Saturday, December 26, 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good

On Christmas Eve, the US Senate finally passed its version of health care reform. Although it falls far short of what was promised during the 2008 Presidential campaign, and took way too long to hammer out, it is at least a start toward breaking the stranglehold the insurance companies have on the people of this nation.

I know that many people don't like the idea of the government being in the business of health care; to some, it raises the specter of "socialized medicine," and that makes them uncomfortable. My own feelings are that there are some things that the government should be in charge of - those things that affect the health, welfare, safety, and general well-being of the citizens of this nation. As I've said in earlier posts, we have no problem with the "socialization" of our schools, fire and police departments, federal highways, and a host of other services upon which we rely on a daily basis, so I'm not sure why something as important as health should be treated differently. In many ways, this creates a nation of "haves" and "have-nots" - an undesirable situation in a so-called "classless" society.

Be that as it may, and it is a discussion I'll save for another time, we have a start toward providing health care for everyone.

The Bad

The House and Senate health care bills must now be reconciled. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues that could be deal-breakers, and which could end up causing the whole bill to be scrapped.

First, the lack of a public option is a real loss of credibility for the Democratic majority, as well as a financial boon for the insurance industry. There will be no real incentive for them to keep costs down, and many will find ways to increase premiums between now and whenever the controls go into effect. (If you doubt this, just look at what the credit card companies have done over the past several months.)

Next, the issue of US citizens being prevented from buying drugs outside the country provides little incentive for Big Pharma to control prices. I'm always bemused by those who scream about the "unsafe" drugs we might get from Canada or Mexico. Until I hear about our neighbors to the North and South dropping like flies from unsafe drugs, it's going to take more than an hysterical lobbyist to convince me! And the argument that it will cripple R&D and provide little incentive for new investigative drugs is also unconvincing. People will always want to research and invent; it's in our blood. And the recognition that comes from the development of wonder drugs - penicillin, aspirin, etc. - will always translate into more research money from the government and other entities. Besides, if the pharmaceutical companies would cut out the stupid and unnecessary advertising, they'd have plenty left for Research and Development!

Finally, the abortion question looms large over reconciliation. I've discussed on several occasions my feelings about abortion, and what it all boils down to is that I don't have the right to choose for someone else - and neither does anyone else! If government assistance with health insurance precludes any kind of abortion coverage, then government is effectively denying coverage for a legal procedure. I think if we linked this ban to a ban on coverage for erectile dysfunction we'd see a swift reversal among many of our Members of Congress!

The Ugly

Ah, there is so much from which to choose! Should we start with Joe Lieberman, the man who held the Democrats in the Senate hostage because he got his feelings hurt? Or should we begin with Mitch McConnell, who vowed to fight until Hell froze over - which apparently happened earlier on Christmas Eve than he expected. Or perhaps he was afraid he wouldn't make it home for Christmas due to the bad weather if he held out till late night on the 24th.

Uglier yet is the Republican attempt to stir up the people against the bill because - according to them - it's such a bad bill, putting more money in the pockets of the insurance companies and taking from Medicare. Let's see, those would be the insurance company pockets that you're in, right Senator McConnell? Oh, and would that be the same Medicare that Republicans have tried to gut since they first tried to prevent its passage in 1965? How odd that you care so much now. And just why is this bill not doing all that it should do? Is it because you and your cohorts - including Lieberman - worked so hard to gut it, without offering anything worthwhile in its place?

Ugliest of all, however, is your disdain for the will of the people. Poll after poll shows that the people of this country want real and meaningful health care reform. Reform that includes a public option. Reform that includes expanded Medicare. Reform that doesn't increase the wealth of the few on the sickbeds of the many. And yet 41 Senators worked hard to prevent that kind of meaningful reform, despite what the people have said time after time. Forty-one Senators felt perfectly free to ignore the desires of the electorate because only these Senators know what really matters.

Money matters. Big Pharma matters. Big Insurance matters. We, the people, do not.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A cautionary tale

Forty-six years ago today, an assassin's bullet ended the life and Presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And thus was launched one of the most contentious periods in US history.

