Something You Did Not Know About Infrastructure

I haul very heavy oilfield equipment, mostly gas compressors.  Typically once loaded my gross vehicle weight is a quarter of a million pounds.  I am required to buy a permit from each state I enter and they charge a significant fee for such a permit.  This permit tells me what roads I must drive on.  Each permit is a single trip permit and can cost several thousand dollars.  These monies do not generally go into repairing roads and bridges, but go into the general fund.

Now for the part you don’t know.  Virtually every state has a hold harmless clause that states, and I paraphrase here, “This permit does not guarantee that bridges you go under are tall enough for you to fit, and does not guarantee the bridges you drive over are strong enough to hold you up.  THE DRIVER has ultimate responsibility to verify safe passage.  Do not deviate from this route, but all destruction is the responsibility of the driver.

What’s wrong with this picture–and do you feel safer now?

An Occupy Wall Street Analogy

There is an Urban Legend among truck drivers, about a driver delivering to a warehouse. Now this particular warehouse, he particularly hates to deliver to. Usually, after a driver opens his trailer doors and backs into the dock, he gets to spend precious bunk time while waiting to load or unload. Not at this warehouse. When he backs into the dock and goes in to let them know he’s ready, they casually point to a forklift and ignore him. The meaning being he does it for himself and gets no additional sleep.

Well, one fine day while driving to the warehouse, the driver worked out a plan. He backed into the dock, went in and announced he was ready. He was directed to the forklift. He climbed aboard, fired it up and aimed it for an empty bay door, jumping off right before it sailed out, crashing ruinously to the ground below.

Hearing the great crash, the warehouse managers came running out, demanding to know who did this. “I did,” the truck driver said, “but I think I know what I did wrong. If you get me another forklift, I think I can do better next time.” So, what did the warehouse managers do?

A) Hastily agree and provided the truck driver with another forklift?
B) Demand the driver leave immediately, ban him from the property but maintain the same policies?
C) Hire trained forklift operators and ban any truck drivers from operating them?

Since this is an urban legend, there are no wrong answers.

Now we see Lehman Brothers, laying in crushed wreckage in the throes of dying quivers. Government Treasury Agents demand to know who is responsible. ShitiGroup, Skank Of America, Golden Sacks, Sterrill Mynsch, said they were. “Sorry about your busted economy,” the ring of professional check kiters declared, “but if you give us $700 Billion dollars, we think we can do better next time. If not, I’m afraid we’ll all have to jump.” So what did the Government agents do?

Well, we did get Dodd-Frank, and a consumer protection agency. Of course Dodd won’t be running for reelection due to pending employment in the financial industry, leaving loopholes in the legislation big enough that our tired truck driver can turn around in. And the Consumer Protection Agency is yet leaderless, the best choice kicked to the curb–Elizabeth Warren.

It is painfully and crystal clear that something is deeply wrong in America. Those who occupy Wall Street, and their Brethren (and Sistren!) with like protests across America are demonstrating frustration with our Government. Corporations and banks and bond traders will do all they can to make as much money as they can–from the rest of us. Unfettered, raw, free range capitalism has only one end in all the history of the world–all the money and power in the hands of the very few and a powerless terrified everybody else. That is not the America I know and love and it is what the Occupy Wall Street movement is fighting to prevent.

cross posted at my place.

The Empire Strikes Back

So the Banksters took a big shitpile of glass shards, bent nails, Dioxin and fourteen pages of quadratic equations, stuffed it into a box and slapped a label on it that said “Breast Milk.”  They walked over to the credit rating agencies for some shiny, gold plated, triple AAA rating wrapping paper that they purchased for top dollar.  Duped investors said, “Ooh, shiny!”  and as they say, the rest is history.

Seems investors don’t like it when they are sold rat shit labeled raisins, and they tend to have legal access.  Well, investors are currently trying to sue the shit out of the Banksters for foisting the big shitpile on them, which crashed the world economy, but more seriously, dented Aunt Darla’s dividends.  But the Banksters point to the rating agencies which declared the “Breast Milk” to be as safe as, well, mothers milk.  Alas, the rating agencies are protected from such nuisance suits, because clearly, all they offer is an opinion, bought and paid for by the seller.

Enter Tom Coburn, the Gadfly of the Senate.  Yes, he’s my Senator from Oklahoma, goofy as hell, and as predictable as lightning strikes.  His committee strips the protective armor from the rating agencies–leaving them naked before a horde of furious investors.  This at the tail end of months of hearings where everyone and his dog said what a massive failure the credit rating agencies are.

