Assigning the blame where it belongs

Greenpeace is inaccurate in saying Corporate polluters don’t have to worry about dismantling the Clean Air Act because President Obama is doing it for them.

Corporate polluters don’t have to worry about regulation because their lobbyists and their money convinced voters to elect obstructionist Tea Party GOP candidates to office in 2010 and tied the president’s hands.

We elected a President who made promises based on our needs and our participation in government, and he has provided more opportunity to participate than any president in history. For this we have called him weak, because he asks us to support him and then is still unable to turn the Tea Party GOP obstructionists that we the voters sent to congress.

Don’t elect any more small government no taxes keep your hands off my money and give me all of yours Tea Party GOP obstructionists. If you voted for one of these people last time — that would be Morgan Griffith in Virginia ninth where I live — the mess we are in is your fault.

It ultimately comes to the voter. Vote for someone who wants to continue the programs and practices that have helped common people live well. Vote for Social Security, Medicare for all, good roads, good postal service, good worker protections, collective bargaining, good public schools and universities, and good government in general. Quit believing the corporate lies, and vote for people who will help and not obstruct the programs that President Obama has proposed.

Open letter to Senator Mark Warner

Dear Senator Warner:

As the text of S. 1247, a bill to develop and recruit new, high-value jobs to the United States, to encourage the repatriation of jobs that have been off-shored to other countries, and for other purposes. comes available, I will follow it closely. This is an important issue, and attracting “new, high-value jobs to the United States” is a number one priority. I hope that your bill has considered the environment in which jobs grow, one in which:

  1. people have economic security — money — and can purchase goods and services,
  2. the infrastructure will bear the weight of the commerce, and
  3. there is a rich culture to enjoy and opportunity for children and families.

Recent downturns and responses to them based on cuts in spending have reduced all three of these aspects of our economic environment. Above all, it is the responsibility of government to maintain a culture in which people enjoy living and have opportunity. Our corporate welfare focus is foolish. We need to build infrastructure, take care of the health care mess once and for all by extending Medicare to everyone who wants to enroll and supporting Medicaid. We need to defend — and extend — Social Security and restore the retirement age to a reasonable 62, which would open up opportunity for young people. Older people who can scarcely keep up the pace are now locked into jobs they are no longer able to do by the necessity to keep employer medical insurance and the prospect of poverty with reduced Social Security. Let older Americans retire and spend their retirement accounts and Social Security on travel and support for their children and grandchildren — something other than medical care — and the economy will turn around.

I look forward to voting for you again and again as our Senator from Virginia, and I hope I will get to vote for you for President in the future. Please understand that I do not want to take away from business, but business does not thrive except in a dynamic culture that produces demand for goods and services. Money trickles up, not down, and we know this every time we pay our credit card payment. If we keep cutting off our most vulnerable and forcing our middle class into poverty by low wages, expensive education, rising food costs, rising energy costs, abusive credit practices, and tax incentives to wealthy private corporations we will not survive.

For an economy to thrive, some of the money that goes up needs to be forced back down to the bottom so that it can recirculate. The way to do this is to collect taxes from the people who use our labor force and our infrastructure and our consumer base to become wealthy. The wealthy are not the source of jobs, they are the result of many people working to get by and to have a few dollars extra to take the family to the beach once a year and to carry smart phones in their pockets. The working people are the source of jobs and the source of wealth because they both do the work and generate the demand for goods and services. Infusing money at the top and asking corporations for the favor of a few jobs is utterly ridiculous.

I hope that your new bill considers the workers in the United States when you are thinking about jobs, because if our workers are not healthy and hopeful and do not benefit from their work we will not have an economy no matter how much money we give to corporations.

I hope also that you will see this message. I know that you receive many letters, but this message is clear. In the United States today we are seriously talking about taking out the foundations of the economy and trying to sustain the wealth at the top by giving more money to wealthy people. This is a third world solution, and we can do better.

Why the TV news is garbage

Today WCYB reported that “Obama Calls For Israel’s Return to Pre-1967 Borders,” and added commentary about the negative response. Their report is not true. In cable news, you hear the headline over and over. In local news, you hear it once. If the headline is not true, you don’t hear the truth.

Of course the excuse if you raise the issue is that they are pressed for time and do not have time to include the details.

