Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why ?

Obama Changes View On Marijuana (Again)

If you are confused about just where President Obama stands on the issue of marijuana, you can be excused for that -- because the president has had several different positions on the matter. When he was running for the Senate, Barack Obama came out in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana. He held this position for several years, and even as late as January of 2008 (beginning his quest for the presidency) this position was repeated.

Evidently though, Mr. Obama and his campaign aides began to fear that being in favor of decriminalizing marijuana could cost him some votes. At the time, he was in a very close race with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. He changed his position -- and now said he was against the decriminalization of marijuana. He moderated that stance a bit by saying, if elected, he would stop the federal governments war on medical marijuana stores and users in the states where that was legal.

Unfortunately, he did not keep that campaign promise after becoming president. Instead of stopping the raids on legal medical marijuana distributors, his administration actually increased the number of raids -- and devised new ways to attack medical marijuana (such as going after landlords who rented or leased space to the providers & threatening to seize their property).

But this ridiculous war on marijuana did not stop the march toward legalization. More and more Americans began to realize that their federal government had been lying to them about marijuana for decades -- realizing that marijuana did have many real medical uses, and that it was not the dangerous drug the government had been telling them that it was (being far less harmful than many legal drugs). And as citizen views changed, so did the laws in many states.

 Currently, there are twenty states (and the District of Columbia) that have legalized the medical use of marijuana -- and there are four more states that have legislation pending to legalize medical marijuana (Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania). And two states have gone even further. In the last election, Washington and Colorado citizens voted to legalize the sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana to adults for recreational use.

This created a dilemma for the Obama administration. Do they attack the new laws of Colorado and Washington -- pitting the federal government against the majority of citizens in those states? Do they continue a policy of attacking medical marijuana in nearly half of the states in the Union (again pitting themselves against the will of the majority in those states)? Is there even much hope to stem the rising tide of public opinion favoring the legalization (or at least the decriminalization) of marijuana?

After considering these questions for several months, President Obama has again changed his mind on marijuana. The Obama administration has decided to stop its ridiculous war on the medical marijuana states -- and to leave the states of Washington and Colorado alone in their efforts to institute reasonable rules for the possession, sale, and use of recreational marijuana. This was announced in a press conference last Thursday by the Department of Justice. They did however, in a face-saving effort, say there were eight things that might require federal intervention:

1. Distribution of marijuana to minors.

2. Revenue from sale of marijuana going to criminal enterprises.

3. The diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is not.

4. State-authorized marijuana activity being used as a cover to traffic other illegal drugs.

5. Violence and use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

6. "Drugged driving" or exacerbation of other health consequences associated with marijuana.

7. Growing of marijuana on public lands.

8. Possession and/or use of marijuana on federal government property.

This represents a welcome moderating of the federal government's attitude toward marijuana. It is not enough though. All the federal laws making marijuana sale, possession, and use should be overturned. But that seems to be a battle that must be fought on a state-by-state basis, since the politicians in the federal government don't have the foresight or courage to deal with this issue in any reasonable way. And that will happen. Now that Washington and Colorado have broken the ice on marijuana legalization, more states will follow their lead in the coming months and years -- and as the number of states increases, the federal government will be forced to reconsider the ridiculous national laws on marijuana.

But for now, this new stance of the Obama administration is good. I just hope he will keep this promise in a much better manner than he did his promise in 2008 to stop the war on medical marijuana.

Offensive Performance

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

Little Support For An Attack On Syria

(The image above is from the Facebook page of The American Progressive.)

It is certainly no secret that the Obama administration is preparing to launch a military attack on Syria. They have spent days now trying to justify such an attack, even going so far as to claim that the security of the United States is at stake. The American people are not buying that argument, and several polls have shown that most Americans are against launching an attack on Syria -- even if the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the rebels.

Now it looks like international support for such an act is dwindling. There will be no United Nations resolution authorizing such an attack, since both Russia and China have made it clear that they would block any such resolution. Instead, the Obama administration had hoped to have the support of NATO (or at least most of the strongest NATO nations) and participation by NATO in an attack. Unfortunately for the administration, it looks like that probably won't happen.

The German government says it has not been asked, and is not considering, any military action against Syria. And the British Parliament voted to deny their Prime Minister the right to engage the British military in an attack on Syria. In fact, there is only one NATO nation that is willing to help the U.S. attack Syria, and that is France (which is trying to save face after recognizing the rebels as the official government of Syria).

Even most of the nations in the Middle East are against the attack. Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq have all come out against such an attack. The only nations there that might support the United States in an attack are Turkey (early supporters of the rebel uprising) and Saudi Arabia (which has been providing money and arms to the rebels). Israel has hinted they would like to see an attack, but they could not participate (since that would cause more problems in the region as a whole).

So it boils down to the United States, France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia against everyone else -- including a majority of the American public. An attack on Syria at this time is just a bad idea. Hopefully, the Obama administration will come to its senses before deciding to make this reckless attack a reality.

