Sunday, February 28, 2010
When they took power in Washington in the last election, President Obama and Congressional Democrats said they wanted to put an end to the culture of corruption in Washington -- something that seemed to be endless in the Bush administration. But controlling corruption in Washington means seeking out corruption in both parties and dealing with it. So far, the Democrats have not shown they will be able to do that.
The House Ethics Committe has now admonished Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York) for taking trips to the Caribbean paid for by corporate funds (to Antigua in 2007 and to St. Maarten in 2008). That may not seem serious to some, but how are ordinary people supposed to trust Rangel after knowing he's accepted these expensive corporate gifts?
Rangel (pictured) said the ethics panel decision was "ill-considered, unprecedented, unfair. . . and wrong on the facts and the law." He claims he did not know the trips were corporate sponsored. That rings pretty hollow though. Who the hell did he think was paying for the trips? He knew he wasn't paying. In addition, his aides say they told him at least three times the trips violated House rules because they were corporate sponsored.
He knew accepting the trips was the same as accepting money or other gifts from corporate interests -- he just didn't care. He's just another corrupt politician who thought he was powerful enough to get away with breaking the rules, and he might be right about that.
Since learning of the ethics committee decision, Rangel has refused to step down from his powerful chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. And Democrats don't seem ready to remove him from that chairmanship. When asked if he should be removed, Speaker Pelosi just said, "We'll just see what happens next (to other allegations against Rangel)."
And accepting these corporate-paid trips to the Caribbean is not the only allegation lodged against Rangel. He has also been accused of:
- Failing to disclose rental income on his house in the Dominican Republic.
- Using his government office to raise money for a college center in his name.
- Belated disclosure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in previously unreported wealth.
This is a corrupt politician who has played fast and loose with the ethical rules of the House of Representatives. If he had even a tinge of honesty and/or shame, he would not only resign his chairmanship but his House seat as well. But I don't expect that will happen, since his powerful position seems to not only feed his ego but also his pocketbook.
That means it's up to his Democratic brethern to decide if they were serious about cleaning up the "culture of corruption". They screamed long and loud for action to be taken when Republicans were found to be corrupt. Will they do the same when the corrupt one is a Democrat?
America is waiting for the answer to that question.
Once again, the uptight stuffed-shirts of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have decided that the olympic games are too important and somber to allow any kind of actual fun to break out. They have now determined that they must "investigate" Canada's women's hockey team.
In a hard fought battle between the two best women's hockey teams in the world (Canada and the United States), Canada won 2-0 and claimed the gold medal. For the land that claims hockey as it's own, this was a great cause for celebration (and well it should be). While I was pulling for the United States team, I have to admit that Canada played the best and deserved the win.
So what did the Canadian team do wrong? It seems they thought they had the right to celebrate their winning the gold along with their countrymen and women. After the crowd had left the hockey venue, they took their celebration back out on the ice, drinking beer and champagne and smoking cigars and taking pictures of each other.
There happened to still be some photographers around and they snapped some pictures of the celebration (see above). Of course, word of this then got back to the kill-joys at the IOC, and they were righteously horrified that athletes were actually having fun and celebrating -- especially with alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.
The IOC announced they were instigating an investigation into the fun-filled antics of the gold-medal champions. The IOC's executive director of the games said athletes drinking alcohol at an olympic venue (even though the spectators were all gone) is "not what we want to see". He said they would talk to the International Hockey Federation and the Canadian Olympic Committee and "act accordingly".
Sadly, Hockey Canada then showed they are either lacking a spine or are also self-righteous jerks themselves, and issued a statement saying, "The members of Team Canada apologize if their on-ice celebrations, after fans had left the building, have offended anyone. In the excitement of the moment, the celebration left the confines of our dressing room and shouldn't have. The team regrets that its gold medal celebration may have caused the IOC or COC any embarrassment. Our players and team vow to uphold the values of the Olympics moving forward and view this situation as a learning experience."
Ridiculous! Let me be clear. The Canadian women did NOTHING WRONG! They did not "embarrass" themselves, hockey, their country, the IOC or anyone else. The creeps at the IOC need to take their self-righteous smugness and stuff it where the sun don't shine.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
This is just a little message from Europe and Canada. While we have health care for the rich in the United States, they have good health care for ALL of their citizens. It's pretty obvious that they have the better deal. Pictures found at Yellowdog Granny's blog.
Do you have any doubt as to whether Republicans favor rich people over everyone else in this country? If so, then Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has a proposal that should remove those doubts.
Rep. Ryan has come up with a new tax system that he says would be more "fair" to everyone. Take a look at it and determine for yourself if it is fair to everyone, or just a huge boon for the rich. Here are the components of Ryan's plan:
* Would give everyone a choice of using the current tax plan or his new plan.
* Those making less $50,000 ($100,000 for a couple) of earned income would pay a flat 10% tax.
