Thursday, December 31, 2009
It looks like Dick Cheney was not content with being part of the worst presidential administration this country has ever had. He wants us to remember that he is still as big an idiot as ever. I can think of no other reason for his latest tirade against President Obama.
Cheney said that Obama "is trying to pretend we are not at war" and has made America "less safe". He said, "He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won't be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won't be at war. He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Queda-trained terrorists still there, we won't be at war."
What a gigantic load of horse manure! Of course we'll still be at war. You and your partner in crime made sure of that with your colossal bungling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks to the incredible incompetence of the Bush/Cheney regime, we will probably be embroiled in those wars for years to come. I'm surprised Cheney even had the temerity to mention those wars.
As for giving terrorists a fair trial with a lawyer and the same rights as anyone in an American court, that's because of a couple of little things called the "Constitution" and the "rule of law". That's what we do in this country, and it's what separates us from most other nations. EVERYONE deserves and should get a fair trial in America, because if that can be denied to anyone then it can be denied to everyone.
It doesn't surprise me though that Cheney is unfamiliar with the "Constitution" and the "rule of law". The moment that he and Bush took office they threw both out the window and assumed they had the "divine right" to break all laws, both legal and moral, whenever they wished.
Cheney needs to slink back to his "undisclosed location" and put his head back up his ass (where he kept it the eight years of the Bush administration).
Ultra right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh is spending the holidays in Hawaii at the Kahala Hotel and Resort. He has been seen on the golf course next to the resort in the last few days, but it now looks like his vacation has taken a turn for the worst.
Yesterday about 2:41pm, paramedics were called to the Kahala. They treated Limbaugh and then took him to Queen's Medical Center in what was described as "serious condition". Sources have said paramedics were called because Limbaugh was experiencing chest pains.
Has all the illegal drug use blown out his heart?
I would like to think that most police departments only use Tasers as a last resort for an obviously violent person, but that has not always been the case. Some officers have used the Taser on people who are just refusing to obey an order (like a demonstrator showing passive resistance). Fortunately, a federal court has stepped in to hopefully prevent the misuse of Tasers.
In the case of Coronado (California) police officer Brian McPherson, a three judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously that McPherson used excessive force and can be sued by the motorist he had stopped, Carl Bryan. Bryan says he did not hear McPherson tell him to stay in his car after he had been stopped for not using a seat belt. He got out of the car and stood about twenty feet from the officer. Although upset, he made no threats toward the officer. Officer McPherson said he Tasered Bryan when he took a step toward him. Bryan denies taking the step.
This marks the first time a court has ruled that Taser use can be excessive force which can make the offending officer liable to be sued (and the department also if the excessive force was authorized). The ruling also distinguishes between the use of pepper spray and the use of a Taser (which many police agencies consider to be equal force).
The court said the use of a Taser is a more serious use of force than the use of pepper spray. That distinction needed to be made since Taser use has cost the lives of hundreds over the last few years, while pepper spray has not resulted in nearly as many deaths (if any).
The judges have limited the police use of a Taser to situations where a person poses a serious danger. Situations where a person is using passive resistance (like a demonstrator who refuses to get up), or a person who is not fighting but refuses to get down on the ground, or a person is running away from officers, do not rise to the level of serious danger and a Taser may not be used.
Since this ruling was made by a federal court rather than a state court, the ruling could conceivably be effective in all states. It will probably be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but if it is I hope it is upheld there. Some officers are misusing Tasers, and this needs to be stopped.
I have worked in various aspects of law enforcement for most of my working life, and I want police officers (who have a very dangerous job) to be safe. But the use of Tasers on non-violent individuals is just wrong and needs to be stopped.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The Dallas Cowboys have have a pretty good season. They are assured of a play-off spot, and if they beat Philadelphia next Sunday they will win the NFC's East Division. Even so, I kind of expected the Cowboys to get short shrift when it came to players being chosen for the NFL Pro Bowl.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. Six Cowboys were chosen to represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl. Even better, I believe they were the most deserving six players on the team. Arguments could probably be made that some other players may have also deserved the honor, such as Tony Romo, Bradie James or Mike Jenkins. But I don't think anyone could argue against the six players that were chosen.
