Sunday, January 28, 2007

Done Crossed Over

*75 American military dead in Iraq since 1/27/07

One of our favorite sayings at the Sheriff's Department, which we probably swiped from Dallas originally, was: "that boy's done crossed over". Usually, when we said it, it was meant as a humorous response to a statement we found totally unbelievable or an action we thought of as extremely foolish. Crossing over meant you'd entered a realm of unreality.

As I listened to the President's State of the Union address, I couldn't help shaking my head and thinking to myself, "that boy's done crossed over." It seems to me that both Bush and Vice-president Cheney have invested so much of themselves into the Iraq War that they have actually become delusional. You have to have crossed over to believe that Nuri Al Maliki is a strong leader on whom you can rely when the bullets start flying. We already know that he didn't want more American troops in Bagdhad. He wanted us on the outskirts of town, probably so that he and the Shiite militias could proceed to wipe out the Sunnis without American interference. The president presents his Iraq plan as something the two leaders seriously discussed and agreed upon but it simply isn't true. Bush rejected Maliki's plan.

You have to have crossed over to say, as Cheney did in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, that: "bottom line is we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes." What are these enormous successes that Cheney sees that almost no one else does? There is not one single thing that we predicted or hoped for that has come about in Iraq. Americans are dying by the hundreds; Iraqis are dying by the thousands. Instead of becoming an ally to America, Iraq is dominated by the Shiite majority that favors Iran.

You have to have crossed over to believe that 21,500 more American soldiers will make a difference in Iraq. Even those who promoted a surge, such as John McCain, thought 21,500 was way too few. The surge true believers initially called for 50,000 more troops, at least, but the fact is, we don't have 50,000 more troops. Even to get the 21,500, we have to extend tours of duty and send soldiers back sooner than was planned. Sending the same people into harm's way over and over again is a disgraceful way for America to treat its soldiers, as anyone who hadn't crossed over would understand.

You have to have crossed over to believe that embedding a small group of American troops with Iraqi units won't be deadly to our people. Recently in Karbala, five white SUVs carrying insurgents dressed in American-type uniforms and with American type weapons carried out an assault which a military statement said was "well-rehearsed". They made it through the checkpoints and entered the compound, launching grenades that damaged several American vehicles. One U.S. soldier was killed during the attack and four more were kidnapped. The insurgents left via the same checkpoint that let them in! The SUVs were later found with two soldiers shot dead in the backseat of one of them, another dead on the ground and a fourth dying of gunshot wounds to the head. He died before he made it to the hospital. "Well-rehearsed" is just another way of saying "inside job". Our guys were meeting with the Iraqis to plan security but obviously, at least some of the Iraqis were plotting against them at the same time. This is how much we can trust the safety of our troops to the Iraqis. We are putting them in the position of being sitting ducks for people who do not have the same goals for Iraq that we do.

George Bush says that anyone who doesn't agree with his plan should come up with one of their own. But Bush is up to his neck in alternative plans. The Democrats have put forth plans; the Republicans have put forth plans; the Iraq Study Group put forth a plan. The only problem for the president is that he believes his plan is the only one that counts. "I'm the decision-maker," he has said - but this is America. We have no single decision-maker. No one person, even a president, gets to dictate to everyone else. Any president who doesn't understand this has done crossed over.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Always a Travel Bridesmaid

