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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Roundup cartoon a blasphemous outrage

Happened to be petsitting last night at a house whose owner still takes the Roundup. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the editorial cartoon in Friday’s edition.

My friends, if you ever doubted the Roundup’s elitist bias, just take a look for yourself. Better yet, don’t bother. I’ll tell you what you’re missing.

The cartoon featured two panels. In the left was a caricature of Time magazine’s recent 2011 Person of the Year cover – the Protester, for Occupy Wall Street and all the other protests over the past 12 months that brought about the possibility of democracy and humanitarian change to the Arab world and elsewhere.

In the right panel, headlined “WHO IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN” was an illustration of an American soldier labeled “ALL-TIME PROTECTOR.” The absolute outrage came in the cutline below – “FOR THE FREEDOMS ENJOYED BY THE IDIOTS OF OCCUPY WALL STREET.”

And there you have it. If that cartoon alone doesn’t cause you to pick up the phone and cancel your subscription, you need to take a good, hard look inside your heart and your soul. Because the elitist values expressed therein are diametrically opposed to the Christian values so many of you profess, not to mention the principles upon which our great nation was founded.

The Roundup’s cartoon was provided by King Features Syndicate, a supplier that offers a variety of cartoons from all shades of the political spectrum. The Roundup could easily have chosen another. But that wouldn’t be in keeping with its obvious and longstanding elitist bias in favor of the one percent (to go with its pro-growth and its anti-Democrat biases).

You know me. I could go on. But instead, please allow me to wish you a Happy New Year filled with equal opportunities for all citizens to enjoy, once again, the American Dream.  Here's to a healthy, prosperous, and constitutional 2012.

Jim Keyworth
Editor

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Payson Jazz Trio
Bob Smolenski - keyboard
Mike Buskirk - bass
Gerry Reynolds - drums

Come to Our New Year's Eve Gathering
Saturday, December  31st
5:30 - 8:30 pm
 No cover charge, just great food & music!

Ayothaya Thai Cafe
404 E Highway 260, Payson
(north side 260 across from Safeway)

There is room for dancing!
Reservations advised 

Other Performance Dates at the Cafe:
Friday Dec 30
Friday Jan 6
Saturday Jan 7
Friday Jan 20
Saturday Jan 21
and six dates in February.
 These times 5:30 to 7:30 pm

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Questions need to be answered in Lowe case

LETTER
LETTER
LETTER

Editor:
After reading the (Roundup) article titled "Police chief looking at way Lowe evidence was handled," I was left with a lingering question for myself the citizens of Payson and Gila County: If Detective McArnerny found a third version of the Sixth Amendment to the will as stated, that "the validity of the document was not in question" a full "several months" before the criminal trial commenced, are citizens of Gila County asking themselves "Why wasn't this case immediately dismissed with prejudice?" and "Why was it instead allowed to move forward, wasting precious taxpayer funds on a needless trial, when there was already established clear and convincing evidence of Dr. Lowe's innocence?"

What kind of justice does this represent to the residents of Gila County and do they find it appropriate?

This was a very high profile case with a very popular doctor who has earned a good name doing good!

I am concerned about how many other "unknowns" who may have, or had, cases improperly investigated like this, that the Payson Police Department and Gila County Attorney's Office have just let continue forward, and, in doing so, knowingly let innocent citizens go to jail, or agree to making desperate plea deals, out of some hope for leniency by the prosecutor and court.

How many other "VICTIMS" are there like Dr. Lowe in our community, who may not have had the courage which Dr. Lowe exhibited to literally take the stand and put it all on the line fighting the lies, misrepresentations and false allegations of a corrupt investigation by the police department that has been allowed to go miserably awry? How proud can we really be of the Gila County Prosecutors Office which didn't seek justice, but instead merely a conviction or win! Prosecutorial wins with these tactics are disgusting and most importantly an innocent man almost lost it all!

Also noted in the article is the fact of recent troubling disciplinary problems among the PPD's various S.E.R.T unit members and patrol officers to such a point that the chief of police has begun working patrol shifts and started his own administrative investigation of his department's personnel to clean house at an already "dwindling department."

In light of all of this, does the community still feel safe? Are there other actions besides letting the police investigate themselves that the citizens or town council of Payson should be taking to protect the innocent among us from false charges and corrupt practices?  Like maybe ask the Arizona Department of Public Safety or the FBI to investigate the matter more closely?

A Very Concerned Citizen

It's Obama-Clinton in 2012


By Robert Reich
Robert Reich's Blog

readersupportednews.org

29 December 11 - My political prediction for 2012 (based on absolutely no inside information): Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places. Biden becomes Secretary of State - a position he's apparently coveted for years. And Hillary Clinton, Vice President.

So the Democratic ticket for 2012 is Obama-Clinton.

Why do I say this? Because Obama needs to stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base that's been disillusioned with his cave-ins to regressive Republicans. Hillary Clinton on the ticket can do that.

Moreover, the economy won't be in superb shape in the months leading up to Election Day. Indeed, if the European debt crisis grows worse and if China's economy continues to slow, there's a better than even chance we'll be back in a recession. Clinton would help deflect attention from the bad economy and put it on foreign policy, where she and Obama have shined.

The deal would also make Clinton the obvious Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 - offering the Democrats a shot at twelve (or more) years in the White House, something the Republicans had with Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush but which the Democrats haven't had since FDR. Twelve years gives the party in power a chance to reshape the Supreme Court as well as put an indelible stamp on America.

According to the latest Gallup poll, the duo are this year's most admired man and woman This marks the fourth consecutive win for Obama while Clinton has been the most admired woman in each of the last 10 years. She'a topped the list 16 times since 1993, exceeding the record held by former First Lady Elean

or Roosevelt, who topped the list 13 times.

Obama-Clinton in 2012. It's a natural.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'There will be violence, mark my words'

(Editor's note: The following is excerpted from an article in the Dec. 28 edition of Newsweek magazine.)

By Michael Thomas
Newsweek
readersupportednews.org

This time, I fear, the public anger will not be deflected. Confessions, not false, will be exacted. Occupy Wall Street has set the snowball rolling; you may not think much of OWS - I have my own reservations, although none are philosophical or moral - but it has made America aware of a sinister, usurious process by which wealth has systematically been funneled into fewer and fewer hands. A process in which Washington played a useful supporting role, but no more than that.

Over the next year, I expect the "what" will give way to the "how" in the broad electorate's comprehension of the financial situation. The 99 percent must learn to differentiate the bloodsuckers and rent-extractors from those in the 1 percent who make the world a better, more just place to live. Once people realize how Wall Street made its pile, understand how financiers get rich, what it is that they actually do, the time will become ripe for someone to gather the spreading ripples of anger and perplexity into a focused tsunami of retribution. To make the bastards pay, properly, for the grief and woe they have caused. Perhaps not to the extent proposed by H. L. Mencken, who wrote that when a bank fails, the first order of business should be to hang its board of directors, but in a manner in which the pain is proportionate to the collateral damage. Possibly an excess-profits tax retroactive to 2007, or some form of "Tobin tax" on transactions, or a wealth tax. The era of money for nothing will be over.

But it won't just end with taxes. When the great day comes, Wall Street will pray for another Pecora, because compared with the rough beast now beginning to strain at the leash, Pecora will look like Phil Gramm. Humiliation and ridicule, even financial penalties, will be the least of the Street's tribulations. There will be prosecutions and show trials. There will be violence, mark my words. Houses burnt, property defaced. I just hope that this time the mob targets the right people in Wall Street and in Washington. (How does a right-thinking Christian go about asking Santa for Mitch McConnell's head under the Christmas tree?) There will be kleptocrats who threaten to take themselves elsewhere if their demands on jurisdictions and tax breaks aren't met, and I say let 'em go!