The six Cowboys Pro Bowlers are:
Miles Austin (wide receiver)
Jason Witten (tight end)
Andre Gurode (center)
Leonard Davis (guard)
Jay Ratliff (nose guard)
DeMarcus Ware (outside linebacker)
Congratulations to these six excellent players!
The Gallup Poll just conducted an interesting survey. They wanted to know who the American people viewed as the winners and losers in politics for 2009. To find out, they questioned 1,025 Americans (aged 18 and older) during the days December 11th through 13th. The poll has a sampling error of 4%.
The biggest winner of the year was Michelle Obama. She was labeled a winner by 73% of the respondents (Republicans 48%, Independents 70%, Democrats 96%). Finishing a close second was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was rated a winner by 70% (Republicans 45%, Independents 72%, Democrats 90%). President Obama was rated a winner by 58% and Sonia Sotomayor by 57%.
The biggest losers of the year were the White House party crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi (pictured). They were rated as losers by 70% of the respondents. Others rated as losers were Gov. Mark Sanford 63%, Rep. Joe Wilson 61%, Congressional Republicans 52% and Nancy Pelosi 50%.
I was surprised by a couple of things in this poll. The first was that 45% of Republicans rated Hillary Clinton as a winner. I thought she was far less popular than that among Republicans (by comparison, only 22% of Republicans rated President Obama as a winner).
David Swinford (pictured) has been the representative for House District 87 in the Texas Panhandle for the last 19 years, but it looks like that's coming to an end. The veteran Republican state legislator says he is not filing for another re-election bid.
Rep. Swinford said, "I do love the House and I always will, because it's a fabulous institution, but it's time for someone else to represent House District 87. If I were to run for re-election, I would be 70 years old in the next session. I've been a public servant for a long time and I want to spend more time with my family, enjoy my grandchildren and see my friends here more often."
This is somewhat good news for Democratic candidate Abel Vasquez. It means he's is now running for an open seat and won't have to face an entrenched incumbent. He said, "It makes it more of a 50-50 race, because we are both running for an open seat."
That may be a bit too optimistic, because any Democrat running for office in the Panhandle has a hard row to hoe. This is still the reddest area in Texas. In addition, the only daily newspaper here in Amarillo is little more than a propaganda organ for the Republican Party.
I'm not saying it's impossible for Vasquez to win, because upsets do happen from time to time in politics. But a Democratic win in House District 87 would be a shocker to political pundits statewide.
It's not yet known who the Republicans will be running for the office. So far, names being thrown around are Amarillo mayor Debra McCartt and president of the Amarillo I.S.D. Board of Trustees Anette Carlisle.
UPDATE -- Victor Leal, owner of Leal's Mexican Restaurant in Amarillo, says he will toss his hat in the ring as a Republican.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
It's coming down to the "nitty-gritty" on health care reform. The House of Representatives passed a fairly decent bill that included a public option for insurance. The Senate bill was a complete mess that tossed out the public option and rewarded private insurance companies with a mandatory buy provision. Now the two arms of Congress must reconcile their bills.
Some think the bad Senate bill can be fixed by the House/Senate conference committee. I seriously doubt it can be fixed there. I fully expect President Obama to pressure House members to accept the Senate bill and dump the public option, and I don't believe the Senators will allow the public option to be included in any final bill (since they have their marching orders from Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson).
That means the only hope to get real reform in the coming year is for the House of Representatives to kill the final bill, and start over using the reconciliation process. This would allow the public option to be approved, since only 51 votes would be needed when the bill reaches the Senate (taking Lieberman, Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln out of the equation).
Is it possible to kill the bill in the House and start over? The first bill passed the House with only 220 votes (218 are required to pass a bill). All 178 Republicans and 37 blue dogs voted against the bill. It is expected that some of those 37 blue dogs would probably vote for the Senate version without a public option. That means it is up to House progressives to kill this bill and start over.
Last August, 57 House members signed a letter saying a bill without a public option would be "unacceptable" to them. Another 7 members did not sign the letter, but said they would not vote for a bill without a public option. That makes 64 House members opposed to a bill with no public option.
