America, Are We Not Still Great?

quote-a-nation-s-greatness-is-measured

National pride is a good thing. We all want to feel proud of our country. Donald Trump knows this, so his campaign for president is appealing to this desire. He has based his campaign on the idea that our country isn’t great anymore, that eight years of Obama in the White House and Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State are the reasons why. He promises, that he, and only he, can restore us to greatness again. His campaign motto is, Make America Great Again. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is countering this message with the idea that we are still a great nation but acknowledges that we do have problems. Her campaign promises that, by working together, we can address these problems — make progress toward a brighter future for all. Her campaign motto is, We Are Stronger Together.

In truth, most of us, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and Independents alike, have awakened to the realization that we really aren’t as great a nation as we once thought we were. Only the reasons that we aren’t are not the same reasons that many die-hard Trump supporters believe. We don’t fall short of true greatness because our military is weak or our economy is not strong and expanding. It’s not because we are compassionate and tolerate millions of undocumented immigrants to remain and do work in our country that most of our citizens won’t do. It’s not because we allow LGBTQ persons equal protection and liberties under law. Neither do we fall short of true greatness because we have expanded access to health care for twenty-plus millions of our citizens. It’s certainly not true because we have an African American president. It is true, however, that we aren’t the greatest nation by many empirical measures.

According to the World Economic Forum‘s Global Competitiveness Report (2012-2013), the U.S. ranks as #1 on only 4 out of the 117 different factors that are rated, and each of these 4 factors reflects merely the sheer size, the hugeness, of the U.S. economy. These four factors might thus collectively be identified as the Hugeness components: “GDP,” “GDP as a Share of World GDP,” “Available Airline Seat Kilometers,” and “Domestic Market Size Index.” Other than Hugeness, the results for the U.S. are not at all outstanding. They are metrics of mediocracy.

Health Care shows the U.S. ranking as #34 on “Life Expectancy,” and as #41 on “Infant Mortality.” (And, of course, unlike the “Infant Mortality” rankings from UNICEF, this ranking is among 144 countries. Thus: some underdeveloped countries actually have higher life-expectancy than does the U.S.)

Education in the U.S. is also apparently mediocre. On “Quality of Primary Education,” we are #38. On “Primary Education Enrollment Rate,” we are #58. On “Quality of the Educational System,” we are #28. On “Quality of Math and Science Education,” we are #47. On “Quality of Scientific Research Institutions,” we are #6. On “PCT [Patent Cooperation Treaty] Patent Applications [per-capita],” we are #12. On “Firm-Level Technology Absorption” (which is an indicator of business-acceptance of inventions), we are #14.

Trust is likewise only moderately high in the U.S. We rank #10 on “Willingness to Delegate Authority,” #42 on “Cooperation in Labor-Employer Relations,” and #18 in “Degree of Customer Orientation” of firms.

Corruption seems to be a rather pervasive problem in the U.S. On “Diversion of Public Funds [due to corruption],” the U.S. ranks #34. On “Irregular Payments and Bribes” (which is perhaps an even better measure of lack of corruption) we are #42. On “Public Trust in Politicians,” we are #54. On “Judicial Independence,” we are #38. On “Favoritism in Decisions of Government Officials” (otherwise known as governmental “cronyism”), we are #59. On “Organized Crime,” we are #87. On “Ethical Behavior of Firms,” we are #29. On “Reliability of Police Services,” we are #30. On “Transparency of Governmental Policy Making,” we are #56. On “Efficiency of Legal Framework in Challenging Regulations,” we are #37. On “Efficiency of Legal Framework in Settling Disputes,” we are #35. On “Burden of Government Regulation,” we are #76. On “Wastefulness of Government Spending,” we are also #76. On “Property Rights” protection (the basic law-and-order measure), we are #42.

We fall short of true greatness, in my opinion, because: (1) we allow the greed of a few rich and powerful families to control our government; (2) we emphasize the acquisition of wealth over the equitable sharing of proceeds with those who labor; (3) we fail to prioritize for the funding of education, programs to alleviate suffering, and programs to lift struggling families out of poverty; (4) we protect industries that poison and pollute our environment, even subsidize their business practices, rather than promote sustainable technologies and practices; (5) we believe that “for-profit” solutions are superior to public solutions for healthcare, education, and incarceration; (6) we protect free-speech at the expense of truth. And we have allowed our basic freedoms under the Constitution to make us less well informed, less safe, less equal, less democratic, and more divided.

To improve on the measures cited above, we truly do need to come together. No one and neither major political party can alone fix what’s wrong. We don’t all have to think alike. That would be asking way too much. But we can at least stop politicizing every issue. We can at least stop with the exceptional, elitist and “hell-no” obstructionist attitudes and work to find common ground. No one, and no political party, is right all the time.

Please feel free to comment on this. I would enjoy discussing it with you, especially if you disagree with any of it.

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Published in: on October 12, 2016 at 10:03 am  Comments (3)  

Transgender Discrimination ~ Understanding The Bathroom Wars

It’s a distraction from real problems, honey — problems like poverty, injustice, public safety. Some in government don’t want to talk about these things because realistic ideas to make them better conflict with their ideologies and other agendas.

Sometime ago I promised my preciously little great grand- daughter that she could ask me anything and that, to the best of my ability, I would always answer her honestly — but appropriately. Honesty has not proved to be a challenge for me. Coming up with age appropriate answers sometimes have been, however; she is, afterall, only seven. Take for example the time she asked me from where babies come out of their mommies’ bellies. Fortunately, she had already figured this out for herself and answered it in the phrasing of her question to me. She was just seeking confirmation. Whew!

Recently, after I had been back from our month-long trip to Asia only a day or two, my little darling was dropped off by her mother for Opa-provided daycare. I was still kicked-back in my recliner after having just finished my morning walk with Benji, my dog. My little darling crawled up in the chair with me for some morning snuggle time. What a joy. Then, after a few minutes of quiet time, her attention was drawn to a huge stack of magazines on our coffee table. Funny that we still call it a coffee table since we never drink coffee in the front room where it rests. The table is just for walking around — where we stack magazines and yet-to-be-read mail after separating that which might matter from all the junk that shows up daily. My little darling slipped down from my lap and stood looking at something on the coffee table for a few moments. On top of one of the stacks of magazines, my stack of ‘The Week’ magazines, was a recent edition featuring an illustration showing the back of a little girl’s head, her hair in pigtails. The little girl’s image was facing two restroom doors, one with the ubiquitous male symbol and one with the equally ubiquitous female symbol. The symbols are both ubiquitous because they appear everywhere and always side-by-side or across a hall from one another in public places. The symbols were shown throwing rocks at each other. Above the magazine’s cover illustration was the title of a highlighted article found within, “Bathroom Wars”.

“Opa, what does bathroom wars mean?”

Oh, my God – now how do I explain this?

“Come here, honey,” I said. “Sit on my lap, I’ll try to explain.

God makes girls and God makes boys. But sometimes boys don’t feel right about being boys; they want to be girls. Sometimes girls feel this way too; they don’t feel right in girl bodies and want to be boys. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. People have different opinions about why this happens. Some say it’s just a mix-up; the natural feelings these persons have just aren’t correct for the bodies they were born with – that it’s not a choice they can make. Others say that it’s a perverted or bad choice that these persons make.”

“Really?!?!”

“Yes, honey. Really.”

“But what does this have to do with bathrooms?”

“Well, everybody needs to use the bathroom from time to time. And those who have or once had boy bodies but now look and act like girls need to go too.”

“Well, I don’t see what difference it makes, Opa.”

“I don’t either, honey,” I said. “But some people really think it does. Some people are making a big fuss about it.”

“Well, Opa. I’ll promise you one thing: I’ll always want to be a girl.”

With that, my little darling’s curiosity was satisfied – the issue was settled. But I can easily image that, had she been a bit more inquisitive, a bit more adult, our dialogue might have continued as follows…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Why, Opa? Are boys and girls only now feeling confused?

“No, honey,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that there have always been persons who haven’t felt right in the bodies with which they were born. But our society is just now learning to accept these persons as natural children of God. Sadly, some people will never be able to. They think that they can force these persons to behave the way they think they should behave by forcing them to dress appropriate for the bodies they were born with and to use correspondingly appropriate bathrooms. They are justifying laws restricting non-gender appropriate bathroom use by claiming that these persons are a threat to children. But I think this is just scare tactic politics.”

“Why, Opa?”

“It’s a distraction from real problems, honey — problems like poverty, injustice, public safety. Some in government don’t want to talk about these things because realistic ideas to make them better conflict with their ideologies and other agendas.”

“Doesn’t God love these persons who aren’t happy with their bodies?”

“Yes, honey, God loves all His children.”

“Then why did he create them to be so confused? And if God didn’t create them to be confused, aren’t they sinning?”

