Feliz Año Nuevo de Ecuador

Two years ago on this date, I was kvetching about all the regimes that had fallen due to their interactions with the criminals that comprised Bu$hCo.  I was depressed and thinking abstractly about the notion of expatriating.

One year ago on this date I noted in this post that for numerous reasons, most acutely the fact that education as the road to a better life may be the single biggest scam in the US today, the ‘American Dream’ is many decades past its death.  Nonetheless, with Barack Obama’s election and the end of the Bush regime, I was cautiously optimistic that America would soon be on the mend.

Today, after a year of ‘Bush the Third’ we find that, not only are we are committed to many more years of war in the Middle East and Asia, but that money still speaks as loudly in Washington as ever—perhaps even more loudly with the near collapse of the financial system and the wholesale indemnification of Wall Street to the detriment of most Americans.  We find that Obama has neither the nerve to stand up to entrenched corporate interests nor the stomach for any type of real change.  He is, at best, a shill for the same interests that held sway during the Bush Administration.

And on this day… I find myself living abroad and no longer treating the notion of expatriation as an academic exercise.  Happy New Year everyone.  I’m hoping for better for the US in 2010 but frankly have stopped believing that anything is really going to change.

Demint has alternative to unionized TSA – Larry Craig may scan male air travelers

Declaring that every alternative security method should be explored before allowing Transportation Security Administration personnel to unionize, Sen. Jim Demint (R-SC) introduced legislation today directing the TSA to use former Sen. Larry Craig to screen air passengers.

The proposal is in response to the Christmas Day incident aboard an Amsterdam-Detroit flight on which a passenger was caught attempting to light an explosive device concealed in his underwear.

Demint’s bill creates a pilot program that would station Craig, the former three term Republican senator from Idaho, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport where he would visually assess and hand-search all male air travelers.

“Airline security will also be President Obama’s Waterloo, and Larry Craig is the leading Republican expert on loos in airports,” said Demint.

“Craig has the know-how, the eyes and the hands for the job,” Demint said.

Reached while vacationing on New York’s Fire Island, Craig displayed ‘Official Underwear Inspector’ business cards he had already had printed. “What do you think about that?” he asked reporters.

An amendment to Demint’s bill by Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) would require all female passengers passing through McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to be screened by Ensign and professional golfer Tiger Woods.

“Only Tiger and I together have the capacity to screen the estimated 9 million women annually passing through McCarran,” Ensign said.

Pat MacRauch, a TSA screener since 2006, said a proposal like Demint and Ensign’s is the very reason he and fellow screeners should be allowed to join a union. “Friskings require extensive training and are one of the biggest perks of the job. We’re not going to let amateur enthusiasts do them for free,” MacRauch said.

Will The Real Bombers Please Step Forward

Washington (f-A-ke. P.) —

This morning at Department of Homeland Security headquarters, senior administration officials gathered representatives of all the major branches of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. Michael Dubrovsky, DHS Undersecretary for Bungled Operations, then posed the question: “OK, which of you was responsible for the ‘underpants bomber’?” In response, 15 Al-Qaeda representatives were reported to have taken a giant step backwards, leaving only the representative of ‘Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’.

Rumors that the Al-Qaeda representatives also made a “…he did it” gesture, could not be verified.

More air travel safeguards – Passengers will now travel in cargo

The Transportation Security Administration today announced new regulations covering international flights to the United States. The additional security measures are in response to a Christmas Day incident, in which Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, 23, the London-educated son of the former chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria, is alleged to have set off an incendiary device on board a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

The new rules require all passengers to travel in the cargo holds of aircraft, said TSA spokesman Gard Frandle. “Palletized loading and transport of air travelers will result in an unprecedented new level of in-flight safety,” said Frandle.

Under the plan, each tranquilized passenger will be sealed inside a climate controlled steel box for loading into the lower part of the airplane.

An advantage of the new rules for the airlines is that passenger cabins are now freed up for baggage. “We’re taking the limits off the amount of luggage allowed on flights, and providing a level of service and comfort heretofore unseen for luggage traveling first class,” said Bertie McFraundle of British Airways.

However, travelers will be limited to one banker’s offspring in their carry-ons.

TSA Freaks Out! …Again

Three years ago, we all thought that the ‘no liquid, no gels’ rule on US bound flights was just a temporary thing. We joked about how it would lead to new draconian restrictions on air travel. A few airlines, most notably British Airways , did clamp down for a few weeks on the really dangerous stuff…like books and magazines. But then we all just learned to put up with 3 oz fluid containers, all the while holding our noses because of all those stinky feet in the security lines.

But with the most recent bungled attempt to bring down a Northwest Airlines jumbo, TSA seems to have jumped the security shark. Reports are coming in that indicate that passengers are being required to say seated for the last 60 minutes of all inbound international flights, while at the same time keeping their laps clear and their hands in view. Fliers are saying that they’ve been prevented from using their ‘approved electronics devices’, from laptops…to iPods…to DVD viewers.