Since we know that the 178 Republicans are going to vote no on any health care bill, that means they would only have to be joined by 40 Democrats to kill the bill. The question now is will these 64 House progressives stand firm and keep their word (or at least 40 of them)?
There will be extraordinary pressure on the reps to change their minds and throw the public option under the bus, and most of that pressure will come from the White House and the Democratic Party establishment (both of whom believe they can sell the bad Senate bill as the "real reform" that it so obviously is not). So the question is how many of the 64 have a backbone and how many will turn out to be jellyfish (like the Senate "progressives").
Here are the 64 House members (with their state and district). Write or call them and let them know that a bill without a public option is not real reform, but just a giant payday for private insurance companies.
Corrine Brown (FL-03), Albio Sires (NJ-13), Alcee Hastings (FL-23), Andre Carson (IN-07), Barbara Lee (CA-09), Barney Frank (MA-14), Bennie Thompson (MS-02), Bill Delahunt (MA-10), Bill Pascrell (NJ-08), Bob Filner (CA-51), Carolyn Kilpatrick (MI-13), Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), Chaka Fattah (PA-02), Chellie Pingree (MN-01), Dennis Kucinich (OH-10), Diane Watson (CA-33),
Donald Payne (NJ-10), Donna Edwards (MD-04), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Ed Towns (NY-10), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Elijah Cummings (MD-07), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Eric Massa (NY-29), Pete Stark (CA-13), Grace Napolitano (CA-38), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Jackie Spier (CA-12), Jerry Nadler (NY-08), Jesse Jackson Jr. (IL-02), Jim McDermott (WA-07),
Jim McGovern (MA-03), John Conyers (MI-14), John Olver (MA-01), John Tierney (MA-06), John Yarmuth (KY-03), Jose Serrano (NY-16), Judy Chu (CA-32), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Laura Richardson (CA-37), Linda Sanchez (CA-39), Lloyd Doggett (TX-25), Lucille Roybal-Alard (CA-34), Luis Gutierrez (IL-04), Lynn Woolsey (CA-06), Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09),
Maurice Hinchey (NY-22), Maxine Waters (CA-35), Mazie Hirono (HI-02), Mel Watts (NC-12), Michael Honda (CA-15), Mike Capuano (MA-08), Nadia Velezquez (NY-12), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Phil Hare (IL-17), Raul Grijalva (AZ-07), Robert Wexler (FL-19), Rush Holt (NJ-12), Sam Farr (CA-17), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), William Lacy Clay (MO-01), Yvette Clark (NY-11).
I consider myself to be a realist. As an atheist, I tend not to believe in things that cannot be seen, heard, touched, or proven in a scientific way. I can understand why religion, the occult and other strange beliefs came into being many centuries ago. People were just trying to explain the world they saw around them, and the science they had was rudimentary at best.
But we live in a different world today, and I really don't understand why people cling to religions, occult beliefs and other things such as ghosts -- beliefs created in the frightening world of thousands of years ago. And I find it especially strange when people mix those beliefs, which would seem to be mutually exclusive.
But that is exactly what is happening in our supposedly modern country. Large segments of the American population believe in astrology, curses, psychics, ghosts, talking to the dead, spirits in inanimate objects and other strange beliefs. Now very few of these people are atheists, since atheists are skeptics and would find it as hard to believe these things as it is for them to believe in god(s).
That means the people who believe these things are largely religious people -- christians, since that is by far the dominant religion in America. I don't know how christians, whose religion speaks against occult beliefs, can still have occult beliefs, but millions of them do. A new poll by the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that many Americans are very comfortable at mixing different beliefs -- sort of cafeteria style.
The poll surveyed 4,013 people by phone (both landline and cell) in August of 2009 about their beliefs. I found the poll to be rather shocking. Here are some of the things that a large segment of our population believe in (and remember, each 1% is about 3 million people). The first percentage is the total number of believers and the second is the number of christian believers.