“Good question, honey. But there’s a Bible passage that might help us to understand. It’s in the Gospel according to John, Chapter 9, verses 2 and 3… ‘His disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus. ‘This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

“I’m still confused, Opa. What does being born blind have to do with this?”

“I don’t blame you, honey. This is a very difficult issue to understand. Someday you will have your own understanding. Mine is like this: All babies are born different, some pretty like you, some not quite so pretty. Some are born with deformities, like being blind, or without arms or legs. But this does not make them bad persons. Persons born with a disconnect between their physical selves and their sexual identity aren’t bad people either – not as I understand the passage in the Book of John that I just shared. To me, ‘the works of God,’ some translations read, ‘workings of God should be manifested,’ refers to how we are to relate to people who are born different from ourselves. God works through us. He, I think, challenges us to show grace, to love others despite how they are different from us.”

After thinking this over awhile, my little darling said, “Well, I love everybody, Opa. But some are more special to me.”

“I know, honey. Some people are more special to me too!”

Please feel free to comment on this post. Use it, if you wish, but please let others know from where you got it.

Published in: on June 26, 2016 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Democrat vs. Republican ~ Liberal vs. Conservative

This is an update of my original post (Dec 31, 2006) on this same subject.

As a former social studies teacher, I was often asked by my students what the real difference is between Democrats and Republicans. They seemed to sense that parents and other authority figures extol the virtues of one political party, the one to which they subscribe, and vilify the other. Accordingly, I attempted to teach the subject in as balanced a manner as possible.

NastRepublicanElephant

All of what follows, save for my own observations, is readily available elsewhere on the Internet. However, I’ve never been able to find a good, unbiased source that compares and contrasts the two major political parties in the United States today. Accordingly, I have endeavoured to create one. Since my original posting, December 31, 2006, there have been significant changes within the Republican Party. It is owing to these changes that I have been prompted to do this update.

Political parties exist for the singular purpose of installing people to positions of power and influence in government. It is the same all over the world and has always been so. To do this they compete with the opposition for support of the electorate by inciting passion over issues of the time. Whether the issues have to do with the economy, national security, individual liberties, the environment, Constitutional interpretations, or matters of moral and social conscience, parties stake claim to various convictions then pretend, as necessary, that they have always been philosophically faithful to their positions. But this is done more often than not to simply gain support in terms of dollars and votes for their own candidates. Additionally, many people are attracted to particular parties over single wedge-issues like abortion or gun control and discount other party positions. So the association of any party over time with a particular political philosophy is problematic at best. Follow along and see if you don’t agree.

The Democratic Party, claiming a position on the left of the political theory continuum, has been labeled “liberal,” both by supporters and detractors alike. The name is derived from the Latin, liber, which means free. And until the end of the eighteenth century, it simply meant “worthy of a free man”. It is from this sense of the word that we speak of “liberal arts”, “liberal sciences”, “liberal occupations”, etc. Then, beginning in the early part of the nineteenth century, the term came to imply the qualities of intellect and behavior that were considered to be characteristic of those who occupied higher social positions, whether because of wealth, education, or family relationships. Thus, an intellectually independent, broad-minded, magnanimous, frank, open, and genial person was said to be liberal. The suffix, “ism,” added to descriptive words produces nouns that mean a belief, an ideology, or study, as to be immersed in. “Liberalism” then connotes a political system or tendency that is opposed to centralization and absolutism. However, the word liberal is generally used in a derogatory way today by those who subscribe to more conservative philosophies. For them, a liberal is someone who believes in big government and wasteful, giveaway social programs (background/definition).

Most who have political persuasions to the right on the political theory continuum label themselves, “conservative.” According to Webster, being conservative means a tendency to conserve or to hold back. But this understanding of the term does not necessarily apply to all who consider themselves to be Republicans today. Since the end of the Civil War in America, conservatives have tended toward resisting change and preserving established institutions. Thus, a conservative person would be one who would tend to be more moderate or cautious. But it was Republicans, as we all recall, who brought about the end to slavery in America though the Civil War years and the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments during Reconstruction – this was major social change (background/definition and History of the Republican Party)!

The Republican Party today attracts many different groups, including sportsmen and other gun owners who consider their right to bear arms to be under attack, business corporations (particularly defense, energy, and pharmaceutical industries) and wealthy individuals who benefit from limiting social programs, limiting regulations, and reduced taxes, as well as various fundamental or evangelical Christian groups who are lobbying for social change.

Although some will argue that this is not true, the Tea Party, which has never been a viable political party in it’s own right, and Libertarian politicians who once ran for office under the Libertarian Party banner, have now merged with the main stream Republican Party. This, in my opinion, has pulled the party to the ideological right and away from moderation, thus making it more difficult for lawmakers in the U.S. Congress to reach across-the-aisle accommodation on issues. While this merger has resulted in increased Republican representation in Congress, at the same time, it has made it more difficult for the Republican Party to field competitive candidates for President and Vice-president.

The Republican Party had its roots in opposition to slavery when, in 1854, former members of the Free Soil Party, the Whig Party, the American Party, and some Democrats came together in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have allowed these territories to enter the Union as slave states. Party founders adopted the name “Republican” to indicate that it was the carrier of “republican” beliefs about civic virtue, and opposition to aristocracy and corruption (History of the Republican Party, Republican Party Today, and Reconstruction Period).

In western democracies the terms, “conservative” and “right-wing” are often used interchangeably, as near-synonyms. This is not always accurate, but it has more than incidental validity. The political opposition is referred to as the political left (although left-wing groups and individuals may have conservative social and/or cultural attitudes, they are not generally accepted, by self-identified conservatives, as being part of the same movement). On economic policy, conservatives and the right generally support the free market and side with business interests over rank-and-file workers and environmentalists. This is less true of conservatives in Europe and in places other than the United States. Attitudes on some moral issues, such as opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, are often described as being either right-wing or conservative. Liberals, on the other hand, have traditionally drawn much of their support from labor unions, small farmers, civil servants, environmentalists, artisans, academics, philanthropists, immigrants and such – the “huddled masses”. Collectively, liberals pretty much agree today that government should be a force for social change, to improve the lot of the disadvantaged and to protect the individual rights of all Americans, regardless of their race, sex, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Liberals would tend to agree that all should have affordable access to quality education and health care (Right-wing, Left-wing).

The Democratic Party in the United States traces its roots back to the early 1790s, when various factions united in opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s fiscal policies, which included a strong central treasury and new taxes to pay-off the states’ debts. Back then it was called the Anti-Administration Party, its subscribers were called Anti-Federalists. For a time, this movement was added to other minor parties to form the Democratic-Republican Party under Thomas Jefferson. Yes, in some ways, if not in name only, the two major political parties of America were combined. Then, after the War of 1812, the party split over whether to build and maintain a strong military. Those favoring a strong military, especially a modern navy, came to be called the Old-Republicans. Then, during the administration of Andrew Jackson, the Democratic Party was reborn, appealing, as had Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party, to the largely agrarian society of the times and to the common man. At that time, the Old Republicans strongly favored states rights, while Jackson, even though he was a Southerner, put down the Nullification Crisis which threatened to divide the nation – North and South (History of the Democratic Party).

So, the distinction between liberal and conservative political philosophies and the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States, over time tends, to blur. Philosophies and allegiances have switched back and forth over the years. For example, after the Civil War, most whites in the South became Democrats (Southern Democrats), known then unofficially as the “White Man’s Party“. Then, following the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many of these Democrats switched over to support Republican candidates.

And so it goes; political parties come and go. Sometimes the names stay the same, but the philosophies and respective positions on issues change according to the winds of war and fortune. As I tell my students, it is impossible to separate politics from economics. It’s all about power and influence.

For the latest on what U.S. political parties and individual candidates believe, see http://www.ontheissues.org/Quiz/Quiz2010.asp#sec0. At this site you may also test yourself and your beliefs to determine your closest party match.

For more on what I personally believe and how political parties have performed in recent years, see Americans’ Political Persuasions ~ Based More on Myth than Fact?

I invite your comments whether you agree or disagree with the content of this post.

Published in: on April 22, 2015 at 10:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Cynicism in Today’s Political Landscape and the Demise of Democracy

High school and higher-educated citizens in America used to turn-out for congressional (mid-term) and presidential elections in much greater numbers. But participation in the political process has dropped precipitously in recent years.

I am hearing more and more these days, especially from younger adults in America, that it doesn’t matter whether they vote or not, that the system is rigged. How cynical. Even more cynical in my opinion are those saying things like, “Neither political party represents me,” and, “Politicians are all the same; all they care about is getting themselves re-elected.” I have even heard the idea recently expressed that not voting is actually an alternative way of voting — expressing one’s dissatisfaction with the political system’s status quo.