It's easy to forget from the distance of years that Kennedy was not universally loved, that there were those who disliked his father, and carried that dislike over to the son. There were many who were distrustful of his Roman Catholic faith, asserting that the Pope would be the de facto president. The radical right was emerging in parts of this nation, distributing right-wing literature in schools (specifically in Dallas, TX), where there was also a billboard accusing the President of selling out to the "communist United Nations." It was reported that, upon hearing that Kennedy had been murdered, a classroom of fourth-graders in a Dallas suburb burst into spontaneous applause. The John Birch Society and Patrick Henry Society, along with the Minutemen - right-wing radical organizations all - were finding new life in Texas.

The Monday before the assassination, I had the singular honor of shaking the President's hand at a rally in Tampa. I was thrilled to see him up close, and stood in the midst of many from the local Democratic Party, so the excitement was palpable. That afternoon when I clocked in at my after-school job, I asked my boss if I could take a few minutes to stand in front of the store when the presidential motorcade passed by later that day. I'll never forget what he said: "Yes, you can. Personally, I hate him and wouldn't walk across the street to shake his hand."

I was appalled, and never felt quite the same about a boss I had liked quite well up until then. Oh, I knew there were people who didn't like him, didn't like his politics - but he was the President of the United States and - to my way of thinking - deserved at least the respect accorded by his office.

Did right-wing rhetoric kill John Kennedy? We can't prove it, but we do know that hatred, an unwillingness to accept the process of government and the voice of the people certainly played a role. Whether it was the Mafia, Castro, the CIA, or whatever your favorite conspiracy might be, the climate of distrust was palpable and was encouraged and promoted by some parts of our society.


And now, once again, we find an upsurge in intolerance, in right-wing rhetoric. We have Facebook polls asking if Obama should be killed. We have posters depicting the president as a modern-day Hitler (showing not only insensitivity to those among us who survived Hitler's monstrous practices, but a woeful ignorance of what the Third Reich really was). He has been accused of being a "secret" Muslim (and so what if he were? Is the US not a place where all should be free to practice or not practice the religion of each person's choice?); of not being a US citizen; of not allowing religious ornaments on the White House Christmas tree; of not allowing it to even be called a Christmas tree; of approving a postage stamp honoring Islam; of any number of transgressions designed to stir up anger and hatred against the President of the United States.

And now, the latest we find is the proliferation of bumper stickers, t-shirts, teddy bears, and other paraphernalia sporting the message: Pray for Obama, Psalm 109:8.

For those who don't know, this verse says, "Let his days be few; Let another take his office." (New American Standard Bible) In a different translation of the Bible (Bible in Basic English), the quote is more sinister: "Let his life be short; let another take his position of authority." The next verse goes on to say, "Let his children be fatherless, And his wife a widow."

Although this has been defended as free speech (and, of course, it is), and as not really meant as a threat, just as a prayer that Obama will only serve one term, to my eyes it is a thinly-disguised call to action. And even recognizing that I am not unbiased, surely anyone with even a modicum of intelligence can recognize that there are in our society those who would see this as a call, as an excuse to take matters into their own hands, perhaps hoping for national recognition, or - in the style of extremists everywhere - as martyrs to their cause.


So, what happens when a President is assassinated? Our Constitution provides for an orderly transfer of power, and we have seen this transfer happen every time a newly elected president takes office. We also saw it happen in 1973, when Richard Nixon resigned. And, tragically, in November, 1963, when Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office on the plane that bore the body of our dead president.

But beyond the purely functional and mechanical, there is an emotional toll that cannot be over-emphasized. It is a toll on the order of the 9/11 attacks. Even though there may be only one death, it is a tear in the fabric of our national lives. On that Friday in 1963, lives were put on hold - students were dismissed, employees were sent home; football games were cancelled; and - at a time and place that television went off the air every night at 1:00 a.m. - there was round-the-clock television coverage. There was a sense of disbelief and shame. We were appalled as a nation that hatred and fear-mongering could take such a monstrous toll on our lives, and on the world in which we lived.

The anti-Obama rhetoric is not only not funny, it's dangerous. I can accept that people don't like him and don't like his political position. God knows, I wasn't a fan of our last President! But when we give ear and credence to those who would stir up the fears and prejudices of our fellow citizens, when we allow the fuse to be lighted and nurture it along its path, not knowing exactly when or where it will be detonated, then we must be willing to acknowledge that we, too, share responsibility for the damage it will cause.


