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choices & the fiscal cliff

I’m totally baffled by the tempest in a teapot that’s being stirred up by the media over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Fueled mostly by conservative pundits and Tea Party sycophants, and aided by a complacent media, it seems that the average U.S. taxpayer should be in a state of panic.

The thing is: yes, taxes could go up and paychecks could end up smaller. But making smart and simple choices in life can make it all academic, in the end.

Really – it’s simply a matter of choices.

If no agreement can be reached before January 1, 2013, many taxes will roll back to the levels they were at under President Clinton. These rates are lower than they were under Reagan or Bush for a majority of taxpayers.

For example, a person earning $62,000 per year would see their income taxes increase approximately $1,900 in 2013 – an average of $36.56 per week. That’s not a ton of money, by-the-by, if you look at it, and it’s easy to save this amount by making discretionary – i.e. not necessary of basic, day-to-day existence – spending choices.

A big choice that many people make each working day is to buy a coffee or related beverage at Starbucks or a similar purveyor of high-end coffee drinks. Your average latte costs between $4 and $5. If this expense is completely skipped for a work week, that’s $20-25 saved. If you also get a donut, scone, or breakfast sandwich with this – let’s say it’s another $2-4 for this – that’s another $10 to $20 saved per week, and the $36.56 weekly tax expense is covered.

Even if you cut back one, two, or three of these discretionary beverages, that’s money saved and tax “hit” blunted. And, frankly speaking, with a little practice it’s possible to make a top-notch espresso, latte, or cup of coffee at home for a fraction of the cost of the coffee house.

The same rule applies for buying lunch from a local deli, bodega, restaurant or food truck: save $10 per lunch, and it adds up.

Post-work drinks? Buy a six-pack or bottle of wine and enjoy it at home, and invite your friends over. Remember: each single bottle of beer or glass of wine at a restaurant or bar typically covers the price of the entire six-pack (beer) or bottle (wine).

Yes, this can affect others in this supply chain system – namely the baristas, wait staff, bartenders, and shop owners. So combine bits and pieces: give up a coffee here, a beer there, lunch from the food truck elsewhere. Don’t completely abandon your local haunts – just cut back a little. They’ll understand. If you keep track of the money, the savings will add up.

And then there’s the discretionary expense that riles me more than most things: cable TV.

I understand: there is some great writing on cable TV. Some of the shows are really awesome.

But most cable packages have you paying for a lot of channels you’ll never watch, as well as channels that you can pick up for free with a simple antenna, over the air.

Yup: there is still such a thing as free TV, people! And most of it is full, 1080p or 1080i high definition!

For free! Over the air!

Do I practice what I preach? Yes, though I could do better. I brew my own coffee, both at home and at the office, though I do enjoy an occasional flat white from Filter, or a gingerbread latte from Starbucks. I eat out for lunch more than I should, though I try to stick to cheap, healthy stuff (no food trucks regularly serve my office’s neighborhood, anyway). I’ve never subscribed to cable. I do subscribe to Netflix.

I save additional money by riding my bike to work, something I’d do even if I lived further away from my workplace than I do now. That’s let money spent on gas, parking, and other car-related things.

These are all choices I make. I do them to save money and simplify things.

And with the looming “fiscal cliff,” I’m prepared.

Life is a series of choices, some of which are harder to make than others. Some of the choices I’ve made would be very tough for others to do for themselves, and that’s OK.

But challenges, like a tax increase, require an ability to think creatively and, occasionally, make choices that feel like sacrifices. But part of being a responsible adult is making the tough choices that aren’t necessarily the easiest or more pain-free – sometimes, choices will seemingly hurt.

But saving money here and there means that, down the road, there will be funds to spend on other things, whether practical (e.g. a new house or car) or fun (a vacation or concert). It also means having a rainy day fund in case of emergencies – not a bad thing to have.

