Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hawaii’s Governor: No Aloha and No Class.

Hawaii’s Republican Governor, Linda Lingle, campaigned across the mainland U.S. for the McCain-Palin team. OK … fine. Her Party. Her choice.

Of course, she could have done that without saying that Barack Obama wasn’t really a native son of Hawaii and sneering that he never even bothered to call her when he visited here. (As if, indeed, there was the least little reason for him to do so.)

But now the election is over and there is, at least for the time being, happy talk of non-partisan cooperation aimed at dealing with common problems.

One problem common to many of our 50 states is budget shortfall. It’s certainly an issue here in Hawaii where, just to give one example, $24 million has been cut from the States Adult Mental Health Division.

The nation’s governors are meeting in Philadelphia this coming week and our President-elect will be there to meet with the governors and talk about how the federal government might help states facing these financial difficulties.

Well, not all the governors will be there. Our governor, Linda Lingle, says she has a scheduling conflict and won’t be able to be there for the meeting with Obama.

Are you kidding me? Her administration is whacking millions out of critically needed social services, the new president is ready to meet with her … and she can’t fit that into her schedule?

That’s petty, ridiculous and irresponsible. And it’s an embarassment to the entire state.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lack of Health Insurance Impacts the Economy

I recently wrote how hospitals treaing patients with no health insurance are forced to pass along those costs to the rest of us, thus artificially (and, some would say, unfairly) driving up the cost of our health insurance.

On that same general subject, I came across an enlightening column in The New Yorker magazine which contained the following interesting and sobering paragraph:

The accumulating failures in the country’s health-care system are a cause of profound weakness in the American economy; unaddressed, this weakness will exacerbate the coming recession and crimp its aftermath. A large number of the country’s housing foreclosures in recent years appear to be related to medical problems and health-care expenses. American businesses often can’t afford to hire as many employees as they like because of rising health-insurance costs; employees often can’t afford to quit to chase their better-mousetrap dreams because they can’t risk going without coverage. Add to this the system’s moral failings: about twenty-two thousand people die in this country annually because they lack health insurance. That is more than the number of Americans who are murdered in a year.

Steve Coll
The New Yorker

Nov. 10, 2008

Forty-seven million Americans without health insurance is a national disgrace. But it is also stupid because, clearly, the most expensive choice we can make on this issue is to do nothing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another Good Reason Why We Liked Ike

As he was leaving office, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned us about the “military industrial complex.” Those guys are still around, but today’s version has an added player: the neo-conservatives.

The latest ploy is a move to lock us in to a military budget that would be set by law at 4% of the Gross Domestic Product, which is the total value of all the goods and services this country produces. Obviously, the push behind this comes from the professionals in the Pentagon and the people who build weapons, aided and abetted by the far right.

To require us to spend that money, year after year after year, regardless of circumstaces or other greater priorities, is just nuts.

But you know what these people are calling this scam? “Four Percent for Freedom.”

Get it? If you don’t think this scheme is a good idea, well, by golly, you’re against freedom!

I guess that must mean Dwight Eisenhower was “anti-freedom”, too.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

His Object All Sublime: Punishment Fits The Crime

I have a new hero. He’s Judge Paul Sacco from Fort Lupton, Colorado.

Judge Sacco has come up with a perfect way to deal with the inconsiderate morons who go around playing terrible music at a volume that makes the fillings in your teeth vibrate.

He makes them sit in a room for an hour listening to Barry Manilow. I'm not kidding. You can look it up!
(Hizzoner looks a lot like Humphrey Bogart, don't you think?)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Universal Health Care: The Most Expensive Option

What should be done about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance?

These are people who work for companies that don’t provide it and/or they can’t afford it. Of particular concern: an educated guess would be that half of those 47 million are kids.

Whether kids or adults, when these folks are sick or get hurt, the only real option is to show up at a hospital emergency room where they get the treatment they need. The problem is, the hospitals cover those costs by charging you and me more when we go to the hospital.

Six months ago, my wife broke her wrist. Three hours in the emergency room cost more than $5,000. That included the cost of our care plus some of the cost incurred by the hospital for treating uninsured people. You think that’s not so? Ask any hospital administrator.