Well, next Friday I have to take my kids to the Indianapolis airport so they can jet off to Puerto Rico where they will board their ship for a leisurely cruise to various exotic ports of call on the Caribbean Sea.
When it comes to delivering people to airports, I am "always a bridesmaid and never a bride". I slog through snow storms in order to enable others to gamble in Las Vegas. I face driving rains so that friends can spend lazy hours lying in the sun on the beach in Florida. I gaily wave them off as they board to visit their kids in Oregon, a place I've never been. I get up at 3:00 a.m. to get people to the airport in time for their 6:00 a.m. flights or cruise home in the middle of the night, with the window open, to keep my sleepy eyes from drifting shut. I have hauled suitcases, dogs, sewing machines and grandkids. I've carried bags, so heavy, they felt as if they contained concrete blocks, (but for what perverted purpose would anyone be taking concrete blocks to Cancun?)
In the same way, on their return, I've read 300-page books waiting at the airport for their delayed flights to finally land. I've spent money I did not have to spend for magazines, expensive airport coffee and Bath and Body Works candles, just to kill time. I've bought $9 a pack airport cigarettes and I've frozen or roasted going outdoors to smoke, all so my friends could be off having a great time. There was a spell when I knew the Indianapolis Airport as intimately as the Wabash Walmart (although I do almost always miss my turn when I leave and end up shooting down Highway 70 instead of being on 465, where I want to be).
And I can't say my friends aren't appreciative. They buy my gas and usually lunch or dinner. Especially generous ones bring me back goodies from their travels. I've gotten pelicans from Blythe, Oregon butter and cheese from Tim and Pam and commemorative grand opening tokens from Las Vegas casinos from Jan.
But listening vicariously to their adventures just isn't the same as having an adventure yourself. Just once, I'd like to be the one being taken to the airport to jet off to some place fun! Maybe after the kids get back from Bimini, it will be my turn. Hmmm, I just looked at my after-Christmas credit card balance. I wonder how much it costs to fly from Fort Wayne to Mexico - Mexico, Indiana, that is?

Right Prescription for Health Insurance?

48 soldiers killed in Iraq so far in January 2007 (including 20 on 1/20/07)

Well, according to those in the know, President Bush is only going to briefly talk about Iraq in his State of the Union address, which is probably smart, because after all, what more is there to be said about Iraq? He's going to do what he's going to do; what's going to happen is what's going to happen, and evidently what the American people think means zip, zero, nada (68% of us oppose the surge, or as Condi calls it, the "augmentation").
So in order to change the subject, the president has now come up with a "plan" for fixing our health care system, which God knows, desperately needs to be fixed. So let's see what the basic elements of the White House plan is and if we think it will be an improvement? There are two big ideas from what I've read about it so far. One is that, although health insurance has always been treated as a non-taxable benefit for workers, some plans will be now be subject to taxation. The amounts being proposed are: $15,000 for family coverage and $7,500 for single coverage. In other words, if you have a family and the total amount you and your employer pay together is more than $15,000, you will pay taxes on the amount over that.
Many of us will not have to worry about this. Me, for instance. I pay $59.50 per pay period for insurance, or $119 per month. That is one/fourth of the cost of my health insurance. Wabash County pays the other three/fourths so the total cost of my insurance if $476 per month or $5,712 annually. Whew, well within the single $7,500 limit so I'm safe.
But if your employer is somewhat more generous than mine, offering more benefits and perhaps, say, vision and dental coverage, it seems that it would be relatively easy for your insurance to top the $7,000/$15,000 ceiling. This strikes me as ironic in two ways. First, is that those of us that are offered more minimalist policies, are going to be in the strange position of having to be grateful to our employers for not offering us better insurance options!
The second irony is that the Bush administration which has taken as its mantra, lo, these many years, that never, ever, ever, under any circumstances will they consider the possibility of raising taxes - that ALL taxes are inherently BAD, especially as they apply to rich people - is now open to the idea of raising taxes on one of the few benefits a lot of working people still have, tax-free health insurance, subsidized by their employer so it is affordable.
The second element in the Bush health insurance salvation plan is a tax deduction for those who purchase their own insurance. This would undoubtedly help some middle and upper-class self employed people and those who are paid well but whose employers don't provide health insurance.
But I have always shook my head in disgust at the Republicans' love of tax deductions as a way of persuading citizens to comply with behavior the politicians favor, such as purchasing health care. What they don't understand is that in order for tax deductions at the end of the year to help is: you have to have the money to pay in the first place!
Again, using myself as an example, I was unemployed and uninsured for nine months after I was fired from the Sheriff's Department. I lived on the deferred income I'd saved and county benefits, such as saved sick days, for the first three months. I received an unemployment check for $250 per week for the last six months. Continuing to keep my county health insurance under COBRA would have taken the bulk of my unemployment payments. The cheapest private health insurance policy I could find, which included a $10,000 deductible, was $450 per month. Again, almost half of my income. So, it was a choice between hanging on to my house and having health insurance. Obviously, I went with the "cross your fingers" health care option. and kept the house. If I'd been unlucky and experienced a major illness, I probably would have lost the house as well. I suppose this is a concept that an always-rich person, such as George Bush (and, I assume, his cronies and colleagues, as well), cannot even begin to grasp.
According to the census bureau, 175 million Americans receive health insurance through their employers, 27 million purchase their own insurance, 47 million are uninsured and the rest are covered through government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. There is no doubt that our health care system in this country is a mish-mash of inefficiency, desperately needing an overhaul but, as always, it seems to me that the wrong people will win under Bush's plan. People who have never been taxed for their health insurance before will now be taxed to subsidize those who purchase their own policies - but few people who really need help in obtaining insurance will benefit from tax deductions. I can't help thinking that penalizing those with generous plans through their work, many of whom are probably middle-class, in order to subsidize those who can buy their own insurance, many of whom are probably upper-class, is not the right prescription. And in a side note, who else is the big beneficiary of this plan? Why, that would be the insurance industry, of course, and why does that not surprise me?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

