Friday, November 12, 2010

Reduce the Deficit! Extend Tax Cuts for the Ultra-Rich!

If the deficit is really so bloody important, why is it even more important to extend a tax cut for the uber-rich, a tax cut that costs the country approximately 4 trillion over the next 10 years and DOESN'T create jobs? Why? Because they say "deficit" to scare people and make them think that Democrats create bigger deficits than Republicans, which isn't true, and they are fighting to give the lower and middle classes' money to the rich BECAUSE THE UBER-RICH ARE THEIR CAMPAIGN DONORS. Yes, the left has a billionaire. One. The Republicans have at least 200 of them. George W. Bush said to a room full of rich people that they were his base, "The haves and have-mores." WHY can't regular Americans see through Republican lies and slick, terrorizing marketing methods? Fox News isn't news, it's conservative propaganda, and much of it is false. Why don't my wonderful Republican friends and family members see through their slick rhetoric and realize they're being manipulated to vote against their own interests? And the liberal media (e.g. on MSNBC) disputes that Americans, the 98% of us who make less than 250K a year, neither need nor want to extend tax cuts for the rich nor do we need or want the fall-out from doing so.

I'll give you another example. Some of the liberal pundits have suggested that we should make rich people pay the same amount toward Social Security that the rest of us do - 13% I think it is. Anyone who makes more than $106,000/year only pays Social Security on the 1st $106K of their income. I don't know about you, but $106K/year is a lot of money. You can argue that it doesn't equal rich yet, but it's certainly more than most of us will ever earn in a given year. There are plenty of "good" jobs that don't pay nearly that much. It's 7 TIMES more than minimum wage, which is $7.25/hour. There are professionals with PhDs who make less than that. I'm just trying to give you a sense of perspective. It's an interesting question that means a great deal to people, whether "fair" is everyone paying 13%, even when 13% is a LOT more money for someone with more income, or "fair" is paying the same amount of money, which can easily become a huge portion of a poor person's income, such that they're not able to pay rent or buy food or something, which also doesn't seem quite right. I can understand the perspective that says, hey, it's not fair for me, a poor person, to have to pay 13% of my meager little income into Social Security while you only have to pay .1%, and you can more easily afford it. You're saying, well, I don't need Social Security, so why do I have to pay into it at all? Or, even if I do put in some, why should I subsidize everyone else by paying such a larger amount just because I happen to make more money?

The answer is that we compromise, of course, and try to find the middle ground that makes the most sense and works the best.

And one of the things that no one mentions is that those rich people STOLE THAT MONEY FROM THE POOR PEOPLE. The reason the CEO is making 1000x more than the clerk is that HIM AND HIS FRIENDS ON THE BOARD DECIDED THE SALARIES. Their work isn't generating the income. You can argue that their work is more or less necessary depending on what it is, but they're not building the widgets, selling the widgets to customers, etc. The work of everyone in the company generates the income of the company, but the current thought in salary-setting is that it's okay to pay the little people very, very little, the less the better, and pay the people at the top as much as you can.

The myth is that people think they are being paid what they are worth, and that they have "earned" whatever they bring home and have a right to keep it. Both parts of that myth are false. You are being paid what they can get away with paying you. It has nothing to do with how much money your work earned for the company. It also doesn't mean that the work you did is really worth that amount of money. When we're making what we think is good money, we'd like to think that. The fact is that if the company thought they could get you to do the work for free, they wouldn't pay you a dime. If they think it wouldn't hurt the company too much to fire you and hire someone who doesn't have nearly as much as experience as you or your credentials for half the money, they would do it. If they thought they could cut your pay in half and you wouldn't leave, they would do it. I've seen friends and co-workers take 2%, 5%, 10% and 20% pay cuts in recent years, not because the companies were losing money in all cases, just because they thought they could get away with it.

The amount that regular workers should be paid ideally is debatable. What's crystal clear is that CEOs and other executives who used to make 20 times more than the lowest-paid workers and now make 200 times more, aren't actually bringing 10 times more value to the company than they used to. What that means is they've STOLEN that money from other parts of the company, and given that average incomes have declined steadily for the middle and lower classes over the last 40 years, it's clear that they're stealing it from the regular people, the rest of the workers.

