Monday, December 19, 2011

Fallen Woman

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It’s getting to be a bad joke: Pick a Republican who’s attacked same-sex marriage and they’re either gay themselves or done something totally skeevy to besmirch the holy institution.
The latest culprit is Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (left), who stepped down from her leadership post Friday after allegations surfaced she was having an adulterous affair with a male staffer.
Color us stunned. Really.
Koch isn’t resigning as a state senator, mind you—just her leadership post (and refusing to seek re-election). Because it’s genetically impossible for a Republican politician to fully understand the nature of hypocrisy. Koch and her cronies helped get an amendment into the voting booth next year that will let the people of Minnesota vote on whether same-sex marriage should be banned. That makes sense—she’s something of an expert on things that destroy marriages.
“I think in the end there are probably only two people who really know what kind of relationship [it was] and how long it had been happening,” interim Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michell told the Star-Tribune. “It certainly had risen to a level within our Senate family that people were coming to us.”
While Koch’s male paramour hasn’t been named, Michael Brodkorb—her communications chief—is no longer on staff as of Friday. Draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Anti-AIDs Discrimination Rears Its Ugly Head ... Again

The 1980's was a frightening time for many in America.  Particularly so for those who were/are members of the LGBT community and others who suffered from any number of illnesses where blood transfusions were or might be necessary.  Initially known as the "gay cancer," HIV/AIDs quickly came to symbolize the single greatest threat to not just gay men and women, but to ever sexually active person.  During the early years of what has been for a number of years referred to as a "global pandemic," little was known about how the virus was transmitted from one person to the next.  As a result, individuals, organizations, businesses and many other entities responded in many instances with knee-jerk reactions on how to address the issue of those individuals infected with HIV/AIDs.  Rampant discrimination and active and blatant ostracization and oppression of those suffering from the then-100% fatal disease was accepted and even promoted by some. 

This unwarranted sense of fear of those who were infected continued for many years (many would say it still exists more readily than most would like to admit or accept), even after medical researchers and doctors discovered that transmission was only possible by direct contact with the blood supply of an infected individual with the blood supply of an uninfected individual.  Despite America being told via a nearly unprecendented media storm of information, the result of tireless effort by many activists and AIDs support organizations (ASO's), the paranoia over possible infection continued to be prevalent years later.

During the 1980's a teenager named Ryan White became the virtual 'poster boy' for those afflicted with HIV/AIDs, as he was forced to leave the junior high school he was attending because school officials believed he posed a significant threat to the remaining student body.  Despite the nation slowly learning that someone with HIV did not present any risk of transmission as the result of casual, and even some limited intimate, contact, citizens of the United States remained seriously divided as to whether White's school acted responsibly, or reprehensibly.  White's legal case was ultimately decided in his favor, requiring that his school allow him to attend classes.  Such legal precedence would, seemingly, only have since been strengthened by passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990), along with a more recent package of amendments to the original legislation that effectively widened the scope of influence over what was deemed discriminatory, liberalizing (to some extent) what a disabled person would be able to expect/require of any potential (or current) employer or other public accomodation.  However, the Milton Hershey School believes otherwise.  In fact, their denial for admission to the school of a 13-yr. old who is HIV-positive is rather conclusive that despite legal protections afforded those are HIV-positive or who have been classified as having AIDs, along with the incredible medical advancements that have produced medications which reduce exponentially the threat of possible exposure (even through intimate contact) as they reduce levels of the virus in many of those infected to levels at which doctors refer to them as "undetectable," suggests that the school cares little about the facts about the science behind HIV/AIDs nor the legal responsibility it bears toward potential students who are HIV-positive. 

Officials at the school offered in defense of their actions denying the 13-yr. old admission, that,

“We understand that the risks presented by an HIV-positive individual who is on medication are low,” the school said in a recent statement posted on its website. “Taking all these and other factors in consideration, including the fact that we would be prohibited by law from informing our community of the young man’s HIV-positive status, we concluded that the risk was significant, and rose to the level of a direct threat to the health and safety of others.”

Ironically, the possibility that a student might be exposed to the HIV virus while conducting themself as a student is not the school's concern.  Instead, they are most concerned about the fact that students may well engage in sexual intercourse.  And that despite the univeral procautions against the transmission of bloodborne pathogens that all public accomodations are required by law to follow, students could find themselves exposed to the virus. 

It is difficult to decide which is most reprehensible about the school's behavior: their blatant and unnecessary discrimination against a potential student who is HIV-positive, or the fact that they consider themselves responsible for every Hershey student's sexual conduct.  If the latter is the case, then one could come to the conclusion that should an unexpected pregnancy of a Hershey student, or one that was caused by a Hershey student should occur, that the school would then agree to providing any/everything needed for the care of the expectant mother and the child before and after the child's birth.  However, it's HIGHLY unlikely that that is the case.  No doubt, if a pregnancy occurs the school most likely is of the opinion that while it may concede to making 'reasonable accomodations' to the expectant mother so that she could continue her studies while the pregnancy progresses, it in no way accepts any measure of responsibility for the student's condition.  Which gives Americans reason to ask, "Then why is it different for the kid with HIV?  Why consider sexual conduct that results in pregnancy NOT the school's responsibility, but that which might be engaged-in by someone who is HIV-positive is within their purview?" 

Let's face it: HIV/AIDs discrimination still exists.  Ask anyone who is afflicted with the virus and they will no doubt quickly accede to the notion that although federal law makes such discrimination illegal, it's still around, and it's just as ugly as it has ever been.  And in a strange twist of irony, while Americans find themselves in an era where those who embrace a conservative philosophy of government believe government at all levels, especially in areas like education, tries to provide too much to citizens, it's a private educational institution, one largely removed from many of the fiscal ties the federal and state governments have on their public counterparts, that is exhibiting blatant discriminatory practices. 

HIV/AIDs discrimination is offensive enough when it happens to an adult with the disease.  But such behavior reaches an even lower level of depravity and reprehensiveness when it targets a child. 

The Milton Hershey School should apologize to the student denied admission.  And the student should be allowed to attend the school, if he still desires to do so.  Furthermore, the school should willingly agree to pay all of the costs associated with the student's attending private school, whether that school is Hershey, or some other learning institution.  The school should also make some sort of public apology to all Americans who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDs, stating clearly and unapologetically that their behavior was not appropriate.  That they failed to appreciate the challenges someone who is HIV-positive might face, but instead ignored those possibilities and rathe embraced a fairly unsophisticated and insufficiently educated position on the question of whether or not to extend admission to an HIV-positive student.

Schools should be this nation's, and the world's, "citadels of learning."  Institutions dedicated to providing the very best education possible for students.  This could not be more true than it is today, when a growing number of young persons who identify themselves as gay are resorting to suicide in order to free themselves from the constant threat and mistreatment suffered at the hands of bullies.  Those who are HIV-positive experience the isolation that is a common factor in the lives of members of the LGBT community, only it is usually more severe, direct, and even more harmful.  Hershey could stand in the way of the further marginalization of those with HIV/AIDs.  The school could also send a loud and clear message to educators everywhere that all students, regardless of their station in life, should be treated with the respect afforded to all human beings.  It is 2011, after all.  Nearly 30 years after the virus first 'officially' reared its ugly head, all Americans can and should do better by those who are HIV-positive.  And those who are HIV-positive or have been diagnosed with AIDs should be able to expect all institutions to respect them first, foremost and always as human beings.


Bachmann Says U.S. is 'Bananas'

During an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" with show host David Gregory, Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota Congresswoman and candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination suggested that the United States was spending like a "' banana republic or 'Greece'."  Continuing her ongoing denunciation of all-things Obama, the Congresswoman again laid the blame for Washington spending, the federal deficit and the national debt at the feet of the President.  Go here for the full interview of Ms. Bachmann.

What Congresswoman Bachmann again fails to admit is that she was a member of Congress during the final two years of the Bush Administration.  Years that added hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal deficit.  She also fails to admit that during George W. Bush's two terms in office, more debt was added to the federal deficit in those eight years than during the entirety of our nation's existence.  That the reason for those massive deficits were two wars (one of convenience, one more rooted in necessity) that were entirely unfunded, the largest reductions in tax rates (in terms of dollars saved by the taxpayer) in our nation's history (without any commensurate reduction in spending), and the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program (alone adding $700-800 billion to the deficit over 10 years), which was hamstrung by the pharmacuetical manufacturers who essentially wrote the legislation by not allowing the federal government to seek quantity discounts from those same companies for the drugs the plan was intended to cover. 

