A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Friday, November 30, 2012

Don't Back Down


Between A Rock And A Hard Place


In their efforts to protect their rich Wall Street benefactors and please their teabagger base, congressional Republicans have managed to put themselves between a rock and a hard place. They still want to cut taxes for the rich. As the above chart shows (from the latest Washington Post/ABC News Poll), this puts them at odds with the majority of Americans. Over 60% of Americans oppose the Republican position and want taxes on the wealthy to go up.

Instead, the Republicans want to raise revenues by eliminating deductions and raise the age for Medicare coverage by a couple of years. This really makes no sense to me. Raising revenue (taxes) is still raising taxes, whether it is done by raising the top rate or by eliminating deductions. Are they just playing a semantics game? No. They know they raising the top rate will affect only the wealthy, while eliminating deductions would easily include many of the middle class -- thus limiting the amount of extra tax the wealthy will have to pay.

The problem though is that while Wall Street loves the GOP idea of raising revenue, the GOP's base voters aren't so crazy about the idea. Only 39% approve of the idea (even less than among Independents and Democrats). And those same base Republican voters don't much like the idea of raising the age to qualify for Medicare either. Only 30% approve of that silly idea.

This puts the Republicans in a very delicate position. While refusing to raise the top tax rate will probably hurt them in the next general election, the other two ideas (eliminating deductions and raising the age for Medicare) could cause them problems in the GOP primary. If they continue to support these ideas, they will keep the money flowing from Wall Street but could lose votes in the primary. If they abandon these ideas, they will make the base happy but could lose funds from the Wall Street moneymen.

This may all be a moot point though. If they continue to oppose cutting taxes for the bottom 98%, it may not matter whether they survive a Republican primary or not (because they may have made it impossible for any but those in the very safest GOP districts to win in the general election). It is just not a good time to be a Republican in Congress.

Military Wives

Political Cartoon is by David Fitzsimmons in the Arizona Daily Star.

Food Stamp Use Rises

In the last budget the Republicans proposed they wanted to not only cut free lunches for poor school children, but tried to slash the amount of money that would go toward providing food for families still hurting from the Great Recession -- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (more commonly referred to as the Food Stamp program). It just goes to show how out of touch the GOP members of Congress are with the America that exists outside the Beltway.

Those same Republicans would like voters to believe that most food stamps are going to minority people living in urban slums -- and they inferred as much in the last election. But it's just not true. Most food stamp recipients are white people, and the biggest growth for food stamp use these days is in the suburbs and rural areas. And a lot of the growth in food stamps is among the millions of people who lost their jobs when the Bush recession hit. These are people who have worked all their life, and would still love to be working -- but there just aren't jobs available. Many other food stamp recipients are working, but are paid so little they still fall below the poverty level.

Those in Congress (too many in both parties) have fallen into the trap of believing this country is doing much better, and an economic recovery is underway. While that may be true for corporate executives and Wall Street bankers, it is certainly not true for Main Street America. Most Americans (whether poor, working class, or middle class) is still mired in the recession -- the recession that Washington wants us to believe is over.

If you need proof of that, just look at the Food Stamp program statistics. Newly released census data shows that the number of households using food stamps rose by nearly 10% from 2010 to 2011. In 2010, there were about 13.6 million households (or about 11.9% of American households) using food stamps. In 2011, that number had grown to 15 million households (or 13% of all households). In short, the number of people experiencing food insecurity in this country is still growing -- not shrinking.

And remember, those are households -- not individuals. The Department of Agriculture (which runs the Food Stamp program) says that last August (of this year) there were 47.1 million individuals using food stamps -- a record number. And of course, that includes more than 20% of the children in this country.

The congressional Republicans should know these figures. They are no secret, and are available to anyone who reads or watches the news (except probably for Fox News). And yet they obstinately want to give the richest people in this country massive new tax cuts, and pay for it by slashing funds from that growing Food Stamp program (and other programs helping hurting Americans). I personally can't think of anything more hard-hearted and mean-spirited than that.

If they really wanted to get people off of food stamps there are ways to do it without taking food out of the mouths of starving children and adults. A couple of ways that instantly come to mind are -- raising the minimum wage to a decent level (over $10 an hour), and pass the president's plan to rebuild this nation's infrastructure (which would create many jobs. Both of these would not only reduce food stamp use, but would put more money into the economy to increase demand -- and thus create even more jobs.

Lunch At The White House

Political Cartoon is by Walt Handelsman in Newsday.

Fighting For The Little Guy

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the best friend the hard-working "little guy" in this country has. More than any Democrat or Republican, he fights for the people who worked hard all their lives and now must depend on Social Security and Medicare to provide some security for their "golden years". I wish all politicians had the passion and the will to fight for ordinary Americans that Bernie always shows.

And frankly, people like Lloyd Balnkfein (Goldman Sachs CEO) make me mad as hell. He is a millionaire many times over, and he will never have to depend on Social Security to buy his basic necessities (like millions of Americans do). But he has the audacity to tell us that the retirement age for Social Security should be raised to the age of 70 and benefits cut. How dare he! It may be easy to sit in an office and issue orders to the real workers until age 70 (like he does), but there are many millions of people in this country who do real back-breaking labor to eke out a meager living -- and the idea of forcing them to continue that when they are 68 or 69 is just stupid and mean.

He says people are living longer today, and that is probably true for people like him who don't have to lift a finger to earn a living. But it is not true for the millions who work hard at dirty jobs every day. These people need Social Security to be left just as it is. And that could easily be done, if the cap on FICA taxes was raised or eliminated -- so that rich people like Blankfein paid the same percentage that real workers have to pay.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fair ?

