Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Atheist Chaplain ?

This is a funny cartoon. It is also a really dumb idea. I may be an atheist, but I still think the idea (being pushed seriously by some) of an atheist chaplain doesn't make sense. Atheists don't believe in any god or religion. That means they would have no use for a chaplain. Just stop making them participate in the religious activities of others -- That would be enough. From the site Atheist Cartoons.

Another Step Away From Democracy - Toward Plutocracy

This is some bad news for those of you who enjoyed living in a representative democracy. A misguided federal court judge, James Cacheris (appointed by Ronald Reagan), has decided that the rich and the corporations don't have enough power in the United States and has rendered a decision he hopes will rectify that. The judge has thrown out indictments against two men who were charged of reimbursing political donations made by other people from corporate funds.

This amounted to a corporation donating money directly to a political candidate, which is (or was) illegal. The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court had unwisely allowed corporations to spend as much money as they wanted in campaign advertising (but did not extend this campaign spending to allowing direct donations to candidates). Judge Cacheris' decision extends the Citizens United decision to also cover direct contributions by corporations to political candidates.

The judge claims the Citizens United case made corporations equal to people on all campaign spending issues, and since individual people can donate money directly to a candidate that means corporations can also do that. I think this judge has misread the ruling and made a grievous error in judgment, but considering the current make-up of the Supreme Court I doubt the judge will be overturned. Instead, I expect the court will jump on this chance to expand their ruling giving corporations even more power.

In modern political campaigns, money talks. And individual donors cannot hope to match the huge donations of corporations. That means the candidate that offers corporations more will get the most money in campaign donations. We were already too far down the road to plutocracy (a country ruled by its wealthy class), and this terrible decision just kicks the country even farther down that road to the death of democracy and the ascendancy of plutocratic government.

I don't care what the Supreme Court says, corporations are NOT people, and they shouldn't have the rights guaranteed to all American citizens. They are a business entity interested only in making ever larger profits, and the good of the country or its citizens doesn't enter into those business decisions. In fact, a corporation will act against the best interests of American citizens as long as it enhances the bottom line (more profits).

It may be too late, but a movement needs to be started in America to pass a new constitutional amendment -- an amendment that would deny the rights guaranteed to citizens to any corporate entity. That amendment should define "person" as a living breathing human being and restrict right to those humans (including the right of free speech). Does anyone really think our Founding Fathers (who wrote the Constitution) ever envisioned or would approve of giving business entities the same rights they guaranteed to citizens? Of course not.

Ask yourself -- is corporate rule the best form of government? That's where we're heading if somethings not done -- and soon.

The Anchor

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

Palin Embarrasses Herself Again

Rolling Thunder is a bi-partisan and non-profit group "dedicated to the search for American military personnel who are prisoners of war or missing in action." Toward that end they welcome any riders who want to help that goal, but they expect people to subordinate their own personalities and desires for the good of the organization and its goals. On Memorial Day the group rode to the National Mall.

But for Sarah Palin it was just another event to use to score political points. Instead of just joining the group as a normal person, she had to make sure she was in front (and wearing her high-heeled shoes with a black leather jacket so she could look good for the cameras) where all the news people covering the rally could see her. And she made sure she could give a little speech to let everyone know how "patriotic" she is.

But not everyone associated with the group appreciated Palin's turning the event into a vehicle to promote herself. Ted Shpak, legislative director for Rolling Thunder, said, "I'm not very appreciative of the way she came in here. If she wanted to come on the ride, she should have come in the back." He fails to understand that the reporters were up front and she was there to promote herself -- not the organization or its efforts. Sarah Palin cares only for herself -- not for anything or anyone else.

It's too bad no one ever taught her the meaning of humility when she was younger.

The Watcher

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

Monday, May 30, 2011

I Hate American Airlines (But I Love New York City)

I feel like I owe my readers an explanation of why I had no new posts up yesterday. Some blogger friends invited me to spend a few days with them in New York, and I took them up on it. I flew into New York City last Friday. But it was not an uneventful flight. My first mistake was in booking a round trip flight on American Airlines (a mistake I won't repeat).

I should have known things were not going to go well when American Airlines called me two days before my flight -- at 3:30 AM!!! They had called to tell me that they had bumped me off my flight (even though I had booked it a month early and had already paid), and instead of arriving at La Guardia at 2:30 PM I would be arriving at midnight. After fighting with their computer for a while, it finally let me talk to a human -- a human who was not happy to learn that I was questioning the almighty wisdom of the corporate computer. After wrangling for about 30 minutes I was finally able to get on a flight that would get me there only one hour later than my original flight.

