Friday, April 30, 2010
Last fall I decided to write a blog. Then I realized that I don't live a particularly exciting life and therefore I probably wouldn't write a particularly exciting blog. Because I keep up with current events and usually have an opinion just about everything, I thought perhaps a current events blog might be interesting. Then I thought, “Why would anyone care about my opinion on current events?” It was then that I came up with the idea of getting the opinions of several people from across the country about a different topic each day. That is when American Currents was born.
It's been a (mostly) fun six months since we first began putting together the pieces of the site. Thirteen bloggers have contributed at different times throughout the months; six of them have been around since the beginning.
So, to all who contributed their well written words and to all who took the time to read those words, I thank you!
Though I had doubts at the outset that this would last or go anywhere, I’m sorry to see “American Currents” come to an end. Even finding myself sweating out a quick handful of paragraphs after midnight (following a play rehearsal, say), I enjoyed it. Having to check behind the headlines and write something thoughtful nearly every night was a wonderful exercise in self-discipline -- sort of a cross between writing calisthenics and a kind of social prayer.
Having been a sometime columnist before (for a daily newspaper in a small Oregon town back in the late 1980s), I knew that a typical theme of my pieces would have to be: “it ain’t necessarily so.” Anyone who writes on a regular basis, especially on topical subjects or breaking news, will inevitably come to that refrain, because too many citizens (not to mention politicians!) rush to have an opinion -- no matter where or how they derive it -- before bothering to obtain the solid factual background on an issue.
A decent commentator should at least be sharp enough to see the holes in a developing story, if not offer a few alternative explanations for what might seem obvious … and usually does, to most people. Breaking news is too often another form of gossip, or at least an excuse for it, because it’s easier to bellyache about “those Muslims,” or “those right-wingers,” or “big government,” or “illegal immigrants,” or a thousand other boogey-men, than ponder the complex and sticky issues that truly govern our daily lives.
I don’t think I’ll be writing about breaking news on a regular basis again for a while, but if you’re interested in following my activities, watch my acting demo reel on YouTube:
Read my in-depth book reviews at the California Literary Review:
Go to the British Web site “Book Drum” to see my in-depth profiles of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes:
and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
Sometimes I even remember to update my own Web site:
Or if you want to be a Facebook Friend, drop me an e-mail and let me know how to link up with you.
A place to opine
On current national news
My dream had come true.
It's sad to see a project like this come to a close. I own my own business and started it in the heat of a recession, and while it's amazing to have such freedom to start companies and projects in this country, it's also heartbreaking that no matter how noble a cause or good a product is, there's no guarantee of success. American Currents was (is?) a dedicated group of writers and thinkers who gave unique insight and reflection on hot topics in America. However, even with the drive and passion of all of us volunteers, the project did not succeed like we needed it to succeed.
It's been a fast 6 months, and a lot of pieces have been written by all of us. Sometimes under quick deadlines, and trying to balance writing with our jobs and careers. I will miss writing with these people. If you liked what I wrote and are interested in more, please check out my personal website: http://colonelshaun.com
I just want to thank everyone who came and read. Its been a great run, and I hope our paths cross again in the blog future!
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Hawking compares this to Columbus' discovery of America, which he states, “didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
Do you believe in Hawking's theories about life on other planets? Do you think we will ever make contact with aliens?
I really do not believe in aliens. My theory is, if aliens do exist, why haven't we come in contact with them before? If they are like nomads, why haven't they already plopped themselves onto our planet already? And what makes us so important that they would colonize here, on earth. There are still 8 other planets that they can conquer and colonize. What makes us think that we're that great that they just have to colonize us now?
Also, he's saying that they will be small microbes of animals. So, what makes us think that they are not have not come in contact them already, and categorized them under some new species that we just discovered. If aliens are real, how would we really know what they look like? For all we know, they can be a new form of caterpillar they discover in some remote island off of Australia in a year or two.
I would like to see Hawking spend some time studying something more substantial, like how to save the planet from ourselves than from an impending doom of aliens that we have yet still to discover.
A little exposure to the mind-bogglingly massive numbers of galaxies and stars out there (and therefore, logically speaking, planets as well), and the similarly mind-boggling amount of time most of them have been in existence, should convince anyone that the odds of there being other life in the universe are so big that it’s more of a certainty than a question for debate. Why haven’t we heard from it?
If I may respond to the questions raised by Ms. Lorenzini, to ask why aliens have not contacted us before is perhaps not to consider (for one thing) the forbidding logistical challenges of space travel (tremendous distances, versus the amount of fuel and probably breathable atmosphere one must bring along), and (for another) the minuscule amount of time we inhabit and take for granted as being “the whole picture.” We are as mayflies, who live but a few minutes to a few days (looking them up on Wikipedia, I am charmed to learn their taxonomic Order is “Ephemeroptera”), wondering why Plato hasn’t called us on the phone. Perhaps aliens are on their way toward Earth, and have been for centuries, but they have a lot of ground (err, space) to cover and our planet is so tiny, such a dust speck on the vast canvas of the universe, that it will take them an unimaginable amount of time to get here, and they may just miss us (or may have already). Another possibility is that those forbidding distances and logistics tend to heighten the chances that life on other heavenly bodies tends to stay where it is until either its own mistakes or planetary cataclysm destroy it and make room for another iteration of life (as may happen to homo sapiens). In any case, we’re more likely to hear from them, sending electromagnetic messages across that great vastness, just the way we are with SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project).
My suspicion is that in raising the issue, Hawking was mainly trying to start a little controversy among his colleagues and the relatively small circle of fans of his work and cosmology in general; and to remind everybody that he’s still alive and kicking -- no small matter, since he’s been thinking, writing, and living for decades with a neuro-muscular dystrophy related to ALS that has left him nearly entirely paralyzed. If I may toot my own horn in a small way, one of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison, was commissioned by National Public Radio in 1994 to write a holiday story, and he composed a futuristic Chanukah tale called “Go Toward the Light” about a scientist who uses time travel to go back to the Maccabean Revolt (2nd century BCE in Jerusalem), when a mere 10,000 Jews out-fought 60,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry under the Syrian king Antiochus; and the men from the future are basically responsible for the “miracle of the oil” that inspires the menorah lighting of the Chanukah holiday. I had the chance to proof-read and fact-check the story before it was published in book form, in the collection titled Slippage, and I objected to a passing reference to a still-active Stephen Hawking in a story that clearly is set well into the 21st century. So in the version printed in the 1997 story collection, Ellison inserted a reference to a scientific advancement that has Hawking still going strong. Maybe not as cool as first contact with aliens -- or the fact that Hawking is still doing his thing today on his own steam -- but I was kind of pleased.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The new law makes it a crime to be in Arizona illegally, and requires police to question people about their status if they suspect they may be illegal immigrants. Supporters of the law say it will help stop illegal immigrants from entering Arizona. Critics of the law say it will encourage racial profiling and may lead to hate crimes. President Obama has called the law “misguided” and called for lawmakers to work on immigration reform.
What do you think about Arizona's new immigration law?
I think Arizona's new immigration law is despicable. I am certain that many of the families who condemn the latest migrant population are the same families who exploited past populations rather than extending those job opportunities to the American citizens they now seem so concerned about protecting. I think that this ignorant law has its roots and strength married to the long-tired notion of white-entitlement. I have listened to too many complaints about how the Irish and the Italians had to make it as legal immigrants and struggle without help, but wasn't it the treatment of those waves of immigrants what sparked labor movements, not to mention the extensive help they received during the Great Depression?
I am all in favor of boycotting Arizona and it's products. I think America has become so vast and isolated in it's local politics that it is very important that States choosing adopt radically regressive policies feel the sting of our disapproval. Don't call it un-American just because you are too stupid or lazy to learn another language or share your civil liberties. If you made as little money as illegals do, you would demand tax exemption anyway.
I have so many mixed emotions about this that I don't know where to start. I understand why people would want to come to the U.S. There is more opportunity here than there is in other countries. They can get fed, have a place to stay, get health care, the whole nine yards. They also know that even if they do it the illegal way, people will still help them out and give them jobs. I understand that we have it fairly easy here.
Everyone knows the saying, “one bad apple can ruin the whole barrel.” That is what is happening here. I am sure that there are plenty of immigrants that are coming here legally; filling out the proper paperwork and doing everything legitimately. I know that there are a lot of immigrants in my grandmother's apartment complex who are doing things the right way, and know more about their benefits and rights than someone who was born here. So why would I want someone here doing things illegally, stealing our money, stealing our resources, and leave us high and dry?