That Other War

I'm getting to the point where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel of my working life. In four and a half years, I'll be able to draw Medicare. I'm not saying I'll choose to retire then. I may decide to keep working if I'm not senile and still comparatively healthy but Medicare is when I could decide to pack it in. The point is that I've been a part of the work force of this country now for over 40 years. During almost all of that time, there was a kind of bargain between labor and management and that was that generally, productivity and wages were yoked together like two horses pulling a plow (although they always did have their thumb on the scales when it came to figuring our our share). If we kept our side of the agreement and increased our productivity, they would hold to their end, and allow us to share in some of the profits from the fruits of our labors.

Management has now stamped that contract "null and void". The productivity horse has kept right on pulling his share of the load. According to a report by Andrew Sum, Director for the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston (and publicized in a column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times), between 2001 and 2006 non-farm labor productivity increased by 18 percent. But the horse on the other side of the plow unbuckled the harness and walked off. (I believe he's lounging in the sun on the French Riviera as we speak). Evidently the profit horse no longer acknowledges that he is part of a team. Because while productivity was booming, workers' wages, adjusted for inflation, went up only 1 percent. On average, that amounts to $3.20 per week. Or put another way, it amounts to an increase of $15.4 billion divided between 93 million American workers.

Meanwhile, you might have read about Robert L Nardelli, who was recently fired as CEO of Home Depot and got the tidy little sum of $210 million to send him happily on his way. Or you may have heard about the top five Wall Street firms that gave an estimated $36 to $44 billion, (that's billion with a B!), in bonuses to their combined 173,000 employees, most of it to their top 1,000 or so highest-paid managers.

Did you get that? The 173,000 Wall Street employees are, in one year, splitting way more than twice as much as all the rest of us put together in six years?

I know, I know - America has always prided itself on not doing class warfare. We love the rich and don't begrudge them their due. Hurray for Bill Gates. He invented it; he earned it. We would all love to do the same and by Gosh, if we invent a new thingamawhutty and make tons of money, we don't want the gov'mint taking a bunch of it away from us in the form of taxes.

But, hey, people, I hate to be the one to break it to you but we are at war. We weren't the ones who started it but we are the victims of it. This is class warfare from the top down. Corporate America is stacking the deck so that we lose every hand but we just keeping on pulling that old plow........

Take That!

