Monday, February 28, 2005

Weekend Recap

Mission accomplished.  Cafe de la Rue's premier appearance at the Newport Wine and Seafood Festival  is in the can.
 
All went well.  Van didn't crap out on the trip out or back.  Business level was adequate to good, despite the relative blood alcohol levels of the patrons.  Enough people fought their way back through the crowds to rave about the food, giving me hope that this business IS going to go somewhere, someday.  Today I am worn out, eternally grateful to the wonderful husband (who willingly becomes the other half of the partership even though he has a perfectly good job of his own....), and ready to take on the rest of the season. 

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Have Oven, Will Travel

This weekend we will be out on our first 2005 event for my concession business—the Newport Wine and Seafood Festival. Heavy on the "Wine…"

This event is basically one big drunken party. Long queues of festival aficionados arrive two or three hours before the doors open, and the faithful are willing to stand in line for hours (usually in some form of precipitation, since this does take place on the rainy Oregon coast…) to gain admission to the inner sanctum. In anticipation of this long wait, most of them have liberally partaken of some kind of fortifying alcoholic substance before arriving. Even after the doors are opened, only something like a couple thousand folks are allowed inside the building at a time, so after the first rush of patrons gets in, everybody else stands in line and...waits some more, until people start to leave. One in, one out. And, by God, those stalwart folks will stand out there and wait. Personally, I don’t understand the attraction. But if crowds of people are that insanely dedicated to getting in somewhere to eat and drink, I want to be there pushing my wares in their faces.

For the past two weeks, I have been working on building my food inventory, cleaning up equipment, sprucing up the booth, and re-vamping the signage. Everything has gone so smoothly so far, that I’m almost certain something really disastrous is going to happen. The transmission in the van has been cranky lately…I have visions it giving out halfway up one of the hills in the coast range, where the cel phone gods laugh in your face and say, "Signal? You don’t get no stinking signal!" Oooh! Gotta snap out of that little reverie! Think…only…positive…thoughts….

Wish us luck, and, while I’m gone, I’d appreciate if you would ponder something for me and give me your input. For some time now, I’ve been thinking about renaming this journal. When I started it, I WAS "Coming to terms with middle age," and that was what the journal was about. But it seems to have morphed into something quite different. I do feel a sentimental attachment to the name. (If something is in my life for more than two days, I get attached to it. I can become attached to a spider living in my bedroom window…) But the name just doesn’t seem to describe the things I’ve been writing about lately—most notably my penchant for political ranting. What do y’all think? Should I change the name? Any suggestions for a new name? I’d run a contest or something, but what would I give as a prize? One of my political opinion entries printed in gold on expensive vellum?

Help me out here. See you all on Monday!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

There IS a Problem, Houston

Judging by the number of comments on the previous entry, lots of people out there think I’m paranoid, full of crap, or just really stretching to find something to criticize the Bush Administration about. That’s the problem with Bush’s brand of state-run media. We are bombarded so constantly with administration approved "news," that the pro-right, anti-liberal message has become almost subliminal. I really don’t think people understand what is going on, or the gravity of it. When you feel like you’re the only one shouting an important message into a screaming headwind, you start to doubt your own veracity. But, shortly after I posted that entry, I received an email forwarded to me by my sister-in-law. Generated by Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY28th), it was a plea to sign an internet petition to "stop the Bush Propaganda Machine."

"I have worked on media fairness and reform throughout my stay in the House, and never have I seen such an open assault on the standards of a free press as I have in the past four years. We have seen several right wing pundits who were being paid with tax dollars to promote Administration policies with no disclosure. We have seen fake news reports distributed to media outlets with no indication of their origin; we have seen those fake segments deemed "illegal covert propaganda" by the General Accounting Office; and then we have seen the White House simply continue on with the technique completely unphased. We now know that prior to the war in Iraq, Iraqi exiles with checkered pasts, allied with (and paid by) the White House distributed bogus intelligence on WMD to produce perhaps more than 100 newspaper articles hyping the case for war! Even now President Bush flies around the country at taxpayer expense holding televised "town hall discussions" on Social Security in which nobody who does not support him is allowed in.