For those who can get to the Internet to check up on what people say, WCYB.com posted a longer article titled Obama Calls For Israel’s Return To Pre-1967 Borders
by Tom Cohen of CNN. If you go that far to check, you still have to read a bit to know that someone misled you because the headline is still a half-truth, which is a politically significant lie:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama on Thursday made official the long-held but rarely stated U.S. support for a future Palestinian state based on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.

In the past, the United States has unofficially backed a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict based on the borders in place prior to the war 44 years ago in which Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula.

In a major speech Thursday, Obama became the first president to formally endorse the policy, but he also acknowledged the need for modifications through the negotiating process due to conditions on the ground. [italics mine]

The words in italics do not correct the lie in the headline. They confuse the issue with the idea that this information is an aside or a nod or a concession added to the recommendation. I heard the original speech. What President Obama said was that Israel should return to the pre-1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps to form secure borders that can be defended. There was never a suggestion at all that Israel should return to the pre-1967 borders. Unfortunately, the lie is as much as the TV news reported, and the truth in the article is well hidden because over 90% won’t follow up the TV news story, and of those who do, most won’t read past the headline and the first two paragraphs.

President Obama’s actual statement is quoted in paragraph 5:

“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” Obama continued.

Farther into the story on the website, the article reports President Obama’s strong support for Israel:

At the same time, Obama reiterated unwavering U.S. support for Israel’s security, and he endorsed major negotiating positions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, including an incremental handover of security responsibilities by Israel when conditions on the ground allow it.

Obama declared the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security “unshakable,” and said “every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself — by itself — against any threat.”

“Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security,” Obama continued, touching on the major concerns of Israel in facing a new Palestinian neighbor. “The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.”

So the long and the short of it is that if you want to know what really happened, you will have to search for it. The TV news is not going to tell you.

Discussions don’t have to end in bloodshed

When someone sees all opinions as equal — i.e., any person has a right hold any opinion — all discussion is circular. People who are trapped in that false construction of reality feel personally threatened by conflicting opinions. But they are lucky in one way: they have it pretty easy in the research department.

When a person sees opinions as derived from weighing the facts, the conflicting opinion is not a personal threat, but it does present you with a lot of work. First you have to see what facts the other person uses to justify their opinion, then you have to see how those facts fit into the larger context of your opinion and your known facts, and then you have some fact checking and connecting of the dots to do before you:

  • change your mind and agree with the other person,
  • continue in disagreement with facts to sustain you,
  • or arrive at a third opinion that incorporates all of the facts.

Sometimes the gathering of facts becomes so involved that you can’t remember the original conflicting opinion, but you have the benefit of the study even if you can’t remember what the object was. (Hint: Wikipedia is cool, but set a timer.)

Once you start gathering, verifying, and associating facts, you discover how seldom you have all of them. Some are hidden for later discovery — often in hopes they will never be found — and new ones keep popping up. Example: I might spend money today at Sam’s Club. That will invalidate several facts in Sam’s inventory, in my bank account, and — if I trip over the curb and break my leg — in whether or not I can drive a car. So if someone verified any of those facts yesterday, their facts would be outdated.

Sometimes people pick their fact set to persuade you to believe something contrary to the truth, maybe in order to move money from your bank account to theirs. So you have to see who is using what facts to promote what opinions and what they are leaving out, and there you have another whole set of dots to connect.

Keeping conflicting opinions in the factual universe and connecting the dots is worth the effort. You can learn new things, modify an opinion without bloodshed, and break out of the circular discussion. Frequently you can even keep your friends, since you don’t have to kill them, silence them, or shame them.

Probably the greatest advantage of forming your opinions in the fact-based universe is that the fabric of that universe is not easily ripped by shouting heads. You can study the deficit, tax breaks for big oil, tax breaks for millionaires, or any other issue in the opinion mill, without feeling like it is a deadly tumor in your own personal cranium. Nobody is expected to be rational about a deadly tumor in their own personal cranium, but the number of people who are irrational about public policy issues today is — well, irrational.

The semantic quibble is tiresome

The “marriage” vs “civil union” discussion is semantic. If you favor civil union for same-sex couples, you favor extending the civil codes relating to marriage to gay people. I guess the semantic argument bothers me for two reasons — first that I am an old English teacher and administrator who has had to get around too many arguments like this from people who didn’t do their homework, and second because this one has been used for so long to deny people their civil rights.