My goodness, I had no idea that "childless" was such a perjorative term, did you? I always thought it was a simple descriptive adjective, neutral in its connotation, but evidently I'm behind the times. Senator Barbara Boxer, in a hearing featuring Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the point, which I thought was pretty obvious, that neither of them were in danger of making any great sacrifice for the war in Iraq. Boxer said her own children were too old and her grandchild too young to to be affected and in the same way, Secretary Rice had no "immediate family" who might come to harm there. Her larger point was that elites, like herself and Rice, were divorced from this war in an emotional way. To them, it was a discussion of strategy; it was the families of the troops who really paid the price for the decisions made about Iraq.

Well, you'd have thought Boxer called Condi a slut or a whore or a bitch. Evidently, being labeled childless is now on par with those terms if not even worse. The conservatives came tearing out from behind their rhetorical bunkers to declare the Senator's behavior beyond the pale. They accused her of being "cruel and callous". They said her statement was "repugnant" and that Boxer was "scraping the bottom of the barrel". Huh?

All the usual suspects got into the game. The crocodile tears flowed down the faces of the right-wingers. Bill O'Reilly was outraged by Boxer's vicious attack on Condi's honor. Rush Limbaugh was incensed by Boxer's low blow, her disrespect for the Secretary of State. On the McLaughlin Group, Tony Blankley accused Boxer, not only of being sexist but of being racist because Rice is a "childless Black woman". What does being Black have to do with it? If "childless" is the new slur of the hour, is it self-evidently worse being a childless Black woman than a childless white woman?

Even the Democrats didn't cover themselves with glory. I heard several analysts on the television agreeing that yes, Barbara Boxer had been "insensitive" and should have chosen her remarks "more wisely".

What the hell? We are talking about sending 21,000 more of our troops into Iraq, possibly to die or face terrible physical wounds or, less visible but equally as limiting, mental scars. We are talking about discomfort and fear on the level most of us will never be able to relate to. We are talking about children without parents and parents without children and wives and husbands without spouses and what we are up in arms about is Barbara Boxer's supposed smackdown of Condoleezza Rice in calling her childless? This is what causes Rush and O'Reilly so much distress? Sometimes I think that a significant perecentage of this country has lost its collective mind.

Second Verse, Same as the First!

*13 American soldiers have died in Iraq so far in 2007

How depressing it becomes to write about this week after week. I listened to the President's speech, of course, although most of it had already been released, so I knew what to expect. After taking weeks to come up with his bold, new plan (we were supposed to have had this speech back in December), all Bush could deliver was more of the same - "stay the course" revisited. More assertions that this time will be different. Why? Because Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has "promised". This would be the man who has never lived up to one single thing he has promised in the past. And probably, because he can't - because those promises weren't his to begin with but words put in his mouth by our government. Not what he wanted but what we want. The man doesn't have the power nor the authority to comply with what we demand. He doesn't have control of the country or the country's army or the various factions, not even of the Shiites, of which he is one. We have insisted that he turn the Iraqi army and police force on Muqtada Al Sadr, the radical Shiite leader of the Mahdi Army. This is like asking George Bush to turn on the evangelicals in this country, the very evangelicals who made him president in the first place and who still form the strongest base of his support. Al Maliki may pay lip service to taking on Al Sadr but I doubt he will take serious action.

So we will throw 21,500 more of our sons and daughters into the tragedy that Iraq has become. The ones who go to Bagdhad will be embedded with the Iraqis, living with them in the same dangerous environment, utilizing the same crappy equipment, never really knowing if the soldiers with whom they are partnering actually have the same goals or if they are really militia in official uniforms but with the mission of simply wiping out Sunnis. And Iraq has said that the Pesh Merga, the Khurdish police, will be coming to Bagdhad to help bring peace to the city. What would the Pesh Merga's agenda be? Remember, that the Sunnis under Saddam performed genocide on the Kurds so it's very possible that, like the previously-brutalized Shiites, the Kurds might just get off on the retaliation of killing as many Sunni as they can. And since the Sunnis probably aren't going to just lie down and take their punishment, they will be fighting mightily to survive. And in the middle of all this sectarian hate will be our guys, less of them than there are uniformed cops in New York City, trying valiantly to somehow mediate a tribal bloodbath.

