Pay attention!

Congress does not have a policy permitting retirement at full pay after one term. Congress critters are on FERS, which is the same federal retirement program as the rest of the Federal government. In 1984, congressmen were on another program, CSRS, and did not pay into Social Security. They also were not eligible for social security, so that is a wash. You can google congressional retirement plans any time you like. It’s publicly available information available here.

Congress critters do not exempt themselves from the health care reform legislation – check here. They have a valid health care plan, and that is all that is required. I’m on the same health care plan I was on when the legislation went into affect. The only impact it has had on me is actually on my children, since they will be covered by my plan for five additional years, thanks to that legislation. I’m not exempt from health care reform, I was already involved in a health care plan, so the new legislation had little impact on my life.

Hey! most of the federal deficit was paid to American Corporations.The money is still in the U.S, or at least held by U.S. citizens – most of it went to the U.S. military industrial complex. The bombs and bullets went away, but the cash is either here or in off-shore accounts. When are those trillions going to trickle down to us, the hoi polloi? Methinks they won’t. Never. Trickle down doesn’t work when the corporations are handing out record-breaking bonuses during years when their companies claim losses. I’m guessing that a lot of that money is going into off-shore accounts.

I’m not in the life-boat yet, so I’m kind of pissed that they’re pulling in the ropes.

Bill

Crit Group

Last night was the first meeting of the Eagle River (Alaska) Critique Group, which I’ll personally call Jitter’s Critters. We meet at a coffee shop called Jitters, and I don’t think any of my fellow writers are reading this, so I’ll continue to think of it as JC until somebody comes out with a better name than ER Critique Group.

Eight of us showed, and five of us are writing speculative fiction. Seven of us have already written a book length manuscript, tho one writes mysteries and another is working the great American novel of philosophy and naval gazing, uh, self-reflection. There is real hope in my heart.

I guess I started it, but my friend Mary has the more important role of secretary. She’ll probably run the thing until somebody else falls for her line of… I mean, until somebody interested in building their CV by running a functional writer’s group steps into the position.

This will be the first live crit group I’ve been in where the other writers are working at long fiction, and most are in my genre. I hope everybody finds value in this and comes back week after week, but I’d be satisfied if I could get four or five speculative fiction writers to bounce ideas off of, drink coffee with. I’m really hoping that this thing lasts, so worry that I’ll be the only one sitting at the table next Monday.

Bill

Believing impossible contradictions

We live in a weird political maelstrom. I cannot decide if it has been this way for as long as I remember, or if the current crop of extreme viewpoints is really boiling toward some sort of violence. The result is we all try to believe unreasonable numbers of contradictory things, and too many of us fall back on trusting the most sincere salesman in the room. Our right wing, which calls itself conservative, but does not believe in, or in any way support conservation (apologies to Ducks Unlimited; you are the exception that proves the rule, and you must be fairly aware of that), currently is up in arms that about 47% of the U.S. hasn’t paid taxes in the last three years. But that is caused not by people refusing to pay taxes, but by a campaign of lowering taxes, reducing the effectiveness of the IRS, and shrinking government in relation to the population of the United States, that has been underway, largely pushed by the conservative right, since Reaganrsquo;s era (oops, since his era ended. Reagan approved some pretty large tax increases to deal with federal deficits).span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanYet today, this largely conservative program is coming home to roost as a Democratic initiative gone wrong.span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanThe really sad thing?span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanItrsquo;s just another example of politicians directing attention away from the significant.span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp;br /!–/w:LatentStyles–br /That#39;s right.nbsp; When things were going well, Republicans gladly beat the drum loudly about lowering taxes to the poor.nbsp; Easy votes for negligible income, when you look at the federal balance.nbsp; Now, when the laws they lauded five years ago are actually providing relief to the poorest of us, but the political fires are burning hot in Republican Land to keep taxes off of the rich, the favoite complaint is that not everybody is paying a share.nbsp; This, in an era when the difference in wealth between the poorest and the richest in the US is larger than it has ever been.br /br /I#39;m gonna quit complaining after this next one.nbsp; I heard somebody playing up the idea that the poorest 20% of Americans makes more money than 80% of the rest of the world.nbsp; This is an almost meaningless statistic.nbsp; The piece of shit appartment I lived in when my wife and I first moved in together probably cost more per month than half the world makes in a year.nbsp; The cheapest of two bedroom appartments in Anchorage costs more than $1000.00 a month, or about $2000,00 every year more than the average person on earth makes,a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita” the worldwide income per capita being about $10400 each year./a/span/span Median is another deal.nbsp; The world median income was $1700 in 2005, and probably hasn#39;t done any growing since 2008.nbsp; That#39;s right.nbsp; The worst turd of a 2 bedroom appartment in Anchorage, AK, costs about $10300.00 more than the median income on the planet.nbsp;br /br /There are a lot of people in the US, whose personal weekly expenditures are 10 times what I make in a year, but who pay at a lower tax rate than I do, and the Republican part is ready to go to the mats for them, while screaming that people who have fallen beneath the poverty line should be taxed more heaviily before the millionaires consortium sees any increase./lj-cutbr /!–/lj-cut–nbsp; Yes, there is a class war going on.nbsp; Too bad us hoi poloi only just heard.nbsp; The march on that one was stolen years ago, and we#39;ve already lost.