* Those making over $50,000 ($100,000 for a couple) of earned income would pay a flat 25% tax.
* There would be a standard deduction and personal exemption ($39,000 for a family of four).
* Eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax.
* Eliminate the Estate Tax.
* Eliminate the Capital Gains Tax.
* Eliminate the tax on interest.
* Eliminate the Corporate Income Tax.
* Institute an 8.5% business consumption tax.
Now consider this. Except for some athletes and entertainers, most rich people do not have earned income. They make the bulk of their money from interest and capital gains. That means that multi-millionaires and billionaires would pay no taxes at all. Nothing, zip, nada, zilch, not a damn penny!
He lets the rich off the hook of paying taxes and puts the burden for financing our government squarely on the shoulders of the middle class. Is that fair? Is it fair for the people who make the most money in this country to pay no taxes at all? Instead of paying nothing, they should pay the highest percentage of their income in taxes (because they have reaped the highest level of benefits from their income).
This is just one more example clearly showing that working and middle class people are voting against their own interests when they vote for Republicans. Republicans only care about one class of people -- the rich.
Are atheists smarter than theists? That's a very good question, and I would imagine that people on both sides would like to claim to be the smarter group, and there really has been no evidence (other than personal prejudice) to show either group to have superior intelligence. But now there's a psychologist who claims to have the answer.
Satoshi Kanazawa at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is having an article published in the March issue of Social Psychology Quarterly in which he claims to have proven that atheists are smarter than theists. He got his survey data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the General Social Survey -- both cross-national data collection sources.
Kanazawa says his study shows that atheists have an average IQ of 103, while theists have an average IQ of 97.
I am an unashamed atheist, and some might think I would take this study to prove that we atheists are smarter. I do not. For one thing, the difference between the two groups is only an almost neglible six points. If one were talking to two people, one with a 97 IQ and the other with a 103 IQ, I doubt anyone could tell which was which. It's far different than talking with a genius and an average IQ person. A 20 to 30 point difference would be noticeable -- a 6 point difference probably wouldn't.
I've also never been really convinced that IQ tests are a good way to test real intelligence. What they do show is how good you are at taking tests, but that may not translate at all into real-world problem-solving skill or a measure of innate intelligence.
Finally, we must remember that this is an average figure. That means there were some atheists that scored below 97 and some theists that scored above 103. A group average tells you nothing about an individual's score.
Let me warn the atheists out there. If you're talking with a theist, don't assume this silly study means you are smarter than that person. You may well be talking to someone who would score higher on an IQ test than you would. I give that same warning to theists.
Do I think my atheist belief is correct? Absolutely! But neither that nor this study proves that all atheists are smarter than all theists, and it would be silly to believe it does.
Without a doubt, anger can make a person stupid. I'm sure we've all seen people get mad and then do something incredibly stupid -- something they would never have normally done. In fact, some people get angry and punish themselves (and that's something I've never understood).
That's what happened to the man in this true story. It seems that an airline called Ryanair has been passing out scratchcards to it's passengers as a publicity gimmick to keep those passengers flying with their airline. In the past two years, passengers have won 10 cars, over 300,000 euros and about 100,000 flight vouchers.
On a flight from Poland to England this last week, one man won 10,000 euros on one of the scratchcards (about $13,600). For some reason, this idiot expected the flight attendants to immediately give him the money. When they tried to explain that he would need to get the card verified and get the money from the scratchcard company, he became very angry.
Then he threatened to eat the card if he were not paid immediately. The crew tried to explain they did not carry that kind of money on the plane, but he would get the money by contacting the scratchcard company and begged him not to eat the card. Some of the passengers even joined in and urged him to not eat the card.
But his anger wouldn't let him listen to reason. He stood up and ate the the card in spite of all their appeals. Now he will get nothing. This fool had let his anger convince him to throw away over $13,000.
Since the company can no longer pay off on that card, they say they will donate the 10,000 euros to a charity. They are going to let internet users choose which of five charities will get the money.
I can understand someone getting angry, although this nut was stupid to think the flight attendants would have the money to pay him. We've all gotten angry at one time or another. But I really don't think I could get mad enough to throw away over $13,000. Could you?
Friday, February 26, 2010
Well, the big health care summit is now over and if the analysts are to be believed, absolutely nothing was accomplished. I must admit that I didn't even bothering watching this useless exercise in public relations. Anyone who believed some kind of bipartisan compromise would be reached doesn't even have a tenuous hold on reality anymore.
I don't even think the president, who continues to talk about bipartisan solutions, believes that a real bipartisan compromise can be reached at this point. And this meeting was not held to reach a bipartisan solution -- just the opposite. It was held as a public relations gimmick to appeal to voters.
The Republicans wanted to assure their right-wing base (and their corporate masters) that they were holding firm in their opposition to health care reform. They don't want anything to happen that might effect the profit margin of large private insurance companies, and they're willing to tell any lie to get that accomplished.
