Saturday, December 29, 2007

Goals, not resolutions

Each year, countless people around the globe propose New Year’s resolutions. Particularly in the U.S., these proposals fixate on the physical—to lose weight, join the gym, eat healthy—while often falling short of their intent.

According to (glad to know my tax dollars are being put to good use—studying my fellow American’s top resolutions for the New Year), some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions are losing weight, paying off debt, eating right and drinking less booze.

Like many good intentions, these so-called resolutions will be long forgotten by the end of January. Like the co-worker who says he/she hopes to lose weight and then, over the cubicle wall, you regularly hear them rustling the paper of another fast food meal and smell the waft of French fried potatoes, these resolutions are born in weakness.

While I can’t say honestly that I’ve never failed to achieve success in my own resolutions, I can say in all honesty that I no longer make resolutions. Rather, I’m given to writing down goals, which serve as signposts for me along the road, during the upcoming year.

The practice of setting goals, versus making resolutions, might seem semantic to some. For me, however, it has been empowering. I can’t pinpoint the year I made this transition, but I think it was probably either 2004, or 2005. More than just speaking forth my goals, I’ve made a habit of writing them down, in a notebook, where I regularly refer to them. These provide regular feedback and help me to gauge my success, or help me to step back and reassess where I’m headed. A case in point—in 2004, I set forth a goal of researching and writing a book. In September, 2005, When Towns Had Teams was released. The book was well-received, won a national award in 2006 (an IPPY for best regional non-fiction title in the Northeast) and still continues to sell copies.

2007 has been a great year for me. In my personal life, relationships, work and writing, I’ve been able to maintain a focus in my life that wasn’t the norm, even five years ago.

Setting goals can be tricky, if you’ve never experienced success. That’s why it’s best to set realistic goals for yourself, so you can start achieving success, rather than setting yourself up for failure.

While life is rarely perfect and even in the midst of a good year, there have been disappointments and setbacks, I am confident that 2008 will be an even better year and that I’ll find success in hitting my targets on several fronts. That confidence helps breed further success. In fact, once more, I have a goal of getting a new book to market. I’ve tentatively set a July release date and have begun researching my subject and have already made some solid progress on the writing side. I may have to adjust the release date, but 2008 will see my second book in print.

In looking back over my life, I haven’t always felt this confident. Too often, I would be caught up in bitterness, resentment and blame others for my own shortcomings. Now, I’m much more likely, when confronted with a setback, to ask the question, “what are you not doing right,” or better, “what adjustments do I need to make in my approach?”

I encourage you to abandon playing “resolution roulette” and start practicing something more practical. Get a notebook, or a notepad and set down five practical goals to get you started in 2008. Periodically (after two weeks, one month and after six weeks) check back with those goals and see where you stand. If you’re not hitting your targets, what’s preventing you from doing so? If you are honest and accept responsibility for your own success, I assure you that you’ll start seeing some positive results.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holiday to all!

It's Christmas morn, the sun is shining and I'm just back from a brisk walk with Bernie, my 13-year-old Sheltie.

Soon, my wife, as well as our son and his girlfriend, will be opening our presents.

In the background, the Vince Guaraldi Trio is playing the familiar "Christmastime Is Here" (via Irene Trudel and WFMU). The cinnamon rolls are in the oven and all is well in our little corner of the world.

Wherever you are reading this and recognizing that hard times and tragedies strike, even during the Christmas season, I hope you all are able to have a joyful and peaceful day, with friends, family and other special people in your lives.

Regular posting will resume at some point, but I wanted to send out my heartfelt thanks to my regular readers for being here in 2007 and for others that may stop by occasionally and also, for new readers who might be passing by while surfing the web.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


John Winkin’s college coaching resume stretches all the way back to 1954. The legendary college coach, who piloted six UMaine teams to the college world series, suffered a stroke last Thursday. The latest reports are that Winkin is out of intensive care and is in fair condition at Eastern Maine Medical Center.

At the age of 87, Winkin is the oldest college baseball coach in the country. Now piloting the Husson Eagles, a Division III program based in Bangor. Maine baseball fans best remember this baseball legend as the man who put Maine college baseball on the national map. Winkin’s Black Bear squads made six appearances in a ten year span at the College World Series in Omaha, beginning in 1976, twice finishing third, during his 22-year tenure at Maine, which unceremoniously ended in 1996, when unpopular Athletic Director, Susan Tyler, chose not to renew Winkin’s contract. There are a myriad of stories and much conjecture about what transpired at the time. Some cited Winkin’s age at the time (76) as the primary reason. Others speculated that Tyler and Winkin didn’t hit it off and this ultimately led to his not being asked back. Whatever the reasons, Winkin’s dismissal was poorly handled.

If you’ve never been to Orono, Maine in the spring, you can’t appreciate having a Division I program located so far north, let alone one that was a national power during the Winkin era. Forced to practice indoors until they boarded a plane and headed to Florida, where they usually faced the elite programs in the country, Maine regularly took their lumps on their southern swing. Yet Winkin knew that the soul of his clubs would be forged during those trips and pay dividends once they began their conference schedule back on the frozen diamonds of New England.

Winkin, who hailed from New Jersey, before coming to Colby College in 1954, quickly came to appreciate the baseball talent that resided in the far-flung reaches of the Pine Tree State. Winkin recognized that Maine’s shortened window of opportunity for playing baseball wasn’t a detriment and that anyone who is willing to play baseball in April, in Maine, when temperatures are regularly in the 30s and snow delays are not uncommon, had a special toughness that a kid from Florida, or California couldn’t possess.

Each and every summer, while at Colby and then later, when he held the Black Bear job, Winkin would scour the diamonds of Maine, showing up to watch American Legion prospects and evaluate their potential to play Division I caliber baseball. Many a former high school star remembers the butterflies in the stomach and the whispers and nods that accompanied a Winkin appearance at a summer ballgame.

I remember seeing the slight of stature and deeply tanned Winkin, during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I was a 17-year-old hard-throwing right-hander, logging some serious innings for a very good and sometimes great Coombs-Mountfort Post 158 squad, during the summer of 1979. We had just won a Class B state championship at Lisbon High School I had gone 8-0. Winkin had obviously heard about my exploits and he came to see what the buzz was about.

I remember that first audition like it was yesterday. We were playing a very tough Topsham squad, made up of a combination of two Class A high schools in Mt. Ararat, of Topsham and Brunswick High. Our Lisbon squad, with a few additions from Oak Hill High School, in Sabattus, could hold our own with any squad in Maine that summer.

Trying to impress Winkin, I got off to an inauspicious start, giving up a leadoff home run to lefty slugger, Jimmy Thibault. Later, trying to throw, instead of pitch, I’d give up a solo shot to Amherst-bound Kyle O’Brien, who would one day play minor league ball. I finally settled down, however and started mixing my pitches. In the fifth, with runners at second and third, I blew a 2-2 fastball past O’Brien and pumped my fist on the way to our bench on the third base side of the diamond. My teammates would rally and I’d leave with a 3-2 win and heard Winkin say to with his typically understated style, “you did a nice job keeping your team in the game, young man.” For a Maine baseball prospect that was like hearing the voice of God.

At that point, other schools, like the University of Vermont, coached at the time by one of Winkin’s former players, Jack Leggett and Amherst, coached by another legendary coach, Bill Thurston, had shown much more interest than Coach Winkin. The baseball scuttlebutt was that he was interested in a couple of other pitchers from larger schools, which was typical of Winkin. He liked his Class A players and stud pitchers from Massachusetts. That would all change late in the summer, at Edwards Field in Brunswick.

Our summer club was talented, but for some reason, we were either red hot (two seven game winning streaks), or ice cold (two five game losing skids). In late August, not only were we looking at a second place finish in our zone, but we were in danger of not even making the state tournament, in Togus. Tied with Caldwest Post of Portland (Deering High players), we would take part in a one game playoff, to see who got the wild card slot for Central/Southern Maine.

The Caldwell team was stocked with some good high school hitters, including left-handed slugger, Anthony Cimino, himself headed to UMaine.

After a long summer and too many innings and a stretch where I had experienced a “dead” arm, the weather turned fall-like and warming up, my arm felt rejuvenated. I told my catcher, Mike Sawyer, that he wouldn’t need to be putting down anything but a single finger, for fastballs.

We lost the coin flip and would lead off as the visitors. We went down in order, 1-2-3. Playing at Edwards Field in Brunswick, a neutral field, neither team had a particular advantage. One good omen was that the mound was a bit higher than most, which I always liked.

I struck out the side on 11 pitches, all fastballs and I knew that if I could get one, or two runs, we had this one.

While I was pouring fastball, after fastball, past the Caldwell hitters, my mound opponent was mixing up an assortment of junk, keeping our hitters off balance. In the fifth, with a runner on second, I managed to get out in front of a breaking pitch and looped it into left-center and we were on the board. That was all she wrote.

We won the game, 1-0. I finished with a one-hitter and 18 strikeouts, throwing all fastballs, save about five breaking pitches. Coach Winkin was at the game and saw me pitch the best game of my life. With the win, my 10th of the summer, I had now won 18 games, since April, and had only lost twice.

I received a phone call from Coach Winkin the following week. Later, one of his handwritten recruiting letters followed.