What the Congresswoman also fails to either understand, appreciate or perhaps simply doesn't care is that if the United States has, in her mind (a frightening thing to contemplate, in and of itself), begun acting like a 'banana republic', it's not because of government spending or the federal deficit.  Rather, any resemblance to "banana-dom" is tied directly to the ever-expanding wealth disparity in the United States.  In an interesting article written by the late-Christopher Hitchens for Vanity Fair magazine, the writer provided readers with an excellent, and somewhat telling (and some might say clairvoyant), description of what a banana republic is.  This is shared, in part, because it seems fairly safe to say that while Ms. Bachmann knows the term 'banana republic', it is not entirely certain that she knows what it means.  And her denunciation of the U.S. acting like such a country affirms that suspicion.

"In practice, a banana republic is a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by the collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, whereby the profits derived from private exploitation of public lands is private property, and the debts incurred are public responsibility. Such an imbalanced economy reduces the national currency to devalued paper-money, hence, the country is ineligible for international development credit and remains limited by the uneven economic development of town and country." (Banana republic. (2011, December 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:00, December 19, 2011, from

Hitchens goes on to opine that what typifies a banana republic is when, ". . . a money class fleeces the banking system, while the very trunk of the national tree is permitted to rot and crash. . . .  ." (Ibid.)

In many respects Ms. Bachmann's declaration is somewhat correct, in that the United States is, in many ways, "a country operated by a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by the collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, whereby the profits derived from private exploitation of public lands is private property, and the debts incurred are public responsibility."  One could look at conditions in the U.S. today and see striking similarities between the aforementioned 'definition' and the way our "free enterprise" system and the federal government works to each others rather lop-sided benefit; "free enterprise" reaping whirlwind profits while public debt goes through the roof.  However, where Ms. Bachmann stumbles is when she attempts to place blame for our tarnished fiscal condition at the feet of "big government spending."  It is NOT government spending that has resulted in private corporations making billions upon billions of dollars in profits.  Those are the result of previous administrations in Washington turning a blind-eye toward or even advocating for monopolistic corporate mergers that have given fewer individuals nearly overwhelming influence and power over this nation's financial, business and political policies.  And all the while as Corporate America was actively and effectively "raping and pillaging" the American taxpayer and consumer, the federal government, particularly when controlled by Republicans, provided the wealthiest of Americans their lowest income tax rates in six decades, coupled with loopholes and a capital gains tax rate that is less than half the highest income tax bracket for those same wealthy individuals.  Throw into that mix the completely disingenuous and fairly destructive practice of "privatizing" more and more of what the federal government had done in years and decades past, which only guarantees even MORE money flowing from the American taxpayer directly into the pockets of private companies/corporations, and you effectively not only have the monopolistic business environment, but you also have a government which has done nearly all that is within its power, short of handing them the keys to the White House, to ensure that those monopolistic businesses continue garnering ever-greater profits and influence. 

No.  Ms. Bachmann was not entirely wrong in suggesting that the United States has begun to resemble a banana republic.  Where she was wrong was in attempting to suggest that blame for such an ignanimous description of our nation be blamed on the current administration.  Like it or not, America did not reach the conditions in which we find it today in just the last 2+ years.  America today is the result of decades of "Trickle Down Economics," a political party that is hell-bent on making sure the U.S. has only two economic classes (the wealthy and their servants), and an electorate that has seen its influence over elections and policy continually diluted, wittled away, and in some instances, largely co-opted or done away with altogether. 

And what is probably the most ironic thing about Ms. Bachmann's appearance, past statements, and even her current candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, is her hubris-laden suggestion that she, and she alone, is the person best equipped to "bring America back."  If it wasn't for the fact that she hopes to run for President, the most powerful individual on the surface of the planet, her determination and steadfastness in the face of scathing dismissals as being 'irrelevant' or 'poorly informed' would almost be admirable.  Almost.  Instead, her laser-like focus on the Presidency, and her almost rabid belief that she knows the cures for all the nation's ills, is fairly frightening. 

As if the threat of the United States possibly being "Newt"-ered isn't enough to cause someone to contemplate a renewed faith in a higher power and the hope for deliverance from bombastic inanity, the haunting specter, and spectacle, that would be a "Bachmann Presidency" is reason enough to question how in Hell does someone of, at times, marginal intelligence and unchecked bravado and braggadocio find themself being a contender for the nomination to run for the Presidency on behalf of the Republican Party?  America has always been proud to promote itself as the "land of opportunity."  Where anyone can, with enough hard work and determination, reach untold heights of personal and professional success if they so choose.  But when the Michelle Bachmann's of the world come even THIS close to the "levers of power," we need to rethink how such a bizarre concurrence of events could have happened.  And strive to make sure that this particular bolt of lightening does NOT strike twice.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Majority Of Voters Support Protections For Gay Workers

By On Top Magazine Staff
Published: December 13, 2011
A survey released Friday found a vast majority of voters support protections for gay workers.
The poll released by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in partnership with Greenberg Quinlan Research found that 77 percent of voters support protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment.
“Indeed, support for anti-discrimination laws and policies are so non-controversial that overwhelming majorities of Republicans, conservatives and observant Christians support them as well,” the report's authors wrote.
Seventy percent of Republicans and sixty-seven percent of conservatives support such protections.
The poll also found that a large majority (87%) of respondents believe it is illegal under federal law to fire someone for his or her sexual orientation, while 78 percent believe it is illegal under state law.
The poll demonstrates strong support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a proposed federal bill that would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 (except the 109th; 2005-2007).
Pollsters surveyed 800 likely voters between November 9 and 13. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percentage points.

Friday, December 9, 2011

That Gay Marriage Thing ... It's Bad, Right? Right?! Apparently Not!

Gay Marriage Has Boosted Iowa’s Economy, Study Concludes

The legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa has provided an ecnomic boost to the state, according to a new study by UCLA.
The study was released by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law which focuses on sexual orientation and public policy. It found that since Iowa extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2009, the resulting spending on wedding arrangements and tourism provided an additional $12 to $13 million to the state and local economy.
The institute estimated that gay marriages have likely added between $858,000 and $930,000 in tax revenue to the state.
The release of the report, titled “Estimating the Economic Boost of Marriage Equality in Iowa: Sales Tax,” comes just weeks before the Iowa caucus, the first of the Republican presidential nominating votes.
None of the eight individuals currently running for president, including Barack Obama, have explicitly expressed support for gay marriage, but there is a strong opposition to the idea within the Republican Party.
Five of the seven candidates currently seeking the GOP nomination have come out in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Four of the candidates – Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum – have signed a pledge sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage promising their support for the federal ban.
Only Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman have said that they would not support such an amendment. Paul believes that marriage is a private matter and that the government should have no involvement. Huntsman says that while traditional marriage should be between a man and a woman, he does support civil unions for same sex couples.
Timothy Hagle, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, predicts that because the party is relatively united on the issue, this study won’t likely be a factor in the caucus outcome.
“It really shouldn’t effect what’s going on in this race because it’s not something that particularly divides the Republicans,” Hagle said.
Lee Badgett, one of the authors of the study, tells ABC News that timing of the studies release is a coincidence.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Are We There Yet?

As if the Republican presidential nomination contest wasn't in enough of a muddle, now rumors are running rampant that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is re-considering his reconsideration of his consideration about whether or not to throw his hat into the ring.  Honestly, any normal person would be embarassed by the attention being fauned onto the man!  Should voters be troubled that he's not?  That, despite his repeated protestations that he was NOT going to run for president, he does nothing to actually tamp-down the rhetoric surrounding his 'flirting' with a presidential bid.  In fact, the way he's been jet-setting around the country the last few months, if one didn't know better they could easily assume that he is, in fact, running for the nomination and the presidency itself. 

