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Past is Prologue

  • Posted on June 24, 2011 at 1:41 pm

My mind works in mysterious ways.  I decided to take the “Way Back Machine” ride.  On the news yesterday there was much talk about what President Obama said about troops coming home from Afghanistan.  It sounds like too little, too late to me.  I was thinking about something I heard recently about the cost of the wars.  The amount I remember is two billion a week.  That is one hefty sum which led me to the internet to do some research.  I came across a recent document from the Congressional Research Service entitled, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11.”

Inside this document there is Table 1 that breaks down the yearly cost.  I highly suggest looking at the document as there are some strange things within it.  Considering these figures, I went on to look up some other information as it pertains to the U.S. National Debt and I came across some interesting old articles.

The cost to continue these wars is staggering.  On CSPAN yesterday morning Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, said that it costs $400.00 a gallon for gas for those troops on the front line in Afghanistan.

If you read this article you will also discover that it costs a billion dollars for a thousand troops.  Just think about that!

The day before, I also heard Senator Manchin from West Virginia say that the Chinese are mining copper in Afghanistan.  They benefit from our troops in the area but they don’t pay for them!  What are we mining?  Probably more terrorists that hate us!  Representative Kaptur also had a discussion with President Obama.  She wants to take 1% of the defense budget and put it into a jobs program.  She wants to utilize unused bases around the country to start these programs for rebuilding communities hit hard by these economic times.

What I’m trying to get at are a couple of different things.  First of all the Republicans have taken back the tax level for the wealthy to the fifties.  (They have said it’s not just for the wealthy but that we all benefit.)  As a woman, I used to joke about how the Republicans want to take us back to the fifties.  However, it is no joking matter.  Back in 1999 for the first time in 25 years, the US Government planned to reduce the size of the national debt.

Towards the end of the Clinton term in September of 2000 he said this, “Like our Olympic athletes in Sydney, the American people are breaking all kinds of records these days. This is the first year we’ve balanced the budget without using the Medicare trust fund since Medicare was created in 1965. I think we should follow Al Gore’s advice and lock those trust funds away for the future.”

Everything was looking promising.  Of course we all now know how much fun everyone made of Gore’s “lockbox” statement.  There is more here on what he had to say on the subject and it is worth remembering considering the current state of things.

So, what changed everything?  As far as I can tell there were four episodic things that changed the direction of our country.  First were the 2000 election and the decision by the Supreme Court.  Second were the Bush tax cuts.

Third was the tragedy of September 11th.  Finally, fourth were the decisions to go to war and remain entrenched in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya for basically ten years.  Now some would say I forgot about the sup-prime mortgage problem.  However, I think like dominoes, when you put in motion all of the other things, well, shit happens!  It’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg?  In my mind the Bush tax cuts have put an unbelievable strain on our country that can be felt across the nation.  We feel it on our roads, in our schools, and worrying about our jobs.  While many people may think they want to keep their tax cuts, most are probably not thinking about the true cost of those cuts and who benefits the most.  The tax cuts are tricky because they have embedded into them something for families.  So, when the wealthy get their big cuts, people with children are probably okay with it because they get their cuts as well.  Most people don’t think about how those cuts have cost our country in so many ways.  As the federal government does less and less for us, they push more and more back onto the states.  We all know the result of that, cuts and more cuts locally.

States seem to be getting desperate.  I learned about “Project 60” proposed by the governor of Idaho.  Hmm, what could that be?  There is talk on the internet about a Chinese company building a self contained city and bringing their own workers over.  Could we be that desperate?  Here is the message from Governor Otter.

I went to the Project 60 PDF file.  The link is on the page.  Embedded into the nice brochure is this:

Establish an Idaho EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program which grants visas to foreign nationals investing $500,000-$1,000,000.

I ended up at this blog today and I am wondering about all of this.

One guy called in on CSPAN yesterday and he stood out because of what he said.  He called us a “plantation nation”.  The wording could have been slightly different than that but I do remember the plantation reference.  He basically feels that business in their pursuit of all things global have made out country and its citizens into a plantation like setting.  We are like a slave nation.  We are the good little worker bees and big business is the owner of the plantation.  He wants the slaves to revolt!  Our children are being told that they are going to have to compete globally.  I don’t think the wages in China are going to bring our own wages up here.  There is no loyalty any more to country.  The loyalty seems to be to business.  Business will go wherever they can produce their product cheaper.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be better but the bottom line is the bottom dollar.  If business can use programs like “Project 60” to import cheaper labor, they will do it.  That means that all of us that thought our jobs couldn’t be out sourced to another country better start thinking about the past and how it relates to the future.

School’s Out for the Summer…..What are you doing?