"This must stop, and it must stop now. This sort of manipulation of the free press - one of most pivotal checks & balances in our Constitution - demonstrates a contempt for democracy, the rule of law, and the great people of this nation, many of whom trust this president with all their hearts."

Think about it, people. Picture a head of state presenting his grand campaign oratory to carefully selected crowds of supporters. Non-supporters are turned back at the door, or led away in handcuffs, should they somehow manage to get in. What world leader would you imagine behind the microphone in this picture? Castro? Kruschev? The Ayatollah? Nope…that’s George W. Bush behind the podium. With the cameras busily rolling, recording for posterity our stalwart Commander-in-Chief reading the Republican message prepared for him, to a legion of smiling, cheering, fist-pumping everyday Americans. And all those fence-sitting folks at home, see these images and think, "It looks like our President isn’t doing such a bad job after all." Don’t think it wasn’t planned to have precisely that effect.

And now, the administration is starting up that same engine to push through Bush’s "legacy" programs like the assault on Social Security. Additionally, USA Next, the agency that used lies, half-truths, and naked hatred to successfully sully John Kerry’s military experience during the campaign (you know--the "Swift Boat Veterans" people), has been enlisted to reprise that performance, only this time, against the AARP. Do we really want to see these folks harpooning our parents, older siblings, or us, as they go after the AARP with the same weapons they used on Mr. Kerry? Charlie Jarvis, president of USA Next, capsulizes their strategy:

"They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts [Mr. Bush’s Plan to "save" Social Security]. We will be the dynamite that removes them."

If that doesn’t send a cold shudder through your bones, you are not human.

And don’t fool yourselves…we only glimpse a tip of this iceberg. Don’t you ever wonder why stories exposing the Bush administration’s blatant media manipulation last about five seconds and then disappear? Doesn’t it mystify you that nothing bad or negative ever stays around long enough to stick to Mr. Bush? To generate anything but a feeble, "Hey, that doesn’t look quite right…" from the American public before the information is buried so deep an oil derrick couldn’t tap into it? We need to be asking ourselves these questions. And we need to start holding the Bush Administration accountable for their interpretation of Freedom of the Press---which to them means the freedom to club it to insensibility, and then harness it to their own advantage.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Politics, Lies, and Audiotapes

Yesterday, a news story broke that seven-year-old, secretly taped conversations with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush had been made public. For a tantalizing moment, I half-believed that some dedicated investigative reporter had finally clawed through the steel-vised control that the administration and the Republican party have on what information sees the light of day in this country. Nearly trembling with the anticipation that the lid might have been blown off the Bush fa├žade, I opened up the AOL story on the subject. How miserably pitiful it turned out to be! In fact, I don’t know how it was even interpreted as news. Wait…maybe I do know after all. If this wasn’t yet another obvious demonstration of the Republican Party’s unshakeable control of the information stream, I don’t know what it was.

How else to explain that an event which would most likely have spelled disaster for almost any other public figure in the entire country—the discovery of secretly taped conversations about political strategy, religion, past "sins"--find our President coming out smelling like an American Beauty Rose? We hear him waxing pensive on how his faith will affect his chances of election, professing an almost open-minded policy on gays, and singing the praises of his possible opponents for the Republican party nomination, whom he ultimately rewards with cabinet positions when he does gain the White House. In short, here is Mr. Bush, sounding downright "presidential," two years before he sets foot in the office. Can anyone truly believe that the publication of these tapes was by any stretch of the imagination a shock to the administration?

Embarrassingly, the anti-Bush camp seized upon his non-denial of marijuana use in a weak attempt to twist this post-election ad campaign to reflect badly on the President. "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried." Hell, that even makes sense to me, and I can’t stand the man. If Democrats had used some of that logic on the muck that the RNC is constantly digging up and exploiting about their pasts, they might not be in the minority position they are in today.

Back in the "olden days," television news consisted of the 6:00 national news, and the 10:00 local news. And network interview shows on Sunday morning that nobody watched. If you listened to the radio, you got a five-minute news report at the top of every hour. Given the limited time frame available, the stories that made the broadcast were presumably the important stuff. They might have even been construed as news. Information worth hearing or seeing. How things have changed.

