Monday, October 31, 2011

Herman Cain: How Goofy can a President Be?

Herman Cain is in the news again, this time for allegedly sexually harassing a couple of his female employees some time in the way back. 

From Politico:  The sources — which include the recollections of close associates and other documentation — describe episodes [with Cain] that left the women upset and offended. These incidents include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association’s offices. There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.
While I've been waiting for the inevitable comparisons to the "high tech lynching" of  Clarence Thomas for similar behavior against Anita Hill and other female underlings in Thomas's workplace,  I've been trying to think of a way to put this whole thing into some kind of perspective without upsetting and offending my female compatriots.

Here's the best I can do:

Any woman who came of age in the middle of the 20th Century (that would be me) is now scratching her head wondering when the moment of high drama is going to come in this story.  It appears this guy Cain is possibly a creep who doesn't have the foggiest about propriety and good manners, let alone common sense.  Have you seen him in action as a so-called politician?   Have you seen him leering at the end of that goofy ad where his campaign manager slowly releases a mouthful of smoke?    Would it really shock you or even surprise you that he may have made suggestive comments to women who work for him?
 It doesn't shock me or surprise me or, frankly, even give me a moment's pause.  If I had a better memory, I could name you dozens of men I've worked with over the years -- some of them my bosses -- who have done the same things, not just to me but to every person who looked the least bit female.  I'll give it to you that there are men who take it as their right to go beyond innuendo and gestures, but that's a whole different ballgame.  So far all I've heard about Herman Cain's actions are the typically stupid, creepy, laughable pastimes of someone who deludes himself into thinking his position has the power to somehow make him desirable.  (Insert mention of "Mad Men" here.)

Good lord, people of the press, everybody knows Cain is an idiot.  Nothing new here.  Move along.

So let's get to why I can't get too excited about this new revelation about Herman Cain and his nasty mouth.  There are men out there in positions of power who want to take away every right women ever had to be equal citizens under the law.  They are working night and day to bust Roe v. Wade wide open.  There are already a number of states either in the process of, or actively promoting, bans on abortions.  If they're not working on outright bans they're sneaking around looking for ways to stall or discourage a procedure that has been declared legal in this country. (Mississippi is getting ready to decide if eggs are people, for God's sake.)

The House recently passed phony legislation that would stop most private insurance companies from paying for abortions, using the new Health Care law as the phony reason for the need to act.  It won't get past the Senate and they know it, but it can't hurt to send the message once again that, while our children are at risk,  being pro-fetus is where it's at.

 Rick Perry is proud of the fact that he defunded Planned Parenthood in his state, and his isn't the only one.

Mitt Romney wants to pretend he wasn't for legal abortions before he was against legal abortions.

Most if not all of the GOP presidential candidates are prepared to take steps to flat-out outlaw abortions in America. (Including Cain, who, even as I write this, is at the American Enterprise Institute using "genocide" and "Planned Parenthood" in the same sentence.)

If Herman Cain did what they're saying he did, it's a bad thing, sure, but let's get real.  While the press insists on resorting to the ridiculous in order to draw in the shallow,  real government-sanctioned sexual harassment looms large and threatens never to go away.

That's the big story.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Junk Insurance deserves an Occupy Movement

Things are heating up in Chicago and I don't know a soul who is surprised by that.  It's Chicago and it's Emanuel Land.  Last week the Occupy Wall Street Windy City branch decided to occupy Grant Park past the posted 11 PM closing time.  The police, never ones to miss even vague radical clues, guessed correctly that these folks had other things on their minds and weren't going to be ready to leave just because a simple sign said they should.

When the clock moved past the magic hour, Mayor Rahm barked, the police moved in, and more than a hundred people were arrested in the eviction process. (Contrast that to the Good Mayor of Lansing, my hero and should-be governor, Virg Bernero, who welcomed the OWS protesters to the state capital, encouraged the crowd to keep up the good work, and provided park permits and the services necessary to make the days easier for them. Ahem and aha.)

So the climate in Chicago is apparently not good for protesters, (though I have to say it's much better than that in Oakland) but I'm hoping those same OWS crowds got wind of this week's Junk Insurance Conference, and hot-footed it over there.  (It began yesterday and runs through Friday.)

