Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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Obama’s Wealth Redistribution-Based Fiscal Policy: Rob From Poor to Give to Rich

02.13.11

Already looking ahead to 2012’s fiscal budget, President Obama is proposing a major cut to heating subsidies for the poor to help aid them against rising energy costs.

This is just infuriating. It’s hard to argue against the fact that our country is further becoming a plutocracy when the top one percent of earners control nearly 34 percent of our nation’s wealth and when even the Democrats cut programs that help the poor while continuing to extend tax breaks to the one group of Americans who were hit the softest by the economic recession.

I still don’t get how anyone can swallow the rhetoric that the rich needed a tax break while we have a surging debt and deficit in the trillions. Sure, everyone would love to pay less in taxes; but it was passed off as if it would be un-American to do otherwise under the guise that if you give more money to the rich, they in turn create new jobs for everyone else. It’s a wonderful thought that many of the rich love to taut, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

And now here we are.

Why isn’t it un-American to let families freeze in the winter because they have to choose between food and heat? Why are both parties so quick to throw the poor under the bus while ensuring that the rich keep even more of their money? Is $2.5 billion – which amounts to merely 0.21 percent of this year’s federal deficit – going to make us more fiscally solvent to the point that it’s worth affecting millions of lower-income families? And that’s more important for our economy – and our people – than raising taxes on the richest two percent of Americans by under five percent?

While the Obama Administration points out that these cuts reduce the budget back to 2008 levels; which sounds respectable and all but with average gas prices higher for the month of February 2011 than they were in February of 2008, energy costs are on their way up while unemployment stays above nine percent. Not a great climate to justify cutting assistance for rising energy prices.

I’m sure there are also plenty of other costs that will be added to our bottom line by cutting this $2.5 billion. The added stress on families coupled with either going without heat or going without food for some who simply cannot afford both could add to health care costs as the toll on their bodies makes them more susceptible to illness or injury. And with less assistance for their necessities (which just goes to the energy companies anyway, not directly out into the backbone of our economy that is supposedly built by small business) that’s less money going into the economy for local businesses and vendors. I’m sure that’s always the case when people have less assistance; however, it’s worth looking at to determine just how financially prudent this cut is when it only affects poor Americans in the midst of a deep recession that disproportionately affects poor Americans.

Not to say that the rich always have to foot the bill for all things. Don’t misunderstand this as me being in favor of taxing the rich every time the rest of the population wants something. This is about fairness. And when the rich enjoy billions of dollars in tax relief while basic necessities like providing adequate heat are taken away from the poor, that’s wrong. That’s un-American.

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Why Cutting Public Funding for PBS Harms Poor Americans More than Rich

02.12.11

In an effort to cut our national deficit, House Republicans are introducing legislation to cut even more spending, this time focusing on totally ending funding for NPR and PBS.

Just for those keeping track at home, our national deficit this year is roughly $1.17 trillion. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s budget is $420 million, making it roughly .036 percent of this year’s shortfall.

Here’s the thing: we need to fix our budget. But it’s beyond insulting to give the top two percent of earners a massive tax cut that costs taxpayers $68 billion for the estate tax cut alone. Throw in another $81.5 billion for the tax cuts to families making over $250,000 and we’re looking at $149.5 billion in spending (which is one percent of the debt — or 356 times as much as what we spend on the CPB) that only benefits a tiny fraction of the population while wanting to slash funding for the programs that go to the middle- and lower-classes who make up an overwhelming majority of the population.

There are a number of reasons why the GOP is embarking on a witch hunt for NPR and PBS, one of which is that they’re making it all about ideology to rile their base, not because they’re being fiscally austere. Only someone who had no clue about budgets and numbers in general – or blinded by rhetoric – would miss the absurdity of adding $149.5 billion to the deficit at the same time as fighting to cut $420 million all while claiming to be budget hawks. It’s like taking out a massive loan on a brand-new home in Malibu and then putting your foot down on selling your 10-year-old Dodge Caravan to cut down on spending.

Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Jim DeMint both argued for cutting CPB because since our government is broke, we cannot afford to be spending money on left-wing programs that Americans don’t agree with. Surely some feel that way. But what’s so left-wing about Sesame Street? Or NOVA? Remember Wild America and Reading Rainbow? Unless learning about science, nature, and reading is left-wing all of a sudden, it’s just more of the same ideological fantasy world where Glenn Beck is a moderate and anyone else to the left of Beck is considered a radical leftist — a stance that has even extended to other popular conservative pundits. It feels like just political battle against Democrats but the only losers will be us Americans who actually value public broadcasting – regardless of our politics.

