Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thanks to Mr. Moore

I'm a long-time fan of Michael Moore and his work. He's probably one of the most polarizing individuals in America today, right up there with Noam Chomsky. If you want to know who is worth listening to, find out who hates them and who loves them. People with ideas worth listening to are always the ones that split the people. I tend to err on the side of the Dems in terms of socio-political activists.

In this case, I want to thank Mr. Moore for his support of Julian Assange by wiring him $20,000 in bailout money. In linked letter above, Mr. Moore describes why he made this contribution and why he supports Mr. Assange in this most recent attack on his character and credibility. Mr. Moore also explains his stoic belief that things like WikiLeaks serve an important social function to protect the people, and that it might have had significant historical ramifications had such a thing been in place even a decade ago.

I have to say that I mostly agree with Mr. Moore's assertions. WikiLeaks serves people in ways that our media has failed to do for almost two centuries. It forces transparency in the only way it can: leaking material to the public that is being kept behind implied closed doors. In fact, most of the information that is presented in the leaks is not a matter of national security, diplomatic cooperation, or even importance. Mostly, they are matters of opinion, dealing with concerns that most people had a vague understanding of to begin with, but also provides insight into how these global affairs are being handled in our name. The interesting thing is that, as a whole, the leaks as they stand now are not particularly damaging. In my mind, the most appalling thing is that this information was kept from the people for no reason other than it could be.

That is why WikiLeaks is so important. Without an information outlet that will continually give authenticated and un-edited information to the people, there can be no distortion of information by the powers-that-be. Without a medium of good information, said powers are better able to cultivate an environment of fear and/or paranoia that allows them to push their agenda with little or no resistance. For examples, see Mr. Moore's letter.

A prime example that I will reiterate here concerns the reasons for going to war in Iraq. We were told by the government at the time that there was strong evidence to support the assertion that there were WMD's in Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein might have helped that attack on the U.S. In fact, there was no evidence to suggest this. Had there been a WikiLeaks at the time, the American people would have been aware of this and would not have been convinced that war was necessary. Instead, the people were presented with "facts" by the government and, instead of questioning the motives behind that information (something "the people" are not very good at), we simply went along with it. Thanks to WikiLeaks, I hope we never fall for that kind of sick trick again.

So, a thank you to Mr. Moore for his support of Assange and, by extension, a well-informed and Democratic populace. I hope more people can come to understand the importance of something like WikiLeaks, and can campaign in their own way to keep it open and free.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Compromising morals

Non-partisanship in Washington must be based on compromise. Both sides have to give a little to effect change that will benefit the American People. Unfortunately, the recent agreement between Obama and the GOP is not compromise: it is surrender.

The recent decision to extend the Bush tax cuts is not only fiscally irresponsible, but ethically as well. This is giving the GOP exactly what they want without demanding anything from them. True, it secures another 13 months of unemployment benefits, but that really doesn't matter to the GOP. All they care about are the taxes.

One of the interesting things I heard in the echo chamber of radio was that "a tax increase on the upper class will mean higher taxes for all of us." Umm.....what? No, that's not how it works. And, as this post explains, the tax plan of the Dems would actually be better for the upper class because only their income above the top tax rate income amount would be subject to a new tax. So, if the top bracket income is $250,000 and a person makes $250,001, that person only sees an increase in tax on that $1, meaning they would have to pay about $.04 extra.

But this is not what people hear, not what they see, and not what they think they understand. People see that "taxes kill jobs...we need jobs...therefore, we need lower taxes." It doesn't actually work this way. Lower taxes on the wealthy will not create jobs, and that extra money in the pockets of private companies and CEO's will do nothing to help with our deficits in government, which is what really hurts our economy.

If you want to make everything better, you need to raise taxes in a way that makes sense. The fact is, the rich can afford higher taxes. They can survive on the rest of their income when they are being taxed at a higher percentage. That's why their tax rate is higher than lower-income families. A low income family making about $30,000 for a household is going to feel the pressure of their taxes, low as they are, much more than a household of the same size making $300,000, or even $100,000. We need to have higher rates on the rich so that we can stabilize our government spending and our national debt. When that happens, foreign investors will be more willing to invest in America, and our economy will turn around.

And lets not forget that the Bush-era tax cuts actually contributed to the unemployment rate and heralded the arrival of the economic slump we see ourselves in today. There has never been any data that shows that lower taxes results in more jobs being created. Often, it's the opposite if there is any change at all.

In the end, the tax rate will have to go up. Our government can't work on pennies a day, and if it is forced to cut programs that benefit the people, those costs will be added to the already struggling economy. That is, if people will be able to pay the price that private businesses are going to be placing on their services. Good luck with that. We're all going to need it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What they're willing to do

Recently, all 42 Republicans in the Senate sent a letter to Harry Reid, explaining that they will refuse to vote on any legislation, will actually attempt to block everything, until tax breaks are extended for the top wage-earners in this country.

After this is done, it is assumed that Republicans will continue to block everything.

This is such an awful idea that I'm actually surprised that people aren't writing to those Republican senators about it. The fact that they are willing to essentially sit on their hands on every issue except bankrupting out country is appalling. They want to extend tax cuts? But they don't want to do anything else? What about nuclear arms treaty with Russia? What about DADT? What about, well....everything else?

I hope people realize what they voted for was ineffectual government and representation that does nothing. What's the point of being represented in Congress if your representative isn't doing anything to help you? You might as well give up your right to vote for representatives. Have a nice day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

WikiLeaks and Freedom of Speech

Well, this is a bit awkward. Seems a guy slipped hundreds of thousands of documents from U.S. Embassies all over the world onto the WikiLeaks website, which is now posting them for all the world to see openly (unless their stopped). Most regular news sources have called this a breach of security even though the documents date back to the 1960's and are really mostly filled with cheap shots at foreign leaders and the like. Wiki Leaks has stated over and over that it believes in a truly transparent Democracy where documents such as these are available to everyone.

Many people, as I said, have called this a dangerous ploy for Wiki Leaks to perform. People who read these articles are apt to think that the content will compromise our national security, which it does not. By definition, the documents pertain solely to foreign powers and policy. Furthermore, people are likely to hear that these documents are highly sensitive and top secret, which they are not.

The big question on my mind, though, is whether this is truly the way to exress one's free speech? You could argue and believe both ways, but here is my argument.

Imagine if a place like Wiki Leaks did not exist. Imagine if all information was dealt with primarily in the channels in which it is relevent and was never distributed to the people but through sanctioned media and information outlets. Does that in any way sound like freedom? Of any kind? At all? Not to me.

I feel that places like Wiki Leaks are important, though at this stage they still carry the label of rebellious dissidents in our society. I feel they are making important progress toward the future in an age where information, but more importantly disinformation, is moving at light speed and people are incredibly susceptible to rational ignorance and simply accepting filtered information in order to simplify their existence.

The natural progression for Wiki Leaks, in my opinion, is to continue with their commitment to bringing us unfiltered, uncut, and formerly unknown information so that we may make informed choices about our world. I hope that more people in the future will follow this example so that, one day, all information is free, available, and accessible to everyone. While some informaiton, some documents, should remain classified or whatnot, the vast majority should be made publicly available.

Some may argue that people do not demand this information and so it does not need to be disclosed. A child may not demand love from a parent, but a parent shows them love because it's the right thing to do. People must be shown what information is out there, and where it is coming from and what it means, before they can be expected to see the value in it. We must allow people the chance to see the truth of what goes on in the world so that they can value what our country has and be aware of what it needs.

UPDATE: Keep an eye on the NYT!!! They've posted a brief discussion in which they say they will be posting several articles about the leaks, including abridged and full versions of some of the cables that have been reviewed and approved by D.C. This is HUGE!! This is the beginning of a credible news source standing up and taking what I hope is an objective approach to the information that has been placed in our reach. Here's the link to the full archive of stories.

A review of Special Interests

An interesting editorial from the NYT discusses the issue of the corporate takeover of Washington in a very well-written piece. The essential gist, as you can probably guess, centers around the recent decision from the Supreme Court that allows private companies to make anonymous donations of any amount to any candidate they wish. According to the polls and studies done since this was passed, the vast majority of this newly-freed money is going to GOP candidates and their affiliates, particularly the Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber, according to a poll cited by the article, received $86 Million from large insurance companies to block Health Care Reform. This money, like funds during the campaign cycle, will likely be used to lobby Washington support, buy ads on T.V., radio, and in print, and run "objective studies" into the negative effects of the new health care system. I'm sure I can guess, as you can, the outcome of these studies.

The problem is that this recent ruling is just the tip of the iceberg, and is only the most recent and direct assault on individual liberty and equality in our country. It has been years, decades really, since individual citizens were on equal footing with corporations. Our country may recognize corporations as individuals, but that does not mean they should have the same (and in many cases, more) rights as individual flesh-and-blood citizens.