And all of this presupposes that the insurgency will cooperate with us, which they probably won't. I doubt if they agreeably stand and fight with American troops, letting us win the kind of battles in which we excel. More likely, they will simply fade away and live to fight another day, after American sentiment has finally forced a withdrawal of our troops - another day when it will be Iraqi against Iraqi. Or they will take their weapons and start trouble in the places that we aren't.

Defense Secretary Gates has said that "this time" the American military will be free to do whatever needs to be done. No longer will they be forbidden to enter certain neighborhoods, no longer will they be called on to release "politically connected" prisoners, no longer will they have to hold their fire on the say so of the Iraqis. But I didn't know these were the previous conditions, did you? Not when we'd always been told that our soldiers would never be put under the command of non-American authority. Although I did wonder when Iraq ordered us to stand down, removing roadblocks meant to help us rescue an American soldier. Whatever happened to him, by the way?

Defense Secretary Gates also told Congress that we should know within "two months" if Iraq was living up to its guarantees. But then what? What if Al Maliki wobbles and wavers and fails to step up to the plate? President Bush said he would "lose the support of the American people." Well, hate to tell you, but that has already happened. So what would be the actual, tangible consequence? We don't know. George Bush didn't enunciate any other "or else". And Secretary of State Condi Rice, testifying before Senators, said she didn't believe in thinking about Plan B, you simply have to make Plan A work. I suppose that means that we will proceed with yet another version of Plan A if this particular Plan A (is it Plan A #5?) doesn't pan out.

I believe this administration has no intention of ever leaving Iraq. Like other leaders before him, Bush's ego will not allow him to admit defeat, no matter how many people die for his arrogance. Consider Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, Richard Nixon in Vietnam. The Congress either doesn't have the constitutional authority or the guts to force Bush to call it quits so it will drag on until he's gone. It will be for the next president (who will have campaigned on the issue) to bring our soldiers home.

I have resigned myself to this scenario. Bush will have his way in Iraq until the end. But another frightening element of Bush's speech were his provocative statements against Syria and Iran. We will interrupt "networks". We are sending a carrier group to the Persian Gulf. We are shipping Patriot missiles to the area. At this point, the most I'm just hoping for is that this president leaves office without getting us into yet another war.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Sloane and Sophia Get their Pictures Taken

I met Tina, Jim and the little girls down at Captured Moments Photography to get the twins' pictures taken. They are one year old now and walking. They are also beautiful. I think I might have hurt Tina's feeling's once when I said they were losing their "generic baby look" and turning into little individuals. I'm sure parents never think there is anything generic about their offspring but I have a difficult time distinguishing among infants, the vast majority of whom seem to be plump and bald with a look of blandness on their little faces.

At one, Sophia and Sloane are good natured and still plump and rosy, with feather-light golden hair and sparkling eyes and, I think what really makes the difference, they now look at the world as if they are developing their own opinions about it. "Hmmm, this is a new person or new surroundings, let me see what I think about him/her/them."

The first element in the picture-taking project was getting Sophia and Sloane out of their pajamas and into their new outfits, which consisted of tights, long velvet dresses, patent leather shoes and headbands. Jim and Tina have developed a strategy in the last year so that each parent starts out holding a little girl, understanding exactly when to trade off babies for the next phase in the procedure. (It seemed to me that Moms still have the advantage in knowing exactly how to worm a squirmy baby into a pair of tights, probably based on centuries of genetic experience).

An illustration of the individuality I was talking about was the twin's reaction to their dresses which Tina told me was typical of their two personalities. Sophia was extremely pleased. She beamed and patted her skirt. You could almost see her thinking, "I am so lovely in flowing velvet." But Sophia's expression was purely disgusted. "What the heck is this? I hate dresses! Why can't I have my picture taken in my bib overalls?"

