Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Belated Birthday

Jon Stewart recently celebrated his birthday. He's been a cornerstone of the media for several years, is one of the most trusted news sources, and has received a number of prestigious awards. He's funny, engaging, and incredibly insightful. Perhaps the best thing about Jon is that his personality and intelligence are not hampered by the network he is part of. I find that a lot of news anchors seem very plastic and one-sided both on and off the camera. Jon is not like that at all. When he is a guest on other people's shows, he is an engaging, thought-provoking individual, and always injects a little humor into the most serious topics.

For some great Jon Stewart quotes, click here.

Happy belated birthday, Jon. Hope you have many more happy years ahead of you!

A Dangerous Precedent

This recent vote in the Senate really shocked me. The bill that was passed would allow the military to indefinitely detain any American citizen they suspect of terrorism without due process of law. That means no reading of rights, no trial, no lawyer, nothing. And you can be detained for life.

As Benjamin Franklin noted, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." If we give up the basic human rights guaranteed under our Constitution, there is no way to get them back, at least not easily. And even if you have strict limits on the criteria by which an American citizen can be detained against their rights, then you have to acknowledge that those limits will likely change over time, or the groups like the FBI will find ways to abuse these powers. Look at what happened with the most recent individual that was arrested in New York City after he was found to be making pipe bombs to use against US officials. It was found that the FBI actually encouraged the individual to make these things, provided him with tools and guides on what to do, and essentially drove him to the point where he could be arrested and charged.

Now, consider what would happen if the FBI were allowed to detain anyone they suspected of terrorism without due process of law? They have already shown that they are willing to create their own targets to prove progress.

And the arguments made by those who support this bill are not very good at all. They say that terrorism is alive in America? Well, maybe so, but having people picked up by the government and detained for life is not how you route it out. It's too easy for that power to be abused; it almost begs to be when you think about it. It's like giving the government carte blanche to move against anyone who speaks out against their policies, including their policy of illegaly detaining citizens.

While this may not turn out to be the case, I can't support a bill that directly violates our rights as citizens, no matter how much it's supposed to help. If our intelligence and defense communities need this much power over us to do their job, they're not the best people for the job they have.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Tax Plan

Here's a good breakdown of the bill that is likely to hit the Senate floor soon: a proposal to extend the middle classes payroll tax holiday another year, and balancing it against a small tax increase on the wealthy. Chris Weigant makes an excellent point that the GOP has put themselves in a very difficult position. Either they vote on the entire bill, thereby supporting a tax increase, they vote against the whole bill whereby the vote against a tax cut, or they submit their own proposal that is all tax break extensions but that then has to be balanced with massive spending cuts immediately. Those are the options put forward by the article.

But I believe there is a fourth option, and one that is much more likely. First, Republicans will refuse to vote on the bills as-is and demand it be broken into two parts: the tax cut extension and the tax increase on the wealthy. Then, they will pass the first part and stop the second. They will take credit and pat themselves on the back for extending the tax holiday, and then attack Dems for proposing a tax increase. They will also say it's the Dems fault that they now have to cut billions of dollars, and as such the Dems should give the GOP all the cuts they want.

I think that the tax plan as proposed by the Dems is great because it not only helps the middle class by continuing a needed tax break, but it is in line with what the majority of Americans say they support: higher taxes on the wealthy. And, really, the tax increase proposed is fairly small. It's nowhere near the size that Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan would have hiked taxes on the poor. And the wealthy millionaires will not be out on the streets over this. The other important piece to the plan are the tax incentives that are meant to spur on hiring by small businesses. These incentive alone should be enough to lure any congressperson to vote for it, but you know that ideological one-sidedness will likely prevail. It'll be a pre-"Christmas break" miracle to see this pass as it stands now.

Endless War

Glenn Greenwald has a great article in Salon about the continuation of war against terrorism, even after many officials say we have essentially eliminated the leaders of the Al Qaeda network and the foiling of several "terror plots" by "lone wolves" in our own borders. Greenwald makes a good point about the manufacturing of fear, the publicity of terrorism, and how we as the people are being groomed to, if not support, then at least accept as inevitable the continued military operations in the Middle East and worldwide.

He even makes the observation that, as things wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, things seem to be heating up in Iran. It's not that Iran has suddenly become a major issue; it has been for some time. But now that the war-mongers are in need of a new enemy, Iran and it's "nuclear program" seem to fit the bill. It's worth noting that we have already placed sanctions on Iran (which were defied by the Koch brothers, but that's a different topic), and we have been conducting a major smear campaign against them. Yet despite this, other countries have helped Iran develop nuclear capability.

While the situation in Iran is concerning, I can't help but feel that it is being used as the next excuse to engage in a lengthy occupation. I don't think that's what's needed there. There must be a solution that keeps us from investing multiple years, billions of dollars, and thousands of lives to stabilize that region.

I think Greenwald's greatest point, though, is when he says "what little Terrorism does exist is caused directly by our own actions — the very actions justified in the name of stopping Terrorism." It's a great observation, and one that many people, including the iconic Noam Chomsky, have been making for years. While we bemoan the loss of thousands of Americans on 9/11, and rightly so, we must also take that with the understanding that we have directly caused similar atrocities in many other nations over the years. In many ways, we are a terrorist nation to the rest of the world. While it's difficult for us to see ourselves in that way, and even more difficult to accept that without trying to justify those actions, it is worth it to understand that this is how we are seen by the world. Even Ron Paul, in his own way, has flirted with this idea, by saying that the people who oppose us in the Middle East have told us exactly why they don't like us: we built a military base in their holy land, we've oppressed them economically and politically for decades, we take their natural resources, use their people to fight our wars, and don't give them a chance to develop on their own. He also made the point that if we want to understand their frustration with us, imagine if another country did to us what we do to them. We act very presumptuously with the rest of the world, and this is the result.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Silent (and Imaginary) War

Every year around this time, holiday* decorations and paraphernalia crop up everywhere. Christmas lights, Hanukkah lights, Advent candles, they all spring out of the dusty boxes in the back room and bedeck our stores, streets, and homes.

Every year it gets bigger, brighter, more festive, and more disheartening. Why disheartening? Because there is an imaginary war going on, and there are people who believe in it so strongly that they make the rest of us look bad just for being associated by religion.

When I look at things like this, I get worried about two things. First, I'm concerned about the commercialization of the holidays*. That is, that the spiritual message of the holidays* is lost in the wake of things like Black Friday, amazing sales and deals on things, and the constant streaming media that glorifies it all. Second I'm concerned about people who honestly believe that Christmas is under attack. To me, these are the people who desperately want to be the victim. Like many in the conservative world, they see themselves as the misunderstood and often devalued victims of society. It's ironic that self-described Christians should feel this way living in America, where Christianity is practically oppressive to other religions and beliefs. But no, they prattle on about how they are the ones being disenfranchised in the stores when the clerk says "happy holidays" instead of making the choice to wish them a "merry Christmas" without knowing whether they celebrate Christmas or not.

