Category Archives: Reform

More Failed Political Theatre


July 24, 2013 – The “Amash Amendment” was voted down.  What was this amendment, you might wonder?  It got very little coverage really, so you wouldn’t be so out of line to ask.  The Amash amendment, surprisingly, was offered by a Republican representative despite the opposition of the Speaker of the House, Boehner.  It would have limited the NSA’s ability to collect the so-called meta data on phone and internet data usage, and otherwise reduced the funding and scope of the NSA.  It drew, as politics sometimes is wont to do, a strange series of bedfellows.  Right wing “libertarians” and “left wing liberals” joined together to support this bill and still it failed by a vote of 205 to 217.   Here is the roll call so you can see how your own representatives voted.

On the one hand, it really didn’t matter how this vote turned out.  We should all understand that.  Should this have passed, and then succeeded in the Senate, which was far from likely to begin with, the POTUS had promised to veto it.  Of course, he has promised to veto numerous things in the past and then signed them any way.  However, this one, I find his threat much more credible as it is more in line with his right wing totalitarian regime approach to things.  “Trust me.  We’ve got your best interest at heart.  We’ll give you some pretense of good faith, such as lip service about believing in same-sex marriage, but in reality, we’re going to call out the militarized police to control you and beat you into submission, while half way around the world, we kill children in your name.”  {Some Afghan kids aren’t bystanders, indeed!!  You right wing, murderous bastard!}

–  Deep breaths  –  Deep breaths  –  Deep breaths  –

It is also very likely that he would not have vetoed it because he has come out so strongly in support of the program.  For example, on June 18, 2013:

Charlie Rose: So I hear you saying, I have no problem with what NSA has been doing.

Barack Obama: Well, let me — let me finish, because I don’t.

Or, on June 7, 2013:
“In the abstract, you can complain about ‘Big Brother’ and how this is a potential program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance,” he said.

Except, we are not allowed to look at the details, so you are asking us to take your word, and since you have shown yourself to be a liar, we can’t trust that, Mr. President.

So, if you think that there was really any chance that this amendment would have succeeded, then I would like to discuss a lake I have for sale.  You might be interested.  It has a beautiful view, and several ships are included.  Details here.

Okay, so it didn’t really matter because president Napoleon the Pig, er, I mean Obama would have vetoed it.  However, it also didn’t matter, because if the POTUS is to be believed, and he has been backed on this by many in the congress, then:

“The programs are secret in the sense that they are classified. They are not secret, in that every member of Congress has been briefed,” he said during a speech in San Jose, Calif. “These are programs that have been authored by large bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.”

Understand what that means is that each of those 205 members of congress that voted for the Amash amendment is one of two things.  Either they are so spineless that they couldn’t act without sufficient support around them.  They couldn’t stand on their own two feet to say, “This is wrong, and I must stand against it.”  Or, they are still conducting political theatre.  They saw that there were enough people in their constituencies that were at least a little upset that they would benefit from making it appear that they were trying to do something to end these programs, without actually trying to do something.  Then, they can return to what is much more important to the Republicans in the House of Representatives – a 40th attempt to repeal the ACA, other wise known as Obamacare.

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If it don’t fit, get a bigger hammer


We as a society are not very rational.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  Not really.  We are fractured along so many lines that the best image of us might be Frankenstein’s monster.  It has always been thus from our very founding.  I have explained to people before that if you want to understand America think about this: our founding fathers and mothers were made up primarily of three groups – Religious zealots that were so sanctimonious their own society kicked them out, Adventurous types either interested in exploring or getting away from the rest of society, and criminals sent to those penal colonies.

It was this mixture that has made up our cultural DNA.  To that, through the years has been added regular and consistent injections of immigrants.  Immigrants tend to, as a rule, not exactly be timid or lacking in adventurousness.  After all, if they did, they would have stayed at home.

Is it any wonder then, that we are not exactly a rational society?  That we say we want one thing, and then take steps to achieve precisely the opposite?  We say, for example, that we want freedom and democracy not only at home but around the world, and then we subvert it at home and support brutal dictators around the world, today and in the past.

