Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Archive for the ‘The Economy’ Category

Government Shutdown Finally Ends (with a Whimper, not a Bang)

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Well, folks, it’s official: the federal government has re-opened for business.  And it only took sixteen days for the United States Congress to get it done.

Consider me underwhelmed.

During the past sixteen days, many people far from the halls of Congress were hurt due to the Congress’s collective intransigence.  The law of unintended consequences seems to apply, considering people as diverse as mollusk fishermen in Maine and Alaska, restaurant owners in rural Wisconsin and Oregon, and federal park goers the nation over had their lives interrupted.

And what good did all this do?  Not a blessed thing, as it made the United States look like idiots — far worse than laughingstocks — in the eyes of the world.  Here are just a few things pointed out by Ed Schultz on his “The Ed Show” program on MSNBC in the past few weeks: Most countries around the world are appalled by how the Congress shut down the federal government, including Germany, France, Russia, and the UK.  Even Syria said they do better by their federal employees than we do, and that’s pretty bad.

But guess what?  There’s one organization or country that’s known to be even worse than Syria, and even they are taking potshots at the United States.  None other than the Taliban (yes, that Taliban) actually said Congress is “sucking the blood” from the American people.

(Words fail me, knowing that.)

So how low can this Congress go, anyway?  They’ve already proven by this latest fiasco they’re all about petty political gamesmanship rather than doing the will of the American people.  If they had been about the will of the people, the government wouldn’t have been shut down for one hour, much less sixteen whole days.

Because of the Congress’s obduracy,  we now have China, of all nations, wondering why the American people aren’t in open revolt.

And that’s saying something.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are still some good legislators, though not many.  (My personal favorite Senator is Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent.)  These legislators want to do their jobs and work for the best interests of the American people by doing “the art of the possible,” (read: compromise) and they’re no doubt just as tired of these stupid partisan games as the rest of us.

But there are way too many sitting in Congress right now who don’t want to do anything at all.  These are the ones actively harming the country.

I blame Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) for most of this latest mess.  I realize he didn’t start it — Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is usually credited instead — but Boehner had the power to bring a vote to the floor at any time in the past sixteen days.  He just didn’t do it.

When a politician would rather pursue his own agenda instead of the good of the country, it’s time for that politician to go.

I’m not the only person ever to think this, either.  The words Oliver Cromwell spoke in 1653 certainly seem to apply.  But if you don’t have time to read all of Cromwell’s historic speech, you should at least read this one (a paraphrase of Cromwell’s), delivered by British Conservative Member of Parliament Leo Amery to outgoing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1939 after Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler hadn’t worked.  Consider, please, that Amery was one of Chamberlain’s best friends when you read the following words:

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

Honestly, isn’t this what all Americans want to say to Speaker Boehner right now?  (If it isn’t, what planet are you living on?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 17, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Action 2013 — Racine Residents Need to Support the Racine Concert Band

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Racine area residents, listen up: The City of Racine needs to hear from you that the Racine Concert Band is an important part of your lives.

Now, am I just saying this because I play in the band myself?  Hardly.  The Racine Concert Band (henceforth shortened to “RCB”) has been in existence for ninety years, playing free summer concerts and giving many hours of enjoyment to local residents.  There’s also been an emphasis ever since the late 1970s of playing concerts in the various high schools or at other public school functions as a way to show kids that music is worth learning for its own sake.

I cannot imagine Racine being remotely the same if we didn’t have the RCB available to play free concerts at the Zoo during July and August.   But, apparently, at least some Racine aldermen and Mayor John Dickert have yet to figure out how much good the RCB does for the City of Racine (partly because most of them have never attended one single free concert).  And this is a problem, because the RCB’s contract with the City of Racine runs out in December . . . but the budget for 2014 will be decided in the next few weeks.

It’s really irritating for me as a musician to know that a bunch of people who’ve never once been out to the Zoo to see or hear the RCB are going to determine its budgetary fate.  I know what good the band does; I’ve seen it.  Little kids dance on the grass over at the Zoo when we play Broadway show tunes or medleys from famous movies like “Star Wars”; older people bob their heads in time to the songs that were popular when they were growing up (or that were popular in their parents’ time).  The band plays all different types of instrumental music, so there’s something there to please just about everyone whether you’re six — or ninety-six.

But the Mayor and the Aldermen definitely don’t seem to understand how much good the RCB does.  Which is why I’m calling on everyone who reads my blog and lives in Racine to please get in contact with Mayor Dickert or your local alderman by phone, e-mail, fax, or carrier pigeon (the latter might really shock them, wouldn’t you say?)  Let them know that you, too, believe that the RCB should be fully funded.

Mind you, I do understand why at least some of the aldermen are balking.  Racine has a severe budgetary shortfall, partly due to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budgetary priorities (which seem to be to starve all the cities, mostly led by Democrats, and give to all the rural communities, which are run by Republicans).  Potholes aren’t getting filled, streetlights are being removed, and furlough days have been implemented for all public workers as a way of saving money.

Still.  The RCB has fewer concerts than it did when I was in high school because of these same budgetary issues.  But it remains in existence, does a lot of good to hearten Racine residents, and gives us a reputation for class and culture that, quite frankly, Racine needs right now.