Today is the anniversary of the 2004 law that made Massachusetts the first state to sanction same-sex marriage, a right now recognized in five states and in Washington D.C. One of the first arguments put forward was by people who declared support for the rights of same-sex couples but who were unwilling to give them the word. On Facebook today the argument is still out in full force — “I support civil unions, but we should not redefine marriage.”

It is a religious quibble to deny civil and human rights to protect the use of a sacramental word in the civil code. Sacramental words are sacred and deeply appreciated within their respective churches, but in civil records “marriage” and “union” are both words with meaningful legal standing. Marriage in the civil code is the union of two people who express their commitment to each other and promise to live together as a couple. You can get “married” at the courthouse before a judge or magistrate without the intervention or sanction of any church, and under the civil law you will be married. So those who object to the use of the word “marriage” can have civil unions any time just by voting for gay marriage. Marriage is already a civil union in the United States.

With or without the law, each church must decide whether or not to sanctify same-sex unions. Each church can also decide what to call whatever they decide to do. Language is organic and takes time to change, but it follows the culture — so your terminology might catch on. If you wait for the language of the civil laws to change before you are willing to correct a recognized denial of civil rights within the culture, you are putting the cart before the horse.

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Hearing the words again

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Comfort for the soul of bin Laden

Wolf Blitzer is reporting today that 61% of his viewers believe that Osama bin Laden is in Hell. I have not heard rejoicing on this count, but I have heard some distress over the fact that his unredeemed soul went to a burning Hell. I offer these options for comfort:

  • Osama bin Laden is Muslim, and there is no reason to assign him a Christian afterlife. Consult instead the afterlife of his faith, and be comforted.
  • Mormons have recently re-branded themselves as Christians in a rapprochement that facilitates movement into the political mainstream in the United States, and comfort is available from them in the practice of baptism for the dead. Referenced in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 15:29 and adopted by Mormons in 1840, post-death baptism would extend salvation to Osama bin Laden and all of his wives. Many souls have been rescued in this way, including the U.S. founding fathers and Adolf Hitler.
  • Catholics, historical guardians of faith who brought Christianity to power in the western world, have Purgatory, an intermediate state from which a soul can be redeemed by the prayers of the faithful and the saints. It is a good idea and most comforting, and we could assume that Osama bin Laden is in Catholic afterlife and pray for his soul.
  • Also firmly in the Christian tradition we could label Osama bin Laden a virtuous pagan — a person who died without being born again, but who was a hero in his own non-Christian culture. Dante assigned these souls to the outer circle of Hell. Saladin, the Muslim who finally defeated the Christian Crusaders, is in this outer circle, along with the Greek and Roman heroes and philosophers and unbaptized infants. This circle is similar to and possibly derived from an older Hebrew tradition. It is not hot or unpleasant, but rather is peaceful, as reported by the prophet Samuel — 1 Samuel 28:15 — to Saul at Endor.

So we can within western Christian scripture-based tradition rest easy about the final disposition of the soul of Osama bin Laden. People concerned about the loss of a soul to the Devil can easily adopt one of these means of consolation. All of the options except the last one wrest that soul right back out of the Devil’s clutches, and in the last one the Devil doesn’t inflict himself on them unduly.

Peace.

Birds sing on in a world without Osama bin Laden, and both Christian and Muslim children who might have followed his instructions into their respective afterlives are entitled to rejoice. Christian and Muslim mothers and grandmothers are looking at the same sky above their children at play, and I imagine that most of them are praying we will choose peace. We can do that.

Health care and freedom of speech

Published today in the Bristol Herald Courier. Words in bold were edited out of the printed edition:

United States citizens are prevented from having good government not so much by our politicians as by the short attention span and short-term memory problems of the electorate. This is demonstrated clearly in the debate over affordable health care. Brian Jenkins. in a letter published Sunday April 24 in the Bristol Herald Courier provides a good example.