Wall Street

Political Cartoon is by David Horsey in the Los Angeles Times.

A Few More Steps Toward Equality

(The image above is from the website Solid Rarity: realities of living the revolution.)

The United States Constitution guarantees all citizens equal treatment under the law. Sadly, this country has never been able to live up to that promise. Progress has been made in granting equality to minorities, women, and more recently to the LGBT community. None of these groups truly have equality yet, but we are getting closer to making it a reality all the time. This week more small, but important, steps were taken toward that goal -- this time in the area of equal rights for those in same-sex marriages.

The first is in the area of taxes. Even though same-sex marriage is legal in a growing number of states, these marriages have not been treated equally by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These same-sex married couples have never been allowed to file their taxes as a married couple, and thus were denied the tax advantages that heterosexual married couple are able to get. That is changing.

The IRS announced last week that from now on same-sex and opposite-sex couples will be treated equally. Those couples in same-sex marriages (who were legally married in a state allowing such marriages) will now be able to file their taxes jointly as a married couple. And even better, they will be able to do that regardless of what state they currently live in. In other words, if they get married in a state where same-sex marriages are legal and then move to a state where those marriages are not legal, they will still be able to file their taxes as a married couple.

And the IRS is not the only government agency to take action to promote more equality. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has also done so. This week they announced that same-sex married couples will be treated just like opposite-sex married couples in regard to the nursing home care provided under Medicare. This means they will no longer have to be separated and sent to different nursing homes in their old-age (or pay their own way to stay in the same nursing home). Thank goodness for that. It is just morally wrong to force these elderly couples to separate just because they need nursing home care paid for by Medicare.

And a federal court has also taken action. Even though DOMA was outlawed and the military now grants same-sex couples the same benefits as opposite-sex couples, the same was not true for veterans. That's because Title 38 of the U.S. Code prevented it. But Judge Consuelo B. Marshall has overturned that provision, saying it was not rational -- and thus was unconstitutional. Now the same-sex spouses of veterans will be able to get the same benefits and services as other spouses of veterans.

The federal government inched a little bit closer to making equality a reality last week. That's a good thing. Now we need to finish the fight -- not just for the LGBT community, but for all citizens currently denied equal rights. Maybe someday soon, we can make that constitutional guarantee of equality a reality for all American citizens.

GOP Options

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

A Simple Concept

This is a simple concept, and I can't understand why it won't sink into the brains of right-wingers. If the masses of workers are doing well and earning a good living, that is good for everyone in society -- because it means they can buy the goods and services of the business community, and pay taxes to protect the country and help its poorest citizens. Everyone benefits. But when wages are cut and those workers can barely eke out a living, that only benefits no one, because those workers are also the customers -- and without a decent wage, they can no longer support the business community.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Food Stamp Facts

NYC Races Still Changing

There's just a little more than a week to go before the Democratic primary in New York City, and the races for mayor and for comptroller are still changing, according to the latest Quinnipiac University Poll (done between August 22nd and 27th of 602 likely primary voters -- with a margin of error of 4 points).

In the mayor's race, Bill de Blasio has once again extended his lead while his major opponents (Quinn and Thompson) seem stuck in the low twenties. Mr. de Blasio now has 36% of the likely vote, and with the 4 point margin of error, could actually reach the 40% level (which would give him the nomination without a run-off). But even if he does have to have a run-off with Quinn or Thompson, the Quinnipiac poll shows he would easily defeat either one -- 59% to 30% over Quinn, and 52% to 36% over Thompson.

But while a clear favorite is emerging in the mayor's race, the exact opposite is happening in the comptroller's race. It has devolved into a dead heat between Eliot Spitzer and Scott Stringer. Just two weeks ago, Spitzer had a 19 point lead and it looked like he was heading to a fairly easy victory. But all of that lead has disappeared, and the two candidates are now in a tie with 46% each. It looks like the 8% of undecided voters will decide the winner.

Both of these races have been very interesting to follow, and I can't wait to see how they come out on September 8th.

NOTE -- Anthony Weiner has now dropped down into single digits (8%) in the mayor's race. It wouldn't surprise me to see him get even less than that on election day (and possibly even lose to Mr. Liu, who has trailed him since he entered the race).

Another Intervention Experiment

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

Green Party Opposes Attack On Syria

As regular readers of this blog will know, I oppose the United States attacking Syria with our military. It just doesn't make sense. We don't have any friends in that conflict, and attacking Syria will just probably make even more enemies for this country (especially if innocent civilians are killed, which would be hard to prevent if we attack with bombs or missiles). It also doesn't make sense that while the politicians are whining that we don't have enough money to help hurting Americans, they seem to be willing to spend many millions of dollars attacking another country -- a country that poses no threat to us. If we're going to spend more money, it would be much better to spend it in this country -- to fix our economy and help the jobless & poor.