My reaction to all of this is concern, fear actually, about what this means for democracy in America as we older citizens, the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, decline in numbers. Combined with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which not only allows but encourages greater influence on state and federal governance by corporations and other special interests, this trend points to the end of government-of-by-and-for-the-people (if ever it truly existed at all) and the ultimate establishment of a plutocracy, worse yet, maybe even a new version of Fascism.

a2-educationalHigh school and higher-educated citizens in America used to turn-out for congressional (mid-term) and presidential elections in much greater numbers. But participation in the political process has dropped precipitously in recent years. Where 80 percent or better used to turn-out for national elections, now the percent has dropped to 50 or less. Compared to the rest of the world’s countries in which people vote, even where voting is not compulsory, Americans are far less likely to be involved in the political process. But why?

Statistically speaking, in any election with twenty or more votes being cast, the chance that any one vote will determine the outcome is extremely low — virtually nil. Studies show too that a single vote in a voting scheme such as the Electoral College in the United States has an even lower chance of determining the outcome. Further, studies using game theory, which takes into account the ability of voters to interact, have also found that the expected turnout for any large election should be zero. So, one might ask instead, why should we even bother?

The factors in deciding whether or not to vote are: P (the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election), B (the perceived benefit that would be received if a person’s favored political party or candidate were to be elected), D (originally stood for democracy or civic duty, but today represents any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting), and C (the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting). P times B plus D must be greater than C before a person will vote. (The basic idea behind this formula was developed by Anthony Downs in An Economic Theory of Democracy. published in 1957.)

Obviously P is a non factor. Further, considering the ensuing deadlock in Washington on issues that Americans care about, things like immigration, tax policy, equal rights for women and gays, and gun control, B has lost ground as a factor too. That leaves D, the sense of civic duty or the social and personal gratification that one derives from voting, as the prime factor in countering C, the inertia factor.

One could argue that D, the sense of social and personal gratification that African Americans derived from voting in the last two presidential elections, was the reason that Barrack Obama, the first African American to be nominated for President, handily won the White House for two terms. A large segment of voters was motivated to get off the couch and go stand in long lines to cast their votes as never before. It could be too that Hillary Clinton, because she is a woman and likely to be the first of her gender to be nominated by a major political party for President, will likewise be elected.

I believe that this factor, the social and personal gratification that one derives from voting, is at least in part the motivation for Republican controlled states to pass voting restriction laws and modified/reduced early voting dates and the numbers of polling places in urban areas, thus impacting voters who would most likely favour Democrats. Republican politicians have actually admitted this.

Can one be justified in believing that neither of the major political parties in the United States, the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party, represents them? No, not in my opinion. Believing this is simply a choice which rationalises one’s cynicism. One has only to compare the political platforms of each party, if they are inclined to do so, and assess which one aligns more with one’s beliefs and priorities. That neither party seems to be able to advance change, to move the ball down-court in the current political environment, does not mean that neither party conforms all in in-part with one’s beliefs. There is something for everyone in one party platform or the other.

Does not voting, in and of itself, constitute a vote, protest or otherwise? No, in my opinion, choosing to believe that it does is just more rationalisation for cynicism. Choosing not to vote is not a protest, not in my opinion. It is submission to the rigging of the system that we all abhor — at least those of us who have had nothing to do with the rigging. So, if one lacks the requisite sense of civic duty or the sense of social or personal gratification that comes from participation in the political process, one might more honestly just say, “I don’t care.”

Are all politicians the same? Are all motivated only by getting themselves re-elected? Of course not. But I would agree that too many are motivated primarily by personal interest. It is a human failing.

Given the political landscape in the United States, it is easy for me to understand the cynicism of many citizens, especially those among the gen-Xers and millennials who tend to be more cynical anyway. But can we allow this trend of decreasing voter turn-out to continue and risk the demise of democracy altogether? Yes we can. We can allow special interests, corporations and the wealthy to take total control of our elections. But should we? I say no. Emphatically, I say NO! That is why I think that we should consider the following: restoring the Voting Rights Act in its entirety, which the Supreme Court has recently all but nullified; reversing Citizens United which declares corporations to be citizens too; redefining what and how redistricting can be done by the states, and; amending the Constitution to implement term limits for Congress. We should also make voting universally easy for citizens — all citizens. I would not even oppose some form of compulsory voting, for when liberty and equality are in peril, extreme measures become necessary. The question is, are we at that point yet?

Whether you agree with me on this topic or not, I would very much like hear your opinion. Please feel free to post a comment.

Published in: on April 13, 2015 at 12:03 am  Comments (4)  
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Lies About Obama ~ Character Assassination in Politics These Days

Some people refuse to consider facts after they’ve made up their minds. These people are called conservatives.

Opa_IIThings really really haven’t changed much in politics over the years, except that they have become more virulent with the advent of electronic media.  One of the few things Charles Krauthammer has said that I agree with is this: “Every two years the American politics industry fills the airwaves with the most virulent, scurrilous, wall-to-wall character assassination of nearly every political practitioner in the country — and then declares itself puzzled that America has lost trust in its politicians.”

All politicians lie, or at least they get their facts wrong from time to time. But according to a new study from the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, Republican politicians are significantly more likely to lie than Democrats http://www.nationalmemo.com/republicans-lie-more-than-democrats-study-finds/. And those who vote for Republican candidates are more prone to believe their lies — confirmation bias. This is because conservatives think conservatively; they are more resistent to change and chalenges to their beliefs, or so the study’s authors say.

Giving credit where credit is due, I borrowed the portion of this post that follows which is in quotes. I borrowed it from a Facebook post that showed up on my news feed. It, in turn, had obviously been borrowed (there’s a lot of this going on in social media these days) from another Internet source; I had to do considerable text and spacing clean ups plus grammar edits before I could use it. Attempting to discover the original source, I did a text string Google search. This led me to http://first-thoughts.org/on/President+Obama/. But the original author’s thought, if in-deed this was the original author, was anonymous.  Therefore, my thanks to whomever it was that first put this together. Yours truly provided the reference links checking the liberal facts.

Conservative: Obama is not an American so he’s not fit to be president.

Liberal: The Supreme Court, and EVERY investigative Congressional body in charge of determining a president’s eligibility, has said that he IS an American… and eligible. http://www.factcheck.org/2011/04/indeed-born-in-the-u-s-a/

Conservative: Well… he’s a socialist and he wants to redistribute the wealth.

Liberal: Taxes have been the way wealth has been redistributed ever since taxes first started in this country — before Obama was even born. Redistribution is a common American practice. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005921.html

Conservative: Well… he’s a Muslim and shouldn’t be president.

Liberal: A person’s religion has no bearing on their eligibility for president, according to the Constitution, and in any case – President Obama is a professing believer in Jesus Christ. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/aug/26/18-percent-american-public/obama-muslim-no-hes-not-evidence-has-not-changed/

Conservative: Well… he’s ungodly because he supports a woman’s right to choose and because he supports gay marriage.

Liberal: The Supreme Court ruled that abortion is legal and gay marriage is considered a civil right now in several states… and since he swore before God and men to support and defend the Constitution (not the Bible), he has a legal and moral obligation to support these things. http://www.factcheck.org/2010/04/the-abortion-issue/

Conservative: Well… his Obamacare is gonna destroy America by raising health care costs through the roof.

Liberal: Actually, the states that have accepted the tenants of the Affordable Care Act have seen SIGNIFICANT decreases in health care costs, and costs are going to fall even more as the ACA expands according to the CBO. http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/05/24/unexpected-health-insurance-rate-shock-california-obamacare-insurance-exchange-announces-premium-rates/

Conservative: Well… he is exploding the size of government.

Liberal: Actually, the size of government is smaller under Obama than it has been in about 20 years… and it is getting smaller. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/05/business/economy/government-is-getting-smaller-in-the-us-off-the-charts.html?_r=0

Conservative: Well… he has exploded the deficit and spent more money than any other president.

Liberal: Actually, Obama has spent the LEAST of any president since Eisenhower and has already decreased the deficit by about $300 billion and, since the start of fiscal year 2011, President Barack Obama has signed into law approximately $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction for the years 2013 through 2022. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/01/22/515537/obama-spending-eisenhower/?mobile=nc

Conservative: Well… he’s responsible for a cover up in Benghazi.

Liberal: There was no cover up in Benghazi… So far there have been six Congressional Investigations and none of them have found anything that is even close to a cover up… except some Republicans who changed the talking points in the emails that they accused Obama of changing – In any case, Benghazi was a CIA Outpost… not a state department operation. The CIA had operational jurisdiction… it was THEIR call what went out to the public in the talking points.  http://www.politicususa.com/republican-desperation-grows-benghazi-backfires-scandal-talk-fizzles.html

Conservative: Well… he’s responsible for the IRS cover up.