What we need in this country are some strong legal walls to separate the political sphere from the rest of the spheres of influence. This is a problem that has many symptoms all over the place.

Firstly, it is apparent in the fact that a person now has to be a multi-millionaire just to run a significant campaign for office, even at the state level. This keeps out most of the middle-class and everyone below, despite whether these people may have good ideas on how to solve issues. It also means that those who are elected have a vested interest in lowering taxes on the upper class because they are all considered in the upper class. The fact that it takes so much money just to run a successful campaign means that those who run are more likely to depend on contributions, particularly those who give large amounts of money such as corporations and private interest groups.

Secondly, it is apparent in the laws and regulations, or lack thereof, that have recently been passed through our Congress. These laws and deregulation have been toted as significant steps forward in reining in uncontrollable and wasteful spending as well as corrupt business practice, but all their solutions are presented in the realm of the current problems. They do not work to correct the underlying illness, merely help alleviate the symptoms a little while longer.

Finally, it is apparent in how we view these corporations and their role in our society. Conservatives would have us believe that the free market of Capitalism is the absolute best solution for everyone, even those in the lower classes. This idea that companies and bigger-is-better economics has led our leaders to adopting laws and regulations that help these companies thrive and grow larger, engage in riskier and potentially more profitable practices, and work with impunity. The longer this goes on, and the more control and independence we give large corporations, the more clandestine their practices become, and the more the American people see and feel the negative effects of a deregulated private sector. Our view of corporations as private and independent entities has moved beyond Capitalism, however, because this independence and privacy has reached a point where there is no oversight, no trickle-down of funds, and no mass competition. It has all been fazed out and conglomerated.

The road to correcting these problems will be long and difficult, and will challenge many people's perceptions of what Capitalism and Freedom really mean. The fact is, Freedom does not mean doing whatever a person wants. In this country, freedom means acting freely within the realm of what is legal and moral. Corporations have not acted in a legal, ethical, or moral way in a long time, and this is the first thing that must be re-established. How do we do this? We regulate. In the past, lawmakers have argued that regulations hinder profits by requiring companies to go through needless red tape. That "red tape" includes oversight of finances and business practices, inspections of facilities, and reviews of appropriate employee benefits. We have seen what happens when these things are removed: companies work in a less ethical way to maximize profits. Regulation is necessary to effect positive change. Regulation does not kill profits, it reduces a companies ability to engage in clandestine practices and forces them to work under the scrutiny of the People.

The next thing we have to do is separate corporate interests from Washington, and turn Congress into a group that will work for the benefit of the people and not their financial backers. We do this by reinstating limits on corporate donations and actually keeping track of these donations. Require all candidates to disclose the source of all donations, public and private, and only allow a certain amount of corporate money to be given to a candidate. The only thing that keeps an individual from having the same representation as a company in Washington is money. Therefore, we must allow these two things the same footing. Unfortunately, as I've said before, it is difficult to run a solid campaign, especially nationally, without millions of dollars in assets. However, the DNC and RNC have millions of dollars from their own fund raising that they can give to campaigns, and this money is already well-documented.

Finally, we need to redefine the Corporation. This means doing away with laws that require businesses to think primarily about their own bottom lines, and focus instead on consumers. We need laws that prevent corporate malpractice, encourage competition between small and large businesses, and that promote the welfare of the individual in the practices of the corporation. This is not how we have seen businesses being run in America in decades, but is how they are supposed to be. A CEO should not be in a high-rise office, making careless decisions with a golden pen that can cut the livelihood of his employees and defraud investors and consumers. A CEO should be on the ground floor, understanding the people and seeing their impact. There is nothing wrong with profits, personal or professional, but there must be limits placed on the disparity between the top and bottom earners in a company. That a CEO makes millions a year while low-level employees work twice as long for pennies an hour is a contradiction in the fundamental philosophy of the Capitalist corporation.

It is imperative that we address these issues before they consume our economy. If there are no solutions, or the wrong kind of solutions, our economy will simply falter and collapse, and our nation will soon follow. We live in the most prosperous and powerful nation in the world, and yet we are slipping in education, finances, trade, and economics the world over. We can come back, but we must make hard, objective decisions that will benefit us all in the long run. We must end the corporate takeover of Washington by doing the things that corporate-sponsored lawmakers have warned us against: regulating the markets and investment practices, limiting corporate interests in politics, and redefining corporations and private businesses under the law. When these changes happen, if they do, I believe we will see a large shift, not only in the private sector and its practices as a whole, but the actual mentality of our economic backbone: the private business owner.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The New History of Thanksgiving

This article from the Huffington Post is rather interesting, not for its news content, but for the views that it presents from Mr. Limbaugh.

Apparently, Mr. Limbaugh is of the impression that Thanksgiving did not rise from the settlers being thankful that the Native Americans helped them after their first hard winter, but actually celebrates the settlers defeat of socialism and adoption of capitalism. Mr. Limbaugh also believes that, when the settlers adopted capitalism, there was suddenly such an abundance of food that they shared with the Native Americans instead of the other way around.

I really hope people don't buy into this. For one thing, it's very blatantly incorrect. Secondly, it ruins the history and tradition of a truly American holiday. There are no other Holidays we celebrate, aside from the 4th of July , that were created in America. The story of how it came to be is as important to pass on as the family turkey recipe.

The day we stop demanding historical accuracy and truth is the day we lose it, and that will truly be a sad day. When my children come home from school, I want to know they have been taught the truth about our national heritage, the good as well as the bad. I don't want them to think they are superior, or that America has always been the good guys. It is vastly more important to preserve the truth of our heritage so we do not make the same mistakes we have made before.

Keep history alive!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cycle of Fear and Hate

Recently, a judge ordered that a Mosque to be built in Tennessee did not violate any laws or ordinances. The article claims that opponents to the mosque argued in court that Islam, being in their opinion a militant political ideology as well as a religion, should not be granted the same protections under the Constitution as other religions.

This is an interesting belief, considering the number of self-proclaimed Christians in our own government compared to other religions. Christianity in this country has turned into a political ideology, and in many cases has ignited militant-like behavior (bombing of abortion clinics, demonstrations at funerals, protests and physical assaults in the name of anti-gay beliefs).

The cycle of hate of fear that this court case represents is one of the reasons I feel worried about being open about my own faith: I don't want people thinking that I am a bigoted, arrogant conservative Christian who thinks that a person in a mosque is a terrorist.

Islam is a major world religion, whether people like it or not. It is not a religion that promotes terrorism any more than other religions do. It is a part of our nation, just as much as other religions, and must be extended the same protections.

What would happen if we allowed Islam to be cut from the Constitutions protective bubble? Soon, other things "we" as Americans don't like would fall as well. It would no longer be constitutionally protected to speak in defense of Islam or any other organized group that is not in line with American Imperialist Policy. People would not be able to speak out against U.S. foreign policy, the President, Congress, or any other government body because it promotes dissent and anti-American beliefs. We would not be able to peaceably assemble in support of free religion because it could be seen as support for Islam, which by this point has been demonized to a terrorist organization.

Exceptions to rules are like holes in a dam. One will create another, and pretty soon the whole thing collapses.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Plug for Noam Chomsky

I just have to say that Noam Chomsky must be one of the most supremely gifted and well-spoken activists in our world today. This is a man of such incredible persuasion of mind and morality that he cannot be refuted. His works, dating back to the 60's, have laid much of the work for today's movement for true Democracy.

When reading his papers, which are all posted here, you come away with the sense that Chomsky must have been able to predict the future. The things he discusses, even decades ago now, are still so relevant and instructive. His work could easily be a college course by itself (and I certainly would have taken it!).

One of his earliest papers is called The Responsibility of Intellectuals, written in 1967, and discusses the role of those who have the gift of a) a higher-than-normal intelligence, and b) the ability to receive and understand information. This is, of course, before the Information Age of computers and long before the Internet where anyone can find just about anything. It's also before major media corporations such as News Corp. came to dominate our media outlets. And yet, the arguments he puts forth are still very relevant. The examples he gives are equally important because they give us a definite timeline, and show us that the things we see now are merely extensions of actions and mentalities that our elected and non-elected leaders have taken for decades (some might argue centuries).

I don't know if this has come across yet, but I am full of respect for Mr. Chomsky. I feel that, despite his being in the latter years of life, he is still a powerful and intuitive thinker and activist, one we should be listening to and following, even if only in our own little way.

Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy

In a wonderful paper written by Robert McChesney, the author talks about the modernization of media, and how it has become a puppet of corporate interests. The idea is that, since media is largely subsidized by large corporations, those media outlets are therefore more inclined to present information that advances the interests of their financiers.

