Tuesday, May 28, 2013


 Three new blogs from The Lion:

I sat with all of them...argued, sometimes at high volumes, with them.  I appreciated their intelligence and most were pretty funny.  Pete Wilson, Duane Garrett, Lee Rodgers and now Gene Burns, provided thousands of hours of entertainment, analysis, discussion and a forum for the Bay Area unmatched by any other radio station or area of the nation.  I miss them, and the passing of Gene adds to this feeling of loss.

     Gene was the living definition of a "gentle-man".  He was courtly and courteous as well as funny and acerbic.  I should have resented him, or been jealous, since his tenure at KGO involved him getting every plum assignment I desired.  He was the morning host while Ronn Owens wasn't around and when Jim Eason left, he was given his slot.  He was able to be so successful because he had the perfect radio voice, temperment and an ability to inform while he entertained.  He was the consummate professional.

     Long before he was a talk show host, Gene was a newsman.  He was a reporter and news director at a number of stations in New York and he understood how news was collected and reported.  It would give him a perspective on the news he would use for the rest of his talk career.  Gene owned Boston.  He also loved Boston.  He took a risk by syndicating his show and eventually got an offer from KGO he could not refuse.  We were the lucky recipients of his opportunity.  Oh, he killed here too.

     Gene had the best racket in radio.  He hosted a weekday talk show just so he could do what he truly loved the most, a weekly food and wine show on Saturdays.  Gene was the real deal.  He was a good friend of Julia Child.  He was a friend with the top chefs and vintners in the world.  He was a James Beard award judge.  He had forgotten more about cooking and wine than most "experts" knew.  The Saturday show was his pride and joy.  It was also a great deal for him.  KGO paid Gene to eat out.  He would go out and try new restaurants and report and review them.  He publicized the incredible wineries of Northern California, many small and unheralded at the time, that soon would be household names.

     Going out to dinner with Gene was a treat.  Unfortunately, I didn't get too many opportunities.  He was a raconteur and could wax on about histories and characters of both the food and wine being served.  He introduced me to Pecorino cheese and Pinot Grigio wine, and I had my first sip of Grappa because of Gene.

     Gene was proud to be a libertarian.  He didn't like the Democrats or the Republicans.  He ran for president on the Libertarian ticket and his politics were about getting government out of our lives and leaving us free to live as we wished.  Social and political issues were all filtered through this perspective.  At a time of heightened nationalism and uber-patriotism, after September 11th especially, Gene was not afraid to take a stand in opposition to the Bush administration's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He clearly articulated the false logic, failed arguments and tragic consequences these policies caused.  He was not a bleeding-heart liberal.  He was a thoughtful critic of a government out of control.

     One of my favorite memories of Gene was when we all gathered for an All-star remote from the Flint Center in Cupertino.  The place held about 1,500 people and it was filled to the gunwales with hundreds still waiting outside.  Tensions were running high as the debate would be about the U.S. policy in Iraq.  Five people with very strong personalities, big egos and loud voices sat on the stage.  As the rhetoric and heat increased, time after time, Gene's comments were trenchant, but always tinged with some humor or a quick line.  He was at his best.  It was so much fun.

     With Gene working 7-10 pm and me working 10p-1am, we saw each other allot.  He was always kind and open and funny and we exchanged ideas about topics and the news of the day.  It was also clear Gene had health issues nearly his entire time at KGO.  I don't know how he maintained the joy for life he had given the various parts of his body which failed him over the years.  A fall, in the stateroom of a cruise ship, almost killed him and I don't think he was ever fully recovered.  I also think the summary and compassionless way he was let go from KGO hurt him a great deal.

     I will always remember a number of disparate things about Gene.  I will remember his Christmas cookie drive where listeners sent in their favorite cookie recipes and he picked the best and showcased them on KGO.  The cookies were so good.  I will remember Gene in heated, intense arguments with a caller only to end the call not with an attack on the caller's ancestry or intellect, but rather with Gene summarizing the encounter by saying, "...that's why God invented chocolate and vanilla ice-cream."  When Gene did criticize a public figure or someone in the news, he would mention their lack of "testicular fortitude" which was one of the worst pronouncements he could hurl.  It's a phrase I love to this day.  It is so elegant and genteel a way to talk about someone lacking the balls to do the right thing.

