Friday, October 28, 2011

I am a 99 Percenter

Scott Olsen, seriously wounded.
Not in Iraq, but Oakland, California.

I've been mulling it over for the past few days as to whether or not I'd weigh in on the current wave of frustration being expressed world wide - the "99 Percenters."

Anytime I stray away from the Charter of "Oil-Electric" a predicable few bombard me with "what's this got to do with railroading?"

I am just as angry as those who are gathering. I cannot attend the rallies, but I do have a voice!

The tipping point for me was viewing the extraordinary use of force in Oakland the other night, resulting in the near death experience of Scott Olsen. I don't know if you know much about Scott. He's 24, joined the Marines right out of High School. Scott survived two tours in Iraq from 2006 to 2010 with the 3rd battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, assigned to a tactical communications unit. Only to be felled by a cop on the streets of Oakland California.

Far from being a "filthy Bay Area hippie-type" (part of a "mob" as Eric Cantor characterizes the "Occupy Movement"), Scott is gainfully employed as a systems network administrator in Daly City, and is able to afford an apartment overlooking San Francisco Bay.

"He slept at a San Francisco protest camp after work," said friend and roommate Keith Shannon, who served with Olsen in Iraq. "He felt you shouldn't wait until something is affecting you to get out and do something about it."

"You shouldn't wait until something is affecting you to get out and do something about it." Well that "set the hook in me." To one degree or another, I've been affected by the disproportionate republican politics in this country. I am a 99 Percenter.

First of all, as a senior citizen, I've been made to feel as though I am whining for my "entitlement" check each month.


Like everyone whose held a job in this country, ever since my first job at Blazer Tool and Die as clean up utility and parts chaser, I've had a frigging deduction - FICA - taken out of my paycheck! It was also taken out of my paycheck when I served four years in the US Air Force. (In addition to 10¢ out of each check for the "Old Soldiers Home.")

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) is federal legislation in the United States that mandates employers withhold a set percentage of their employees' salary each pay period. This fund provides retirement income, as well as disability insurance, Medicare and benefits.

Moreover, as a former business owner, I had to match my employees' amount and contribute the money to a government account known as the Social Security Trust Fund.

So what are people so pissed off about? Why are they gathering in massive numbers, not only here in the United States, but around the world to protest? What am I "grousing" about? How do I figure I am a "99 Percenter?"


Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that senior citizens have been denied for the past two years. Without the COLA, my "real income" from my investment in FICA, has been constantly declining, because of the increases in my Medicare coverage and general cost of day to day living - my so-called "discretionary" spending after fixed expenses (rent, insurance.)

My Medicare expenses have increased every year, including the two years 2010 and 2011, that COLA was denied by Congress.
Without the COLA, my "real income" from my investment in FICA, has been constantly declining, due to the increases of my fixed and living expenses.

Have you paid attention to the fact that all product packaging has been "redefined" for smaller portions at an increase in price? There is no such thing as a "pound of coffee." A "pound" has been redefined as 12 ounces. Much of the packaging has been cleverly disguised, like Cheerios. The box is the same height, but skinnier! A can of tuna isn't the same size as it was two years ago.

Redbox announced today, 20% increase in video rentals; and I won't even go down "gasoline alley!"

In the end, like most of you, I pay more to receive less. I have less spending power than two years ago.

Big news for beleagured senior citizens! Social Security announced a 3.6% increase - a COLA adjustment - effective January 1, 2012. It will mean about $37 a month increase for me.

But then, Medicare (Part A) is increasing, about $4.00 a month, so now I'm down to $33 a month. In addition,
  • My Part B goes up $ 20 a month
  • My Part D for meds deductible goes up $100
  • My monthly cost sharing within Part D for meds goes up from 36% to 37% a month.
So In effect, the COLA is a joke. I may end up with $5.00 more "discretionary" per month.

Like the rest of you, I am directly affected by the plethora of reductions in public services, in everything from the reduced hours at the public library to deferred maintenance of our infrastructure.

