A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Saturday, June 30, 2012

It's Only A Step - Not The Answer

Obamacare doesn't fix our broken health care system -- but it's a big step in the right direction (and probably the best that could have been done at the time). Hopefully we can, in the not too distant future, actually fix the system by instituting single-payer government-run health insurance that covers all Americans.

Time Running Out For Obamacare Haters

There's a lot of truth in the cartoon above (by Dave Granlund at davegranlund.com). The Republicans fought tooth-and-mail against making any kind of reform to the health care system -- and once it passed and became law, they increased their propaganda campaign against it. They have tried to label it as socialist (a ridiculous assertions since it depends heavily on people buying (or getting through their employer) insurance policies from private insurance companies. They have even tried to repeal or defund it.

The whole campaign against Obamacare is a little surprising, since it was originally a reform program devised and touted by Republicans (as an alternative to attempted reform in the Clinton administration). And when that Republican program was passed in Massachusetts (and signed into law by a Republican governor -- Mitt Romney), it was widely praised by Republicans as the best way to reform the health care system. The only real difference between the Republican program and Obamacare when it was first proposed was a provision in Obamacare for a public option -- and that provision was removed by blue dogs before Obamacare was passed.

So why are the Republicans displaying such a vitriolic hatred for their own reform plan? Because they know that, while it won't solve all our health care problems, it will vastly improve health care for millions of Americans once it is fully implemented -- and they don't want a Democratic (and African-American) president to get the credit for passing it. They know that when it is implemented, and people see the benefits of it firsthand, the people are going to be wondering why the Republicans didn't pass it themselves (since they had ample opportunity during the eight years of the Bush administration).

Because of their procrastination, the Republicans have put themselves in the position of having to demonize and oppose their own program -- or watch the Democrats get the credit for healthcare reform once it all becomes effective (with most parts going into effect in 2014). The Republicans have roughly another two years to get rid of Obamacare, because by 2016 most Americans will be benefitting from the program and realize the Republicans were lying to them (and it will be too late).

The Republicans had two hopes to kill Obamacare. The first one, and by far the best one, was to file suit and have it declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. That hope has now disappeared, since the court (in a 5-4 decision) ruled nearly all provisions of Obamacare to be constitutional.

That leaves them with just one option. They must win the White House and both houses of Congress in the 2012 election (and even then they would have to do away with the filibuster, or Democrats would protect Obamacare with it). If they lose the White House in 2012, President Obama will simply veto any effort to kill Obamacare (and as I said, 2016 will be too late).

They are now screaming that Obamacare imposes a new and onerous tax on the middle class, in the hopes that will be a winning issue for them. But the truth is this is just another GOP lie. The individual mandate (or "tax" as Republicans call it) will only affect at most about 5% of the population (and probably much less than that -- about 1% to 2%). And you can bet the Democrats will do their best to make that widely know to voters.

And a new Gallup Poll shows the Republicans have a tall hill to climb if they think that's the winning issue for them in the coming election. The survey (taken on June 28th, after the court decision, of a random national sample of 1,012 adults) show that while Americans are evenly split on whether they agree with the court decision (46% to 46%), most Americans don't see this as a huge campaign issue. About 71% of voters don't see Obamacare as the deciding issue in how they will vote, with 59% saying it is just one issue among many and 12% saying it is not a major issue at all.

As I said, time is running out on the Obamacare haters. 2016 will be too late, because by then millions of Americans will be enjoying the benefits of the new law (and they won't want to give those benefits up). The 2012 election is their last chance -- and its not a very good one, since their victory, if it happens, would have to be an overwhelming one.

The Decision

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Number Of Homeless Children Still Growing

Our congresspeople, especially Republicans and blue dogs, don't want to hear about this problem -- because their economic policy (drastically cutting all social programs) will only make the problem worse. The problem is the growing number of homeless children in the United States. It's a problem that must be addressed, since homelessness can easily cause physical, emotional, and psychological problems for those children. But it's a problem that can't be solved without spending some money -- money currently earmarked for tax cuts for the rich and more military spending.

The U.S. Department of Education released data this week that showed there are now over 1,000,000 homeless students in this country. That is the first time in the history of this nation that the number of homeless students has been that large. Since the 2009-2010 school year, at least 44 states have seen the number of homeless students grow -- and 15 of those states have seen the number grow by at least 20%. The states with the largest growth in the number of homeless students are Kentucky (up 47%), Utah (47%), Michigan (38%), West Virginia (38%), and Mississippi (35%).

Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, addressed the problem saying, "The severe lack of affordable housing for families has yet to be addressed, and over one million children are paying the price. Everyone has a right to safe, decent, affordable housing. And until we make that right a reality for all Americans, the number of homeless students will keep rising."

But that is only part of the problem of homeless children. That doesn't include infants, toddlers, pre-school age children not enrolled in a public program, or homeless children who are being home-schooled (and yes, there are some). As near as we can figure, there are at least another 600,000 children not counted in the Department of Education study -- bringing the number of homeless children in the United States to more than 1,600,000.

Frankly, it is shocking that the richest nation in the world could have that many homeless children -- and be taking no action to fix the problem. Slashing funding for social programs will only make this problem worse -- and giving bigger tax cuts to rich people, or spending more money on our military (when we already spend between 42% and 45% of the world's total military budget) will not help solve this problem. What has happened to our national conscience? Do we even have one any more?

Scandal ?

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

WTF Is Wrong With Americans ?

I have nothing to add. "Silhouette Man" laid it out very well.

The GOP Reaction

Political Cartoon is by Mike Peters in the Dayton Daily News.

I Agree With Bernie About Health Care

I am happy that the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare, but much more is needed before we can rest on the health care issue. Here is what Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) had to say about it (and I can only agree with every word):


 "Today is a good day for millions of Americans who have pre-existing conditions who can no longer be rejected by insurance companies.  It is a good day for families with children under 26 who can keep their children on their health insurance policies.  It is a good day for women who can no longer be charged far higher premiums than men. 
"It is a good day for 30 million uninsured Americans who will have access to healthcare.  It is a good day for seniors who will continue to see their prescription drug costs go down as the so-called doughnut hole goes away. It is a good day for small businesses who simply cannot continue to afford the escalating costs of providing insurance for their employees. It is a good day for 20 million Americans who will soon be able to find access to community health centers.
"It is an especially good day for the state of Vermont, which stands to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal funds to help our state achieve universal health care.
"In my view, while the Affordable Care Act is an important step in the right direction and I am glad that the Supreme Court upheld it, we ultimately need to do better.  If we are serious about providing high-quality, affordable healthcare as a right, not a privilege, the real solution to America's health care crisis is a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. Until then, we will remain the only major nation that does not provide health care for every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship.
"I am proud that Vermont is making steady progress toward implementing a single-payer system. I hope our state will be a model to show the rest of the nation how to provide better care at less cost to more people."

Friday, June 29, 2012

Austerity


Understanding The Individual Mandate

The above graphic seems entirely appropriate for Americans understanding the ramifications of Obamacare -- especially the individual mandate. Watching the news today (in light of the Supreme Court's approval of Obamacare), it became obvious to me that most people simply don't understand the individual mandate. I watched person after person talk against the individual mandate, and the crazy part was that the mandate would not even apply to most of those people.

Quite a few Americans seem to think the mandate will apply to them (and most other Americans), and that Americans who are already having trouble making ends meet in this terrible economy, will have to come up with more money (money they don't have) to pay the individual mandate (or its tax penalty). That is simply not true. It's time for a little education about the individual mandate, and just who would be affected by it. Here are some of the facts:

* The individual mandate will only affect between 2% to 5% of the American population. That means between 95% to 98% of the population will NOT be affected by Obamacare's individual mandate. And it could be even less than that. Last year in Massachusetts (which has a very similar mandate), the penalty for failing to comply with that mandate only applied to 1% of the state's population.

* The people listed below will NOT be affected by the individual mandate:

* People will also not be affected if they have insurance coverage by one of the following:

* Even among the tiny percentage of the population that will be affected by the individual mandate, the federal government will pay all or part of the required insurance for people making up to 400% of the federal poverty level. That 400% level is currently about $44,680 for a single person, and $92,200 for a family of four. People above those levels will not get government help. The help will be on a sliding scale, with those making less getting more government help.

As you can see, the individual mandate is not really an onerous requirement. It won't even apply to nearly all Americans, and for the few it does apply, care is taken to give help to those people needing it. As this provision kicks in and people see what it is really all about, I believe most people will accept it. Especially since this one provision will help keep their insurance costs down more than any other single thing.

The Republicans will be busy between now and election day referring to the mandate as a new tax on Americans. I don't have any problem with them calling it a tax (since failure to cooperate will result in a small tax liability). But those of us who understand the individual mandate is an integral part of the success of Obamacare, need to make sure that everyone understands that this "tax" will apply to only a tiny portion of the total population. Most people don't need to worry about it at all.