Despite the dearth of amusing missteps, episodes of epic foot-in-mouth disease, and general hilarity that oft-times arises when a bunch of grown adults run-around acting like so many 10-year olds, that the contest for the Republican presidential nomination continues to drag-on without any clear frontrunner coming to the fore should be and indication to those on the Right that they should perhaps do some serious party-wide soul searching about their true motives behind their drive to the 2012 election.  If only ...

No doubt if Republican party members did consider their respective and collective situations they would come to a few sad (some could even say almost pathetic) realizations.  First among them being that they seem to have misplaced the 'soul' of the party.  Granted, amorphous non-tangible entities do not possess the ability to have an actual 'soul'.  In this circumstance references to a political parties' 'soul' describes those key principles upon which all that they do is based.  If asked there's no doubt that many members of the party would spout the standard party "talking points" of their being 'for' lower taxes, smaller government, strong national security and continuing to secure our civil rights and personal freedoms and liberties.  But how exactly does such a laundry list actually address the issues our nation and its citizens face today?  They largely don't.  Therein lies the second problem Republicans would realize should they embark upon their spiritual stock-taking.

Unemployment continues to hover around 9% (although the 'actual' unemployment figures are north of 15%).  Economic growth is anemic, at best.  The U.S. is STILL embroiled in two major conflicts, in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively.  Natural disasters (which have only strengthened the resolve of those professing the woes of climate change) have seemingly run amok across the country, sowing widespread death, injury and immense property damage and general devastation.  Now, how do the Republican "talking points" address those issues?  Well, in a word, they DON'T. 

Lower (or no, if they had their way) taxes is a nice thought.  And sadly, under the guidance (if we want to hazard calling his leadership 'guidance') of the Bush Administration the U.S. currently has the lowest overall tax rates since the 1940's.  The premise behind W's lowering of taxes was that doing so is the right thing to do because that money belongs to the American people, along with the notion that a lower tax rate will promote and support economic growth.  Apparently the economic 'gods' (and no, I'm not talking about former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan) weren't paying enough attention to the Bush years, because not only was economic growth lackluster during Bush's tenure, but family incomes fell and prices began to climb.  No less than David Stockman, the guru President Reagan put in-charge of slashing tax rates in the 1980's, has come-out describing how the Bush economic policies not only embraced bad or failed policies of previous administrations (including Democrats), but they essentially doubled-down on them.  Couple those tax cuts with a spending orgy the likes we've not seen since, well, the Reagan era actually, and you have federal budget deficits that now threaten the economic stability of the entire planet!

Now, reducing tax rates is a sure-fire "winner" for many voters.  Particularly those on the Right who have long believed that taxes, in and of themselves, are the root of all evil.  And reducing taxes would be fine if the general condition of our society was A-OK.  But one only needs to walk out the front door of their homes to know that such is not the case.  In fact, there are a variety of segments of our society that are facing such a depletion of resources that this country is, in many respects, going backward!  For example, our national infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, electrical grid, etc. ... the stuff we all use in one way or another every single day, period) has earned a grade of "D" from a national association of civil engineers.  Take a drive in any city, county or state and you're guaranteed to be subjected to an ever-increasing assault wrought by driving over/into/around potholes, dips and bulges in roadways, sagging and crumbling bridges, and unabated traffic congestion that shows no hope of diminishing in the near or far future. 

Add to the problems that our fairly pathetic infrastructure provides us the fact that our society has a whole host of "ills" and "woes" that are best (and in some situations can only be) addressed on a national level, and it doesn't take long before any sane person realizes that not only do we need to fully fund current federal government programs and policies, but we actually need to see some respectable increases in some funding areas. 
Every major, respected economist has loudly proclaimed that the U.S. federal government must increase revenues (aka, taxes ... please, don't gasp ... I actually said 'more taxes) in order to begin bringing its fiscal 'house' into order.  And while many on the Right continue to suggest that increasing tax rates would spell certain doom for our struggling economy, the fact that throughout the 1950s the top tax rate was in excess of 90% and the country experienced its longest period of sustained economic growth and genuine general prosperity for the majority of Americans in its history illustrates the falsehood of their rhetoric. 

The Right also beats the ol' "smaller government" drum like they're a stoned rock musician: oblivious to their surroundings and the consequences of their actions, but playing away just the same.  But let's look at the notion of 'smaller government' honestly and realistically.  The only way to have smaller government is for government to stop doing something it's currently doing.  Fine.  So, what should stopped?  Well, typically high on the Republican wish list of program repeals or elimination are doing away with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Dept. of Education, and the Dept. of Energy, to name a few.  Are these people high?!  What planet are they living on?!  Did they miss the colossal cluster you-know-what that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico last summer?!  It's a fairly reasonable conclusion to make that the Deep Horizon oil spill occurred primarily due to a serious LACK of appropriate regulation of the oil industry.  And they want to not only do away with the regulations the agency imposes and enforces, but they want to do away with the entire agency itself!!  So, what are they thinking?  That as the rules on safe and sensible conduct in the workplace go by the wayside that Corporate America is going to willingly "step into the breach" and self-police itself as well or better than the government did, does or ever will do?!  Once again, consider the Deepwater Horizon disaster ... which came-about largely because when it came to deep-water drilling for oil and natural gas, the industry was its own overseers.  Anyone heard of "putting the fox in charge of the hen house?" 

But that's not all!  As recent as this last week news reports have covered how more voluntary recalls by food processors/producers were underway because of fears of possible listeria and e coli contamination.  Consider what that means: despite the fact that food industry supporters believe they are over-regulated, foodstuffs continue to be contaminated in the plants that produce them and/or when they are enroute to food outlets and grocery stores.  So, in response to a marked increase in the number of reported food contamination cases (and the resultant illnesses and even deaths that have occurred), Republicans want to reduce or eliminate the regulation on the food industry!  That would be fine if we all still lived on farms and owned enough land and livestock with which to feed ourselves and our families.  But the reality is, at every turn possible Corporate America continues to remind us that they are not only unable, but are simply unwilling, to adequately monitor their own behavior and thus provide goods and services that are safe to use and are of reasonably good quality. 

And as if those weren't example enough of they kind of irresponsible and just plain ignorant governance (or the sad semblance thereof) that today's Republican party is trumpeting, they are adamantly opposed to there being any reasonable and rational reduction in the amount this nation spends for national defense.  It's not enough that the U.S. spends more for defense than what, altogether, every other industrialized country spends.  It's not enough that the federal defense budget has grown from under $300 billion when W took office to more than $700 billion for fiscal 2012!  It's not enough that while our nation faces real economic uncertainty, we have Republican members of Congress who are out actively trying to drum-up even more conflicts in which we should become involved!  There is nothing wrong with a strong national defense.  And as the world's sole remaining true military superpower, the U.S. does have some moral responsibility to use its political, economic and military influence in an effort to improve the lives of Americans AND the citizens of the world.  But that doesn't mean we should be expected to be, or pay for being, the world's police force!   Want an example of the Bizarro-World thinking of some when it comes to national defense?  The Defense Department wishes to build a new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, with which it will anchor a new carrier battle group.  Price tag for the carrier?  $9 billion!  Price tag for the battle group (which includes the various cruisers, destroyers, submarines and maintenance and replenishment craft needed to service a carrier and its attendant escorts)?  $20 billion!  And guess where this particular battle group is intended to serve?  The Caribbean and South Atlantic!  Has anyone else been made aware of a growing threat to U.S. sovereignty and security from South America?  Are we facing the threat of a penguin invasion from Antartica?!  Get serious!

And finally, Republicans like to suggest that they are the champion of personal freedoms and liberties.  That's a nice sentiment.  Unfortunately, when considering Republican past performance on the issues of civil rights and personal freedoms and liberties, reality is a real bitch.  Not only has the "Party of Lincoln" actively strived to add blatant discrimination against a select group of Americans into the U.S. Constitution.  Their latest moves in support of our freedoms and liberties include a whole host of legislative initiatives across the country that seek to make voting more difficult, in general, and almost impossible for some potential voters who belong to the disenfranchised and/or poor.  America's 20th century saw the end of literacy tests and poll taxes that were once a part of citizens trying to exercise their right to vote.  The Voting Rights Act of the 1960's sought to put an official end to voter discrimination on the basis of race.  And yet, 2011 heralds in a new era of stringent voting laws and regulations that do nothing to significantly improve voter participation.  Nor do the various proprosed laws/regulations do much (if anything) to reduce voter fraud (which is largely non-existent in the first place). 