My senior year was a bit of a disappointment. Unbeknownst to me, I had injured my shoulder and while I tried to pitch through the injury, it would get progressively worse. Later, at Maine, I would eventually quit the ball club in the spring of my sophomore year, after being red-shirted as freshman.

That was nearly 30 years ago. I can still see Coach Winkin, standing above the three practice diamonds at Maine, watching intra-squad games my first fall. He had his clipboard and never said much. Occasionally he’d call you over, but his assistants, Bobby Whelan (now coaching at Dartmouth) and Brian Cox ran things on the field.

I’ve run into Coach Winkin a couple of times over the years. Once at a state American Legion Tournament game and later, at a state high school playoff game, involving my own son. Coach Winkin was kind and obviously remembered me. He commented on my son’s ability as a hitter.

In the fall of 2005, while in Bangor, delivering copies of my book, When Towns Had Teams, I saw Coach running on Broadway, near the Husson campus. He regularly walk/ran three hours every day. I swear he hadn’t aged a day in the past 20. While 85 at the time, he could have easily passed for being 30 years younger.With his signature tan, close-cropped hair and trim physique, he looked like a little drill sergeant.

Like the men that I interviewed for my own book, Coach Winkin is a throwback to a different era. A time that, while far from perfect, was a time when integrity, honesty and loyalty mattered. Back in the days when he was just getting his start, major league baseball was not a lucrative career. Even the star players, like DiMaggio, Mantle, Williams and Willie Mays, while well compensated, still didn’t make an excessive amount of money. Players didn’t charge for autographs and a father could take his family to a big league game without taking out a second mortgage on his home.

He’s obviously been knocked to the canvas by the stroke. While no doubt serious, something tells me that if I was a betting man, it might make sense to put my money on seeing Coach Winkin, back in the Husson dugout at some point this spring. Baseball needs men like Winkin, now, more than ever before.

Here's a well-written article on Winkin that ran this spring in the Christian Science Monitor.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

As Maine goes: George Mitchell's example

A few years back, a Maine writer named Will Anderson wrote a book that he titled, Was Baseball Really Invented in Maine?: A Warm and Wonderful Look at the History of Professional Baseball in Maine and at Every Mainer Who’s Ever Played in the Majors.

Anderson has created his own veritable cottage industry, self-publishing a variety of books about baseball, as well as beer, throw-back diners, the history of high school basketball in the state and recently, Maine's own rock and roll history.

I own the book on baseball and it is a book that any Mainer that cares about the heritage and the colorful history of professional baseball in the Pine Tree State would get a kick out of. My purpose with this post, however, isn’t to review Anderson’s books. In light of Thursday’s release of George Mitchell’s report on steroid use in major league baseball, I got thinking about integrity, professional sports and men, like Mitchell, that epitomize what integrity is about, while also having a connection with the national pastime. Mitchell just happens to also hail from Maine. While baseball may not have been invented in Maine, a man like Mitchell, is an example of how one ought to live their life and if baseball ever intends to right itself and restore some credibility to the sport, Mitchell might be able to point the way the way back. Other men with connections to baseball in Maine are the late Harold Alfond and John Winkin, who suffered a stroke this week and at 87-years-old, has been grounded, at least in the short-term, from doing what he's done best, which is coaching young men in the finer points of baseball, as well asl life. As a former player of Winkin's, I hope to weigh in later in the week about another Mainer, like Alfond and Mitchell, with ties to baseball.

George Mitchell was born in Waterville, Maine, to parents of modest means. His father worked at Colby College, as a janitor. His mother, of Lebanese descent, worked in the local textile mills, which were numerous along Maine’s rivers, like the Kennebec. Mitchell’s mother never learned to read, or write, in English.

Despite the educational shortcomings of his own parents, the young Mitchell had the importance of education drummed into him at an early age. It was common for working-class parents like Mitchell’s to want a better life for their children, something better than the long days and physically-demanding work that they fell into. Mitchell would go on to Bowdoin and then, graduate from law school at Georgetown University, in Washington, DC.

After graduating, he fulfilled his mandatory military commitment, being stationed in Berlin, as officer in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps from 1954 to 1956. In the mid-1960s, Mitchell served as an executive assistant to Edmund Muskie, who represented Maine, as senator (along with Margaret Chase Smith), at the time. No doubt, Mitchell’s time with Muskie had a profound influence on him, as he began making his way in the worlds of law and politics.

The 1970s found Mitchell running for governor of Maine (he lost to Jim Longley in 1974), serving as U.S. attorney for Maine and later, speding time as a U.S. district court judge. In 1980, Mitchell was appointed to complete the unexpired term of Senator Edmund S. Muskie, who resigned to become secretary of state. Before the 1982 election, Senator Mitchell trailed in opinion polls by 36 points. His stunning come-from-behind victory gave him 61 percent of the votes cast. Senator Mitchell went on to an illustrious career in the Senate that spanned 14 years.

In 1988, he was reelected with 81 percent of the vote, the largest margin in Maine history. In January 1989, he became Senate majority leader. He held that position until he left the Senate in 1995.

During his tenure, Senator Mitchell earned enormous bipartisan respect. It has been said "there is not a man, woman or child in the Capitol who does not trust George Mitchell." For six consecutive years he was voted "the most respected member" of the Senate by a bipartisan group of senior congressional aides.

George Mitchell modeled what it meant to be a public servant. Honest, forthright and respected, Mitchell was the perfect person to chair the historic peace negotiations, in 1996, between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Senator Mitchell led the negotiations for two years, work that ultimately resulted in a historic accord that ended decades of conflict between the two adversaries.

While many men in their 70s would begin slowing down, the former senator has found much to keep him occupied since leaving the world of politics.

Since 2002, he’s been a Senior Fellow and Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University. He’s also founded the Mitchell Institute, whose mission is to increase the likelihood that young people from every community in Maine will aspire to, pursue and achieve a college education and have a better life, just like he’s had. He’s a partner and chairman at DLA Piper, a global law firm and also serves on the board for Disney.

A lifelong baseball fan, Mitchell’s name has been mentioned many times as a possible commissioner of major league baseball. Since 2004, he’s been a director in the front office of the Boston Red Sox.

In March of 2006, Mitchell was asked to conduct a study of the allegations of steroid use in major league baseball, by Commissioner Bud Selig.

On December 13, 2007, Mitchell released his Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball, now often referred to as merely, the "Mitchell Report.”

While the 409 page report won’t necessarily close the sordid chapter on baseball’s “steroid era,” it’s unveiling serves as milepost to major league baseball. Given Mitchell’s record of integrity and success in bringing together disparate sides, baseball would do well to heed his recommendations. Baseball fans would also do well to side with Mitchell and not listen to the lies and obfuscations that have already begun coming from those Mitchell named, like Roger Clemens and Andy Petite, as well as accusations that Mitchell's report is tantamount to the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s.

It’s high time that these pampered athletes own up to what they’ve done. Mitchell isn’t recommending punishment, but a little humility and contriteness from the athletes would be nice. It would also be more in line with modeling the integrity that Mitchell has shown throughout his life and would serve as examples of what professional athletes, as role models, should be modeling.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A brief post on steroids

I wonder how it feels to wake up and see your picture plastered all over newspaper front pages, from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, as the new poster boy for baseball’s steroid scandal. I'm sure Barry Bonds thanks you. I wonder if your family feels betrayed. Or maybe, the money you raked in, while violating the rules of fair play, have dulled their sense of right and wrong, while giving them a lifestyle and materialistic largesse that most Americans only dream about.

In New England, Red Sox fans have always had a love/hate relationship with Roger Clemens. For many, when the overweight and apparently, washed up former Cy Younger signed with Toronto during the winter of 1997, most felt it was a case of Roger going where he could get the most money. Many fans, tired of Roger’s demands and recent lack of success, were happy to see him go, with farewell intimations of “don’t let the door hit you in the ass.”

Then came back-to-back 20 win seasons, topped by another Cy Young, his third, in 1998. Boston fans began to feel they’d been taken. Talk show conversations on Boston sports stations talked about how Roger had let himself go his last few years in Boston and when he had some motivation again, tapped into the immense well of talent that he possessed, which was aided (so we thought at the time) by hard work and determination.

Then, along comes the Mitchell Report, which pulls back the covers on baseball and lends 409 pages of factual information, to what had been whispers and anecdotal material.

I hope to weigh in on this with a much more detailed post, over the weekend. But for now, it’s back to Maine’s snow-covered road ways and the outer reaches of my regional work territory. While on the roads today, I plan on taking in some talk radio. I can predict that for many of these announcers, Mitchell's documentation will now produce the effect of eliciting condemnation, but most have been like Commissioner Bud Selig, mealy-mouthed on the subject.
Just so readers know that I've stayed consistent and am no Jimmy-come-lately on the subject, here's a post I penned on the subject back in 2005. If you want to do some additional reading, here's another post, also from 2005, where I reference Don Hooten and a foundation he's started, to address the issue, as it pertains to younger athletes. Mr. Hooten lost a 16-year-old son to steroids and I doubt he'd think it was ok to slough the subject off, as some baseball fans will surely do.

Well, the car's warmed up and thawed out and it's time for me to depart. To fellow commuters, remember the words of Hill Street Blues Sergeant, Phil Esterhaus, that he used to say to his troops, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Nixon when we need him

I’ve been thinking about what purpose this current interminable campaign for president serves. No other nation in the world holds such a protracted, financially bloated circus for the right to lead. Are the 24 hour news networks so desperate for programming that every candidate’s move and whether they fart after they dine becomes the next line of scrolling text below the latest disaster or mass murder on the screen?

