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Senator Menendez hedges on the Chained CPI

Here is the response I got from him following the email I sent the other day.  Menendez is a pretty liberal guy so if this is the best he can do, we’re screwed.

There are two things that Menendez should keep in mind. 1.) If in doubt, ask the actuaries for the data.  Modeling the numbers is not difficult.  Then you will be able to see if there is a cut and how big it is. 2.) Think about the generation that is between 45-55 years old.  We worked our asses off for this country with fewer days off or retirement compensation than most developed countries. Imposing a Chained CPI on us would be like an American version of a sumptuary law, forcing us to forgo goods and services we had planned on acquiring when we retired.  If we had known 30 years ago that a bunch of hard ass Republicans and media pundits would sacrifice us in order to keep their Bush tax cuts, we would have never put up with the surplus payroll tax.  It’s fraudulent to change the rules now.

We’re not stupid enough to believe this is going to strengthen anything, especially social security.:

Dear Ms. X:

Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition to the use of the Chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI-U).  Your opinion is very important to me, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you about this important issue.

As you know, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a very important measure of inflation used by the federal government.  The current CPI does not take into account the changes in consumer spending patterns as consumers substitute more expensive goods for similar less expensive goods.  To get an alternative estimate of the effect of consumer substitution, the Bureau of Labor Statistics created the C-CPI-U for consumers, which reflects changes both in prices and the composition of consumer purchasing habits.

While the C-CPI-U may calculate a more accurate estimate of inflation that consumers face, some are concerned that this change will have the effect of reducing future Social Security benefits if it is used to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustments.

I have not taken a position on this specific issue, but rest assured that I will keep your views in mind. I strongly believe that we must protect and strengthen Social Security because it is the main source of retirement income for millions of seniors.  Social Security benefits provide essential financial security to our nation’s seniors.  Rest assured, as I have done throughout my career, I will continue fighting to keep Social Security strong for generations to come.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  Please do not hesitate to contact me once again if I can be of further assistance.  I invite you to visit my website (http://menendez.senate.gov) to learn more about how I am standing up for New Jersey families in the United States Senate.

Wayne LaPierre wants to turn school into a combat zone

Getting ready for school

Getting ready for school

It’s hard to believe that the NRA thinks it can get any traction by upping the ante in school hallways.  But I was on the school board once upon a time and I know that when parents feel threatened, they become somewhat, um, irrational.  (Remind me to tell you about the woman who threw a baggie full of her daughter’s golden lice ridden hair at the BOE and demanded we shut the schools down until the critters were gone for good.  True story.  Oh, the stories I could tell.)

The NRA’s Wayne La Pierre said this today:

“The only way — the only way — to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection,” Mr. LaPierre said. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Gun-free school zones identified by signs, he said, serve only to “tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to effect maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”

“So why is the idea of a gun good when it’s used to protect the president of our country or our police but bad when it’s used to protect our children in our schools?” he continued. “They’re our kids. They’re our responsibility. And it’s not just our duty to protect them; it’s our right to protect them.”

Clever.  LaPierre goes right to the gut, which has been well known to circumvent the brain, especially when it comes to parents and their children.  What might be lost on parents, but certainly not lost on LaPierre, is that the latest gun catastrophe is a primo business opportunity.

If you’re terrified that your kids are going to be slaughtered on the way to second period, no amount of protection will be sufficient. I don’t think making schools into fortresses with armed guards is enough.  Can we get some razor wire on the 20 foot fence?  How about kevlar body armor for everyone, K-12?  And forget gym class.  We can have target practice every day, mandatory.

Because, according to LaPierre, childhood is for sissies and slackers.  The “only way” to keep insane killers from killing our kids is to arm ourselves to the teeth, terrify parents and watch all that property tax money flow to the security industry instead of the string program or the arts teachers.

It’s the only way.  Increasing the separation between insane killers and their guns will not work.  Or we could try never allowing our kids to leave the womb.  That might work.  Don’t think it hasn’t crossed some parents’ minds.

But doesn’t that mean that the persons with the most freedom and liberty are insane killers with guns?  They’re apparently allowed to do whatever they want.  There’s no stopping them.  And if you aren’t packing heat, well, then you’re asking for it.  We can’t deprive these people of their right to be both insane and armed.