So, quite honestly, when they whine about taxes or contributing to Social Security, I have very little pity for them. When they get mad and say it's transferring their wealth to poor people, I don't feel too bad about it. It's Robin Hood returning us some of our taxes back, although in this case the government is Robin Hood and the CEOs and other executives are King John, taxing us too much by taking the fruits of our labor before it even gets to the tax man.

They don't care if we have health care, can take a vacation, can send our children to decent schools, own a home, or ever retire. They want us to work as hard and as much as they can make us for as little pay and benefits as they can get away with paying us. They don't care what the politicians or pundits tell us as long as it benefits their wealth, in the short term.

That's why I don't care if we make them pay a little more in taxes. It's my money and I'm just getting a portion of it back from the greedy bastards, and I want to do it in a way that benefits everyone and our economy as a whole, long-term, something else they don't care about, which surprises me sometimes.

Very consistently, for the last 30 years or so, conventional investing and business-management theories have favored short-term gains over any other concerns. They happily starve the economy of educated workers by attacking the erstwhile strength of our public education there's more money in the pockets of their campaign donors, who think this is therefore a good thing. They let health care costs get astronomical because the money goes to executives and stockholders of the companies in those industries, which makes them happy. They don't care if people spend more of their time sick. For some reason, they don't care about the reduction in productivity of their workers, who are sicker and disheartened because they can't do anything to improve their health, take time off to get better, or take care of their sick families. I guess it's because that reduction in productivity is harder to quantify.

The point, though, is that rich people are in it for their short-term profits over all other priorities. Because Republicans have figured out that if you have slick marketing, including being willing to use psychological warfare, terror tactics, lies, and manipulation, against your own people, and you have plenty of campaign funds from rich people because you are busy looking out for their short-term profits, you can stay in power indefinitely.

Until they get a clue. I've been trying to help with that, but dang, it sure is hard fighting all that slick publicity. People, whose educations were mostly mediocre at best, are inclined to believe the slick marketing, even when in the end it hurts us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Real Conservatives and Real Christians

It must be difficult being a real conservative right now when most of the people who call themselves conservative are acting and talking like far-right, reactionary terrorists. Difficult, uncomfortable, and confusing. Which is probably why so many of them have shelved their brains for a while rather than deal with naturally-arising angst. I wouldn't worry about it if they weren't running around advocating violence against people who disagree with them. Bunch of Pharisees, not Christians. CHINOs, I guess: CHristian In Name Only, because they don't remotely follow Jesus' teachings or example.

Stock Shorts - Gambling On & Causing Companies to Fail

Stock "shorts" should be illegal. You're not making an investment decision to purchase stock you think will go up or sell stock you have which you think will go down. You're simply betting money that a stock will go down, and decreasing the value of the stock at the same time. What's worse is that you can borrow someone else's money to do it. As a stock stumbles it trips a few shorts, some peole sell, some more people bet with shorts, the stocks slips further and suddenly the stock is in freefall. The company might be functioning fine but it could get destroyed. Even if it doesn't, most small investors will have been taken on the ride south but not be able to get back on the ride back up, so their 401K or nest egg has been plundered by gamblers. And you want to invest our precious Social Security in the stock market, too?! You want to get rid of all the restrictions and regulations protecting us, the little guys, so the wealthy can rape us for every cent and drop of sweat they can wring out of us?! What are you fucking crazy, Republicans? Your highly biased media outlets and corporatized politicians are lying to you for their own benefit, in ways which run counter to what would be best for all of us as a group. They're using increasingly incendiary, violent language on hot-button issues to galvanize well-meaning citizens into action and donations. They don't care who goes hungry, goes without medical care, can't perform a decent-paying job because they don't have an adequate education, can't retire because their savings or pension evaporated in our increasingly volatile stock market, can't get a job because our taxpayer dollars subsidized their job going overseas, or have terrible health problems because of pollution. They don't care about the deficit. If they did, they would have made a bigger deal about it when Bush took the surplus Clinton gave him and turned it into record levels of debt to pursue two badly-planned wars and tax cuts for the rich - which DIDN'T CREATE JOBS. Tax cuts for the wealthy when you're running deficits is reverse Robin Hood. Not only are you stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, you're stealing from the poor who are yet unborn and giving it to the rich. So much for the unborn. Republicans plan to bequeath you a country where you will be sick without affordable health care; not have a decent education; not have parents because they're too busy working their asses off to have any time to spend time with you; have too large of a family and not enough resources for any of you because no one is allowed to have abortions, contraception, or accurate sex education; not be able to get a job because legal and illegal immigrants are willing to work for less as well as people in other countries doing those jobs; and to top it off, anything you might have earned for yourself or which could have paid for government services WAS GIVEN TO RICH PEOPLE A GENERATION OR TWO AGO. Think about it. If you take their positions to their logical conclusion, that's where you end up. Under Bush, we were getting pretty close to that. QUIT LISTENING TO THE LYING LIARS LIKE FOX NEWS, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOWS, AND REPUBLICAN POLITICIANS.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Addendum - When Does Life Start and When Is a Life a Person With Rights?

