Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Don’t Burn Your AARP Card Yet
I don’t recall being consulted by the AARP on the recent change in federal health policy for our senior citizens. It could be because I’m not a member—at least not yet. When I heard about its backing for the Republican plan to replace Medicare, my first thought was to throw away the application form that has lain on my desk for several days. For many millions of AARP members who feel betrayed by the organization, it is probably a good idea not to set fire to their membership cards and opt out of the club, but to think about it for awhile.

The powerful retirees’ representative has been helpful over the years in promoting the interests of its members in ways that they, of course, would never have been able to do on their own. But this week its leadership stunned everyone with its sudden and swift campaign supporting the Republican-sponsored bill that will dismantle Medicare. Advertisements suddenly appeared on TV explaining that this legislation, although not perfect, was a good thing for all seniors and that if action was not taken now, it could be “lost forever”. The scare tactic didn’t matter anyway, since the millions of AARP members themselves had little or nothing to do with the decision. It was simply a way of telling seniors where they were being taken politically. Democrats in Congress were caught by surprise as well.

The AARP has for years derived much of its operating revenue from insurance-related activities. According to an article in USA Today, Friday, November 21, 2003 (page 11A), by Jim Drinkard and William Welch, over the last four years the organization has received about $608 million from insurance income, which accounts for about 30% of its total revenue. Membership dues account for another 30%. They get about 10% annually from federal grants (I’m sure they don’t want to mess that up), and the remaining 36% from advertising (12%) and investments (24%).

It is easy to see where the organization’s self-interest lies, but it is troubling to see it behave in such a blind-sided, surreptitious way. There should have been more concern for due process and less contempt for its own constituents. Perhaps its leaders saw the end coming and opted to jump on the bandwagon at the last minute, hoping to position themselves for positive influence later. That seems to be what they would have us believe.

At any rate, they will still be the largest organized voice for seniors’ interests both now and in the years ahead. And, once Medicare “withers on the vine” (as Newt Gingrich envisioned its fate), with market forces in charge of goods and services the elderly cannot do without, it will be even more important to have an entity in place that at least has the potential for shaping policy.

So, for now, put those Bic lighters away and brace yourselves.

Sunday, November 23, 2003
The London Sunday Mirror: Fair, Balanced, and Unafraid
After reading this story in the London Sunday Mirror, it becomes much clearer to me why the Queen wasn't all smiles during Mr. Bush's recent visit.

Thursday, November 20, 2003
Thank God Pat Buchanan Wasn't Running in Smyrna
Here's an interesting little article about a small-town election gone wrong. It points up some of the concern about the foibles of electronic voting. Perhaps the folks in Smyrna could use some help from the U.S. Supreme Court to settle this thorny matter.

Freedom hangs in the balance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies?
This morning, President Bush delivered a variant of his now familiar speech #39 in London before a hand-picked crowd at Whtehall. He did not address the British Parliament because of concerns that he would be poorly received, as he was on his recent appearance before the Australian Parliament.

Neither did he address the British citizenry, because large crowds of protestors have assembled all over the UK, and are very visible and very vocal. Major precautions have been taken to insulate him from them, so he will probably never see or hear first hand the dissent that he proclaims is so important to democracy.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is said to be on thin ice politically because of his support of the Bush administration’s ill-advised and ill-timed foray into Iraq. Mr. Bush’s appearance in England at a time when public sentiment is turning against Mr. Blair is probably the result of poor judgment and self-delusion on the part of both men. It is the equivalent of sticking a thumb in the eye of the growing number of Brits who are demanding a change of leadership.

Perhaps it is arrogant of the administration to think that just showing up is enough to bolster the Prime Minister’s position. This is fundamentally a private affair, with the crowds outside encouraged to go along with the program. And why shouldn’t they expect it to work in Britain? It has worked brilliantly in the United States.

With stakes like this, it seems that if Mr. Blair’s fortunes do take an unfortunate turn, then he should at least be rewarded for his efforts through a position with the Carlyle group; his predecessor, John Major, is already there.

I think that if I were Mr. Blair at this time, I would have asked Mr. Bush to please stay home, or at least go and give the pep talk to the citizens of Baghdad.

Monday, November 17, 2003
Rush Limbaugh’s Audience On Trial—Day Number One
Rush Limbaugh is finally back on the air after completing the initial phase of his treatment for addiction to pain medications. There is a lot at stake for him, not the least of which is a line of ambitious successors to his throne who are lean and hungry. His audience is said to have been the largest ever for his show. No doubt the number was swelled by those who are not regular listeners but who were curious about what he would say and how he would be received.

I did not have the opportunity to hear the program, but I understand that it went well for him, with many warm welcome-backs and expressions of sympathy. Reports indicate that his listeners appear to be just as dedicated and just as much in accord with his political views as ever. His personal recovery will depend entirely on his own efforts, but for his continued success as the prime spokesman for the political right, he is entirely at the mercy of their good will.

