A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Thursday, February 28, 2013

No Middle Ground On Injustice


Opinion Disconnected From Reality

This chart is from a Gallup Poll (conducted between February 7th and 10th with a nationwide sample of 1,015 adults -- with a margin of error of 4 points). Frankly, I find the results of this survey shocking to say the least.

According to the survey, about 47% of the people in the United States does NOT think the United States is number one militarily in the world. If you considered the margin of error, that would be somewhere between 43% and 51% of the population -- still an incredibly high percentage even if we take the 43% figure. Here is how it breaks down politically (with the percentage shown being those thinking the U.S. is not the strongest military):

Republicans...............46%
Independents...............52%
Democrats...............42%

Considering what the United States spends on the military, I simply don't understand how anyone in this country can believe that. It shows a real disconnect with reality, and makes me wonder if the GOP has really been that effective with their fear  mongering and propaganda that our military needs more money just to survive.

The United States spends at least 45% of all the money spent on the military in the entire world. That's more than the next 15 biggest-spending countries combined (with the spending of all countries converted to U.S. dollars). We could cut our spending in half, and we would still be spending more on our military than any other country in the world -- ANY country, whether friend or enemy!

How can we possibly be spending that much on our military, and still not have the strongest military in the world? If that was true, we would have to have the stupidest military leaders (Pentagon) and the most incompetent military-industrial complex of any country (by far) -- and heads should roll.

The truth is that we have the best-trained and best equipped military in the world. And we would still have that even if we spent far less on our military. The people who believe we don't have fallen for the propaganda being churned out by the GOP (on behalf of their corporate masters), so they can spend even more taxpayer money to fatten the bank accounts of the corporations in the military-industrial complex.

It's just sad that so many Americans have fallen for that lie! The military budget needs to be cut significantly -- not increased.

The Regular

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

Corporatism And The Major Media

This is a very perceptive statement by the legendary Malcolm X. Here in America, we like to think that our major news media are independent organizations whose only interest is in bringing the truth to the masses. That is no longer true (if it ever was true). Newspapers, radio stations, and television stations and news organizations are not owned by the powerless and oppressed -- they are owned by the rich and powerful, the oppressors. And naturally, they censor the news they present to make those in power look better than they probably deserve.

This is not to say that no real news gets reported. Only that the presentation of that news is slanted -- from outright propaganda to slightly altered to not anger owners. We always need to know and understand who owns the major media in this country, because by knowing this you can better understand how the news is being slanted as it gets reported to you. There is a reason why the corporations have been able to slowly take over our government and pervert it to favor them. It is because they own the media.

To hear or read the media these days, one might think that whatever is good for corporations and Wall Street is good for all Americans. That is simply not true (and never has been true). It is good for corporations and Wall Street for jobs to be outsourced to low-wage countries, but it's not good for this country or it's citizens (because it causes high unemployment). It's good for corporations and Wall Street to get huge unneeded subsidies and tax breaks, but it's not good for the country and it's citizens (because it lowers revenues and increases the debt and deficit).

It is good for the corporations and Wall Street to keep wages low and restrict benefits, but it's not good for the country and it's citizens (because it keeps people in poverty). It's good for corporations and Wall Street to weaken and destroy unions, but it's not good for the country and it's citizens (because it hurts workers and shrinks the middle class).

In the years following World War II, corporations and Wall Street did very well in this country in spite of being regulated and paying their share of taxes. But they wanted more. They wanted a return to the years before the Great Depression, when corporate power was unrestrained and they could abuse workers to make not good profits, but obscene profits. And they were smart. They bought up the major media in this country, so it could no longer be used to illuminate their excesses. And it worked. Once they owned the media, there was nothing to keep them from buying the government.

And now we see the very thing that Malcolm X warned us about. The oppressed are demonized and the oppressors are deified.

The Clueless GOP

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

CPAC Snubs Best Republican Hopeful

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is one of the most popular governors in the country. The Republican governor is carrying a favorability rating over 70%, and is even viewed favorably by a majority of the state's Democrats. His re-election is pretty much assured, and he is even being talked about as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016.

But the right-wing extremists in the GOP don't like Christie. They don't like him so much that he is the only possible GOP presidential candidate that was not invited to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). A literal who's who of Republican presidential hopefuls were invited to speak to the CPAC attendees, including Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum among others. But the most popular Republican with the general public, Chris Christie, was pointedly NOT invited.

Why wasn't he invited? Because he did three things that right-wing extremists think are unforgivable sins. He shook hands and was photographed with President Obama, and publicly thanked the president for his help in getting federal aid to the New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy (right before the 2012 election). Then he berated his fellow Republicans for opposing reasonable gun restrictions. And finally he declared that his state would be expanding their Medicaid program in cooperation with Obamacare.

Now all of those things are good for the people of New Jersey, and that's why he was elected -- to serve the people of New Jersey. Those things have also served to make him very popular with New Jersey voters, and caused voters across the nation to look at him with fresh eyes. He is by far the most popular Republican in the country, and the GOP's best hope of winning back the White House in 2016.

But while he's become popular with voters in general, his actions for the betterment of the citizens of New Jersey have made him very unpopular with the extremist (teabagger) voters who make up a large part of the GOP base (and actually control the party in many states). The CPAC snub just highlights how much the extremists dislike him. These right-wing nuts don't care about popularity (or nominating a candidate who could win). They want someone who toes the extremist ideological line.