Liberal: Actually, there was no cover up. The State Department has had the IRS under Investigation for their illegal activity since 2012… and the Republican Congressmen who are accusing Obama of a cover up were aware of it because they were Informed in 2012.  http://www.politicususa.com/republicans-suggested-irs-cover-up-turns-darrell-issa-knew-2012.html

Conservative: Well… Obama was illegally investigating the media for leaks of Confidential information.

Liberal: Actually, it was the Republican controlled House of Representatives that DEMANDED the investigation into media leaks that were endangering national security, this after accusing Obama of allowing the media to perpetrate the leaks.  http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/morning-media-newsfeed-obama-troubled-by-leak-four-bidding-on-hulu-martin-joins-nyt_b83301

Conservative: Well… IMPEACH OBAMA!”

I invite your comments on this post whether you agree with it or not.

Published in: on May 31, 2013 at 9:59 am  Comments (7)  
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Texas Going Down the Tubes

Texas Governor, Rick Perry, may not be ashamed. But, as a citizen of this state, I sure am.

Opa_IIApril 17, 2013 — I think it’s an interesting coincidence that Texas Governor, Rick Perry, announced his intention this week to travel to Illinois in an attempt to convince the leadership of corporations headquartered there that they should move to Texas — this in the same week that the Texas Legislative Study Group updated its Texas On The Brink report, a periodic collation of state rankings on public policy issues. The report makes Texas look so bad this year that it should probably be renamed, Texas Going Down the Tubes.

After reading this report you might wonder why anyone would want to come to Texas to live. Unless they are a high-placed corporate executive, someone firmly-established in the upper to upper middle class with a guaranteed source of income, or a professional with qualifications that are in high demand, it beats the hell outta me why anyone would. The blue bonnets in Springtime and relatively mild winters here in Texas are just about the best the state has to offer for everyone else.

I am continuing this post borrowing heavily from Janes Moore’s article in Huffington Post, Texas vs. America, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-moore/texas-versus-america_b_3088725.html, and other sources as noted.

If you do decide to come to Texas, don’t consider failing. There is no safety net here unless you have family able and willing to pick you up when you fall. If you remember nothing else from this year’s update of the Texas on the Brink report http://www.austinchronicle.com/blogs/news/2013-04-15/texas-on-the-brink/, take with you these two simple facts about the state’s generosity to the less unfortunate: First, the average monthly benefit per person, for Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) recipients in Texas is $29.30. That’s the WORST in the nation — not even enough for tuna and crackers from a governor who spends millions on his traveling security entourage. Second, the maximum Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant for a single-parent family of three is just $263 per month. So, if you don’t mind eating Ramen noodles for dinner every night and living in a shack, Texas has you covered.

20130417-135801.jpgTexas “firsts” and “worsts” that have occurred during the 13 years of the Rick Perry administration in Texas are even more astonishing than Perry’s lack of concern about the poor in this state. In his last legislative session, the Texas governor led a reduction of $5.5 billion in public school funding even though the state ranks dead last in the percentage of population that graduates from high school. According to the Texas on the Brink report, Texas also leads the nation in the percent of the population uninsured as well as the percent of non-elderly that are uninsured.

Here are some highlights from the new Texas On The Brink report:

Education
• Elementary and Secondary Public School Enrollment — 2nd
• Average Salary of Public School Teachers — 31st
• Percentage of Population Graduated from High School — 50th

State of the Child
• Percent of Uninsured Children — 2nd
• Percent of Children Living in Poverty — 7th (tied)
• Percent of Children (19-35 months), Fully immunized — 23rd (tied)

Health Care
• Percent of Population Uninsured — 1st
• Percent of Non-Elderly Uninsured — 1st
• Percent of Low Income Population Covered by Medicaid — 48th

Environment –
• Amount of Carbon Dioxide Emissions — 1st
• Total Amount of Toxic Releases into Water — 4th
• Amount of Carcinogens Released into Air — 4th
• Amount of Hazardous Waste Generated — 1st
• Industrial Toxic Air Pollution — 10th

Democracy
• Percent of Voting-Age Population Registered to Vote — 47th
• Percent of Voting-Age Population that Votes — 51st

You may download the entire report at http://www.austinchronicle.com/documents/Texas%20On%20The%20Brink%202013.pdf.

Rick Perry may not be ashamed. But, as a citizen of this state, I sure am.

To many, it is a mystery why Texans continue to vote for a governor and a legislature that care so little for the majority of its citizens. Psychologists, however, tell us that it’s human nature. The reason they cite is something called cognitive dissonance http://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html. This is the distressing mental state that people feel when we find ourselves doing things that don’t fit with what we know or believe. We all experience it to varying degrees; we all want our expectations to meet reality, creating a sense of equilibrium. Accordingly, we will avoid situations or information sources that give rise to feelings of uneasiness, or dissonance. In other words, we’d rather be stupid than wrong.

Please feel free to leave a comment whether you agree with my reasoning or not.

Published in: on April 17, 2013 at 11:43 am  Comments (5)  

Socialism vs. Fascism

Tell me if you think I’m wrong, but it seems to me that America is moving away from democracy and toward fascism rather than flirting with socialism as many on the far right are claiming.

Opa_IIApril 11, 2013 — With all the name calling going on by political media show hosts/pundits and politicians these days, people seem not to know the difference between socialism and fascism. Despite what some have said and written to confuse us for political purposes, the difference is as stark as it is simple. Under socialism the government owns the major industries, not the capitalists http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism. Under fascism, wealthy capitalists/corporations basically own the government http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism. History makes this clear.

Coming to power during the early 1930s, Adolf Hitler targeted the Communist and Socialist Parties in Germany for elimination. At first, however, Hitler claimed socialist views to gain popular support, hence the name National Socialists. But he was never truly a socialist. Once in control of the party, he, with Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler at his side, moved it away from its original leanings and Germany ended up fascist. Big capital was allowed to operate profitably provided it cooperated with the state, and workers were completely excluded from power http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler’s_rise_to_power.

Tell me if you think I’m wrong, but it seems to me that America is moving away from democracy and toward fascism rather than flirting with socialism as many on the far right are claiming. Why? Look at all the influence wealthy capitalists and corporate interests have with Congress. Consider how the Koch brothers and fossil energy industries have essentially squashed any meaningful efforts to address global warming by promoting skeptic/deniest arguments. Consider the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United case — declaring that corporations are people. Consider the NRA’s influence with Congress to squash any meaningful measures to reduce gun violence in America notwithstanding massive public support for them. Consider how Big Pharma was able to protect themselves from lower priced drug imports from Canada. Consider Wall Street’s efforts through Congress to prevent enforcement of new consumer rights regulations. Consider too how the party of big business has in recent years elevated gerrymandering in Republican controlled, Right-to-Work states to new levels, effectively denying the poor, the elderly, minorities and young voters equal representation during elections. Is this not excluding workers from power/participation in the democratic process?

Wait a minute you say, is capitalism fascist then? No, not necessarily; it’s a matter of degrees. Neither is socialism communist. Communism is a form of totalitarian government employing socialism exclusively or with a limited amount of free enterprise called a mixed economy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communism

Capitalism is getting a bad rap lately, largely because of its success. Big-this and big-that, in my opinion, have eliminated so much competition and gained so much political clout that markets are losing self-discipline. Banks, oil companies, airlines and pharmaceuticals are colluding through mergers and lobbyists to force favorable legislation and looser regulations for their industries.

Socialism has an important role to play in any free society. It facilitates sharing resources and services: clean water, public utilities, police, fire and other emergency responders, public education, etc. But, as an economic system, a market economy with some degree of capitalism, is still the only way to go. The problem arises when the forces of competition and greed become greater than the people’s democratic government itself. Corporate success in the marketplaces of goods, services and ideas, must therefore be constrained with reasonable regulations to protect the very people that corporations claim to serve. And government must remain of, for and by the REAL people rather than the corporate people.

I invite your comments.

Published in: on April 11, 2013 at 8:28 am  Comments (1)  

The Politics of Hate and Fear ~ Who is the Most Hated President of All Times?

With the nation so divided politically, almost no one has a neutral opinion of president Obama; they either love and admire him if they are Democrat, or they hate and vilify him if they are Republican.

July 11, 2012 — When you google the question, “Who is the most hated president?” you get lots of different answers. Some say Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of our greatest presidents. But he was hated in his time by many for his stance on extending slavery to new western states. The South, and many in the North even, blamed him for our deadliest war, the Civil War. Some say Herbert Hoover because he was president when the nation slipped into the Great Depression. Some say George W. Bush because his administration’s fiscal and regulatory policies are held largely responsible for causing the Great Recession. There is, of course, plenty of blame to go around for the recession. But then there’s the two wars that many say were unnecessary and wasteful, not only of our fortune but of precious blood as well. But about half the answers you’ll get are, yes, Barack Hussein Obama. With the nation so divided politically, almost no one has a neutral opinion of President Obama; they either love and admire him if they are Democrat, or they hate and vilify him if they are Republican.

