I love this story about how a 22-year-old woman learned how to fix cars by driving a ’72 Beetle across the country. It brought back fond memories of changing the oil and spark plugs on my ’63 Beetle (39 miles per gallon); I even progressed to the point where I could change a clutch cable (thanks to this classic repair guide). Ah, the joys of the air-cooled engine!

“How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot” was my bible. It included information about how to buy a VW (first of all, go and sit in the car and “feel the vibes”). And I did; After I sold the Little Darlin’, we bought a ’67 Microbus. One time, I was driving home from a Cape Cod camping trip in the bus, when the dashboard um, kind of burst into flames. My friend started freaking, while in my calmest, most soothing voice, I kept saying, “It’ll be fine, don’t worry about it” as I put the tiny flames out with my hands. (I think it was a short in the radio.)

Then I had a ’67, which I used to drive around West Philly with “Tracy Nelson is the Holy Ghost” painted on the door. (My own take on the “Clapton is God” meme.) I finally patched up the rust myself and handpainted it with enamel that I polished to a high gloss. I remember the day it was finally done: July 4th, 1976. I was standing on the roof to see the fireworks, and looked down to see my beautiful little white Bug in the glow of the streetlamp. Ahh.

The next morning, it was gone. Guess I did too good a job, because it was stolen for parts and was found in a chop shop a month later. It was very traumatic to find my little Bug not only stripped of her fenders and tires, but filled with trash and cigarette burns everywhere.

That was my last Bug. If I ever get rich, I’ll buy another one.

Sugar-free day 4

Still kind of headache-y, but okay. I did drink a diet Pepsi today because I wanted something sweet SO bad.

Also, I got my flu shot today. Yes, I know not everyone thinks they’re a good idea, but as someone whose flu progressed to pneumonia, I don’t ever want to go through that again. (I got the pneumonia vaccine last year, too.)

Six degrees of Social Security

Rich Eskow is one of my favorite progressive voices, and you should go read the whole thing:

President Obama and Vice President Biden both gave powerful speeches this evening, summoning the ideal of an inclusive nation and effectively distinguishing their mainstream American views from their opponents’ radical right-wing vision. The only real false notes were the passages in which they both embraced a right-wing set of proposals known as “Simpson Bowles.”

That means they were embracing a plan which would cut Social Security benefits and raise its retirement age. It also means they were embracing the ideology of a small network of well-funded individuals who are determined to take our country down the austerity path that is destroying Europe – and who may be personally antagonistic toward the President as well.

“Now,” said the President, “I’m still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission.” Vice President Biden said of their opponents, “they rejected every plan put forward by us, by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission they referenced or by any other respected group.”

But that commission offered neither “principles” nor a “plan” — in part because Republicans like Paul Ryan wouldn’t raise taxes of any kind, but also because some liberals on the commission refused to go along with its proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare. As a result, it never agreed on any recommendations.

The President and Vice President are actually referring to private proposals put forward by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairs of that deadlocked group. Those proposals would cut Social Security through a variety of means, would cap the Medicare budget (which is effectively the same as cutting it), and — once you cut through all the doubletalk — would actually cut tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while raising them dramatically for everyone else.

Simpson is a former Republican senator, while Bowles is an ex-Democratic staffer and Morgan Stanley director. Both are longtime allies of conservative hedge fund billionaire and former Nixon Cabinet member Pete Peterson, a long-time adversary of Social Security, Medicare and government’s rightful role in our society. Peterson-funded organizations provided staffers, as well as ideological guidance, to the Simpson Bowles Commission.

Those staffers worked under the direction of David Walker, who was CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation until he left to lead an affiliated Peterson organization called the Comeback America Initiative. Who is David Walker? He’s a former Comptroller General of the United States, a longtime Peterson operative and a featured figure in the rabidly anti-Obama film just released by Dinesh D’Souza, the far-right apparatchik whose attack book against the President was hilariously entitledThe Roots of Obama’s Rage.

Go read it all. Really.

Four more years


So, as I said, the odds are that barring major mistakes, the next four years will be much better than the past four years.

Does this mean that U.S. economic policy has done a good job? Not at all.

Bill Clinton said of the problems Mr. Obama confronted on taking office, “No one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.” If, by that, he meant the overhang of debt, that’s very much the case. But we should have had strong policies to mitigate the pain while households worked down their debt, as well as policies to help reduce the debt — above all, relief for underwater homeowners.

The policies we actually got were far from adequate. Debt relief, in particular, has been a bust — and you can argue that this was, in large part, because the Obama administration never took it seriously.

But, that said, Mr. Obama did push through policies — the auto bailout and the Recovery Act — that made the slump a lot less awful than it might have been. And despite Mitt Romney’s attempt to rewrite history on the bailout, the fact is that Republicans bitterly opposed both measures, as well as everything else the president has proposed.

So Bill Clinton basically had it right: For all the pain America has suffered on his watch, Mr. Obama can fairly claim to have helped the country get through a very bad patch, from which it is starting to emerge.

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