And how are the stores supposed to know if you celebrate Christmas? Really? The only place I know of in my area that it's not an issue is the place that is specifically geared toward Christmas. But saying "happy holidays" should not make people think that the spirit of Christmas is somehow diminished. If that's all it takes to make you feel like Christmas is under attack, I would encourage you to take a midwinter trip to North Korea and shout "Merry Christmas" from the tarmac. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be home for New Years.

The fact is, America is an incredibly tolerant place, but that tolerance goes for everybody, and in that spirit, many retailer have rightfully decided to do away with greetings and thank-you's that are focused to one holiday. As this article cleverly points out, the war on Christmas is nothing more than a stunt of publicity and has more to do with being upset and angry about something than it does about being oppressed.

My concern, though, is that these people who believe in the war on Christmas don't seem to understand that they are doing more damage to the name of Christ and Christians than department store clerks. They become so hot-headed about this stuff, and it turns people off. Christianity is supposed to be about love and acceptance and Christmas, being ranked second as most-important holiday on the Christian calendar, ought to usher in a time of greater love and acceptance of everyone, don't you think?



*I use the word holiday here, not to diminish the spirit of Christmas, but to acknowledge that there is more than one holiday at this time of year, that they all deserve equal acceptance, and that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. I'm not engaging in anti-Christian warfare.

Raising Taxes is not Evil, It's Economics

Paul Krugman tackles one of the biggest lies floating around the conservative universe: that taxes on the wealthy will not result in a meaningful amount of money. This, coupled with the mantra of "job creators" has essentially caused a line in the sand to be drawn, and the conservatives to attack the idea from every direction with their baseless opinions.

Then, Krugman points out another tax that we don't even have that could be levied to help raise money: a tax on all financial transactions. While this might sound like it's taking money from the poor, it would receive that vast majority of it's money from the millions of transactions made on Wall St. each and every day by mindless computers that are buying and selling at the rate of hundreds a second. Krugman points out that this would raise a significant amount of money, even if you compare to the amount saved from proposed spending cuts.

Krugman concludes by making a point that is so full of common sense that it's a shame more people don't seem to agree: that taxation alone is not the answer, just like cutting alone is not the answer, and that any solution that is worth consideration must have both in it. Krugman's ideas are not groundbreaking, they won't spell the end of America, and they're not extremely liberal or out-of-touch. The idea that we should tax the super-wealthy more is decidedly progressive, but it also makes fiscal sense. Taxing financial transactions is done in many other countries, and it could generate billions in tax revenue, helping to balance out the government's costs without harmful cuts to programs real people depend on.

A Bold Solution in Search of a Problem

Cain has been toting his "bold solution" which is 9-9-9 for a while now. He has claimed, time and again, that this one plan will solve all of our problems: inequal taxation, excessive government, bank and financial institution greed and mismanagement, Market volatility, endless wars, and the list goes on. At least, that's the way it sounds. However, Cain is not just a one-act show. He's got a whole lot of other ideas too.

This one in particular caught my interest. Cain, like many conservatives today, believe we should end the payroll tax cut, cut unemployment benefits, and reform the tax code. The interesting thing is that, when you suggest allowing the Bush Tax Cuts to expire, Cain says this is a bad idea, because a) you should not raise taxes on "job creators" and b) you don't raise taxes during a recession.

What strikes me as odd is that Cain and the others seem to have a serious disconnect in their minds between raising taxes on the poor and on the rich. Cain's signature plan would raise the taxes of the poor while slashing those of the wealthy. His proposal to let the payroll tax cut expire is the same as raising taxes on the poor (this using the logic of Grover Norquist, who is unusually silent on this latest push to raise taxes). The utter ridiculousness of these positions is that the changes in tax will bring in a good amount of money, but will also leave the poor with less. Furthermore, those poor individuals now paying more in tax are being left behind by the continued cuts in our government's social programs. So, the Republicans are calling for increased taxes on the poor, decreased taxes on the wealthy, and cuts to social programs that benefit the poor and help them to make ends meet.

In other words, Republicans are interested in increasing the wealth gap, starving the middle class, and returning us, not to the 90's when we had the biggest economic boom in history, but back to the 1900's when the wealthy had a monopoly on government, jobs, wealth, and prosperity, and the masses were left to suffer. It seems that this is their ideal vision of America. It is scary.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I won't be able to post tomorrow due to the festivities, but I wanted to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. Even if you don't celebrate, it's nice to stop and think about all we have and take for granted. Here are a few things I'm thankful for.

1. My family. I am blessed to have my wonderful wife, a close family, and many friends to share this time with, and to share my life with. I am also grateful for their support as I make many changes in my life and step in many new and unexpected directions.

2. My freedom. I am blessed to live in a country where I can live, act, and speak as I wish. Despite what I say think of others and their positions, I respect them, and acknowledge that my freedom is contingent on theirs.

3. My health. I am blessed to be healthy, and to have the tools I need to stay that way.

4. My job. I am blessed to be able to work hard and support myself. I am glad that I have the opportunity to make something of myself, pay my bills, and manage to live comfortable enough.

5. My country. Everything sort of rolled into one. I am blessed to live in America, a land of opportunity, freedom, and ingenuity. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else, and though it has its flaws, I believe that it is worth fighting for and preserving.

Take the time to reflect on what you have, who you have, and where you are in your life. It puts struggle in perspective, and seems to calm our lives briefly to have a time together.

Happy Thanksgiving, and God Bless.

The Newt Makes Sense

During last night's debate, which centered on foreign policy and national security, Newt Gingrich may have been the only one, aside from Ron Paul, who said anything that broke against the party policy lines. Gingrich, who has been driving up in the polls, recently got flack from a lot of people for suggesting that students in schools be made to do janitorial work. During last night's debate, this did not come up, but Gingrich redeemed himself somewhat, at least in my mind, by making a strong case for reasonable deportation exceptions on illegal immigrants.

While many of the other candidates berated Newt for this, he stuck to his views, which is a nice change from the sniveling pandering to absolute conservative doctrine that these debates usually entail. Newt made the point that, if an illegal immigrant that came here 25 years ago has set up shop, had their family, joined a church and gotten involved in the community, it is not in the best interests of anyone to deport them back to their own country. Gingrich noted that this does not apply to illegals who have no ties to America or who break other laws while they are here. In fact, Gingrich even said that those who have been here a long time and have families here should be allowed to be made into legal residents, even if they are not considered full citizens.

