The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Archive for December, 2010

Ringing in the New Year with Friends

Posted by thearrow on December 31, 2010

The way it should be.

I’m dog-sitting Tache again, except now it’s at their masters’ newly bought house, a lovely place. I’ve got some kick-ass Veuve Clicquot champagne, which another friend sent us as a wedding gift but we haven’t opened it yet, so that’s guaranteed to welcome 2011 properly.

We have spinach quiche and smoked salmon, which I bought from the store today as part of my well-thought-out last-minute plans. Our friends Margie, Chuck, and Nick will bring takeout Thai food and pizza (don’t ask 🙂 ).

And we’ll toast in front of a remote-controlled fireplace, champagne in hand.

All this while Jinks will be sleeping in my comforter, stealing my comfurtz. He LOVES that thing and spends all day ensconced in it, so he’ll be happy while we keep Tache company.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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Merry Christmas Cactus

Posted by thearrow on December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas everyone and a very generous and cheerful 2011!

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I’m a Soul Sister Now

Posted by thearrow on December 17, 2010

Now that it’s wintertime, I get even colder than usual. I sometimes wear a warm, thick scarf in the office even if I already have a turtleneck sweater on. Which concerned two of my older African American colleagues who are very protective of me and who asked me if I’m taking vitamins and supplements. Apparently, getting cold all the time is a sign of iron deficiency. I said I’m not taking any although I know I probably should.

One of them is this very sweet older man (a grandfather) who’s a really wonderful, warm person. “Are you eating your greens?” he asked. “Yes,” I was proud to say. “As a matter of fact, I’m eating collard greens this week.”

At which point the other colleague, a younger woman with a big mouth, dazzling smile, and a great sense of humor, yelled, “She’s a soul sister!” and immediately did a high-five with the guy. I completely cracked up.

Until just a few days before, I had no idea that collard greens are a favorite Southern dish and, therefore, a favorite African American dish. I can’t remember when I ate them the first time and not even how they were cooked, but I liked them. They are what’s called “leafy greens” and, boy, are they leafy! They are these big, thick, hearty leaves of wonderful consistency, that really fill you up. You’d never say you ate just leaves.

I saute them in olive oil with *a lot* of smashed garlic and that’s it. I figured they’re a bit like spinach, spinach goes great with garlic, therefore any other leafy greens go well with garlic. And I was right! I can eat just a plate of greens cooked that way with some bread and have a great dinner.

After relishing my conversion to their greens, my colleagues started to tell me how to cook them. And at the end of our chat, the older guy wished me “Welcome to the family!” 🙂

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The Coffee Club

Posted by thearrow on December 14, 2010

The most amazing perk where I work comes from a coffee aficionado colleague. We have a small coffee club for which we chip in three bucks a week and said colleague buys Nicaraguan and Guatemalan fair-trade green beans, roasts them at home, lets them sit for two days, and brings them to work. Not only that, but he grinds just what we need for a pot. All this very early in the morning, so that when I get there there’s freshly brewed coffee to start my day.

You can’t get more spoiled that that. But on top of it, I’m getting a coffee education. He tells me what the different characteristics of that day’s coffee are and, in time, I’ve come to recognize them. I think I’ve guessed the two countries several times. I get my cup and then tell him what I taste. It’s more or less like wine tasting. I know it’s hard to imagine that, but there really are different nuances depending on where the coffee grows and you can figure them out. I can taste the tobacco and chocolate, for instance, which I never though I’d be able to do.

I’m telling you, it would be hard for me to work somewhere else.

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How I Fixed America’s Budget Deficit

Posted by thearrow on December 3, 2010

The New York Times‘ website has a very nifty tool that lets you choose what you want to cut or what taxes you want to raise:

Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget
“Today, you’re in charge of the nation’s finances. Some of your options have more short-term savings and some have more long-term savings. When you have closed the budget gaps for both 2015 and 2030, you are done. Make your own plan, then share it online.”