My hero, Wendell Potter, former CIGNA CEO turned whistleblower, wrote about it in HuffPo:
On Wednesday [10/26/11], the third annual Voluntary Benefits and Limited Medical Conference will open at the Marriott Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center, not far from Chicago's O'Hare airport. In just three years, this conference has grown to be a very big, three-day extravaganza. According to the conference Web site, it will "bring together all the players in the industry, from employers and benefits managers, to insurance agents, consultants, brokers, insurance companies, TPAs (third-party administrators), and enrollment firms."

All you have to do is spend a few minutes on the Web site to get an understanding of just how much money there is to be made selling inadequate coverage to naive consumers. You'll see all the big names in the insurance world among the attendees and exhibitors, including the very biggest -- Aetna, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, CIGNA, Humana and United -- as well as dozens of restaurant and fast food chains and other employers of low-wage workers.

 Yes, it's a den of thieves (no surprise -- they're "insurance" biggies), but this is pretty stunning:
One of the big for-profit insurers sponsoring this year's conference markets a limited-benefit plan only to employers with inordinately high employee turnover. Not only are the benefits very limited, the underwriting criteria almost guarantee an impressive profit margin.

Under the plan, the average age of an employer's workers cannot be higher than 40, and no more than 65 percent of employees can be female. (Insurers have long charged women more than men simply because of their internal plumbing.) To meet the insurer's additional demands, employers must have a 70 percent or higher annual employee-turnover rate (that's not a typo), which means that most employees won't even stay on the job long enough to use their benefits. Employees also get no coverage for care related to any preexisting conditions they might need during their first six months of enrollment in the plan. And get this: Employees have to pay the entire premium. The insurer doesn't even allow employers to subsidize their workers' coverage. No wonder the big box retailers and restaurant chains love this junk. They list them among the employee benefits they supposedly offer but don't have to part with a dime when a worker enrolls in one of the plans.

We have come to accept the business of "insurance", not as "assurance", as it was originally defined and administered by quasi-benevolent non-profits, but as just one more scam in the long list of scams we Americans have to watch out for.  This is our health we're talking about and we've put it in the hands of merciless privateers.

The insurance companies, begun as non-profits and mainly run that way until the 1970s and 80s, at least pretended to understand the part about shared risks.  Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose.  Sometimes people die long before they've outspent their premiums, while other people cause their insurance carriers to dig deep, like it or not.  That's the crux of the insurance biz.  One thing the carriers understand to the core:  they'll never go broke selling us insurance policies.  They'll always pull in more money than they'll put out.  If that weren't so, there wouldn't be an insurance industry.
But now we're at the point where the watchdogs are fed too well, where members of our own government fight hard against an equitable, non-profit health care solution, where the industry is so bloated, enough will  never be enough.  Even the big guys are not above committing fraud, but what makes the whole scam even more egregious is that they never needed to go to such lengths in order to make their fortunes.  The fortunes were theirs to be made.  The entire system works to their advantage, even when they're being good guys doing the right thing.

I haven't heard that there are any protesters over at the Marriott convention Center yet, but it's not too late.  As I said, the Conference runs through tomorrow (Friday).  But if the OWS folks happen to miss the Conference, they can always camp out in front of a few grand and glorious corporate offices.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Houston, TX
(Note that the only corporate office list I could find complete with addresses and phone numbers comes from India.  Yes, India.  I said India)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

In 21st Century America: It's still okay to beat up on women.

TOPEKA | The Topeka City Council on Tuesday [10/11/11] voted to repeal the city’s law against misdemeanor domestic battery, the latest in a budget battle that has freed about 30 abuse suspects from charges.
One of the offenders was even arrested and released twice since the brouhaha broke out Sept. 8.
It started when Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor announced that a 10 percent budget cut would force him to end his office’s prosecution of misdemeanor cases, almost half of which last year were domestic battery cases.
With that, Taylor stopped prosecuting the cases and left them to the city. But city officials balked at the cost.
Tuesday’s 7-3 vote to eliminate the local domestic violence law was designed to force Taylor to prosecute the cases because they would remain a crime under state law.
Hey, all you totally misunderstood guys in Topeka who feel the need to smack around your women, good news!  As long as you don't get too heavy-handed -- blackening eyes, loosening teeth, leaving really ugly bruises -- your city officials are on your side.  

