A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Banking


Poor And Middle Class Pay More In Taxes


The Republicans would have you believe that the rich are forced to bear an onerous and unconscionable burden in taxes in the United States. Of course, they are only talking about national income taxes, where the rich are required to pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes -- because of the progressive nature of the income tax. It was decided long ago in this country that those who make the most should also pay the most, and most Americans think that is fair.

But the Republicans are lying, even when they talk only about the federal income tax. The rich and the corporations are not made to pay an unfair burden of taxes. In fact, the top tax rate for the rich is still much lower than at any time since World War II -- even though it was slightly raised by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans. That tax rate is only 39.6% for the richest Americans -- much lower than it has been in the past (at one time that top rate was 90%).

But one discussion the Republicans don't want to have is about their favorite kinds of taxes -- the taxes on consumption (like sales taxes) and property. These taxes make up the biggest share of state and local taxes -- and they are very regressive, making the poor and the middle class pay a much larger share of their income in taxes than the rich have to pay (or the corporations).

The top chart shows the average percentage of income that must be paid in taxes by each segment of the population in all of the states. Note that the poorest Americans, the bottom 20% (who all live either below or barely above the poverty level) must pay about 11.1% of their income in state and local taxes. That is a truly onerous burden of taxation considering their paltry incomes. And even the middle 20% of Americans, who are struggling in this recession (which is only over for the rich), must pay 9.4% of their income in state and local taxes. That is far less than the rich must pay -- only about 5.6% for the top 1% of income earners.

And it gets even worse in the states with the most regressive taxation (the bottom chart shows the ten most regressive states). Note that in those states most of the rich pay only about 2% to 4%, while the poorest citizens of those states all have to pay double-digit percentages. The Republicans think that is fair, because they only represent the rich and the corporations with their economic and tax policies. But it is not fair -- not now or in the past, nor will it be in the future. It can never be considered fair for the poorest Americans to have to pay the largest percentage of their income in taxes, nor for the middle class to pay a much higher percentage than the rich.

The Republicans claim to be the party of values, but there is something really wrong about values that would punish the poor through taxation while letting the rich off the hook. That looks more like theft than any value to me -- the theft by the rich of the poor, and sanctioned by the Republican Party (whose primary value seems to be greed). That is not democracy. It is plutocracy.

PiƱata

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

Political Shift In 2012 Favored Democrats

Each year, the Gallup Poll uses the information it collected during the entirety of all the polls on political preference during the year to compile a political landscape of the United States. In 2012, that involved surveying 321,233 people between January 1st and December 31st. Around 1000 people were surveyed in each state (and the District of Columbia), and sometimes many more (in larger states). According to the survey, 45% of the population were Democrats (or leaned toward the Democrats) and 41% were Republican (or leaned toward the Republicans).

They then used the results to put each star in one of five categories -- solid Democrat, leaning Democrat, solid Republican, leaning Republican, or competitive. To arrive at this, they took the percentage of Democrats in the state and subtracted the number of Republicans in the state. A positive number of 10 or above meant a solid Democratic state, and a negative number of 10 or more meant a solid Republican state. Positive numbers between 5 and 10 designated a leaning Democratic state, and negative numbers between 5 and 10 were labeled as leaning Republican. States with numbers between positive 5 and negative 5 were deemed to be competitive states.

As the chart above showed, the political landscape in the U.S. shifted slightly in 2012 in favor of the Democrats. In 2011 the Democrats had 12 solid states and 7 leaning states, for a total of 19. In 2012 the Democrats had 14 solid states and 6 leaning states, for a total of 20 (a gain of one state). In 2011 the Republicans had 10 solid states and 7 leaning states, for a total of 17. In 2012 the Republicans had 9 solid states and 3 leaning states, for a total of 12 (a loss of five states). The number of competitive states grew from 15 to 19.

You may have noticed that the number of states totals 51. That is because the District of Columbia is included for the purposes of this poll (even though it is not a state). Here are the states in each party's category:

DEMOCRATIC STATES
District of Columbia...............64.1
Hawaii................24.0
Maryland...............23.1
Rhode Island...............23.1
New York...............22.1
Massachusetts...............20.0
Connecticut...............17.0
Vermont...............16.9
Illinois...............16.7
Delaware...............15.9
California...............14.9
New Jersey...............13.1
Michigan...............12.3
Minnesota...............11.3
Washington...............9.8
Maine...............8.2
Oregon...............7.2
New Mexico...............7.0
Pennsylvania...............6.2
Ohio...............5.5