Mandates

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

Court Ruling Is Bad For The Poor In Texas

The news media is reporting that Obamacare is constitutional, and left-wingers and Democrats are celebrating across the nation. And there is much to celebrate -- students up to age of 26 will be able to stay on their parents insurance, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, insurance companies cannot cap the amount of medical expenses they will pay for, insurance companies can no longer terminate coverage when a consumer contracts a serious (and expensive) illness, and insurance companies cannot charge women a higher premium than they charge men. Those are all good things, and I approve of them.

But the Supreme Court did NOT approve all of Obamacare. It left a gaping hole in the Medicaid provision of the law -- a hole that many hard-hearted Republican state administrations will use to deny health care coverage to poor people. And I expect Governor Perry and his Republican legislative cohorts to lead that charge in denying health care to the poor.

Texas already led the nation by having the largest percentage (and number) of people without any form of health insurance. At least 27% of Texans have no health insurance coverage at all. This is due to a couple of things. First, Texas also leads the nation in the percentage and number of minimum wage, no benefits jobs. Second, Texas has some of the most restrictive Medicaid rules in the nation -- rules that allow only a tiny percent of even those living in extreme poverty to qualify for coverage.

Some in the first group will now be able to get coverage, since the government will pay for some (or all) of their insurance premiums. But the court decision will allow the states to continue to deny coverage to many of the poor -- those who would have qualified for Medicaid if the entire Obamacare law had been upheld. Here is the offending portion of the Supreme Court decision:

“Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.”

That means that Texas can just refuse the "additional" Medicaid funds, and continue the current inadequate Medicaid system that it currently has. And that's exactly what I expect the Republicans controlling the Texas state government to do. They will complain that extending Medicaid to cover all of the poor would be too expensive (even though 90% of the cost would be paid by federal funds).

We already have a precedent for this kind of action from Texas Republican leadership. led by the governor, Texas turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in educational funding, simply to avoid requiring Texas schools to meet the more demanding requirements of the national educational standards. If they would do that to school children, do we really expect them to accept funds to help the poor (who they don't care about at all)?

If you're poor and live in Texas, you might as well just stay bent over -- because the screwing you've been receiving is going to be continued. As long as the Republicans remain in power in Texas, the state will continue to have the largest number of people without any kind of health insurance.  This Supreme Court decision just allowed many Texans to fall through the cracks in health care reform.

Hating Obamacare

Political Cartoon is by Stuart Carlson at carlsontoons.com.

Dallas NAACP Wants Lottery Abolished

The Texas Lottery Commission is one of the agencies currently being reviewed by the Sunset Advisory Commission. That commission will make a recommendation to the Texas legislature at its next session on whether to renew the Lottery or allow it to die. It comes as no surprise that the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Texas Republican Party (in its platform) are opposed to renewing the lottery. The Baptists have always opposed the lottery, believing it to be a sin. And the Republican Party is just pandering to the large number of evangelicals in its base.

But there's another group that has now come out against the lottery being continued -- the Dallas NAACP. The Dallas branch of the NAACP recently voted unanimously to oppose the legislature renewing the lottery, saying too many poor people spend their money on the lottery and the lottery hasn't been a good enough supporter of public education. Juanita Wallace, president of the NAACP's Dallas branch, said, "People with very little money are spending their money on the lottery. This has been bothering us for a while. People oftentimes make decisions not in their best interests. We have to look out for those people."

I have been a supporter of the NAACP for about 40 years now. They're a great organization that's done a lot of good in this country -- especially in the areas of civil rights and voting rights. But I cannot agree with this latest decision by the Dallas branch. It smells like a "nanny state" initiative. That people are too stupid to make their own decisions, so the government should make those decisions (and basically tell people how to live their lives). That's a big change for an organization that has been dedicated to freedom.

People have always made some dumb decisions, and probably always will. But in a truly free country, it is just wrong to try to legislate any kind of social behavior. people should have the right to make their own decisions --  even dumb decisions, and even if they are poor. Just because someone doesn't have as much money as you do, doesn't give you they right to make decisions for them -- even if you disapprove of their decisions.

And as far as education goes, the lottery was never meant to be a cure-all for it. It was just meant to supplement other state funds, and it has done that. The lottery has put $14 billion into the education of Texas children -- $1 billion in just the last year. Education in Texas is not in trouble because of any failure of the lottery, but because Republican legislators slashed over $5 billion from education funding in the last legislative session. Blame them, not the lottery.

------------------------------

NOTE -- For those of you who may not know, here is how lottery funds are distributed:
63% goes to paying off prize winners
25% goes to the school fund
5% goes to retailer commissions
5% goes to administration costs
2% goes to other state programs

Playing With Fire

Political Cartoon is by Stuart Carlson at carlsontoons.com.