This last point is a good one, but it went right over most of the other candidates' heads. They all claimed this was "amnesty" which it's not. Amnesty involves making the immigrant a full citizen with all the rights that entails. What Gingrich said is that you make the person a legal resident, so that they are no longer labeled and illegal alien. I think the distinction Gingrich was trying to make is that immigrants legalized in this way may be counted in a census, taxed, and allowed to have driver's licenses and work here under their real names, but that they are not full citizens, and therefore cannot hold office, vote, or have any of those rights that are afforded to citizens only. That is an important view to take, because it represents a significant departure from the black-and-white, all-or-nothing mantra of the Right, and is a relatively reasonable proposal.

Other candidates tried to make claims about solving the illegal immigration issues, including increasing border security, finishing the fence, applying more border agents, and cutting back on the things that lure immigrants here. This last point especially was disheartening to hear, since many of the things that lure illegals here are what lure legal immigrants and what make America a great nation. To say that we should give that up is ridiculous.

Overall, I think Newt made some good  points, and only Ron Paul really beat him out on the debate in my opinion. While I still hold reservations about the candidates, Gingrich has gained some of my respect for this debate. Who knows, maybe he'll shed some of his more ridiculous views in order to appeal to people like me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Innocence Lost

Just in case you had any thoughts about just how far the GOP base has shifted into insanity, I offer this as proof that they are currently hopelessly lost. Then, I offer this rebuttal as a starting point for this particular discussion.

First and foremost, let's address this idea regarding child labor. For the last century or so, children have been kept out of factories, mines, and other dangerous or inappropriate work places by laws that limit how old a person can be to have a job. Children are not allowed to work anywhere full-time. In fact, the only thing that children seem to be able to do to make a living these days is work on the family farm or open a lemonade stand.

The reason for this is that America realized that it has a heart and a soul, and that those things were contingent upon how well it treated its citizens. It may have been good for business to have cheap, youthful laborers who can crawl into small spaces to fix or retrieve things, but it's not moral or ethical. We stopped forcing children to take on work because it was hazardous to their health and their future.

Apparently, Gingrich does not understand this, or he would not have proposed this idea. As the first link above indicates, Gingrich suggested firing unionized janitors at schools (how many jobs would that cost?) and instead offering the poorer students the chance to do the work themselves. While Gingrich tries to make this a lesson in civic duty and taking pride in one's school, he misses the rather large point that this is not what schools are for, and not what poor students should have to do.

Education is a free right in this country. We have laws that say children must attend school for a certain number of years, and that education is not something that should be based on your ability to pay for it. But that's what Gingrich's mentality pushes us towards. I've said it many times in my critiques of charter schools and the privatization of education: for-profit education, or any other fleecing of the American Poor such as this, is frankly un-American. We are better than this, and Gingrich should know better.

Never Enough

I've noticed that there's been a lot of dirt being tossed around over this Super Committee failing to come to an agreement. Dems are blaming the GOP for being unwilling to compromise, GOPers are blaming the Dems for being unwilling to give them everything they want so the Dems get to keep the government running. There are political pundits and Presidential candidates who are taking swipes at Obama for the kill-switch deal, for not being more involved, for being too involved, for existing, etc. In essence, we've seen a hyped-up version of what has been a non-stop mud-slinging contest for almost four years.

The thing that really bothers me about all of this is that no one group has all the answers, there's no magic solution that will fix everything overnight, and yet these are the things that are being espoused by our representatives. All we are hearing is "if we just repeal Obamacare" or "if we just deregulate the markets" or "if we just cut the size of government" and these solutions are misleading and false. First of all, no one of these things alone will solve any more problems than they would create. Second, they are playing more to rhetoric than actual good policy.

A friend of mine pointed out that not one of the people who are proclaiming to have the solution seem to have even a most basic understanding of the problem. None of them are saying "I promise to not do a single thing until I know everything there is to know about this issue." Instead, they offer gimmicks to the people, they offer one-liners for applause, and they rake in contributions on platitudes. But none of them have any idea how to fix our situation.

This issue with the Super-Committee is a great example. None of the politicians can say anything that sounds like a solution to this crisis they created. Democrats failed to pass a budget when they were in power, the GOP has failed to do it since, they are wrangling over the Super Committee failure, but no one is offering any way to avert "catastrophe." In the end, it's all a blame game. Obama seems to be getting an unfair portion of that, since he is not supposed to inject himself in Congressional affairs (if he did, he'd be attacked by these same people as a dictator cramming his will down their throats), but has been attacked for inaction.

There never seems to be enough crap flying around to make people stop and wonder what this is all for. Why not just sit down and agree that both sides have good points and that there needs to be a compromise? It's too much to ask for, I know, but it's desperately needed, and the minute we get it, the better of we'll be.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Again with the Austerity

This seems to be Krugman's theme of the moment: bluntly derail the common misconceptions that many hold comfortably at the center of their fiscal solution to our economy. What Krugman has said, time and time again, is that austerity measures don't work, that cutting creates jobs and growth, and that those who believe this are either duped or lying.

The fact is, the solutions being put forth in our own Congress are failures. We can't cut our way out of this, because that doesn't help anyone except the wealthiest people. We can't flatten out the tax, or turn it into a regressive tax, because again it benefits the weatlhy. But perhaps even more importantly, these solutions don't actually help any of the problems we have in this country. They aren't directly addressing jobs (actually, they harm jobs since they would cut thousands of positions from the federal government). They don't directly address Wall St. greed and financial mismanagement; actually, in all seriousness, they essentially give Wall St. a pass by cutting government oversight so that it cannot continue to stop reckless spending. It does not directly impact housing market stability or the wealth gap; in fact, it makes these things worse due to the aforementioned giveaway to the wealthy.

We needed a comprehensive, progressive solution, but we're left with something that will simply harm us. The GOP cares more about blaming failure on Obama than doing something to prevent failure. They look like fussy schoolchildren, screaming about not getting their way, but demanding more when they do get what they want. They don't the country to succeed at anything until Obama is out of office. After that, they can use his "failed" presidency as a reason for passing all their insane ideas into law. They don't want compromise, they want domination. So far, they've been getting it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Failure is an Option

The Supercommittee has been dawdling on its plan to help save our government, and now the deadline is less than a week away. There's been all kinds of speculation about why this is and why it matters. Some say that it's because the two parties just don't cooperate. Other people say that it's one group in particular that is the problem. Some say the supercommitte can vote itself extra time, or that it was not meant to work from the beginning.