Redneck boy makes good out there in the stars!

Ric Locke’s Temporary Duty (TDY) is a really solid read — one of the best I’ve had in several years. It’s about John Peters, a junior enlisted person in a believable near future US Navy, who volunteers to swab decks on an interstellar aircraft carrier/interstellar trading ship, crewed by aliens, Mankind’s first contact. Peters’ America is one where the poor don’t get school, the vote, or much chance to make something of themselves. It isn’t a glass ceiling, it’s more of an adamantium barrier. Wealth and privilege are birthrights of the wealthy and privileged, and American society has become a caste system in all but name.

But, all of that is backdrop, and Locke dribbles the info in over hundreds of pages of fun space opera. Peters’ adventures in space are engaging, his cynical attitude well earned, and his ability to rise to any occasion seems to flow naturally from the character. As a retired Coastie pilot, with a pinch of army warrant officer pilot in my past, I found that all of the human technical language was familiar to me, and the sort of interactions Peters has with fellow enlisted and officers generally rang true to the real world, with the exception that the behaviors Peters experiences in the officers of his story are behaviors that would have got me cashiered if I had acted that way during my military career.  This isn’t unreasonable, given the premise of a much darker, very hierarchical US social structure. Almost any of the worst behaviors the officers and senior enlisted personnel in Peter’s unit display are things I saw happen at some point in my career — but most of the time by people who got to experience civilian life within a couple years of doing whatever they did.

Another reviewer commented that this isn’t a military action book, and that is true. But fans of military SF, who know what they’re looking at, will really love this book. Fans of Andre Norton’s Interstellar trader stories will really love this book. Fans of Heinlein’s “Between Planets” or “Citizen of the Galaxy” and his other early adventures with sideline social commentary will really love this book. I even think that fans of the recent BSG will love this book. Fans of C.J. Cherryh’s alien worlds will really love this book, for its interesting alien cultures and environments. Fans of John Carter of Mars will love this book, especially the last half.  You’ve probably got my drift. One other thing — while this book reminds me of many things, it is uniquely Ric Locke’s creation. I’m really glad that I read it.

One of the things I love about TDY is the fact that it isn’t a simply premised adventure. Peters’ life changes, and the nature of his adventures change over time — a lot like real life. The man who we meet at the beginning is still there at the end, but is only a part of the whole. I think that the Gatekeepers of Modern Publishing can’t accept this thing because they can’t define it in a two minute pitch. Buy it.  Read it. You’ll probably tell friends to buy and read it.

rolling rapture

If the world ends tonight at 6:00 PM, my family will be swept in the rapture.  We’re taking our pets with us and going on a long vacation, because that’s the way we’ll want it to be.

As happy as that thought might be, somehow I refrained from calling my boss an old meanie, or giving up my work-plans for Monday.  I’ve just got this gut feeling that the only people who will disappear this weekend are Harold Camping and his friends, who will need to figure out where their math went wrong – this time.

Another health care rant.

I don’t approve of using the insurance industry to pay for health care reform. That’s thirty percent of our medical care dollars going into corporate coffers, and enough money each year to pay for healthcare for all the deadbeats the industry keeps telling us are out there trying to steal our hard-earned insurance dollars.