It has been suggested by many activists and learned individuals (Chomsky and McChesney being two examples) that our current media environment is more a launch pad for corporate viewpoints and entertainment than an environment for real, actual news. Most information we get is "soft" journalism: the stories are selected and presented in such a way that the person viewing it is given minimal information while feeling as though they've been informed.

An example of "soft" journalism is in the recent earmark debate. Most stories about earmarks recently have shown a strongly divided Congress, with the GOP on one side and the Left on the other. The stories rehash the same information over and over, giving people specific lines that are often rewritten word-for-word, which gives the impression that it is a neutral source (if ten different media outlets say the same thing about an issue, it must be true, right?). Furthermore, the story is overly simplified by the media system, making it a Right vs. Left issue when it is not nearly so clear-cut. Earmarks in general are made a simple thing: pork spending that is unnecessary waste in our budget. In fact, earmarks are relatively small compared to the overall budget and they are the promised funds that many congressmen said they would bring into the state they're representing. But we don't hear about that; earmarks are bad overspending, the Right wants to ban them, the Left wants to keep them. That's all anyone knows.

Another great example is the difference between a basic understanding of "taxes" and an educated understanding of "taxes". In the basic understanding, taxes are money the government takes from you to give to other people. In this view, taxes are bad. In the more educated view, taxes are used to pave roads, support schools and hospitals, and help those most in need with living expenses. In this view, taxes aren't all that bad. We don't usually hear about "good" taxes, just "bad" taxes, and how they'll ruin the economy and our lives.

The strategy of media systems using "soft" journalism is to, simultaneously, make politics and social discourse incomprehensible and accessible. It must be made complicated so that people are more likely to choose the course of "rational ignorance": justified stupidity and unwillingness to seek information. Once they have made it difficult to understand, they present simple, easy-to-follow information and stories that make people feel as though they've had everything explained. If you watch any major network news show, you can pick up on it. They will continually reference talks, debates, arguments, and investigations that are going on that make it appear complicated, but then will not discuss those; they'll go off on something else, interviewing a person here or there that will present a very simple opinion on the subject.

The other kind of journalism is "hard" journalism. This is when the media outlet is not basing it's stories and information based on outside interest. They are not going to give only certain information, but real, objective information. This is very hard to find. Our media is either polarized to the Left or the Right. With the rise of the Internet as a mass form of communication and media, there has been an increase in objective "hard" journalism, but it hasn't been very widely received; the people at the Left think it's conservative, the people at the Right think it's liberal, and the people in the middle think it's unimportant.

What we need is a return to basic, un-subsidized journalism. We need a media system that is independent of corporate interests and funding. The problem with this is that the only funding sources after corporations are public donations (NPR style), and government subsidies. There are those (in my view, they always seem to be conservatives) who shout about government-controlled media and how it also tailors to the interests of an elitist group (in this case, Washington). The funny thing about that view is that they spout about it only when there's a Dem President or majority in Congress. So, this is the major problem with journalism: how do media outlets function without the money from advertising or the government that could hinder objectivity.

The solution that comes immediately to my mind is that we need to return to the "local paper." News should become less nationally widespread, and more local. Papers like the NYT that have national and international reach struggle to make ends meet with just their subscription fees and costs for their paper, so maybe they should cut their distribution to only a single locality. Same with the LAT, Post, Globe, USA Today, etc. Local papers do not have to worry about mass distribution costs, can survive on subscriber dues, and would create a greater environment of localized competition (the backbone of capitalism). News already travels at the speed of light on the internet, and it's fairly easy to follow up on national stories about elections and whatnot. A locally-based media outlet can keep money in the community, support and reflect local mood and stories, and can keep objectivity better than a national paper.

I know this is unlikely ever to happen, but it can be helped. Support your local media by buying local rather than national rags; watch local news; check local news websites.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nukes and hypocrisy don't mix

Here's a post written on Politicalirony.com describing a recent push to renew the START treaty and the opposition that has risen against it. The ironic and truly horrific thing about this is that the person who is leading the opposition, Jon Kyl of Arizona, was the leading GOP representative that was helping the negotiation.

The administration gave Kyl everything he wanted, including huge increases in budget to update our nuclear program (this coming from the fiscally-conservative GOP, mind you). They essentially gave Kyl the keys to the castle, with the understanding that he would help them secure votes for the treaty renewal.

Just to be clear, the START treaty between the U.S. and Russia allows both countries to check the others nuclear program, limits the number of nuclear weapons each country can have, and has done a great job of repairing ties with Russia since the Cold War. Oh, and it was put in place by Reagan, the poster-child of modern conservatism.

With that in mind, it would seem shocking to think that a Republican would step in the way and block the passage of this treaty, even when all the specifics are worked out. But that's what Kyl is doing. He has said that he doesn't feel there's enough time to pass the treaty through Congress during the lame-duck session when there are other things that have to be done. This is after almost a year of negotiation and planning.

So, instead of being fiscally responsible, security-oriented, and non-partisan, we have a GOP that is funneling billions of dollars into nuclear programs, pushing to end a nuclear arms treaty with our greatest competitor in nuclear arms (that we've only barely become friends with), and disregarding the will of the people, the safety of our nation, and their political counterparts on the Left. Something is wrong with this.

Of course, it's all political. It's all about trying to disrupt everything and anything that Obama wants to do in order to secure a better a foothold for 2012. Surely, that's worth all the broken promises, dead treaties, and renewed arms races, isn't it? It's so short-sighted that it's sickening.

My prediction is that we'll be hearing about this in the news: Obama and his administration are not focusing on what's important, and are instead trying to do a little work with Russia (I'll bet Limbaugh will call Obama a Commie or some such nonsense). Then, when the treaty doesn't pass in time, this same group will then berate the President for failing to secure our nation and maintain ties with a global superpower (Limbaugh will then call Obama a destroyer of our national security, and say he has endangered the lives of every American). It's all about political disruption and factual distortion. It's a mind game, and the GOP is using the lives and safety of the American people to win. Disgusting.

Monday, November 8, 2010

5 truths we ought to know

Not the real title of the article, but it sort of fits. Thought this was interesting and worth passing on. None of it is revolutionary, but it's nice to have the truth laid out so nice.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-shachtman/five-truths-your-newly-el_b_780196.html

The end of the filibuster

Perhaps not, but Dan Coats, an incoming GOP Senator from Indiana, has stated that he is for reforming the filibuster. What does this mean for our political process?

Well, for one thing, it could mean the end of the 60-seat "super-majority" that has become a requirement to get a piece of legislation to even be discussed in the Senate. From 2008 to 2010, Republicans used their 41 seats in the Senate to filibuster like never before, killing bill after bill. What this means is that the bills were not even debated and discussed, never compromised on, and never voted on. They simply died.

Sen-elect Coats is quoted as saying "It's been too much gathering everything at the end and throwing it into one big package." This has been the response to repeated filibusters: roll up all the bills into one big package and vote on the entire thing, making it a bigger political blunder to quit the whole thing than vote on it.

Specifically, Coats wants to remove the ability to filibuster a "motion to proceed." If this were to happen, it would mean that every bill coming to the Senate would make it at least to the floor to be discussed, which is how it is supposed to work in the first place. It's kind of a cop-out for a minority to filibuster before even trying to compromise or discuss a bill.

Here's to hoping that Dan Coats gets the message out and is able to drum up support for his reform ideas. I certainly hope he doesn't face a Republican filibuster in the process. That would certainly be ironic.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

So it begins...

A recent article in the New York Times confirms that Texas Conservatives are considering dropping out of Federal Medicaid and CHIP programs entirely to help cut costs in their state. the Republicans say they are considering the drop because it would balance their budget in the coming year and may not have financial consequences for individuals.

At the end of the article, Jane Nelson, a State Senator from Flower Mound, said that she wanted to see if citizens might do better on a state-based program rather than a federal one.

When it comes to health care, state-based programs are often cheaper but have less coverage than most other programs. The federal government has the clout and financial stability to keep the program afloat, especially nationwide. State-based care is too easily manipulated by private interest groups. Take, for example, a "rumor" that doctors are being paid by specific pharmaceutical companies to push their medications on patients, regardless of whether that medication is the best option. If a pharmaceutical company were to lobby a state government, or even a few key representatives, they could push state-run health care programs to only cover their products, etc. This would probably not be as big a problem at the federal level because of how medicare works. It doesn't deny coverage of medications as much as state programs, covers more procedures, and allows for more flexibility of patients to choose their medications.

If this were to pass in Texas, it will serve as a great test of a state trying to run off of medicare. I wonder if they'll eventually scrap their state-based health care, which is sure to cost quite a bit too, and force everyone to take on private insurance, regardless of whether they can afford it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The cutting of costs in Washington

With the recent takeover of the House by the GOP, the plans have started coming forth as to what the new majority plans to do to cut costs and reduce the deficit. The problem is that many experts are wondering just how their new plan will be of any help at all.