First of all, I know Mr. Jenkins is not alone. Many people share his opinion, and some, like Mr. Jenkins, feel free – under freedom of speech, which I defend – to make linguistic obscene gestures [see quote*] in public forums like the Sunday paper, and an editor may choose to print that.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance consumer costs actually have gone down. If your insurance costs more than it did before the ACA, you should shop around. This applies to both individuals and employer or cooperative group insurance. That people are not shopping around is a symptom of a very short attention span. Actual sustained attention to the problem would produce a better result.

As to short-term memory, President Obama proposed a public option similar to Medicare. The only argument against his plan that was actually true was that it would be better and less expensive than private health insurance and would attract people away from private insurers, cutting into their profits. Other ideological arguments were put forward to distract people with short attention spans, but all of these – death panels, funding for abortion, creeping socialism, etc. – would have been dismissed if people had thought about them for a while or sought actual information. In any case, the opposition prevailed, and ACA passed without a public option.

Only a short-term memory problem can account for blaming President Obama, who proposed a low-cost public option, for a nonexistent increase in consumer cost. ACA is far better than what we had before, but not as good as it would have been with the public option. And single payer, where we all pitch in and bear one another’s burdens, would be best and least expensive.

_______________
* Quoted from Brian Jenkins, writing in a letter to the editor published in the Bristol Herald Courier April 24, 2011. “I guess the only thing I can do is give Obama two thumbs down and two fingers up for his screw up as usual.”

What to do about Social Security

On April 4th, the Bristol Herald Courier printed “Social Security: no easy answers” by Media General’s Washington bureau chief Marsha Mercer. In reality, there is an easy answer to the problem Social Security will face in 2037, and it has been around for many years. It has been formally before Congress as a recommendation since it was placed there in the 2005 report to Congress of the Social Security Actuary Department. The report recommended that we lift the cap on wages subject to Social Security contributions.

When Social Security began in 1940, the US average annual earnings for white males was $2,984.00. White women averaged $771.69, Black men averaged $537.45, and Black women $331.32. Currently the average for US workers is $36,000 to $42,000. The income limit subject to Social Security contributions in 1940 was $3,000.00, which certainly included all of the middle class, and this cap has been adjusted many times over the years so that it is now around $108,000. Increases have been based on the cost of living index. Currently with increasing concentration of earnings in the top 2% of earners, a larger concentration of wealth at the top actually demands a change in this formula. Until the most recent two decades, most of the money earned in the United States was subject to Social Security contribution because most of it was earned in the old fashioned way by regular people. Currently working people have a smaller share of earnings, so Social Security contributions, while they have kept pace with the cost of living to this point, will begin to fall short in 2037 if we keep the same formula.

As wages have increased and the disparity between rich and poor has widened, Social Security has never run a deficit. It has a surplus now and is not part of the deficit we hear so much about. Cutting it will not cut the deficit. Privatizing it will produce a windfall for financial institutions — again widening the gap between Main Street and Wall Street. If Wall Street were placed in charge of Social Security, private for-profit financial institutions would develop an array of retirement plans which they would spend money to market to consumers, deduct their money for marketing, take a healthy fee for managing our money, and invest our mandated retirement savings in the stock market. They would make money, and we would be at risk.

Social Security is insurance that protects all of us. We pay in as a federally-mandated contribution and are entitled to stated benefits owed to us in return. These benefits mean seniors can maintain their homes and purchase goods and services. Families do not have to support their elders while paying for school and college for their children. Businesses can sell goods and services to seniors, and young families can afford to purchase more goods and services since their seniors have their Social Security benefits. These benefits accrue not only to people who draw Social Security benefits but to their children and grandchildren, to people and businesses that sell them goods and services, and to the economy at large. Social Security is a continuing economic stimulus, a savings plan, and a foundational economic support that we cannot afford to discontinue or to weaken by privatization.

The simple solution for the continuance of Social Security was given to Congress in 2005 in a report by the Social Security Actuary Department. They recommended that the cap on earnings subject to Social Security contributions be lifted. Currently we pay Social Security tax on the first $108,000 ($106,000?) of annual earnings. The Actuary Department recommended including all earnings in the Social Security Tax and keeping benefits as they are. This small change would affect only the highest-paid 3% of us, since around 97% of wage earners make less than the current cap and already pay the Social Security contribution on all of their earnings. The change would, according to the calculation of the Actuary Department, make Social Security solvent for another 75 years.

See the version of this post edited to 300 word limit published in The Bristol Herald Courier