This manifests in many ways, of course.  Our drug policy is just one of these.  For most of the last century, we have been attempting a policy of prohibition.  We know from our experience with alcohol prohibition that this approach does not work.  Even some of the farthest right, most repressive groups in America know that this policy doesn’t work.  In theory, we as a society want to reduce drug abuse and the associated societal ills – violence and theft, for example.  In practice, the policies that we have in place create or exacerbate these very problems.

Who is it that wants to continue the prohibition policy?  Primarily it is three groups.  It is the inertia group, the police-industrial complex, and the drug cartels.  One at a time.  The inertia group is made up of a variety of people.  It is those who haven’t taken the time to actually think for themselves or have simply not been educated beyond the propaganda that has been spewed out.  They are also those who are of the, “Well, it’s always been this way” variety.  They are those who may have seen people in their lives who have been abusers of drugs and have expanded this out to a belief that the specific drugs the government has labeled as illegal can only be abused.  They are generally unaware that prior to the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act 1914, there was no legal control on narcotics, and they were used openly.  They were, of course, subject to abuse, and that was frowned on, but they were also used in the same way that alcohol was, responsibly by respected members of the community without disdain or other social sanction.  Certainly abuse was not approved of, but that was true whether the substance was alcohol or any other drug.

There is a lot of money to be made from illegal drugs.  Any item that is sold on the black market raises the prices.  The risk involved, and the lack of regulation or tax drives the profit through the roof!  Take as an analogy, if you will, the situation after a disaster such as a major hurricane or tornado.  Those who are lacking in ethics may well raise the prices on the most basic of commodities because they can.  Food, gas, ice, and more may see their prices triple or quadruple.  We have laws in place to prevent this type of price gouging.  However, this is simply “supply and demand” according to the right wing, and it is what happens in the “free market”.  It is what happens in the black market where there are no controls to prevent it, because the black market is the only true free market.-1-  Where is there any incentive for the drug cartels to want drugs to be legalized?  Why would they want to give up their profits?  There is no more incentive for them to do this, than there is for major legal companies to give up their profits through tax breaks and shelters without a fight.

There is also a great deal of money to be made for the police-industrial complex.  Between 2001 and 2010, we arrested over 8 million people in the US for marijuana alone, and 88% of those were for simple possession.  We spend $3.6 billion a year enforcing marijuana laws.  That’s billion with a b, and that is, again, only marijuana. It does not take into account any of the other drugs.  We spend between $20 and $25 billion a year on the “War on Drugs”.  That should worry you.  The private prison industry is a billion dollar a year business, and the vast majority of those prisoners are in for drug related crimes.  We spend huge amounts of money on equipment to outfit the police who are now often as armed and armored, if not more so, than many of the military personnel we have in war zones.  All of that equipment also costs billions of dollars every year.
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Fearing No Shots Across The Bow


It is very likely that in the next week, either on Monday or Thursday, the SCOTUS will release two important decisions relating to marriage equality in this country.  We are facing many crises of freedom right now, from Orwellian privacy invasion of individuals, to infringements on the press freedoms we like to believe exist in this country, to killing of American citizens without trial (or even charges), and so on, but much of America simply doesn’t care about those issues.

Marriage equality though, it seems some people still care about.  Enough that 30 states took the extraordinary steps over the last few years to actually prohibit same-gender marriages, and another 7 prohibit them by law.  Additionally, of course, we still have the “Defense of Marriage Act” on the books at the federal level.

I have written about this before, and I am not going to get deeply into the reasoning here.  (Cliff notes version: There is no moral or constitutional justification to deny a marriage to any consenting adult to any other consenting adult.  No religious authority should be required to give their sanction to it, but that is an entirely separate matter.)

What is of interest right now is that the right is, again, mouthing off about how they are above the law.  As is so often the case, they’re already screaming that no matter what the decision from the Supreme Court, they’re not going to be bound by it, unless they like it.

