Monday, June 29, 2015

Death by Irritable Judge

Part of the latest Supreme Court decision allowing executions to resume in Oklahoma says, in effect, "So what if it hurts." Evidently Justice Scalia and his right wing court bench pals wouldn't mind going back to the good old days, when people were executed like this.
 Just when you thought it was safe to assume again that reason will somehow prevail at the United States Supreme Court, we have a ruling with the usual 5-4 split that torturing people to death with a chemical cocktail that sometimes seems to inflict searing pain is just hunky-dory. 

So we’re back to the 12th Century, unless frying condemned prisoners from the inside out and letting them die in agony over many minutes — including some prisoners who may turn out to be innocent — is your idea of justice.

Justice Sotomayor, one of the four Supreme Court dissenters, summed up my sentiments exactly:
Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment — the chemical equivalent of being burned alive,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “But under the court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death or actually burned at the stake.”
The right wing majority seems to want death at any cost, whether the condemned person is innocent or guilty. Pain? So what’s a little pain? Or a lot of pain? Even people who aren’t executed sometimes die in pain,  Justice Alito argued, according to the New York Times. And besides, who says that a man, supposedly anesthetized and in the midst of his own execution, is feeling pain just because, while supposedly unconscious and paralyzed, he tries to sit up, writhing and gasping, his face contorted?

Then we had  Justice Scalia, playing the new conservative game of co-opting the liberal point of view and then claiming that such a point of view should result in a conservative outcome.
We federal judges,” Justice Scalia continued, “live in a world apart from the vast majority of Americans. After work, we retire to homes in placid suburbia or to high-rise co-ops with guards at the door. We are not confronted with the threat of violence that is ever present in many Americans’ everyday lives. The suggestion that the incremental deterrent effect of capital punishment does not seem ‘significant’ reflects, it seems to me, a let-them-eat-cake obliviousness to the needs of others. Let the people decide how much incremental deterrence is appropriate.”
The trouble with Scalia’s argument is that people who have been subject to violence in their everyday lives, don’t think “incremental deterrence” like capital punishment is appropriate. Take the survivors of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. When members of their congregation  were murdered by the white racist thug Dylann Roof (who was taking advantage of the right wing Supreme Court ruling on the meaning of the Second Amendment) they forgave their assailant. It’s Justice Scalia, living in his own protected real estate, who wants to see a body hanging from a tree. Or tortured to death on a gurney. Or however it is he wants the execution to be committed.

But I’ll give nearly the last word to a letter writer to the Times who observed:
The countries that practice the death penalty are (in order of the number of executions: 1. China, 2. Iran, 3. Saudi Arabia, 4. United States, 5. Pakistan,
6, Yemen, 7, North Korea, 8. Vietnam and 9. Libya. Distinguished company eh? And hey, we're number 4!

If Sharia Law ever arrives in this country, Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas and maybe even Kennedy will probably welcome it with open arms. Well actually, they already have.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What you can do with your so-called gun rights. Not to mention the constitutional amendment it rode in on.

I’ve had it. From the Texas Tower sniper back in the 1960s (16 dead, 32 wounded) to the most recent Charleston church incident (9 dead, I’m not sure how many wounded) casual mass murders by some nut, or pathological hater who had no trouble getting his hands on a gun has become as American as the Fourth of July. Well, actually a lot more so. The Fourth of July only happens once a year.

And every time somebody tries to do something about the mass shootings — for example, gun licensing, background checks to eliminate criminals and mental cases, limits on magazine sizes, — the gun lobby, and all the people who suckle and snarf and drool at its toxic teat, go into meltdown mode. Because it’s all about Freedom. It’s all about Our Way of Life. It’s all about Defenses Against Tyranny. It’s all about Crazed Agitators Grabbing Our Guns. And so on.

Well, I’ve had it. I’m fed up. I’m disgusted. I’m outraged. So I’m about to say something terribly rude to the gun rights people — the NRA, the so-called sportsmen, the bought- and-paid-for legislators, the alleged purist strict constructionists, the self-defensers, the stand-your-grounders, the corrupt lobbyists who corrupt the lawmakers and manipulate the suckers. And so on.

Screw you. 

No, I take that back. I apologize. I didn’t mean to say that. That was too tame.

What I meant to say was fuck you. And fuck the Second Amendment. I’m tired of seeing apologists and lawmakers, even liberal ones, twist themselves intro knots that a Boy Scout couldn’t untie in order to kowtow to you. You know the kind of sniveling crap I’m talking about.