Yes, I am sure that this law will help with racial profiling, but don't blame the law for racial profiling. It has been going on for years, this law has only given the state a reason to do it legally. Is it right? No. Do I agree with racial profiling? No. I am sure that there is an easier way for Arizona to crack down on their immigration laws. Yes, they are misguided in their approach, but I do not have an answer on how to fix it.
The law is redundant and (unless Arizona plans to kick in considerably more funding for the U.S. Border Patrol or beef up its own state police) nearly useless as state policy. I doubt it’s going to make potential illegal immigrants pause about coming over the border; the only change will be that they’ll try to get across the state faster. I would contend that its only real effect -- and possibly the true, subconscious reason Arizonans wanted it passed -- was to give existing law enforcement officers more reason to hassle anyone who looks vaguely Hispanic.
Racial profiling is already a fact of life, I’m sure -- perhaps no more in Arizona than in any other state. As for hate crimes, I don’t think the perpetrators of such offenses are the type to take their cues from state legislation. Arizona is already feeling the heat: as of Tuesday, six groups have canceled meeting or convention plans in the state, and more calls for a boycott are coming in. The Obama administration is looking into challenging the law in court on constitutional grounds, and even a supporter of the restrictions, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, admitted that “good people in Arizona are so afraid of an uncontrolled border that they passed a law that I think is unconstitutional.”
Kris Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who helped Arizona draft the legislation, defended its constitutionality by saying, “the bill will withstand any preemptive challenge” because it reinforces existing federal immigration laws and creates no new immigration crimes. Well, which is it? Either it does something new that Arizona thought necessary, and therefore merits close legal scrutiny and possibly the outcry that has greeted it; or it does nothing new and therefore is little more than a political sop to the state’s white voters. In any case, Arizona has a long history of being the opposite of progressive: many have mentioned its opposition to the Martin Luther King holiday for three years after the rest of the country had adopted it, but few have recalled its bitter fight against the Equal Rights Amendment in the early 1980s. I think the state is in the process of falling flat on its face again.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Police say Melchert-Dinkel logged into suicide chat rooms posing as a female nurse for the purpose of assisting people to commit suicide. However, the accused did not physically harm his alleged victims, but instead encouraged them and offered instructions as to how to end their lives. In fact the two victims did not live in the United States; one was from Canada and the other was from the United Kingdom.
Should a person who encouraged and offered instructions to commit suicide be held responsible for the deaths of those he assisted?
I absolutely believe that a person who encourages and gives directions to a suicidal person that leads to that person's death should be held accountable for their actions. First and foremost, rational people are not suicidal – and if someone encounters an unstable person who wishes to harm his or herself, they should try to seek help in preventing the person from committing suicide – not to offer assistance in ending their life.
Another thing that I find shocking is how easy it is for unstable people who wish to harm themselves to find other people with the same tendencies in chat rooms. A simple Google search of “suicide chat” will bring up several chat rooms – not for talking people out of harming themselves, but for people to get together to chat about ways to off themselves. We live in a society that is already violent enough due to outside influences. We as a society need to do more to get help for misguided people who want to hurt themselves.
Wow. This presents a quandary. On the one hand, it’s more amazing evidence of how awful people can behave, based on the promptings of their amoral curiosity; but on the other, it’s hard to find a solid legal basis on which to punish this man for his wretched actions, without eroding the freedom of speech.
It’s not just that Mr. Melchert-Dinkel posed as a young female nurse, sometimes calling himself Li Dao, sometimes Falcon Girl or Carni D; it’s that he pretended to be contemplating suicide himself, and made pacts with other people in which both pledged to hang themselves in front of webcams and watch each other die. Of course, Li Dao’s webcam always seemed to malfunction, leaving Melchert-Dinkel free to watch the other person do away with him- or herself. He might never have been caught if a 64-year-old British woman named Celia Bray hadn’t become concerned about a teenage friend who told her about an online suicide pact with a female nurse. Bray and another friend, Kat Lowe, secretly gathered information and tracked Melchert-Dinkel down to his home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Neither British police nor the FBI showed any interest in the matter, but Minnesota police finally followed it up and arrested the man, who prosecutors say may have encouraged at least five people to kill themselves.
I’m not sure he can be held responsible for these deaths. The deceased persons might well have ended up killing themselves anyway, one way or another. I’m not sure there’s a firm legal basis to charge or convict him of anything, particularly since he acted across national borders via the Internet. He should be prosecuted anyway, even if it’s a losing proposition, because bringing what he’s done out into the light of day might be enough to shame him into stopping. People will certainly be more aware of him in the future. The solution here seems to be to deny him any further access to the Web. It seems to me that ISPs and other Web-based services, being private companies, can refuse service to anyone; maybe they can keep him from poking his despicable mind into other people’s tender psyches.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Randi Kearns insists that her husband is not a violent man, and does not want to raise her three children alone. Adam Kearns says he has no memory of assaulting his wife of ten years because he has an REM sleeping disorder which makes him act out his dreams.
Should a judge be able to force a husband and wife to have no contact with each other when there is the possibility of future violence occurring, or should the family be able to live together?
I think in most cases where restraining orders are issued, the protected person is quite relieved to have the protection. However, in this case it seems that a judge has issued the sentence much to the dismay of both parties involved. If I am imagining this case like all others, there is a prosecutor and a defendant. The father is clearly the defendant, but who is prosecuting here? Who wants, so badly, to keep these people apart? If they were kids, if this was a routine occurrence, if the mother was afraid, if he had a history of violence, if he was hurting the children as well, then by all means, sentence him. However, the wife wants him back, he wants back, it just begs the question: who wants these people apart so bad?
It seems like the legal system should withdraw their sentence. The doctors, wives, and general public seem to side with this level-headed couple. Unless we hear a convincing case from someone who wants these people apart, then I don't see a need to enforce such a lose-lose situation for this family. Obviously the court has the authority to separate two people, but it seems like if they're not unhappy together than it's a little silly. This case is slightly more serious than my closing example, but if your bed-mate snores, and you can deal with it, then no one should come between you.
I can actually see both sides in this situation. The couple has been married for ten years and have had no prior issues of domestic violence, and they raising small children together. They want to get past this one-time incident and move on with their lives. The judge, however, has a responsibility to maintain the law and there is no saying that if Mr. Kearns suffers from a sleeping disorder that causes him to act out his dreams, he may very well dream about taking on Mike Tyson tomorrow night. And then what?
If the Kearns are allowed to live together until the matter is settled and Mr. Kearns happened to have another sleep-punching incident that inflicted harm (or worse) upon his wife, just imagine the lawsuit that would follow. While I am sympathetic toward the family during this time, I can't say that I don't disagree with the judge. Let's just hope there is a speedy resolution to the case and Mr. Kearns finds medical assistance for his sleeping disorder.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Earth Day is now 40 years old. Whether four decades of Earth Days were closer to a moving force in the advancement of environmental consciousness and laws or merely a symptom, things are clearly different today. We have more fuel efficient vehicles (not as many, and not as efficient, as they should be -- and would have been if the Big Three automakers hadn’t fought tooth and nail against every innovation and new law; we can thank the Japanese for getting Americans off their fat rears on this); people are recycling (not half as much as they could or should; and I’ll have more to say on that in a week or two); and even corporations are putting a green face on their activities.
I suppose it’s a victory that the average citizen pays lip service to environmental issues and global warming, while in 1970 he was more likely to regard environmentalists as long-haired hippy commies. On the other hand, the 1970 Earth Day advocates targeted off-shore oil drilling, and President Obama recently cleared the way for more wells off the Atlantic Coast. An exploratory oil rig 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana obligingly blew up this week, killing a possible 11 people, badly injuring 26 others, and threatening to spill as much as 336,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico -- proof that oil is just as safe and healthy as coal mining, and a preview of coming attractions. (British Petroleum leased the $650 million rig for half a million dollars a day!) The Comptroller General for the state of Georgia, James L. Bentley, provided a contemporary version of the know-nothings of the past: he suggested this week that Earth Day might be a communist plot, because it fell on the 100th birthday of Vladimir Lenin. And the Daughters of the American Revolution passed a resolution to call global warming “distorted and exaggerated by emotional declarations and by intensive propaganda.”
In contrast to Mr. Lee, I rode city buses around the Portland metro area to get to a film shoot and a play rehearsal Thursday. Most days I walk three blocks to an office job, having gone carless now (with occasional resort to the car-sharing service Zipcar) for seven or eight years. Despite the adjustments I and millions of other Americans have made, and despite 40 years of Earth Days, that’s not going to be enough. Our species has doomed itself, probably (as I predicted on “American Currents” when we wrote about 2012 end-of-the-world myths back on November 19) within five or six more generations, or 150 years. Mr. Lee can quibble about the numbers -- god knows the picture is far larger and more complex than human science can easily encompass -- but anyone with half a grain of sense accepts that we have placed ourselves in terrible danger; and the longer we deny it, the swifter and more dire the results are going to be for us and our children.