The girls are also walking now, which adds another dimension of difficulty to lives of the parents' of twins and this was quite noticeable as Jim and Tina attempted to get Sophia and Sloane to cooperate in the picture-taking mission. Susan had a variety of different backgrounds. The first was a little white wicker table with matching chairs. A tiny tea service and a plastic cake were placed upon the table and the little girls were placed by Mom and Dad upon the chairs. When Susan yelled, "okay!", Jim and Tina moved quickly out of photo range. Almost as soon as Jim and Tina let go, Sophia slipped off her chair and toddled out of the scene while Sloane instantly pitched the tea things to the floor. "Bang," went the tiny teapot. "Thunk," went the plastic cake against the far wall.

Patiently, the adults put everything back again with pretty much the same result. Fortunately, Susan is the mother of twins herself and understands the dynamic of working with pairs, being instant quick on the camera trigger so I (stationed out of the way where I could watch the process play itself out) think she may have got a couple of good pictures.

Next was a big basket of red roses setting on the floor. The first option was to have the girls stand on either side of the basket. One of them cooperated beautifully. There she (Sophia, I think) stood, clasping the handle, smiling angelically, her long red velvet skirt matching the crimson of the roses. But the other sister snatched a bunch of the flowers out of the basket, holding her bouquet directly in front of her face. No amount of cajoling on the part of her parents could make her lower her flowers so her little face showed.

Then there were the two stacks of colorful boxes. They lasted possibly 30 seconds before the floor looked like the scene of a nursery-themed demolition derby. Jim and Tina, panting by now from their exertions, put the stacks back together as Susan raced for the shot.

When they tried putting one of the girls in a chair with the other standing beside her, the twin on the floor, in a surprising show of strength in a one-year-old, simply pushed her sister across the room and out of camera range.

When they tried sitting them on the floor with "Congratulations! You're One Year Old! cards all around them. Sophia promptly knocked her stack down while Sloane decided her selection of cards was edible.

At this point, it was time for another outfit so there was a time out, while Jim and Tina stripped the girls out of their velvet and put them in jumpers with turtlenecks and different colors of tights. As an exhausted-just-from-watching 60-year-old, I think I might have made the same tights do double duty but on the other hand, the twins will only be one once and I expect Tina was willing to go the extra mile to make these pictures perfect.

When the ploy was to get both girls to look up and smile for the camera at the same time, it was almost as if they'd decided between themselves that this was something they simply would not do. Their parents tried everything. They yelled to get their attention, "Sophie, Sloane, look at Daddy!" Sophia would look up and grin but Sloane (or maybe it was the other way around) ignored him like he didn't exist. Tina snapped her fingers; Jim whistled. Susan called out, "here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty". (I didn't quite understand this particular technique but Susan certainly knows more about what draws the attention of twin toddlers than I do - in this case, however, it wasn't very effective."

What worked best was when Jim played music on his cellphone/Ipod/MP3 player (I'm not sure what it was) but it only worked for about a nanosecond. Jim would set off the device, the song would start, the babies would glance up briefly, Susan would frantically finger the camera button.

In the end, Jim, Tina and Susan looked like they'd just crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Susan appeared to have just hiked across the Sahara Desert. The twins looked as fresh and perky as little daisies. They smiled in satisfaction at having successfully completed another milestone in their film career. Susan had taken 96 shots and hoped to get some that were good.

I can't wait to see the finished product.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy 2007, everyone!

No resolutions for me. My record of keeping New Year's resolution is dismal. Just hopes for the New Year.

- Health, wealth and happiness for all my family and friends, and even not my friends, although of course, my people would get first dibs if I was doing the assigning.

- The Iraq War to end and, in the same spirit of self-interestedness as above, most especially for Jason to come home safety to Tammi and the boys.

- For me, personally, to become a published novelist in 2007.

- A magnificent reconstruction of New Orleans, which will be proof for me that the optimistic, energetic, can-do spirit of America is back. As long as that treasure on the Mississippi languishes, half-dead, my faith in America is diminished. The country that sent a man to the moon can't re-build a freakin' city???