For those who defend the Republican Party vehemently against those who think that the GOP is the party for the rich, it’s hard to feel otherwise when conservative congresspeople stand firm on tax cuts for the rich while also arguing that we can do without funding for PBS. Perhaps they’ve forgotten since they’re making well over $100,000 a year as civil servants that for poorer families who have to cut costs to stay solvent in this economy don’t always have access to the plethora of channels available via cable television.

Not to say that people with cable don’t watch PBS or listen to NPR even if they have Sirius, but I remember growing up as a kid, we didn’t have enough money to splurge on cable when we already had standard TV via an antenna on the top of our house. And since my parents didn’t want us only watching crap, we watched a lot of PBS: Reading Rainbow and Square One TV were after-school mainstays for years.

We can’t just keep cutting everything that keeps a support net for underprivileged Americans while avoiding the big issues that were the true culprits in this financial fiasco. You might disagree with me on the worth of taxpayer money funding NPR and PBS, but no one can argue that their budget is a key component to our ballooning deficit. It’s barely a drop in the bucket. A fraction of a percentage of our overall debt.

Cutting this spending will not right our ship, will not come close to balancing our budget. If the rich can get massive tax breaks, the rest of us should at the very least get to keep our free TV that offers more substance than Charlie Sheen making light of alcoholism, promiscuity, and a total lack of commitment nightly in half-hour chunks.

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Pharmacists Allowed to Deny Drugs to Patients Based Solely on Personal Beliefs

02.01.11

In Idaho, the pharmacy can simply choose to not fill your medicine even if you have a valid prescription from your doctor.

It’s called the conscience clause, meaning that if you go to a Walgreen’s with an Rx for Methergine – a medicine used to prevent or stop the bleeding in the uterus after childbirth or an abortion – that pharmacist is not required by law to fill the prescription.

This is exactly what happened to a Planned Parenthood nurse in Nampa, Idaho, who took it to the Board of Idaho Pharmacy and found that the pharmacy did nothing wrong:

But according to the Board of Pharmacy’s response, the Idaho Pharmacy Act does not require a pharmacist to fill a prescription. Even if the conscience law was used incorrectly, the pharmacist did not violate the Idaho Pharmacy Act by refusing to fill the prescription, the board found.

My emphasis. I’m sure there is a good reason to have that clause in the books. For example, if a patient has multiple doctors for many different ailments and they all prescribe drugs that, combined, could cause significant harm to the patient, the pharmacy should have the power to not fill prescription. But, in that sense, it’s for the sake of aiding the patient, preventing harm to them, not fulfilling some judgmental opinion on behalf of the pharmacist.

Quite the contrary. If the woman for whom the Methergine was prescribed needed the drug desperately to prevent massive bleeding, this ability to deny prescriptions to people would be doing the exact opposite: putting someone’s life into danger. Also, since the medicine is also used for situations of childbirth, it’s not certain that it was being used on a woman who had even had an abortion. How would that affect someone’s conscience knowing that they denied needed medicine to a woman who just gave birth?

It turns out that this particular pharmacist asked the nurse if the drug was being used for post-abortion care, to which the nurse denied a response since it would violate the patient’s privacy rights.

According to the Board of Pharmacy’s response, Planned Parenthood alleged the pharmacist’s inquiry violated privacy provisions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which the board is not entitled to enforce. Under the Idaho Pharmacy Act, releasing such information would be a violation, but requesting it is not, the response states.

The danger in this type of questioning is that even though the nurse is bound by law to not respond, her denial could be interpreted by the pharmacist as a “no comment” type answer, essentially known as a “yes, but I don’t have to tell you so I’m not going to” response. Leading someone perhaps into feeling guilty about being a part of something they don’t want to be even if it’s not the case. Even now in this article, it’s never revealed why the woman needed the drug.

In response to Planned Parenthood’s assertion that denying the prescription could have placed the patient in grave danger, the board said no such danger was realized because the medicine was obtained elsewhere.

Well, that sure is easy to say now in hindsight since the woman apparently did get the drug. But, what happens when all of the pharmacies in the area cite the Conscience Clause, denying the medicine being filled, and the woman hemorrhages and dies? Would the board have found that last point differently?

Also, how is that even allowed to be a defense when there’s no way that pharmacist can know for certain that the patient would be able to obtain the medicine elsewhere in a timely manner enough to avoid any further complications? The only way to know if the patient would’ve been placed in grave danger would be after the pharmacist had already denied the prescription.