In 1980, Ted Turner and CNN pioneered the 24-hour news cycle. Americans voted with their remotes overwhelmingly in favor of this new-fangled media development. And of course a legion of competing networks sprang into being. Today, we are bombarded every hour of every day by news. But, no, it’s not news anymore. It’s any story, factual or fictitious, heart-warming, tear-jerking or shocking, that can be committed to film as quickly as possible, as the networks clamor for the public’s attention in a never-ending game of one-upmanship. On the radio, I challenge you to find an AM station that plays music anymore. Talk radio rules, and as on TV, rule number one is to push up the ratings by out-hollering and out-shocking the competition.

All of this makes the Republican Party’s control of the information waves that much more mystifying. One has to believe that their success in this arena has been a long time in the making. Someone, or an army of someones, would have to have been following the genesis of the hype that passes for news in 21st century America for long enough to develop sufficient mastery of it to be able to manipulate it. This cannot have been an easy task. Has the Republican Party had the presence of mind and patience to apply the kind of manpower needed to the task, knowing how critical to political success the ability to manipulate the media would be? Hard to believe anything as amorphous and generally contentious as a political organization could get it together adequately, spanning decades, to study and learn how to harness the information stream enough to be able to use it at will for its own purposes. Yet, if that was the plan, it was brilliant, and it has achieved success beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Perhaps more believable, is that the right has such a pervasive mastery over today’s media because they more or less own it. Ownership of media outlets is big business. Big business is the Republican Party’s bread and butter. In a supreme "you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours" arrangement, the media have become the party’s mouthpiece. There may be individual liberal-minded reporters out there, but they are an endangered species. Management genuflects to ownership and sponsors, who are, more than likely, right-leaning business conglomerates. A little pressure from the guys that are going to push through the legislation that guarantees your pockets will remain abundantly lined can have a huge affect on what information reaches the public's eyes, and from what slant it is reported. Pepper this with a pinch of hyper-patriotism and anti-internationalism brought on by a surprise attack on the homeland, and you have a situation molded in heaven for the Republican Party.

It’s frightening how well this situation seems to suit the majority of Americans. Maybe they are so exhausted by the constant stream of information clamoring for their attention that they would just as soon have someone tell them what’s important and what to think. Personally, I feel as if the right has fingers in my ears, hands over my eyes, and a fist in my mouth. How can we expose the sins of a regime that has control of the media? And how has this happened here, in America, where freedom of speech and freedom of the press are two of our most cherished rights? It’s obvious…our Constitution has been edged out by the almighty greenback.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Bark

What is up with the weather? It hasn’t rained here in almost a week. The sun has been out, it "soars" to the mid-fifties in the afternoon, then as soon as the sun dips behind the hills, the temperature drops like a rock. Below freezing every night for a week. Great weather for doing yard work (not!)

Last fall, I had a unit of bark mulch delivered to my back yard, not thinking much about where they dumped it. I figured I could deal with it as I got the chance or the inspiration. About three weeks ago, as I started my preparations for the first event of the season with my concession business, I realized that the mountain of bark was between my trailer and the way out of the back yard.  "Move the bark" was added to the To Do List.

We had new sod put down last spring, and the dope who installed it refused to put weed barrier under the bark borders surrounding the lawn. "I never use that stuff…it doesn’t work anyway." Translate that to, "I’m too lazy to deal with it…" We live in a natural grassland. Grass and weeds will grow, abundantly and practically overnight, in any open space of ground, no matter how inhospitable. We had the lawn installed in May. All summer long, we struggled to keep the lawn grass alive, while the weeds in the borders were vigorous and thriving. Just what we had spent $1500 to accomplish—turn a high maintenance weed-patch into…a high maintenance weed-patch.

So, for the last two days, I’ve been hacking my way through perma-frost, chunking out the determined weeds (how can they be green when their roots are in ice????) leveling out the beds by dragging the old weedy bark off, and diminishing that pesky pile in the back yard, one wheelbarrow at a time. The result will be (crossing my fingers here) that along about July, when I’m too busy to deal with yard work, the house will not take on that "abandoned rental" look of weeds growing three feet high in the parkway around the house. We can only hope…

Those of you who are still hibernating under feet of snow and ice, and are casting a jealous eye toward the Pacific Northwest and our "early" spring…count your blessings.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Ribbons

I hate things that say one thing and mean another. I hate shady agendas hiding behind slogans designed to tweak the emotions, tug at heartstrings, and call for the righteous to sign on the dotted line, or risk being labeled unfeeling, unconcerned, un-American, or worse. I hate those yellow ribbon "Support Our Troops" magnets that people have stuck on their cars. Every time I see one, I want to rip it off and stomp on it.