Meanwhile, the president and other blue dog Democrats also wanted to put on display the opposition to health care reform. Then when they pass their pitiful excuse of a health care bill, they can point to that as the reason they couldn't pass any "real" health care reform. The whole thing has passed the point of being disgusting -- it is approaching the proportions of an epic failure.
Meanwhile, the few real progressives who would like to actually reform the health care system, are being marginalized a bit more each day. Recently, I had revived a little hope of actually getting some health care reform this year, but I can now see I was wrong. This Congress is not capable of making real reforms in ANYTHING! And the president must accept his share of the blame for that. He promised a lot during the campaign, but hasn't had the political courage to follow through on any of it.
Frankly, I'm glad I didn't waste my time watching the "health care summit". At my age, I don't have the time to waste on such nonsense.
You may not know it, but one of the hardest hit countries in this world-wide recession was Iceland. Before the recession hit, Icelandic banks were riding high (just like banks in America and Europe). In an effort to get ever bigger returns on their money, many Europeans put their money in these Icelandic banks (especially people from Great Britain and the Netherlands).
But then the recession hit and many of those banks went under, causing depositers from Great Britain and the Netherlands to lose about $5 billion. Those two countries stepped in and paid back their own citizens who lost money. Now they are demanding the government of the tiny country of Iceland pay them back that $5 billion.
A few months ago, the government thought it had reached an agreement with the governments of Great Britain and the Netherlands to pay back the money. But when it was put to a vote of the Icelandic people, they voted the agreement down by a large majority. Most said they didn't see that they should have to pay for mistakes made by greedy bankers.
Since then, the Icelandic government has been trying to re-negotiate a new agreement with the two countries. But those talks have now broken down. Iceland's Finance Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson said, "We had hoped to be able to reach a consensual resolution of this issue on improved terms, but this has not yet been possible."
The Icelandic government is in a bad position, caught between the governments of Great Britain and the Netherlands, and their own people. The failed resolution of this economic mess has also delayed Iceland from getting badly needed money from the International Monetary Fund (greedy Western bankers) and delayed their possible entry into the European Union.
I tend to agree with the people of Iceland. I don't see why they, hurt as much or more as anyone by the recession brought on by greedy bankers, should now have to use their meager savings and salaries to pay back money lost by egregious mistakes of the same greedy bankers. The bankers lost this money and they are the ones who should pay it back (even if it has to be taken out of their worthless hides).
What do you think? Should taxpayers have to pay for mistakes made by greedy bankers?
We have a huge problem with domestic violence here in the United States, but this is not solely an American problem. Domestic violence is a problem all over the world and most countries are failing miserably to control it (assuming they are even trying to control it).
It is also a problem in France, where at least three women die each week as a result of domestic violence. But the French are not among those who whine that there is little they can do about the problem. They are determined to get a handle on the situation and save the lives of women in their country.
A new bill has been introduced in the French Parliament, and it looks like the bill has an excellent chance of becoming law. While the French political parties on the left and the right usually disagree about almost everything, the new domestic violence bill has nearly unanimous support in the parliament. The French politicians have realized that saving women's lives is not a partisan political issue -- it is a necessity of the utmost importance.
The new bill would allow French courts to authorize the use of an electronic ankle bracelet on men deemed to be capable of violence toward their domestic partner. The court would order the men to stay away from their domestic partner, and if they disobey, the electronic anklet would send a signal to police. The police would respond to all signals from the devices, and arrest the men who violated their court order.
Now this is not a perfect solution that would save the lives of all women. If a man has only one purpose, to kill, and carries that out quickly, he may be able to succeed (although he would most likely be caught quickly and convicted). Although, even in those cases, if a woman can keep her attacker at bay for just a few minutes, help will arrive without the need for a 911 call.
But most domestic violence murders occur after an argument escalates, and that will give the police time to arrive. And if the man hesitates before trying to enter the home, police will arrive and arrest him before he can even make contact with his domestic partner.
I applaud the French in their effort to control domestic violence and save women's lives. And I don't want to hear anything about how this violates men's rights. If you don't want to have to wear the ankle bracelet, then keep your hands to yourself. If a man can't control his anger and engages in beating his significant other, then the only right he deserves is a nice prison cell.
It's sad that it has come to this, but the fact is that there is an epidemic of domestic violence and something needs to be done about it. If this new French approach does turn out to significantly reduce domestic violence and murder, then leaders in the United States should seriously consider doing the same thing.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
I am getting so tired of the spineless wimps the Democratic Party has sent to the United States Senate. Instead of showing some political courage and acting in the best interests of the citizens of the United States, they continue to act like they are terrified that the Republicans might talk bad about them. Yesterday, they had another chance to do the right thing, and once again they wussed out.