I probably should have known that would not be the end of my problems, but I was foolish and thought the worst was now over. I arrived at the airport plenty early (and was singled out for the special pat down). The TSA agent assured me that I was chosen randomly, but since I was the only person there with a beard and long hair I doubt that. But after our little sexual encounter (he could at least have offered me a cigarette afterwords), I was finally able to get to the American Airlines departure gate.

My computer was in my carry-on bag (where I knew I could look after it). I waited about thirty minutes to board with my carry-on bag in plain sight for all airline personnel to see, and no one said a thing. Then as we were boarding (and I was about two steps from the plane's door), the gate attendant decided my bag was too large to carry on-board, snatched it away from me and gave it to a baggage handler. She said it was because it was a smaller plane with a smaller overhead compartment, and I could reclaim the bag as I exited the plane in Dallas. It was not until I was seated on the plane that I remembered my MacBook was in that bag.

I tried to console myself by saying they would take good care of the bag. Boy, was I wrong! That bag (and the computer in it) would have been safer in the gorilla cage at the zoo. I retrieved it at DFW Airport and quickly checked the computer. It had three large cracks in the screen and was now unusable. My beautiful computer was now basically junk. It took me nearly an hour to find someone in charge even though I had asked several agents where I could file a complaint. Finally one of the "managers" showed up and said I would have to file a complaint once I returned to Amarillo in several days.

Question -- Is there anyone out there who thinks I'll ever see a penny from American Airlines for the computer they damaged? Me neither!

I did finally make it to New York City though, and stayed at a Midtown hotel in the Theater District. Went to a Broadway show Friday night (Billy Elliot), and loved it. Went to Times Square, and loved it. On Saturday, my friend took me on a walking excursion to show me the Midtown sights -- I haven't walked that much in years. Then on Saturday he gave me a car trip around Manhattan -- showing me Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Wall Street financial district, Tribeca, Greenwich Village, West Village, SoHo, and Ground Zero. 

As I write this I am now in Woodstock. I'll spend tomorrow up here and than take a train back to the city. I should be home and ready to blog again on Wednesday -- assuming I can find a computer to do it on. The title of this post pretty much sums up my feelings. I hate American Airlines, but I have developed a quick crush on the great city of New York (my first time here). I hope I can come back someday when I can stay longer and see more.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Covering All The Bases

From the hilarious blog of Atheist Cartoons.

Troubling Stats On Congressional Investing

One of the sad facts of modern politics is that most (nearly all) members of Congress are wealthy individuals. It is a rare occurrence for a person with a median income or less to be elected to the House of Representatives, and even rarer for them to get elected to the Senate. And while they are tasked with making the laws that regulate investing and finance in this country, most of these wealthy people do some investing themselves.

This brings up the question -- how good are these elected members of Congress at investing? Some scholars decided to find out. They are Alan J. Ziobrowski (Georgia State University), James W. Boyd (Lindenwood University), Ping Cheng (Florida Atlantic University), and Brigitte J. Ziobrowski (Augusta State University). They examined more than 16,000 common stock transactions made by about 300 House members between 1985 and 2001, and what they found was a bit unsettling.

It turns out these elected officials have a remarkably good investment record -- much better than the average investor. They found the stocks purchased by the representatives "earn significant positive abnormal returns" -- beating the market average "by 55 basis points per month (about 6% annually)". And it wasn't just the House members. A previous survey showed the senators do even better.

The scholars don't accuse the Congress members of "insider trading", but one has to wonder how they can consistently beat the market average. Are they getting some tips from Wall Street lobbyists? Is this why they won't pass any strict (and badly needed) regulations to control the greedy manipulations of Wall Street and the giant banks?

If these officials aren't getting inside tips then they should leave their elected positions (where they generally show incompetence) and get a job on Wall Street (where they show a remarkable aptitude). I'm just not buying they are all that smart.

New Generation

Political Cartoon is by Stuart Carlson at gocomics.com/stuartcarlson.

The "Lunch Guest" Poll

I know this poll (done by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research of 625 adults nationwide on May 23rd and 24th) doesn't have any electoral significance, but I found it entertaining and thought you might also. If nothing else, it does show that people like the president. The poll asked those surveyed this question -- Out of the 2012 presidential contenders, who would you most like to have a discussion with over lunch? Here are the results:

Not sure...............10%

Not sure...............7%

Not sure...............15%

Not sure...............6%

I did think it was interesting that the second most popular lunch guest among Republicans was President Obama.

One Would Be Enough

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

Legalizing Gay Marriage Would . . .

I shamelessly stole this post from the excellent blog Thurman's Notebook, but it was just too funny not to pass on. He called it "Ten Reasons Why Gay Marriage Must Never Be Legal". Enjoy.