 “Yes, I’m 100 percent for gun rights, except I’d want to make sure the buyer has never spent idle days and nights counting his toenails clippings in the looney bin.” 

“Yes, I want to take guns away from criminals. Not sportsmen. Just criminals. I’m a hunter too.”

“I just want to keep guns out of the hands of felons. Well, out of the hands of convicted felons. Well, only out of the hands of convicted felons who’ve already killed somebody. Well…”

Well screw that. You take these baby steps and the NRA and the gun nuts foam at the mouth, and saliva drips from their jaws while they quote a literally demented actor who babbled about taking a gun from his cold dead hands. 

Next, the lobbyists threaten spineless lawmakers. The lawmakers back off. Another week or so goes by. And then another two, or five, or nine, or twenty innocent people get mowed down again, like weeds in front of a lawn tractor, by yet another enraged boyfriend, or blood lusting hater, or paranoid schizophrenic with an easy-to-get gun.

It’s time to stop that the only way that most assuredly will work. It’s a method based on the simple principle that if you don’t have access to a gun, you can't kill anybody with it.

So it’s time we gave the gun nuts something they could really foam at the mouth about. Let’s make their worst paranoid nightmares come true. Let’s actually  grab their guns.  Grab them and take them away forever. Let’s do it by building, however long it takes, a movement to repeal the Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment made sense when most armies had precious few weapons more powerful than a blunderbuss or a front-loading single ball rifle. Yeah, sometimes they also had a few brass cannon, if they could truck those extremely heavy objects by horse drawn vehicle through the roadless woods  that made up most of what is now the United States of America. Most of the time they just made do with lead shot and powder horns. So if  anybody invaded us, the scales were balanced. A militia of soldier-farmers hiding behind trees, could easily poke the invaders’ pretty red coats full of ugly black holes. The Second Amendment made sense then.

The Second Amendment also made sense out on the Great Plains, when you couldn’t call the cops because there was no such thing as a cop, or a telephone, or a cell phone, or a radio car — and by the time your nearest neighbors from two miles over the hill found you bleeding on the dirt floor of your cabin, the victim of a wayfaring psychopath or a pissed off tribe of Native Americans who didn’t like trespassers like you on their land, it would have been too late to defend yourself.

But now it makes no sense. You’re afraid of tyranny? You’re going to hold off invading tyrants, or a suddenly run amok United States Government with your AR-15? Or your Glock? Gimme a break. 

They’ll roll over you with a tank. They’ll bomb you from a drone. They’ll blow you apart with a howitzer before you can see the whites of  their eyes —  or the bellies of their airplanes. You’re helpless against invading armies, whether they’re armies of local revolutionaries, or armies of an invading nation, or armies of a self-declared tribe of rapists and robbers under the control of a mad warlord. That’s why we have police departments. And sheriffs departments. And the National Guard. And the United States Army.

If defense had to be conducted by individuals with guns today, the United States of America would turn into another Syria before you could shout “Second Amendment” from your outhouse. There’d be roaming bands of armed private militias mowing down anybody they didn’t like. Not to mention cutting off heads and disemboweling babies. There’d be chaos, and anarchy, and disruption, and whole towns turned to rubble.

Fortunately, we’ve got one of the biggest armed protective establishments in the history of the world. And we need that in part because you’ve still got your weapons and therefore you're a public menace that has to be kept under control.

All those pistols and rifles are good for only one purpose. And that purpose is to kill  something or more likely, somebody. Moreover we have to spend a huge part of the national treasure trying to keep you from doing that. And yet, every week, or two, or three, somebody slips through the net and does it again anyway.

So go shove it. If you have a deep, emotional need for a gun or a rifle, it’s because at some level you have a deep, emotional need to kill something or somebody. Which means you’re a psychopath. You’re not fit for civilized society. You need to be locked in a concrete hole behind barbed wire and left there to rot.

The people need to take your gun away from you before you kill some innocent person with it. Or even somebody’s dog. If you still feel an abiding need to kill, take a fly swatter and go to a garbage dump and swat flies. Or pull their wings off, if it takes that to make you feel virile and powerful. Tell you what. You can even eat them.

It’s time to  grab guns. It’s time to grow a movement to repeal the Second Amendment.. Like the Divine Right of Kings, the Second Amendment is a relic of an era that went away and will never come back. Good riddance to the era. And now, let’s start saying good riddance to the guns left over from it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

AIG, a Federal judge, a bad decision, the Bible, unbridled greed — and the difference between a wise man, a sadist, and a nincompoop

The difference between King Solomon and 
Federa lJudge Thomas C. Wheeler is that 
when Solomon ran a courtroom, the 
baby would survive.
So let us begin this tale of contemporary idiocy with a considerably older tale of wisdom, from the Bible. 