In a recent article posted on the Washington Post website, there seems to be a lot of questions about the consequences of the drastic action Republicans say we need. The first warning sign that there may be a problem is that Cantor, the GOP #2, talks about rejecting President Obama's plan to extend tax cuts to businesses to spur hiring, and a proposal to help businesses deduct expenses faster. According to Cantor "Trying to prod business to do what Washington wants is not what is needed. We need to rein in this desire of Washington to tell business how to grow." So, the GOP is okay with cutting taxes to business, but will reject the same plan when it's proposed by the Dems, and will call it government intrusion into the private sector. Um...okay...

But that's not all that is a little strange. The GOP also says they want to cut the budget by 20% for most domestic agency budgets and an additional $160 Billion following that. The total cut would be about $260 billion from the $1.1 Trillion budget we have now. However, these cuts will come exclusively from domestic programs and specifically exclude....you guessed it, DEFENSE! That means that the majority of money will be coming from education, health care, national parks, and programs to promote infrastructure. Oh, and Homeland Security won't be touched by these cuts either, so we'll have secure border to protect our failing schools and dying citizens.

If there's a silver lining to the GOP plan, it's that they don't seem to agree on just how much they should cut. Unfortunately, the scenario above is the one that calls for the least amount to cut. Conservative analyst for the Heritage Foundation Brian Riedl, calls for $343 Billion to be cut. His explanation is that "Government has expanded by $727 billion over the last three years. Congress should be able to cut at least half of it." That's a fairly reasonable assumption, until you realize that the government has grown to help support the economy and bulk up a private sector that has been bleeding jobs until a few months ago (job growth in October far exceeded analyst estimates, with over 150,000 private sector jobs created). Again, these cuts would likely come out of education and healthcare, whose budgets did not see increases relative to overall increases in government spending.

At the end of the article, Cantor explains that we need to look at "entitlements" - AKA Medicare and Social Security - as a way to trim up the budget. However, if you look at this chart, which shows the budget breakdown from 2009, it's obvious that these programs being cut and reduced really won't have that much of an effect.

The only major program that could reasonably be cut and "reformed" is military (listed on the pie chart as "pentagon"). This one program takes up more than 55% of the country's annual budget. If we were to cut military spending by just 15% (see the pie chart for the suggested cut), we could easily provide funds for every other program we have, including medicare, Social Security, education, and infrastructure. Imagine what Social Security and health care alone would be like with that extra influx in money! We would have programs that are actually fully funded! We wouldn't have to see drastic cuts in spending that result in people losing coverage for medical expenses or a reduction in retirement checks! It would be a huge help to just about everyone!

Of course, no politician who wants to see a second term is going to suggest such a cut to military. The media and every political opponent within a thousand miles would have a field day, claiming the guy wants to sacrifice our security and safety in order to....well, make our country a better place.

I can dream...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sometimes we need a reminder

Read and realize that there really has been progress made. Don't give in to the fear and slander. Things have gotten better, and a lot has gotten done.

Election Night 2010

I already posted on my favorite part of the night with the Couric/Cantor discussion, but I wanted to break down how the rest of it seemed to go.

First of all, at this point, my state does not currently have a new Governor. The race is still too close to call, with neither candidate hitting 50% and still having about 5% of the votes left to count. Most seats in the local house and senate stayed the same, meaning there is still a strong Democrat majority. The one Tea Party-backed candidate was ousted, for which I am very grateful. So far, it's looking like it will be a fairly diverse group, with a Republican nominated to Lt. Governor and the Dem. candidate for the top currently in the lead. It'll be interesting to see how that dynamic works out.

On the national level, the representatives from my state were re-elected, though their competition was fairly minimal. They have both done great things for our state, have been in Washington for a long time, and have a lot of support from many different groups of people.

Greater national trends make this situation an exception rather than the rule, however. The Republicans have taken the House and even stole a few seats in the Senate, though not enough for a majority (this was, according to some analysts, due to the Tea Party candidates). Many Tea Partiers were elected to the House, including Rand Paul, but many others were not, such as Christine O'Donnell. Harry Reid held his spot in Nevada, and many other top Dems kept their spots. The new leaders of the House will certainly have a new direction to drive us in, and only time will tell if it is the right one. I have hope that the GOP will not run us into the ground, though it remains to be seen if they will truly work in the best interest of the American People.

So, it was exactly as many people suspected: a GOP takeover of the House, a cry against incumbents, and exit polling showing a strong dissatisfaction with Washington at the same time that a majority acknowledges that our current crises are not the fault of this administration. I wonder why people would vote against a group they know has done nothing to worsen the country, and reelect members of the group that are at fault. It doesn't make sense to me, but then again, there seems to be a lack of sanity and memory in America of late.

UPDATE: As of 9:47 AM, Republican candidate for VT governor Brian Dubie conceded the race to Democrat Peter Shumlin! Shumlin ended up with approximately 50% of the vote, with Dubie receiving 48%.

Eric Cantor on the "majority"

Last night during the congressional elections, Katie Couric spoke to GOP whip Eric Cantor regarding Health Care reform and the Republican's plan for it. Here's a link to a brief discussion of the conversation.

Katie Couric cited that, while 48% of Americans in exit polls said they wanted health care reform repealed, 47% wanted to keep it as is or expand it. Couric asked what Eric Cantor had to say about numbers that indicated that there wasn't a vast majority of people in America that supported repealing health care.

Cantor then went and cited completely different data, which was breaking down health care support along party lines that showed that a huge majority of Republicans and barely half of independents, but very few Dems, supported repeal. Cantor suggested that these numbers showed that a huge majority of "the American People" supported a repeal of health care.

Really? It really only shows what people know already, which is that the GOP is against health care reform, and Dems are for it. The disregard for a logical argument to promote a position makes me a little worried about where the new House of Reps will be going.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Corporate Lobbies in Immigration Law

A recent article put out by NPR and their News Investigation division shed light on the Corporate push in the Arizona Immigration Law. This is a little late in coming, but it took NPR several months to compile all the information presented. The article asserts, from its investigations, that the privately owned corrections companies lobbied for and essentially wrote the bill to rake in massive profits from detaining illegals.

I'm not sure, but I think that, by detaining illegals in the U.S. prisons, taxpayers are still paying for them and putting money into keeping them in this country rather than sending them back. At least if they're working here they are contributing, but if they are in prison they are merely sucking that money out of the country for nothing. How does this solve the problem? People are screaming about the cost of maintaining prisons in this country, but what's going to happen when we start detaining illegals as well? We're going to see the cost of detention facilities going up even higher, we won't be sending people back but keeping them here filling cells, and we'll be paying to have them sitting in a prison cell.

I'm all for upholding our current laws, but those laws say that we deport illegals, not detain them in prisons for an undetermined amount of time.

I guess the thing that bothers me most is that this is not widely known and that people probably wouldn't care even if it was. There is no investigation of long-term consequences and of who is going to benefit, socially and financially, because of this legislation.


For more NPR investigative news reports, click here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fighting for what you believe in

At a recent rally for KY candidate Rand Paul, a woman from RepubliCorp was dropped to the ground and kicked by a Paul supporter. This isn't a common occurrence by any means, but it raises some interesting questions. While I was reading the comments to the article on CNN, I noticed a lot of people sticking up for this kind of behavior (keep in mind, this "behavior" is the physical assault of a woman that was caught on tape). The few people pointing out that this behavior was wrong, and against the law, were verbally attacked by other people who continued with the whole "play with fire, get burned" philosophy.

At what point did physical assault of another human being become okay? And, to go in a slightly different direction, would this have received the same response had it happened at a Dems rally? Probably not.

For one thing, it would likely be getting a little more media attention, whether that's good or bad I don't know. Also, a lot of conservative talking heads like Limbaugh would likely be touting it as an example of the oppressive regime that the Left is trying to employ in this country. Instead, most Cons are mute on this, except to say that the woman got what she deserved. In fact, Limbaugh tried to portray the woman as being a potential security threat, and that the people who assaulted her were heroes. His example was, if a person tried to come up to the President and give them a suspicious package, the Secret Service would do the same thing.

There are a few things wrong with this. First, the "package" was not mysterious, it was a piece of paper calling Rand Paul the RepubliCorp Employee of the Month. The paper is clearly visible in the videos. Second, Rand Paul is not the President, and the people that assaulted this women were not Secret Service agents, but regular people at the rally. Finally, even if the woman were a security threat, that would not make it okay for her to be kicked in the head, even by SS.