A large part of the "Occupy" movement includes students, whose education has been affected.

I was talking to a friend the other day telling me his grandson had dropped out of college. When I asked why, he said there was no point in wracking up massive college loans, with no assurance of finding a job later on down the line. I'm sure if you have children, or have friends with children, you have heard variations on the same logic.

Up till this past January, we had a sliding scale dental service in my area. That's all been de-funded. And I, like many others in my age group, have some serious dental problems to figure out how to rectify. And Washington State is taking another round of hits in public health care.

I grew up in Seattle. Boeing was a big part of our lives. Even if your dad didn't work at Boeing, you had friends whose dad did. That tool and die company where I held my first job - made door handles installed in the 707 and 747's. I operated a drill press making those handles. Seattle was populated with cottage industries feeding the assembly lines in Renton, and later Everett, Washington.

In addition to the declining revenues across the board in the US, the reality of the "Global Economy" continues to make itself felt.

The "Global Economy" only means something positive to the Wall Street Robber Barons. For the rest of us, it means loss of jobs and income, as companies moved completely offshore, or, in the case of Boeing, outsourcing components that were once made in the United States, are now being manufactured overseas, giving a paycheck to someone else.

This is a diagram of the "outsourcing" of the 787 Dreamliner, which demonstrates how Seattle's cottage industries dried up and went away:

Are you telling me we don't know how to make landing gear here in the United States? Why in hell would anyone knowingly send that work to English workers, who take home our paychecks? Are you claiming we cannot make passenger entry doors here in the United States? So why in hell would anyone knowingly send that work to French workers, who take home our paychecks? Are you telling me we do not know how to manufacture wings here in the United States? So why in hell are they being manufactured in Japan, giving a pay check to a Japanese worker, instead of an American worker?

The "Global Economy" has only benefited a select few. For the rest of us, all it means is jobs lost to China, South Korea, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and other low wage countries. Our manufacturing capability in this country has been so decimated, we'll end up delivering pizza's to each other.

Finally, a blow hit very close to home, in my own family, when Bank of America yanked my sisters home out from under her, despite all the yammering about "We will work with you to secure refinancing!" Part of the slap in the face to taxpayers, who helped bail out Bank of America.

But, like Mitt Romney recently stated, "As to what to do for the housing industry specifically, and are there things that you could do to encourage housing? One is, don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy up homes, [and] put renters in them." (Las Vegas Review Journal, October 17, 2011)

How's that for a 1 Percenter view of America?

Here's another 1 Percenter. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan is upset by all the bad things people are saying about his bank: "I, like you, get a little incensed when you [bank employees] think about how much good all of you do, whether it's volunteer hours, charitable giving we do, serving clients and customers well," Moynihan told employees during a global town hall meeting broadcasted from the bank's headquarters. "You [the public] ought to think a little about that before you start yelling at us."

Bank of America's strategy to deal with the increasing criticism:
  • Launch a multi-million dollar campaign to go on the offensive at the local and state level.
  • Kick up as much fear as possible from public officials that the bank will cut them off dry if they say anything negative about the bank's impact on their communities.
  • And lots of feel-good, full-page ads in local newspapers.
The Seattle Times just ran some full-page ads, wherein B of A is touting how many people they've helped refinance, for example.

Sent that ad to my sister. She feels a lot better now …

In a concession of sorts, according to AP, Bank of America will not raise the $950,000 base salary of CEO Brian Moynihan for 2011, but his pay package will include $9.05 million in restricted stock units. That's roughly $456.73/hour just on the base.

Well, I've said my piece about how I feel part of the "99 Percenters."

Don't expect the "Occupy" movement to go away anytime soon. This is an interactive map (click on map.) Shows more than 2,000 protest groups worldwide. Use the (-)(+) to zoom and select details of Occupy groups forming in your neighborhood.

