Saturday, April 28, 2007

Condi in Norway!

I thought I smelled complete and utter incompetence in the air. For the record, there was protesting and massive arrests. Apparently my Norwegian friends aren't too sure about the notion of escalating the situation with Russia just to feel "safe" from Iran and North Korea and do the whole US-missile-shield thing in Europe.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Where's the butter? We got the guns. Part 2

It is tempting after reading part 1 of this post to respond to this information in a couple of ways. Some would say that if Norway is so f'ing great, then perhaps people like me should move there and good riddance. Well, I am here and I can say that it is great. Maybe I'll stay and maybe I won't. That's to be determined.

One could also say that sure, a system like this can work in Norway, but it would never work in the US because the US is too big and couldn't possibly afford something like this. Let's look at those numbers again though.

Norway's taxes = 33% (give or take)
United States' taxes = 31% (give or take)
Difference in social programs between Norway and the United States -- Huge.

One downside of living in Norway, at least for those who find this important, is that it's very difficult to get extremely rich. Theoretically at least. In the US it's also theoretically easy to get rich. I suppose in some ways Americans have opted to play the lottery where they are willing to risk abject poverty in order to live the dream that one day they could be filthy rich. On the flip side, it's very difficult in Norway to be poor. In the US, not so much.

I can't begin to tell you the peace of mind that comes from being in a country with a robust and secure middle class. I think that people here are much more relaxed about money in general. I certainly feel an enormous sense of wellbeing knowing that one little slip in my health or the whim of an employer won't put me in the poor house. I believe that many in the US fear that they will come down with a terrible illness and then find themselves in a a financial hole that they fight for years to get out of. And I failed to mention in part 1 that every employee has an employment contract. Everyone. This means that employers accept the responsibility of taking you on as an employee. Generally this means that there's no such thing as the infamous Friday pink slip.

This sense of security extends to housing too. Apartment leases in Norway are there to protect the tenant in an otherwise inherently imbalanced power situation. Tenants are free to break the terms of the lease at any time given 2-months notice. Landlords on the other hand must have an extremely good reason to break the lease (e.g. repeated failure of the tenant to pay the landlord, keeping animals when the lease says animals aren't permitted, etc.). This is a complete reversal to the way leases work in the States.

But I'm straying from my point. My point in laying all of this out is that money is not the reason America doesn't do these things. I think that Americans pay enough taxes to pull off most, if not all, of what Norway has done. No, the reason America doesn't do this is b/c Americans have been lied to for so long and so vehemently by the military industrial complex that they actually believe that what's best for them is our bloated military budget at the expense of social programs. I think that what America finds itself in is a vicious cycle where Americans feel extremely unsafe - in their jobs, their health, their housing - that they are primed to lay the blame on anyone other than themselves for these feelings. When America is attacked at the height of a recession and at a time when outsourcing is rampant, job security is nil, and health care costs are going through the roof, it's very easy to lash out at an ideal (terrorism) as the root of all evil and the cause of all woes. "If we can just get rid of The Terrorists, then we can all go back to our happy lives. Yes, that's the problem."

It's really a sad thing to actually witness the alternative to all of the militarism and warmongering. It's sad because I know that even if the will were there to change we still have some demons to exorcise. It will take time to undo the ties that have bound us to a future of war debt and military quagmire. I hope that I may see the day when America rises to the level of greatness that I, and dare I say all of the other liberals in the States, know that we could achieve.

Where's the butter? We got the guns. Part 1

Taxes in Norway are high. Very high. For instance, I just found out that my income tax alone is going to cost me a whopping 33% of my paycheck. Yep. That's 1/3 of my total income. Yikes! What is the cause for this injustice? Well, there are pretty amazing social programs.

1) Each mother gets 1 year of paid maternity leave and can opt for a second if she is willing to take a reduction for both years (about 80% of pay the first and 60% of pay the second). The state pays the bill.
2) Everyone has medical insurance.
3) All workers are covered by the national pension.
4) If you're sick and you need to be off of work for up to a year, you're guaranteed both your job and a complete paycheck for that time.
6) Every person gets a sizable check from the government when a child is born + money each year of the child's life.
7) Fathers get 3-months paternity leave at full pay or extended leave for reduced wage.
8) No college tuition for anyone and PhD stipends that are more money than I've ever made working full-time.
9) $16 minimum wage.
10) Everyone gets 21 paid working days off plus about 3% of your pay as "vacation money" (covered by the state).

OK, that all sounds nice and it does take some of the sting of taking 33% of my paycheck for federal income tax. But what about all the other taxes I'll have to pay? When I looked into this a little more, here are the extra taxes I found:
1) Automobile tax - these are high and discourage the lack of auto ownership, but there's easy access to trams, buses, trains, and water buses. Actually owning a car in Oslo would be more of a pain than anything.
2) Sales tax.