1 – Homosexuality is unnatural and Americans always reject unnatural things such as polyester, breast implants, automobiles, and air conditioning.
2 – Legal gay marriage would encourage people to be gay, the same way that associating with tall people will make you tall or being around blue-eyed people will change your eye color .
3 – Gay marriage is a gateway to all kinds of other “deviant” behavior. If gay marriage is legalized some people might even try to marry other species since dogs, cats, sheep, and other animals all have the ability to sign a marriage contract.
4 – The institution of marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all like many of the principles on which this great nation was founded. Women are still the property of their husbands, black people still can’t marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
5 – Marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage is allowed; the sanctity of marriages like Britney Spears’ 55-hour, just-for-fun marriage, or the serial marriages of Newt ‘Always Looking For An Upgrade’ Gingrich would be utterly destroyed.
6 – Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay people, infertile couples, and very old people should not be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren’t full yet, and the world needs more children. (This argument can also be applied to the abortion issue.)
7 – Gay parents will raise gay children, since heterosexual parents always produce straight children.
8 – Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire nation. That’s why we have only one religion in the United States.
9 – Children can never succeed without both a male and a female role model at home. That’s why single parents are expressly forbidden to raise children in this country.
10 – Gay marriage will undermine the very foundation of our society. Americans, and human beings in general are incapable of adapting to new social norms. We haven’t adapted to cars, the service economy, cable television, or global computer networks.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pawlenty Campaign Dead Already ?

Here is how the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Tim Pawlenty's hometown newspaper, covered his announcement that he is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. They put it on the obituary page of the paper. Some have said it was a particularly busy news day (since a tornado had hit the area). But I think it really may have been the appropriate place for the story. He has been unable to get any real traction in the polls so far.

Vermont Leads The Nation

I am so jealous of the people of Vermont. First they send two of the best senators to the United States Senate -- Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy. Now they have instituted the nations first single-payer health insurance program -- a program that will give all the people of the state good health insurance coverage.

Yesterday Governor Peter Shumlin signed the bill creating the health insurance system saying that health care is "a right and not a privilege". What a novel concept -- equality under the law with everyone having the same right to health care! Now they have four years to set up the program and get it running (assuming they can get a federal waiver by then).

All I want to know is how can the people of Vermont be so imminently sensible while the rest of the country is still so screwed up.

Cutting The Cord

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

Cain Gains Ground Among Republicans

I'm probably not the only person who's wondering just how the Republican presidential nominee race has changed now that Barbour, Huckabee, Trump, and Daniels have dropped out. And fortunately for us political junkies there are two new polls out to tell us what's going on so far. Some had thought Romney would have been helped by the drop-outs, but it doesn't look like that's happening -- at least not yet.

It looks like a couple of far-right fringe candidates are the main ones that have been helped -- Sarah Palin and Herman Cain (and maybe Michele Bachmann). Palin has jumped back up into second place and Cain (pictured) is starting to get some respectable numbers for the first time (while Bachmann jumped to second in one poll). Gingrich was not helped, but that's probably because of his constant shooting of his own foot. Here are the numbers for the polls:

Mitt Romney...............17%
Sarah Palin...............15%
Ron Paul...............10%
Newt Gingrich...............9%
Herman Cain...............8%
Tim Pawlenty...............6%
Michele Bachmann...............5%
Jon Huntsman...............2%
Gary Johnson...............2%
Rick Santorum...............2%
No Opinion...............22%

Mitt Romney...............16%
Michele Bachmann...............12%
Sarah Palin...............11%
Herman Cain...............11%
Tim Pawlenty...............7%
Newt Gingrich...............7%
Ron Paul...............5%
No Opinion...............26%

As you can see, there is still no clear leader about to seperate himself/herself from the pack. In fact, in both polls the clear leader is "No Opinion". So even though it's becoming a little clearer just who the candidates are, the Republican voters have not made up their minds and the situation is still very fluid.

Arab Spring

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

The GOP Senators Who Hate Medicare

Here are the 40 senators (all of them Republicans) who voted to abolish the Medicare Program. Is this really what they were elected to do?

Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coats (R-IN)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Heller (R-NV)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (R-WI)
Kirk (R-IL)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Lee (R-UT)
Lugar (R-IN)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Moran (R-KS)
Portman (R-OH)
Risch (R-ID)
Rubio (R-FL)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Toomey (R-PA)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

Running With Scissors

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

Dallas Mavericks - Improbable Heroes

I hope you readers won't mind if I take a moment off from politics and celebrate the Dallas Mavericks return to the NBA Finals for only the second time in team history. Anyone who says they expected the Mavericks to be in the finals this year is a damn liar. They were a long shot even when the play-off started. But they didn't listen to the sports pundits (or the doubts of fans). They took care of Portland, then they swept the champion Lakers in four games, and finally disposed of a young and powerful Oklahoma City team 4-1. They have earned their way to the finals with great team play. Whatever happens in the finals (which I now think they'll win), they've had a great season. Congratulations Mavericks, and good luck!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The GOP Con Job

Republicans seem to think a plutocracy (a government in which the wealthy class rules) and a democracy (a government by the whole population) are the same thing. They are not. From the excellent website Republican Dirty Tricks.

For The GOP Up Is Down & Truth Is A Lie

After watching the United States Senate on C-SPAN most of yesterday afternoon I am convinced that the Republicans live in a different world from the rest of us -- a world where up is down, black is white, and the truth is whatever they say it is. Frankly, I have never seen so many lies told by so few people in my entire lifetime. Of course I understand why they are doing it. They simply cannot defend their record of incompetence by telling the truth.

In their zeal to protect the rich and the corporate interests the Republicans have, since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, systematically lowered taxes for the wealthy, eliminated regulations to protect the public from Wall Street greed, destroyed unions and workers' rights, rewarded the outsourcing of American jobs, and wasted more federal money than the Democrats ever could. This has resulted in a vast accumulation of wealth and income by the rich (where the richest 1% or 2% controls more than 40% of the nation's wealth), and a thirty-year stagnation of wages for workers. It also resulted in the "Great Recession" and the loss of about 12 million jobs.

The Republicans took a budget surplus left by the Clinton administration and through profligate spending and unneeded tax cuts for corporations and the rich, they turned that surplus into the largest deficit in the history of the nation. And now, after blocking any job creation efforts and forcing more tax cuts for the rich, they now want to blame the deficit they created and protected on President Obama.

But they didn't stop there. They are now engaged in a campaign of fear to convince Americans that the huge deficit and national debt threaten the very existence of this country. They now want to use the fear of the deficit they created to slash and destroy social programs, environmental protections, education, and anything else they don't like.

And when they were able to retake control of the House of Representatives in the last election, they were able to do more than just block Democratic efforts to cure the economy and create jobs. They passed their own economic plan -- the Ryan Plan, which attempts to slash government spending through abolishing Medicare (and other programs) and using that money to give corporations and rich people even more tax cuts.

The Republicans voted en masse for the Ryan Plan in the House and began to brag about how they were saving the country from deficit spending (which they had created) and the national debt (which they had raised to record levels). They thought they had pulled the wool over Americans eyes and convinced them that actions such as the abolishment of the Medicare program were necessary to save the country. They were wrong (as usual).

The people have rebelled in large numbers (a significant majority) and made it clear that the abolishment of Medicare was more than just a mistake -- it was a serious blunder that could well cost the Republicans any hope of a return to power. The American people like and believe in both the Medicare and Social Security programs and will not stand by while either is harmed or abolished.

Yesterday the Ryan Plan to abolish Medicare made it to the Senate. And it resulted in a flood of lies from the Republicans. Republican after Republican took the senate floor to claim the plan did not abolish Medicare, but "saved" it. They claimed it would protect it for future generations, even though it clearly abolishes the program and replaces it with an inadequate voucher system that would leave millions of elderly people without medical insurance (and therefore, without medical care). But regardless of their fallacious claims, up is not down, black is not white, and abolishing a program is not saving that program.

They have also, in an effort to save some face, been saying that their's is the only plan and Democrats refuse to put a plan forward. This, in spite of the fact that Democratic leadership is waiting for the Biden group's plan (which is the only plan with a chance of being passed). But if they really want a Democratic plan, then how about instituting the following things (all of which have been proposed by Democrats):

* Eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy (which would bring in at least $400 billion a year to the government).
* Eliminate the subsidies for Big Oil, who are making record profits and paying no taxes (more than $20 billion a year).
* Allow the Medicare program to negotiate drug prices like the Veterans Department does (which would save Medicare nearly $3 billion a year).
* Eliminate the tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs (which would not only bring in more money, but would save jobs and encourage companies to create new jobs here).
* Stop the two unnecessary wars (which would save at least $110 billion a year).
* Cut the ridiculously bloated Defense Department budget.
* Remove the cap on the taxes that fund Social Security (and Medicare) so that all Americans pay the same percentage (including the rich).
* Eliminate the Capital-gains tax and tax those earnings at the same rate as any other kind of income.

There is more, but those things alone would put the country back on the road to recovery and economic sanity. But the Republicans would never agree to those sound economic steps. They are too stuck in their ego and ideology driven world of fantasy (where the rich share their wealth with the poor, private insurance companies are not greed-driven, and unicorns abound).