I think that the health care insurance industry is just another corporate Colossus that has managed to completely separate health care costs from market realities, and will continue blindly jacking up the price of health care costs until the system breaks down.  Not the value of health care, just the cost of it.

I think that the federal government should go into competition with AETNA, and set out to win. If laissez faire is so fair, if private business is so much more effective and competitive, then AETNA will win out in the end against those lazy bureaucrats in the public sector, and find ways to make sure private citizens can afford health care programs that won’t vanish when things get ugly, and the patient becomes too weak to hold his job.

I think that the federal government ought to be in the business of keeping successful and competent obstetricians from having to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars a year in malpractice insurance, because they have to protect themselves from desperate customers who’ve lost everything, and a loved one, paying for an unsuccessful outcome.  That is just plain sad and sinful.  The reason so many health care professionals want reform is because they aren’t getting the money we pay for our care. Insurers, boards of trustees, and lawyers are getting more health care dollars than many of our doctors are.  Let’s face it.  Americans spend 16% of the largest GNP in the world on health care. That is the largest percentage of the very largest GNP going, and we aren’t living any longer than any of the other first world nations.  That is probably because our medical care providers are paying half of their income into what amounts to a protection industry.  Call it what it is: a protection racket.

As individuals, we cannot control the collective might of the corporate insurance industry.  Medical Insurance invalidates the entire concept of market forces at work when it comes to controlling prices.  It’s time and past time to put our federal government to work sorting out the morass of insurance industry malfeasance that is slowly but inexorably making health care something that only the wealthiest of our children will be able to afford.

A medal for not dying?

I’ve promised, in several places at one time or another, to tell my story about the time the Army gave me a medal for not dying. It’s time to get on with it. On April 17th, 1985, I was flying my first mission as Pilot In Command (PIC), when I flew my entirely Visual Flight Rules (VFR) scout helicopter and nonflying Lieutenant Colonel passenger into the clouds. It happened in Germany, near Neurnberg, when I was a young warrant officer. I lived through the experience and landed at the American training base in Grafenwoehr with an undamaged aircraft.

In very compressed order, I was flying in a shallow but steep sided valley away from Grafenwoehr and toward Goeppingen, through an area with a forecast of patchy fog, but three kilometers of visibility. The banks of the valley grew increasingly foggy as we headed west, and near the Poppberg intersection the autobahn we were flying above suddenly started to disappear in front of me. I started a turn and entered thick clouds at fifty-knots indicated airspeed, a forty-five degree bank angle, fifty-feet above the ground. When he world went gray, I leveled out, pulled all the pitch I had power for, and climbed at max angle of climb airspeed (essentially the slowest speed you can go and still get maximum efficiency from the rotor system. If memory serves, that was about fifty knots indicated, and was a little slower than the Kiowa helicopter was fully stable. I was more interested in putting ridge-lines and hilltops beneath me than in flying smoothly at that moment.

I’d been having some difficulty with my VHF/aviation radio, and so I turned on my emergency transponder code, then continued to follow the inadvertent IMC procedure as set forth in the USAREUR Supplement I to the Army’s flight regulations. It never rains but it pours: I discovered that I could not communicate on any emergency frequency. (This communications failure was due to poor equipment. The aircraft was returned to Coleman Barracks for avionics work after return to home base) About 5 minutes later, I regained contact with Grafenwoehr tower on my tactical FM radio. Because I no longer trusted my radios. I continued on the “copter only” nondirectional beacon approach I had planned while flying without communication. After 35 minutes flying on instruments only, we broke out of the clouds on final approach into Grafenwoehr.

After landing, I forgot to drop my passenger at the VIP pad. He didn’t seem to mind. Later, he claimed not to have been aware that we had survived an emergency that day, and that the only indication he had of anything unusual was the altimeter needle going around and around during the climb. That is a polite fiction, as few colonels are accustomed to obeying orders snapped at them by overstressed WO1 pilots. Without the colonel’s calm support and professional manner, this young WO1 might not have landed safely that day. As it was, we both spent thirty-five minutes pretending everything was business as usual.