You’re probably familiar with it. Two women are disputing  who is the true mother of a baby. And just for some gratuitous fun and speculation, the Bible mentions that both women are hookers.  The hooker moms go to the top guy in Jerusalem, King Solomon, to settle their dispute. Solomon, known for his extraordinary wisdom, listens to their stories.

Two hookers and a sword

It’s the kind of he-said, she-said arguing — and probably screaming, and glaring, and interrupting, and spitting, and unbridled rage — that would give Judge Judy a headache, never mind Solomon. 

Finally the kingly decider has had enough. He calls for his sword. Solomon tells the women, that’s it! He’s had it! He’s going to be fair. He’s going to chop the baby in half and give each woman an equal share. I don't need to point out that Solomon made a formidably sadistic declaration. Imagine the suffering of a real mother, thinking the all-powerful king is going to kill her infant child.

The real mother is naturally distraught. She doesn’t want her baby sliced up for the human equivalent of lamb chops. She begs King Solomon to give the baby to the other woman. At that point, Solomon decides that a woman who’d rather give the baby away than see it slaughtered must be the real mother. And while it’s several thousand years too late to read Solomon’s mind, it’s possible he thought that even if she wasn’t the real mother, she’d be a better mom to the kid than a woman who says, in effect, “Go ahead, slice him up. Fair is fair, as long as I get half the body parts.” 

Mortgage meltdown madness

So now let us jump ahead to the first decade of the 21st Century. The United States has suffered a mortgage meltdown that threatens the entire U.S. economy and the funds that every depositor has in just about every bank. At the center of this mess is securitized mortgage derivative insurance. This kind of insurance is essentially a wildly irresponsible abstraction of an abstraction. It has been invented by AIG, a greedy insurance company, to rake in bucks — on the theory that guhzillions of securitized subprime mortgages are going to get paid off and the insurance that AIG is charging for will never be needed.

AIG probably could have done better shooting craps in Las Vegas. The whole mortgage market melts down. AIG can't pay the insured banks. So now the banks are teetering on the edge of failure.

Having made a considerable contribution to wrecking the economy, AIG has also wrecked itself and is about to go bankrupt. This will leave AIG’s customers, the banks who’ve spent their depositors’ money on worthless derivative securities, with nothing to collect on their insurance policies. Ditto AIG’s own shareholders, who now own essentially worthless AIG stock. 

Who will get stuck with the multi-billion dollar bill for replenishing the money that the banks have lost because their AIG derivative insurance  didn't work? Why poor citizens like you and me, of course. The “little people.” That’s because our deposits are insured by a reliable insurance company, the FDIC, and the government through FDIC will now will have to spend our tax money put back into the busted bank accounts. If deposits weren’t insured, nobody would ever deposit a nickel in a bank.

Fortunately the United States Federal Reserve  rides to the rescue. It seizes control of  nearly 80 percent of the worthless insurance company. Your bank deposits and mine are saved as the government shells out tons of money to cover meltdown lossses. The AIG shareholders end up slightly less screwed than they were before the Feds took over their vcompany. They get back 20 cents on the dollar.  Actually, that’s a pretty good deal. As one adviser to AIG put it, “20 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.”

AIG gets reorganized and survives. The U.S. taxpayers get back all the money they spent to rescue AIG, plus a $20 billion profit – proving that governments taking over businesses not only don’t create a bottomless hole, but can actually do the taxpayers a favor. And also that sometimes government is a whole lot smarter about running a business than private enterprise.

The economy recovers. AIG is back in business. So are the banks that AIG only pretended to insure. AIG’s greedy  executives reward themselves for being saved by the government from their own incompetence and greed  by paying themselves fat, juicy bonuses.

The Ace of Greed

But then Maurice Greenberg — “Ace” Greenberg as he’s known on Wall Street – feels the sap rising in own his bloated greed gland. Big sums of money have been involved in the death and rebirth of AIG, and he, as former AIG chief exec, wants more of it. He sues “on behalf of the shareholders” among whom he was a very big one, for more money. Remember, had the government not seized AIG, he’d have gotten nothing, nothing, nothing. Ditto the investors. That’s gratitude among the one percent for you. I jump into a raging whirlpool where you're drowning and pull you to safety. You then turn around and sue me for pulling your hair.