It’s not fair, of course, but what’s the alternative? Somebody has to pay or the hospital will go broke. So to recoup the cost of treating patients without insurance, hospitals inflate charges to patients with insurance. Then, to cover those higher costs, the insurance companies inflate the premiums they charge to us … to you and to me. You think that’s not so? Ask any health insurance executive.

The people who oppose universal health care whine about the cost and object to their taxes paying for some poor person’s health insurance. But the point is, they’re already paying!

During the campaign, John McCain criticized Barack Obama’s health insurance plan as socialized medicine, saying it would “put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor.”

You mean like Medicare?

Let me say to all of you who aren’t old enough to participate in Medicare: When the time comes, you will be goddamn glad you have it. You will also find that it works beautifully … smoother and simpler and cheaper than whatever private health insurance plan you have now.

Yes, cheaper. Administrative costs for Medicare are about 3 percent. Administrative costs for private health insurance plans run between 20 and 30 percent.

So again: What should be done about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance?

We can do something. It will work, but it will be expensive.

Or we can do nothing. And that is the most expensive option of all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pardon Me. Oh, No … Pardon YOU!

In his final days in office, Bill Clinton
disappointed a lot of people by giving pardons to a number of dubious characters, including Mark Rich who skipped the country after being nailed for evading taxes and tax fraud.

With just under two months to go before George W. Bush becomes an ex-president, speculation is beginning to mount about who will (or will not) receive presidential pardons in the final days of W’s administration.

Plenty of candidates have emerged over the past eight years, from Duke Cunningham to Jack Abramoff.

But, if I were a betting man, I would wager the whole freakin’ farm that one name will be at the top of Bush's pardons list: Dick Chaney's former chief-of-staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Any takers?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Flip a Coin, Throw a Dart and Pick a Drug Plan.

Between now and the end of the year, I have to decide if I’m going to keep the prescription drug insurance plan I’ve been using or switch to another one. So I sat down yesterday to figure out which of the available choices would give me the best coverage for the lowest cost.

I spent well over an hour at the computer plugging my medications and dosages into a program that promised to help me select the best plan for my needs.

Guess what: There are no less than 65 plans available to me here on Maui and they all have different annual premiums that range from almost $400 to more than $1200.

But with each of these plans, my out-of-pocket cost will be different for the medications I take. For example, the co-pay for a 30-day supply of one particular pill was $18 on one plan and $98 on another.

Some plans cover all the drugs for the whole year; other plans stop coverage when you reach a certain level, then resume coverage after you hit another threshold.

In all honesty, I could spend hours on all that and still not be sure of which is the best plan for me. And, of course, everything would change anyway if the plan I choose increases premiums or if I have to change medications or start on a new one. We have the lobbyists for the private insurance companies to thank for this.

One more thing: We’re not permitted to legally buy prescription drugs from Canada where the cost is a lot less because – wink! wink! – they might not be safe … even though many of the drugs we get from our local pharmacy are manufactured overseas anyway. And we have the lobbyists for the pharmaceutical companies to thank for that!

Folks, we are being screwed and it’s a damn outrage.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

This Could Explain Sarah Palin ... Among Others!

"… how has 'elitism' become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

Sam Harris
NEWSWEEK, 9/29/08

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lieberman, Limbaugh, Pirates and a Wordsmith

So Joe “The Weasel” Lieberman can continue merrily along as a member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate. He can also stay as chair of the Homeland Security Committee. That goes down hard, since he actively campaigned for John McCain. OK but, according to what I hear, if he crosses the line again – or even tippy-toes up close to it – he’s gone. Whenever that happens, be it sooner or later, I say very good riddance!

Right-wing pundint* and bloviator, Rush Limbaugh, is wailing about the economy. He thinks were heading for a massive depression and says – ready? – it’s all Barack Obama’s fault!

How can anyone take this big fat fraud seriously any more?

* You mean that isn't the way you pronounce it?

Yet another merchant ship has been hijacked by Somali pirates. This time it’s a super tanker that could be carrying as much as two million barrels of oil.

Question: since the pirates operate in high-speed power boats that clearly must have limited range, what in the hell are these ships doing in waters that close to Somalia?