In 2008 when Barack Obama was sworn-in as President of the United States the Republican members of Congress, almost unanimously, declared that it was their sole mission-in-life to see that our first African-American president serve only one term: that they were going to do anything and everything (and they have, too!) to ensure that he would not win re-election.  Despite the President doing everything short of changing his party affiliation to Republican, and despite the fact that the U.S. is saddled with incredibly difficult challenges, the Republican members of Congress continue to refuse to act in any rational, reasonable or responsible manner when it comes to actually striving to govern, and improve, the United States. 

If Republicans wish to put-forth a presidential candidate who carries with them a genuine desire to make things better for all Americans, the country (and the world) is ready and waiting.  Who thinks they will step-up and meet that challenge? 

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Boo"r-ish Behavior

The third nationally-televised Republican presidential primary candidates' debate gave viewers another in what is becoming a rather embarrassing (or at least those guilty of committing the faux pas should have the sense to be embarrassed of and for themselves) litany of offensive reactions to questions offered to or comments given by the candidates in-attendance.  When a gay U.S. Army servicemember asked in his YouTube question of the candidates whether they would attempt to circumvent the progress made in gay rights, epitomized most recently by the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", shouts of "Boo!" were heard emanating from the attending audience.  And while those audience members called-out their derision for the gay man who had the courage to put voice to his concerns, the candidates on the stage stood silent.  They not only did not rebuke the disrespect those audience members showed toward someone who is currently serving in the United States armed forces; their silence, to coin an old phrase, "was deafening."  They essentially gave license to anyone who wished to condemn and ostracize an American if they are gay.  Such behavior is not only offensive, but it is beneath what this nation is supposed to be all about.

Political candidates have an opportunity throughout a campaign, and then later while serving should they win their campaign, to define the moral character that they embody.  It gives potential voters a chance to see/hear what ideals and principles are important to the candidates.  Often times current events helps to shape what 'ideals and principles' are at the heart of voters' consciousness.  The fairly protracted legislative repeal of the federal government's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (allowing gay servicemembers to serve in the U.S. armed forces openly and honestly), and the official recission of that policy from the respect codes of conduct of the various armed forces, thrust the issue of gay rights and gay men and women serving in the armed forces into the forefront of the ongoing political debate.  And such moments provide candidates with a perfect opportunity to portray themselves someone who does not side with those who would choose to discriminate against gay Americans.  Instead, the entire cadre of candidates stood mum; looking like the perverbal "cat that ate the canary." 

And if there was any doubt about how many Republican voters feel about gays in general, Rick Santorum gave voice to their despicable moral stance by declaring that he would not attempt to "get around" the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; he would reinstate the policy.  He doesn't feel that the U.S. armed forces is the place for any sort of discussion or recognition of sexual orientation/intimacy.  An opinion that is obviously out-of-touch with reality.  If our armed forces was such a paragon of non-sexual virtue, then we wouldn't have experienced the "Tailhook" scandal of the latter part of the 20th century.  We wouldn't have servicemembers reporting all manner of sexual assaults, rapes and molestations committed upon their persons by their fellow soldiers; they wouldn't exist is such a sex/sexuality-free vacuum. 

Let's face it.  There are some Americans who simply do not like homosexuals.  Period.  In fact, many of those same Americans feels so strongly in their dislike of gays that they would support the forced removal of them from American society.  That's fine.  While many would agree with the premise that discrimination against gays is simply wrong, noone is suggesting that Americans shouldn't be allowed to believe whatever they wish to.  But the right to think that homosexuality is some sort of corruption visited upon human society has not, does not and should never give anyone reason to believe that it is appropriate to actively publicly discriminate against gay men and women. 

It's safe to say that noone thought that the contest among Republican presidential candidates wannabe's would produce some stalwart defender of acceptance, tolerance and equality.  Americans aren't quite that naive.  But I do believe that most Americans would hope that those individuals who feel they are, for some reason, qualified to be the leader of the free world, would demonstrate the very best of our those very American ideals of acceptance, tolerance and equality. 

I don't think any American is expecting any sort of miracles to come about from the Republican debates.  I don't think most Americans expect much of anything from the debates, other than perhaps a certain measure of amusement and macabre entertainment.  I do think most Americans want our President, whoever he or she might be, to be someone they can be proud of when standing on the world stage.  Who could be proud of the shameful display we witnessed last night?  Not I. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

But Seriously ...

The American voting public had another opportunity to view the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination in a nationally-televised debate, as they responded to a variety of questions posed to them by what the majority of those same candidates believe to be two major players of the "lame-stream media."  In fact, in a rare display of Republican solidarity former Speaker of the House Nute Gingrinch took it upon himself to chastise the debate moderators for attempting to pit the present candidates against one another. 

Apparently the former Speaker fails to understand and/or appreciate the simple fact that he and his fellow candidates are attempting to secure the Republican presidential nomination; differences between the various candidates is primarily what will influence voters to make a choice for the respective candidate that they choose to support.  Without there being some sort of "winnowing of the chaff," so to speak, it's difficult to understand how voters will differeniate between the candidates.  Whether the former Speaker likes to admit it or not, not all of the candidates on the stage this evening will be able to run for and possibly win the presidency.  And even the least educated American understands that only one person takes the oath of office come January 2013. 

but, let's set Mr. Gingrinch' opinions to the side for the moment.  It seems apropos to consider some of the "highlights" (although the reality of what was said in many respects would be more aptly deemed to be 'lowlights') of the debate. 

In much of the network punditry that followed the debate much of the discussion centered on who won.  A loose concensus seemed to agree that Rick Perry, the current Governor of Texas and the latest entrant into the contest, had the most to prove during this debate.  He also had the most, potentially, to lose, in that many potential Republican voters no doubt sought to make an initial judgement on whether or not his candidacy is real and viable.  He did not disappoint his supporters; he stuck to all of the rhetoric on which he has thus far based his entire political life and success.  That's all well and good.  Unfortunately for Mr. Perry, the people who are most likely to support him as the Republican candidate for President are not the only people expected to cast a vote in November 2012.  While Perry's 'stick-to-it-ed-ness' to what he has said in the past (not really something that should be a challenge to most sane, reasonably intelligent people) is seen and believed to be laudable in the eyes of some, his almost-rote reiteration of the uber-partisan, myopic views that have been the foundation of his tenure as Texas' governor (and what he feels qualifies him to run the entire country) do little to calm the fears that many have that Perry is just another wingnut from the Tea Party.  If anything, Perry's performance solidified his position as the most viable Republican candidate that has also essentially fully embraced the agenda of the Tea Party movement.

Governor Perry seems to believe that the majority of programs that are currently the purview of the federal government would be better created, instituted and managed at the state-level.  In some situations that may well be true.  Medicaid is actually one instance where states do manage to fairly effectively provide health insurance coverage to the poor and disadvantaged in their respective locales.  Admittedly, the money for the program is provided to the states by the federal government.  But the states themselves are responsible for administering the program and actually delivering the services expected to those who qualify for them.  But it would be a mistake to think that for some reason the states' success at administering Medicaid would similarly translate to their being able to adequately create, fund, administer and maintain all of the various programs and policies that the federal government is currently responsible for. 

Similarly, if voters are to believe Michele Bachman, if the Environmental Protection Agency was abolished we would immediately see gasoline selling for less than $2.00 per gallon.  Of course, she does not illuminate the reality of what our environment might be like if no standardized environmental regulation existed.  In fact, in a demonstration of just how unrealistic her positions are, Bachman has gone on the record stating she feels it would be "just fine" if oil companies were allowed to drill for oil in the middle and throughout the entire Florida Everglades.  Not to completely ignore how many voters might be a bit concerned about there being unregulated oil production in the Everglades, Bachman offered a fairly anemic reassurance that such production would be done in an "environmentally responsible" manner.  She, like the overwhelming majority of the other Republican presidential candidates, believes that if the oil companies were relieved of having to abide by federal environmental regulations that they, themselves (the oil companies), would be able to better manage and protect the environment than the EPA does today.  Perhaps Ms. Bachman might want to review the historical record on how, despite the fact that regulation does currently exist, tar balls continue to wash-up on the respective shores of the Gulf states, all largely the result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil production debacle.  If such a horrific calamity can occur despite there being, according to the Minnesota Republican, too much oppressive regulation, imagine how well (or not) the environment will fair with little or no regulation?  In one of the more ironic realities on this particular topic, one of the most specific reasons why the explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is because George W. Bush-era EPA rules allowed the oil companies to be responsible for the safety of their own operations. 