Greenberg's case gets tried before a judge at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims named Thomas C. Wheeler. Wheeler must be from Mars, or someplace else in outer space.  Wheeler rules that the 20 percent on the dollar the U.S. gave the bankrupt stockholders was “draconian.” In exchange for not letting the stockholders go bankrupt, the Feds should have given the stockholders even more money, says the judge. Therefore, the takeover was illegal, the judge somehow decides.

K want to know what the Judge was smoking. Maybe he was crushing stupid pills and smoking them in a crack pipe. But perhaps he was only sniffing eau d'Ayn Rand. Hey, what can you expect? He was appointed by Jeb Bush's brother, George Bush.

Now, to quote the Dealbook Column in the New York Times earlier this week:
The judge’s decision could have far-reaching consequences should another financial crisis occur — and if history is any guide, one will. Legal experts say that the ruling, coupled with certain provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law enacted after the crisis, makes it unlikely the government would ever rescue a failing institution, even if an intervention was warranted.
What all that boils down to is, the next time we have a meltdown, the entire United States economy could end up looking like 12th Century Yemen.

Blood, guts, dead babies, and 
 judicial nincompoopery

In fact, even the judge must have realized, at some level, that his call was worthy of a nincompoop. So then, to appear more fair minded, he went and cut the baby in half. He awarded The Ace of Greed and his fellow shareholders the good news that they’d won on principle. The nasty old government should have rewarded their failure with even more money.Then, to balance things out, he gave them the bad news that they weren’t getting any more money anyway. 

The difference between King Solomonm and Judge Wheeler is that Wheeler actually did cut the baby in half. And all that  baby blood and baby guts, spilling all over the courtroom, are what was once the future economic stability of the United States.

So Judge Wheeler is a nincompoop, the economy is in peril, and the case may eventually wend its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court where, considering the court’s recent history, a court majority that sounds like a musical ensemble called The Scalia Five will pull the plug on what was once a great nation.

You’d think that an economy once as big and as burgeoning as ours would be so strong that it would be idiot proof. But as somebody — I don’t remember who — once said, “Nothing is idiot proof. The idiots are too damn clever.”

Hey, hand me a sword and one of those babies. I’m feeling hungry.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Donald Trump's Republican presidential bid fails to intimidate The New York Crank

This is not the New York Crank or Donald
Trump. It's just another joker who could
join the clown car at the Republican circus.
New York City: In an attempt to intimidate the New York Crank in his bid for the Republican presidential candidacy, Donald Trump has declared his own candidacy, but The  Crank said that he is not intimidated.

Trump announced during his campaign launch not only that he is running, but that he intends to wall off the entire border with Mexico and "I will make Mexico pay for it."

A spokesman for The New York Crank commented that, "Mr. Trump's declaration about the wall is completely consistent with the Republican philosophy of spending money profligately and then making somebody poorer than you pay for it. On behalf of all our like-minded Republican friends, we applaud Mr. Trump for his greeted and overinflated ego."

The spokesman went on to insist that Trump is attempting to scare The New York Crank into quitting his own race so that Trump can capture The Crank's votes, and also that the specter of players like The Crank will force Trump out of the running entirely

"The Crank frightened? That is balderdash," said The Crank's spokesman. "It's nonsense. It's bushwah. It's baloney. It's bullpoop. All Trump is doing is demonstrating The Crank's point that there are so many Republican clowns — or is 'Republican clowns' a redundancy? — there are so many Republican clowns seeking the nomination that a poor old guy with a formerly Democratic background like The New York Crank has no worse of a chance of becoming President than Donald Trump with all his billions."

Later, The Crank himself emerged from an all-night meeting with his advisors and said, "We are in this to the bitter end. You do not intimidate me, Mr. Trump. Nor am I even slightly concerned that you currently have enough loose change rattling around in your pants to outspend me. When you have barely enough people supporting you to win a sewer board election in Goes, Ohio, you're just another joke."

Friday, June 05, 2015

New York Crank announces he is running for the Republican presidential nomination

A recent artist's drawing of The New York Crank. Signed and numbered copies will
be given to the first fifty members of the One Percent who contribute $50 million or
more to the Crank's campaign. However, all cash contributions from grateful PACs
 will be accepted and appreciated, plus you get a free night in the Lincoln Bedroom.

NEW YORK: The New York Crank, a curmudgeonly old fogey who for a long time has cleverly passed himself off as some kind of a liberal-left, internationally progressive, socially-permissive, economically-Keynsian, democratic-socialist-leaning, redundancy-loving Democrat has announced that he will run for nomination as the Republican candidate for President of the United States.