Democrats love him because they see him as an honest, affable, hardworking president who tries to achieve consensus with the Congress on measures to help the economy recover. They believe he earnestly seeks to restore our faith in America. They see him as working for the good of all people regardless of race, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, or social and economic status. They believe he wants us all to have better lives and equal opportunity. For many, he is a symbol of what is still possible in America for persons born to humble means. But why do Republicans hate President Obama so? THE FOLLOWING IS BASED ON A FACEBOOK POSTING BY ANTI-REPUBLICAN CRUSADERS:

They hate him because they are told that he is a socialist!…  which he isn’t — not even close. Socialism is something of which they thoroughly and proudly refuse to comprehend. But they call people socialists, almost as freely as they call all progressives liberals, because they’re sure these words mean something “evil”, something that deprives people of individual freedoms.

They hate him because they are told he is going to take away their guns!… which he isn’t. He hasn’t said a word about it, other than to offer the opinion that maybe people don’t really need to own militarized assault weapons. Given the number of people who have threatened him with assassination, maybe he should be saying more though.

They hate him because they are told he has raised their taxes!…  except he hasn’t; he has lowered them. But that’s impossible and irrelevant, they think. He’s a Democrat. Therefore he must have raised taxes, just as all the Republicans who have raised their taxes in the past really lowered them – because, well,  everyone knows it always works out that way. Democrats raise taxes, Republicans lower them.

They hate him because they are told that he is bankrupting the country… except that their party’s corporate welfare, tax loopholes and lowered tax rates for the wealthy, two un-funded wars, an unpaid for prescription drug law for seniors, and massive defense program spending did much more damage than unemployment extensions, a few road projects and some extra cash for states to keep our teachers, police and firefighters working ever did.

They hate him because they are told that he hates business and is killing jobs!… except he’s the only one who has managed to create any jobs at all. He’s been pro-business, anti-regulation and pro-reform to such an extent that many in his own party shake their heads in despair.

They hate him because they are told that he is trying to take away their freedoms!… though the only freedom he’s tried to reign-in is the power that Republicans have obtained over time for corporations. Denying civil rights, voting rights, and the right to make private, intimate decisions people for people who are different or think different doesn’t quite compute for Republicans as taking away freedoms. Obama doesn’t believe that human rights are fungible, dependent on the religious and political whims of the loudest group of people carrying signs. He understands that what they are allowed to strip us of now, we could strip from them tomorrow.

They hate him because they are told that he is obviously soft; he ended the war in Iraq, has set a deadline for our withdraw from Afghanistan, and appeases terrorists!… except he isn’t soft. He has been distressingly militant, taking down, one by one, the top echelon of those who have declared themselves to be enemies of America… along with more than just a few innocent bystanders along the way.

They hate him because they are told of all his horrible, dangerous policies, many of which were policies Republicans proposed themselves a few years ago and were cheerleaders for until he signed on to them.

They hate him because they are told he is a Kenyan!… except of course he’s not. No one even actually believes that anyway except the kind of people who are desperate to keep their masks on long after the costume party has ended. Others may say it, may answer that way on polls, but you can see in their eyes that they’re not really that stupid. They know it isn’t true.

They hate him because they are told he is Muslim!…  though he has attended a Christian church all his life, and which presumes that being a member of the Muslim faith is, in itself a reasonable cause to hate and revile him and millions of people on earth (whereas hating someone because they’re a hateful, close-minded Christian is just ridiculous).

They hate him because they are told he wants to murder babies!…  which to anyone who has ever seen him with children is just patently moronic. He’s the one trying to feed them and ensure that they receive health care regardless of their parents’ economic circumstances!

They hate him because they are told that he has made the world a more dangerous place…  except by every measure of every group except theirs, he hasn’t. In fact most of the rest of the world trusts him, finds him careful, reasoned, honest.

Why then do they really hate him, this quiet, smiling, thoughtful man? They will tell you that they hate him because he is too smart, too foreign, too divisive, and too savage, that he’s a communist, a fascist, a communist fascist. They hate him because he’s the worst president this country has ever had – how else would you describe a Kenyan Muslim socialist gun-stealing tax-raiser? They clench their fists and brandish their weapons and list for you a dozen different justifications for their hate based on a dozen different unprovable lies. Many will eagerly admit to thinking he is the anti-Christ or possessed by demons. Yes yes, they’ll cop to that one in a minute! But the one reason for their hatred that you must never, ever dare to suggest, the one most outrageous and over-the-top accusation which leaves them shocked and insulted and unable to figure out where you got such a ridiculous and untrue idea. They hate him for being the one thing he actually is. He’s black. Well, not really. He’s a half-breed, an embarrassment to white supremacists.

The bottom line answer to who is the most hated president of all times is, I’m afraid,  that we may never know. Everyone has an opinion and the next guy could trump them all. A better question might be, who was the worst president or who was the greatest. For that, there are experts to apply empirical measurements. See what the experts are currently saying here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_rankings_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States

Please feel free to post a comment whether you agree or disagree.

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 11:49 am  Comments (7)  

Political Terrorism ~ A Troubling Analogy

No, I don’t think republican politicians are terrorists. I do believe, however, that they don’t realize their actions to resist progressive changes are tantamount to the same thing. 

July 8, 2012 — I usually don’t hesitate to share things on my Facebook page that resonate with me. But I thought better of it this morning. A post that compared current republican politicians to terrorists struck me as being over-the-top. I’m more used to seeing and hearing extreme rhetoric from the right. So I was bothered by this kind of thing coming from the left. Still, the rationale for the comparison was… well, troublingly sound. Mind you, I’m not making this argument myself, just throwing it out there for discussion. What follows is what my Facebook friend said.

“One of the more interesting questions is: What is the difference between crimes of omission and crimes of commission? Are there any? And if so, are they differences in degree or difference in kind? Is there any real difference between allowing people to die when you have the means of preventing their deaths at hand and killing them by your own hand?  If I know that you are going to die if you don’t get a certain medication and I have the money to buy that medication for you – and I don’t? Don’t I bear some responsibility for your death?

The GOP argument seems to be that it’s okay for us as individuals to save one another. That would be charity. But it’s not okay for society to do this as a matter of public policy. That, you see, would be socialism! Terrorists, republicans would say, are evil villains who kill innocent people in order to make a political point.  Republicans, however, call themselves compassionate conserv- atives who simply allow innocent people to die in order to make their political point. They don’t seem to notice that innocent people are dead, one way or the other.

We are the only developed nation that doesn’t practice socialism in its health care system. And if helping the sick and the dying with tax dollars is socialism, I say, let’s have socialism.”

Again, I’m not myself making the argument that current crop of republican politicians are terrorists. But wasn’t a health care concept involving an individual mandate to buy health insurance not first advanced by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation?  Weren’t health care bills containing the individual mandate introduced and promoted in the Congress by republicans back in the 90’s as alternatives to the Clintons’ proposal for universal coverage?  http://healthcarereform.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004182

Why now are republicans so much against a health care plan for the nation that their own nominee-apparent for president, Mitt Romney, implemented in Massachusetts when he was governor there? Could it be that the sitting president, Barack Obama was in the White House when the republicans’ plan was finally passed (over their objections) and signed into law. Now, because it has a democrat president’s name associated with it, it’s suddenly socialism. Hmmmm?

Seems to me that republicans decided they didn’t like the idea of any kind of health care bill soon after President Obama was elected. Republican Senator Jim DeMint said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him” http://crooksandliars.com/john-amato/scs-jim-demint-would-rather-bring-pain, and democrats are accusing republicans lately of seeking political gains over the good of the country. As evidence to support this, they point to McConnell’s quote from October 2010 in which he said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

No, I don’t think republican politicians are terrorists. I do believe, however, that they don’t realize their actions to resist progressive changes are tantamount to the same thing.

Recall that Congressional republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage  last summer, threatening to impose fiscal catastrophe on all of us to achieve a specific (and unnecessary) policy goal. It was, to my mind, the worst thing an American major party has done, at least in terms of domestic politics, since the Civil War. Now they are gearing up to do the very same thing again http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/16/us/politics/gop-pledges-new-standoff-on-debt-limit.html. Now, if this isn’t terrorism, it’s terrorism-like. They might as well have held a gun to the president’s head last year.

With regard to “actual” life-and-death matters, republicans argue that America has the best health care system in the world. Never mind that 45,000 Americans die every year, according to a Harvard Medical School study, for lack of insurance coverage http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/09/17/us-usa-healthcare-deaths-idUSTRE58G6W520090917,  Never mind that the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks our system only 37th in the world behind, not only the whole list of European “socialist” countries, like France, the Netherlands and Nordic countries, but countries like Colombia, Chile and Saudi Arabia too. Our system does rank first in something though, it’s first in cost http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Health_Organization_ranking_of_health_systems.