So, protest, please! It is the great strength of this nation, our freedom of speech, our freedom to gather. But with that freedom comes responsibility: You cannot shout "fire" in a theater. You cannot stir others - those who are perhaps of unsound mind or with unfounded prejudices - to act on your behalf. If we treasure our freedoms then it is incumbent on us to use them wisely and well.

Monday, November 9, 2009

This is the Republican Party

I've spent the past several days cruising the internet and visiting a number of conservative websites and blogs to try to get a handle on just why some of our fellow citizens have clung to the Republican Party despite recent events. What I've most often found is that there is still a belief - misplaced, in my opinion - that the Republican Party is the party of fiscal conservatism and of less government involvement in our lives. Except for some who cling to far right relgious beliefs, few are as socially conservative as Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin would have you believe - although there are some.

In 1981, when Reagan took office, the federal debt was about $700 billion. in 1988, it was over $2 trillion. After Bush, it was over $4 trillion. Bill Clinton not only managed to pay down some of the Reagan debt, he actually balanced the budget. So when the Republican Party and its adherents claim to be "fiscally conservative," there's a disconnect between what they say and what they do.

Sure, the debt has increased even more during the 10 months Obama has been in office, but remember, much of what is costing us money is a hangover from the Bush II Administration. Something had to be done, and that "something" actually started late last year, during the waning days of the Bush Administration, with the bailouts of banks and automakers.

After 10 months in office, the most memorable thing George W. Bush had done was ignore a memo that Al Quaeda was planning an air strike against the US, and start a war in Afghanistan, ostensibly to capture Osama bin Laden. Instead, four months later, he invaded Iraq.

How much do you think that cost?

So, the Republican fiscal conservatism claim is a bit shaky, I think.

Let's reflect on the Republican claim to smaller government, and keeping government out of our lives.

If Republicans really want smaller government, let's start by keeping government out of our bedrooms and off of our bodies. Up until four years ago, 27 states had laws prohibiting sodomy. (That includes oral sex, folks.) Today, we still fight the battle for the rights of LGBT men and women to be full participants in the American Dream. We forbid them to marry, we penalize them in the tax code (because they can't marry), some places deny them the right to adopt children, and cases abound where child custody was awarded to a "straight" parent because the other parent was gay or Lesbian.

Now we have a passed a health care "reform" bill in the House that invades women's bodies even further. Not only does the Stupak-Pitts Amendment forbid government money being used for an abortion, it also forbids anyone who receives any kind of Federal subsidy from purchasing insurance with their own money to cover abortion - this, despite the fact that access to abortion has been guaranteed by the Supreme Court! So a legal medical procedure is now unavailable to all but the wealthy. How much more intimately involved in our lives can government get? And what woman would want to buy an "abortion rider"? Those who plan to get pregnant just so they can abort, I guess. Forget those who are victims of rape, incest, whose lives are in danger, or whose fetuses are hopelessly deformed!

If that weren't insult enough, Republican Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) has compared being a woman to being a smoker, thus justifying higher health care premiums for women. Frankly, I think his mother should charge him retroactive rent, plus interest, for the time he took up in her uterus, with added charges for stretch marks, incontinence, and for growing up to be an idiot.

And today, Dick Army came out from under his rock to say Americans who eat like a pig and get diabetes "don't deserve" insurance coverage.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who last week proclaimed loudly and for all to hear that she was organizing the "Tea Party" march on the House last week, the next day insisted she really hadn't organized it, that it was a "grass roots" event. This, despite the fact that she told people to be sure to attend while appearing on Fox "News."

This is the Republican Party today. It's a party that in recent years has had no compunction about trying to move the US further to the right, claiming "family values," and that we are a Christian nation. Now that their tactics have cost them both Congress and the White House, they're crying foul.

The voters have rejected Republican fiscal and social mores, for the most part. If the Party continues to allow itself to led around by the nose by the likes of Limbaugh, Palin, Bachmann, Boehner, and company, it will either cease to exist or become a third party. If that happens, it will be a sad day for a party that attracted the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and even Susan B. Anthony.

