Monday, February 28, 2011

The taxation of the rich and prosperous

This isn't really an article, but it links to some good source material about the very rich and big businesses paying little or no taxes to the federal government. This, even as these companies are paying their CEO's millions of dollars a year.

As the link expresses, we as a people aren't hearing about changing this in order to balance budgets, but instead are hearing plans to cut teacher's pay and pensions, destroy unions, and cut social programs that benefit the poor. We at the lower end and in the middle of the income bracket are footing the bill and feeling all the effects of the recession, giving up a larger percentage of our annual income to taxes, and are faced with losing the safety nets that make it possible for us to survive. While this is going on, there are huge corporations out there paying no taxes year after year, super-wealthy individuals tossing pennies to the government and continuing to live on millions of dollars, and legislators complaining about the overwhelming costs of Planned Parenthood, PBS, NPR, and unions. This is so backwards that it would be humorous if it weren't true.

Wouldn't it make more sense to implement taxes on the rich and the businesses that are currently paying nothing? Have the tax breaks from the Bush administration really changed anything for those of us at the bottom? I haven't seen any improvement, and I doubt we will in the next few weeks.This really bothers me.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fighting to the death for the unborn

A new piece of legislation has been put forth in Georgia. It follows in the footsteps of a South Dakota bill that would make it legal to murder abortion doctors. This bill in GA would make abortion and miscarriage a crime punishable by life in prison or death. Yes, if you're a woman in GA and you have a miscarriage, you can be put to death if this bill passes. Which it probably won't. As you can read here, there is a lot of stuff packed into this bill that makes me think the GA Rep. Bobby Franklin might be just a tad bit insane.

I'm all for protecting the rights of all citizens, and I am personally pro-life. However, I will never support a bill that bans or criminalizes abortion because I don't think it's right for me to impose my moral beliefs on others. I'm not the one who's pregnant, and so I should not be allowed to make that decision. Besides, many times a miscarriage is not something anyone has control over, but happens for a good reason. It's nature's way of ending a pregnancy when there is a problem with the fetus. The fact is, abortion is a choice, and most women choose not to get one if/when they get pregnant. But if there is even one person in this country (and there are a couple more than one, I think) who wants an abortion, they should be allowed to get one.

Wealthy Rule

One of the great gifts of America is that, on paper, we are each given one vote, one voice, and all are equal. The unfortunate thing is that this simple equality has been hijacked by the elite of our nation. Special interest groups, think-tanks of the Left and Right, and the super-wealthy across the nation have started collecting their resources and pushing their influence on the carefully balanced political realm. It's not new, it's not even that out of the ordinary, but it is disturbing.


In Wisconsin right now, we're seeing an example of how big money is being used to sway public opinion, push candidates and agendas, and exude power of the American people. Oh, and it's illegal. But if it hadn't been a taped message we heard, if Gov. Walker had been speaking to the real Koch brothers, no one would have been any the wiser, but the ad campaign they talk about would almost certainly be running soon. This is a great example of how money from the very wealthy and big business is being used in our political arena to push public opinion and subsidize candidates who will then owe their benefactors a favor or two.

Of course, these big groups and rich individuals can't create fake voting results. But then, they don't have to. With the vast majority of people in our country classifying themselves as having no party affiliation, there is a huge group of people out there that are susceptible to ad campaigns, televised speeches, and pseudo-polls that offer a slant one way or the other.

In practice, we have lost our voice in government. How many of us normal, everyday Americans, can call our representative, our president, or any other elected official and shoot the breeze with them for a couple minutes? How many of us would get a personal response if we were to write to them? And yet, the wealthy and the powerful have these luxuries. They get audiences, they can talk to our politicians all they want, and they do. They throw money into dummy organizations and front companies to help launder their contributions, both monetary and otherwise. We the people are simply a group to be manipulated, a blob known as the populace. On paper we have power. In practice, not so much.


Oh, and this is an interesting take on the WI debate. Seems that, even if the bill to cut rights is passed, it is going to cost jobs because the teachers will no longer be able to negotiate their contracts. So it really is lose-lose. What a wonderful piece of legislation. Most of the article is misleading and false, but this excerpt is what I think is interesting:

"Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican whose plan to cut nearly all public employees' collective bargaining rights remains in limbo, said Friday that he didn't want to see layoffs, but insisted that if the bill is not passed by the end of next week, his administration would have to start preparing layoff notices for as many as 1,500 state employees. 
They would be laid off by July in order to achieve the savings necessary to balance the budget, with another 6,000 layoffs by the middle of 2013, with an equal number on the local level.
At the same time, Wisconsin school districts are warning teachers that their contracts might not be renewed because if Walker's bill becomes law, it would void current teacher collective bargaining agreements that lay out protocol and deadlines for conducting layoffs."