     I had hoped to re-connect with Gene when I came home.  I would loved to have discussed this experience...share what I have learned...describe the scandal which this system is and the billions of tax dollars wasted each year on this prison/industrial complex.  He would have understood and it would have been a fascinating exchange.  I also thought how amazing, after years of food which has no taste, is of the lowest quality with incompetent preparation, it would be to go out with Gene to the restaurant of his choice and luxuriate in the food choices he would have made.  Alas, this is not meant to be.

     There is no higher compliment, than to refer to someone as a "gentle-man".  Gene Burns left this world better than he found it.  He fought for his principals, but never lost sight of the humanity of the people he opposed or disagreed with.  His class and intellect and heart will be sorely missed.

     Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May he rest in peace.  May his soul and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.



  Sherlock Holmes, seated in a plush velvet chair, smoking his pipe, turns to Dr. Watson and explains the case.  "The question no one but I can answer, Watson, is why the Internal Revenue Service workers in Cincinnati targeted certain groups to be investigated?  It is roiling all of Washington, but the answer is so elementary."

     While the current I.R.S. scandal seems to be a mystery to some, and a cause celeb for others, what happened is simple to explain and even simpler to understand.  Between 2010-2012, non-profit groups wishing to qualify for a 501 (c)(4) designation went from 1,200 applications to 3,400.  A 501(c)(4) designation is a marvelous creature.  It allows a non-profit organization to use "unlimited" amounts of money on issue ads, advocacy activities aimed at swaying voters on a specific issue or series of issues.  As long as this political activity is not the "primary" purpose of its actions, the organization can independently target any race or any issue with no restrictions on how much someone can donate and no limits on how much is spent.  The real gold of a 501(c)(4) is they can accept unlimited donations, but can keep their donors identities secret.  Do you see it yet?  Holmes does.

     Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010, the Citizens United case, that there are no limits on political donations.  Super PACS rose up all over the land.  Karl Rove's Super PAC raised and spent over $300 million in 2012.  However, Super PACS have to release their list of donors.  Regressive billionaires like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Freiss and others didn't like the publicity.  They want to push their regressive agenda in secret and so they let it be known they would now give to (c)(4)'s in the future.

     In 2010, the group responsible for regulating (c)(4)'s inside the I.R.S. was in shambles.  Congress had not spelt out the definition of what constitutes "primary political engagement".  Suspicions were raised that these new (c)(4) groups were really Super PACS in different wrapping and were subverting the law.  Without a clear definition of what constitutes "primary political activity", I.R.S. workers were left to come up with ways to try and see if these applications were for genuine "social welfare" objectives.  (the reason for the existence of (c)(4)'s to begin with)  Could these applications be part of a stealth campaign to launder political donations and engage in political activity all without any scrutiny?  The workers made a poor, but understandable, decision...if you had Tea Party, good government, Patriot or other terms in your organization's name, it was highly likely you were far more interested in politics than "social welfare".  (in fact, can you think of a single project sponsored by one of these targeted groups which promoted genuine social welfare?)  They were wrong to take such a short cut, but it's easy to see why they did it.

     Yes, it's a scandal some groups were targeted for extra scrutiny while others were not.  Yes, all applications for (c)(4) status should be treated equally.  However, the I.R.S. is under staffed, due to Congress and the regressives, and trying to grapple with a law that screams for subjectivity in how it is administered.  It is under pressure to ferret out the crooks and liars (the name Rove keeps coming to mind) while processing applications in a timely manner.  It is an impossible task.

     The bigger question is why (c)(4)'s even exist?  Why should you and I subsidize these groups with our taxes?  We do not benefit in any way.  Regressives constantly scream for a new simpler tax code.  Ok, get rid of (c)(4)'s.  End the charade.  Eliminate the tax deduction for donating to those groups.  Even better, require total transparency by mandating all such organizations publish a list of their donors.  If you do that, their usefulness to the 1% ceases to exist.  If donations aren't secret, they might as well give to a Super PAC.