Have been in touch with the dead..........29%.....29%
Have experienced a ghost..........18%.....17%
Have consulted a psychic..........15%.....14%
Believe trees, etc. have spiritual energy..........26%.....23%
Believe in astrology..........25%.....23%
Believe in reincarnation..........24%.....22%
Believe in yoga as spiritual practice..........23%.....21%
Believe in evil eye or casting curses..........16%.....17%
After seeing the huge number of people who accept these strange unproven beliefs (for instance 87 million Americans believe they have been in touch with dead people), it no longer surprises me that millions of Americans can have strange and illogical political beliefs. It looks like people choose to believe whatever they want to, regardless of facts or proof.
Monday, December 28, 2009
If you're planning a trip to the East Coast this Spring, you might want to consider going to Philadelphia around the last part of March or the first part of April. That's when the Philadelphia Theater Company will be featuring the new "one-woman" play entitled Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.
The play, based on the writings and witticisms of legendary Texas journalist and author Molly Ivins, was written by twin sisters and journalists Margaret and Allison Engel. It will be directed by David Esbjornson, and will run from March 19th through April 18th of 2010.
The title role will be played by Tony and Golden Globe award-winning actress Kathleen Turner. I think that is an inspired bit of casting. In addition to being a great actress, Ms. Turner has that self-possessed and irreverent air that was the trademark of the great Molly Ivins (and she sort of looks like Molly). The pictures above are of Ivins (left) and Turner (right).
This is the world premier of the new play, and so far, there are no plans for taking the play to other cities. I suspect though if it is successful in Philadelphia, it may soon find its way to Broadway. And being based on the wonderful wit of Molly Ivins, how could it not be great?
As much as I want to see this play, my current situation (poverty) will not allow me to do so. I guess I just have to hope it is so wildly successful that it's eventually taken on the road and comes to Texas. Either that, or someone films it and that film becomes widely available.
Damn! Being poor is no fun at all sometimes.
(Thanks goes to Thorne Dreyer of The Rag Blog for notifying me of this.)
Detroit is a city in trouble. At the height of the auto industry years ago, Detroit was a thriving metropolis. But downsizing, off-shoring and the current economic recession have hit the city hard. Official government statistics put unemployment in the city at nearly 18%, but the city's Mayor says the actual situation is much worse than that. He believes that nearly half of the city's workers are either unemployed or underemployed.
In addition, about one-third of Detroit's 376,000 parcels of land are either vacant or abandoned, with houses and factories sitting empty and decaying -- thus creating a huge and growing area of urban blight. With the current recession still raging, the establishment of new factories seems far-fetched. But Michael Score, president of Hantz Farms, thinks he may have at least a partial solution to Detroit's problems -- large-scale urban farming.
Score says, "There's so much land available and it's begging to be used. Farming is how Detroit started, and farming is how Detroit can be saved." Hantz Farms is now in the process of buying up vacant and unused parcels of land in the city, with an eye to turning them into commercial agricultural areas.
Because of the urban environment, they are not able to purchase large areas of land in one spot. So they have developed the idea of "pods". Each pod will grow a different crop, that will be determined by the quality of the soil in that pod. The best land will grow fruits and vegetables, while houses and factories will be used for hydroponic crops or mushrooms. Land that is too contaminated for food will be planted with trees -- both to beautify the city and provide a source for biofuels.
Hantz will plant their first 30 acres in the city next Spring, and hope to eventually farm over 5,000 acres within the city limits. So far, the city fathers are enthusiastic about the idea. The idea could help the city in several ways. Most obvious, of course, are the creation of jobs and the beautification of the city.
But it will also provide a badly needed source of healthy food for city residents. There are no major grocery store chains in the city, and nearly 75% of the city's residents buy their groceries at convenience stores or gas stations -- where fresh produce is almost nonexistent.
Will this urban farming solve all of Detroit's problems? No. But it certainly could help turn the city around and put it on the road to recovery.
We could use a lot more of this kind of creative thinking and innovative solutions -- not just in Detroit, but all over this country.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
President Obama has been in office for nearly a year now. I had not thought about grading him on his performance in that first year until I heard on the news the other day that he had graded himself. It seems that he thinks he deserves a B+. That got me thinking -- what grade do I think he's earned?
Frankly, I don't see that much has been accomplished. When I voted for him last November, I had swallowed the campaign promise of real "change". I had visions of a Democratic presidency along the lines of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson -- presidents who showed political courage and forever changed our country for the best.