I'm sure there are more, but that's pretty much the majority of my taxes. No property tax. No state or local taxes.

Back home I remember figuring my state taxes, federal taxes, Soc. Sec. taxes, property taxes, and health insurance costs and putting the figure at about 31% - and I was in a low tax bracket for sure. That's pretty close to 33%. Hm. Something is just not quite right here...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

OReilly at his paranoid best

And, here's the Rebuttal from Media Matters

Couldn't have said it better I didn't. I found the following article by David Halberstam referenced in a story at that I'd like to repeat here.

By David Halberstam:
We have morphed in the larger culture from a somewhat Calvinist society to an entertainment society, and that is reflected in the new norms of television journalism -- where the greatest sin is not to be wrong but to be boring. Because boring means low ratings. And so altogether too many people at the top in the television newsrooms have accepted the new, frillier dictates of the men and women above them in the corporations.

The viewpoint seemed to be -- from their testing and polling -- that the American people did not want to know what was going on, so why bother them with unwanted facts too soon? So, if we look at the media today, we ought to be aware not just of what we are getting, but what we are not getting; the difference between what is authentic and what is inauthentic in contemporary American life and in the world, with a warning that in this celebrity culture, the forces of the inauthentic are becoming more powerful all the time.
I would go one step further than Halberstam in saying that I believe that the journalism we get is the journalism we've earned. It's no secret. So why do we let it continue?

(David Halberstam, April 10, 1934–April 23, 2007)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cyber Stalking

My brother-in-law has an unhealthy interest in me. I wonder if all those potatoes he eats and whiskey he drinks has finally done him in.

Good News for News

I don't like to celebrate the failings of others, but I was happy to see this recent article in the Philly Inquirer:
CBS executives deny it, but there's a growing feeling within the network that Katie Couric is an expensive, unfixable mistake.

So unfixable that Couric - the first woman to anchor a network nightly newscast solo - may leave CBS Evening News, probably after the 2008 presidential elections, to assume another role at the network, CBS sources say.

I don't think the problem for CBS was bringing Couric in as their newest anchor. She seems like a very bright person who could otherwise easily handle the job handed to her. Rather, the problem lies with the decision by CBS News to soften their nightly news. Instead of reporting the news and offering well-thought out analysis, CBS went with a newscast that was heavy on features and half-assed opinions.

They abdicated their responsibility to the American people by insisting that their newscast entertain the audience as opposed to informing the audience. Major news organizations, following the lead of Fox News, have tried to build up fan bases. The news networks have become lifestyle brands and have done their best to segment their audiences based upon these lifestyles.

What this article suggests is that American people are beginning to resist the networks attempts to get away with this. After getting bogged down in a ridiculous war, we no longer want to be dazzled with the news. We want to be presented with the best reporting available so that we can make sane decisions. Thank God.

Turns out electricity and water do mix

Today I decided to take a break from having a strong opinion about something and just thought I'd share this cool article about harnessing tidal energy. If the researchers can answer the questions about chopping up fish, I can't imagine what could be bad about underwater electricity propellers. Unless of course you're one of those ethanol lobbyists.

Harry Reid is Right About the Iraq War

from The Ostroy Report

The Republicans don’t like Harry Reid and his assessment of the war. But too bad. This is not Harry Reid’s mess. This military disaster belongs 100% to Bush and the Republican Party. This is their war. If they don’t like it being called a failure, or that it is "lost," then they should demonstrate its successes and spare us the incessant partisan rhetoric. Stop regurgitating all this BS about progress and success and show it to us.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Tasty Lick

More on Gonzales

A couple of days ago I wrote that I didn't think Alberto G would resign. I know it seems strange since his performance was so abysmal; however, this was just a very public showing of how the Bush administration thinks. Dahlia Lithwick offers a nice analysis of this very point:

This record reflects either a Harvard-trained lawyer—and former state Supreme Court judge—with absolutely no command of the facts or the law, or it reveals a proponent of the unitary executive theory with absolutely nothing to prove. Gonzales' failure to even mount a defense; his posture of barely tolerating congressional inquiries; his refusal to concede that he owed the Senate any explanation or any evidence; his refusal to even accept that he bore some burden of proof—all of it tots up to a masterful display of the perfect contempt felt by the Bush executive branch for this Congress and its pretensions of oversight. In the plainest sense, Gonzales elevated the Bush legal doctrine of "Because I said so" into a public spectacle.