So, yesterday was Earth Day. What a waste of time and energy. It doesn't matter. In the long run no matter how much we recycle, conserve, or reuse, the Earth will keep turning. That is just the way it is. If the environmentalists were honest with us for a minute, they would admit that they don't have conclusive evidence. Even their poster child, Al Gore, has had parts of his Nobel Peace Prize winning movie refuted. (The Nobel Prize isn't what it once was now that President Obama won the award for...well, we aren't exactly sure what he did to earn the award. Call me if you find out.)
I don't believe there is a such thing as global warming. (Now I think they call it climate change.) They changed the name because the Earth hasn't actually warmed in the last several years. They did the same thing back in the 1970's and 80's. Back then the Earth was cooling and we were on the verge of another Ice Age, so they changed it to warming as the Earth started a warming trend. With all of the changing and confused science, I choose to believe that those people are pretty arrogant to think we puny humans can actually alter the Earths climate all by ourselves.
No, global warming is just another liberal fallacy that has been drummed up to scare little kids. I remember being taught about global warming in elementary school and how if we don't recycle we will all burn up. (Okay, it might not have been that dramatic, but it was close.) I painted a recycling bin and misspelled the word "Recycle". So my teacher took the bin and threw it in the trash and gave me a new one to paint. So much for the urgency.
I hope you had fun on Earth Day. I had a great day. I drove my 5.4 Liter V-8 Ford F-150 to work, caught a few angry stares from my Prius driving neighbors. I smile and wave, so glad to know that I can sleep good knowing that my commute didn't really matter to the Earth. Never has, never will.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Torry Hansen has stated that the boy, Artyom Savelyev, was prone to hitting, screaming and spitting at family members as well as threatening to kill them. She claims the behavior started shortly after she adopted him six months ago. Hansen purchased a plane ticket for Artyom to return to Russia alone, with a note stating, “I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, … I no longer wish to parent this child. As he is a Russian national, I am returning him to your guardianship.”
The incident has caused international outrage, with the president of Russia calling it a “monstrous deed” as his government decides whether or not to cut off adoptions to American citizens.
Today we asked our panel if they believe Torry Hansen went to far in “returning” her adopted child, or if she had just cause to do so if she felt unsafe with him in her home.
My heart just breaks in this situation. It really does. Ever since I heard of this, I tried so hard to see both sides of the story, and each time,I side with the boy, but hear me out. It must be extremely hard to be an adoptive parent, especially to a child who is that age and who is from another country. Yes, it was incredibly selfless of this woman to adopt him, since it seems that in the adoptive world, you can pick and choose who you want, and most of the children that are adopted are healthy babies. However, I have had some questions for this woman: Why did you even want to adopt this child? Was it to make yourself look better or to fill some gaping hole that was in your life? What were you thinking when you decided to adopt a child, especially one who is already 6 and basically had his mind made up about life?
Now, she is saying that the Russians lied to her, saying that she wanted a stable, healthy child, and they gave her him, who was a "monster." Granted, he may have shown no signs of being a "monster" while in Russia. Children can act differently around different adults. They just click differently. Maybe this kid got a weird vibe off of this woman, thinking that she didn't really love him. Now I believe that the Russian government has every right to be furious with her. She sent him back unattended with just a note. Seriously, who does that? This child was in her care for 6 months! I have bunnies that I had for about a month that I grew attached to, so how can this woman not get attached? Okay, silly question. Maybe she didn't have motherly instincts? I don't know.
But my heart really goes out to this kid. I'm not really sure of the circumstances of him being in an orphanage, but whatever the reason, I'm sure its pretty bad for you to be taken from your parents (especially if your parents have passed away). This kid has been waiting to be adopted for 6 years, so he probably has it in his head that he is not wanted, not loved. Then to be sent back by himself on a plane? Oh the disappointment and rejection he must be feeling! Even before he was sent back, the poor kid was probably frightened, and didn't know how to express himself properly. You can't expect a child to act like an adult with their emotions. The kids is probably feeling a lot of things, and he just needs someone to show him some type of love and acceptance. Even if it does mean taking him to a psychiatrist when he was showing signs of violence. Sure, there are other kids that show violence, but this kid was not in a normal circumstance, so I think he just needed some extra grace shown.
Torry Hansen did not have just cause to put a 7-year-old child unattended on an international flight without notifying any official agency in Russia that the boy was en route, no matter how he had misbehaved. In fact, if he was a dangerous as she has claimed (the 33-year-old Shelbyville, Tennessee woman has said he threatened to kill the family and actually had set a small fire in the home), she should have made sure he was chaperoned and proper authorities notified all along the way, or she was not only endangering the boy’s life but those of many others as well.
Ms. Hansen had plenty of other options, far less drastic and expensive. She should at least have contacted the World Association for Children and Parents (WAfCaP), the Seattle-based agency that had arranged her adoption in the first place, but she didn’t. A representative of Miriam’s Promise Adoption Agency in Nashville suggested to CBS News that they or Catholic Charities would readily have helped her out. Both Russians and her Tennessee neighbors have expressed outrage: “They ought to give her some jail time,” one Shelbyville resident was quoted as saying.
This woman set off an international incident between the U.S. and Russia, leading to a temporary suspension of all adoptions from the latter to the former and affected hundreds of other families and prospective adoptees. Russia is the third-largest source of adoptions for Americans: according to the National Council for Adoption, about 2,300 of more than 18,000 adoptions last year came from there. If she received advice on the course of action she took from an “online lawyer,” as she told CNN, then that person should also be identified and investigated for possible malfeasance. The good news is that three Russian families have stepped forward and expressed a willingness to adopt Artyom.
Wow. I'm somewhat shocked that this woman's characteristics weren't bleeps on the pre-screening radar. This woman is lucky that she adopted. A real parent does not have such an easy out. Careless teens, and fathers who's tubes come untied aren't afforded such a handy "get out of parenthood free" card. When a 'mother' adopts, she becomes legal guardian of the child. No matter how dangerous the kid gets, you don't just turn him loose.
There isn't much else to say about this. She definitely went too far. Be like the rest of us and deal with your mistakes.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Fox News reports that In an interview on Sunday, Timothy Geithner the Treasury Secretary, said that the Obama Administration is paying attention to deficits more closely than the Bush Administration. Or in other words: Obama and the Tea Party movement are on the same side. This answer was in response to a question on NBC's "Meet the Press" about the tea party protests. According to the article President Bush had a $458.6 billion deficit in his last full year in office, while Obama is projected to top $1 trillion for the next several years in a row. Did Timothy Geithner make more math errors like he did on his tax returns or do you think that the Obama administration really is paying more attention to deficits?
Like so many Americans, I am also concerned about the size of our growing national deficit. Our nation is experiencing a decline in both productivity and education, which is an incredibly dangerous position to be in even when we are in a state of fiscal surplus.
Further handicapping ourselves through over-spending only stands to magnify our global decline as a super-power, and the timing of our decline could not come at a worse time. More nations are learning how to sustain complex infrastructure, one of America's last frontiers of excellence, and our citizens are having to compete for food and shelter in an ever-increasingly competitive world.
While I feel that our nation's fiscal irresponsibility has been the legacy of the last century, I am certain beyond any doubt that this issue is being mined for all of the fear it can inspire by those in this country looking to keep money and control out of the hands of average citizens.
Corporations have out maneuvered the American legal system for the past 50 years, and now, when corporations are experiencing the biggest decline in their power and influence in half a decade, they are pulling on their strings as forcefully as possible.
Jokes about math might be good for concealing a desire for greed and selfishness, but the reality, which for some reason has not been a position well championed in response to the tar-and-feather approach being brought by the Tea Party and the GOP at large, is that our deficit stems almost exclusively from the dark and insidious policies maintained by the last Bush administration.
The primary cause in my opinion is the unprecedented tax-breaks which Bush permitted, while simultaneously reducing oversight so that coffers could be raided at will. At the time, the Bush administration hid behind a misdirection of claiming that more money in rich pockets meant more money in every ones pockets.
Meanwhile, the same people getting the huge tax breaks were hoarding that capital and instead encouraging dangerous loan practices, essentially liquidating the savings of a nation while preserving their own wealth. I find it ironic that Madoff received such national attention when he was one of only a few rich crooks to rob from their own peers.