At the end of the day, the convulsion to come won't really be about Wall Street's derivatives malefactions, or its subprime fun and games, or rogue trading, or the folly of banks. It will be about this society's final opportunity to rip away the paralyzing shackles of corruption or else dwell forever in a neofeudal social order. You might say that 1384 has replaced 1984 as our worst-case scenario. I have lived what now, at 75, is starting to feel like a long life. If anyone asks me what has been the great American story of my lifetime, I have a ready answer. It is the corruption, money-based, that has settled like some all-enveloping excremental mist on the landscape of our hopes, that has permeated every nook of any institution or being that has real influence on the way we live now. Sixty years ago, if you had asked me, on the basis of all that I had been taught, whether I thought this condition of general rot was possible in this country, I would have told you that you were nuts. And I would have been very wrong. What has happened in this country has made a lie of my boyhood.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Memorial for Gazette's Kitty Mulligan is Feb. 11

KATHLEEN "KITTY" MULLIGAN 
1946-2011

"Kitty" (baptized Kathleen) Mulligan, a Payson, Ariz. resident since 1996, recently passed away at home due to an accident.

Kitty was born March 26, 1946 in Milwaukee, Wis.  She grew up in Pomona, Calif. and after her first marriage ended moved to Irvine, Calif.  where she raised her two sons, John and Daniel.

She worked for several years for the Fluor Corp. in Irvine; however, she found her true niche in 1994 when she married her husband Greg Mulligan.  By her own admission she was not the best employee, but she was ecstatically happy in her new role as a wife and homemaker - and was very good at it as well.

For many years, Kitty was the "smiling face" at Lamplighter RV Resort in Star Valley where she excelled as a goodwill ambassador at resort functions.  Unfailingly she would greet and welcome everyone with her big smile and "slightly" off center humor.  Greg and Kitty were also heavily involved in the formation of Star Valley, and were also founders of the Rim Country Gazette newspaper.  Watching both these endeavors come to fruition was a source of great pride to Kitty.

She was a great lover of, provider for, and caretaker of her pets.  Her two dogs, Clancy and Mutt Lee preceded her in death, and certainly are very happy at this time and taking good care of her.  She was also a great lover of art and painting, and would spend many hours in her home studio.

With Greg's retirement, traveling and RVing became a source of great enjoyment.  Lobster in Maine, "Rumrunners" in Key West, crawfish in Louisiana, oysters in Oregon, cruising in Alaska and visiting Deadwood, S.D. and the Little Big Horn were memorable stops on their travels.

She is survived by her husband Greg Mulligan of Payson, and two sons, Johnny (she loves to call him Johnny) Hullings and his wife Wendy and their two children, Shane and Deanna, of Irvine;  Daniel (he was always Daniel to his mom) Hullings and his wife Sandi and their two children, Jacob and Braden, of Gilbert, Ariz.; and she is also survived by stepson John Mulligan of Star Valley and stepdaughter Mandy Mulligan of Costa Mesa, Calif.

A memorial celebration is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2012 at 2 p.m. at Messinger Mortuary, 901 S. Westerly Rd. in Payson.  A reception to celebrate her life will immediately follow.  RSVP to tonsa46@hotmail.com.  In lieu of flowers, her husband and family request donations be made to either the Humane Society of Central Arizona or Hospice Compassus, both in Payson. 

One Blog reader's comment you must read...

(Editor's note: It's easy to miss comments posted by our readers at the bottom of Blog articles.  The following, written on Christmas day by an anonymous reader, is one we didn't want you to miss.  Scroll down to read the article that triggered this comment:) 

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "My Declaration of War on Christmas":

There is too much truth in the article you wrote about the war on Christmas. I cringe at how the people of other places see us Americans. Greedy beyond avarice, we want that big screen TV even if we have no house to put it in?

I love my country; I would never want to live anywhere else.  Yet I am often appalled at what many people believe are important issues.  So the article you wrote really struck a nerve with me.

America has become a painted lady.  All gloss, and glitter, and smiles that hide the ugly stuff underneath.  I wish there were some true statescraft persons out there that would inspire me into believing that the America I once had faith in still existed.

I have a job, it pays $8.50 an hour.  My husband is on SSI.  He's 66 years old and has had health problems his entire life.  We don't have health insurence other than his Medicaid.  We pay all our own bills.  Our house, small though it is, will be paid for in about six years.

We've worked all our lives to not be deadbeats, losers, and we've had to start over too many times. In the eyes of some, this is a sob story.  But not mine.  We are a success story.  We're the "working poor."  We're the 99%, and darn proud of it!

Truth, facts, even scripture on side of Occupiers

Reader Supported News | Perspective

By Carl Gibson
Reader Supported News
readersupportednews.org

26 December 11 - Like every liberal activist and preacher's son, I have arch-conservative family members who don't agree with my philosophies whom I see every year on the holidays. This year, Occupiers have nothing to worry about - when that uncomfortable conversation starts at the dinner table, we can appeal to their religious upbringing and be fully justified.

Jesus was the first Occupier. Think about it.

He was an unshaven, sandal-clad vagrant who claimed no permanent address, fed thousands in public spaces, spoke against economic inequality and materialism, and was firmly committed to peace and nonviolence. The only documented act of violence Jesus committed was overturning the tables of the money-changers in the temple, accusing them of turning a house of prayer into "a den of thieves," even chasing them out with a whip. And he's still venerated as the holiest, most perfect human being to ever walk the earth.

James W. McCarty III's excellent piece in The Christian Century points out the fact that Jesus Christ was killed by the state for threatening the socio-economic structure of the Roman Empire. Jesus built a nonviolent movement that inspired the empire's subjects to question the very nature of the system's structure, exposing the hypocrisy of the religious ruling class. He preached not of violent rebellion, but of structural changes that would make society more equal. He even reminded followers who asked him about denying the payment of taxes to "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar."

Our movement, while filled with religious and non-religious activists alike, nonetheless espouses the same fundamental philosophies of Jesus in the Gospels.

At a time when 42% of all financial wealth is controlled by the top 1%, when 400 Americans control more wealth than 155,000,000 other Americans, when billionaire financiers who wrecked the economic well-being of millions for pure profit get off scot-free and have the audacity to sit in country clubs and call the people protesting them "imbeciles," a nonviolent movement has risen to decry those acts of greed as unjust and immoral. While none of us are perfect, sinless human beings like Jesus, we still have the same message. We aren't calling for violent insurrection, but fundamental structural changes to the way society has been built.

When the rich man asked Jesus how he could find salvation, Jesus told him to give away all of his possessions and follow him. Our solutions aren't as radical - Occupiers have no problem with people attaining wealth, as long as that wealth wasn't attained by denying a fair wage to their employees, or blowing millions on high-risk financial shell games that rook honest people out of their pensions.

Instead, we're proposing common-sense reforms, like removing corporate money from elections and instituting public campaign financing. We're demanding the return of a tax burden tilted toward the super-rich, instead of the poor and middle class. We want an end to a system that rewards and encourages reckless greed, unsustainable growth and endless profits for a few, done on the backs of the many.

The mainstream media, owned by the same corporations that have made their billions in financial finagling of the tax code, loves to ridicule and marginalize our movement. Fox News commentators call us unwashed radicals and vagrants, drifters with a hatred and envy of the wealthy. If Jesus were alive today, the talking heads on Fox News would undoubtedly play video footage of his attack on the money changers while accusing him of being a violent, radical religious cleric who hates capitalism. Just as today's right-wing political commentators cheer the violent police crackdowns of nonviolent protesters at Occupy encampments, they would also likely cheer the crucifixion of Jesus, a rebellious socialist who dared to question the inequalities and injustices of Roman society.

So don't fret this year, Occupiers. Truth, facts, and even scripture, are all on our side.

Carl Gibson, 24, of Lexington, Kentucky, is a spokesman and organizer for US Uncut, a nonviolent, creative direct-action movement to stop budget cuts by getting corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. He graduated from Morehead State University in 2009 with a B.A. in Journalism before starting the first US Uncut group in Jackson, Mississippi, in February of 2011. Since then, over 20,000 US Uncut activists have carried out more than 300 actions in over 100 cities nationwide. You may contact Carl at carl@rsnorg.org.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Isabella, Jacob remain favorite baby names

The Twilight book series seems to have kept its enchantment over new parents in 2011, as Isabella and Jacob reigned as the most popular baby names for the second year in a row, reports Laura Oxley, communication director for the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The three most popular boys’ names from last year – Jacob, Anthony and Daniel – remained the top choices in 2011. Additionally, the eleven most popular girls’ names from last year – lead by Isabella, Sophia and Mia – remained the same for the second year running.