Several provisions of Bush's Patriot Act (a vile and unconstitutional law) were set to expire at the end of the month. Here are those provisions as described by MSNBC:
One authorizes court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. A second allows court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations. A third permits surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen suspected of engaging in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
Now the correct and politically courageous thing to do would be to repeal the whole Patriot Act. It doesn't really protect us, but it does give "Big Brother" a vastly expanded right to spy on civilians (both U.S. citizens and others) -- not something that can be tolerated in a truly free country. But I've seen enough of this group of Senate Democrats to not expect that kind of courage.
But they could at least have included some more protections for individual rights if they were going to extend this stupid law. Some progressives tried to do that. They wanted to amend the law and did so in the Judiciary Committee. These new amendments would have:
But even that minor move was too much for the blue dogs and spineless members of the party as it turns out. The amendments were stripped out of the bill, and then the bill was passed on a voice vote without even the pretense of a debate. Good grief! They didn't even have the balls to debate improving the bad bill!
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said, "I would have preferred to add oversight and judicial review improvements to any extension of expiring provisions in the USA Patriot Act. But I understand some Republican senators objected."
I really don't understand why the Democrats care what Republicans object to. Let them object to whatever they want, but that is no reason to fail to do what is in the best interests of American citizens. The Republicans sure didn't care about Democratic objections when they were in power.
(Senator Leahy is pictured above.)
After Hurricane Katrina, we heard stories of a possible police massacre on the Danziger bridge. It was said that when six people tried to walk out of New Orleans, where conditions were deteriorating badly, to find the supplies they needed to survive, they were met on the bridge by police officers who opened fire on them, killing two (one of them severely disabled) and wounding four people.
The survivors had claimed the police had opened fire for no reason, but the police claimed it was self-defense. Police even showed a firearm they claimed the people had and had threatened police with. The police were charged with murder and attempted murder, but a Louisiana judge threw out all the charges and it looked like justice would be thwarted.
But the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in and took over the investigation, and it looks like the truth is finally coming out. We now know that the police had murdered unarmed innocent civilians (probably because of the color of their skin) and then planted a firearm to try and justify their heinous actions.
Yesterday, former New Orleans police Lt. Michael Lohman pled guilty to Obstruction of Justice in a federal court. Although Lohman arrived at the bridge after the shootings, he was told what had occurred and encouraged the guilty officers to lie about it, and then helped them to plant the firearm at the bridge. He will be sentenced on May 26th.
It's good that Lohman was charged and convicted for his part in the Danziger Bridge murders, but hopefully this is just the start for federal prosecutors. There are several others, both those who committed the crime and those who covered it up, who need to be convicted of the vicious actions of the police that day on the bridge.
The police are supposed to protect all Americans regardless of their race or color (or sex, age, religion, ethnic origin or sexual preference). The murderous police actions on the bridge that day has tarnished the image of good police officers across the country. That can only be rectified by bringing justice to the six victims.
(The picture above shows the FBI closing down the Danziger Bridge on September 26, 2009 to investigate the shootings.)
Since 9/11, air travel in North America has become much more of a hassle for travelers than a pleasure. While it might not ever have been a true pleasure, new and mounting security rules along with short-tempered and gruff employees and uncomfortable terminals with confusing signs, have made air travel an ordeal to be endured instead of a pleasant experience. That's why I found this new survey so interesting.
The J. D. Power and Company has released a survey it did from January thru December of 2009. They surveyed over 12,000 people who took round-trip flights and asked them to rate their leaving and arriving airports on things like accessibility, check-in, security, terminal comfort, food choices and baggage claim.
Using this data, the company then rated each airport on a 1000 point system and ranked them. Airports were grouped according to size -- large (over 30 million passengers a year), medium (10-30 million passengers a year), and small (under 10 million passengers a year).
Here are the airports who scored above the average for their size group (with their score):
1. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (705)
2. Denver International (701)
2. Minneapolis-St. Paul International (701)
4. Orlando International (700)
5. Phoenix Sky Harbor International (699)
6. Charlotte Douglas International (697)
7. Dallas-Ft. Worth International (692)
8. George Bush Intercontinental/Houston (685)
9. McCarran International (682)
10. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (666)
10. Seattle-Tacoma International (666)
The following airports were below the average for their size group -- Toronto Pearson International (655), San Francisco International (647), Chicago O'Hare International (639), John F. Kennedy International (635), Philadelphia International (629), Miami International (617), Los Angeles International (616), Newark International (609).
1. Kansas City International (742)
2. Portland (OR) International (733)
3. Tampa International (730)
4. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (713)
5. Salt Lake City International (712)
6. Calgary International (708)
7. Baltimore Washington International (707)
8. Oakland International (691)
9. Chicago Midway International (684)
10. Lambert St. Louis International (683)
The following airports were below the average for their size group -- Memphis International (682), San Diego International (678), Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International (677), Cleveland Hopkins International (675), Honolulu International (675), Reagan National International (672), Vancouver International (669), Dulles International (646), Boston Logan International (644), LaGuardia International (604).