I had probably pushed too hard, but that was the job, and given the circumstances of visibility in that valley of twice what we required for single pilot operations, I’m not sure that anybody I knew would have backed down. I know that thirty army helicopters spent that night parked in fields across southern Germany, when the forecast patchy fog turned turned out to be overly optimistic.

Had I pushed too hard? European weather is often poor, and we become accustomed to flying at minimums. It is possible that I was simply overconfident and blundered into a fogbank. But the picture of that Autobahn fading away haunted me. It did not look as if I flew into the clouds. It seemed as if the fog suddenly closed in around me. I eventually wrote an article in Aviation Digest, the Army’s flight safety journal (September/October 1989), discussing what I think happened that caused me to fly into the fog. In a nutshell, the valley had wind blowing directly up it from lower altitudes, and I think that Venturi effect caused winds in that valley to keep the surrounding fog pushed up and away, and the local windspeed high enough to delay fog formation. Then the winds shifted by about ninety degrees, and a million tons of fog fell on the autobahn from the side of the valley. The visual effect was as if a curtain dropped on the path in front of me.

So, why did I get a medal? I can only theorize about that. The European Army aviation people were very interested in my story, and spent a few days digging around to see if I was a bad-boy. My boss at that time was an experience older Warrant Officer, and I’ve always suspected that he knew something major had to happen. The way of the Army is, if you do something unusual, you’re either a hero or a goat, and my boss decided I wasn’t a goat. He also knew that we worked directly for an Infantry unit, and were always at least a little suspect in their eyes. I suspect more to prevent a witch hunt than because he really thought I deserved it, my boss recommended me for an Air Medal. After a couple weeks of confusion, we got a call from headquarters telling us that they don’t give air medals for going into the clouds. This pleased me no end, because I wasn’t feeling heroic, I was feeling like a lucky survivor, and emotionally still felt that going into the clouds was entirely my fault. My unit compromised by giving me an Army Commendation Medal.

In later years I decided that, for my then level of expertise and knowledge, I’d done alright. I hadn’t been any dumber than any other WO1 pilot trying to prove himself, and a lot of other pilots got caught by that wrong forecast. Also, I did some research into inadvertent IMC in the Army, and discovered that, between 1 January 1980 and 5 April 1988, 38 reported rotary-wing aviation mishaps involved inadvertent IFR/IMC in forecast VFR conditions Ten of those were Class A mishaps, which meant back then that they either destroyed the aircraft or killed somebody (for those who were around, a class A either killed someone, or caused more than $100K. If you were flying a Huey or an OH-58, that meant you destroyed the plane. If you were flying an Apache attack helicopter, it meant that you accidentally shattered the NVS helmet hookup when you jumped out of the helicopter to take piss during a long training flight (Okay, I’ve done some odd stuff that led to good story. How do you tell somebody in a bar that you had a Class A incident because you forgot to unhook a cable with a sending unit from your helmet, jumped out of the helicopter to pee in the woods, and had the $100K sending unit shatter when it snapped off your helmet and slapped against the side of the helicopter? More to the point, how do you tell that one without just sounding goofy?)

Moments come back to haunt you, sometimes. Suppose I had been in a deeper valley when I started that turn and the world went gray?

Lemonade or Grape flavored?

I woke up this morning to a lie from the political party I most side with. Guy Cecil from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wrote to tell me that the “Republicans are so against funding women’s healthcare that they would shut down the federal government over it.” He was lying, and we both knew it. Of course, he probably thought I didn’t, but that just goes to show the incredible gall many politicos have — the unvarnished disdain they have toward their constituency.

If it wasn’t for the serious avalanche of tripe my tea-partying friends are swallowing without any hint of critical appraisal, I’d be more angry with my party. Instead, I’m mildly disgusted, but mostly just worn out. I guess when it comes down to it, the Democrats aren’t my party. They’re just the team that pisses me off the least, this year.

I voted for Barack Obama, even though I’ve always liked John McCain. I’ll vote for Obama again in a year or so, even though I think he’ll lose. I admire the fact that he put his own political career in the shredder to push through a health care bill that we badly need, as a people, if health care is to remain available to everybody. We need to begin thinking of health care as a necessary public service like electric power or running water, or long and healthy life will become the special domain of the wealthy, an elitist privilege.