36% Of Americans Believe In Alien UFOs

The National Geographic cable channel is debuting a new series this week called Chasing UFOs. In honor of that rather silly new show, they commissioned a survey to see what Americans think about UFOs. I'm not sure what the results of the survey says about this country, but here they are anyway:

36% believe alien UFOs exist.

48% aren't sure if they exist or not.

17% don't believe they exist.

10% believe they have seen an alien (from outer space).

79% believe the government has kept UFO information secret.

55% believe there are Men in Black-style agents who threaten those who see UFOs.

65% believe Barack Obama would be better suited to handle an (space) alien invasion than Mitt Romney.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fascism

I know it upsets the right-wingers in this country to hear the word "fascism" (unless they are the ones tossing it around), but really, is there a single one of the above elements of fascism that the current Republican Party is not guilty of? Ever since the teabaggers and evangelicals took over that party, they have been running straight toward establishing an American fascist state (although they prefer not to call it that). But not using the word "fascism" doesn't mean you aren't a fascist.

GOP's 10 Dumbest Reasons To Impeach

No modern American president, not even Bill Clinton (who was nearly impeached), has had to bear the burden of such hatred as the right-wing has shown for President Obama. I'm convinced it is because a large element of the Republican Party (the teabaggers) have not shed their racist views, and just can't accept the fact that an African-American was honestly elected to be the president of this country. And the Republican Party leaders have fed into that racist hatred, in the hope that it will get them back into power.

And one of the ways they have fed that hatred is to declare that they want to impeach the president. They know full well that President Obama has done nothing that would justify his impeachment and removal from office. If he had, the impeachment proceedings would have been started a long time ago. But they also know their teabagger base is not very bright, and they'll swallow all the impeachment talk because they hate the president.

So a lot of congressional Republicans (and Republicans that would like to go to Congress) have expelled a lot of hot air about how they will impeach President Obama. And the reasons they have given for wanting to impeach him range from absurd to really ridiculous. Think Progress has compiled a list of the 10 silliest Republican reasons for impeachment, and I found it very humorous. I thought you might also, so here they are:

1. To get Obama’s birth certificate. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) suggested that Congress use the threat of impeachment to force Obama to show his birth certificate. [10/13/10]


2. “Giving away” seven Arctic islands. Wes Riddle, a Texas congressional candidate, is peddling a bizarre conspiracy theory that Obama gave away seven Arctic islands to Russia. Despite the fact that the treaty ceding these islands was ratified by the Senate in 1991, Riddle said he will push to impeach Obama over the matter. [6/22/12]


3. Obama’s new immigration policy for undocumented students.Allen Quist, a former state representative running in Minnesota’s 1st congressional district, said that he would lead the impeachment charge against Obama for the president’s new immigration policy that would prevent one million undocumented students from being deported. [6/26/12]


4. “Refusing to secure the borders.” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) told radio host Lou Dobbs that Obama is refusing to secure the border and it “comes awfully close to a violation of [his] oath of office.” [7/19/10]


5. Failing to extended the Bush tax cuts. Grover Norquist, author of the anti-tax pledge that nearly every Republican in Congress has signed, told National Journal that if Obama allows the Bush tax cuts to expire, “Republicans will have enough votes in the Senate in 2014 to impeach.” [1/29/12]


6. Not defending DOMA in court. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) said he “absolutely” supports impeaching Obama after the administration announced it would not defend a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act in court. [3/2/11]


7. To stop Obama from passing new laws. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) told a Tea Party group that he would push for impeachment just to block Obama’s legislative agenda. “It needs to happen, and I agree with you it would tie things up,” Burgess said. “No question about that.” [8/9/11]


8. “Shenanigans” in Obama’s immigration policies. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), second-in-command among Senate Republicans, told radio host Bill Bennett that, because of Obama’s immigration policies, “impeachment is always a possibility” if there are “shenanigans involved.” [6/26/12]


9. If Obama used the 14th Amendment to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional. During the debt ceiling showdown, Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) and other Republicans have floated the possibility of impeaching Obama if he declared the debt ceiling unconstitutional rather than allow the country to default. [7/7/11]


10. If the government defaults. When Republicans forced the debt ceiling crisis, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) announced on Twitter that if Congress doesn’t increase the debt ceiling and the federal government is forced to default, “Obama would be impeached.” [7/25/11]

Redux

Political Cartoon is by Christopher Weyant in The Hill.