1. Indianapolis International (777)
2. Southwest Florida International (767)
3. Tucson International (755)
4. Jacksonville International (754)
5. Austin Bergstrom International (752)
6. T. F. Green Airport (750)
7. Palm Beach International (740)
8. Albuquerque International Sunport (735)
9. Pittsburgh International (729)
10. General Mitchell International (726)
The following airports were below the average for their size group -- Buffalo Niagara International (720), Nashville International (717), Port Columbus International (715), Raliegh-Durham International (715), Sacramento International (715), Bob Hope Airport (707), John Wayne Airport (706), Houston Hobby International (697), Bradley International (691), Reno/Tahoe International (689), Dallas Love Field (679), San Antonio International (677), Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (673), San Jose International (645).
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
According to figures released by the Texas Secretary of State, it looks like party voters are more energized and interested than they were at the same time in 2006. It's amazing what some contested races will do for the turnout. For Republicans, it's the three way governor's race between Perry, Hutchison and Medina. For the Democrats, it's the Lt. Governor's race between Earle and Chavez, and the Ag Commissioner race between Friedman and Gilbert (for Dems the governor's race is pretty much over).
After six days of early voting in 2006, the total vote was 91,403. After six days in 2010, the total early vote is 176,781. That's a difference of 85,378 or 93% higher in 2010. But Republicans hold the edge in turnout. After six days, 104,469 Republicans have voted and 72,312 Democrats have voted.
When you figure in the seventh day's totals, the total vote jumps up to 212,976, with 126,737 Republicans and 86,239 Democrats voting early. This doesn't bode well for Democrats. Since the number of those admitting membership in either party are roughly equal statewide, either a significant number of independents are voting in the Republican primary or a significant number of Democrats are staying home. I suspect it is the former, and that could hurt Democrats in November.
Let me be clear. The above totals are not statewide totals. They are the totals for the largest 15 counties in the state, but since that's where most of the population is, I imagine it would be very close to what's happening statewide. For instance, here in Potter and Randall counties the 2010 early vote is up over 2006, and the vote skews toward the Republicans.
Here are the vote totals for the largest 15 counties after seven days:
El Paso Rep..........3,813
El Paso Dem..........9,803
Ft. Bend Rep..........4,662
Ft. Bend Dem..........2,071
As you may know, I am supporting Kinky Friedman in his campaign for the nomination for Agriculture Commissioner in the Democratic primary. I was beginning to feel a little lonely, like I was out on a limb all by myself, because most Texas progressive bloggers are supporting Kinky's opponent -- East Texas farmer Hank Gilbert.
But a couple of days ago, I got a little help. And it comes from one of the best progressive political bloggers in Texas -- Juanita Jean (owner of The World's Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, Inc.). Juanita claims she's not a blogger because blogs are too trendy for her. She calls her web site "a professional political organization". But whatever you call her, she's a smart, incisive and very funny lady.
And she's supporting Kinky Friedman for Agriculture Commissioner. Here's some of what Juanita Jean has to say about her endorsement of Kinky:
"I'm supporting Kinky Friedman for Agriculture Commissioner of the Great State of Texas and I don't give a big bear's butt who knows it."
"I like Hank Gilbert. I do. But, I do not want to sit around for the next eight months waiting for the next femur bone to drop out of his closet. It's probably a good thing he spent campaign funds on clothing because that might trap the skeltons."
"I know that Kinky Friedman ain't much to be proud of. Heck, you couldn't clean him up with steel wool. However, I do agree with Jim Hightower that Kinky brings about 7 turnout percentage points to the table that Hank can't touch -- even with a cattle prod."
"Boring government would not be a horrible thing. But boring campaigns do not get voters to the polls. You can say a whole lot of things about Kinky Friedman, but boring ain't one of them."
"I know you can find me a truck load of perfectly degrading things that Kinky has said about women or minorities or redheads or Mexicans or post hole diggers. Hell, he's offended everybody. He's a comic. That's what he does."
"And when you get to the bottom of this well, the truth is that Kinky has the advice of the best damn ag commissioner this state has ever seen in Jim Hightower. I imagine Jim has Kinky's ear, and if he doesn't, he'll have his butt."
Thanks for the support Juanita Jean. And if you need it, I've got your back on this one.
This story is just too funny to pass up commenting on, and I have to thank my friend and Arizona blogger cpmaz at Random Musings for bringing it to our attention. It certainly looks like the folks over at Fox News have uncovered a startling story that the real news media missed.
J.D. Hayworth is running against John McCain in the Arizona Republican primary as the teabagger candidate for McCain's seat in the U.S. Senate. But if Fox News is to be believed (and they couldn't possibly be wrong about anything could they?), then Hayworth is a transgendered man who used to be a woman (and obviously a very ugly woman).