These three pictures are of the same women (Ghada Karmi and Ellen Siegel). The first two pictures were taken in 1973 and 1992 by Francis Khoo, and the third picture was taken in 2001 by Jean-Pascal Deillon. Sadly, nothing has changed since the first picture was taken nearly 40 years ago.

Obama Supports Filibuster Reform

(caricature above is by the inimitable DonkeyHotey.)

Majority Leader Harry Reid got burned two years ago. He had a handshake agreement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that Republicans would stop abusing the filibuster rule to obstruct anything the president tried to accomplish. Republicans started violating that agreement before the ink was dry on the senate rules.

That's why Senator Reid is pushing for filibuster reform in the coming session. But to accomplish that he will need the votes of almost all Democrats (since you can bet that no Republican will vote for filibuster reform). And that could be a little iffy, since there are still some blue dogs hanging around the senate.

But maybe reform will be a little easier to acheive, because the president is now on board for the filibuater to be reformed. It looks like he's also tired of the ridiculous obstruction in the senate, making it necessary to have 60 votes to do anything. Here is what White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told the Huffington Post:

"The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action. They want to see progress, not partisan delay games. That hasn't changed, and the President supports Senator Reid's efforts to reform the filibuster process."

Dead Children

Political Cartoon is by Tim Eagan at timeagan.com.

"War On Xmas" Or Upholding Constitution ?

The picture above shows a citizen walking past a nativity scene in Palisades Park in Santa Monica (California) back in 2010. That won't be happening this year. For the first time since 1953, there won't be a nativity scene (or any other kind of display) in the park for the holiday season -- and some christian groups don't like that at all. They think they have a right to erect a religious display on government property, and they took the city of Santa Monica to court, claiming the city had violated their religious freedom by not allowing them to erect a religious display on city property.

How did this happen? Well, back in 2010 an atheist asked to erect his own display in the park, since the christians had a display up. Knowing they couldn't win a constitutional battle if they prevented it, the city allowed the display. For 2011, the city decided to avoid controversy by dividing display space into 21 separate areas, and they would draw lots from those applying for space to determine who got the space (giving everyone an equal and constitutional chance to win a space).

I think they probably expected christian groups to win most of those spaces, but it didn't work out that way. When the drawing took place, atheist groups won 18 spaces, christian groups won 2 spaces, and a jewish group won one space. While the system was fair, it didn't satisfy the christian groups (who still think they should have a monopoly on government property during the holiday season).

This year the city decided just to avoid all of the controversy and ban all displays in the park, regardless of who wanted to put them up. That's when the christian groups went to court. But that didn't work out too well either. U.S. District Jude Audrey B Collins ruled that the city could not be forced to allow a display in the park. She also ruled that the group's religious freedom had not been violated, since all groups were banned from erecting displays and the group had not been singled out. She said:

To demonstrate a violation, Plaintiff must show that it was intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.


The attorney for the group wanting to erect a nativity scene said the city was wrong because they are supposed to protect citizen's rights, and they didn't do that. He is wrong. What the city did was to act to protect the constitutional rights of ALL the citizens, rather than elevating the rights of one religious group above all others.

Fox News and others are calling this another volley in the war on christmas. It's not. Any citizen of that city can celebrate christmas as they wish, and they can even put up a nativity scene -- as long as they do it on their own property. The Bible does not trump the Constitution, and the day it does will mean the end of freedom in this country. What this really was is a victory for the Constitution -- and for religious freedom (believe it or not).

Epiphany

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Gun Dealers Should Love President Obama

If the gun dealers in the United States aren't big supporters of President Obama, then there has to be something wrong with their thought processes. Having an African-American in the White House has been a huge boost to gun sales in this country (thanks to the overt and latent racism of far too many Americans). Usually the election of a president (of either political party) doesn't have much effect on gun sales, but the election of President Obama is very different.

Adding to the racism factor is the propaganda put out by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Before, and right after, President Obama's first election, the NRA put out an enormous amount of propaganda about how President Obama was going to take guns away from law-abiding Americans. Of course, it didn't happen. The Obama administration has done nothing to restrict gun ownership -- even after the slaughters in Arizona and Colorado. The administration didn't even try to re-impose the ban on the sale of assault weapons.

And during the election campaign this year, the NRA ramped up that same propaganda again. This time they said now that Obama doesn't have to worry about re-election, he's going to go after gun owners. It doesn't matter that the president has said nothing about that, or that most congressional Democrats wouldn't go along with it if he did, or that the Republican-controlled House would kill any attempt at establishing new gun laws. Reality and facts don't matter much to the NRA and teabagger crowd. They are swayed much more by rumors and conspiracy theories.

So it shouldn't surprise any of us that gun sales set a new record on Black Friday last week. The FBI reports it received at least 155,000 requests from gun dealers for background checks on that one day. That's 20% more than it received on Black Friday a year ago. Now some of you may think that the record gun sales are driven by violent crime. But that excuse just doesn't wash, considering that violent crime has gone done for several years now.

No. It's that "scary black man" in the White House that's driving guns sales. I think if I was a gun dealer I would be trying to find a legal loophole to get a third term for Obama -- or find another African-American I could support for the presidency. Just imagine the spike in gun sales if an African-American was elected in 2016!