In a fledgling century of new lows this may not rank up there with the worst of them, but as an indicator of how low our new austerity drives have allowed us to fall, it's right up there.  Misdemeanor violence against women has now been approved by a city council for no other reason than to play chicken with a county prosecutor looking for creative ways to get around budget cuts.

Tack on top of that last week's action by the House to bully insurance companies into refusing to cover abortions.
From the Hill:
The House approved a bill that Republicans said would prevent last year's healthcare law from funding abortions, but which Democrats said would go far beyond that and make it much harder for women to exercise their constitutional right to have abortions.
The bill, H.R. 358, was passed in a 251-172 vote that saw more than a dozen Democrats join nearly all voting Republicans in support of the measure.
Republicans said throughout the day that the bill is needed because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was approved without any limitation on funding for abortion rights. They also dismissed President Obama's Executive Order that Democrats say reinforces this prohibition.
"Thus ObamaCare, when phased in fully in November 2014, will open up the floodgates of public funding for abortion in a myriad of programs, including and especially in exchanges, resulting in more dead babies and wounded mothers than would otherwise have been the case," Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said.
 I expect that sort of thing from the Republicans, but 15 Democrats bought into it, too.  It would still have passed without them, but that doesn't make me any less ashamed of them. (Here is the list.)  Don't tell me they're only doing what their constituents expect of them.  Either they're Democrats or they're not.  A real Democrat wouldn't be caught dead voting for something like that.
"This bill is a radical departure from existing law," House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. "This legislation is bad public policy, it is the wrong priority for Congress, it is an assault on women's health, and women should know that it prevents them from using their own dollars to buy their own private insurance should they be part of an exchange."
 Never mind that this action by the House is as phony as the bill's moniker, the "Protect Life Act".   Where are the bills to protect jobs, to protect children already living, to protect the health and welfare of the citizens of this country?  Nowhere to be seen.  There are some battles we shouldn't still be fighting.  A woman's right to choose is sacrosanct. A woman's right to protect her own body is not now and never should have been up for debate. 

You protect life by respecting the living, by nurturing the living, by honoring the living.  You accept the job as representative of the people by promising to preserve and protect. This bill and the actions in Topeka turn those notions upside down, and do it in mean-spirited, draconian ways too many people are finding acceptable.  But change is in the air.  If we can keep it going, a great awakening is about to begin.  If we can keep it going, we'll be looking back on the last few decades of wicked wrongheadedness, wondering how we ever let it happen in our lifetime.

It can't come soon enough for me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: Wagons and Trailers and Planes! Oh My!

Bob Dalrymple and his girlfriend, Kathy Neal, are leaving Michigan and heading for Colorado, because, Bob says, the economy's suffering, the winters in Michigan are too cold and it's time for adventure.  He wants to go someplace warm.  That's what he says.  His two kids live in Colorado, but apparently they've neglected to tell him there's a reason crowds of retired Snowbirds aren't descending on the Centennial State.  It's snowy and blustery and cold there in the winter!

Bob, disabled after a truck-driving accident, takes it slower these days but isn't about to take it easy.  “I figure you can sit there and exist or you can go on an adventure,” Dalrymple told a Muskegon News reporter. “We decided an adventure didn’t sound so bad....I sold my stuff and I’m going, and I’m not coming back.”

He and Kathy are going to take a couple of months to get there and I'm just hoping they really understand about winter.  They'll be traveling in a mini-caravan of two wagons pulled by five horses, accompanied by three dogs.  One "wagon" is really a kind of camper, but the smaller one, the supply wagon, looks like a true covered wagon (See gallery here and near-enough picture below).  Their friends have autographed it with well wishes and Bon Voyages and desperate pleas to reconsider.