Maybe I've misjudged both the teabaggers and Fox News. I had no idea the teabaggers were open-minded enough to actually run a transgendered person as their candidate for the United States Senate. And who knew that Fox News was capable of exposing such a breathtaking skeleton in a Republican's closet.
Seriously though, the caption writer for Fox News needs to be fired, or at least given some editorial oversight. This is just one of a long string of mistakes (probably) in captions. It shows the network has little regard for truth or accuracy.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
In March of 2003, the United States (and Great Britain) invaded the country of Iraq. The lame excuse for the invasion was self-defense -- that Iraq supposedly had weapons of mass destruction that made them a threat. Of course, no weapons of mass destruction were ever discovered.
Then Bush tried another lie. He told Americans that the invasion was necessary to win the "war on terrorism". But their were no islamic terrorists in Iraq before the invasion. Saddam Hussein knew the islamic terrorists were a threat to his power, and made sure they had no foothold in his country. He made sure Iraq had a secular rather than an islamic government.
But the invasion did accomplish two things. It created an anarchic situation that allowed islamic terrorists to come in and begin operations there, and it re-ignited a long simmering hatred between religious factions in the country kicking off a religious civil war. Outside elements (like al-Queda) began killing innocent civilians and the Iraqi religious factions (Sunnis and Shiites) joined in the killing of innocent civilians, each trying to gain the upper hand.
The occupation forces then installed a puppet government -- a government in which only candidates approved by the United States could run for office. After installing this "democratic" government, the occupation forces then set out to quell the violence in Iraq (or as they called it, "defeat the terrorists"). Years passed and the violence continued unabated.
In early 2009, the occupation forces decided the violence had subsided enough that the fight could be turned over to the Iraqi puppet government. In April 2009, Great Britain withdrew all of their forces and while the the United States stayed in Iraq, they stopped most agressive actions and let the Iraqi assume the bulk of peacekeeping efforts.
If one were to go by the newspaper and other media reports, it could be assumed this was a successful tactic. Since there are seldom any media reports about Iraq, the violence must have stopped -- right? Wrong! Even though the American media is no longer interested in Iraq, innocent civilians are still being killed there by the thousands -- over 4,500 in 2009 (or about 13 people killed every single day).
But surely it has gotten better in 2010. Wrong again! Let's look at the numbers for this year. In January, 135 innocent civilians were killed in addition to 61 Iraqi police and soldiers. About 782 people were wounded (620 were innocent civilians). And the violence continues:
February 1st..........56 killed and 160 wounded
February 3rd..........24 killed and 122 wounded
February 10th..........2 killed and 4 wounded (and an oil pipeline destroyed)
February 16th..........4 killed
February 17th..........4 killed
February 18th..........13 killed and 48 wounded
In addition, six Americans have been killed in Iraq this year so far. Is this what the United States government defines as success? While the actions of the United States has been instrumental in kicking off the seemingly perpetual violence in Iraq, the U.S. military is powerless to control or quell that violence even after nearly seven years of occupation.
We destroyed the country rather easily, but we've not been able to fix it at all. This does not mean we should keep our troops there though (or send more troops). Surely after seven years it is clear that the United States cannot fix what it broke. All we can do at this point is withdraw our troops and hope the Iraqis are able to find a solution sooner rather than later.
It does make me wonder though, are we doing the same thing in Afghanistan?
Well, President Obama has released his "compromise" health care reform plan, and it's a pretty sad piece of legislation. Basically, it's the Senate plan with a couple of minor revisions, and some of those provision are distasteful -- it will still tax Americans that receive very good insurance coverage from their employer, force Americans to buy private insurance or be fined, bans abortion coverage in health insurance exchange plans (effectively banning coverage for poor people), and does not close the Medicare prescription drug "doughnut hole" until 2020.
There were three things that health care reform needed to do to be successful -- lower the cost of health insurance premiums, cover all Americans with health insurance, and stop insurance company discrimination because of age or pre-existing conditions. Obama's plan does only one of those three things. It does eliminate discrimination based on age and medical history, but it will not drive down the cost of premiums or provide coverage for all Americans.
Obama claims his plan will provide coverage for an additional 31 million Americans. That sounds good until you consider that around 50 million are without health insurance in this country. That still leaves 19 or 20 million out in the cold with no health insurance coverage and that is totally unacceptable.
His plan would also create health insurance exchanges in each state where businesses and individuals could go to purchase insurance if they can't afford the regular private insurance plans. Are the "less expensive" plans in these exchanges going to offer adequate coverage? That is doubtful. Why should private companies provide adequate low cost insurance to the exchanges when that would just reduce the number of regular policies they can sell. You can bet the health insurance plans would provide inadequate coverage (to the very people who can least afford inadequate coverage).