     Oh, BTW, the hypocrisy of regressives knows no bounds.  When the I.R.S. audited and investigated the NAACP in 2004, after its president criticized President Bush for being the first president since Herbert Hoover to fail to address the organization, no regressive voice was raised in protest.  When pressure from Exxon and other groups resulted in the targeting of Greenpeace by the I.R.S. in 2006, regressives were silent as church mice.  In 2004, the pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena made an anti-Bush sermon the Sunday before the presidential election.  The I.R.S. threatened to revoke its tax-exempt status.  At the same time, regressive churches all over the nation were handing out voting guides, congressional report cards and advocating for regressive candidates from the pulpit and the silence from the I.R.S. was deafening.  The crocodile tears now being shed over the shabby treatment of Tea Party and other groups is embarrassing.

     It's simple.  It's elementary.  Pass a law so all political donations are reported...total transparency.  Have someone other than the I.R.S. enforce it.  End the 501(c)(4) forever or define the terms of its use more clearly.

     The I.R.S. workers may have broken the law, but Congress and the 1% are at least accessories to the crime.


 The United States Chamber of Commerce is the most evil organization in this nation.  It has led a 50-year effort to water down, dilute, eviscerate and eliminate wage and labor protections, hourly wage benchmarks, occupational safety regulations as well as paid vacation and health insurance for workers.  They have done this, in concert with regressives in Congress, to turn back all the advances workers achieved, from the New Deal through the Great Society, by pressure on both presidential and congressional elections and through legislation passed to level the playing field between bosses and workers.  A weak labor movement has allowed the bosses to take away or weaken most positive provisions workers fought for.

     The most recent example is a story in the Wall Street Journal about how employers have found a way around Obama's new healthcare law...a way to offer watered-down, ineffective and useless health insurance plans to their employees and not face any penalties for doing so.  If a firm refuses to offer health care benefits to employees, it could face a $2,000 per worker penalty under the new law.  (the money would then be used to help pay for insurance for the workers)  The Journal reports employers have discovered if they offer an insurance plan that lacks basic benefits like hospital care, they can avoid any penalties.  Brokers are offering plans to employers which cover some doctor visits and preventative care, but cap how much they will pay, don't offer any mental health coverage and surgery and hospital stays would not be covered.

     When Obama's plan was developed it was thought employers would offer good plans for their workers.  The failure to do so will force workers into state exchanges and drive up costs.  Obama's plan is predicated on bringing in the healthy and the sick to keep costs under control.  However, businesses are working hard to undercut this idea.  You gotta love 'em.

     Along with trying to game the new health care laws, and leave the workers hanging out to dry, America's corporations and businesses continue to race to the bottom in almost every other category.  USA Today reports the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid vacation for all workers.  Only 1 in 4 American workers have paid vacation.  (and few of them actually take it all out of fear of being fired, rendering the benefit moot)  The benefits of vacation are obvious.  Not only is it good for mental and physical health, family dynamics and morale, vacating workers consume more and spend more thus helping the economy grow.  The "chamber" doesn't care.  Add to this the failure to provide paid sick days and American workers, particularly women with children, find themselves overworked and losing money all to the benefit of their company’s bottom line.

   It has been recently reported Apple Computer, along with most high tech and energy companies, paid no taxes on hundreds of billions of dollars in profit held in offshore shell companies, many located in Ireland.  Taxes they fail to pay have to be made up by you and me.  The taxes for everything from the military to infrastructure, all things which benefit Apple, have to be made up for by us because they have found ways around the law.  Apple recently announced it was going to give dividends for the first time.  It is going to borrow the money rather than bring any of that taxable profit home.  Instead of dividends, wouldn't it be something if Apple decided to take some of those billions and raise the salaries of its workers?  Workers in Apple stores are notoriously underpaid.  One of the reasons Apple has all these profits is because of these and other workers, yet it has decided to reward shareholders instead of the workers.  I know I'm being naive to suggest a company reward its workers...that is so 50's, but it is an example of how corporate America doesn't care a whit about the people who enable them to prosper.  The last thing a corporation or business wishes to do in this country is pay good wages.  Hourly wages have risen about 4% over the last 35 years while corporate profits have grown by over 300%.  American workers watch as their salaries fail to keep up with inflation and have to make a Hobson's choice between demanding a raise or increased health care costs, because as a nation we have failed to make health care available to everyone separate from where they work.  The result is the explosion of two working parent families necessary just to try to keep up with the basic cost of living.