It's not a trend, but it is disturbing that a) people would do that in the first place, and b) other people would defend it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Equal Opportunity

On the FOX News website, this article was posted that talks about how Obama has appointed more openly LGBT officials to office than any other President in history. The article was somewhat interesting, though hardly considered tough journalism, and I was only mildly bored until I read this:

"One Obama nominee who met some opposition was Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor nominated to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Concerned Women for America accused Feldblum of playing "a major role in pushing the homosexual and transsexual agenda on Americans." Other conservative groups blasted her role in drafting the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a bill that would ban employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Obama is a strong supporter of that legislation."

Now, just so we're clear, this is a woman who is openly gay, that was appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and pushed for a bill that would ban employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation. It seems to me that she was doing her job, as it appears to be considering the name of the commission.

So those that are railing against her for her "major role in pushing the homosexual and transsexual agenda on Americans" are really just homophobic and discriminatory. If this were a Black woman on the commission that had pushed for a ban on employers discriminating based on race, would people be screaming that the official was taking a major role in pushing the African American agenda on Americans? Not unless they wanted to be called racist. So why is it that no one is calling out these groups for being equally discriminatory? Just curious.

Term Limits

Listening to the radio this morning, the "news" show was talking about term limits for Congress. This is an issue that I was on the fence about until I heard them talking about it and thought about both sides for about 5 seconds.

For the President, and some state governor's, there is a set number of terms that person can serve. For congressmen however, there is no limit currently, which some people have taken issue with.

In these cases, you're talking about the leading representative, for a state or nation, being given only a certain amount of time to be in charge. This is, of course, meant to deter us from electing a tyrant that simply stays in power forever. But what about Congress? Are they not also leaders who, if given limitless time to serve in Washington, will become corrupt and tyrannical leaders?

Well, no.

The truth is, the longer a congressman stays in Congress, the more effective they become there. What some people call "pork" and "pet projects" are really the fulfilling of campaign promises and the bringing of necessary federal dollars to local projects and communities. Furthermore, individual congressmen are not on equal level with a president or even a governor. Congressmen have to answer for their decisions just as much as any other person in government, often more so as they have more competition at home. People know when their reps have not been doing what's right by them, and will often answer accordingly.

However, my biggest issue with this idea of term limits for Congress is that it requires people to vote against representatives that they may be completely happy with or that are doing a great job. In my state, we have one rep and two senators that have all been in Washington for years. One Senator in particular has been there for several decades. He isn't reelected time and again because he's entrenched and has name recognition. He's reelected because he is effective in promoting programs and projects that bring jobs and grow our state. Yet there are those who say that we should have limits placed on these elected officials! It takes people's right to vote for who they want to represent them. Imagine living in one state for twenty years and having a representative that whole time that did nothing but work for you. Suddenly, you're told that, starting in this coming election, you're not allowed to vote for that person and must choose a new representative you know nothing about who has never been to Washington before. How would that make you feel?

In my opinion (and since it's my blog, I'll give it happily), term limits and especially limits in Congress are more a hindrance to our right of free election than anything else. If we cannot choose to reelect, time and again, an effective and popular representative that serves honorably and admirably, then we have lost our right to be represented as we see fit.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Savings and tax breaks

There's been a lot of yelling from citizens and the right that Obama has not done anything about the "tax burden" on Americans during his time in office. This is not true, however. Part of the stimulus bill was that 90% of Americans were given a tax cut, but this tax cut was reflected in less money being taken out of individual paychecks, not in a refund sent out. Obama learned from Bush that an extra check is put in a savings account rather than invested in the economy, whereas a higher take-home pay can be used more effectively to stimulate the economy. But no one noticed.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the righties saying that they will continue the Bush tax cuts and keep the budget balanced by cutting spending. However, not one of them has said where they would cut this funding or what programs will be dropped to maintain it. None of them even seem to consider cutting military spending, but are more likely to go for things like education, health care, and infrastructure. If you'll notice, these are the exact same things that the cons have been railing Obama for "overfunding". Obama was bashed for his health care reform, is being picked apart for trying to promote education changes, and is being called fiscally irresponsible for trying to breathe life into a failing system of roads, bridges, and train lines in this country.

There is just no way that the Reps can do all that they've promised; i.e. maintaining all programs as they are while cutting taxes and spending. It just doesn't work. As a state employee, I know that, if the budget is cut year after year, eventually you're not going to have any more programs. You'll just have the salaries of mandatory officials and a few grants.

Obama has been doing a really good job, but people are suffering under the lies and misdirections of an outspoken resistance Right. Time's running out for the sane people to talk sense into the mad.

Monday, October 11, 2010

No jobs

The economy is getting moving again, and many large businesses are raking in profits once again. But they aren't posting new jobs. Some believe it's because the businesses are waiting for the economy to turn around, while consumers are waiting for jobs before investing in economic resources. This puts us in a rather unfortunate Catch-22.

The real problem with this is that many jobs are probably never going to come back. Companies that have been forced to streamline in a tight economy have no weathered that storm and are seeing record profits due to significantly reduced overhead costs. In this situation, there are probably a lot of execs who are wondering just how many jobs they may be forced to reopen while still maintaining their growth.

I have a feeling that the number of jobs that come back will be nowhere near as numerous or as high-paying as those that were let go. These companies have learned to work on lean budgets and lower quality products and services, and are not likely to go back.

At one of my jobs, I have seen a significant change in the products offered on the shelves. There has been a significant increase in the number of low-cost products that are available for a fraction of the price of their competitors (though they are of significantly lower quality). Only very recently has this trend turned around, and only in those departments that are not known for being very cheap to begin with. Furthermore, while jobs at this place were not cut, the hours people were given was reduced, and have not gone back up except for managers. This is, I believe, because managers are salaried and so the company wants to get as much time out of their money as they can. For the rest of us, we are stuck with lower hours than before.

It seems like the symbol of our times, companies that have scraped their budgets to the bone, cut costs on everything, and are now building up their coffers at the expense of renewed job positions and higher quality services. Unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Living within your means

My fiance wrote a brief note to some friends yesterday about people living beyond their means. It stemmed from an article in the Huffington Post. In the article, one quoted official was explaining that we needed to increase pay for those at the bottom of the economic ladder in order to improve living conditions in this country. My fiance's point in writing her piece was that, most people in our country are living beyond their means.

The poverty level in this country is hopelessly skewed when placed against that in most other countries. The poverty-stricken in our country tend to have cell phones, pay for internet, and have other rather nice electronics. If these same people are standing in lines at soup kitchens and food shelves, are declining to take jobs, and requesting aid from the government, maybe it's time to rethink your spending.

I have nothing against welfare, as long as it is used remedially, temporarily, and responsibly. A person who is on welfare should not be allowed to use that money for cell phones, internet, or satellite T.V. They should be paying for food, clothing, rent, heat, electricity, and medical bills. The person on welfare should have to prove that they are looking for a job and that they have been unsuccessful. I've worked jobs before where I've checked these kinds of things with people, and it's really not that hard.

One of the big problems where I am is that people are not willing to take jobs that they believe are beneath them. They are more willing to remain unemployed than to take a decent-paying job they don't want to do. This kind of arrogant self-importance leaves more people in jobless poverty than any recession.

The times, they are a-changin'

With all that's happened in the last two years, I can reasonably assume that, following the coming elections, things will be getting worse. It's not that I believe the Republicans are bad at what they do, or that they want America to fail. That's not it. It's just that their mentality and belief structure in how the government and "free-market" should run is not conducive to bringing us out of this "recession."

I've written posts before discussing the fact that we are no longer a free-market system in America. That shouldn't surprise anyone. All you have to do is look at the deregulation and conglomeration of every major industry in the U.S., the recent supreme court decision on campaign contributions, the filibustering of a bill that would require commercials to show where their money comes from, and you get the sense that there is a vast monopoly on political voice and representation in our country. In a recession, it makes sense to let the people living on the least have the biggest slice of aid. Instead, we have seen a further move toward favoring big-business and the top 2% of the population and a fleecing of the rest of us.

What we have seen from the Dem camp is a push to bring help to those who need it most: the lower and middle class. It is outrageous to me that the conservatives would think to loudly protest these programs while at the same time calling themselves the champions of the working class. It's like they're outspoken support of free-market Capitalism while denouncing trickle-down economics. Despite this, it is the Dems who are being painted as the evil-doers in these schemes. I don't spend a lot of time on researching politics, but even I am aware of the Republican's disruption of government support and economic progress to help those most effected by the recession.