Hispanic Outreach

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

(Military) Spending Is Out Of Control

This should make us all mad. While the Republicans think we spend too much government money feeding the hungary in this country, they want to increase spending on the military budget. They don't want to spend this money on our soldiers, giving them more pay and better benefits. No, they want to pump more money into the military-industrial complex to fatten the bank accounts of the corporate military contractors -- in spite of the fact that all the money spent on the Food Stamp program doesn't even add up to the money spent on one of the top twenty military contractors (and there are many more than twenty military contractors).

This government does spend too much money, but not in helping American citizens live a little bit better lives. We spend far too much money on the military, especially the billions of dollars poured into the corporations of the military-industrial complex (who continually pile up billions of dollars on cost-overruns for weapons that don't work half the time). No other nation spends anywhere near what the United States spends on its military budget, and don't feel they need to for their own defense. The national defense of this country doesn't need all that spending either. We could be very safe by spending far less (and have a lot more money to help hurting Americans).

The United States has only 5% of the world's population, and as a rich and productive nation we produce 24% of the world's total GDP. But we waste much of that wealth by spending 42% of the entire world's military spending. That's not intelligent economic budgeting or spending. In fact, it is downright stupid. The budget needs to be cut, and the military budget is the place to start that cutting (since we could cut it in half and still be spending far more than any other nation).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You Might Be A Socialist


Opposite Ends Of The GOP Spectrum



















Two Republican politicians were in the news this week -- and both of them have been mentioned many times as possible  candidates for the party's nomination as president in the future. They are ex-Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Santorum got his name back in the news by testifying at a Senate hearing about whether the Senate should approve the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. Santorum is opposed to the Senate ratifying the treaty. He thinks it is some kind of conspiracy by the United Nations to either abuse disabled people in the United States or deny their parents the right to protect them. It is just the kind of stance that would appeal to the teabaggers in the Republican Party's base -- the kind of people that think the president wasn't born in the U.S., that the U.N. is trying to abolish golf courses in the United States, and that global warming is a scientific hoax.

Of course it's nonsense. The treaty was negotiated during the administration of George W. Bush, and approved by Bush. It also has the approval of such conservative senators as John McCain (R-Arizona) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming). While I have very little respect for those three men, I don't think they would lend their support for anything that would hurt disabled Americans or violate U.S. law.

The truth is that the treaty would have absolutely no effect in the United States at all. What it does is ask all countries to take steps to help their disabled citizens -- steps the United States has already taken by passing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Senate ratification of the U.N. treaty would just encourage other nations to do what this country has already done, and that's a good thing. It would recognize the U.S. leadership in the rights of the disabled.

But Santorum doesn't deal in reality. His concern is his own mean-spirited teabagger ideology, and how he can use that to further his own political ambitions. He even brought his own disabled daughter to the senate hearing to use as a prop. But his action will probably resonate well with his base voters.

The other Republican, Chris Christie, made the news because he has announced his intention to run for a second term as governor of New Jersey. And even though New Jersey is a blue state, I'd hate to be the Democrat that runs against him. He has an excellent chance of being re-elected. A Quinnipiac Poll gives him a 72% favorable rating currently, and a Rutgers/Eagleton Poll shows he has the support of 59% of the voters in his re-election effort. The reason for his support is that 95% of the people of New Jersey think he did a very good job of responding to the Hurrican Sandy disaster that hit the state.

These two men are on opposite ends of the Republican spectrum, although both are conservatives. Christie is popular with the general public, while Santorum is popular with the Republican base. Many Republicans are mad at Christie because he reached across the political aisle and worked with President Obama to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy in his state. He put aside party differences and electoral concerns and did what was best for the people he was elected to serve. And that's just why the teabaggers in the GOP are mad at him. They want someone who puts party ideology above all other concerns, even the good of the people.

Things might change in the next three years, but if the Republicans nominated another presidential candidate right now, Santorum would easily defeat Christie (because the teabaggers love Santorum and are mad at Christie). And Santorum would lose even worse than Romney did, because the American people are tired of politicians putting their ideology above the needs of the people. Christie on the other hand, would make a formidible general election candidate. People want the parties to compromise and come up with solutions to the nation's problems, and Christie has shown that he can do that.

It is to the Democrats' advantage that the teabaggers in the Republican base can't see past their ideology. They would pass up a good candidate for a nut-job. The Republican leadership has three years to correct that kind of thinking, but I don't think they can. They invited the teabaggers, racists, and fundamentalists into the party, and now they are unable to control them.

P.S. -- Santorum has said recently that he might like to run for president again in 2016. I hope he does. I would much rather the appointed Democrat (Hillary?) run against him than against Christie.

Too Many "Days"

Political Cartoon is by David Fitzsimmons in the Arizona Daily Star.

Court Says Taping Of Police Is Legal

Having spent most of my adult life in various aspects of law enforcement, I have to say police brutality is neither required nor desired to uphold the law. Fortunately, it is not nearly as common as some would have us believe, but it does exist -- and it is opposed by decent law enforcement officers everywhere. That's because one bad officer can tarnish the reputation of a whole department and all the good officers in it.

In this technological society, citizens have a very effective tool to prevent any brutality that might happen or record it when it happens. It is the ability to tape the incident (which today can be done with most cell phones). Some people, both those prone to violence and others who mistakenly think it takes unnecessary violence to police this country, are opposed to the taping of police officers in the performance of their duties. I disagree. Any officer who simply follows the rules of his/her own department should have no fear of being taped.

Courts around the country have upheld the right of citizens to video-tape police in the performance of their duties, but one state thought they had found a way around that. Illinois is a state that has a law preventing the audio-taping of anyone unless all individuals being taped have given their permission. They enhanced this law to make it a felony to audio-tape a policeman, even in the public performance of his/her duties -- punishable by a prison term of from 4 to 15 years. This would make illegal any kind of taping, video or otherwise, that had an audio component.

