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.