And, finally, there’s Dick Cavett, who periodically writes an opinion piece for the New York Times. Every column is a gem, hallmarked with his precise and exquisite and wicked use of the language. This past weekend, his column included the following observation on McCain naming Sarah Palin as his running mate:

“I feel a little sorry for John. He aimed low and missed.”

The President-elect’s Extraordinary Grandmother

As I’m sure you know by now, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and spent his teenage years here, graduating from prestigious Punahou School.

The person most responsible for raising him was his maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, and by all accounts she was quite a remarkable lady. Among other accomplishments, she became the first female vice president at Bank of Hawaii, then Hawaii’s largest and most prestigious bank.

No doubt you also know that Madelyn Dunham died just one day before her grandson was elected President of the United States.

In her final days, hundreds of local folks sent her flower arrangements and leis … which, according to a local media report, prompted Mrs. Dunham to say, “Oh my! With all of this hullabaloo, it’s going to be embarrassing if I don’t die!”

Quite a lady, wouldn’t you say?

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Sign of the Times? NOT!

These photos were at least third-hand by the time I came across them … but so what! They happen to illustrate quite nicely some very good things that are happening in this country.

First we have a sign that appeared the day before Barack Obama was scheduled to make a campaign appearance in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

That’s a pretty red part of the state and, obviously, the owner of the real estate company was not an Obama fan.

However the tone of the sign didn’t sit too well with many of the locals who turned out in force to make their feelings known ... loud and clear.

I suspect that the owner of Land of the Sky Realty, one James Edney, may have come to realize by now that it’s better for business if he doesn’t go to the trouble of flaunting his bigotry.

You can't make it out, but one of those good folks is holding a sign saying our president-elect is really Hawaiian. (I know, I know ... but we’ll gladly settle for “Hawaiian-at-heart.”)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dick Tuck: Having Fun In a Serious Business

Unless you’re a politics junkie of a certain age, you’ve probably never heard of Dick Tuck. But, trust me, the man is a legend. He made a career of driving Richard Nixon batty.

It all started in 1950 when Tuck was still a student at UC Santa Barbara and was asked by a professor to help promote a campaign visit to the campus by Nixon, then an ambitious young Republican congressman running for the U. S. Senate. Unbeknownst to the professor, Tuck was a volunteer working for Nixon’s opponent.

Gleefully seizing the opportunity, Tuck hired a 4,000-seat auditorium for the Nixon appearance, but did nothing to promote the event. Of course only a handful of people showed up to rattle around in the near-empty hall. Tuck himself gave a lengthy rambling introduction, and ended by announcing that the candidate would be speaking on the significance of the International Monetary Fund, which came as news to the flustered Nixon.

In 1960, the day after the historic Nixon-Kennedy debate, Tuck hired a sweet little old lady to go up to Nixon, kiss him on the cheek, and say, "That's all right, Mr. Nixon. He beat you last night, but you'll win next time." There was, of course, no other debate scheduled.

But my favorite Dick Tuck story took place in 1966, the first (and last) time he became a candidate himself, running for a state senate seat in California. He lost, but on election night delivered the all-time classic concession speech:

“The people have spoke – the bastards!”

The last I heard, Dick Tuck is in his mid-80s, retired, and living in Arizona.

They say he’s still a laugh a minute and I’m not at all surprised.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

You Go, Girl … That’s Tellin’ ‘Um!

Times are tough and a lot of people are having a hard time paying their bills. So it’s good to know that a number of the large mortgage lenders are now making a serious effort to restructure some of their loans so some families won’t face foreclosure … at least not right away.

It kind of restores your faith when creditors show a little understanding, if not compassion.

That brings to mind a couple I knew quite a few years ago. They had unexpectedly run into hard times. Everything was going along quite nicely until the husband, Ron, jammed up his back quite badly. He needed surgery and found himself laid up indefinitely. Then he got laid off from his job. The extra medical expenses were significant and after several months some of the household bills were going unpaid.

It was Helen, the wife, who looked after the family books. Being a responsible person, she called the various creditors, explained the circumstances and promised to make partial payments on the outstanding balances every month.

Every one of them was understanding and agreeable … except Montgomery Ward. They not only insisted on the full payment, they started dunning her almost daily with aggressive phone calls. Finally, when one of the people calling was especially demanding, Helen lost it.