I daresay none of them would even recognize it as their party in 2009.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Death and Politics

Over the past several years, we've seen what I consider an odd phenomenon in this country when tragedy visits private citizens. I'm sure you've seen it in your community: a sudden outpouring of grief, usually in the form of teddy bears, flowers from the local Safeway, and poster-sized messages of condolence from people who are complete strangers to the victim(s) and the families. This is often accompanied by candlelight vigils and live interviews of teary-eyed women (usually; sometimes men) with their small children in tow.

In early 2002, two young teen-aged girls went missing just a few miles from where I live. Their bodies were eventually found, buried in the backyard of a man who had long been a suspect, and who had been accused previously by one of the girls of attempted rape. For nearly a year, our daily newspaper and local news stations covered the case almost nonstop, frequently relegating the war in Afghanistan to a lower status. Yes, it was local news, and yes, we do have provincial media in this part of the country, but we were also sending hometown soldiers off to war, and many of them weren't much older than these girls.

The abduction and murder of these two children was tragic, but had people cared about them in life, perhaps they wouldn't have been living in circumstances that led to the joint tragedy. At the risk of sounding callous and uncaring (neither of which I am) we were witnesses to what I think of as cheap grief. People were openly crying and wailing, getting their air time (one local television reporter became so personally involved with the families that she spoke at one of the funerals), and then going home to resume their daily routines.

Overlapping this local tragedy and the media and community involvement and exploitation of it, was the Florida case of Terri Schaivo. For 15 years, Mrs. Schaivo was on life support in what was characterized as a "persistent vegetative state," meaning there was no hope of recovery. When her husband petitioned to have her removed from life support, the largely Republican Florida State Legislature and then-Governor Jeb Bush intervened to prevent it. Once all legal avenues had been pursued in the State, the US Congress got involved, led by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and joined by others in the Republican Party, along with pro-life and right-to-life groups. President George W. Bush returned from vacation to sign a bill into law in an attempt to prevent Mrs. Schaivo's husband from removing her life support. Eventually all options were exhausted and Mrs. Schaivo's life support was removed and she was allowed to die.

(In the interest of full disclosure, one of the senators who voted for the bill that Bush signed was Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL. During two presidential primary debates, he admitted that it was his biggest professional mistake and "...allowed Congress to intrude where it shouldn't have.")

Today, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) led a group of "teabaggers" to protest the Democratic health care plan now before Congress. Those who grieved so publicly and left signs, flowers, teddy bears and expressions of love for two girls they didn't know, live in prime "teabagger" territory, and are vocal in their opposition to health care reform.

Yesterday, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) released the Republican Party's health care plan. The proposed plan has been  reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office and the CBO found that not only would it cut the deficit by about $36 billion less than the Democratic plan, but that it would also leave more people (52 million) uninsured in 2019 than are uninsured today (46 million); this contrasts with CBO's estimate of 19 million uninsured in 2019 under the Democratic plan. Where is the outpouring of interference that was accorded Terri Schaivo? Why are Congressional Republicans now so determined to "keep government out of our lives"?

I invite you, Dear Readers, to visit YouTube and watch and listen to all eight segments of Rep. Alan Grayson's (D-FL) reading of the numbers of people who have died in Republican Congressional Districts.  Listen to the individual stories that he recounts. Listen to hear Republican Congressmen try to cut him off.

Then ask yourself what relationship these seemingly disparate events I've related here have to each other. And ask yourself as well why there are those in this country who are so willing to indulge in "cheap grief" and so unwilling to make a difference.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Marriage and equality

Maine's rejection of gay marriage is more than just a disappointment to me; it's a travesty. From the hands of the voters, yet another minority has had its rights rescinded. Although the group that supported so-called "gay marriage" had better funding and should have prevailed, there persists in this nation a segment of society gullible enough, willing enough, careless enough, to buy into the scare tactics that emanate from the political right wing.

"They'll teach our children about homosexual marriage in schools," was one particularly pervasive and disgusting argument. First of all, I don't recall being taught much about marriage at all in school, except in biology as a 9th grader and "marriage and family" in my home ec classes. What I do recall is that every family in the books was different from mine. No, my parents weren't gay, but they were divorced, and in the 50s that was only spoken of - if at all - as an aberrant paradigm. So what about the kids in today's school who do have two moms or two dads? Will ignoring their non-traditional families make them feel as alone and "different" as I felt?