Update: Shep Smith and Juan William hit the nail on the head with this one. It's not about balancing budgets. It's about destroying unions. I'm amazed that people don't realize this.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sad News for Teachers

Recent moves by GOP lawmakers across the country are taking aim at unions. Teachers unions. The prospective votes have caused major issues with reps all over the country, particularly in the Midwest. The GOP stance on unions has been that they are a waste of money, creating a group of working elite that get all the benefits for the least cost. They have railed against unions because they cost private companies control over their employees, and add cost to the work of public jobs like government workers, doctors, and...teachers.

I work in schools, so I see the trouble that teachers go through just to get by on their current salaries. School boards fight with the unions every year, coming to the brink of a strike nearly every time. The unions serve a very important purpose: they preserve the rights and salaries of teachers. Every time the budget is up for renewal, the school board tries to cut salaries, benefits, and classroom budgets, even consolidate school districts and schools, resulting in overcrowded classrooms and even more costs for having to renovate and expand a single school for an increased population. Without the unions, we would be down to a single teacher getting paid minimum wage with ten year old textbooks. In short, we'd be back where we were 150 years ago, teaching all kids in a one-room schoolhouse.

Without the bargaining power that unions currently have to help their members, they will be obsolete. They will be dismantled, their members will be at the mercy of school boards who will cut costs by eliminating the safety net for teachers.

Our nation is slipping in its education. Our teachers are having demands placed on them that are irresponsible, overwhelming, and often impossible. They are the targets of every side, from being blamed for failing to help our students succeed, to being called extremists for "indoctrination." They are stuck in a necessary but ungrateful job that has now become more difficult because they have to worry about whether they will make enough money to live on the next year. They have to worry about whether they will have something to retire to (they already have one of the highest average retirement ages).

We should be protecting our educators, honoring them for their service to our world, our nation, and our communities. We should remember those who taught us what we know, how they changed our lives, and what things would be like if, all of a sudden, they couldn't afford to do that work anymore. We owe it to our educators, those who are specialized and educated and who have become the consummate scapegoats, to do better than this.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Some things to shake your head at

Just some examples of how ridiculous things are getting out there.

South Dakota legislators might be trying to protect the rights of the unborn, but they've done so by threatening the life of others. They are seriously considering....seriously considering...a bill that would expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include anyone who would bring harm to a fetus (in other words, abortion doctors).

According to USNews, the IRS is going to be hiring over 1,000 new agents to enforce new tax codes, including 81 to enforce new tanning salon taxes. The price tag for this is over $350 million.

ABC News complains that the President is using versatile media tools to reach the people that have nothing to do with "traditional press," never mind that these versatile media tools add up to a Youtube channel, Facebook page, Twitter, and various other internet outlets. The funny thing is how ABC News calls this "State-Run Media," and how their existence compromises the transparency of the administration and the ability of the mainstream media to report on them. I wonder why they would say that when many of these media outlets being used by Obama are free to access. Has ABC News just gotten lazy and started looking for an excuse as to why they can't report on the president?

Donald Rumsfeld receives the coveted "Defender of the Constitution" award at the recent CPAC conference, presented by Dick Cheney. Yeah...

And finally, Birthers are still around after almost a full term under Obama. This is one of those crazy conspiracy theories that has only become legitimized because of the media coverage it's received. I know some people honestly believe that our president is foreign born, but for the life of me I can't understand how they can provide solid evidence for this.

Update: Here's one more. Mike Beard of Minnesota believes that the Earth is full of limitless resources and that, since we will never run out of things like oil and coal, we should just continue to burn them because there will be no long-term effects. Makes complete sense, right?

Federal Budget

The fight in Washington over spending has started ramping up again. The GOP plan calls for deep cuts to programs like the Peace Corps and labor programs. SS and medicare could see reductions as well. While both sides are trying to find a balance in the budget, it's obvious they have very different ideas about how to do so.

So, what should be cut? First, I think Defense. I know that our national security is a top priority, but shaving money from the budget will force us to consider more cost-effective methods of protecting ourselves. Secondly, raising taxes on the very wealthy (>$10,000,000) will bring in greater revenue to help cover the costs of the rest. Third, freeze spending at current levels and possibly reduce the salaries of our elected officials. Finally, I think we need to reorganize how we tax big businesses (such as offering tax incentives for those companies that choose not to outsource).