I find the whole conscience clause in general rather revolting. The notion that someone whose chosen profession it is to fill prescriptions can decide for themselves whether or not to then fill those legitimately ordered scripts based on their own personal beliefs infuriates me.  And why is this only limited to feelings about abortions and end-of-life care?

Why not about criminals? Or drug addicts?

Both are living lifestyles that some – or many, even – find wrong, immoral, unacceptable. What if a prescription came in for Methadone and the pharmacist refused to fill it because they didn’t think that it was right to give drugs to a drug addict even if it was to help them get off drugs? Or how about this: a gunman gets shot while in a gang fight and, while it’s not life-threatening at the moment, needs a blood-clotting agent to help his situation, but the pharmacist doesn’t agree with gang violence and doesn’t want to be part of helping a known criminal so denies the prescription. Why is that not allowed? Why would that be ridiculous? How is it so different?

Filling a prescription no more endorses the behavior associated with the treatment for whatever ailment necessitates that medicine than working at the local Walgreens endorses the behavior associated with whatever movie people decide to rent from the Redbox out front. When I go to rent a movie, I might want a recommendation from the guy behind the counter, but I surely don’t want to be judged for what I choose to watch by some stranger who thinks they’re so high and mighty when it’s perfectly legal for me to rent that R-rated flick no matter how trashy it looks.

Unless I’m breaking the law: just do your job, know that you had no part in my life choices, and let me do what I have my right to do.

Photo courtesy of Curtis Gregory Perry’s Flickr Photostream.

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Suicides Claiming More American Troop Casualties than Combat in Afghanistan

01.27.11

Unsavory facts about the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars that don’t get the biggest press tend to make the entire military campaign more real, and thus more difficult to talk about in black and white terms of good vs. evil or us vs. them.

And this could be one of the more disturbing facts to come to light recently:

For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We’re literally killing ourselves over this conflict.

We’ve been in combat in the Middle East for over nine years. Longer than we were involved in World War II. Longer than Vietnam. Longer than the Civil War. And per the Obama Administration’s current plan, we will still have troops in Afghanistan until 2014. That’s nearly 13 years. Unreal.

And these numbers don’t even tell the whole story either:

Figures reported by each of the services last week, for instance, include suicides by members of the Guard and Reserve who were on active duty at the time. The Army and the Navy also add up statistics for certain reservists who kill themselves when they are not on active duty.

But the Air Force and Marine Corps do not include any non-mobilized reservists in their posted numbers. What’s more, none of the services count suicides that occur among a class of reservists known as the Individual Ready Reserve, the more than 123,000 people who are not assigned to particular units.

I’m beyond done with these wars. I’m tired of our money going over to rebuild nations while our own schools and streets lose funding and continue to worsen. I’m sick of all the lives being lost and the countless more ruined by this seemingly endless debacle. The sooner we can come home, the better.

But regardless of when our troops get back, we must focus much more of our attention on the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders. We’re sending these men and women – boys and girls – overseas to kill or be killed. To see their friends blown up in front of their eyes. To be separated from their families for years over multiple tours. It takes its toll.

The bigger tragedy, though, is how clueless we still are about mental health.  We still think of depression as a weakness that you just need to suck up and get over it. That it’s all just “in your head,” as if it’s a bad mood or being bummed out. Same with TBIs: that because we don’t see any outward injuries, there must not be lasting effects inside the brain.

I’m not sure we have all the answers or cures for these ailments, but certainly we should be using all of the known ones to treat our troops, making sure that they know they have these resources available to them with no stigma or shame attached. It’s the least we can do.

We are still in the desert.

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House Votes to Repeal Affordable Care Act: Just Symbolic or Signal of Something More?

01.20.11

The GOP-led House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act yesterday, 245-189.

Most likely this is just to placate the base who the rank-and-file riled up heavily in the campaigns last fall with their anti-Obamacare talking points, since a similar measure looks to die in the Senate, which is still led by Democrats. And even were that not the case, President Obama would still have veto power.

While it’s no surprise really that the votes went this way, it still seems like a waste of time, energy, and money. Yet another case of politics over governance – something which can be defended when running for office, or even as the minority group in all branches of government, perhaps. But not for those in power.

Because what good is passing a bill through one branch of government when you know that it has virtually no chance of making it through the other?