NOTE -- Forty Republican senators voted to abolish Medicare. No Democrats did.


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

Homosexuality Has Solid Acceptance In U.S.

I recently wrote a post about how for the first time in this country's history there is majority support for the legalization of same sex marriage. Three different polls showed this support is between 51% and 53%. The least support is among the elderly and the highest support is among younger Americans -- meaning as the elderly die off the support should grow even larger.

A recent Gallup Poll shows why this is happening (taken between May 5th and May 8th of 1,018 adults with a 4 point margin of error). There was once a time in this country when a majority of citizens thought homosexuality was morally wrong, and in fact, should be a crime. But this poll shows that the people are way past archaic views like that. Here is the current view on those attitudes:

Is homosexuality morally acceptable?

Should homosexuality be legal?

These represent a new all-time high for these beliefs. And here is the breakdown politically:

Homosexuality morally acceptable.

Homosexuality should be legal.

This country has changed and will continue to change. More and more Americans are starting to accept the dream that all Americans should be equal -- regardless of sexual preference (or anything else). America is not a perfect country, but it has a capacity for change and seems to get better with age. I like that.

The "Real" End Of The World ?

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

Would Republicans Really Refuse To Help Joplin ?

I'm sure you probably know by know that an F5 tornado (the most powerful rating) hit the community of Joplin, Missouri. So far, the death toll due to the twister rests at 125 people and the number of the injured is over 900 people. It is one of the deadliest tornadoes to ever strike in the United States.

But what you may not know is that House Republicans are using the disaster as an excuse to play politics. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) declared after the disaster that there would be no help for the tornado-ravaged city unless Congress could cut some government program to make up for it.

It has been obvious for a while now that Republicans don't care about ordinary Americans. They have proposed cutting programs that help hurting Americans like Social Security benefits, unemployment insurance, food stamps, education, family planning & women's health, Medicaid, and even gone so far as voting to abolish Medicare for the elderly. But holding disaster relief for the people of Joplin as hostage to their budget-cutting frenzy is a new low in mean-spirited politics.

The Republicans want to cut $1.5 billion from the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program at the Department of Energy (although they would only give 2/3 of that money to FEMA to help in Joplin). This program is to help develop clean-energy automobiles -- cars that would help to stop global climate change, which very likely is the cause of the Joplin tornado. That's not irony -- that's just mean and stupid. Note -- these same politicians refused to remove the subsidies from Big Oil (which would have been more money in the government's pocket and actually helped the climate).

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Missouri) said, "When you talk about cutting clean energy programs versus cutting subsidies for big oil, let's have that debate here in Washington. But not on the backs of the people of Joplin."

The Republicans will probably get away with this horrible game they are playing with the lives of the people of Joplin. But I am left to wonder, what if the Senate refused to cut the money from that program and voted to give FEMA the money anyway? Would these Republicans vote to not help the people of Joplin?

Is there any bottom to how low the Republicans will stoop to find the money to give their corporate masters more tax cuts (while holding hurting Americans hostage to those budget cuts)?

Ship of Fools

Political Cartoon is by Milt Priggee at miltpriggee.com.

Happy Birthday Tommy Chong !

I'm a couple of days late on this, and I apologize for that. But the great Tommy Chong had another birthday on April 24th. This great actor and comedian has long been a spokesman for the legalization of marijuana, and he recently joined the Marijuana Policy Project's VIP Advisory Board. He has requested that any birthday presents be in the form of a donation to the MPP in his honor. He says:

What I want is to see marijuana legal in my lifetime.

I know what you're thinking. "Tommy, after 74 years of marijuana being illegal and 100,000s of marijuana arrests every year, how could we possibly forget your birthday?" I know, right? You can make it up to me by helping turn my dream into a reality.

These ballots aren't going to initiate themselves! Please help make my birthday wish come true and support the work of the Marijuana Policy Project. Thanks, man.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Preview Of 2012 ?

The 26th District of New York was supposed to be a safe House district for the Republican Party. At least it always had been in the past. But that was before the Republican candidate, Jane Corwin, came out in favor of the Ryan Budget Plan -- which would abolish Medicare. Even Republicans, except for the most extreme teabaggers, can't accept that.

So last night the voters of the 26th District made their opinion very clear on the Ryan Plan. They gave this "safe" Republican seat to a Democrat. This should be a warning for Republican officeholders about their support for abolishing Medicare (and Social Security). Support it and lose -- maybe even in a safe district. But I don't expect most of them will listen (and that's a good thing for Democrats) because their egos and ideology won't let them.

