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    • Where Greece Should Go from Here
      Ok. Enough. I’ve been walking people through what’s happening, what it means, etc. in Greece now for a while, with an able assist from Mandos and commenters. Let’s cut the crap. Merkel has come back and said that Germany will not allow debt reduction and insists on austerity—and harsh austerity, worse than the last offer. [...]
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#Menendez : Are you pondering what I’m pondering?

Sweet Sue alerted me to the investigation of Senator Robert Melendez on corruption charges and asked me what I thought about it, being a former resident of NJ (I guess that qualifies me as a resident expert on this here blog).

So, here goes:

I’ve got no idea.

However, that never stops me from speculating.

As I said to Sue in the comments, I never quite understood NJ politics even when I dipped my toe into them at the local level. It seems to me that, especially at the US Congressional level, congressmen and senators are appointed, not elected. I say congressmen because for nearly 2 decades, there hasn’t been one woman elected to the US Congressional delegation from NJ- on either side. Nope, not one. You’d think that a state as dense as New Jersey, and I mean that sincerely, there would be at least one woman among the 8,938,175 residents who has the capability to be appointed, er, elected to Congress to represent the state. But try as they might, the political machines of both parties have failed to find even one in the entire state. It must be like trying to find Cinderella in a whole kingdom full of 4.5 million ugly stepsisters. But NJ is chockfull of Prince Charmings?? What are the chances?

I take that back, they found ONE in 2006. Her name was Linda Stender. She was a state assembly woman and former mayor who ran for a seat in NJ-07 and lost by a smidgen (something like 3000 votes). She ran again in 2008 and should have been a shoo-in but the state Democratic party, which had united behind Barack Obama, and promptly gave away our primary votes to him at the convention in Denver, decided not to back Stender very vigorously. In fact, I think the party kind of stabbed her in the back. So, she lost again to some Republican dude who probably spends his time in Washington golfing.

By the way, someone owes the NJ volunteers who phone banked and canvassed for Hillary and Stender an apology for wasting our time. Those are many solid weekends of our lives that we won’t get back. Why not just dispense with the silly notion that a primary vote or congressional election in New Jersey has any meaning? Think of all the money the state party will save taxpayers if they just admit up front that voting has no impact on who gets elected. Just divvy up the state districts by party, appoint some dude to be the representative and be done with it. It’s more efficient and honest. Wait, that’s the way it’s done currently. Why not be upfront about it?

But I digress.

Back to Menendez. When Chris Christie was merely a US Attorney, he badgered Menendez with a bogus investigation just before Menendez was appointed to serve out Jon Corzine’s senate term. It was something along the lines of Menendez using a personal address nefariously or writing it off on his taxes or some silly BS. In other words, it was a nuisance investigation from a blowhard political appointee US Attorney who would later become the notorious Chris Christie. It all came to nothing.

This investigation into the corrupt Senator Bob Menendez seems equally sketchy. So, a Florida doctor set Menendez up with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic? What are the chances? There’s a bit more on bribes and payments but it all seems pretty vague. It reminds me of the charges against Charlie Rangel that tied him up in knots and sidelined him when he was Chairman of the Ways and Means committee. He was probably one of the most powerful men in Washington at the time he was investigated and forced to spend time and loads of money defending himself. In the end, I think he was censured for shoddy paperwork. Gosh, we could all be censured for that.  But the whole point was to defang him at a time when he was at his political zenith.

So, I asked myself, “Self, what committees is Robert Menendez on?” And then Self toddled off and did a Google search on that question. Here is the answer:

Menendez is on the Banking, Housing and Urban AffairsFinance and Foreign Relations committees.

Hmmm, if I were to guess, one of these committees is going to have a vote or number of votes on something that is very important to someone(s). There are a number of tasty possibilities. Finance?  Health Care?  Consumer protection?  It could be any one of a number of special interest groups. We shouldn’t assume that the current justice system isn’t on their payroll. Remember how well the justice system investigated the bankers with their sternly worded letters? No? Go read that book by Neil Barofsky. This is the Obama administration going after Menendez. He must not be toeing some line. What could it be, what could it be?

Just a guess. But then, it doesn’t take much to set my tinfoil antenna twitching these days. Note that if Menendez is forced to resign, Chris Christie gets to appoint his replacement, I think. Isn’t that special?