Once again, I find that the political party that most closely agrees with my own views is the Green Party. The Green Party has now come out against attacking Syria. Here is their position, in a memo released by the Green Party Shadow Cabinet (on August 28th):

The Green Shadow Cabinet is alarmed by reports that the United States is planning an imminent military attack on Syria, and implores the Obama administration to refrain from an action that at best would be illegal, unconstitutional and immoral, and at worst, would result in catastrophic consequences.
The Obama administration is claiming that it has a moral responsibility to launch a “punitive” strike against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, and seems anxious to go forward with targeted cruise missile attacks which would likely come from U.S. naval vessels already positioned in the area. This, despite the call of UN Secretary General Ban Ki- moon for the international community to wait until their inspection is complete, and despite the lack of a UN resolution authorizing the use of military force.
The United Kingdom has submitted a resolution to the UN Security Council. It has been established since Nuremberg that attacking another country without UN approval is “the supreme international crime.” The Obama administration will be violating international law if it acts without a vote by the UN in support of military intervention.
Further, under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, it is the Congress that determines whether the United States goes to war. James Madison claimed that the war powers clause was the most important in the Constitution because the power to take a nation to war should not be vested in one person. More than one hundred Members of Congress have written President Obama reminding him that the Congress has the constitutional authority to begin a war, not the president. We urge the Congress not to authorize war against Syria as there is no military solution to the political conflict in Syria and the unintended consequences of a military attack in that region are unpredictable.
The United States is in no position to claim moral authority with regards to using weapons condemned by the international community. The U.S. is responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocent victims through the use of weapons condemned by the rest of the world. These weapons have included the atom bomb, Agent Orange, white phosphorus, napalm, and depleted uranium. To this day, the United States refuses to sign on to treaties banning the use of landmines and cluster bombs. These particular weapons are responsible for killing and maiming well over one million civilians. In fact, the U.S. has just struck a deal to sell Saudi Arabia $640 million worth of cluster bombs.
It is clearly immoral to kill innocent people, and it makes little difference if a bullet, a chemical, or radiation killed the person. If we as a nation wish to regain some moral authority, we can begin by renouncing the use of weapons banned by the international community. We should destroy our own stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Further, the United States should join the International Criminal Court and live within the rule of law.
Major media outlets seem to be fanning the flames of war while failing to ask even the most basic questions about the legality, morality, or effectiveness of an attack on the sovereign nation of Syria.  
If President Obama launches an attack without prior explicit authorization by Congress, he will have committed an offense worthy of impeachment. If he launches an attack without authorization from the UN, he will be guilty of war crimes.
The Green Shadow Cabinet insists in the strongest possible terms that the Obama administration refrain from military actions against Syria.
This Cabinet calls on the people of the United States to rise up in marches, rallies, pickets, and non-violent direct action where possible and necessary in order to confront the Obama administration as well as Congress and the major news media. We must stop the rush to war, and we must demand respect for the laws of this democratic republic and the treaties we have signed.

Green Party Shadow Cabinet member David Swanson has come up with 10 reasons why attacking Syria is a bad idea (and the excuses given for doing so aren't good enough). They are:

1. War is not made legal by such an excuse.  It can't be found in the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the United Nations Charter, or the U.S. Constitution.  It can, however, be found in U.S. war propaganda of the 2002 vintage.  (Who says the federal government doesn't promote recycling?)
2. The United States itself possesses and uses internationally condemned weapons, including white phosphorus, napalm, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium.  Whether you praise these actions, avoid thinking about them, or join me in condemning them, they are not a legal or moral justification for any foreign nation to bomb us, or to bomb some other nation where the U.S. military is operating.  Killing people to prevent their being killed with the wrong kind of weapons is a policy that must come out of some sort of sickness.  Call it Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
3. An expanded war in Syria could become regional or global with uncontrollable consequences.  Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Russia, China, the United States, the Gulf states, together with the NATO states; does this sound like the sort of conflict we want?  Does it sound like a conflict anyone will survive?  Why in the world risk such a thing? 
4. Just creating a "no fly zone" would involve bombing urban areas and unavoidably killing large numbers of people.  This happened in Libya and we looked away.  But it would happen on a much larger scale in Syria, given the locations of the sites to be bombed.  Creating a "no fly zone" is not a matter of making an announcement, but of dropping bombs.
5. Both sides in Syria have used horrible weapons and committed horrible atrocities.  Surely even those who imagine people should be killed to prevent their being killed with different weapons can see the insanity of arming both sides to protect each other side.  Why is it not, then, just as insane to arm one side in a conflict that involves similar abuses by both?
6. With the United States on the side of the opposition in Syria, the United States will be blamed for the opposition's crimes.  Most people in Western Asia hate al Qaeda and other terrorists.  They are also coming to hate the United States and its drones, missiles, bases, night raids, lies, and hypocrisy.  Imagine the levels of hatred that will be reached when al Qaeda and the United States team up to overthrow the government of Syria and create an Iraq-like hell in its place.
7. An unpopular rebellion put into power by outside force does not usually result in a stable government.  In fact there is not yet on record a case of U.S. humanitarian war benefitting humanity or of nation-building actually building a nation.  Why would Syria, which looks even less auspicious than most potential targets, be the exception to the rule?
8. This opposition is not interested in creating a democracy, or -- for that matter -- in taking instructions from the U.S. government.  On the contrary, blowback from these allies is likely.  Just as we should have learned the lesson of lies about weapons by now, our government should have learned the lesson of arming the enemy of the enemy long before this moment.
9. The precedent of another lawless act by the United States, whether arming proxies or engaging directly, sets a dangerous example to the world and to those in Washington for whom Iran is next on the list.
10. A strong majority of Americans, despite all the media's efforts thus far, opposes arming the rebels or engaging directly.  Instead, a plurality supports providing humanitarian aid.