There's still a long time until the next presidential campaign, but the extremist base of the Republican Party seems determined to give the next presidential election to the Democrats. Personally, I don't think Hillary Clinton needs their help, but I appreciate their idiocy anyway.

The Olympic Priority

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

Telling The Truth About Marijuana

The original marijuana laws were meant far more for social control than for citizen safety. That is because marijuana is the safest drug know -- and will not cause an overdose death or any addiction. In fact, it is far safer than any of the legal drugs, some which are considered safe (aspirin, tylenol, etc.) and some which are just preferred by government decision-makers (tobacco, alcohol).

So, why do a substantial part of the American population believe marijuana is some kind of dangerous drug? Because they have been lied to by the government (and by those who are making money off keeping it illegal). These lies have been told so long and so often by people who claim to know something about drugs (but don't) that many have just accepted those lies.

But a lie accepted by a large amount of the population is still a lie. Acceptance does not turn a lie into the truth, no matter how fervently the anti-marijuana crowd might wish it does. And it is time to start challenging those lies, and exposing them -- because there is no legitimate reason why marijuana shouldn't be available for both medical and recreational use by adults. And the best way to expose a lie is to tell the truth.

Steve Elliott at his website Toke Signals does just that. He tells the truth about marijuana. Here is some of what he has to say about the gentle herb:

I believe in the direct approach. The best way to fight lies is with the truth: fight back with the facts.

The prohibitionists tell us that marijuana causes brain damage. The scientific research tells us that cannabinoids exert a neuro-protective effect — which, put in everyday language, means that cannabis not only does NOT kill brain cells — it protects them.

Cannabis is such a powerful neuro-protectant that scientific research shows pot exerts a protective effect against the damage of alcohol use. Now, I don’t recommend that anyone drink alcohol, but I know a lot of you do. And if you do drink, let me implore you to please smoke pot with it — it keeps the alcohol from killing as many brain cells.
Marijuana is good for your brain. Fight back with the facts.


The prohibitionists tell us that marijuana causes lung cancer. Scientific research — in fact, the biggest study ever done on marijuana and lung cancer, by Dr. Donald Tashkin at UCLA — shows that there is no association at all between smoking marijuana — even heavily and daily — and lung cancer. In fact, people who smoke only marijuana have a lower rate of lung cancer than people who don’t smoke at all. What this tells us is that cannabis, even smoked cannabis, exerts a protective effect against cancer.
Marijuana is good for your lungs. Fight back with the facts.


The prohibitionists try to tell us that marijuana is not medicine. The scientific research tells us that cannabis can be a useful medical treatment for a wide range of diseases, and there are literally hundreds of scientific studies to back this up. For a 420-page listing of studies showing the effectiveness of medical marijuana, check out Granny Storm Crow’s list.
Marijuana is medically good for you. Fight back with the facts.


The prohibitionists tell us that smoking marijuana makes us stupid and lazy and unmotivated. But the scientific research tells us that cannabis smokers work harder and smarter than their non-toking brethren. The Rubin Study in Jamaica, published in the 1970s by Dr. Vera Rubin (look it up if you don’t believe me), shows that the hardest workers are the highest workers.
Marijuana is good for your motivation. Fight back with the facts.


The prohibitionists tell us that marijuana is a gateway drug. The scientific research tells us that not only is cannabis not a gateway drug, but is in fact an exit drug from hard drug use, which has shown to be invaluable in helping addicts of meth, cocaine and heroin, along with alcoholics, maintain abstinence from harmful substances.
Marijuana is good for stopping drug abuse. Fight back with the facts.


​The prohibitionists tell us that the smoking of marijuana by pregnant women results in lower birth weights and less intelligent babies. The scientific research tells us that toking mothers have babies that are just as healthy, with birth weights just as normal, as babies born of non-toking mothers.

And you know what else the research showed? That the babies of pot smoking mothers scored better on laboratory tests of cognition than babies of non-smoking mothers. Another independent scientific study showed that babies of marijuana-using mothers have a lowermortality rate than babies of mothers who didn’t use any drugs at all! The baby mortality rate among non-using mothers was 13.7 per 1,000 live births, while babies of toking mothers had a rate of only 8.9 deaths per 1000 births.
Marijuana is good for pregnant mothers and their babies. Fight back with the facts.


The prohibitionists tell us that marijuana causes car wrecks and that legalization will only increase the toll on our highways. The scientific research tells us that experienced pot smokers showno impairment on driving tests. I believe most of us can back this one up with personal experience, because cannabis makes many of us safer drivers.
Marijuana is good for your driving. Fight back with the facts.


The prohibitionists tell us that relaxing the marijuana laws will result in higher rates of usage in teens. The scientific research tells us that teen pot use rates are lower in the Netherlands — after they decriminalized cannabis — than in the United States with its harsher pot laws.
Marijuana legalization is good for teenagers. Fight back with the facts.

The Kamikaze GOP

Political Cartoon is by Jen Sorensen at jensorensen.com.

Above The Law ?