This from the Muskegon News:
He had the horses. Building the wagons is what would take the most work. He turned to a scrapyard, where he found the materials that would do the trick: A 60-year-old hay wagon, an old pontoon boat and a Winnebago camper.
Eighteen feet in length, the camper includes a refrigerator, a stove, a queen-size bed and a sink. Pulled by three horses, the driver and passenger sit in two bucket seats taken from a 1970s Chevy Malibu.

As near as I can tell the two of them will be exposed to the elements whenever they're sitting in their Chevy Malibu seats.  They'll be going across the plains, the dusty, windy, frigid plains, and I'm not seeing a windshield.  I thought this story was going to be a lark.  It was supposed to be fun, but now I'm alarmed.  Bob says they have gloves and boots and they'll be all right, but I don't know.  I've read those stories about hapless, ill-prepared pioneers falling for that word "adventure".  The outcome can often be grim.  So if you happen to see these two wagons going down the road, give them a big Howdy and maybe check to see that they're doing okay.  They seem like nice people.

Not Bob and Kathy, but a close-enough wagon. (With apologies -- the Muskegon News wants me to pay for pictures.)

The story goes that this guy was out walking and he "stumbled" upon an unattended refrigerated beer trailer equipped with outside spigots and -- Good Lord Amighty! -- empty beer pitchers sitting on a nearby table.  When they nabbed him, many pitchers later, his perfectly reasonable, though somewhat wobbly explanation was that he thought he had died and gone to heaven.  Everybody sees Heaven in a different way.  I might see my sainted grandmother but this guy saw free beer trucks.  But here's the part that must have really convinced him:  He wasn't charged with anything!  Not with public intoxication, not with Grand Theft Beer Trailer.  Nothing.

A feel-good story if ever I saw one.
Not the real trailer, but I'm guessing pretty close
Or maybe like this

But get caught trying to bring a Snow Globe on a plane and see what happens to you.  Or big hair.

 CNN contributor LZ Granderson wrote and talked about it this week, and yes, it's to laugh, but no, it's not, considering what kind of nuts are out there. Even less funny was the search through LZ's dreadlocks.  At least to LZ.  I snickered a little over that one, I admit.  How does one search through dreadlocks?  Not with a fine-toothed comb, I'll tell you that. 

LZ himself

But enough about all that.  Do you know how hard it is to be a Liberal? Well, do ya?  Roy Zimmerman thinks he knows, and, okay, I had to laugh. (Not that I saw myself in any of it):

I don't know where I've been but I've just discovered Roy Zimmerman.  My near-loss, because he has some really funny songs to sing, at least from where I'm sitting.  But it appears there are plenty of people who already know about him, so I doubt he even missed me.   You can find more of Roy's songs on YouTube, or, better yet, on his website, where his songs are for sale.

Those Magic Moments -- Fall in Michigan, My Michigan  (All pictures mine):

Every Color under the Sun

Autumn Morning Mist
Maples in all their Chlorophyll-free splendor
Birches and Cedar

Cartoon of the Week

Mike Luckovich

Monday, October 10, 2011

It all comes down to this, America: Don't be Cruel

Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.
And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1997. 
 Economists pointed to a telling statistic: It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period, said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard.
''This is truly a lost decade,'' Mr. Katz said. ''We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we're looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.'' 
 The bureau's findings were worse than many economists expected, and brought into sharp relief the toll the past decade -- including the painful declines of the financial crisis and recession --had taken on Americans at the middle and lower parts of the income ladder. It is also fresh evidence that the disappointing economic recovery has done nothing for the country's poorest citizens.
 The report said the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line last year, 15.1 percent, was the highest level since 1993. (The poverty line in 2010 for a family of four was $22,314.)

Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, September 14, 2011

 When all is said and done, if we can ever get beyond the grand-standing, the bloviating, the harumphing and the chest-pumping, the awful truth is that millions and millions of American citizens are now among the chronically hurt because of the current no-fault-of-their-own economic crisis, exacerbated by the current we'll blame them anyway political climate.

Families are hurting.  Our elders are hurting. Children are hurting.  Future generations will be hurting.  We've let yesterday slip by and tomorrow shows no great promise.  The time to do something is now.

