Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Check those votes

Well, my newspaper delivering days are over...sort of.  I was asked to stay on another week due to some unforeseen carrier issues, so my last day was this past Sunday, 2/19.  However, I am expecting a call in the next day or so asking me to deliver the route this weekend.  I am leaning towards a yes answer as of now.

In the meantime, I was able to sleep past 3:00 AM today and yesterday!!  First time since late July 2011.  All in all, I awoke around 3:00 about 530 out of the past 540 days to deliver papers.  For those of you who have never, or at least not recently been awake in the early morning hours, you should try it every once in a while.  Do it on a day when the moon is on the full side and either rising of falling near sunrise.  Priceless.

A month or so ago I reported on some of the votes cast by our congressmen.  Now that I am a one job man, at least for a while, I am hoping to detail the action of our elected officials more frequently.

Last week, the big vote was about extending the payroll tax cut.  Both the House and Senate approved this measure which results in about $25 more in an average workers weekly pay check.  The bill also extended jobless benefits for the long term unemployed and prevents the cuts to doctors serving Medicare patients.  (These cuts have been voted out every year since they were first proposed as a way to make Medicare more solvent).

Interestingly, the approval was bipartisan. 

Of course, many economic pundits will tell you that $25 a week is not much.  I guess if you are making $5000 a week ($250,000 a year), $25 is a tip for the restaurant parking valet.  But for those of us in the real world, $25 a week ($100 a month) can be

- used to quicken the pay off of a credit card debt
- saved for a vacation
- saved for Christmas gifts
- used to build up an emergency fund
- used to go to the dentist (less than half of americans have dental coverage)
- used to eat out at a local restaurant, perhaps twice in a month
- used to save for future college costs

As I have said before, our elected officials are not like us when it comes to the economic realities of our lives.  They don't live paycheck to paycheck.  They don't have to decide between saving for the future or paying today's bills.  They don't understand the difficulty of knowing that a $500 car repair bill or a suddenly broken washer or refrigerator means a new credit card bill or doing without that car or appliance. 

Perhaps we need a new voting guideline based, not on issues but on net worth.  Maybe we should be voting for the candidate with the least amount of money.  The person with the least amount of inside contacts, the least number of friends in high places, the least investment portfolio managers.  Perhaps we need the best and brightest who have an advanced sense of social awareness and service to the public good, as opposed to the best and brightest who have made a lot of money. 

Also, this past week, the House voted along party lines to nearly triple America's offshore oil and gas production by opening up more federal lands to commercial energy development (including a small area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  And, of course, they inserted a thorn in Obama's foot by authorizing the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline.  I don't believe there is a companion bill in the Senate so this vote was mostly symbolic.

The most interesting thing about the planned votes for this week is that Congress is in recess for Presidents' Day.  Recess for the week.  While the current level of bickering between the parties might make my next statement seem mute, shouldn't we expect our Representatives and Senators to spend a little more time doing their job?
I don't think they spend even half of the year (180 days) in session.

Finally, last week there was a vote in Congress to make it illegal for members of the House and Senate to use their knowledge to engage in insider trading.  In other words, it is now illegal for an elected official to buy or sell a stock because he/she, in performing the business of public service, is aware of events that will make that stock increase or decreas in value.  Really?  So, up until now it was OK?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Contraception controversy

Almost-full moon set the last few mornings; I believe it will be a completely full moon tonight/tomorrow AM.  I will miss these lunar shows as well as my new deer, squirrel, bird, skunk, fox and rabbit early morning friends as this Sunday will be my last day to deliver papers.  I gave notice 3 1/2 weeks ago and have been counting down the days ever since.  I am not sure if the loss of income can be covered, but with Nora's new job which started late last summer and the two promotions I have received since October, we will give it a month to see.  Perhaps I will have to set my alarm for 2:57 AM once a week just for old times sake!

I read an interesting article in January's Smithsonian about Roger Williams.  See link below to cut and paste into your browser.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/God-Government-and-Roger-Williams-Big-Idea.html

Don't know the name Roger Williams?  Don't worry, very few people do.  He was a Puritan minister who bucked the thinking and theology of his time by writing and arguing for the separation of church and state, in the 1600's!
It would be a disservice to the Smithsonian article for me to attempt to summarize this story.  Please, spend a few minutes and read it for your self.  Let it suffice to say that Mr. Williams thought the government too corrupt to be involved in the authorization or even tacit support of any religion.  So, at a time when the governments of the early pilgrims borrowed heavily from the tenants of their religion, Mr Williams nary mentioned God or a verse of the Bible in his "compacts".  He was all about keeping ones religion private, and he paid the price of this belief by being banished from the colonies he was instrumental in founding.  At the end, he was not able to convince his peers that government should be truly separate from the church and religious worhip/thought.  He died, belonging to no church, as he believed that God's will was "better discerned by individuals than by institutions". 

But the truly remarkable thing about Roger Williams was his effect on the thinkers of the day and the days to follow.  In particular, John Locke was influenced by Williams' groundbreaking work The Bloody Tenent.  And for those students of the founding fathers, it was Locke's work that Jefferson, Madison and other architects of the US Constitution studied.  Strange then, isn't it, that an extremely religious Puritan of the 17th century helped inspire the very document that established the American experiment in governance.  An experiment that still features a sometimes vitriolic, always contentious debate on the relationship between church and state.

Which, of course, brings us to the current debate surrounding the mandate within the health care reforms of 2010 which requires insurance companies to provide birth control coverage for all employers, even those of religious affiliation.  Just this past weekend, the spiritual leader of the Philadelphia Archdiocese produced a letter which was read at all masses decrying this decision citing separation of church and state as one of its arguments.  Why should we be forced to provide birth control for our employees when this practice violates our religious beliefs? says the letter which encourages all parishioners to contact their federal reps and relay their displeasure at the Obama Administration.  And, if the mandate was not enough, the law calls for a fine against the employer for each violation, a fine which will force these religious affiliated hospitals to either eliminate their health coverage in its entirety, or pay for and provide a service which goes against their dogma.

I can understand the outrage of feeling one's beliefs are being trumped by one's very own government.  It is easy to forget that just 50 years ago, John F Kennedy had to dispel the ridiculous notion that should he be elected president he would look to Rome for his decisions.   And, while it has only marginally been addressed, there are those who have suggested that Mitt Romney is unfit to lead America because he is a Mormon, a religion that some call non-Christian at best, a cult at worst.  Clearly, discrimination based on one's religion, is not to be tolerated. 

But, of course, it goes both ways.  Should we then expect an employee of a catholic affiliated hospital to be catholic?  Should all the health care providers of these organizations follow all tenants of the catholic religion, including those tenants that believe that birth control is unnatural?  Should only catholics be admitted into the hospital? 

I guess for me, it comes down to this.  Does a patients right to health care trump the religions beliefs of the health care provider?  If not, should that health care provider rethink their duty to provide the best and most comprehensive health care possible?

What annoys me is that the church's rule on birth control smacks more of male control over woman than a religious belief that helps one attain eternal life.  Isn't it a bit hypocritical for those who have adopted the very real and difficult vow of chastity to make decisions for others about the very real and difficult decision to have a child or not to have a child?  And, not withstanding those quoted who were outraged by this decision, isn't it true that a large percentage of catholics in fact, birth control?  It is certainly easy for the older people among the flock to support this dogma, but what about the real life experiences of young adults, married or not. 

In the end, perhaps Roger Williams was right about the need for a complete separation and his belief that understanding God's will is better left to each person rather than any institution, church or state.