And the plan would do nothing to lower premium costs. The health insurance exchanges would offer lower prices only for policies that cover less. That would not drive down costs of private insurance. As for the new Health Insurance Rate Authority, it would not lower costs at all. It would just hopefully slow down the rise of private insurance costs, so the costs of premiums would still rise.
But the worse thing this clearly inadequate plan would do is leave insurance company employees in charge of deciding what treatment a patient could get (something only a doctor should decide). It does not even guarantee the patient has a choice of doctor and hospital. Most private insurance plans force patients to pay a larger portion if they want a doctor or hospital not on that company's approved list.
The saddest part is this whole thing could have been much simpler and easier. All they had to do was offer all Americans an option of public insurance that guaranteed choice of doctor and hospital, cut out the profit from insurance coverage, and guaranteed adequate coverage. A simple way to do this would be to open Medicare enrollment to all citizens. This would even have the effect of lowering costs for private insurance for those who still wanted it (because the private companies would have to compete with the public option price).
Passing this weak, complicated and insufficient plan would be tantamount to putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. It may look like you've done something, but the patient has not really been helped. I expect the Republicans will filibuster this bill to its death, but if they don't then progressives in Congress need to kill it. Then they need to start over and pass a bill with a strong public option using the reconciliation process.
President Obama and some Democrats seem to think they can fool the American people by calling this mess of a plan "health care reform". They are wrong. Passing this plan may actually cost them more votes than doing nothing because it will discourage many progressive voters. They could easily vote for a third party or just stay home.
They were elected to pass real health care reform -- not provide private insurance companies with a giant payday. This plan represents a failure of the mission they were given.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I must admit I am shocked by the result of this poll. All I can think is that the right-wingers have told their lies so much that it's starting to sound like the truth to many Americans. A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows that only 12% of Americans believe that President Obama (and the Democrats) have cut taxes since entering office.
Even more shocking, at least 24% of Americans (44% of teabaggers) believe President Obama has actually raised taxes. What planet have these people been living on? Does this 24% just believe what they want to believe? Let me be very clear for this brain dead segment of the population. Neither President Obama, the Democratic Congress, the Tooth Fairy, nor anyone else has raised the income taxes for a single American -- and if someone tells you they have, then they are telling you a LIE!
Here's how Americans taking the survey answered the question over whether they believe President Obama has raised, lowered, or left taxes the same as before:
kept taxes same..........53%
The cold hard fact is that President Obama has lowered taxes by about $300 billion, and those lower taxes have included 95% of all working Americans. There have been tax cuts for small businesses, first-time home buyers, new car buyers, many of those who pay for college, parents caring for children and anyone with earned income (of less than $100,000).
Folks, this is not college algebra or calculus. The math is pretty simple, and can easily be seen by anyone capable of reading their own federal tax form. And even if you had someone else do your taxes for you, they should have given you a copy of your tax form (and the tax cuts should be clearly visible to anyone capable of even simple logic).
Let me give you an example. There is now a line on the tax form for a "making work pay credit" (which was not on last years tax form). This credit for work income gives all workers at least $400, and maybe more (and this is subtracted from taxes owed, not gross adjusted income). That's a tax cut, and it applies to ALL WORKERS! I don't know about anyone else, but I appreciated having that extra $400 in my tax refund this year.
And that's just one of the tax cuts. The only way you could wind up paying more in income taxes this year is if you made significantly more money in 2009 than you did in 2008. And if you did that in the midst of this recession, you really have nothing to complain about.
In closing I just want to say, stop believing everything someone tells you. Read your own tax form. The tax cuts are there for everyone to see.
According to a new study by the Pew Forum, it looks like the younger generation is less religious than older generations. In answering the question "What is your religious preference (protestant, catholic, jewish, other religion or no religion)", a full 26% of those born in 1981 or later chose "no religion" as their answer. In fact, as the above graph shows, a higher percentage of each generation chose "no religion" than the generation that preceded it. Here are the percentages:
born 1981 and after..........26%
born 1965 to 1980..........20%
born 1946 to 1964..........13%
born 1928 to 1945..........8%
born before 1928..........5%
Church attendence seems to bear out the above percentages, showing the youngest generation attends church less often than their elders. Once again, it shows each generation attends church less than the preceding generation. Here are the percentages of those who said they attended church weekly or nearly every week:
born 1981 and after..........18%
born 1965 to 1980..........27%
born 1946 to 1964..........32%
born 1928 to 1945..........44%
born before 1928..........56%
Just looking at the above percentages for religious affiliation and church attendence, one could make the assumption that the younger generation has a higher percentage of atheists, and that could be true. After all, each generation has shown a growth in atheism by a small percentage.