Destroying The Dream

Political Cartoon is by Stuart Carlson at

Booker & Christie Have Huge Leads In N.J.

If the new Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll is correct (and I think it probably is), then both the senate and governor's races in New Jersey are not very competitive races. The poll was taken between August 21st and 27th of 700 registered voters -- and has a 3.7 point margin of error.

The election to determine the state's new senator will be held on October 16th. Currently, Democrat Cory Booker has a huge 28 point lead over his opponent, Republican Steve Lonegan. The right-wing Koch brothers are pouring a ton of money into this race, but it doesn't seem to be doing Lonegan any good at all.

And the November 5th governor's race is just about as lop-sided, with current Republican Governor Chris Christie holding a 26 point lead over his opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono. Christie seems to be well-liked in New Jersey, and has held a big lead since announcing he would seek re-election.

It looks like the New Jersey voters are ignoring party this year. They have two candidates they really like, one from each party, and that's who they are going to elect. The poll also asked the members of each party about their 2016 presidential preferences, and those results are shown in the charts below.

It's Still Ahead

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

GOP Jobs Program

I have often said on this blog that the GOP doesn't want to do the necessary things to create jobs in the United States -- and that is true. But that doesn't mean they are against creating jobs at all. The Republican policies have resulted in the creation of millions of new jobs -- in other countries (where their corporate masters can take advantage of a poverty wage scale). In fact, the Republicans have even created tax breaks for corporations that want to ship good American jobs overseas, and blocked Democratic efforts to eliminate those tax breaks. The GOP is not against job creation. They just ant those new jobs to be low wage, no benefit jobs -- and if they can't make that happen here, they are perfectly willing to do it in another country.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fixing Social Security Is Simple

Americans Oppose Defunding Obamacare

The ultra-right-wing Republicans in the House and Senate think they have a winning issue in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). They seem to believe that most Americans are opposed to the reform that Obamacare brings, and will support their threats to shut down the government unless it is defunded. They are wrong.

A new survey was done on public attitudes toward Obamacare by the Kaiser Foundation. They polled 1,503 nationwide adults between August 13th and 19th -- and their survey has a margin of error of 3 points. The Republicans need to take a hard look at this bipartisan survey, because it shows they are in the minority in their opposition to Obamacare and in their desire to defund it.

First, the survey shows that there are not a majority of Americans opposed to Obamacare. About 37% favor the program, and another 20% haven't made up their minds about it. Only a plurality (about 42%) say they have an unfavorable opinion of Obamacare -- and a significant chunk of those people are liberals like myself, who just think Obamacare didn't go nearly far enough. This group doesn't want to defund or repeal Obamacare, but to make it stronger (perhaps with a single-payer government-run system, like Medicare for all citizens).

And most Americans do not like the idea of defunding Obamacare. About 57% of the general population say they would be opposed to that (while only 36% like the idea). The only group with a majority wanting to defund Obamacare is the Republican demographic (and fully 1/3 of them, about 34%, would be opposed to defunding Obamacare).

As a progressive, I hope the Republicans follow through on their effort to either defund Obamacare or shut down the government. That's because doing either would anger a significant majority of Americans (and undoubtably hurt them at the polls in 2014).

Another interesting part of the survey shows there is still a lot of misinformation and lies about Obamacare being spread. About 13% think Obamacare is no longer a law (with 8% thinking it was repealed by Congress and 5% thinking the Supreme Court overturned it), and another 31% say they don't know if it is still the law or not. That's rather sad, that at this late date so many don't know Obamacare is the law -- and is being implemented on a step-by-step basis.

Under Construction

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

Obama's Speech On 50th Anniversary Of The March On Washington

Here is part of the president's speech marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (when Dr. King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech). You can read the whole speech here. I think this was one of his better speeches.