Here are the results from New York's District 26 last night:

Kathy Hochul (Democrat)...............47%
Jane Corwin (Republican)...............43%
Jack Davis (Independent)...............9%

The chances are good the Republicans can retake this seat in 2012 -- but only if the candidate promises to vote against the Ryan plan to abolish Medicare.

Fox News Funder

This is a picture of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal -- a member of the royal family that rules Saudi Arabia. He is the second largest stockholder of News Corp (the parent company of Fox News).

Abortion Is Not "Morally" Wrong But A Blessing

I'm probably going to make some people mad today -- maybe even some progressives and/or liberals. These days there is a war being waged on the right by those who would deny a woman the right to control her own body -- a right that men unquestioningly have. By denying women this right we are reducing them to a second-class status as citizens, and saying they are too stupid to control their own bodies and make their own decisions.

This is just wrong. Those on the right, especially the religious fundamentalists, would have us believe that abortion is morally wrong -- that it is the taking of a human life. And far too often these days too many people are buying into this argument -- even those who say they believe in a woman's right to have an abortion. Somehow, they give the moral high ground to those who would deny women their rights. They want to talk about what a difficult problem this is.

Well, let me be clear about my stance. This is not a difficult problem. Abortion is NOT morally wrong! It is NOT the taking of a human life! The well-being of a woman is much more important than the protection of a bit of protoplasm (and that's all it is)! No woman should ever be made to feel guilty for choosing to have an abortion! And no man should ever have a say in whether a woman gets an abortion -- it is her body and her choice, and whatever she chooses is the right (and moral) choice! And no level of government should have anything to say about a woman's decision to have an abortion!

I refuse to give up the moral high ground to the fundamentalists! Abortion is not a moral choice, but a psychological, physical, medical, financial, or social choice that can only be made by the woman in question. And I refuse to believe that having an abortion is in any way wrong.

I bring up this topic today because I ran across these words by the Reverend Katherine Ragsdale (pictured), dean of Cambridge University's Episcopal Divinity School. She also refuses to give up the moral high ground to the rights-deniers, and I agree with every word she says here:

Let's be very clear about this: when a woman finds herself pregnant due to violence and chooses an abortion, it is the violence that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.

When a woman finds that the fetus she is carrying has anomalies incompatible with life, that it will not live and that she requires an abortion — often a late-term abortion — to protect her life, her health, or her fertility, it is the shattering of her hopes and dreams for that pregnancy that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.

When a woman wants a child but can't afford one because she hasn't the education necessary for a sustainable job, or access to health care, or day care, or adequate food, it is the abysmal priorities of our nation, the lack of social supports, the absence of justice that are the tragedies; the abortion is a blessing.

And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion — there is not a tragedy in sight — only blessing. The ability to enjoy God's good gift of sexuality without compromising one's education, life's work, or ability to put to use God's gifts and call is simply blessing.

These are the two things I want you, please, to remember — abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.

Unfair Fight

Political Cartoon is by Bruce Plante in Tulsa World.

Americans Still Love Their Gas-Powered Autos

There's no doubt that Americans love their automobiles, and they have ever since it was first mass-produced. There have been efforts to get people in this country to use mass transportation more and leave the cars at home (or do without them completely), but these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. While many might use airplanes or trains to travel long distances, just as many (or more) will just load up the car and drive.

And outside of New York City, it's a very small percentage of the population that doesn't take their car even on very short trips -- like going to work or to shop. This brings up an interesting question. In light of the rising gas prices (and environmental damage), is it possible to get Americans away from their cars -- especially the gasoline-powered cars?

The Gallup Poll recently examined that question in a nationwide survey taken May 12th through May 15th of 1,024 adults. The most interesting question they asked was would you be willing to do the following if the price of gasoline rose above $10 a gallon? The only option that people really had any interest in was buying a car that used less gas (but not an electric car). Here are the percentages who would NOT be willing to do the following:

Replace your car with one that gets better mileage...............38%
Use mass transit as your main source of transportation...............52%
Buy an electric car that could only go limited miles at a time...............57%
Move closer to the places you drive to most often...............69%
Change jobs or quit working...............72%

Looking at these numbers it's easy to see why mass transit and electric cars (at least the current versions) have not been able to gain much traction in most of the country. Americans live driving their gasoline-powered cars, and majorities will continue to do that if gas rises to above $10 a gallon. The most a majority would be willing to do is get a more efficient car.

This is a good argument for the current government position of putting most of their conservation efforts into making gas-powered cars more efficient. It's also a good argument for making the auto industry step up that efficiency far more than they have currently been required to do.