     High tech companies are fighting to stop Congress from mandating they employ more Americans before they import cheaper foreign labor.  Hell, Yahoo doesn't even want people to be able to work at home, and save on commuting costs and maybe some daycare, and is forcing them back into the office grind.

     None of this assault on American workers would be possible without the war on unions.  From when Reagan busted the air traffic controller's union, to the use of strikebreakers and the spread of the hilariously insulting "right to work" laws which render unions impotent, this war has been a complete success.  While American productivity continues to improve every year, American workers have not seen any benefit due to the inability of individual workers to negotiate better salaries and the lack of union membership to engage in collective bargaining.

     Unions are anathema to capitalism.  Corporations, businesses, the "chamber" all hate unions.  Where unions still exist, their workers get better salaries, better pensions (unless the corporation goes to bankruptcy court...gets permission to abandon their contracts with workers to pay their pensions and health care costs...dump it all on the taxpayers and pay only ten cents on the dollar to people who worked for them for twenty or thirty years...God could they get any more immoral with help from the courts using laws written by a bought and paid for legislature?), better working conditions and they share in the profits they help to generate.  This drives the 1% to distraction.  The goal of capitalism is to make something for the cheapest cost possible thus creating more profit.  Unions are socialistic, communistic, un-American (at least in the salons and boardrooms of the Koch brothers and others) obstacles which have the gall to tell the capitalist some of the profit will have to be shared.  They hate it, and they have used Washington, and state houses, to beat workers and their organizations into the ground.

     Shangri-La for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would be a nation with no minimum wage, no child labor laws, no collective bargaining, no mandated health benefits, no 40-hour workweek or 8-hour workday, no overtime, no safety regulations and certainly no worker compensation laws.  Paradise would be a return to the Gilded Age where government was weak, poverty rampant and the gap between the rich and everyone else resembled the Grand Canyon.  Nirvana for the 1% would be for America's workplaces to be totally and completely unregulated.  Wait, wait, I see it now...Heaven is Bangladesh.  If corporate America wins this race to the bottom, it isn't far off.

Monday, May 27, 2013


 Recently, I wrote about two issues which were before the Congress or the executive and which you could and can still influence.

     In the immigration bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the tech robber barons enlisted the help of that great friend of the American worker, Sen. Orin Hatch, to introduce a number of amendments which would dilute or eliminate provisions requiring companies who want to use H1-B visas to advertise job openings for 30 days, offer the job to qualified Americans before they can be offered to a foreign worker and limit high tech visas for any company which fails to comply.  Hatched pushed amendments, which created exceptions to these rules.  The exceptions are so broad as to render this attempt to create jobs for Americans toothless.  The bill still can be amended on the Senate floor.  If this is of interest to you contact your senator and demand the original proposals prevail.  You can also contact Senator Richard Durbin's office.  (D. Illinois) who is the prime sponsor and encourage him to fight the Hatch amendments.

     There was also the issue of exporting natural gas.  The Obama administration has approved a proposal to build a natural gas export depot in Texas.  Proponents of exporting gas have as many as 13 other petitions for permits.  If you are worried this could drive up the price and hurt American companies and jobs, you should again contact your representatives to oppose efforts to build more export facilities.  You can also contact the new energy secretary's office and oppose any more permits for export.  He is on the record as skeptical about the benefits of exporting natural gas and wants the issue studied more and you want to pressure him to hold his ground.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Two new posts from The Lion:

  A recent study concluded the United States could become energy independent over the next 10 years.  The implications of this are staggering.  Our dependence on foreign oil would be reduced allowing us to completely re-assess our foreign policy goals in the Middle East.  It could add just the different perspective and motivation needed for a breakthrough in our approach to the Israeli/Palestinian question.  While China struggles to make deals to import more energy, we would find ourselves no longer held hostage by our energy partners.  Manufacturing could receive a huge boost.  Already, some companies are opening shuttered factories or building new ones because of the cheap cost of natural gas.  By building here, they save a fortune in transportation costs and can more easily respond to market trends.  Utilities are moving from coal-fired plants to plants using natural gas which is going to reduce greenhouse gases.  The push for building new nuclear energy plants will melt in the face of cheap energy produced domestically.  With American energy demands reduced, oil and gas produced in the Middle East, and other locations, becomes available to Europe reducing the stranglehold Russia has held over energy prices and public policy.  Russian gas giant Gasprom has been forced by this competition to dramatically reduce the price for its energy.  (reducing Putin's geo-political leverage over the European Union and encouraging the Union to stand with the U.S. vs. Russia on issues like Syria.)