Former Utah Governor John Huntsman provided the most reasoned, sane-sounding performance in tonight's debate.  Unfortunately, his rather staid and unremarkable performance will not result in his receiving any significant bump in popularity.  His appearing to be of above-average intelligence does not provide him any great advantage over the other candidates.  As President Obama has learned, being and acting intelligent provides little (or no) currency with many American voters.  The fact that the Republican front-runner was a C student in college is a pretty clear indication that many voters are more interested in whether or not a candidate "looks" or "acts" "presidential", as opposed to whether or not they have more than a couple of brain cells to rub together.  It's difficult to pin-down exactly when it became a "bad thing" to be smart and run for president.  But it certainly seems that the candidate that least exudes intelligence, best displays bravado and hubris, is at a clear advantage.

If voters take anything from tonight's debate, it should be that the overwhelming majority of the Republican presidential candidates are spectacular examples of hypocrisy, ignorance and just plain meanness.  If what was 'on display' tonight is supposed to be the Republican savior of the American Dream, this country is in some real trouble. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tell Me It Isn't So!

As our nation continues to be gripped in the throes of fairly daunting economic data, it is responsible to consider the ways in which our elected representatives, senators and the President have chosen, and may choose in the future, how to address the rather unattractive numbers we are constantly inundated with about unemployment, the stagnation of America's economic growth, and others.  At first blush we see one party, largely represented by the Democrats, made-up of self-professed liberals and those who have taken-on the newest moniker to grace the Left, the Progressives.  Democrats have historically favored the "downtrodden" and less-fortunate in our society.  Democrats have historically been supportive of labor rights movements that provide a stronger, collective voice to American workers.  Democrats have history been a champion of senior citizens and the disabled.  Now, despite the fact that Democrats are also historically displayed a surprising ineptness at promoting the messages and causes that they celebrate and strive to improve, they continue to be in the corner of "the average American."  Some would most likely argue that fact.  But, when all else fails, we can find some comfort in the notion that, traditionally, the facts don't lie.  And the facts are such, that other than a rather bizarre embracing of some individuals and businesses associated with Wall Street (bizarre only because it has not been quite as "out in the open" as it has in recent years), Democrats continue to be the political party in the United States that believes that all Americans not only have a right to succeed and the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"; Democrats also continue to believe that if you are one of those who fall on difficult times (whatever the cause), or are simply not made to be wealthy (for any number of reasons, the most of which those same individuals have little ability to influence, if truth be told), then you deserve to find comfort in the fact that you will, at the very least, be able to achieve a relatively reasonable and safe quality of life ... even if that should mean that your government ... I'm thinking in terms of both state and federal entities here ... steps in to lend a hand. 

And then there is the other side; the Republicans.  It used to be that for one to profess (or, as some would prefer to suggest, confess) to be a Republican was a badge worn proudly.  Republicans are, thanks to history, "the Party of Lincoln."  Republicans have also been long-associated with a stron national defense (even while they have long liked to suggest noone else is quite as capable of defending this nation besides themselves ... ignoring, obviously, the contributions to the "American way of life" that were courtesy of that Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt).  And the Republicans have also been, at least somewhat (moreso "somewhat" in the past than can be said of the more recent decades) aligned with "big business."  The last point being largely due to that party's new-found championing of low tax rates for businesses and corporations.  I say new-found primarily based on the notion that the first true fiscal conservative was Thomas Jefferson ... a well-known and often villified and praised (in the same speech more times than one wants to admit) individual more closely associated with the Democratic party.  Alas, being a member of "the party of Lincoln" rings a bit more hollow than it might have in the decades after the Civil War (and prior to the reforms created by the Civil Rights and Great Society legislation brought-about by then-President Lyndon Johnson, in the mid- to late-1960s).  During those first tulmultuous years after the "War Between the States," Republicans could (and sometimes even did) proudly trumpet the fact that their former party member ... the 16th President of the United States ... provided the pathway for equality of all Americans, and the ending of the practice of human bondage (aka. Slavery).  And many Republicans still today like to promote their belonging to that august political party that ended the tragedy that was succession and brought-about the demise of one of the most cruel and inhumane practices to ever exist on the planet.  Unfortunately, in an era where no truer words were spoken when one says that "actions speak louder than words," Republicans today fall woefully short of the standard passed to them by President Lincoln. 

What is most disheartening about the shift in Republican 'politics' (as it were) is the fact that I actually know (and have known in the past) a number of people who identify themselves as Republicans.  And yet, when I consider what today's Republican party stands for, I ask myself, "How is that these good and decent people that I know ... how can they be a part of this political party ... the Republicans?!"  The Republicans I personally know do not believe that government is, in and of itself, inherently evil; that there are some things which government can and should do.  The Republicans I have befriended in the past and those I know today do not act as though they wish to make things like food, a home, and healthcare available to only those who can afford it.  The Republicans I know do not believe that corporations should be in-charge of our local, state or national elections; rather, they have long-championed civic involvement and the importance of every eligible person expressing their right to vote.  Those same Republicans do not think it reasonable, fair or responsible to, therefore, create some seemingly benign yet malignant litmus test for would-be voters by imposing a "photo I.D." requirement that prevents anyone without one (a photo I.D.) from voting.  And the Republicans I call "my friend" do not believe it is appropriate, just or even moral to treat others as "less than" or as "sub-standard Americans" based on their race, gender, age or sexual orientation.  And like that relatively famous Oliver Wendell Holmes opined some years ago, those Republicans that I have and hope to care about and be cared for by, believe that a progressive income tax is the price that Americans should pay in order to be granted access to a free, fair and just society.  Yet, the Republican party of the 21st century has seemingly embraced many (if not all) of those very sad, in some respects inhuman, inhumane and despicable positions. 

I freely and openly admit to my having once belonged to the Republican Party.  In fact, I worked for President Reagan's campaign in 1980.  As a then-16 yr. old, I was enamored with Reagan's eloquence and his overt "Americanism."  At the time, of course, I was not able to participate in that years' election.  Just the same, I was ready, willing and able to spend many-an-hour promoting the "values" that he espoused.  And while in later years, after becoming better educated about the issues then (and now), I became seriously and severely dispirited with the Republican party after reaching an understanding of how then-President Reagan introduced a number of things into our 'national discourse' by way of public policies and programs that today are resulting in horrific consequences, I still believe that at that time ... in the late- 1970s and early 1980s ... Reagan gave our nation a psychological "boost" that was sorely needed. 

Despite the fact that today's Republicans like to parade their "Reagan Republican" credentials, they are little like the former President in many ways.  It's true that Reagan slashed income tax rates.  It's true that Reagan spent hundreds of billions on defense, increasing defense spending exponentially, at a period in our nation's history when we weren't engaged in any major conflicts.  But yet, President Reagan was willing and able to do those things while also agreeing to modifications to Social Security that provided that program with sustained viability for decades.  He didn't believe that Social Security, in and of itself, was inherently evil.  In fact, he embraced the notion that American needed some sort of "social safety net" that would provide aid to those who find themselves unable to provide for themselves and/or their families.  And probably the most glaring difference between President Reagan and today's 'version' of "a Republican" is that he was ready, willing and able to compromise with those politicians who were from the other party (or parties). 

I know the Republicans that I have called "my friend" or who are (or were, in the case of those who have passed-on) members of my family.  Those persons are friends of mine (or family).  And today's Republicans are no "Reagan Republicans."  And I find it really hard to believe that the majority of Americans truly, honestly and deeply believe-in some of the sorts of changes that today's Republicans have suggested that they would like to make.     