The above statement is true. And even worse, the bankers (at least the big ones on Wall Street) seem to be immune to the law. Why have none of the bankers that triggered the Great Repression by stealing from the American people gone to jail? They stole billions of dollars. The government has no problem sending a person to jail for robbing a bank of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Shouldn't the bankers, who steal millions or billions of dollars, also be sent to prison?


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Humanism


GOP Is "Extreme" And "Out Of Touch"

The chart above is from the Pew Research Center, and it shows the favorability of the two political parties in the eyes of the American public. Back in 2010, the two parties had an equal favorability rating -- somewhere in the high 30's. But since then the GOP has seized control of the House of Representatives, and refused to cooperate or compromise with the president on anything. Because of that the favorability of the Republican Party has gone down, while the Democratic Party favorability has risen -- with the Democrats now standing at 47% and the Republicans at 33% (a whopping 14 point difference).

The Pew Research Center survey (Taken between January 19th and 13th) also asked some other questions about the two parties, and the Republicans didn't fare too well on those either -- with the GOP being viewed as "out of touch" and "extreme". Here are those numbers for the two parties:

OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
Republicans - yes...............62%
Republicans - no...............33%
Democrats - yes...............46%
Democrats - no...............50%

TOO EXTREME
Republicans - yes...............52%
Republicans - no...............42%
Democrats - yes...............39%
Democrats - no...............56%

IS OPEN TO CHANGE
Republicans - yes...............39%
Republicans - no...............56%
Democrats - yes...............58%
Democrats - no...............38%

LOOKS OUT FOR THE COUNTRY'S FUTURE
Republicans - yes...............45%
Republicans - no...............50%
Democrats - yes...............51%
Democrats - no...............45%

While those might not be great numbers for the Democrats, they are truly abysmal numbers for the Republicans. A majority of Americans believe the GOP is extreme, out of touch, not open to change, and doesn't look out for the future of the country. Majorities believe the opposite about the Democrats. In case you believe the Democrats may have skewed the poll, here are the numbers of what only the Independents think (the percentages shown are those who said yes):

OUT OF TOUCH
Republicans...............65%
Democrats...............51%

TOO EXTREME
Republicans...............51%
Democrats...............40%

OPEN TO CHANGE
Republicans...............39%
Democrats...............54%

LOOKS OUT FOR FUTURE
Republicans...............43%
Democrats...............45%

The GOP brand is definitely tarnished. And a more recent Pew survey shows that most Americans will blame the Republicans if the sequester goes into effect -- and it will do that in just a couple of days. We can expect the GOP's popularity to drop even further after the effects of the sequester start being felt by most Americans.

The party out of power usually does pretty good in off-year elections, but with the GOP intent on committing political suicide (to please a few teabaggers) that could be different in 2014.

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

It looks like the Republicans have not improved their brand any in the last month. In fact, a new poll done by NBC News/Wall Street Journal (between February 21st and 24th of 1000 nationwide adults -- with a margin of error of 3.1 points) shows that they may have actually dropped in popularity with the general public. Look at these numbers:

REPUBLICANS
favorable...............29%
unfavorable...............46%

DEMOCRATS
favorable...............41%
unfavorable...............36%

PRESIDENT OBAMA
favorable...............49%
unfavorable...............40%

PERCENT WHO AGREE WITH WHAT THE FOLLOWING ARE PROPOSING
Republicans...............29%
Democrats...............40%
President Obama...............45%

PERCENT WHO BELIEVE THE FOLLOWING ARE BIPARTISAN
Republicans...............22%
Democrats...............37%
President Obama...............48%

WHICH PARTY IS BETTER AT. . .

LOOKING OUT FOR MIDDLE CLASS
Republicans...............24%
Democrats...............46%

DEALING WITH MEDICARE
Republicans...............22%
Democrats...............40%

DEALING WITH HEALTH CARE
Republicans...............25%
Democrats...............41%

REDUCING GUN VIOLENCE
Republicans...............19%
Democrats...............34%

DEALING WITH SOCIAL SECURITY
Republicans...............22%
Democrats...............36%

DEALING WITH ENERGY POLICY
Republicans...............26%
Democrats...............36%

DEALING WITH IMMIGRATION
Republicans...............27%
Democrats...............33%

DEALING WITH TAXES
Republicans...............32%
Democrats...............35%

DEALING WITH ECONOMY
Republicans...............30%
Democrats...............32%

SHOULD THE MINIMUM WAGE BE RAISED TO $9.00 AN HOUR?
Yes...............58%
No...............36%

It looks like the Republicans find themselves on the wrong side of nearly every issue. How do they expect to win the favor of the public by doing that?

Sequestered

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Public Opposes Cuts To Most Programs

All the talk now is about how the government needs to cut spending. Nobody seems to like the sequester, but both Congress and the public seems to have accepted that more cuts must be done. The problem is where those cuts are to be done. The Republicans don't want the military budget cut (even though we are spending more than what the next 15 countries combined spend). And the Democrats don't want to cut more from education, unemployment, or social programs (since most of those programs have been cut to the bone already).

This brings up the question of what does the general public want to cut? The Pew Research Center did a survey to find out (conducted between February 13th and 18th of a nationwide sample of 1,504 adults -- with a margin of error of 2.9 points). What they found was that significant majorities of the American people don't want cuts at all -- at least not when they are asked about specific programs.