Unfortunately, there's no way to tell if the vehicle displaying one of these little treasures belongs to the parents or family of a soldier in the war zone, or an administration zealot sending out a less-than-subtle message couched in self-righteousness.  For the latter, the phrase is actually a cop-out. Bumper stickers saying "Get Revenge For 9/11" or "Make the Rag-heads Pay" would probably at the very least get your paint job keyed in the grocery store parking lot.

I can hear the shocked gasps out there… No, I don’t believe that every non-military parent who displays a yellow magnet on his car is a wild-eyed racist bent on violence. The hidden message could be as mild as, "I stand behind our president no matter what." To tell the truth, I don’t know which is more dangerous.

If the Bush administration itself truly supported our troops, it wouldn’t be rattling its saber in the direction of Iran and other Middle Eastern nations, while our military in Iraq are endangered daily by the lack of proper equipment and manpower to do the job they were sent there to do. The president wouldn’t be playing bait and switch with the Congress about the cost of the war by omitting it from the budget. If he is so proud of the war effort and so committed to "Supporting Our Troops," why is he not going before the American people and simply and forcefully saying, "Here is what we are going to accomplish. Here is how much money we are going to need to do it." Surely his electoral "mandate" has convinced him that the American people are behind him and are ready to give him carte blanche to carry out his foreign policy objectives.

I wonder how much it would cost me to have a jillion little magnets made up that say, "Mr. Bush, why don’t you…" I could slap one right next to every yellow ribbon I encounter. Liberally slathered with super-glue.

This entry was inspired, in part, by this piece from Monday's All Things Considered on NPR.  Please click on the link to hear what the parent of a soldier who was stationed in Iraq had to say on the subject.

Monday, February 14, 2005

What's Wrong With a Little Love?

Why is everyone so cranky and dismissive of Valentine's Day? Yeah, it's been turned into a consumer frenzy. Yes, it's been commercialized to the point of total nausea. And it is even used to make us feel guilty that we're giggling about love when there's so much suffering and horror in the world.

But isn't that exactly the reason we should take every advantage of a day that pushes love into the foreground of our lives? There is entirely too little of the stuff being spread around these days. Why not use today to advance the cause of love...to your mate, with your family, in your neighborhood, around the world. Or only to yourself. As close or as far as you want to reach.

Love .

                  Don't leave home without it.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Changes in Journal Land

Is it just me, or is journal land changing? Perhaps the novelty has worn off. We are well into our second year of existence here. Leaders have sprung up, poured their hearts, souls, and what had to have been every moment of their spare time (and then some) into creating the structure and tone of the journal experience, then burned out and disappeared. The folks that were most hyperactive about our little corner of the cyber-world have either settled into a more energy-efficient membership in the community, abandoned the concept entirely, or gone on to bigger and better things.

Wasn’t it only a month ago that I myself wrote what I thought might be my "swan song" entry? I did need to take a step back, to examine the things that tied me to this place, and to disentangle myself from the unhealthy parts of the attachment. But that time of reflection helped me to understand that I really like it here. I came back not as a slave to some sick dependency, but because I chose to come back. I need to write. I like to write here, where I have people who have come to know me and appreciate my point of view. I have things I want to communicate, and because of my lack of…shall we say, more traditional social contacts, this is the forum where I can reach the largest number of people with the things I want to say. Not like writing a syndicated column, or a letter to the editor, or even a club newsletter. More like a conversation among a roomful of friends.

Yet, more than that… I can be one-on-one with some special people, even as I’m sharing my thoughts with a larger group; a dynamic that no other medium provides. Those of us who understand and appreciate this, and thrive in the environment, have remained, watching the parade of new journalers come, burn out or lose interest, and go.