Please let your local legislators know that music still matters by telling them to please fully fund the Racine Concert Band in 2014 and beyond.

And for those of you who don’t live in Racine but still want to help — if you’ve ever visited Racine or ever taken in a free concert, now’s the time to say how much you enjoyed it.  It can’t hurt, might help, and certainly will emphasize to the Mayor and aldermen that the RCB is indeed a selling point for the City of Racine.

Homeless Youth in Racine Finds Tough Sledding

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This past week, I’ve been trying to help a homeless youth in Racine who I’m going to call “Allan.”  Allan is eighteen, African-American, polite to a fault, well-spoken, well-intentioned . . . and completely without any place to lay his head.  The reason I’ve become involved is that I have known Allan, on and off, for the past two months; he used to stay next door with a friend.  However, his friend was put in jail on an armed robbery charge (fortunately, Allan was not involved), and Allan was consequently evicted.

At this point, I learned that Allan’s situation was desperate.  He actually had been staying in this friend’s garage (some friend, hey?).  Before that, he’d lived with his grandfather, until his grandfather became homeless.  Before that, Allan was in jail on a minor weapon’s charge (carrying an unlicensed weapon).

As for family, Allan has adoptive parents who live up in Milwaukee County.  But they basically turned him out when he turned eighteen, saying they’d “done enough,” and are not willing to help him now under any circumstances.  He has his grandfather.  He has a few friends, most of whom seem to be of little account.

In any event, none of these people are either willing or able to help Allan.  So he’s still stuck.

What disturbs me is this: Allan has been homeless now for a week.  He hasn’t slept well, or much, in a week, because he mostly has to move from place to place.  And he’s not eaten well, or much, aside from whatever my Mom and I have been able to do to feed him.

Mind you, we’ve been doing this while trying to get someone, anyone to help.  We don’t have many resources.  Many times, we don’t have enough for the two of us.  But we could not let this young man, who’s skinny as a rail, go without food.

We just could not do it.

I can hear most of you now.  “Where are the advocates for this young man, Barb?  Where are the shelters?”

Well, this young man doesn’t have any advocates.  And the two shelters in town have thus far refused to take him.  Love and Charity Mission over on Douglas Avenue said that Allan is too young, because the minimum age for their services is twenty-one.  And HALO, which is the only other shelter in this area, at first refused to take him because Allan had no proof that he’s homeless.  And even though a policeman spoke with Allan on Saturday afternoon and actually took Allan over to HALO and said, “This kid really is homeless” (this according to Allan’s account), Allan is still in limbo.

Part of the reason Allan is in this trouble is due to state and federal cutbacks for shelter funding.  He was in a local shelter meant specifically for homeless teens, Safe Haven, once upon a time, and he’d probably be there right now except for one thing: They closed a few months ago, citing a lack of federal funding due to the sequester cuts.

This is a bureaucratic nightmare of major proportions.  And all the while, Allan continues to have no place to live.

This is just wrong.

I interviewed Allan at great length earlier this evening in preparation to write this blog.  I found out that Allan has no resources other than some food stamps (which he’s out of at present) and a small check that he’s to receive until he graduates from high school due to his adoptive father being a military veteran.**

Obviously, this is not nearly enough for Allan to get an apartment, or maybe even to rent a room.

High school graduation for Allan is a few more months away, as Allan needs to complete two more credits in summer school.  (I’m not going to name which school Allan’s been attending to preserve whatever vestiges of his privacy that I can.)  Allan told me he’s looking forward to graduation, as he has hopes to work with computers and make a good life for himself.

Yet how is Allan supposed to learn when he doesn’t have the basics every person in this country should have — food, clothing, and shelter?  How is he supposed to put all of his earthly cares aside under these appalling circumstances?

What I’ve observed this past week in trying to help Allan is that very few people, in government or out of it, seem to care.  I find that so disgusting that I don’t even have the words to express it.

We in Wisconsin pride ourselves on our compassion.  Well, where is the compassion for this young man?

I’m sorry.  When one person like Allan falls through the cracks, that means our whole system is a failure.

I do know this: every religion worth its salt in the history of the world has said to help the poor.  Protect the weak.  Heal the sick.  And help the homeless.

In other words, Jesus Christ did not believe that young men like Allan should be left to fend for themselves.  Gautama Buddha believed that compassion and mercy should be shown in all cases.  Confucius believed that those who had should help those who didn’t as a form of noblesse oblige, while more contemporary prophets such as Baha’ullah and even Joseph Smith believed that if you were to be one with God, you needed to act like God would want you to act — which means that you should give to those less fortunate, and try to help them get up on their feet.

None of these religions ever said that it’s OK to abandon a homeless young man who’s two credits short of high school graduation to whatever fate he can find on the streets.

I wonder what our Governor, Scott Walker, would think if one of his teenage sons was simply turned out one day and told to fend for himself without money or hope.  I wonder if the Governor ever once thought what it means when the state slashes funding — that someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s family member, is left on the streets because homeless shelters are filled to capacity.  And no one wants to be the one to take this young man in when there’s no guarantee they’ll get any funding to help him out.

I do know what I think, however.  And I do know how I will act, as I will continue to help Allan in whatever way I can.