Viewed in that light, Gonzales did exactly what he needed to do yesterday. He took a high, inside pitch to the head for the team (nobody wants to look like a dolt on national television) but hit a massive home run for the notion that at the end of the day, congressional oversight over the executive branch is little more than empty theatre.

Was that so hard?

The mainstream press has done a lot to mythologize the president for his 'performance' on 9/11. However, I think this passage from a recent book by Lee Iococca gets it right and I hope this becomes the new way to think about his performance:
On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes. Where was George Bush? He was reading a story about a pet goat to kids in Florida when he heard about the attacks. He kept sitting there for twenty minutes with a baffled look on his face. It's all on tape. You can see it for yourself. Then, instead of taking the quickest route back to Washington and immediately going on the air to reassure the panicked people of this country, he decided it wasn't safe to return to the White House. He basically went into hiding for the day—and he told Vice President Dick Cheney to stay put in his bunker. We were all frozen in front of our TVs, scared out of our wits, waiting for our leaders to tell us that we were going to be okay, and there was nobody home. It took Bush a couple of days to get his bearings and devise the right photo op at Ground Zero.

That was George Bush's moment of truth, and he was paralyzed. And what did he do when he'd regained his composure? He led us down the road to Iraq—a road his own father had considered disastrous when he was President. But Bush didn't listen to Daddy. He listened to a higher father. He prides himself on being faith based, not reality based. If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, I don't know what will.

Friday, April 20, 2007

McCain is a good singer

Whoo Hoo, that's funny! That McCain, ready to set a new high-water mark for Oval Office humor and idiotic approaches to dealing with 'evil-doers.'

PR Goes Random - Choo choo!!!

Today I'd like to take a look at an issue which is rarely ever discussed in the US without some serious sniggering involved. Yes, I'd like to take a look at train travel and why it is so completely and utterly deplorable in the US.

I've been in Norway long enough now to see the benefit of train travel. It's so relaxing to be able to get on a train a few hundred meters from my front door and then sit down comfortably and relax, or just stare dazedly out the window as the world goes whizzing by and the caffeine from my coffee starts to do its thang. I haven't driven a car in 3-months (that's a long time to this guy) and I don't miss it at all.

First of all, there are always a plethora of reasons (most ill-conceived) as to why train travel doesn't work in a place like the US. In researching the subject just for my own amusement (yes, I really know how to party) I came across an article criticizing California's attempts at high-speed rail written by the chairman of Industrial Engineering at USC. The basic premise is that what works in Europe, Japan, Asia, and perhaps even Northern Africa, would never work in the US. Here are some highlights, if you can call them that:
Europe has a high-speed rail system that out-competes cars and planes for trips ranging from 120 miles to 230 miles, but there are good reasons for that. Gasoline prices in Europe are, at a minimum, twice those in California. Airline deregulation came late to Europe, making it more expensive to fly in those countries. More Americans than Europeans use their cars to make trips longer than 300 miles, and more Americans than Europeans board low-cost jets to travel to destinations less than 500 miles away. Even with environments better suited to high-speed rail service, the Japanese and Europeans still have to subsidize their systems.

Okay, where to begin with this? The reason that more Americans use cars for mid-range trips and more planes for long-range trips than Europeans might be that there are no trains which are reliable, quick, or comfortable. The last sentence there is one of my favorites. Do people not understand that roads, gas, automobile accidents, etc, etc, etc, cost the government bazillions of dollars every year? How is that not a subsidy. And what about flight? I seem to remember a HUGE post 9/11 bail-out for the airlines. Large, noisy, and polluting airports paid for by taxpayers. Airport security measures that are covered by ma and pa middle-America. This guy is an "expert" on the topic, so either he's being intentionally misleading or he screwed his way to the top.
The 2004 train bombings in Madrid demonstrate a lethal point: Trains are a security nightmare. The safe operation of a high-speed train system requires securing the entire right of way. The 2005 Metrolink crash near Glendale was caused by a Jeep Cherokee deliberately parked on the tracks at an intersection. We do not have the means to secure rail rights of way adequately in the Los Angeles area, much less for a new statewide network. Airplanes are secured at airports. Once they are in the air, security problems are virtually eliminated.
Wha???? So, because there were some instances with trains suddenly airplanes are the bastion of security? Every person in the world with a television and a brain knows this to be completely false.

I find it interesting that this guy didn't even touch on environmental concerns. Cars are extremely inefficient and require vast expanses of ugly asphalt and concrete just to be functional, and this guy wants to see more roads, even if it means seizing people's property. Airplanes pollute the environment at deplorable levels. Trains are more energy efficient, leave less of a footprint, and may actually provide the added benefit of a little more activity as people walk from home to station, station to work, etc.