Franklin Roosevelt took on the depression and created opportunities for common folks to work with organizations like the WPA and the CCC. He also passed social security to protect the elderly and keep them from living in abject poverty. Harry Truman was capable of making the hard decisions like whether to drop the A-bomb, and he also desegregated the Armed Forces by executive order.
Lyndon Johnson had a list of nation-changing accomplishments, including two major civil rights laws, the War on Poverty, creation of Head Start, and the creation of Medicare. There is still time left in his presidency for President Obama to join this pantheon of great Democrats, but his first year puts him only in the class of such mediocre to poor Democratic presidents like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Let's look first at what President Obama has failed to accomplish in his first year:
* He has not overturned the Patriot Act. The American government is still trashing the Constitution by spying on its own citizens. There is no reason for this to be happening (and never was). And don't tell me it's needed to prevent attacks like 9/11. The Bush Administration knew of those impending attacks (without the Patriot Act), but just chose not to do anything about it. The FBI can do their job without the unconstitutional Patriot Act, and the CIA shouldn't be messing with American citizens at all.
* He has not overturned "Don't Ask - Don't Tell". He says he wants to do this, but so far has done nothing. Harry Truman knew Congress wouldn't desegrate the Armed Forces, so he stepped up and did it on his own. Barack Obama could do away with "Don't Ask - Don't Tell" the same way, but he doesn't have the political courage that Truman had. President Obama wants Congress to cover his butt and take some of the heat.
* After speaking against the two wars during his campaign, even to the point of castigating Clinton for voting "yes" on Iraqi invasion, he has done absolutely nothing to stop the wars and withdraw American troops. In fact, he is in the process of escalating one of the two wars. It actually looks like he has decided to continue the Bush Doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan (and that was not what he was elected to do).
* He has not passed any regulations to rein in the abuses of Wall Street, the financial giants and other corporate entities (which nearly destroyed the American economy). New regulations are badly needed, because it has become obvious that greed prevents these entities from policing themselves, and the "free market" benefits only the rich. He has proposed a few changes which Congress will consider next year, but it is not nearly enough -- just a little tinkering around the edges.
* Outside of extending unemployment, he has done little to put Americans back to work. His famous "stimulus plan" was not nearly big enough (probably because he's still paying for two wars) and was spread out over too long a period of time. It has had little or no actual effect.
* He has done nothing to stop the off-shoring of American jobs. I wish I could say there was some pending legislation, or at least some proposals were being discussed, but that's just not true. The truth is that absolutely nothing has been done or proposed. President Obama has ignored the off-shoring of American jobs since becoming president.
* The biggest change Obama promised was the reform of our badly broken health care system. Providing real health care reform was to be the centerpiece of his first term. So what has he done? Really nothing, except for a lot of talk about bi-partisanship. He has stayed completely out of it, and let Congress do it on its own. When the House passed a barely decent bill and the Senate simply put a band-aid on the current system, he now wants to jump in and push the Senate mess through. He still calls it real reform, but it is actually an abandonment of real reform and a sell-out to the insurance industry. Now it may be decades before anyone tries to pass real reform again.
* He has done nothing to help fight poverty or racism.
* He has done nothing to bring George Bush and Dick Cheney to trial for their many abuses of office.
That list of inaction and failures is pretty impressive, but hasn't he accomplished anything? Yes, he has done the following:
* He did sign the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which will make it easier for women to sue when they are denied equal pay for performing the same job as a man. This was a good bill and needed to become law, but I think the Democratic Congress gets most of the credit for the law.
* While little has been done to help the unemployed find work, Obama did bail out General Motors (which prevented thousands more from joining the ranks of the unemployed).
* He has increased respect for America around the world and changed the way America deals with other countries. Of course, most of that was accomplished by just not being George Bush. It did get him a Nobel Peace Prize though.
* He claims to have stopped the torturing of prisoners. I hope this is true, but there are accusations that two teens were recently tortured in Afghanistan by Special Forces troops.
* He has successfully negotiated a new nuclear arms treaty with the Russia. This is a good thing and I don't want to downplay its importance. He also killed the placing of missles (supposedly defensive) in Poland and the Czech Republic -- another good thing.