I really hope that HALO will open its doors to Allan without further delay.  (They should, no matter how full they are.)  He is a young man who works hard, is respectful, and truly seems to want to better himself.  He’s the type of youth that anyone should want to help, as his potential is limitless despite the current exigencies of his situation.

Why no one else seems to care about that is beyond me.

———–

A note about the title: I used “tough sledding” to imply an ice-strewn path.  That’s what it seems like “Allan” is on right now — any step he takes could put him through the ice and into an even worse situation than the one he’s already in.

Besides, Wisconsin is known for our winter weather.  So “tough sledding” seemed a natural fit, under the circumstances.  (Yes?)

** A correction to the record: Allan’s adoptive father is the disabled veteran.  Allan said he does not know who his natural (birth) father was, nor his natural mother, either, when I talked with him earlier today.  All apologies for my earlier misunderstanding.

Post Office Tries to Cut Saturday Delivery — Will Congress Stop Them?

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Earlier today, news broke that the United States Postal Service (USPS) wishes to eliminate mail delivery on Saturday.  (Supposedly, packages will still be delivered, but nothing else.)  This is despite the fact that Congress, as a whole, has opposed eliminating Saturday mail delivery as it would be disastrous for rural communities, as many of the US Representatives have said — including Republican Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) — along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont, a long-time US Rep. before ascending to the Senate) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

I picked these three members of the US Congress for a reason — none of them, not one, are Democrats.  (Yes, Sanders caucuses with the Ds.  But he still isn’t a D.)  Which shows there’s bipartisan support to keep the Post Office open six days a week, both a sensible and logical decision.

It may not seem like it to those of us who live in cities, but post offices are desperately needed in smaller communities.  There are places with only one post office for the town or municipality (and that one being the only one for miles around).  There are states that are largely rural (Nebraska, for one).  Having mail get delivered only five days per week would be incredibly harmful to Nebraska, much less Alaska . . . especially as in the latter, people get oil mailed as well as food, medication and paychecks.

For that matter, those of you who believe all checks are electronic need to think again, too.  There isn’t always a viable alternative to a paper check, especially if you’re sending in a bill.  Many companies charge you a “convenience fee” to pay by debit card or other electronic means, which is why checks are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.  And if you think your car company, for example, is going to be more likely to give you a break due to your payment being late due to a postal service cutback, think again.

Senator Sanders was blunt about the impact of these potential cutbacks, especially considering how a bill he’d proposed last year passed the Senate with ease — but was never taken up whatsoever by the House:

“Providing fewer services and less quality will cause more customers to seek other options.  Rural Americans, businesses, senior citizens and veterans will be hurt by ending Saturday mail,” Sanders added.

Amen, brother!  Amen.

While the Los Angeles Times article about the proposed cutbacks pointed out another possible reason for the USPS to make this announcement at this particular time:

The announcement came with little advance notice to lawmakers, who were preparing to renew an effort to pass postal legislation this year.

Though many members of Congress insist they would have to approve the cutback, Donahoe told reporters that the agency believes it can move forward unilaterally. The current mandate for six-day delivery is part of a government funding measure that expires in late March.

“There’s plenty of time in there so if there is some disagreement” with lawmakers, “we can get that resolved,” he said.

Or in other words, the USPS did this to force the Congress to act.

Here’s the main problem with the USPS, folks.  It’s that the Congress requires the Post Office to pre-fund retirements and health care fees for seventy-five years.  (No misprint.)  No other company in the world is forced to do such a thing, yet the Congress put this onerous burden on the Postal Service because it helps the Congress mask the deficit a little bit.

As the Huffington Post article says:

But change is not the biggest factor in the agency’s predicament – Congress is. The majority of the service’s red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment – $11.1 billion in a two-year installment last year – and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the past fiscal year, lower than the previous year.

So because the Congress has “fuzzy math skills,” the rest of us get screwed.  (How typical.)

My view is simple: The Post Office should not eliminate Saturday delivery.  The main reason for this is logistical.  Right now on Mondays, there’s twice as much mail to be delivered.  With the possible elimination of Saturday delivery as well, there would be three times as much mail to be delivered — but with the same amount of carriers.  What sense does this make?

The US Senate plan, which was passed in April of 2012, should be followed.  There should be a two-year moratorium placed on the Post Office eliminating one day a week from their delivery system, while every other way of cutting costs should be pursued.  (Let’s hope the Senate will include rolling back the onerous requirement of pre-funding retirements and health care costs for seventy-five years, as that’s the main reason why the USPS is so far in the red.)

At the end of two years, if there’s no other way to proceed, then a day should be picked in the middle of the week to eliminate as that would be likely to be less harmful than the elimination of Saturday delivery.

So the way to fix the current problem is this — the US House of Reps needs to act.  They need to pass a bill that goes along with the bill that has already passed the Senate in order to keep the USPS from unilaterally acting in a way that would be seriously harmful to rural residents.

Or as Senator Sanders said in his press release:

“The postmaster general cannot save the Postal Service by ending one of its major competitive advantages.  Cutting six-day delivery is not a viable plan for the future.  It will lead to a death spiral that will harm rural America while doing very little to improve the financial condition of the Postal Service,” Sanders said.