- A turning in the national psyche from caring how the well-off are prospering to caring how the working class are doing. It's not as if the affluent didn't continue to get richer in the 80's. They didn't fade under the supposedly onerous taxes of Bill Clinton but we could pay our bills then instead of just forwarding them on to our kids and grandkids. I get so damned tired of the talking heads on t.v. telling me how the stock market is up and that proves how wonderfully the economy is doing. The stock market is about investment bankers and insurance companies and oil corporations and dot-com executives, it isn't about Joe Six-pack on Main Street trying to make his house payments and feed his family. Joe doesn't really exist in the business news. How many programs called "Labor Watch" have you ever seen on television? How many sections of newspapers are called "Working Class"? None, that's how many. If they talk about us at all, it is usually when some big corporation lays off thousands of us and the stock market rewards them by running up their stock - not to mention the C.E.O. who is lauded as being "tough", and who probably gets a big bonus.

- In the same vein, I wish America would start making stuff again. What is it that we DO now? We don't produce much - it is difficult to find an American-made product even if you're willing to pay more to support American workers. We evidently don't manage ports. We worry about nuclear weapons but in the end, we may be overtaken by the countries that produce the simple nuts and bolts of our military equipment. It is not a good thing when we've gone from G.M. being our largest employer to Walmart being our largest employer.

- National health care - it's time.

- I hope we quit rewarding people who are wrong in this country. Most of our elected leaders have been wrong about just about everything from the reason for going to war in Iraq to the aftermath of what would happen after we toppled Saddam to how much all of it would cost. They were wrong about the wisdom of folding FEMA into Homeland Security. They were wrong about the benefits of No Child Left Behind. The national media was wrong right along with them because they aren't mostly independent thinkers, they want too badly to be part of the elite in-crowd who all have cocktails together in Washington and New York. They consider themselves the power people and tend to align themselves with other power people which is why most of them went right along with the Bush administration. You could quote columnist after columnist in the big national newspapers who were wrong in their predictions. And yet, they give one another Medals of Freedom and journalistic awards and praise one another and pat one another on the back and, when one of them leaves, in government or the media, they simply replace him or her with someone else who was also wrong - and they keep trivializing the people who actually were right.

- In Wabash County, I hope we figure out how to get a grip on our drug problem, which is severe - much more severe than most people realize who don't work in law enforcement or the legal system. The Drug Task Force guys work their hearts out but two Wabash City Police officers and half of a deputy aren't enough. I think it is going to take a real commitment on the part of the public to effect any real change. I'm almost to the point of thinking that everyone who dies of a drug overdose should be publicized in the newspaper. I know that probably isn't realistic and the families wouldn't care for it. But people would be shocked to know how many of our young (and not so young) people we are losing to drugs. There have always been drugs. Certainly, many in my generation indulged but it seems the kinds of substances on the street now are so much more deadly that there is no margin for error. I'm not sure what the answers are but acknowledging the size of the problem would at least be a first step.

I guess this hasn't been a very jolly New Year's wish list but I hope it is onward and upward in 2007!

Pellet-packin' Time

Blythe and I spent one of the final days of 2006 packing 4,000 pounds of pellets. These would be wood pellets which provide the fuel for the Traeger grills Tim sells to the people fortunate enough to possess one, which neither Blythe nor I do - own a Traeger, that is.

Tim, as most of our friends know, has been in the Veteran's Hospital in Indianapolis for quite a while. Usually, he makes a trip to Missouri to get more pellets but this time, they were shipped and put into Pam's brother's warehouse.