Earlier this week, I was reminded, by the experience of another journaler who has chosen to depart, that the on-line world can be a world of fiction, intrigue, and outright lies. How do we know that the people we think we’ve come to know are actually what they’ve represented themselves to be? How do we know when we read that someone is struggling with a chronic disease, or has a parent dying of cancer, or has a child headed toward self-destruction, that these are real things happening to real people, and not just folks taking the opportunity to write fiction and see how it plays with the public?  Well, we don't.  We must exercise a certain amount of blind faith. We do risk being duped, looking foolish, when we become involved with people we’ve never seen and most probably will never meet face-to-face. But I--one of the most cynical and negative people I know--think it is a risk worth taking.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Images of War

A couple months ago, we rented the movie Windtalkers. A very good flick, but I simply could not deal with the battle scenes. This pack of guys runs up a hill into the face of machine gun fire, so that what’s left of them can silence the guns on that summit, and charge up the next hill, into the face of more machine gun fire. All I could think, while I sat there cringing, covering my eyes, and waiting to see which of the principal characters was next to meet a bloody demise, was, "WHY in the world would you do that???? What is wrong with the human race that we would make people do that? We are beyond redemption."  Grief and despair gripped my soul. I was so upset, I was literally in tears. After that experience, I told the husband, "No more war movies. No Saving Private Ryan, or Band of Brothers, or We Were Soldiers. No more. None. I just can’t deal with it."

Then I found out that not bringing the movies into the house doesn’t necessarily keep me safe from that despair. Channel surfing the other day, we came upon "Sergeant York." This 1941 Gary Cooper vehicle is about a backwoods Southern Christian man, a would-be conscientious objector during World War I, who ended up being a hero when he…charged up a hill in the face of machine-gun fire and took out the guns at the top. True story, though certainly Hollywood-ized. In the movie, they had a re-enactment of the battle…not as bloody and realistic as movie-goers demand these days, but still, authentic enough for 1941. And that same strong feeling came over me… "Why would anyone DO that? Why would anyone create a situation where someone would have to do that? What is wrong with the human race that we created war, for God’s sake?"

Somehow, I don’t think this is the audience reaction that the directors are looking for. Root for the good guy, cheer when the bad guy gets his, marvel at the outstanding bravery of the heroes, and go home resolved to raise up sons to be just like them. But don’t sit shell-shocked in your seat at the end of the film, shaking your head and saying, "Why?" over and over.

I’m a child of the "Greatest Generation." Raised on nostalgic images of the event that forever changed my parents’ lives. War movies were just something I grew up with, along with war TV shows and live war images from Viet Nam piped into our living room during the dinner hour. Here in the dawning years of the twenty-first century, we so celebrate the idea of humans killing other humans that we have added scores of video games and children’s cartoons to our arsenal of media that glorify fights to the death. You would think I would be desensitized to it by now. That I could sit and watch pretend war ("It’s only a movie…") with no more thought than if I was watching a sappy sitcom.

I don’t know. I used to do that. But I can’t. Not anymore. And maybe in the end, that’s not such a bad thing.

 

 

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Habitat

Yesterday, husband and I spent our first day as volunteers at a Habitat for Humanity building site. Since we are home improvement junkies, we thought Habitat would be a good door to knock on. Out in Northeast Portland, Habitat is building a neighborhood of seven charming little duplexes. Building started a year ago, so the units are now at the "finish work" stage. I enjoyed the work, and I definitely want to go back again. But I made some observations, and experienced some frustration that left me wondering if I’m too much of a control freak to ever really thrive in volunteer work. Or maybe some of you out there have had similar experiences.

This has been a huge project; according to our group organizer, it’s the largest project ever attempted by Habitat in Portland. And, it kind of looked like they had bitten off more than they could chew. The very fact that construction had begun over a year ago, and the units were still not even close to being finished was a clue to this. So was the fact that they had brought in a crew of Americorps volunteers to work on the project. I wondered if maybe they weren’t getting a large enough volunteer pool from the community to finish the work in a timely manner, so they had to call in the reserves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think Americorps is a very worthy organization, and the idea of young people performing a term of service should perhaps even be written into law. But I’m not sure they were the solution for this project…young college kids, most of whom have not yet owned a home of their own, so they didn’t come armed with even basic home maintenance skills. Now, I don’t know what kind of training was provided for them. Enough to give the organizers the confidence to appoint them "group leaders"—the ones who got to drag little queues of local volunteers around, looking for stuff to do.