I am one of those who would like to see more available mass transportation -- especially things like bullet trains. But while mass transportation has been successful in other countries, a poll like this makes me wonder if people in the United States want or would use such transportation in the numbers required to make it worthwhile.

Gas Prices

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

Religion In Texas

The Texas Tribune (with the University of Texas) did a poll recently of 800 random Texas voters (taken May 11 through May 18th with a margin of error of 3.46%). It was mostly a political poll, and showed Texans still haven't really solidified support for a candidate in either the presidential or senate races. The presidential preference was divided among a lot of candidates with Sarah Palin taking the lead -- but she only had 12%. The real leader was "don't know/other" at 24%. The senate race was just as fluid with 57% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats in the "don't know/other" column.

But while Texans aren't really very interested in politics yet this year, I found a few questions at the end of the survey fairly interesting. These questions were about religion. I found them interesting because it showed that Texas may not be quite as fundamentalist as many of us think. Among the most enlightening revelations are that less than half of Texans consider themselves "born again" or "evangelical", and only about a third believe the Bible should be taken literally, word-for-word. Here is what the survey showed:


Word of god & should be taken literally, word for word...............34%
Word of god, but should not be taken literally...............43%
Written by men & not the word of god...............23%

extremely important...............49%
somewhat important...............27%
not very important...............12%
not at all important...............12%

more than once a week...............17%
once a week...............16%
few times a month...............11%
once or twice a year...............27%

Non-denominational christian...............9%
Spiritual, but not religious...............9%
Church of Christ...............4%
Christian Scientist...............4%
Protestant (non-specific)...............4%
Assembly of God...............2%
Church of God...............1%
Disciples of Christ...............1%
Don't Know...............2%

What do you think? Does that fit the picture of religion in Texas that you had?


Political Cartoon is by Gary Varvel in the Indianapolis Star.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Victory (Or Not)

From the very funny website of Jesus and Mo.

Supreme Court Orders Release Of Thousands Of Prisoners

The United States Supreme Court announced a decision yesterday that will probably make a lot of people unhappy. In a 5-4 decision they upheld a ruling from a lower court that the state of California must release thousands of state prisoners (even though their sentences may not be completed). California's prison system has a capacity to house about 110,000 prisoners but has been holding thousands more than that (currently the prison population is about 142,000).

The court ruled that California prisons had "fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements" and the overcrowding had resulted in "needless suffering and death". The four most right-wing justices (Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts) voted against the ruling, and Scalia warned that "terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order".

Scalia may be right, especially if the wrong prisoners are chosen to be released. But the Supreme Court really had no choice. They were just voting to uphold previous Supreme Court decisions that said any governmental authority that incarcerates people has a responsibility to house those people in a safe and minimally decent environment -- anything less is unconstitutional "cruel and unusual" punishment. With its huge overcrowding, California had violated that constitutional standard.

California is not the only state that is currently housing many thousands of prisoners. Texas currently has more prisoners than California (or any other state). But Texas has chosen a different path. They have spent enormous amounts of money to build many prisons to house the huge number of inmates, and they have done that at the expense of children, the poor, and the elderly. Texas funds it schools and social programs at levels significantly lower than almost all other states so they will have the money to house and feed the many thousands of prisoners.

Even in the current session of the legislature where they are having to make up for a $27 billion biennial budget shortfall, the prison system got funded while social programs and education received huge and drastic cuts in state funding. Frankly, both the Texas and California ways of handling their huge prison populations are unacceptable. California's overcrowding is unconstitutional and Texas' underfunding of necessary programs will just create future problems.

The simple fact of the matter is that the United States as a whole incarcerates far too many of its citizens -- more than any other country in the world. This is true whether talking about the total number of prisoners (over 2.2 million) or the number of prisons per 100,000 people (about 738 -- which is about 131 more prisoners per capita than second place Russia). Politicians in this country seem to think they can solve social problems by incarcerating people.

There are two major reasons for the huge American prison population. First, the United States has chosen to handle its crime problem (which is really no worse than that of many other developed nations) by giving harsh and lengthy prison sentences. Second, the United Staes has chosen to handle simple drug possession and use (which again, is no worse than in other countries) as a crime rather than as the medical problem that it really is.

I'm sure there are those that would like to build even more prisons and incarcerate more people, but that is not the solution. We have already shown the world that incarcerating large amounts of people for long periods of time won't solve the problems of either crime or drug use (or any other social problems). It is time to find real solutions. A good place to start would be to change laws to create more reasonable prison sentences and to legalize drug use and possession (and fight its use through education and treatment).

These kind of common sense solutions would not only drastically reduce prison overcrowding, but would free up large amounts of money to provide assistance to children, the poor, the elderly, and the jobless -- the Americans most hurt by the recession and government budget cuts.