* He has stopped the persecution and prosecution of sick people who use medical marijuana according to their own state's laws.
Considering all of the above, I cannot agree with the self-assessed B+. The grade I would give President Obama on his first year is a C- (and I think that's being generous). I guess that's better than the string of F's earned by George Bush, but it's not really anything to be proud of. He has not really shown any political courage, and seems to be happy with being a "caretaker" president who will make some small changes.
That's very disappointing. I had much higher hopes. What do you think his grade should be?
As is always the case, the past year saw the deaths of many remarkable people -- people who affected our history, our culture and our lives. Here is a list of some of those who left us in 2009.
Edward Kennedy (US Senator)
Claiborne Pell (US Senator)
Jack Kemp (football quarterback, US Senator)
Robert S. McNamara (US Secretary of Defense)
Les Paul (inventor, guitarist)
John Updike (author)
Frank McCourt (author)
Horton Foote (author)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver (founded Special Olympics)
Ingemar Johansson (boxer)
Mark Fidrych (baseball pitcher)
Chuck Daly (basketball coach)
Alexis Arguello (boxer)
Andrew Wyeth (painter)
Michael Jackson (singer)
Mary Travers (folk singer)
Koko Taylor (blues singer)
Walter Cronkite (journalist)
Jack Nelson (reporter)
Don Hewitt (created "60 Minutes")
Brittany Murphy (actress)
Natasha Richardson (actress)
David Carradine (actor)
Steve McNair (football quarterback)
Patrick Swayze (actor)
Farrah Fawcett (actress)
Karl Malden (actor)
Bea Arthur (actress)
Jennifer Jones (actress)
John Hughes (director)
Patrick McGoohan (actor)
Ricardo Montalban (actor)
Gene Barry (actor)
Pat Hingle (actor)
Saturday, December 26, 2009
A few years ago, the American Catholic church went through a scandalous period in which it was discovered that the church covered up numerous incidents of child sexual abuse, and even protected the pedophile priests. Instead of turning these vile child abusers over to legal authorities, they just transferred them to another diocese (where many of them continued to commit their crimes).
Once the actions of the church was finally exposed, many priests were finally convicted, the reputation of the American church was severely damaged and millions were paid by the church to settle a large number of lawsuits. Now it looks like the Irish Catholic church is experiencing the same type of thing.
Recently, there have been accusations made by over 2,000 people who say they were abused either physically or sexually while in the care of Catholic-run schools, orphanages and other institutions. Recently the Irish Minister of Justice commissioned a report on the matter. The report was released late last month.
That report calls the matter "a scandal on an astonishing scale" and said "the welfare of children counted for nothing". The report went on to say, "The Dublin archdiocese's preoccupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid-1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets."
In other words, the Irish church acted just like the American church. They acted to protect themselves -- regardless of what that meant for children. The report also faulted civil officials like the police, saying they gave the church too much respect and deferred to them too much. It was found that in many cases where a report of abuse was actually made, the police simply reported the accusation to the church and no investigation was conducted. The priest was then transferred and began to abuse a new set of kids.
Five Catholic Bishops were named in the report as being especially responsible for the cover-up. Four of those Bishops have now resigned. The last two resigned in a joint statement read at yesterday's midnight mass. That just leaves one Bishop, the current Bishop of Galway, and public pressure will probably force him from office soon.
I bring all this up just to point out the danger of giving a church or its officials, of any religion, too much respect. Far too often, we consider these church officials (priests, ministers, pastors, preachers, deacons, elders, etc.) to be "men of god" who can do no wrong. This gives them an almost free pass to commit crimes and abuse children and others, if they are so-inclined.
The fact is that all churches, temples, mosques, etc. are earthly organizations run by men -- men (and women) who are generally no better or worse than others. Some are good and some are not, but you cannot assume they are good just because of the religious title they may hold.
There are both good people and bad people in every profession, but some professions are given such respect that much of the bad is overlooked -- such as doctors and police. But no profession gets the benefit of the doubt (free ride) that those in religion get. Many consider these people to be "chosen of god" and therefore incapable of doing wrong. That's just rubbish.
Some religious officials are trying to do good and some are doing bad things (and some are even doing both). But they are all just human, and subject to the same foibles as other humans. We must never forget that.
