Monday, January 30, 2006
I'm certainly glad to know our esteemed senators jumped to hold hearings on mine safety, something the Bush administration has ignored.
Lawmakers pledged to step up federal oversight of the nation's coal mines on Monday and accused the agency that has that job with failing to prevent the deaths of 14 miners in West Virginia.Oh....you mean something like what just saved seventy-two Canadian miners?
"Fourteen men in the span of three weeks. These deaths, I believe, were entirely preventable," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va.
Specter said he would try to pass federal legislation this year that would stiffen penalties against coal operators that violate safety rules and would require that up-to-date safety equipment be placed in mines.
Meanwhile, the West Virginia Senate and House both passed legislation Monday that would require mines to use electronic devices to track trapped miners and stockpile oxygen to keep them alive until help arrives.
Rescuers retrieved all 72 central Canadian potash miners who were trapped underground by a fire and survived until Monday by using oxygen, food and water stored in subterranean emergency chambers.Let's assume Canadian mine operators are just like their American counterparts, willing to shortcut safety to make a buck.
But a little research reveals oxygen, food and water stored in subterranean emergency chambers has been the law in Canada since December, 1994.
(The Workplace and Safety Health Act (PDF, page 50).
Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?
I've been drowning in elderly and long term care-related issues lately, and want to again emphasize the importance of a previous post regarding the so-called budget reconciliation bill. The House vote is scheduled to take place on February 1st.
The Alliance for Retired Americans says it best:
The House and Senate bills include new restrictions on asset transfers for seniors seeking to "spend down" in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care. The bills would require the elderly to be impoverished for five years, up three years, before they could qualify for aid. The measures also would increase the penalties for those who transfer their assets through gifts to family and charities. Seniors with homes valued at $500,000 will have to tap into their home equity by taking out a new mortgage or selling their home before qualifying for coverage.Obviously, there is nothing in the bill to explain where or how the impoverished elderly are supposed to exist until they qualify for Medicaid.
Under current law, states can apply a lien against a senior's house and claim the house if necessary after the senior's death, like any creditor. A patient needing Medicaid coverage for nursing home care who is later able to go back home may no longer have a home to go back to. (more)
People whose working days are over are being rolled by this and other measures.
The American Friends Service Committee*** is sponsoring a toll-free line to call your representative and tell them to vote "NO".
***Yes - we sneaky, subversive Quakers are up to our old tricks. The AFSC headquarters building in Philly is probably bugged worse than the Soviets bugged the American embassy during the Cold War days.
Just this morning I stepped on my shoelace, then tripped and stumbled against a sleeping cat. The resulting flurry of fur and screeches wasn't pretty.
But not quite so ugly as this -
Museum visitor trips, breaks Chinese vasesTen bucks says they were worth a lot more than my fat cat.
A museum visitor shattered three Qing dynasty Chinese vases when he tripped on his shoelace, stumbled down a stairway and brought the vases crashing to the floor, officials said Monday.
The three vases, dating from the late 17th or early 18th century, had been donated to The Fitzwilliam Museum in the university city of Cambridge in 1948, and were among its best-known artifacts. They had been sitting proudly on the window sill beside the staircase for 40 years.
"It was a most unfortunate and regrettable accident, but we are glad that the visitor involved was able to leave the museum unharmed," said Duncan Robinson, the Fitzwilliam's director.
The museum declined to identify the man who had tripped on a loose shoelace Wednesday.
Asked about the porcelain vases, Margaret Greeves, the museum's assistant director, said: "They are in very, very small pieces, but we are determined to put them back together."
The museum declined to say what the vases were worth.
One of the items Bush is expected to address in the State of the Union speech will be health care - a subject he isn't exactly intimately acquainted with, being the scion of a wealthy family whose members never have to worry about how much it will cost.
After all, as the matriarch so eloquently expressed, health care in a Red Cross shelter is a sweetheart deal for the great, unwashed masses.
From the NYT:
Where Mr. Clinton was driven by a desire to guarantee health insurance for every American, Mr. Bush is focusing primarily on health costs, which he says are swamping employers and threatening economic growth. Where Mr. Clinton favored a larger role for government, Mr. Bush has a fundamentally different philosophy, built on the idea that placing more responsibility in the hands of individuals will create market pressure to hold down costs.First, let me say to Mr. King George Bush - you think health care costs are swamping employers? It's quite true - they are. But if you want a real romp in the swamp, try being an employee.