Five decades ago today, Americans came to this honored place to lay claim to a promise made at our founding: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

In 1963, almost 200 years after those words were set to paper, a full century after a great war was fought and emancipation proclaimed, that promise -- those truths -- remained unmet. And so they came by the thousands from every corner of our country, men and women, young and old, blacks who longed for freedom and whites who could no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of others.

Across the land, congregations sent them off with food and with prayer. In the middle of the night, entire blocks of Harlem came out to wish them well. With the few dollars they scrimped from their labor, some bought tickets and boarded buses, even if they couldn't always sit where they wanted to sit. Those with less money hitchhiked or walked. They were seamstresses and steelworkers, students and teachers, maids and Pullman porters. They shared simple meals and bunked together on floors. And then, on a hot summer day, they assembled here, in our nation's capital, under the shadow of the Great Emancipator -- to offer testimony of injustice, to petition their government for redress, and to awaken America's long-slumbering conscience.

We rightly and best remember Dr. King's soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions; how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.

But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV. Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters. They lived in towns where they couldn't vote and cities where their votes didn't matter. They were couples in love who couldn't marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate.

And yet they chose a different path. In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in, with the moral force of nonviolence. Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us. They had learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglass once taught -- that freedom is not given, it must be won, through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.

That was the spirit they brought here that day. That was the spirit young people like John Lewis brought to that day. That was the spirit that they carried with them, like a torch, back to their cities and their neighborhoods. That steady flame of conscience and courage that would sustain them through the campaigns to come -- through boycotts and voter registration drives and smaller marches far from the spotlight; through the loss of four little girls in Birmingham, and the carnage of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the agony of Dallas and California and Memphis. Through setbacks and heartbreaks and gnawing doubt, that flame of justice flickered; it never died.

And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else's laundry or shining somebody else's shoes. Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed.

Because they marched, America became more free and more fair -- not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability. America changed for you and for me. [A]nd the entire world drew strength from that example, whether the young people who watched from the other side of an Iron Curtain and would eventually tear down that wall, or the young people inside South Africa who would eventually end the scourge of apartheid.

Those are the victories they won, with iron wills and hope in their hearts. That is the transformation that they wrought, with each step of their well-worn shoes. That's the debt that I and millions of Americans owe those maids, those laborers, those porters, those secretaries; folks who could have run a company maybe if they had ever had a chance; those white students who put themselves in harm's way, even though they didn't have to; those Japanese Americans who recalled their own internment; those Jewish Americans who had survived the Holocaust; people who could have given up and given in, but kept on keeping on, knowing that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

Red Line

Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Columbus Dispatch.

Waiting For Obamacare

(Image above is from the blog cosmos enigmatic mirage.)

While the Republicans in Congress frantically try to repeal (or defund) Obamacare, many people tend to forget that millions of Americans are eagerly waiting for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to fully take effect -- because for the first time they will be able to get affordable health insurance, which will allow them to get the health care they can't afford right now. It is a national shame that so many Americans must do without health insurance (and therefore without health care), and while Obamacare won't completely fix that problem, it will allow millions more to get coverage (either through Medicaid or the new state insurance exchanges).

One of the best posts I have read recently on this was written by Joanne Boyer at the blog called Winning Progressive. Here is some of what she had to say:

Excuse me, but we are talking about people’s lives—including mine. That’s what I want to tell every local, state, or federal legislator out and about screaming “Repeal Obamacare.” For those of us who are unable to acquire or afford health insurance, we have been counting down the days to January 1, 2014. For us, it has seemed like forever since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed and full implementation begins. The ACA, although not the single-payer system this country so desperately needs, takes the first step to allow millions of people the chance to seek medical care when needed. It’s as simple as that. The opportunity for people to access health care (in some cases live-saving care) is not the place for political gamesmanship, rhetoric, distortion, or playing to a base of voters.
I am so tired of and angry at legislators and others who continue to propel falsehoods about the new healthcare law. Is it a perfect bill? Of course not. Is there room for improvement? Youbetcha. But, what cannot be denied is the fact that the ACA offers those of us who are currently unable to participate in this country’s for-profit health care delivery system, a chance to see a doctor. The ACA boils down to that one fact for so many of us—we have a fighting chance to finally seek the health care we need. Other more detailed facts of the legislation can be found at the official ACA site here. Other ACA benefits include allowing children to stay on their parents’ health plan until age 26, an 80/20 rule that says health insurance providers must put 80 cents of every premium dollar they take from consumers into providing actual health care, and elimination of life-time benefit maximums.
I live in Minnesota, a state fully embracing the ACA and on September 6, MNSure, the state’s health exchange, will post the benefit plan designs available and the cost. I cannot wait. And I’m not even sure that I will find “cheaper” coverage, but I know that thanks to the ACA, I will find “better” coverage. I have four more months of paying for the “bankruptcy insurance” I now carry that masquerades for health care coverage. My $329.21 a month for a $10,000 deducible policy prevents me from seeking the health care I need today. Who stands between me and my doctor and the health care I need? That’s simple for me to answer: it’s our country’s for-profit health care delivery system. We still remain the only country in the industrialized world to embrace such a system. . .