REPUBLICAN STATES
Utah...............-36.7
Wyoming...............-30.0
Idaho...............-27.6
North Dakota...............-18.5
Nebraska...............-16.9
Kansas...............-16.3
Alabama...............-14.6
Montana...............-13.4
Alaska...............-12.2
Oklahoma...............-9.8
South Carolina...............-7.4
Mississippi...............-5.1

Obstinate

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

Fight For Your Constitutional Rights

If you live in New York, or are going to be there on February 6th, then you should consider showing up for this non-violent protest of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This odious bill passed by Congress, and signed by the president, gives the United States government the right to arrest and imprison any U.S. citizen they "suspect" of being a "terrorist". They can do this without any evidence, and can hold that person for as long as they like without a trial (or even an attorney). This law must be overturned, since it violates the very freedoms that were fought for in the founding of this country.

President Obama has said he would not use those powers, but that is not good enough. Neither he, nor any other American president, should ever have that kind of power. This country, through its Constitution, was built on the rule of law. That means no one can be arrested without evidence, and anyone arrested has the right to a lawyer and a speedy and fair trial. The NDAA makes a mockery of the rule of law, and trashes the constitutional rights guaranteed to all American citizens.




Surrounded

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Don't Repeat Economic History

There are people who absolutely refuse to learn from history. And today, that seems to be the Republican Party. They want people to believe that the most important issue facing this country is the deficit and the national debt. They think (like Hoover did) that all of our economic problems would be magically solved by drastically cutting the federal government's budget.

Unfortunately, that is exactly the wrong thing to do in a struggling economy. And this is definitely a struggling economy. While Wall Street and the giant corporations are doing very well (and making record-breaking profits), the rest of America is still trying to shake off the recession. Cutting government spending will hurt those people (throwing many more into abject poverty) and it would take money out of the economy (hurting economic growth and small businesses).

The only way out of this economic mess is through job creation, which will require some government spending. The deficit and the debt do need to be reduced, but that can only happen by putting millions of Americans back to work (which takes them off government rolls and makes them taxpayers again). Cutting spending (and reducing taxes on the wealthy) right now will just hurt the economy, and extend the recession's effects for most Americans -- just like it did when Hoover tried it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shooting Blanks

Maybe the politicians shouldn't be so afraid of the NRA. It certainly wasn't very effective in the last election.

God Picks The Sports Winners ?

(The image above was found at the website of Tom McMahon.)

We've all seen athletes pray before a sporting event, and give thanks to Jesus (or some god) if they are successful in that event (although we never seem to see any athletes blaming god for their losing effort -- strange). I don't really have much of a problem with that, as long as no one is forced to participate against their will and it doesn't happen with government-sponsored teams (i.e., public schools and colleges, because that would be a sponsoring of religion by government, and usually it's a particular religion).

These voluntary prayers by non-public school or college athletes are just an example of people exercising their freedom of religion. You may think that a strange thing for an atheist like myself to say, but I believe in the Constitution. I just want religious people to also believe in that same Constitution, and honor the freedom of others to not believe in their particular religion (or even any religion at all).

But some people take their religion a bit far. A new poll, done between January 16th and 20th of this year of a random sample of 1,033 adults, by the Public Religion Research Institute, shows that there is a significant segment of the American population who believes that god rewards faithful athletes who believe in him with success in sports, and that god actually plays a role in determining the winner in team sports.

Frankly, I am amazed that anyone would believe such a thing. Even if there was a god, why would he bother himself with determining the outcome of something so meaningless as a sporting event? And it is meaningless in the large scheme of things. I love sports, but I recognize that nothing is going to change regardless of which sporting team wins. It's just entertainment, nothing else. And if god existed, there would be no reason why he/she would concern themselves with sports (especially since he/she ignores suffering and tragedy all over the world).

But people will believe what they want to believe, whether it makes any sense or not. That's the only excuse I can find for these poll results:

GOD REWARDS ATHLETES WHO HAVE FAITH WITH GOOD HEALTH AND SUCCESS.
completely agree...............24%
mostly agree...............29%
mostly disagree...............17%
completely disagree...............25%
don't know...............5%
or
agree...............53%
disagree...............42%
don't know...............5%

GOD PLAYS A ROLE IN DETERMINING WHICH TEAM WINS A SPORTING EVENT.
completely agree...............12%
mostly agree...............15%
mostly disagree...............21%
completely disagree...............49%
don't know...............3%
or
agree...............27%
disagree...............70%
don't know...............3%

It makes me feel a little better knowing that 70% of Americans don't believe god determines the winner of team sporting events, but it's still a bit disconcerting to think that more than one out of four Americans thinks god is picking the winners (and over half of all Americans think god makes individual athletes successful to reward their faith). I wonder if these people think the losers were not faithful enough or had done something to make god mad.