However, there were some other questions in the survey that may show that percentage may not be as great as the religious affiliation and church attendence makes it seem. The survey then zeroed in on those with no religious affiliation and asked them some more questions. The answers show that these youngsters with no religious affiliation may still have some of the mythical beliefs of their parents. Consider the following. Some of those saying they have "no religion" still believe in:
life after death..........54%
Obviously, not all of those who said they have "no religion" are atheists, and some of these unaffiliated youth may well find a church to affiliate themselves with later in life. I still believe this generation will show a decrease in theistic beliefs, but it will probably be by a smaller percentage than many of us had hoped. Mythical beliefs, especially christian, still have a strong hold on all generations in America.
The late great Molly Ivins once said, "Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented." She went on to say Texas politics was, "Better than the zoo. Better than the circus." I think she was referring to the endless stream of nuts and truly weird people who run for public office in this state.
And it looks like that tradition is still intact. The funny and very insightful Juanita Jean (proprietor of The World's Most Dangerous Beaty Salon, Inc.), has found one of these nuts running for Congress in her congressional district -- CD22 (Tom DeLay's old district). Sadly, I can't even write this candidate's nuttiness off to being a Republican, because he's running in the Democratic primary.
The candidate in question is the Reverand John Weider. Weider is a real estate and insurance salesman who decided God wanted him to be a preacher. He was only ordained last May, and he is already willing to leave the pulpit for a job in Congress. I guess god was disappointed in his ministerial skills and has now told him to run for Congress. His main issue is his anti-choice stance (which should prove to be popular with Democratic voters -- NOT!).
But Rev. Weider (pictured) revealed his true nuttiness with a rather peculiar post he put on the Brazoria County Democratic Party Facebook page. Weider said, "Hello, I have received several endorsements in the last few days but an agreement was reached to keep them secret to the ballot box." What??? Secret Endorsements? Doesn't that completely defeat the only purpose of an endorsement (to help you get more votes)?
In her own inimitable fashion Juanita Jean hits the nail on the head when she says, "Well, don't that just jar your preserves? I mean, until this very moment I thought the word endorsement meant being public about your support. Can't you just see his endorsement list? Forty-five listings of 'Anonymous', God, and his mother. Unless, of course, God and his mother would prefer to stay anonymous, too, which is probably pretty darn likely."
Think those "secret endorsements" will get him a lot of votes?
Sunday, February 21, 2010
The CPAC convention held their traditional straw poll of possible presidential candidates, and Sarah Palin has to be disappointed. Many people thought she was the favorite to win the straw poll since she is the darling of the far right and teabaggers, but she didn't even come close to the winner (who was Texas libertarian Ron Paul).
Here are the top four finishers in the straw poll:
Ron Paul (pictured)..........31%
It looks like Palin is losing support among those on the far right.
During the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II, the United States (along with Russia, Great Britain and France) laid down a new legal precedent. They made it clear that a country's leaders who issued illegal orders and the goons who carried out those orders were not the only war criminals.
They said those in the legal profession who justified those illegal orders and gave them the cloak of judicial respectability were also guilty of war crimes. But then those were Germans. Evidently this precedent doesn't apply if you're an attorney justifying the illegal actions of the United States government.
Bush administration Justice Department attorneys John Yoo (currently a Berkley law professor) and Jay Bybee (currently a federal judge), wrote memos for President Bush giving him the authority to violate American and international law by ordering the torture of prisoners believed to be muslim insurgents.
Yoo even went further. He told Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) investigators that a president not only had the authority to order the torturing of prisoners, but could even order an entire village of people to be massacred! That is an incredible mis-reading of the president's constitutional powers. It is obvious that Yoo considered the president to be above the laws that apply to all other citizens.
But the OPR did not accept the weak, unethical and obviously wrong advice that Bybee and Yoo offered the president to justify ordering the torture of prisoners. They concluded "John Bybee committed professional misconduct when he acted in reckless disregard of his duty to exercise independent legal judgement and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice."
They were even harder on Yoo saying, "John Yoo committed intentional professional misconduct when he violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgement and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice." In the original report, the OPR recommended the two men be referred to their state bar associations for possible disciplinary actions.
But in perhaps his most cowardly decision since assuming office, President Obama said last year he doesn't want any prosecutions for crimes these men (war criminals) did. He said he was afraid it would have a chilling effect on attorney's advising the president. That was a ridiculous position to take. The only effect it would have is to convince government attorney's they could not give advice they knew to be illegal.
Following the president's wishes, senior Justice Department attorney David Margolis toned the report down, and said the two men had only exhibited "poor judgement". That means these two war criminals will get off with no punishment for their dastardly and reprehensible conduct.
I can't help but believe that if these men had been German attorney's giving that same advice to Hitler, they would have been prosecuted as war criminals. They deserve nothing less just because they were giving illegal advice to an American president.
(The above picture is from the Nuremberg trial of judges who helped implement the illegal and immoral laws dictated by Hitler.)