Paul Krugman makes a good case for why the supercommittee is doomed to fail and why that's a good thing. The point is that our two parties are so dramatically different in their policies and beliefs on how the world works that no amount of time would ever forge a comprehensive and effective compromise. Krugman points out that the world views of both parties are so alien to each other that they can't even be combined.

In a way, I hope Krugman is right. I really hope that our government and it's officials can sit down together and hammer out a plan that has nothing to do with party politics and has everything to do with the welfare of our nation. I think the supercommittee with fail, but I don't think that will be a strong enough catalyst to get the parties to negotiate. I don't know what will bring everyone together, but this constant in-fighting is getting dangerously repetitive.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Found one!

Took me all day, but here's an article worth posting. Nothing groundbreaking or mind-blowing, just a nice little article about the CBO predicting that deregulation will not create jobs.

It should be obvious. It should be common sense. But no. It's a debated topic, vehemently defended by Republicans, vehemently attacked by Democrats. The idea that deregulation creates jobs has become the standard play for conservatives, and they back it up with....well, other conservatives who say the same thing. Not really sure what their evidence is, especially since there's so much evidence refuting this.

The argument made by conservatives is that by decreasing regulations, you free up businesses and their money to hire more people, expand, and produce goods or services cheaper. The argument is that regulations stifle these things, which sounds good, until you notice that these companies are sitting on record amounts of cash. Not only are our regulations some of the loosest in the 1st world, but our companies are some of the wealthiest. And yet, they won't hire. Why?

The answer, as I've said before, is basic economics. A company will not invest in new workers when there is no demand for the products they will produce with them. If I own a company that makes enough of product Y to meet demand, why would I go through the costs of hiring and expanding my business, even with huge amounts of excess cash, if my increased productivity will not increase demand and purchasing of my products? It doesn't make any sense.

I'm amazed that there are people still willing to believe that cutting our regulations is the answer. Cutting regulations helps businesses externalize the costs of their work, rather than internalizing it. If we let regulations go, we will all be paying for the dirty, fraudulent practices of businesses. Regulations keep us safe, healthy, and secure. Getting rid of them is all about maximizing profits and minimizing liability, and has absolutely nothing to do with jobs.

Slow News Day

Usually around this time, I'm able to find something that I feel is worth posting. Today seems to be a slow day for news though. There have been a handful of vaguely interesting articles, but nothing really jumps out at me.

What I noticed from trolling around, though, is just what kind of stories are being covered, by whom, and what the angles are. For example, folks like Limbaugh, Beck and Fox news are doing a lot of pieces on OWS, the arrests that have occurred, the anarchy and violence that's erupted, and so on. Other places, like Huffington Post, are posting articles about OWS as well, but it's more about how an 84 year-old woman was pepper sprayed, or how police have threatened to arrest peaceful protesters after saying they would leave them alone.

Fox News had a big story on its front page about Solyndra. Other news outlets barely gave a blurb on the energy secretary hearing, and don't really go into how the taxpayers have lost an amount of money on the Solyndra deal that is incomparable next to what's been spent on the wars.

There are so many news outlets on the internet, all bringing you their take on the news. But what really gets me is how anyone can claim that there is a bias in news. Of course there's bias. Everyone has bias toward one thing or another. The internet balances all of that out, and makes it easier for people of a particular political slant to latch onto communities that share their views. Saying that media has a bias is ridiculous. Saying it has a liberal bias is misleading. Business has a self-interest bias, and nothing more.

So, on a slow news day like today, take the time to reflect on the fact that your news is mostly designed with money in mind, that news outlets are bland to point of uselessness, and that the only realm of  free ideas left to us is being cornered by Washington to make it a good deal less free.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

SERIOUSLY!?!?

I don't know what to say. This is....can you even comprehend this level of greed and complete disregard for our economy? If this would, in any way, help the People whose mortgages are being bundled and traded, I would be okay with it. But JPMorgan is dropping toxic assets that it knew were rotten on other people to make money off of all of us. I can't express just how despicable this is.

Bad Religion

I consider myself pretty spiritual. In my opinion, religion can be practiced very well or very wrong. Unfortunately, most of the time it's practiced wrong. This is an example of one of those times.

The part about Rick Womick saying Allah is a false God is not as bothersome to me as when he says that you can't compare atrocities done by Muslims in the name of Allah to atrocities committed by Christians (like Anders Breivik in Norway) because Allah is a false God and Islam is a religion of extremists. Womick says that isolated Christians committing these atrocities means nothing about the religion, but isolated Muslims committing these atrocities damns their whole religion to extremist haters.

The hypocrisy here is staggering. First of all, only a handful of Muslims have carried out terrorist acts or killed anyone in the name of Allah. This is exactly the same thing for Christianity: a small handful have killed or committed acts of "terrorism" in the name of their God. Look at the bombing of abortion clinics and the killing of doctors who perform abortion. Look at the Spanish Inquisition, the intolerance of Europe only a few centuries ago. Look at our own history, where Native Americans were butchered for failing to convert to Christianity.

Now that we have that history lesson out of the way, time for another lesson. That is, no major religion of the world decrees violence against other groups of people any more than the others. There is just as much call in the Bible to kills Muslims as there is in the Quran to kill Christians. The only religion that I know of that does not have anything to do with killing it's rivals is Buddhism. However, this is also ironic, since countries like Korea and China where Buddhism is the predominant religion also happen to be the greatest oppressors of Christians.

The point is that any religion will produce individuals bent on destruction and death to those who don't agree with them. It is inevitable. The fact that this man, who is an elected member of state office, is saying that Muslims as a whole should be condemned for acts of violence in the name of their God but Christians as a whole should not be is absolutely hypocritical. This is not even getting into the gross disrespect that Womick is showing Muslims. He doesn't have to convert to Islam, he doesn't have to believe in Allah, but neither does he have to demonize an entire religion.

Lacking oversight

One of the fundamental tools of our government is the system of checks and balances between the three branches. Ideally, no one branch is supposed to be able to supercede it's powers or the powers of the other branches because they're held in check by the other two branches, not to mention the people.

However, we have seen a very disheartening trend when it comes to congressional oversight in the last few years. Specifically, the Government Accountability Office, which is the watchdog group that tracks down wasteful spending in Congress, has been systematically defunded by Congress for years. The irony here is that, the group this organization watches holds its purse strings, and has been tightening them, effectively making the GAO ineffective at its job.

This is a trend we've seen in other realms as well. Look at what recently happened with the SCJ's Scalia and Thomas: they were seen being wined and dined by groups that oppose the health care bill that they will be hearing arguments on soon; they helped pass down the CU ruling, the biggest giveaway to corporate political interests in decades; and they've disrupted the ability for American workers to organize class-action lawsuits to take on employers.