LaPierre is probably Ok with cuts to Social Security too.  Damn seniors need to learn to hunt for their dinner.

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

In the same NYTimes article, US Rep Mike Thompson (D California) made this disturbing statement:

“Everyone agrees our schools, movie theaters shopping malls, streets and communities need to be safer,” said a statement by Representative Mike Thompson, Democrat of California. “But we need a comprehensive approach that goes beyond just arming more people with more guns to make this happen.”

I don’t agree that what we need is to make public spaces safer.  The burden and expense keeps getting dumped on the innocent who can’t move around freely and must always be on their guard.  I’m really shocked that a Democrat would make this statement.  It’s a complete capitulation to the security industry.  That’s how they want us to feel- like no place is safe enough.  Shame on Thompson.  He needs to be calming people down, not giving into their gut reactions to an insane act.

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

Lenore Skenazy at FreeRangeKids posts about  the fallout of Sandy Hook that results in disintegration of community spirit and increase in distrust.  I doubt that insane killers care one way or the other but the 1% are absolutely delighted that we’re eyeing each other and keeping our distances.

Hmmm, maybe what we need is Family Movie Night:

Hey, We’re still here!

Another “End-of-the-World” Scenario has come and gone.  Of course, for those folks out there who absolutely refuse to enjoy this world and the people in it because it is not pure, there will be another calculation.  They’re probably checking their math this morning, wondering if they forgot to carry a ten.  Or maybe they’re debating Julian vs Gregorian calendars.  Or, more likely, they’re simultaneously guilty about using numerology and praying that God doesn’t strike them dead for trying to outfox him.

But it never hurts to be prepared for anything, zombies included.

 

Joy to the World in the Season of Light

The Christians and the Pagans

Solstice is almost here and so is Christmas!

But what does the bible say about Christmas trees?  Actually, nothing.  There are some verses in Jeremiah about not decorating trees:

Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”

Killjoy.

But note that he’s referring to making an idol out of a decorated tree. What he is describing sounds more like a totem pole carved by skilled craftsmen. And nailed like a scarecrow?  It like a cross, if you ask me.  I don’t know about you but I haven’t worshipped a Christmas tree since the last time I sacrificed a goat.  They’re just pretty and festive and seasonal. Still, the ancient near east must have been onto something because in Isaiah we get this little nugget:

The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious.

Soooooo, God doesn’t have a problem with trees decorating his temple.  In fact, he thinks they make his sanctuary glorious.  And they have a pleasing aroma so that doesn’t hurt.

But what happened when the Christians and the Pagans met during the Dark Ages?  We have an account of one such meeting from the Venerable Bede.  He describes the meeting the pagan King of Northumbria, Edwin, had with Paulinus, a Christian missionary in the 7th century.  Edwin was preparing to marry a princess from Kent in the south.  But she was a Christian and her father wouldn’t agree to the match unless Edwin promised to tolerate Christianity.  So, Edwin sent for Paulinus and his own pagan priest and let Paulinus make his pitch.  Then Edwin turned to his pagan advisor and asked him what he thought.  Bede recounts the advisor’s answer in one of the most beautiful passages from the Dark Ages:

“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”

Bede goes on to say that the pagan became an instant convert and suggested that all the non-Christian temples of worship be desecrated and burned, which seems unlikely.  But it does demonstrate that the pagans might have been receptive to Christianity because of the promise of an afterlife.  Then again, it was the Dark Ages and it was pretty hard to check out the claims of the Christians about that whole resurrection thing.  Centuries later, we find ourselves turning back into sparrows, flying through the mead hall in the light of the fire and the warmth of our friends.  What comes before and what comes after we do not know.  “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”, as Tolkien once wrote.

I snagged a tree this afternoon for $20 bucks.  Around here that’s a bahgain.  The tree guy said:

“I’m Chris if you need any help”

To which I replied:

“What’s your name if I don’t need help?”

“Chris”, he said.

So, I picked out a tree and asked the guy if his name was still Chris and if it was, would he mind helping me?  He did and now the 7.5 foot Canadian fir tree is glorifying my sanctuary.  I haven’t put anything on it yet.  It’s still relaxing and it’s a weird egg shape.  I can’t tell if that has to do with it being Canadian or dirt cheap.  But it’s a nice tree and it smells good.