Depending on your scientific perspective, it can be argued that eggs and sperm are alive. At a minimum, sperm are alive. They are created, they move, and after a time, particularly when exposed to certain external factors, they die and their bodies decay.

Eggs contain all of the tissue that becomes the zygote, other than a tiny strand of DNA. The difference in size between an egg and a sperm is roughly the Empire State Building relative to a pencil eraser. The eggs are created while the woman is still a fetus in her mother's womb. They definitely decay over time to a point where they are no longer able to be successfully inseminated and grow into a healthy fetus. Whether they can be said to have "life" or not is up for debate.

If a sperm is alive, then surely the zygote is alive. It may be tiny and consisting of only a few cells but it takes in energy and will continue to divide and grow into a human if nothing else happens to it. 1/3 of fetuses do not survive pregnancy due to miscarriage. It's a very fragile little life, and just because the insemination worked does not mean that it will be able to develop into a healthy baby.

Let's risk everyone's ire and consider babies. Based on many understandings of mammal procreation and development, human babies are still fetuses. Women's pelvises are not large enough to pass a fetus at the point of maturity of most mammals, so basically we give birth early and they are still a fetus for another 9 months or so.

So, if sperm are alive, should we condemn every act that results in sperm death? Should men not be allowed to ejaculate except when attempting to procreate? Should they not be allowed to wear tight clothing or go into hot tubs? Should they be fined for nocturnal emissions while they are asleep? No. That's ridiculous.

So, we see that there is a continuum of life starting with sperm, and somewhere along the development from sperm to 9-month old child, we have to decide at what age it is no longer acceptable to deliberately end that life, and under which circumstances. I agree with the standard that once a fetus is able to survive outside the mother's body with normal nourishment and care but no extra machines or devices, deliberately ending that fetus' life should not be allowed. Whether you want to call it a baby or a fetus is basically irrelevant, as I have shown. It is alive, has been alive since well before anyone would have insisted it could not be killed, and will continue to live as long as it's given the same normal care of any other infant.

The precise line we should draw until that point is a bit more murky. It isn't fair to penalize a woman without access to a fabulous neonatal unit if her premature fetus doesn't survive. It isn't fair to hold the neonatal staff legally responsible if they are not able to save every premature birth. They are already working against nature, and every baby they save should be considered a miracle of modern medicine.

Part of the problem is that different human fetuses survive outside the womb at different lengths of gestation. At some point in the third trimester, most fetuses can be born early and still be okay. Birth up to two weeks early seems to have almost as positive an outcome on average as on the due date.

Should we set the abortion limit at two weeks prior to due date? That's an uncomfortable choice. Already by that point, if the mother isn't having noticeable health problems, little will stop the pregnancy from successfully producing an infant.

If the mother IS experiencing health problems, she should have options. Her life is sacred, too. At some point most neonatal units could keep a fetus alive if it were delivered by induced vaginal birth or C-section. I don't know what that age would be, possibly a month early.