Dominican chicky-babes and political favors for Florida doctors just doesn’t seem plausible. He’d have to be the slowest Democrat on the planet after witnessing what happened to Charlie Rangel, Eliott Spitzer and the Big Dawg. That’s not to say that it didn’t happen. After all, we’re talking about New Jersey, which has a reputation to maintain. But I’d like to see solid, incontrovertible, un-doctored proof, not vague innuendos.

Or fuggedabouddit.

PostScript: Germany just approved legislation that would mandate a quota of 30% women on corporate boards. Translating this into NJ politics, at least 30% of the legislative districts should have women from both parties running for office next time. Pick any four of the 12 NJ districts, find two women, one from each party, and elect some female reps forpetessakes. This all male dominated delegation thing is embarrassing.

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.

Thursday: For Louisa

Both clinging to life

Denise and Louisa, Betty Jean's daughters: Both clinging to life

The trials of Job are not limited to biblical sheepherders.  Many PUMAs know Betty Jean Kling, a tireless Hillary Clinton supporter who had a passion for healthcare reform.  Betty Jean’s son died of cancer and her daughter Denise is living with advanced ovarian cancer.  Betty Jean’s heart’s desire was to see that her daughter, and all those affected by serious disease, get the treatment they need.

But an evil genius works against Betty Jean.  Last June, Denise was attacked in her sleep by her estranged lover, George Hartwig.  He hit her in the head with a hammer.  He was sentenced to 3 months in prison for the attack and released.  Monday night, as Betty Jean attended a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in New York City to help her pay off her remaining debt, Hartwig struck again.  He shot Denise’s sister, Louisa, in the face when she got in the way.  Louisa is now in critical condition in a New Jersey hospital.  (One of our commenters reports that Louisa has lost an eye and may suffer brain damage if she survives.) You can read about the attack here, here and here.   This has been devastating to Betty Jean who is now dealing with two daughters who are fighting for their lives.

Domestic violence is a sensitive subject for many people.  I don’t know why it should be.  You shouldn’t be allowed to commit violent acts against another human being no matter what degree of relationship exists but violence is often tolerated in marital situations. Still, it is imcomprehensible that an attacker would be allowed to roam free after he heartlessly attacked a cancer patient with a hammer.  That this man had the ability to shoot her sister with a shotgun is simply unbelievable.  Where were the local police?  The New Jersey justice system?  How can targets of domestic violence sleep easily if their predators are not actually restrained?  The attackers in instances such as these seem to be operating with a single minded obsession, as if they are determined to remove a weed from their garden.  It’s irrational anger projected onto a hapless target.  If the crazy worldview of the attacker can’t be changed, the attacker himself needs to be locked up.

We need a Louisa’s Law that will prevent the release of these attackers who, like pedophiles, have a habit of being repeat offenders.  They need an attitude adjustment that only a lot of time with a prison psychologist can accomplish, along with restraining orders, ankle bracelet monitoring systems and no legal access to firearms.  Of course, that doesn’t prevent the abuser from using hammers so maybe locking them up and strapping a GPS device to them when they’re released until they get the point is the only way.  Worldviews are very difficult to change unless the person sees there is really no alternative and that society will simply not allow them to act on their murderous rage.

If you want to help Betty Jean advocate for a new Louisa’s Law, please contact her at Free Us Now.   NJ Senator Menendez sponsored legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.  You might want to drop him a line if you agree with him or contact your own senators.  NJ Senator Lautenberg  wrote the Domestic Violence Gun Ban and Brady Law.  Both of these Democrats know how serious this issue is but they have faced a tough fight from the NRA in recent years.  It is time we focus our attention on the risk that Domestic Violence poses to their victims and others who get in the way.

The New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women has many services for women who are facing domestic abuse but surprisingly little on their legislation page.  If you are a lawyer or advocate in this area, or have experience lobbying for legislation, let them know you want to help.

Finally, there will be a hearing  on the arraignment of George Hartwig.  The Honorable Judge Harry Carroll will preside.  His contact numbers are voice: 201-527-2460, fax: 201-752-4109 if you would like to politely urge him to keep Hatwig behind bars until his trial.

We send our positivc thoughts to Betty Jean.  The Trial of Job didn’t last forever.  It ended well.

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