What purpose does it serve to hold debates with eight candidates on both the Democrat and Republican sides, when anyone with any experience following politics knows that at best, two, or maybe three candidates on either side, have a legitimate chance to win. I’m not sure that most casual voters could name more than one, or maybe, two candidates on either side. If pressed, they even might have a hard time knowing, for instance that Hillary Clinton is a Democrat and that Rudy Giuliani is a Republican.

In our recent political past, campaigns traditionally ramped up just after Labor Day, the year prior to November’s presidential vote. This year, candidates have been battling it out and visiting the key primary and caucus states since early 2007.

Personally, I think some of the most interesting candidates, are the ones towards the back of the pack. On the Democrat side, Dennis Kucinich is the most outspoken about bringing our troops home from Iraq. To those on the right, he’s just a “kook,” and he might be viewed by some on the left similarly. In reality, Kucinich is a principled candidate that in person is charismatic and very persuasive. Unfortunately, he’s short and has big ears, so he comes across less than telegenic. Actually, that theory is somewhat dubious when you consider Hillary, who is shrill and often comes across terribly on TV, or Giuliani, who is just plan “ghoulish” looking.

Speaking of television, Barack Obama has fully embraced the reality that politics is nothing more than entertainment on crack. The candidate that charges for access, has enlisted Oprah to wipe his ass and push his candidacy forward with all the brain-addled mothers and Wal-Mart shoppers of America.

Oprah is the personification of today’s entertainment-saturated culture. An African-American drama queen, no minority entertainer has so captivated white America like she has. All a book, movie, or new pop psychology theory needs to break it nationally, is an endorsement from the maven of mothers everywhere. It will be interesting if the candidate that charges for access gets the same bump politically, from Oprah's stamp of approval.

I can’t think of anyone that personifies our cult of celebrity and entertainment better than Oprah. Corporate America has no better shill for their products than the queen of afternoon programming. In our current cultural milieu; apparently all it takes is savvy marketing and pulling at women’s heartstrings to build an entertainment empire. Oprah’s kingdom is worth in excess of $1 billion.

Recently, I read an old Rolling Stone article written by the late Hunter S. Thompson, penned during the nightmarish 2004 campaign for emperor.

Few saw politics in quite the way that Thompson did. Thompson’s ability to write about the candidates, with irreverence, yet still accurately capturing the hubris, lust for power and blood sport that is the race for the American presidency, always made Thompson essential reading.

His article made me reflect back on Richard Nixon, a candidate that few on the left ever lionize.

Thompson wrote that, Nixon “looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush. Indeed. Where is Richard Nixon now that we finally need him?

If Nixon were running for president today, he would be seen as a "liberal" candidate, and he would probably win. He was a crook and a bungler, but what the hell? Nixon was a barrel of laughs compared to this gang of thugs from the Halliburton petroleum organization who are running the White House today -- and who will be running it this time next year, if we (the once-proud, once-loved and widely respected "American people") don't rise up like wounded warriors and whack those lying petroleum pimps out of the White House on November 2nd.

Nixon hated running for president during football season, but he did it anyway. Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for -- but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush-Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him.

You bet. Richard Nixon would be my Man. He was a crook and a creep and a gin-sot, but on some nights, when he would get hammered and wander around in the streets, he was fun to hang out with. He would wear a silk sweat suit and pull a stocking down over his face so nobody could recognize him. Then we would get in a cab and cruise down to the Watergate Hotel, just for laughs.”

It’s a sad day in American politics when our current slate of hacks and wannabes makes one wax nostalgic for “ole” Nixon. But, I think that’s where we’re at.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dumb politics

By now, it should be obvious to anyone with more than a passing interest in politics that the 2008 presidential horserace is comprised of a field of mostly mediocre and a few arguably, awful candidates. This may explain why much of the reporting coming from the mainstream has focused ostensibly on the horserace itself, rather than the issues. Or, maybe it doesn’t.

For anyone wanting in depth coverage that adheres to some traditional standards of journalism (if any still exist), there are a few places, mostly online, where the emphasis is placed on the side of journalism, rather than entertainment, in covering the candidates. Jay Rosen’s (What Are Journalist’s For?) project, Off the Bus, is one example. There are others.

Rosen characterizes the site as, “open platform campaign journalism,” and in fact, eschews taking a “horserace approach” to the coverage of the candidates.

There’s been an ongoing debate/concern about the role of television and how it has changed politics and campaigns. The late Neil Postman and others have argued that television, which emphasizes image, rather than substance, renders today’s politics more about selling a candidate, using emotion and evocative props and less about carefully crafted position papers. Of course, this is nothing new and was carefully detailed in Joe McGinnis’ book, The Selling of the President, about Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign. Forty years later, things have only gotten worse.

It seems like new technology and gadgets get trotted out every four years. While it makes the media go “ga-ga,” rarely, if ever does it give voters a better sense of what the candidates stand for. Inevitably, it narrows discourse, which at this point, doesn’t seem like it could constrict any further, given the five-second sound bites that are the rage.

An example of new methods and technology would be the YouTube factor and specifically the recent YouTube/CNN debate. I ran across this letter to the editor in the Washington Post highlighting the issue and the writer closely captured my own sentiments about videos from snowmen and pro-gun questioners, “locking and loading” for effect.

Dumber and Dumber Discourse
Friday, November 30, 2007/The Washington Post

The dumbing-down of America continues, judging by the latest Republican presidential debate, presented by CNN/YouTube.

Candidates who surely have better things to do than to waste their time with trivia and nonsense fielded questions not from a knowledgeable, distinguished panel of journalists but from ill-dressed, offbeat, humor-focused "everyday" Americans who asked such "probing" questions as what type of guns the candidates own, whether they believe every word of the Bible and why Rudolph W. Giuliani rooted for the Boston Red Sox.

Although some of the questions were interesting, valuable and posed cleverly, many were pure fluff.

It is regrettable that the political process has degenerated not only into a perpetual cycle that is bound to disgust most people but into one that demeans and degrades the process and is an insult to the intelligent voter.

If YouTube and its "stars" are now to dominate the process, the process will have collapsed into slop.

Owen M. Spiegler
Upper St. Clair, PA

Speaking of technology, many of the candidates, at least on the Republican side, seem lost when it comes to discussing this subject. The Washington Post’s Garret M. Graff, had an article in Sunday’s Washing Post titled, “Don’t Know Their YouTube FromTheir Yahoo.”

The article highlighted the glaring deficiencies of Republican presidential hopefuls, when it came to understanding technology. Apparently, as we tunnel deeper into our technological bunker, our political candidates, all falling within a demographic, which tends to have phobias towards technology, are being left behind. Mitt Romney, who hails himself as “America’s leader” at every paid opportunity and who has a high-tech background (at least compared to other candidates), didn’t know the difference between YouTube (the fourth most popular site in the world) and MySpace (which is #6). Do you want this man making decisions at the presidential level?

In the rapidly changing world of the 21st century, which relies upon instant communication and whose economy is based upon technology, to have presidential candidates this ignorant of something as ubiquitous as technology is quite telling about where we are at, politically.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Storm report; winter's first major snowfall

[Appropriate sign for the day]

[6:00 am scene]

It appears, at least according to weather reports that we are set to set records for snowfall, with this morning's early season snowstorm. The former record for the Portland, Maine is just over 11 inches and Roger Griswold, of WCSH-6, is calling for 12-18 inches. 12 out of Maine’s 16 counties are under a winter snow warning. North of here and in the mountains, they may receive upwards of 20 inches.

In my front yard, I currently have four inches and the snow has begun to fall with greater ferocity. I just came in, after doing some shoveling, thinking I was going to try to attempt the trek to the office. While outside, my boss called and left a message, informing me that unless I had something pressing, to do my best from home. That’s all I needed to hear.

[Bernie and Santa]

[Luckily, most people are staying off the road...]

[...which makes me happy.]

When I worked for CMP, during the 80s and 90s, I had to go to work, inclement weather, or not. Spending over 10 years driving for my work, I have always considered myself a good winter driver. I’ve always had confidence in handling a variety of vehicles in all types of weather. As I’ve gotten older, however, I no longer enjoy being out on the road, when the conditions deteriorate. Oh, I’m still confident in my own abilities, but I find that as I drive according to conditions, slowing down, leaving ample space between my vehicle and the one in front of me, other drivers either don’t know about driving according to the road conditions, or just don’t care. Inevitably, I have someone hanging on my ass like a boil, or worse, passing and risking their life, as well as my own and the safety of other drivers on the road. As a result, if I can stay off the roads and let the other idiots drive foolishly and crash into one another, I prefer that alternative.

I planned for the worse and brought work home with me, on Friday, so I'm set to spend part of my day working on various projects. I'll also keep the fire stoked and probably venture out about midday and keep the pathways of the compound cleared.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Selective choice of topics

In Maine, there’s a local storyteller named, John McDonald. McDonald, who has acquired a measure of fame, spinning tales about life in the Pine Tree State, also hosts a Saturday/Sunday morning talk show on WGAN, Maine’s right-wing, AM blowtorch. He's done so for over a decade.