Electing an abortion for financial or emotional concerns at this point really shouldn't be allowed. You already had 4-8 months to figure those out. You and your fetus have already survived most of the pregnancy with your health intact, so if at that point you really don't want the baby or believe you can't take care of it, you can hang on a little longer and give it up for adoption. We'll help you survive through the end of it, but it isn't right to kill it when it's this close to a successful birth and life.

First term abortions performed by experienced medical professionals are very safe. They are safer than pregnancy.

Pregnancy is not always according to the will of the mother (or father). Rape and incest are real, as is the failure of contraception. Unquestionably, first term abortions should be legal. You can argue in favor of restrictions or requirements. This post is about "life" and in terms of life and health, when abortion should be made illegal.

I am not a medical professional, but I think it could be successfully argued that for many women, it would be appropriate and safer for them to choose to have an abortion into the second trimester, perhaps up to the 4th or 5th month. Maybe it should have stronger restrictions on it, but there's no strong reason why a woman should be prevented from having an abortion up to the 4th month. There's no way that fetus is going to survive into a healthy child no matter how many miracles you perform. Some women don't even realize they are pregnant right away, so there needs to be a little leeway.

So, I propose that abortion be freely allowed up to the 4th month, allowed with restrictions up to the 5 1/2 month (or somewhat later depending on the consensus of the medical knowledge), but from that point should only be allowed to protect the health of the mother. Seriously, if you couldn't figure out you were pregnant and that you really didn't want to have a baby right now up until that point, despite being physically able to, you have bigger problems and should talk to a gynecologist and/or a therapist.

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice - Analyzing the Arguments with a Christian Perspective

Both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice believers and activists have some valid, important points. Both sides would benefit from understanding and appreciating the validity of each others' points and attempting to arrive at a middle ground that honors their true intentions.

Contrary to the beliefs of many people on both sides of the issue, it is actually possible to accomplish this, and to do it within the framework of Christian belief. For those who read this post and aren't Christian, I think the moral values are generalized enough to fit within most religions. The point is that it is possible to analyze the issue from a Christian perspective and arrive at a Christ-oriented understanding and compromise.

Prepare to suspend your previous understandings, beliefs, and feelings on the issue until you finish reading the article. If you do not do that, there isn't much point in reading the article, is there?

First let's explore the Pro-Life perspective. The Pro-Life belief matches the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill." It's a clearly defined, unambiguous rule. It is also part of the "Old Testament," which means "Old Agreement." That was God's "old agreement" with humanity about what we would and would not do and therefore what would happen to us in the afterlife. Jesus' birth and death established a "new agreement," in which Jesus took on the sins of all and because he was himself sinless, all of our sins are forgiven. Our job is to try as much as possible to live like Jesus instructed and demonstrated and when we do sin, to recognize and admit it, ask for forgiveness and strive to never do it again. Because we are frail, imperfect humans, it is guaranteed that we will not perfectly achieve this goal. That's the legalistic part of the Christian argument. As you can see, it might be undermined by the fact that it's based in the Old Testament, but we can analyze that further later on.

Besides the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" underpinning of the Pro-Life position, there is a more emotional motivation, the feeling that babies, including fetuses, and for some Pro-Lifers, even zygotes, eggs, and sperm, are precious, sacred, a form of life, and should not be killed or wasted for any reason. Again there is that sort of hard-line "for any reason." There are a few Pro-Lifers who will concede a couple of extreme situations where that fragile early life could be understandably killed, such in the case of incest or the probable death of the mother if the baby were allowed to go to term. However, they are the exception. This really isn't in the core of belief of the Pro-Life perspective. Their essential position is that the procedure of abortion should be illegal.

Many of them are also against sex education, contraception, or even sex for any purpose other than pro-creation, at the extreme end. I'll get into that later.

The Pro-Choice perspective is that women must have freedom to make choices about their bodies as a matter of personal liberty, and that this freedom trumps the rights of the unborn to live, depending on the circumstances. There are a few Pro-Choicers who believe that women should have the right to abort at any stage of the fetus' development, for any reason, but most Pro-Choicers would prefer some limitation, including not allowing 3rd-term abortions except in the case of danger to the mother's health. Danger, not necessarily guaranteed death. This is the modern legal push of the Pro-Choice moment.