Anyone else out there have ideas?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

viva la revolucion

Not only has Cairo seen its government and constitution disbanded, its military take over to form a (hopefully) temporary military state, but now there are demonstrations in Iran, too. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched in Tehran to show support for the Egypt uprisings and have clashed with the military. The difference in Iran, however, is that the military is under the control of Ahmadinejad and the control of the people is vastly stronger than it was in Egypt. Already, it seems as though the people of Iran are being beaten back by overpowered, well-equipped soldiers in the streets.

But there's more. There are protests happening all over the place: Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain, and Tunisia. People all over the region are rioting and protesting the control of overbearing regimes, dictators, and authoritarian governments. This might not be very out of place for these countries, but having so many protests and demonstrations so close together, and having some of them be so effective, shows that the people are tired of being trampled by their government and leaders and have found something to bring them hope.

As I've said in older posts, these demonstrations are a step towards Democracy. They are a crucial, bloody, and difficult step, but one that is necessary in order to create lasting peace. The American Revolution was similar in the sense that the colonists revolted in order to overthrow a stifling power that limited their rights and stripped them of their dignity and hope. We are seeing similar uprisings in these countries for similar reasons: the people being tired of oppression for the power and benefit of their oppressors.

Whether these new protests and demonstrations will result in eventual stability and freedom or continued oppression, we can't yet see. It may be that these demonstrations will come to nothing, but they could be the start of great moves toward liberty in the region. Fingers crossed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Corporate Influence

This is an incredible story regarding the attacks on WikiLeaks as they have continued over the past several months. Take the time to read this one! For anyone who would like a lesson in nationalist political systems, this is most related to fascism. While the "f-word" has become one of the fashionable new buzzwords floating around in the political playground recently, it actually has roots in deep conservative politics. Fascism depends on the organization of government around corporate interests rather than the good of the people. Reading the article, it sounds as if we are slowly morphing into a fascist nation, if we are not one already.

The idea that political entities and high-level individuals are above and beyond the reach of the law is nothing new. What is new is this recent example of how that immunity is being spread to major corporations and private businesses that have interests in common with the government (in this case, stopping WikiLeaks). The interesting, ironic, and unfortunate thing about this is that this immunity to persecution is very subjective. On the one hand, you have a group hacking into a computer and being targeted by the DOJ, resulting in arrests of several individuals. On the other hand, you have a second group hacking into a computer of the first, and not a word is said. Double standard much?

The reason, as the article points out, is that the second group had interests in line with the government, and so they all but sanctioned the illegal activity. The DOJ even gave BofA the name of a law firm that would help them discredit and destroy WikiLeaks, a plan that was laid bare by the hackers of Anonymous.

As I've said in previous posts, I think WikiLeaks serves an important purpose in our society where we are supposed to have equal rights and individual freedoms like everyone else. We are supposed to be given information so that we can make an informed choice about who we vote for, who we buy from, and how we live. We are not meant to be subjected to the distorted, falsified information that comes from a corporate media system as our only means of educating ourselves. I'm glad that there is at least some hope when it comes to getting the word out about this kind of corruption.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Privatizing mortgages

A recent report from the Obama administration calls for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be phased out over the next several years. What this means is that more American mortgages will be in the hands of private mortgage companies and banks. To be fair, this could go either way in terms of helping the economy. The stability of Fannie and Freddie has been called into question, mostly due to their inability to cover the costs of defaulted mortgages, and their neccessity has been called into question.

I'm worried, though, that this new move will jeopardize more American mortgages by placing those mortgages in the hands of companies that are claiming to be hurting in our current economy. Once they have mortgage control, what are they going to claim is necessary in order to maintain market stability? The last time they got their way, we saw Congress bail out private industry with taxpayer dollars. So, will people not only be paying their mortgages to these companies, but see their taxes go to supporting them too? While they post record profits? And hold off on hiring more people to lower the unemployment rate?

It could go another way, though, right?

Common Sense

It certainly seems to be lacking these days, what with the aggressive response to students under zero-tolerance policies, belief in government takeovers and foreign-born, closet-Muslim presidents, and listening to media voices like they're more than self-described professionals with god complexes and blatant partisanship. What we need, more than ever, is someone to slap the collective face of our nation, dunk us in some ice cold reality, and wake us up to the irrationality we have allowed to fester in our brains for so long.

What brings this on is the CPAC conference, at which Newt Gingrich says he believes the EPA should be done away with, and replaced with an Environmental Solutions Agency, which would reward technological innovation. Now, if you think about the role of the EPA, and then consider how that role would be filled by an innovation-based program, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Technological innovation sounds to me like Gingrich wants to reward businesses that find more economic ways of ruining the environment. When you look at the stance the GOP has taken on the EPA - that is, anger over suggested regulations that safeguard the environment and the health of Americans - it should be common sense that the GOP solution for replacing the EPA would be equally uncommitted to environmental protection.