But it was another question in that same poll that troubled me far more than the questions above. Those questions above just detail some rather silly beliefs of some Americans, but this next question shows a significant portion of our population doesn't really believe in the religious freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. They think it's perfectly OK to force their religion on others at a public school (government) sponsored sporting event.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO SPONSOR PRAYERS BEFORE FOOTBALL GAMES.
completely agree...............49%
mostly agree...............27%
mostly disagree...............10%
completely agree...............11%
don't know...............3%
or
agree...............76%
disagree...............21%
don't know...............3%

It makes me wonder if these people have thought this through. They think it's great to impose their own religion on people with other beliefs (or no religious beliefs). But I'd bet they would be incensed and offended if that prayer was islamic (or hindu, buddhist, taoist, wiccan, etc.) rather than christian. That fact is that public school sponsored prayers are wrong, and unconstitutional, no matter what religion is offering them.

Sad

Political Cartoon is by Joe Heller in the Green Bay Press Gazette.

We Have A New Secretary Of State

It's official now. The new Secretary of State is John Kerry. The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to confirm the nomination of Mr. Kerry with a vote of 94 in favor and 3 against. The three opposing votes were from John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma). Mr. Kerry voted present, while Senators Patty Murray (D-Washington) and John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) did not vote.

Kerry is expected to start his new job immediately. He turned in his senate resignation on Tuesday, and that now clears the way for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to appoint an interim replacement. It is expected that Patrick will appoint either a woman or a minority to the post.

While the vote to approve Kerry was overwhelming and bipartisan, don't start thinking the Senate Republicans are now ready to start working with the Democrats to get some things done for this country. This was a special case. I'm sure there were a few Republicans who voted for Kerry because they have served with him for a long time and consider him a friend. But for most, this was strictly a political decision.

The Republicans are hoping that they can replace Kerry with a Republican in the coming June special election. And they might be able to do that if former-Senator Scott Brown decides to run. He has not yet made the decision to run, but you can bet the Republican officials will be putting pressure on him to toss his hat back in the ring. He's the only Republican in that state who would have a chance of winning the special election (and current polls show him slightly ahead of Rep. Markey, who is a Democrat and the only declared candidate).

Brain Clot

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Perry's Popularity Low In Texas

(The caricature of Rick Perry above was done by DonkeyHotey.)

Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, has already indicated a desire to run for president again in 2016, and he is also expected to run for another term as governor in 2014. The next term as governor would be to keep his name in the news to prepare his 2016 run for the presidency. He has said he won't announce whether he will be a candidate for governor until June (after the current legislative term is over), but most political observers believe it is a foregone conclusion that he will run.

But if a new survey done by Public Policy Polling is to believed (and they showed themselves to be very accurate in the last election), most Texans don't want to see him run for either office (and his job approval numbers are upside-down. Consider these numbers:

DO YOU APPROVE OF PERRY'S JOB PERFORMANCE?
approve..............41%
disapprove...............54%
not sure...............6%

SHOULD PERRY RUN FOR RE-ELECTION AS GOVERNOR?
yes...............31%
no...............62%
not sure...............7%

DO YOU THINK PERRY SHOULD RUN FOR PRESIDENT IN 2016?
yes...............14%
no...............79%
not sure...............7%

And the figures are nearly as bad when only Republicans are polled. About 66% of Texas Republicans say they do not want Perry to run for president again, while only 22% say he should (and 12% are not sure). About 55% of Republicans wouldn't mind if Perry ran for governor again, they are more enthusiastic about Attorney General Abbott. When paired against four possible Democratic opponents, Abbott gets much better numbers than Perry does.

It is obvious from these poll numbers that if Perry wants a political future, he has a lot of fence-mending to do. Most Texans simply do not want to see him back on the national stage (after the embarrassment of his last presidential bid), and Democrats have a better chance of beating Perry than some other Republicans (especially Abbott).

The poll was done between January 24th and 27th of a random sample of 500 Texans and 400 Republicans.

No More Reaching

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

The Moral Test Of Government

Hubert Humphrey was a good man, a great politician, and a true statesman. And what he said is very true. As a country, we rise or fall together. If we cannot take care of the most vulnerable among us, then we have failed in our duty -- to our country, our fellow citizens, and ourselves. We must be better than that.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Few Facts


Senate Immigration Bill Deeply Flawed

Eight senators, four Republicans (McCain, Graham, Rubio, Flake) and four Democrats (Schumer, Durbin, Menendez, Bennet), have come up with what they call a compromise immigration bill. They announced their bill yesterday, a day ahead of the president announcing his own bill. Their bill has two parts. The first part would increase security at the Southern border, and the second part would provide a path for the undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to become citizens.