I was happy enough to spend half the day crawling around on the floor caulking baseboards (the glucosamine must be working, because I’m not nearly as miserable this morning as I thought I would be…) But as I worked, I observed a greater degree of confusion, error, misdirection, and duplication of effort than I was comfortable with on a project of this size. For example, one crew was assigned to installing doorknobs and other hardware. Two hours later, we were assigned to go paint the doors. Shouldn’t we have done that before the hardware went on? I know this makes me appear totally anal-retentive (if the shoe fits…?) But multiply these little organizational gaffes by ten or twenty, and you have something approaching anarchy. People assigned to projects that had already been done. People doing things they had no idea how to do, and no one checking their work when they were finished. Groups assigned to redo work that had been done days ago, but it was just now being discovered to be unacceptable.

I found myself piping up with (unsolicited) directions and advice, simply because that is what I do. Nobody got mad at me, thank God, but I did get a few strange looks. And it just made me wonder…why are there not more people with great organizational skills out there among the volunteer ranks? Because it’s a skill that isn’t natural to the service personality? Most service-oriented people I’ve known are long on "people-skills," but short on…common sense. And they seem so reluctant to piss off the volunteers, that they’re afraid to tell them, "Okay, this is what needs to be done, this is what I want you to do, and this is how I want you to do it." Am I nuts, or don’t most volunteers approach a project with open minds and ready hands? I think service organizations sell volunteers short, if they think they will lose them if they really expect them to work.

Lord, don’t I look like the classic "glass is half empty" person? I’m reminded of the first scene in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," where Linus is chiding Charlie Brown for being the only person he knows that can take a season that’s supposed make people happy and turn it into a problem. I AM Charlie Brown…

But, of course the experience was still a good one. Though I would like to be able to offer my organizational skills to the project, I will be happy to give my hands, my back, my feet…the parts of me they are asking me to give. On the drive home, a huge bird swooped into sight ahead of us. I couldn’t make out its coloring right away, but by its size and its "flying board" silhouette, I knew it was a bald eagle. He flew low, straight down the highway, and we drove right under him. To me, this was the sign of a special blessing. Someone in the Spirit World was telling us we had done good. What more can I ask?

Friday, February 4, 2005

Social Security, Politics, and Idiots

In his first term, President Bush applied himself to the task of sticking his clueless hands into the middle of U.S. foreign policy. And he’s not done yet… He’s got Condy Rice traveling all over the world spewing Bush "tough-talk" about Iran. One can only wonder—and fear—where this is going. Now that he’s made a complete mess of foreign relations, he’s determined to blunder headlong into domestic policy in his second term. Fixing things that aren’t broken (Social Security) and ignoring things that are (our public school system, prescription drug prices, energy price gouging.)

Why, oh why, has he chosen Social Security as his domestic chew-toy? All reliable estimates see the system, left in its current condition, able to pay out full benefits through the year 2042. There is no emergency here, as much as Mr. Bush has already stocked the Misinformation Pipeline with his own gloom and doom version of the future of Social Security.

Here is a man who is never in his wildest dreams going to have to depend upon Social Security as an integral part of his retirement income. Backed by the tremendous fortunes of other powerful men in that same economic stratum. How many Bush generations would we have to go back to find someone who wasn’t rich as Croesus? People tend to forget when they see our "plain-spoken" president on television fumbling with words like "nucular" and "taihr-ists," that he comes from a fortune every bit as impressive as the one they thought made John Kerry elitist. Why is he insisting upon dismantling the retirement fund that I have been paying into all my working life? What’s in it for him? Not much…but we must understand that George W. Bush is simply a mouthpiece for the Republican machine. Ever seen a train going backward on the commuter line? This is the picture I get of the Bush presidency. He leads, but all the power is in the engines pushing from behind.

