortion is murder,” “Jessup Protects our Right to Bear Arms,” and the like. Focusing on the “Right to Bear Arms” poster, Vee’s lips curled upwards. “You’re in for a shock Sam my man.”

She approached the target who was sitting amiably behind a long folding table, an aide on either side. Were they armed? Vee didn’t know nor did she care. She walked with confidence.

She thought “You right wing dickhead. Your followers prevented my sister who had been raped by a gang of thugs from aborting a baby.” They had screamed “abortion is murder” outside the courthouse so vehemently that the local politicians had passed an ordinance that outlawed aborting even a child seeded by rape. Vee’s sister was traumatized and, unable to bear the emotional pain, she jumped from the hospital roof, clutching her new born to her breast. The baby died. Vee’s sister was seriously wounded with broken legs, ribs and internal injuries. Jessup’s supporters screamed “murderer,” the politicians yielded to pressure, and the recuperating sister would have to go to trial. Jessup’s poll numbers rose when he was touted to be a man who loved life and little babies, especially if they were someone else’s responsibility.

A row of folding bridge chairs were positioned in front of the long table. Those were occupied by people waiting to talk to the senator, shake his hand, share a few words, and get his autograph. For ten dollars one could even have a photo taken with the possible future president. Vee thought “Stupid sheep. Followers of a high profile demigod. Self-serving, overfed animals. Your time is nigh. Prepare to meet The Vindicator.” Vee moved closer.

She saw the TV pros with their equipment and noted how beneficial it would be to have her actions broadcast through the world. TV, internet news, facebook, twitter-

What a wonderful way to publicize. “No one is immune from The Vindicator and my message of righteousness.”

Her right hand slid under the left half of her shirt, caressing the butt of a 30 shot Glock as if it were a baby’s bottom. She took a deep breath. “Almost there. I just got to pass this guy.”

The man standing in Vee’s way was old, thin, and leaning on the back of a folded chair. It seemed he was about to sit down, blocking Vee’s way. When he felt Vee brush his arm he turned his head and then moved letting her glide by. He flipped the chair, gripping it by its legs. Vee ignored him as she arrived on station in front of Jessup.

Absolute silence hovered over the greet and meet as Vee’s hand came out with the gun. Jessup, a medium dark skinned man turned pale as he looked down the barrel of the blue steel death machine, available in metallic black, gunmetal gray, or silver with comfort grips made to fit your hand.

BREAKING NEWS- BREAKING NEWS- BREAKING NEWS

“This just in from our WHYT roving reporter. Senator Sam Jessup was attacked a few minutes ago at the mid-city rally.” The video feed showed The Vindicator approach the table and then the extended arm with the Glock. Simultaneously the feed showed an old man pick up and swing a chair like John Henry. The edge of the chair hit the gunperson behind the right ear who went down like a sack of cement, the gun falling away, unfired. The two burly aides leaped into the fray, felling the old man. Jessup heroically fell onto the ground under the table behind his stunned supporters, his shivering body curled in a fetal position.

Later on WHYT had an interview with the honorable Senator Jessup at the hospital with the elderly man, Fred Dunlop, who had a broken arm from the fracas. Jessup, whose skin tone had darkened to its normal hue, stood by Dunlop’s side, a big smile on his face. “Your brave action saved my life and the life of others. How did you know what to do?”

The old hero nodded, fighting the effects of the anesthesia given to reduce the pain in this arm. “When I saw the gun lady approaching I knew she meant evil. Let’s say

The Spirit of the Lord spoke to me and I acted accordingly.”

Jessup ignored this comment and still smiling, seized the moment. “You are a perfect example of my supporters- brave, God fearing, willing to act, and committed to the principles which my campaign stands for.”

Dunlop shook his head. “I am sorry to tell you this senator, but I am definitely not one of your supporters. Truth be told, I came to this meeting to publicly denounce your politics. I consider them vile and hypocritical. Your stand on reducing gun control is proved ludicrous by this attempt on your life. Only by the grace of God were you and others spared. We’ve got to regulate access to firearms.”

Jessup jumped back, trying to distance himself from his nemesis. His skin blanched as he spoke. “But I thought you were one of ours- Christian and conservative. Why did you save me by interfering?”

“Because it was the right thing to do. If God wants you not to be president he’ll let you lose through the normal political process, not through violence.”

A week later the poll ratings showed Jessup’s standings had plummeted. He was no longer considered a contender. The hospital interview had done him in. The Vindicator had accomplished her purpose. As she lay in the hospital bed recovering from the blow to her head she managed a weak smile, acknowledging that the ultimate Vindicator is God.