The only newcomer to the top 20 names for girls was “Evelyn,” rounding out the list at number 20. On the boys’ top 20, five new names came into play: Mason, Benjamin, Liam, Isaac and Matthew.

MOST POPULAR BABY NAMES IN 2011

Total resident boys born = 40,559

Rank   Name   Frequency

1 JACOB 386
2 ANTHONY 372
3 DANIEL 362
4 MICHAEL 337
5 ANGEL 329
6 ETHAN 328
7 NOAH 320
8 AIDEN 316
9 ALEXANDER 314
10 MASON 314
11 GABRIEL 302
12 JAYDEN 286
13 JULIAN 286
14 DAVID 283
15 BENJAMIN 268
16 JOSEPH 266
17 LIAM 263
18 ADRIAN 262
19 ISAAC 262
20 MATTHEW 257

Total resident girls born = 38,576

Rank Name Frequency

1 ISABELLA 505
2 SOPHIA 463
3 MIA 336
4 EMMA 316
5 OLIVIA 309
6 EMILY 277
7 ABIGAIL 241
8 AVA 239
9 MADISON 199
10 NATALIE 189
11 SAMANTHA 188
12 ELIZABETH 186
13 CHLOE 184
14 VICTORIA 167
15 ALEXIS 165
16 HAILEY 160
17 ADDISON 155
18 CAMILA 144
19 ELLA 143
20 EVELYN 141

The above reflects the data collection and data entry as of 12/14/2011.

Loeffler takes supervisors to task for land deal

   AN OPEN LETTER   

Gila County Board of Supervisors:

I have always believed the closest and smallest government is in the best position to decide a local issue. The state over the Feds, the county over the state, and so on. The smaller the area an elected body has to cover the better they know the situation and people's position.

With this belief in mind, I find it difficult to imagine how your board would feel so strongly that they knew better than the Gila Community College Governing Board, another elected body. You (BOS) must attend to every issue in the entire county while the GCC board has only one school to concentrate on.

Logically, it would appear the GCC Board would be better equipped to handle matters pertaining to their sphere of influence. They in fact represent the same people you do but they can concentrate on school matters uniquely. To date you have rejected every position the GCC Board has taken in their recent resolution and thus rejected their voters.

I believe politics is dictating policy and logic. A few meetings ago Supervisor (Shirley) Dawson suggested the GCC Governing Board grow up. I suggest that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Tom Loeffler
Member
Gila Community College Governing Board

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Declaration of War on Christmas

By Greg Palast
GregPalast.com 
readersupportednews.org 

25 December 11 - I don't usually watch Today or any American TV because my reports appear on the British Broadcasting Corporation, a network run by highly-educated America-haters.

But there I was, last Friday, in this hotel room in Atlanta, a city pretending there's no Depression, chewing my complimentary morning doughnut, and Today is telling us about the "new face of American poverty."

"More than 49 million Americans now live below the poverty line and a number of them like the family you're about to meet propelled into bankruptcy by a one-two punch of job loss and a catastrophic health crisis."

Wow! US television finally grabs the Big Issue.

This white suburban family called the Kleins have lost their home to eviction. They’re completely broke, because one of their kids got a tumor in her face. They have no insurance so the $100,000-plus medical bills wiped them out.

They live with neighbors and they hoped to at least get their kids a couple pair of underwear as a Christmas gift.

But if you think America doesn't give a crap about the cancerous growth of poverty, just keep watching: The Today reporter takes the white family to WalMart where the bubbly journalist gushes, "The wonderful people of WalMart opened up their stores and their aisles and their hearts. The store is your oyster, Michelle!"

Then some WalMartian PR person tells the bankrupt mom to address the issue of long-term unemployment, "Let's go shopping!"

And you thought America was cold-hearted, just because the Republicans tried to block unemployment insurance this Christmas for three million families.

On their free shopping spree, the Kleins got laptops and a Kindle, and a big-ass TV and all the good things that WalMart can provide.

And if you think WalMart has shown how selfless and caring Americans are, just wait until you find out what the Today show is giving America's desperate poor: Simply the best-est gift ever . . .

"We saved the best for last!" The reporter tells the Kleins that NBC is flying them to New York, "to be on the Today show, to be on our set with Matt Lauer and Ann Curry!"

Matt and Ann! Both of them! Well, I bet they wouldn't do that in North Korea or Sweden! Only in America!

Mr. Klein is so happy he's meeting Ann that he doesn't seem care anymore that he lost his job at Ford Motor. He just has his family. In some other family's house, of course. But that's a detail.

And if you thought this was just some cheap publicity stunt by WalMart, dig this, Mr. Cynical: WalMart is going to pay for all the Klein's medical bills for a full year! And to pay for it, WalMart's 1.4 million employees will not have all their medical bills covered for the year. Now, that's generosity!

(This heartwarming segment of the Today show about the Klein kids, by the way, is sponsored by - no points for guessing: WalMart.)

But then I thought: wait a minute. What about ObamaCare? Once the plan is in place, no American can be denied insurance, even someone with a tumor in their face.

Americans love to hate ObamaCare. But isn't that more valuable to the Kleins than a TV screen with no house to put it in?

Now, many of my friends will be surprised to hear me say this, as I've been quite skeptical about the accomplishments of the Pope of Hope. But let's admit that Barack Obama tried to save the Kleins from medical-bill devastation, that he is trying to get them some unemployment insurance, trying (if on sketchy terms) to save the auto industry, all in the face of resistance of America's hatred of Socialist Government.

Maybe we don't need Santa Claus. Maybe we need Anti-Claus: A skinny 'Muslim' from Kenya squirming down your chimney!

America's problem seems to be that it can only be cruel 364 days a year. Christmas is that time of year when the United States of Scrooge takes a vacation from heartless profiteering and the nasty joy Americans get, that "I'm-not-one-of-those-losers" frisson.

Listen to Rick and Newt and Mitt and Michele and Ron and what you get is the Great American F***'em! They lost their jobs? F***'em! Their kid has a tumor and they don't have health insurance? F***'em!

Unless, of course, it's Christmas and you have to look at the tumor on TV. Then, it's like, Someone buy them a big-screen television so we don't feel bad.

Santa's erstaz elf, Bill O'Reilly, keeps talking about the "War on Christmas." Because one day a year he has to dress up in Good Will to All Men drag. He can deck his halls with bags of bullshit make-believe kindness.

The rest of the year, he's jerking off while talking dirty to his horrified female producers and raking in millions from the yahoos who haven't lost their jobs yet.

So that's it: for me, no more chestnuts roasting on an open fire. My chestnuts have gone down with my Lehman bonds, anyway. I'm declaring war on Christmas.

Don't like that, O'Reilly? Then eat my shorts - with cranberry sauce.

Surgery for kids with cancer, a house to live in that's not a relatives' basement, and a job making something other than "financial products" ... These are rights, not gifts. They don't come down the chimney, they come from a community that can set aside its bred-in-the-bone meanness for more than one day a year.

***

And to all a good night.

Merry, um, Festivus, from the Palast Investigative Team.

Greg Palast is the author of Vultures' Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates and High-Finance Carnivores, released in the US and Canada by Penguin.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas message from America's rich


By Matt Taibbi
Rolling Stone
readersupportednews.org

22 December 11 - It seems America's bankers are tired of all the abuse. They've decided to speak out.

True, they're doing it from behind the ropeline, in front of friendly crowds at industry conferences and country clubs, meaning they don't have to look the rest of America in the eye when they call us all imbeciles and complain that they shouldn't have to apologize for being so successful.

But while they haven't yet deigned to talk to protesting America face to face, they are willing to scribble out some complaints on notes and send them downstairs on silver trays. Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments.

Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, for instance, is not worried about OWS:

"Who gives a crap about some imbecile?" Marcus said. "Are you kidding me?"