“I am finally coming out and declaring what I really am,” he said in his announcement speech. “I am a Tea Party Wing Republican. And I would welcome a generous campaign contribution from the Koch Brothers. But I’m not greedy like some Republican candidates I could name. Half a billion dollars would be plenty for me.”

The Crank promised that if nominated and then elected as President, he would put the interests of his largest campaign donors “miles ahead” of the perceived interests of the masses of voters.

“You have to remember,” said the Crank, “that although few people realize it yet, the interests of the nation are the interests of the largest campaign donors. The people who are making and keeping the most money are the same ones who are raising the average income and average net worth of the American people. It’s  simple Ayn Randian economics, or as I like to all it, RSM — Real Simple Math.”

Asked to justify his point of view he explained, “If you have one person making a dollar a week, and one person making a million dollars a week, their average income is half a million bucks and fifty cents a week. Now I ask you, what hard-working Joe The Plumber-type patriotic American wouldn’t want to have an average income as high as that? And who’s going to tell me that high average incomes aren’t good for America? It's elementary dribble-out, spritz around economics. And also, I think, the Law of Averages.”

Asked why he had chosen this moment to announce his candidacy, the Crank said he felt he had to do so at this time because, “There are already more Republican candidates than you can count on the fingers of both hands. I didn’t want to wait until Republican voters run out of toes, too.”

The Crank said he was willing and eager to participate in televised Republican debates, but admitted that the chances of getting an invitation to do so are slim. One possible reason for that, he explained, is that, “I will not become a victim of Big Government paperwork and bureaucracy and petition-signing and all that legalistic Big Government crap. I will simply ask people during the primaries to demand the right to write in my name. New…York…Crank. What part of that can’t you spell? Oh wait, I have Tea Party supporters.”

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

"Clean energy," schmeen energy! When the fine print gets this fine, it gives off the smell of a con artist preying on people concerned about global warming.

Above: part of a scan from the back of a two page order sent to me at junk mail rates by something that calls itself "Clean Energy Option."

Yes, all that mouse type is part of the terms and conditions under which you and I will have have to live if we sign up to get our watts from Clean Energy Option instead of the regular electric utility.

Of course, the other side of this blindingly small type, is an upbeat letter in quite readably large type, from someone named Christy Nagle, that tells me
"It couldn't be easier to convert to clean energy. In fact, you barely have to do anything at all. Just use the form below to obtain your electricity from newer sources."
And the letter adds,
"There's no new equipment needed, no home visit necessary. Use electricity exactly as you do now. Your bill will still come from ConEd. Your supply will come from Clean Energy Option, an Energy Services Compay (ESCO) authorized by the NYS Department of Public Services to sell electricity to residential customers."
Well, Ms. Nagle, I do believe that you are fudging the truth just a teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsy little bit. The juice that comes out of my light socket is exactly the same juice whether I sign up for an ESCO, stay with my public utility ConEdison, or insert a pair of AAA flashlight batteries directly into my nostrils and then plug my tongue into one of my electrical outlets. It's just a bunch of streaming electrons that are set in motion by the Con Edison gas burning plant a mile away from my Manhattan home.

All Ms. Nagle does when I sign up with her is to force Con Ed to buy a piddling number of kilowatt hours from Clean Energy Option. This may or may not result in a tetch less personal carbon usage on my part. It will most certainly result in a lot of book keeping, and higher electric rates for everyone. As for the carbon saved, my suspicion is I could save the world from that much carbon each day simply by pulling Christy's junk mail letters out of every letter carrier's mail bag so that they'll huff and puff less along their mail routes, exhaling less carbon dioxide.

What's in the rest of the fine print? If you decide actually to read those several thousand words, (estimated) please let me know. They're not designed to be read - except maybe in court if your good intentions go awry, and you sue to get your money back. They're written in very small type, and printed on yellow rather than white paper, with the lines closely set together in wide measure, because all those things are known to discourage reading, just as David Ogilvy taught in his 1961 manual, "Confessions of an Advertising Man." (Note, the link is to a much later paperback reprint.)

Oh, a few other things. I googled Christy Nagle and checked out her Linked-In page. Although the signature block on her sales pitch tells me she"s "Customer Releations, Clean Energy Option" her Linked-In page tells me she is in real life, "Director, Acquisition Marketing at Ethical Electric." And although her return address on the hard sell side of the contract is "911 Central Avenue, STE 24, Albany, NY 12206, her Linked-In page tells me that "Ethical Electric" is in Washington, DC.