If the people were largely aware of what the Reps and Cons have voted against, why is it that the people support them? If they are complaining about higher taxes, too-big government, and too much spending, why do they not remember how Bush Conservatives set up government programs without any kind of funding? Do they remember the deficit spending for things like the TARP program? It's not that the Reps are more fiscally responsible. In fact, they are less so. It's just that they have no problem putting programs in place and then neglecting to pay for them.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Personal accountability

One of the newest buzz-words going around the political world these days is "accountability". People use it to demonstrate their belief that those in power should be held "accountable" for their actions. Pretty obvious, right? Well, I'm wondering where accountability starts. Do we take personal accountability first, or do we take public accountability?

My stance, of course, is that you have to take personal responsibility in your life for your own actions. The fact is, no one can see inside your head, and so the first and only true master of that domain is you. I know that, for some, this is a ticket to think evil thoughts and to contemplate bad things. I myself have fallen into this trap of thinking that my thoughts do not harm others and that my head is safe for them. Well, let me tell you that thoughts have a curious way of manifesting into actions, even if you don't mean them to. And those actions can hurt. First and foremost, one must hold themselves accountable in their own minds.

Most people, I believe, can do this for themselves. They know what thoughts are wrong to think, and can push themselves in better directions if needed. Many use their religion as a helpful way to implement a kind of external mediator and force of power that one must adhere to. This also helps to bring about accountability, especially for those who find this a challenge on their own.

This is all a kind of roundabout way of saying that, for most of us, accountability and responsibility begins on a personal level. If you do not think you are responsible for a situation or that you are not to blame, you will not take that burden, at least willingly. You have to believe in your own mind that you have some responsibility in order to take a job seriously.

This is, I think, where the new conservatives have a lot to catch up on. The more I hear from and about the leaders of this new campaign of ultra-conservative politicians, the more I think that that these are people for whom personal accountability is forcefully non-existent. What I mean by that is, for those in this new movement, to allow themselves to feel responsibility for anything would require them to also understand their own shortcomings and flaws. They would have to also acknowledge that they have made mistakes, contradicted themselves, been bull-headed and helplessly narrow-sighted, and have essentially embodied all that they believe is wrong with the rest of politics.

But this doesn't happen. There is no personal accountability in this group. Everything is someone else's problem, someone else's mistake, or someone else's responsibility. They adhere to a strongly-held ideology that, no matter how bad it gets, even if they're the ones in power, it's somebody else's fault. This kind of rational ignorance, if you will, is at once distressing and bizarrely admirable. After all, how can you convince someone of the truth of their fault when their belief is that they are innocent? To quote Rupert Murdoch, "It's in the eye of the beholder, I guess."

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Tea Party explained

This is kind of a long article, but worth the time to read if you can. It might come from Rolling Stone, but it sets the stage for a very comprehensive history of the Tea Party origins, aims, and philosophies. Definitely a good wealth of information, should you be so inclined to invest an hour or so to read it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ADD

I swear that the American People as a whole suffer from collective ADD. In fact, it might even be a kind of ADHD when you consider the kind of crazy stuff people are getting into recently.

First of all, you've got people who don't seem to remember the circumstances surrounding the presidential election of 2008. They don't remember the collapsing economy, the failing housing market, and the "bailouts" that were passed by the Bush administration to shore up the economy, and which were based on lies about a complete financial collapse and allowed CEO's to give themselves huge bonuses.

Second, people don't seem to remember the dire consequences of deregulation and cutting taxes. It is an irony and hypocrisy of the first degree that the conservative movements claim that tax cuts for the top wage-earners in this country will help the lower class (trickle-down economics) but that they are also opposed to re-distribution of wealth (trickle-down economics). Oh, and by the way, trickle-down economics is an essential part of capitalism, meaning capitalism is founded on re-distribution of wealth. You can't have one without the other.

Thirdly, people don't seem to realize their own hypocrisy or the hypocrisy of what other people are saying to them. They seem to believe that the president has done nothing, has squandered the country in the pursuit of ending a recession (that was perpetuated by the Bush administration), and don't seem to remember the predictions of just about every major economist two years ago: that it would take at least a decade to turn the economy around and that the markets would get worse before they got better no matter what anyone did. This much is absolutely obvious and logical and yet no one cares because things should be done IMMEDIATELY. Never mind that we have gotten back all the jobs, started turning the stock market around, and passed much-needed health care and infrastructure reform.

Finally, people don't seem to see that those who oppose these new programs and the president are the architects of the very inadequacy and incompetence they are complaining about! The GOP and conservatives are talking about cutting funding for health care reform as they have cut funding for medicare in the past. They want to do away with most education funding (hence the continuation of NCLB which roughly 99% of education experts say is a shambles), deregulate banking and private business, and cut taxes for the rich. Yet, people in the low and middle classes, for some reason, think that the conservative leaders have their best interests at heart. The GOP is not going to cut taxes for the middle class at nearly the same level as the upper class. They're not going to do anything that promotes social welfare programs. Then, they can turn around and say that these failing and underfunded programs are evidence of liberal incompetence and are no longer needed. It's a vicious, self-destructive, and unsustainable cycle.

I am truly afraid of what will happen to this country if/when the conservatives have the majority power in Congress. You can bet that we will see more programs with less funding, more instability in the economy, and another eventual collapse as a result of deregulation and federal incompetence. Help.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Going in circles

At some point, the American people are going to have to realize how misled they've been by the GOP. It's crazy that so many people are vehemently opposed to this administration when it has done so many things to try and end this recession. Not only that, but I find it even more outrageous that people can support the Reps and conservatives who are actively disrupting the recovery that Dems are trying to continue.

In an article on the FOX News website, the opening paragraph states "Eyeing a potential Congressional win in November, House Republicans are planning to chip away at the White House's legislative agenda—in particular the health-care law—by depriving the programs of cash." The problem with this strategy is that it will turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The program won't be countered, merely underfunded like everything else outside of Defense (i.e. medicare and education). This is an age-old tactic of the GOP: cut funding to programs you don't like, then complain that they don't work. Next, build public opinion to have the programs "overhauled" (i.e. gutted), move control of the programs to the private sector. Rinse, repeat.

The Health Care Reform bill was supposed to be a definitive piece of legislation, but turned into a flop because of distortion and compromise by the Left. They wanted to include Conservative ideas, even though the GOP had already decided that any bill would be bad. Now, we have a bill that really hasn't accomplished much and hasn't even started to work yet, and the GOP are already working to cut funding for it. With little/no federal funding, the program will flop and the GOP will be proven right.

If we were to provide appropriate funding for Medicare, education, and all other public health and wellness services, there would never have been a need for Health Care Reform. People don't seem to understand what they're fighting against, what they're angry about, or why all these things are "bad", which they're not.

We're going to end up exactly where we were at the end of the Bush years, getting ready for another huge meltdown, and everyone's going to be pointing back at Obama saying "It's all his fault!"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Failing the test of time

Nearly two years ago, we witnessed a historic event in the election of Barack Obama. At the time, we were on the cusp of what appeared to be complete financial collapse due to irresponsible practices on the part of private businesses, corporations, and power brokers looking to make millions on the backs of the public. Mr. Obama was reaching out to those people and promising to make changes, but warned that recovery would take time, money, and effort. He said that things would get worse before they got better.

Well, fast forward, and you have to admit that Mr. Obama was right. Things are starting to turn around; indeed, started turning around almost the moment he took office. Mr. Obama has made great leaps in many directions, has tackled some of the biggest problems in recent U.S. history, from two expensive and ill-defined wars, to economic collapse and a country that was bleeding jobs daily. The recovery is going slowly, but it is going, jobs are coming back, and things are getting put back together.

So why is everyone so upset with Mr. Obama?

It seems people have been taken in. They have been led to believe that the president is the person who can fix all the country's problems overnight, even when that is impossible. People are all about immediate gratification, and grow upset when they are made to be patient. Even the most optimistic estimates on the economy were that it would take close to a decade to put it right. And yet, people are angry. They are calling for the end of Obama and an ousting of the Democrats. Polls have shown that people understand that it is the filibustering Reps that are to blame for many things not being passed, but they are still angry with the Left. This doesn't make sense.

I think the problem is that the left is just too easy a target. They're the majority, and they have a President that supports them. Unfortunately, that's not enough anymore. In fact, the Reps have been filibustering almost three times more than any Dem minority in history. It's not about stopping things that they don't like; it's giving people the idea that the Dems can't accomplish even simple things.

Look at what happened with Elana Kagan. This is a person who, based on the standard of previous nominees, is well-qualified for the position on the Supreme Court. She is intelligent, well-spoken, and has strong views that are well-known to the public if they were to look into it. What happened is that the media went after her as she was held up in the Reps throwing red tape all over the place. Her nomination was contested and torn apart by people in and out of Congress. It sent up smoke screens and made her look incompetent, made mountains out of mole-hill issues, and wasted time. When the dust had settled, the opponents of the Kagan appointment were able to complain that her supporters had been wasting time with all the proceedings.