Here's what I don't get....
If medical costs are placed in the hands of individuals who can't afford them and therefore avoid incurring them - how is that going to drive down costs?
For example, let's say you need a bone marrow transplant, which can easily cost anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000.
(If you follow that link to the National Bone Marrow Transplant Link you'll find an article beginning with the delightfully whimsical statement - 'Although it's a secondary concern to getting treatment for your illness, the high cost of transplant must be addressed.')
I'm sure there's plenty of useful information on that site for those in need and no doubt they provide a great resources for patients, but if they think cost is only a 'secondary concern', they are certainly living in an alternate universe.
Anything that runs up into the four-to-six-and above digit cost range is, to most average Americans, a luxury item. Placing those high costs in our hands only means we will die rather than burden our families with those huge debts.
Back in the days when the VCR first appeared on the market, I called the local Circuit City to ask about the cost. The damned thing was running a cool $1,200.00 - way too much for my pocketbook.
Within a year or two, the VCR technology was refined, more companies produced them, and the price tumbled dramatically. Today, you can pick one at the local Wal Mart for less than forty bucks.
If you want costs to come down, you have to produce a product inexpensively and put plenty of it on the market.
Mr. Bush and his ilk believe that if fewer people undergo expensive medical procedures, it will drive the costs down.
When you're talking big-ticket items, the same logic just. does. not. apply.
I may be getting forgetful in my old age, but I don't recall reading about the price of yachts or mansions going down because they are only available to those who can afford them.
Yachts and mansions are luxury items, available only to those who are well enough paid or lucky enough in the gene pool.
The only way intricate, expensive medical procedures will become affordable to the people who need them is if they cease to become luxury items.
That means extensive research, using real scientists and real facts; something of which the Bush administration isn't overly fond.
Only when a bone marrow transplant and similar high-ticket procedures are equivalent in cost to a flu shot will everyone who needs it be able to afford it.
Among all the various social safety net-cutting thrills and spills in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 you can find this gem:
New Medicaid Law Means Adult Children Could Be on Hook for Parents' Nursing Home BillsIn other words, unless you are very wealthy, die young, or can afford expensive long term care insurance - you're screwed.
The adult children of elderly parents in many states could be held liable for their parents' nursing home bills as a result of the new Medicaid long-term care provisions scheduled to be voted on by the House of Representatives February 1. The children could even be subject to criminal penalties.
The 750-page Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 includes punitive new restrictions on the ability of the elderly to transfer assets before qualifying for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care. Essentially, the proposed law attempts to save the Medicaid program money by shifting more of the cost of long-term care to families and nursing homes.
One of the major ways it does this is by changing the start of the penalty period for transferred assets from the date of transfer, as is the case now, to the date when the individual would qualify for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care if not for the transfer. In other words, the penalty period would not begin until the nursing home resident was out of funds, meaning there would be no money to pay the nursing home for however long the penalty period lasts.
There was a time when the frail were cared for at home by numerous children and other adults all crammed into the family home.
That day is long gone (note to Republicans - that day IS long gone). Adults have to work to make ends meet; children go to school.
Nowadays, it's a rare adult who can quit a job to stay home caring for an elderly relative. But placing an elderly relative in a nursing home may soon become a ticket straight to jail.
Friday, January 27, 2006
I know exactly where he's pointing.
Right here -
Big Oil's Big Profits Stir Political Pressure
A gusher of impressive quarterly and annual profits for the oil industry is going to attract a lot of attention on Wall Street and Capitol Hill in the coming week.
ConocoPhillips kicked off the fourth-quarter earnings season for big oil on Wednesday with an impressive $13.5 billion annual profit, up 66 percent from its 2004 performance. The rest of the major integrated oil and gas firms will march out their end-of-year books during the coming week and a half.
Or maybe he's pointing at the no-bid contracts for Gulf coast rebuilding.
Or Big Pharma making mega-bucks from seniors befuddled by the Medicare Part D fiasco.