So, the USPS has shown its hand.  Many are upset about it, including Sens. Sanders and Collins and Rep. Crawford, the President of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando,  and talk show host and MSNBC analyst Ed Schultz.

(And if you haven’t guessed yet that I’m upset as well, you need to up your reading comprehension skills a bit.  Seriously.)

Now, will the Congress as a whole act?  Or will they do what they’ve generally done for the past four or five years — sit on their butts, point fingers, and otherwise be useless wastes of time and space who are getting paid for what seems like very little reason?

It’s all down to you, Congress.

Act responsibly.  (Please.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Powerball Execs Stupidly Raise Price to $2 per Line — Hello, Bad Economy, Anyone?

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Remember how I said a few days ago that I was having trouble coming up with meaningful blog subjects?

Well, forget that, because today’s blog subject is so easy I’m surprised no one else has taken a whack at it.

Put succinctly: who came up with the idea that Powerball should cost $2 per line rather than $1 in this terrible economy?  And why hasn’t that person been fired by now due to this atrocious idea, rather than Powerball being about to institute their new $2-per-line “fee schedule” on January 15, 2012?

As of that date, Powerball will raise its opening jackpot to $40 million (meaning you can never win less than this if you take the multi-year option prize) and will guarantee that you’ll win $1,000,000 if you match five of five numbers (rather than the current $200,000).  And they’re touting that the “overall odds” to win a prize will be better — I don’t see it, but whatever — which must be the reasoning they used.

But that is not enough to justify raising the price from $1 to $2 per line, especially as the popular “multiplier” feature is not included — it’s still separate.  So if you want to “multiply” your prize, you’ll now have to pay $3 per line rather than $2.  While this isn’t as big a jump — because the multiplier feature has remained the same at $1 per line — this is still a jump and most people won’t bother.

Now, as to the reality of why people play Powerball and other lottery games of chance?  It’s because we all want to hope for better, and Powerball plays off that in its advertising.  The typical Powerball ad says, “With one dollar, you can buy a ticket — and a dream.”  And that’s pretty much what you’re buying with regards to Powerball, as the overall odds aren’t that great (view current odds here).

Anyone with half a brain knows that playing the lottery is a fool’s game.  You’re better off, really, to bury your dollar in the backyard than you are to play the lottery, yet many people — including myself — do play the lottery mostly because they want to dream about something better.  And hey, there’s lots of ways to waste a dollar — so why not?

But when you’re talking about putting $2 down for each ticket rather than only $1, things change.  Suddenly, you’re having to pay double the amount of money and that doesn’t seem reasonable — especially as the economy remains awful in many parts of the country, including my own Wisconsin.

Which is why this is such a stupid idea that I really don’t understand why anyone would want to roll this out just past the New Year, especially considering how many people are struggling just to pay for the basics, much less optional luxuries like a lottery ticket.

Here’s what’s likely to happen with regards to Powerball as of 1/15/2012; sales will plummet.  Those who have a dollar and a dream will play MegaMillions instead (which draws on Tuesdays and Fridays in many states and has kept its price, sensibly, at $1 per line), or will play their own state’s lottery, or will maybe just save it and bury it in the backyard.

And the reason Powerball sales will plummet is this: the economy is bad.  It is brutal.  And in the Midwest, where money is at a premium, lottery sales have already gone down — so why do the Powerball execs want to make it even worse?

So if I can see this new “fee schedule” as a non-starter as a regular lottery player who’s spent more than her share of cash on the Powerball over the years, why can’t the Powerball execs?

Oh, yeah.  They must not have been hit by the horrible economy, so they actually think there’s enough money out there to do something like this.

I have news for you, Powerball execs: think again.  Or watch your business go south.  Way south.

Patriotic Millionaires Ask for Congress to Raise Their Taxes

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There’s a new group in town, and they want the Congress to raise taxes — on themselves.

Never heard of them?  Well, they call themselves the Patriotic Millionaires, and they even have their very own Web site.

Here’s a lengthy excerpt from their original letter to Congress (from patrioticmillionaires.org):

We are writing to urge you to put our country ahead of politics.

For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you increase taxes on incomes over $1,000,000.

We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more.

Our country faces a choice – we can pay our debts and build for the future, or we can shirk our financial responsibilities and cripple our nation’s potential.

Our country has been good to us. It provided a foundation through which we could succeed. Now, we want to do our part to keep that foundation strong so that others can succeed as we have.

Please do the right thing for our country. Raise our taxes.

There are a good many statistics on the side of their Web page, including the following facts:

  • Only 375,000 Americans have incomes of over $1,000,000.
  • Between 1979 and 2007, incomes for the wealthiest 1% of Americans rose by 281%.
  • During the Great Depression, millionaires had a top marginal tax rate of 68%.
  • Today, millionaires have a top marginal tax rate of 35%.
  • Reducing the income tax on top earners is one of the most inefficient ways to grow the economy according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
  • 44% of Congress people are millionaires. The tax cuts were never meant to be permanent. (emphasis added)
  • Letting tax cuts for the top 2% expire as scheduled would pay down the debt by $700 billion over the next 10 years.