On the surface, that sounds like a reasonable plan, but the devil is in the details -- and those details show it to be a deeply flawed bill that may actually accomplish nothing. That's because the second part of the bill, the path to citizenship, will not go into effect until the border security part has been deemed to be adequately accomplished.

I'm not sure exactly what kind of things will have to happen for the border security to be deemed good enough to allow the path to citizenship to start. They didn't include any specifics about that -- only that a commission, made up of border governors and other officials will decide when the border security is deemed sufficient.  That is troubling, since the governors of three of the four border states are Republicans (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico).

There needs to be specific markers laid out in the bill regarding what must happen before the path to citizenship is started. I'm not sure what those would be, since the border patrol already spends more ($18 billion) than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined (FBI, Treasury, ATF, etc.) -- and the number of undocumented workers in the U.S. has ceased to grow any larger (with the number leaving the country being equal to, or larger, than the number entering).

There are already 21,370 agents patrolling the border (with six unmanned aircraft systems being employed), and the vast majority of our southern border already meets Homeland Security's strictest guidelines. What more must be done?

This makes me think the Democratic senators have been snookered again (just like they were on filibuster reform). They have been conned into accepting a commission dominated by Republican right-wing governors -- a commission that could delay forever the implementation of any path to citizenship. The Republicans got what they wanted with this bill (more emphasis on border security) and also get a way to keep what the Democrats wanted (the path to citizenship) from happening.

This is just a bad bill. Maybe it will be improved when it is actually written, but I doubt it. Senate Democrats seem to be looking for ways to give in to their Republican counterparts these days. They talk like progressives, but legislate like cowards.

Maybe President Obama's immigration bill will be better. It certainly couldn't be any worse. And maybe he'll put his foot down and demand a better bill from Congress. But while I'm a dreamer and hope that happens, I certainly wouldn't bet any money on it.

Jellyfish

Political Cartoon is by Bill Day at caglecartoons.com.

Obama's Popularity Has Improved

While the popularity of Congress remains extremely low (especially congressional Republicans, who poll consistently worse than congressional Democrats), that is not true for President Obama. The president's popularity is improving. In 2011, the average national job approval for President Obama was 44%. That rose to a national average approval of 48% in 2012. And the good news for the president doesn't stop there. In the last quarter of 2012, the president's approval rating rose to 51.9% -- and his approval during the first weeks of 2013 remains above 50%.

That gives the president some political capital to use in trying to get Congress to pass some of his second-term proposals such as gun restrictions, immigration reforms, and job creation -- far more political capital than that of Congress (which is still down in the 12% approval range).

The presidential approval numbers are from a Gallup Poll survey of 165,427 randomly selected people between January 1st and December 31st of 2012 (with a margin of error for the national numbers being only 1 point). The chart below shows the state by state approval ratings of the president. Note that his approval ratings rose in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Alabama had the same rating for both 2011 and 2012, and six states showed a drop in approval for the president (West Virginia, Utah, Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska).


New Teabagger Flag

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

Expensive Words

For the last three years (2010 through 2012), half-term governor and failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been a paid pundit for Fox News. The bosses at Fox News evidently thought Palin could bring them new viewers and boost their ratings. They were wrong.

Fox created a special on Palin, and it bombed in the ratings. Even the right-wingers who love Fox News didn't want to watch it. And she didn't do much better when appearing as a guest on Fox News shows. The two shows she did the most appearances on (Sean Hannity and Greta Van Sustern's shows) are the shows that lost the biggest percentage of viewers since the last election.

Obviously, Americans (even right-wingers) just weren't interested in the word-salads offered up by the woman from Wasilla. So it doesn't come as any surprise that Fox News has refused to renew Palin's contract. Palin has said she made the decision to leave to investigate other opportunities. That's hard to believe. The Fox News gig was the easiest money Palin ever made, and I think she would have stayed for many years if she could have.

But Fox News finally realized that Palin's 15 minutes of fame was over -- something most Americans knew a couple of years ago. And Fox couldn't drop her fast enough after the contract was up. But their failed experiment with Palin turned out to be a fairly costly mistake. They had paid Palin one million dollars a year for the three years -- for a total of three years and three million dollars.

The folks over at Smart Politics have done some math for us, and determined just how expensive Fox' gambit with Palin really was. It turns out that for the three million dollars, Palin gave them a total of 189,221 words -- 72,986 words on Hannity's program, 67,987 words on Van Sustern's program, and 48,248 words on other Fox News shows.