Our nation has less money than ever, we allowed our privately wealthy citizens to keep all their stolen money while the rest of the country begs for a pass on their taxes, and now those same wealthy people are trying to manipulate middle-class citizens into a state of outrage that our nation is trying to continue to pay for the services we depend on while it copes with perhaps the least Christian or even secularly-moral behavior I have ever witnessed.
If American's are so concerned about the deficit, stop driving, going to parks, calling the police, littering and pay more taxes. One day our nation will collapse beneath the weight of our absurd sense of entitlement.
Oy vey. All I know is that we are in a deficit. Whether it’s $485 billion or $1 trillion, it’s a boat load of money. You can say that you are watching your money all you want, but that is not limited to watch it fly out the window. Obama can easily say that he is watching our money and our deficit, but all I see is the tax credits he is handing out, the new health care reform that will cost more money, we still have troops in Iraq, and heck, in one of last weeks blog, only what, half of America is paying taxes? Where are we getting all this money from?
I don’t doubt Obama is watching our money. Seems like Obama is a dreamer. A real big dreamer that has a huge price tag stuck to it. In a way I can’t blame him. But before I see him doing this health care reform, I would really like to see some action from him when I hear that he is watching our deficit. I would really like to see him making some type of reasonable budget on our spending, some actual cut backs that won’t harm us (maybe see some higher up officials in DC getting salary cuts?). I am sure there are ways to have this shrink up to less than what Bush had it.
I’m sure Geithner could have had some math errors, not sure if they were intentional or not (maybe some where in between). But why be mad at him for making a math error when we all know that there is still a deficit with a president who wants to spend more money?
There is a famous story by Hans Christian Andersen called, "The Emperor's New Clothes." In the story a couple of swindlers tell the Emperor that they have developed some new clothes that only those who are stupid or unfit cannot see.
The Emperor, however, cannot see the clothes himself, but lies to not appear stupid as do his high ranking officials. It isn't until a small child calls out, "He isn't wearing any clothes!" That the rest of the people begin to realize what has happened. The emperor cringes, but presses on ahead, because he is embarrassed.
Barack Obama is the Emperor. He has listened to his Liberal professors and confidants who have taught him that capitalism is evil and government is the answer to everything. And anyone who says differently is stupid, bigoted, and hate filled. While looking back at the history of the United States he has moments of doubt, but does not want to appear stupid so he agrees.
Timothy Geithner is one of the high ranking officials. He, too, is scared to be called stupid, so he continues the charade. He cannot possibly believe that the deficit is actually being watched more closely than in years past.
Let me be the one to say: THE EMPEROR ISN'T WEARING ANY CLOTHES! Barack Obama's spending spree is NOT helping our economy. We the people need to yell this louder, and louder, and louder. And on November 2, 2010 we can yell the loudest with our votes.
Geithner’s reported comments make me want to laugh. Not a “ha-ha-that’s-stupid” laugh, but more of a “ha-ha-nice-try” laugh. While I have little doubt the Obama administration really is paying more attention to budget deficits than the Bush team did (for any number of reasons -- from a possibly stronger philosophical interest in the matter to the fact that we’ve now been in a recession for more than a year and there’s just a lot more pressure on Obama than there was on Bush with regard to budget deficits), that doesn’t put the White House in the same boat with the Tea Partiers. On that, I think the Tea Party crowd would readily agree with me.
That the deficits are much bigger now is absolutely no reflection on how much attention the current chief executive is paying to them, or whether he’s been attacking them the best way. To question the Obama-Geithner team’s math is beside the point. Odds are the deficits would have been comparably large whether McCain or Edwards or even Jeb Bush had been elected President in 2008, because they were largely put there by a combination of George W. Bush’s wars and the multibillion-dollar misbehavior of Enron, Lehman Brothers, and a vast array of banks.
What is “ha-ha-that’s-stupid” is the Tea Partiers’ assertions that Obama is to blame for the size of the deficits or the time it is taking (and will take) to turn them around. But then, these are the sort of people who can’t see that Medicare, Social Security, and U.S. military benefits are all socialist programs (and what’s wrong with -- no -- what is socialism, anyway? They certainly couldn’t tell you), but are inclined to hold a person’s middle name against him.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Time Magazine Columnist Joe Klein suggested in an interview on The Chris Matthews Show that Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh's statements about the current administration could be considered sedition. According to the NewsBuster's article, "the legal definition of sedition is 'a revolt or an incitement to revolt against established authority.'"
Sedition was declared a felony by the Supreme Court in Pennsylvania v. Nelson, yet the Declaration of Independence states: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government..."
Also, according to the article, Klein charges that the only reason this is happening is because President Obama is African-American, his middle name is Hussein, and people are scared of the economy.
If a citizen believes that Congress has ignored the will of the people is it sedition to encourage the rest of the citizens to follow the Declaration of Independence? Does Joe Klein have a point or is this another example of people who disagree with the president being called racist?
Joe Klein appears to be picking a fight with American citizens he will never win. For any of you who have read my past political rantings, I am far from a fan of the Tea Party leaders and other right-wing politicians and media-celebrities. Having read several descriptions of the Tea Party's psudo-doctrine, I can't help but feel that the overall direction is small-minded, petty, and ignorant of the majority of problems facing most of our nation.
Having made my position clear, I think that Mr. Klein is a fool for entering into the name-calling and chest-thumping game. I think that along with so many other traditions in our young country, American's hold great reverence for the "power-of-the-people." This poorly defined and often misrepresented vision of independence and personal authority is none-the-less a critical representation of the insurance police America was forced to extend to it's future citizens in order to achieve an union of states and territories, in the first place.
I can't believe that educated taunting of Mr. Klein's ideological opponents will do anything to change the problems he is complaining about. Of course people are afraid that Obama has dark skin, of course they are afraid of his religious convictions, and of course, some of the people who feel this way are horrible racists trying nothing more that to undermine progress and preserve their personal pride at the cost of all other rights, but who wins now.
All Mr. Klein has achieved by these callous remarks is a spot on future protest posters as an example of another elite do-gooder ruining our nation. In my opinion, Sarah Palin has every right to sink her fangs deep into the xenophobic veins of her followers, and it is up to the rest of us citizens to hold strong against her well-laid (maybe?) plans. If you don't like the politics, join the cause of the opposition, but sitting judgement on television and declaring your opposition as essentially un-American, sounds like a page right out of the Palin/Beck/Limbaugh book.
I wish someone with a brain, AND a heart could manage to speak about these issues without thumbing their noses at hard working Americans. Don't win them over, don't crush them underfoot, just keep moving and make them keep up to survive. Speak to people with kindness and acceptance, and they just might listen.
Technically speaking, and even philosophically, I think Klein has a point, but probably not a legal one; and I suspect he’s not really urging these loudmouths be taken to court. I read his statements as a strong hint to people who listen to Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh to stop and think a moment about the ugly, vehement, over-the-top language that these talking heads indulge in; and to consider whether it’s wise, dignified, or good citizenship to repeat everything they say to one’s friends and neighbors as if it were gospel truth (or even sensible). Palin is trying to pursue a career as a politician (I think), and I predict that she will never be elected to national office. Beck and Limbaugh are “unelected officials,” however, and they try to have it both ways: they want to be taken seriously as political thinkers, but the minute they got caught in a lie or realize they’ve overstepped the bounds of taste or dignity, they’ll say, oh, but I’m an entertainer, what I’m doing is satire.
The real point here is that opponents of the current administration are being hypocritical: they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Nobody ever openly and publicly wished for President Bush to fail, as Limbaugh has about Obama; we were merely unsurprised that he didn’t succeed. Nobody ever gave Bush a hard time for pretending to be as much of a Texan as he was a New England Yalie, let alone questioned his citizenship altogether. I don’t recall that anyone ever questioned President Bush’s patriotism, either; we merely disagreed with him on how best to express it.
More to the point, I strongly suspect many of the right-wingers who invoke First Amendment free speech rights today are precisely the ones who wanted to deny it to others in the past. I’ll give you better than even odds that many of them favored prosecution of flag burning, and lobbied not only to yank NEA funding from controversial artists but wanted them prosecuted for obscenity. Most telling of all, if you showed them the passage from the Declaration of Independence above (“it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it”), without telling them where it comes from, they not only wouldn’t recognize it but a majority of them wouldn’t endorse it. I know, because it’s been done before. In 1976, shortly before the Bicentennial, a survey did just that, and a good 75 percent of people questioned on the street thought the passage was un-American, “commie crap.”
I don’t see any way to account for the fierce opposition to the current elected President (who clearly attained office on a greater popular- and electoral-vote basis than President Bush for either of his terms) than at least partly because of racism. Hilary Clinton suffered similarly ugly attacks when her husband was president, because a good segment of the population is uncomfortable with women in or close to power, and they could deflect their discomfort with Bill Clinton’s policies onto her -- because they thought he was likable. I don’t really care whether you could make a case for sedition against the enemies of the President; what matters to me is that they’re being disrespectful to the office of the President; to their fellow citizens, a majority of whom elected Obama to that office; and yes, ultimately to their country. They do not, in fact, seem to know how to be good American citizens.