The Patriotic Millionaires number two hundred strong, and are growing daily.  They believe that it’s plain, flat wrong for millionaires to be taxed at a lower effective level than people in the middle class.  And they’ve put their money where their mouths are by going to Washington on November 16, 2011, in order to lobby Congress, influential anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist, and others for a higher tax rate for themselves.  (Here’s a link to the story from the Los Angeles Times if you don’t believe me.)

The Patriotic Millionaires only want taxes raised on people who make one million dollars ($1,000,000) a year and above; they want no other taxes raised.  As several members of the group said (from a tape played on tonight’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell program), they want their taxes raised because they feel it is wrong that everyone else is suffering, while they, themselves, have gotten much richer over the course of the recession.

I’m glad the Patriotic Millionaires group exists, and I’m very glad they’re getting some airplay.  They need a whole lot more, because they’re the “job creators” the Congressional Republicans keep touting as “needing” this big tax break.  Yet this is a spurious argument, as the millionaires kept pointing out on tonight’s Last Word (link to that is here), and as quoted in this article from Yahoo News:

Patriotic Millionaire Robert Johnson, former chief economist of the U.S Senate banking committee, said that the current economic system is not broken, but it is “working on behalf of those who designed it in their favor.”

“America is no longer based on markets and capitalism, instead our economy is designed as ‘socialism for the rich’ – it is designed to ensure that the wealthiest people take all of the gains, while regular Americans cover any losses,” he said at a press conference this afternoon in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a Las Vegas economy where regular Americans put their money on the table and the richest 1 percent own the house,” he said. “And if the 1 percent happen to lose money, the 99 percent bails them out – covers their losses and then stands by watching while the house does it all over again.”

Note how well Mr. Johnson put that?  Well, he should know, being an economist — one who worked for the United States Senate Banking Committee, at that.  Yet the Congressional “Supercommittee,” which is made up of twelve members (six Rs and six Ds), is once again stalled out with regards to any tax increases because the Rs, quite predictably, are refusing.

So as you see, it doesn’t seem to matter what these millionaires say; the Congress (44% of its members being millionaires) keeps saying “no.”  And the only reason I can come up with for that is this: Congress doesn’t want to raise taxes on millionaires because such a tax increase will hurt some of its own members.  (I’d say, “Poor babies,” but I don’t even think that highly of them.)

It’s up to Congress to stop playing games and raise taxes on millionaires because it’s the only ethical, honest thing to do.  Period.

And if it hurts them, personally . . . well, that’s just too bad now, isn’t it?

Occupy Writers: Articulate Speakers for the Bottom 99%

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Tonight, via MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” I found out about the Website Occupy Writers because Maddow had author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) on to discuss his recent post at that site.  A few of Lemony Snicket’s salient points from his post at Occupy Writers follow:

6. Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.

and

11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.

(Good words.  I can’t top them.)

Note that OccupyWriters.com is where many of my favorite authors have signed up in support of the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Everything Else movement that’s going on right now.  A few of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors who’ve signed their names in support at that site include Rosemary Edghill, Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Melinda Snodgrass, Laura Resnick, Laura Anne Gilman, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Neil Gaiman – I’m sure there were more, but those were the ones I noted right away.  There are many, many writers on that list, some who are extremely well-known (like Salman Rushdie), some who are well-known to SF/F readers like myself (see above) and some who aren’t known — including some editors of various magazines, including Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar.  (I’d gladly sign my name to the list, too, but I don’t have a novel published yet.  Otherwise, I’d have done this as soon as I knew the site was available.)

What I think is great about OccupyWriters.com is that it shows that people who are creative understand what’s going on in this world.  Our economy is not just bad; it’s truly terrible, and it’s something that all Americans — not just the “bottom 99%” — should care about.  These writers get that, which is great.

Now, it’s time for the top 1%, like those who sit in the United States Congress, to realize that without the “bottom 99%,” nothing gets done in this country.  Period.

Speaking of that, CNN’s Jack Cafferty has an excellent blog about why the Congress doesn’t seem to care at all about the “bottom 99%”.  This is because they, themselves, benefitted from the horrible policies they instituted — greatly.

During the height of the recession, Congress actually became 25% richer.  Meaning they were “feathering their own nests” while the rest of us got the shaft — as disgusting as this is, there’s more to the story.

From Cafferty’s blog post:

“Roll Call” reports that members of Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010.

That was up about 25 percent from 2008, during the height of the recession.

And these wealth totals likely underestimate how rich Congress really is. That’s because they don’t include homes and other non-income generating property, which could come out to hundreds of millions in additional dollars.

This wealth is split fairly evenly between both Democrats and Republicans.

Overall, about 200 members of Congress are millionaires. Once again, this doesn’t include the value of their homes.

So did you catch all that?  As bad as this is that the Congress is so much wealthier, overall, than the rest of the country — including the vast majority of their own constituents — this doesn’t even include the value of their homes or other property, which anyone else would have to claim as a matter of course as part of his or her overall wealth.

Cafferty continues a bit lower with:

Another expert suggests members of Congress do better with their investments than the average American because they are privy to inside information.

Really? Seriously? They would take advantage of that… something that is clearly illegal for the rest of us?