Former New York gurbernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, the billionaire owner of the billing firm Paychex, offered his wisdom while his half-his-age tennis champion girlfriend hung on his arm:

"If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share' one more time, I'm going to vomit," said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Then there's Leon Cooperman, the former chief of Goldman Sachs's money-management unit, who said he was urged to speak out by his fellow golfers. His message was a version of Wall Street's increasingly popular If-you-people-want-a-job, then-you'll-shut-the-fuck-up rhetorical line:

Cooperman, 68, said in an interview that he can't walk through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, without being thanked for speaking up. At least four people expressed their gratitude on Dec. 5 while he was eating an egg-white omelet, he said.

"You'll get more out of me," the billionaire said, "if you treat me with respect."

Finally, there is this from Blackstone CEO Steven Schwartzman:

Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.

"You have to have skin in the game," said Schwarzman, 64. "I'm not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system."

There are obviously a great many things that one could say about this remarkable collection of quotes. One could even, if one wanted, simply savor them alone, without commentary, like lumps of fresh caviar, or raw oysters.

But out of Abelson's collection of doleful woe-is-us complaints from the offended rich, the one that deserves the most attention is Schwarzman's line about lower-income folks lacking "skin in the game." This incredible statement gets right to the heart of why these people suck.

Why? It's not because Schwarzman is factually wrong about lower-income people having no "skin in the game," ignoring the fact that everyone pays sales taxes, and most everyone pays payroll taxes, and of course there are property taxes for even the lowliest subprime mortgage holders, and so on.

It's not even because Schwarzman probably himself pays close to zero in income tax - as a private equity chief, he doesn't pay income tax but tax on carried interest, which carries a maximum 15% tax rate, half the rate of a New York City firefighter.

The real issue has to do with the context of Schwarzman's quote. The Blackstone billionaire, remember, is one of the more uniquely abhorrent, self-congratulating jerks in the entire world - a man who famously symbolized the excesses of the crisis era when, just as the rest of America was heading into a recession, he threw himself a $5 million birthday party, featuring private performances by Rod Stewart and Patti Labelle, to celebrate an IPO that made him $677 million in a matter of days (within a year, incidentally, the investors who bought that stock would lose three-fourths of their investments).

So that IPO birthday boy is now standing up and insisting, with a straight face, that America's problem is that compared to taxpaying billionaires like himself, poor people are not invested enough in our society's future. Apparently, we'd all be in much better shape if the poor were as motivated as Steven Schwarzman is to make America a better place.

But it seems to me that if you're broke enough that you're not paying any income tax, you've got nothing but skin in the game. You've got it all riding on how well America works.

You can't afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can't afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you're not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you'd better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can't hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today's Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

An ordinary person who has a problem that needs fixing puts a letter in the mail to his congressman and sends it to stand in a line in some DC mailroom with thousands of others, waiting for a response.

But citizens of the stateless archipelago where people like Schwarzman live spend millions a year lobbying and donating to political campaigns so that they can jump the line. They don't need to make sure the government is fulfilling its customer-service obligations, because they buy special access to the government, and get the special service and the metaphorical comped bottle of VIP-room Cristal afforded to select customers.

Want to lower the capital reserve requirements for investment banks? Then-Goldman CEO Hank Paulson takes a meeting with SEC chief Bill Donaldson, and gets it done. Want to kill an attempt to erase the carried interest tax break? Guys like Schwarzman, and Apollo's Leon Black, and Carlyle's David Rubenstein, they just show up in Washington at Max Baucus's doorstep, and they get it killed.

Some of these people take that VIP-room idea a step further. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon - the man the New York Times once called "Obama's favorite banker" - had an excellent method of guaranteeing that the Federal Reserve system's doors would always be open to him. What he did was, he served as the Chairman of the Board of the New York Fed.

And in 2008, in that moonlighting capacity, he orchestrated a deal in which the Fed provided $29 billion in assistance to help his own bank, Chase, buy up the teetering investment firm Bear Stearns. You read that right: Jamie Dimon helped give himself a bailout. Who needs to worry about good government, when you are the government?

Dimon, incidentally, is another one of those bankers who's complaining now about the unfair criticism. "Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it," he recently said, at an investor's conference.

Hmm. Is Dimon right? Do people hate him just because he's rich and successful? That really would be unfair. Maybe we should ask the people of Jefferson County, Alabama, what they think.

That particular locality is now in bankruptcy proceedings primarily because Dimon's bank, Chase, used middlemen to bribe local officials - literally bribe, with cash and watches and new suits - to sign on to a series of onerous interest-rate swap deals that vastly expanded the county's debt burden.

Essentially, Jamie Dimon handed Birmingham, Alabama a Chase credit card and then bribed its local officials to run up a gigantic balance, leaving future residents and those residents' children with the bill. As a result, the citizens of Jefferson County will now be making payments to Chase until the end of time.

Do you think Jamie Dimon would have done that deal if he lived in Jefferson County? Put it this way: if he was trying to support two kids on $30,000 a year, and lived in a Birmingham neighborhood full of people in the same boat, would he sign off on a deal that jacked up everyone's sewer bills 400% for the next thirty years?

Doubtful. But then again, people like Jamie Dimon aren't really citizens of any country. They live in their own gated archipelago, and the rest of the world is a dumping ground.

Just look at how Chase behaved in Greece, for example.

Having seen how well interest-rate swaps worked for Jefferson County, Alabama, Chase "helped" Greece mask its debt problem for years by selling a similar series of swaps to the Greek government. The bank then turned around and worked with banks like Goldman, Sachs to create a thing called the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which allowed investors to bet against Greek debt.

In other words, Chase knowingly larded up the nation of Greece with a crippling future debt burden, then turned around and helped the world bet against Greek debt.

Does a citizen of Greece do that deal? Forget that: does a human being do that deal?

Operations like the Greek swap/short index maneuver were easy money for banks like Goldman and Chase - hell, it's a no-lose play, like cutting a car's brake lines and then betting on the driver to crash - but they helped create the monstrous European debt problem that this very minute is threatening to send the entire world economy into collapse, which would result in who knows what horrors. At minimum, millions might lose their jobs and benefits and homes. Millions more will be ruined financially.

But why should Chase and Goldman care what happens to those people? Do they have any skin in that game?

Of course not. We're talking about banks that not only didn't warn the citizens of Greece about their future debt disaster, they actively traded on that information, to make money for themselves.

People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the "imbeciles" on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don't get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn't even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It's called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don't do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn't take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life's savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.

Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things. Or, if a person did do those things, you'd at least expect him to have enough shame not to whine to a Bloomberg reporter when the rest of us complained about it.

But these people don't have shame. What they have, in the place where most of us have shame, are extra sets of balls. Just listen to Cooperman, the former Goldman exec from that country club in Boca. According to Cooperman, the rich do contribute to society:

Capitalists "are not the scourge that they are too often made out to be" and the wealthy aren't "a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling lot," Cooperman wrote. They make products that "fill store shelves at Christmas…"

Unbelievable. Merry Christmas, bankers. And good luck getting that message out.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

American way must become sustainable

 COMMENTARY:GEORGE TEMPLETON 

By George Templeton
Gazette Columnist

ALFRED E. NEUMAN

The freaky little kid on the MAD magazine cover typified global warming deniers when he declared: “What, me worry?”

There is no such thing as the “theory of global warming” that Governor Perry referred to. When we pray for God to reveal the answer we must remember that there is more than one question.

Skepticism and differing viewpoints are fundamental to science. Denial has no respect for evidence and fails to provide any new useful ideas or discoveries. Global warming has become politicized. The desire to disbelieve deepens as the climate change threat grows.

PREDICTION

Uncertainty means better or worse. It does not arise from ignorance or error. The certainty that we perceive in the world is something we bring to it. It does not exist independent of us. We need to learn to live with uncertainty. If we wait for certainty we will never act.

HOT

The earth is our uncontrolled experiment and we pray it does not go wrong. We experience short-term weather that varies with location and season. Global warming increases both warmer and colder extremes. Long-term, world-wide climate is our concern but that comes in a kaleidoscope of changes. We do not directly perceive the mechanisms of the world’s climate; just their effects. Observations are generalized to form theories reducing data to knowledge. Theories are explanations, not merely predictions.