It bothers me that no one seems to know or care about all the good things that have been accomplished during Mr. Obama's time in the Oval Office. We've seen the end of combat in Iraq, new restrictions on businesses, and new reforms for Wall St. No one notices, though, and people are still mad about...what?

Here's some interesting links to look at. The last one in particular, though dated, should give you an idea of just how low, historically, our tax rates are at the moment. You can take the moneychimp link to see tax rates for years from 2000 to 2010.

http://politicalirony.com/2010/09/15/relax-hes-just-the-president/

http://greytheory.blogspot.com/2010/09/we-shouldnt-be-allowed-to-vote.html

http://www.moneychimp.com/features/tax_brackets.htm

http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/TaxTimeline.htm

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Poverty

At this time of year, my schedule has me in the car at the same time that Rush Limbaugh gives his 60-second shake-down of the Left and Obama in the morning. I've actually missed hearing this because it gives me good ideas to comment on and it helps me to reconfirm that yes, I am to the left on the political spectrum.

The editorial this morning discussed some alarming numbers. Mr. Limbaugh said that the poverty levels in this country have jumped 2% in the last two years. He cited these numbers from the U.S. census, and claimed that the increase was due to Obama's reckless spending and high-rise lifestyle. Here's an article that discusses the same thing.

Of course, I had to investigate this. Something didn't add up to me, but I decided to look into it to clarify one way or the other. Either way, it'll be alarming to see the results.

First, here's a site that gives you an idea about the level at which a person is considered to be "in poverty" for 2009. The most recent numbers are available in this hard-to-understand graph. Next, here's a table showing poverty levels and use of different programs. Finally, this is possibly the most helpful visual, showing poverty levels over several decades, as well as income and insurance rates.

The first thing I noticed is that the same numbers are used through 2009-2010 poverty guidelines. This means that the issue is not fluctuating requirements for poverty. Therefore, the difference must be in how much money households are making.

The second thing is that, if this is the case, it really isn't much of a surprise that the poverty level is going up. Here's a site that gives some stats. according to the site, 37% of companies froze salary increases from 2009-2010. Furthermore, the site projects that these numbers will decrease significantly in 2010, but we know that this probably didn't happen. While there are more jobs being created, the recession hasn't lifted, and so companies are likely paying their employees less.

Finally, looking at the poverty rates over the last several decades, we can see that a climb actually started in the mid-90's, dipped slightly in the mid-2000's, and then started climbing again. If we apply the most recent numbers, the increase in 2010 isn't that far off the mark, and is just following the established trend that began even before the recession.

With all of the numbers out there, it's hard to find a consensus on why the poverty level is rising in this country. I don't think it has anything to do with reckless personal expenditure by the President; he's not engaging in anything more or less ostentatious than previous modern presidents. It is more likely the result of recession, coupled with businesses trying to stay afloat and keep productivity well-balanced with lower budgets.



Update: This editorial on CNN discusses some of the shortcomings of the Census findings and offers some interesting solutions and alternative statistics.

Sad...

It's too bad that, in our current political climate, anyone attempting to breach the widening gap between the left and right is treated as an outcast by their own party and with mistrust by their opponents.

This article shows how the GOP treats one of their members, and a prominent one, for going against the grain and saying what he believes. He's not the only one, but that fact that it's Boehner has pushed more "fundamental" conservatives and Republicans away. House Minority Leader Boehner, who has been an outspoken opponent of allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire, is now saying that he would "support President Barack Obama's proposal to renew the expiring Bush tax cuts only for those making less than $250,000 if it were his only option." Apparently, this does seem to be the only option when it comes to passing any kind of tax reform and still maintain the budget that we need.

Members of the GOP are trying to say that there should be no increase in taxes on anyone, especially those in the top percentages of the income bracket. Unfortunately, they are not offering solutions to the problems of spending aside from cutting back on the programs that are attempting to shore up the economy. The article mentions another congressman that is putting forth a bill that would keep taxes consistent over the next tax season.

While it's good press to publicize your opposition to higher taxes, it's only a basic understanding of taxation that legitimizes these ideas. Anyone who learns about our tax system and tax rates will soon discover that we are not taxed nearly as much as we have been in the past, nor as much as in other parts of the world. Furthermore, I doubt as many people would be violently opposed to higher taxes if they understood what those taxes went to pay for. Only a small percentage pays our representatives' salaries. The vast majority actually goes to Defense, which is a kind of financial black hole in and of itself.

If people really want lower taxes and more fiscal responsibility in government, we should be shaving dollars out of our defense budget, not cutting health and education programs, or draining money from infrastructure projects. We need to prioritize our funds and make adjustments. Only then will it be feasible to lower taxes on the highest wage-earners in the country.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The tragic use of a national hero.

This is a cartoon that appeared on one of the political sites I regularly frequent. At first, I thought what it was saying was a little far-fetched, but I had to do some investigating. I started with the links that were posted with the cartoon, and this is what I found. It's definitely some interesting reading, and makes you wonder what level different groups will stoop to in order to take a social icon as their own poster-child. It sort of reminds me of posthumous baptism in the Mormon faith of those they wish to be saints for them. Look it up.

This is a blog post that continues the views that are being perpetuated by these right-wing groups. And here is the website for the National Black Republican Association (NBRA) with links that tie Dr. King to the conservative side of politics. Not everyone is happy about this portrayal of Dr. King, and with good reason.

It's no wonder that every political group out there wants to persuade others that a figure of such important historical significance as King wants to portray him as a believer and follower of their philosophies. There are several problems with this latest push by conservatives, though.

First of all, King was not calling for smaller government, but for government involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. He wanted the government to get its hands dirty and work for equality. He wasn't trying to appeal the many southerners who were violently opposed to him; he was reaching out to a greater power (the government) to help him realize his dream.

Secondly, there are many instances where King is quoted as describing beliefs that are very obviously on the Left side of things. He probably wasn't advocating for corporate America, and would most likely have erred on the side of the people. Furthermore, I'm sure he would have been a supporter of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employment, since they are designed to bring equality to the workplace where there was none before - the fact that we even have to have these programs is evidence of our need for them. Here's a list of quotes from King.

Finally, I feel as though it's impossible to take a social and political activist from the 1950's and 60's and try to fit them into the mold of our current political universe. There are too many activist groups spouting too many crazy ideas. The political landscape today is very different and, I think, much more diverse and complicated. Trying to fit Dr. King into today's system is like trying to figure out how to fit Eugenics into our health care system: it might fit, and you can make an argument for it, but it's not a good idea, and will end being a disaster.

We should just accept that Dr. King was a powerful historic figure that ignited a movement of freedom and equality in our country. His model of civil disobedience is certainly worth modeling, and his words are a constant source of inspiration and hope for millions. But he is not a posthumous pawn to be used by various political groups to gain support and legitimacy. He is not a spokesman for any current point of view, political or social action, or activist movement. He should be respected and honored for who he was, and revered for what he accomplished. Anything else is a slander on his life and memory.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Campaign Season

I wonder if people get as worked up about campaign season as they do about football season. Probably not. I doubt there are many people out there who set up an artery-clogging spread of snack food and beer to settle in for some good ol' fashioned political mud-slinging. Then again, the two national past-times have a lot in common. They both feature people who make far too much money and who hit and slam each other around as a profession. They both over-exaggerate injuries while trying to trip up their opponents. And, with the candidate trying for a forward pass of his ideas, the only things stopping him are issues with his receiver (the people) not paying attention, and the zone defense coverage.

But enough of that. I could probably go on for a while.

The point is, this campaign year is going to be very interesting to watch because it will be the first time that political ads will no longer be required to list who made the ad and where the funding came from. If anyone doesn't think this is a problem, consider the following "logical" argument.

Company "A" is a large national corporation that has been trying to find loopholes in tax laws and regulations to maximize profits (which it is required by law to do). In the upcoming election, there are two candidates that are major players. One has promised to cut corporate taxes and reduce regulations to help "promote growth" in the private sector.The other candidate has promised to create more regulations, raise taxes, and close tax loopholes to safeguard the economy and the American People. Which candidate is Company "A" likely to endorse?

Of course, you could argue, that political ads are required to stick to the facts. Well, yes and no. An ad can easily present facts in a way that makes them seem bad, even if they're harmless. Second, it's fairly easy to have ads where "citizens" are giving their opinions on a candidate, which is backed up by "facts". Let's say I went on the air as saying "I'm going to create 2o Million jobs, and it will only cost us the amount that we will be getting from tax increases on the wealthy." All an ad has to do is take that first section "I'm going to create 20 Million jobs" and then add a commentator saying something to the effect of: "but how are we going to pay for all this? I'll tell you how: higher taxes for the middle class, cutting funding for programs, and hiking the deficit even higher." Obviously, the ad is distorting information, but it's partially factual in the way they presented it. I guess the point is that you can't have an unbiased, corporate-controlled media system, and certainly in an election year.