Now this could all be an academic discussion if the various areas of the U.S. government can come to an agreement on avoiding this “cliff.” But so long as the Tea Party remains as inflexible as C. Montgomery Burns, and as long as Democrats remain similarly inflexible, it’s best to be prepared to make choices.

vote yes on no! (election 2012 live[ish]blog)


Polls are closed in Virginia. Results from there are… forming.

But I vote in DC. I arrived at my polling place at 7:02am ad found a queue of over 100 people waiting to cast ballots.

And by 7:30am, I was done and out. Many ovals were filled with the standard golf pencil: Obama/Biden, Grosso, Beatty (simply because a moderate Republican would provide a needed check in the otherwise mono block DC Council), Strachuzzi (because we need new approaches within Congress), Mendelson, et al. I voted for the weak-sauce ethics reform measures because they are, at the very least, a step toward meaningful ethics reform in the DC government.

My reward? A flat white from Filter – yum!

I worked all day at the office.

Now I head to watch the returns with friends dating back to the days of Howard Dean. I’ll keep you posted by updating this post.


At Tunnicliff’s, drinking a lager. Talking heads on TV are vamping because there isn’t anything to report. Whee. Drink.


Trusty’s has been good. Once the trivia game broke up, it got quiet. Watching results pour in with relative peace. Nice to see Warren, Baldwin, McCaskill, Sharrod Brown win. Interesting to see the national popular vote juxtaposed with the Electoral College.


At the White House – four more years!!!

a note regarding the impending federal government shutdown

To all my friends out there who may be cheering the impending shutdown of the Federal government:

Please note that this shutdown will also shutter most of the District of Columbia’s city government. We have no control over our own money, so Congress’ petulant bickering will result in trash not getting collected, many social services shutting their doors, streets not being kept up or repaired, and a lot of citizens of DC being furloughed for at least a week. DC is one of the United States’ last colonies: we pay taxes but have no representation for us on Capitol Hill.

So this means that DC’s government has to pick and choose which programs are essential and hope that we have the money to do it. Sure: police, fire and EMS will still be on duty in full force. But other services that many would deem essential in a civil society will be curtailed. An example: hot meals for housebound elderly residents of the District. So senior citizens? You’re not essential. And public libraries? Nope – reading isn’t, it turns out, fundamental. Want to lodge a complaint against the DC Police Department? Sorry – the complaints department isn’t essential.

And it’s at times like these that the stupid riders that Tea Party followers insist on adding to otherwise necessary federal belt tightening measures in the budget make me want to remind these so-called “tea partiers” that the *original* Boston Tea Party existed to help people like the residents of DC, not people who don’t have a clue about what high taxes actually are and who, frankly speaking, aren’t paying nearly enough taxes given the number of Federally-funded entitlements they use each and every day.


A taxpaying resident of Washington, DC, who is still treated like a colonist by Congress

leaving a better world for the future

Reading stories like this one about how a growing number of U.S. citizens question man’s role in global climate change has me worried about not only the future of the world, but also the level of intelligence and education amongst not only the doubters, but also the legislators who seem to be guided by short-sighted monetary concerns.

Global climate change is real. The scientific community, which used to be somewhat varied in their conclusions on man’s role in accelerating climate change, is now fairly unified in the conclusion that mankind’s largely unchecked desire for big industry and big money has resulted in massive shifts in the ecosystem. The level of pollutants and other substances being introduced into the ecosystem by man overwhelms the earth’s ability to react to these activities, and as such the global systemic balance has been tipped.

According to most scientists, we are at a crucial, final point where global climate change can be slowed down to more “natural” levels, so long as countries engage in serious systemic and behavioral changes. And many countries have started to change their ways and be more future-thinking.

Sadly, the United States has never been willing to be part of needed change, even though we are one of the greatest consumers of climate-negative goods and practices. Why has the U.S. been on the wrong side of this argument? Greed and misinformation, much of which has been perpetuated by non-stop fear mongering on the part of conservative politicians, big (polluting) industry, right-wing noise media, and disreputable scientists.