I’m assuming his show is popular, otherwise it wouldn’t stay on the air. McDonald, who bills himself as a politically independent, more often than not, comes down on the side of conservatives, at least that’s my take. In addition, the callers to his show, which are made up of a stable of the faithful, tend to be Bush-loving, gun-toting and I’d say, TABOR-worshipping.

I like McDonald. He’s funny, never takes himself too seriously and always manages to interject some story, or anecdote from Maine, which makes listening to his show worthwhile. Having said that, I do find many of the callers a tad over the top.

Take for instance today. I didn’t catch the start of his show, but the topic must have been Hillary Clinton, because when I tuned in after 8 am, caller, after caller, was offering their own version of Clinton-bashing, taking potshots at both the former president and his wife, who aspires to be president.

Personally, I’m no fan of Hillary. I think far too many Democrats are making a big mistake thinking that Mrs. Clinton has a chance against any Republican that gets the GOP nod. My problems with Senator Clinton, however, have nothing to do with her being a powerful woman, the fact that she’s running for president, or that she’s married to Bill. I also don’t go apoplectic when I hear her name, like most conservatives do.

My issues are with her policies on Iraq, the fact that I don’t think she’s far left enough and that she tries too hard to outflank conservatives on many issues. With that said, I don’t understand the vitriol and hatred that this woman (as well as her husband, for that matter) engenders from those self-identfying as conservative Republicans.

I found it interesting that while McDonald considers himself politically neutral, why he didn’t choose for his Saturday topic, the news about Rudy Giuliani?

What news am I referring to? Well, let’s start with the story that was reported a few years ago and subsequently disappeared down the memory hole, about then Mayor Giuliani’s expenses associated with maintaining an extra-marital affair with the current Mrs. Giuliani, while he was still married to wife #2. There were also some expenses "tucked away," related to his aborted Senate run, in 2000.

Back in 2000, the New York papers broke the story that the city had provided a security detail for Nathan, who became Giuliani's third wife after his divorce from Donna Hanover, who also had her own police security detail at the same time. Furthermore, it appears that many of the security expenses were initially billed to obscure city agencies, effectively hiding them from oversight, at least according to

These costs involved overtime and per diem costs for officers traveling with Giuliani to secret weekend rendezvous with Nathan in the fashionable Hamptons resort area on Long Island.

The Office of Comptroller first noticed these curious additional expenses back in 2001 and made repeated requests throughout 2001 and 2002 for records and information, but the Mayor’s office, under the guise of “security,” failed to turn these over.

Giuliani is claiming the release of this story is a “hit-job.” While that might fly with his acolytes, the former mayor of the nation’s largest city has this and numerous other “problems” from his days of running the city with an iron fist. These and the fact that he has real fascist tendencies makes me a little worried that he might get the GOP nod and end up running against Mrs. Clinton.

If you thought Bushworld is problematic, wait ‘til you see what a Giuliani presidency looks like.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hillary Clinton is unelectable

As we get deeper into the never-ending march to November 2008, various polls tell us different things. The Democrats, aka, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight,” have a front-runner, in Hillary Clinton that couldn’t beat any of five selected Republican candidates.

A new interactive Zogby survey shows that Senator Clinton would lose to anyone of the following five GOP candidates; Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, or John McCain.

Consequently, both Barack Obama and John Edwards would beat all of the same five candidates, with the exception of an Edwards-McCain bout, which ends tied, 42-all.

I’m wondering why Zogby didn’t extend this out to include Ron Paul, who continues to raise money at an astounding clip and seems to be getting more truck from the mainstream.

It’s curious to me how often we hear candidates being framed as “electable,” or “unelectable.” According to this Zogby poll, Hillary Clinton falls into the latter category. Of course, I doubt this will change many minds on the Democratic side, since they seem to be comfortable in their role as America’s second party.

[Thanks to A True Believer's Weblog for the Zogby info.--JB]

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Turkey Day, Tryptophan and Politics

I hope readers experienced a festive and bountiful Thanksgiving, like I did. The long weekend from work (our office was closed, Friday) allowed me to enjoy some downtime with family, a good book and also afforded the opportunity for some needed relaxation.

While this space isn’t always filled with writing that aims at uplift (I prefer the term, “realism”), I felt fortunate during my own celebration to be breaking bread around a table with 17 other people, mostly family, but also, a few friends. Given the opportunity to reflect a bit, 2007 has been a good year for me personally.

Our son came home from Boston, arriving with his two roommates via Concord Trailways. My wife picked them up Wednesday afternoon and they were home when I arrived from work. Life changes when our children grow up and leave the nest. Mark is doing well and his two friends, both pursuing Ph.D’s in economics, were a wonderful addition to the Baumer household during their stay. While the news can be mixed when it comes to Millenials, these three make me optimistic for the future. Listening to Samson (who hails from Dubai) and Adam discussing economic theories with unbridled enthusiasm was refreshing. In fact, our extended family has a good mix of younger people, all in their 20s, who are engaged, articulate and care about the state of the world that they live in.

I spent most of my free time yesterday and today, engaged with Robert Draper’s hard-to-put-down, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. Draper’s book, a literary narrative of the Bush years in the White House, provides an arc and a portrait of our nation’s forty-third president that I think is truly unique.

Draper describes his idea to pen a straightforward narrative as nothing particularly novel, or so he thought. However, it is the only one that has been done and I think it captures Bush in a way that the partisan backbiting on the left and the sycophantic cheerleading on the right fails miserably at.

I’m slightly more than halfway through the book, which clocks in at over 400 pages, but reads very easily. I’ll have more to say on this, I’m sure.

Having taken an interest in presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, I watched Wolf Blitzer’s interview (on Late Edition) with the former governor of Arkansas, curious to see how he performed. I thought Huckabee was warm, articulate and answered all of Blitzer’s questioned confidently, including charges being leveled by Mitt Romney that Huckabee isn’t a “true” conservative.

As Iowa’s January 3rd caucus draws closer, Huckabee is hard charging according to the latest ABC/Washington Post poll and trails Romney by only four percentage points, 28 to 24.

If Huckabee can manage to finish a strong second in Iowa, anything could happen in New Hampshire, a state that operates at the grass roots. I’m not sure what kind of team Huckabee has on the ground in the Granite State, but I might be tempted to make a road trip soon, for some firsthand reporting of my own.

Speaking of New Hampshire, Secretary of State Bill Gardiner has announced a January 8th date for the state’s primary, keeping the tradition of being first in the nation with its primary.

The decision ends months of speculation, including the possibility that the state might actually move its primary into December to keep its spot at the head of the line.

New Hampshire stands to lose half of its delegates to the Republican convention, reducing the number to 12, because it moved earlier than party rules allow. But state officials are not concerned, considering it a small price to pay for the attention New Hampshire gets from its leadoff spot. Democratic rules allow New Hampshire to hold an early primary, so the state will keep all of its 30 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

I’m pleased that New Hampshire was able to maintain its role as a leader in the primary field, particularly because it’s a state that forces candidates to get out and meet the voters, rather than relying on huge war chests of corporate contributions. Still, its days may be numbered, as the machinations of modern politics continually discount grass roots populism, pancake breakfasts and VFW rallies, in favor of videogenic presentation and not varying from the script.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bush tells poor to "Piss Off!"

[Editorial note: Richard S. of the excellent blog, Commie Curmudgeon once again applied his razor sharp editor's eye and made a suggestion about my original first paragraph (written too early) being ambiguous. I've rewritten it and hopefully it clears up the confusion that he had with it when he read it. Make sure you add him to your blogroll--JB]

George Bush, whose administration has relied upon deficit spending throughout his term, has suddenly turned deficit hawk. Bush vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have increased funding for LIHEAP, an essential federal program that provides heating assistance to those in need.

While partisan politics often result in hyperbole and over-the-top statements from members of the loyal opposition, comments like Representative Carolyn McCarthy's is much more in line with the reality of those struggling to pay rapidly escalating oil, electric and natural gas bills this winter.

Congresswoman McCarthy (D-NY) is quoted as saying, "With energy costs consistently on the rise, more and more families must make the tough decision whether to heat their homes or put food on the table." She went on to say that, "We'll fight for the money."

If you don’t know what LIHEAP is, you probably aren’t one of those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, clinging to the bottom two rungs, hoping you don’t finally fall off into the abyss.

LIHEAP stands for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal assistance program, which helps low-income residents with energy costs associated with heating their homes during the winter. LIHEAP will provide a one-time benefit to eligible households and must be used solely to pay energy bills. The amount of the benefit is determined by income, household size, fuel type and geographic location. Recipients don’t have to be homeowners, but must be primarily responsible for heating costs. The source of heat isn’t limited to natural gas or electricity in order to receive assistance.

With last season’s high energy costs, the program was stretched thin and with 2007/2008s skyrocketing energy costs pushing ever higher, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans are facing being cold, sick and possibly, even worse.

I know that conservatives hate the thought of helping anyone with handouts, other than corporations and the very rich, but is this what you’ve come to philosophically? Feeling superior about your ideology that chooses to let fellow American freeze to death over the winter, just so a few of the well-heeled can have their tax cuts?