And the Executive branch is by no means immune. Bush became (in)famous for his liberal use of signing statements, issuing well over 100 of them over his terms in office. He used these to essentially negate legislation that was brought to his desk (he did not veto a single bill until 2006, six years after taking office). His use of signing statements was similar to the now-defunct power to use a line-item veto. Coupled with Bush and Obama's use of executive orders, the Executive Branch has been expanding its reach considerably in the last few years.

Without oversight, and with a complete lack of accountability to each other, the branches of government have been granting themselves incredible powers. This is not some push to get back a bare-bones government, but a call to say that we need a government that recognizes appropriate development over time. It's own power is not the goal; the goal is the wellness and prosperity of the nation as a whole. Government must provide certain services, must have certain parts to it that are not covered in the constitution, and must serve the people in ways that the founding fathers did not foresee at the time they wrote the constitution. However, the three branches of government must keep their power in check. They must concede that they do not have the authority to eliminate a group that oversees them to prevent waste and fraud. They must let go of powers that circumvent the natural process of legislation we have in America. And they must abandon vehemently partisan politics in lieu of supporting the American people in a comprehensive, reasonable fashion. No one benefits from polarized government any more than they benefit from a government that is completely self-interested.

Government is meant to work for the people, be comprised of the people, and be supported by the people. When we get back to that ideal, we will have come a long way to bringing America back into prominence and prosperity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Madness of Rick Santorum

Possibly the most notorious position held by any presidential candidate ever is Santorum's whacked-out positions and opinions on sex and gay marriage. To be clear, his views are not entirely to do with gay rights, but to everyone's rights to express themselves sexually as they see fit.

I don't even know where to begin with this. First of all, even if you don't agree with the homosexual lifestyle, you are not the ultimate authority over other people's lives. Furthermore, it is the height of hypocrisy to pick and choose when a person's personal choices are subject to government intrusion and when they're not. To say that a person has the freedom to express their Christianity in schools but then turn around and say that what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is under the control of government is so twisted and wrong that it's hard to describe how much I detest this.

Secondly, the idea that government can somehow dictate how people feel is not only inaccurate, but completely immoral. This is how you get to a place like Communist Russia or Red China, where individuality is stripped away and we're all just heterosexual automatons with cameras in our bedrooms to make sure we're not using contraception.

There are so many issues with these views that the only small comfort I have is that Santorum's poll numbers are so abysmal. Unfortunately, looking at the nature of the GOP and their base, the only thing keeping Santorum from a frontrunner position is a few more candidates making stupid mistakes. In other words, it's pretty likely he'll pick up some support.

If there were no other issues on the table, these views alone would discount Santorum from the Presidency for me. Unfortunately, there are apparently enough people out there who agree with him to give him a sliver of support. That scares me.

UPDATE: And if you needed more evidence that Santorum may just be a lot too crazy for America, Glenn Beck has gone out of his way to praise Santorum for his policies. While Beck does mention that he doesn't trust any of the candidates (really? Who do you trust, Glenn?), he makes a point of saying that if there was one, it would be Santorum.

Perfect Example

This is exactly why we should not have lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, and why our SCJ's should have more oversight and accountability, not for their decisions, but for their actions. This line pretty much sums it up:

"In fact, justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct that governs the actions of lower federal justices."

That's pretty much the problem in a nutshell. You have judges like Scalia and Thomas, very brazenly taking part in public functions that present them as being partisan on their decisions, yet there is no way to sanction them. They have been passing down decisions that have gutted our democratic process, they have disregarded common sense and non-political objectivity, and have instead become what the conservatives also decry as "rogue judges". By popular definition, a rogue judge is one whose decisions are driven by personal belief, personal gain, personal politics, and are purely subjective. All of these things are meant to be barred from our judicial process because it creates a conflict of interest. It is why a person who was once a member of the gun lobby should no preside over a case involving gun rights.

This cuts both ways, of course, but this kind of blatant partisanship is a slap in our nation's face. They are clearly making a statement that they've already had their minds made up. They are lining their pockets with the money from these groups who are fighting health care reform, and yet there is no way to counter this. We can't kick them out, we can't provide oversight for their actions, and we have no authority above them to stop this kind of thing. In short, they are free to be as un-judicial as they want. In the end, they will be making another party-line vote, as all parties have apparently made up their minds already. Why go through the farce of hearing the case at all? It's a mockery of our system, and we should not have to live with this.

Friday, November 11, 2011

European Debt Crisis: Truth and Lies

Krugman has another article, this time dispelling some of the falsehoods that have been flying around over the European debt crisis. This is a great article because, like many Americans, I haven't been paying as much attention to Europe as I have to America, or even Greece specifically. As Krugman shows, when we don't know the truth, there are those who are very willing to feed us lies.

One of the things about the European debt crisis that I wasn't aware of was how austerity measures can be detrimental to recovery and really have nothing to do with economic growth and getting out of the crisis. In fact, interest rates are a better indication, and Europe is struggling against staggering interest rates on its phenomenal loans.

One of the things that Krugman points out is that America is actually in a better position to help itself, if it can get the politics in line with what needs to be done, because America trades in and prints its own money. That gives us more flexibility in our response to debt and therefore keeps our interest rates low. Thankfully, that means we are able to pay off our debts to countries like China at interest rates we can actually afford.

But Krugman warns at the end of the article that America is by no means safe from financial distress, and that we have our own unique set of problems to work out. His opinion is that the ideologues that have been talking about nothing but cutting spending are walking a very fine line of financial ruin. He points out that following this view blindly could very well lead us into collapse.

The truth is, we can't cut our spending so far that we can pay off debt and get our "fiscal house in order" like Republicans constantly say. It's not reasonable, responsible, and only disastrously possible. We have to come up with new, innovative solutions, such as raising taxes on the wealthy, closing loopholes, generating demand by giving consumers more of their money back, and safeguarding against future economic calamities. In order for us to get out of this financial crisis, we need to listen to and follow experts and people who know something about international economics and financial systems. I happen to think Krugman is a good person to listen to.

Veteran's Day

Today is Veteran's Day. While many people in my position have the day off, I've elected to work. Not because I feel it's somehow demonstrably patriotic, but because I don't get paid if I don't.

Today in Washington, we finally saw some headway made in the way of Obama's jobs bill. Republicans and Democrats came together to pass the piece of the bill that gives companies tax incentives for hiring veteran's. The idea is that vet's have some of the highest unemployment numbers in our country, a disgrace to our heroes, and that this bill would encourage companies to hire more former soldiers.

If there's one thing that rallies our congressmen, it's veteran's affairs. They don't want to be blamed for not supporting America's fighting forces, so they will stand together for mutual benefit. Now, why can't the American Public generate this kind of bipartisanship? If every issue could somehow be tied to veterans, it would be passed, I'm sure. Instead, the people are forgotten, but our lawmakers clamber for resume-boosting votes and legislation.