Only one program came close to being agreed upon to cut -- aid to the world's needy (with 49% wanting to keep it funded at the current level or increasing funding, while 48% want its funding to be decreased). The problem here is that the funding for aid to the world's needy is such a small part of the national budget that it could be completely eliminated and it wouldn't significantly affect government spending.

As the chart above shows, no other program or area has more that 34% believing it should be cut. And most programs have far less support for cuts than that 34%. For example, 10% think Social Security should be cut (while 87% oppose cutting it), 10% would cut education (while 89% would oppose cutting it more), and 15% would cut Medicare (while 82% would oppose cutting it).

The fact is that the American people are opposed to all the cuts the Republicans want to make. Which means the GOP is once again playing with fire by trying to impose cuts the public won't support -- and refusing to close tax loopholes for the rich to raise more revenue, which would be supported by a majority of the public. The Republicans may have scared people into thinking cuts need to be made, but they are yet to find an area where the public would support those cuts.

Many congressional Republicans think they have a way to make the cuts they want -- just sit back and let the sequester cuts happen. I think they are wrong. The pain from the sequester cuts won't be immediate, but it will become known in plenty of time to hurt them in the 2014 elections.

Most Essential ?

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

Stupidity Or Racism ?

Logic is certainly not the right word to use when it comes to conservatives. As soon as President Obama was elected, what little logic they had flew right out the window. Conservatives, especially the teabagger variety, don't even bother to think policies and bills through anymore. They only look at who proposed that policy or bill. If a Republican proposed it then it is accepted, but if President Obama proposed it then it has to be bad in their view.

This is true even when the proposal is exactly the same. Obamacare was originally a Republican idea, and Romney was celebrated by conservatives when he got it passed in Massachusetts. But when Obama proposed the same program for the nation, conservatives acted like it was the worst thing that could possibly happen (completely ignoring the fact that it was their own plan originally).

The same thing is true of the idea to close tax loopholes so the rich would pay a little more. Romney proposed it during the campaign, and conservatives thought it was a great idea. They even campaigned on it. But after he was re-elected, President Obama proposed exactly the same thing -- closing tax loopholes to raise revenue (and he is even offering to let Congress decide what loopholes need to be changed). Only now the Republicans oppose the idea (again forgetting that it was originally their own idea).

I don't know whether this is just stupidity or overt racism. Maybe it is both (which wouldn't surprise me since the GOP has displayed plenty of both since President Obama was elected). But rejecting your own idea just because a political opponent finally accepts it is really weird. Shouldn't it be a cause for celebration when your opponent accepts your idea? Not for today's GOP! They must oppose everything the president does, even if he is agreeing with them or accepting one of their ideas.

Demographics

Political Cartoon is by Lalo Alcaraz at Universal Uclick.

Proof ?

Proof? Of course not! But it's as good as the "proof" offered by other religions. The fact is that there is no proof that any kind of god actually exists -- not even the supposed "holy books", which were all written and compiled by humans. Any person has the right to believe in any religion, but considering there is no proof of the religion's validity, that person has no right morally to try and force that religion on others through the government or legal procedures. And in the United States, such action is also constitutionally prohibited.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Blizzard In Texas

This is Amarillo (Texas) the day after the blizzard hit (over 18 inches of snow with 35 to 50 mph winds). I've only lived in Amarillo since January of 2007, but have already experienced two blizzards (the only two I've been in ever). Every single road in the 26 county Panhandle was closed -- and two days later, we're still trying to dig out.

I guess this is just the price we pay for having nicer summers than the rest of Texas (it is normally 5 degrees cooler here than other parts of Texas and the air is dryer -- making the summer more tolerable).

Picture is from the Facebook page of Amarillo's KISS FM 96.9.

GOP Venn Diagram

(Found at the blog of the wonderful Yellowdog Granny.)

The GOP's Hispanic Problem

The last election showed the Republican Party has a serious problem in trying to get Hispanic votes. The GOP candidate for president (Mitt Romney) got less than 30% of the Hispanic vote -- which was even worse than the anemic percentage of that vote that McCain got in 2008. Some in the GOP may want to blame Romney, saying he was just a bad candidate. They believe they would do better with a different candidate.

But a recent Gallup Poll shows the fallacy of that kind of thinking. The poll, taken between January 2nd and December 30th of 2012 of 26,264 Hispanic voters nationwide (with a margin of error of only 1 point), shows that Republicans in general are just not very popular among Hispanics. Only 13% of Hispanics self-identify as Republicans, and when you add in those leaning toward the party the percentage rises only to 24% -- about half of Democrats and Democratic leaners (51%).

And there is little hope that the new generation of Hispanics will help the Republicans. The numbers of those who identify or lean to each party remains the same through all age groups. Here are those numbers:

PARTY ID/LEANERS AMONG HISPANICS

18 to 34
Republican...............24%
Independent...............22%
Democrat...............50%

35 to 54
Republican...............24%
Independent...............20%
Democrat...............50%

55 and Over
Republican...............23%
Independent...............13%
Democrat...............59%

The major reason why the Republicans don't seem to be able to make any inroads into the Hispanic vote is the way they demonize those peoples living south of the U.S. border. The GOP theme for the last few years (and which has not changed) is that there is a horde of millions of Mexicans wanting to enter this country illegally and take jobs away from U.S. citizens. They believe we must seal off the border.