     Yet, despite all of this sunshine and lollipops, there are those who want to crash this party and seize upon this windfall for their own greed and parochial interests.  The proposal, which would kill this golden energy goose, is to build facilities to liquefy the natural gas and then export it.

     The pressure to export natural gas is building and getting stronger by the day.  In the last few months, when proponents of exporting find their arguments foundering, a new wrinkle has been added.  Proponents are now crying there is a national security reason to export natural gas.  We could sell cheap natural gas to our allies thus shoring them up economically and establishing alliances which would benefit us in the case of conflict in various parts of the world.  This national security argument is the position of last resort when all else fails.

     There is no rocket science here.  Cheap natural gas means cheap domestic energy.  It means money back in American's pockets.  By focusing on the domestic market, America becomes an attractive place to open new plants and industries.  We reduce the pressure or desire for nuclear power and we use less coal.  Exporting natural gas will drive its price up simply under the concept of supply and demand.  It's cheap now because there's more supply than demand.  However, if you export it, demand rises, supply remains the same, and the price goes up here at home.  Proponents of export argue it would take years before there would be any upwards pressure on price, but it matters not.  Prices will go up.  America's competitive advantage slips away.  Utilities again find coal to be attractive.  Home energy bills rise.  No one denies prices will rise if it’s exported.  The only question is how high and how fast.

     For once, can't we do the right thing and crush corporate greed?  The exporters just see huge demand in foreign markets and care not one whit about domestic consequences.  Corporations have no allegiance to this nation...they are not patriotic...as Marx said they would sell the rope to be used to hang them.  They see a buck of profit and that's that.  Will we for once do what's in our own enlightened self interest and stop the corporate barbarians at our gates?

     This debate has not yet hit the national radar.  There is a proposal to build a liquefied natural gas depot in Louisiana and rumors of attempts to build at least 2 more.  This is not a done deal yet.  However, the interests behind export are powerful and they have already trotted out the national security argument knowing how easily Americans are frightened and how quickly they will roll over when confronted with a purported national security threat.

     I don't know the secret recipe which produces a clarion call to action resulting in a wave of American opinion breaking across the capital and sweeping away opponents.  What are the words or conditions which cause Americans, other than those who belong to the N.R.A., to demand their representatives actually do what is in the nation's best interest?  All I know is if we start exporting natural gas, the price goes up, our allies get a sweet deal, corporate America, which cares not one iota about America, makes huge profits and our children lose the chance to experience an America on the rise, independent of foreign energy pressure and able to act on principal rather than just real-politck.

     This is a call to arms and should you and your friends and neighbors take it up, we can envision a boon to this nation for years to come.  Should apathy prevail, this energy will be exported and America will have lost...Americans will have lost...and it's a loss we cannot reverse or recover from.   It's trite...a cliché...but it is up to you.


  It was like the discovery of the yellow brick road and arriving in Oz.  Getting a chance to go to Cupertino and work for Apple or Mountain View and Google or perhaps Menlo Park and Facebook.  You went to work on a "campus"; they fed you, entertained you, and draped you in the ultimate patina of coolness.  They, the Zuckerbergs, Brins, Jobs were the wunderkind and you were lucky enough to work 80-hour weeks making them billionaires.

     A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the big boys in tech were fighting to crush a bill in Sacramento which would require them to tell you what personal information they were collecting every time you went online, and whom they were selling it to.  Who were we to make demands on them?   If their cavalier attitude about privacy wasn't offensive enough, their new battle is downright un-American.