F*ck! At this rate we really will be flying naked in no time—ordered to disgorge the contents of our stomachs and bowels before boarding to ensure that we’re not carrying anything that TSA might not like, including that Taco Bell burrito you choked down on your way to the gate.

Dispatches from South America – How to drink a $6 Chilean wine

So the Frog and I thought with our current proximity to Chile we’d be able to get our suckers on some great wines…cheap!  We stopped into our local Super Mercado and purchased a $6 bottle of Villa Porta Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  Having recently ex-patrioted ourselves from San Francisco we have fairly developed wine palates.  The $6 wine?  Swill.  Seriously, it tasted like vinegar the night we uncorked it, and we’d let it breathe, and breathe and breathe.  I’ve since discovered how you drink a $6 wine.  Purchase your bottle.  Take it home and uncork it, pour 1/4 of the bottle down the drain and recork (don’t evacuate the wine, trust me oxidation is key).  The next day pull out the cork for 30 minutes to let wine breathe.  The day after that wait 7 hours then uncork and pour into glasses.  By this time your wine will be drinkable.  If you’re lucky.  What I can’t get over is $6 for a Chilean wine isn’t that great of a deal.  I can pick them up at home for around $10.  So I’m wondering, what are we doing wrong?  Maybe amphibeans just shouldn’t drink…wine that is.  All else is fair game at Casa de las Ranas!

More ‘Dispatches From South America’

The Health Care Debate Could Not Be More Personal

This is a post that I’ve been very reluctant to write as it involves a situation that, I’m almost embarrassed to say, really should never have been allowed to happen.

You see, for the six months leading up to our little sojourn abroad, after I lost my last steady job back in March 2009, the Frogette and I were “soaring without a net” for the first time in our lives. In other words…with no steady work and crappy COBRA coverage that was too expensive to consider, we choose to risk having no medical coverage at all rather than shell out roughly $8,000 over that period.

Was this a wise decision? Probably not. I have at least two pre-existing conditions that may preclude me from ever getting steady coverage again. (We have “temp” coverage now, but it covers almost nothing.) And we are getting older. In fact, we’ve both reached that stage of life where we really need to be taking care of ourselves, and part of that is good, solid, regular, routine medical exams. Exactly what we cannot get in our current situation, in our country of citizenship, in what Republicans keep referring to as the ‘finest, most efficient, health care system in the world’.

I don’t know how the health care debate is going to turn out. Personally, my knee-jerk instinct is to oppose what looks like another ‘super-giveaway’ to huge, prosperous corporations. On the other hand, if this opportunity to reform the system is lost, there may not be another in our lifetimes.

Regardless, what I do know is this: If the US does not move toward providing health care to all its citizens—does not make for-profit health care illegal, whether it’s single-payer or via some other mechanism—I will not allow myself and my family to be frozen out of affordable health care. I will not risk financial ruin to help pad the bottom line of corporations that are not really interested in keeping anybody healthy. I will take my expertise, my education, my industry, my company, my resources, and my taxes, and I—WILL—LEAVE! I can certainly find another kleptocracy that will, at the very least, take care of me in my declining years, and for the US government to think otherwise, is pure hubris.

To This We Have Been Reduced – Your Own Personal Bailout

…and no I don’t mean the kind where the government decides to throw a little of that fat bailout cash at you.  No… I mean the kind that you really should be considering for yourself if you’re seriously underwater on your mortgage.

This report from the University of Arizona College of Law does a good job of summarizing how American’s who owe more on their homes than their homes are worth should really consider just walking away—that the financial well-being of one’s family may depend on it.  Consider this example (emphasis added):

Unfortunately for Sam and Chris, the housing market began to collapse in 2007. Though they still owe about $560,000 on their home, it is now only worth $187,000.  A similar house around  the corner from Sam and Chris recently listed for $179,000, which, with a modest 5% down, would translate to a total monthly  payment of less than $1200 per month – as compared to the $4300 that they currently pay.  They could rent a similar house in the neighborhood for about $1000.

Assuming they intend to stay in their home ten years, Sam and Chris would save approximately $340,000 by walking away, including a monthly savings of at least $1700 on rent verses mortgage payments, even after factoring in the mortgage interest tax reduction.  The financial gain for Sam and Chris from walking away would be even more substantial if they took their monthly savings and put it into an investment account.  If they stay in their home on the other hand, it will take Sam and Chris over 60 years just to recover their equity – assuming, of course, that they live that long, the market in Salinas has indeed hit bottom, and their home appreciates at the historical appreciation rate of 3.5%.

Underwater and Not Walking Away, Page 10

The report goes on to discuss the many factors that cause individual homeowners to decide not to take a step that so many companies seem willing to take, even willing to build their business models around—In other words, government indemnification against losses.

It’s a sad fact that so many Americans are in this state, even more sad that they seem to be unable to do the one thing that makes imminent financial sense.

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