Which is exactly what I’m doing below:

Eliminate farm subsidies. Of course I was going to choose this since big agribusiness is profiting from it. As in, they’re probably a billion-dollar industry AND they are subsidized by the federal government at the same time. A government intervention Republicans like while thinking the health care reform is socialized medicine and not getting a brain short because of the contradiction. How crazy is that?

– Cut pay of civilian federal workers by 5%. I figured it’s less painful to have this across-the-board cut rather than layoffs. We have enough unemployment already.

– Cut 250,000 government contractors. A drop in the bucket.

Reduce military to pre-Iraq War size and further reduce troops in Asia and Europe. We’ve got too much military spending anyway.

Cancel or delay some weapons programs. If you go to the online tool, you’ll see that those weapons would be replaced with others just as effective but cheaper, so, for Republicans out there, I’m not against America defending itself.

– Reduce noncombat military compensation and overhead. This “would change health-care plan for veterans who had not been wounded in battle” and “reduce the length and frequency of combat tours.” What’s not to like?

Reduce the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to 30,000 by 2013. Let’s face it, however you want to call what’s going on at least in Afghanistan, is not winnable with troops. It will probably take generations of international development to see the slightest changes and even then I’m not optimistic.

– Enact medical malpractice reform. This is one thing I actually agree with Republicans about. “Many doctors believe so-called defensive medicine – ordering tests and procedures to avoid lawsuits – is a major reason health costs are so high. This option would begin to reduce the chances of large malpractice verdicts, and supporters believe, also reduce rising medical costs.” Also, it’s unacceptable to have malpractice insurance costs for life-saving specialties, like ob-gyn or pediatrics, so high that it might prevent doctors from going into those fields. I would use some of those savings to increase pay for primary care physicians, though, which fewer and fewer medical students choose because it doesn’t pay well enough for them to repay their enormous student loans. What a vicious circle.

– Reduce the tax break for employer-provided health insurance. Let me say I have GREAT health insurance coverage and I wouldn’t mind paying taxes on it. Health insurance is a non-taxable benefit now and it benefits mostly the middle-class. I know the middle-class has been seriously battered by the recession, but they are the people who have jobs that offer this because their employers are large enough. Not to mention that employers write this cost off as a business expense (some of the terms I’m using might not be very accurate but you get the idea). Well, people in low-paying jobs usually don’t have ANY health insurance (or paid leave, for that matter) or have something completely inadequate that doesn’t help in case of catastrophic health problems (cancer, anyone?). So, not only they’re paid crap for hard jobs, but they don’t get the benefits higher-paid employees do. And we wonder why there’s so much poverty and 50 million uninsured people in America.

– Cap Medicare growth starting in 2013. Medicare is universal health insurance for those 65 and over. Something nobody else gets here. Some will say that the poor get Medicaid, but the reimbursement rates for Medicaid are much lower than for Medicare, and therefore fewer doctors are willing to accept poor people as their patients. The elephant in this budget are ever-increasing health care costs, a.k.a Medicare. Something has to be done to get them under control. According to NYT, “This option would cap the Medicare growth at G.D.P. growth plus 1 percentage point, starting in 2013. Among other things, this would crack down on many hospitals and doctors with the highest costs.” I’m not against the elderly, I’m against excessive costs. This measure alone would save $562 billion by 2030.

– Reduce Social Security benefits for those with high incomes. I don’t think I need to say why rich people don’t really need high pensions, something they don’t rely on for their retirement anyway.

– Return the estate tax to Clinton-era levels. For my friends outside the U.S., this is the tax on inheritance. I think a $1 million exemption from this is more than enough.

– Return investment-gains rates to Clinton-era levels. Low-income people would be taxes less than the rest on capital gains, which I like. Dividends are not exactly like wages (for which you work your ass off), so they should be taxed at the same rate as the latter. One reason we’ve seen 20% of the country’s income go to the top 1% of earners (otherwise known as the growing income inequality) is that those people don’t draw much from salaries; they have investments taxed very low. Enough of that.