There is much more, and it is well worth reading. The congressional Republicans (who have their own govern-provided health insurance) don't seem to care whether other Americans are able  to have health insurance (and health care) or not. They don't see it as their problem. Their problem is making sure corporations and rich people don't have to pay taxes -- and if thousands of people die each year because they don't have health insurance (and therefore can't afford health care), well that's just tough.

But while those Republicans don't care about their fellow Americans, we must always keep in mind that millions are waiting and counting on Obamacare. Obamacare is far from perfect, but it is a big improvement on what we have now -- and repealing it is downright immoral (because it is the same as sentencing innocent hard-working people to death).


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

Massive Gun Owner Database

One of the arguments against any new gun regulations that has been made is that it would be the first step toward the government compiling a database of all gun owners, which would make it easier for the government to then start seizing the guns of American citizens. It was a silly argument, but it worked -- because it frightened many gun owners into opposing any new regulation (even such a sensible law like checking the background of all people wanting to buy a firearm).

That argument is now a moot one though. The government doesn't have to compile such a database (if indeed, it ever wanted to do so), because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has already done that.

Now some of you may be saying that the NRA having that kind of database is much different from the government having one. I disagree. Do you really think the government couldn't access that NRA database anytime it wanted to (and probably without anyone knowing it)? The government is already secretly snooping on its citizens (through the internet and phone calls). Tapping into such a database would just be one tiny step further.

We've known that the NRA leaders are not very bright for a while now. But campaigning against a government database of gun owners, and then creating such a database, takes their stupidity to new and dazzling heights.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Boehner Tries To Sidetrack The "Defunders"

(The above caricature of Speaker Boehner is by DonkeyHotey.)

As you probably know, there is a small war going on among members of the congressional GOP. One faction wants to shutdown the government until the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is either repealed or defunded (which would amount to the same thing. Another faction thinks that won't work, and would just hurt them in the 2014 election (because most Americans don't want to see the government shut down).

This second faction has a stronger grip on reality. President Obama is not about to agree to repeal or defund Obamacare -- his premiere piece of legislation. If the GOP continues on this path, then the government would be shut down, once again hurting the federal credit rating and affecting economies across the world.

Speaker of the House Boehner knows this, and he has come up with an alternate plan. Instead of trying to defund Obamacare when the debt ceiling must be addressed again (which will happen about the middle of October), Boehner wants to use the threat of a government shutdown to force cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

He believes he might actually be able to accomplish this -- since Democrats have given in on substantial budget cuts in the past (remember sequestration?), and even President Obama has proposed a chained CPI (which is fancy language for cuts to Social Security and other mandatory spending programs).

I hope Boehner is wrong, and the Democrats will refuse to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I hope they will take their case to the people, and make sure everyone knows that the GOP wants to cut these programs -- because huge majorities of Americans don't want these programs cut. They should just make sure the heat falls of the Republicans, even if it means a short shutdown of the government. The congressional GOP will eventually cave.

These are good programs that work just as they were supposed to work. But the benefits they offer are not real generous, and it would hurt millions of Americans to cut those benefits even a little bit. The Republicans will try to convince us that the government can't afford these programs, and if they are not cut they will go broke. That's a lie. The programs have some financial problems because the politicians have been raiding those trust funds to pay for other things (like tax cuts for the rich and unnecessary wars). It's time for those politicians to pay that money back -- even if it means raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

The government doesn't have a spending problem. It has a revenue problem, and that problem needs to be fixed. But cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid should be off the table completely. It's just wrong to punish the elderly and the poor to keep the rich from paying a little more in taxes (which would probably still be less than they paid during the Reagan administration), and to keep letting giant corporations making billions pay no taxes at all.

GOP Dream

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

The Fluidity Of Obama's Approval Ratings

Much has been made recently of the president's approval ratings, which have recently fallen. I thought this recent article by the Gallup Poll was interesting. The charts above were made from information from Gallup (using the information from all of their quarterly presidential polls during his presidency).

The top chart shows the average approval rating for President Obama with different demographic groups. It comes as no surprise that Blacks, Hispanics, and Democrats have the highest average support for President Obama, while Republicans, Independents, and Whites have the lowest average support. Not so obvious is that average support for the president increases with the amount of education a person has.

But even more interesting is the second chart. This chart show the amount of difference between the highest and lowest approval ratings for each group. In different terms, it shows how consistent the support has been for the different groups. For instance, the approval ratings have had the least movement among liberal & moderate Democrats and those with a postgraduate degree (and conservative Republicans, whose approval is always low). I think the biggest surprise for me here was the consistency of support from liberals (who have more critical of the president's performance than other Democrats).