Bush is indeed right - things are just looking up all over his world.
Too bad he doesn't live in ours.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Asked his opinion of the movie "Brokeback Mountain," President Bush hemmed and hawed.If the questioner was trying to get an honest statement from Dubya on gay relationships, my hat is off to him.
"You would love it. You should check it out," a man in the audience told Bush Monday during a question and answer session at Kansas State University.
After some hesitation -- and laughter in the audience -- Bush said, "I'd be glad to talk about ranching, but I haven't seen the movie." The audience laughed some more, and Bush, who owns a ranch in Texas, allowed that, "I've heard about it."
But if he was fishing for information on ranching, he was fishing in the cesspool.
He'd be better off asking about some other movie...like one about spoiled, arrogant rich kids in a New England prep school. Or maybe a spoiled, arrogant adult with a trust fund who fails at every business endeavor he undertakes.
Surely there's a movie like that somewhere.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Osama bin Forgotten comes out from under his rock, prophesying future terrorist strikes on United States soil.
What's Congress planning?
The U.S. missile defense shield is still under construction for around $9 billion a year but lawmakers can play this week on a simulation of the single most expensive U.S. weapons program.Let's just hope Osama is thoughtful enough to attach a GPS device to his missile.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is hosting war games in Congress to help lawmakers better understand the missile shield as the February 6 unveiling of President George W. Bush's budget plan approaches.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
The Bush administration is reviewing safety equipment used in the nation's mines after previously scrapping similar initiatives started by the Clinton administration.
The agency that oversees coal mine safety is seeking public input on how to better supply miners and rescuers with equipment such as breathing apparatus and communications devices, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
In recent years, the Mine Safety and Health Administration pulled Clinton-era initiatives examining safety equipment and mine rescue operations off its regulatory agenda, a semiannual document that outlines what agencies are working on.
A mourner leaves the Bright
Star Freewill Baptist Church in
Melville, West Virginia, Saturday
Rove: Security will be focus of 2006 campaigns
You have to wonder which rock this guy has been living under and what type of 'security' the GOP can offer.
National security? Does he mean the kind where valuable intelligence assets are sacrificed for political payback?
Or the kind where FBI agents are tied up chasing down meaningless "leads" from the NSA's wiretap operation?
Military security? Would that be the kind of military security where the troops still don't have the proper equipment and armor?
Or the continuing cuts in veteran's health care? Or maybe the kind of 'security' that allowed the likes of Osama and al-Zawahiri to elude capture because the administration had other political priorities?
Social security? There's a knee-slapper. Which part of the social fabric has the administration actually tried to strengthen? They've tried to turn over worker's retirement money to Wall Street fat cats, enrich drug companies on the back of senior citizens, forced the states to cover their Medicaid cuts, and cut thousands of college students off from federal funding.
Security from the vagaries of Mother Nature? Give me a break. How's it going, Florida? Alabama? Louisiana? Oklahoma?
The 'security breaches' in this administration aren't limited to the spooky stuff; we are all victims of massive security lapses.
Exactly which constituency will be influenced by this 'focus on security'? Seniors struggling through the Medicare Part D boondoggle? Wounded veterans waiting for months for health care? College students with their federal grants yanked out from under them? Victims of natural disasters still waiting for assistance from FEMA?
You've got to admit it - the GOP certainly is a 'big tent' party. They've rounded up the majority of United States citizens into the tent, then set it afire.
You want to focus on 'security' during the 2006 campaigns?
Bring it on.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
It may have a new leader, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency, blasted for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina, is still being criticized for tardiness. Oklahoma officials told TIME last week that it took FEMA 12 days to approve that state's request for comprehensive disaster assistance to combat wildfires that have charred nearly 400,000 acres since November. Oklahoma requested funds from FEMA on Dec. 30 for a variety of measures, including the pre-positioning of supplies and retardant-dropping planes from out of state. But neither Governor Brad Henry nor his state disaster chief could get calls returned from FEMA in Dallas. "You just would not believe what they have put us through," said a Republican Congressman from Oklahoma. Political leaders from both parties finally asked the White House to lean on the agency. The "full-court press," as Henry spokesman Paul Sund calls it, worked: the aid was approved last week. A FEMA official noted that the agency had okayed 24 smaller fire grants for the state and wanted to be sure the broader application for help was justified.