"Homosexuals will recruit your children to their 'lifestyle'." Oh, really? When a person makes that statement to me, I love it because it gives me the opportunity to ask them if they're so insecure in their own sexuality that they could have been "recruited" as a child?

"It will undermine the institution of marriage." No; Britney Spears, Elizabeth Taylor, and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina undermine the "institution of marriage," and they're heterosexuals, every one. Even I, a practicing heterosexual, have two divorces under my belt. So I, too, am guilty of undermining.

"It's against God's/Allah's/Yahweh's (insert your favorite deity here) word." Well, I'm really sorry, but none of them is a registered voter here in the U.S., and there are a whole lot of people who subscribe to no religion, or to less restrictive ideologies than are assumed by that statement. I am, however, a Christian (but an Episcopalian, so maybe my ideas count for less!) and the God I know is accepting of us all. The God I worship is not a god of hate and marginalization, but of love and acceptance. I don't know who those other guys are talking about. Besides, the last time I looked, we aren't a theocracy, and our founding documents don't include the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran.

What I propose - and have espoused (if you'll pardon the terminology) for some time - is to get the government at all levels out of the business of marriage. Since some among us are so devoted to the word, marriage, let's call for the Federal, State, and Local governments to abandon it and issue Domestic Partnership licenses. Let all tax laws and other regulations apply equally to people who enter into DPs, and anyone who wants Marriage can have it blessed in their local church or other religious institution.

I'm old enough to remember that when Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco, their civil union was a separate funcion from their religious union. Performed at different places, on different days, thereby fulfilling both their State and religious regulations.

Would that be so hard?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Socialism and me

Many years ago I was approached as I entered a 7-11 store by a man who asked me for $5 so he could buy a sandwich. I was briefly conflicted as to whether or not to give it to him. After all, he could be genuinely hungry; or he could want money for booze, drugs, or any number of other things that I wasn't willing to provide. Almost parallel with that thought, however, I seized upon what I thought was the perfect solution. "Come into the 7-11 with me," I said, "and I'll buy you whatever you want to eat."

We entered the store and he followed me to the refrigerator section, where I began to look through the prepared sandwiches. If you've ever - even briefly - considered buying a sandwich at a 7-11, you know you'd have to be pretty darned hungry to pony up several dollars for anything they sell that's between two slices of bread. As I continued my search, the man spoke up: "Lady," he said, "these don't look so good and they ain't very big. For five dollars, I can go right next door to Subway and get a big sandwich that will fill me up. Plus, it will have stuff I like in it."

As I looked at him and realized the truth of what he said, I had one of those little arguments I have with myself sometimes. I had the five dollars; no problem there. If I gave it to him, maybe he would go next door and get a Subway, or maybe he'd buy a bottle of wine, cigarettes, beer, or even go down the street for his next fix. When the light bulb went on, I realized that if I chose to give him the money, then I was relinquishing control over how he spent it. So how far did my responsibility go? Should I trust him to use it as he said he would, or should I close my wallet, make my own purchases, and tell him he could either take my offer or not? Was maintaining control - and hanging on to a few dollars - more important to me than this man's dignity? I handed him the money, bought what I had come in for, and left. As I drove away, I saw him standing at the counter in Subway.

It's probably been twenty years since this happened, yet I recall it periodically, and find in it a lesson for myself.

Socialism derives from the word "social." "Social" is defined as pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations; seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation; of or pertaining to human society.

There's a lot of conversation today about fears that the US will evolve into a socialist form of government. The truth is, we're already partly socialist, and most people are happy to have it that way. What if you had to call - and pay - when you needed a police officer, a fireman, to utilize the services of a judge, or hire a jury? What if you had to pave your own road or personally care for the parks in your city?

We have, in this nation, a system of Social Security - everyone pays into it, everyone who lives long enough can collect from it. Currently, as you know, We, the People, own automakers and banks - although we're all hopeful that it won't be for too long!

Living in a society carries with it a responsibility to that society. Those who don't play nicely are usually punished - thieves, rapists, arsonists, murderers - and that punishment is frequently referred to as "paying a debt to society."

