Sunday, November 22, 2015

Talk is Cheap


I often see memes on Facebook saying that we shouldn't take in refugees, of any kind, but especially Syrians, until we house and feed our own poor, but especially veterans. I believe we could easily do both. It is all a matter of how we set our priorities.

The budget is essentially divided into three parts: the first is mandatory spending. These are budget items that are set in stone, things like social security. The second is discretionary. This is where Congress can mix and match and cut and increase. The last is interest on the national debt which, like mandatory spending, is unchangeable.

This graph shows how we spend our discretionary income. The dark blue represents military appropriations, by far the largest expense compared to anything else. Do you think we could find a few billion in cuts, particularly in the military, if we want to house homeless veterans and desperate refugees. I expect the answer is yes if we really cared enough but we don't.

GovernmentEducationMedicare & HealthVeterans' BenefitsHousing & CommunityInternational AffairsEnergy & EnvironmentScienceTransportationFood & AgricultureDiscretionary Spending 2015: $1.11 Trillion

Monday, November 16, 2015

Semantic Divide

                                                                     Image result for tower of babel                                       

We Americans are like a reverse Tower of Babel. The words we say are the same but the meanings are entirely different. We talk past each other with neither side understanding what the other is trying to say, almost as if we are speaking two different languages. If this keeps up, good old Webster is going to have to start printing a conservative dictionary and a liberal dictionary.

For instance, the Paris bombings. At the Democratic debate the moderator questioned the candidates about their reluctance to use the term "radical Islam". This, of course, is something that incenses the right who accuse Democrats of being soft on terrorism because they prefer to say radical jihadism instead. They criticize President Obama because to them, he pussyfoots around and won't call a spade a spade.

Democrats don't like the radical Islam characterization because they believe it paints with far too broad a brush, in effect, putting an entire religion under suspicion. There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. They make up 22 percent of the world's population. They are .8 percent of America.

The vast majority of Muslims are not radical jihadists or radical Islamists, however you want to phrase it. In fact, as reported by Think Progress, "Muslims around the world condemn Paris bombings." So to imply, as the Republicans seem to, that we are at war with Islam itself is not helpful. Muslim countries are our partners in fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda. Muslim Americans are soldiers in our military. The Republicans make a mistake to try to turn this into a Christian versus Muslim holy war. We need the moderate Muslims in our battle against terrorism. Let's not allow our own fear and intolerance turn them away.

Three other simple words that get people passionately aroused are Black Lives Matter. Did the people who coined the phrase mean to say that only black lives matter or that black lives matter also. As a liberal, it seems clear those words should be defined as - "we want to be treated like everyone else."

We want our sons to walk down the street or play in the park and not be killed because, to whites, they look like thugs. We want to be sentenced to the same punishment as whites who commit the same offenses. We want to be treated with the same respect by police and other authorities, not shot because we're having a heart attack or tasered to death in jail because we're having a seizure. We want to be hired or not based on our qualifications and not our skin color.

But the American right has taken Black Lives Matter as a call to arms by African-Americans who want special rights. They deny that blacks are treated in a lesser manner. They pooh-pooh the idea of White Privilege. Although they've most likely benefited from it their entire lives, they simply can't see it for what it is because it feels so natural to them. Black Lives Matter protesters are simply violent criminals as far as they are concerned.

Gun control is another code phrase. Ask a liberal what gun control means to them and they'll probably first say, background checks and closing gun show loopholes and stricter penalties for straw sales. Indeed, some of them might very well say a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. But I don't know a single liberal who wants to rescind the Second Amendment. Many who support stricter gun regulations are gun owners themselves.

Ask a conservative what gun control means to them and nine times out of ten, they'll say gun confiscation. All the rest is simply trying to get the camel's nose under the tent, prior to banning all of the over 270 million guns in the United States. You can't talk them out of it no matter how hard you try.

Political correctness is another idea that puts us in a muddle. I'm not even sure exactly what it means in 2015. It began as an effort to be aware of the feelings of people not like us. How hard was it to quit calling African-Americans the "n" word if they found it offensive? Or Mexicans wet-backs? Or gays queers?

As time went on, it became a little more difficult to color between the lines of political correctness. Was it wrong to name our sports teams after Indians? A tribe name like Seminoles doesn't sound so bad but Redskins, which used to be a pejorative term for Native Americans, maybe so. Is the Confederate flag offensive to black people. Yeah, I expect it probably is.

Is it offensive to conservatives to be told Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. I guess it must be. I used to send out Christmas cards without giving it a thought. I just took the next one in the box for whoever was on my list. It might be a cute little mouse or Santa or a manger scene or silver bells. It was the thought that counted, right? Then I discovered that I might have been unknowingly upsetting people so I quit sending cards.