When you divide the number of words uttered by Palin in her three year stint into her three million salary, you get the amazing fact that Fox paid her $15.85 per word. Those are some pretty expensive words, especially considering they were purchased from a brain-dead has-been who seldom made sense with those words.

I would say that I hoped Fox News had learned something from this folly, but they just signed a new contract with Karl Rove -- after his embarrassing election night meltdown. That makes me think they haven't learned anything at all.

Path To Citizenship

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

President Talks Of The Political Reality

When President Obama first took office in 2009, he was a bit naive. He thought he could work with both parties in Congress for the good of the country, and that the Republicans would compromise in an effort to improve the economy and the lives of American citizens. He was wrong. The Republicans had no intention of compromising, or working with the president in any way. They spent the four years of his first term doing everything they could to obstruct everything the president proposed (and every appointment he made).

Now that the president has been re-elected to a second term, it seems like he has accepted the reality of the current political situation in Washington -- that there is one party, the Republican Party, that is only interested in maintaining congressional gridlock. Here is what he told The New Republic in a recent interview:


There's not a—there's no equivalence there. In fact, that's one of the biggest problems we've got in how folks report about Washington right now, because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity. And so the default position for reporting is to say, "A plague on both their houses." On almost every issue, it's, "Well, Democrats and Republicans can't agree"—as opposed to looking at why is it that they can't agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?
And I want to be very clear here that Democrats, we've got a lot of warts, and some of the bad habits here in Washington when it comes to lobbyists and money and access really goes to the political system generally. It's not unique to one party. But when it comes to certain positions on issues, when it comes to trying to do what's best for the country, when it comes to really trying to make decisions based on fact as opposed to ideology, when it comes to being willing to compromise, the Democrats, not just here in this White House, but I would say in Congress also, have shown themselves consistently to be willing to do tough things even when it's not convenient, because it's the right thing to do. And we haven't seen that same kind of attitude on the other side.
Until Republicans feel that there's a real price to pay for them just saying no and being obstructionist, you'll probably see at least a number of them arguing that we should keep on doing it. It worked for them in the 2010 election cycle, and I think there are those who believe that it can work again. I disagree with them, and I think the cost to the country has been enormous.
But if you look at the most recent fiscal deal, I presented to Speaker Boehner a package that would have called for $1.2 trillion in new revenue—less than I actually think we need, but in the spirit of compromise—and over nine hundred billion dollars in spending cuts, some of which are very difficult. And yet, I'm confident we could have gotten Democratic votes for that package, despite the fact that we were going after some Democratic sacred cows. And had we gotten that done, it would have been good for the economy, and I think it would have changed the political environment in this town.
Democrats, as painful as it was, as much as we got attacked by some of our core constituencies, were willing to step up because it was the right thing to do. And the other side could not do that.
Hopefully, the president will take this new-found reality and learn to play the same kind of political hardball the Republicans have been playing. His legacy depends on it.

GOP Outreach

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

The Greedy Rich

This is the kind of thing that makes me mad as hell -- and I think it should make all Americans mad. This rich jerk (and many of his Wall Street and corporate compadres) thinks people who depend on Social Security and Medicare for what little they get should have their benefits cut. He says the government can't afford it, in spite of the fact that these people paid into the system (through Payroll taxes) all of their working lives. The average Social Security benefit (which he wants to cut) is a paltry $1000 a month.

But he makes many millions of dollars each year, and his company makes billions (in pure profit) while paying few or no taxes -- and yet he doesn't mind his company getting corporate "welfare" to the tune of billions in tax exemptions, subsidies, and bailouts (while handing out excessive bonuses to managerial employees).

How is this fair? Why should we cut benefits for people who paid into the system all of their working lives, and continue government giveaways to companies making billions in profits? Frankly, I don't understand how this greedy bastard (and his CEO buddies who agree with him) can stand to look in the mirror each morning. Do they not have even a shred of morality, common decency, and shame?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Biden On Guns



U.S. Health Care System Isn't Fixed (Yet)


I wish I could say the American health care system has been fixed. But it hasn't been fixed. There are still far too many people without health care in this country, and thanks to the decisions of Republican-controlled states to refuse to participate in the new Medicaid coverage and procedures, millions of people will continue to be without even the most basic health insurance.

The two charts above, from the Washington Post, show the situation still hasn't improved as much as is needed -- even though Obamacare did make some improvements. As the top chart shows, the United States still spends far more per capita than other nations do on health care (and those other nations cover all of their citizens, while the U.S. does not). And the bottom chart is even worse. It shows that American citizens must spend far more of their own money for health care than citizens in other nations do (and that includes many who have health insurance).