We pay taxes, Federal and State, for a myriad of services: a standing Army (Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard as well - not to mention our over-utilized National Guard!), a federal highway system, a functioning national transportation system, our precious national parks and forests, the safety of our food and our medication. Is it always perfect? No. Few systems are. But for the most part, the government does a good job and makes our lives easier without respect for income, race, status in life, gender, age, or sexual orientation.

In the Declaration of Independence, we find the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I think it's important to note the word among in that sentence. The signers of that Document didn't attempt to define all the unalienable rights that we have as humans, but to list what were to them the most important: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Throughout the history of this nation we have strived to achieve the lofty ideals of the Declaration. We've failed badly sometimes, but we've also had enormous success in areas.

Today, in the 21st century, we find that too many of our fellow Americans - our friends and neighbors, our family members, citizens of our cities, counties and states - our society - are falling woefully behind in being able to even dream of the American dream, much less actually achieve it. "We've earned our money, let us choose how to spend it," is our cry. We don't want to support more government programs, we will give where we want to give, not where the government wants us to. What a sad commentary on our way of life.

How can we know where the greatest need is? How can we make choices between supporting schools and keeping our highways safe? Between building prisons and providing healthcare for our Veterans? How can we decide who is worthy of our help and who isn't, and how can we monitor the donations we do make?

In the New Testament, we are told, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." We in this great nation have so much; even many of our poor are better off than what is considered middle class in other countries.And yet we are never satisfied; we always want more and we don't consider that we have a responsibility to our fellow members of this society called the United States.

I don't advocate for a socialist form of government whereby we cannot enjoy the fruits of our labors, or where we share equally in all earnings. But I do advocate for socialism in helping those who, for reasons we may or may not agree with, can't help themselves. I truly believe that caring for one another in ways big and small, can only make us better people.

The very last words in the Declaration of Independence are, "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." These were attested to by men who had much to lose and who yet stated that they would stand by and for each other as members of a common society.

I've started - and discarded - three drafts of this post before finally reaching this point. And I've researched word definitions and historical documents and recalled instances from my own life. But what it all boils down to is simply this:

Caring for our fellow human beings is just the right thing to do.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Capitalism and me

I'm starting this post with the assumption that I'm not the only person who occasionally has self/self dialogues! Occasionally I'll hear or read about something that makes me start thinking about what I believe in and why I believe that way. Except for the voices in my head, I think this is probably healthy and not just a sign of getting older!

Lately, I've been considering capitalism and socialism, and, although I'm still working out the details (one of me is, anyway), I've come to the conclusion that they are not opposites, nor are they mutually exclusive. I believe in capitalism - I believe in ownership of houses, cars, bicycles, microwave ovens, coffee pots (especially coffee pots), and the other trappings with which we surround ourselves. Oh, yeah - and computers. Don't forget computers.

I believe that people should be compensated for their ideas, their creations, their work. I believe that if Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Jobs had the creativity, knowledge, and discipline to develop corporations, they should benefit from that. I also believe that those who work for them should benefit as well, as should anyone who works for anyone else. I'm not talking about equal share, because there certainly wasn't equal risk. But I am talking about livable wages, recognition of contributions to the growth of the company, etc.

I also believe that, with great success comes great responsibility. I am thinking here specifically of Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay, two men who reached great financial heights while defrauding people of their money, most of which will never be returned. But there are also companies who are still in the process of defrauding the American public through their off-shore tax havens. Among them are Boeing, Halliburton, BellSouth, Pfizer, PepsiCo, American Express, and Marriott. (You can find a longer list here.)

These are companies that pay their top executives the Big Bucks, along with performance bonuses, and who also sell to us, the public, while finding ways to avoid paying their share of Federal taxes. They don't mind taking your money, but they sure don't want to give any of it back.

Admittedly, they are doing so legally, due to loopholes in the Federal tax law. And, also admittedly, a number of Presidents and Congresses - both Democratic and Republican - have failed to close the loopholes that allow this to continue. And the signing of NAFTA during the Clinton Administration allowed them further squeeze plays by making it more profitable for businesses to outsource jobs to countries where labor is so much cheaper that shipping parts overseas and finished products back here is still cheaper than paying US labor costs.