So, try for just a minute to place yourself in the shoes of the dude that is the leader of one of the three credit rating agencies being treated like a tackling dummy by 7,000 lb rotweillers staring down the business end of galactic lawsuits calling you the black hole that sucks up entire cosmos.  The banksters that paid you simply dig their toe in the said and say, “well, they gave it a good rating.”  The entire shitpile falls on you and you sit naked and defenseless before the people.  What should you do?  Contrition, mea culpa, huminahuminahumina?

Well, David Beers, with Standard and Poor, held a closed door meeting with republicans, and although we have no idea what was said, it would be irresponsible not to speculate.  “Get these Motherfuckers offa me,” Beers may have said, “and I will give that Kenyan interloper that has dirty Muslim sex in our nice clean White House such a beatdown that people would even vote for the quitter from twitter!”  So the republicans set aside the ability to sue the credit agencies, letting Mr. Beers out of the trunk, so to speak.  The rest looked something like this:


To The Victor Goes The Spoils

To The Victor Goes The Spoils.

We were stunned at the stolen Presidential election in 2000 and watched in horror as they kicked open the doors of the Treasury to pay off their base. We screamed aghast as they unleashed mechanized doom on Iraqistan with mercenaries, no bid contracts and armed forces, but our screams fell dead on our lips, muted and silent in the face of a ten billion decibel rightard wurlitzer calling us traitors.
Because To The Victor Goes The Spoils.
We were dismayed at torture and illegal wiretaps and Judges Roberts and Alito, but To The Victor Goes The Spoils.  For 8 years not a program denied or veto used as the national credit card was bumped 7 times.

Because To The Victor Goes The Spoils.

Our country was being destroyed, and honestly, we wanted some of them spoils.  We organized and phone banked and emailed and held registration drives–it took six years to put together enough clout to wrench control of The House from the Republicans and two more years for a supermajority in the Senate and the Presidency as well.

To The Victor Goes The Spoils.

I can’t say I was, am or ever will be in a mood to bargain with plutocrats, bigots, fundies or teahadists.  What I wanted them to do was to go get our money back and buy me a shiny new massive government takeover of healthcare, but what I got was a warmed over Republican plan of Corporate welfare.  What I wanted was massive firing and arrests on Wall Street Billion Dollar check kiters, but I watched them get bailout money and bonuses.  Wars continue and new ones start before old ones wind down.  Illegal wiretapping continues and still no prosecutions for anything whatsoever, unless it’s for prescription marijuana.

Chris Matthews tells me I’m being unreasonable with my demands.  That politics is the art of the possible.  After witnessing 6 years of rampant, unchecked Republican scorched earth policies, I have a pretty good idea of what is possible.  If the President and the Democrats we worked so hard to get elected merely stop the destructive policies in place and neither repeal them or replace them with corrective measures, then we still have destructive policies in place.  Mr. Mathews says Obama needn’t worry about his base not turning out, showing strong support in recent polls.  Perhaps Chris should check the 2010 polls where the Democrats lost the House and several Senate seats.

Even if those dastardly republicans and karl Rove and the Koch Teahadists and Joe Lieberman were the only things blocking true progressive policies, I would be more convinced the President was for the people with aggressive prosecutions of war criminals, banksters, Telecom companies and FISA violations, banksters, contractors and did I mention banksters?

Banksters bilked little old ladies out of their life savings, and got bailed out plus bonuses; a policy continued under this President.  And now, we hear rumors they want her Social Security check too.  The Democrats are prepared to take a carving knife to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid so hedge fund managers don’t have to pay more in taxes.  Instead of jailing them President Obama hires them or courts them for campaign cash.

Those of us looking out for grandma are called retards, are flushing money down the toilet for backing blue dog dem primary opponents, or we need to be drug tested.  Just doesn’t feel like Victory to me and I’m a long fucking ways from being spoiled.  Go Big or Go Home.

Five Easy Pieces

What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.  It’s an old sales slogan that means break things down where one does not become overwhelmed with daunting tasks.

Like ending two wars.

Like fixing the housing crisis.

Like ending discrimination against women, gays, minorities and union members.

Like global warming.

Like legalized bribery of politicians.

Like voters reelecting batshit stupid candidates.