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

Republicans Refused To Listen To Warnings

After the last election gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans decided they had a mandate to do whatever they wanted to do. And one of the things they wanted to do was make massive and historical cuts to government programs -- especially programs that tried to rein in the greed and malfeasance of corporations (like the EPA and Wall Street regulations) and social programs helping ordinary Americans (like food stamps, unemployment insurance, Social Security, and Medicare).

This resulted in the budget plan written by Paul Ryan (pictured above), which drastically cut most social and regulatory programs and completely abolished Medicare (to replace it with inadequate vouchers and putting the elderly at the mercy of private insurance companies), while giving corporations and the rich new tax cuts. The Senate Republicans haven't voted on the Ryan Plan yet, but it was approved almost unanimously by House Republicans.

Now the Republicans are acting like they're shocked at how unpopular the Ryan Plan is with the American people. Huge majorities have voiced their displeasure with the plan (even among Republican voters). In Town Hall meeting and poll after poll, Americans have made it clear that they don't want Medicare abolished (or significantly cut) and they don't want corporations (or the rich) getting special tax breaks.

But the Republicans shouldn't be surprised at the reaction of the American people to their ridiculous budget plan. They were warned before they passed the Ryan Plan that the people would not like it. Several Republican pollsters tested the waters and always got negative reactions from poll respondees -- even when they represented the plan as the only way to "save" Medicare. Even staffers at the Republican National Congressional Committee warned House leaders that the plan would be received negatively by Americans.

But for the right-wing Republicans their ego and ideology ruled the day. They decided that they could do whatever they wanted and later convince Americans it was the right thing to do. But they were wrong. Americans like the Medicare program and don't want it hurt or abolished. Now Republicans are paying the price of allowing the fringe right-wingers to dictate party policy.

And most amazing of all, they are refusing to drop support of the Ryan Plan (or Medicare abolishment), even though it was extremely unpopular before they passed it and remains unpopular. In fact, some Republican leaders are demanding their presidential candidates support the Ryan Plan -- a sure recipe for defeat in the 2012 election.

In letting their egos and ideology override their common sense the Republicans have given the Democrats a great campaign issue -- saving Medicare from the Republicans (and Social Security, which is just as popular). I expect the Democrats will beat that drum all the way to November 2012. But that's what the Republicans deserve for refusing to listen to the voices of reason (even within their own party).

Voter Remorse

Political Cartoon is by Monte Wolverton at caglecartoons.com.

Ron Paul - Extremist Candidate

The Republican field of possible presidential candidates is full of extremist right-wing fringe candidates, but none are more extremist than Texas' own Ron Paul (pictured). The excellent progressive magazine Mother Jones has compiled for voter edification the 15 most extreme positions held by Rep. Paul. Here they are:

1. Eviscerate Entitlements: Believes that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unconstitutional, and has compared the failure of federal courts to strike them down to the courts' failure to abolish slavery in the 19th century.
2. Lay Off Half His Cabinet: Wants to abolish half of all federal agencies, including the departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor.
3. Enable State Extremism: Would let states set their own policies on abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and most other issues.
4. Protect Sexual Predators' Privacy: Voted against requiring operators of wi-fi networks who discover the transmission of child porn and other forms online sex predation to report it to the government.
5. Rescind the Bin Laden Raid: Instead of authorizing the Navy Seals to take him out, President Paul would have sought Pakistan's cooperation to arrest him.
6. Simplify the Census: The questions posed by the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey, which collects demographics data such as age, race, and income, are "both ludicrous and insulting," Paul says.
7. Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.
8. Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.
9. Keep Monopolies Intact: Opposes federal antitrust legislation, calling it "much more harmful than helpful." Thinks that monopolies can be controlled by protecting "the concept of the voluntary contract."
10. Lay Off Ben Bernanke: Would abolish the Federal Reserve and revert to use of currencies that are backed by hard assets such as gold.
11. Stop Policing the Environment: Believes that climate change is no big deal and the Environmental Protection Agency is unnecessary. Most environmental problems can be addressed by enforcing private-property rights. Paul also thinks that interstate issues such as air pollution are best dealt with through compacts between states.
12. Not Do Anything, but Still...: Would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964because it was a "massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society."
13. Let Markets Care for the Disabled: "The ADA should have never been passed," Paul says. The treatment of the handicapped should be determined by the free market.
14. First, Do Harm: Wants to end birthright citizenship. Believes that emergency rooms should have the right to turn away illegal immigrants.
15. Diss Mother Teresa: Voted against giving her the Congressional Gold Medal. Has argued that the medal, which costs $30,000, is too expensive.