The bottom line is this body of lawmakers has next to nothing in common with the average American. Yet we keep sending most of the same rat pack back year after year.

Here’s my question to you: What does it say when members of Congress got 25% richer during the height of the recession?

I don’t know about anyone else, but what it says to me is that Congress is behaving in an unethical, immoral, blatantly dishonest manner.  And it once again reminds me why we must be vigilant, watch what our representatives do (not just what they say), and perhaps most importantly of all, keep an eye on who — and what — is financing their campaigns.

This is why I, for one, intend to vote out as many wealthy incumbents who are in Congress as I possibly can.  In this case, there’s one name who tops my list — my long-time Representative, Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), who clearly has forgotten that most of his constituents make far less money than he does.  Ryan has done himself no favors, either, as he’s shown little to no understanding of the whole “Occupy” movement, nor any compassion as to how difficult it is nowadays to find work in America — even for our honored military veterans, some of whom have gone out in support at various “Occupy” protests and have been hurt badly by police, most especially in Oakland, California.

And I’m sorry; I cannot support anyone who doesn’t want to help promote job growth in this country.  Rep. Ryan’s been in office for twelve whole years; he’s had twelve years to try to improve the economy, and he’s done very little about it.  Ryan has obviously lost touch with the people of his district, and more importantly, the people of this country.  If he can’t even figure out that the economy is in the tank, so the House of Representatives should have better things to do with their time than re-affirm “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States (as they did earlier this week) rather than take up any measure that could possibly help create employment in this country (see previous post for details), I know that just about anyone would do a better job as my US Rep. than Paul Ryan.

Worse yet, he’s said several times that he doesn’t understand the “Occupy” movement; he doesn’t believe it’s helpful.   Yet military veterans, who Ryan claims to appreciate, are coming home to no jobs and a 12% unemployment rate, which is why some are going to “Occupy” protests across the US of A in order to ask, “Where are the jobs, and why doesn’t anybody in Washington, DC, or in the halls of power seem to care?”

I’m sorry; if you can’t be bothered to understand why people are upset because there’s a high unemployment rate overall, including a very high unemployment rate for returning military vets who’ve fought the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, it’s time for you to go.

So please, Mr. Ryan — don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.

————–

I, indeed, am an “Occupy Writer” even if I never am able to sign that petition — and I hope that I’ve done my level best to speak for the bottom 99% this evening, even if I did originally say “top 99%” because I was thinking about our morals, manners, and ethics — where we are, indeed, the top 99%, and those who don’t get it have to be the bottom 1% in these areas.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 4, 2011 at 11:52 pm

The Writing Life — and a “Changing Faces” Update

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Folks, once again, I had a promising story bounce out of a market.  I have tried this particular story, “Sounds of Nightfall,” at every major market and most of the minor markets . . . sometimes it gets good comments, and other times, it has drawn a “huh?” reaction.

Anyway, I’d found a jazz magazine that does a short fiction contest, so I decided to try “Sounds” there, as it’s about a jazz musician who’s been helped by the spirits of two deceased saxophonists — Charlie Parker and Art Pepper — and I hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, it didn’t win a prize there — they have first, second, and third prizes available — and it bounced out after about a month and a half.

I write urban fantasy, mostly.  (Every once in a while, I surprise myself and write space opera.  Or even hard SF, when I can wrap my mind around the concepts.)  This was a story that was in the queue for the magazine Dreams of Decadence when it suddenly went under about a year ago; that’s probably as close as “Sounds” has been to actually getting published.

I’m starting to think that I should put together a bunch of my short stories that have drawn good comments, or, “I nearly bought this, but . . . ” types of things, and put them at SmashWords and at Amazon.com.  I don’t know how well they’d sell, of course, but at least they’d be out there and off my computer.

See, this is how the economy affects writers.   Mainstream magazines, even in the SF/F genre, have to be cognizant of the “bottom line” — how much profit, or at least as little of a loss as possible, can they make during this economic downturn?  With the digital realm affecting print magazines in various ways, that means there are more markets available than before — but most do not pay very much.  And all of them want to find people who have sales, and a following, and/or have gifts of self-promotion if at all possible, all in order to drive sales and page-views.

Now, this is perfectly understandable from an economic perspective, but it hurts newer writers — or unknown ones, like me — because we don’t necessarily have names.  We don’t necessarily have enough of a Web presence to drive page-views.  All we have are good stories that we want people to read, and sometimes, that doesn’t seem to be enough.  (But I shall persevere.)

So that’s about it, as far as a short story update; a few stories and one poem are out at various markets — and I did get a story into the Writers of the Future contest last quarter, for whatever that’s worth — but my main strengths as a writer tend to come out when I’m writing novels, not short fiction.   That’s why I work on my novels more, even though they take more time and thought to write . . . but I also work on the shorter forms (short story, novelette, novella) because I want to master them, too.  (We’ll see how long that takes, or if I ever get there.)

My general advice for other writers is this: go out there and write whatever you can.  Then try to sell it — ralan.com is one of the best places to go to find markets, while duotrope.com is another good one (both are free, but take donations if you’re able to help them out) — however you can.  Some of my fellow writers have discussed how they use spreadsheets; they mark off which magazines they’ve tried, and when, and where, so if you find this a useful tool, go for it.  And don’t let rejection get you down; just keep trying, because you never know when someone’s going to like your work.