You get the picture.  Lady Hamsher wants some plow horses to cobble together scorecards to hold candidates accountable for prior votes.  They can be a formidable weapon, once established, and we are woefully behind in this area.  Sure, every leftist interest group has one, but these veal penners are compromised.

Remember Lieberman’s vote for cloture on Alito?  That vote was not scored by NARAL, only his vote against Alito for Supreme Court was, which gave “short ride” an unblemished scorecard by NARAL National.  It is a good goal, a worthy goal, for us to formulate a scorecard that is independent of big donors threatening funding for us not wearing gloves.

But I see another path we should take at the same time.  Mirrors are great, they give patterns of behavior, but we need an agenda for the future.  I would like to see us put together something like a platform, very clean, very simple–spartan even.

Perhaps the Five Easy Pieces should be split in two–Five I shall and Five I shall not.  To do this we need to address extremism.  Do we build an extreme leftist platform giving cover to hippy punchers, but strategically steer our ship of state slowly leftward, or do we build a platform of actual achievable goals.

Both have solid points, but in my mind the former builds in disappointment and perpetuates the “unserious liberal” label we all bear.  I feel it is worth discussion and the scorecard is important, but we really must have a small, serious and unswerving list of “things to do” if people want our votes.

I’ll open the floor for ideas.

Oh, and make it official, join.

Take The Deal

I know, I know, I’ll probably lose my firedoglake blogging privileges for this post…but, I endorse the begrudging acceptance of this deal.  Should the upper marginal tax rate been unhinged from the rest of the Bush tax cuts before the election and voted on?  Absolutely, but we can’t put shit back into the donkey and we have plenty of donkeys already too full of shit anyways.

Republicans will do nothing until they get tax cuts for millionaires, period.  Oh, 9/11 rescue people are yakking up bloody lung cookies think they need a doctor?  Tough, give us bankster bailout tax cuts.  Babies for unemployed are crying for milk during Christmas?  Give ’em a Kleenex, we want tax cuts for billion dollar Wall Street check kiters.  Soviet loose nukes are outing gays in the military swelling the ranks of unemployed?  Extend Dick Cheney’s tax break and we’ll talk.

I get it.  Republicans are dicks.  Well, not really since a dick serves a useful function, but they have made it clear that they are willing to plug up the plumbing worse than if someone ate a brick of velveeta cheese.  But the question remains is it possible to get anything done whatsoever with the Republican party absolutely dedicated to getting tax cuts extended for their Billionaire BFF’s?  No.

Will they blink if we do this and that and the other thing?  If people are asking this they haven’t been paying attention.  Besides, by not playing absolute brinksmanship, it removes the option of demonstrating the republicans are absolutely in the pocket of the wealthy.  I cannot fault the President for seeing an epic logjam in his face with no one seeking a path through.  Certainly not Harry Reid, what, are you fucking kidding me?

He knew what the Republicans had to have, hell, everybody knows what the Republicans had to have.  Nothing, and I mean nothing was going through the lame duck until the Republicans got what they wanted, so he stacked in some stuff he wanted and broke the log jam.  Do I like extending the Bush tax cuts for Bush donors?  No.  The POS estate tax compromise is outrageous.  But he broke the logjam and won some concessions from an intransigent party.

Further than this issue, progressives are left wandering if the President has anything, anything at all he is uncompromising on.  What, for the middle class, is he willing to go to the mat for?  If the President is looking to me for advice, I shudder at the possibility, I would council him to go before the House of Representatives, cameras rolling, and declare unequivocally that this deal is meant to get us past this hump and at the end of the this two year extension of tax cuts for millionaires his veto pen awaits any attempt to extend it further.  And he will go to the mat.  If he does this, I may change my schedule from fishing to voting for his re-election.

The War Tax

photo: Lisa Norwood via Flickr

The conversation of late has turned toward deficit and debt reduction.  Speaker Pelosi introduced Pay-Go, which forced all new programs to be deficit neutral after the previous congress squandered a budget surplus and created massive deficits.  Most politicians agree with the pay-go concept, with two exceptions–natural disasters and times of war.

I take issue with the war exception.  First of all, no one formally declares war anymore, but if we commit troops we should commit to pay for it.

We cannot hold our wealth as more precious than the blood of Americans in the line of fire.