This brings me to the issue of labor unions. I have long had a love/hate relationship with labor unions. I recognize that unions often protect lazy workers and reward those who manage to stay out of trouble even if they aren't productive. But I also know that, without labor unions, we'd probably still be running sweatshops and employing children for pennies a day, and have working conditions that most of us can't begin to imagine. If you don't believe me, check out your local migrant workers - their wages, their living and working conditions, their shortage of benefits of any kind, not just health care.

Several years ago I managed a local branch of a national fabrics and crafts store. Only my assistant and I were provided with benefits, and I was forbidden by the home office to allow any of my employees to ever work enough hours to qualify for benefits. That meant several things: they didn't get health care, paid sick days or holidays, or overtime. It also meant that if anyone failed to show up for work (which is more likely to happen when people don't have loyalty to a company that has no loyalty to them), then either I or my assistant had to cover their shift. It didn't matter, you see, if we worked too many hours; as salaried employees, we were required to work a minimum of 45 hours a week, often working 60 or more. And we weren't paid overtime! Neat, huh? What if every industry worked this way? Well, too many of them do.

And, despite all of the yammering about cutting into corporate profits and job creation, the simple facts are these: Corporate income frequently does not translate into jobs in this country; Corporations often do not pay a fair share of taxes; the large numbers of people who are losing jobs are not the ones making hundreds of thousands - or millions - of dollars a year.

Capitalism should not be synonomous with unbridled greed. Rush Limbaugh often says that anyone who works hard can get a better job. He says that he wishes everyone makes as much money as he does. Well, tell me, Rush: Who would be left to shine your shoes, wash your car, serve your drinks or your dinner, or sell you that airline ticket?

So to be realistic, we will always have those among us who, for a variety of reasons, will never rise to even the median income level in this country (currently at about $53,000 per year, per person). I think capitalism is a workable idea, but we need to find a way to narrow the gulf between the haves and have-nots. Otherwise we'll soon find ourselves in a society of economic revolutionaries.

Next: Socialism

Monday, October 12, 2009

How do you measure patriotism?

In recent weeks, two people who are part of my extended family network, and both of whom are politically right of center, have played what I've come to call "the Veteran card." Both of them served in the military in Vietnam, and both also generously gave of themselves to either volunteer or work in a paid position for their respective law enforcement offices.

Each of them, unknown to the other as far as I know, has made the statement that was along the lines of, "I didn't serve my country in the military and in civilian life to see it become a socialist nation." (In both cases, the subject was government-run health care.) Both of them claim to have performed in a way that exceeds the performance of the average American, and since I know so many who have never served in the military or worked for any governmental agency, they may be right. I would, however, deny that their service gives them any special insight or a more "special right" to their opinion than I have.

I know, for example, neither of them ever suffered the death of a family member in the course of government service. The late Ted Kennedy lost three brothers in service to this nation, and he was the Senate's strongest proponent of universal health care.

Former Sen. Max Cleland sacrificed both legs and an arm in Vietnam, and he supports universal health care.

Of course there are Republicans - Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Bob Dole comes to mind - who have also sacrificed in wartime and who don't support universal health care.

My point is that having served one's country does not confer a specialized knowledge about what is good for the country. It may, and should, inform one's opinion; but each person's opinion should be informed by his or her life experiences, and the validity of those diverse opinions are given voice at the polls.

So if you have served our country in war or peace; if you have served in the military or as a civilian; if you have been a volunteer or held a paid position, I respect what you have done, and I appreciate your service.

It doesn't mean I have to agree with your politics.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Politically autobiographical

If you've found your way here from my personal blog, you've probably already figured out that, politically, I am somewhat left of center. It seems that in my later years I have found my way back to the politics of my youth, and I felt that a few (or, perhaps, many) words of explanation were in order.

If one can be raised within a political party, we were. I don't recall much in the way of politics from my very early years, but after my parents were divorced, my mom entered politics with a vengeance. My earliest political memory was campaigning with her for Nick Nuccio to be elected Mayor of Tampa in '56; I was 9 years old. Nuccio was elected, and was a sometime visitor to our house, along with people like the late US Representatives Sam Gibbons and Claude Pepper. In 1960, we campaigned fervently for John Kennedy, and had the memorable pleasure of meeting him on the Monday before he was assassinated.