Paul Sadler Is A Blue Dog After All

Paul Sadler is a candidate for the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. Senate in the state of Texas. Before the first round of the Democratic primary, he did a pretty good job of posing as a progressive -- saying he was in favor of women's rights and gay/lesbian rights. I was fooled, and even wrote a post saying I could support him if he won the Democratic primary (which he will probably do). It now looks like I'm going to have to eat those words, because in the debate with his only remaining opponent (retired school teacher, Grady Yarbrough), Sadler exposed himself as just another Texas blue dog.

During its recent state convention in Houston, the Texas Democratic Party re-affirmed its progressive roots and beliefs. It is just sad that this party, who finally seems to be finding itself after wandering in the electoral wilderness for so long, will not have a proud progressive senatorial candidate to lead it into the next election.

The party voted for a progressive platform in Houston, but Sadler had already abandoned that platform. I might be able to forgive his opposition to decriminalizing marijuana, even though that is a platform plank. There are too many Democrats without the courage to take a reasonable stand on marijuana (including the president). But Sadler's ideas on how to "fix" the economy are well over the line. He has made it clear that he would vote with the Republicans to cut spending further and refuse to find the money for job creation.

That is inexcusable. Cutting the programs that help hurting Americans will not balance the budget -- and neither will continuing the Bush tax cuts. Their is only one way out of our economic mess, and that is through massive job creation. And that can't be done without some additional government spending. Once people get back to work (and paying taxes) the deficit will be brought down -- and that's the only way it'll be brought down without throwing this nation into a deeper recession. We need look no further than the economic mess in Europe to know this (where "austerity" has been a disaster).

It looks like Sadler is running on the same old blue dog program that has caused defeat for other Democrats for years -- the program that tells voters "I'm a conservative, too, so vote for me." This is a plan guaranteed to fail. Those wanting to vote for a conservative will vote Republican (where the real right-wingers are). Why would they choose a "pseudo-Republican" when there are real Republicans on the ballot?

Frankly, I doubt I'll even vote in the primary run-off. I don't even want to have to choose between an incompetent (Yarbrough) and a blue dog (Sadler). And the Green Party candidate is looking pretty good for November. I don't even know who that is, but at least I can be sure he/she is a real progressive.

Split-Personality

Political Cartoon is by R.J. Matson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A Lesson For Us All

The above handshake is a historic one. The lady in green is , of course, Queen Elizabeth II. And the gentleman she is shaking hands with is Martin McGuinness, a former commander of the Irish Republican Army. It shows how far the English and Irish have come toward reconciling their differences, since such a handshake would have been unthinkable just a few years ago (by both sides).

But I think there is a bigger lesson here that all of us need to learn -- that it is possible to treat our fellow humans with respect and dignity even when we disagree with their beliefs and/or actions. We are all human beings, and we need to learn how to all live together in peace on this tiny planet.

The Sound Of One Billfold Clapping

Political Cartoon is by Tom Toles in The Washington Post.

Accurate Description Of The Iraq Invasion

There was never any reason to invade Iraq and occupy that country. Iraq never posed any danger to the United States. It was invaded because George Bush wanted to look like a hero and wanted the Iraqi oil -- and he got neither. All the United States did in invading that country was to give up its moral authority regarding human rights. And Afghanistan is no better. While Osama bin Laden did need to be brought to justice for planning the 9/11 attack on New York City, all that took was a single team of Navy Seals. Both of those wars were not only totally unnecessary, but have only created many new enemies.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hypocrisy


GOP Wants All Campaign Donations Secret

The Republicans are now going too far in their efforts to sell their services to the richest bidders. Thanks to the Supreme Court's ridiculous Citizens United decision, they have already accomplished removing any limits on campaign donations. Now they want to make all campaign donations secret.

Leading the charge for this are Mitch McConnell and Karl Rove. They say those ornery Democrats are trying to embarrass the rich people and corporations giving millions of dollars to support Republican candidates, and they afraid these shy donors will stop giving if everyone knows who they are. They claim it is a violation of the free speech rights of rich people to make their giving public.

That's ridiculous. What they are proposing is a violation of every American's right to know who is trying to buy favor with their elected government. In a democracy, all campaign donations and campaign spending should be out in the open, and accessible to anyone who wants to know about it. There's already too many donations and too much spending done in secret, and every dollar given or spent in secret is a step away from a true democracy. How can a democracy exist when no one knows who their elected officials are truly beholden to?

When the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, they said the public knowing who was giving the money would prevent corruption -- and the Republicans agreed. Now they want to change the rules. This is just so wrong. We should be moving toward more electoral transparency -- not less.

Tropical Birds ?