The law was upheld by a Chicago judge, but overturned by a federal appeals court. The appeals court issued a temporary restraining order preventing any charges resulting from audio-taping of police. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A couple of days ago, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, effectively upholding the action taken by the appeals court. Now the ACLU has asked the appeals court to make their temporary injunction a permanent one -- and with the Supreme Court refusing to hear the case, that will probably happen.

This is another small victory for free speech. In the United States, citizens have the right to photograph, video-tape, or audio-tape any public event -- even when the police are involved and have not given their consent. And that's the way it should be in a free country.

Returns

Political Cartoon is by Rob Rogers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Higher Taxes For The Wealthy Makes Sense

Warren Buffett (pictured above) is one of the richest men in the United States. But he has a couple of other qualities that should endear him to all Americans -- he loves his country, and he is brutally honest about what is needed to lower the deficit and improve the economy. And one of those things that he thinks is needed is higher taxes on wealthy individuals like himself. In the following article he wrote for the New York Times, he blasts the idea that higher taxes would inhibit investment (and therefore job creation) -- saying no one would pass up a chance to invest and make money, regardless of how high the top tax rate might be. It is an excellent article, and I urge you to read the whole thing. Here is some of what he had to say:


SUPPOSE that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. “This is a good one,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m in it, and I think you should be, too.”
Would your reply possibly be this? “Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you’re saying we’re going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent.” Only in Grover Norquist’s imagination does such a response exist.
Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered.
Under those burdensome rates, moreover, both employment and the gross domestic product (a measure of the nation’s economic output) increased at a rapid clip. The middle class and the rich alike gained ground.
So let’s forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if — gasp — capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities. . .
Additionally, we need Congress, right now, to enact a minimum tax on high incomes. I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that. A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultrarich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours. Only a minimum tax on very high incomes will prevent the stated tax rate from being eviscerated by these warriors for the wealthy.
Above all, we should not postpone these changes in the name of “reforming” the tax code. True, changes are badly needed. We need to get rid of arrangements like “carried interest” that enable income from labor to be magically converted into capital gains. And it’s sickening that a Cayman Islands mail drop can be central to tax maneuvering by wealthy individuals and corporations.
But the reform of such complexities should not promote delay in our correcting simple and expensive inequities. We can’t let those who want to protect the privileged get away with insisting that we do nothing until we can do everything. . .
In the meantime, maybe you’ll run into someone with a terrific investment idea, who won’t go forward with it because of the tax he would owe when it succeeds. Send him my way. Let me unburden him.

The Party Of Lincoln

Political Cartoon is by Bill Day at caglecartoons.com.

Tax Cuts For The Rich Produces No Jobs

This excellent graphic is from the blog Under The Mountain Bunker, and it effectively shows how silly the idea of tax cuts for the rich really is (in regard to job creation). The rich already have more money than they can spend, and cutting their taxes will do nothing but fatten their bank accounts -- it will not get them to invest in job creation. That's because they know, even if congressional Republicans don't, that having more money is no reason to invest in job creation. They know that only one thing creates a reason to invest in job creation -- an increase in the demand for goods and services by most consumers.

And the only way large numbers of consumers can buy more goods and services is if they have more money to spend. This can be done by raising wages for the poor and working classes, or by cutting their taxes (and yes, they do pay taxes regardless of what the GOP would have you believe). When the poor and working classes (and many in the middle class) get more money, they have to spend it because they are barely getting by -- and when they spend that money, demand is created. And when demand is created for more goods and services, the rich will invest in new jobs to meet that new demand (so they can make more profit).

That is the way our economy works. It would be stupid for a business to create new jobs that are not needed (because demand has not increased). That would just lower profits -- and companies are in business to make a profit, not create needless jobs. It is only when more profit can be made (because demand has increased) that it makes sense to create new jobs.

Anyone who tells you that jobs can be created by cutting taxes on the rich is LYING to you -- and it is a lie that makes no business or economic sense.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are You The Problem ?


"Fiscal Cliff" Stakes Higher For The GOP

Last year, the Republicans and Democrats made an agreement that if the so-called "super committee" could not agree on how to reduce the budget, then certain things would happen at the beginning of 2013. Among those things were across the board cuts to discretionary government spending (including military spending), the end of the Bush tax cuts, and the end of the payroll tax cuts. The super committee failed to reach agreement, and now that agreement is looming.

Neither side is happy about this. So the politicians, especially the Republicans, are now warning that to let this happen will drop the nation off of a "fiscal cliff" and into a new recession -- and they are backed up by a number of economic "experts". Of course, these are the same experts that failed to see the housing bubble would burst and the stock market would crash (losing trillions of investor dollars) -- so their insight is questionable to say the least.

However, a newly released CNN/ORC Poll shows that the politicians and the pundits seem to have convinced a large part of the public that the "fiscal cliff" does pose a danger to the economy. Here is what the poll showed when it asked how serious the "fiscal cliff" was for this country:

Crisis...............24%
Major problem...............44%
Minor problem...............24%
No problem...............7%
No opinion...............1%

That's 68% of the population that thinks this is a serious economic problem and something should be done to correct it. And an even larger percentage (72%) think the two sides should compromise to find a solution, including 96% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 43% of Republicans.

But after the ludicrous scene they witnessed last year when Congress tried to reach agreement on the debt ceiling, most people don't expect the two sides to make a serious effort to find a workable compromise. Only about 28% of elected Washington officials to act like adults in finding a solution, while 67% say they will squabble like spoiled children.