But President Obama told us that he could be a bipartisan president, at the same time as the DNCC was pushing me for donations to make sure that the Republican’s were so outnumbered that they couldn’t even front a filibuster when “my” party of the moment wanted to have a free hand at whatever legislation they wanted to pass.

As it happens, I don’t want to turn my guns over to the democrats any more than I want to watch the Republicans walk us in lockstep into their most desperately, trenchantly, right leaning members’ idea of a moral utopia. Abortion is not murder — probably 30% of all first pregnancies self terminate. That whole argument is stupid — God isn’t murdering those miscarriages. We are a Christian people, but not a Christian country, and our founding fathers made sure of that. Funny how the wisdom of the founding fathers is plenty of excuse to allow the poor to starve or freeze to death without public aid, but inadequate to bind the country to remaining religiously tolerant.

When it comes down to it, both sides are grandstanding to get attention. If the Republicans blew off their most rabid supporters, and the Democrats really tried to figure out why the Republican middle doesn’t want to give up their guns, give up their sense of traditional values, home as castle, etc, then maybe we could move forward on some really important things.

I don’t want to spend $4.10 per gallon for the privilege of burning Exxon’s industrial waste in my car. I want Shell to use that oil for important things, and treat gasoline as the industrial waste that it is. I want BP to acknowledge that most of the gasoline we burn is something they would otherwise need to dispose of themselves, and stop playing cynical games with charging the absolute maximum they can get from us. Yes, it is possible to engineer a crash in the U.S. economy by charging enough for gasoline.

Wallstreet crashed twice in the first decade of the 21st Century, and we pretend that there is a reason to argue about regulating that place. Most of my friends who lost money during those crashes have never recovered their basis. I had almost recovered my investment from the first crash at the beginning of the decade when the next one hit at the end of the Republican monopoly on congress. Both sides of the fence look away from the fact that the stock-market is just legalized gambling. There are legitimate stocks available for purchase, but most of what goes on there is just addicted gamblers pushing paper around, hoping that their scrip will sell for more of more than it is worth than they paid for it. When the stock market isn’t in freefall, it bounces ten percent on some days. This is not a viable place to keep any money that isn’t absolutely available to be lost.

One of my best retired-military friends owns a bar and grill in Oregon. He spends more on his cook than he earns for himself. His costs are mostly in the form of required benefits, and unless the economy goes back into overdrive, he’ll probably end up selling the place. Too many social programs are being paid for by small business owners.

My sister has lived in and around San Francisco for ahem years. She spent about twenty of them in the food service industry, working three or four jobs at a time. A huge chunk of the food service industry in that area can’t afford full time employees because of the required benefit packages. They avoid that by having five employees doing the job of two full time employees, so that nobody goes over half-time.

A lot of people want to argue that laissez faire business without legal controls is the only way to make the country work, because that’s the way it was when Beaver Cleaver was a sprite. Big business wants us to believe that, because it does work out well for big business. Unfortunate, really, that there isn’t enough big business to go around. But millions, maybe even billions, of dollars are spent to keep the American people from recognizing just how far from true it is that the board of directors or stockholders of GM care a whit about the twenty people who applied to work for that company but were turned down for every one person who actually found employment there. The mobilization of money, deceit and influence that went into fighting health care reform was awe inspiring, and continues to be intimidating, especially when you consider that health care reform is saving lives, and that with some concerted effort on the part of lawmakers, could be economically freeing for 99% of the people in this country, without putting anybody at all in the poor house. This is particularly agonizing to me, since it would work so much better if there weren’t so many people trying to get it to fail because it originated in the wrong camp, and not because it’s a bad idea. Health care reform is a stellar idea, and most of the people in the health care industry approve of it.

Why is it so very easy for me to find out how much money the average American makes, and how many of us there are, and what the average family earns, but so impossible for me to find out how much money the US corporations make, and what portion of the U.S. economy is tied up in corporate accounts? That question practically answers itself. We have big problems in this country, both sides of the political divide are fully aware of it, and they’d rather keep us fighting about abortion, entitlement mentality, and freedom of religion than turn our corporate gaze on what was really going on during the budget crisis this week. The Republicans and the rebranded republicans in the Tea Party were pissing on the American people with lemonade flavored piss. The Democrats were pissing on the American people with Grape flavored piss. But it was all piss.