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's the Economy, Stupid! Or ... Why Another "Stimulus" is Our Only Hope

The oft-used phrase that was coined during past presidential elections in an attempt to signify a disconnect between candidates and the issues facing the nation (at the time .. and ironically again today) is painfully apropos today as Wall Street continues to stumble following Standard & Poor's downgrading of the debt of the U.S. federal government.  In what has become a fairly standard, and rather hackneyed, response to the U.S.' continued economic troubles, Republican members of Congress trumpeted the need to rein-in government spending.  That would be all well and good if a majority of government spending was made-up of 'discretionary' spending.  However, it's not.  And during a period of time when more-and-more Americans are being forced to seek-out government assistance of one kind or another, the already-proposed cuts to federal spending portends a rather dark period in our nation's not-too-distant future.  If one wants to hazard a guess as to how things will turn-out, should Republicans get their way and marshal through Congress even more drastic spending cuts, just look to the growing unrest and rioting that is taking place in England.  There is our "tomorrow" if we do not demand a halt to the ridiculous draconian cuts to federal government spending. 

It would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that I believe cutting any spending is wrong.  Despite some moderate "belt-tightening" that has taken place at the behest of President Obama, there remains areas in government spending where programs are duplicated, and where needless waste and inefficiency exist.  Continued pressure to root-out those instances and ending them is entirely appropriate.  However, in order to satisfy the need of some in Congress for even deeper cuts, it will mean slashing already-strained budgets at a variety of government agencies and departments.  Like clean water?  Enjoy going to the store and buying food that you can be relatively assured is not going to sicken or kill you?  Appreciate being able to drive on roads that don't threaten to rip the undercarriage of your vehicle out from under your driver's seat?  Too bad!  Because if the types of cuts Republicans would like to enact see the light of day, you won't be able to count on any of those things (and many others) that we've for so long taken for granted. 

One of the most important lessons members of Congress needs to learn from the debt downgrade is that attempting to balance the federal government's budget purely via cutting federal spending is neither reasonable nor rational.  It is going to take additional revenue to get the federal government's budget back under-control; period.  Don't like that?  Too bad!  It is time to wake-up, smell the coffee, put down that bong or whatever illegal substance that some members of Congress have obviously been partaking up to this point, and get the message; increased revenues, along with moderate belt-tightening by the federal government is the only way to solve the government debt issue.  Standard & Poor's telegraphed the possibility of additional downgrades of federal debt should Congress fail to adopt a more sensible fiscal policy.  And the fact that S&P's most recent downgrade came immediately on the heels of the Republican-led, Republican-caused and Republican-owned hubbub over raising the federal debt limit, which included nearly a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next ten years (and NO revenue increases) should be a big ol' wake-up call to those members of Congress that their proposed "solutions" are not want those in the debt-rating industry are looking for.

Why is that?  Namely, because they too can see the writing on the wall.  Our economy is faltering, even while we're in the midst of a relatively anemic recovery from "W's" recession.  And yet, despite the fact that economic growth has stagnated, many of the largest corporations in the U.S. (and internationally) are sitting on huge sums of unproductive cash reserves.  Fueled, in large-part, by the easy and cheap access to credit offered by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the laundry list of tax breaks, reductions and removals that have thus far been enacted in an attempt to jumpstart America's economic engine.  And one of the most sure-fired ways of causing an increase in tax revenues for the federal government is by way of improved economic performance by the nation as-a-whole.  Additionally, while those corporations are sitting on their large sums of cash, they've been allowed, again as a result of changes in tax policy in past and the current administrations to pay paltry percentages of those funds in the way of taxes. 

At this point in the game that is America's economy, we are in sad need of some significant growth in economic output.  Corporate America, despite their having the funds available with which they could spark increased and improved economic growth, has instead chosen to hold the American economy hostage, in exchange for a President that they believe would be more business-friendly.  So ... if the "free market" is not able or willing to spur economic growth, we only have the federal government left to turn-to.  Like it or not, this nation needs ... no, REQUIRES ... another economic stimulus.  Just about every noted and notable economist believed that the first stimulus of the Obama Administration was not nearly large enough.  And now we are reaping what was sown.  Unfortunately, not enough was sowed ... so our reaping is a bit grim. 

I have no doubt that if anyone should have the temerity (although I would liken it more to having courage) to suggest another stimulus, Republican and Tea Party members of Congress will portray it as Armaggedon.  What they fail to realize, understand or appreciate is that if our economy is not able to experience even moderate growth in the very near future, the country we will be living in come the 2012 presidential elections is going to look much different than it does today.  And I am fairly confident that between now and then, the American people will become well-acquainted with the destructive policies and programs that Republicans have thus far managed to foist onto the American people. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

"High Heels, and Make-up and Dress ... Oh My!!"

In California the issue of teen bullying has taken a bizarre and albeit tragic turn: 14-yr. old student Brandon McInerney shot and killed 15-yr. old student Larry King.  The shooting occurred one day after King reportedly, wearing make-up and high heels, walked back-and-forth in-front of McInerney (who was seated on a bench outside the two students' school) and hurled verbal taunts and insults at him.  Other students were apparently watching and laughing at the situation.  One witness, testifying at McInerney's first-degree murder trial for the death of King, stated that at the time of the taunting McInerney was seated on the bench "looking angry and upset ... I saw a lot of rage there."  Apparently, there was a lot of rage there, because the next day McInerney brought a gun to school, shooting and killing King. 

The attorney arguing McInerney's defense is portraying McInerney as an abused teen, who simply reached a breaking point.  Several witnesses at the trial testified as to how they had first-hand knowledge of the 15-yr. old teen (he was 14 at the time that he shot King) being physically and verbally abused by his father: including being punched, fingers/thumbs bent backwards until McInerney screamed in pain, even molestation by another relative.  It is entirely possible that due to the seemingly constant onslaught of abuse that McInerney was experiencing "at home," that the taunts of King pushed him past his breaking point.  Many, if not most people would agree that everyone is able to handle varying amounts of stress in their respective lives, but that they all have a "breaking point" ... a point where the stress becomes so overwhelming that the individual is no longer entirely aware of his/her actions, and will often engage in very uncharacteristic behavior.  Including, in some isolated incidents, someone hurts or kills another (and often times themselves).  It is truly a terrible situation; the sort and level of abuse that McInerney apparently suffered.  But should that be reason enough to acquit him of murdering 15-yr. old Larry King in cold blood?

Ironically, yet not-at-all surprising, there are many (including McInerney's defense attorney, apparently) who feel McInerney is a greater "victim" than the young man that he shot and killed.  Comments on the news story on several web sites are highlighted by a number who decry how "it's apparently O.K. to bully someone if you're gay."  Meaning, that if a person is gay it must be acceptable for them to bully other individuals.  If anyone wishes to look for ways in which the differences between society's 'tolerance' and acceptance' of gays exists, this story gives us a very stark, very clear example to learn from. 

Yes.  It was wrong that King taunting his fellow student.  The fact that he was wearing high heels and make-up is, in many respects, makes little or no difference when considering the reality that he was, apparently, bullying McInerney.  And King should have been stopped.  At least two school employees, one a teacher and another an administrator, viewed King's actions and did nothing.  And so McInerney 'snapped', got a gun, and came to school the next day, and shot and killed his bully. 

Society has begun what sometimes seems like an inexorably slow evolution in its' views towards gays and lesbians.  Issues like fair and equal employment and gay marriage have gained majority-approval in many nationwide polls over the past several months.  To some this gradual shift in behavior toward gays and lesbians could (and no doubt has) lead some to believe that the majority of Americans have come to "accept" gays and lesbians as "their equals."  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, if one were able to delve into the psyche's of many of those who participated in the various polls that have taken place, it would be learned that many of them do accept the fact that gays and lesbians exist; that their sexual orientation (like a person's race and gender) is something that they are born with, or that "comes naturally."  But there is a chasm-wide separation between accepting that a group of people 'exist' and accepting that those 'others' are the equals of all others within a society.  The comments about the aforementioned news story highlight exactly that point: in a tragic situation where one teenage student shot-and-killed another because of bullying, it isn't the dead teenager that many show concern for, but rather, the student that was being bullied and shot his fellow student. 