That, of course, has been true all along—no ratings, no show—,but the onus is now on his listeners to decide just how much deviance from the ideal they are willing to tolerate. Many of them have had to swallow hard and accept the flaw of William Bennett’s penchant for high-stakes gambling at the same time he was almost single-handedly championing virtue in our society. Today, Mr. Bennett seems to be just as prominent and influential as before, and, to be truthful, there never was much of an outcry anyway when the news of his gambling problem came out. We knew he was in the clear when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell defended his pursuit of a perfectly legal recreational activity. Similar tolerance has been shown by the conservative public toward several other of their own public figures, for example, Newt Gingrich and Robert Livingston. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s past episodes of naughty behavior passed the test with flying colors. The citizens of California were urged to let bygones be bygones and to focus on the effective governance he could bring to the state.

For some time now, the so-called liberal leftists have been willing to allow considerable leeway for the personal failings of those they think are good leaders, and have often taken a lot of criticism for that. Their position from the start has been that effective leadership and personal imperfection can exist in the same person, within reasonable limits. They have tended to set the bar fairly high before punishing such a leader, while the conservatives have insisted on a very low threshold. Up to now, it has been tough to live up to the right-wing version of morality.

Every instance of a problem like Rush’s reveals more of the so-called conservatives’ true judgement on problems of character and how it impacts the public good. Who knows, could they eventually make their own best case for putting up with Bill Clinton’s unsavory personal behavior?

Friday, November 14, 2003
Belated Thoughts On Veteran's Day
I was unable to post any comment this past Tuesday regarding Veteran's Day. So, better late than never, I offer my appreciation for the service of so many of my own extended family and friends over the years, and of those many thousands who we will never know, but to whom we owe so much.

I especially thank my brother. In the summer of 1967, we were both at the top of the draft list in our home county in Kentucky. In order to have some control over our fates, we went ahead and volunteered for enlistment in the Army. The short version is that I was rejected because of a birth defect and he went on to serve two tours in Vietnam. Even with shrapnel wounds, he served out his time. I have always considered his second tour to be mine, and over the years have sought ways to try to even up the debt to our country. I will never catch up.

The military service lottery system was started the following year. For those whose numbers came up, I think this little comic strip says all that needs to be said.

Thursday, November 13, 2003
Rush Is On His Way Back
It was announced today that Rush Limbaugh has completed the first phase of his rehabilitation and will soon return to hosting his radio program. I offer my sincerest wishes to Rush in his recovery, since I have seen first hand the effects of addiction in my own family.

Upon hearing the news, Laura Ingraham was said to be inconsolable and is now resting at a secure, undisclosed location.

Sunday, November 09, 2003
Phrase of the Day
"Jobless Recovery" --
An economic term that has come into popular use in the U.S. It refers to profitability gains for American companies that are brought about through the low production costs of foreign workers doing what used to be American workers' jobs.

Just a Few Thoughts for Today
As I write this, I’m sitting here watching Tony Snow on state-run television. It seems that “time is running out for the Iraqui governing council”. The coalition authorities (aka Paul Bremer & Co.) in Baghdad are growing increasingly impatient with them for their ineffectiveness and complaining, and may have to crack down, making any changes that may be needed. Doesn’t this reflect poorly on our choices and on the guidance we are providing? I still have grave concerns about this affair going south in a hurry, with formal martial law being imposed, curfews enforced, and every house, business, and person in Iraq being searched repeatedly. It could quickly turn into a greased pig. Remember? The Iraquis love us because we represent freedom, and Al Quaida hates us because we represent freedom.

Another reason I’m told that “they” hate us is that we are prosperous and they are not. Reality check: "“they” sit on top of the most extensive oil deposits in a world that has a glazed-eyed addiction for the stuff. We should have no problem coming up with the cash to buy it from them since, I am told each day by the talking heads on CNBC, that the economy is booming. In addition, for $87 billion we could have bought TV sets, microwave ovens, PlayStations, and SUV’s for everybody in Iraq and still have our soldiers alive and working at their regular jobs at Walmart, the phone company, the bank…… . Ask yourself how you would choose between $87 billion dollars and the life of one American soldier. Maybe it's just me, but that's how some of these crazy liberals are about money. We'll waste it on just about anything.

As a result of a sizable car bomb, 11 people are presumed dead and 122 injured in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia yesterday evening. An American spokesman declared “that this act shows how desperate the terrorists are to negatively influence security”. I’ll have to chew on that pretzel for awhile.

“We had the choice—to fight the war over there or over here”. We have heard that often lately. Now, I assume that at the time the immediate concern was with the Iraqui military. But how would they have gotten here? By taxicabs? I suppose they could have struck us with their Al Samoud missiles, but they would have had to hitchhike rides on fishing trawlers to get within the required 125 miles of the coast. Nothing, repeat: nothing would have prevented working cooperatively with the United Nations to effect weapons inspections over a longer time frame while we had Saddam and his military contained in a strategic box. We now know that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Poor Laura
Laura Ingraham appeared this evening with Bill O'Reilly on state-run television. As usual, she ranted and railed about the "elites", as is her custom. Problem is, I'm having trouble figuring out who these elites are.