Americans, by and large, fear sacrifice and change. They may say that “change is good,” but when asked to truly change behaviors and routines, there’s often a sense of “it’s not my problem – let the other guys battle it out.” And the fear mongers lap this up, trying to debunk sound science via obfuscation and the threat that “all the jobs will go away,” or that “your taxes will go up,” or that “you won’t be able to afford the cheap crap you get at Walmart.”

The saddest part is that the supporters of these politicians and industries lap this all up and parrot these ideas AS LOUDLY AS POSSIBLE, as if volume levels were synonymous with truth. It’s a very sad state.

I’m most enraged with the politicians who buy this bunk. They could be leaders, they could think beyond their next electoral cycle and ask the question: are you making the world a better place for future generations? And I honestly believe that very few of these politicians ever ask that question of themselves, or that they truly care about their constituents beyond getting their votes the next time they’re up for election. My message to these politicians: grow a set, be willing to be leaders and vote for the future, not the present.

Yes, there will be sacrifice. Behavioral change isn’t easy, especially on a societal level. There are a lot of modern “conveniences” that are destructive, at least as they are practiced now. However, when asked to sacrifice in the past, the people of the United States have been able to adapt and, in the process, discover that the new ways of doing things are often better and, amazingly, more logical and convenient. It’s simply a matter of being creative, taking initiative, thinking about more than just personal preservation in the here-and-now, and realizing how finite everything really is in terms of the hunk of rock we all inhabit.

I try to do my best to ensure that I leave the world in better shape than it was when I was born. Bit by bit, I’m changing the way I interact with the world to try and minimize the negative effect a modern lifestyle has on the environment. If it means that I pay a bit more to buy food that is produced by more eco-friendly processes, I’m willing to do it (and I do). If it means that I need to pay more taxes to help subsidize the construction of more mass transit and railroads, or to fund the development of cleaner energy sources, I’m happy to do so. If it means that I take fewer long-distance flights, that’s fine. If it means adapting to the different quality of LED and CF lights, bring it on. And if it means not driving my own car for every errand, visit, business trip or vacation, that’s just fine by me.

And I know I’m not alone.

And I hope that President Obama takes charge at the Global Climate Conference. We are at the final bail-out point before climate change will accelerate beyond human control, and the United States has a chance to be a true world leader once more – and to show up the Congressional naysayers who should question why they dare call themselves “leaders.”

sick to my stomach

That a basic, seemingly inherent human and civil right – the right to equality under law – can be put up for a vote is abhorrent to me.

And that rights that have been granted by government can be taken away via referendum is doubly abhorrent.

The scary side of referenda reared its ugly head last year in California, with the passing of Proposition 8, overturning the right of same-sex couples to marry and be equal under the law and to the majority of society. Reactionist and fringe groups rallied support against equal rights, and stripped the rights of millions of Californians via a simple vote.

Human and civil rights, denied.

And it seems that the voters of Maine have done the same tonight, in the form of Proposition 1. Maine’s governor and legislature granted the right for all couples, regardless of gender, to have access to civil marriage. In the same measure, they also preserved religious freedom by not requiring churches to perform marriages that run counter to their tenets.

But on November 3, 2009, slightly over 23 29 percent of registered voters in Maine decided to strip the rights of their fellow citizens. They decided that discrimination is just fine, and that the United States Constitution is wrong, and that all men (and women) are not created equal.

It makes me angry that anybody would vote to deny rights to people simply because they don’t agree with genetics. That anybody would be so twisted with hate, fear or confusion (or a combination of all three) to declare via one of the most basic responsibilities a United States citizen has that there is an under-class of people who don’t deserve the same access to a public and legal expression of love and commitment is something that does not compute with me.

I understand that a belief in God, or in the literal word of The Bible, or in a set of morals and beliefs that denies full inclusion for all members of society is a reality, and that many people ascribe to a life molded around such a code of conduct. But when these people have such myopic views and insist on forcing these views upon all others, I have a problem.