Both sides are constantly horrified by what they consider the other's political correctness. And truthfully, both carry PCness to idiotic extremes. Little boys should not be expelled from school for eating their sandwich into the shape of a gun. Little girls should not be expelled from school for wearing a sleeveless blouse.

How did we reach the point of being convinced that we have a "right" not to be offended anyway?  We all need to toughen up. None of us get through life without experiencing hurt feelings but let's save our indignation for serious injustices.

I often listen to political talk radio on my commute. I constantly hear conservative talk show host pontificate about me - "liberals say...." or "liberals believe...."  My silent response is "hey, wait a minute, I never say that," or "That's not at all what I believe."

Presumably, conservatives believe liberals make the same wrong assertions about them.

Maybe we should try to get together and talk about it.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Mormons and Their Cruel New Rules

The Church of Latter Day Saints, more familiarly known as Mormons, has just released new rules regarding LGBT members and their children. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders have been declared apostates and will not be allowed to belong to the church. Well, okay, churches are allowed to set their own rules even if they are mean and narrow-minded. But that is nothing compared to how innocent children will be treated. Normally Mormon children are blessed as infants and baptized when they are about 8 years old. No more. From now on, the offspring of LGBT parents cannot be blessed nor baptized until they turn 18 and then only if they:
  • Disavow the practice of same-sex relationships.
  • No longer live with gay parents.
  • Get approval from their local leader and the highest leaders at church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Of course, this wouldn't mean anything to me since I'm not religious. I'd tell the church to go to hell. End of story. I can't imagine belonging to a church that believes in a God who would condone such cruelty. I can't imagine parishioners who would deny their own parents for the sake of such a church. 

But I know not everyone is like me. Some families have been members of the same denomination for generations. They have put their faith in their church and its leaders. All their friends belong. It is the center of their social lives. They have been taught that the church is the ultimate arbiter of all things moral since they were old enough to comprehend.

So what happens if a child dies at ten years old and has been neither blessed or baptized? Do Latter Day Saints believe that child goes to heaven or hell? Who would want to simply hope for the best for their children until age 18, praying that nothing terrible happens in the meantime? What parents would want to think their child would turn on them on their 18th birthday. 

So the church puts its would-be members on a torturous path of church or family. It is a travesty of what church is supposed to represent to mankind.

Of course, the Mormons aren't the first to do this. Many fundamentalist denominations have convinced parents to beat their gay children or shun them or send them for "conversation therapy" which brutalizes vulnerable kids who are born "different". 

I'll never understand it. Your children or your church is no contest at all as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Republican Princesses and the CNBC Pea

Image result for Hillary at benghazi hearing                          Image for the news result

Seriously? Hillary was on the hot seat for almost 11 hours with a majority of hostile interrogators who accused her of ethical lapses and outright criminality, of poor judgment and of being too cold and callous to give a damn about the deaths of her people yet she managed to take it in stride and maintain her equanimity.

But the Republicans were positively crushed because those terrible questioners from CNBC were so mean to them! They asked them hard questions that they didn't want to answer. The R's remind me of the Princess and the Pea. They are so sensitive, they get bruised even if the pea is under ten mattresses. And they only had to face less than 10 minutes a piece compared to Hillary's ten hours but they whined and wailed during a two hour debate (because 3 hours was just too long dontcha know), then continued into the next day and beyond.

These are the people who are trying to assure us they'll be able to stand up to Vladimir Putin and ISIS when they can't even stand up to John Harwood!

They are even furious at their own leadership because Reince Priebus, Republican Party Chairman, allowed this travesty to happen and put his sensitive candidates in a position to have their feelings hurt so badly. So they ditched him and all the campaigns are meeting to figure out how to take charge of their own darn debates. Fair debates, debates that will make them feel good about themselves. Ted Cruz thought having Mark Levine, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would be a great idea. I think they should throw Ted Nugent in there too, just for the entertainment value since that what such a gathering would be - a comedy show rather than a serious debate.

In truth, CNBC did do a pretty lousy job. They often lost control while the candidates talked all over the questioners and one another. And I don't like those gotcha questions either but trying to get candidates to attack one another has been par for the course in all the debates so far. A good debater handles them gracefully as Mike Huckabee did the one about whether he thought Donald Trump had the moral authority to be president. Even bad debate questions can be an opportunity for skillful debaters.

