Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Holiday Season Begins!

As we finish the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, we find ourselves already in the frenetic race to get through the Holidays and end another year. 

I have discovered that I need a change of pace.  I am not going to wait until the New Year to get started on that change.  A big part of the change is to purchase and read three new books on the market.  All three have to do with structure of our country and the outstanding leaders who set us upon our historic course and who sustained that effort through the centuries.  I may report on them after I have concluded my reading.

But, that report will have to wait.  I have decided to take the month of December off from any further blog posts. So for December you will have to read something else!  I have already determined what my first January essay will be about.  Of course, it will have something to do with “new beginnings” as most of us think about planning our goals and fulfilling our aspirations.

I hope you will remember to check back in January.  In the meantime, I wish you all the very best that life has to offer—family, friends and great adventures!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Pretender

I have had the opportunity to meet people in all walks of life. Each person has had some impact on the values I have developed.  As I allowed my mind to wander through the past years and the variety of people I have encountered, I discovered that some were what I shall call “pretenders.”

The “Pretender” is a person who by his/her actions demonstrates the belief that the qualities below represent weakness in an individual:  (alphabetical listing, not by priority)

    Caring is for those who cannot change a situation
    One must do whatever is necessary to appear in charge
    Everything is available for our unrestricted use
    One must be proud of self so others will not be aware of shortcomings
    Love makes one vulnerable
    Passive aggressive tendencies demonstrate unwillingness to confront
    This quality demonstrates one is not strong enough to win battles
    A cover up for inner uncertainty

Fortunately, I have fond memories of many persons in my life who recognize the true value of these characteristics and do their best to exemplify them every day.  They are role models I attempt to emulate.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Get Your Hands Off My Social Security!

Since the election a number of Republicans are even more loudly proclaiming that we have to cut entitlements.  By entitlements they mostly mean Social Security.  Two of the things they want to do is raise the retirement age to from 67 to 69 and they want to change the calculations for cost of living (COLA) increases so that they virtually will not happen.  For those who give a damn and can read (usually those with higher education levels) I am submitting some information from which you can draw your own conclusions to where you stand on the issue.  If you are just out of college, retirement may not be of interest to you.  If you are about to retire, it is of paramount importance.  Young or old, the day will come when you retire.  What that day looks like is heading for the front burner of the political charade we call Congress.

I am going to share figures gathered from government source data and relate them to my own situation. In my case I retired in 2003 at age 69 while the retirement age was still 65.  I started taking my Social Security income, as allowed by law, at age 65.  That is as good a way to compare your own situation as any and I don’t really care who knows what my financial situation happens to be.  I would hope, however, that you care about yours, because with the Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives you can bet on some strange legislation coming up.  Incidentally, I am in favor of increasing the retirement age, eventually to 70, and removing the limit on the base upon which the FICA deductions are made.

There are several philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats.  Simply stated most Republicans favor policies that benefit big business while most Democrats favor the labor side of economics.  The Republicans believe that if you make the rich richer they will spend their good fortune buying things, thus helping the economy to grow.  The Democrats believe the key to economic growth depends on policies that put earnings into the hands of the main consumers, the so-called middle class.  Democrats also believe that when the economy falters and unemployment grows, it is up to government to charge the economic forces by investing money in projects and programs that put people to work so they have the money to buy the goods we should be producing, even if that money has to be borrowed. If government does not put money into the economy when businesses do not, production stops, unemployment surges.  The 2% with the most money can never spend enough to keep the economy going.  It takes the 98% of the rest of us!  If we don’t have the money the economy tanks.

Well enough of that.  On the table below I have listed some facts about income and the cost of living.  It is by no means a complete picture, but it does highlight some basics.  Figures compare the year after my retirement to 2010.

% Change
My Social Security Gross Check
My Medicare Payment withheld
My Social Security Net Check
US Cost of Living Increase since 2003

Avg US Soc Sec Check/month


Avg OR Unemployment/month


Avg US Single Per. Poverty Level Inc/mo


Avg HH Income Oregon/month 2008


Ask yourself if you can live on the average SS check, or the average unemployment check, which at least is more than social security.  What do you think about the difference between the US average poverty level income for a single person as opposed to the average household income in Oregon?

It would be one thing if income and costs rose in relatively equal percentages, but as you can see they do not.  The costs of everything increase faster and by more than the average incomes of those most in need.  If there are meaningful alternatives for assisting those unable to support even a minimal life style, I am all for considering them.  The actions of politicians seem more focused on making sure the top 2% remain unaffected by any downturns in the economy.

I have paid money into Social Security like everyone else.  Receiving my monthly check is NOT a handout.  So, members of Congress, Mr. President, keep your hands off my Social Security check!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Books I Recently Read

In case you wondered (and why would you?) whether I actually read as well as write I offer the following book reports on my recent efforts to become well informed and well rounded.   (Hey! I’m not referring to my pear shaped figure.)

Third World America, by Arianna Huffington.
I have followed Arianna Huffington for some time as she has shared her views on various television news programs.  I subscribe to The Huffington Post,  her online blog that hosts dozens of the top analysts in the country today.  When I saw her interviewed about her latest of thirteen books up to the present, I immediately bought and read it.

The first two thirds of the book deals with the multitude of ways our country has devolved into a “third world” [1] nation.  It was discouraging and bewildering to see the research laid out in such a systematic and straightforward manner.  The lower middle class is increasingly becoming the poor and the upper middle class is sinking to the regular middle class.  One class continues to grow—the 2% of the population in the upper class.  That 2% is managing to capture the major portion of wealth in our nation, currently estimated to be about 85%.  That means that 98% of the population shares in only 15% of the wealth.  One can debate the figures.  There are numerous ways in which these calculations are made.  But the fact remains that the so-called “trickle down” economics of the Reagan era never trickled down to any body.  That increasing wealth was hoarded and reinvested in ways that would further benefit the super rich.