  • Posted on June 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Schools been out for a bit over a week now and I am still too busy for words.  It makes it difficult to carve some time out to post my thoughts, but this is what I have been thinking about.  First of all, I’m still working on that “school stuff”.  I haven’t really checked out of my art room even though it’s basically ready for the summer because I still have to turn in my orders for next year.  Anyone that is an art teacher can tell you how that goes.  I put together what I want on a spreadsheet and low and behold I have to make cuts.  You would think I’d get better at this after all of these years; but I’m too busy trying to get the best bang for my buck.   I’m also taking two technology courses online that I want to finish by the middle of July.  They are self paced but that is a lot to accomplish by the goal date I have set as there are many written assignments that accompany each of them.  I have to say that I have really enjoyed all of the courses I’ve taken this year, even though I whine about the work load to anyone that is prone to listen to me!

The other day I came across this editorial written by President Carter.

It’s nice to finally see some sanity about our drug laws expressed by a person that could be actually taken seriously.   I highly suggest reading the piece and even reading the initiative put together by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.  The link is there.  I glanced through it and got what I needed from it.  I have talked with many students that have a parent incarcerated for drugs.  Most of them are drug users.  It has never made any sense to me why we have put so many people behind bars for using drugs.  They are taken out of being a productive member of society and then we, as taxpayers, end up having to take care of them and their children too.  There has to be some sanity brought to this issue.  If you read through President Carter’s editorial the number of people in prison has gone up so drastically in the last thirty years that it is really alarming.  I also know that prison has become a profitable business.  This article from a few years ago is interesting.

Here is a piece from the article that I think kind of tells it all:

“Prison analysts say contract prison labor is poised to become one of America’s most important growth industries. Many of these prisoners are serving time for non-violent crimes. With the use of tough-on-crime mandatory sentencing laws, the prison population is bursting at the seams. Some experts believe that the number of people locked up in the U.S. could double in the next 10 years. According to Prison Watch, the expansion of the number of prisoners will not only increase the pool of prison labor available for commercial profit, but also will help pay the costs of incarceration.”

Imagine that!  We have an industry that is actually growing in our country!  Thinking about all of this, earlier in the week I got an email about healthcare and single payer.  Attached to it was this cover of a book.  Of course I was thinking I should know who Tommy Douglas was, but I wasn’t sure.  I looked him up online and of course I remembered he was the man that brought Medicare to Canada.  I’ve known about him for years and that his grandson is Kiefer Sutherland and that he was voted the “greatest” Canadian.  When I was looking him up I realized that I really want to watch “Prairie Giant the Tommy Douglas Story.  I have put it on my Netflix but it seems to be unavailable.  For the moment I am settling for snippets from Youtube.  You must watch this and think about our own politicians here in the United States.

I think we must be living in Mouseland because we keep voting in CATS!  In our case we have red and blue cats but they are still cats.  They tell us they want to help all of us mice out but truthfully they just keep helping the fat cats.  I think we need to get more mice in office.  Why do we keep electing a government made up of fat cats anyway?  I cannot think of many senators or representatives that live like most of the people I know.  Our very own representative, Rep. Fred Upton, has a net worth of somewhere between 7 and 25 million dollars.  While he greets us at meetings in a sweater that looks like it belonged to Mr. Rogers, he is far wealthier than he appears!  He may want us to believe he is one of us, but his wealth shows another story.  You can check out “Open Secrets” and see where he is getting his campaign money from. It’s interesting.  His alliance isn’t necessarily with the mice that are his constituents.

Tommy Douglas was a minister and he did have a gift for storytelling.  Here is another story that is really interesting with a good analogy.

His story will make you laugh, but it is a good analogy.  All of us at the middle and bottom of the economic ladder need to stop fighting with each other.  Maybe we would then be able to get representation that is more like us mice and less like the cats!  Maybe if we can start listening to each other, we can all get a little bit of that cream.

I also came across this piece which kind of sums up my week.  Here is one small business owner just trying to make a living.  We all know how everything seems to be made in China these days.  This one takes the cake!

Hopefully, I’ll leave you on a happy note because it looks like she may be back in business.  I think we all have to keep pressing on to do what we can to solve the economic problems of the 21st Century global economy.  The competition is steep especially when China can make some little trinket for next to nothing.  As an artist, I know what it takes to create something.  I value that.  Most people just see an object and don’t really understand the whole creativity thing.  I’m a potter, but my favorite mug I bought last summer from a couple of guys at the St. Joseph Art Fair.  I could be drinking my coffee out of a three dollar mug from China.  I prefer the $22 mug from the two men I met.  They are the Pottery Boys.  You can see more of their work here.