There are several things wrong with that GOP myth. First, undocumented workers don't take jobs that American citizens want. They have always taken the difficult and dirty jobs with very little pay, that U.S. citizens show no interest in filling. Second, a fairly open border has always economically benefitted border towns and states on both sides of the border -- and completely closing the border hurts both countries economically.

Third, the net influx of undocumented immigrants is now at zero (or even less). In other words, there are as many (or more) immigrants leaving the U.S. as there are entering it. And as the chart above shows (taken from another recent Gallup Poll), the amount of Mexicans who want to leave their country and relocate to another country is 11%. Amazingly, that is the same percentage of U.S. citizens who would like to leave the United States and relocate permanently to another country.

Hispanics know all of these truths, and until the Republicans stop telling lies about undocumented immigrants and Mexico, they are not going to make any significant inroads into the Hispanic vote. Why should Hispanics ever vote for a party that demonizes their heritage and treats them as second-class citizens?

Some in the GOP think if they just pass some watered down immigration bill, then Hispanics will flock to their banner. I think that is ludicrous. It is going to take a lot more. They are going to have to start treating Hispanic citizens as equals, and undocumented immigrants as humans worthy of some respect. The problem the GOP has is that the teabaggers, who control the GOP in many states, simply are not ready to do that. Until they are ready to change their attitude, the GOP is going to have trouble wooing Hispanics.

GOP Outreach

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

GOP Doesn't Really Care About Deficit

(This caricature of Paul Krugman is by DonkeyHotey.)


Republicans don’t care about the deficit. They care about exploiting the deficit to pursue their goal of dismantling the social insurance system. They want a fiscal crisis; they need it; they’re enjoying it. I mean, how is “starve the beast” supposed to work? Precisely by creating a fiscal crisis, giving you an excuse to slash Social Security and Medicare.
The idea that they’re going to cheerfully accept a deal that will take the current deficit off the table as a scare story without doing major damage to the key social insurance programs, and then have a philosophical discussion about how we might change those programs over the longer term, is pure fantasy. That would amount to an admission of defeat on their part.

Those are the words of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman -- and he is exactly right. The Republicans don't care about federal budget deficits. Note that they were happy to help the Bush administration take a budget surplus (left by President Clinton) and turn it into a huge budget deficit -- mostly by giving the rich huge tax cuts and starting two unnecessary wars that were paid for by borrowing. They didn't have a problem with the deficit then. It was only after an African-American Democrat was elected president that they suddenly became concerned about the deficit.

And they still don't care about it. They know that significant job creation (which they oppose) would increase government revenues and take care of the deficit. But they don't want that. They want to use the deficit as a scare tactic -- to get rid (or at least hurt) two programs they have never liked (Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid). They voted against these programs when they were proposed, and they have tried to dismantle both by privatizing them.

Those efforts have not worked, so now they are trying to make significant cuts to both. They know the American people like both programs and don't want them cut. So they have engaged on a campaign of lies to scare the people into believing that we have a crippling budget deficit -- that can only be fixed by making huge cuts to Social Security and Medicaid. They completely ignore the fact that Social Security has paid for itself and not added even a penny to the deficit, while Medicare has not added as much to the deficit as GOP tax cuts for the rich, subsidies for the corporations, and bloated spending on the military budget.

The Republican concern over the deficit is disingenuous at best. Don't let them get away with using this false fear over the deficit to cut Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. These two programs work exactly as they were designed to work, and are supported by over 80% of Americans. In fact, we don't need more spending cuts at all. What we need is for the rich and the corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.

Hotline

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

Castro To Step Down In 2018

Raul Castro, the current president of Cuba, has said several times in the past that he believes those holding that office should limit their term in office to two five-year terms. Now it looks like he is going to practice what he has been preaching. On Sunday, the 612 deputy Cuban National Assembly chose Mr. Castro to serve a second 5-year term as president (which starts immediately).

Raul Castro took the opportunity to tell the National Assembly (and the Cuban people) that it would be his last term. He said he would leave the office in 2018 (when he would be 86 years old). At that time the Cuban presidency would pass to a younger generation -- to someone who was not a part of the 1959 revolution that kicked out the dictator Bautista and established to current communist government.

And it looks like that future leader may have been chosen. The National Assembly also replaced an 82 year old First Vice-President with a younger man. They chose 52 year old Miguel Diaz-Canel (shown above with President Castro) to be the First Vice-President (the person who would step in if Raul Castro was unable to complete his new term as president). Diaz-Canel is an electrical engineer, who has steadily rose within the party ranks. Many see this appointment as him being the chosen successor to the presidency.

Of course, 2018 is five years away. Things could change between now and then. There could be someone else to rise to the status of being possibly chosen as successor to the Castro's. But I wouldn't bet against Diaz-Canel. At any rate, it will be interesting to see what happens in Cuba in 2018 -- and the direction the new leader will take.

Sequestration

Political Cartoon is by Monte Wolverton at caglecartoons.com.

Government Liars

The sad part is that the American people seem to have accepted this situation. They have been lied to so much by the government that they think it is just the way things are (or even should be). It's not. And if the people wanted to take care of this, they could. They have that power. Just vote the liars out of office -- and keep doing it until the lying stops.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Those Who Love Peace


New Military Medal Overvalued ?