Now, let’s stop for a moment, because to a small degree, they have a fair point.  That is how a democracy, or even a representative republic, which we are supposed to be, is theoretically supposed to work.  If we do not like the laws, then we can work to change them.  So, that part would be reasonable.  However, what they’re saying is not, “If the decision is against us, then we must change the law.” which is essentially what many said following the ridiculous Citizens United decision.  (Not that it has led to a successful change, but that is still what many are saying today.)  No, what they are saying is quite flatly,

As Christians united together in defense of marriage, we pray that this will not happen. But, make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the true common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.

As I, and many others, are reading this, it is both a veiled threat of the kind that is common from the right, that alludes to a revolution, and a statement that “we” will not enforce your ruling.  It is true, as they point out in their letter, that the courts have no enforcement mechanism, but instead must rely on the executive branch for that.  If they are more than just talk this time around, we may be forced into a situation where we find out if more people are in support of what is right and the rule of law, which in this case are the same thing, or in support of hate and bigotry.

The rest of the letter is the same standard tripe that these people have been trotting out over and over again.  It lacks any more merit this time around than it had the last half a million times that it was paraded around.  It is full of fallacies and bigotry.  Half-truths and bald-faced lies.

I suspect that as with most utterances from the right, it is a lot of hot air.  They talk a lot and have almost no spine to actually back it up.  Except that lately, they seem to be starting to feast on themselves.  We will see what the SCOTUS rules, and then we will proceed from there.  Because yes, no matter how they rule, this issue will not be over.  I know that, and everyone should.  If the SCOTUS rules correctly in favor of equality, then the right will be weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth and then trying to find ways to overturn it.  If they do not, then the equal rights movement will continue to fight for ways to fix that error.  The Dred Scott decision had to be reversed, and it took time.  I hope this is not a similar situation, but if it is, we will eventually do it.

Because that is what is right and good.

This may well end up like Roe v Wade, though.  Producing another cause for the right to protest for the next half-century.  We may wind up with picket lines at weddings, and counter protestors in front of churches to protect the wedding party.  And, sadly, I wouldn’t put it past a few extremists on the right to start killing ministers and pastors performing weddings, because that is what history has shown us the right wing in this country is capable of producing, despite the vast majority of them being a bunch of blow-hards with no real intellects.  We already have too many in the LGBQT community that are suffering violence for no reason other than who they are, or more accurately, the insecurity and bigotry of who others are.


Once upon a time, in a land where reasonable people could reasonably disagree…


It’s all the rage, right?  Everyone is talking about it, and I should, too?  Yeah, I suppose.  Thing is, I really don’t want to.  I’m really bored with it.  {{Insert shocked face here}}  It’s been talked to death.  It looks pretty certain to happen at this point, and no one in a position to change that really seems to have any interest in doing so.

{{Insert dark, scary music here}} The Sequestration

In theory it is an across the board equal cut in spending.  The reality is very different though, and this space is dedicated to real and accurate information.  So, let’s start with that, shall we?

First, it is not, across the board.  “OMG!  Good golly, Miss Molly!  It’s not?!”  No, it’s really not.  There are a whole list of programs that are exempted from the cuts entirely.  There are another list that are under special rules about how they will be impacted by the sequester.  “But, the local news/CNN/NBC/FOX/Obama/Boehner said …”  Look, I really couldn’t care less, what they told you, or what you heard about this being “thoughtless” or “across the board”.  They are usually FoS, right?  Haven’t we demonstrated that often enough?  Let’s go to the source, shall we?

According to the Congressional Research Service, in its Budget “Sequestration” and Selected Program Exemptions and Special Rules report prepared for congress and dated January 10, 2013

The following are selected programs and types of spending identified in Section 255 as exempt from sequestration:

  • Social Security benefits (old-age, survivors, and disability) and Tier 1 Railroad Retirement benefits.
  • All programs administered by the VA, and special benefits for certain World War II veterans.17
  • Net interest (budget function 900).
  • Payments to individuals in the form of refundable tax credits.18
  • Unobligated balances, carried over from prior years, for nondefense programs.
  • At the President’s discretion (subject to notification to Congress), military personnel accounts may be exempt entirely, or a lower sequestration percentage may apply.19
  • A list of “other” budget accounts and activities; readers should consult the statute for a complete list. A few selected examples include
    • activities resulting from private donations, bequests or voluntary contributions, or financed by voluntary payments for good or services;
    • advances to the Unemployment Trust Fund;20
    • payments to various retirement, health care, and disability trust funds;
    • certain Tribal and Indian trust accounts; and
    • Medical Facilities Guaranty and Loan Fund.
  • Specified federal retirement and disability accounts and activities (consult the statute for the complete list).
  • Prior legal obligations of the federal government in specified budget accounts (consult the statute for the complete list).21
  • Low-income programs, including
    • Academic Competitiveness/Smart Grant Program;22
    • mandatory funding under the Child Care and Development Fund;
    • Child Nutrition Programs (including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Food, and others, but excluding Special Milk);
    • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP);
    • Commodity Supplemental Food Program;
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the TANF Contingency Fund;
    • Family Support Programs;23
    • Federal Pell Grants;
    • Medicaid;
    • Foster Care and Permanency Programs;
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps);

and

    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  • Medicare Part D low-income premium and cost-sharing subsidies; Medicare Part D catastrophic subsidy payments; and Qualified Individual (QI) premiums.24
  • Specified economic recovery programs, including GSE Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, the Office of Financial Stability, and the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
  • The following “split-treatment” programs, to the extent that the programs’ budgetary resources are subject to obligations limitations in appropriations bills:
  • Federal Aid-Highways;
  • Highway Traffic Safety Grants;
  • Operations and Research NHTSA and National Driver Register;
  • Motor Carrier Safety Operations and Programs;
  • Motor Carrier Safety Grants;
  • Formula and Bus Grants; and
  • Grants-in-Aid for Airports.

Sorry that’s so long, but it’s taken directly from the report (page 9) and I think it is important to see it in its entirety, because as you can see, you have been being fed lies no matter which news outlet you’re listening to or which political talking head you are wanting to believe.  Also, note that it is not the entire list of programs that are exempt.  It is only a partial list of “selected programs”.  The people who are in the position of supplying live, reliable data to those who go out and spin the tales are telling them that these programs are exempt from the cuts.  Please re-read that sentence.  Let me summarize it for you.
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Educate and grow! Indoctrinate and stall!


 educate

Pronunciation: /ˈɛdjʊkeɪt/

verb

    give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to (someone), typically at a school or university: she was educated at a boarding school

Here is today’s shocking truth for you.  Some of you will know this consciously.  Others will know it subconsciously.  Some will deny it strenuously.  View it how you may, it is a sad, truth.

indoctrinate

Pronunciation: /ɪnˈdɒktrɪneɪt/

verb

    teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically: broadcasting was a vehicle for indoctrinating the masses

Most parents, hell, most people in the world, and in particular in America do not really want to teach their children.  They damn sure do not want other people’s children taught!  They want them indoctrinated.  They want them to be indoctrinated in very specific ways.  In the same ways that they were.

I admit it.  There was a period when I had to overcome it myself.  My oldest son was around 3 when I realized it.  I even verbalized it to his mother.  I told her, “You know, it isn’t that we don’t want our kids to be indoctrinated.  It’s just that we want them to be indoctrinated in the same beliefs that we hold dear.”  It was the beginning of an internal dialogue that went on to break through that particular log jam in my own head.  Fortunately, he was young enough, that I don’t think he suffered too much for it.

Anyway, that is the point, isn’t it?  For most people, they never really look past the, I want my child to believe the same as I do.  I have consistently taught my kids, to think for themselves.  I have been writing this with the hopes of educating, and yes, convincing, you, but in each and every case, I have presented evidence and arguments, and asked that you think for yourselves.  At no time would I ask that you simply take my word for it.  Take what I say and verify it.  Go do your own research.  It’s out there.