     They are using their collective lobbying might to try and kill a provision of the new immigration legislation in Washington which would limit how many foreign workers they could recruit and require them to offer the jobs to American workers first.  The crux of the problem is called an H-1B visa.  These visas usually go to college-educated foreigners in science, technology, mathematics and engineering fields.  Big tech says they face a labor shortage in these areas, a shortage that can only be alleviated by importing foreign workers to fill the void.
     Proving the truth in the adage if you give a mouse a crumb, soon it will want the whole cracker, H-1B visas have, in the past, been limited to 85,000 per year.  The new immigration bill would raise the cap to 205,000 per year.  It is not enough for the gang of four or more on the Peninsula.  As with all corporations, they want more.  Workers who are brought into this country on H-1B visas are paid much less than their American counterparts.  They do not receive a pension or medical benefits while working in this country.  They can cost 2/3 less per worker than an American hire.  It's easy to see their appeal.

     The problem is there are tens of thousands of Americans who could fill these jobs.  Many are workers who are over 50 and have been let go because their salaries were too high or they were soon to be fully vested in company pension plans.  Others are workers whose training may have been on earlier tech iterations which have been replaced by newer advances or techniques.  The immigration bill will require companies to advertise openings for 30 days and offer the jobs to "equally or better qualified" American workers first.  If this were to pass, there would be huge incentives for companies to offer training to workers to bring them up to speed to qualify for these jobs.

     The benefits to this country are obvious.  Hundreds of thousands of jobs which American are shut out of would open up.  Training for these jobs could be paid for out of job training monies already appropriated by Congress and offered through the Department of Labor.  These are good paying jobs which would benefit local and state governments through higher tax revenues.
     In a response typical of corporate America, the tech lobby argues requiring them to offer the jobs to Americans first is an unwarranted, unprecedented intrusion of government into the free market.  (obviously they had no problem with government intervening by inventing H-1B visas to their benefit)  If this faux libertarian argument doesn't carry the day, they will fall back on the classic corporate threat...we will take our ball and go home if you aren't nice to us.  The tech lobbyists threaten, if this provision is included in the bill, they will move new jobs overseas rather than comply.  Really?  The cool chic Facebook, Google, Apple et.al would rather destroy jobs in this country than offer them to Americans?

     They assault our privacy, undercut the wages of American workers, keep much of their profit offshore so they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes and refuse to re-train or educate hundreds of thousands of Americans who could then benefit from good paying jobs.  In what way are these cool high tech companies any better than their rapacious predecessors Standard Oil, Union Pacific or all of Wall Street?

     The question is straightforward.  If there are jobs openings, should they be offered to Americans before these companies are allowed to import low wage, less demanding and easily disposed of workers from a foreign land?  Yes!  The Apples and Facebooks of the world benefit and prosper in an America governed by laws, courts, property rights and stability.  They make fortunes in a nation which protects their interests and even goes to war to allegedly keep them safe.  Is it too much to ask they pay this back by offering jobs to Americans before they recruit cheap, foreign competition?

     It should not be lost on anyone how many high tech founders and C.E.O.s have an allegiance or connection to Stanford.  Stanford was one of the worst of the robber barons who tried to crush popular opposition to his practices.  Under Hiram Johnson, Californians rose up once to send him and his kind packing.  Now it's time to do it again.  Call, fax, email, tweet, whatever, your representative with a simple message...American jobs for Americans first.

Monday, May 6, 2013


A report came out recently confirming suicide in America kills more Americans than car crashes or many terminal illnesses.  These suicide rates are unprecedented in American history.  The largest increase in suicides came in ages between 35-55 and of those, men killed themselves 4 times more often than women.  Up until now, most resources were targeted at teen and elderly suicides, but now a whole new approach is necessary.

     The United States is the richest nation on earth.  Regressive commentators frequently sight how even our poor are better off than the poor in other nations.  If you listen to regressive radio, Faux News or most Republican officeholders, America is the greatest nation on earth.  American exceptionalism is a cornerstone of their political philosophy.  Yet, no other Western nation approaches the number of suicides we face annually.  Where is the disconnect?  What are we missing? Is there something pathological about American culture?  Are middle-aged American men giving up hope?  Are they suddenly waking up to a reality they have glossed over in the past?