My favorite coffe mug made with a labor of love.

When I cradle my mug I have a sense of connection to another human being that threw it on a wheel.  It’s not plastic.  It’s special.  I can feel the caresses the artist gave it when he decorated the sides of it.  He may have done it on a thousand other mugs, but this one is mine and it is original!  The glaze crawls gracefully down the side in an imperfect pattern which adds to its beauty.  I encourage all of you to visit an art fair this summer and buy something from an artist.  If an artist is doing an art fair, more than likely, that is how they make their living.  This is a part of commerce that we all can partake in.  You make be going to the art show to be entertained.  They are there to make a living.  They are a part of the small business world that most people don’t even think about.  Keep these artists in business by buying their wares.  You won’t regret it.  You will remember the artist and enjoy the beauty of what you have purchased and you will be doing something to help the economy!

War, What is It Good For?

  • Posted on June 16, 2011 at 1:03 am

I just have to know if anyone knows how many soldiers died last week.  I was watching ABC Sunday morning with Christiane Amanpour a week ago and she posted the deaths at the end.  There were 14 soldiers in Afghanistan.  I find this so troubling because it simply will make no difference if we stay there two years or two weeks longer.  We got Bin Laden so I say, “Bring the troops home!”

A couple of weeks ago one of my ten brothers called me.  He is a big Obama supporter.  He knows how I feel about the 2008 election and the corruption I see in both parties, but ever hopeful, he asked me if I was going to vote for Obama.  I thought for a minute and I told him two things.  I said the problems with the 2008 primary in Michigan have never been addressed by Obama or the Democratic Party in a way that is believable or satisfactory to me.  Here in Michigan my primary vote was stolen and given to Obama!  However, I told him that if Obama wants my vote, he could do one key thing and probably get it.  He could bring the troops home and end these wars!  I don’t mean a little slight of the hand trick of putting troops in another country and saying we have left the other country, like troops from Iraq placed in Afghanistan.  I mean bring them HOME!

And please tell me what is up with the media?  I get it.  Arnold is a bum.  John is a low life, swindling attorney that you couldn’t trust with your ugliest girlfriend.  Anthony is a fourteen year old boy with a hard on for the secret, or not so secret, life of the internet.  So, why does the media care so much?  It never ceases to amaze me how sex becomes more important than being lied to by an American President who took us to WAR!

In our country, either the media thinks we are more interested in politicians’ sex lives or we are that interested.  I for one am not more interested in the secret lives of politicians than the back deals that they make with corporations to pick pocket the American people.  I’m going to tell you right now I don’t care who you are sleeping with.  I don’t care if you take naked pictures of yourself and send them to other people that probably send some of their own back to you.  However, I do care if you pass legislation that takes us into war, strips money from education and gives it to the defense department, or takes money from the WIC program and gives it to other defense contractors.

After all Republicans never met a defense bill that they couldn’t resist passing and Democrats never can truly stand up to the Republicans, not even for the American people.  Talk is cheap in Washington D.C. but heaven forbid if you have a sex scandal.  You can secretly be a bum, but if the world finds out that you are a bum, well, that’s a problem.  My mother used to call that the “Spartan rule” but being a Michigan State Spartan, I now take offense to that reference.  Arnold, John and Anthony perhaps thought that “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”  I don’t know if all three were just doing what other politicians get away with on a daily basis, but I have to wonder why some politicians can be forgiven their bad behaviors and others cannot.

So, back to my original thought, will I vote for President Obama or not in 2012?  I have to wonder what things will look like in the fall of 2012.  Will we still be involved in three different wars in the Middle East?  Will I see my hard earned tax dollars go to more war funding?  Edwin Starr sings it best for me!

Health Care Costs and the American Dream

  • Posted on June 5, 2011 at 10:57 am

Are you a "have" or a "have not"?

This week at school all of us teachers were encouraged to attend a meeting about our health insurance.  It was an unsettling meeting for me because it is astounding to see that the cost of insurance is so high.  Some things just didn’t make sense.  It appears that the best deal is if you are single.  If you are married and without kids, you are going to pay more than if you were just two single people.  That just doesn’t make sense to me, but it is what it is.

We have three different plans to choose from.  The green plan is the plan you never want to use and if you choose it, it probably will mean you never go to the doctor….for anything plan!  The blue plan is the plan if you are thinking, “Okay, I don’t want to pay anything out of my pocket right now…..Let’s just hope nothing comes up but the basics plan!”  The white plan is for the people that are superstitious and think, “There shouldn’t be any major problem this year but I better be on the safe side because I don’t want to worry about it plan!”  The other part of the meeting was about the possibility that one of three things could happen.  We could have to pay 10%, 20%, or whatever is left after a state mandated cap is put on what schools pay for insurance, which could mean the possibility of a family having to pay a balance of over $6000.