As for the “Changing Faces” update, I’m happy to report I managed about 1800 words (the first words written on this project, at all, since last year sometime) and believe I have a good starting point for chapter 20.  We’ll see how it goes, but I’m cautiously optimistic at this time.

Figure it this way: if I get any words in during this time of great stress (with the bad economy, many personal issues including the ill health of my very good friend Jeff, and other things), I’m ahead of the game.  Which is why when I turn on my computer later tonight, and see what else I can get with regards to this MSS, I hope to be able to better develop the nascent “I think I know what’s next” feeling and get it actually down on the page.  (Here’s hoping.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 31, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Posted in The Economy, Writing

WI Senate Passes EB Bill on Party-Line Vote; Debt Ceiling Crisis Ends

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Folks, I have two quick updates, though if you’ve been paying attention to US politics at all, you know full well that the debt ceiling crisis is over (for now).

First, the Wisconsin Senate passed a bill, 19-14, to agree with the Wisconsin Assembly that new claimants for unemployment will have to wait a week to receive benefits.  This passed on a party-line vote, meaning 19 Rs voted for it, while the 14 Ds voted “no” because they don’t like the idea of employers being able to lay someone off for a week, then call them back, without those employees getting paid.

Now it’s up to Gov. Scott Walker (R) to sign this bill so people can start to receive their Extended Benefits.  Many people have been out of EB since 4/16/11, and may only receive another week or two — yet any money beats no money at all, and this is something everyone who worked for an employer has paid into.**  (If you are an independent contractor and have lost your job through no fault of yours, there’s still no remedy for you.  As I am now an independent contractor, I completely understand.)

So now, we’re just waiting on Scott Walker to do his job and sign this bill.   Let’s hope he signs it soon, as there are real people hurting in Wisconsin who need this money.  (If he doesn’t sign it quickly, well, that’s just another reason to recall the man come January 2012.)

As for the whole debt ceiling issue, I am appalled by the final solution.  I know that getting something done was better than nothing at all, but the problem with the solution is that it allowed the most radical, right-wing extremists in the Republican Party to basically hold up everyone else until they got what they wanted.  These people ended up winning the argument because they refused to give in; they refused to do their jobs as politicians, trying to figure out what the “art of the possible” is and made everyone else figure out that the only possible action was to give in to these extremists even though giving in was the wrong thing to do.

My biggest problem remains this one: once you pay the Danegeld, how do you get rid of the Dane?

So we have not defaulted, but the world as a whole has been exposed to the ridiculously petty nature of our politics.  And the world, it appears, dislikes it as much as American citizens do.

Hard to see any “winners” here, including the radical, right-wing extremists, even though they obviously feel they have won.  One would hope once they go back to their states or districts and get a taste of how people are feeling, they will be rudely disabused of that notion, as according to this poll, 77% of Americans feel our elected representatives have “behaved like spoiled children.”

In my opinion, there are no winners in this process; the national debt is still there, and still really isn’t being dealt with, while the lack of revenue in this deal (or, in plain terms, raising taxes or at least allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire) doesn’t help anything, either.   Further, if there was more of a focus on jobs, promoting ways of keeping people employed in order to perhaps keep the tax cuts that the businesses and the wealthy like, maybe we wouldn’t be quite as bad off as we are right now.

It seems to me that the folks in Washington, DC, have a very narrow view of the world.  Perhaps they can’t help it; they meet up with wealthy lobbyists and wealthy business owners and mostly wealthy people day by day, right?  (In order to fund their campaigns, they need these people to help them, because it’s become too expensive to stay in Congress once you’re there without the help of very wealthy people.)

But pegging the tax cuts to the amount of people these businesses employ seems like a very good idea — that way, people would be employed, thus more tax revenue overall would be flowing into the system.  And that way, there’s an impetus for businesses that may be sitting on a lot of money (and many are; don’t kid yourself) to hire, in order to keep the tax breaks they love so much.

That, to my mind, would be a “win-win.” 

————

** Note: A person I respect read me the riot act over Extended Benefits.  All I know is what the folks at Unemployment told me; these are programs people have paid into, and their employers alike . . . I agree that no one ever expected people to have to stay on unemployment over a year.  Nor that we’d still have over 9% reportable unemployment in the US of A, either, which makes it much more difficult to find work.

WI Rs dither over Unemployment Benefits Extension . . . while National Rs Continue their Do-Nothing Ways

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Folks, again I have two topics for discussion.

First, the Wisconsin Republicans have acted up again, refusing to pass a bill to extend unemployment benefits — or, rather, refusing to pass the same, exact bill.  The Republican-controlled Assembly passed a bill that requires a one-week wait for unemployment benefits (a one-week, unpaid wait, at that), while the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill that did not require a wait and passed that decisively, 30-3 in an unusual bipartisan vote.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s headline put it, “Dispute on Jobless Benefits Puts Unemployed in a Bind.”  A relevant quote from the article:

Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly agree they should accept the federal money to allow the unemployed to collect benefits for an extra 13 weeks – in part because that won’t hurt the state’s struggling unemployment insurance fund. But the two houses cannot agree on whether to make laid-off workers wait a week for their initial benefits – a move that would save the fund money.