Monday, April 19, 2010
I am a Christian and sometimes I am embarrassed to tell people. I feel like my faith has been hijacked by a group of people that practice a brand of Christianity that I do not support or agree with. They are about hating things: Homosexuality, Abortion, People, etc.
Christianity should be about love, loving even those that have done the very worst things. This is a post I wrote about a year ago that talks about the God I serve: A God of Love.
My little brother is an amazing musician. He can sing just about any song, any style, and even a couple of languages.
However, my favorite song that he has ever performed has these lyrics: “My God is so high you can’t get over Him; He’s so wide you can’t get around Him, He’s so low you can’t get under Him. You must come in by and through the Lamb.”
You often hear about God being big and doing big things. He helped Noah build a huge boat. He helped Gideon destroy a huge army. He parted the waters to allow the Israelites to escape Egypt. He sent his Son to die on the Cross to save the entire world from its sin.
We have heard about God’s power, His strength, and His omniscience. I was reminded yesterday of the two best qualities of God. His gentleness and His love.
I need to back up a bit and tell you a couple of stories one about Elijah and the other about a horrific tragedy.
If you want to read this whole story it can be found in 1 Kings, chapters 18 and 19. God had just performed a miracle through Elijah by ending the drought in Israel. Jezebel, the Queen, was not happy with Elijah and threatened to kill him. (The fact that Elijah didn’t trust God at this point is a great story for another time.) Elijah runs to a cave and hides out to save his own life. God instructs Elijah to go to the mouth of the cave and wait for the Lord to pass by. A powerful wind came, then an earthquake, and then a great fire came, however, God was not in any of those loud and obvious events. Soon after the great fire Elijah heard a gentle whisper.
God was in the whisper. Elijah experienced the presence of God in a whisper.
Ok. Hold on to that thought for a minute.
On July 25, 2006, Jennifer Ewing was riding her bike on the Silver Comet Trail near Atlanta, GA when she was attacked and murdered. On Monday, May 18, 2009, Michael Ledford was found guilty of her murder in Paulding County Superior Court.
I went to the first full day of the sentencing portion of the trial on Tuesday, May 19, 2009. As I walked into the courtroom and sat down the court was in the midst of deciding which of the audio tapes from prison would be admitted to support the prosecution in their bid to sentence Mrs. Ewing’s killer to death. The tapes that were played caused me to be even more angry with Mr. Ledford than I was when I got to court.
He complained about the cable television channels he was able to watch, he complained that his family wasn’t sending him money fast enough, he complained about being on suicide watch, and on the list goes of things he complained about. Just before the jury came back into the courtroom the prosecutor gave a brief description of another audio tape that he wanted to play. It was a phone call between Michael Ledford and his 14 year old niece. The description of the phone call was not pleasant. I assumed that a 20 second description of a 20-30 minute phone call would have only the out of context highlights and therefore the actual call wouldn’t be as bad as it sounded. I could not have been more wrong.
As the conversation was played tears came to my eyes as he described himself as famous. As his niece related to him as if he was on a reality television show and not in jail for murder. The news media was described as “paparazzi” there to take photos of Mr. Ledford's family for some gossip magazine and not because her uncle was accused of murdering a wife and mother of three. He asked his 14 year old niece to send him picture of her and her friend in bikinis. He agreed when she asked if it would make him feel “warm and fuzzy inside.” He told her to send him a letter addressed to “Handsome Mike”. He told her that if she came to visit him he wanted her to wear skimpy clothes and bring her friend. He told her that she didn’t need to worry about jogging on the Silver Comet Trail, that he would make sure all the bad guys knew to leave her alone. He talked about the injuries he sustained to his genitalia and that he was healing okay and was able to “carry his parts.”
Until May 19, 2009, I had never been in the same room with evil. It was sickening to hear him talk about his inconveniences in jail while I knew the pain and torment that he had caused the Ewings. While we were grieving with the Ewings, it seemed as if he was already moving on to his next victim, his own niece. A chill ran down my spine as I sat on the hard wooden bench in the courtroom. You could hear a pin drop.
There in the eerie, sickening silence, after hearing the worst thing I have ever heard in my life, I heard a gentle whisper that could only come from God: “I love him, just as much as I love you.”
Just like with Elijah, God showed up in a whisper. The still small voice from deep within my soul reminding me once again of a love that is so amazing, so complete, and so out of the ordinary that He loves us in spite of our brokenness.
With the personification of evil right in front of me in the courtroom I could hear my little brother’s voice in my head singing, “My God is so high you can’t get over Him; He’s so wide you can’t get around Him, He’s so low you can’t get under Him. You must come in by and through the Lamb.”
My God is so big.
Friday, April 16, 2010
According to the Associated Press nearly half of US Households (47%) will owe nothing in Federal Income Tax for 2009. In addition, "...credits for low- and middle-income families have grown so much that a family of four making as much as $50,000 will owe no federal income tax for 2009, as long as there are two children younger than 17, according to a separate analysis by the consulting firm Deloitte Tax."
These households are not required to pay for any of the programs that benefit all Americans: National Defense, Education, Infrastructure, etc. The bottom 40% of income tax filers actually make a profit from filing their taxes, while the top 10% of filers pay 73% of all taxes.
Is there anything wrong with this? Does it bother you that almost half of the United States doesn't contribute anything?
I find it very interesting that the Obama rhetoric is that the rich aren't paying their fair share. It is plain to see from the numbers above that the rich in our country actually pay the VAST majority of all taxes to begin with. (This is before Obama's planned increases at the end of 2010.) So, yes, it bothers me a great deal that almost 1/2 of the country doesn't have any skin in the game.
As a former tax accountant I am all too familiar with these numbers. And I am also appalled that the number of people that do not pay ANYTHING is growing every year. The sad fact is that we are rapidly approaching the 51% threshold of no return. It will be at this point that the majority of people in the United States pay nothing and receive everything.
Those of us that have managed to work hard, get an education, and make something of ourselves will have to pay for those that did not. This hardly seems fair, but the Liberals would be hard pressed to fight for the rights of those who actually worked hard.
I don't mind paying taxes, I think that there are some necessary government functions, however, I think that everyone should pay something and that is why I am a fan of the Fair Tax. (If you haven't read about it, I would encourage you to find some information.)
Everyone will be able to have their basic necessities tax free and then and only then will you be taxed on purchases that are above and beyond those limits. So, the person down the street that currently pays no taxes, but has a nicer car than you...he will have to pay taxes.
The mooching class in the country are realizing that as long as they keep electing Democrats into office they will continue to go through life receiving benefits without paying for them and that is not right.
This doesn’t bother me at all. It’s an error to say such people don’t contribute anything, because (as the hot-linked news story states) they still pay excise taxes on gasoline, aviation, alcohol, and cigarettes, and their employers contribute payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. They pay state and local taxes on sales, income, and property; in my voting district, over the years we’ve approved temporary taxes (bond measures) for parks, libraries, and schools.
The lump sum of $50,000 in annual income may sound like a lot, but for a family of four in this day and age -- responsible for rent or a mortgage that may amount to at least 15-20 percent of that, car payments on one or more vehicles that add another 6 to 10 percent, food, gasoline, school fees for music and sports programs that were all covered by the schools when I was a kid, and so on -- it isn’t that much. What would have been a solidly middle-class income when I was growing up is more like lower middle-class or working-class salary today. I remember debating a solution to poverty one year in high school forensics; at that point, the federal poverty line was about $6,000 for a family of four. Today, it’s a little over $22,000. You know you’re not going to get very good housing for even twice that much, and suddenly, there you are, at $50,000 annual income. You’d have to make a little over $24 an hour to reach that annual wage, but those jobs aren’t yet that common, so most $50k households are probably two-earners, and that means extra costs for child care or teen transport, food, auto maintenance and insurance, etc.
What outrages me about this situation is the general perception, undoubtedly common among many of these very citizens who don’t pay any taxes, that the government and IRS are screwing them. They don’t acknowledge the value of the many credits described in the story, and they don’t seem to comprehend all that government does for them, unacknowledged and unseen. I have never begrudged the amount of taxes I pay, nor have I ever voted against any tax measure put before me in an election. I do, however, resent the fact that so much of my tax money has gone to kill foreign civilians and sacrifice American soldiers overseas, and to fatten domestic defense contractors, and I strongly dispute the notion that “National Defense” has benefited me, personally, one iota.