This directory lists all of the "Occupy" groups and contact information, worldwide!

There was some speculation that the Occupy Wall Street movement would give up as winter sets into New York. But I have heard that a group from Occupy Anchorage is counseling them on how to do Occupy Wall Street in winter conditions!

Our collective thoughts and prayers go out to Scott Olsen, praying for a speedy and complete recovery from the ugliness of Oakland's finest. There is such a plethora of anger at so many institutions, that the Occupy movement is struggling for definition. It means so many things to each individual, facing differing as well as common frustrations.

Unfortunately, history has taught us that taking to the streets seems to be the only effective way of getting though to our tone deaf Government. We had to do it for civil rights, and it got us out of Viet Nam.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How Fortunate ...

I have a small LCD TV on my desk, next to the computer monitor. It's there to keep me company as I putter around researching material for my Blog.

Normally I am not a fan of the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. I have fond memories of kicking back in our dorm TV room, watching Johnny Carson and the "Tonight Show" - "broadcast in black and white and compatible color."

Working late last night, I suddenly discovered President Obama on the tube with Jay Leno.

How fortunate we are to have such a great man as President of the United States. He is smart, intuitive, can actually string compound sentences together, quick to smile and laugh. His anecdotal comment to Michelle to start giving out candy instead of healthy treats on Halloween "lest the White House get egged!" brought the house down!

Who envies the struggle he has to steer this country through the existing political quagmire?

As for Jay? Nice guy I'm sure. But there was only one "Tonight Show" - and that was with Johnny Carson …

Link: Complete interview with Jay Leno.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Message in a Bottle!

It is heartwarming to learn that in this hi-tech age of cell phones, BlackBerry's, iPhones, Satellite phones, Smartphones, text messages, twitters and tweets, lives can still be saved by the most basic of communication systems: A message in a bottle.

Press release Oct 10th, 2011
D'Alesio Group, Livorno, Italy

On October the 10th, at 06:44 Italian Time, M/V Montecristo activated the security alarm from its position: 12° 34.67N 061° 48.86E; about 620 miles east from Somali Coast.

The last message received from the Ship Captain indicated that the Vessel has been attacked by a ship with 11 armed people. The Captain has immediately activated the security operating procedure to prevent the attack.

And so began another act of Somalian piracy off the "Horn of Africa."

On October 10, 2011, a group of Somali pirates armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades, commandeered the 56,000 dwt M/V Montecristo off the Horn of Africa. The vessel is brand new, delivered in June to the D'Alesio Group of Livorno, Italy.

When the pirates boarded the 616-foot vessel, the 23-man crew repaired to a "safe" or "panic" room, located in the ships' engine room.

There, they were able to continue to navigate the vessel. But they quickly discovered that in their haste to get to the "safe room," they neglected to grab a hand-held radio!

For the next 24 hours, the sequestered crew crew, with no way to communicate with the outside world, listened in abject terror, as the pirates began tearing the vessel apart, trying to find them!

Show of Force

The next day, Tuesday, October 11th, the Montecristo was located by the USS De Wert, followed shortly by the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) Fort Victoria. The two ships are part of NATO's "Operation Ocean Shield," created to fight piracy in the seas off the Horn of Africa.

The USS De Wert was first on the scene and assessed the situation. A Royal Marines boarding team aboard RFA Fort Victoria prepared to intervene, while a Royal Fleet Air Arm Lynx helicopter provided scene coverage, circling overhead.

The rescue party, including US Special Forces, boarded the Montecristo and captured the pirates without a shot being fired.

Shockingly, what saved the Montecristo crewmen was a message in a bottle. When the crew realized they had no radio, they scribbled a note, placed it in a bottle, tied a floating flasher to the bottle, and tossed in out a port hole, when the rescue forces approached them.

The flashing beacon was spotted by armed rescue forces.

What made the message in a bottle so important to their salvation was that the message let the boarding party know that the crew was safely sealed inside an armored area of the ship and the location of the armored room.