The main problem is, some in the Assembly believe it will take months to resolve this issue — months, when some Wisconsinites have been out of unemployment since April 16, 2011!  As stated in this article:

“It’s not something we’re going to leave hanging out there,” said Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). “It’s just trying to come to the right answer. We all understand the stakes here.”

The senator’s brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon), has said he wants to fix the problem soon, but added that lawmakers might not be able to do it until September.

As you see — it’s July 22, 2011, right now as it’s just clicked over to midnight as I write this.  Not doing anything until September would indeed take months, at a time when even Republican Gov. Scott  Walker admits that unemployment rates are too high in parts of the state (including my own Racine, WI).

I’m sorry; I agree fully with Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona), who said this:

“It is due to incredible incompetence or coldhearted calculation that we are delaying passage of this bill . . . It’s time we recognized that the workers in Wisconsin that have lost their jobs are not toys to be played with,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said.

Miller is exactly right.  He knows what happened here; the Senate Rs, six of them facing impending recall elections, voted to say they want unemployment extensions done right now and not to wait a week before any worker receives benefits, either — partly because they are facing recall, and this looks good for them.  But the Senate Rs knew full well that the Assembly Rs wouldn’t play ball here; none of them are facing recall (they aren’t eligible for recall until January of ’12), and they don’t seem to be very concerned about the possibility of a recall election, either, as normally their seats would be up at the end of ’12 anyway.

So what the Senate Rs did is this — they figured they’d “have their cake and eat it, too.”  They did this in order to look compassionate, but their real beliefs are probably in line with the Assembly Rs, who aren’t budging and won’t budge, even though many people in Wisconsin haven’t had any unemployment since April 16 of this year and won’t get any until this bill is finally passed.

As of now, the Senate will have to take it up again next Tuesday, July 26, 2011.  They may well not do anything other than affirm their same bill; this will once again allow themselves to look good, while knowing that the Wisconsin unemployed workers remain shut out of the decisions . . . remember, unemployment insurance is not welfare.  It is our right, as workers, as we’ve paid into it and deserve to be able to tap into it when times are very hard and bad (as they are now).

I implore the Wisconsin Legislature, Rs and Ds alike, to do the right thing here.  Pass the unemployment benefits extension now.  Worry about the one-week cut later.

As for anything else, the national Rs also do not impress me with their willingness to work together toward anything.  The deficit talks remain stalled out, with word tonight according to Ed Schultz at MSNBC and Keith Olbermann of Current TV that President Obama has met with both Rs and Ds and wants his “Grand Bargain” to take place.

Don’t know about the “Grand Bargain” yet?  Well, it’s simple — it would cut the deficit by cutting three essential social programs, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security in exchange perhaps for some tax revenue (maybe by raising taxes on the top 1% of the country, maybe by closing tax loopholes).  Yet Social Security is running at a surplus — any short-term “deficit” there is because the Congress keeps raiding the “lock-box,” nothing more — and while I support an end to waste, fraud and abuse in Medicaid and Medicare (including disallowing really expensive medicine — something that costs over $500 monthly and will not add any life expectancy to a cancer victim, say — unless that expensive medicine actually helps to restore life and health to someone so that person can re-enter the work force after his/her health crisis has been taken care of), I do not support any other changes to these essential programs.

Basically, there are now three groups of people in Washington, DC.  Those who will work with others in both parties.  Those who will work with others in their own party only.  And those who won’t work with anyone, period, because they think raising the debt ceiling is morally wrong.  

While I have some sympathy, emotionally anyway, for this last group, no one has ever been sent to Washington, DC, to completely obstruct the process of governing.  Instead, they’re sent to work and make the best deals they can, so refusing to do so is pointless and absurd, not to mention a waste of taxpayer money.  Because last I checked, it’s the taxpayers — i.e., all of us — who pay the salaries of the House of Reps.

So what we have here isn’t just a “failure to communicate,” as the movie actress once said.  It’s a failure to even understand what communication is, much less do anything about it.

And all the while, the United States of America’s credit rating starts to slip . . . people start to worry about losing their jobs (for example, much of the Federal Aviation Administration is being held up due to similar problems and they could end up “furloughed” — meaning they don’t get paid — as early as Saturday) . . . fewer people work, meaning the tax base gets lower overall, meaning the deficit increases.  All very, very bad things.

President Obama, by putting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the table for discussion, has caused some of the Rs — those willing to work at compromise — to salivate at the bit.  But as President, Mr. Obama is supposed to be working on behalf of all Americans, including the least among us.  Those who are ill.  Those who are helpless.  Those who are on fixed incomes, such as those on Social Security who have nothing else.  Not only for the needs of the wealthy, none of those likely to need those three programs.

I stand with Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann tonight (among others), who wonder what this Democratic President is doing by even thinking about cutting these essential programs.  Because it’s just not right to kick anyone when they’re down . . . not the poor, not the disabled, not the helpless, not anyone. 

And that’s all cuts to those three programs will do.  Hurt those who cannot help themselves.

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