My wife has suggested that tax forms should include a section where we could check off which government programs we would like our particular income taxes to go to. It would be non-binding, just for the sake of information, but it might be extremely interesting to learn what citizens’ real priorities are.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church are back in the news this week. The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case against them from the father of a deceased soldier whose funeral was picketed. Westboro Baptist Church is known for protesting at high profile funerals.
After they waved their “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead troops” placards outside the funeral for Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder (who was not gay; the church merely contends that deaths of American soldiers overseas is God’s punishment for American toleration of homosexuality), the deceased soldier’s father Albert Snyder sued the church in federal court for invading his privacy and inflicting emotional distress. A jury in Baltimore awarded Mr. Snyder $11 million in damages in 2007, which a judge reduced to $5 million, but last September the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the verdict, saying the church’s protest was constitutionally protected free speech. The court also ruled that Snyder had to pay $16,510 for part of the church’s court costs.
Are Westboro Baptist Church's protests protected under the 1st amendment? Should the court make an exception in cases where the protest has nothing to do with the actual event?
With this case, let me begin by attacking this church: The cliche phrase by which Christianity is known, is "WWJD." What Would Jesus Do? Jesus wouldn't stage a protest at a funeral. Have some respect for the dead, eh? Someone died while serving our country, died protecting us, and you've got the gall to NOT go to war in the first place (I'm assuming our veterans would have had nothing to do with this), and then be completely heartless when someone who is brave enough loses their life. If you didn't believe that Jesus rose from the grave, you better believe that he's rolling over in it right now.
All this really boils down to homosexuality, though. It's not really about the troops. It's not about churches. It's about homosexuality. Sure you can find bible passages which support homophobia, but you can also find a lot of other stuff which has since been deemed 'out of date.' You get to pick and choose which ones to embrace, and which ones to hide behind. I understand that. However, there are only two sides to homosexuality: Not for vs against, not born vs choice, not civil unions vs marriage. There is only "I grew up with homosexuals" and "I didn't grow up with homosexuals." Slice this church up (or any other anti-gay group) and take a look inside. They come from places and schools where people didn't come out. Where homosexuals were tormented for their lifestyle and ostracized. That's who's protesting.
Right to free speech was created so that people could protest their government, that the government could not openly rule the media. The people who wrote that escaped from a King that dictated his country. A king who also forced his religion on the people and on the translation of the bible. So it was a good idea to put in a few blanket statements which would prevent something like that from happening again. Freedom of speech was not created to give people permission to be buttholes in public. The KKK, Sexists, homophobes, and any other prejudiced opinion (look it up, I mean it literally) cause much more trouble with their hateful picketing of funerals than soldier lives saved with the 'goodness' of their bigoted message.
This story greatly angers me. Greatly! I'm going to save everyone my rant of "Why would Christians do something like this, aren't we supposed to love everyone and not judge them?" From reading another article on this, in this case, technically, they did have the "right" to do this, since they did contact the law enforcement before hand, and only stood about 100 yards away from the actual funeral. But my real question is: what were their intentions?
I am sure that they knew full well that they were going to tick some people off. I am sure that they knew that they were going to get some type of media attention. I am sure that they knew of the probable outcomes of what they were going to do before hand. I am also sure that they did not care. Their actions show that they did not care when this pastor, who has children of his own, protest at someone's child's funeral. Yes, when someone dies, it is always hard. But to have to bury your own child? I can't even imagine the heartbreak.
I understand that the church doesn't agree with homosexuality, and I understand them wanting to take a stand about it. But there is a time, there is a place, and there is a correct way to show how you feel. How would they feel if atheists got a permit from their law enforcement, stood 100 yards away, and protested at one of their funerals? I'm sure they would get their panties in a bunch. Not saying that Snyder has his in a bunch, he is angered and rightfully so.
Yes, the church did the protest the "right way." However, we should think of start taking it to the next step, and before we start issuing permits, we should start thinking a few steps a head, and ask: "What type of outcome will this create."
I don’t know anybody -- I can’t even imagine meeting anyone -- who doesn’t think the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are crazy, disrespectful, and (assuming it’s acceptable for an atheist to make such a judgment) downright un-Christian loons. It would be tempting to believe they’re indulging in performance art -- a form of ultimate irony or satire, perhaps, as if they were the fundamentalist flip side of the provocative gay activist group ACT-UP -- if they hadn’t been at it for so long (since at least 2001), and at such great expense. Now they’ve managed the amazing trick of making me (and most other liberal Americans) a temporary ally of Bill O’Reilly!
Nevertheless, it’s a mistake to try to use the courts to shut down the obnoxious Westboro Baptist Church protesters. Despicable and odious as their message may be, the church should continue to enjoy First Amendment protection. The facts are established that Westboro contacted the local police before their protest, they stayed on designated public land 1,000 feet from the church where the funeral was held, and they did not disrupt the service (which shows the church is crazy like a fox: founder Fred W. Phelps, Sr. is a retired lawyer, disbarred long ago for harassing a court reporter, and his spear-carrying daughter Margie Jean Phelps is also a lawyer who will argue the case before the Supreme Court). Albert Snyder never saw them that day, but with all that advance warning, a team of motorcyclists called the Patriot Guard Riders came to the funeral to pay their respects and to shield the family from the protesters. There was also a SWAT team inside the church to make sure there was no trouble. Snyder knew of the protesters’ presence on that day but did not see their signs or hear their statements until he turned on the news at his son’s wake. Snyder and his former wife “raised Matthew for the devil, taught Matthew to defy his creator and commit adultery and taught him to be an idolater,” a church press release declared, helpfully.
Strictly speaking, Snyder has no chance to get a ruling in his favor on the main issue: his original charge against the church of defamation was thrown out by a lower court, which said their assertions are so outlandish that no one would believe them anyway, so there was no harm. All that is being argued now is whether Snyder should have to pay the church’s other $96,740.21 in district court costs -- for expert witnesses, miscellaneous costs, court reporter, etc. -- which technically speaking, Snyder could be held responsible for because he brought a groundless case against the church which it had to defend. His lawyers are challenging the reasonableness of the larger tab. Attorney Nathan Tucker, in an opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun on March 22, suggested the First Amendment applies to protection of private citizens’ speech from government control, but that this is a matter of dispute between two private parties, so free speech protection shouldn’t apply; the church should be held liable for slander.
Perhaps that might work. But I don’t want a good cause to lead to bad legal precedent. The First Amendment exists to protect the speech of people you disagree with, not those you like; otherwise, what good is it? It seems to me the court could have ruled in favor of the church’s First Amendment rights without awarding it any court costs, though. If the Westboro Baptist Church wants to trample on people’s emotions at the most vulnerable time of their lives, they can pay their own way.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The Klamath County School system in Klamath Falls, OR will be making a decision soon that could shorten the school week to four days from the current five.
According to an article in the Seattle Times this could save the school system $6.3 million each year. The article goes on to say that District Superintendent, Greg Thede, said a $5.8 million cut to the budget and 20 layoffs are the catalyst for an idea of this magnitude.
The Klamath Falls Association of Classified Employees (a union representing classified staff) are concerned that 380 classified staff would be out of work one day per week. Regardless of these concerns the district will move forward with this plan if it would save a "significant amount of money."
We asked today's panel: Do you agree with the Klamath County School System? What pitfalls can you see?
I am happy that the problems of Klamath County are finally becoming newsworthy. I think it is a tragedy that schools around America are facing such major shortfalls after so many wealthy corporations have received gluttonous doses of tax-payer money. This past decade has been filled with cuts in education and expansion of class sizes across the country, and this was during the get-rich part of the decade. Guess those tax-cuts really did hurt us huh?
I think at this point, Klamath County should shift to a four day week, as much as I am sorry for the workers who will take cuts in pay and the students who will have their educations further compromised. I think that until we are exposed to the detriment and decay in our schools, rather than concealing the price of underfunding our future generations, Americans will continue to vote ourselves right out of our higher-brain functionality.
The biggest mistake Americans have made in the past 50 years has been trading information for entertainment. Our lack of education has caused us to become fat, lazy, and celebrity obsessed. Next time you complain about bad drivers or ignorant workers, ask yourself why you didn't want to pay for them to get a basic education.
I think that this idea is totally absurd. First, let me play devils advocate to this idea: Yes, this idea can help save money. Money on electricity, salaries, buses, etc, and in this economy those cuts can go a long way. I know that there are companies out there that are doing this same thing. In fact, I know the company I used to work for did something similar to this, that people had to take one day off without pay per pay period.