Oh, and a Googled image of 911 Central Avenue in Albany, NY, indicates a three-story office building, so Suite 24 in the building is likely to be little more than a rented room. Oh, and another view of 911 Central Avenue seems to reveal the building is in a shopping mall. It looks like the kind of place where a 60 Minutes crew would go and knock on a locked door, after which a passerby lugging a bagful of groceries would say, "There ain't been nobody there, mister, for the last eighteen months."

Finally, I whipped out my handy magnifying glass and braved the fine print on the back of this piece of junk mail, looking for the price of my new "clean" juice, should I choose to buy it. They're going to charge me 16.9 cents a kilowatt hour. I checked the not nearly so fine print on my last Con Ed bill. They're only charging 8.6 cents per kilowatt hour, close to half the price.

No wonder Christy's numbers got hidden in the fine print.

Listen folks, I'm for keeping the atmosphere clean and carbon-free, too. But the way to get that done meaningfully is to get our crooked legislators, twist their arms behind their backs really, really hard, until they howl in pain and tears begin streaming down their faces, and demand they pass a law requiring a shift to solar, wind and tide power by the big utilities. Because the next time, Mr. Legislator, you're going to hear your own bones snap!

You can try to do it piecemeal with ESCOs, too. But then you'd better hang on real tight to your wallet. Because behind every letter stroking our good intentions, there's a profiteer waiting to skin us alive.

And if you don't believe me, squint real hard and read the fine print. All the fine print.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

This blog is on vacation

See y 'all the first or second week of June.

I'm about to leave and already American Airlines is announcing a $#@$$%%!! delay.

Who says I'm cranky?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A few well-deserved squawks about what’s wrong with chicken farming — and how it’s going to smack the average American cluck square in the wallet

Let me start this discussion of chickens with a mention of beef steak. You remember beef steak, don’t you? 
Henny Penny told Chicken Licken that
the sky was falling. She didn't know
the half of it.
It came from cattle. It was red and gave off tantalizing aromas as it broiled and charred. It sizzled noisily sometimes. It came off the grill almost black the outside, and pink, juicy, and flavorful on the inside. Sometimes it came attached to a bone that you could gnaw on while your dog sat under the table, begging. And unless you were very  poor you could afford it on a fairly regular basis.

Well, that went away for a lot of people. Cattle growers began discovering that the price of feed was too high because chemical and bioengineering companies had instituted practices that were driving up grain prices. In addition, the price of corn was  driven up by people who were snapping it up not to eat, but to turn into ethanol. Today, we burn up about 10 percent of our corn crop in our automobiles. Check the chart. That annually-growing swatch of yellow metastasis  is corn-derived ethanol.

But there were always chicken and eggs. Eggs were cheap, and for the moment still are, although don’t count on it lasting for long.

And instead of a steak, you could always cook a chicken. Chicken was cheap. Once  the Republican Hoover Administration had been banished for eternity to the Great American Hall of Shame that we call history, there actually  could be a chicken in almost every pot in America, just as Hoover promised. At least on the weekends. As long as Hoover wasn’t around to screw it up.

Recently, that situation has eroded. These days you can pay for just enough ground beef to make a hamburger what you used to pay for a quarter of a pound of imported, line-caught, artisinally-smoked Scottish salmon. Never mind what the salmon costs these days.

That increase in beef prices drove people to chicken in increasingly growing droves. Which in turn inflated the price of chicken. In my supermarket the other day, chicken breasts were selling for something like eight bucks a pound. And now it’s about to get worse.

The New York Times reports a bird flu epidemic in the midwest and west that’s infecting chickens, forcing farmers to slaughter and destroy them. The infections can spread fast. That’s because the chickens are crammed together by the thousands — actually  the hundreds of thousands — in giant Buchenwaldish poultry barns. For example, the Times story mentioned that one egg farm was disposing of “about 5.5 million hens housed in 26 metal barns.” 

Do the arithmetic. We’re talking about over 192,000 hens per barn. Little wonder the USDA says that if you have an outbreak on a farm, every last chicken must die and then be cremated, composted, or buried. You can have enough infected chickens on one farm to infect the planet.

So now it’s a pretty good bet that the price of every kind of animal protein will move up a notch. The price of Scottish smoked salmon will cost what caviar used to cost. Steak will cost like Scottish smoked salmon. Chicken will cost like steak. 

That’s no skin off the noses of the one percent. If you’re earning a couple-a million bucks a year, so you pay 30 bucks extra for a sirloin steak. What’s the big deal? And why are all those middle class and working folks whining again?

As for the rest of us? Well, you remember what Marie Antoinette said. Or what she might have said, had she been living today.