The Christian underpinning of the Pro-Choice moral perspective is in the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, specifically detailing the life and teachings of Jesus. What did Jesus preach in relation to abortion? Nothing. What did he advocate that we should do? Take care of the sick and needy. Jesus didn't condemn sinners. He reached out to them, demonstrated his compassion and took care of them and spoke to them about a better path, but not speaking cruelly to them or condemning them. He didn't state that everyone had the right to become rich. Quite the opposite. His rejection of the pursuit of worldly wealth is well known. He elevated as our example those who gave freely to those in need.

Where is the righteousness in these arguments? Murder is a sin, but we do not condemn the sinner, we reach out to them, care for them, heal them, and demonstrate our compassion.

How does this apply to resolving the conflicts in the positions of the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements?

First, let's be clear, Jesus never got involved in government. He refused to be or be considered a king, and did not get tangled up with politicians or governments. He reached out kindly to tax collectors, and when He was tortured under Roman punishment, He did not recant his beliefs, get into political arguments, or condemn anyone. In fact, He forgave them.

Would He have supported abortion? I doubt it. Would He have tried to pass legislation banning abortion? I doubt that, too. What would He have done? I believe He would have reached out to pregnant women and taken care of them. If they chose to have abortions He would not have condemned them or attempted to punish them. He would have kept reaching out to them, showing them compassion for the difficult situations they found themselves in, and hoped to convince them not to have an abortion.

Back then things were a bit simpler, and different in significant ways. Medical knowledge was very limited. It's unlikely they would have been able to identify whether a pregnancy was likely to kill the mother. They knew as a fact that many women died in childbirth and believed there was nothing they could do to prevent. They didn't have safe contraception. Life expectancy wasn't long. Most women did not have jobs away from home like we do now and it was easier to raise your children right there, as you worked in the fields or around the home, with other women around you doing the same thing. One thing Jesus made explicitly clear is that we should reach out and help widows, particularly widows with children, since there were few accepted ways for them to support themselves and their children. We know Jesus valued and reach out to children often.

Would Jesus have tried to get laws passed banning abortion? No. Would He have encouraged women to have abortions? No. He would have reached out to women considering abortions, helped them, not condemned them, and helped them after the pregnancy, whether that meant forgiving their choice or getting them help with raising the children if needed.

He would not have tried to eliminate public education and welfare programs. He would not have tried to cut or eliminate Unemployment, Social Security, or Medicare. He would not have supported money wasted on military or wars.

The living women and the children they already have would be important to him, and His approach would be compassion, inclusion, and care for them. He might well have counseled against abortion, but He would not have condemned those who made that choice.

If a woman became pregnant and for whatever reason felt that she couldn't physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or for whatever reason, properly care for the child, He would have tried to find alternatives for her. He would NOT have wanted her to risk her own health to have the child. He would not have wanted her to carry the pregnancy if it would harm the children she already had, but he would have tried hard to offer alternatives.

How have both sides gotten away from Jesus' principles? The Pro-Lifers need to forgive women, stop trying to legislate against abortion, reach out to them, and offer alternatives. That means supporting poor women, women who are ill, and women who work, so that they are able to properly care for their children. That means supporting public education, maternity and paternity leave, health care, and child care. If you want to set up an outreach program to spread the message against abortion, do it honestly. Call it "Alternatives to Abortion" or something, but do not pretend to be something you are not or lie to women who are investigating the option of abortion. Lying is a sin covered in the 10 Commandments, too. Be caring, compassionate, and offer real options to pregnant women, whether that be adoption or additional help so that they are able to keep the child, without giving misinformation about abortion. No one who calls themselves Christian should harass, threaten, or kill abortion providers or women who have chosen to have abortions.

The Pro-Choicers need to be more compassionate as well, and be willing to support women who choose to keep a pregnancy. They can acknowledge that life is sacred and that there are Christians and other people of various faiths who feel that abortion is wrong. In abortion counseling and clinics, they should provide complete information, including information about adoption and public services that might be able to help the women keep their children.