But schools are not a business. They are not a corporation. They are there to educate children (if that wasn't obvious). I think its crazy that they are even considering cutting back to 4 days. I know kids get into enough trouble when they are not in school, so what is an extra day do to them?
Sure, parents can find a place for them to go during that day like a "day care" of the sorts, but that will cause even more strain on the parents. The parents work, so what are they supposed to do if they have younger children?
Why can't this school district find other places to cut money from? Can't they offer an early retirement to some of the older teachers, who I am sure are earning six figure incomes. I am sure that there are extra programs that they can cut back on, like dances, fairs, etc. I just think cutting back to four days is absolutely ridiculous.
What's not to like about a four day school week? I applaud the school system for actually using their brains for a change. They see a problem: a $5.8 budget cut, and a solution: a $6.3 Million savings by closing schools one day per week. Not only does this solution eliminate the short fall, it also provides an additional $500,000 surplus.
Some may whine about what parents are supposed to do that extra day each week. Well, maybe one of the parents should be at home that day spending time with their children and providing a nurturing environment. Maybe parents should stop using the public school system as a babysitting service.
I applaud the school system for even going public with this type of proposal. Just don't try and fire any of the teachers and their union will leave you alone.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Republicans have warned President Obama that should he nominate a justice "too liberal" they will make it a "whale of a fight." With all of the political capital expended to pass the health care reform bill just last month, should President Obama heed the Republican's warning?
I am very pleased that Justice Stevens is seizing this opportunity to help re-shape the direction of the Supreme Court. I am sure that he has been frustrated by the conservative and compassionless views taken by his adversaries throughout his tenure, and I have no doubts that he has felt the push from corporations who have gutted the Republican party, driving the court further into the pockets of the few at the price of the freedom of the many.
I think that Obama has every right to press back against the cronyism George W. ushered back into the American psyche. Furthermore, the unwaveringly contrary stance taken by the leaders (and wannabe leaders) of the Republican party is only serving to undermine the legitimacy of their opposition.
Let me pause for a moment and say how sad I am that there is almost no way to criticize the small-mindedness of the pirates currently looting conservative American values without seeming like the criticism also includes the values these despicable people hide behind.
I am all for fiscal-conservatism. I am all for protecting our country. I respect the power of faith and the singular value of family and community. Where are the leaders who act, rather than preach, these things? All I see are rich men spending other people's money and laughing all the way to the bank. $1.3 Million squandered on House Speaker Ray Sansom alone.
I encourage President Obama to continue to press ahead, regardless of the threats and hyperbole. Thanks to Justice Stevens for recognizing the singular power of his timing.
President Obama hasn’t been very afraid to instigate criticism from the right so far in his term. Therefore, I don’t think he feels any pressure to appeal to congrassional republicans in any way with his second Supreme Court nomination.
He already offended republican Supreme Court advocates when he apologetically condemned the Supreme Courts decision to allow big corporations to spend without regulation during elections, when he delivered this years State of the Union. Instead of nominating a moderate to appease the right, I think he’ll nominate someone just as liberal as Justice Paul Stevens.
With approval ratings in jeopardy, I think Obama will use this nomination as his time to please his liberal base while propelling the liberal agenda set forth in his 2008 campaign. No matter what he does, Obama doesn’t stand much chance of bringing republicans on his side. He can, however, bring back some democrats, mostly progressives who vote according to wedge, social issues.
When Obama nominates another liberal to the Supreme Court, whoever it is better be ready to fight. It also has to be someone with little or no baggage. Some are speculating Hilary Clinton. She is on Obama’s “short list” of possibilities. I think it will be the left leaning former Georgia Supreme Court chief justice Leah Ward Sears, making her the first African American woman to sit on the court.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Last month I spent a week in Vegas. I had a good time because I won money. I had a really good time people watching though. I realized a lot about our population from looking around. In many ways, Vegas shows the full potential of our population. Technology at its best: Giant screens, lights, security, dancing fountains, and volcanoes. Architecture at its finest: elaborate lobbies, buildings, miniature Eiffel Towers, Brooklyn Bridges, Pyramids, castles, canals, and pirates. It also has a very functional micro economy: Food, entertainment, and gambling all funnel money to the same places and redistribute it randomly. Everyone has a chance to be on top, everyone has a chance to be screwed. It's well thought out, and it's impressive.
On the flip side, it also shows the vices and true weaknesses of the human race. Gambling addicts become homeless and flood the streets, and prostitutes approach you in casinos. There are fights, accidents, and people drinking to excess. The casinos swiftly snuff problems to hide the bad reputation and keep their consumers in a happy bliss. There are underpaid immigrants who hand you cards of naked women you can sleep with by dialing a number. It is reminiscent of Ancient Rome where even though it was so advanced for its time, it was barbaric enough to collapse.
However, collapsing and history aside, there was one aspect of Vegas which isn't unique to the town, but just more noticeable, and it amazed me to watch. The Alpha Male. While we think we've evolved with philanthropy, opening doors, altruism, and charity, we're no different than the animals. When a cute girl walks in, the guys all turn their bodies to address her. When an attractive woman joins the table for gambling, guys turn to her and edge each other out of the way. It's isn't a conscious move or something they do to be rude to each other, it's just how they establish themselves to her. Married, single, or otherwise? Doesn't matter. It's not even about getting together with her, but her knowing that they are the strongest, smartest guy around. Just like the animals do.
It was incredible to see all of this, and I still can't wrap my head around everything. I'm sure I will have more thoughts as I continue to observe, but for now, my head is overwhelmed and I can't wait to go back. Vegas, baby.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
by Nikki Lorenzini
On Sunday, May 2nd, Blue Cross will host its annual Philly Broad Street Run. Since 1980, runners have been chasing down Broad Street, starting at Central High School, running south down Broad Street, and finishing at the Navy Yard in South Philly. The Broad Street Run is one of the largest and fastest ten-mile road races in the US, and runners get to pass by Temple University, City Hall, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Kimmel Center. This run has become a favorite in the running community, due in part to its nearly flat and slightly downhill course. Because this race has grown so big, the 2010 race has been capped at 30,000 runners.
Each of the 30,000 runners has a story, and many are running for a purpose. John Fallon is one of those running with a purpose. In his second race, Fallon is running to raise money and awareness for One Simple Wish, a website that features wishes for foster children, at-risk youth and impoverished families. The children and families make their wishes known through One Simple Wish’s network of established non-profits and religious organizations. The wishes that are granted include, but are not limited, to:
Backpacks and outfits for school
Diapers and basic baby products
Money for graduation caps and gowns
Restaurant gift certificates
Amusement park or museum passes
Passes for activities such as “Policeman for a Day” or horseback riding
Fallon is currently the Vice President of the Board of Directors for OSW. He joined the board back in 2007 for three primary reasons. He states, “First, the concept of granting a small wish where I knew where my donation was going made so much sense. Too often I found myself making donations to organizations and never really knowing where my money was going, so having the ability to make the connection between my donation and the recipient was very exciting. Secondly, the founder and Executive Director, Danielle Gletow, is someone that I know and trust, so I joined with full confidence that her passion would ensure that we would never lose sight of the goals. Finally, I want to teach my own children about charity and philanthropy, that giving can happen in their own community, and that they can have fun at the same time.”
This will be Fallon’s second go in the Broad Street Run, last year doing it on a whim. Last year he originally believed he couldn’t get in shape and raise the money for OSW. Fallon said, “I thought my friends would find it amusing enough to donate to the cause just to see if I could do it. I did do it, but it turned out that my over-training resulted in me running the entire 10 miles with a fractured shin and stress fractures in both of my knees.” But what made him finally commit to doing the run was a coworker who does the run every year. “One day he suggested that I do it to raise money for One Simple Wish.” With that advice, the idea stuck, and he sent out a letter to his friends a week later asking to see if they would donate. “Within four days, I got three checks in the mail. It was as simple as that. I did the run, raised the money, and that coworker now sits on the Board of Directors with me.”
Last year he raised $2500 for OSW, and this year he has a bigger goal: $10,000. If he makes that goal, he will run as a dandelion. “I know that $10,000 is a lofty goal, so I was trying to come up with an additional incentive.” He made it a family event by having his kids help him with the fundraising and working on his costume. Fallon said that working with his kids was great, “They really do seem to understand how big a difference one person can make.” But the reason to run as a dandelion: “My oldest daughter came up with the dandelion idea since it’s OSW’s logo, and my two youngest have taken to calling me a Daddylion. It’s been a lot of fun doing the fundraising and getting the costume together with my kids.”
Fallon also states, “While the money is important, I also want to raise awareness of the organization so others can see how simple it is to make a big difference.”
If you would like to learn more about One Simple Wish, and to donate to help John run as a dandelion, you can visit: http://onesimplewish.org/run.