There’s much more to this issue than just tax cuts. The continued cost of the war in Iraq, which our President wages with pride, isolated and ignoring the will of the people, is also having a profound affect on the federal government’s ability to deliver domestic assistance programs. Once again, he’s asking for additional funding to the already criminal $470,000.000.000 we’ve pissed down a rat’s hole thus far. Please, all you lunatics out on the right-wing fringe; drug-addled Rush Limbaugh, the psychotic Michael Savage, the smarmy Glen Beck and Mr. Hair, Sean Hannity—what benefit has the war visited on the U.S.? Please don’t revert to your usual clichéd responses about “fighting them over there, so we won’t have to fight them over here,” either. We’re fighting a war over here, my rich right-wing friends and it’s called poverty, something you are fortunate to be isolated from. Savage, at least, ought to have a better sense of how working class people struggle, because he comes from that class, although something happened in that man’s brain (or heart) long ago that’s made him one of the most hateful of this pack of ideological freaks.

I know Senator Snowe spent yesterday at the PROP office, in Portland, listening to the stories of Mainers who depend on LIHEAP and will go without heat if funding isn’t reinstated and increased. The senator, who fought last year for increased funding, has once more stated that she will be aggressive in advocating for more funding for Mainers again.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas not far off, it’s going to be a Dickensian holiday for many Americans, I’m afraid.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It might be time for a reality check

For younger Americans, the Great Depression means little, or nothing to them. Yes, for those who actually read their history books (if in fact history is still taught in our public schools), this was an actual historical event that happened over 75 years ago. The beginning of this economic downturn is associated with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929.

Those of us who are older have never experiencing a catastrophic economic downturn like that one, but we’ve heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about what that period of time was like. When you’ve met people who have been through hard times, particularly the kind of economic straits suffered during the Great Depression, you are haunted by their stories and it leaves an impression.

My father’s philosophy of frugality towards money and finances was no doubt shaped by being born during this economic slump. Born in the early 1930s, most his youth was spent growing up in the shadow of one of the nation’s most difficult economic periods. Ironically, when he reached adulthood after WWII, his generation was part of a long period of economic prosperity and a sense that things would be better, but I’m not sure he ever recovered from that previous sense of deprivation.

Born in the early 60s, I was 11 and regularly reading a daily newspaper and very interested in the news of the day, when the the oil embargo hit, in 1973. OPEC declared that they would no longer ship petroleum to nations sympathetic to and supportive of Israel in their ongoing conflict with Syria and Egypt.

This resulted in immediate affects upon the U.S. economy; gas prices quadrupled, rising from just 25 cents to over a dollar in just a few months. Many filling stations across the country had no fuel for a week..In other places, drivers had to wait in line for two to three hours to get gas. I remember seeing a gas line of a ¼ mile in Lewiston, at the Gibbs Station on Lisbon Street.

U.S. consumption of fuel dropped twenty percent, as Americans began to practice conservation, by carpooling, walking and using public transit, where available. Homes that utilized gas heat began switching to other forms of energy that were more affordable. My father installed a wood stove in our home, for the first time.

The federal government imposed a 55 mph speed limit, which helped to decrease consumption and the number of fatalities dropped. Gas stations imposed fuel limits of ten gallons and many closed voluntarily on Sundays.

The national mood shifted, for a brief period of time. Americans regained a sense of reality, not make believe, recognizing that the prosperity many took for granted, could disappear. The ease of motoring, perpetuated by cheap oil, was no longer viewed as a right and some even predicted that this shortage of oil could continue.

The oil embargo of the mid-70s is now just a memory. Jimmy Carter found himself voted out of office, because he dared to tell Americans that they needed to continue to conserve. Looking back, Carter’s prescience is obvious and even admirable. In 1976, however, Americans, much like we are today, were in denial about a lifestyle that might not be as conspicuously consumptive.

Here in the latter days of 2007, signs are obvious to some that we are headed for another dark period, economically. While we may not plunge to the depths of financial despair that Americans alive in the 1930s did, it seems quite possible that the economic doldrums of the 1970s are quite possible and more likely, probable. Interestingly, if you tell this to your co-worker over lunch, or mention it at the next family get together, see what kind of reaction you receive.

Americans refuse to face the obvious realities that are apparent if one takes a long hard look. On the other hand, however, these realities aren’t necessarily receiving wide dispensation from our mainstream media. Shouldn’t our leaders be helping Americans prepare for some bumps in the road, instead of insisting that we gather up our plastic and head to the shopping malls for Christmas?

Some of the financial spin that I’ve listened to for much of the past two our three weeks is utterly ridiculous and inane. Where is the analysis in various stories about high gas prices, the rollercoaster ups and downs on Wall Street? There is no connecting of the dots and little or no context to any of the news stories I've heard, or read. The shrinking dollar, soaring gas prices, housing slump and stock market fall, though inconvenient, are not the biggest threats to the economy. These are symptoms caused by deeper systemic problems. We need to learn from these events and begin to think about how are we going to build a more sustainable society.

Bad news, however, continues to seep through the denial and subterfuge. Wells Fargo CEO, John Stump, said Thursday that the nation’s housing slump is the worst since the Great Depression and is far from being over.

"We have not seen a nationwide decline in housing like this since the Great Depression," Stumpf said at a Merrill Lynch & Co banking conference in New York.

"I don't think we're in the ninth inning of unwinding this," he continued.

Today, Goldman Sachs announced that the mortgage wipeout could result in a $2 trillion cutback in lending and have dramatic implications for the U.S. economy, according to Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The housing slump is expected to end up costing banks, hedge funds and other lenders an estimated $400 billion as defaults on home loans rise, according to Goldman economist Jan Hatzius. Meanwhile, the dollar continues to take a beating on the world currency market.

While this kind of blogging freaks some people out, there are those who believe that economic troubles might be exactly what Americans need. In a land that has become increasingly superficial and overly narcissistic, fueled by steroids, plastic surgery and conspicuous consumption, reconnecting with one another and recognizing what’s really important in life wouldn’t be a bad thing for most of us, in my opinion. It might even reacquaint some of us with the values espoused by our forebears and fixate less on the trials and tribulations of Barry Bonds.

Learning how to make due without a facial, or a visit to the nail salon, requires some depth of personality. Not driving an expensive sports car, or letting that overprice health club membership lapse, in favor of splitting your own wood is probably better for your constitution, if not your washboard abs. Then again, having a ripped body isn’t a prerequisite for survival.

I’m not necessarily hoping for economic hard times, but I’m not thinking about jumping off a cliff, either. Instead, I’m making sure I’ve got some things in order should things take a turn for the worse.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A book idea arrives

I can’t believe it’s been two years since I released, When Towns Had Teams. At the time, my goal was to begin doing research during the winter of 2005/2006 and getting another book into the pipeline, for late 2006/2007.

Instead, I got bogged down by multiple ideas for a book and also, thinking that releasing someone else’s book would bring more legitimacy to RiverVision Press. As a result, here we are in late 2007 and no follow-up book by me, while RiverVision’s second book has been widely ignored, resulting in poor sales and frustration on my part.

For much of the past year, I’ve been feeling tension between wanting to publish books by other writers and also wanting to get back on track to begin research on a project of my own. About three weeks ago, while attending a business after hours in Auburn, hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce, a seemingly unrelated discussion planted an idea that I continued to ruminate about, on my drive home.

When I got home that night, after greeting my wife and catching up with her, about her day, I sat down with a beer and sketched out an outline for a book idea that excited me. Maybe that’s why I’ve had trouble sleeping of late, but I’ve been thinking about this idea, off and on, for the past three weeks.

Two weekends ago, I took a stab at some preliminary drafts and the results were disappointing. After about 200 to 300 words into an idea, I’d hit a wall. I continued to work at this a couple of nights later and I had a similar experience. While I’ve been blogging regularly for the past two years, writing 700 to 1,000 words has become almost automatic. I haven’t been faced with the prospect of coming up with 70,000+ words and I think the idea initially freaked out my subconscious.

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to come to terms with the idea and the reality of what’s involved, particularly now that I’m working full time. It’s no easy task, but I know it’s something I’ve got to do.

Amazingly, yesterday, which was a holiday from work for me, allowed me a brief period of uninterrupted time to write. I made the most of it and felt some energy to write and a sense of abandonment at the keyboard that I haven’t in quite some time. Then again, tonight, after dinner, a 30 minute walk with my lovely wife and my trusty sidekick Bernie, I came home, got out the laptop and again was able to write for over an hour, with the words just jumping onto the screen, as I hammered away at the keyboard.

I’ve put up a new blog that I’m calling, Words at Work. It’s very rudimentary, at this point, but it will exist exclusively to track the development of book #2 and, in fact, I’ll have some drafts posted, hopefully, in early 2008. I’ll also occasionally touch briefly on the craft side of the project.

Interestingly, I began the blog with the thought that it might help me to jumpstart my writing and allow me to post narrative that I was able to develop, which might lead to a book idea. In fact, you can see that was the rationale within my first post at the site. The next post shows me glomming onto an idea that I thought was going to be a book, but that idea subsequently fizzled.

Six weeks later, I truly have found the project that has rekindled my creative fires and feels very much like the initial epiphany that ultimately became When Towns Had Teams.

Daunting, yes; doable, I certainly hope so. Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Indians, Christians and the Devil in Florida

Passamaquoddy Play Race Card After Racino Defeat

Mainers went to the polls on Tuesday and by a close margin, let it be known that gambling, or at least a racino in Washington County, wasn’t an economic development option they were comfortable with.