Those in the medical community who are uncomfortable providing abortion services must at least provide information to clients who request it on where they can get that information or those services. In the same pamphlet or packet could be information about other options. Pharmacies must fill prescriptions for contraceptives, including Plan B. If an individual pharmacist believes deeply that abortion is wrong in all circumstances, the most he or she should be allowed to do is include a pamphlet which compassionately offers information on other options. Honestly, it should probably be very similar to the same pamphlet the doctor would give out.

If a town does not have a medically licensed abortion provider (such as an RN or MD), there must be some sort of referral and transportation service to a nearby facility equal to what there would be for any other kind of medical need that the local community could not provide.

Children must be given clear, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education. I think it should include a discussion of reasons to abstain from sex entirely until marriage and in particular circumstances, such as with drug users, prostitutes, strangers, or anyone known to have multiple partners. A discussion about hormones and the difficulty of abstaining should be mentioned. Let the kids be prepared to resist and protect themselves. Rape and child and animal molestation should be clearly condemned. The discussion can include the time and expense of raising children, and data on how teen pregnancy effects their long-term financial prospects. Sex should not be demonized, however. It is a healthy expression of love and commitment within a safe relationship. The benefits of life partner relationships should be mentioned, including emotional, financial, physical, and in the raising of children. Alternatives to heterosexuality should be mentioned, at least in passing. Homosexuality is common enough that it should not be demonized, but again, life partnering and waiting to have sex until at least deeply committed should be encouraged. Fertility and the health risks of pregnancy to the mother and child should be discussed, especially in related to age, with both boys and girls.

The discussion can include encouragement to ask adults they trust and their faith community for their advice on a healthy approach to sexuality.

Parents should be encouraged to experience the program for themselves before deciding whether or not to allow their children to participate, and if they do not want their children to participate, the waiver form should specify that they promise to ensure their children receive adequate sex education from another source. They can be the source themselves, but they are at least promising to have those awkward discussions with their child.

A solid sex education program like the above, along with open discussions with children by their families and faith communities, will successfully teach children to handle sex and relationships responsibly. Some will choose to have sex anyway, but they will be armed with solid knowledge on what they are risking and how to obtain and use contraception, including STD-preventing devices.

Jesus' teaching and life comes down clearly on the Pro-Choice side, but only with the addition of providing care, options, and information to adults and children.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Don't Cry Over Spilled Oil

BP has to clean up the oil in the Gulf of Mexico as quickly as possible. The damage to natural flora and fauna of the coast and the ocean is incalculable. The longer you wait to clean up oil, the harder it is to do because it separates into smaller clumps and bubbles and spreads out farther and farther.

Part of the urgency is the coming hurricane season. The hurricanes will suck up the oil and spray it all over the southeastern US, the islands, and Mexico. It will kill and poison everything for years to come, including the people, plants, animals, and the land itself.

Congressman Joe Barton is an oily ass. It took decades for Exxon to pay all of the claims of the people damaged by their oil spill, which was nowhere near the scale of this one. Many of the people hurt by it DIED before they could collect. When you're looking at people whose livelihoods have been taken away, such as multigenerational fishermen and farmers who don't know how to do anything else, they can't just wait around for their settlements while BP fights tooth and nail to pay as little as possible to as few people as possible.

BP is facing probable bankruptcy. What will happen to all of those people hurt by the oil spill if BP goes under? THEY WON'T GET A FRIGGIN DIME. The TAXPAYERS will have to help them out. The $20 billion fund isn't a slush fund or a shake down. It probably represents 20% or less of the $ BP will owe people. It's a start, and it allows us (yes, the government we created and elected), to handle some of the claims as quickly as possible so American families don't starve to death waiting for the courts to get their asses in gear. It's not a transfer of wealth. Their livelihoods, health, and the health of their environment was STOLEN from them by a massive international corporation and it's a start toward paying those people back. BP can never fully restore what has been taken from them. The least it can do is help them out a little as they find other ways to get by.