Mom was Democratic Precinct Committeewoman for more years than I can remember, and held a tea in her home for Rosalynn Carter during Jimmy Carter's first campaign for the Presidency. She was invited to both Carter's and Lyndon Johnson's inaugurations, and was a delegate to the party's mid-term convention in Kansas City in 1974. In short, my life was infused with political activity and activism, to the degree that, when I left home in the late 60s, I was glad to be away from it all, and frequently (and obnoxiously) stated that the only political thing I ever wanted to do again was vote!

Fast forward to marriage and children, and life in a small farming town where I became actively involved in my church. I worked only sporadically, so my social circle was filled with like-minded people. My husband was a volunteer policeman in addition to his full-time paying job, and so my world became more and more circumscribed and influenced by political conservatives. I did vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976, but shortly afterward changed my party affiliation to Republican. After all, they were the "family values" party and I was all for family values!

In 1987 I became very involved in working with AIDS patients, and shortly after that learned that my own son is gay. A change began to happen inside me, and my devotion to God and my family led me to start asking myself some hard questions. I saw intimately what happens when those with few options are denied help in the midst of ostentatious plenty. I saw things and heard stories that made me weep. And I began, slowly, ever so slowly, to question my adherence to a political party that seemd to lack compassion for anyone except the very wealthy.

Allthough I was conflicted, I maintained my official affiliation with the Republican Party. When my mother died in 1992, I had never garnered the courage to tell her of my defection, but that fall I cast my vote for Bill Clinton, largely because of his promise to pave the way for gays to serve in the military.

Upon my divorce in 1994, I moved to Oregon to be near my sister and her family, bringing my youngest son - then 14 - with me. My sister is four years younger than I (really only 3-1/2!) but despite my elder sister arrogance, she has often had insights and words of wisdom that have had tremendous impact on me. As I mounted one of my best arguments against social services - that our mother had managed to raise three kids in the 50s and 60s with no help from our father, and without once having to resort to government aid - Peggy looked at me and said, "Instead of using her as a yardstick by which to measure others, you should admire the fact that she had the knowledge, skills, and perseverance to do that. Not many people do, you know!"

I knew she was right, but pride - my old enemy - still kept me as a registered Republican. I even took a certain pride in being an "open-minded conservative." I am ashamed to admit that I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 for the most frivolous of reasons: Al Gore bored me. And I was willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt for his first few years in office.

The war in Iraq, however, was an eye-opener - but only after we began to learn of the deceits that launched it. In 2004, I voted for John Kerry and began to see the true nature of what the Republican Party had become when the swift boat affair was initiated. For an entire party to impugn the integrity of a man who had served so nobly was anathema to me. Inertia being what it is, however, I remained a Republican in name only.

Until 2008. When I heard Rush Limbaugh exorting Republicans to switch party affiliations so that they could vote in Democratic primaries and try to undermine the integrity of the party, I was finally, at last, appalled beyond belief. So I switched back to the party of my youth (I''m home, Mom!), and for the first time in my adult life, I not only voted but campaigned and donated money as well. And I'm proud - very proud - that my man won!

The ensuing efforts by those on the Right to not only discredit those who are trying to help our country, but to have no shame in putting forth blatant lies and ridiculous assertions have only strengthened my resolve to work harder for what I believe in.

And so this blog. Separate from my personal blog, and dedicated to promoting truth and progressive political policies. All who read are welcome to respond; there will be no "approval" necessary to have your comments posted. However, they will be diligently vetted for truth and factual information, and anything bearing the label of any known right-wing news organization will be especially scrutinized. If you object, thank FOX News, who has publicly declared itself to be the "opposition." Misinformation, lies, distortions, will all be pointed out and rebutted.

And I in return, I invite you to scrutinize my posts. If I'm wrong, I want to know it. If my sources are biased and can't be independently verified, I want to know that, too. For that reason alone, you will never find me using a publication such as Huffington Post as my only source of information.

Truth alone will bring this country back to - in the words of the original Pledge of Allegiance, " Nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

And I'm determined to do my part!