HEAT

It takes 1000 times more heat energy to raise the temperature of the ocean than the air. The oceans and plant life store and interchange heat, carbon dioxide, and water vapor with the atmosphere causing climate inertia and regional weather variation. A small change in ocean temperature has a large impact on weather. The greenhouse gases that are already in our climate system will continue to cause temperature rise for another 50 years.

CLIMATE CHANGE

We know how summer and winter are caused by the earth’s yearly elliptical orbit about the sun but may not realize that the ice ages correlate with 22,000 to 100,000 year periodic wobbles in the earth’s orbit. Differential heating by the sun, ocean currents, winds, volcanoes, plant life, and carbon dioxide interact and influence climate, but computer models using only natural effects can’t reproduce today’s rapid warming. The disturbing fact is that the earth’s climate suddenly tips, taking on a new semi-permanent state.

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum began 56 million years ago. It was caused by volcanoes, methane bubbling up from the ocean floor, coal fires, and thawing permafrost. Maximum warming was 10 degrees F but at a rate of 0.05 degrees F per l00 years. This moderately fast change acidified the oceans causing extinction of sensitive sea floor life.

Today’s much faster heat rise is unprecedented at 2 to 8 degrees F per 100 years. Antarctic ice core bubbles show that greenhouse gases, caused by man, are now higher than at any time in 700,000 years or more. In decades we are returning to the atmosphere an amount of carbon that took hundreds of millions of years to lock-up in rock. The projected amount of the rise is far less important than the rate. Life will not have time to adapt.

A new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene, is a consequence of man’s refusal to live in harmony with nature. If man is still alive in another 50 million years, geologists will find only the slightest signs that our cities and cars existed. They will be dust and rust. Instead, the fossil remains will document extinction of species, denuding of land, soil erosion and death of coral reefs.

SEA ICE

In three decades more than a million square miles of the Arctic have been unshackled. Greenland’s ice sheet shrinks 50 cubic miles each year. Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the U.S. compete for a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas located under the ice. If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt, the sea level would rise by 24 feet. We don’t need the melting of ice to cause sea level rise. Sea water expands as it heats. That alone could boost the sea level by 3 feet in the next 100 years.

In 2002 the Antarctic Larsen B ice shelf, a slab bigger than the state of Rhode Island, broke off. The ice shelves of the Antarctic float in the ocean and do not cause a rise when they break off. However, they prop up ice that is further inland. Warm ocean water circulates beneath ice thicker than two Empire State Buildings causing unseen thinning from below. If the West Antarctic ice sheet were to break-up, as it has in the geologically recent past, the sea level would rise by 19 feet. However, the sea level is not constant, depending on the tides, ocean currents, the shore-line, and storms. Because of increased thermal energy in the earth’s climate system 100 year storms take place in less than 10 Years and have cost 14 billion dollars with a total of 52 billion dollars in damage and over 1000 lives lost in the U.S. this past year.

Permafrost covers 20% of the earth’s surface. Global warming is causing it to thaw creating lakes that emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Approximately one half of the world’s permafrost is now within 2 degree F of melting. If it melts, the methane released into the atmosphere will be 40 percent beyond what will be produced by all other natural and man-made sources. Permafrost thawing releases more methane causing more heating that causes more thawing and so on, magnifying the effect and causing larger and more rapid temperature increases.

An ice free world would submerge all of Florida, the Statue of Liberty, and the Netherlands. Most of the planet’s large cities are situated near the ocean. In India, 40 million people would be displaced by a 3 foot rise in sea level as would 7 million residents of the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. What if the San Francisco Bay extended all the way to Sacramento causing salt water to work its way into the aquifers that supply California’s agriculture?

DRY

Drought, insect damage, and frequent large fires have quietly thinned the conifers of western forests over the past several decades. Often new trees are not replacing dying ones. A recent study using thousands of aerial photos taken in the 1940’s in northern Alaska reveals that the arctic tundra is greening because shrubs are advancing to the north and upslope while the forests south of the tundra are drying and browning. A transformation in landscape potentially as profound as the loss of sea ice is taking place before our eyes.

El Nino and La Nina are well known climate patterns. Less known but equally important is the Intertropical Convergence Zone rain band. This is a band of heavy rainfall that circles the earth near the equator. It moves up and down in response to the seasons, the sun, and climate. The rain band is driven toward the north by warming and is as far north today as it ever has been. Equatorial substance agriculture that now supports hundreds of millions of people living near the equator is at risk. The shift would hurt Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, Colombia, northern Indonesia, Thailand and the Southwestern United States. Millions of acres of farmland and tens of millions of people depend on water from the Colorado River. California is a semiarid land dependent on storing and diverting water. Shortages are forecast, but yet people continue to migrate.

HOW MUCH DO YOU CARE ABOUT THE FUTURE?

The odds of runaway warming are 1 in 2 in the next 200 years. That might warrant the purchase of an insurance policy! Are you worried about the budget and the national deficit but not about when and how we should prepare for the earth’s future? Climate instability is a greater threat than terrorism and the biggest opportunity since Columbus. Do we have a patriotic responsibility for the prevention and mediation of environmental damage or will we risk waiting until it is too late? Are you worried about America’s economic prosperity, global competitiveness, and geopolitical influence?

DOES OUR OWN PROSPERITY HERE AND NOW OUTWEIGH THE POSSIBILITY THAT WE ARE COMPROMISING OUR GRANDCHILDREN’S WORLD?

Pay me now or much more later! Will mitigating climate change help, or hurt the economy? Will we build dykes and wetlands to hold back the ocean? Will they be robust, and reliable? What are we willing to change? What kind of climate do you want to bequeath to future generations? Can we pull together in a common moral cause? The American way must become sustainable if it is to be practical for the developing world.

WILL FUTURE SOCIETIES BE MORE TECHNICALLY AND FINANCIALLY CAPABLE SO THAT THEY SHOULD LARGELY FEND FOR THEMSELVES?

What is the cost of irreversible climate change? Are developed countries that have more to lose, or poor countries that lack resources, more threatened? Should America help to provide clean energy and reduce deforestation in poor countries? Will America become a pariah, regarded with contempt, because of its foot-dragging reluctance to take action? Will the developing countries take full responsibility for the consequences of their increasing prosperity?

ARE THE RICH PERPETRATING AN INJUSTICE ON THE WORLD’S POOR?

Human misery rather than global warming is the most urgent problem for undeveloped countries. We have more tools than anyone else to deal with climate change and human suffering. The undeveloped countries blame America for causing the problem. We champion human rights but don’t embrace our responsibilities. We take for granted our entitlement to consume the greatest portion of the world’s resources and lose the high moral ground when we choose greed over empathy for the poor.

SHOULD THOSE WHO BENEFIT FROM NOT ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE IMPOSE THE COSTS AND CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR INACTION ON THOSE WHO DO NOT?

In the Malaysian highlands there is a gambling casino where citizens must make a refundable deposit of a week’s living expense before entering. Is it bad for business but good for the country? Nixon (a RINO) knew when he signed into law the 1970 Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Protection Act. The world’s future and America’s prosperity depend on making the best business and technical decisions without delay. It’s not a time for an anti-science inconsequential government.

Why the Republican crackup hurts America

By Robert Reich
Robert Reich's Blog
readersupportednews.org

21 December 11 - Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican crackup threatens the future of the Grand Old Party more profoundly than at any time since the GOP's eclipse in 1932. That's bad for America.

The crackup isn't just Romney the smooth versus Gingrich the bomb-thrower.

Not just House Republicans who just scotched the deal to continue payroll tax relief and extended unemployment insurance benefits beyond the end of the year, versus Senate Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for it.

Not just Speaker John Boehner, who keeps making agreements he can't keep, versus Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who keeps making trouble he can't control.

And not just venerable Republican senators like Indiana's Richard Lugar, a giant of foreign policy for more than three decades, versus primary challenger state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who apparently misplaced and then rediscovered $320 million in state tax revenues.