“Listen,” she snapped. “Every month I put all the bills into a hat. I pull them out one at a time and pay something on the balance until the money runs out. But this month, because you’re so damn nasty, I’m not going to put your bill into the hat!” And she slammed the phone down.

Don't you love it, on those rare occasions, when you come up with exactly the right thing to say?


Let Me Introduce a Real American Hero

If it’s possible to judge a man by his enemies, Morris Dees is way out in front of all the rest of the Good Guys. He's got a whole bunch of enemies and there’s a giant bulls-eye on his back. The FBI has broken up a couple of plots to kill him and he must sleep with one eye open every night.

Morris Dees is an attorney and the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.

The SPLC uses the law to go after hate groups. They let the criminal courts take on the actual culprits – the Neanderthals who commit the assaults or fire-bombings – and they go after the organizations that support and encourage the goons. They go for damages, asking for whopping settlements, and when they win, the hate groups are wiped out financially.

That's the plan. And it works!

Several years ago, Dees and the SPLC won a $6 million judgment against the head of the Aryan Nations in Idaho and, to come up with the money, these pathetic morons had to sell their property and all their assets. Out of business!

Yesterday Dees scored again, winning a $2.5 million judgment against “Imperial Wizard” Ron Edwards of the Ku Klux Klan for being the mentor for the three low-lifes who beat the crap out of a teenager because he was a Latino.

I’ve followed this wonderful organization for a long time now and send them a contribution or two every year. Go here to find out more about the organization and/or to make a contribition.

And while you’re at it, keep Morris Dees and the rest of his people in your thoughts and prayers, eh?


Friday, November 14, 2008

It’s the Freakin’ Sarah Palin Show … AGAIN!

Did you see the news coverage of Sarah Palin yesterday? There she was at the Republican Governors Conference in Miami, holding forth to the media and answering questions, with a half dozen tight-lipped governors standing self-consciously in a semi-circle behind her.

What in the world was she doing out there in the spotlight? Every one of those guys has more education, more brains, more experience, more ideas, more good sense and represents more people.

I have to believe that the vast majority of Republicans look at Sarah and know, deep down inside their conservative hearts, that she has no serious understanding of national or world affairs and is unable to utter a coherent opinion about issues of the day. Reduced to the simple essence of the printed page, Sarah Palin quotes are 90 percent incomprehensible gibberish. Think not? Well, go ahead, pick a quote … any quote.

Yet, on her own initiative, this arrogant, shallow, calculating woman has shoved her way to the head of the line, acting as though she is the titular head of the Republican Party and positioning herself as a serious contender for the party’s nomination for president in four years.

What do Republicans suppose the rest of us think when we see this happening? We may not agree with the ideology, but we know there are plenty of smart, competent people in the Republican Party. Yet they’re moved to the back row, don’t speak, and she’s up there at the microphone … the new voice of the GOP?

In all seriousness, what the hell are they thinking?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hawaii: Surf and Sand and Hula and Plate Lunches

The New York Times had a story yesterday about one of Hawaii’s unique culinary treats: the plate lunch. The rationale behind this particular story was a report that, during his recent visit here, Barack Obama indulged in plate lunches on a couple of occasions.

Hawaiian plate lunches come in several forms but almost every variation includes two scoops of white sticky rice and a scoop of macaroni salad, laced with mayonnaise. Then there’s the meat, which can be chicken (teriyaki or katsu), pork (usually kalua pig), teriyaki beef, some kind of stew or the ever-popular Spam ... all served with chopsticks on a flimsy paper plate. (You'll get a plastic fork if you ask.)

Typically, these are served from little “mom and pop” restaurants or from lunch wagons that show up around mid-morning, wheeling into parking lots, alleys, side roads, or just pulling off onto the shoulder near light-industrial areas.

Several years ago, I was having breakfast in a local hangout with a visiting friend from the mainland. In the middle of our conversation, he suddenly stopped, pointed at the table next to us and said, “My God! What is THAT??”

It was a favorite breakfast choice among locals here called, for reasons lost in time, a loco-moco. It consists of three scoops of rice, a large hamburger patty, pools of brown gravy, all topped with two fried eggs. Three-quarters of the way through one of those babies you can actually hear your arteries begin to harden.