The medal pictured at left is the newest military medal. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced its formation on February 13th. It is called the Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM), and is meant to be awarded for "extraordinary achievement" by a soldier in the fields of cyberwarfare or combat drone operations. It is to be awarded for single exemplary acts -- not sustained service.

I don't have a problem with the medal being awarded for those who show excellence in cyberwarfare or combat drone operations. Excellence should be awarded in all areas. However, I do have a problem with where the military ranks the DWM among the medals it hands out. It is ranked above the Bronze Star (even with V designation) and the Purple Heart.

That is just wrong. The Bronze Star (with V) and the Purple Heart are awarded to those who have been in actual combat. These people have put their lives in danger (and some of the recipients have received them posthumously). But the DWM is awarded to soldiers who fight their war from a well-protected bunker, usually far from the actual combat zone.

The wife of one Bronze Star recipient (who died in the action in which he won that award) thinks this devalues the heroism of soldiers in combat. Veronica Ortiz-Rivera said:

"To know that somebody sitting at a computer who never risked their life is going to get something that’s worth more, it almost puts less of a value on what my husband did and what so many other men have done. To take that new medal and give it a higher classification than the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart is disrespectful. Maybe I’m just biased because my husband was killed in combat.

It feels like it almost strips away a little of his heroism, honestly, although he is and always will be a hero to us."

I have to agree with her. No military medal, even one awarded for excellence, should be valued higher than awards given to soldiers who earned them in actual combat, where their lives were on the line. Creating the award was proper, but ranking it higher than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart was an egregious mistake -- and it needs to be corrected.

Holdouts

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in The Houston Chronicle.

The New McCarthy

Back in the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy ruined the lives of a lot of innocent people by using his position in the Senate to make baseless accusations. He accused people of being communists, even though he had no proof of his charges. He knew that an accusation was enough, especially if made by a senator, and that too many foolish people would believe his undocumented charges. It was a dark time in this nation's history -- a time ruled by fear rather than reason.

McCarthy was eventually censured and shamed by his fellow senators -- after being embarrassed on nationwide TV by a lawyer for the Army named Welch. The nation slowly healed, and it seemed that we had learned our lesson -- that we would never allow another person to perform those same kinds of shameful acts performed by McCarthy.

But we might have been wrong. It seems there is a new McCarthy incubating in the United States Senate -- Ted Cruz of Texas. This teabagger started out by accusing Secretary of Defense nominee of receiving money from foreign governments like Saudi Arabia and North Korea. Cruz had no evidence that was true, and in fact, a thorough investigation of nominee Hagel by the FBI showed no improprieties at all.  But that didn't stop Cruz from throwing out the accusations as a "possibility".

Now we learn that this is not the first time Cruz has made false and scurrilous accusations against innocent and patriotic Americans. Speaking at a right-wing fundraiser not long ago, Cruz told the crowd that when he attended Harvard Law School (he graduated in 1995) there were at least 12 professors there that believed in marxism and the violent overthrow of the United States government.

This immediately brings up the question -- Why didn't he turn those professors in to the FBI? Supporting the violent overthrow of the government is a serious crime in this country, and if the charge was true those "marxists" would have been arrested and tried. But it was not true -- and Cruz knew it was not true. But he also knew this is the kind of ridiculous thing that right-wing extremists want to believe, so he told them it was true -- just to win their favor.

It is time for the Republican leadership in the Senate (and in the party) to have a serious discussion with Cruz and demand he stop this kind of abhorrent behavior. It is one thing to propose and support policies that will damage the country (as the GOP is doing), but it is far worse to use an elected position to make false accusations against Americans. That kind of reprehensible behavior simply cannot be tolerated.

Blunt Instrument

Political Cartoon is by Stuart Carlson at carlsontoons.com.

Is The Debt Crisis Real?

We hear a lot about our national debt from the Republicans in Congress. They want us to believe it is a crushing debt that will destroy this country if not immediately controlled by slashing government spending -- and to do that they are willing to throw millions of hurting Americans under the bus. Is it true? Not really. The truth is that we can handle the debt we have, and in fact, reducing government spending in a recession economy will just hurt a recovery. It is the worst thing we can do (just look at what "austerity" has done to Europe).

Jeff Spross at Think Progress has written an excellent article on our national debt, and whether it poses a real crisis or not. I urge you to read the whole article, and post a bit of it here just to whet your appetite:


The actual truth is that the debt everyone’s freaking out about does not exist.
Some of the debt certainly exists, like the roughly $11.6 trillion owed to foreign and private creditors. But that isn’t the debt anyone’s worried about. If we stopped adding to it tomorrow, the debt as it stands would pose essentially zero threat to the country’s fiscal health, as the ongoing growth of the economy would send our debt-to-GDP ratio dropping like a rock.
So the debt that’s got everyone worried is the part we haven’t yet incurred. And that debt, by definition, does not exist. It’s not a certainty, it’s merely a projection by the Congressional Budget Office. And trying to model how the federal budget, not to mention the entire American economy, will behave years or even decades in the future is a devilishly treacherous business.
For instance: one of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) favorite talking points in 2011 was that the computer simulations CBO uses to model the economy crash when they attempt to account for the debt load in 2037. Imagine trying to model the 2011 economy in 1985. Things you’d never see coming include (among other things) the Internet, fracking, massive advances in computing power, the renewable energy boom, three wars, a massive recession, and Harry Potter. And predictions can be hard even over shorter time frames. In 1995, CBO predicted the deficit in 2000 would be well over $200 billion. We ran a surplus of $236 billion.
In fact, Ryan plastered dramatic graphs of debt going out 75 years onto everythingin sight while stumping for his last budget. Forget predicting 2011 in 1985. That’slike predicting 2011 in 1940.