Gore's speech on MLK day at Constitution Hall
Scroll down to "Recent Programs"
This is a MUST.
By the government's own account,FBI analyst Leandro Aragoncillo was spying in plain sight. He rummaged through FBI computers for intelligence reports unrelated to his work and then e-mailed the classified documents to opposition leaders in the Philippines.This is the sort of thing that happens when your agents are overwhelmed tracking down a tsunami of tips from the NSA's Hoover operation.
He had traveled more than a dozen times to the Asian country on personal business since 2000. And records show he carried debt of at least a half-million dollars — on Marine retirement pay and an entry-level FBI salary.
But for at least seven months, the bureau that makes catching spies its No. 2 mission after fighting terrorism missed signs of espionage in its own ranks — again.
It took outside help — U.S. customs officials separately developed suspicions about Aragoncillo — to alert the FBI. The bureau soon discovered he was sending sensitive U.S. intelligence assessments about the Philippines' government to Filipino opposition leaders, court records say.
"We'd chase a number, find it's a schoolteacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."Very much like sending the military into an unwinnable quagmire when actual threats lie elsewhere.
Even my brainless Chihuahuas can't be distracted that badly.
House Republicans Unveil New Ethics Plan
Not much to see here, but considering the old plan was - "Take what you can get and demand more", I suppose it's better than nothing.
House Republicans moved to seize the initiative for ethics reform Tuesday with a comprehensive package of changes, including the banning of privately sponsored travel like that arranged by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.Take note of that "privately" sponsored travel - I guess Archer Daniels Midland and a host of other corporations will still be able to whisk our lawmakers around the world.
The package also includes a virtual ban on gifts, except for inconsequential items like baseball caps, and a provision that will affect few people: elimination of congressional pensions for anyone convicted of a felony related to official duties.Here's your chance to unload all those "Kerry/Edwards '04" tee shirts. Send 'em to your favorite Republican congresscritter.
And you better do it before 2006; with any luck, the Democrats will take back the House and Senate and be able to pass their own ethics plan:
Democrats, who have adopted a "culture of corruption" theme in a drive to oust Republicans from control of Congress, intend to unveil this week a proposed ban on lobbyists' gifts to lawmakers.If it looks like the Democratic plan has a snowball's chance in hell of passing, you'll see a great, lemming-like tide of Republicans heading for the lobbyist firms.
The ban on lobbyist gifts would include meals and tickets to sporting or entertainment events as well as travel, according to officials familiar with the proposals.
The Democratic package also will include doubling the current one-year cooling off period that former lawmakers or senior aides must observe before they are allowed to lobby without restriction.
Monday, January 16, 2006
"It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same." - President Al Gore
Read the text here.
....delivered with fire and conviction, no less.
The contrast between an educated, talented adult President and the shambling bozo we're stuck with is tragic, just tragic.
Currently on CNN:
"U.S.: Urgent action needed on Iran; UK: No 'rush'
How about -
U.S.: Urgent action needed on Iran; UK: No 'rush': American people: 'No sh$t'.
When the stress of the war in Iraq becomes too severe, the Pentagon has a suggestion for military families: Learn how to laugh.Here's the joke - and please stop me if you've heard this before -
With help from the Pentagon's chief laughter instructor, families of National Guard members are learning to walk like a penguin, laugh like a lion and blurt "ha, ha, hee, hee and ho, ho."
According to Condi Rice: "We have got to finally demonstrate to Iran that it can't with impunity just cast aside the just demands of the international community."There's no doubt the president of Iran is a flake; maybe a dangerous flake. Just about like every other national leader in that part of the world and a few others.
But hearing the Bush administration start beating war drums again has got to be a real knee-slapper for military families.
After all, what else can you do but cry?
Meanwhile, Iraq war costs are becoming a concern -
The Pentagon is spending more than $5.8 billion a month on the war in Iraq, according to the military's top generals.I'm wondering if that "more than $5.8 billion a month" includes estimates on future health care for veterans grievously wounded in George's Excellent Adventure.