Political Cartoon is by Bill Day at caglecartoons.com.

The U.S. Is A Human Rights Violator

No nation is perfect, especially in the area of human rights. But in the past, the United States has been a nation that was better than most. I don't believe that is true any longer. After the attack on New York City on 9/11/2001, the Bush administration seemed to throw any pretense of respecting human rights out the window. They invaded two countries without justification, initiated a program of torturing prisoners, passed a law allowing the government to spy on Americans and others, held hundreds of prisoners with charges or the right to a fair trial, and began programs of assassination and cyber warfare.

Many of us had hoped that with the election of President Obama, these human rights violations would stop. But those hopes seem to have been in vain. The president has not only continued most of the Bush administration policies ignoring human rights, but has actually added drone attacks to the list. This is very disappointing, and I've been waiting for politicians to speak out on behalf of human rights, and a return to sanity of American policy. But it seems like politicians on both sides of the political spectrum now ascribe to the view that it's OK for this country to violate human rights -- and only poses a problem when other countries do the same.

Fortunately, there is an American politician who still believes in human rights -- former president Jimmy Carter. And he has now spoken out on this issue. Here is what Mr. Carter had to say in a NY Times op-ed piece a couple of days ago (and I agree with every word of it):

The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights. 

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation's violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.

While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past. With leadership from the United States, the 
Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.

The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world's dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs. It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government's counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration's 30 articles, including the prohibition against "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Recent legislation has made legal the president's right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or "associated forces," a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.

In addition to American citizens' being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention, recent laws have
canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications. Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate.

Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don't know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.

These policies clearly affect American foreign policy. Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in 
drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.

Meanwhile, the detention facility at 
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, now houses 169 prisoners. About half have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom. American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of "national security." Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.

At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of making the world safer, America's violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.

As concerned citizens, we must persuade Washington to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years. 

Flesh Wound ?

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Deal On Student Loans? Maybe

Time is fast running out for college students on the interest they will be charged on their student loans. If a deal is not agreed to and passed before the end of this month, then that interest rate will double (to 6.8%). That would place college out of reach for many more young Americans, and significantly increase the debt load on many others. College is already so expensive that, unless a student has rich parents, it is almost a sure thing that they will have to borrow some money to get a college education. This means they will spend many years after college trying to pay back that money they had to borrow -- and a doubling of the interest rate will make paying that borrowed money off much more difficult.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) announced they have reached a deal that would allow the interest rate to stay down. Now they just need to find a bill to attach the agreement to (and they think it could possibly be attached to the transportation bill which is already in a House/Senate conference committee and close to agreement). And they need to get House approval of the agreement.

House approval could be the fly in the ointment. The teabaggers in the Republican Party seem to be running things in the House of Representatives, and they have derailed other bills that McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner had thought would be easily passed. For the House teabaggers, ideology is more important than doing something to help Americans, and they could rebel against the agreement in the Senate.

For now, we'll just have to wait and see if the House is interested in getting something done, or playing politics to their base. It could go either way.

Stealing From Everyone

Political Cartoon is by Mark Hurwitt at hurwittgraphics.com.

Job Creator ?

This is not a spurious claim by the Vice-President. While the head of Bain Capital, Romney shipped many corporate jobs overseas (while laying off American workers). He created jobs -- they just weren't American jobs. Why would anyone think he would do any different if elected president? He has already shown he cares more for corporate "people" than for real people.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Less Government Means More Worker & Consumer Abuse


The Supreme Court Reaffirms Its Terrible "Citizens United" Decision

(The drawing above is from the website Social Keith.)

A couple of years ago, the United States Supreme Court made a decision that has had a very negative effect on the electoral system in this country. It was Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, and it said the government could not limit the amount of money that individuals, corporations, or other entities can independently spend in an election. Sine then, rich individuals and corporations have poured many millions into super-PACs designed to support individual candidate campaigns.

These super-PACs were not supposed to be able to strategize with the candidate or his campaign organization, but that all went out the window this last weekend when Willard Mitt Romney invited big donors, including some who were heading up super-PACs (like Karl Rove), to a retreat to plan election strategy. Now it seems like there are no rules, and it looks like the rich will be able to pump much more money into this year's election than ordinary citizens (giving them a larger voice in the electoral process).