It’s absolutely true that Hawaii has some wonderful restaurants and there is a whole genre of quite fabulous cuisine that has been evolving here for many years. But you really can’t beat sitting under a palm tree on a balmy day, looking at the surf while digging into a good plate lunch. Dat’s good grinds, bruddah!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Fledgling Writer During College Daze

I sold my first bit of writing while a student at Boston University. It was a short piece about the B.U. football team which I peddled to True magazine for a hundred dollars.

That was a princely sum in 1959. One of the Kenmore Square bars we favored actually sold eight-ounce glasses of beer from the tap for ten cents. A hundred bucks would buy a thousand "dimies" and I was a very popular guy in my fraternity for the final semester of my college experience.

About that same time -- and this is what I sent to True -- the university had decided to "de-emphasize" the football program. Unfortunately, there was no parallel de-emphasis in the schedule of opponents, and week after week our guys had to face some real powerhouses, including Kansas, West Virginia, Penn State and Syracuse. Furthermore, Syracuse was the top team in the country that year, with the legendary Jim Brown as their running back.

The B.U. coach, Steve Sinko, had the habit of coming up with a slogan-of-the-week, which he scrawled across the blackboard in the locker room before practice every Monday, wistfully hoping it would inspire his minions.

For instance, Sinko’s slogan for the Penn State game that year was:


Brave words – and appropriate, too, since BU’s mascot is the Boston Terrier – but that Saturday, they lost to the Nittany Lions, 21-12.

On the Monday before the final game of the year against mighty Syracuse, the bruised and battered BU players trooped into the locker room to discover that some unknown wag had gotten to the blackboard before the coach. There, in large block letters, were the words-of-wisdom for the players to ponder over the next five days:


Final score that Saturday: Syracuse 46, Boston University 0. To quote Casey Stengel, "You could look it up."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lieberman: Between a Rock and Two Hard Places

Most Democrats scorn Joe Lieberman as a turncoat.

The party nominated the senator from Connecticut to carry its vice-presidential banner in 2000, but eight years later he was stumping for John McCain and questioning Barak Obama’s ability and patriotism.

My first thought was to hope his Democrat colleagues in the Senate would toss his sorry ungrateful ass out of the party.

But wait. On second thought, let’s do something much, much better than that. Let’s use him.

Let’s let Joe-the-Weasel stay in the Senate Democrats’ caucus and even keep his committee chairmanship … on the condition that from now on he votes the way he’s told. And if he doesn’t, out he goes!

At that point, Lieberman will have two choices.

Door Number One: He can become a real independent, one of only two in the Senate, with no clout and zero committees.

Or, Door Number Two, he can go over to the Republicans, in which case he’ll get nothing or next to nothing. You see, they don’t really want him because he’s always voted with the Democrats on all those awful social programs.

Of course, if he does turn Republican, the people of Connecticut will very likely vote him out of office next time around anyway.

Poor Joe. What’s a little weasel to do?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sometimes a Pit Bull Is What You Really Need

Barack Obama’s choice of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief-of-staff has already provoked criticism from a few of the more notoriously partisan republicans, Congressman John Boehner of Illinois in particular.

Boehner said that Rahm Emanuel "… is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center." This, of course, is coming from a guy who is always first in line to grab a microphone and zing the Democrats.

The basis for Boehner’s jab is Emanuel’s reputation for being a fierce partisan in his own right. But after all, the Democratic Party gave Emanuel the task of helping elect more Democrats to the House, and that role clearly required someone who would have a take-no-prisoners approach. (Based on last Tuesday's results, he did a helluva job, too!)

The position of White House chief-of-staff, on the other hand, comes with a new and quite different set of job requirements and Emanuel certainly has the savvy and the skills to adapt and fulfill them.

Boehner’s view notwithstanding, Republicans and Democrats almost unanimously agree that Rahm Emanuel is exceptionally smart, knows how to get things done in Washington, and will run a very tight ship for the president-elect. Mostly that means keep everyone in the White House working as a team and focused on the objectives set by Obama … and to kick ass and take names when they don’t.

And that is exactly what Obama will need when he takes office on January 20th.