The bottom line is that the United States government and American citizens spend far more money than the governments and citizens of other countries spend, and we get less for our spending (including the fact that millions have no health insurance, and tens of thousands die each year because of that).

There is a solution for this. We need to take the for-profit insurance companies out of the health care business, and put doctors (instead of insurance analysts) back in charge of patient health care decisions. The best way to do this would be to go to a government-run, single-payer health care system (sort of like Medicare for all Americans, which would be similar to the Canadian system). This will have to happen someday, but considering the current political atmosphere, it could take many years.

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

Texas is one of the states that has refused to go along with the Medicaid expansion included in Obamacare. Governor Perry, in a move dictated by his desire to please the teabaggers who run the Texas Republican Party, said Texas would not expand Medicaid to cover the millions of poor Texans who have no health insurance. That means at least 1.5 million Texans will continue to have no health insurance at all (and personally, I believe that is a lowball number). It also means Texas will not benefit from the economic benefits of that new Medicaid money being spent in the state -- about $90 billion.

And Texas badly needs the money being offered for Medicaid expansion. In the last legislative session, the state put off budgeting any money for the current Medicaid system (about $5 billion). That bill has now come due, and it must be paid before the budget can be done for the next two years (2014-2015) by the current legislature.

The money being offered for Medicaid expansion through Obamacare (which Perry turned down) would have been quite a bit more than was needed for that expansion. The extra money could have been put in a fund to help defray the Medicaid costs when the state would need to start paying 10% of the bill (in 10 years). But that would have made sense, and Perry values ideology over common sense.

Now the Republican legislature is eyeing that federal money for Medicaid expansion. They want the money badly, but don't want to embarrass Governor Perry and the state Republican Party, or anger the teabagger base of the party. They are talking about a "compromise" -- which would get the money and save face for the Republicans. One thing they are suggesting is that the government allow Texas to set up its own system.

That is GOP code talk for allowing Texas to take the money and then set up a system that does not meet the federal standards for Medicaid. The U.S. government should turn this kind of "compromise" down flatly. Texas should either meet all of the government standards for Medicaid, or receive none of the money. Allowing Texas to get that money and then set up a sub par system would defeat the purpose of the Medicaid expansion -- to make sure poor citizens get decent health care in this state and country. And if Texas gets away with this, you can be sure other GOP states will soon follow.

Women In Combat

Political Cartoon is by Bruce Plante in Tulsa World.

WSJ Admits Obama Is Not A Big Spender

The Republicans have been trying for the last four years to paint President Obama as a "big spender". In fact, out of the last five presidents, President Obama has the smallest growth in spending of any of those presidents (and President Clinton had the second smallest growth in spending). The three Republican presidents had the largest percentage growth in spending, with President Reagan having the biggest growth, followed closely by President Bush (II).

In fact, President Obama, has been a moderate (if not downright conservative) in terms of the growth of spending. Even after passing a stimulus bill and Obamacare, President Obama has held the increase in spending down to a paltry 1.4%. To claim that President Obama is a "big spender" is at the very least a misstatement of fact. Personally, I'd call it an outrageous lie.

Now we finally have a part of the mainstream media that is willing to admit this truth -- and it is certainly no liberal publication. It is the very conservative and business-oriented Wall Street Journal. Here is some of what Rex Nutting has to say in the MarketWatch section of the WSJ:


Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree.
As would-be president Mitt Romney tells it: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.”
Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.
But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.
Even hapless Herbert Hoover managed to increase spending more than Obama has.
Here are the facts, according to the official government statistics:
 In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Check the official numbers at the Office of Management and Budget.
 In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.
 In fiscal 2011, spending rose 4.3% to $3.60 trillion.
 In fiscal 2012, spending is set to rise 0.7% to $3.63 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the budget that was agreed to last August.
 Finally in fiscal 2013 — the final budget of Obama’s term — spending is scheduled to fall 1.3% to $3.58 trillion. Read the CBO’s latest budget outlook.
Over Obama’s four budget years, federal spending is on track to rise from $3.52 trillion to $3.58 trillion, an annualized increase of just 0.4%.
There has been no huge increase in spending under the current president, despite what you hear.

It is refreshing to see a conservative paper willing to admit the truth. Of course this will have no effect on the right-wingers in the Republican Party. They prefer ideology over truth, and are not about to be confused by inconvenient things like facts.

Yesterday / Today

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

The Internal GOP War

(The image above was found at the blog called Citizen Crain.)