And don't tell me the US doesn't have the pop. density for this mode of travel. This criticism is aimed at a high-speed rail in one the most densely populated corridor in California. By contrast Norway is longer than California and boasts a total population of 4.5 million people, but guess what? They have trains. Many trains.

Of course, we're fighting wars and stuff and the last thing that we Americans have time for is fantasizing about a more livable country for ourselves and our children...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

He's Staying

I know there is a possibility that I will be proved wrong on this, but I stand by my assertion that, as it stands now, Gonzales will not resign. I think you can already see the way this is going to play out, as the Bush administration will continue to stall on this until it blows over.

In the meantime, the administration will play the spin that Congress is playing politics while the major media will swallow this line. Already the media has ignored the fact that the gross politicization of the Justice Department is an incredibly dangerous thing and I can't recall any major news reports which have highlighted this issue. Nevermind the fact that there has been no coverage of the specious voting fraud claims or the unequal prosecution of Democrats; instead, we are supposed to believe that this is just a vendetta on the part of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the gang.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Made In Wisconsin

Only in Wisconsin would this be a unanimous vote....
Both chambers of the Legislature unanimously gave key approval Tuesday to allow grocery and liquor stores to hand out beer samples up to 6 ounces to a person of legal drinking age.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Vast Wasteland of Cable News

As someone that does not typically have access to cable news, I had the opportunity, recently, to catch my fill of its content. And after watching a few hours of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, I came to the conclusion that I am quite glad not to have access as I was struck by the massive disconnect between the content of these news reports and the sensibilities of the American people.

It is quite clear when you read the polls that the average American is extremely fed up with the President and the right wing, in general. We see these people for who they really are- vile opportunists who have completely mismanaged the running of this country. Yet, in watching the coverage, these networks are living in the past. They actually believe that the public has faith in the Republican party. I think this post by Atrios captures this dynamic very well. The President is enormously unpopular but cable news stations will continue to operate under the assumption that if Democrats challenge this administration, they do so at great risk to themselves.

My concern, when I think about this coverage, is not that the American people are affected by the news. Rather, that those in charge, specifically Democrats, begin to believe that there is lukewarm support for their policies. By using these cable news networks as their barometer of conventional wisdom, they actually get a false reading on the attitudes in the general public. Consequently, we continue to get bogged down in Iraq and pursue ridiculous domestic policy because the discourse on cable news is so badly skewed towards a more conservative sensibility.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Darth Cheney

Unfortunately, Dick Cheney appears to not be welcome at ultra-conservative Brigham Young University.
The problem is this is a morally dubious man," said Andrew Christensen, a 22-year-old Republican from Salt Lake City.

Here his response here.

Wolfowitz is my hero

Damn left-wing media, reporting that Wolfowitz promoted and gave a raise to his former girlfriend. I find this hard to believe, that a neo-con bushie prick like Wolfowitz would partake in the same government patronage that brought us "Heckuva Job" Brownie and the completely incompetent AG Gonzalez. Come on, he said he made a mistake!
Update 1- this promotion came with a pay raise that was double staff rules!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

Drop a bomb on that dead horse

I don't know why stories like this should surprise me.

Mr Cheney, in an interview with conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, insisted there had been a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and the al-Qaeda terror group.

He said former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been leading the network's operations in the country before the 2003 US-led invasion.

"He took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organised the al-Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene and then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June," he told the show.

But just hold on there a second Dick.

Hours earlier, a declassified Pentagon report said information obtained from Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein had confirmed they had no strong ties.

'Nuff said.

Globalization Schmobilization

In an apparent move to combat the growing frustration with a global market place that poorly reflects - or rather disregards entirely and resents more than a little - the needs of the worker, two large unions (based in UK and US/Canada) are discussing a merger.

I think this is great. Combat globalization with globalization. Freaking genius!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Why have you forsaken me, UK?

Here's a tip: If London calls, answer the phone cheerily, lest you get a submarine fired Nucular Missile launched up your nethers. What am I talking about?! Well I'll tell you. *Ahem* I'm talking about this little nugget o' info:

Orders for £3bn warships signal a new era for naval defence industry

That has got to be the briefest quote ever. It also symbolizes my laziness for quoting things and for providing quotes that actually explain what in the world I am talking about. Hey, don't judge me!

OK, OK, I will offer this explanation for why I'm wasting your time: In the age of nuclear non-proliferation, when the US is threatening to pick a fight with Iran for having the audacity to...uh...proliferate "nucularly," our good buddies across the pond are escalating with the purchase of shiny new underwater nuke chuckers. Thanks a lot England. Please go back to saving the environment and leave the proliferation to the tools in DC.