Negotiations, Marketing and Sandy

Republicans steal Obama’s lunch money again

This morning’s post of stuff is in no particular order.  The first and third may be related.

Krugman writes in his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, today that, as expected, Obama is turning out to be a lousy negotiator on the so-called Fiscal Cliff conundrum:

Here we go again — or so I find myself fearing.

Obama’s fiscal deal offer was already distressing — cuts to Social Security, and a big concession, it turns out, on taxation of dividends, retaining most of the Bush cut (with the benefits flowing overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent). It wasn’t clear that the deal would have gotten nearly enough in return.

But sure enough, it looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.

In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

The Republicans have been dying for Obama to offer a social insurance program cut.  For weeks now, they’ve been saying that Obama wouldn’t name any spending cuts in a game of gotcha chicken.  The minute Obama blinked it was a.) not going to be enough to satisfy them and b.) going to come back to bite the Democrats in the ass because they were the ones who finally conceded on spending cuts that no one likes without getting much of anything in return.  So, what does Obama do?  He blinks.  Not only does he blink, he practically gives away every advantage he had and the Bush tax cuts remain pretty much intact for the 1% while the Chained CPI takes a big chunk of money away from vulnerable seniors as well as raising their taxes.

By the way, there is a very good reason why the Chained CPI is a horrible idea.  It’s predicated on the idea that seniors will choose to scale down on their consumer choices.  They’ll buy more generic goods at the grocery store or go to Walmart more often than Macy’s.  (Great, I can just imagine what my limited fashion choices are going to look like in 20 years.  More sparkly things that fit my tall frame even less well because all of the patterns are cut for some 5’2″ model from the Phillipines.)  And I might as well just forget about replacing any Apple gadgets when I hit retirement age.

How does this benefit Main Street?  If seniors now have to forgo the few little luxuries they have or pick the progressively less expensive items, isn’t that going to have an effect on what is sold and consumed?  And won’t that eventually impact the economy and create a progressively larger drag on it?  Just askin’ because to Republicans, the fate of the economy doesn’t seem to be very important as long as they get their exemptions on their dividends and they don’t have to look at a poor person in Walmart clothing.  What I see evolving is a modern version of the Sumptuary Laws where the “most vulnerable seniors” will still be able to buy low quality consumer goods because that’s where they are in the social ladder and should not seek to rise above their station.

More on this: Thereisnospoon’s post from this morning laments along with Markos Moulitsos at DailyKos that Obama is a bad negotiator and he’s is going to betray the left that supported him.

Let me tell you a little joke:

There was a dull witted guy who came home from work early one afternoon to find his wife in bed with another man.  The guy is distraught so he goes to the kitchen and returns with a sharp knife.  Then he stands over the bed and holds the knife to his throat.  The wife looks up and starts to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?”, he says, “You’re next.”

Ba-dum-dum.

I kept thinking about this joke all during the election season and I would have told it sooner but some people would have just called me a racist.

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

The last item has to do with marketing.  There’s a grocery store in my town that I have been going to faithfully since I moved here in 1992.  But lately, the things I like are disappearing from the shelves.  It started with some bagged salad items but the trend is picking up steam lately.  Suddenly, I can’t find 2% yogurt anymore.  More than once I’ve bought groceries home, stuck my spoon in what I thought was going to be a thick and creamy Greek yogurt and unwittingly spooned a glob of honey flavored paste in my mouth.  Almost every flavor of yogurt on the shelf is 0% fat yogurt.  Oh sure, there are something like *two* flavors out of zillions that are 2%.  They’re usually in flavors I don’t like, like pineapple.  Don’t get me wrong, I like pineapple but I don’t want it in my yogurt.  I want lemon in my 2% Greek yogurt.  Can’t find it anymore on my grocery store shelves.

A similar thing has happened to the UHT milk.  The store has moved the location of the UHT milk to the juice aisle and reduced the size of the section devoted to it.  No explanation.  It just happens to be the only milk I buy because otherwise, fresh milk spoils in my house before we get around to drinking it.  You can store UHT milk forever.  But no, the UHT milk is on its way out.