“Let them eat cockroaches.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Banks, crooks, and two news stories that say it all

"I am not a crook". And if you
believe that one, I have 
another: the banks are not 
crooks, either.
The following are excerpts from two Reuters news stories that appeared on the the Reuters website on Monday, May 11th:
Banks prepare defense for anti-Wall Street campaigns - WSJ
May 11 (Reuters) - Top executives from the biggest U.S. banks, concerned about anti-Wall Street rhetoric that is already bubbling up on the 2016 campaign trail, are working to push back against the prevailing narrative that "banks are bad", the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter….

… The banks that took part were JPMorgan Chase & Co , Citigroup Inc , Goldman Sachs Group Inc.,Bank of America Corp., Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York Mellon Corp., and State Street Corp.
Citigroup says could plead guilty to settle FX probe
Citigroup Inc said it could plead guilty to an antitrust charge to resolve a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of its dealings in foreign exchange markets…. 
…Citigroup is one of six major banks that have been under investigation over the past year by global authorities, including the DOJ, for trying to manipulate rates in the $5-trillion-a-day foreign exchange market…. 
…The banks have been accused of sharing confidential information about client orders and coordinating trades from 2008 until October 2013 to boost their own profits.
Any questions?

Monday, May 04, 2015

Senators and lobbyists to America's voters and their kids: "Drop dead!"

Has your home turned into
a killing jar for humans? 
This cranky post will tell you 
whom to thank.
I was eight years old when I learned about trapping and killing butterflies and other insects. It involved a killing jar — essentially a glass jar containing some wadded up cotton soaked in an awful-smelling chemical. The summer camp nature counselor who taught me about this stuff also taught me the name of the chemical. Formaldehyde.

Killing bugs with formaldehyde is no longer the most popular method. The professionals would rather use ethyl acetate, chloroform, or cyanide. Those are considered less harmful to you than formaldehyde. But there is one place where formaldehyde is still wildly  prevalent.  Your home.

Turns out that the glue that holds layers of laminated furniture together – not to mention laminated flooring and even certain items of clothing – is generously laced with formaldehyde, and those items gradually give off formaldehyde fumes. 

No, you’re not likely to keel over dead, like a bug in a jar, after a few seconds . But exposure to formaldehyde over time, even in small amounts, is associated with leukemia, especially myeloid leukemia, nasal cancer, and for good measure, asthma, according to the National Cancer Institute.

So the Environmental Protection Agency has been tying for the past five years to limit how much you can be slowly gassed to death by formaldehyde-laced products. Unfortunately, a small — shall we call it an impediment? — has cropped up: corruptible law makers under the sway of lobbyists with fists full of money.

Start with a guy who has already been labeled “Senator Formaldehyde,” — Republican Senator David Vitter from Louisiana. Although Republicans will tell you they’re not scientists and don’t know diddley squat about climate change, some of them suddenly turn to experts when it comes to formaldehyde. 

Vitter is a case in point. By his actions and things he said, he is implicitly in favor of poisoning of Americans with this subsance. Not a huge surprise considering that since 2009 he has graciously accepted approximately $900,340 in campaign contributions from the chemical industry and other industries that use various poisonous chemicals in the products you, I, and your children use and inhale the gasses from. Hey, the Supreme Court says it ain't bribery. It's merely freedom of speech.

Sad for this cranky old Democrat to say, it’s not just Republicans  like Vitter and Roger Wicker of Mississippi who are guilty of allowing industry to poison us and our kids to make a grubby buck. Senator Barbara Boxer and even the current White House are effectively co-conspirators, the way I read information recently published in a New York Times article.

One of he poisoned furniture and floor lobby’s arcane arguments is the cost of the illness and death their products spew into America. Under the pressure of the poisoners, reports the New York Times…
“the estimated benefit of the proposed rule dropped to $48 million a year, from as much as $278 million a year. The much-reduced amount deeply weakened the agency’s justification for the sometimes costly new testing that would be required under the new rules, a federal official involved in the effort said.’’
In other words, if the lobbyists manage to whittle down the value of your life and health, after a while you and your kids just aren’t worth saving. You're  just another bug in a killing jar. After all, a senator who graciously accepted close to a million bucks from America's Lucrezia Borgias doesn't need to worry about you. Or your stinking vote. You'll be dead anyway.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gas, greed, and the great New York pastrami disaster

Yes, it can kill you, but what a way to go!
I confess to what may be a congenital weakness for sandwiches containing any cut of meat that falls under the general category of “brisket.” That includes the Big Three: corned beef, pastrami, and plain old “brisket of beef.”