The overall problem is that, by deregulating controls on who can pay for advertisements and political campaigns, and what the public is allowed to know about those contributions, is going to have a major impact on what we see coming through the air waves until November. It's going to be hard to see what kind of impact it has because of the hole Dems have found themselves in (again, thank you conservative media, and the gullible people who believe them), but I think it will still have disastrous consequences.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Cuban Model

In a recent article posted on the FOX news website, the author discusses a recent interview with the aging leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, in which Castro is quoted as saying "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." The article explained that this was Castro admitting that Communism doesn't work, and that his country is failing because of it.

I'm just curious, though. It's a fact that Cuba is in decline, that they don't have the same charisma and focus that they used to, and it seems as though their influence on the world stage is declining. However, I wonder if this is because of Communism? Could it also be because of the trade embargoes placed on Cuba by the U.S. for the last several decades? Could it also be the result of forceful oppression of their economic and societal development by denying them nuclear technology, free trade, and painting them as a repressive regime? It seems as though these would be factors as well.

I think that the Communism model has worked well, and would have been much more productive and prosperous if Cuba had not been put on our S*** list and been subject to our propaganda, heavy-handed control, and defamation. They've been the target of slander and ridicule for years, and the whole world knows them as our adversary. If this had not been the case, if we had in fact left them alone, they would most likely be a much more developed and thriving country. Instead, they're economy is stunted, they struggle against their reputation to find people to trade with, and they must work harder than most to accomplish anything of note on the world stage.

Considering this, it's no wonder they have chosen to conduct business with a fellow American Enemy country: Iran.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Forgot about this

I forgot that this website even existed.

The America Speaking Out website was developed by Republican congressmen as a way for American citizens to submit ideas for the government and how they want it to run. Within 24 hours of the site being up, the majority of comments were poking fun at the conservative base in America. People were submitting thoughts that were so outrageous, they could only be for a laugh at the expense of our political leaders.

Now, the website does seem to be predominantly conservative submitters. Some of the ideas make sense, but others are just ridiculous. Many of the "ideas" are really just people mouthing off and complaining, without submitting any actual solutions to their problems. Furthermore, no one seems to think about the ramifications of what they suggest.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What the hell....

It's bad enough calling yourself a Christian without people like this giving us all a bad name.

I know that there are people out there who don't understand Islam and think that they're all terrorists. I can even understand how someone might come to that conclusion, even if it is erroneous. What I don't understand is how one religious group can justify this kind of hate-driven defilement of another religion's holy text.

To put this in perspective, think of what would happen if a group of extremist Jews decided that, on Christmas, they were going to burn a few hundred Bible's. They're justification for this act is very convoluted and stems from something about their oppression in WWII (a truly tragic event). All these years later this group has decided that it wasn't just the Nazi's but all Christians who were responsible for the Holocaust. And so they are carrying out this demonstration as a symbol of their continued remembrance of the tragic events that took so many lives.

If this were a true story, how many news stations do you think would pick it up? How big a controversy would it be? Do you think the talking heads at FOX News would ever shut up about it?

The thing is, despite the obvious degradation and blatant disrespect of what Pastor Terry Jones and his congregation are planning to do, the amount of public outcry and backlash doesn't seem to be as overwhelming as I feel they would be in the above example. We as Americans need to learn to respect those whom we share this planet with. We're all human, after all.

Update: An Islamic group says they'll be replacing the burned copies of the Quran with 200,000 more. In a related story, members of a bat-shit group of extremist Christians just bought out the state of Florida's full supply of Maalox.

Something to laugh at

Thought this was worth a read. Fairly short, so go ahead and laugh a bit.

Tax cuts and balancing budget

Being from VT, one of the major gubernatorial candidates is Brian Dubie (R). Mr. Dubie was the lieutenant governor under our retiring current governor Jim Douglas. This morning, Mr. Dubie was on the local talk radio station discussing his plan for better financial planning at the state level. There were a couple of great buzz-words that he used in his performance. I couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculous questions that people called in with. Dubie was hitting one home run after another, but didn't seem to be saying anything. Here's a bit of what I gleaned from this.

Mr. Dubie discussed wanting to cut taxes and reduce regulations in order to promote business growth and investment in VT. VT has some of the highest tax rates in the country, and so his view makes sense. At least, the part about lowering taxes. However, cutting regulations is not going to save all that much in the grand scheme of things, and will endanger the people of VT by getting rid of safety regulations for appropriate operations. What Mr. Dubie should be going for are tax incentives for businesses that come to or work out of VT. By just cutting taxes, Mr. Dubie is saying that businesses are not as fiscally responsible for the state budget as single citizens, which is wrong since businesses tend to generate more money than families. Not only that, but businesses receive all kinds of support from the government, and that cost is paid by the people. So, business should receive incentives for setting up shop here, and then set up a special tax-account with the government that covers the cost of any support they need in the future. Oh, and equal tax levels for big and small business. Cutting regulations, especially when we have a nuclear power plant leaking toxic waste hither and yon (and which Dubie wants to recommission to keep open), is not really a good idea. People in the area already have significantly higher levels of cancer and disease compared to others in the state.

Second, Mr. Dubie discussed increasing the "tax base" in VT. Funnily enough, Mr. Dubie discussed his "ten-point plan" for the economy, and said that this was located on his website, but it doesn't seem to be posted yet. However, Mr. Dubie did discuss spreading the tax base in VT to help cover the cost of his 2% cap on annual spending. What this tells me is that he is not in favor of cutting tax for the middle class or increasing taxes on the upper class. Instead, he wants to go to the lowest of the low and get them to pay even more taxes! Let's do some math here. Let's say that, for every "upper-class" citizen of VT, there are ten "lower-class" citizens. Let's say that the upper class citizen pays approximately $33,000 in taxes, while the ten lower class citizens pay $1,171 each, equaling a total of $11,710. Now, according to my interpretation of Mr. Dubie's plan, he wants to leave the upper tax rate alone, and instead start taxing the lower class more. So, those ten people now have to pay about $2,000 each, totaling $20,000 dollars. This is, of course, still less than what the upper class is paying at minimum. In the VT state Income tax rate system, "upper class" is defined as anyone making $357,701 or more annually. At a tax rate of 9.5%, that's a total of $33,000 dollars. This leaves the person with approximately $323,000 annually to live on. The lower class, on the other hand, is defined as anyone making anywhere from $0-32,550. At a 3.6% tax rate, a person at the high end of the lower class spectrum is paying $1,170 in taxes. This leaves $31,380 for that person or family to live on annually. So, the difference between upper and lower class is at least $291,700. And Mr. Dubie is talking about increasing the tax base, and has not said a word about increasing the tax rate on the rich. By increasing the tax rate by just 1%, the tax burden on the upper class would be about $37,500. Considering the disposable income of the upper class, this extra tax can't be all that bad.

Finally, Mr. Dubie spent a lot of time talking about keeping the budget balanced and keep it from increasing too much at a time, by proposing a 2% limit on the annual increase of state spending. In the same breath, Mr. Dubie discussed how important it is to maintain the "quality" of our teachers and state officials and make sure they have a fair wage and benefits. If anyone is unfamiliar with how much our budgets have been cut in the last few years, and how much teacher's are being paid and then expected to do with that money, allow me to enlighten you. My job is as part of a state-run program. In the last two years, there has been no increase in our budget, and this past year, we were told that our budget is actually being cut by several thousand dollars. This means that, like the last several years, no one in our program will be getting a raise, we will have next to no disposable income for supplies that we use on a regular basis, and we will likely see a decrease in the amount of money we receive for things like mileage driven for work. Our program works closely with schools in the area, and the situation there isn't much better. In an effort to "balance the budget," teachers have had to go without raises, had their classroom funding cut, and are now expected to use their own money to furnish their classrooms for students. They are being paid less and less, more demands are being put on them, they are being blamed for the dropping standards in schools (when really it's a matter of under-funded, ill-defined, and improperly implemented federal standards programs), and are now at their wits end with school district consolidation.

The problem is that there are no easy answers. Mr. Dubie is, of course, doing what he thinks is right. The problem is that he is talking about cutting money from programs that can't be cut any closer. The program I work for could hire five new people and still have a waiting list of clients. But without the money in the budget, we are forced to turn people away who need our services. It's sad to me that the kinds of programs that benefit people most are often the ones that are cut first.

Mr. Dubie has some good ideas, especially for cutting certain costs out of government, but he is missing the mark on other issues, and those are just as important. I hope that there will be some healthy debate in the days to come, during which we hear some good things from someone running for governor.