Last year the news media (coming late to the party as they are often want to do) began reporting on the increasing numbers of suicides of gay teens in the U.S.  And in recent years a number of states have enacted legislation that makes bullying in-school illegal.  And even more school districts across the country have anti-bullying policies that discipline those students caught engaged in bullying another student.  But what is being lost in the 'pity' being shown to McInerney for his being bullied is that, apparently, it is acceptable to many that the "gay kid" died.  Many gay teens, facing horrendous and horrific bullying at-school and abusive treatment by parents and siblings at-home, resort to suicide; either attempting or succeeding at rates several times greater than heterosexual teens.  And in the awful tragedy that occurred between King and McInerney, a gay student who may well have simply been turning the bullying back toward an individual who had been engaging in bullying himself, was shot and killed because he was acting "gay" and taunting McInerney.  But again ... it was the "gay kid" who died; it was the "gay kid" (apparently the way some see it) who was "in the wrong." 

Bullying is wrong; period.  King should have been stopped and disciplined by school officials.  Particularly in-light of the fact that school officials not only were aware that the bullying was occurring; they witnessed it first-hand!  But short of being threatened with serious and potentially fatal physical harm by another, killing the 'bully' should never be seen as "acceptable."  What would society say if a gay teen who was being subjected to taunts and bullying by other students decided the next day to find his/her tormentors and kill them?  I can tell you: put him/her in jail!  That's what would be the reaction of "society."  And that should be the reaction of society in this case too.  We should never allow anyone to "get away with" taking the life of another when an imminent threat of physical harm or death did not exist.  And the fact that many who have commented on the news story, crying "poor little McInerney ... he was being teased", feel that he was the real "victim" in this situation, is a clear indication that gays and lesbians still, despite the many positive steps forward in equality for the LGBT community, are not thought-of as being "the same" or "equal" to society in-general.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"We Put the "H" in Hypocrisy!"

And apparently, they're proud of it!  The "They" I'm referring to are House and Senate Republicans in Washington, D.C., who did not shy away from admitting that the forced furlough of some 74,000 workers (those employed by the FAA directly, and construction workers contracted for airport construction projects) was simply a 'means to an end.'  The 'end' that they are hoping for is the inclusion of an amendment to a recently offered FAA funding bill that would negate a Senate-passed amendment that would make union organizing only marginally easier for workers in the airline industry.  As the rules stand now, when workers at a business votes on union organization, those workers who do not vote (for whatever reason-perhaps they're on vacation or ill or something more inane) have their votes automatically entered into the official tally as a 'no' vote.  The Senate, in its version of the FAA funding bill, adopted an amendment that would only require a majority of those workers who actually vote to gain the opportunity for union organization in that workplace.  Apparently, Delta Airlines, the only major U.S. air carrier not unionized, objected to Congress making it easier ... in any way, shape or form ... for its workers to organize and join a union.  So, with seemingly endless hours of lobbying of Republican members of Congress (particularly the House) by Delta and its 'hired guns' (aka. lobbyists), the Republican chair of the House Transportation Committee inserted an amendment in the House version of the bill to strip the Senate amendment. 

Now, when the two chambers of Congress are considering similar pieces of legislation, their individual efforts (once passed by each respective body) are then forwarded to a 'conference committee', wherein the differences between the two bills are, theorectically, ironed-out.  Thus paving the way to final passage and the subsequent signature or veto of the President.  In this instance, the conference process did not manage a 'compromise.'  Of course, that may well be due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress have made it their mission to deny, avoid, or outright torpedo any attempts at any sort of compromise that might be made to look like Democrats, and the President in particular, were victorious.  Republicans seem hell-bent on insuring that Democrats are 'losers', no matter the piece of legislation that moves through Congress.  Unfortunately, while Democrats have taken a beating, no doubt, the American people are the ones who, in this latest instance and so many others, are bearing the ugly brunt of the stick that Congressional Republicans are wielding. 

As a result of the hamstrung FAA funding bill, the agency, which as you might have guessed it, is in-charge of nearly every aspect of air travel in this country, was forced to furlough 4,000 FAA employees who serve in positions besides those which have to deal directly with air safety.  Along with those FAA employees, roughly 70,000 construction workers, hired by the federal government for a whole host of airport construction projects all over the country, have been told to "stay home until further notice."  So ... let me get this straight.  The people who have been suggesting since Day One of President Obama's administration that Americans need jobs, is admittedly stonewalling the FAA funding bill, which, as already mentioned, is putting 74,000 Americans on a forced furlough.  Now, I'm no member of Congress.  But that doesn't sound like a job-creating ... or even job-sustaining ... proposition to me. 

As if that little 'nugget' of sunshine wasn't enough to send millions of Americans to scratching their heads and asking, "WFT?!"  Because this particular FAA funding stream was allowed to lapse, the airlines are no longer collected the "ticket tax" that basically funds the FAA.  That little 'raincloud' is going to cost the federal government and American taxpayers $200 million a WEEK!  Or ... if we assume that this issue will not be settled until Congress reconvenes after Labor Day, it will suck over $1.2 billion from the government coffers. 

Rank hypocrisy is not new to Washington, D.C.  It has been around, in some measure, since the founding of this nation.  There have always been politicians who have been elected (by a deceived electorate one hopes), only to go to Washington and promote legislative policies that fail, both in concept and in practice, to improve the lives of the American people.  And while instances of rank hypocrisy have occurred, they would usually trend toward more isolated issues that didn't effect entire segments of our society.  No in this case.  In this instance Republicans have made the conscious decision to champion legislative action (or inaction might be the better word to use here) that not only flies in the face of their jobs-centric position, but actively, willingly and knowingly harms tens of thousands of Americans and their families. 

You know Republicans have "crossed the Rubicon" of common sense and fair play when a Republican member of the Obama administration, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, takes to the White House press podium and calls on Congress to return to Washington and pass this funding bill.  If only Mr. LaHood's words would be enough. 

Perhaps it is time for the President to consider calling for an emergency session of Congress?  The Office of the President has that authority; to call members of Congress to Washington and require it to go into session.  Granted, doing so would no doubt impose on the self-awarded "August Recess" (aka. vacation) that Congress has given itself.  And I'm sure that more than a few members would be a little miffed.  So what?!  Then they should have done their jobs when they were in-town! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Inmates are Running the Asylum

Well ... our nation has avoided the "debt default" debacle that was created entirely by our members of Congress.  I suppose we should all share in a collective "sigh" of relief.  Admittedly, avoiding default on U.S. Treasury bond payments (those bonds being what is 'sold' in order to raise 'cash' that the federal government can then use to pay its bills) is a good thing.  A very good thing, in fact.  Credit markets froze-up fairly significantly as a result of the implosion of our nation's banking industry in 2007.  That would be a "blip on the radar" compared to what a default on U.S. Treasury bonds would have meant for this country.  And the world would feel its horrendous effects as well.  So ... it's a good thing, in theory, that we've avoided default.  Unfortunately, our collective relief essentially gives Congress a 'pass' on their considering how and/or why the debate over raising the debt ceiling took place in the first place. 

Be that as it may, Congress and the President have told us that it's time to "Move on."  Fine.  Let's move on.  The next step in this fairly ugly spectacle will come in September when Congress puts together its' "Super Committee," which is supposed to find another $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.  Of course, the American people are clamoring, and rightfully so, for the government to get more involved on the issue of job creation.  But wait ... Congress just passed a law which cuts (assuming the "Super Committee" does its' job) trillions of dollars from the federal budget.  How exactly is the federal government going to do much of anything with regard to job creation?  They're not.  That's how. 

But why not?!  Because ... simply put ... they've managed to allow themselves to be boxed into a corner that they're not willing to work themselves (and the nation) out of.  About the only way the federal government can actually "create" jobs is to fund some significant research and development in a whole number of sectors, along with funding some real infrastructure repair, improvement and creation.  But the only way that the government will have the funds necessary to pay for such a plan, it would mean having to cut an equal amount of already-existing spending, or raising "revenues" (aka. taxes).  Or doing some of both.  That's all well and good.  But there is noone in Congress who is willing to put forth and champion a plan like that. 