On Wednesday, members of the Passamaquoddy tribe that were part of a pro-racino group in Maine’s easternmost county were deeming the vote an example of discrimination. Here are just a few of the quotes attributed to Passamaquoddy tribe leaders;

“I know in the voting equation, there are people who hate Native Americans,” said Clayton Cleaves, executive director of the tribe’s reservation housing authority.

“Well, the cowboys beat the Indians, again, said Passamaquoddy governor, Rick Doyle.

Later, Doyle, comfortable with flashing the victim card added, “Every time we propose something, we get put down,” said Doyle. “It seems to me that we continue to be oppressed by the dominant culture.”

No doubt, history shows us that Washington County has been a tough place to scratch out a living. However, other regions of the U.S., which for years have struggled economically, with new leadership and vision, have been able to develop economic development models of success.

Jack Schultz has a blog, BoomtownUSA, which highlights some of those areas, which folks in Washington County might want to look to, as possible examples of how to grow their economy, utilizing the natural advantages that they do have.

While the perception was that only rich interlopers from southern Maine opposed the economic sovereignty of the Passamaquoddy, rural counties struggling to grow their own counties, like Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock and Oxford, all voted against the racino idea.

Play the race card if that makes you feel better, but how about looking to economic development beyond gambling, environmental degradation (LNG terminal) and jail building? It’s been done other places and could be done in Washington County.

Why Does the Christian Right Hate Huckabee

If one casually looks at Pat Robertson’s recent endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, over Mike Huckabee, the true evangelical for president, it would seem not to make any sense, even to those who aren’t given to keeping track of the comings and goings in God’s kingdom.

For the uninitiated, the spiritual realm can be tricky terrain to try to understand. That’s why the mainstream media always gets things wrong when it comes to religion, particularly of the American evangelical variety.

Still, given that Huckabee has a pro-life stance, is given to a traditional understanding of marriage (one woman and one man), favors immigration controls and is an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, why would Robertson choose someone like Giuliani, whose religious credentials are dubious, at best?

What journalists and others don’t understand about the likes of people like Pat Robertson, once you get past the reality that the man is just plain whacko, is that things like the teachings of Christ, have little to do with his ideology, or worldview.

Leaders like Robertson, are driven first and foremost by the teachings of free market capitalism and the military/industrial machinations that make sure that his stock portfolio remains intact. Granted, when he’s looking to bilk some retiree, barely able to pay the rent on her one-bedroom apartment, out of a substantial portion of her social security check, he’ll pull out his bible, big enough to choke a mule and begin reciting scripture about giving to the work of God, which Robertson has no qualms about associating himself with. The rest of the time, Robertson and his ilk array themselves in the garments of their civil religion, justifying ungodly expenditures in defense spending and wealth transfers from the poorest to the types of leaders that Christ condemned. If Robertson was alive during the time that Jesus walked the earth, he would have been considered a Pharisee.

On Friday night, while driving home from work, I heard Mike Huckabee’s wife, Janet, interviewed by Michelle Norris, on NPR. Norris, like most journalists who know little about the private faith of women like Huckabee, was snarky, taking this typical journalistic posture, regularly trotted out in an attempt to ridicule evangelicals. To her credit, Mrs. Huckabee held her own and came across as genuine and considerably more human than our current Stepford First Lady.

As I blogged last week, Huckabee has the banner of a darkhorse, but one with considerable credentials. What he does lack, however, is the funding that ultimately will determine who gets the nod for the GOP, as well as the top of the Democratic ticket.

The obscene amounts of capital that it takes to run for president, let alone contend, are what have poisoned the well of presidential politics in this country. It’s also what keeps principled candidates like Huckabee, Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, on the margins.

The Devil Is Out In Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, have deep-sixed “Devil” from their name, to become the Tampa Bay Rays. While I’m sure that the religious element that makes up the American League's sad sack franchise are rejoicing, without a major overhaul of the Tampa Bay operation, from top to bottom, merely changing the name to one that’s even more lame, will do nothing to stop the losing.

Since entering the league in 1999, the former Devil Rays have been a study in futility, never winning more than 70 games in a season, despite regularly producing top notch prospects from their farm system. In fact, the Red Sox and Yankees can thank their lucky stars that having a weak sister like Tampa Bay in their division, regularly pad their win totals by 10-12 games per season.

When the club inked Lou Pinella in 2003 to manage the club, it was thought that Pinella's Yankee pedigree might rub off on the woeful clug and possibly provide the catalyst to make the team respectable. Pinella quickly lost patience with perennial inexperienced big leaguers who couldn’t do the little things that are the difference in big league ball. Plus, having a AAA-caliber pitching staff did little to help matters. After three seasons, Pinella was out and the club appointed a horned-rimmed nobody named Joe Madden to guide the club to another two seasons of 60, or so wins.

With attendance continuing to plummet, the club will continue to lose and at some point, will probably end up being moved out of Florida.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Elusive sleep

This week has been a challenging one for me. While I've never been one that requires more than six hours of sleep per night that number would have been a luxury this week. Maybe my circadian rhythms have been disrupted by Saturday night's time change, or maybe my focus on getting a new book project started down the publishing path has made sleep nearly impossible, but I've been up most mornings around 2:30 to 3:00 am. I'm sorry folks, but 3-4 hours of sleep sucks, particularly when, Tuesday night, I barely was able to drift off for more than an hour, tossing and turning until I finally got up around 1:30 am and worked until leaving for training! I'd welcome any non-pharmaceutical solutions to insomnia that readers have found helpful.

Complicating my lack of sleep this week was two full days of some very demanding training Tuesday and Wednesday, for work, a RiverVision book event last night in Saco, coordinating details on some part-time work I've acquired and the introduction of a new diet regimen designed to help this 40-something former athlete, regain his lean-and-mean pitching physique that at one time terrified opposing hitters. Actually, at this point, I'd be happy to lose 10 pounds and some of the spare tire that currently occupies my mid-section.

With everything happening this week, I've still managed to stay abreast of some of the news, some of it local, other stories with a national, or international peg.

While I don't have the time to write a full blog post this AM (I have a breakfast presentation that I've been asked to make about WorkReady), I hope to spend some time over the weekend putting together a full-fledged summary of one, or more of the following topics. Readers will probably be happy to note that I'll be taking a sabbatical from Peak Oil, which seems to scare the living sh#t out of most people.

Here are a few topics of interest that may (or may not) find their way to Words Matter over the extended weekend (Monday is Veterans Day).

  • Huckabee "too Christian" for the religious right
  • Two days in the presence of "passion personified"
  • Do Mainers hate the Passamaquoddys? (with the racino referendum goeing up in smoke, tribal leaders pull out the race card)
  • Tampa Bay dumping Devil

I'm actually feeling a bit sleepy, so maybe I'll head back to bed and see if I can grab 45 minutes of shut eye.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oil Blows Through $100 Barrier!!

Tapis crude breaks $US100 a barrel
[From Reuters]

SINGAPORE -- Asia-Pacific light sweet crude benchmark Tapis hit three-digit levels for the first time, ahead of Western bellwethers, on fears of a winter squeeze in the Northern hemisphere, Reuters data show.

Malaysia's flagship Tapis crude for December loading rose to $US100.54 a barrel, up $US2.32 from its settlement on Tuesday, according to Reuters calculations.

"Phew," said a Singapore-based trader when told about the price.

The high-quality Malaysian grade is one of the most expensive crudes worldwide, and used as a marker for most Asia-Pacific light, low-sulphur crude.

Malaysia is a net oil exporter with an output of just above 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil and condensate and state oil firm Petronas, which operates most fields in the Southeast Asian country, is reaping the profits of high oil prices.

Petronas posted net earnings of $US12.9 billion for the year ended March 31 from a revised $US11.4 billion in 2005/2006. The company makes nearly as much money as number-three US oil firm ConocoPhillips and contributes almost a third of Malaysia's revenues.

But surging prices are also forcing Malaysia to reconsider its fuel subsidies, which give it some of Asia's lowest petrol and diesel prices.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told members of his ruling party this week that a rise in fuel prices could not be avoided while crude oil traded at record highs.

Oil has jumped nearly $US30 higher since mid-August, as investors braced for more fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis and sought shelter from the falling US dollar, while thinning oil stocks in the US ahead of winter added to the boil.

US light, sweet crude for December rose $US1.33 on Wednesday to a record-high of $98.03 a barrel on North Sea supply fears, as ConocoPhillips said on Tuesday it may be forced to shut five of its 16 oil platforms at the Ekofisk field due to a looming storm.

London Brent crude also hit new peaks of $US94.48 a barrel.


[Some people count sheep when they're unable to sleep--I track the surging price of oil. Not sure if it will bring peaceful sleep; probably more likely to cause nightmares.

It's interesting to Google "$100 oil" and see posts and other news clips predicting this, previously. This news release from Reuters was talking $100/barrel oil back in April of 2005.

I'm curious to see which presidential candidate (if any) reacts to this and what exactly they have to say. I doubt it will vary much from their typical, canned talking points that had grown stale six months ago. In fact, see if you can find any of the candidates, Democrat, or Republican, who have even uttered the phrase, "peak oil."