The Republicans were riding high during the Bush administration, and seemed very much like a united monolith. But that was before their policies trashed the nation's economy, and then they lost two presidential elections in a row by large margins. Now cracks are beginning to appear in that monolith.

It turns out that the Republicans aren't as unified as they would like for us to believe. They may be nearly completely a white people party, but all of those white people don't believe the same thing. The Republicans know they have to change what they've been doing to get more votes, but the crazy thing is that none of the disparate elements in the party want to moderate their views. Instead, the differing groups in the party all seem to believe the road to victory lies in their own control of the party that their own agenda will save the party.

On his website, The Cloakroom With Taegan Goddard, Goddard outlines the disparate elements in the GOP that are fighting to control the future direction of the party. Here are the arguments as he sees it:

1. Libertarians vs. social conservatives

These two GOP strains have never gotten along with each other. One group says government should stay out of people's personal lives while the other tries to impose its own morality on others.

2. Right wing populists vs. the pro-business crowd

Despite campaign rhetoric, pro-business Republicans are usually just fine with government subsidies, liberal immigration policies, and bailouts  — as long as they help keep the profits flowing. But the populist strain in the party sees big business as no better than big government.

3. Deficit reduction hawks vs. small government activists

Though it would seem these two groups have a lot in common, real deficit hawks recognize we must raise taxes along with cutting spending to get the country out from under the debt burden. But the small government fanatics are against all tax increases for any reason.


I think he put it pretty well. Those groups can only really get along when they are in power and each can get at least some of what it wants. But they aren't in power, and now their basic disagreements become more obvious. Who will win the war, and ascend to dominance in the party? We won't know that for a while, but I wouldn't bet against the Wall Street/Corporate crowd -- they've got the money.

The good thing for Democrats is that no matter who wins, some are likely to leave the party in anger. And that won't fix the GOP's problem. They need to appeal to more people -- not less.

Rainbows

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

Racism Or Just Stupidity ?

As the New York Magazine says, President Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any president in the last 100 years -- and yet the Republicans are acting like he has committed some crime (just look at their outrageous comments). Either they are incredibly stupid (a possibility) or they still can't reconcile themselves to an African-American being elected president (showing their racism). As their ridiculous behavior continues unabated, I'm starting to think that both of those reasons may be true -- they are both stupid and racist.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Religious Freedom

This is a very important concept. Some fundamentalists on the right seem to think "religious freedom" means the right to impose their own religion on their fellow citizens, even if they have to do it with legislation. It does not. Religious freedom means the government will not favor any religion over any other religion, regardless of what religion may be dominant in this country. It also means the government will not require any American to believe in a religion at all -- thus protecting the right to not be religious.

Americans have the right to believe or not believe in religion, any religion, but they do not have the right to use the government to force their particular religion on anyone else -- and that means government at any level (local, state, or federal).

A Pig With Lipstick Is Still A Pig

(The image above is from the website HR Examiner.)

The Republicans learned from the last election that they have some problems. Their effective gerrymandering in 2010 saved them from losing the House of Representatives (even though more than a million people voted for Democratic representatives than Republican representatives). But when it comes to statewide and nationwide voting, their unpopularity with the general public is clearly shown -- and it is unlikely they will win the Senate or the White House unless they make some changes.

And while they know that change is necessary, they seem to be unwilling to make any real change. This was demonstrated last week by a couple of the party's politicians -- Newt Gingrich and Bobby Jindal. Gingrich's told Republicans they must become the "happy" party. Instead of constantly whining and complaining, they need to reach out and embrace popular culture, showing they are nice, happy people. Jindal's advice was to stop saying "stupid things", like the remarks made by Akins and Mourdock about rape in the last campaign.

I won't say that less Republican complaining and less spoken stupidity wouldn't be a welcome change in today's Republicans. It would be. But those are merely superficial changes, and unlikely to get the party many new votes. After all, a smiling and glib politician who wants to make your life harder is no real improvement over a grouchy and whining politician who wants to make your life harder. It's not the appearance, but the policies that matter.

Did women vote against Republicans in the last election because Akins and Moredock said something stupid. Of course not. They voted against Republicans because of the anti-women policies of that party. The statements by those two just helped to highlight those policies.

Did minorities vote against the Republicans because they were complaining and accusatory all the time. Of course not. They voted against them in large numbers because of their racist and anti-immigrant policies.

Did young people vote Democratic in the last election because they didn't think the Republicans were happy people? Of course not. They voted for Democrats because they considered their policies to be fairer and more inclusive of all Americans.