Meanwhile Hispanics, Whites, conservative Democrats, Independents, moderate Republicans, and less educated people show a greater difference in their approval from time to time. These groups seem to be more influenced by what is happening politically -- approving more when the president does something they like, and less when he has done something they don't like.

Gallup has also taken a look at monthly average approval ratings for the president (see chart below). This shows that throughout his terms, the president's approval rating has dropped in the summer months and been the highest in the winter months. This could mean some of the president's recent drop is due to a seasonal fluctuation. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next few months.

Freedom ?

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

U.S. Attack On Syria Is Imminent Now

With each passing day, a United States military attack on Syria becomes more probable. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says the military is ready to go when called to do so. And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (pictured at left) has attempted to give a legal justification for the impending attack. Carney told the media:

"Allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to or threat to the United States' national security."

Of course, that is ridiculous. Even if the Syrian government did use chemical weapons against the rebels (and that may well have happened), there is no reason to believe that poses any danger to the United States. In fact, it sounds a whole lot like the justifications the Bush administration gave for invading Iraq (claiming Saddam posed a threat to the United States).

Both claims were silly, but when a president (regardless of political party) wants to use military power against another nation, any excuse will do -- even if it seems to be a far-fetched excuse. And at this point, I doubt if there is any way to prevent President Obama from attacking Syria -- an attack that could come as early as this week. But if the attack comes, it will be without the support of a majority of the American people (as two separate polls have shown this week).

Over at Bill Moyer's website, Andrew Bacevich (a professor of history and international relations at Boston University -- and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point) has come up with three questions he believes the president should adequately answer before attacking Syria. I agree. This is the least we should expect of the president. Professor Bacevich's questions are:

First, why does this particular heinous act rise to the level of justifying a military response? More specifically, why did a similarly heinous act by the Egyptian army elicit from Washington only the mildest response? Just weeks ago, Egyptian security forces slaughtered hundreds of Egyptians whose “crime” was to protest a military coup that overthrew a legitimately elected president. Why the double standard?
Second, once U.S. military action against Syria begins, when will it end? What is the political objective? Wrapping the Assad regime on the knuckles is unlikely to persuade it to change its ways. That regime is engaged in a fight for survival. So what exactly does the United States intend to achieve and how much is President Obama willing to spend in lives and treasure to get there? War is a risky business. Is the president willing to commit U.S. forces to what could well become another protracted and costly struggle?
Third, what is the legal basis for military action? Neither Russia nor China is likely to agree to an attack on Syria, so authorization by the U.N. Security Council won’t be forthcoming. Will Obama ask Congress for the authority to act? Or will he, as so many of his recent predecessors have done, employ some dodge to circumvent the Constitution? With what justification?

The GOP Way

Political Cartoon is by Drew Sheneman in The Star-Ledger (New Jersey).

Subsidizing Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart would like for Americans to think they have to pay their employees poverty wages, or they wouldn't be able to keep their prices low. That's just not true. Costco is able to keep their prices down, while paying a livable wage (with benefits) to their employees -- and they turn a nice profit while doing it.

The truth is that Wal-Mart could do it too. They just don't want to. By refusing to pay their employees a decent wage (with benefits), the owners of Wal-Mart are able to turn a healthy profit into an obscene profit. And they can get away with it because the taxpayers make up the difference by giving those workers food stamps, housing assistance, school lunches for their children, and other types of government assistance.

Frankly, I'm a bit tired of this. I'm not opposed to government help for the poor and disadvantaged, or those unemployed. But someone with a job should be making a livable wage, and should not have to rely on the government for assistance. It's time to raise the minimum wage to a livable level, and it's time to stop subsidizing greedy employers like Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Voter ID = Voter Suppression

A "Great" Improvement In Racial Equality ?

It has been 50 years since the March on Washington, whereDr. King delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. The folks at the Gallup Poll decided to survey Americans on their perceptions of the change toward racial equality in the United States. The survey was done between July 10th and 14th of 2,027 nationwide adults -- with a 3 point margin of error for all respondents (and a slightly higher margin of error for individual groups within the survey).

The question asked was have you seen great change in racial equality in your lifetime. It is probably not surprising that more Whites think there have been "great change" than minorities (54% for Whites, 48% for Hispanics, and 29% for Blacks). But more interesting is the number who haven't seen great change in their lifetime -- and that's close to or above 50% for every group (including 46% of Whites). And the age group that has seen the least change is the 19 to 29 group. These people were born after the civil rights laws of the 1960's were passed -- and only 33% of them think great changes have been made in their lifetime.

I'm not one of them, but I think those young Americans are right -- not much has been accomplished in their lifetime. Far too many Americans, especially older Americans, think there is not much more that can be done since the civil rights laws have been passed -- so the situation has remained about the same for the last few decades. Whether there have been "great changes" or only "some changes", it should be clear that we have not yet achieved Dr. King's dream (or the American Dream for that matter). Much remains to be accomplished.