For anyone that's interested in pulling their heads up from the sand, stay tuned to The Oil Drum for news and commentary on the continued trend upward for oil prices. I don't even dare to spend much time writing (just yet) about water shortages.--JB]

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bandwagon soundtrack

One of the more interesting developments and personally interesting storylines to the Red Sox run through the playoffs and ultimately, winning the World Series, has been the adoption of the Dropkick Murphys as the team’s postseason house band.

Unless you have more than a cursory knowledge of post-punk music, from say, 1990, onward, you probably haven’t a clue about the DKMs, other than “Tessie” got quite a bit of airplay at Fenway during the 2004 WS run.

For me, hearing the band getting played at Fenway and in particular, this year’s late season ratcheting up of the band’s status, particularly noting that they were the only band that got asked to play during the team’s Tuesday victory parade, is ironic.

For the uninitiated, the Murphy’s are Irish Boston working-class blokes, through and through. Unlike many of the “The Nation” (a term I’m so sick of, thanks to the nauseating marketing hype associated with it) of bandwagon riders who climbed aboard in 2004, only to dismount and get back on in late 2007, the DKMs are lifelong sports fans of many Boston sports teams, not just the Red Sox.

Watching how Red Sox fans have suddenly discovered the band, makes me wonder if bandmates Ken Casey, Al Barr, Matt Kelly, James Lynch, Marc Orell, John Wallace and Tim Brennan ever scratch their heads about the entire episode and being embraced by many that probably know nothing of their roots, or politics. Seeing that this band came out of the mid-90s punk scene and embraces unions, the working poor and have little use for our current president makes them an unlikely soundtrack for the thoroughly corporate world of Red Sox Nation.

Interestingly, there’s been talk about awarding the band World Series rings, which has touched off a flurry of comments at the Boston Herald’s site. Reading through these comments made me think of the late Kurt Cobain, who lamented that when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blew up and Nirvana’s popularity went through the roof, Cobain would look out into the mosh pit and see the jocks that used to kick his ass in high school.

C’est La Vie at least in the consumptive world of today, where yesterday’s outlaws become today’s pop culture darlings.

Friday, November 02, 2007

GOP darkhorse gaining ground

For most, it’s too early to pay attention to the contenders for president. I can’t say I begrudge them. We are a year removed from having to pull the lever and a case certainly can be made that campaigns for president begin far too early. If all the media is going to do is handicap the horserace and report on non-issues ad nauseum, maybe we ought to look at a two month sprint to the finish line, rather than this capital intensive beauty contest.

Americans are busy people, having managed to get through the summer barbecue season and recently, the World Series. Fall’s here and it's time to focus on football, not to mention that holiday trifecta of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday. Rather than be troubled with things like where candidates stand on the issues and whether or not Mitt, Rudy, Hillary, or Barack have a plan for exiting us from Iraq, we’re focusing our attention on what pie to bake for Thanksgiving and whether or not to buy that large screen television they’ve been hankering for and calling it a Christmas gift.

I’ve definitely dialed down my fixation (or what some might call, obsession) with following every detail of the presidential campaign. I used to regularly track the front-runners and follow the field all the way to the back of pack, where presidential posers reside, but I’ve backed off a bit from scrutiny of each and every nuance. I still regularly check polls, watch debates (or better, choreographed sound bites) and even look at each candidate’s website for policy details, to see if they actually have a plan on how they might govern.

On the Democratic side, there really isn’t much drama. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, for better, or worse. Obama has been underwhelming, to say the least. John Edwards, freed from the constraints of being vice-presidential in 2004, has been acting like the attack dog, actually talking about issues that affect ordinary Americans and holding Clinton’s feet to the fire. Unfortunately, his wife’s occasional missives get more mainstream coverage than his solid grasp of the issues. The only other time Edwards seems to get any media up tick is when it’s time for him to get a haircut.

The real drama in this race seems to be on the Republican side. While Romney and Giuliani have been running towards the front of the GOP pack, far right conservatives have been lukewarm towards those two. Many representing the rabid element on the far right fringe are uncomfortable with Mitt, the Mormon and a so-called “moderate,” like Giuliani, because he won’t pass the one-issue litmus test on abortion with the bible-thumpers.

To satisfy elements at the base of the party, new blood, in the form of Fred Thompson, has mounted a challenge to Mitt and Rudy. Having played president on the silver screen, Thompson immediately gained traction upon his entry, for a party that has a propensity for actors in high places.

Recently, Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, has been making a bit of noise, sprinting from the back of the pack and getting some exposure and press, heading into the Iowa caucus. A recent University of Iowa poll shows Huckabee in a virtual dead heat with the other frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani. This is great news for Huckabee, a virtual unknown to most Americans, outside of Arkansas.

The results of the poll, conducted October 17-24 and released Monday show Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had 36.2 percent of Republican support, followed by Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, with 13.1 percent and Huckabee at 12.8 percent, the poll showed.

An analysis of the poll highlighted Huckabee's shift in support among voters, most likely evangelical Christians. In the August survey, taken right before the GOP straw poll in Ames, Huckabee had the support of less than 2 percent of Republicans.

David Redlawsk, a Univeristy of Iowa professor of political science and the co-director of UI’s Hawkeye Poll indicated that Republican candidates that want to challenge “must motivate Christian conservatives,” which is a group that Redlawsk recognizes as a key to Huckabee’s surge.

Well-known evangelical pastor, the purposeful Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, one of America’s largest megachurches, recently issued the following statement on his radio program.

“I know most of the candidates running for president but I’ve known Mike Huckabee the longest, since we did our graduate degrees together in the late 70s. Mike’s a man of vision, compassion, and integrity. I’ve watched his uncanny ability to identify with normal people in ways that many leaders don’t. That’s probably why TIME named him one of the five best governors in America. He’s definitely presidential material. But honestly, what I find most appealing is his self-deprecating humor. That’s a key sign of a spiritually and emotionally healthy leader - someone who is comfortable with himself, is authentic, doesn’t wear a mask, and is secure enough to be humble. People love that.”

Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, has the Christian cred to energize the followers of Jesus. Like another former Arkansas governor, born in Hope, Huckabee is someone that arrived at the dance late, without a lot of name recognition, but history tells us what happened to the other guy, who is out campaigning to become America’s first, "First Husband."

Like William Jefferson Clinton, Huckabee has some campaign skills and positions that connect with enough Americans to make him potential dark horse on the GOP side. Better yet, he actually has some qualities of governance that matter. Money will be an issue, as it is for everyone but the top four (Romney, Giuliani, Clinton and Obama); if Huckabee can finish a solid third in Iowa and make some solid early showings in New Hampshire, Michigan and Florida, heading into February’s Super Tuesday, he might just make it interesting on the right side of the presidential ticket.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How high can we go?

Oil prices continue to ratchet upward, with today’s oil futures nearing a record of $95/barrel. As the cost of oil for heat rises and the price of gasoline heads higher, Google’s stock thrust through the $700 ceiling.

While I don’t claim to be an economics major, there seems to be some disconnect between the performance of the market and the perception of the strength of the US economy. If the stock market is a leading economic indicator of economic growth, then why are many Wall Street analysts voicing concerns about the sluggishness of the economy and worse, talking about recession? Recent reports on home sales point to a major slowdown and foreclosures are occurring at a record pace. One doesn’t need to be an expert in finance to know that the high cost of essential items, like fuel and food, doesn’t bode well for many, as we chug towards darkness and the colder days of winter.

It’s hard to find much about oil prices in the mainstream media that recognizes the peak oil possibilities spoken of by Kunstler, The Oil Drum and others. I’d say $100 oil is a pretty safe bet at this point.

Because I spend quite a bit of time on the road for my job, I’ve kept a close eye on gas prices. Back in August, 2006, when I started in my current position, the Cumberland Farms around the corner from my office had regular at $3.02. Since then, prices have backed off to $2.56, last March. Late May and early June saw it spike back to a “high” of $3.06 and the summer months it stayed consistently in the $2.75-$2.85 range.

Since I receive a mileage allotment, I do ok and cover my costs when gas stays below $3.00/gallon. I’m concerned where prices are headed, as oil continues to trend higher. It certainly affects people like me and others not as fortunate.

For anyone interested in something more than the inadequate, often clichéd reporting coming from mainstream financial storefronts, read through the comment section in The Oil Drum’s, "This Week in Petroleum" section.

In relation to my thoughts about peak oil possibilities, I’m back reading JK’s Monday pronouncements again and actually looking forward to them, sans comments, at his own website, not the blog.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

FEMA fakes it

FEMA, coming of its botched response to Hurricane Katrina, needed to make a solid showing in the way it responded to the wildfires, in Southern California.

Early reports from the frontlines indicated that FEMA’s response had been quick and targeted to the needs of the region—that was until yesterday, when stories began to circulate about Tuesday’s faked news conference.

Apparently last Tuesday, FEMA informed news organizations that it was holding a new conference 15 minutes prior to the event—insufficient notice for reporters to make it on time to the briefing. Like much of what passes for transparency in the Bush administration, FEMA’s Deputy Administrator, Harvey Johnson, apparently with a nod to the adage of “the show must go on, had agency staff members act as stand-ins for missing media members and begin asking questions, the kind of questions that those in the business would characterize as “soft ball” questions.

While it might be laughable for its stupidity, if it wasn't the nation’s top agency, tasked with coordinating the first response to disasters in the U.S. Actually, FEMA’s disdain for media protocol is nothing new. Back in September of 2006, in the aftermath of Katrina, FEMA had requested that new photographers refrain from photographing victims and refused to allow reporters and photographers to accompany FEMA personnel on boats looking for victims. There was little or no coverage about this at the time.