If the Republicans really think they can turn their fortunes around by just being happier and saying less dumb things, then they are cruising for another thrashing in 2016 (2014 will depend on who turns out, as mid-term elections often have a small turnout). If the Republicans want to once again make themselves a mainstream party, one that has a chance of winning nationally, they must moderate their policies. It is the policies that determine whether a party is mainstream or extremist, not the appearance.

Changing the surface appearance is like putting lipstick on a pig -- and a pig with lipstick is still a pig. And with their extremist views right now, the Republican Party is a very ugly pig.

Destructive Minority

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

U.N. To Investigate Drone Murders

The idea of using drones (unmanned aircraft piloted from a distance) to attack an enemy is not a bad idea in theory. It can rain down destruction on an enemy without putting the lives of those making the attack in danger. That's something the military has always wanted -- the ability to attack the enemy without endangering their own soldiers. And I don't really have any problem with drones being used in a battlefield situation.

But that is not how they are being used in a lot of cases. Too many times they are used to attack places where it is obvious that innocent civilians (many times children) are likely to be. They are also used to attack across borders (when we are not even at war with that country and would never send a manned aircraft to do the attack). Knowingly attacking civilians (even if a terrorist is among them), and attacking people in another nation without that country's knowledge and permission, are both violations of international law and common decency -- and unworthy of any nation claiming to support human rights.

Our government does both. While they claim that the killing of innocent civilians ("collateral" damage) is accidental, the body count is getting high enough to call that excuse seriously into question. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says that from 473 to 889 innocent civilians have been killed in drone strikes. That's an awful lot of accidental killings, and they could all have been prevented if the U.S. would just stop using drones to attack civilian areas.

That is why the United Nations is going to investigate the drone killings of innocent civilians. The U.N. Human Rights Council has asked for the investigation, and that investigation will be on drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the Palestinian territories (by the U.S., Great Britain, and Israel). The results of the investigation will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly in October of this year.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal has warned recently about the overuse of drones. He has a point. Overuse and misuse of drones can cause a lot of justifiable ill-will toward this nation -- and may actually (because of the killing of innocent civilians) create more enemies than it disposes of.

There is no doubt that drones are here too stay. Their value in combat is undeniable. But we need to adopt and follow some rules regarding their use -- and those rules should follow international law. Using a drone to attack any area where civilians are likely to be is nothing short of murder, and it must be stopped. NOW! And it doesn't matter whether it is a Republican or a Democratic administration that orders the attack -- it is still wrong.

Gun Nut

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

Arizona Bill Would Prevent Graduations

The chart above, from the Progressive Policy Institute, shows the stark truth about unemployment in the United States. The blue bars illustrate that the more education a person has, the better chance they have of finding gainful employment. That shouldn't really surprise any of us. The red bars show that the possibility of being unable to find employment doubles in a recession economy (like the one most Americans are still experiencing). The possibility of a person without a high school education being unemployed in our economy has doubled since 2007.

I present this chart to show the importance of getting as much education as possible these days. But while we need to be doing something to keep kids in school so they can graduate (in some states as many as nearly 1/3 of students do not graduate), some right-wing legislators are doing just the opposite. They are introducing bills that would keep some students from graduating high school.

That is the case with a bill introduced by State Rep. Bob Thorpe in the Arizona legislature. His bill would require all students in that state to swear an oath before they could graduate (regardless of how well they did in school or how high their grade average was). This is the oath he would require:


You may not think making students swear such an oath is a bad thing, but I certainly do. The oath could not be taken by any self-respecting atheist student (or even many agnostics and skeptics), and it would also deny graduation to some religious students -- such as those in religions where swearing an oath of any kind is forbidden (like Seventh-Day Adventists, whose right not to swear an oath has been affirmed by the Supreme Court).

This is a stupid bill. I do know what it is supposed to accomplish, but I do know it could keep many deserving students from graduating high school. I would like to think that even the Arizona legislature is not crazy enough to pass this ridiculous bill, or the Supreme Court would strike it down if it was passed -- but both organizations have made some decisions in the recent past that were very questionable (if not downright stupid).

In fact, I do not like the idea of making students (or citizens) swear a loyalty oath anyway. That is the kind of thing done in fascist states, not free democracies. In a free democracy, citizens have the right (and duty) to oppose what their government is doing when it goes "off the track". That is what freedom means.

Learned His Lesson ?

Political Cartoon is by Ben Sargent in the Austin American-Statesman.

Offensive

The above very true statement (found at the blog of Yellowdog Granny) shows just how screwed up the priorities of many Americans are. While they may offend you, words and gestures don't really cause any harm. However, famine and war and the destruction of our environment negatively affects people around the world -- and results in millions of deaths each year. Those are the really offensive things.