Sure, for Americans and foreigners with money to spend, our system is great. For folks with premium insurance policies, it’s also pretty doggone good. Hey, on Medicare with an AARP supplement policy, I got a new knee last year and received excellent care from my surgeon, the hospital and the entire team of doctors and nurses. I got excellent physical therapy following the surgery too. I can now keep up with my great granddaughter on the playground (almost). The only cost to me was, and continues, to be the monthly premiums for my supplement. But I can afford it. For Americans who happen to be out of a job or working for minimum wage and without insurance, take a number and wait in emergency rooms while the cost for care grows at a rate of sixteen percent per year http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_care_in_the_United_States. You get no annual checkups and no preventive care unless you are a child on CHIPS or retired and on Medicare. This is the state of affairs that Obamacare is designed to correct.

When asked on Fox News recently what plans republicans in Congress have to cover the 30,000,000 uninsured people that Obamacare (which used to be their plan recall) will cover, Mitch McConnell gave the answer in this video.

Decide for yourself if republicans are acting in the best interests of average Americans, or whether they are just obstructing progress so that we can go back to good-ole-bad-ole days of deregulation and continue subsidies for big corporations and low taxes for the wealthy. Do they really want what’s best for America or are they convinced that their ends justify their means?

I think you know what I think, but I’m not calling anyone a terrorist. I am saying that any system that profits from deciding who gets care and who doesn’t is inherently evil.

Please don’t hesitate to post a comment in response to this, whether you agree with me or not.

Published in: on July 8, 2012 at 1:58 pm  Comments (3)  

Right vs. Left, Part II ~ Responding to Republicans’ Fears this Election Year

Under Obamacare, when it is finally fully implemented, every child will be covered regardless of paternity issues — PERIOD.

July 5, 2012 — Following up on my last post, I realize now that I failed to respond to all of my good friend’s recent comments and “implied” questions about the Affordable Care Act. In her email (see Right vs. Left ~ Responding to Republicans’ Fears this Election Year) she said that she thought the federal government should get out of the business of providing individual care – that states could do a better job.

Hmmm… I guess that would be the end of Medicare, at least as we know it. So, I have written to her the following.

“…. I thought you’d be interested in knowing that our grand- daughter applied for CHIPS over a month ago for her daughter. CHIPS, as you know, is administered by states under Medicaid, and, given our granddaughter’s income, our precious little great granddaughter would normally be eligible. However, the appli- cation is being held up “by the state” because neither Texas nor Louisiana, her daughter’s father’s home of record, has been able to find the man since he was released from prison. Our grand- daughter is being told that he must be served with a child support court order before they will process the application.

Now, how does that make any sense? Under Obamacare, when it is finally fully implemented, every child will be covered regardless of paternity issues — PERIOD.

Also, addressing your concern about the federal government taking money out of the economy, please understand that the government spends every red cent that it collects. That money goes back into the economy and everything spent eventually becomes somebody else’s income. That income, in turn after taxes, gets spent again, over and over, which creates demand for goods and services. Either this, or else it is saved. Spending and “some” investments stimulate the economy. But saving does nothing to help it (never confuse saving with investing). And wealthier folks save a whole lot more than we poor to middle class folks do.  This propensity for more saving by the wealthy is one the most important reasons why we have a progressive income tax system.

This spending cycle, described above, creates what is called the spending “Multiplier Effect.” For your reading enjoyment/ homework assignment, here is an economic letter by the Federal Reserve explaining in more detail what I have just explained: http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/letter/2012/el2012-04.html

Sorry if this sounds like a lecture on basic economic concepts. But I guess that’s what it is. Every economics text book from which I have studied or taught contains this same information on how things work. Despite what you might have heard from conserv- ative talk show hosts or read on-line from conservative think tanks like CADO or the Heritage Foundation, this is understood and taught by most schools of economic thought.

If you’re interested and have the time to find out how Obamacare will help small businesses here in Texas, check this out: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/statehealthreform/texas.html.”

Please don’t hesitate to post a comment, whether you agree with me or not.

Published in: on July 5, 2012 at 9:39 am  Comments (3)  

Right verses Left ~ Responding to Republicans’ Fears this Election Year

Greed, which drives capitalism, must be constrained at some point. But market competition these days, given the demise of organized labor and the growth of oligopolies, is totally disinclined to do so.

July 2, 2012 — According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, the president’s reelection chances are looking up slightly, especially in battleground states where he leads Romney 50 to 43 percent among respondents. The recent Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act, welcome news among liberals, could, however, work against him considering how it might serve to galvanize the law’s detractors behind his presumptive rival, Mitt Romney. Nevertheless, republicans are nervous given that it’s still a close race just four months prior to the election and that four more years for Obama could mean two moderate to liberal justices to replace aging conservatives. This could mean a liberal court for at least a decade. His reelection would most definitely mean the survival of his health care law and the full implementation of its provisions. Yes, the stakes are high.

I recently received an e-mail question from a lady who, although a staunch republican, remains one of my dearest friends, this notwithstanding our conflicting political views. She said, speaking of the Affordable Health Care Act, “Curious to know how you can justify this burden to small businesses in America.”

To her message she added a quote by a Texas Congressman, Kenny Marchant, which was made following the Supreme Court’s surprise ruling last week.

“The decision doesn’t change the fact that millions of small businesses are going to be deluged with new taxes and job-killing regulations imposed by Obamacare. It also doesn’t change the fact that Obamacare is bad public policy that imposes new taxes on all Americans. Because of the Court’s decision, the quality of health care for millions of Americans will be greatly diminished, employers will be forced to drop health care insurance for their employees, and small businesses will need an army of compliance officers to navigate the Obamacare bureaucracy. Obamacare is unsound policy and disastrous for our nation’s fiscal solvency.”

She concluded her message with, “I believe the federal government keeps getting bigger and bigger which only drains more $$. The feds need out of the taking care of individuals business. I am not ready for a socialistic society. I believe the states can do a much better job.”

Here’s how I responded: “… every republican politician and conservative talking head is saying these same things, over and over, almost as if from the same script. But saying them over and over doesn’t make them so. I am equally convinced that that this is not only the right thing for the American people, it will eventually prove to be what it was intended to be — the “Affordable” Health Care Act. This will not be a burden to small business. It will be a boon. Now people will be better able to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions, free from the fear of losing their employer-provided insurance coverage. Small businesses will be more willing to hire young college graduates because they won’t have to offer them health insurance initially and, for businesses of fifty and fewer employees, these are exempt from the requirement to provide insurance. Further, there will be more competition between insurance providers and this will eventually bring premiums down.

Read this which contains pros and cons attributed to the new law: http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/f/What-Is-Obama-Care.htm. The pros are according the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The cons are from the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. You can believe the claims made by whomever you choose. I chose to believe the non-partisan source.”

Now she’s telling me that this didn’t answer her question – “Just more one side against the other.” Her concern, she clarifies, is not just about Obamacare, it’s about everything – that the government keeps getting bigger and bigger draining more and more money from the economy. So, “Okay,” I answered,” define your terms. I want to be sure I answer your “actual” question. How do you measure the size of government?”

Thinking about how I might respond after she answers, I am anticipating that she might say government growth is measured by the amount of money it spends. Alternatively, she might answer that it is measured by the number of new government employees, or the number of new regulatory agencies, or the number of new regulations imposed on the private sector, and/or their cost burden. I don’t know how she might answer, so I’m researching each measure.

As to the first measure, the amount of money being spent: The Romney campaign would have us believe that government spending under Obama has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history. The truth is, according to PolitiFact, is that the rate of government spending growth has been lower under Obama than under any recent president http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/may/23/facebook-posts/viral-facebook-post-says-barack-obama-has-lowest-s/. It is true that spending, as a percent of our GDP is up, but let’s be fair. Revenues collected, because of the recession, the Bush tax cuts, and the president’s own tax cuts for the middle class to combat the recession, has been way down.

Now to the growth in the number of federal government employees. At the end of 2010, according to the U.S. Office of Personal Management http://www.opm.gov/feddata/HistoricalTables/TotalGovernmentSince1962.asp, there were 35,000 fewer non-military federal government employees than there were under the Reagan administration. Yes, the total has increased slightly since 2010. But there are still more than two million fewer federal employees than there were at the highest point in recent history. It has been during Republican administrations, not Democrat ones, that the size of government, by this measure, has increased the most.