When it comes to my children, beyond the basics of parental responsibility (chores, teaching modern hygiene, safety, etc), I expected them to think for themselves.  Absolutely listen to me, but question it.  Go out and research it.  If you can show me where I am wrong, go ahead.  Please do.  I will admit it.  I am okay with that.  I would rather admit that I am wrong, learn from it and move on.  In fact, I made it a point to let my kids see me admit I was wrong when I was.  I thought it was a valuable lesson for them to see.

And, that is what is missing from many people, but in particular what is missing from the right wing as a rule.  For example, despite the overwhelming mass of evidence over the last 40 years, not to mention all of the previous experiments with it, they continue to insist that supply side economics works.  Despite all the collapsed sectors of the economy where they had to violate their own expressed principles and step in to prop up those sectors in order to not have them drag down the rest of their carefully constructed system of wealth redistribution, they continue to insist that this focus on moving more and more wealth in to the hands of fewer and fewer people works.  In fact, they want to do so at a faster and faster pace.  They continue to insist that not only should we not raise taxes, but that we need to cut spending.  But, the only places that the far right wants to cut spending, of course, is on the backs of the poorest of our citizens, and on what’s left of the middle class.  They want to cut the very programs that are most needed.

They also, of course, say that they want to cut the programs that actually pay for themselves.  How ironic, no?  (Again, this is why I have previously said that Conservatism is no longer a philosophy.  It is a religion.  It is no longer based on thought and reason, but rather on belief, superstition, and indoctrination. “accept a set of beliefs uncritically”)
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Check Please


Tax season has officially begun.  W-2s had to be sent out by January 31st.  The IRS began accepting e-filed returns on the 30th.

Let the whining begin.  The weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  The woe is me that always comes when most people are asked to fulfill the responsibilities that correspond to the possession and exercise of rights.  Especially in a society that is all about, “What can you do for me?”

Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.

This is taken from what is typically considered one of the greatest inauguration speeches, and one of the finest speeches ever given, period, and yet, this concept is so foreign to Americans today.  Today this would have so many screaming, “Socialist!  Communist!” even though most of those would have no idea what those words even mean.

When President Kennedy said them at the beginning of his term, he was rallying the country together following a contentious presidential race during the Cold War, and yet it was a time that was less divided that we now find ourselves, in many ways.  It was a time when we still had something that resembled a liberal base in America.  And, it was a time when, while people may not have liked it, they at least didn’t consistently shirk their responsibilities quite so much as they do now.

Can you imagine what FAUX News, Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh would have to say if the POTUS were to use that line in a speech?  If he were to say that echoing Kennedy, it would be bad enough, but try to imagine the reaction, if Kennedy had never said it, and Obama were the first president to say it.  I can imagine drowning in a sea of the foam coming from their mouths.

One of the defining features of the shift to the right over the last 40 years is a decline in personal responsibility.  We see it in so many ways.  When Kennedy gave the aforementioned speech, the top marginal tax rate was 91%.  It had been since 1946.  Unlike modern conservatives, when the conservatives of the past took us to war, they actually paid for it instead of borrowing “against our children’s future” to borrow a phrase, and then blaming the black guy, oops, I mean the next guy.  You see, when we started to gear up for WWII, the tax rates started to go up.  I’ll spare you the full re-cap of the tax rates, as I’ve written on that previously, and you can read more about that here, if you would like.

The real point is this; it’s time to pay up.  We want the benefits of a society that includes the safety and benefits of a “civilized society” provided by decent roads (we’ll ignore the disintegrating infrastructure, for now), police and fire safety, public water, electricity, food inspections, courts, and the list goes on and on.  But, so many of us are looking to someone else to foot the bill.  Okay, so that’s not entirely unreasonable.  No one wants to pay more than their share, but if we’re going to live in this shared society, then we all have to be willing to pay at least our share.

It is just the same as jury duty.  If we want to have a functioning and reasonable jury system where, again to steal a phrase from the currently raging gun argument (I won’t call it a debate because that would imply more civility than most of it has), one is to be “judged by 12 rather than carried by 6”, then there has to be those 12 to serve.  Yet, the vast majority of people bitch and moan and look for every excuse possible to get out of jury duty if they receive the summons.  “Oh, I can’t do that!”  Really?  So, it’s just not important enough to you?  Granted, that too needs to be revised.