Reince Preibus is acting as if he's still in charge. He's like a puppy desperately whimpering and wagging his tail, hoping the candidates will let him join the party again. In an effort to show how much he agrees with them, he announced that NBC is out. The debate scheduled to be moderated by NBC in February is canceled or it will be given to someone else....or something.

Meantime, we don't know what the future holds for Republican debates. Will Trump donate a hotel ballroom? Will they cull their own moderators from right-wing talk radio, as Cruz suggested? Will they forego moderators altogether and just have a free-for-all? It will be fun to find out what they come up with.

And while all this was going on, the various fact-checkers were fact-checking the claims made by the Republican candidates and it isn't looking good for them. Turns out, practically everything Carly Fiorina said was untrue. Donald Trump was flat-out lying when he accused Becky Quick of being wrong when she said he called Marco Rubio Mark Zuckerberg's "personal senator". It was right there on his very own website. Even the National Review, a conservative magazine, said Ben Carson was dishonest about his ties to Mannatech, a health nostrum company. George Pataki said Hillary Clinton's personal server had been hacked. Not so. Ted Cruz was wrong about both loss of manufacturing jobs and women's wages under Obama. None of their tax plans are very good for the lower and middle class, reserving most of the gains for the rich, in typical Republican fashion. This was despite their seeming to have suddenly discovered income inequality.

So, really, it's too bad the Republicans were able to transfer so much of the attention to the flap about CNBC (and the "liberal" media, in general) instead of their own flaws.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Random Observations

Image result for house of representatives in disarray


I've been listening to a lot of political talk radio during my long commutes to work, including the Patriot channel. The right wing hosts are desperately trying to convince listeners that the chaos taking place in the House of Representatives is a good thing! The Freedom Caucus pulled off exactly what they wanted. They got rid of Boehner; they scared off Kevin McCarthy. Much of the party sees Paul Ryan as their great white hope but the conservatives don't like him either. He's a squish, don't you know? If Boehner tries to stay on past his sell-by date, they'll call a vote to force him out. No one knows what will happen next. It is anarchy in the House and the right-wing is loving it!

 Image result for bowe bergdahl


I've been watching Facebook and the right doesn't seem to have seen this yet. Expect a shitstorm when they do. They want him hung; they want him burned at the stake. Instead, the officer in charge recommended what is essentially a misdemeanor sentence. A reduction in rank, a loss of a percentage of pay but no jail time and some continuation of veteran's benefits. Of course, this isn't a done deal as it has to go up the chain of command and what happens is likely to be affected by politics rather than rationality (isn't everything?)

Conservatives haven't read the full reports. They haven't heard the interviews. They are basing their opinions on emotion only. The hell with the actual facts of the case.  


Another day in America, another school shooting....or two....or three. Gun worship has become a virtual religion in the U.S. No price is too high to pay for our guns. The lives of our children? Collateral damage that must be tolerated. There is no common middle ground with ammosexuals. They go from background checks straight to gun confiscation in 60 seconds. Never mind that no one is suggesting rescinding the second amendment. They see the smallest effort to alleviate our national epidemic of gun violence as the camel's nose under the tent. You think we surely must be reaching a tipping point when the America people will finally say, "enough."

Image result for planned parenthood hearing                        Image result for benghazi hearings


Kevin McCarthy only said out loud what we all knew - the Benghazi hearings were never about finding out what happened that night but rather, to besmirch both President Obama and Hillary Clinton, particularly as it regarded Hillary's presidential run. The hearings have been a farce from Day One. Documents demanded, witnesses called, Democrats not informed who those witnesses were or allowed to question them, selective leaks rather than releasing entire transcripts designed to put the spin on events the Republicans preferred. Benghazi is now the longest running investigation ever in our nation's history - longer than the assassination of a president, longer than the resignation of another president, longer than selling arms for hostages to Iran, longer than freaking 911!

And for their second act, the Republicans engaged in an investigation of Planned Parenthood during which they called the producers of videos that have been proven to be doctored (again, Democrats were not allowed to ask questions) but no representatives of Planned Parenthood itself. When they finally did demand the presence of Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood director, they bombed her with harsh and leading questions, then didn't allow her to answer. Can you say kangaroo court?

Remember all the wonderful things the R's said they were going to accomplish if only, (please, please, please) we voted them back into the majority in the Congress? Can you think of even one of those things they've actually done? They evidently majored in Investigations and forgot to take Governing 101.

Image result for obama versus putin 


This was on my Facebook newsfeed today. Oh, the conservatives love them some Putin in comparison to the contempt in which they hold their own president. "Oooh," they simper, "he's so strong and manly!"

Jesus, People, Putin is a brutal, murderous ex-KGB thug. Is that really want for America? Truly?