But the Republicans need to be careful about sticking to close to ideology and refusing to compromise, because the poll seems to show they will be hurt the most if we see a repeat of the debt ceiling debacle. Consider the following poll results:

SHOULD TAXES ON THE WEALTHY BE KEPT LOW OR HIGH?
Low...............36%
High...............56%
No opinion...............8%

WHO DO YOU WANT TO HAVE MORE CONTROL OVER THE NATION'S DIRECTION?
Obama...............51%
Republicans...............42%
Both equally...............3%
No opinion...............5%

IS THE GOP IN CONGRESS DOING ENOUGH TO COOPERATE WITH PRESIDENT OBAMA?
Yes...............24%
No...............70%
No opinion...............6%

PERCENTAGE SAYING GOP IS NOT DOING ENOUGH TO COOPERATE.
Democrats...............90%
Independents...............67%
Republicans...............48%

IF AN AGREEMENT IS NOT REACHED, WHO WOULD BE THE MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT?
Obama...............34%
Republicans...............45%
Both...............15%
Neither...............1%
No opinion...............4%

SHOULD THERE BE ONLY SPENDING CUTS OR A COMBINATION OF CUTS AND TAX INCREASES?
Spending cuts only...............29%
Cuts and tax increases...............67%
Other...............1%
No opinion...............3%

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORABLE OR UNFAVORABLE OPINION OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY?
Favorable...............51%
Unfavorable...............41%
No opinion...............8%

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORABLE OR UNFAVORABLE OPINION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY?
Favorable...............38%
Unfavorable...............53%
No opinion...............9%

Bad Road

Political Cartoon is by Gary Varvel in The Indianapolis Star.

Don't Give In, Mr. President !

I agree totally with Mr. Krugman about this. The Republicans say they want to compromise to avoid sending this country over the "fiscal cliff". If there is a fiscal cliff (and I'm not at all sure that there is, since the same people predicting it couldn't see the Great Recession coming), it would be better to jump off it than to accept the "compromise" the Republicans are offering. And I put the word compromise in quotation marks because what they are trying to sell is not a compromise, but a surrender.

They know that the Bush tax cuts for the rich are going to end. There is no way they can stop it, since all of the Bush tax cuts will end automatically if NOTHING is done at all. The only thing they could do about tax cuts is deny extending them for those making less than $250,000 a year. But while they have that power, doing that would not be politically feasible -- and could cost them the House of Representatives in 2014. So, finding themselves unable to keep the tax cuts for their rich benefactors, the GOP is magnanimously offering to let taxes for the rich go up if the Democrats will "compromise" (surrender).

What do they want for their going along with something they can't prevent (and is very popular with the electorate)? Republican Senator Graham said he wanted cuts in entitlements. He wants to cut benefits and raise the age for both Social Security and Medicare. Other Republicans want to cut food stamps, unemployment benefits, school lunch programs for poor children, funds for education, funds to clean up the environment, and myriad other things that help ordinary Americans. In other words, they want Democrats to throw children, the poor, the elderly, the sick, the unemployed, workers, the middle class -- everyone but the military-industrial complex -- under the bus, in exchange for agreeing to something the GOP can't prevent anyway.

That's not a good deal, and it's certainly no "grand bargain". That's just giving in to the insane GOP agenda -- even though they lost the election and have no leverage (except to try to scare people with talk of a "fiscal cliff"). President Obama and the Democrats need to stand their ground, and if necessary, let the tax cuts end and the budget cuts happen. As Krugman said, no deal is much better than the bad deal the GOP is offering.

Obsession

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

Sour Grapes And Religious Racism

Fundamentalists are very upset that Americans have once again rejected their efforts to mix religion and politics, and oust the first African-American president. They have been loudly whining that god (who in their feeble minds is a right-wing Republican) will punish the United States for re-electing President Obama. This is racist nonsense, and these people should be ashamed of hiding their racism behind their religion.

A fellow blogger, Jack Cluth at What Would Jack Do?, has written an excellent post on this matter -- and I am reposting it here because I think it needs as wide a readership as possible. Mr. Cluth writes:


It’s become as tiresome as it is ignorant and pointless. Religious Conservatives whining about how Barack Obama’s defeat of Mitt Romney flies in the face of God’s will…as if they have a direct line to the Almighty and can divine His every thought and whim.
I understand that many on the Rabid Right are besides themselves with disappointment and disillusionment. I get that they feel strongly that they enjoy the imprimatur of Almighty God, and that they know in their heart of hearts that He’s a Conservative Republican. And they REALLY hate Barack Obama…never mind that the President has made it amply clear that he’s a Christian.
That Rev. Franklin Graham can with a straight face hold forth on how the President is destroying the country and attracting the wrath of God is both comical and arrogant. How voting for Barack Obama could possibly be construed as a rejection of God involves a flight of logic and reason that only Graham could explain. The pretentiousness in assuming that God is a registered Republican and that Liberals and Democrats are agents of Satan is beyond absurd. Graham’s pathetic rant is symptomatic of a philosophy shared by most of the Rabid Religious Right- that they and ONLY they have the ear and approval of the Almighty.
To say that I find this attitude as offensive as it is dismissive almost goes without saying. I can’t imagine how God (IF He or She exists) could care about partisan politics. If someone can show me Scripture that conclusively demonstrates that I’m mistaken and that God is in fact a Conservative, I’ll admit my mistakes and issue the necessary mea culpas. I know I won’t have to, though…because there IS no Scripture that does that.
Franklin Graham has become an exercise in self-parody, useful primarily for comic relief…and Lord knows he’s providing no small amount of that.
Why not just admit the truth, Reverend? You hate the idea of a Black man (and a Democrat) in the White House. You’re a racist who’s unable to admit it to yourself or your fellow Americans…and so you maintain the charade that Barack Obama’s re-election runs counter to the will of God.
Religious Conservatives like Graham at the very least owe America the courtesy of being honest about their racism and bigotry. Or are dishonesty and a lack of personal integrity now Christian values?