That information gave the green light to the Royal Navy and Marines, allowing them to mount a full rapid assault, without worrying about hostages or the safety of the crew.

The Royal Navy chief who led a daring rescue to free a hijacked ship from the clutches of pirates last night told how they got there “in the nick of time”.

When troops, including 40 marine commandos, boarded the vessel, they found the pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, had ripped apart steel doors and frames, wrecked cabins and blasted an RPG round through the bridge, in an attempt to find the hiding crew.

After spending 24 hours scouring the decks for the crew, the thugs were about to smash into the engine room where they were hiding. Capt Northwood said:
“We basically just smothered the Montecristo. It was only then the 11 pirates realized the game was up and surrendered.

“They were close to breaking down the door to the engine room. This was a wild, ­unpredictable gang. None of us would want to have been captured.”
(Ali Kefford, Daily Mirror, October 14, 2011)

On Friday, October 14, a dhow, believed to have been the "mother ship" from which the pirates were operating, was intercepted by vessels from "Ocean Shield," NATO's counter-piracy task force. British forces caught up with the dhow - a kind of Arab sailing vessel - some 200 miles (320km) off the coast of lawless Somalia.

In the October issue of Tanker Operator, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports:
  • Piracy has reached record levels with 352 attacks reported worldwide so far this year.
  • Somali pirates were behind 56% of the attacks.
  • Somali pirates are intensifying operations off their own coastline, but further afield - in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, particularly during the monsoon season.
  • While Somali pirates initiated more attacks – 199 this year, up from 126 for the first nine months of 2010, only 24 vessels were hijacked, compared with 35 for the same period in 2010.
With unprecedented boldness, this August pirates boarded and hijacked a chemical tanker at anchor in an Omani port, under the protection of coast state security.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Amtrak turns 40: Updated!

Happy Birthday to a system that keeps on running, despite the dunces in Washington D.C.

The following editorial appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Thursday, September 22nd:

For 40 years Amtrak, the country's national passenger rail service, has chugged along like "The Little Engine That Could" - overcoming constant economic obstacles and a continuing barrage of political maneuvering. It seems no matter the progress it makes in extending service and adding riders, there is always a herd of politicians in Washington who try to derail it at budget time.

This year is no different.

A proposal in the U.S. House would cut Amtrak's operations appropriations by 60 percent, from $563 million each of the last two years to $227 million in 2012. Its capital budget would be reduced by $25 million to $899 million, a significant blow considering that the corporation is already under funded for maintenance and infrastructure.

On September 28th, Amtrak’s 30 millionth passenger, Rochelle Lathon of St. Louis, was presented with an oversized Amtrak ticket and two 30-day rail passes.

Ms. Lathon rode the Texas Eagle from Alton to Springfield, Illinois on September 28th, the day the 30 million passenger mark was reached.

Ms. Lathon is a mother of five, a community college student and an Amtrak Guest Rewards member who travels frequently to Springfield and Chicago on the Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains.

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Amtrak is offering exclusive HO scale model trains in "Heritage" paint schemes. This first-time offering includes 15 limited-run models only available aboard the Amtrak Exhibit Train or online at the Amtrak Store.

The collection includes four powered locomotives and 11 passenger cars, making it possible to create a miniature representation of the Amtrak Exhibit Train and any eastern long-distance Amtrak train in the current Phase IVb paint scheme.

The model trains are now available for order and will start shipping in November, in time for holiday gift giving.

Amtrak is offering other collectible items to celebrate the 40th Anniversary including a commemorative book and documentary DVD.

  • Amtrak: An American Story, is a 144-page book that chronicles the history of the railroad with archival photographs, a historical timeline and personal narratives for each decade.
  • Amtrak: The First 40 Years, the documentary DVD, provides an exclusive look inside America’s Railroad, with hard-to-find photographs and video footage as well as interviews with past and present leaders who have shaped the railroad’s history.