When Putin tells us that he's bombing ISIS but our own government says he's targeting Syrian rebels in order to strengthen Assad, conservatives would rather believe Putin. They are strangely gleeful when they think Putin has put one over on Obama. In other words, they root against their own country. Sort of like when 47 Senators led by Tom Cotton sided against our government in the Iran negotiations. Doesn't that seem uncomfortably close to treason to you?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Image result for pope francis with children          Image result for donald trump

When these two men, Pope Francis and Donald Trump, epitomize our world today, it seems we live in an era that calls for song lyrics and literary quotes to adequately describe. 

At 68, having seen what I've seen, I think "so true" when I hear the Grateful Dead sing - "what a long, strange trip it's been". I've watched my country go through so many cycles, I'm dizzy from swinging left and right. 

Charles Dickens described our time perfectly in A Tale of Two Cities - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

I'm not a Catholic and never will be again but I cherish Pope Francis' message of compassion and peace and inclusion, that's where my hope comes from. By contrast, Donald Trump's message of narrow-minded harshness and greed is the source of my despair.

I am old enough to have seen everything - cold wars and hot wars and silly wars (Grenada comes to mind). I've seen us when we had faith in science and trust in our government and the wonders they could perform together - moon landings and space capsules and cameras to Mars, eradicating diseases, technology that makes a cell phone more powerful than what used to be contained in a whole room of computers, surgery so precise it allows us to separate conjoined babies (here's to you Dr. Carson, I disagree with your politics but I totally respect your incredible medical skills), Of course, I could go on forever with the achievements we have accomplished in my lifetime.

I've seen us rise up against war. I've seen us march for equality - civil rights and women's rights and migrant worker's rights. I remember when corporations that profited immensely in the U.S. felt a sense of  responsibility to their country and their community - often helped along by the unions. I remember when, collectively, we felt compassion for the poor and discriminated against. I remember when we valued education above all else. I remember when we respected our earth and supported wetlands and endangered species and wilderness areas. 

And then the pendulum swung to the far side. We are now fine with being embroiled in endless war even though we scorn our government and believe it is worthless. How can that be? Do we trust them or not? Well, we don't protest about war anymore. I wonder why that is? Maybe because we have no draft so only one percent of our population fights our battles for us.

We pooh-pooh science. The politicians know better than the professionals, don't you know? No such thing as climate change, moron! Ignore those melting ice caps and mega-storms. 

We're sick of whiners complaining about their civil rights being violated. Obey the law and the police won't be forced to shoot you. You bring it on yourself! And we're damn sick of the poor too. The majority of them are lazy deadbeats who want "free stuff", even the little kids and wounded soldiers and 95-year-olds and the severely disabled. And we're double-damned sick of immigrants risking their lives to come here for a better one. 

We've lost our respect for education and our teachers (you know most of them are unionized, don't you?) We're letting our public schools deteriorate in favor of for-profit institutions from which politicians make big bucks. Every state can choose its own curriculum. If its more superstition than fact, well, that's okay. I think I got an excellent education when I graduated from Wabash High School in 1964 but I think many kids today are getting shortchanged. 

We've decided the earth is here for our use and if we ruin it for future generations, too bad so sad. We need the fracking and the oil spills and the bomb trains that travel through our towns to maintain our way of life. We need to drill the Arctic and to sell the Apache Holy Land to the mining company and to slice the tops off our mountains and to despoil our water sources. 

And guns, we must have more guns. We'll tolerate anything for our guns. A whole class of small children killed? Collateral damage. We just have to deal with it because....the Second Amendment. It probably doesn't matter about laws now anyway. We are awash in guns and they aren't going away.

While all this is going on, one of our major political parties has lost its mind. They compete with one another to see who can be the meanest. Who can say the nastiest things about minorities and women and immigrants and poor children and gays. They compete to see who can start more wars. They'll go to Iran on Day One and shoot the Ayatollah. They'll take on Putin bare-handed. They'll personally lead the charge against ISIS. Of course, when any of them had the chance to go to war themselves and actually face the enemy, they all declined. 

So, in America today, we are roughly divided between the Pope Francis outlook on life and the Donald Trump outlook - love versus hate, knowledge versus ignorance, peace versus war, respect for others versus contempt for others. Cherishing our earth versus abusing our earth. 

Your choice, America. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

911 - Wrong Lessons Learned


Well, tomorrow is September 11 and there are lots of "Never Forget" posts on Facebook. And, of course, we never will forget the 911 attacks because they were tragic and heartbreaking and stunning. They revealed how heroic everyday Americans can be, especially police officers and firemen and EMTs and construction workers and airplane passengers and just regular people who postponed their own lives and faced danger to help in any way they could.