Some describe the underlying conflict as Tea Partiers versus the Republican establishment. But this just begs the question of who the Tea Partiers really are and where they came from.

The underlying conflict lies deep into the nature and structure of the Republican Party. And its roots are very old.

As Michael Lind has noted, today's Tea Party is less an ideological movement than the latest incarnation of an angry white minority - predominantly Southern, and mainly rural - that has repeatedly attacked American democracy in order to get its way.

It's no mere coincidence that the states responsible for putting the most Tea Party representatives in the House are all former members of the Confederacy. Of the Tea Party caucus, twelve hail from Texas, seven from Florida, five from Louisiana, and five from Georgia, and three each from South Carolina, Tennessee, and border-state Missouri.

Others are from border states with significant Southern populations and Southern ties. The four Californians in the caucus are from the inland part of the state or Orange County, whose political culture has was shaped by Oklahomans and Southerners who migrated there during the Great Depression.

This isn't to say all Tea Partiers are white, Southern or rural Republicans - only that these characteristics define the epicenter of Tea Party Land.

And the views separating these Republicans from Republicans elsewhere mirror the split between self-described Tea Partiers and other Republicans.

In a poll of Republicans conducted for CNN last September, nearly six in ten who identified themselves with the Tea Party say global warming isn't a proven fact; most other Republicans say it is.

Six in ten Tea Partiers say evolution is wrong; other Republicans are split on the issue. Tea Party Republicans are twice as likely as other Republicans to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, and half as likely to support gay marriage.

Tea Partiers are more vehement advocates of states' rights than other Republicans. Six in ten Tea Partiers want to abolish the Department of Education; only one in five other Republicans do. And Tea Party Republicans worry more about the federal deficit than jobs, while other Republicans say reducing unemployment is more important than reducing the deficit.

In other words, the radical right wing of today's GOP isn't that much different from the social conservatives who began asserting themselves in the Party during the 1990s, and, before them, the "Willie Horton" conservatives of the 1980s, and, before them, Richard Nixon's "silent majority."

Through most of these years, though, the GOP managed to contain these white, mainly rural and mostly Southern, radicals. After all, many of them were still Democrats. The conservative mantle of the GOP remained in the West and Midwest - with the libertarian legacies of Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater, neither of whom was a barn-burner - while the epicenter of the Party remained in New York and the East.

But after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as the South began its long shift toward the Republican Party and New York and the East became ever more solidly Democratic, it was only a matter of time. The GOP's dominant coalition of big business, Wall Street, and Midwest and Western libertarians was losing its grip.

The watershed event was Newt Gingrich's takeover of the House, in 1995. Suddenly, it seemed, the GOP had a personality transplant. The gentlemanly conservatism of House Minority Leader Bob Michel was replaced by the bomb-throwing antics of Gingrich, Dick Armey, and Tom DeLay.

Almost overnight Washington was transformed from a place where legislators tried to find common ground to a war zone. Compromise was replaced by brinkmanship, bargaining by obstructionism, normal legislative maneuvering by threats to close down government - which occurred at the end of 1995.

Before then, when I'd testified on the Hill as Secretary of Labor, I had come in for tough questioning from Republican senators and representatives - which was their job. After January 1995, I was verbally assaulted. "Mr. Secretary, are you a socialist?" I recall one of them asking.

But the first concrete sign that white, Southern radicals might take over the Republican Party came in the vote to impeach Bill Clinton, when two-thirds of senators from the South voted for impeachment. (A majority of the Senate, you may recall, voted to acquit.)

America has had a long history of white Southern radicals who will stop at nothing to get their way - seceding from the Union in 1861, refusing to obey Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, shutting the government in 1995, and risking the full faith and credit of the United States in 2010.

Newt Gingrich's recent assertion that public officials aren't bound to follow the decisions of federal courts derives from the same tradition.

This stop-at-nothing radicalism is dangerous for the GOP because most Americans recoil from it. Gingrich himself became an object of ridicule in the late 1990s, and many Republicans today worry that if he heads the ticket the Party will suffer large losses.

It's also dangerous for America. We need two political parties solidly grounded in the realities of governing. Our democracy can't work any other way.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on publicradio.com and iTunes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bit of small town warmth, luster missing this year

[Editor's note: The first part of this column appeared in the Gazette several years ago.  An update follows.] 

Winter arrived right on cue.

Walking the crowded sidewalks of Swiss Village, we didn’t mind the cold, as we stopped by warming fires or went into little shops for a cup of hot chocolate. The myriad colored lights and other decorations created a perfect “Alpine” setting, and more and more people arrived to mingle in the parking lot and occasionally stop and chat with good friends. Santa arrived in a fire truck, and hundreds of families urged their children forward to attempt an up-front place in line to talk with him. Somewhere, Norman Rockwell smiled, and authors of Christmas songs and tales nodded, “Yes.”

On a cold winter night, a week later, an “Electric Light Parade” was held on old Main Street. As darkness fell, cars, wagons, trucks, even baby strollers came rumbling down the street accompanied by horns, shouts and carolers. Any and every thing with wheels was covered in lighted decorations of every possible design. Bands played and folks marched, skipped and strolled down what was once the center of Old Payson. It seemed like most of the town was either in the parade or cheering from the sidewalks. And, yes, it was cold, but great fun.

Small town Christmas - special small town Christmas, I think - here in the mountains high above the big city. Here, warmth has a meaning far beyond temperature. The clear air provides a perfect atmosphere for radiance and illumination. Sounds are clearer, smells are sharper, handshakes firmer, hugs more freely given, and smiles more genuine.

As “The Cable Guy” might say, “I don’t care who you are, that’s good stuff.”

And this is a major point, I believe. I don’t care who you are, the sights and sounds and overall ambiance of small town Christmas, at least in Payson, Arizona, cannot fail to touch the good places in whatever heart comes upon them.

It is, of course, a high holy day for Christians. It has, however come to be a major occasion for much of mankind simply for the release of good will, positive values and a wonderful celebration of beauty and excitement during the darkest and coldest period of the year. Every form of religion has its special days, and rightly so. The magnificence of Christmas has, however, grown beyond small sacred observations once carefully nurtured through difficult times. Its appeal is far too broad to be confined. Its universality was, and is, inevitable.

Christians should not be too hard on themselves or others for the vast secular displays of lights, ornaments, decorations, or the abundance of gift giving. The spirit of the season calls for it. It’s “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” This is a phrase that goes back to St. Augustine, describing a sacrament. I think a case could be made for it as a description of the Christmas celebration. I’m quite certain that a devout person can make the distinction. Folks who claim no religious affiliation at all still feel a stirring within which calls for expression.

In any event, the festivities during these few weeks are ample proof of the ultimate goodness which is contained within most of mankind. Gifts, large and small, are the order of the day, and good will is the lubricant. Happiness and gaiety are chosen over dour existence. It is a cold and sad heart, indeed, which can utter, “Bah Humbug!”

Soon enough, we will retreat into our own personal realities. We will fight the battles and do the work that each of our lives demand. There will be no lack of generosity or caring, no dampening of personal celebrations, no less anticipation of a better world to come, but for the most part, the gatherings will be small, and the outpourings will be meager by comparison. The coming year, 2010, appears more looming than inviting. Our best is always better than our worst, however.

Christmas is the one great occasion which seems to invite everyone to the table in some way or another. It is a wonderful communal affair, more enjoyed because of the great mingling of divergent folks in a universal and inclusive happy event.

If anyone doubts that Christmas is alive and well, let them come to Payson, Arizona.

This was written several years ago when I was still under the influence of moving from a big eastern city to a wonderful small mountain town in Arizona. I was still seeing things in a pastoral setting in multicolored hues and an almost universal feeling of pride in the locale and friendliness across all lines of economic well-being. It’s very sad to observe how dramatic a change has taken place in the last few years due to a severe economic recession.

There is now a distinct division, a palpable if not physical separation between the major wealthy communities and the rest of the town. The worse the economy gets, the further the withdrawal of those still well off. The possibility of negative financial contamination from exposure to the middle class or lower seems evident. It appears that those still somewhat comfortably well-off clutch tighter and tighter to their assets in a protective, if not defensive, mode.