Many people hoped that at least one Supreme Court justice would realize what a big mistake they had made and change his position on the matter (since it was only a 5-4 decision). The decision could have been corrected in another case about campaign money and election spending. And it looked like a perfect case was going to the Supreme Court -- American Tradition Partnership vs. Montana. The state of Montana had passed a law that prevented corporations from spending any money to support or oppose a political candidate, and the law was appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Montana Supreme Court upheld the law, saying it does not violate the First Amendment (which guarantees the right of free speech). But sadly, The U.S. Supreme Court, instead of coming to their senses, doubled down on their Citizens United decision -- and they overturned the Montana Supreme Court decision. They reaffirmed that they believe corporations are people and money is speech -- and limiting the amount of money a corporation can spend is a denial of free speech.

It is now clear that there are only two ways to overturn this awful Supreme Court decision -- either replace one or more of the conservative justices with someone who believes in democracy and free elections, or pass a constitutional amendment. The easiest way would be to re-elect the president this November, and give him enough Senate Democrats to get some progressive justices appointed and approved. But if we need to go the amendment route, then so be it. But somehow this must be changed.

Here is the Supreme Court decision.

The Importance Of Education

Political Cartoon is by John Cole in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

GOP Is Now Silent About Gas Prices

back in April of this year the average price of gasoline in the United States was about $3.92 cents a gallon. Some pundits were predicting it would go over $4.00 a gallon -- and maybe climb as high as $5.00 a gallon. And Republicans couldn't wipe the smiles off their faces. They thought they finally had a good issue they could use to flog President Obama, and they were quick to blame the president for the rising gas prices. Here's what some of the leading Republicans said back then:

MITT ROMNEY (GOP Presidential Nominee)
“He gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy, and what’s happened to gasoline prices under his watch, and what’s happened to our schools, and what’s happened to our military forces. All these things are his responsibility while he’s president.”

JOHN BOEHNER (GOP Speaker of the House)
 “The president’s own policies to date have made matters worse and driven up gas prices.”

MITCH MCCONNELL (GOP Senate Minority Leader)
“This President will go to any length to drive up gas prices and pave the way for his ideological agenda.”

But that smile has now been wiped from their faces. Why? because the average price of gasoline in the United States has done nothing but fall in the last few months. It now is about $3.45 cents a gallon -- about 47 cents a gallon lower than it was. And it looks like it may fall even lower.

The Republicans were quick to blame the president when prices were rising. Have they been willing to give him the credit now that prices are falling? Of course not. They don't even want to talk about the price of gas anymore. They've known all along what many of us progressives were saying all along -- that the president has not control over the price of gasoline, whether it is going up or down. Here's how Think Progress puts it:

Obama’s policies haven’t changed since April: the Keystone XL pipeline has not been built, drilling hasn’t drastically changed, and the same regulations are in place. Yet gas prices have fallen. Economics says he isn’t responsible, either way.


They've known this all along, but didn't want to admit it. They're not interested in facts or truth, but only in beating up the president. And it doesn't matter to them whether what they are blaming him for was his fault or not.

I doubt we'll be hearing any more about gas prices in this election season.

Contempt Of Congress (Is Widespread)

Political Cartoon is by John Cole in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Supreme Court Guts Arizona Law

The Supreme Court has issued its decision on SB 1070 (the racist and anti-immigrant law passed in Arizona). Everyone has been trying to put their spin on the decision -- with some on the right (like Gov. Brewer) claiming the heart of the law was left intact, and some on the left lamenting the fact that part of the law was left intact by the court. I'm going to have to disagree with both.

I think, in this matter, the Supreme Court made a good constitutional decision. They basically gutted the Arizona law, and made it clear that states have no business making immigration law. Immigration law is the business of the federal government, and no one else. The Supreme Court said:

* Police may not stop and arrest individuals without a warrant just because they may look illegal (i.e., Hispanic).
* Immigrants who do not have, or fail to carry, immigration papers are not guilty of any state crime.
*Immigrants who seek or accept work without the necessary documentation are not guilty of any state crime.

The only provision of the law they left was to say it can be legal for a police officer to ask for immigration documents AFTER stopping a person for another offense. Basically, police in all states have always had this right (although most don't do it so they can keep a good relationship with the undocumented community -- so they will receive help in fighting real crimes). And the court said they might revisit this issue if the state violates federal law in carrying it out (which basically means the state police officials cannot racially profile people -- like asking only Hispanics for documentation).

This decision was a win for common sense and for the Constitution.

This Just Ain't Right

Political Cartoon is by Monte Wolverton at businessinsider.com.