I grew up in a theocracy, where such practices are commonplace throughout the state and local government. As an atheist, I feel most unwelcome in places that force such beliefs and practices upon me.

I believe that love is the answer, that love makes a family, and that a family is not defined by a ratio of women to men. If two people love each other, are committed to each other and are willing to legally declare their love and commitment to each other, who am I to deny them that right?

Indeed who is anybody – individual or government – to deny that right?

Society should embrace those who love each other with true commitment and responsibility. They should allow them to be married – in a civil marriage. Marriage need not be religious to be legitimate, but it needs to be marriage. A civil union, seen by many conservatives as the “equivalent” of marriage, is separate but decidedly not equal under the law or under most societal definition.

I hope that DC’s pending legislation to legalize same-sex marriage equality (with protections for religious freedom) passes into law, and that all people in DC will embrace a society where all men and women are equal under law.

But tonight, Maine just makes me sad, angry, and wishing that fear and division were a thing of the past. Indeed, I feel sick to my stomach over this.

To the voters of Maine who voted NO on Proposition 1, I send my heartfelt thanks, and urge you to continue to fight the good fight.

To those who voted for Prop 1, I hope that you open your eyes to love, equality and acceptance of all people. Because fear, bigotry, hatred and myopia will get you nowhere in this world (or, according to friends of mine who are believers, the world after this one).

tuesday thoughts: stuff that makes me scratch my head and say “wha?”

Here are a few things that have me asking what’s the matter with society:

  • Please, please, please send Marion Barry to the political pasture – preferably to jail! His continued “devil could care” attitude toward paying back taxes sets a ridiculously bad example, and violates his current probation. That the people of Ward 8 continue to vote for this guy – who brings zero to the table in terms of valid, progressive legislation – is simply sad.
  • If politics between the United States and Russia have devolved to this level, I hope President Obama knows what’s in store with U.S.-Russian relations. The world is too small for such silly arguments – especially when the entire “functional world” is barely bigger than two city buses!
  • Then again, right now is as good a time as any to ponder the other G20 – the one in Glasgow.
  • We’re still dangling the bailout carrot in front of GM and Chrysler – why, exactly, I do not know. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see the business cycle actually play out, where big companies can – and do – fail every so often? If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that past failures of giant corporations have often brought about new creativity and innovation that, in the long run, has helped the economy diversify, grow and prosper. So let’s stop propping up these ancient Goliaths, Mr. President, and let them fail and rise from the ashes as new, fleet, innovative and future-looking enterprises. The Big 3 are dead! Long live their progeny!
  • And while I commend the newly-enacted changes in Utah’s liquor laws that abolish the arcane and less-than-welcoming “private club” system, one of the other plans of the newly-signed legislation is simply baffling: the requirement that all mixed drinks be prepared “out of sight of persons under the age of 21.” What the hell? This is progress? This is obviously the direct result of the meddling of the LDS Church, to whom I say this: remember that those things you repress become your secret vices (read: internet porn, betting on horse races, high-stakes gambling, lottery, et al).

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the coming of spring to the District. The grass is no longer dormant, the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are rising from their winter slumber in the soil, and the magnolias and cherry blossoms are quickly reaching peak beauty.

And with all these wonders come the things that we DC residents both love and hate: the tourists who can’t buy a clue. They block the escalators at Metro stations and stop to gawk and talk in the middle of busy sidewalks. They overrun areas that are usually the domain of DC locals (e.g. Hains Point during the Cherry Blossom Festival) and take away all of the elusive parking places throughout downtown and Georgetown. They cut off cyclists and pedestrians as they try to navigate our sometimes baffling streets, and get confused when locals give them directions that wouldn’t make sense to non-locals.

And they bring us the money that we desperately need to keep our city going. So welcome, fair tourists! Enjoy your stay, but keep an eye on how the locals do things, and try to emulate us. We all learned the hard way, in the beginning, so a bit of copycat behavior might save you some awkward humiliation.

seven years later, i’ve moved on

I read a newspaper story today that said

“The world hasn’t stopped turning since the towers came down and the Pentagon smoldered and the earth was torn in a Pennsylvania field.”