There are ample indications, mostly evident in a diminishing support of town businesses and activities. Costco, Bevmo, Target and others are thriving in the valley while more and more “Available” signs appear in empty store fronts here in Payson. Perishables and staples still sell well here, so a few stores like Safeway and Walmart remain crowded, and expensive automobiles and SUVs are spotted in their parking lots. Three-fifty a gallon gasoline doesn’t seem to be a deterrent when patronizing the discount stores ninety miles away, however.

Crowds attending such once celebrated events as The Electric Light Parade (free) and the Choral Society Christmas Concert (8 dollars) are noticeably smaller. Every charitable organization finds their budget in peril due to diminishing contributions.

The town muddles along, putting a weak smile on its face as best it can. Genuine well-wishes are heard often enough and hugs are still freely given. Regardless of the fears of many wealthy individuals, money (especially other people’s) is not an all- consuming drive among average individuals. Oh, it’s always a great topic, of course, but finding a way to make the best of things and keep old customs alive is given far more energy.

What people of great wealth never seem to get is that the masses are not out to steal that wealth. More power to anyone who has managed to amass a fortune. Hopefully the means to that end remain open and available to everyone. Squeezing the “buffalo off the nickel” in order to protect one’s assets is not only unnecessary, it is counter-productive, as lifestyle opportunities are reduced in proportion to a diminishing supporting class.

Re-distribution of wealth is not the great aim of the middle class, no matter how that term is pandered by insecure “defenders” of big money. Opportunity is the magic word - the possibility for improvement as a reward for hard and intelligent work. Upward mobility has always been the goal of the lower and middle classes – not usurpation. “Get a job!” is the blind cry of the rich. Those in lesser circumstances are crying, “Gladly! Show me some.”

It’s sad to see how hard times widen the gap between economic classes, taking common courtesies and good will along with the separation. Perhaps this is more noticeable in a small town than in a big city – not enough to motivate me to move back, of course. I still love all the good things I fell for when we first discovered this town, but a bit of the warmth and luster is missing this Christmas. I can tune out all the “Humbug”s coming from behind protective walls. It’s just that making the effort shouldn’t be necessary.

Congress ducks doing the country's business

Actor, environmental activist Robert Redford. (photo: Contour/Getty Images)

By Robert Redford
Reader Supported News
readersupportednews.org

20 December 11 - The Congress is ending the year much as it began - playing politics with our nation's future and putting American families at risk to score partisan points.

In the closing act to a shameful year of paralysis and indecision on the issues that matter most, House Republicans held common-sense tax relief for American families hostage to a holiday gift to Big Oil.

After the GOP-led House welded the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline rider onto the tax-relief bill, the Democratic-led Senate went along for the ride, passing a bad piece of legislation rather than being accused of blocking a needed tax cut.

When the United State Congress intentionally ties these two things together, though, it's not a joke: it's a national disgrace.

Let's be clear about the purpose of this move. It's a naked political stunt designed to hurt the president in an election year. Excuse the sarcasm, but you can see the connection here: tax relief worth about $1,000 a year for the typical working family, and a misguided plan to goose the fortunes of an industry that has already hauled in profits topping $100 billion this year.

With needed tax relief for working families set to expire at year's end, Congress should be sending President Obama a clean bill that asks a simple question: should we extend middle class tax relief and unemployment benefits at a time when our workers are struggling with hard times? For anyone who cares about fairness and families, that's an easy one.

Instead, House Republicans tacked onto that bill a contentious and unrelated question: should we allow Big Oil to build the Keystone XL pipeline, to take the dirtiest oil on the planet from the tar sands of Canada, through the heartland of America, to refineries and ports on the Gulf of Mexico?

Tar sands crude is not only the dirtiest oil on the planet, but it is produced through some of the most destructive industrial processes ever devised.

In requiring the administration to make up its mind within 60 days, this bill ensures that the State Department will not have been able to establish that the pipeline is in the national interest. It would require a decision that pre-approves the safety of an unknown, mystery route, through Nebraska, meant to avoid the precious Ogallala Aquifer. There will be no choice but to deny the pipeline permit.

Further, Keystone XL would cross more than 1,500 waterways, threatening them with the kind of accident that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River last summer and put 20 times that much tar sands in Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010, in a spill that hasn't been cleaned up yet.

For Congressional Republicans, though, that doesn't really matter.

What they care about is trying to somehow embarrass the president, to force his hand with an arbitrary deadline and cause a rush to judgment on a matter of serious national concern.

The misinformation spouting from GOP Congressional leadership on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is stunning. Just this morning on NBC's Meet the Press, Speaker Boehner lied repeatedly about every aspect of this project. And it sat there, as truth.

Never mind that the majority of the contracts for the processed oil are already cut and most of it will likely be exported to foreign countries. Speaker Boehner sat there and said it's a matter of national security. It's not. It's a matter of a big payday for his friends in the oil and gas industry.

Never mind that every independent study on how many American jobs will actually be created says, at most, 6,500 temporary construction jobs, very few of which would be local hires, according to the State Department. And never mind that Cornell University concludes it would kill more than it would create, by reducing investment in the clean energy economy. Speaker Boehner can pop off with more misinformation saying hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created. And it sits there, as truth.

Here's the simple truth, they're all willing to put our people and resources at growing risk to help boost oil company profits.

For the millions of Americans who care about clean air and water for their families, national security and a re-energized economy, all GOP Congressional leadership can come back with is a personal slap down. That somehow Americans who feel public health and safety are priority concerns, are crazy and irrational.

Newt Gingrich, the Republican's leading candidate for President of the United States portrayed these American citizens, living in a democracy as "... left-wing environmental extremists in San Francisco." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called for the president to not "... let a few radical environmentalists stand in the way... " All of this feels more like middle school than political leadership.

The American people are a lot smarter than these so-called leaders give them credit for. They can tell when they're being played. They know that this is a Congress that's more concerned with scoring political points than it is with doing the country's business.

Monday, December 19, 2011

GCC Board needs your immediate support

From Tom Loeffler of the Gila Community College District Board:

Don McDaniel, Gila County Manager, was not really interested in what we had to say (about restricting the use of community college land for educational purposes only) - surprise - surprise. They did not accept even one of our suggestions but say they support the community college 100%.
 

At this point they have not restricted the deed and say instead they have an IGA saying  the SLE (Separate Legal Entity) can build a 4 year college on the land. What is not defined is what is the make up of a 4 year college. 

I'm told they want industry on the site as part of the make up to help support the college. (Fellow board member) Larry (Stephenson) and I will be opposing the agenda item # 3 - C  at Tuesday's  (Dec. 20) Gila County Board of Supervisor's meeting that begins at 10 a.m.

What can you do?  Let the supervisors know you are opposed to a sale without deed restrictions, either by attending the meeting or sending them a message. We'll see how they listen to voters. They didn't listen to the college board (despite the fact that the college board is united 5-0 on this issue - including the usually recalcitrant threesome from Globe).

Tom

Top 10 greediest Americans of 2011

 RIM COUNTRY GAZETTE BLOG
SIGN OF THE TIMES

By Sam Pizzigati
nationofchange.org

You don't have to make mil­lions to rate as an all-star greed­ster. You do have to be ruth­less, self-ab­sorbed, and in­sen­si­tive to oth­ers. Here's my list of the 10 greed­i­est Amer­i­cans of 2011.

10. Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart CEO
Duke takes home his mil­lions — $18.7 mil­lion in the com­pany's lat­est fis­cal year — by squeez­ing work­ers. He ended "pre­mium pay" for the hours Wal-Mart work­ers have to put in on Sun­days, elim­i­nated profit-shar­ing, sheared health care ben­e­fits, and cut staffing lev­els so low, Re­tail­ing Today re­ports, that cus­tomers some­times can't find shop­ping carts be­cause the store where they're shop­ping has no em­ploy­ees avail­able to col­lect carts from the park­ing lot.