At some point, it just comes down to doing something. If the cost-constraining measures don’t work well, instead of just repealing it and going back to the status quo which everyone agreed wasn’t sustainable either, propose a new method. Offer an alternative instead of just going backward. Do something rather than just ensuring that we’ve all done nothing.

Hell, why not grab Rep. Paul Ryan’s health care reform proposal off the shelf and vote on that? That’d be creating an alternative rather than just voting to not do anything.

The notion of sweeping legislation seems to be off the table for Republicans. A big issue that came out of last year’s health care reform was just how huge it was and how even some Congresspeople hadn’t read the whole thing. It makes sense then that the GOP would go after specific reforms one at a time, even if that brings its own issues along, too.

Republicans say there’s no timeline for their “replace” legislation, but if they’re serious, they’ll have to start advancing specific proposals by the summer.

The likeliest prospect Republicans have for success in the short term lies in taking on the 1099 tax reporting requirement for businesses. It’s been widely criticized as a paperwork nightmare. Even the White House wants to scrap the provision, and the Treasury Department has already taken action to limit its scope. But the two political parties disagree on how to go about undoing the requirement, so an early resolution seems unlikely. Lawmakers have time; it doesn’t take effect until next year.

My emphasis. Both parties agree that this specific item in the law should be changed. This is a great place to start: a point of reference on which both can say, “Yeah, that bit doesn’t work.” At least they don’t have to argue that something is broken while the other side says it’s fine. Which means they can just get right to problem solving: “Let’s figure out a way to fix it.” That’s working together. That’s compromise. That’s using different ideas of how things should work to make the law better. Granted that’s no easy task either, whatsoever; but, it’s far more productive than just taking a symbolic vote on total repeal of everything – even the stuff that arguably works.

But Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas still sees value and importance in the general repeal.

“Unless we repeal the law in the House, we don’t have any credibility to do anything. This establishes Republicans’ credibility to negotiate and deal with the Senate and the president.”

I disagree. The GOP could establish credibility just as well – if not even better to a large swath of Americans – by using their majority to provide solutions to those issues they have with the law rather than just scrapping it altogether and starting over again. That merely showcases their voting majority at the expense of their credibility to negotiate – especially when the repeal seems to be falling mainly down party lines.

Given the polls that show that the overall law tends to show up as unfavorable to the majority of Americans while the individual aspects of the law tend to be favorable, the real work needs to be done on improving the parts to make the whole better. Hopefully the House will still seek to achieve these goals even if the repeal dies in the Senate as expected. Then we all win: the GOP saves face by doing what they could to satisfy those campaign promises; and we all get an improved health care system.

Photo courtesy of wallyg’s Flickr Photostream.

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On Handling Negativity in Politics and the News

01.14.11

The aftermath of the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords sure has lit up the blogosphere, the Twittersphere, the Facebook-o-sphere, and the 24-hour-news cycle with those pointing to violent political rhetoric as being a factor to those vehemently defending the rhetoric with as much vitriol as was blamed.

And then there’s the average person.

Only the truly radical, extreme, unbalanced people in the world could’ve ever wanted a tragedy like this to happen.  That means that all of us, including those who engaged in the harshest debate with other candidates or public officials, find this event heartbreaking, appalling, and absolutely condemnable.  While not something remotely wanted, it is something we can all agree on regardless of our political affiliations.

But, it won’t last long.  If it lasted at all.

After 9/11, there was a palpable unity amongst Americans.  We all felt attacked.  We all felt connected.  We all knew someone who knew someone in New York.  We all felt that some sort of recourse needed to be made, no matter which party we tended to vote for.

I didn’t sense that after Saturday’s atrocities.  Almost instantly, and understandably, there were people pointing out the dangers of such a toxic political climate.  And, as expected, the defense came nearly as quickly.  Never was there that moment where everyone just shook their head in shame and pity and disbelief at the horrors of innocent people being gunned down in the middle of the day, in the parking lot of a supermarket.

It’s because the villain this time isn’t some faceless foreigner.  It’s one of our own.  It’s an American. And it wasn’t an attack on America in the symbolic sense — it was an attack on America in its most personal sense: that of a Congresswoman and those Americans expressing their civil freedoms that America provides.  While there were people of all races and nationalities and political affiliations in the World Trade Center, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was a Democrat who had just gotten done running a successful re-election campaign that saw her being attacked – both physically and psychologically – from her opponents on the other side of the political divide.

Naturally the reactions were going to be what they were.