Now it may sound like I’m laughing about this but it really is no laughing matter.  The plans range in cost for around $4,000-$6,000 for a single, $10,000-$15,000 for married with no children, and 13,000 to a bit over $19,000 for the family plan.  Now, just think about these numbers.  How can a family that isn’t wealthy afford insurance that costs nearly $20,000 if it isn’t picked up by their employer?  President Obama put forth a health care plan but these are real numbers and numbers don’t lie.  Nothing has really changed except the cost continues to go up for health insurance.  You might be thinking that our costs are unusual.  However, our insurance is with Blue Cross Blue Shield and we don’t have the Messa Blue Cross that we had years ago.  Blue Cross is a not for profit insurance company.  Yes, I know you cannot imagine that such a thing exists.  On paper it does.  However, their CEO still gets paid much like the private sector.  I looked up the rates for the federal employee plans, also through a Blue Cross Blue Shield company, and they are similar, which makes me see that the problems with the high cost of health care have not really been addressed through the health care bill that was passed.  The cost of health care has to come down, all of our salaries have to go up, or we have to create a different plan like single payer which basically reduces the need for the middle man.

In my mind I believe it is foolish that our country hasn’t stepped up to single payer.  If everyone had to pay something and we had Medicare for all, people would be better off.  I know the politicians are doing everything they can to convince us that these programs have to be cut.  Of course this has happened only after they renewed the tax cuts that Bush put in place and they continue to be resistant to the concept of taxing the wealthy at a higher rate.  Of course many of them are the wealthy, so that’s not hard to figure.  Right now our country is in a crisis mode of sorts.  The Republicans are trying to condition all of us to the “need” to tame the debt ceiling beast.  Of course they weren’t whining back in December when they renewed the tax cuts without so much as a whimper about spending.   They also were in a completely different mood when President Bush was the man in charge.  However, President Obama isn’t doing anything in the least to make matters better because he’s going for the cuts as well.  Everyone seems to be on board with some kind of plan to change Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as we know it.  I heard Carl Bernstein the other day on Morning Joe saying we all know these programs have to change.  They will wait until after the election and then get to work on it.  He’s probably right but it’s all dishonest.  When President Obama was running for the presidency he talked about being a “transformational” president.  He thought Reagan was one and Clinton wasn’t.  President Obama has always admired President Reagan so I’m beginning to think he may also become a “transformational” president.  Life as we all know it may be “transformed” into something we have not known before.  Our country is becoming the country known for the “haves” and the “have nots”.  Let’s face it.  You either have it or you don’t in this country.  You either have a good job or you don’t.  You either have health care or you don’t.  You either have money or you don’t.  You either have access to a good education or you don’t.  You either have it or you don’t, but there really isn’t much in the middle any more.  As I’m writing this I came across this opinion piece.  It’s well worth reading.

At school we are heading into our last week.  The students will be finished on Thursday and I’m sure they are all excited for their summer break time.  Teachers are looking forward also but as I was walking out my door the other day I had a moment of sadness.  I had a sixth grade student come in after school to help me work on getting things done for the end of the year.  She told me my room looked sad because so many of the posters and things that made it exciting were taken down and it was so much cleaner.  It didn’t have the excitement that it usually has for her.  She was right of course as everything is being put away for the summer including art materials.  My room is usually a hub of activity, sometimes it can get pretty overwhelming as we use clay, paint and other materials to create art.  I find the summer break good mentally but as I was leaving that day I did feel that sense of sadness because I love working with middle school kids.  I will miss that little girl who is such a little chatterbox full of energy and excitement that comes in to see me after school even though I had her in art class a semester ago!  I will miss the funny boy who I always have to remind to listen because he never hears anything I say.  I will miss the little miss perfect girl that is an awesome art student and cannot wait to get to school to work in art class.  I will miss that boy that would never turn any work in, who I nudged and prodded all semester and got him to get that work in, who is now so proud that he has a good grade!  Most of all I will miss all of the love I feel from these students that really do try to do their best, sometimes under difficult circumstances.  Some of them are in foster homes, some are poor, some are wealthy but all are special to me.  They really are our future and I don’t want to let them down.  Our politicians need to see what I see and fund health care, education and the future of our children.  We don’t need more years of war and devastation.  We need a leader that gets behind the people of our country and lifts the spirits of those that are unemployed by finding a way to make conditions right for creating jobs, who tackles the problems of the high cost of health care and who is willing to keep the American dream alive by fully funding education!

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