Yet for the Republican party (and certain Dems and “independent Democrats”), it’s as if the world did stop, then and there.

Or if it did, they continue to rewind in times of political insecurity.

As Keith Olbermann said in a “Special Comment” segment on last night’s Countdown, to the GOP “9/11 has become… 9/11, with a trademark logo.”

I’m reminded of this as I remember September 11, 2001. I remember the horror and confusion created by the attacks, the anger the generated, and the hope that things would not get worse. On that day, I was teaching a class in Metarie, Louisiana, and it was tough to concentrate on my curriculum when my mind, as well as the minds of all my students, was focused on lower Manhattan, Arlington and Pennsylvania.

As time went by, I saw some of the best of America come forth: community efforts to help the victims’ families, a re-visitation of how people viewed being “American,” and a non-partisan unity of spirit and resolve.

But this feeling didn’t last long. Partisan bickering and misguided revenge put the United States into a war with a country that had nothing to do with the Al-Quaida attacks. Racism revealed its ugly face as civil liberties were undermined and the Constitution weakened in the name of so-called “security.” Fear was used as political capital, to the detriment of the foundations of this country.

And still, seven years later, many people – politicians, the media, victims of the attacks and those who still harbor feelings of anger and revenge – re-open the wounds of the attacks. These people keep looking backward, trying to find closure to a wound that they refuse to let heal.

I prefer to look forward – and I think that I’m not alone in that sentiment. During this hectic election time, I wince whenever any of the candidates lean on “remembering 9/11” as a justification for misguided military spending, detrimental expansion of domestic oil drilling, subsidizing bankrupt entities, propping up outmoded business models, and instilling fear in the voters.

But the politicians serve it up, aided by the waitstaff that is the media, and many members of the public lap it up like manna.

Except for the fact that this manna is no less off-putting than Soylent Green: not the food of the gods, but an empty form of sustenance brought forth via the most foul and despicable means imaginable.

The people of the United States can be better than this. They’re being sold out by misguided trust: in the media, in the pundits.

As far as 9/11 is concerned, I’ve moved on. While I will never forget the tragedy – I reflected on the events of that day during a slow, quiet ride to work this morning – I prefer to look forward, to move toward something better and not dwell on the mistakes and horrors of the past.

If only more people in this country felt the same, perhaps we would be asking the right things of our politicians rather than the non sequitur. At least I can hope that’s the case.

building a bridge back to the 20th… er, 19th century

With these words in John McCain’s speech, he revealed the entire focus of his campaign and his party:

“We have to catch up to history.”

So he says that we need to catch up with something that’s inherently in the past.

Sure, John. Yup. Okay.

Is it any wonder that many folks around the world see the United States as backwards and puritan in its ways, culture and beliefs? Well wonder no longer: that’s been the modus operandi for the GOP.

So yes, a McCain administration would be McSame: more of the same detrimental, destructive, divisive politics of BushCo.

No, thanks.

There is one area where McCain was right last night: a change is coming to Washington, DC, in the form of Barack Obama.

all i’m gonna say about palin (for now, at least)

As if you can’t tell from my political musings of the past, I’m no fan of the modern-day GOP and its pandering to extreme elements: misguided evangelical zealots, the hyper-rich, and those who lead by division, rather than by unity.

Sen. McCain has had moments of independence from these forces, but in the end he, too, trod down the path of theocon/neocon pandering in his race to become President before he kicks the bucket. No move says this more than his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate.

Plainly speaking, she’s no more qualified than I am (read: not at all) to be one heartbeat/tumor/coma/scandal away from one of the most powerful offices in the world.