Okay, now to the number of new regulatory agencies, the number of new regulations, and the economic burden they impose. According to the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank), citing Government Accountability Office statistics, there were 75 major regulations adopted in Obama’s first two years in office. This compares to 120 during Bush’s entire first term. Yes, fiscal 2010 saw a record 43 new rules adopted. But, were these new rules needed? Given what has happened on Wall Street in recent years, what happened in the Gulf of Mexico with the BP oil spill, the growing problems with air quality over major cities like Dallas, water pollution from drilling/fracking operations, and how insurance companies have been denying coverage and dropping that of policy holders when they most need it, I believe that they were needed.

Our current health care system, which costs us eighteen percent of our GDP, has been growing in cost by sixteen percent per year and is rated, according to the World Health Organization as only the 37th best in the world. It is inhumane and it’s well past time for us to change it. That’s my stand on the matter.

Greed, which drives capitalism, must be constrained at some point. But market competition these days, given the demise of organized labor and the growth of oligopolies, is totally disinclined to do so.

I agree that regulatory activity is likely to pick up in coming years as agencies start implementing two of Obama’s major initiatives — the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. There will be economic costs associated with these initiatives. But there will be economic benefits as well. The “net benefit” — savings plus other factors, such as the economic value of lives saved – cannot be accurately calculated.  But they can be anticipated. It’s not just whether and to what extent needed regulations impact corporate profits. What’s also important to look at, according to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Watch, is how these regulations improve peoples’ lives.

Please feel free to post a comment, whether you agree or disagree.

Published in: on July 2, 2012 at 1:50 pm  Comments (6)  

Unintended Consequences ~ The Privatization of Our National Security

As corporations cash in on lucrative contracts, they encroach on the political process, driving up military spending and influencing military and foreign policy.

August 31, 2011 — When I received my draft notice for service in the Vietnam War, I had the best job of my life up to that time. I was a cameraman for a local television station in my hometown. I had worked my way up to the position after having been in the properties /art department for a year, and I loved it. I always came to work early and I usually stayed late. I volunteered for weekend work videotaping the following week’s worth of afternoon children’s programming: Fireman Frank, Cap’n Scotty, Captain Bernie and Friends. I did so not so much for the overtime as for the sheer joy of the work. When the station needed volunteers to go out on remote recording jobs, athletic competition events, church services, civic and seasonal events, mine was always the first name on the list.

When I told my department head about my draft notice, he advised me to get all the training I could from Uncle Sam. He also assured me that my job would be waiting for me when I got back. Of course, that was the law back then; employers had to rehire draftees after they completed their two years of service obligation. So, that became my plan. I would get some education in communications equipment repair, avoid combat if I could, and come back to this great job.

Of course, things don’t always turn out like we plan. After taking the Army’s battery of tests at the beginning of my Basic Training, I found out that I would have to reenlist in the Regular Army and be in for four years rather than two to get the training and MOS (military occupational specialty) I wanted. Otherwise, the odds were high that I’d be given a combat MOS like Infantry, Armor or Artillery. Reluctantly, knowing that I would be nullifying my draftee civilian job guarantee, I signed up for it. Later, caving into the siren song of OCS (Officers’ Candidate School) and subsequent training as an aviator, I never got the training in electronics. Somebody else did though.

In today’s all-volunteer military, many of the MOSs and inherent training opportunities our young people used to have are no more. Tasks in technical fields are now performed by civilian contract employees so that force structures could be reduced and more military personnel could be released for combat MOSs. In fact, over the past 30 years or so, this country has undergone a total transformation in the way it prepares for, conducts, and mops up after war. The Pentagon has overseen a large-scale effort to outsource all aspects of its operations to private corporations. But despite the claims of privatization proponents, there’s scant evidence that private firms perform better or at lower cost than public-sector agencies. More troubling, as corporations cash in on lucrative contracts, they encroach on the political process, driving up military spending and influencing military and foreign policy. Sadly, this contributes to the high unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Who has work state-side for an Infantry grunt?

It gets worse http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Panel-Widespread-waste-and-apf-350120231.html?x=0&.v=1. According to the Commission on Wartime Contracting which was established by Congress in 2008, as much as $60 billion in U.S. tax dollars has been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. This waste, the commission’s report says, is due to lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and corruption. In its final report to Congress, publicly released today, the commission said the waste could grow as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes, leaving Iraq and Afghanistan to bear the long-term costs of sustaining the schools, medical clinics, barracks, roads and power plants already built with American money.

Didn’t President Eisenhower warn us about the Defense Industrial Complex?

Gee, $60 billion – that would go a long way toward resolving pay inequities for our nation’s teachers.

Despite the popular image of defense contracts being for the building weapons systems like aircraft, missiles, or tanks, contracts for services are actually more typical. I know, I was in the business for ten years after retirement from active duty. Service workers, not production workers, accounted for nearly three out of four contract-created jobs in 1996, up more than 50% since 1984 — this according to a Dollars and Sense magazine article in 2004 http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/National_Security/PriviteNationalSecurity.html. Growing legions of contracted employees install, maintain, trouble-shoot, operate, and integrate military hardware. Similarly, research and development work is increasingly farmed out. (Navy technical centers outsourced 50% of research, development, test, and evaluation work by 1996. This was up from 30% in 1970.) Other, lower-skill, service contract firms perform a vast number of other functions from base maintenance and catering and support, to security detail and military training. Most of these jobs are being performed by locals.

Overall, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said, spending on contracts and grants to support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to exceed $206 billion by the end of the 2011 budget year. Based on its investigation, the commission said contracting waste in Afghanistan ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent of the $206 billion total. Fraud during the same period ran between 5 percent and 9 percent of the total.

The commission’s report includes recommendations for Congress. Among them are: government agencies should overhaul the way they award and manage contracts in war zones so they don’t repeat the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan. The commission also recommends the creation of an inspector general to monitor contracting and the appointment of a senior government official to improve planning and coordination.

This sounds good to me. However, some in Congress will undoubtedly say that this so-called, suspected waste is just the cost of doing business. It’s to be expected. They will further complain that establishing a new inspector general’s post with inherent staff and administrative costs will just be more “creep of scope” by the federal government. Accordingly, our currently “dysfunctional” Congress will likely be unable to make any decision at all, and the commission will have wasted its time and efforts to expose some of the unintended consequences of the privatization of our national security.

Since Congress is not likely to do anything about this waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ money anyway, I have a more challenging suggestion. Let’s go back to the good old days before the privatization of our nation’s security began. Let’s put more of our young men and women to work gaining technical knowledge and skills in the military that can help them transition to civilian employment after their enlistments.

Generals and Admirals of our armed forces wouldn’t like it, and the captains of defense industry corporations wouldn’t either. They would undoubtedly lobby Congress with millions of dollars in campaign contributions — most of it going to Republicans. But wouldn’t the rest of us be better off?

Please don’t hesitate to post a comment below to express your own opinion.

Published in: on August 31, 2011 at 9:04 am  Comments (1)  

Mental Health in Texas ~ A Problem That’s Likely to Get Worse

There is a growing shortage of mental health services in Texas. It’s a crisis that will only get worse if the state doesn’t invest more in its mental health workforce.

My wife and I attended our first NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) http://www.nami.org/ family-to-family meeting last night. It was good to meet with other couples and single caregivers. We learned a lot. Unfortunately, owing to the stigma associated with mental illness, family members of those afflicted by mental illness seldom seek support for the pain and anxiety they experience. Many lose hope that their loved ones will ever be well or even stable enough to function in society. They become sick themselves with grief.

NAMI in Dallas is a grassroots family and consumer self-help organization dedicated to relieving the effects of severe mental illness on individuals, family members, and society. The organization does this through support, education, and research. In addition to family-to-family meetings and training, NAMI organizes and conducts peer-to-peer support meetings for the afflicted who are willing to participate. The organization conducts Education programs (With Hope in Mind, and Visions for Tomorrow), and provides information and referral through a multi-cultural outreach including an interfaith program. The organization also provides advocacy with state and local governments through volunteers.

Participants in the meeting last night took turns introducing themselves and briefly sharing their stories. When it was our turn, my wife shared about our son and his situation, I spoke briefly about our granddaughter. Both suffer with mental illness but each has very different issues, very different diagnoses, and very different histories of coping.

We learned from the other participants that we are not alone. In the stories told by the others, we heard much of our own. Feeling bonds of understanding and empathy with the others, we were encouraged. We talked about finding ways to find and sustain hope, even in what seems to be hopeless circumstances. We also learned more about state and local agencies and about private resources, psychological and legal.

Sadly, we learned too that there is a growing shortage of mental health services in Texas and that it is a crisis that will only get worse if the state doesn’t invest more in its mental health workforce. Fat chance of that, however, with our budget shortfall last fiscal year, one likely for the next year, and the governor refusing to tap into Rainy-Day funds for public services.