9. Paul Hoola­han, Sugar Bowl CEO
The Sugar Bowl, one of col­lege foot­ball's top four post­sea­son games, en­joys tax-ex­empt sta­tus and reg­u­larly touts its con­tri­bu­tions to good causes. But Hoola­han's fa­vorite cause may be his own. He took home just under $600,000 in 2009, al­most quadru­ple his $160,500 pay­check for the same job 13 years ear­lier. Mean­while, the Sugar Bowl and its three "Bowl Cham­pi­onship Se­ries" part­ners are con­tribut­ing to char­ity only 20 cents from every $10 in rev­enue, the Ari­zona Re­pub­lic re­ports.

8. Robert Iger, Dis­ney CEO
His an­nual com­pen­sa­tion topped $28 mil­lion last year, a neat 35-per­cent in­crease. In Oc­to­ber, Iger picked up a new pay deal that ex­tends his CEO con­tract into 2015 and then adds on a cushy final year as Dis­ney's "ex­ec­u­tive chair­man" — at $2.5 mil­lion — to help him make the tran­si­tion into re­tire­ment.

7. Doug Ober­hel­man, Cater­pil­lar CEO
In 2009, a year that saw only three U.S. cor­po­ra­tions lay off more work­ers than Cater­pil­lar, its CEO took home just under $3 mil­lion. His 2010 pay­check soared to $10.4 mil­lion. Cater­pil­lar work­ers, mean­while, have a new six-year con­tract that ex­cludes wage in­creases and raises health care pre­mi­ums.

6. William Wel­don, John­son & John­son CEO
Wel­don "re­struc­tured" this health care giant in 2007, slash­ing its qual­ity-con­trol pro­gram. For the next two years, a hir­ing freeze made re­plac­ing va­cant qual­ity po­si­tions al­most im­pos­si­ble. In 2009, a flood of re­calls began for com­pany prod­ucts from con­tact lenses to hip im­plants, but Wel­don took home $25.6 mil­lion any­way. After those re­calls and as­sorted other scan­dals, the com­pany did fi­nally trim his an­nual pay — to $23.2 mil­lion.

5. Lloyd Blank­fein, Gold­man Sachs CEO
In 2007, on the eve of the melt­down banks like Gold­man did so much to has­ten, Blank­fein col­lected a $68-mil­lion bonus, the largest in Wall Street his­tory. In 2011, Blank­fein had a chance to hit the restart but­ton. He didn't. In April, Gold­man Sachs re­vealed that Blank­fein, after going two years with­out a cash bonus, had gob­bled up $5.4 mil­lion in bonus cash for the bank's lat­est fis­cal year. And plenty more in stock and salary. His total pay: $19 mil­lion, about dou­ble his pay the year be­fore.

4. Alan Mu­lally, Ford Motor CEO
After los­ing $30 bil­lion over three years, Ford has gained back $9.3 bil­lion. In re­ward, Ford handed Mu­lally $56.5 mil­lion in stock and then, a month later, an­nounced that he pulled down an ad­di­tional $26.5 mil­lion last year. That amounted to 910 times the pay of en­try-level Ford work­ers.

3. Larry El­li­son, Or­a­cle CEO
The top exec at busi­ness soft­ware giant Or­a­cle col­lected $77.6 mil­lion for the fis­cal year that ended this past May 31.​That piece of change added less than two-tenths of 1 per­cent to El­li­son's $39.5 bil­lion per­sonal for­tune, the world's fifth largest.

2. Don Blanken­ship, For­mer Massey En­ergy CEO
West Vir­ginia in­ves­ti­ga­tors found Massey man­age­ment di­rectly to blame for the 2010 blast that left 29 min­ers dead at the com­pany's Upper Big Branch coal mine. Massey, the re­port charged, had nur­tured a "cul­ture bent on pro­duc­tion at the ex­pense of safety." That cul­ture paid off hand­somely for Blanken­ship. He pock­eted $38.2 mil­lion from 2007 through 2009, after rak­ing in $34 mil­lion in 2005, and re­tired with a $5.7-mil­lion pen­sion and $12 mil­lion in sev­er­ance.

1. Mark Pin­cus, Zynga CEO
High-tech start-ups like the on­line so­cial gam­ing em­pire Zynga typ­i­cally at­tract tal­ent by of­fer­ing shares of stock. But Pin­cus had ap­par­ently con­cluded, with a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar IPO pend­ing, that he had given away too many shares. Pin­cus de­manded that var­i­ous em­ploy­ees "give back not-yet-vested stock or face ter­mi­na­tion," The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported.

Labor journalist Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, an online weekly on excess and inequality, and also serves as the co-editor of Inequality.Org, the Web portal to all things online related to the economic gaps that divide us. Currently an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., Pizzigati has written widely on economic inequality, with op-eds and articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and a host of other newspapers and periodicals. Pizzigati's latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an "outstanding title" of the year ranking from the American Library Association's Choice book review journal.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why I voted against Homeland Battlefield Bill


By Sen. Al Franken
Reader Supported News
readersupportednews.org 

17 December 11 - Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill that includes provisions on detention that I found simply unacceptable. These provisions are inconsistent with the liberties and freedoms that are at the core of the system our Founders established. And while I did in fact vote for an earlier version of the legislation, I did so with the hope that the final version would be significantly improved. That didn't happen, and so I could not support the final bill.

The bill that passed on Thursday included several problematic provisions, the worst of which could allow the military to detain Americans indefinitely, without charge or trial, even if they're captured in the U.S.

At their core, these provisions will radically alter how we investigate, arrest, and detain individuals suspected of terrorism. What's more, they could undermine the safety of our troops stationed abroad, and they introduce new and unnecessary uncertainty into our counterterrorism efforts.

But before I get into the details of why I opposed these detainee provisions, I think it is important to recognize that September 11th irrevocably and unalterably changed our lives. I was in Minnesota that terrible day. A number of Minnesotans died - in the towers, in the air, and at the Pentagon. In New York in the months following the attacks, I attended the funerals of brave firefighters and law enforcement officers who sacrificed their lives to help rescue Americans from the towers. I can't shake those images from my mind, and I am guessing like many of you, I won't ever be able to erase the horrors of September 11th from my head.

But it is exactly in these difficult moments, in these periods of war, when our country is under attack, that we must be doubly vigilant about protecting what makes us Americans.

The Founders who crafted our Constitution and Bill of Rights were careful to draft a Constitution of limited powers - one that would protect Americans' liberty at all times - both in war, and in peace.

As we reflect on what this bill will do, I think it is important to pause and remember some of the mistakes this country has made when we have been fearful of enemy attack.

Most notably, we made a grave, indefensible mistake during World War II, when President Roosevelt ordered the incarceration of more than 110,000 people of Japanese origin, as well as approximately 11,000 German-Americans and 3,000 Italian-Americans.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Non-Detention Act to make sure the U.S. government would never again subject any Americans to the unnecessary and unjustifiable imprisonment that so many Japanese-Americans, German-Americans, and Italian-Americans had to endure. It wasn't until 1988, 46 years after the internment, when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, that the government formally acknowledged and apologized for the grave injustice that was done to citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry.

These were dark, dark periods in American history. And it is easy today to think that is all behind us.

But I fear the detention provisions in the bill forget the lessons we learned from the mistakes we made when we interned thousands of innocent Japanese, Germans, and Italians.

With this defense authorization act, Congress will, for the first time in 60 years, authorize the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without charge or trial, according to its advocates. This would be the first time that Congress has deviated from President Nixon's Non-Detention Act. And what we are talking about here is that Americans could be subjected to life imprisonment without ever being charged, tried, or convicted of a crime, without ever having an opportunity to prove their innocence to a judge or a jury of their peers. And without the government ever having to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

I think that denigrates the very foundations of this country. It denigrates the Bill of Rights. It denigrates what our Founders intended when they created a civilian, non-military justice system for trying and punishing people for crimes committed on U.S. soil. Our Founders were fearful of the military-and they purposely created a system of checks and balances to ensure we did not become a country under military rule. This bill undermines that core principle, which is why I could not support it.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, and this wasn't the way to mark its birthday.