So neither the impending Baby Boomer retirement nor growing health care costs make astronomical debt a certainty, despite the insistence of the conservative and centrist punditariat. With respect to the Boomers, economist Dean Baker ran the numbers and found that if productivity growth in the economy clocks in at one percent until 2035 (a very conservative estimate) the resulting gains will swamp the added retiree burden.
As for health care cost growth, it’s perhaps the best example available to explain why the debt doesn’t actually exist. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects, based on current trends, that excess cost growth will become the lead driver of Medicare and Medicaid spending by 2037 — the primary cause of our long-term debt, and the thing that keeps budget hawks up at night. But if you look at CBO’s fine print (page 60, if you’re interested) their complex formula for making this projection essentially boils down to looking at past trends in health care costs and assuming they’ll be similar going forward.
The catch? The entire purpose of health care reform, whether we keep Obamacare or get Ryan’s preferred replacement, is to change those trends by changing the structure of health care markets — how we buy, sell, and deliver care. That should slow health care cost growth, making it less expensive for the government to pay for health care through Medicare and Medicaid. . .
By fixating on a problem that may or may not exist, Washington has trapped policymaking in a weird, postmodern dilemma. We’ve declared there’s a crisis because we’ve produced a hypothetical number, tethered to reality only by a host of assumptions and guesswork about what will happen in the next several decades. Then we insist this “crisis” isn’t “solved” until we’ve made policy changes that shift the math designed to spit out said hypothetical number. Policymaking becomes less about solving concrete problems (more on that in a bit) and more about made-up numbers on an Excel spreadsheet.
This choice to prioritize a phantom number over real-world evidence has consequences. In a depression, spending cuts suck demand out of the economy,leading to slower growth. Remember: the denominator counts as much as the numerator in the debt-to-GDP ratio. Europe has so far pursued austerity with markedly more enthusiasm than the United States, and its economic performance predictably tanked as a result. Spain and France are anticipated to miss their latest debt-cutting targets, and the Continent as a whole will probably not see renewed economic growth for another year.
Both in Europe and here in America, we have tax codes that by their nature bring in less revenue when the economy goes into a downturn, and a series of safety net programs designed to ramp up when unemployment rises. The vast majority of the deficits we’ve seen since President Obama took office were due to the 2008 collapse. Under depression conditions, deficits are a feature, not a bug.
Yet we’ve already cut non-defense discretionary spending to 40-year lows,endangering all sorts of investments in America’s infrastructure, health, safety, communities, and future productivity. And that’s before the sequester kicks in. This massive failure to invest or aid saps the economy’s skills, education, networks, and future prospects. The longer unemployment and stagnation drags on, the more damage we do to Americans’ abilities to prosper, and the less we’ll be able to grow the denominator over the coming years.
Refusing to tackle that all-too-real crisis with the full range of economic resources at our disposal is a shameful moral and political failure. Especially when the reason we’re refusing is fear of shadows cast on the wall.

Evil Pride

Political Cartoon is by John Branch in the San Antonio Express-News.

Where's The Party Of The Left ?


I wish it wasn't true, but I think these two pictures sum up pretty well the political situation in the United States. We don't have a party of the left and a party of the right in this country. We have two parties of the right, with one being more extreme on the right than the other -- and both holding Wall Street and the giant corporations in far too much reverence. What we badly need is a party that will represent the working and middle classes -- a party that will demand the rich, the banks, and the corporations stop shirking their responsibilities and start paying their full and fair share of taxes. The Democrats used to be that party, but now they have joined the GOP in declaring their fealty to Wall Street and Big Business.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Better Than You ?


Executions Are Becoming Rare In U.S.

The above map is from Think Progress, and it shows the states that still have the death penalty and those that don't. They printed the map because it looks like Maryland will soon become one of the states that has abolished the death penalty.

I was intrigued by the numbers in the white blocks of each state -- the number of executions that the state has carried out since 1976 (when the constitutionality of the death penalty was clarified). Note that only 9 states have averaged at least 1 execution per year in the last 36 years (Texas-481, Virginia-109, Oklahoma-98, Florida-73, Missouri-68, Alabama-55, Georgia-52, North Carolina-43, and South Carolina-43). The other 41 states have averaged less than 1 execution each year -- most of them far less than that.

And only four states have averaged at least 2 executions each year (Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Florida). The fact is that executions are becoming more rare in this country with each passing year. Even in Texas, which has carried out a third of all executions since 1976, the number of death penalties given by juries and carried out by the state has dropped sharply in the last few years.

This brings up an interesting question. As the death penalty becomes more rarely used in the United States, how rare will it have to be before it is deemed to have become a "cruel and unusual" punishment (which would make it unconstitutional)? It is already used less than once per year by four-fifths of the 50 states. How much lower must it get before reaching the definition for "cruel and unusual"? Can only four states carry the burden of keeping it constitutional?