FEMA issued the following statement, which in BushCo fashion, is just dripping with disingenuousness and coated with the veneer of cynicism that all Bush communiques with the media are known for.

FEMA's goal is to get information out as soon as possible, and in trying to do so we made an error in judgment. Our intent was to provide useful information and be responsive to the many questions we have received. We are reviewing our press procedures and will make the changes necessary to ensure that all of our communications are straight forward and transparent.

At FEMA, our focus is disaster operations and, in this case, it means working closely with the State of California to support their response to the devastating fires. We're committed to being there for the State and being good partners. In working to do so we did not put enough focus on how we communicate to the public.

The real story -- how well the response and recovery elements are working in this disaster -- should not be lost because of how we tried to meet the needs of the media in distributing facts.
We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment.

Contrary to FEMA’s statement, the real story is how much this smacks of Soviet-era newspeak that we used to shake our heads and chuckle, when viewed from afar—little did we know that our leaders were watching and looking to imitate a similar lack of transparency in our own country.

It just keeps getting weirder and weirder all the time with this group of war criminals and political hacks.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Correctly diagnosing Maine's tax problem

Personally, I’m weary of much of what passes for policy dialogue in Maine. Going back to 2004 and before, when the champion of “slash-and-burn” tax cap referendums, Carol Palesky, foisted her referendum on the Pine Tree State, we’ve had a steady bleating coming from all corners that Maine’s taxes are too high. Rarely in that discussion are causes for these higher taxes ever addressed. Ah, actually, if cause-and-effect does get raised, the cause is always those “lazy people on public assistance,” or some variation of Maine as welfare kingdom.

While looking up a former client on LinkedIn and reviewing his contacts, I got directed over to a very interesting blog, by a gentleman in Wisconsin named John Michlig. I’ve had sprawl on my mind since last week’s GrowSmart Summit and have been doing quite a bit of reading on the subject. I found Michlig’s blog right up my alley. In fact, Michlig’s fully articulated writing style and variant takes on sprawl were refreshing. Rather than the usual wonkish, or condescending missives that too often pass for commentary, when it comes to smart growth and sustainable urban planning, Michlig’s writing is smart, original and makes real sense.

Take for instance, his post titled, “Sprawl-based Growth is EXPENSIVE.” Referencing Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck, Michlig clearly delineates an issue that no doubt is affecting our tax situation—the much higher costs associated with the primary means of development that Maine, particularly rural Maine, is experiencing—that being suburban sprawl.

Maybe this helps define what was gnawing at me most of the day, last Friday and after, sitting through a variety of workshops, in Augusta. To hear presenters sit and tell Summit participants that all we need to do is cut the size of state government, is a misrepresentation of the values that I think GrowSmart Maine is trying to perpetuate (unless I’m totally off track).

Michlig's posts that I’ve read thus far, clearly indict much of what is currently being foisted on residents of our state by developers. Rather than drink the Kool-Aid of the “slash and burn” crowd, let’s begin to address our zoning policies and not weaken our environmental regulations (which is another point that David Flanagan intimated during his presentation, by using the code words, making Maine more “business-friendly,” which always means making it easier for “pave and park” types of development projects).

Speaking of Flanagan, he’s managed to garner another invite as a panelist, this time for a symposium of business leaders and economic development “experts,” hosted by Mainebiz and MPBN, addressing the supposed “Pessimism” that exists in Maine’s business community. Maybe Alan Caron should be a bit more careful who he chooses to model smart growth for Maine.

I don’t know about pessimism in Maine’s business community, but Maine’s legacy of feudalism that passes itself off as economic development brings out the pessimist in me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The obscenely wealthy and all the rest of us

Class is rarely mentioned in America today. We talk about sports, presidential elections and the past few days, forest fires. This isn’t to say that for people living in Southern California, experiencing the horrors of fire and devastation, there’s anything else they can focus on. Furthermore, death and natural disasters will always “lead,” when it comes to today’s news programming.

Despite ubiquitous news coverage, the scope of what gets reported seems to narrow over time. When Paris Hilton had her little run-in with the law, that’s all we seemed to have beamed into our homes. It’s probably not accidental, as corporations profit from the increasingly ignorant American population.

One of the things obvious to me in our very own state, is the growing chasm between those with real wealth and the rest of us. By using the term “us,” I’m lumping myself in with the diminished middle class (propped up by credit cards and other “smoke and mirrors” means of capital acquisition and attainment), watching whatever advantages that were carved and acquired during an aberrant period of post-WWII democratization and sharing of the wealth. Included in the “us” are those classified as lower income, some barely at a subsistence level and others living hand-to-mouth. For many of us on the bottom strata of the middle class, its not hard to imagine how easy it would be to descend to the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Social Darwinism, or the “survival of the fittest (or maybe, richest)” seems to be back in vogue in our fine nation.

I know it’s World Series night and all eyes will be focused on our national version of “bread and circuses,” but seeing this article by Holly Sklar and also, regularly rubbing elbows with people struggling to stay afloat, made it impossible for me to avoid injecting a dose of reality into today’s post.

One of the things that was apparent to me last Friday, when I was at the GrowSmart Summit, was that the crowd was not representative of most of Maine, at least the rural parts of Maine where average incomes are much lower than some of the more privileged parts of the state. Maybe that’s why panelists like David Flanagan, who keeps popping up on panels everywhere, are able to talk about cutting the state budget by $800 million and do so with a straight face, without batting an eye.

Here is a blog post linking to another article on the good fortunes of the richest Americans.

I give you Sklar’s article, which I read in Dissident Voice, in its entirety; consider this while you watch millionaires cavort and frolic about.

Billionaires Up, America Down
by, Holly Sklar

When it comes to producing billionaires, America is doing great.

Until 2005, multimillionaires could still make the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. In 2006, the Forbes 400 went billionaires only.

This year, you’d need a Forbes 482 to fit all the billionaires.

A billion dollars is a lot of dough. Queen Elizabeth II, British monarch for five decades, would have to add $400 million to her $600 million fortune to reach $1 billion. And she’d need another $300 million to reach the Forbes 400 minimum of $1.3 billion. The average Forbes 400 member has $3.8 billion.

When the Forbes 400 began in 1982, it was dominated by oil and manufacturing fortunes. Today, says Forbes, “Wall Street is king.”

Nearly half the 45 new members, says Forbes, “made their fortunes in hedge funds and private equity. Money manager John Paulson joins the list after pocketing more than $1 billion short-selling subprime credit this summer.”

The 25th anniversary of the Forbes 400 isn’t party time for America.

We have a record 482 billionaires — and record foreclosures.

We have a record 482 billionaires — and a record 47 million people without any health insurance.

Since 2000, we have added 184 billionaires — and 5 million more people living below the poverty line.

The official poverty threshold for one person was a ridiculously low $10,294 in 2006. That won’t get you two pounds of caviar ($9,800) and 25 cigars ($730) on the Forbes Cost of Living Extremely Well Index. The $20,614 family-of-four poverty threshold is lower than the cost of three months of home flower arrangements ($24,525).

Wealth is being redistributed from poorer to richer.

Between 1983 and 2004, the average wealth of the top 1 percent of households grew by 78 percent, reports Edward Wolff, professor of economics at New York University. The bottom 40 percent lost 59 percent.

In 2004, one out of six households had zero or negative net worth. Nearly one out of three households had less than $10,000 in net worth, including home equity. That’s before the mortgage crisis hit.

In 1982, when the Forbes 400 had just 13 billionaires, the highest paid CEO made $108 million and the average full-time worker made $34,199, adjusted for inflation in $2006. Last year, the highest paid hedge fund manager hauled in $1.7 billion, the highest paid CEO made $647 million, and the average worker made $34,861, with vanishing health and pension coverage.

The Forbes 400 is even more of a rich men’s club than when it began. The number of women has dropped from 75 in 1982 to 39 today.

The 400 richest Americans have a conservatively estimated $1.54 trillion in combined wealth. That amount is more than 11 percent of our $13.8 trillion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — the total annual value of goods and services produced by our nation of 303 million people. In 1982, Forbes 400 wealth measured less than 3 percent of U.S. GDP.

And the rich, notes Fortune magazine, “give away a smaller share of their income than the rest of us.”

Thanks to mega-tax cuts, the rich can afford more mega-yachts, accessorized with helicopters and mini-submarines. Meanwhile, the infrastructure of bridges, levees, mass transit, parks and other public assets inherited from earlier generations of taxpayers crumbles from neglect, and the holes in the safety net are growing.

The top 1 percent of households — average income $1.5 million — will save a collective $79.5 billion on their 2008 taxes, reports Citizens for Tax Justice. That’s more than the combined budgets of the Transportation Department, Small Business Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Tax cuts will save the top 1 percent a projected $715 billion between 2001 and 2010. And cost us $715 billion in mounting national debt plus interest.

The children and grandchildren of today’s underpaid workers will pay for the partying of today’s plutocrats and their retinue of lobbyists.

It’s time for Congress to roll back tax cuts for the wealthy and close the loophole letting billionaire hedge fund speculators pay taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries.

Inequality has roared back to 1920s levels. It was bad for our nation then. It’s bad for our nation now.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service