In the final third of her book, Ms. Huffington outlines ways in which this imbalance can be remedied.  She talks about entrepreneurship,   Calling on the can-do attitude that is part of America’s DNA, Huffington shows precisely what we need to do to stop our free fall and keep our country from turning into a Third World nation.”

I urge you to read it.
Eighteen Acres, by Nicolle Wallace.
I just finished this completely absorbing novel about life inside the eighteen acres that comprise the grounds of the White House.  I could not put this book down!  Coming as it has right at the time of the midterm elections, it satisfied my curiosity about the work, the people and the antics of the people we elect to lead us and those they gather around themselves in order to accomplish their goals.  It is a novel but it is based on a real knowledge of how things work (or don’t) in the world of high-powered politics.

Nicolle Wallace is an established political commentator who regularly appears on network and cable news programs.  She is a contributor to The Daily Beast and a former analyst for CBS Evening News.  She was White House communications director under George W. Bush and campaign advisor for John McCain and Sarah Palin.
I found it most interesting to imagine who her characters were in “real life.”  Of course they were drawn from a number of administrations and their personnel and one cannot be absolutely certain who is who.  The fun is in imagining that you might know.  I am sure that the insiders know who they are.

I read very few novels, but I bought this as soon as I heard Ms. Wallace interviewed about her book.  Get it!

Dead Love, by Linda Watanabe McFerrin.
And now for something entirely different.  This book, written by the wife of a friend of mine, is not the type of material I usually choose for reading matter.  My curiosity pushed me, both because of the current interest in the subject matter and because of my relationship to the author.

First, let me admit that I did not consider myself a ghoul/zombie person!    I must say, though, I had hardly begun Dead Love when I realized I was strangely excited.  Anticipation conjured in each paragraph led me to wonder what next?  Then it was from one chapter to the next.  I was hooked!

There was no wasted time building up to the sexual interplay of the characters.  Erin and Ryu take care of that right away.  Best to get into it quickly so one could fully participate in the real adventure of dead love!  The sex was, as Erin exclaimed, “almost annihilating” to say the least.

At some points in the reading I imagined a Bogart figure, as in Casablanca or African Queen, an understated character innately powerful.  Each of the Dead Love characters was well drawn and believable. Of course it helped if you already had an inclination to be interested in shape-shifting ghouls and zombies.

The author is a marvelous wordsmith.  Her colorful and descriptive narrative moves us from one dark corner of the mind to another, each fraught with the shadows of intrigue and deception.

The author is currently on a book signing tour and will be stopping at Powell’s Beaverton bookstore November 10 at 7:00 PM.

[1] ·  The term arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). ...
·  Unlike an industrial nation where certain criteria are met, these are nations which struggle to compete because of a lack of one or more of the following: health, education, employment, resources, money, and other various factors. ...

It’s Harder to Keep Silent Than I Thought!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I plan on being silent about the election results until I regain consciousness.  One friend noted that I seemed to be able to type while unconscious.  Caught again!

In the absence of my own thoughts (for now) I am sharing the comments of a long-time friend who is pretty much on the same wave length as I am.  Here is what Lloyd Agte has to say.

Looks like I'll have to fill the gap, then.  I hope a vow of silence is not accompanied by a spell of deafness and blindness!  To wit:

We are hitched to a dying empire.  We have not won a war since World War II.  All others have been truce, withdrawal, or defeat, or stalemate.  We will no longer be in the driver's seat as we were after WWII.  The myth of each generation getting richer and richer by doing less and less (grunt work that is) has come to an end.  The goal of the rich seems to be to acquire more wealth so that offspring don't have to worry about work and so that they can flaunt their "superior" class to an ever impoverishing nation.   They need bread lines, people dying in the street of starvation, food riots, to really feel their superior position.  As the wealth and power drifts into the hands of corporations, who have no responsibility to anyone but themselves, and the wealth percolates upwards in a class warfare that the super rich are winning, and there is less and less money in the hands of the middle and lower classes  that create the demand for goods, our economy will continue to falter and we will continue to try to maintain our lifestyle by borrowing money from the Chinese who will soon have the most powerful economy in the world.

That was a powerful illusion of wealth that the middle-class, and upper class as far as that is concerned, and it even trickled down to the poor, indulged in with the housing boom and bubble.  With nothing down and no credit and lies on a credit report, everyone thought they were getting richer, when it was just a house of cards.  Now they want it back again.  They LOVED that feeling that they were getting richer every day just because they had made the "wise" decision to buy a house.  Everything inflated: price of lumber, housing material, permits, labor, petroleum, stocks, real estate, and on and on.  It was a heady addiction and any drug is hard to give up.  Obama's sober money priming machine slowly does its work, but like a spoiled teenager, American voters want it NOW.  "Wave a wand and make me feel rich again," they shout. And the Republicans are there with their wands and their shills mixing among the crowd to pick the pockets of the middle-class and poor of what little remains.

So expect in each two year cycle a repudiation of those in power by the electorate who want to be restored to at least their illusion of masters of the world, and a constant escalation of material goods is their only means of keeping score.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

About The Election

I defer to one of the world’s proverbs that I should, perhaps, pay more attention to:

Speech is silver,
Silence is golden.

Silence will be my only comment on the election results until I regain consciousness!