Today is a day to honor our heroes, living and dead, who've given up comfort, health, safety, and lives to protect America and it's ideals. We may not always be right, we may not always be good, but our men and women in service will protect us and die for us anyway. I'm proud of our service members, I wish them all the best, and hope that they remain, safe, secure, and supported.  God Bless America.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Doesn't get plainer than this

Great article here by Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone. He lays it out nice and neat, and easy to understand. This is common sense at it's finest, and the point he makes is so clear and obvious that it can hardly be refuted: the GOP panders to the wealthy at the expense of the rich. Their policies benefit that top 1% to a much greater degree to everyone else. They talk about job creation and growth, small businesses and American exceptionalism, but they forfeit all of this in the name of greater wealth concentrated to the top.

I don't know how much more evidence people need to see this stuff. It's so clear that it boggles my mind people can deny it. What further gets to me is that people who are continually dragged through the mud by GOP policy will vote for them. It astounds me. Some vote GOP because of things that have nothing to do with political or economic platforms, but social ones. They vote GOP because they're pro-life, even though a majority of Democrats are as well. They vote GOP because they believe the GOP is pro-2nd Amendment, which is ridiculous because everyone is in some way or another (Dems just have more common sense about guns, but sense has a liberal bias, which is why Cons don't use it). Some vote GOP over other random things that don't make sense, but the point is, they are voting for individuals who will make their lives harder.  Why on earth would anyone do  that?

Either they don't see it at all, or they feel these other policies outweigh the downsides to voting Republican. Or, option three, they honestly believe that the GOP has their best interests at heart. They've chugged the mantra-based kool-aid, they believe that tax cuts for the rich will help the poor, they believe that schools are breeding grounds for socialism, and that privatization is referenced in the Bible as being God's favorite economic system for everything. It's nuts, but you have to be nuts to appreciate and accept these beliefs.

I really hope that the majority of Americans can see the nature of the GOP, can see what their intentions are, and rise up against them. The classic GOP of fiscal responsibility is gone, and this twisted and corrupted version is only serving those who need no help.

Read this article. Everything in it is well-written and incredibly poignant, from the history of government taxation to the formation of the "starve the beast" tactics that Reagan began and then backed off from. It's enlightening, disheartening, and provocative all at the same time

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Net Neutrality

Al Franken writes a great article about Net Neutrality, and how it has, once again, come under attack by conservatives. Not only does he describe Net Neutrality very plainly, but in such a way that you can pretty clearly see that the "government takeover of the internet" that GOPers have been going on about is a downright lie.

For one thing, we have Net Neutrality NOW! the Internet is, by definition and design, neutral. It is not compromised by special interests at all. This is the way it's always been. It's why sites that express outrageous views and opinions are able to exist without any kind of limitation from internet providers.

Taking away net neutrality, though, takes away the freedom of this information. What would stop a political party from paying service providers to limit access and slow connection speeds to their opponent's sites? What stops companies or groups from paying to limit access to groups they don't agree with? What's to stop major corporations from blocking access to small businesses? The answer is, nothing. Net neutrality makes everyone equal, and that is the power for the internet. Its information is free, its services open, and you can go anywhere and read anything you want without having to deal with censorship.

If Net Neutrality is taken away, the internet will lose its draw as the best source of information and communication we have, and become more like a syndicated news show. It will be bland, neutral, politically correct trash. There will be no difference of opinion, no freedom of expression, and no way of accessing more diverse content. It will mean that the internet and its information has become profit-driven, not freedom-driven, and that we will all lose out.

Stand up for Net Neutrality! If we don't have a system of free trading ideas, free speech, and a forum to voice our views, we have lost our ability to learn and understand the world once again. This is perhaps the single most important issue facing us today. And it shouldn't even be an issue! Net Neutrality is good for everyone. Getting rid of it is going to turn our internet into the internet of China, where information is blocked and only "approved" sites will be allowed. This is not America, this is not freedom, and this is not about saving the people from a "government takeover." Ending Net Neutrality IS a government takeover.

Life vs. Personhood

I've been speaking with people about this recently published article. Mississippi has been debating this law, apparently, and now its up for a vote. The problem is, the outcome could mean serious issues legally. The law is about giving the unborn rights as a person from conception.

The problem with this, as the article points out, is that it can mean legal mayhem and will likely mean that a lot of things will be made illegal, not just abortions but also many forms of birth control. Essentially, the law would completely eliminate a woman's right to her own body.

My issue with personhood from conception is that it makes no medical sense. From a medical standpoint, there is evidence to say that there is life at conception, but that that life does not constitute a person. In my view, life begins at conception, but personhood begins at viability. The issue of personhood vs. life is important because our laws are written in such a way that giving a handful of cells the rights of a person becomes very problematic.

A person is one that is able to live independently, or that can make a conscious choice about their lives. A bundle of cells can do neither. So, it follows that it's not a person. However, we say trees are alive, even if they are not consciously aware of that or are able to make decisions. They can live independently of another living thing, and thus are considered living. That is why a bundle of cells can be considered life.

This is an important point to make, and I hope it comes to this in the debate. If the purpose is to limit the number of abortions, then why not fund sex education that teaches kids how to be responsible? Otherwise, all the legislation in the world won't stop abortions, it will just push them into being illegal and make them much harder and much more dangerous to get.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Going Green going nowhere

Back before the EPA and all those health regulations that Teapublicans despise, the average life expectancy was much lower. Cancer rates were higher, infant mortality way up, disease, disorders, and overall health and cleanliness were relatively abysmal. Thankfully, we've had laws and limitations on the outpouring of toxic chemicals into our air, water, soil, and eventually bodies. The result of this is that we live in a cleaner, safer, more sustainable way.

Unfortunately, not all of our messes have been picked up, and in fact, there are many who want to send us back to the days of burning rivers, deforested hills, and choking smog. Reading this article, you get the sense that we're a long way from really cleaning ourselves up.

When you consider the kind of fight conservatives are putting up over "green" stuff, you might wonder why that is. After all, going green, using clean and renewable energy, and maintaining our planet seem like they should be top priorities, if for no other reason than that, once we burn a gallon of gas we can't get it back, and gas is a non-renewable resource so we will run out eventually.

Well, to the conservative mind, green energy and technology means rising costs of business and lowering profits. It means outpacing our current technology that makes them wealthy in favor of an energy system that does not. To them, it's overtaxing business, and not allowing them to dump their waste wherever they please, which is good for the bottom line.