So, what beef does the Republican party have with Social Security? First and foremost, it was a program introduced by arguably the most successful president of the twentieth century—FDR. A man who dealt with two huge obstacles during his administration, and whom Americans came to depend upon so heavily that, if he hadn’t died in his fourth term, he would probably have been re-elected as many times as he chose to run. A DEMOCRAT. How much does this rankle the Republican elite? So much so that, seventy years later, they are still trying to find a way to discredit Roosevelt and dismantle his ground-breaking policies? Seems an awfully petty reason to be messing with a program that has been a financially sound lifeline for so many millions of hard-working folks over the years. But they do say an elephant never forgets…

For me, there are two major problems with Bush’s plan. First of all, he asserts that anyone born in 1949 or earlier will be guaranteed the benefits they enjoy today. And the new "private investment" phase will not be operational until 2009. Where exactly, does that leave me, and the huge majority of Baby Boomers born in the fifties and sixties? We’ll have some kind of reduced benefits coming from Social Security (they’re not telling us the actual numbers) and we’ll get maybe ten years to try to invest enough money privately to make up for what the system, which we will have been paying into for more than forty years at that point, can no longer promise us. On his Misinformation Tour today, Mr. Bush pointed to a 60-year-old lady in the audience and said, "She’s fine." And then he looked out onto the sea of carefully chosen twenty- and thirty- somethings and said, "But you guys are in trouble." Would that he had then been struck by some alien truth ray, thrown his arm around a fifty-year-old and said, "But my new plan will completely screw you!"

The second major problem? Private investment is WAY too risky. Here’s a little parable. There once was a woman who retired from a major American corporation, where she had been working over forty years. White collar job. Rose from the ranks of the office pool to be a major department head. Made a decent living, put up with a lot of bull during her later years, but hung on in order to achieve that retirement holy grail. During the nineties, when the stock market was riding high, she was convinced to pull most of her money out of the slow-growing retirement fund administered by the company, and invest in the stock market. She paid a financial advisor to set up a program that would take advantage of the economic times and translate her thirty years of retirement savings into a nest egg that would keep her comfortable for the rest of her life. And the money did grow. As retirement day approached, her assets topped the million dollar mark. Pretty impressive to a sixty-something middle class lady. How exciting it was to think that not only would her retirement be secure, but she might have more extra money than she had ever dreamed of having. Travel! Toys! Maybe a vacation home! She retired with a huge smile on her face, and a light heart.

Then September 11th happened, and the stock market tanked. Within two years, her stock portfolio lost two thirds of its value. There was nothing she could do but watch the numbers plunge, and hope the free-fall would stop before her money completely disappeared. There was no point in pulling the money out of the market…anywhere else she put it, there would be no hope of recovery at all. Thank God she can still depend on Social Security. She knows she’ll never be totally destitute. True story. This woman is my cousin. I saw all this transpire with my very own eyes.

What kind of future is Mr. Bush proposing for us? Imagine being retired, and having your life ruled by the tick of the Dow Jones. His big business backers cannot guarantee that there will not be another September 11th, or some kind of unforeseeable disaster that would make our privately invested retirement funds swirl down the toilet of a market reversal. It is the history of the market…there is boom, and there is bust. There is very little of smooth, secure sailing. And I don’t want to have to be worrying about that in my golden years.

Social Security is not an entitlement. It is not a hand-out. It is a government-administrated investment fund. You pay in. You draw out. Social Security will not be giving me anything I haven’t paid for. The way to ward off a possible short-fall in funds when it comes the Baby Boomers’ time to collect is NOT to reduce the amount of money coming in. Even an idiot can understand that. But, oh, that’s right… We’re dealing with politicians here. Worse, and potentially more dangerous, than idiots.

I have just one thing to say. Keep your hands off my Social Security, Mr. Bush.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Pray for Clouds...

Posting pictures in journal land has been somewhat iffy lately..  I hope you can see the little guy to the left...

While we here in Oregon have, so far, not had much of a winter, I know there are several areas of the country where they are crossing their fingers that Punxatawney (?) Phil does not see that freakin' shadow.  Meanwhile, on my walks through the streets of Scappoose with dog in tow, I'm seeing plum trees, heather, winter camellias, and early crocus in bloom.  Last week, I saw an entire planter box overflowing with snowdrops (And I didn't have my camera!  Just as well.  The homeowner probably would have called Homeland Security on me if I'd tried to get a picture...) 

So for those of you in the Midwest, North, and East who are dying for spring, we have a strangle hold on it here in the Pacific Northwest, and we ain't ready to let go just yet.