Sadly, though, in a larger sense, 911 also revealed that, collectively, we are hardly the land of the free and the home of the brave, as we always proudly declare, rather, we willingly traded principles for security and bravery for fearfulness.

We created a Department of Homeland (a word I despise) Security - uber-expensive, blackly covert, mega-powerful and unaccountable. Do you know what all the DHS does? Nope, me neither and they make sure we never will.

Here's a hint though. They are working on a project called FAST, the Future Attribute Screening Technology because...terrorism. FAST will remotely monitor physiological and behavioral cues, like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyze these cues algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with nefarious intentions. Predictive crime prevention - what could possibly go wrong? How do you prove your innocence when FAST accuses you of a crime you going to commit in the future?

After 911, we passed the Patriot Act (complete name: "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001" about a wide umbrella.

Title V was one of the most controversial aspects of the Patriot Act. Title V dealt with National Security Letters, which were administrative subpoenas used by the FBI and probably other government agencies. A NSL is a demand issued to an organization to turn over data relating to an individual. They required no probable cause or judicial oversight. In addition, they contained a "gag order, preventing the recipient from revealing that the letter was ever issued.

Fortunately, the ACLU filed suit and the courts found that NSLs were unconstitutional but the American people, as a whole were unaware of what their government was doing...and probably didn't care because we are less than concerned about government over-reach. "Just keep as safe. We'll pay any price in liberty" seems to be our mindset.

Elements of the Patriot Act were scheduled to sunset, and a few did, but gee, mostly Congress just couldn't bring themselves to give it up.

Pre-911, America's reputation was rather that of the world's moral arbiter. We stood firm (well, mostly) for civil rights and equality and justice. We signed on to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which not only required that we not torture people ourselves but we not send prisoners to other countries where they would likely be tortured. You know, like extreme rendition.

Then WE were attacked and all that high-flown moral stuff went right out the window. We could no longer afford to be honorable. So....extreme rendition and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. We slid into the black hole of shame - waterboarding and rubbing feces on people and leading them around naked by dog collars and making them stand on boxes with their genitals wired for shock. Not only did we allow and/or encourage our soldiers to do such things, they actually seemed to enjoy it.

We threw people into Guantanamo because someone said (and surely no one would have been swayed by the $5,000 bounty the U.S. paid) that they'd engaged in terrorist acts. We didn't know for sure if it was true but what the heck, better safe than sorry, right? We didn't accuse them of any particular crime, just a sort of amorphous allegation of wrong-doing. Out of the original 780 detainees, military tribunals have convicted eight of them. Hell of a success rate, isn't it? Detainee...don't you love that word? they aren't exactly convicts or inmates or prisoners....just detainees. There's charges, no trial, no sentence, no out date, no resolution. Many of them have been cleared by a commission to be released but we haven't released them. So much for our much-vaunted Rule of Law. No right to face your accuser. No right to know exactly what crime you're accused of. No speedy - or even un-speedy trial, no habeas corpus.

And we hate these guys so much that when, in desperation, they try to starve themselves to death, we stick a tube down their throat and force food down them to keep them alive. America the Merciful.

President Obama wants to close Guantanamo. For one thing, it costs about a $1,000,000 annually per prisoner to hold people there versus about $30,000 in a federal prison but here in the "home of the brave", we are afraid to so much as allow them on our soil 'cause, you know, they are just so dangerous and scary. Geez, how gutless is that?

Many of us turned on all Muslims. Can't trust any of those rag heads, sand jockeys and those are the nicest descriptors. We were outraged that they'd dare to put a mosque anywhere close to Ground Zero....sort a "kill them all and let God sort them out" mentality.

We went to two wars because of 911. In the first, Afghanistan, we were there to try to get the perpetrators. Okay, that is a valid reason but 15 years later, Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is scattered across the middle east....but we are still in America's longest war. Does anyone know why?

And our second war, Iraq, was a farce from Day One. It was based on lies and secret agendas and revenge and oil and egos. And, despite George W standing on a aircraft carrier with a Mission Accomplished banner across his head, it was a disaster and the mission, whatever it was supposed to be, was never accomplished. This after ten years and trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives lost and we are still there too, facing an even deadlier enemy that we created ourselves in ISIS. And we're left with many more thousands of grievously injured warriors who will need care for least, those who don't commit suicide.

So, no, I will never forget 911. I will remember the actions of the valiant but I will also remember how badly we failed this horrendous test. We are less free and less brave and less honorable now. I guess that's what the terrorists were hoping for.