Our initial plan was to drive Tim's big truck over to the warehouse to pick up the pellets but when we got to Tim's, the truck had sat for so long, unstarted, that its battery was dead. This circumstance required a new plan so we drove to Blythe's storeroom and proceeded to unload her truck, which is like a mini-Walmart itself. In fact, I'm positive Blythe could set a Guinness Book of World Records record for the most amount of stuff packed into the inner space of an Aztek. She and her truck could be stranded on a desert island and begin an entire new society on the basis of what it contained. There would be complete wardrobes for herself and the, previously naked, native islanders. She would be able to supplement their diets of fish and coconuts with any number of varieties of candy, pretzels, cookies, and Little Debbie cakes. They would soon scorn simple water in favor of variations featuring the flavors of peach, raspberry and orange, as well as a sampling of exotic teas and coffees, and 4 bottles of several-year-old Canadian beer. They could take up farming with the amount of implements pulled out of the innards of the truck - hoes and rakes and shovels and picks. They could be given pillows and blankets (though they might wonder what the pictures of horses and wolves and cardinals represented). They could initiate a police force from all the leftover mementoss of her years on the Sheriff's Reserves. They could clean the hell out of their grass huts with 247 bottles of various cleansers and multiple rolls of paper towels and keep the Aztek in functioning order for decades with the oil, windshield washer, antifreeze (possibly not necessary considering the tropical nature of the island) contained therein. Interior decorating would become de riguer when she began handing out wreathes and pictures and other little crafty doodads to the palm hut housewives. There would be more than enough stuffed animals for every child on the island to get one, with a few in reserve for babies yet to be born. This would be the most Christmas decorated South Sea Island with enough strings of Christmas lights to brighten every palm tree on the beach. Not to mention that, because Blythe, has not yet delivered all her Christmas presents, there would be snowman and santa-wrapped, bowed and ribboned, gifts for all, as well as an abundance of batteries to operate the electronic stuff.

Anyway, you get the picture - we had to unload the Aztek before proceeding to load it again with pellets. Until we got to the warehouse where Pam's brother, Rick, had the shrink-wrapped mountain of pellets on a fork lift..... He thought loading them individually into Blythe's truck was a terrible idea. Instead, he suggested that if she had jumper cables, we should go back to Tim's and get the big truck onto which he could place the entire skid of pellets.

Blythe actually said she wasn't sure if she had jumper cables, a statement which immediately provoke a fit of hilarious laughter from me. "Blythe," I sputtered, "of course, you have jumper cables! There's no way you could not have jumper cables! It is just a matter of looking." So Blythe delved into various storage areas, revealing spare tires and tool boxes and flash lights and Ice Melt and flares until she, naturally, located jumper cables.

Tim's big truck started right up so back to the warehouse we went and Rick expertly plopped the skid of pellets onto it. Luckily, it is a tough truck because although it groaned and settled, it accepted the skid.

We then started off, going slow and avoiding the busy streets. It was nerve-wracking for me, the worrier, as I envisioned the whole skid sliding off the back of the truck, with sacks all busting, releasing two tons of pellets loose onto the street, possibly engulfing a citizen, which would have put him or her in the Guiness Book of World Records as: "The Only Person Ever to Die of Drowning in Mesquite-Flavored Wood Pellets."

At one point, Blythe took a turn rather sharply and the entire shrink-wrapped mountain shifted so that it was hanging precariously over the side of the truck. I remember groaning, "oh, my God - oh, my God, why did I ever let you talk me into this?" I felt as if I could sense the tires on that side of the truck flattening, the frame bending, the axle breaking - or something like that (my knowledge of the underworkings of vehicles being somewhat limited). Blythe was, well, blithe about the whole thing.

"Just relax, Vic, it will be fine."

"You'll think fine if we ruin Tim's truck and have to sweep up 4,000 pounds of pellets with a wisk broom and a dust pan!"

We made it to Tim's garage and formed an assembly line of unloaders. Rick stood on the truck and handed off the 20-pound bags to me. I, in turned, handed them off to Blythe, who stacked them in flavor-defined rows. It didn't really take all that long to unload the 200 bags of pellets and there was one less thing for Tim to have to worry about - his customers will now have their choice of apple, mesquite, hickory, cherry, alder and maple-flavored pellets with which to season their grilled offerings.

I guessed I was glad the other two had vetoed my idea of each of us kicking in some money to hire some strong young kids to do the job - the 60-somethings did just fine, thank you.

Of course, once we finished with the pellets, Blythe and I had to return to her storeroom to re-load, just in case she ends up on a desert island and needs to start a new civilization out of the back of the Aztek.