The hummus crisis is emblematic of this trend.  In my grocery store, we have more flavors of hummus than I can count:

I can’t believe that Hillsborough can really distinguish between so many brands and flavors of hummus.  I’d like to see how much hummus gets dumped by the store.  But there is only one kind of babaganoush, which my house prefers.  We also like Tsazhiki but it’s ridiculously expensive.  I’d be inclined to make it myself but I don’t want to make it with 0% fat Greek yogurt, which is just about all there is.

I blame marketing and those stupid loyalty cards.  Apparently, there weren’t enough of us buying Chobani 2% lemon yogurt and now, the marketing people at Chobani and Shop Rite headquarters are going to send nothing but 0% yogurt from now until doomsday.  The thing that drives me nuts is not that they should be sending less of the flavors that were selling slightly less well but it turns out that they aren’t sending any of those flavors at all.  It’s apparently all or nothing in marketingland.

It somehow never occurs to them that flooding the shelves with only one type of yogurt or middle eastern spread or milk or whatever is reducing their sales.  I won’t buy 0% yogurt because it tastes bad, I don’t care how many suburban soccer moms have decided that 2% fat in yogurt is bad for you, I’m not buying the 0%.  Ever.  I do not like mouthfuls of pasty yogurt so I will go without it.  So, right there, Shop Rite has lost my yogurt purchases when I used to buy yogurt there routinely.  But it’s even stupid from a Greek yogurt perspective.  When Greek yogurt first hit the stores several years back it was special because of the unique flavors like lemon, honey and pomegranate.  If Greek yogurt manufacturers drop that uniqueness and instead go for more mainstream flavors like strawberry and the absolutely worst flavor in the world, strawberry-banana, what will make Greek yogurt stand out among the Dannons, Yoplaits and store brands that are much less expensive?  Instead of being something special that Americans would experience and come to love gradually, the Greek yogurt manufacturers have killed themselves by listening to their marketing experts and become just like every other yogurt on the shelves.  Except because their yogurt is strained, the end product of a 0% yogurt has none of the creaminess of a typical American or European style yogurt.  So now not only is the flavor not “Greek”, it’s got the consistency and mouthfeel of Elmer’s School Paste.  I will now go out of my way to Wegmans to find something that is now considered “niche” or I’ll make it myself.  Same with babaganoush.  From now on, I’ll go somewhere else for that or I’ll buy an eggplant for half the price at the little farmer’s market produce store and make it myself.

The steady encroachment of marketing on my grocery purchases feels like a combination of Soviet five year plans crossed with bullying.  “You buy the yogurt we have because we tell you what you want and like even if you don’t want or like it and now we have no way of knowing what you want or like because we don’t give you any way to make a choice that we can collect data on.  Suck it up, suburbanite.  Why do you have to be different from your neighbors??”  I guess I don’t like the idea that I am subsidizing the rest of Hillsborough’s preferences (we don’t know how much they prefer these items because the loyalty cards can’t measure lack of choice) with higher costs for the items I actually like or can’t even find anymore.

Do we know that all the residents of Hillsborough like the same thing or am I the only one who ever complains?

Don’t answer that question.

In any case, the trend continues in Shop Rite which means I am finding myself buying more and more stuff at other stores.  It’s a shame.  I really used to like that grocery store.  But whatareyagoingtodo?  I want choice.  I gotta be me.

To the Phones

Smaug makes his opening bid

Following Atrios at Eschaton, Call the White House, your Senators and your House members to say no to proposed cuts to Social Security via the Chained CPI.  They *are* cuts.

This is what the 1% have been waiting for.  This is why the bankers and well-connected have been strangling the money supply for the past 4 years and holding the economy hostage every time there is an expiration of their tax rates.  They need for us to feel enough pain so that we will give up something that is very important to us.

It has never been about the deficit.  It has always been about weakening and then eliminating the social insurance programs and using the chained CPI to calculate Social Security benefits is their first blow.  Don’t let them get away with it without a fight.

Say “NO!” to the Chained CPI.  But don’t just stop there.  I’ve always believed that you shouldn’t oppose a law or proposal without a working counter proposal.  Don’t just complain.  So, tell your elected officials that you would like to strengthen Social Security by raising the payroll tax on higher income earners.

Here’s who to call:

White House

202-456-1111

Your Senators

Your House Members

We didn’t share in the prosperity, why should we share in the austerity?

Spread the word!

The Project for Awesome

What charity are YOU giving to this year?