Friday, December 25, 2009
The Senate actually did it. They took our broken health care system, put a few band aids on it, passed that fraud on a 60-39 vote, and are now trying to convince Americans that it is real reform. Evidently, they think the American people are stupid enough to believe that.
The most disappointing thing is that every single senator that claims to be a progressive tucked his tail between his legs and went along with this travesty -- including Feingold, Sanders, Schumer and Franken among others. I had really hoped that at least a few progressives would demonstrate they had a backbone and fight for real reform -- even if it meant killing this monstrosity and starting over.
Now all hopes for real healthcare reform rest on members of the House of Representatives (they actually approved a fairly good reform bill). The House and Senate will now meet and try to reconcile the huge differences between the two bills. It is my fervent hope that the House members will insist on a public option being included in the final bill.
Sadly, President Obama (who has sat out the entire process until now) has said he will take an active role in trying to reconcile the two bills. This is not good news. Several weeks ago, Obama threw the public option under the bus and threw his tacit support behind the mess now passed by the Senate. I expect he will just try to pressure the House to go along with the Senate version. Obama has been the most disappointing person of all in the effort to reform health care.
I urge the progressives to stand firm in the House. If you have to, kill the whole thing. Then start over and use the reconciliation process. You are America's last hope for real health care reform. Stand fast -- if you give in then the chance for real reform is probably lost for many years, if not decades.
I have to give Jaime O. Perez credit for creativity, even if his idea is more than a bit ridiculous. He says he's going to enter the Republican primary in El Paso to try and win the right to oppose Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas). He has at least one opponent in the primary.
The creativity comes in how he plans to finance his campaign. He is selling tamales (at $11.99 a dozen). Perez said, "My sister makes them really well." He's going to have to work his sister to death though to raise enough money for a decent campaign. Family and friends just finished wrapping up 100 dozen tamales for him to sell, but that will only get him $1199 (minus the cost of the ingredients).
Frankly, that's not enough money to even get noticed in a campaign for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. He would need to sell 100 times that number just to get started. Normally, a candidate would need a couple of hundred thousand dollars to run a viable campaign for a House seat.
Perez says, "I'm putting a signal out there that you don't have to be rich to participate." He may be right, if participation is his only goal. But if he wants to win, then he is definitely wrong. You do have to be rich to win a seat in Congress these days (or have a lot of rich friends you're willing to sell your soul to).
I love tamales, and if I lived in El Paso I'd buy some of Perez's tamales (even though he's a Republican). But that campaign is just a curiosity, and not a real effort to win the seat.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Swedish magazine-writer Stieg Larsson wrote three amazing novels, now called his Millenium Trilogy, and delivered them to his publisher. Sadly he died before the novels were published, beginning in 2005. He never got to see the international success that the three books have enjoyed (so far, 22 million copies have been sold and the third book has yet to be released in the United States).
The trilogy is some of the best reading I have enjoyed in many years. They were so good that I couldn't wait for the third to be released here, so I had to order it from England. If you are an avid (or even tepid) reader of fiction, you need to put these books on your must-read list. Although written in the suspense/detective/thriller genre, the books easily transcend the genre. They are also very feminist-friendly, and I have no doubt they'll someday take their rightful place on the literature shelf among the world's greatest writers.
The books are, in order, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (originally titled Men Who Hate Women), The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.
The Swedes have already made the first two books into movies, which have grossed over $100 million and become smash hits in Europe. Noomi Rapace (pictured), who plays the the books young heroine (Lisbeth Salander), was even nominated for a European Movie Award for her role in the movies.
I have to wonder -- why haven't these movies been released in the United States? I have no doubt there would be a large audience eager to see them. The popularity of the first two books in America virtually assures that. I seldom go to a theater to see a movie anymore, but I would be first in line and pay a premium price to see these movies.
But instead of just importing these movies, which seem to have been done right, the dunces in Hollywood are going to make their own star-studded English-language version. Just the thought of this makes me mad. Hollywood has remade hundreds of foreign movies, and royally screwed-up 99% of them.