     In the spirit of honest disclosure, I have contemplated suicide.  I spent almost 4 years waiting for the federal hammer to come down and crush me.  (4 years of unsupervised activities including Internet access and 4 years in which I did not offend despite the government's characterization of me as dangerous or depraved)  During these years no one but my family knew what was hanging over my head.  I worked each night, engaged with you, entertained, commented and did some great radio knowing it was going to come to an end...knowing my family would be publically embarrassed and humiliated...knowing how much I let them down...knowing I would be on the front page of the paper and the lead of every local newscast...knowing my name would crawl across the bottom of the screens of CNN and MSNBC for the nation to see and knowing what my confreres on the regressive side of the dial would do to me on their shows.

     If I had killed myself during that time, no one would have found out why and my thinking was, it would save people I love and people who liked me from disappointment and pain.  I was wrong.  Eventually, it became an untenable position because it would have been a selfish act which would do great damage to my wife and children...because I am a coward...because something in me (God?) said going through this was necessary to become a better man than I was at the time.  Had I not had the family I have, the support I had, the spiritual foundation and my fear, I might have gone through with it.  The question which has to be asked here is where is all of this help for the tens of thousands who are killing themselves each year?

    There is something toxic in America today.  There is something about American culture that is so oppressive; opting out is more appealing than fighting.  In a culture where consumption is worshipped as a sacrament and "stuff" is how we measure success...in a culture where families are scattered across the land and loneliness endemic and support systems are diluted...in an America where materialism is held up higher than caring for the least of us...is it any wonder when people fall on hard times, they find it more attractive to just cease to exist than continue to be in pain?

     Suicide is a seductive temptress.  She promises the pain will end.  She assures it will solve the problem.  She guarantees we won't let anyone else down again, or lose any more jobs, or be rejected as we try for a year or more to find a new one.  She exudes confidence and convinces us those left behind will be fine.  Unfortunately, she seems to have the playing field to herself because those voices which might drown her out...call her a liar...reveal her devious and insidious values, are muffled or silent or apathetic.

     Someone considering suicide is in a great deal of hurt.  Right now, at this moment, where do they go or to whom do they appeal to alleviate and cope with this excruciating pain?  Our health system offers virtually no resources for mental health services.  A therapist can cost $150 a session.  Who has that kind of money?  As a society we commit billions to building weapons of mass destruction but piffle to helping people in trouble due to mental or psychic strain.  The president's most recent budget included an additional $2 million, (I'm not kidding), for programs on preventing suicide.  If an additional 35,000 people were killed in car crashes, the cry for fixes and a commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars would be made to figuring out what is causing this and how to prevent it.  Why does the reality of 35,000 people scared, pained, afraid and despondent not evoke a similar response?

     Someone contemplating suicide is in a deep dark hole, sinking and perceiving no way out.  The first rule when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.  Stop making it worse.  Then they need light and above all they need hope they can get out.  The love of my children would not let me hurt them any more than I already had.  The selfishness which led to stupid choices, and ignoring the collateral damage they would cause, gave way to hoping this could be survived.  I was lucky and want others to be lucky and get the assistance they need.

     American culture does not encourage perseverance.  Our culture employs quick fixes and sloganeering rather than teaching that struggling through adversity can both teach and strengthen.  Our children are not taught to be resilient.  This has to change.  Getting knocked down, feeling alone, making a mistake is going to happen to all of us.  How do we cope and what will we as a people provide to those who need help so they too can hold on to hope?

     35,000 suicides is a comment on the society we live in.  It's time we committed ourselves to reaching out to those in pain...committing resources to help mental illness or instability.  Will we ignore this like we ignore so many other problems and hope it just goes away?

     Perhaps you are tired of hearing some of the same proscriptions to help with this, but a society committed to clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting prisoners...a society committed to doing this for the least of their brothers and sisters is a society where 35,000 or more souls will be encouraged to hang in there, to get help which is readily available to them resulting in suicide being reduced to a haggard crone with no appeal left to anyone.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


 On more than one occasion, I have told my children there is no such thing as a free lunch.  In almost every case, they look at me quizzically and wonder what I mean.  For they have grown up during the era of the free lunch.  They have lived in the time of the Internet where the essence of their social lives, online lives, and academic lives has been achieved free of charge.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, along with Google, Bing and Yahoo, have always been available and free for their use.  Newspapers, magazines and other media struggle to develop a pay model which millenials will accept because study after study says they expect information to be free.  What they have totally missed is that while the service is predominantly free, it is so only because they have themselves become a commodity for sale and to be monetized.  Rather, information about them is the treasure which these sites are mining.