If nothing else comes of this most recent demonstration of the political dysfunctionalism of the U.S. Congress, it is my fervent wish that the American people understand and appreciate that there were (and still are) some members of Congress (heedlessly prodded by special interest groups) who were perfectly willing to subject the American people to a horrendous economic calamity ... all for the purpose of partisan politics.  Dress it up any way you'd like, but the debate over raising the debt ceiling was a false debate from the moment it began.  And the fact that Congress allowed the American economy to be held hostage by this small segment of American politics is purely an abdication of every principle that a member of Congress should embrace and demonstrate. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Absurdity Run Amok

It appears that the heavily-contested debate over the raising of the federal government's borrowing limit is near an end.  At the time of the writing of this post, influential members of all sides of the "debt ceiling" debate have cobbled together a 'compromise' that would, in theory, cut over $2 trillion from the federal government's budget, while allowing an increase of the national 'debt limit' of approximately $900 billion.  This legislation would, in turn, allow the federal government to sell sufficient Treasury bonds to raise the funds necessary to pay the bills of the federal government.  That's a good thing.  Right?  Not necessarily.

So ... why isn't this a good thing?  The primary reason that this, or any similarly constructed 'compromise', is not a "good thing" is because the basic elements of the debate are, in effect, simply not true.  What are the 'false' elements of the debate?  The biggest "lie" that has been trotted-out by some is that the federal government has a "spending problem."  Does the federal government spend a lot of money?  Hell yes, it does!  Over $3 trillion this year alone.  But when one considers that the federal government of the United States is charged with providing for the "general welfare" and "common defense" of the American people (all 300+ million of them), as well as provide the underlying foundation by which those things are able to take place (including the regulation of a $14+ trillion national economy), it's no wonder ... in fact, it's fairly reasonable ... that the federal government spends a great deal of money.  Despite the fact that many on the Republican side blanche at the mere thought that 'government' could actually do something beneficial for its citizens, much of why the United States continues to boast one of the most advanced, most affluent societies on this planet is because of our government. 

If we would take, at face value, the arguments offered by Conservatives ... that government is too big, that Americans are "over-taxed", and that American business is "over-regulated" ... we are supposed to believe that if American businesses, if allowed to operate completely free of any government oversight or regulation, would essentially cure all of the ills that this nation and its citizens face.  Sure.  And if you believe that, you're more foolish and deluded than the politicians that are trying to sell that "bill of goods".  If we want any sort of indication of how 'business' would operate without sufficient regulation, we only need to look-back through history at some of businesses greatest "success" stories: Love Canal, Exxon-Valdez, Enron, WorldCom, BP-Horizon, and the debacle presided over by our nation's largest banks and mortgage-issueing institutions that resulted in the most recent recession, which many economists now fear we're dipping back into.  And those "headlines" are only the most obvious, most reported excesses and abuses that "business" has "gifted" us with.  A person could literally spend every minute, of every day, for years on-end detailing and describing the outrageous behavior that has been (and in many situations continues to be) exhibited by American business.  And yet, some would suggest that business is over-regulated?! 

The other major falacy that is promoted by some partisan political types is that America's millionaries and billionaires are over-taxed.  Couple that with an equally offensive premise that those same individuals are America's "job creators."  Tax rates, today, are at their lowest point since just after World War II.  During the 1950s and 1960s ... a period of almost unprecedented economic expansion and growth in the United States ... tax rates were, at times, for top earners, over 70%!  Today, rates for inidividuals and couples that can be classified as "top earners" are capped at 35%.  Wait a minute!  Taxes were high, yet the country was experiencing immense economic expansion?!  How is that possible?!  It's simple economics, folks.  The more individual success and prosperity that exists, the more individual success and prosperity that is able to be created.  However ... and here is the nub of the issue ... that "success" and that "prosperity" does not necessarily mean that a person achieves significant economic wealth or success by way of America's businesses.  It means, pure and simple, that when more people are able to afford a reasonable standard-of-living ... when more people are able to pay ALL of their bills for the basic things necessary to sustain that "reasonable standard-of-living" ... there is greater success and prosperity for everyone.  And that "success and prosperity" does, and should, include some individuals receiving monies from "government" (Social Security, 'food stamps', etc.).  Members of Congress must face facts ... there are some in this country ... many, in fact ... who will not, or are simply not able, to be great economic successes ... when we base "economic success" on the notion that someone is successful by achieving great financial wealth.  And there are some in this country, like it or not, who are simply not able to "fend for themselves".  And it is that segment of society that needs ... and deserves ... a helping hand. 

Until ALL members of Congress are willing to embrace the notion that government can, and should, do good things for the citizens of this nation ... and that those "things" ARE more than simply defending this country from attack or invasion by other peoples and/or countries ... this debate over the "debt ceiling" ... and any others of similar subject matter ... are false arguments, at best.  And they are a serious dereliction of duty by our elected officials, at worst.  The American people deserve better.  The American people deserve more than farcical theatrics from members of all political persuasions.  The American people deserve a government that does provide for the "general welfare" and "common defense."  Like the individual who can walk and chew gum at the same time, government can, and should, do more than one thing.  It's time Congress, and the President, accept that statement as fact.  And THEN begin the debate and discussion over how to best provide for all Americans. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Give Them the Name That They Deserve

Another day has passed in the continuing saga that is the debate over the raising of the U.S. Federal Government's national debt.  As should be well-expected by now, Congress remains at an impasse; unable to come to any sort of reasonable conclusion to this ridiculous display.  And let there be no doubt; this is a ridiculous display.  Nothing more; nothing less.  It's ridiculous, first and foremost, because it's a debate (and drama) that is entirely unnecessary.  More than that, it's a debate that has not been held for decades.  Some may suggest that it is because this debate has not been argued before that our nation is facing a huge amount of debt; a debt that will take decades, if not centuries, to pay-off.  To those I say, "Get over yourself and your supposed lofty ideals!"  If there was going to be a serious, honest debate about our nation's debt, it would have been had long, LONG before now.  And let's be perfectly clear, the fairly pathetic charades that have in the past passed for attempts to resolve our nation's debt issue have been nothing more than 'kicking the can down the road' because noone ... and I mean noone ... has the political will and courage to actually make the changes that must happen in order for our debt to be reined-in. 

As this 'debate' continues to rage, I think it important to recognize that one of the key reasons I firmly believe that this is a false debate, at best, is that our Constitution, the document that so many have thought it appropriate and reasonable to wrap themselves up in, essentially forbids anyone ... including the members of Congress ... to question this nation's debt.  The thinking behind the 14th Amendment is essentially this: laws are created by a Congress, elected by the peoples of this nation to represent them, and signed into enactment by a President, who has similarly been elected by many of those same individuals.  If Congress, the freely elected representatives of the populace, choose to pass laws which spend more than the government receives from its many funding sources, and resultantly is required to secure funding through borrowing, then that debt is essentially unquestionable.  Congress and the President caused it.  For members of Congress to balk at raising the debt limit so that the federal government can make-good on its existing debts, those members of Congress are choosing to ignore ... one could even say act contrary to ... those elements of the Constitution which tells all Americans that our national debt is unassailable with respect to it being valid and worthy of settlement.  For that reason, I suggest that we begin naming those members of Congress who refuse to raise our nation's debt limit for whatever partisan political points they hope to make; oathbreakers. 

In ancient times ... veritably eons ago, when one's word was considered to be of more worth than anything else ... when one made an 'oath' to anything, it bound that person to that cause.  And for those individuals to abdicate the responsibility that such an oath invokes is tantamount to publicly proclaiming that their word is worthless ... that they have no honor ... that they are to never be considered anything than the lying, deceitful inidividual that they have purportedly become.  That sounds disturbingly like some members of Congress who, after promising the American people (and the world) that they will act in their best interests (not their own), and after accepting the responsibility conveyed by the oath of office that they must take prior to their being seated in Congress, chose to ignore some of the most important aspects of that oath.  And for that reason, I name those members of Congress as oathbreakers. 

Admittedly, such a moniker will today wear much less heavily on those members of Congress who have so vilely earned it than it might have centuries past.  Be that as it may, I feel that some ... those who still believe in honesty and integrity ... who believe that a man or woman's word is their "bond" ... will find themselves in agreement.  And, in the future, will consider those members who so dubiously have earned their new 'title' with the contempt that they so richly deserve.