An excerpt from her biography: "Laura served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and subsequently worked as a white-collar criminal defense attorney at Skadden, Arps, et al. in Washington. She is a graduate of University of Virginia School of Law and Dartmouth College."

She has accomplished a lot, considering her humble academic origins.

Are Republicans Finally On Their Own?
The Bush administration in particular and Republicans in general may have finally turned the corner. It appears they now own the economy lock, stock, and barrel, as the saying goes. They have owned the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan from the start. By now, even among their own leadership, the “but Bill Clinton…” excuses don’t seem to have much tread left. A too-simple example might be: If you owned a business, how much time would you give the new manager to get things back on track (assuming they were off-track to begin with)?

They must be privately worried while presenting a bold public face. For a party that prides itself on not governing by polls, remember again that the big poll is coming next November. I know how it must feel. A couple of times over the years I have personally been only one more excuse away from being out of a job for not performing up to par.

I, like everyone else, can’t predict where we will be in the Middle East by election day next November, but my fear is that it will not resemble the idealized dream of those who stampeded us into the fray. I continue to have the nagging concern that this may have been the outcome that Al Qaeda had hoped for, and that we may have risen to the bait. The longer the daily casualties occur, the more likely that your community will be touched and someone you know will die. For me, there is no amount of money or oil that is worth the lives of my daughter and my two sons—or anyone else’s, for that matter.

We are told that the economy is going great, but you couldn’t tell that from where I sit. If a reduction in corporate taxes creates jobs, then where are the jobs? Most of the new jobs in our community are in call centers and in telemarketing, with attendant low wages, poor benefits, and high turnover. It doesn’t help that we are now seeing obscenely exorbitant compensation for executives. Don't rely on rosy financial news from the TV talking heads, just ask those around you if they feel secure right now.

Corporate financial numbers seem to be improving, but are are the gains actually coming from profitable foreign operations with rock-bottom labor and production costs, coupled with further savings through layoffs in the U.S.? In the end, profitability can come from only two sources--either make money or cut costs. It doesn't speak well for management skill if cost-cutting is all one can do; it takes talent to make money. Even in retail,where it looks like consumers are increasing spending, much of that is through the use of credit card debt. Sears, for example, sold off its credit card business because they gave cards to large numbers of high-risk customers who could not or would not pay for merchandise. For Sears, the bill came due.

One of my own relatives is now working for little more than minimum wage after 25 years with a company that recently shut down one of its midwest manufacturing operations and moved it overseas. Such tactics are usually rationalized as necessary for competition with foreign goods. The question is, if American workers are all ultimately unemployed and broke, then who will buy the stuff anyway? InstaPundit has written before on outsourcing as an election issue and is on the right track.

How do you console someone who has lost his well-paid job with the good news that several thousand new ones have been created nationwide—mostly in the service sector, of course? It is ludicrous to think that such workers should leave home and family to chase substandard jobs several states away. I regard such an expectation in itself an attack on the institution of the family, coming from those who purport to have a lock on family values. Additionally, it is almost cruelly cynical to constantly promote the idea of retraining for new jobs when most of the new jobs don’t even exist. Sometimes the only winners are the companies that provide the training. Picture in your mind a 55 year-old journeyman machinist training to do word processing.

Often, when companies move jobs overseas, they know they are doing something that, although helping the bottom line, is in essence wrong. Otherwise, why do they try so hard to hide the fact that your customer service call is coming from India, for example, by a carefully selected and trained operator named “Tom” or “Judy” who speaks perfect midwestern English? I have a question I ask whether they call me or I call them. I simply ask what time it is. Most of the time, the response is that they are not allowed to give out that information. Try it sometime.

It has been said that Americans don’t plan, they react. If that is true, then we probably just haven’t had enough yet (the only way we seem to learn). The best thing about America, though, is that we can always change what we don’t like after enough voters have run out of patience—as long as we don’t lose the right to vote. And there are some who believe we can’t even be entrusted with that.

Monday, November 03, 2003
Linda Tripp Wins Privacy Lawsuit Against Clinton Administration
Linda Tripp Gets $595,000 from U.S. in Privacy Suit

Wouldn't it be nice if she would share some of that money with Monica Lewinsky?

Saturday, November 01, 2003
Are We Paying the Terrorists to Shoot at Us?
This afternoon I was talking to one of my neighbors, a 17 year-old high school student, when he asked me if it was possible that any of the millions of dollars paid out in rewards to Iraquis could have found its way to the terrorists and insurgents? As I recall, we paid over 15 million dollars each for Uday and Qusay, and have another 25 million dollars on the board for Saddam (preferably dead, I assume—a lot of nasty problems would be avoided that way, like a public trial).

I’ll admit that I hadn’t given it a moment’s thought up till now.

Out of the mouths of babes…..


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