You can also help One Simple Wish receive $50,000 through the Pepsi Refresh Challenge . by simply voting online and helping them get into the top 10.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Many of these events have come and gone (and good riddance to them), but some have continued to develop beyond the date on which we happened to take a verbal snapshot. I thought it might be interesting to check on what’s happened to some of these stories since we looked at them. We have provided links back to our original commentaries so you can compare what we wrote to subsequent developments.
March 25 – HEALTH CARE REFORM BECOMES LAW
Despite the claims its opponents made about Democrats passing health care reform “against the will of Americans,” various polls taken since Congress voted suggest a majority of citizens are not upset about the new law. In fact, some Republicans have dared to wonder in public whether trying to make the issue the center of the 2010 election might possibly backfire on them.
The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that a poll it conducted with the University of Southern California found that 46 percent of Californians surveyed said they would vote for a candidate who had supported health care reform, versus only 29 percent who said they would not.
Of course, more polls continue to claim that half or more of Americans disapprove of the law, but often they fail to separate those of us who believe it didn’t go far enough from those who reject health care reform altogether. The USA Today/Gallup poll released last week did indicate that 51 percent said the law doesn’t go far enough in regulating health insurers, and 52 percent said a public option insurance plan should be available to all, which suggests the opponents who say most Americans reject the law are either being stupid or mendacious.
The attorneys general of at least 15 states have said they will challenge the law in court on the basis of the Constitution’s commerce clause, which limits the regulatory powers of Congress to matters that involve interstate commerce. The challengers, which include Florida, Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Colorado, will argue that health care does not meet the legal definition of interstate commerce, and that to require all Americans to have health insurance is unconstitutional.
Other states, including Kansas and Kentucky, have explicitly announced that they don’t see a firm basis for a constitutional case against the new law and they will not join the legal challenge. My state of Oregon (which has been ahead of the curve in providing free or inexpensive health care to poorer families), not only disagrees with the legal challenge, but will file friendly briefs in support of it.
March 23 – A WEIGHTY GOAL
Donna Simpson, 42, who weighs 604 pounds and already has the world record for the heaviest woman ever to give birth (she was 532 pounds at the time and needed 30 doctors to assist with delivery) is attempting to eat her way to 1,000 pounds and a new world record. I wrote that this was a form of genteel despair and slow suicide, and that Guinness should immediately announce that they will not recognize or publicize any such record.
So far, they’re weaseling. “Guinness World Records no longer monitors heaviest pet records as we do not wish to encourage owners to overfeed their pets for a record,” a Guinness spokeswoman said. What about encouraging people to overfeed themselves in search of records? “These heaviest records exist and we are impartially reporting on some of the extreme superlative records of the world,” she said, which is just another proof that people care more about animals than they do about the suffering and stupidity of other people.
March 22 – CATHOLIC CHURCH ABUSE SCANDAL
Further stories have come out that Pope Benedict may have done too little about abusive priests, and maybe even covered up for them, when he was German archbishop Joseph Ratzinger. But the most ludicrous response came on Good Friday, April 2, when a senior Vatican priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, compared the world’s outrage at sex abuse scandals in the church to the persecution suffered by Jews.
He claimed to quote from a letter from a Jewish friend that said: “The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.” Whether the outrage and bad publicity might sometimes overstep the bounds of reason and respect for the church and its officers who are personally blameless in the scandal, the analogy is imperfect at best, and scurrilous at worst.
Jews suffered violence, loss of property, and death by the thousands, even millions, over centuries for what the Vatican itself finally admitted was a theological lie: that they were responsible for the death of Jesus and many subsequent crimes of which they were innocent. They had done nothing to deserve their persecution. Catholic priests who abused children definitely committed crimes, and other church officials who covered up for them did, too.
March 16 – LOUISIANA PROM CONTROVERSY
Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old lesbian, wanted to bring her girlfriend to the senior prom at her high school in Fulton, a town of 3,900 in Itawamba County, Mississippi. Rather than allow that or have to bar her from attending, the school simply canceled the prom altogether. Naturally, classmates blamed her. The ACLU swooped in to fight for her rights in court.
The ACLU pushed for a fast decision, and it got it less than a week after we talked about it here. A U.S. federal judge ruled that the school district had violated McMillen’s rights, but the school board did not have to reschedule the dance because parents had sponsored a “private party” for the kids (it happened this last Friday at the Fulton Country Club). A few other private parties were organized by kids around the community.
This may be a case of the girl winning the battle but losing the war, because:
1)her girlfriend, a sophomore, shied away from the limelight so McMillen decided to attend with a different date
2)it’s not clear whether the school district’s policy of banning same-sex dates from school events and requiring girls to wear dresses or slacks has been effectively overturned for future classes
There were other interesting developments. Ellen Degeneres had McMillen as a guest on her show and gave her a $30,000 scholarship. The American Humanist Association forwarded a $20,000 gift from Raleigh, NC philanthropist Todd Stiefel to pay for a proper prom, but the ACLU rejected the gift, fearing that the donation from the overly secular source would create more controversy and bad publicity. (Apparently, “atheist” is a far more scary word to Mississippians than “lesbian.”)
In my March 16 commentary I hazarded a guess that McMillen would probably be leaving town as soon as she graduated, so that fighting this battle in court was not in the best interests of the gays and lesbians to follow if she didn’t plan to stick around and continue to provide an example. On this, I’m pleased to report I was wrong. According to a story in last Thursday’s Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, ACLU attorney Christine Sun said that McMillen, who maintains a 3.9 GPA, intends to stay in Fulton after graduation and attend Itawamba Community College for a couple of years before transferring to the University of Southern Mississippi. “She wants to be close to her family,” Sun said. “This is the only community she has ever known.”
March 2 – SEAWORLD TRAGEDY
Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old veteran marine trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., died before a horrified crowd of onlookers when a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum grabbed her by the ponytail and dragged her underwater and tossed her about. The medical examiner’s autopsy report was released last week, and revealed that Brancheau died of drowning and blunt-force trauma to her head, neck, and torso. Her spinal cord was severed, and she sustained fractures to her jawbone, ribs, and a cervical vertebra. The toxicology report found no drugs in Brancheau’s system.
Tilikum had previously been involved in two other deaths: the drowning of a trainer at a marine park in Victoria, British Columbia in 1991, and another at SeaWorld in 1999. Although the creature has not been killed, contrary to confused reports shortly after the recent tragedy, the killer whale has been removed from the daily shows, trainers have been ordered to keep their distance, and a two-foot extension has been added to the water pick with which they brush his teeth three times a day.
An ongoing development in this story is the family’s fight to keep videos of the woman’s death from being released to the public. Two SeaWorld video cameras recorded at least part of the tragedy: one posted on a pole over the stadium and one under water. Attorneys for media outlets want the videos released, arguing that being able to review them would help keep law enforcement and SeaWorld in check, but I find this a bogus rationale. Rather the way I argued in the case of the Winter Olympics accident that killed Georgian luge team member Nodar Kumaritashvili in mid February, this is something the public doesn’t need to see, and the family’s privacy should override our morbid curiosity.
Circuit Court Judge Lawrence R. Kirkwood issued a temporary injunction and has given the parties until April 5 to submit their arguments over a permanent ban.
February 26 – GLOBAL WARMING
In a development that came to be called “Climate-gate,” more than 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 documents belonging to climate researchers at the University of East Anglia in England surfaced last November, just before the world climate summit in Copenhagen, and suggested the scientists may have fudged their data or pushed it in a certain direction to harden their claims for the speed and reality of global warming. Critics and doubters of the theory that humans are speeding up the changes in the world’s climate were quick to yell “cheat” and dismiss the entire theory.
Last week, the report of a 14-member parliamentary committee that investigated the situation cleared the scientists of any un-scientific wrongdoing. They did criticize the researchers for maintaining a culture of withholding information (behavior that I called understandable in my Feb. 26 commentary, given media misinterpretations and firestorms much like the very one that popped up in this instance), but found nothing to challenge the “scientific consensus” that global warming is occurring and influenced by human activity.
Phil Jones, the head of the university’s Climatic Research Unit, admitted to the committee that he had written some “awful” e-mails and stepped down from the director’s position, but the committee delared his scientific reputation remains intact.
Conservative publications and blogs continue to write about the “slow death of global-warming alarmism” and refer to the theory as “hysteria” and “a cult,” as well as “the extreme misconduct (if not criminality) of leading climate scientists” … the language I found in a March 30 essay at www.thenewamerican.com. On the other hand, bestselling British novelist Ian McEwan firmly believes in the reality of global warming, and his new novel Solar concerns a scientist in that field.