These are questions that need to be answered. But it is a question that can only be answered by the Supreme Court, and with executions becoming more rare all the time (even in blood-thirsty Texas) the question might well have to be answered by that court in the next few years.

Climate Change

Political Cartoon is by Rob Tornoe at Media Matters.

What Happened To "Cost Effective" ?

On both the state and national level, the Republicans have said many times that government must be "cost effective". In other words, the government should spend the least amount of money that will still get the job done. I don't think any Democrats would argue with that. No one in either party wants to spend money that doesn't have to be spent, but Democrats do want to spend what is necessary to help hurting Americans.

Unfortunately, the Republicans don't always practice what they preach. We have long known that the GOP has no respect for the poor. They consider them to be lazy bums (and probably drug users) who just don't want to work. Any reasonable person knows this is not true, but reason is not a Republican value.

Using their faulty logic, the Republicans decided they could save the government a lot of money by drug-testing people on welfare (or applying for it) and then denying those benefits to those who tested positive. The results of that stupid program have certainly not been cost effective to say the least. In Florida and Arizona, the two states crazy enough to actually try this program, the GOP has spent about $5.8 million on testing -- and found only 22 people who tested positive (thus saving far less than $1 million).

In other words, the program in those states has been a failure, and a huge waste of government money. And there is no reason to believe it would be any different in any other state (or on the national level). Most of the poor are decent people, who just need a little help to get out of a bad situation (and most who take advantage of government programs do so only for a limited time). The GOP vision of the poor is simply not true -- and it has caused them to waste a lot of money (money that could have been used to help people).

You know a policy is bad when the proponents are more willing to spend money to find reasons not to help people, than they are willing to just help. But that is today's GOP. They should be ashamed.

Countdown

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

Are You An Atheist ?

That may sound like a silly question to some. After all, it is assumed that people will know whether they are an atheist or not. But that is not necessarily true. Some people may think there is a set of beliefs that atheists must adhere to, but that wrong. Atheism is simply a lack of beliefs in gods -- nothing else is required.

Recently, my fellow blogger (vjack at Atheist Revolution) wrote an excellent post he called "How To Know If You Are An Atheist". I thought it was very good, so I am reposting it here:

Even if we understand the meaning of atheism, it is not always easy for someone brought up in a religious family or culture to acknowledge that he or she might be an atheist. Such an individual may have been raised to believe that atheists are evil and that it is not possible to be a good person without faith in some sort of god(s). In short, there may be many psychological barriers that could prevent someone from wanting to acknowledge that he or she may be an atheist.

The good news is that it is fairly easy for you to figure out whether you are an atheist. By the end of this post, you will know if you are an atheist. What you choose to do with that information is up to you.

Do You Believe in God(s)?

Theism refers to the belief in some sort of god or gods. Theistic belief, or what some refer to as the theistic claim, refers to the proposition that some sort of god or gods exist. A theist is someone who accepts this claim (i.e., a theist is one who believes in a god or gods).

The atheist does not accept the theistic claim. That is, an atheist lacks the theist's belief in god(s). The question of atheism vs. theism is not about certainty. The person who thinks it is possible but unlikely for some sort of god to exist is still an atheist. The person who somehow has never heard of any sort of god is an atheist. How can this be? Such an individual lacks theistic belief. Without theistic belief, one is by definition an atheist.

So how do you know whether you are an atheist? Ask yourself the following question:

Do you believe in some sort of god or gods?
If you answered "yes," you are not an atheist but a theist. You believe in god(s), and that makes you a theist. If you answered anything other than "yes," you are an atheist. You may prefer a different label, but you are in fact an atheist. You do not accept the theistic claim. 

Wait a second! What if you aren't sure what you believe? What if you answered "I don't know" or something similar? You are confusing the question of what you believe with the question of how certain you are in your belief. These are separate questions, and only one of them has any bearing on whether you are an atheist. If you are not sure whether you believe in god(s), you lack god-belief and that makes you an atheist. The question was not whether you are 100% certain that god(s) exist; it was whether you believe in god(s). How certain you are of your belief is a different question.

But What About Agnosticism?

There are many misconceptions out there about atheism and agnosticism. They are not actually alternative positions at all; they are answers to different questions. For example, I am an agnostic atheist. This means that I lack god-belief but make no claim that gods cannot possibly exist. For the more visually-oriented, this diagram might help. As you can see, agnosticism is not an alternative to atheism. It can even be a complementary position.

Here's another way to look at it…imagine someone who maintains that they are not even remotely sure whether they believe in god(s). Perhaps they've never bothered to think about it at all. One thing is undeniably true of such a person: they do not accept the theistic claim, at least not yet. They are an atheist. Should they change their mind at some future time and accept the claim, they would be a theist. Until that happens, they are an atheist.

Now What?

If you found out that you are an atheist, what's next? That is up to you. You certainly do not have to tell anyone if you do not want to. I know it can be difficult to acknowledge that one no longer believes in gods. It took me a couple of years to come around. What I can tell you is that there are many great people out there who happen to be atheists and who are nearly always thrilled to meet another atheist. If you have local atheist groups, consider checking one out. And if not, there are plenty of us active on the Internet.