All three contain enough animal fat and sodium to send an elephant into cardiac arrest, with enough fat left over to kill the elephant’s pet whale. One ounce of brisket — one measly ounce! — contains seven tenths of a gram of saturated fat, 18 milligrams of cholesterol, and, almost any way it’s prepared, 22 milligrams of sodium. And don’t take my word for it. That’s Google talking.

All this would be perfectly fine and not a hazard to human health if people actually limited themselves to eating an ounce of brisket, or pastrami, or corned beef every now and then. Fat chance! (No pun intended.)

Is it worth your life?
Yeah, probably.

In New York, moderation be damned!  Instead, we have the revered phenomenon of the New York deli sandwich, a gastronomic institution among New Yorkers who have the daring to risk their lives for the richness of great gleaming globules of oily fat mixed with giant doses of blood pressure-raising salt, and in the case of pastrami also a probably-toxic level of smoke particles, (as well as some accompanying animal protein.)

In a New York deli when you order brisket, corned beef, pastrami or some combination thereof, you don’t just get an ounce. You don’t just get two ounces. You don’t just get three, or four, or five, or six, or seven ounces. Or even a little bit more than that.

Instead you get a pile of meat so high that the obligatory rye bread, weakened by rivers of fat oozing from the meat, can’t possibly hold the sandwich together. You get a great, heaping, huge, humongous mountain of adipose protein, so big, and so devastating to the bread above and below it that the sandwich falls apart if you’re foolish enough to pick it up. Instead, you have to eat it with a knife and fork.

Little wonder that my father died at age 67. Or that one of my cousins died at 47. Or that another of my cousins, although he lived to 75, spent the last ten years of his life in a wheel chair after a debilitating stroke at the age of 65. As the Parisians would say, if they lived here instead of in Paris, cherchez le brisket. But of course, if they lived here they wouldn't be Parisians.

Fatal flirtations

Was it worth it?  My deceased relatives would probably tell you,”Yes. Yes it was.” And although I personally am a member of Pastrami Anonymous, every so often I fall off the PA wagon, too. And when I do, I usually wake from my trance to discover that I am sitting at a formica table in a New York deli, in the midst of a sea of pastrami-chomping tourists who are carrying on high risk flirtations with cholesterol as part of their New York gastronomic experience.

And no, I will not tell you where to get the best brisket-stuffed sandwiches in New York. The Second Avenue Deli has its aficionados. So does the Carnegie Deli. So does Katz’s Deli. So did the late, lamented Stage Deli, may it rest in peace and fond memory upon a lake of molten chicken fat. And other delis with their claques include, but are not limited to Sarge’s (founded by a retired Jewish police sergeant I’m told), Mendy’s, and Pastrami Queen. Did I mention Sammy's Roumanian, where they don't even have brisket, but do have pitchers of chicken fat on each table to fatten lubricate the tenderloin steak?

As I said, I’m not getting into a whose-is-best free-for-all.

But I am, finally, getting around to my point.

What it all means

During the past month there have been two separate revelations of  restaurants that offered pastrami also illegally stealing natural gas from utility lines.

The first was the Stage restaurant, (no relation to the original Stage Deli in the theater district). The Stage, in this instance, was a Ukranian restaurant in the East Village that dabbled in pastrami sandwiches (although at $8.70 per, they couldn’t have been nearly as thick as the $16-and-up  tourist-chokers in midtown and elsewhere in town.) 

The second was one of the grand dames of things done to brisket in the name of attracting tourists — the great Carnegie Deli.

Somehow, a scheme I’ll call The Old Ukranian Gas Tap Caper led, through a process I don’t pretend to understand, to a huge and fatal explosion in a neighboring sushi restaurant. Sushi? Fat-free sushi? Blown up by gas from a brisket joint? The details are all a bit muddled, if you ask me. But suddenly city inspectors, or maybe the utility's inspectors, awoke after the Great Pastrami Disaster from a decades-old torpor and began inspecting. And soon after, the Carnegie Deli was caught at the same gas-tapping caper. 

Is this an alert 
for energy-explorers?

The city’s enforcers now seem to be conducting inspections following the maxim – energy explorers please note –that where there’s corned beef and pastrami, you’re likely to find gas. (Yes, damn it, pun intended.) To which I might add,  where there’s gas you'll also find greedy people pumping it at breakneck velocity.

On the other hand, finding gas in the wake of pastrami sandwiches would come as no surprise to my dead relatives.

Eat up.