Our military has civilian leadership that is accountable to the voters.  Perhaps it is an agonizing decision for a President to place soldiers in harm’s way, but it should be a shared decision.  When troops are dispatched an instant tax should be levied, one that shows up on the very next paycheck.  People who file annually would get a bill, payable in 30 days, every 30 days the conflict is ongoing.

When a President “doubles down” with a troop surge, the tax doubles.  All conflicts are paid as they are fought–funded through a progressive tax scale.  Contracts would be limited to a 10% profit, reviewed by a Blue-Ribbon panel headed by Elizabeth Warren and Paul Krugman.

Naturally, military personnel, their immediate families (parents for those under 21) would be exempt, since their sacrifice is indeed far greater.  When the conflict ends, the tax is eliminated and we leave no debt for our Grandchildren.

I feel if everyone has to pay, the neocons and war-cheerleaders won’t have as much sway in creating such a trigger-happy country.

Food Sunday: A Bucket Of Whistle Fruit

Pinto beans soaking. (photo: jpwbee via Flickr)

The lowly bean.  Pinto beans are what I use, and this will be a comprehensive post on how I fashion a bucket of whistle fruit.  Mine are somewhat legendary due to some personal tweaks.

First off, start with the bucket, or pot.  I use a big dutch oven for a bean pot due to the thickness.  I’ve found cheap, thin-walled pots are way too likely to scorch beans, especially cooking two pounds at once, and it makes no sense making less because left-over beans are far better than the first time around.

The actual ingredients are simple.  Two pounds of pinto beans, cleared of lava rocks and rinsed thoroughly.  Lots of garlic.  I’ve heard you can use too much, but it hasn’t happened to me.  Three ham hocks.  I’ve tried lot’s of other pork products and nothing works better than the hock.  Seems like they are getting smaller and meaner these days. About half of a big old ugly onion if you have one laying around and goofing off.  And salt and pepper.

Boil them beans.  Some people say boil the beans, remove from heat and let them soak overnight. Strain, re-rinse and return to the stovetop.  Okay, fine.  I’m down with all that, but you don’t have to. The main thing is three boil-downs.  Fill the pot with beans and water and start a gentle boil.  When the water level is low, add more water. I usually have a small saucepan with boiling water ready to pour in, that way the cooking process is never slowed.

Also, throw in the hocks and diced onion at the beginning of the cooking process.  If you do an overnight soak, add the hocks and onions the following day.  Add the garlic too, but whatever you do, do NOT add salt.  Salt defeats the osmotic pressure that allows the transference of water only through a semi-permeable membrane (ie bean skin) and results in hard beans.  . . . (more…)

Weather Predictions

In the waning hours of the mid term elections, I thought I would provide a brief respite from all of the sound and fury.  I though about this the other day when I awoke in Hillsboro, TX to find spider webs clinging to light poles, highline wires, radio antennas and just about everything.  Having read Charlotte’s Web as a child, I knew this meant the spiders had hatched and the tiny ones were being scattered to the wind, using thin strands of web for sails.

But, through another book I knew it meant something else.  The weather forecast for the next 3-5 days was clear, calm and dry.  The book I speak of is The Old Famers Almanac.

Now, I have never been a farmer, but my work of hauling oversized loads requires me to be parked by sunset in most states and The Almanac has a very handy guide for sunrise and sunset for most major metro areas.  I loved the pithy quotes they have sprinkled throughout and interesting stories, but the bedrock of The Almanac is long term weather forecasting.  Not too many weather computers existed when they began publishing in 1792, so they had to use other methods.

One issue I read years ago, the editor was addressing forecast methodology.  He explained the Old Farmers Almanac’s methods were proprietary and could not get into specifics, but maintained that coupled with new high tech computers, they keep one foot firmly planted in the past tried and true methods.  He explained that when a weatherman of a major metro area gets too many forecasts wrong, he gets bumped to a smaller market, but when insects and animals get it wrong, they die.

I recall as a child going to my Great Grandparents house in the country.  My Great Grandmother, Maude, would point to anthills,  “Look how tall those anthills are!  Gonna be a bad winter.”  A trip to the root cellar revealed mice nesting early.  “Gonna have a drought this summer.”  Yep.  Both times.

These observations have always fascinated me and with the hectic pace life flies by, we often miss what nature is saying.  The smallest town I have ever lived in had 270,000 people, and that was Riverside, CA.  Next week I’m closing on 8.5 acres in a town boasting a population of 289.

What clever observations do you know about when it comes to weather forecasting?  Let me know in the comments.