Got an assault rifle? How about homeowner’s insurance?

Newtown apparently LOVES guns.  Yep.  It’s a lovely bucolic setting with lots of 4000 sq ft McMansions set back in the trees.  It sounds a lot like Bernardsville, NJ.  Let me guess, there are probably a lot of corporate executive types out there.  Probably a lot of Libertarians and Republican members of the NRA too.  The New York Times reports that the sound of guns, rifles and assault weapons is a common thing in Newtown and all efforts to curtail it just to make it safe to walk in the woods, have met with stiff resistance.

It must be a great place to live where your neighbor is allowed to shoot his gun 20 feet from your house and you have no right to protect yourself.  Where are the homeowner’s insurance companies?

When I moved into this modest little townhouse, I couldn’t get homeowner’s insurance.  Was there a major safety problem?  Gas leak?  No, there was a crack in the pavement around the municipal access cover that was buried in the apron of my driveway.  Let me be clear, the crack wasn’t ON my driveway.  It was located on a piece of pavement that was owned by the municipality. It wasn’t a deep crack or a wide crack.  But because it was elevated by about half an inch and someone might trip on it in front of my house, my homeowner’s insurance company wouldn’t write a policy.  The crack had to be fixed first.  That proved to be a problem because it was owned by the township and I wasn’t allowed to touch it.  Eventually, the township did fix it but for a couple of weeks there, no policy for love or money.

Over a crack.

So, verily I say to the state of Connecticut, the solution to this problem seems pretty easy to me.  If you have more than one gun or an assault weapon in your home, no homeowner’s insurance.  Just try to get that 4000 square foot monstrosity with the nice granite countertops and the finished basement covered.  Go on.  The owners will have to stash their guns somewhere else away from the property.  That should keep them away from the young male hotheads in the family. A gun is much more lethal than a pavement defect.

Money changes everything.

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

Commenter John R. posted a link to a DailyMail article that says that Nancy Lanza was a survivalist in the Glenn Beck mode. In any case, Beck and his ilk have been predicting catastrophe for a couple of years now from the collision with Nibiru, a wayward planet/dwarf star thingy that doesn’t exist,  or some other catastrophic event.  Ex Jehovah’s Witness kids have been through this crap before and know a scam when they see one but the people who buy into this nonsense keep getting sucked in by every new scenario. I knew people who quit school and bunkered down leading up to 1975.  Many more quit their jobs to pioneer for the Watchtower full time. If you live with people who are into eschatological fantasies, the world can start to look a little nutz. It’s a bit like child abuse to be terrorized all day, all year for years on end by an eschatological parent. For all we know, Adam Lanza might have thought he was doing those kids a favor by killing them before the end of the world as they knew it.

Yes, it’s insane.  But what’s more insane is that we allow people like Glenn Beck to promote these doomsday scenarios without any accountability whatsoever.  It’s like shouting Fire in a theater.  Glenn Beck-why am I not surprised.  His shadow has been lurking behind so many violent events in the past couple of years.  But you want to know how to tell that Glenn Beck and his end-of-the-world fantasies aren’t serious?  How many times lately has he talked and fretted about the “Fiscal Cliff”?  People who expect to be fighting for their lives in the next week and have reserved space in long term survivalist residences don’t have time to be worried about losing their Bush Tax cuts.  If he is, that’s because come January 1, 2013, he expects to be sitting behind his microphone in a nice safe location spewing nonsense to the gullible and he’s probably got tickets to the Superbowl.

For all we know, there will be more violent incidences this week.  Some people don’t know when they’ve been taken for suckers.  They really take this seriously.

So much for the electronic door locks and intercom systems…

… that the nation’s schools have devoted so much money to procuring:

Gunman Forced His Way Into School

Is it time yet to talk about screening gun owners, their family members who live at home and their residences and perhaps the ramifications of sanctifying gun culture yet? How about having a nation full of parents living in constant fear and their kids having their childhoods snatched away?

Can we talk about the morality of terrifying our families, cashing in on that terror and then allowing the gun industry to escalate that fear and business opportunities with their lobbying efforts?  Does anyone but me see the potential conflict-of-interest here that comes at the expense of our peace of mind?

I mean, when would be a good time?  Pencil us in.

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

Get well, Hillary.  Hillary Clinton suffers a concussion.

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