Everybody knows that something must be done, but what keeps the wheels from turning, from moving us forward, is an ongoing, time-wasting argument about how best to appear to be saving the country while saving face, saving precious personal skins, saving the privileged elite.

There is no point wasting time talking about past history -- a couple of centuries worth of the same mistakes, the same indulgences at the top, the same misery at the bottom -- when nobody is in the mood to learn from it.

 We have now become one of those countries known throughout the world for deliberate cruelty to its own citizens -- the kind of despised country whose citizens we ourselves would have taken pity on not so long ago.

While it may be true that unprecedented numbers of America's children have experienced hunger or homelessness (or a desperate, unrequited need for health care) it's cruel to pretend that no single sweet child of ours is affected.  We're masters at shutting our eyes to real, live, scared and suffering kids.

It's cruel to play games with needed unemployment benefits by pretending they're one more example of undeserved governmental handouts to the lazy or misbehaving.

It's cruel to humiliate the jobless even more by pretending that anyone without a job isn't looking hard enough.

It's cruel to pretend that outsourcing and off-shoring have nothing to do with the loss of millions of life-sustaining jobs.

It's cruel to pretend that workers don't need or deserve representation when the need is so much greater now.

It's cruel for the richest country in the world to give private insurance companies the power to deny anyone health care and pretend that people aren't dying because of it.

It's cruel to allow profiteers to attempt to kill off one major historic source of national pride -- public education for every child without regard to race, creed, or income level -- and pretend that a) the public schools did it to themselves and b) no child is being left behind because of our negligence.

It's cruel to divert our national treasure, including and especially our young men and women, to foreign wars that don't concern us or affect us nearly as much as our own at-home social and economic wars.

But the cruelest reminder is that we almost had it in our grasp -- a fair and prosperous country we could be proud of -- and we let it slip away.

 There's no pretending it didn't happen.  There are enough of us still around who remember a different country, where it looked as if the American Dream would actually become a major possibility.  It was taken away from us, not by happenstance but by the mean and deliberate actions of politicians and power brokers.

You can say it a million different ways, but what it comes down to is cruelty by a thousand cuts. There was a time when we all would have fought against that sort of thing.  I'll say it again: This is some strange new century...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No Surprise: Erin Burnett doesn't get the Wall Street Protesters.

For her CNN "Out Front" debut on Monday, Erin Burnett went to the Occupy Wall Street protesters to see for her corporate-shilling self what the heck all the fuss was about.  She couldn't find a single person who knew why they were protesting.  Imagine that.

"I saw dancing, bongo drums, even a clown.... I asked several protesters what it was that they wanted. Now, they did not know.... They did know what they don't want."
This is not new.  I've heard many pundits question whether the people holding the signs have a real agenda or just want to be out there in front of the cameras holding silly signs, dressed in goofy garb, doing the Kumbaya thing. (Yes.  Wherever there's a protest, they'll be there, too.  Bless their hearts.)
But the claim is that nobody in that crowd really knows the reasons for the protests.  I guess if you were one who isn't listening, or more likely, refuses to listen, you might not get the message. 
This is it in a nutshell, from the Occupy Wall Street website:
Occupy Wall Street is [a] leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.
I probably won't spend a lot of time watching Erin Burnett's new show, but I've had her number for a while.  If you just look at that angelic face, those deep, darling dimples, you might miss who Erin really is.  
She is a Wall Street groupie who searches, but can only find eensy-teensy, little bitty problems with her chosen pals.  
She is about to marry a CitiGroup exec, thereby solidifying her affection for the Street.   
She is a supposed reporter who once told the folks on AM Joe to take a larger look at China, who might be as successful as they are because they don't coddle people by paying them when they're unemployed.  (Not in itself true, but she said it ever-so-sweetly, even apologetically, as if she really hated to spoil a perfectly good discussion, but it needed to be said kind of thing, so nobody jumped on it.)

If you watch Erin Burnett's "Out Front", you're going to hear what sounds perfectly reasonable, because the person saying it is about as far from a Maria Bartiromo as one can get.  But I'm seeing nothing but love songs to Wall Street already, which is okay as long as CNN isn't promoting it as a family show.