– Allow expiration of Bush tax cuts for income above $250,000 a year. Do I need to explain why? Because it would add $700 billion to the deficit, that’s why. Rich people don’t need more money than they’ve already amassed.

– Payroll tax: Subject some incomes above $106,000 to tax. Payroll tax is what supports Social Security and Medicare but only part of the salary is taxed for the former.

And, believe it or not, I didn’t event need to close tax loopholes!

Here is why I DIDN’T choose some of the other options:

– Cut foreign aid in half. Not when most people on Earth can barely feed themselves.

– Eliminate earmarks. A drop in the bucket. I’d rather not bother with it.

– Other cuts to the federal government. Nope. Not when it comes to the chronically underfunded National Park Service or the Smithsonian. No way.

– Cut aid to states by 5 percent. You’ve got to be kidding me. Not in this economy, when they had to fire teachers and firefighters because of dismal revenues and deep budget cuts.

– Reduce Navy and Air Force fleets. I don’t think those weigh that heavy on the budget and, in a world full of threats, they should probably be left alone.

– Increase Medicare eligibility age to 68 or 70. You can’t be serious. People 55 and over who have lost their jobs, and therefore their health insurance, are scrambling to have their health care needs met until they reach 65.

– Raise the Social Security retirement age to 68 or 70. And soon you’ll have to work from your grave, right? Oh, wait. You can’t really come back from there. The most I would do would be to raise the early retirement age to maybe 65 instead of 62, like it is right now, but not without some serious protection for low-income and disabled people. Some people can work into their 70s, others have too many health issues to be able to do it.

– Tighten eligibility for disability. Yes. Let’s hit the crippled, I say. Should be fun.

– National sales tax. A really stupid idea. I know it’s proposed by economists I (a non-economist) deeply respect, but I know from my Romanian experience how it can wreak havoc on a family’s budget. I wish them to pay 24% on all their purchases–which is what VAT is now in Romania–and tell me how they feel about it. Or, better, they should give me those 24%.

What I didn’t need to choose because I’ve already solved them problem but I would like to add anyway:

– Millionaire’s tax on income above $1 million. I believe $1 million should be enough to make you comfortable. Anything beyond that cannot be comprehended by the human mind and could probably feed, clothe, educate, etc. a lot of poor people and save their lives in the process.

– Reduce mortgage deduction and others for high-income households. Being able to deduct your mortgage interest from your taxable income is probably a big help for middle-class families. When you get a second home, though, that shouldn’t come at the expense of lost revenue. Or when you get a McMansion. I would both reduce it for high-income people AND cap it at some reasonable level.

– Carbon tax. By all means, yes! We need to feel the direct effect of our global-warming activities, otherwise we’ll never be inclined to switch to cleaner options. The tax should fund R&D for clean energy, of course.

So this was today’s deficit reduction lesson, kids.

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I Changed My Mind about WikiLeaks

Posted by thearrow on December 2, 2010

It’s actually been quite refreshing to read the candid (and jaw-dropping) evaluation of different countries or leaders around the world in The New York Times these days.

Like this one, just posted, about Afghanistan,
Cables Describe Scale of Afghan Corruption as Overwhelming.

Or this other one, about Russia,
Below Surface, U.S. Has Dim View of Putin and Russia.

I don’t know much about Afghanistan, but Russia’s portrayal strikes me as quite accurate and, sadly, not at all surprising. It’s Romania’s corruption at a much larger scale, where, as the article says, “the government effectively [is] the mafia.”

Now I wish Assange had leaked something about Romania, too. If the only result of this is that people will have a better idea of how widespread corruption is in these countries and something, however small, will change for the better, it was worth it. Of course, I welcome leaks about corruption in America, too. Or anywhere else for that matter. It’s a rotten cancer that requires constant effort to be stamped on, rooted out, or destroyed in whatever manner possible.

We definitely need to hear the truth more often. I still think Brooks was right when he said “conversation is damaged by exposure,” but maybe that’s exactly what we need.

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