Common sense, as I say, is severely lacking in our nation today. Common sense would be to maintain regulations that help protect the health of citizens and the life of our planet. Common sense means allowing taxes to go up for the wealthy who can afford to pay more so that our economy and government will no longer be wallowing in debt. Common sense means understanding that we may not all agree on what is morally permissible or in the best interest of our nation, but that our beliefs should not infringe on someone elses. And common sense means common respect, common decency, and common goals of making this a better country for everyone.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mr. Smith

Where are the little people in Washington? I just watched a documentary called "Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington?" about a grassroots campaign in Missouri in 2004. It's an incredible vision of how politics is being played in our country and how much impact such a movement can have. But it also showed what name recognition, money, and political connection can do.

In the documentary, the underdog Jeff Smith plans a run for U.S. Congress, plans a campaign with his friends and students, and goes door-to-door to meet the people he would represent. His opponent, named Carnahan, has a family history in politics, millions of dollars, and national family connections. Smith runs a clean campaign, while his opponent attacks him in ads on T.V., radio, and print. Coming up on the election day, it looks as if it could go either way. In the end, however, the race goes to Carnahan, despite the fact that he didn't win any of the major districts.

The movie brings up a good point about our politics today. People seem to be swayed by a name rather than a message, and are very susceptible to costly ad campaigns and negative politics. In college, I did a study on the effects of television programming to see how well people could remember ads they saw when shown a logo of various companies. The results indicated that people are far more likely to recall the ads they see when they are shown visuals that they associate with the company or group, even if that visual was not used in the ad. We tend to remember the first few (primacy effect) and last few (recency effect) items when shown a list in succession, such as with television ads. Combining images with ads placed at the beginning or end of a commercial segment has a strange way of embedding images and names in our minds to be recalled later.

In the documentary, Mr. Smith goes door-to-door. He sends out documentaries and pamphlets, but doesn't use media to spread his message via commercials. Nor does he print ads in many, if any, print sources, as opposed to his opponent. The results showed that Mr. Smith carried the areas where he campaigned the most, but lost in the areas he didn't get to.

It shouldn't be just the millionaires, the ones with connections, and those who are willing to throw dirt that get into public office to represent us. I'd say to vote third party, but I also believe a vote has to count for something. It's worth too much to throw away on a candidate that you know cannot win. So, I urge people to learn about the underdogs of the Republican and Democratic parties, get to know the underdogs, and give them a chance. We may yet see change in Washington. I can't help being optimistic for Mr. Smith.

Intelligent Design

This doesn't have much to do with politics, but the debate over ID in bio classes was recently discussed by the mogul of neutrality and the anti-spin doctor, Bill O'Reilly.

Here's the transcript. Read and laugh. O'Reilly tries to make some good points. I'm convinced that, in his mind, he was making a lot of sense. The problem is that, somewhere between his logical brain and his mouth, the message was hijacked by his unflinching belief in "the deity" and was twisted around into an assault of common sense and generally concrete scientific fact. It's sad, but it happened.

The problem with this debate is that it is just silly, as O'Reilly's guest Michael Grant asserts. Grant agreed that ID could be discussed in school, but in a comparative religion or philosophy class, a fairly reasonable opinion. It makes sense to me. But apparently not to O'Reilly, who couldn't seem to grasp what Grant was trying to say. He continually tried to push that ID should be taught in a bio science class because it dealt with similar topics. This is a lot like saying that we should be learning about George Washington and Charles Manson in the same class because they both had big ideas.

In the end, there doesn't seem be any progress made. O'Reilly tucks the crazy religious-freak mentality neatly into his pocket, thanks Grant, and cuts to commercial. It's hard to tell who even "won" the discussion. In this debate, it's clear that there are no winners, only a lot of very irritated people convinced of their own correctness.

taxation

Listening to the morning radio show this morning, I was a bit disturbed by what I heard. The topic this morning was raising taxes on drinks and foods that contain excess amounts of fat and sugar. The radio hosts seemed to be of the opinion that such a tax would be detrimental to the economy of our state, and that the labels we see now that publicize the caloric and sugar content of foods are likewise a detriment to people's desire to buy them.

What really upset me was the idea that, if those labels were not there, that these people would be buying those foods anyway. A similar trend happened when gas prices shot up: SUV sales plummeted, but rose sharply once the gas prices dropped again. It's like Americans didn't learn anything from the fuel "shortage" and continued to do the same things that got us there in the first place. The radio hosts mentioned that the cause of obesity is a discrepancy between caloric intake and output, but failed to realize that their argument for the rights of citizens is equally responsible.