You’ve got those on the left blaming the right and their rhetoric.  And then you have the right pointing fingers at the left for blaming the right.  And in the middle – or even on the far sides, even – there are those of us who just want it all end.

It’s exhausting and it’s depressing.  Every now and then, I get to the point where I think about just being done writing this blog.  What good comes of it?  It’s rarely positive in any sense.  Even the positives are spun to be not enough, while the negatives are nation-ending decisions.  Rarely do you hear more smug, know-it-all people than you do when talking politics — everyone’s an expert and everyone loves making it known that you’re wrong more than they love finding out what’s right.  And it’s almost always with things that aren’t easily proven one way or another.

Even writing this, I can’t help but think that there will be someone who reads it with their cynical mind, smirking at what I’m writing and finding naive idealism in it or who knows what else that shows that I just don’t have the think skin for politics or I just don’t know how the real world works.  But, I don’t care about those people.  I don’t have the energy for it.  If you want to take pleasure in the negativity, then it’s all yours.

The tragic events in Tucson didn’t change my way of thinking.  It just reaffirmed it.  I’m interested in positive, ambitious people who care more about the intangible ways that make life worth living rather than those only about personal gain and monetary wealth.  I’m interested in facts.  I’m interested in learning.  I’m interested in ideas and new perspectives.  I’m interested in people with humility and patience and understanding.

I won’t always be positive.  I won’t always be right.  I won’t always be the bigger person.  I’m human.  And I know that’s how we all are.  But I will try to be all those things more than not.  Because no matter how much we may disagree on things, we all want the same thing: to live in a better world than we were given.

So really, we’re all on the same side.

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Who is Private Bradley Manning? Mainstream Media Focuses on Wrong Subject in WikiLeaks Scandal

12.21.10

With people on one side calling Julian Assange a hero and others calling him a terrorist for his organization WikiLeaks publishing classified government documents online, it’s hard to determine where I stand.  Am I for his anarchistic, reveal the secrets, power to the people ideology?  Or are his actions putting lives in danger and a detriment to the free world?

Guest blogger Sean Brown wrote his take on this fiasco yesterday and you can read it here.

Considering the fact that we were misled into the war in Iraq under the guise of WMD which were never found and that the embarrassing revelation at Abu Ghraib informed us that America was torturing its war prisoners, it’s hard to trust the government these days — if it ever was trustworthy to begin with.  Assange’s goals with leaking these confidential documents is to bring transparency to governments, which will create justice.

A noble goal, indeed.

But at the same time, I don’t know that what he’s doing is all that productive.  In the short term, at least, he’s reinforcing the tight security measures and potentially liberty-busting new laws like the SHIELD Act. While the unauthorized release of classified information is already illegal, lawmakers are taking aim directly at publishers now with this new legislation, which could have some serious ramifications on the freedom of the press — all in the name of national security (pretty much the official conversation ender these days, regardless of party affiliation).

What’s interesting is how much face time Assange has gotten for all of this, when the reality is that someone else is leaking this information to him to publish.  Who is on the inside sending them the documents?  And why aren’t they the ones being scrutinized all over the mainstream media?  It seems that we’ve forgotten that old adage: don’t shoot the messenger.

Perhaps its even shadier than that.

It turns out that the accused culprit behind a leak was Pfc. Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old Army Private, who has been held in solitary confinement for over seven months with no trail date even set. You won’t see his face on the main page of CNN or Yahoo or Fox News.  You’ll for sure see something about WikiLeaks or Assange’s rape charges (which, if legitimate, are serious crimes and nothing to be brushed aside) on them all, though, without having to look much beyond the top headlines.  MSNBC and CBS News have run stories about Manning, but they’ve not gotten the nationwide attention as the other two heavy hitters.  Not by a long shot.

How ridiculous that the mass media continues to fail miserably at exposing the injustices being done by our own government, whose own questionable actions are a direct result of Assange’s methods of exposing the injustices being done by governments. And instead of focusing on the real story that should be investigated — Private Manning — the media takes aim at WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, neither of whom are the real issues here.

There will always be another WikiLeaks.  Another rebel looking to spread secrets and gain notoriety.  Another insider looking to break the code of conduct.  Similar to the futile effort by the music industry to end piracy by demonizing Napster, the government’s knee-jerk reaction against WikiLeaks and Assange is a hollow attack all for show, focusing on his salacious rape charges instead of the stories that truly affect Americans.

Like why an American not yet convicted of a single crime is being held in a Supermax-like captivity with no trial in sight.

Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes’ Flickr Photostream.