     While not telling you anything you do not know, the entire time you spend online someone is monitoring you and gleaning information about you...information which has a monetary value to everyone from marketers to the federal government.  The Wall Street Journal, and other publications, has documented the length to which Facebook or Google et.al. will go to find out anything and everything about you and then sell that information.  The information is so intimate, third parties can take this "anonymous" data and turn it into your name and address.  They can build social profiles which predict if you are gay or straight, male or female, married or single.  They are able to draw conclusions about your physical and mental health and possibly fetishes and kinks.  All of this information is worth billions to them and they do not want you to know how they gather it or what they will do with it.  Add to this tsunami of data, all the personal information received when you download, and use, apps from Apple or Google stores and you privacy becomes a transparent window through which strangers may look and observe you.

     Alarm bells are finally starting to go off.  Shouldn't you have a right to know what they are gathering and whom they are sharing it with?  Were you to truly discover how intrusive and comprehensive this privacy assault is; is it possible you might protest and demand to be left alone?  Should you at least have that option?

     California Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthall (D. Long Beach) thinks you have a right to know how your private information is being used online and whom it is shared with.  She has introduced legislation called the Right To Know Act, (AB 1291) and a who's who of giant tech companies is lining up to crush this idea as quickly as possible.  Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others are demanding Lowenthall drop her bill.  What are they afraid of?

     Already, a hearing on the bill has been postponed after heavy lobbying from Silicon Valley.  The chair of the committee says he is concerned the bill is too broad, or too widely constructed or might cost him some big political donations if he supports it.  While Google says its philosophy is to do no harm, and Mark Zuckerberg says he wants to change the world for the better, neither wants you to know they can only do so if you allow them to treat you as a commodity to be sold no differently than pork butts or corn futures.

     The American Civil Liberties Union is a co-sponsor of the Right To Know Act.  The ACLU says online services, computer apps, social networking sites and other online entities are capable of tracking people and their location, buying habits and favorite foods.  If the average person realizes how naked they are online, perhaps they will opt out and refuse to let this information be gathered and disseminated.  This is what the big boys are terrified might happen because it would destroy their model of profitability.

     The bill would be the first of its kind in the nation.  It would force companies to show a customer what information is gathered about them and who they share it with.  This would have to be done for free.

     The tech companies are screaming this would open them up to an avalanche of responses to requests for information and possibly to lawsuits.  They further contend a privacy law passed in 2005 already lets consumers ask about private information they have gathered.  Supporters of AB 1291 point out the 2005 bill was concerned mainly with telemarketing abuse so no company has to share any private information they have about you, or who they sell it to, unless it is used for direct marketing purposes.  (a huge, gaping, sucking loophole big enough to drive Rush Limbaugh through)  Plus Lowenthall says companies collect a raft of personal information the 2005 law doesn't even mention.

     If you would enjoy some irony, as Silicon Valley and the Chamber of Commerce (the most evil institution in the nation) scream and cry alligator tears about how onerous this bill would be, they already comply with similar provisions in the 27 countries which comprise the European Union.  A law like AB 1291 was passed by the Union and all tech companies say they are in compliance with it.  Yes, that's right, they have no problem complying with millions of European customers, but doing so in the U.S. would be catastrophic.  (what?)

     If you don't mind being cyberly strip searched every time you go online, then bend over and cough before you log on and ignore AB 1291.  If, however, your privacy is not for sale...if you do not wish nameless, faceless companies to know your health status or where you hang out...if you didn't log on for this and wish to assert your right to be left alone...then you need to contact your local assembly person or state senator and demand they support this modest bill.  At one time, the Robber Barons, (Huntington, Crocker, Stanford and Hopkins) controlled California and the California legislature until the people took back that power.  Now the new robber barons Brin, Zuckerberg, Gates and Pincus, want to again run roughshod over your rights, and they will succeed unless you actually oppose them.  Even if my children doubt it, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.