That is nearly a 50 percent increase above the $4 billion-a-month benchmark the Pentagon has used to estimate the cost of the war so far.
But it seems I needn't worry; the Pentagon has come up with a way to deal with it.
The Army announced yesterday plans to distribute 230,000 side-protecting armor inserts to troops in Iraq over the next year amid growing criticism that the Pentagon has delayed life-saving upgrades to body armor.After all, it's cheaper to bury a dead soldier than provide a lifetime of medical care and physical therapy.
Last year, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office found that 80 percent of the Marines who died of torso wounds from March 2003 to June 2005 in Iraq may have lived if their vests contained additional protection for the sides, arms and neck.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I'm home from Christmas, Part the Second with my sister and her family in Virginia.
The flights up and back were routine, but I must say I'm miffed at not being included on the "No-Fly List".
After all, if four-year-old cute Jamaican kid Edward Allen can make the list, I don't see why a forty-something Democrat with socialist leanings and growing outrage at the adminstration couldn't make the cut.
However, I am proud to say I'm apparently on the United Airlines "Whack-In-The-Butt List". Every time I fly the Friendly Skies, I'm seated smack on the wing.
For this short hop flight, you don't exactly get the Concorde. I don't know what kind of plane it is, and I don't care. All I know is it has one row comprising of two seats, another row of single seats and an aisle impossible to navigate with carry-on luggage. You are served a sumptious snack of a half-cup of ice water - if you ask for it.
For those of us on the Whack-In-The-Butt List, every time the landing gear goes up or down, you get a hearty thump in the posterior.
That's a little too friendly for my taste.
I had a nice visit with the family, but it's always good to come home - even if I did lose my driver's license somewhere between the gate and the airplane at Dulles airport.
For the record, at Greensboro, North Carolina's airport, you are asked for photo i.d. three times - when you check in, when you pass through security, and when you hand in your boarding pass at the gate.
I had my driver's license in hand as I surrendered my boarding pass at the gate at Washington D.C.'s Dulles Airport, but apparently it wasn't necessary.
I get the feeling there are more than a few Brownies at Homeland Security.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Looks like McCain isn't the only one Bush has made a monkey of lately.
Unless my math is really off, that means each of the monkeys got 25-50 seconds apiece to advise the pResident.
And that's because there were actually only twelve.
Colin Powell, who knows how well King George listens to advice, kept his mouth shut and didn't bother trying.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
I hope he didn't eat the cake.
Note to John McCain - Bush doesn't love you.
I'll bet the ranch Bush asserts his divine right to do anything he pleases at the most politically embarassing time for McCain, and McCain will roll over for a belly-rub....again.
Note to American people - do you really want either of these men as your preznit?
Bush could bypass new torture ban
When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.
After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a ''signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.
When he was just a little boy, Mr. Andante lost his father in a coal mine. The look on his face when another disaster unfolds tells me more than I ever want to know about coal mining.
Given the nature of the job, the true miracle is that we don't have more deaths. It is the great legacy of the unions that we don't have hundreds of miners killed every year.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Facing cuts in antiterrorism financing, the Department of Homeland Security plans to announce today that it will evaluate new requests for money from an $800 million aid program for cities based less on politics and more on assessments of where terrorists are likely to strike and potentially cause the greatest damage, department officials say.Just makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?
Monday, January 02, 2006
It's time for the post-Christmas trip to visit my sister and her family, and therefore also time to hope the flight will be less hassle than last time, which included a snowstorm, a cancelled return flight and a lost suitcase.
And also time for a slight dilemma....
I'm knitting chemo caps for a friend who is undergoing chemotherapy and has a very cold, bald head. I use a plastic circular size 13 needle - it looks like two of those big, fat pencils you used in first grade connected by a flexible piece of plastic line.
I'd like to take my work along with me; it's a good way to pass the time while in flight and also during the interminable waiting in the airport.
According to the TSA website, such an implement is permitted.
According to my gut feeling, the TSA has their head up their butt, and there's no telling what the security folks at the airport will do.
I thought about looping it around my bra and calling it an underwire, but I've got a feeling I'd get in trouble for it.
Should I take it openly and risk losing it?
Remember - if I don't....let's all say it together....the terrorists win.