Of course, these things are tied together in another way.  That is, financially.  I really do understand the working stiff who can’t afford to take the day off of work, because his or her job isn’t going to pay them for not being there, and the jury pay is a ridiculous amount.  Typically, it isn’t even enough to pay for the parking, much less enough to make up for the loss of pay for going.  Unless you are fortunate enough to work for a company that does compensate for jury time, then that is a legitimate issue.  It is one that should be made up for by the state.  We can afford to pay our legislators, most of whom are worth millions, hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, but we can’t afford to compensate our jurors at even minimum wage for a job that is at least as important?  No, in part, we can’t because we do not have the money for it.  In part, we do not have the money for it because we do not collect sufficient taxes, and thus, we come back around to what is important.
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Assault and Sanity


I am an open and proud liberal.  I don’t think that any one would mistake me for anything else.  Sadly though, all too many people who call themselves liberal in this country are actually not.  That’s right, I’m calling you out.  You know who you are.  If you are a whole hearted supporter of Obama and think that he’s just the greatest thing since sliced cheese, then you are not a liberal.  Chances are pretty good you actually fall in the center, possibly center left (but more likely center right) of the political spectrum.  If you were an Obama supporter by default, there is a chance you may be a liberal.  I may or may not know you personally, so I won’t judge you.  I will, however, tell you those facts.

What this means, right now, is that sometimes my views may be shocking to some.  Even to some who consider themselves liberals.  That’s okay.  I suspect that today may be one of those days where some of you learn something you didn’t realize after reading along for the last year, and for those readers who have known me personally, may not have realized before.  This is also a deeply personal topic for me.

NEWS FLASH!  Not all “gun nuts” are conservatives.  Nor are all gun owners.  Nor are all constitutionalists.  Nor even all 2nd Amendment supporters.

Shocking, isn’t it?  You whackos on the right do not have a lock on the guns.  You only have a lock on the ridiculous arguments in relation to them.

My father has a friend who is an environmental attorney.  He is also a hunter, and a liberal.  He and another friend of his have taken such grief from the conservitard hunters that they also know at the hunting shop that they had shirts made up to commemorate their, “Pinko Commie Hunting Club”.

I, honestly, did not want to get involved in this debate this time around, in spite of its importance.  I was really sick of it.  However, I find that it is not something that I am able to sit back and not be involved in.  You see, it is simply too important and the idiots on both sides of this argument are being too stubborn to even listen to each other.  They are each taking the, “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts” position.  I find myself, again, in the “A pox on both your houses” seat.

We’re going to have to draw some distinctions here, in order to make any sense at all.

As a matter of principle I maintain that the 2nd Amendment serves two purposes – first, to provide for individual self-protection and second, to provide for defense against the government.  The former has some merit still, both from a practical and a principled stand point.  (We’ll come back to the pit falls.)  I firmly believe from a principle view that our government should not have access to any weapon that we as individuals do not also have access to.  Yes.  FROM the perspective of principle that does include nuclear weapons.  The principle is, if we as a culture, manifest through our government decide we do not want our individual citizens to have those weapons, then we as as culture manifest through our government should not have them.  (This is the same principle as we should be applying in dealing with our foreign relations, by the way.  If we do not want other nations to have nuclear weapons, then we should not have them.  It is a very, very simple principle.  Honor and integrity matter!)

However, as a practical matter, I have had to rethink this.  I do not like that.  In fact, I despise it.  I hate compromising my principles.  I have realized at various times in my life that I have had to.  Such as when I’ve had to compromise my moral principles and shop at Wal-Mart because the prices were lower, thus sacrificing my moral principles to my economic needs.  And, this is another example.  Having to sacrifice my philosophical principles to the practical needs.  I recognize that the principle I have just outlined, while I do believe it, is impractical at the individual level.  (It should still be practiced at the national level, and would then be de facto practiced at the individual level.)
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