(Another) Cease-Fire

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

A Few Thoughts On Our Next Holiday

I saw this on Facebook, and I thought it was a great christmas list. And the best part about it is that we've already received half of the gifts on the list -- and they were wonderful gifts! Now if we could only get some of the others. I don't expect we'll ever get numbers 5 and 10, but I would settle for the other three and be very happy.

By the way, it looks like the annual War on Christmas has already started -- and as usual, it wasn't an atheist or agnostic or any other non-christian who fired the first volley. It was everybody's favorite crazy nut-job preacher, Pat Robertson. Here's what he said:

"It's, well, Christmas all over again. The Grinch is trying to steal our holiday. It's been so beautiful, the nation comes together, we sing Christmas carols, we give gifts to each other, we have lighted trees, and it's just a beautiful thing. Atheists don't like our happiness, they don't want you to be happy, they want you to be miserable. They're miserable, so they want you to be miserable. So they want to steal your holiday away from you."

As an atheist myself, I don't mind being compared to the Grinch. If I remember that wonderful story, the Grinch turned out to be a pretty good guy by the end of the story. And I'm certainly not try to "steal" his holiday. I'm not even sure how someone would go about trying to steal a holiday (although the christians themselves did a pretty good job of stealing christmas traditions from various pagan religions).

I'm also not miserable, and I don't know any of my fellow atheists and agnostics who are miserable either. Most of us lead quite happy and fulfilled lives. And I certainly don't want to make any religious people miserable (no matter what their religion), nor do any of my atheist brothers and sisters. In fact, I usually enjoy celebrating christmas. I just celebrate a secular version of it (with a tree, gift-giving, Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, etc.), although I usually call it the solstice season holiday or some similar secular term.

But celebrate this holiday season (which has been celebrated long before christianity came into being) any way you wish to, and I hope it makes you happy. The only thing I ask is that a person not try to force their religion on me and my family as we celebrate in our own fashion -- and that includes decorating government building with religious displays and symbols. Remember, atheists, agnostics, hindus, muslims, taoists, buddhists, and many other people paid taxes for those buildings and schools and other properties just like you did -- and they should not have to have your religious views forced on them, any more than you would want their views forced on you.

Just remember, we live in a secular nation with the guarantee of religious freedom -- which means all religions will be treated equally and none preferred by the government. And it also means we are guaranteed to be free of religion also, if that is our desire.

Celebrate to your hearts content. Decorate your home inside and out if you want -- and wish everyone a merry christmas. I hope you have a great christmas! But if someone wishes you a "happy holiday" or a wonderful "solstice season", just remember -- they are trying to be nice and wish you happy greetings. They are not declaring war on your beliefs or the way you want to celebrate this holiday.

The war on christmas doesn't exist -- and never has.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Solar Power


The Denial Of Climate Science

There is no doubt that most people in the scientific community have accepted the reality of human-caused global climate change (i.e., global warming). Over 95% of all scientists, and more than 98% of all climate scientists, know that this is true. The above graphic (from DESMOGBLOG.COM), shows this truth in a slightly different way -- by comparing the number of peer-reviewed scientific articles supporting the global climate change position (13,950) to the articles denying either the the change is happening or that it is caused by humans (24) since 1991. The articles denying human-caused global climate change make up only 0.0017% of the total articles on global warming -- an incredibly tiny number.

Of course this brings up the question -- why does such a large percentage of the U.S. population believe the 24 articles and deny the 13,950 articles? How can they reject such an overwhelming amount of evidence -- and in large enough numbers that the politicians can ignore global climate change with impunity? I believe there are two basic reasons -- money and religion.

It will come as no surprise that the giant oil, gas, and coal producers will deny this obvious scientific evidence. To admit it is true would mean admitting their own products are the primary cause of the problem (which they are). They have too much invested in the production and sale of carbon-based fossil fuels, and they're not about to give up any profits from them -- regardless of any effect they are having on the climate of this planet.

But they are not the only corporate entities with a stake in denying the science of climatology. The power companies have invested heavily in plants that use fossil fuels (especially the dirtiest fuel of all -- coal), and it would cost them money to change. They are currently making a few feeble efforts at using renewable and clean sources to produce electricity, but most of their production is still from fossil fuels, and they are still trying to build even more fossil fuel burning plants.

And other corporate entities of all kinds also use the fossil fuels to produce the goods they make. If they admit the truth, than they would have to admit they should be spending money to clean up the emissions their factories produce -- and they don't want to spend that money. For corporate America, today's profit margin is more important than leaving a sustainable future for generations to come. Money is more important than leaving a healthy planet for their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

To protect today's profits, the corporations have engaged in a massive propaganda campaign -- a campaign that makes it seem as though those 24 articles are somehow equal to the 13,950 articles. That propaganda campaign is aimed at creating doubt about the scientific community and its conclusions. And enough doubt has been created to let corporate-owned politicians off the hook for doing nothing.