In 2009, one hundred seventy-one (171) Texas counties out of two hundred fifty-four (254) lacked a psychiatrist in mental health offices. One hundred two (102) counties lacked a psychologist, and forty-eight (48) counties did not have a licensed professional counselor. Forty (40) counties had no social worker – all this according to a briefing published by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin and the San Antonio-based nonprofit Methodist Healthcare Ministries http://www.scribd.com/doc/53286433/Mental-Health-Workforce-Shortages-in-Texas.

The multiple underlying causes, according to the briefing, include an aging workforce that’s beginning to retire, recruitment and training challenges, lack of professional internship sites in Texas, a growing and increasingly diverse population and inadequate pay and reimbursement rates in the public mental health system. But who cares? This seems to be the prevailing attitude in our Texas state legislature.

Most people don’t think mental health is an issue that they need to be concerned with. They think it only affects others’ family members, that it could never happen to them. Yet statistics show that nearly half of all Americans will experience a mental health problem sometime in their lives http://www.nmha.org/go/state-ranking.

Notwithstanding the good mental health ranking Mental Health America (MHA) gives to Texas, there are problems and they are growing. In Texas last year (2010), an estimated 489,000 adults had a serious, persistent mental illness and roughly 155,000 children had a severe emotional disturbance. Only 33.6 percent of these adults and 28.9 percent of these children received services through their community health system. This could be one reason why the MHA data are so skewed I speculate http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/datareports.shtm. Another reason could be the large number of persons with mental health issues incarcerated in Texas. Services they receive aren’t counted with the services received by Texas citizens at large.

The Hogg Foundation paper (see the above link) identifies seven steps that Texas could take now to start to reverse the shortage in mental health professionals. They include: Expanding graduate education programs, developing tele-health opportunities and requiring professional boards to collect data that will aid in identifying specific racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic workforce shortages.

It’s the same trouble with nursing. The nursing shortage extends across the nation and to Texas, but what we really have is a nursing educator shortage. That means there aren’t enough teachers to train the next crop of willing nurses — particularly ones who want a bachelor’s degree or higher credential in the field.

Ashley Zugelter is the Executive Director of NAMI Dallas. Marsha Rodgers is the Office Manager.  Both of these staff members can be reached at the NAMI office at 214-341-7133. The general email address for NAMI Dallas is namidallas@namidallas.org.

Please feel free to post a comment below.

Published in: on August 19, 2011 at 10:01 am  Comments (7)  

Moral Hazard ~ A Deceitful Double Standard

An economic concept called “moral hazard” divides Americans and helps to define political philosophies.

After Sunday school last week, I carpooled with other members of our church up to Dallas. We went to help serve the noon meal at The Bridge, the homeless shelter there. What a powerful experience. Without exception, the clients were respectful and appreciative, especially when they themselves were shown respect in any way. Several actually offered me blessings as I filled their glasses with ice water. Many bowed their heads in silent prayer before eating.

When the meal was over and the clients had all left the dining facility, I spoke for awhile with the supervisor of the “Stew Pot” mission team http://www.thestewpot.org/sz.asp which volunteers to run the dining facility. The facility, by the way, is aptly named The Second Chance Cafe. Our discussion led me to deep introspection about the plight of a growing number of homeless in this economy.

Our youngest son, suffering from a laundry-list of psychological problems, is a homeless person notwithstanding how much we continue trying to help him. Our granddaughter, a high school graduate and trained cosmetologist, still reeling from the aftermath of an abusive relationship with the father of her little girl, has told us that she too would most likely be in a shelter if it were not for our intervention and on-going help. So, if it can happen in our family, it can happen in yours.

On my way out to return home, I picked up a printed copy of the local version of an international publication, Street Zine. It was filled with thought-provoking articles about the poor, the homeless and disabled – the sheep I believe Jesus was talking about when He told his disciple, Simon son of John, also known as Peter, to take care of them (John 21:16). One particular article, from which I have borrowed title of this post, struck me hard. You can read the whole thing for yourself on-line if you wish. It’s at http://www.streetnewsservice.org/news/2011/june/feed-286/%E2%80%9Cmoral-hazard%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-a-deceitful-double-standard.aspx. Below, combined with my thoughts on the subject, is an abstract of the article which was written by Domink Jenne, a citizen of Freiburg, Germany.

The term, “moral hazard,” according to Herr Jenne, means something similar to moral temptation. It’s actually an abstract term from the insurance industry. In economic theory, it describes a situation in which a party insulated from risk behaves differently from how it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_hazard. According to the theory, a driver with insurance, for example, will drive with less care because he knows he won’t have to pay in the event of an accident. The term has now become a social slogan among conservatives who refer to it as a destructive mentality that results from knowing someone will take care of you.

The welfare state, conservatives claim, promotes “moral hazard” because it removes personal responsibility and diminishes the motivation to search for work whilst living comfortably on welfare. Cutbacks are therefore necessary, even perhaps the complete removal of spending on social programs to eliminate the danger of moral temptation and damage to the economy. But you know what? I’d bet that most, if not all, of the clients I served in the Second Chance Café Sunday would jump at the chance to have a job that would pay them enough to just get by on. Unfortunately, most have issues, their own fault, somebody else’s fault or nobody’s fault, that prevent them from successfully competing in the job market.

Didn’t Jesus say that the poor would always be with us (Matthew 26:11)?

To conservatives, who perceive themselves to be the injured party, “moral hazard” threatens to affect not only those who apparently don’t want to find employment, but also those who are lucky enough to have a job – this to justify the surveillance of employees who might pilfer from stock shelves and cash drawers. So broad is conservatives’ perception of the danger of moral temptation, according to the article’s author, that it is necessary to introduce counter measures against it. Anyone who tries to counter the argument with terms such as “mutual trust” or “social responsibility,” is likely to be laughed at as a worldly innocent. Mistrust is the foundation of the argument.

The concept not only encompasses the malicious viewpoints of social deceivers and hypochondriacs, it also affects the financial sector and is a concern for us all. Consider the executives of too-big-to-fail investment banks and insurance companies who have made such horrible decisions in recent months and years, even committing fraud but not being held accountable. Still, they continue to receive huge bonuses and severance packages! Is this too not “moral hazard”?

When banks with millions, even billions in debt are saved from collapse, then it actually becomes possible that the lack of regulation and oversight encourage a high risk attitude. But conservatives don’t seem to see it this way. In Congress they resist the passage of laws and the enactment policies to prevent future fraud. The difference here is that the amounts stolen from investors by investment bankers are significantly higher than the amounts paid to alleged welfare fraudsters. Is this not A Deceitful Double Standard?

The Nobel Prize winner Kenneth J. Arrow – the man who first popularized the concept of moral hazard back in 1990 – has written and said much about the importance of spending on social programs http://gatton.uky.edu/Faculty/hoytw/751/articles/arrow.pdf. And he should know.

Please feel free to post a comment whether you agree or disagree.

Published in: on August 17, 2011 at 7:50 am  Comments (8)  

Psychological Warfare in the Political Debate ~ Who’s Brainwashing Whom?

Disgusted with the current state of affairs in this country? You’re not alone.

August 15, 2001 — Have you noticed the recent terminology change in the public debate? Conservative politicians are referring to the rich as “job creators?” Republicans vying for their party’s nod to run against President Obama in 2012 are using the term over and over. Why? Psychology — they are brainwashing their constituents into believing that lower marginal tax rates, special deductions and government subsidies available only to the rich and hugely profitable industries will ultimately benefit the economy and them with more employment opportunities. It’s an extension of the old “trickle-down” theory of economics.

This is not unlike the terminology change from “inheritance tax” — another straightforward, value-neutral descriptor — to the emotionally charged term, “death tax.”

Subtle word changes like this impact the public debate by purposely replacing straightforward terms with emotionally charged words that are intended to skew the dialogue in favor of a tiny minority in this economy, the rich — excuse me, “job creators”. It’s part of the class warfare that Warren Buffett recently referred to, the warfare that he said was started by his class and which they are currently winning.

Business investments, which often do come from the wealthy, do not lead economic recovery. Business investments only follow it to take advantage of improving economic conditions. Corporations and job creators are sitting on trillions of dollars rather than investing these dollars to expand production capacity. Why? Well, Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce are saying that it’s uncertainty in the marketplace, fear of how new regulations and provisions of the new health care law will affect business. Okay, that may be partly true. But what’s more true is that businesses do not expand production and services where there is no growth in demand. Instead, businesses cut pack on domestic labor and look for new customers. In the current environment, this means expanding businesses overseas, in China and India for example, where populations are becoming more affluent even as our population is becoming less so http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/08/business/la-fi-consumers-overseas-20110808.

Disgusted with the current state of affairs in this country, and especially the weather here in Texas lately, a good friend recently said to me that his new idea of the American Dream is to learn German and move to Bavaria.

Please feel free to post a comment whether you agree or not.

Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 8:45 am  Comments (3)