OK, FALWELL GETS IT – HOW ABOUT YOUR UNCLE?

With so much going on, this was easy to miss. But, while it hardly rivals Katrina or Iraq in importance, a little good news, however relatively minor, is never a bad idea at a time like this.

Guess who now believes equal rights for gays are not special rights? The story, in key part:

“I may not agree with the lifestyle,” Falwell said. “But that has nothing to do with the civil rights of that … part of our constituency.

“Judge Roberts would probably have been not a good very good lawyer if he had not been willing, when asked by his partners in the law firm to assist in guaranteeing the civil rights of employment and housing to any and all Americans.”

When Carlson countered that conservatives, “are always arguing against ‘special rights’ for gays,” Falwell said that equal access to housing and employment are basic rights, not special rights.

“Civil rights for all Americans, black, white, red, yellow, the rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, et cetera, is not a liberal or conservative value,” Falwell went on to say. “It’s an American value that I would think that we pretty much all agree on.”

So let’s hope, as HRC’s Joe Solmonese suggested, that the good Reverend will minister to the Republican Leadership and allow the passage of long-stalled legislation that would include sexual orientation among the bases (like religion and race and disability) on which it is illegal to discriminate.

THE CATASTROPHE

We have contingency plans to bomb virtually every country on the planet, or so one sometimes gets the feeling.  “We have contingency plans for everything,” is a line I remember hearing several times in years past.  So how about a contingency plan for what to do in the event of a likely catastrophic disaster?

You will recall this quote from yesterday:

In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a major hurricane strike on New Orleans as “among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country,” directly behind a terrorist strike on New York City.

The Republican leadership, Bush, Cheney and Rice, were warned point blank on January 7, 2001, that Osama Bin Laden represented a “tremendous” and “immediate” threat to the United States – and did nothing.  Eight months later, a good long Crawford vacation.

Warned four years ago of the threat to New Orleans, they slashed the budgets for measures designed to lessen the threat.

Warned three or four days before Katrina’s impact that it could be imminent, the Republican administration seems to have done little to prepare for the contingency.

Meanwhile, what struck me about the President’s interview with Diane Sawyer yesterday morning was his insistence on “zero tolerance” for looters.

Has he been watching the news?  Might he at least have made a distinction between looting jewelry and looting food?  Looting water?  Looting dry clothes?  Does he think at this stage most people are looting wide screen TVs?

One pattern of Republican leadership, these past five years, has been poor planning and poor judgment.  Another pattern has been favoring the rich and powerful at all costs – tax cuts for the rich as more low-income families slip below the poverty line; tougher bankruptcy laws with no exemption for, say, hurricane victims; refusal to adjust the minimum wage for inflation; efforts to make it harder for ordinary citizens to sue corporations; zero tolerance for a mother “looting” in an attempt to keep her children alive.

Some people seem to blame the folks who didn’t evacuate, and certainly it would have been better if they had.  But how do you evacuate if you have no money?  How will you fill your gas tank at $3 a gallon?  What hotel will take you in?  Where will you go?

Ah, but it was irresponsible of them not to have money.  Perhaps. But do restaurants pay their busboys or hotels pay their maids or does Wal-Mart pay its greeters enough for a family to have adequate flood insurance, car insurance, and a rainy day fund to get out of town?  With elderly parents in tow?

Yes, the focus must be almost entirely on helping.  (As one friend sensibly asked me just now – “Why isn’t every truck in Texas being stopped, unloaded, and sent to New Orleans to rescue people?”  Or if that’s not the best plan, why wasn’t a better plan ready to go the minute disaster struck?)  But for those of us unable to do more than send money, offer shelter, and watch the news, that still leaves a lot of time to be angry.

CHEAP DENTAL CARE

Yesterday’s item on lowering your dental costs (worth reading if you missed it) prompted this additional suggestion . . .

Kirk Elliott: “Tell your readers to check if there is a dental hygiene school in their area, usually at a community college. Most have a program where you can get your teeth checked and cleaned by students, who are supervised by a dentist, for a nominal fee.  I pay $5.00 for a cleaning and they do good work.  However, they can’t do fillings or any work that would require a dentist.  Also, I have a Scottish friend living in Harlingen, Texas, who goes across the border to a Mexican dentist, paying 1/3, and he says the dentist is excellent. Plus, he buys his liquor and drugs there cheap also – it’s about an hour drive.”

☞ Should be able to get a haircut from a student barber at the same time, while you’re lying back in the chair.  Oh!  And here’s another great idea I’ve always had: an exercycle hooked up to a generator hooked up to a battery, so your peddling always keeps it charged – and so in case of a real emergency you could generate enough power to keep your laptop and cell phone running, and maybe even your TV and refrigerator (if you’re Lance Armstrong).

Dale McConnell: “One reason that UK teeth are so horrid is national health care.  By controlling price, the government has mandated a market-clearing price that limits supply so there is unsatisfied demand and thus, poor teeth.”

☞ But is that the fault of national health care – or of setting the price too low?

If we set the wages for our all-volunteer Army at $500 a year, we’d probably have a pretty lousy army.  But would its rotten condition stem from the concept of an all-volunteer army, or from the level at which we funded it?

MERCK

Peter: “About 3 years ago you indicated you had bought some Merck when it had weakened to about 40… It’s even lower now and could hit 20 or worse if they lose a lot of these VIOXX lawsuits.  Do you still hold Merck?”

The suggestions in that column – even Merck at first – did surprisingly well. (Not to scare you, but I’m always a little surprised when one of my suggestions does well.)  But VIOXX is the kind of unexpected event that brings home the truth of warnings that stocks are risky and the importance of diversifying.

I have no idea how the lawsuits will ultimately be resolved, how much of that may be covered by insurance, and what good things Merck may have in the pipeline.  I still have some Merck January 2007 calls with a big fat paper loss.  I may well sell them before year end for a big fat tax loss.

With the stock price down nearly 30% from where we started, the market may be accurately reflecting the risks and potential rewards – as the market for widely followed stocks in theory ought to do.  Or it may be overreacting with dismay and disgust and the general uncoolness of owning something out of favor, as markets often do, making it a bargain here.  Or it may be underreacting because it cannot quite accept what could befall this great company (as markets also often do), making it a sitting duck.

I have no idea which of these three possibilities is most likely, but I lean toward the first – that the market in a situation like this is a pretty good bookie, setting the odds about right.

Have a great weekend.  If you can, send money and offer shelter.

 

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