Here are my concerns about Palin:

  • She has almost no true executive experience on a large scale. Wasilla’s town government had only 50 employees, and those in Alaska who report to her office number less than 2,500. Furthermore, in Wasilla she delegated most leadership duties to an adviser, while maintaining a “pretty face” at the titular helm of the town.
  • She purports to fight corruption while proving herself a leader in being corrupt. Witness her term as mayor of Wasilla, where she played pork barrel politics to the tune of $30+ million in federal appropriations for junk projects. Witness her continuing acceptance of PAC money from Abramoff’s cronies. Witness the improper use of her office to try and sway hiring and firing decisions, as well as the related cover-up and smokescreen battle.
  • She knows nothing about international relations – or the dangers of mixing religion and international politics. In a recent address in front of her right-wing church, she claimed that our soldiers are in Iraq and Afghanistan doing “a task of God.” In most circles, that’s equating our hostile occupation of the Middle East as a crusade – a BIG no-no in trying to maintain any diplomatic stance on relations with the Middle East. And let’s be blunt: just because Alaska is only a short distance across the Bering Strait from Russia doesn’t bring any expertise in border relations with an international superpower.
  • She shows little knowledge of the history of the United States or the structure of its agencies. She attributes the Pledge of Allegiance to the founding fathers (false), especially the “under God” line (introduced during the McCarthy communist scare era). She also takes credit for leading the Alaska National Guard, which answers only to the Department of Defense. And as recently as July, she claimed that she didn’t know the real purpose of the office of Vice President of the United States – more theatrical, perhaps, but she failed to see the purpose of the office.
  • She believes that women’s rights should be decided upon by men, without any input from women who are free-willed and open-minded.
  • She believes that science and religion are not mutually exclusive – which should shock her father, who was a science teacher.
  • She has precious little world travel experience (to almost everybody’s knowledge), which as we’ve seen with Bush 43, is a major danger when dealing with global cultures, norms, politics and religions.
  • Few Alaskans of either party have positive things to say about her or her leadership skills. I trust first-hand knowledge of a person’s leadership abilities, and many first-hand accounts I’ve read and heard are far from positive.

I could go on, but won’t. In summary: she’s unfit and unqualified to be the second-in-line to the presidency of these United States.

And her selection speaks volumes of the fortitude – or lack thereof – of John McCain. He caved to the forces of division to try and seal up parts of the GOP base (conservative women and evangelicals) who would never vote for Barack Obama. I’m sure that the decision of Palin was not entirely up to McCain, and that he would’ve rather gone with Tom Ridge, Joe Lieberman or Mitt Romney as his running mate. But rather than stand strong and be a maverick, McCain chose the same old divisive route that is a hallmark of the GOP since the days of Nixon.

For shame, Sen. McCain. For shame, Gov. Palin. For shame, GOP.

ETA: Click here to hear Gov. Palin mention the “task of God” aspect of military action in the Middle East.

that well is dry, media folk and mccain handlers

I’m sorry, but John McCain was a POW over 30 years ago.

That’s a lot of time for recovery, and he seems to have done just fine compared to some Vietnam vets who are still suffering from PTSD and other major psychological and physiological side-effects from their service – and sometimes imprisonment – in Viet Cong prisons.

But many in the mainstream media and McCain’s camp say it’s unfair to attack the senator’s frequent gaffes and lapses in basic logic by saying it’s unfair to attack the man “because he was a POW.”

What the fuck?

Is this even relevant?

Being a former POW is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for every slip-up in a person’s life, personal or political. Sure, you can use it for certain things that are directly correlated to the trauma of war. But it’s not a catch-all excuse for a person who has proven completely unqualified to be President of the United States.

Gen. Wesley Clark was correct: being a POW does not automatically qualify a person to be President, any more than spending a night in jail for public drunkenness qualifies a person to be the Chief of Police or head of ATF.

It’s too bad that most in the mainstream media don’t seem to give a rat’s ass. So to my graduation speaker from 1996, Tom Brokaw, it is with a bit of sadness that I can no longer take you seriously as a reporter when you, too, subscribe to the “POW=untouchable” theory.

So to anybody who is using the POW excuse for McCain, please stop. Show me a reason why he’s qualified to be President, because I can’t see any.

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