One of the biggest divisions the survey exposed was in the area of whether more can be done by the government. Only 22% of Whites believe the government should play a "major role" in helping minorities, about 54% of Blacks and 60% of Hispanics believe this. And while only 17% of Whites think new civil rights laws are needed to reduce discrimination, about 53% of Blacks and 46% of Hispanics think they are needed.

I have to agree with the minorities on these questions. I think government must play a major role in further reducing discrimination. Historically, Whites have not shown they are willing reduce discrimination (or share power) until they are forced to do so by government action. Like it or not, that is just a fact. If it was not for government action, we probably would still have Jim Crow laws and segregation in many states (and still be hearing that sad refrain that "The time is not yet right").

But the time was right for both the court decisions and the civil rights laws. And now the time is right for us to finish the job of insuring equality under the law and equality of opportunity for all Americans. Racism and discrimination are wrong. How could any decent person believe otherwise?

No Oversight

Political Cartoon is by Jeff Parker in Florida Today.

Powell Urges Caution In Attacking Syria

With each passing day, the United States government creeps closer to taking military action against the Syrian government -- especially since that government has been accused of using chemical weapons against its opponents. The idea is that Syria must be punished for this violation of international law, and some are urging the United States to attack. The current belief is that the U.S., with help from some other NATO countries, will probably attack with cruise missiles.

Frankly, this smacks of the same kind of reasoning that resulted in the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan -- a thinking that somehow the military of the United States is so powerful that it could quickly settle the situation. Unfortunately, that reasoning proved faulty in both Iraq and Afghanistan (as it did years earlier in Vietnam), as we found that trying to impose a political solution at the end of a gun was far different than fighting a conventional war.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell seems to have learned his lesson after the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he is now urging caution before engaging in the Syrian conflict with military force. He told Bob Schieffer on "Face The Nation":

"I have no affection for Assad. He's a pathological liar."

"I am less sure of the resistance. What do they represent? Is it becoming even more radicalized with more al Qaeda coming in, and what would it look like if they prevailed and Assad went? I don't know."

"In both Egypt and Syria, America has to take a much more clever role. We shouldn't go around thinking that we can really make things happen. We can influence things and we can be ready to help people when problems have been resolved or one side has prevailed over the other."

"To think that we can change things immediately just because we're America, that's not necessarily the case," Powell said. "These are internal struggles."

Mr. Powell is right. I just wish he had this much insight a decade or so ago, when he was played a fool by the Bush administration by sending him out to make the case for invading Iraq (by telling what turned out to be a pack of lies). I don't think Powell knew at the time that the information he was given was known by many in the administration to be untrue, but he seems to be much more cautious of taking a stand for war these days without knowing everything.

Meanwhile, another poll shows that most Americans are not yet ready for another war. A new Rasmussen Poll (conducted on August 23rd and 24th of 1,000 likely voters nationwide -- with a 3 point margin of error) tells us that only 31% of Americans think the U.S. should provide increased military assistance to the Syrian rebels, while 37% remain opposed and 33% are undecided.

New "Scandal" ?

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

KBR Will Go To Trial For Human Trafficking

The image to the left, and this story in general, are due to the efforts of fellow blogger Ms. Sparky (who is one of the best internet sources on the malfeasance of American corporations who made billions off the American invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan).

While it is public knowledge now that Vice-President Dick Cheney helped the company he once headed, Halliburton, to get government contracts to provide services for the troops in Iraq, it may not be widely known just how low the company and its divisions stooped to make  that money. There is currently a lawsuit in federal court accusing KBR (which was a division of Halliburton until 2007) of trafficking in humans.

KBR and its subcontractor, Daoud & Partners, have been accused of promising 12 workers from Nepal that they would get safe hotel work in Jordan. These workers paid money for those jobs, but when they arrived in Jordan (in 2004) their passports were taken and they were threatened. They were then (without their consent) transported to Iraq to work for KBR, where 11 of them were killed by insurgents. Their families have now filed suit in federal court, accusing KBR of human trafficking, and seeking unspecified damages.

Of course, KBR tried to get the case dismissed. They told the court that there was insufficient evidence of any wrongdoing by the company. But they got a surprise. U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison ruled that sufficient evidence has been presented, and set a trial date of April 14, 2014. In his ruling, the judge wrote:

“. . .the proffered evidence shows that each man was deceived about his promised job; each man was promised a hotel-related job in Jordan; each man’s family took on significant debt in order to pay recruitment fees; when the men arrived in Jordan, they were subject to threats and harm; their passports were confiscated; and the men were locked into a compound and threatened. . .”
“Plaintiffs have presented evidence that could lead a jury reasonably to find that the passport holding was coercive. Because this proffered evidence raises a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of forced labor or trafficking, it is an issue of fact that should be submitted to the jury.”

If this accusation is true, and it looks like there is evidence that it is, then this represents a new low in ethical conduct for an American corporation -- the trafficking of humans to turn a corporate profit.