Once again, I want to say that this is the only planet we get. This is the only ball of dirt and dust that we can ever hope to populate. We don't have unlimited supplies of our most valuable resources, so we have to learn to use what we do have large amounts of to our best ability. The short-sightedness of conservatives is mind-boggling in this regard. They are more concerned about their money today than the lives of all humanity tomorrow. What do they think is going to happen when they allow big business to trash the planet? That all those chemicals and toxins in our air, water, and soil will simply have no ill effects? Or that the world will somehow take care of itself? They ignore evidence of global warming, they ignore evidence of carcinogens in our environment, they ignore their own impact through fossil fuel burning and ecosystem disruption. This is not a game of dollars and sense, or at least it shouldn't be.

The Big Lie

An article by Barry Ritholz describes the new story, called by Ritholz "The Big Lie", circulating about the causes of the financial collapse. In the article, Ritholz uses historical fact and reason to show how the financial collapse really got started.

The important thing about this is that it's not one party, but a failure of government to keep itself independent and free from the special interests of Wall St. It has nothing to do with the ethics of regulation, but the ethics of lobbying and the hijacking of our government by narrow interests. To be sure, deregulation played a part in the collapse, but it was the willingness of our lawmakers to hand the keys to irresponsible and money-driven speculators that ultimately caused the crisis.

In the presidential race right now, every single GOP candidate has used this Big Lie as their explanation of events leading up to the collapse, and the reason they support further deregulation. In particular, Ron Paul has been an outspoken opponent of any and all regulations on the market, believing that a true Free Market will be able to govern and regulate itself. As much as I respect Ron Paul for his unwavering commitment to his ideals, I think he's dead wrong here. Look what happened when restrictions were loosened just a bit. Even if you believe that government regulations pushed investors to act in a reckless manner, you're still left with the facts that a) those investors got insanely rich, b) they continued these practices to their own near-ruin, c) they contributed (or caused) the massive gap between rich and poor, and d) they are still benefiting from our economic climate. So, if you want to say that they are the victims, that's only playing one side of the truth. You've got to concede that, even if they were forced  to make massive profits by the government on the backs of the people, they didn't complain and they didn't stop.

To further dismantle the protections that keep our economy solvent when we are so close to economic distress is completely unrealistic and downright dangerous. What would people think if, after the Titanic went down, professionals said it was because of excess lifeboats and that, if those lifeboats had only been left behind, the Titanic wouldn't have sunk. This explanation completely ignores the fact that the cause of the crash was an iceberg, one that the crew saw but was unable to avoid because they had gathered too much speed and had a rudder that was too small to maneuver. It ignores the fact that this cause of the crash was foreseeable and preventable, but was not taken into account until too late. And it ignores the glaring fact that the lifeboats being debated saved the passengers that were able to use them. In fact, they're the only things that kept the Titanic from being a total loss.

Our economy was brought to its knees by rampant trading by a money-hungry investors looking for more and more wealth in an unsustainable system. We need to protect ourselves, our economy, and our money, from these acts in the future.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Great American Oligarchy

Paul Krugman does it again. This exceptional piece points out that we are well on our way out of the realm of democracy and moving into Oligarchy, where the wealthy and well-connected have everything: power, privilege, and control of government. The rising inequality in America is reaching such a level that it is hard to comprehend, let alone combat.

Krugman points out that many pundits and those who are trying to defend this system are pulling the wool over our eyes and muddying the argument by saying that it's about education, or that the numbers are false, or that this is class warfare. Well, the truth is, the disparity between rich and poor in America has reached a level normally only seen in Third World Dictatorships. So, is this just a fluke? No. This is a sinister plot to turn America into a place where the wealthy have everything and the rest have nothing.

Americans are already being thrown out of their homes. The middle class (where I am) has not seen a wage increase of significance in years and, thanks to inflation and cuts in pay, are now making less money than they have since the 70's. Meanwhile, we hear about how our social safety net is costing us too much, how people are mooching off the system, how the unemployed are at fault for their situations. Voting rights are beins restricted in many states, redistricting is being done that will nullify the popular vote and cause Republicans to be elected that did not win the election, and people are being fed distortions in our media that push them to elect people who's vision of America is in direct contrast to the majority of voter's interests.

As I've said before, the ultimate goal of these trends is to create a system in America where the wealth have the power, the voice, the money, the health, and the education. Our schools are failing, more and more students are being pushed into for-profit schools, and teachers who are perfectly qualified and competent are being fired because of things beyond their control. Eventually, education will not be a right, it will be a privelege as the public school system is dismantled in the name of profit. Our health care system is already operating as if it were meant to make money, not safeguard the lives and health of citizens. The world is being turned into a money machine, and those too poor to pay into it are being left out in the cold.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Corporate Taxation...or not so much

Conservatives complain that businesses pay too much tax. Their tax rates are some of the highest in the nation, but consider this when you think about that. So, really, big business has plenty of tools to pay little or no tax to the government. Keep in mind that most people in the middle class can't get away with this. So, when Repubicans say that they want to cut business taxes, they really mean they want to be able to give more money to the businesses. And remember, that money they give away is yours. The GOP has been complaining about their own bailout program since Obama took office, and yet these tax breaks are essentially the same thing. Not only that, but Republicans have put together a plan for lowering the business tax rates, even though a recent study showed that their math was off.

Uselesness

How many issues is our country facing right now that need congressional involvement? There's the budget deficit, the national debt, unemployment, immigration, taxes, Wall St. reform, banking regulatory reform, wars, federal funding for myriad services, international economic crises, energy reform, trade, sanctions, health care, poverty, inflation, and quite a few other things besides. Yet our Congress has chosen not to tackle these big issues. Nope, the two big things they've done this week are entirely and utterly useless.

First, they passed a resolution to remind themselves of the United States motto "In God We Trust". Yes, instead of debating tax reforms, regulations, or helping America's unemployed, our representatives are passing a resolution that is essentially a resume-builder that has absolutely no bearing on anything.

Second, They voted to subpoena the White House over the Solyndra scandal. Here, we have Congressional Republicans who decide that they can score a few more political cheap shots off of this, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with our current economic climate. The amount of money lost on the Solyndra deal is nothing...nothing...when compared to what we've spent on weapons for the wars. Not only that, but the Solyndra deal is over and done with, yet our leaders are still trying to press the issue, even as we're spending who-knows-how much money a day to fight overseas wars. The irony of this is appalling.

So, it's pretty clear that Congress can't agree to do anything useful, but will joing forces to promote the useless. They won't help any of the issues we have, but they'll gladly do what they can to make themselves look good. There seems to be no thought of servitude in Washington besides self-servitude. No one is representing their constituents anymore.