But this propaganda could not have worked if there had not already been a fertile ground in which it could take root. And that fertile ground is fundamentalist christian religious beliefs. They have been preaching for many years that science is wrong, and scientists cannot be believed. They deny physics (saying the big bang and other theories of creation are not true). They deny geology (saying the Earth is only 6000 years old). And they deny biology (saying evolution is not true).

For people who already deny the reality of scientific evidence in several areas, it is very easy to extend that disbelief to one more area. In fact, by denying climate science they think this just bolsters their belief that science is flawed and cannot be believed -- thereby justifying their denial of other sciences.

The sad fact is that not only is the climate science real, but we are running out of time to stop, or at least minimize, the effects of man-made global climate change. And unless we change our views very soon, our great grandchildren will be struggling to survive in a world much worse than our own (if survival is even an option by then). And they will know that they inherited that awful world because of the greed and simple-minded fundamentalist religious beliefs of this generation.

Already Started

Political Cartoon is by Rob Rogers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

ID Cards With RFID Chip For Students ?

I'm starting to think a lot of school officials and school boards need to be reminded just what the purpose of our schools is. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I thought the purpose of a school was to educate young people, and teach them how to think rationally. But others seem to have a different idea. They think the job of a school is to track students, deny them any privacy, and make them conform. Look at what this Texas school is doing.

The Northside Independent School District in San Antonio has decided that all students must carry a "smart" ID card -- a card that includes an RFID chip (like the one pictured above) which will allow the school to track all movements of all students. The school says this helps them keep track of who is attending school daily, thus making sure the get the proper amount of state funding (which is predicated on daily attendance).

Personally, I think that is a bogus reason. Schools have always taken attendance at the beginning of each class. This method takes very little time and produces a very accurate picture of daily attendance. No fancy (and expensive) electronic system is needed to keep track of attendance. I suspect the school has some more nefarious purpose in mind -- such as violating what little privacy is left for students.

One young lady refused to wear the new ID (saying it violated her religious rights), and the school has refused to let her attend classes until she agrees to wear it. This has resulted in a court case. The Rutherford Institute has filed suit on the young woman's behalf claiming the ID cards are a violation of the First Amendment rights of religious freedom and free speech. A judge has issued a temporary restraining order, which allows the young woman to attend class -- at least until the case can be heard.

John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, said, "The court's willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go -- not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled. These "student locator" programs are ultimately aimed at getting students used to living in a total surveillance state where there will be no privacy, and wherever you go and whatever you text or email will be watched by the government."

I don't know about the religious freedom argument, but I definitely think this is an invasion of what little privacy is left in this electronic society. We have already gone too far down this road (remember the Patriot Act?) and we need to stop this kind of nonsense before no one has any privacy left at all.

And there is one more reason why this makes no sense, especially here in Texas. In the last legislative session, the state cut school funds by about $5 billion (even though Texas already had one of the lowest per pupil funding rates in the nation), causing the layoff of thousands of teachers. It simply makes no sense that the school district spend precious school money on this ridiculous electronic tracking system that is not needed, when that money could have been spent on teachers or classroom supplies -- both of which are badly needed.

Hypocrisy

Political Cartoon is by Matt Wuerker at Politico.com.

Electoral Votes

By now, even those who are living under a rock and get no news at all must know that President Obama has won a second term, and he did so with a very convincing electoral vote. He got 332 electoral votes this time around. So how does that compare with how other presidents have done in electoral votes? Well, NBC News has answered that question for us by giving the electoral totals of modern presidents. I have put the top 15 electoral vote winners in the little chart above for your amusement. (NOTE -- For presidents elected to two terms, the figure shown is an average of the two electoral vote totals they received.)

Hoax?

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

Texas Secessionists

The map above shows the counties in Texas that had people who signed the petition to let Texas secede from the United States. On the whole, only a very tiny percentage of Texans signed the petition -- only the craziest teabaggers in the state. But the map does have one use. It shows you where those crazy people are located in the Lone Star State. The darker the color, the more people in that county signed the petition.

Regular readers will have heard me say many times that I live in one of the reddest areas of a red state. I think this map shows I was telling the truth. Note that the Panhandle has 5 of the 9 darkest purple counties, showing they have a lot of crazy teabaggers. If you will note, three of those dark purple counties are in a row. They are Oldham, Potter, and Carson counties (from left to right). I live in Potter County, the one in the middle. It just goes to show that I'm surrounded by a lot of crazy and truly scary people.

NOTE -- For another interesting and very entertaining take on the Texas secessionists, I urge you to go over and read the post by Glenn W. Smith at firedoglake.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Secular Nation


Public Has Little Hope Of Political Compromise In Congress

Last year, when the Congress was facing the problem of the debt ceiling, a majority of Americans (56%) expected the members of Congress to hammer out a compromise. They were disappointed. Congress instead engaged in a war of ideologies and brought to government to the brink of crisis, resulting in a lowering of the government's credit rating and a loss of confidence in Congress' ability to solve financial problems.

Now the government is facing another financial problem -- what to do about what some are calling the "fiscal cliff" (end of certain tax cuts and imposition of substantial spending cuts). But this time the public is not so optimistic. Now only 38% believe the two parties will reach a reasonable compromise, while a majority (51%) believe we'll see a replay of the ridiculous "debt ceiling" debate.

And there is good reason for this pessimism. And it is not just a problem of Congress. The congressional actors are just mirroring the beliefs of their party bases. There are those who say there is no difference between the two parties. While I agree that neither party is anywhere near as progressive as I would like to see (with the Democrats being slightly to the right and the Republicans being far to the right), the fact is that there are significant differences between what Democrats and Republicans want to see happen.

Here are some of the areas where there is significant disagreement among members of the two major parties:


Even though a majority of voters voted for Democrats in House races, the Republicans were able to keep their majority in the House of Representatives (because of some effective gerrymandering of congressional districts by state legislatures). The Senate remains in the hands of the Democrats (who actually were able to add a couple of seats to their total in the election). This means the pessimism of the public is probably justified. We are probably looking a two more years of arguing and posturing, resulting in governmental deadlock.

(Graphs above are from a survey done by the Pew Research Center on November 8th through 11th.)

No Response

Political Cartoon is by Dave Granlund at davegranlund.com.

The Fight Against Autocracy And Theocracy

Since the modern idea of democracy was born a few thousand years ago in Greece, there has been a struggle to keep it alive in a world that seems to love autocracy and theocracy. There are those who might be offended at my equating theocracy with autocracy, but the fact is that religion has been both a reason for establishing an autocracy and a tool for an autocracy to remain in power. Democracy simply cannot exist in any nation that decrees one religion is true and all others are false, because a democracy is more than rule by the majority. A true democracy demands respect for the rights of the minority.

During the celebrated "Arab Spring", one of the countries that successfully threw off the yoke of autocratic rule was Egypt. With the election of a new president by the people and an attempt to write a new constitution, it was hoped that democracy stood a chance of coming to that country in a real form. Those hopes have now been dimmed -- for a couple of reasons. First, because the constitution being written now is almost sure to be the vehicle for installation of a theocracy (which is nothing more than a religious autocracy). And second, because the elected president, a member of the same majority group writing the constitution, has given himself enormous new powers in a new decree -- powers that mean nothing he does can be overturned by the courts or any other organization.

President Morsy claims he is assuming these new autocratic powers to protect the "revolution" that happened in Egypt, and that nation is still on the road to democracy. Frankly that is now hard to believe. All autocrats have claimed that they are just protecting their nation and have assumed dictatorial powers for the good of the people. Even such brutal dictators as Stalin and Hitler made these claims. And it is also true that once the have assumed autocratic powers, dictators rarely give up those powers. And even if Morsy does finally bend to the will of the people and follow the dictates of a new constitution, if that constitution is simply an extension of the islamic religion (which it almost surely will be) can it really be called democratic?

Frankly, it now looks like the desire for a true democracy is Egypt has been thwarted. It has been subverted by the desire of a religious group to impose their will on all the country's citizens, and one man's desire to be the instrument of installing the new theocracy. Maybe this is the way it had to turn out. A real democracy cannot exist in a theocratic state, and until most Egyptians understand that there will not be a democracy in that country.

I know there will be many in this country, especially right-wingers, who will be saying "I told you so". But many of them don't really have the right to point a finger at Egypt, because they are trying to do the same thing in this country. The only difference is that they wish to replace our democracy with a christian theocracy instead of an islamic theocracy -- and personally, I don't see that as any better.

No theocracy, regardless of what religion it is established on, can also be a democracy (because it denies the rights of those who follow a different religion, or no religion at all). Fundamentalists will disagree, but a true democracy can only exist in a secular state that guarantees the fundamental right of religious freedom (which includes the right to be free from religion). And the funny thing is that all theocrats will agree with this when it is not their own religion that is dominant, but quickly disagree when their own religion is dominant.

We all need to understand that democracy is not the right to impose your religious views on your fellow citizens. A democracy requires that all religious views be respected and protected, and that none be elevated above all the others. Our forefathers understood this, and gave us an enduring secular constitution. And because they understood there would always be theocrats trying to destroy our democracy, they gave us the First Amendment guaranteeing religious freedom. We would be exceedingly foolish to replace that constitution with a Bible (or any other religious book).

Fiscal Cliff

Political Cartoon is by Tim Eagan at timeagan.com.

IRS Sued Over Churces Playing Politics

On October 7th, about 1500 christian preachers and ministers preached politics from their pulpit. They told their congregations that their religion demanded they vote for a particular candidate and party in the upcoming election (Romney and the Republican Party). But it was not important what party they were supporting. What was important is that they knew they were braking the law, and they did this intentionally. They are theocrats, who want their own religious views written into our nation's laws, and they want the Supreme Court to declare the law preventing them from proclaiming their politics from the pulpit to be overturned.

And what has out government done to these law violators (many of whom sent the IRS proof of their law-breaking)? Nothing. Not a single thing. The law says they should lose their tax-exempt status if they preach politics from the pulpit, but the IRS has taken no action against these intentional lawbreakers. It looks like the government is afraid to anger christians by removing the tax-exempt status of these churches -- even though polls have shown that a large majority of Americans think churches should not preach politics.

Since the government will not take the appropriate action to uphold the law, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed suit in federal court against the Internal Revenue Service. They are demanding that the IRS be ordered to do its job and uphold the law. The suit claims that the inaction by the IRS is a violation of the constitution. They claim that by not taking action against these churches, the IRS is giving preferential treatment to those churches that it does not give to other tax-exempt organizations.

They are right. Tax-exempt organizations (including churches) are given a special privilege by not having to pay taxes. It is not wrong to expect them to follow a few simple rules, one of them being to avoid electioneering, to keep that tax-exempt status. And if they want to be involved in politics, then they should pay for that privilege by paying taxes -- just like individual citizens and other organizations (that are not tax-exempt) must do.

These lawbreaking preachers are betting the current conservative Supreme Court will be on their side. I don't think so. In any event, it is the duty of the government to enforce the laws that Congress has passed. These preachers are wrong to break the law -- and the IRS is wrong to not enforce the law.

The Message

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in The Houston Chronicle.