It's like the health care law: a common-sense reform that benefits people for little financial impact to help better their quality of life, and yet is attacked as being an infringement on our rights. Yes, it is our right to eat and drink mass amounts of sugar and calories, but it is also our responsibility to take care of ourselves. The issue comes when the health risks catch up to the individual and then the nation is strained with trying to cover their costs.

The soda tax, it was also said, would lead to further taxes on everything else with excess fat and sugar. Is that really a bad thing? Why don't store owners stock healthier local options? Why don't people opt for healthier, cheaper drinks like water and juice? I feel this tax would be a good way to raise revenue, provided it's not too high, and will help curb the consumption of these products.

People need to be aware of the side-effects of excess sugar and fats on the body, but also the impact of the chemicals that are placed in foods, particularly those that are considered "low-fat" and "diet." As a person who spends a lot of time reading food labels, I can tell you that the chemical contents in our foods are rather disturbing. And yet, there is no discussion of how diet sodas have even worse side effects than the regular ones. Education is the next logical step.

I know that each person has the right to kill themselves with sugar, fat, and other substances. But we shouldn't have to pay to keep them alive when they finally feel the effects of their choices. Each person can choose to eat the 1,000 calorie burger, suck down the 400 calorie soft drink, or pick up the 500 calorie doughnut for breakfast. But the rest of us shouldn't have to suffer for their bad decisions. I say, keep the labels that educate people on the contents of their food, and let people make an informed choice.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

analogies

In his daily brief, Rush Limbaugh took issue with CBS News and their portrayal of Obama's recent speech to the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Limbaugh explained that CBS had used the analogy of a stern parent explaining the rules to an unruly teenager: Obama is the parent explaining regulations to the USCC. The analogy by CBS then continued when Obama explained his understanding that businesses were being hit hard in the current economy (which they are not).

Mr. Limbaugh explained that Obama was so incredibly anti-business that this posturing could be nothing more than a sham to try and drum up favor just before the 2012 race. Limbaugh continued by saying that Obama is also anti-America and anti-Capitalism, which would explain why he is trying to tie redistribution of corporate wealth with a reinvestment in America. Limbaugh ends by using an analogy of his own: CBS news is the Titanic, and he is the iceberg.

The problem with this, if I had to pick just one, is that it is clear to me that Obama is not anti-business, not anti-American, and not anti-Capitalism. The fact that Obama is talking about reasonable restrictions vs. frivolous limitations is important here. He is talking about safeguarding the welfare of the American People while allowing business to work without unnecessary oversight. Does that sound anti-business? Obama talked about reinvesting in America; does that sound anti-American?

Mr. Limbaugh is grossly misinterpreting this speech, dismissing it as a farce because of preconceived notions and opinions that are preset to be antagonistic toward the President and the "state-run" media (which doesn't exist). If people were to take the time, read the transcripts, listen and try to understand, they would probably see that Obama is making an effort, attempting to make lemonade from the lemon of our economy, and attempting to address the issue of corporations holding onto billions of dollars while letting jobs slip away. Let's listen to him instead of denouncing him.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The revolution of democracy

The turmoil in Egypt that we have seen over and over again on the news is something of a wake-up call for the rest of the world. You may not see this, but such demonstrations are the labor pains that bring a new democracy screaming into the world. Cairo is engulfed in a revolution that is attempting to shove out the autocracy that has defined it for three decades, and usher in a new democracy, new voice and vision, and a new lease on stability for the region. The outcome of the Egyptian uprising will likely have an echo effect over the rest of the region and the world.

The ironic thing is that we are starting to hear people issue reservations regarding the toppling of the current autocracy, the premise being that it will inevitably lead to a less stable Muslim theocracy that will be less likely to work withing U.S. interests. However, in this post on Nieman Watchdog, the author explains why these views are inaccurate.

This view, that the current government is better than the alternative, is one that has been put forth by Mubarak himself. He has regularly hinted at the theory that his continued control of Egypt is the only thing keeping it from being drowned in chaos.

But Democracy is not something that evolves from a vacuum. It grows out of the exact conditions that have recently existed in Egypt. Consider the atmosphere that existed in Colonial America leading up to the Revolution: foreign powers controlled everything, incurred heavy taxes, and exploited the colonies harshly for personal gain. The colonists rose up, fought back, and created America. We are witnessing a similar revolution now, one that could possibly bring new stability to Egypt, and we are quibbling over whether Egypt should have a democracy because we don't know what that democracy will do.

America needs to stop being the world police, step out of the way of places like Egypt, and let those countries have their own fistfights.