I know that our two parties don't see eye to eye on very much....or anything, really....but that's no excuse for them to sit on their hands except when they're patting themselves on the back or poking each other in the eye. Compromise and debate have been absent for years now, and we need to bring back that classic political process if we are going to work out these big issues we are all experiencing. If this current crop of representatives can't do that, we need to elect some that can.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Skeletons in the Closet

I told myself I would not report on the whole Cain/sexual harassment thing, but the continuing coverage over this story, particularly from the Right Wing Media that is defending Cain is just driving me nuts.

First of all, you have people like Ann Coulter who are alleging that this is a racially motivated attack, that the Dems are pursuing this story to discredit a black Republican. Then, you have Cain himself saying he thinks this is a racially-charged attack on his character (which is interesting because he does not deny the charges, nor offers any explanation for his actions).

I guess the thing that really bothers me about this is how Cain is trying to play the victim in this. He's the one that allegedly harassed three women back in the 90's. Yet the RWM is defending him, saying that he's being targeted.

Just to put this in perspective, recall the Anthony Weiner scandal from not too long ago. Weiner did not commit a crime. His actions may have been more recent, but they were still within the law. Yet, when the pictures of Weiner came out, the media had a field day, with the RWM leading the way. Here's Ann Coulter discussing her view on the Anthony Weiner Scandal. And here is what she had to say about the Cain incident. For reference, here is what Rush Limbaugh also had to say about Weiner and about Cain.

You'll notice a few things. First, Coulter completely contradicts herself. When it's the Weiner scandal, she says "The basic Republican response is not to attack the person who just releases the information" in regards to sex scandals. But when it is Cain's sexual harassment claims, she targets Politico for breaking the story. Also, you'll notice that when Weiner was targeted, Limbaugh thought it was a national joke. Now when Cain is having to defend against allegations, suddenly it's a race issue that we should all be appalled at.

Second, when it comes to Cain, they don't debate the moral issue of harassment, but give it a quick nod, say it's bad, and then go back to talking about how it's a race thing. You know, I doubt anyone would have thought twice about Cain's race in this situation if RWM hadn't been harping on it 24/7. They're acting like John Cleese in Faulty Towers: "Don't mention the War!" It wouldn't be an issue, but they just keep on mentioning it.

I don't think Cain should drop out of the race over this. I don't think it disqualifies him as a candidate. I think he should be allowed to stand on his politics like everyone else and let himself sink or swim because of them. I may not like his policies, I may think he's dangerously inexperienced, but I respect that he has a message and that he has the right to express it. If this turns into a legal issue where it comes out that Cain broke the law or is going to be part of a criminal investigation, then I would strongly recommend to him that he drop out of the race.

Political Strategy

It's amazing what people in power will do, even going so far as to make the most unethical decisions that have no basis in law simply to maintain their power. Arizona lawmakers recently impeached an indpendent who was the chairman of the Independent Redistricting Commission.

What's striking about this is that it is the most brazen act in the current fight over redistricting going on in many states. As far as can be seen, there was no evidence given for Colleen Mathis's impeachment, and there are serious questions about whether the move was politically motivated.

The strategy for this year's redistricting process seems to be to cut out as much of the people's vote as possible and alter districts in such a way that Republicans will be the favored candidates in any election, regardless of popular vote. The implications are staggering. This is the first time in my memory that a group has coordinated such an effort to limit our democracy and deny people their rights.

The plan has a couple of different parts to it.

1. Pass legislation that limits people's access to the polls (in the name of preventing voter fraud), even when they are legal and registered voters. This targets groups that tend to vote Democrat.

2. Redistrict the states so that the Republican majority areas outweigh the value of the Democrat majority areas in the state (rather than striking a balance) so that the state is more likely to go red, even if the majority of people vote the other way. Gotta love that Electoral College.

3. Make sure that approval ratings for everybody are in the cellar. When the government is mistrusted and disliked, the party that mistrusts and dislikes government as a platform of their campaign wins. Republicans in Washington are sitting on their hands to make government ineffective, because it means they have a better chance at nabbing seats in the election, as long as people are ill-informed.

These are the three major points of the campaign. They deal with every aspect of voting in our nation: the laws, the districts, and the people. The laws limit who can vote and how, the districts are designed to reject the popular vote, and the people are being convinced to take on the party that wants to destroy the government that they say is ineffective.

This is America. Voting rights are right up there with education rights. It's what makes us unique to many parts of the world. Unfortunately, the pursuit of power has come between us and democracy, and our leaders are feeding this drive to disenfranchise the people and keep them from expressing themselves politically.

Now, consider if all of these measures come together and the Conservatives gain the upper hand in all branches of government. Consider the stated goals of this group, and consider the implications if they have no one to challenge them, or to keep them bound by constitutional limitations (which we already know they don't mind breaching). The results for our way of life could and (I believe) will be catastrophic. If they think they've got a problem now with protesters on Wall St. I wonder what they'll think when the majority of Americans realize they're vote has been silenced by the government.

Government must work in balance. It must have at least two opposing groups to maintain the checks and balances of political power and process. I don't think that Democrats having the upper hand in Washington is a good thing either. I think we need to let everyone speak and be heard. One-sided governance is dictatorship.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Paying the Price

Banks are notorious for the fees they incur on people for even the little things like ATM transactions. The thing that gets me the most about these is that there's no way to get around them, especially with big banks. For example, some banks charge you to use an ATM and to see a teller. Some banks have plans to start charging just for having a debit card (though most have gone back on this after massive outcries and after the banks posted record profits).

I'm not sure if these fees are new, but apparently banks have been charging unemployment benefit recipients when they withdraw money from their accounts. Right at the beginning of the article, it mentions that people on unemployment are getting $189/ week. That's $189 for food, rent, utilities, and other expenses. If you pay bills monthly, that gives you $756/month to cover all bills, plus put food on the table. In other words, it's not much at all.

Two points on this. First, how can banks that post record profits justify charging people $1.50 per ATM transaction and $3 just to see someone at the counter what that person is unemployed and has to live on such a paltry amount of money? If this is being done in the name of keeping the business healthy, I have serious concerns for the CEO's of that company being able to effectively manage their business. The existance of their company should not hinge on slapping a $1.50 out of the unemployed every time they need to buy food for their families.

Second, the amount of money the unemployed receive should shut most people up who complain that the unemployed are jobless by choice and that they are leaching off the system and living the good life on our dime. How could anyone possibly live well on $189/week. I make a lot more than that, and I just about break even every month. So, how is it that people can say there are those who live well on unemployment?

If banks are charging people like this to keep themselves solvent, they have a fundamentally flawed business plan. If they are not, or don't need to incur these charges, then they should stop. Either way, the banks need to fix their mess before they expect the rest of us to pick up their slack.