A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Monday, December 31, 2012

Trickle-Down Didn't Work


Why Do Republicans Hate Social Security ?

The Republicans are currently trying to float two lies about Social Security. The first is that the budget cannot be balanced, or the deficit reduced, with cutting Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age. That is not even remotely true, since Social Security is completely paid for out of FICA payroll deductions, and don't add as much as a single penny to the deficit or the national debt.

Even the most revered Republican president (at least for the right-wingers) knew this. Ronald Reagan was big on cutting the budget (in spite of the fact that he actually increased the deficit), but he was honest enough to admit that cutting Social Security benefits would do nothing to balance the budget, control the deficit, or lessen the national debt. In attacking Social Security in this way, modern right-wingers are ignoring the truth told by their own icon.

The other lie they tell is that Social Security is going bankrupt unless benefits are cut and the retirement age is raised. The truth is that Social Security can continue to pay full benefits for another 25 years, and even after that it could continue to pay benefits at a 78% level. It is NOT going broke! And it could be easily fixed. Raising or removing the cap on the amount of income subject to the FICA deduction would easily fix Social Security far into the future.

The truth is that the Republicans have never liked Social Security. They voted against it when it was proposed, and regularly vote to harm the program -- in spite of the fact that it has worked exactly as it was designed to work, and has lowered poverty among the elderly from more than 50% to less than 10%. They have even tried to privatize it and let their buddies on Wall Street get their greedy hands on it.

This makes me wonder -- why do congressional Republicans hate Social Security? Why does it offend them that the elderly are now protected from a life of poverty after retiring? Is it because they are rich themselves and simply don't care about other people? Is it to protect their rich buddies in corporate America and on Wall Street (who don't need Social Security) from having to pay the small FICA tax? Is it because they consider ideology to be more important than the lives of ordinary Americans? I must admit, I am mystified.

Movement

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

Ignoring Scientific Reality

The religious right in this country is still trumpeting the idea that evolution is nothing more than a theory, and has yet to be proven to be true. That is an outrageous lie. Despite what fundamentalists want us to believe, evolution is a fact, not a theory. And that fact has been accepted in the scientific community for quite a while now. Evolution has been proven to have taken place for all living things, and if it is true of all other animals, then why would we think it has nothing to do with humans? Like it or not humans are scientifically an animal -- an animal with a higher functioning brain than other animals (thanks to evolution), but an animal nonetheless.

But far too many states in the United States have decided that religion must be taught in our schools instead of established scientific fact, or that some science should be ignored if it cannot be replaced by religion. The map above shows the states that teach or refuse to teach evolution. Note that only a handful of states bother to teach the whole scientific truth (those states in green). A passel of others, those in yellow, are listed as "satisfactory". But don't let that word "satisfactory" fool you, since some of those states (like Texas and Montana) don't mention human evolution at all, and others mar their teaching on evolution with "creationist jargon". Personally, I don't think that's "satisfactory" at all.

We are falling behind the rest of the developed world in education in general, and in science in particular. And the idea that we can't teach the truth if it conflicts with religious myths is a prime reason for this. We have failed to adequately fund our schools, and now we don't want the truth taught. It's just sad when a nation is afraid of the truth, and it's a bad sign for that nation's future.

(The map above is from the blog called The Immoral Minority.)

Leaders ?

Political Cartoon is by Jim Morin in The Miami Herald.

Votes Or Guns ?

There's no doubt that the thinking of the corporate-owned Republican Party is screwed up. They have no problem with any American owning an assault weapon (or even many assault weapons), but they don't think all Americans should have the right to vote. They have made it incredibly easy to own guns, even assault weapons -- but in the last election season, they came up with numerous ways to prevent people from voting. It's like they think guns are more important in sustaining a democracy than voting is. They are wrong. The equal right of all citizens to vote is the most important thing in a democracy. You can't have a real democracy without it.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

God And Guns


GOP Will Use Debt Ceiling To Force Cuts To Social Security/ Medicare

The Republicans have given up on trying to use the "fiscal ceiling" threat to force cuts to Social Security and Medicare. They finally realize they have no leverage in that fight, since if they continue to obstruct the tax cuts for most Americans they know they will anger most of the voting public. That does not mean they have given up on trying to cut Social Security and Medicare though. Instead, they will just switch those efforts to the coming fight over the debt ceiling.

The government will reach the debt ceiling limit on December 31st. Some financial maneuvers can be made to give a couple of months for Congress to do something, and the cuts from the "fiscal cliff" could push that a little further. But the fact is that Congress needs to address the debt ceiling, and it needs to do it fairly quickly. And Republican senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander think that will give the Republicans the leverage they need to force cuts to  the "entitlement" programs.

Of course this makes no sense at all, since Social Security has absolutely nothing to do with the debt ceiling (and cutting benefits will not affect government discretionary spending at all). Medicare also affects the debt ceiling very little. This means the Republicans are not serious about controlling spending -- just about hurting the Social Security and Medicare programs (which they have never liked). They claim they would be doing this to save the programs, but that is just a lie. They are doing it so their rich cohorts won't have to pay a little more in FICA deductions, and they are willing to throw millions of elderly people under the bus to do it (because those are the people who would be hurt by the trillion dollar cuts in entitlements they are seeking).

The last time the Republicans decided to play political games with the debt ceiling, it caused a lowering of the government's credit rating and cost the government an additional $19 billion dollars. It also seriously tarnished the Republican brand. I'm amazed that they want to have the same fight again.

If the Democrats are smart, they will refuse to give in on this -- even if the money runs out and much of the government has to shut down. They must just make sure that they are doing it to protect Social Security and Medicare from the ravages the Republicans would put on those programs. Let the GOP block the debt ceiling raise -- and let them take the blame for it. The Republicans may think they have more leverage in the debt ceiling fight, but they don't unless the Democrats give in and give them that leverage.

We must hope that President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, and Minority Leader Pelosi have grown sufficient backbones to stand firm and protect Social Security and Medicare. Allowing the Republicans to cut a trillion dollars from these programs would be sheer insanity.

NRA's Little Friend(s)

Political Cartoon is by John Darkow in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Spending Is Not The Problem

(The graph above was found at the excellent blog called Under The Mountain Bunker.)

The Republicans in Congress are still whining over spending by the federal government. What they won't tell you though is that President Obama has increased spending less than the last eight presidents did (and four of those eight presidents were Republicans). George W. Bush increased spending 5.5 times as much as President Obama has, and even the Republican idol (Ronald Reagan) increased spending 4.9 times as much as President Obama.

It seems the Republicans are not really against increasing government spending, unless it is being done under a Democratic administration. They don't mind at all when it is done by a Republican president. And the increase in spending under President Obama is a direct result of the incompetence of George W. Bush, who threw the nation into recession -- which made it necessary to spend more on unemployment payments, poverty programs, and Food Stamps.

But the real truth is that the small increase in spending under President Obama is not the real problem. The real problem is the cut in revenues made in the Bush administration. When Bush took office, President Clinton had wiped out the deficit (actually creating a surplus) and was starting to pay down the national debt. But Bush, in addition to increasing government spending, made huge cuts in revenues (taxes) -- mainly for the rich and corporations. Now the rich and corporations, both of which are making more money than ever, are paying less taxes than at any time since the Great Depression -- and this has caused the deficit to grow in spite of government cut-backs.

If we are really serious about cutting the deficit, then the government needs to get more revenues. The top tax rates on the rich must be raised at least to what they were in the Clinton administration. In addition, subsidies for corporations (which are no longer needed) should be eliminated. We don't need cuts to the meager payments to keep the poor and the elderly out of a dismal poverty. We just need the rich and the corporations to once again pay their fair share of taxes in this nation (which has given them so much).

Our current deficit is not a spending problem. It is a revenue problem.

GOP Infighting

Political Cartoon is by Daryl Cagle at caglecartoons.com.

How Many Children Must Die ?

There is no doubt that the United States is a gun culture. There are nearly as many guns as there are people floating around in our society (nearly 300 million guns and about 315 million people). And we seem to be willing to pay a high price for allowing all those guns -- willing to accept thousands of gun deaths each and every year (much more than in any other developed nation.

In an effort to divert attention from the amount and easy accessibility of guns in this country, the NRA has recently announced that guns aren't the problem at all -- that is problem is movies, TV, and video games. Of course, most (if not all) of the other developed nations view the same movies and TV shows as we do, and they play the same video games. But strangely, they don't have anywhere near the same rate of murders, suicides and accidental killings -- and the reason for that is because guns are not as easily accessible in those countries.

Recently, we have witnessed the aftermath of a school shooting in Connecticut where a lot of 6 and 7 year olds were mowed down with an assault weapon. This happened in a small town to young white children, and many are expressing outrage. But the truth is that this is not a lot different from what goes on in this country every single year. Consider the following statistics on murders (by guns) of children under 12 years of age in recent years:

2006...............120
2007...............115
2008...............116
2009...............114
2010...............96
2011...............119

That's a remarkably constant (and horrific) set of numbers. And remember, those are just the murders. If you also count the gun deaths of children by suicide and accident, the number grows much much higher. And if you just raise the age from 12 and under to 17 and under, that 119 figure for 2011 grows to a staggering 565 murders of children that year. We just ignore those murders, both because they have in smaller numbers with each incident and because many of those children were non-white. But those reasons don't make these murders any less senseless or tragic than the Connecticut shootings.

Of course, this brings up some pertinent questions. Have Americans just decided that more than a hundred gun murders of children every year (not to mention hundreds of suicides and accidental gun deaths of children) is an acceptable price to pay for keeping guns easily accessible to nearly everyone? Have we decided that gun ownership is more important than the lives of several hundred children each year (not to mention the thousands that are injured by guns each year)? How many of our children must die before we consider it an unacceptable number -- and do something about it.

Personally I think the number is already far too high, and at the very least we must tighten the restrictions on guns. What do you think?

More Guns

Political Cartoon is by Mike Smith in the Las Vegas Sun.

Guns Make It Too Easy To Kill

This is a hard fact to argue with -- that an abused woman is five times more likely to be killed by her abuser if that abuser owns a gun. While this does not mean the only way to kill is with a gun, it does tend to show that owning a gun makes it very easy to kill. Here are some other interesting facts (from the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence):

In 2007, 4,177 women were killed with firearms in the United States. Just over half of firearm deaths to women are suicides (2,171) and just under half (1,865) are homicides(National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC)).

In 2008, 7,451 women were treated in emergency rooms for a gunshot wound. Sixty-six percent of the injuries (4,892) were assault-related (NCIPC).

16 in every 1,000 U.S. women have been threatened with a gun (Sorenson, 2006, p.235).

For women, living in a home with a gun raises the risk of suicide by a factor of 4.6 (Bailey, 1997, p. 777).

For women, living in a home with a gun raises the risk of homicide by a factor of 3.4 (Bailey, 1997, p. 777)

Among high-income countries, the U. S. accounts for 32 percent of the female population but 70 percent of all female homicides (Hemenway, 2002, p. 100).

U.S. women's firearm death rate is 12 times higher than the combined rate of 22 other populous, high-income countries (Richardson, p. 4). 

Gun owners are 7.8 times more likely than non-gun owners to have threatened their partners with guns (Rothman, p. 62).

Over 90 percent of female homicide victims are killed by someone they know (VPC, p. 3, based on 2008 data). 

When firearms are used in a family or intimate assault, death is 12 times more likely than if another weapon is used (Saltzman, p. 3043).

An abuser’s access to a gun is associated with an 8-fold increase in the risk of homicide (Campbell, p. 1090).

In two thirds of battered women’s households that contained a firearm, the intimate partner used the gun against the woman, usually threatening to shoot/kill her (71.4 percent) or to shoot at her (5.1 percent). (Sorenson and Wiebe, p. 1412).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Robin Hood Tax -- A Very Good Idea


Fixing Social Security

Social Security is paid for by a payroll tax (called the FICA deduction), which goes into the Social Security Trust Fund (which issues all Social Security checks). It has never been paid for out of discretionary funds (funded by income taxes) and shouldn't ever be. That means Social Security has not added a single penny to the deficit or the total national debt. That's why it makes absolutely no sense at all for the Republicans to be demanding cuts to Social Security benefits as part of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

That does not mean there are no problems in the Social Security system. As the above graphic shows, the system can still issue full checks for another 25 years, but after that, it will only be able to continue by cutting those checks back to 78% of what they should be. The system is not going to go bankrupt (that's just a Republican lie), but it does need to be fixed, so it can go on issuing the full benefit earned by retirees after the year 2037.

The Republicans want to "fix" Social Security by reducing benefits now. They would raise the retirement age or cut the amount that retirees get each month -- or both. These are not real solutions, and they would hurt the people who need their Social Security checks to live on the most. While raising the retirement age might be feasible for the rich (whose life span has increased in the last few decades), that is not true of lower-wage workers who often must perform physically difficult jobs that require a lower retirement age (and whose lifespan has not increased).

Cutting the amount of the monthly benefit would be just as ridiculous. Most people do not get a lot in Social Security (with the average monthly check being in the range of about $1000), and to have their small check cut would pose a real hardship -- and it could sink many of this nation's elderly into poverty. So, how do we fix Social Security so it can continue to issue full benefits far into the future?

There are three possible options -- means testing, raising the payroll check FICA deduction, or raising the cap on the amount of income subject to the FICA deduction. Means testing would deny Social Security to those who make a certain income or have a certain level of wealth. The drawbacks to this are the difficulty in setting where the line should be drawn on who gets Social Security benefits and who doesn't, and the fact that it is uncertain just how much this would save (and how long it would keep the fund solvent) since that would depend on where the line is drawn.

The simpler methods are the two that would increase the amount of money deducted. As the graphic above says, raising the FICA deduction by another 2% would insure the fund can issue full benefits until at least 2083 (and maybe even longer). The problem is that this solution would hurt the poorest workers (those working for the lowest wages) the most. For the last couple of years, the FICA deduction has been about 4.2% (having been lowered to stimulate the economy). But it looks like that will end in a few days and the rate will return to the normal rate of 6.2%.

With low wage and middle income workers still struggling to pull themselves out of the last recession (which is already over for the rich), raising the rate another 2% (to about 8.2%) just doesn't seem feasible right now. It would not only add a financial burden on to the people who can least afford it, but it would also hurt the economy by taking money now being spent for items like food, housing, clothes, school items, entertainment, etc. -- which means this money would go to the government instead of circulating through the economy.

The best fix for Social Security, and also the easiest to do and least economically damaging, is simply to raise the cap on the amount of wages subject to the FICA deduction (or eliminate that cap entirely). The current cap is slightly more than $110,000. Raising the cap would insure the Social Security program can issue full benefits for many decades (and eliminating the cap would fully fund it far into the future). And this would not impose any more burden on low-wage workers, since they would still pay the same that they now pay. It would only make those that make above $110,000 a year pay a little more.

Another benefit of this solution is that it would make the system fairer. Currently, those making less than $110,000 a year must pay 6.2% of their gross income, but those who make more than that pay a smaller percentage of their gross income (for instance, someone making $1,000,000 would only pay about 0.0068% of their income).

Magnums

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

Time Is Right For Stricter Gun Laws

This is the best time in the last eight years to tighten up our gun laws in this country. That's because a significant majority of the population currently favors making laws covering the sale of firearms more strict. This is a change from just over a year ago. In October of 2011, the Gallup Poll found that 43% of Americans wanted stricter laws for firearms sales, while 44% wanted to keep the laws just as they are. But a new Gallup Poll, taken between December 19th and 22nd, shows that the attitude of Americans has been radically changed by the shootings in 2012 (including the Newtown school shooting).

Currently about 58% of the population would support stricter controls on the sales of guns, while only 34% want the laws to stay the same (and a clueless 6% would like less strict laws on gun sales). And there are two things an even larger percentage would like to see done:

WOULD YOU FAVOR A LAW THAT WOULD REQUIRE A BACKGROUND CHECK BEFORE PEOPLE, INCLUDING GUN DEALERS, COULD BUY GUNS AT A GUN SHOW?
favor...............92%
oppose...............7%

WOULD YOU FAVOR A LAW THAT WOULD BAN SALE AND POSSESSION OF HIGH-CAPACITY AMMUNITION CLIPS THAT CAN HOLD MORE THAN 10 ROUNDS?
favor...............62%
oppose...............35%

Those are good numbers to see, because both of those things have needed to be done for quite a while now. But there was another question in the Gallup Poll that I found troubling. According to the poll, about 51% of the public would oppose banning the sale or possession of an assault rifle. Only 44% would support such a ban. I really don't understand why these people want to allow the sale and possession of these kind of weapons in our society. They are useless for hunting, and no better than a shotgun or a pistol for home defense. The only thing they are good for is killing a lot of people in a short period of time. It looks like we've got some work to do on this question.

Snow Job

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

Killing For Profit

Isn't it time to stop our seemingly endless foreign wars. They have nothing to do with our national defense -- and everything to do with corporate profits. As we have done many times in the past, we are just sacrificing the lives of our brave soldiers (and far too many innocent civilians) for the benefit of Wall Street and corporate greed.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Rich Resource


Would Going Off Fiscal Cliff Be So Bad ?

Well, Speaker Boehner's little gambit to try and put pressure on the president (and the Democrats) didn't work out. He couldn't even get members of his own party to go along with it, and his failure to get it passed has now possibly put his own position as Speaker in danger. You can bet he won't try anything else before he gets re-elected to that position, because another failure would probably insure he is not kept on as Speaker.

Boehner is now trying to put the onus on the Senate and the president, saying it is up to them to save the nation from going off the "fiscal cliff". He'd better not hold his breath for that though, since the Democrats know their position will only get better after the end of the year (and the GOP position will just get weaker). But while the Republican politicians have been screaming about what a disaster it would be to go over the "fiscal cliff", and too many media members seem to have bought into their rhetoric, I have to wonder if it would really be that bad. If nothing at all is done before the end of the year, this is what will happen:

* All of the Bush tax cuts will end. The Democrats will immediately propose that those cuts be re-instated for those making less than $250,000 a year -- and the Republicans will have to go along with it, or be labeled as the party that refused to cut taxes for most Americans. And the rich will go back to paying the same tax rates they did in the Clinton administration (which would still be one of the lowest rates in modern history).

* There would be across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending. This would not be great for those Americans hurting the most, but at least the cuts would be fair -- and would include cuts to the bloated military budget (which the Pentagon has said would not hurt the military at all). These cuts will take hold slowly, and if it looks like they will hurt the economy, there is time to restore some of it.

* Unemployment benefits from the federal government would cease for a couple of million people. This would probably hurt the economy more than the other cuts (since this is money that would be spent and circulated through the economy). The Democrats will try to reinstate those benefits -- and if the Republicans try to stop it, they are likely to pay for that in the next election.

* Social Security recipients would get their full cost-of-living raise, and it is likely that Democrats will protect them from any benefit cuts in the new year -- since the new Congress will have more liberal Democrats and fewer teabagger Republicans.

* The fear is that going off the "fiscal cliff" will put the nation back into a recession. But this is a fear of Wall Street and the giant corporations. Main Street, that is most Americans, still hasn't gotten out of the last recession and very little would change for them.

While it would be better to avoid the tax cuts for all but the richest people and avoid the cuts to discretionary spending (except for the defense budget, which needs to be cut), not getting anything done before the end of the year would not be a huge disaster. The tax cuts will be restored fairly quickly, and the Democrats will be in a stronger position in the new Congress to fight for ordinary Americans. And once this all goes into effect, there will be a greater impetus to reach an agreement on what to do about it -- because the GOP will then have their backs against the wall.

Going Down

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

Those Who Left Us In 2012

(The above image is The Garden of Death by Hugo Simberg in 1896.)

As is usual in this fleeting moment that we call life, there were many deaths in 2012. Here are some of the more well-known people who left us this year:

12/27 -- Norman Schwarzkopf (U.S. Army General)
12/24 -- Charles Durning (actor)
12/24 -- Jack Klugman (actor)
12/19 -- Robert Bork (former U.S. Attorney General)
12/17 -- Frank Pastore (baseball player)
12/17 -- Daniel Inouye (U.S. Senator)
12/11 -- Ravi Shankar (musician)
12/08 -- Jerry Brown (football player)
12/05 -- Dave Brubeck (musician)
12/04 -- Jack Brooks (congressman)
12/01 -- Jovan belcher (football player)

11/28 -- Zig Ziglar (motivational speaker)
11/24 -- Hector Camacho (boxer)
11/23 -- Larry Hagman (actor)
11/08 -- Lee MacPhail (baseball executive)
11/07 -- Darrell Royal (football coach)
11/02 -- Milt Campbell (decathlon athlete, football player)
11/01 -- Pascual Perez (baseball player)

10/25 -- Emanuel Steward (boxing coach and commentator)
10/22 -- Russell Means (activist)
10/21 -- George McGovern (U.S. Senator, presidential candidate)
10/18 -- Eddie Yost (baseball player)
10/14 -- Arlen Specter (U.S. Senator)
10/10 -- Sam Gibbons (congressman)
10/10 -- Alex Karras (actor, football player)

9/27 -- Herbert Lom (actor)
9/25 -- Andy Williams (singer)
9/18 -- Steve Sabol (sports film producer)
9/11 -- Christopher Stevens (U.S. Ambassador)
9/08 -- Bill Moggridge (created first laptop computer)
9/06 -- Jake Eberts (movie producer)
9/06 -- Art Modell (owner of Baltimore Ravens)
9/03 -- Michael Clarke Duncan (actor)
9/01 -- Hal David (songwriter)

8/27 -- Malcolm Browne (photo-journalist)
8/25 -- Neil Armstrong (astronaut)
8/20 -- Phyllis Diller (comedian)
8/19 -- Tony Scott (film director)
8/16 -- William Windom (actor)
8/14 -- Ron Palillo (actor)
8/13 -- Helen Gurley Brown (writer, magazine editor)
8/13 -- Johnny Pesky (baseball player and manager)
8/07 -- Judith Crist (film critic)
8/06 -- Marvin Hamlisch (music composer)
8/05 -- Fred Matua (football player)

7/31 -- Gore Vidal (writer)
7/27 -- Norman Alden (actor)
7/26 -- Lupe Ontiveros (actress)
7/24 -- Sherman Hemsley (actor)
7/23 -- Sally Ride (astronaut)
7/08 -- Ernest Borgnine (actor)
7/03 -- Andy Griffith (actor)
7/01 -- Alan Poindexter (astronaut)

6/30 -- Yitzhak Shamir (Israeli Prime Minister)
6/26 -- Nora Ephron (writer)
6/26 -- Pat Cummings (basketball player)
6/21 -- Richard Adler (music composer)
6/20 -- LeRoy Neiman (artist)
6/19 -- Richard Lynch (actor)
6/17 -- Rodney King (his beating by police started Los Angeles riots)
6/13 -- Erica Kennedy (writer)
6/12 -- Henry Hill (gangster)
6/11 -- Ann Rutherford (actress)
6/08 -- Frank Cady (actor)
6/07 -- Bob Welch (musician)
6/05 -- Ray Bradbury (writer)
6/02 -- Richard Dawson (actor)

5/31 -- Orlando Woolridge (basketball player)
5/30 -- Pete Cosey (musician)
5/30 -- Jack Twyman (basketball player)
5/27 -- Johnny Tapia (boxer)
5/22 -- Eugene Polley (invented the remote control)
5/20 -- Robin Gibb (singer)
5/19 -- Bob Boozer (basketball player)
5/17 -- Donna Summer (singer)
5/15 -- Carlos Fuentes (writer)
5/13 -- Donald "Duck" Dunn (musician)
5/09 -- Vidal Sassoon (hair stylist)
5/08 -- Maurice Sendak (writer)
5/06 -- George Lindsey (actor)
5/04 -- Adam Yauch (singer)
5/02 -- Junior Seau (football player)

4/21 -- Charles Colson (special counsel to R. Nixon)
4/19 -- Levon Helm (musician)
4/18 -- Dick Clark (TV host)
4/09 -- Mark Lenzi (diver and diving coach)
4/07 -- Mike Wallace (journalist)

3/27 -- Adrienne Rich (poet)
3/12 -- Michael Hossack (musician)
3/08 -- Jimmy Ellis (singer)

2/29 -- Davy Jones (singer)
2/25 -- Red Holloway (musician)
2/24 -- Jan Berenstain (writer)
2/22 -- Marie Colvin (journalist)
2/11 -- Whitney Houston (singer)
2/03 -- Zalman King (actor, director)
2/03 -- Ben Gazzara (actor)
2/01 -- David Peaston (singer)
2/01 -- Don Cornelius (TV host)

1/26 -- Robert Hegyes (actor, teacher)
1/22 -- Joe Paterno (football coach)
1/20 -- Etta James (singer)
1/19 -- Sarah Burke (skier)
1/03 -- Bob Weston (musician)

The Hunter

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

Consumer Reports Best Vehicles

For those of you who might be interested in buying a new vehicle this coming year, Consumer Reports has released its list of best auto values -- the cars that give the best value for your dollar. Here is their best value in each class:

SMALL HATCHBACK
Toyota Prius

FAMILY SEDAN
Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

LARGE /LUXURY SUV
Lexus RX350

MINIVAN/WAGON
Toyota Prius V

SMALL SUV
Honda CR-V EX (pictured)

SMALL SEDAN
Toyota Corolla

UPSCALE SEDAN
Acura TSX

LUXURY SEDAN
Cadillac CTS

SPORTY CAR
Mini Cooper

MID-SIZED SUV
Toyota Highlander

2012

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

Prayer In Schools Was Never Banned

I'm getting sick and tired of hearing religious fundamentalists whining about prayer being banned in schools, or god being kicked out of our schools. Why? Because that's an outrageous lie! Prayer was not banned in schools. Any child or group of children can pray in school. The only thing that was banned is forcing all children (including children who's parents follow a different religion, or no religion at all) to participate in a government led christian prayer ritual.

And there's a very good reason for that. It's called the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom. This guarantee means that my children or grandchildren cannot be forced to participate in your religious rituals, and further guarantees that the government will not favor any religion above all others -- which a teacher or school official (i.e., government employee) leading the school, or a class, in a christian prayer would entail.

Any child that wants to pray at school may still do so under current law, and many still do (both individually and at gatherings like "Prayer at the Flagpole"). And I (as an atheist) have no problem with that at all. After all, the Constitution gives them that right. But that is not good enough for many christian fundamentalists. They seem to think that their religious rights have been violated because they can no longer force others to participate in a christian ritual like prayer (which is really an anti-constitutional view).

Not being able to force others to participate in your religious rituals is not a violation of your religious freedom. It simply gives everyone the same right -- the right to make their own decision on what religious rituals they will or will not participate. And shouldn't that be what we all want in a free country?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Right Wing - Left Wing


Protecting Social Security & Medicare Is More Important Than Reducing Deficit



This rather interesting data is from a Pew Research Survey taken between November 28th and December 5th of this year.

The big argument is Congress right now is over which is more important -- reducing the deficit or protecting the elderly (and future retirees) from cuts in benefits to the so-called entitlements (Social Security and Medicare). The congressional Republicans believe reducing the deficit is the most important thing, and they are willing to cut benefits for Social Security and Medicare to accomplish that (even though Social Security has not contributed to the deficit at all, and Medicare only partially). On the other hand, the Democrats would protect Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts, and attack the deficit with higher taxes on the rich and improving the economy through job creation.

I personally think the Democrats have the right view, but the real question is what do the citizens of this country think. Are they willing to accept benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit, as the Republicans want? Or do they agree with the position staked out by the Democrats? According to the Pew survey, they think it is more important to protect the "entitlements" -- by a substantial margin.

A full 56% of the people believe it is more important to protect Social Security and Medicare, while only 32% say reducing the deficit is more important (a 24 point difference), and 8% say both are equally important. When the question is broken down by age group, the support for reducing the deficit grows as the age group gets younger, but even the youngest voters (those between 18 and 29) show 7% more support for protecting entitlements over reducing the deficit.

The only group that supports reducing deficits more than protecting entitlements are Republican voters, and even there the percentages are close -- with 45% wanting to reduce the deficit and 42% wanting to protect entitlements. Clearly, the congressional Republicans are out of touch with the general public -- and many in their own party.

But while the entitlements don't really add much to the deficit, and they are not going bankrupt (as Republicans would have you believe), there are some changes that need to be made to make sure both Social Security and Medicare remain fully funded and able to operate far into the future for the benefit of current and future retirees. What sort of changes would the public support?

The survey also tried to answer that question, and the results are in the chart below. The options that have been discussed the most are:
* raising payroll taxes for the rich
* lowering benefits for the rich
* raising the age of eligibility.

The support for raising the age for qualifying for benefits for entitlements is very low -- 38% for Social Security and 35% for Medicare. Obviously, the people don't want the qualifying ages raised. Support for the other actions does get majority support though. About 66% would support raising payroll taxes on the rich (which would be done by raising the cap on the income for which the payroll tax is applicable). In addition, 55% would support reducing Social Security benefits for high-income seniors, and 60% would be in favor of reducing Medicare benefits for high-income seniors. I'm not necessarily opposed to means testing for entitlements, but I do think the easier (and perhaps fairer) way is just to raise (or eliminate) the cap on income subject to the payroll tax.

Anyway, that's what the American people think. Let us hope Congress is listening.

Solutions ?

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

No Excuses Left For Not Passing VAWA

I certainly don't understand why the Republicans in the House continue to block passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and I doubt that very many women in the U.S. understand either. The "Senate forced it on us without our consent" is never a good excuse for not passing a bill. Read the damn thing, and if it's good then pass it or if it's bad then vote it down. The Republicans have done neither. They refuse to vote on it at all.

This is not really even anything new. It is a bill that has had bipartisan support in the past, and simply needs to be renewed. But this time the GOP has decided to try and make some political hay out of it instead of acting to protect the women in America from abuse (and sometimes even death). There were three new provisions added to the re-authorization of VAWA this time -- making sure the bill also covered immigrant women, same-sex partners, and giving tribal courts jurisdiction over abuse of Native American women abused by non-Native American partners.

Personally, I thought these additions were a good thing. After all, why shouldn't ALL women be protected from domestic abuse? But the Republicans didn't see it that way. They decided that some classes should be protected and others shouldn't, so they used that as an excuse to oppose the bill. It's stupid and mean-spirited, but it does go along with the Republican idea that some people should have more rights than other people (in spite of the constitutional guarantee of equal rights).

Well, the Democrats caved a bit, and removed the protections for immigrant women and same-sex partners. They shouldn't have, but they did it so they could finally get the bill passed and get at least some women protected. That still wasn't good enough for the Republicans. They still whined that non-Native American abusers of Native American women might not get fair treatment in Native American courts. So an amendment was added that would give defendants the option of having the case moved to a federal court.

But the Republicans continue to block VAWA, in spite of the fact that all of their concerns have been addressed. The bill is now extremely similar to the VAWA bills of the past that were easily passed with bipartisan support, and yet the GOP continues to refuse to even allow it to come up for a vote. That means there can only be one reason for blocking the bill -- because Democrats (including the president) support the bill. They are willing to allow the women of America to be abused (and possibly killed) just so they can continue there obstruction of EVERYTHING the president tries to get done.

There is no moral or political justification for the continued blocking of VAWA. And there are no excuses left. It is time for Congress to finally vote on approving VAWA.

Hostage

Political Cartoon is by Jimmy Margulies in The Record (New Jersey).

This Part Of The Budget Needs To Be Cut

The ridiculous politicians in Washington continue to whine about the budget and how hard it would be to cut. The graphic above shows what a load of crap that is. Our military budget (about 45% of the world's military budget for all country's combined) could be cut in half, and we'd still be spending more than the other 9 countries in the 10 biggest spenders -- and that's the other 9 COMBINED. There is simply no reason for a military budget this big.

I know the politicians will say any cut to the military budget will hurt our ability to defend ourselves. That is not just untrue -- it is a damned lie! Most of this money doesn't even go directly to the military. It goes into the pockets of the corporations in the military-industrial complex -- who are getting rich making weapons that too often are either not needed or don't work.

A huge amount of money could be saved by cutting the money spent on the military-industrial complex. And a lot more could be saved by closing many of the more than 800 military bases we have around the world (whose purpose is to bully the rest of the world and have very little to do with defending this country). And that money could be spent in this country to help hurting Americans, to create jobs, and to get the economy back on track.

The budget does need to be cut to lower the deficit -- but not on the backs of the elderly, the children, the poor, the unemployed, or other hurting Americans. There is plenty of fat that could be cut from our bloated military budget.

NRA Religion

Political Cartoon is by Manny Francisco in The Manila Times.

Hogging The Nation's Income

This is just a reminder of how unequal the income is distributed in the United States. The gap is wider between the rich and all others, and the ability of citizens to move up the wealth ladder is harder in the United States than it is in most other developed countries. This is not freedom, fairness, or justice. This is theft by the rich, thanks to a system they have been able to rig in their favor. And now they want even more through larger tax cuts, and their GOP servants want to give it to them (by taking more from the rest of America).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Racist

Can this teabagger really be so stupid as to not understand that he "labeled" himself by making and proudly displaying that sign?

Democrats Have Positive View Of 2013 But Republicans Are Pessimistic

This is an interesting graphic. It comes from a new ABC News/Washington Post Poll, and it shows that Democrats and Republicans have widely divergent views of what the new year holds -- both for themselves as individuals and for the world in general.

I guess this shouldn't be any surprise, since we are only a couple of months past an election where the Democrats scored a great victory while the Republicans got spanked. But I think it goes a bit further than that. The Republicans are facing the prospect of their mean-spirited agenda being stopped in its tracks. But the Democrats see the prospect of many things they passionately believe in being forwarded in the new year -- things like equal rights becoming more of a reality, and the poor and elderly being protected from cuts to programs they depend on, and the tax burden being shared just a little bit more fairly.

I also think that Democrats are a bit more optimistic naturally -- not being afraid of change and progress. While the Republicans tend to view all change in pessimistic terms -- with change being for them, something to be feared. And we live in a time of radical change, both in the United States and in the world at large.

Personally, I have an optimistic view of the coming year. I think we have a real chance to make this a better nation for all of us in 2013 -- as long as we are all willing to work hard and do our part.

Targeted

Political Cartoon is by Lee Judge in the Kansas City Star.

NRA's LaPierre Lied On TV Appearance

It seems there are no depths to which Wayne LaPierre will not sink to protect the gun makers in America, not even if he has to lie to do it. And that seems to be just what he has done on his recent appearance on Meet The Press. LaPierre tried to use the nation of Israel as an example of how his ridiculous notion of putting armed guards in all this nation's schools could work. He said:

“Israel had a whole lot of school shootings, until they did one thing. They said we’re going to stop it and they put armed security in every school and they have not had a problem since then.” 

But Isreali officials were quick to call him out on that. Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the situation is Israel was fundamentally different from that in the United States. He went on to say:

“We didn’t have a series of school shootings, and they had nothing to do with the issue at hand in the United States. We had to deal with terrorism.”  

“What removed the danger was not the armed guards but an overall anti-terror policy and anti-terror operations which brought street terrorism down to nearly zero over a number of years. It would be better not to drag Israel into what is an internal American discussion."


Retired Israeli Army Colonel and senior police officer Reuven Berko added:

“There is no comparison between maniacs with psychological problems opening fire at random to kill innocent people and trained terrorists trying to murder Israeli children.” 

“Israeli citizens are not allowed to carry guns unless they are serving in the army or working in security-related jobs that require them to use a weapon.”


It looks like LaPierre was trying to compare apples with oranges. The situations in the two countries are nothing alike. And while LaPierre and his ilk love to use Israel as a country that is made safer because of a lot of guns being available, that is not true either (as Mr. Berko points out). Israeli citizens are not allowed to carry weapons as too many Americans are allowed to do unnecessarily. It certainly doesn't help LaPierre's already damaged credibility to go around spreading lies.

Mindless

Political Cartoon is by Kevin Siers in The Charlotte Observer.

Two Great Actors Have Gone From Us


Two of America's greatest actors have died this week. On Monday, Jack Klugman died at the age of 90 in Los Angeles. On that same day in New York, Charles Durning died at the age of 89. Both had long and distinguished careers on the stage, in TV shows, and in many movies -- and both were award-winning actors. And I admit that both have been favorites of mine for many years now -- giving me many hours of entertainment pleasure. Fortunately, both have left behind a huge body of work on film and videotape, so they can never be forgotten.

The Addict

Political Cartoon is by Olle Johansson at caglecartoons.com.

Be Outraged

That's a very telling statistic. More Americans are killed by their fellow Americans each year (with guns) than all of the Americans killed by the enemy in the entirety of our last two foreign wars. Whether we want to admit it or not, that means we have a serious problem with violence in this country, and that problem is exacerbated by the extremely large number of guns easily available in this society. Obviously more guns doesn't equal less deaths -- it equals more deaths. It's time to admit that and take action to solve the problem.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holiday

I want to take this opportunity to wish all of this blog's readers a very happy and safe Solstice Season Holiday -- however you may celebrate it. May your holiday be filled with food, friends, and love. 

Most Americans Don't Share Pope's Bigotry

In this holiday season, when most people (including religious leaders), are expressing views of peace, brotherhood, and love for all humanity, Pope Benedict decided to take a different path. He chose instead to promote his own bigotry. In his christmas message, the Pope lashed out at homosexuals -- accusing them of destroying the nature of humans and even destroying world peace. It was truly a sad exhibition of hatred from a religious leader claiming to be a follower of Jesus (who preached a message of love and acceptance -- and who never condemned homosexuality).

Fortunately, it seems that most people are turning away from the kind of hate promoted by religious leaders like the Pope. According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority of Americans (52%) now support allowing same-sex marriage -- and when assured that no churches would be forced to perform those marriages that didn't want to do so, that percentage rises to 58%. And that includes 59% of catholics, 56% of mainline protestants, and 77% of those not affiliated with any religious group.

Oddly enough, the Pope's views are shared by a majority of only one religious group in the United States -- white evangelical protestants, the same people who consider the Pope to not even be christian. About 77% of white evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage.

And an even larger percentage of Americans say that any group offering adoption services that receives any government money should not be allowed to turn down gay/lesbian couples who want to adopt. About 63% agree with this.

The Pope, and his evangelical enemies, may still be determined to use their religion to push their own bigoted beliefs (just like they once used that religion to justify their racist beliefs), but the good thing is that most Americans are no longer willing to go along with that kind of hate. The religious prefer the gospel of love taught by Jesus over the message of hate from small-minded religious leaders, and those of us who are not religious simply believe in the equality guaranteed by the Constitution. And that is a good thing for the future of this country.