Workers' Wages Still Plummeting

Last year, the CEOs of the big banks received an average raise of about 12% to add to the millions they were already making, and most other corporations followed suit with similar big raises for their CEOs. Meanwhile, Americans workers fell further behind. After inflation was figured in, worker wages actually fell by 0.6% just as it has been doing for years now. And this fall in worker wages did not just start with the current Republican recession. It has been going on for the last 40 years. Here's how Jeff Nielson of The Street puts it (I am posting only part of the article, but I urge you to read the whole thing):

In writing about the relentless collapse of Western economies, I frequently point to "40 years of plummeting wages" for Western workers, in real dollars. However, where I have been remiss is in quantifying the magnitude of this collapse in Western wages.


On several occasions, I have glibly referred to how it now takes two spouses working to equal the wages of a one-income family of 40 years ago. Unfortunately, that is now an understatement. In fact, Western wages have plummeted so low that a two-income family is now (on average) 15% poorer than a one-income family of 40 years ago.


Regular readers will recognize the chart above on U.S. average wages.


Using the year 2000 as the numerical base from which to "zero" all of the numbers, real wages peaked in 1970 at around $20/hour. Today the average worker makes $8.50/hour -- more than 57% less than in 1970. And since the average wage directly determines the standard of living of our society, we can see that the average standard of living in the U.S. has plummeted by over 57% over a span of 40 years.


There are no "tricks" here. Indeed, all of the tricks are used by our governments. The green line shows average wages, discounted by inflation calculated with the same methodology for all 40 years. Obviously that is the only way in which we can compare any data over time: through applying identical parameters to it each year.


Then we have the blue line: showing wage data discounted with our "official" inflation rate. The problem? The methodology used by our governments to calculate inflation in 1975 was different from the method they used in 1985, which was different than the method they used in 1995, which was different than the method they used in 2005.


Two obvious points flow from this observation. First, it is tautological that the only way in which data can be compared meaningfully is to use a consistent methodology. If the government thinks it has improved upon its inflation methodology, then all it had to do was take all of its old data and re-calculate it with their "improved" methodology. Since 1970 there is this invention called "computers" which makes such calculations rather simple.


This brings us to the second point: the refusal of our governments to adopt a consistent methodology in reporting inflation statistics can only imply a deliberate attempt to deceive, since it is 100% logically/statistically invalid to simply string together disconnected series of data -- and present it as if it represents a consistent picture. More specifically, we can see precisely what lie our government was attempting to get us to believe.


Roughly speaking, the blue line trends flat. Thus, the U.S. government (and most Western governments) has been lying about inflation for the last 40 years as a deliberate means of hiding the 50+% collapse in the standard of living for the average person. Meanwhile, the situation is more than reversed if you're one of the fat-cats at the top. While average American workers have seen their wages plummet by 57% over the past 40 years, in just 15 years (1992-2007) the 400 wealthiest Americans saw their incomes rise by 700%.


Now we have the complete picture: wages grinding steadily lower year after year, decade after decade for the Little People, while wages go straight up for the fat cats. To say this is unfair would rank as one of history's greatest understatements. This is economic rape, plain and simple. . .

Monday, June 25, 2012

Past GOP Presidents & Taxes

I find myself in agreement with Ronald Reagan on the tax issue. There is no good reason why capital gains shouldn't be taxed at the same rate as earned income.

Millions Living In Extreme Poverty In U.S.

We already know that about 50% of the American population is living in conditions described as "near poverty" -- defined as living on an income of less than double the official poverty level. That's more than 156,000,000 people living under or close to the poverty level as defined by the government (and those living close are only a paycheck or two from dropping below the poverty level themselves). We also know that at least one out of every five children in this country lives in a family with an income below the official poverty level.

Those numbers show just how serious the recession has been for Americans. But there are other numbers that are even more disheartening -- the numbers of those who are currently living in "extreme poverty" in the United States. In 2000, the percentage of Americans living in extreme poverty was 4.5. By 2010, that percentage had grown to 6.7. That's a growth of about 48.89%.

Extreme poverty is defined as an income below half of the official government poverty level -- or below $5,851 for a single person or $11,509 for a family of four. Now 6.7% may not sound like a large number to some of you, but what it means is that more than 21,000,000 Americans are now living in extreme poverty. And the percentage of people slipping into extreme poverty is the fastest growing segment of people in the bottom 50% of the population.

How can our members of Congress (most of whom are rich) sleep at night in light of these numbers -- especially the Republicans, who want to make large cuts in our social safety net. Do they simply not care about these fellow Americans (as long as they can give their rich buddies larger tax cuts)?

Even with our current troubled economy, the United States is still the richest nation on this planet. How is it possible for such a nation to justify allowing over 21 million of its citizens to live in extreme poverty? It's not possible, and any attempt to do so is not just mean-spirited -- it is downright immoral.