Frankly, these books are too good to get the "Hollywood treatment". I shudder to think about how badly he books will be butchered when Hollywood gets hold of them. Why can't they just import the Swedish films and let us see them done right?
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (pictured) has gone a few weeks without making a complete ass of himself, so I guess he felt the need to do something stupid. He, along with about half a dozen other state AGs, is threatening to file suit against the Senate's health care reform bill.
Abbott says the bill is unconstitutional because it would allow the federal government to pick up the tab for Nebraska's portion of expanded Medicaid costs. He said, "The Nebraska Compromise, which permanently exempts Nebraska from paying Medicaid costs that Texas and all other 49 states must pay, may violate the United States Constitution -- as well as other provisions of federal law."
He went on to say, "It's going to be Texas taxpayers who are going to be paying to make up what Nebraska doesn't pay." He makes it sound like this is a huge burden that will fall mainly upon Texans. That's ridiculous. Nebraska is a rural state with only 0.5% of the United States population. They probably have an even smaller percentage of the Medicaid population, and the negligible tab for that will be shared by 99.5% of the United States (not just the 7.8% of the population that lives in Texas).
Abbott did say he probably won't sue until after the law passes. Probably? How could he possibly sue before the bill actually becomes a law. Until it is a law, Texas and the other states are not affected by it -- and neither are any of their citizens. That means they do not have standing to sue, and without standing, the case would be tossed out of court without a decision on any constitutionality.
Now I don't like the Senate bill either, and I'd like to see it fail so Congress can start over and do it right. But I don't doubt the constitutionality of the bill -- even if it we're to become law. It's just a bad bill -- not an unconstitutional one.
But I think Abbott probably knows that. He's just doing what all of Texas' Republican state leaders do. He's protecting his corporate masters and playing to the right-wing base of his party. He'd be doing the same thing even if the "Nebraska Compromise" were not a part of the bill.
He's a Republican, and the party mantra is "No on health care reform" (of any kind).
Jane Hamsher over at FireDog Lake, with a little help from her friends, has come up with the top 10 reasons to kill the Senate's version of health care reform. After reading this list, can you still claim this bill comes anywhere near real health care reform?
Top 10 Reasons to Kill Senate Health Care Bill
- Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not.
- If you refuse to buy the insurance, you’ll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.
- Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can’t afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.
- Massive restriction on a woman’s right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.
- Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.
- Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won’t see any benefits — like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions — until 2014 when the program begins.
- Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.
- Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.
- No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.
- The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year — meaning in 10 years, your family’s insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The picture above is of teabagger heroine Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota). She has made a name for herself by appearing at teabagger rallies and trying to label President Obama and other Democrats as socialists, who are taking America further down the road to socialism with every law they pass. She has especially been vocal in opposing any kind of health care reform and in labeling that reform as socialism.
For someone as anti-socialist as Bachmann presents herself, a person would expect that she would never participate in any kind of socialist program herself. Surely her teabagger purity would prevent her from accepting any money from a socialist government program.
Well, they doesn't turn out to be true. While she believes it is wrong for the federal government to help poor people or sick people (that would be socialism), it seems that she doesn't mind getting payments for herself or her family from a socialist government program. The rules seem to change when her own pocketbook is involved.
And the money she's accepted is not some pittance like the government would send some poor family. No, we're talking about substantial amounts of government money -- over a quarter of a million dollars at least.
Jolly Roger at Reconstitution 2.0 has posted about the socialist payments that Bachmann finds perfectly acceptable. It seems that Bachmann is part owner of a family farm in Wisconsin. In 2008, she made $50,000 from her part ownership of that farm, and her stake in the farm is valued at $250,000.
At least part of her income from that farm is from payments made by a federal government program. In a ten year period, that farm received $251,973 in government payments, mostly in diary and corn subsidies. She certainly didn't turn down the government money and I don't see her offering to give it back.
I guess socialist payments are only bad when they go to other people (poor people and sick people). Hypocrisy seems to be the most steadfast value of the Republican Party.
The 17,000 members of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) are not happy with the sadly inadequate mess of a health care bill poised to be passed by the United States Senate. They are urging the senators to defeat the bill and then work toward a bill that would offer a Medicare-For-All approach to healthcare reform. Here is the text of the letter they sent to the Senate: