Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An Essential Force

GOP Rep. Darrell Issa Is A Big Fat Liar

For over a year now the Republicans in Congress having been saying that the Obama administration has been lying about the attack on American diplomats in Benghazi. They have been saying the attack was arranged and carried out by al-Queda instead of mob violence instigated by anger over a film by an American fundamentalist preacher that defamed islam.

The GOP has been saying that al-Queda hasn't been damaged nearly as much as the president has claimed, and that the White House should have expected this attack and beefed up security (completely ignoring the fact that it was their party that cut $300 million in security funds for American consulates and embassies in other countries).

And one of the primary Republicans who has been questioning the White House over Benghazi is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California). He has used his position as chairman of the House Oversight Committee to "investigate" Benghazi, and attack the president over his failure to sufficiently attack al-Queda or defend the diplomatic mission in Benghazi. And he has done that loudly, and with the sureness of someone who knows what he is saying is true.

But those silly accusations were exposed last week. The New York Times published the findings of a report on what happened in Benghazi -- and it was revealed that neither al-Queda nor any other terrorist group had anything to do with the attack. The attack was just mob violence precipitated by the American fundamentalist film defaming islam, just as it was initially reported. And since it was a spur of the moment action by a mob, there was no way anyone could have predicted it (or made special preparations for it).

You might think Issa (and many of his Republican cohorts) would be embarrassed at this revelation. Not so. It seems that Issa and other committee members have had the results of this study for over a year now. They just chose not to reveal it, because it didn't agree with their attacks on the president -- and attacking the president is more important than revealing the truth for them.

This means Issa has been lying to the American people (and wasting taxpayer money with the fraudulent investigation) for at least a year now. But he's not the only one. The congressional GOP has shown in the last few years that they are perfectly willing to tell a lie when the truth doesn't help them.

(The caricature of Darrell Issa above is by DonkeyHotey.)

GOP's (Dubious) 2013 Accomplishments

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

Barack Obama / Hillary Clinton Most Admired People

Each year the Gallup Poll asks Americans to name the people they admire the most. The question is asked in an open manner, with no suggestions or choices offered, and the respondents can name any person at all. This year Gallup questioned 1,031 randomly chosen nationwide adults between December 5th and 8th.

And the results of that survey have not changed for several years now. For the sixth year in a row, the poll's respondents have named President Barack Obama as the most admired man -- and for the twelfth year in a row, Hillary Clinton has been named as the most admired woman. Here are the lists of those ranked in the top ten this year for most admired (along with the percentage of those naming them):

Barack Obama...............16%
George W. Bush...............4%
Pope Francis...............4%
Bill Clinton...............2%
Billy Graham...............2%
Bill Gates...............1%
Clint Eastwood...............1%
Ron Paul...............1%
Ted Cruz...............1%
Mitt Romney...............1%
Jimmy Carter...............1%

Hillary Clinton...............15%
Oprah Winfrey...............6%
Michelle Obama...............5%
Sarah Palin...............5%
Malala Yousefzai...............2%
Condoleezza Rice...............2%
Angela Merkel...............1%
Angelina Jolie...............1%
Duchess Kate...............1%
Queen Elizabeth II...............1%


Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Opposition To The War In Afghanistan Is Very High

The illegal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has now entered its 13th year, and there is still another year to go before the U.S. will pull any of its troops out of that country. President Obama has promised to end the war by the end of 2014, but that's just a bit of an untruth. What the united States wants to do, and probably will do, is to leave 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for many more years -- perhaps another 10 years or more.

But if they do that, it will be against the wishes of the American people. A new CNN / ORC Poll (taken between December 16th and 19th of a random nationwide sample of 1,035 adults, with a margin of error of 3 points) shows that the Afghan occupation has become very unpopular in the United States.

Back in 2008, even though the war had dragged on for 7 years and was accomplishing nothing, a slim majority of Americans (52%) still supported it. But the bottom has dropped out of support for the war/occupation. Now only 17% of the population supports it, while a whopping 82% does not. That makes this military action in Afghanistan the most unpopular one in modern U.S. history. Opposition to the war in Vietnam never got over 60%, and opposition to the second Iraq invasion (and occupation) topped out at 69%.

We should never have invaded Afghanistan in the first place, and the poll shows that 57% of the public believes it was a mistake. That same 57% would support withdrawing all of our troops before the December 2014 timeline of President Obama. The truth is that we have not accomplished much (if anything) by invading Afghanistan, except to replace one corrupt government with another and cause the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and innocent Afghan citizens -- and there is little chance that staying longer will accomplish anything more.

The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has been a terrible mistake, and it is time to put an end to it. The United States should immediately withdraw ALL troops from Afghanistan.

New Year's Baby

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

Bernie On Congress

Monday, December 30, 2013

Jobs Are NOT A Republican Priority

Time Is Running Out For The GOP On Health Care Reform

The chart above is from the website ACAsignups.net. It shows the number of people who have signed up for health insurance coverage under the new Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) -- and those numbers are rising rapidly.

The Republicans have done everything they can to keep Obamacare from working -- to keep the president (and Democrats) from getting any credit for helping more Americans to be covered with health insurance (and better insurance for many already covered). They have tried to repeal it about 40 times, have urged Americans to not buy insurance through the exchanges (claiming it is "socialism"), and have directed cyber attacks at the federal website (set up for people who live in Republican-controlled states refusing to set up a state insurance exchange). But those efforts have been in vain.

The enrollment figures started off slow -- due to a glitch in the federal website and tentative acceptance by the public. Less than 100,000 people signed up for private insurance through the exchanges in October. And November wasn't much better, with the total enrollment still short of 400,000 people. But the glitches in the federal website have largely been fixed, and the state sites are working well -- and the enrollment has mushroomed in December.

So far, a total of 2,025,432 people have signed up for private insurance through the state and federal insurance exchanges (about 1.1 million on the federal site alone). There are still those who say the original CBO estimate of 7,066,000 by March 31st will not be met, but I'm not sure at all that they are right. The sign-ups are growing and there are still three months left in the sign-up period. I believe that estimate is still within reach.

But whether the 7 million figure is reached or not, the enrollment figures are already a nightmare for the GOP. Just add up the figures. First you have 2,025,432 people who have purchased private insurance (most of whom did not have insurance before signing up). Then you have an additional 4,009,595 people who have qualified through the exchanges for Medicaid/SCHIP. Add to that the more than 3.1 million young people under 26 who have been added to their parents' insurance plans. That totals up to more than 9.1 million Americans who now have insurance (and who did not have insurance before Obamacare went into effect).

If time has not already run out for the GOP efforts to stop Obamacare, it is fast running out. Can they really take the political hit of denying insurance to more than 9.1 million people -- and by March 31st that figure could be well over 14-15 million people. And by 2016, the soonest the GOP could possibly win the White House and repeal Obamacare, these people are going to be convinced that Obamacare was a good thing (which provided them with inexpensive insurance) and many more are going to see that they now have better insurance than before at a cheaper price. Trying to repeal Obamacare then would be political suicide.

That is why the GOP has tried so hard to derail Obamacare in the past couple of years. They knew that once it kicked in and millions began receiving cheaper and better insurance (or receiving insurance for the first time), there would be no way they could dismantle the program. And that is now happening.

New Year Fireworks

Political Cartoon is by Arend van Dam at cagle.com.

Senator Bernie Sanders Greets The New Year With Renewed Political Determination

As we prepare to enter a new year, a lot of politicians and pundits are sending out greetings and detailing their wishes for the new year. My favorite politician, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), has done the same. Here is his message to his supporters, which I gladly share with my readers:

I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy new year.  I also want to express my gratitude to you for the political support that you have given to me, and for all of your efforts in trying to move our country and the world in the direction of peace, justice and environmental sanity.

As we survey our country at the end of 2013 I don't have to tell you that the problems facing us are monumental, that the Congress is dysfunctional and that more and more people (especially the young) are, understandably, giving up on the political process.  The people are hurting.  They look to Washington for help.  Nothing is happening.
  • The middle class continues to decline with median family income some $5,000 less than it was in 1999.
  • More Americans, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation's history. Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
  • Real unemployment is not 7 percent. If one includes those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time, real unemployment is 13.2 percent -- and youth unemployment is much higher than that.
  • Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
  • Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.
  • Meanwhile, as tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
  • The scientific community has been very clear: Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don't significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable.
Clearly, if we are going to save the middle class and protect our planet, we need to change the political dynamics of the nation. We can no longer allow the billionaires and their think tanks or the corporate media to set the agenda. We need to educate, organize and mobilize the working families of our country to stand up for their rights. We need to make government work for all the people, not just the 1 percent.

When Congress reconvenes for the 2014 session, here are a few of the issues that I will be focusing on.   

WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.

JOBS: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.

WAGES: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.

RETIREMENT SECURITY: At a time when only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income we must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.
WALL STREET: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were "too big to fail." Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: Frankly, the National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a "free country" when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.

WAR AND PEACE: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.

Let me conclude by once again wishing you a happy and healthy new year -- and by asking you to share this email with friends, family and co-workers.  They can sign-up for our occasional emails by clicking here.

This is a tough and historical moment in American history.  Despair is not an option.  Let us stand together as brothers and sisters and fight for the America our people deserve.  Thank you for your continued support.

Senator Bernie Sanders


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

2013 Deaths Of Notable People

[The image above is from the Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514).]

Here is the list (albeit a partial one) of some of the celebrities and other notable people who died this year. 

Patti Page, 85, singer
Richard Ben Cramer, 62, journalist (Pulitzer Prize winner)
James M. Buchanan, 93, economist (Nobel Prize winner)
Eugene C. Patterson, 89, newspaper editor (Pulitzer Prize winner)
Stan Musial, 92, baseball player
Earl Weaver, 82, baseball manager
Pauline Phillips, 94, columnist known as Dear Abby
Conrad Bain, 89, actor
Stanley Karnow, 87, journalist & historian (Pulitzer Prize winner)
Patty Andrews, 94, singer & member of Andrews Sisters

Edward I. Koch, 88, three-term mayor of New York City
Donald Byrd, 80, jazz trumpeter
Mindy McCready, 37, singer
Dr. C. Everett Koop, 96, Surgeon General of U.S.
Van Cliburn, 78, pianist
Dale Robertson, 89, actor
Donald A Glaser, 86, physicist (Nobel Prize winner)

Bonnie Franklin, 69, actress
Hugo Chavez, 58, President of Venezuela
Harry Reems, 65, porn star
Chinua Achebe, 82, author
Ray Williams, 58, basketball player
Anthony Lewis, 85, journalist (Pulitzer Prize winner)

Jack Pardee, 76, football player
Chuck Fairbanks, 79, football coach
Roger Ebert, 70, film critic
Annette Funicello, 70, actress
Margaret Thatcher, 87, British Prime Minister
Francois Jacob, 92, scientist (Nobel Prize winner)
Pat Summerall, 82, sports broadcaster
Jonathan Winters, 87, comedian
Maria Tallchief, 88, ballerina
Robert G. Edwards, 87, doctor (Nobel Prize winner)
Richie Havens, 72, musician
George Jones, 81, singer

Jeff Hanneman, 49, musician
Christian de Duve, 95, biochemist (Nobel Prize winner)
Ray Harryhausen, 92, special effects wizard
Joyce Brothers, 85, psychologist & broadcaster
Ken Venturi, 82, golf player & broadcast analyst
Ray Manzarek, 74, musician
Haynes Johnson, 81, journalist (Pulitzer Prize winner)
Mulgrew Miller, 57, jazz pianist
Jean Stapleton, 90, actress

Deacon Jones, 74, football player
Frank Lautenberg, 89, U.S. senator
Esther Williams, 91, swimmer & actress
Robert W. Fogel, economist (Nobel Prize winner)
James Gandolfini, 51, actor
Slim Whitman, 90, singer

William H. Gray III, 71, congressman
Amar G. Bose, 83, audio engineer & inventor
Helen Thomas, 92, journalist
George Scott, 69, baseball player
Eileen Brennan, 80, actress
Lindy Boggs, 97, congressperson
Virginia E. Johnson, 88, sex researcher
Emile Griggith, 75, boxer
Dennis Farina, 69, policeman & actor
William W. Scranton, 96, governor & UN representative
Michael Ansara, 91, actor

Julius Chambers, 76, civil rights attorney
Art Donovan, 89, football player
Eydie Gorme, 84, singer
General David C. Jones, 92, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
Lee Thompson Young, 29, actor
Elmore Leonard, 87, writer
Marian McPartland, 95, jazz pianist
Dean Meminger, 65, basketball player
Julie Harris, 87, actress
Seamus Heaney, 74, poet (Nobel Prize winner)
David Frost, 74, broadcaster

Ray Dolby, 80, audio engineer & inventor
Ken Norton, 70, boxer
David Hubel, 87, scientist (Nobel Prize winner)
L.C. Greenwood, 67, football player

Tom Clancy, 66, writer
Vo Nguyen Giap, 102, North Vietnamese general
Andy Pafko, 92, baseball player
Scott Carpenter, 88, astronaut
Oscar Hijuelos, 62, writer (Pulitzer Prize winner)
Thomas S. Foley, 84, Speaker of the House
Bum Phillips, 90, football coach
Lawrence Klein, 93, economist (Nobel Prize winner)
Bill Sharman, 87, basketball player & coach
Lou Reed, 71, musician

Walt Bellamy, 74, basketball player
Ace Parker, 101, football player
Frederick Sanger, 95, biochemist (Nobel Prize winner)
Doris Lessing, 94, writer (Nobel Prize winner)
Mike McCormack, 83, football player & coach
Todd Christensen, 57, football player
Vern Mikkelsen, 85, basketball player
Chico Hamilton, 92, jazz drummer
Paul Walker, 40, actor

Nelson Mandela, 95, activist & President of South Africa
Eleanor Parker, 91, actress
Jim Hall, 83, jazz guitarist
Peter O'Toole, 81, actor
Joan Fontaine, 96, actress
Ray Price, 87, singer
Al Goldstein, 77, published Screw magazine
Paul Blair, 69, baseball player
Mikhail Kalashnikov, 94, inventor of AK-47 assault rifle


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

Bernie On Defense Spending

Bernie is right, of course. Cuts can and should be made to our military budget. And that money should be used to help hurting Americans, who are still struggling to recover from the Bush recession. I would make a slight alteration to Bernie's statement though -- by replacing the word "judicious" with "significant". We don't just spend a little bit too much on our military -- we spend far too much, and we could cut that bloated budget in half without damaging our national defense.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The "Perfect" Word ?

Religion Continues To Decline In The U.S.

I have posted before about the decline of religion in this country, as revealed by the Pew Research Center surveys. Now another polling organization has verified those findings -- the Harris Poll. The charts in this post reflect the findings of Harris Poll surveys -- the latest being conducted between November 13th and 18th of this year, when 2,250 nationwide adults were polled. A margin of error was not given, but is probably pretty low considering the size of the random sample.

While Pew listed the non-religious at 19%,  Harris pegs it a little bit higher. They show the percentage of non-religious Americans as being 23%. That's 11 points higher than what it was just a few years ago (in 2007), and corresponds with a similar drop of 11 points in those who say they are very/somewhat religious (from 70% to 59%).

This same move toward a more secular country is reflected by a drop in the belief in a god -- from 79% in 2003 to 68% in 2013 (with 54% being absolutely certain there is a god and 14% being somewhat certain). Currently 16% say they are certain there is no god, while another 16% say they don't know whether god exists or not. There has also been a drop in the belief that religious texts are the "word of god". There is not a majority believing that any religious text is the word of god -- including the christian texts of the old and new testaments.

And belief in other religious ideas (such as heaven, hell/devil, deity of Jesus, virgin birth, resurrection, a soul that survives death, and creationism) have also shown a drop in belief. The only two beliefs showing a rise in percentage believing them are evolution and reincarnation.

The most surprising thing for me was how small the percentage was of those who are certain of the existence of god. Only slightly more than half of all Americans (about 54%) are convinced of god's existence -- and when the question is broken down demographically, there are several groups where that belief falls below 50% (see chart below).

 Religious people will probably think this drop in the religiosity of Americans is a bad thing. I think just the opposite -- that it is a good thing. Too often religion is used to justify unfairness and inequality in life. People are urged to just put up with injustice in this world, and they will get rewarded for that in the next world -- a world that supposedly exists after death. It is my hope that as religiosity decreases, the concern for justice, fairness, and equality will increase. And religion will cease to be used as an excuse to do nothing, or as a cover for bigotry and hate.

(Un)Happy New Year

Political Cartoon is by Patrick Chappatte in the International New York Times.

Mass Murders In 2013

I can understand the feelings of Gabby Giffords. Not only was she seriously wounded in a mass murder, but the Newtown massacre of tiny school children and their teachers at the end of 2012 gave this country the perfect opportunity to do something about the out of control gun violence in the United States. The American people wanted action -- at the very least the closing of the loopholes in the background check law for gun purchases (where at least 40% of purchasers are able to duck having a background check because they buy from a private individual, at a gun show, or off the internet).

But Congress did absolutely nothing. They knuckled under to the NRA, and their lies that any new gun laws would be a violation of the Second Amendment. They ran scared by the right-wing lies that government wanted to take guns away from Americans -- afraid they wouldn't be re-elected if they passed a reasonable gun law. It was a classic display of political cowardice.

So the killing went on, including a ridiculous number of mass murders (defined by the FBI as a shooting that takes the life of at least four people, not counting the shooter). And even though there were far too many mass murders with firearms, that is only the tip of the iceberg of gun violence in America. When we include murders of less than four people, accidental deaths by firearms, and suicides with a gun, the total climbs up above 30,000 deaths (which is about the yearly average).

Gawker has compiled an eye-opening list of the mass murders in 2013 by firearms (using the stringent FBI definition). Here is their list:


7 - Tulsa, Oklahoma: Four women ranging in ages from 23 to 55 were found in their apartment shot dead with their hands tied behind their backs. A pair of brothers was arrested for allegedly robbing and killing them.
19 - Albuquerque, New Mexico: 15-year-old Nehemiah Gringo allegedly used an AR-15 to kill his entire family—his gang-member-turned-preacher father, his mother, a 9-year-old brother, and two sisters, ages 5 and 2. He also reportedly had plans to shoot up a Walmart.


13 - Herkimer, New York: A 64-year-old "loner" died in a gun-battle with police after he killed four at a barbershop and oil-lube shop. He also killed a 2-year-old police dog, Ape, before succumbing.


18 - Akron, Ohio: Two men and two women ranging in ages from 19 to 23 were lined up in their basement and shot in the head point-blank. Two men have been arrested in connection with the murders.
22 - Federal Way, Washington: A man with a carry license killed his girlfriend, then shot three other neighbors in her apartment complex to death before himself being killed by shots from eight police officers.
24 - Manchester, Illinois: A man angered over a custody dispute killed five of his daughter's mother's family members in their home, then led police on a high-speed chase. He later died in officers' custody.
28 - Ottawa, Kansas: A man allegedly murdered his best friend and a roommate before raping the best friend's girlfriend, then shooting her and her 18-month-old daughter to death. The shooter, who awaits trial, says he "ain't never hurt no man that didn't have it coming."


11 - Waynesville, Indiana: Four people were shot in their rural home. After a search of the home turned up meth, police concluded the killings were drug-related. The following month, a suspect who was already in jail was arrested for the murders.
13 - Fernley, Nevada: A man killed two couples in their homes over Mother's Day weekend, burning their houses. He also slew a newspaper deliveryman and stole his truck.


7 - Santa Monica, California: An emotionally troubled 23-year-old with 1,300 rounds of ammunition killed his father and brother before going on a rampage that killed three more at Santa Monica College. The gunman was killed on campus by police.


26 - Hialeah, Florida: A workout enthusiast under scrutiny for sending abusive emails to an ex-employer killed the husband-and-wife managers of his apartment, then murdered four more neighbors before taking hostages. He was killed by police; the hostages were unharmed.
26 - Clarksburg, West Virginia: A gunman killed two in a suspected drug house, then while fleeing shot and killed a 70-year-old man and his 47-year-old son who were in the neighborhood to deliver the local paper.


7 - Dallas, Texas: A former teacher and football coach killed his girlfriend, estranged wife, and two of their children before police arrested him.
14 - Oklahoma City: A "weird" 40-year-old man killed his mother, sister, niece, and a 7-month-old nephew with a .380 pistol. He currently awaits trial.


11 - Crab Orchard, Tennessee: A man and a woman were arrested for killing four people, ages 16 to 22, in their car during a robbery that followed a botched marijuana deal.
16 - Washington, D.C.: A military contractor who claimed to hear voices murdered 12 ex-coworkers with a sawed-off shotgun at the federal Navy Yard before he was killed by police.
20 - Rice, Texas: A woman killed her husband, their three sons, and herself in their apartment. The husband had been arrested for a domestic violence charge two weeks before.


9 - Paris, Texas: Four people were found dead in a home; it's not yet clear what transpired or who killed them.
26 - Phoenix, Arizona: A man who was allegedly thrown into a rage over the neighbors' two barking dogs killed the animals, then his four neighbors, then himself with a pump-action shotgun.
28 - Terrell, Texas: A man who "appeared to be intoxicated" killed five people, including a convenience store clerk, at four locations before police caught him.
29 - Callison, South Carolina: A man killed his ex-girlfriend, her parents, and two of her children before taking his own life.


7 - Jacksonville, Florida: Two men and their girlfriends were killed in what appeared to be a planned drive-by shooting. The suspects are at large.
23 - Tulsa, Oklahoma: Four people were killed in a suspected meth house. No suspects have been arrested.


1 - Topeka, Kansas: Four people were killed at a house in the town's southwest section. No suspects have been named.
3 - Alma, Arkansas: After arriving home with them, a man killed his daughter's boyfriend in the car, then killed his 4-month-old grandson while he lay in his car seat. He pursued his daughter and four-year-old granddaughter into the backyard, killing the granddaughter before turning the gun on himself.
3 - Erwin, Tennessee: A man with a record of domestic unrest killed his wife, son, and daughter before committing suicide.
8 - Manchester, Connecticut: A man killed his ex-girlfriend and two friends, then fled with the couple's 13-month-old child. When confronted outside by police, he set the child down on the ground and fatally shot himself.
Isn't it time we did something about the gun violence in the United States? No one, not even liberals like myself, wants to violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution or try to take guns away from law-abiding Americans. But the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the Second Amendment right to own a firearm is not an absolute one -- that there are people the state has a compelling interest in denying the right to own a firearm (like convicted criminals and the dangerously mentally ill). The very least we could do is make sure anyone trying to buy a gun (from  any source) must clear a background check.

New Year

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe at intoon.com.

The Secular Creed

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Income Inequality

This cartoon image on income inequality is by Ruben Bolling at Daily Kos.

Charting Our Economic Mess

These charts (created by the Economic Policy Institute) are from the Washington Post. They have 13 of them in all, and they are all very enlightening as to the economic mess this country is in (and I urge you to go to their site and see all of them). I picked the charts above because they most clearly show the unemployment situation, and the ones below because they show why this is continuing.

The economic pundits tell us the Bush recession is over. But as I have said many times before, it is only over for the rich (and the corporations). Main Street America is still suffering from it. Not that we don't just need a few more jobs to return to a healthy economy -- we need millions more jobs. And at the rate that we are adding jobs (100,000 to 200,000 a month), it will take many years to accomplish that -- if we can ever get back to where we need to be. The current job creation would be sufficient in a healthy economy, but it is woefully inadequate in an economy trying to recover from a job-killing recession.

Another thing that is hurting the denizens of Main Street is that the rising productivity is still not being shared. As you can see from the chart below, it once was shared (and both owners and workers benefitted from that rising productivity). But the "trickle-down" economic policies instituted by the Republicans changed that. Those policies funneled more money to the rich (and away from everyone else), allowing the rich to keep all (or nearly all) of the rising productivity.

This has resulted in the incomes of the rich growing at an astronomical rate, while the incomes of workers (ordinary Americans) remain stagnant or drop. In fact, the country's median wage is falling, and even workers who are able to maintain their wage find it is being eaten up by inflation. More than half of the country has seen their income drop, and the bottom 20% has seen it drop markedly. This has resulted in the widest gap in wealth and income in over 80 years (since before the Great Depression), and that gap continues to grow.

Obviously, something must be done to fix the economy. And the Republican "plan" to give more tax cuts to the rich while cutting help for hurting Americans won't do that. It will just result in an even more economically unequal economy -- an economy of only "haves" and "have-nots" that is barreling toward another, and even deeper, recession.

A good first step would be to raise the minimum wage significantly. That would lift millions out of poverty, and would put upward pressure on all wages (restoring at least some of the productivity gains that should have gone to workers). But that is not all that needs to be done. We must remove the tax benefits to corporations for outsourcing good American jobs, strengthen labor unions and make it easier for workers to unionize, raise taxes on the rich, make sure corporations pay their taxes (by removing unneeded subsidies), stop allowing the rich and corporations to hide money overseas to avoid taxes, create more jobs by pumping more money into the economy and by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and cap the worker-to-CEO pay ratio.

There is probably more that could be done, but doing the things I have listed would be a good start toward recreating a fairer and healthier economy. Surely we have learned by now that just giving more money to the rich doesn't create a healthy economy -- it damages the economy. The way to create a healthy economy is to make sure that all citizens are able to share in the rising productivity and economic growth.

A Bad Purchase

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


The following is a poem written by a friend of mine. I thought it was excellent, and he has graciously given me permission to repost it here.


or tolerance
five of them here for us
assembly, speech, press, religion
the right to petition the government
we really aren't totally free
simply tolerated
by what we call

The freedom to assemble
yes we can do this
with a permit of course
or at our own risk

Then there's that speech
we can say all as we want
long as we don't incite violence
or behind bars they may haunt

The freedom of press
what a joke that that is
as editors won't publish
if your opinion's not his

That freedom to worship
well that's guaranteed
only not by our society
if you ain't drinkin' what they feed

That thing called petition
redressing grievance we use
only puts it back in the hands
of the ones who abuse

So are we free or just tolerated
it's for each one of us to measure
I guess it comes down to
just what we do treasure

We'll always be subject
to the rules and laws of some others
trust me, it won't be so bad
if we would treat all like brothers

written by Brian McLaughlin 


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

The Newest Texas Ranger

This picture is from the Texas Rangers page on Facebook. It shows the newest Texas Ranger -- Shin-Soo Choo (formerly of the Cincinnati Reds). Choo will be the lead-off hitter, and play left field. This is the second big-name player the Rangers acquired this off-season -- the first being slugger and first baseman Prince Fielder, in a trade with the Detroit Tigers (for Ian Kinsler). The Rangers have also gotten another young outfielder who has good potential for developing into a power hitter (Michael Chioce from the Oakland A's).

These new acquisitions should beef up the offensive power, and it was done without losing any pitchers (or big prospects). I'm starting to feel pretty good about the Rangers' chances next year.


Political Cartoon is by Bill Day at cagle.com.

A "Crazy" Idea (That Would Work)

Actually, this is not a crazy idea at all. If working people (and small businesses) are going to be required to pay taxes on their income, then it is only fair that corporations (many of whom make billions in profits each year) should do the same. And the best way to "persuade" them is to eliminate unneeded subsidies, close tax loopholes, and deny them the ability to hide money overseas to avoid paying taxes. There is simply no justification for any company making millions or billions in clear profit to not pay taxes (or to pay only a tiny amount).

Friday, December 27, 2013


This graphic is from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Can The House Be Flipped In 2014 ?

The charts above were made with information contained in a recent survey done by Quinnipiac University. The Quinnipiac University Poll was completed between December 3rd and 9th, and questioned 2,692 registered voters nationwide (with a margin of error of 1.9 points).

At first glance, the two charts seem to be saying opposite things. As the bottom chart shows, the public is mad at both parties -- but they have even less respect for the congressional Republicans than the congressional Democrats (19% approval for Republicans and 27% for Democrats). But the top chart shows that a small plurality (41%) say they would vote for the Republican in their own House District, while 38% say they would vote for the Democrat.

How can this be? Why would a plurality choose to vote Republican when the Republicans have an approval level of 8 points less than Democrats? Does this mean the Democrats can't flip the House in 2014?

We must understand that this poll is the result of respondents across the nation, and not necessarily the result in particular districts. It could easily be skewed by results from heavily Republican districts. The truth is that there are a lot of districts that are not really in play for the next election. There are some districts that will go to the Republicans because those districts have a heavy Republican majority, and there are other districts that will go to the Democrats because those districts have a heavy Democratic majority.

Control of the House will not be decided by the districts discussed above, but by the numerous districts that are competitive (meaning that neither party has a real advantage in party members living in that district). And the winner in those districts will be largely determined by who the Independents favor. That's where the bottom chart gives the Democrats an advantage.

And the reason the Democrats have that advantage is because the public generally supports the Democratic position on most issues -- issues like increasing revenue by making corporations pay their taxes, increasing taxes slightly on the rich, creating jobs through infrastructure rebuilding, and protecting the benefits offered by Social Security and Medicare. The GOP is opposed to the public's views on all of these issues -- and Democrats need to make sure the voters know that, especially in those competitive swing districts.

And there is one more issue that could help the Democrats flip the House -- raising the minimum wage. Huge majorities of Americans have indicated in poll after poll (including this Quinnipiac Poll, as illustrated below) that they want the minimum wage raised significantly. Congressional Republicans have made it clear they oppose raising the minimum wage, and many of them would abolish the minimum wage completely. This issue, combined with those listed above, could be the issues that give Democrats the edge in those swing districts.

I still believe the Democrats can flip the House in the next election, if they can do two things -- campaign heavily on the issues I have named, and make sure they turn out the vote.

Limits ?

Political Cartoon is by Jerry Holbert in the Boston Herald.

Homosexuality And The Church

This is an excellent list. You might think this list was compiled by an atheist, or at least a secular humanist, but you would be wrong. Mr. Rigby, who made the list, is a Presbyterian minister in Austin, Texas. He has his own blog, and if you are interested, he goes into a little more depth in defending this list on that blog.

Reverend Rigby is a christian that even I, being an atheist, can respect. That's because he is far more interested in following the teachings of Jesus, than in worrying about the rules that others have laid down. I especially like how he defines himself as a "christian" (see below). I just wish more christians took this very enlightened view of their religion.

I  call myself “Christian” because I have, however imperfectly, given my life to what was taught in the Sermon on the Mount. I have little in common with those who live by rules, rituals or dogmas invented latter and then labelled “Christian.” I do not see how a focus on matters Jesus did not even address should be called by his name. I do not know or care if Jesus was born of a virgin, or could do magic tricks. I do not understand what questions of his divinity even mean. I only know that when I listen to the beatitudes my heart comes to life.

Drone Strikes

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

It's Not The Planet, But The People