Tuesday, October 31, 2017

False Choices

It is nothing new for politicians and pundits to present choices which encourage the listener to prioritize goals, encourage resources to be directed to issue A over issue B, or when all is lost, pick the lesser of two evils.  After all, like any American, our government must make hard choices concerning where is should expend its resources and how it should collect the money to afford those decisions. 

Traditionally, and I say traditionally as the United States government has run a deficit for the vast majority of its 225+ years of federal budgets, we, as a nation, have spent more money than we received in taxes.  This was especially true for the presidents who were in office during WW1 and WW2 when the percentage of our national debt grew the most in history.  More recently, since fiscal year 1982, the 36 federal budgets under the last 5 presidents (Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama) have created $18.6 trillion of our total $20 trillion debt; about $13.8 trillion of that in only the last 16 budgets! 


Of course, this trend is not just confined to our federal budgets.  State and local debt is over $3 trillion, and the total household debt in America just broke a new record at $12.7 trillion.


Clearly, we are a nation of consumers who do not save for our big ticket items, are not prepared with an emergency fund to pay for unexpected failures of big ticket items, are not content with the possessions we have, and/or do not earn enough money to purchase the items we feel we need to improve that lack of contentment.  In other words, through easy credit, a keeping up with the Jones's philosophy, and a serious lack of discipline, we are a nation of debtors.  And I include myself in this assessment!

Just as clearly, the time for hard choices is upon us.  The recent GOP tax reform proposals take a swipe at the problem by reducing our nation's tax rates (reducing revenue) in hopes that increased spending will lead to a demand for more products and services which will spur economic growth, reduce unemployment even further, and create more and higher paying jobs.  Unfortunately, the bulk of the tax breaks are going to those in the top tax brackets.  As we witnessed during the Reagan and Bush 1 administrations, not enough money trickled down to the working class in America, the national debt increased by $3.4 trillion (from 1 trillion to 4.4 trillion) in those 12 years, and the beginning of the stagnation of the buying power of the middle class began.  As a result, it is not too hard to imagine another jump in the national debt, even more incredibly rich people, and a continuation of the disappearance of the middle class. 

Additionally, as the mantra of reduced government regulation continues to fly from the lips of these same legislators, forward thinking plans to address climate change, invest in the green energy industry, and protect our environment are scuttled by the short term vision of interstate pipelines, bringing back coal jobs, drilling in our oceans, and pretending that spewing pollution and contaminants into the air is not the same as taking a shit on your front porch.

But that is the rub.  We are told that we can't have cheap energy unless we pollute our environment. That we can't have low employment without mega corporations paying little or no taxes.  That we can't have gun control without freedom.  That we can't have a standard of living which enables everyday people to work only one job, have a few children, take a few weeks of vacation, and retire with the knowledge that they won't have to choose between food and medicine unless we allow corporations free reign to move jobs and profits offshore while still reaping the benefits of American security. 

In as partisan as is our political discourse, as unequal as is the income of the top compared to the bottom wage earners, as rabid as is the criticism and support of President Trump, we need to dissect and dismember the arguments of those who present us with false choices.  When we can afford to pay our star athletes $40 million a year to play a game, our top CEO's the same and more to run our businesses, when we read of hedge fund managers who net 8 and 9 figure salaries while underfunded pension funds threaten the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of retired Americans, and billionaires who area legally able to deduct the result of their bad decisions from future tax payments, when we are startled to learn of inner city school classrooms that lack the basic teaching materials, and that upwards of one in five children go to bed hungry at some point in a calendar year, then we MUST stop accepting false choices from our leaders and demand that our voice and our vote is for the most pragmatic process to reduce taxes for the middle class without sacrificing our elderly, the most sensible way to control gun violence while maintaining our freedoms, the most efficient means to address the very real threat of climate change while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels; in other words, the best of two (or more) options. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Las Vegas Killer

It has been almost three weeks since the worst mass shooting in United States history, and we don't seem any closer in discovering the motive for this horrendous act.  There appears to be no political basis for the killings, no religious reason, no past belittling incident or employment related activity.
Nothing has been revealed, to date, to explain why the murderer chose Las Vegas on that particular day during that specific concert.  His family is devastated, his girlfriend beside herself with grief, due to the unexplained actions by a man they considered sane, a good brother, a good companion.

As a result of both the magnitude of the horror, and the ease at which the gunman was able to collect so many weapons of mass killing and fire them so quickly, there has been some talk of new gun legislation, at least in terms of the bump stock aspect which enabled the killer to virtually turn his semi-automatic weapons into more rapid fire devices.  But, to be honest, I don't expect much progress even here.  The NRA exerts too much influence, especially on the House of Representatives, and there are too many radio talk show hosts and TV pundits making the case that guns are only tools, and that all tools are capable of abuse. 

And, in one way, those advocates of less gun control, are correct.  Without addressing the culture of violence that permeates America through the glorification of vigilante justice, the right to defend one's property with deadly fire, the oft repeated threat of nuclear engagement against our enemies, and the more recent emergence from what we thought was the backwaters of our most virulent history, the white nationalist (aka Ku Klux Klan) movement, we will never have any meaningful debates concerning the place of guns in our society. 

Guns, and the violence and death that follow their use, will be with us for the foreseeable future.  The most frightening aspect to the hunt for a reason behind the Las Vegas massacre, is that in the past instances of mass murders, a motive was easily discernible.  That motive, terrorism, mental health issues, divorce, job loss, political disaffection, all lent themselves to the rationale which allows us to pretend that guns don't make killing people easier to do.  Those obvious reasons justify our misplaced excuse for the lack of common sense gun laws by claiming that the perpetrator would have done the dirty deed some other way; its not the gun but the user at fault.

Now, assuming a valid reason for the actions that resulted in so much death and injury in such a short time is not discovered, we are faced with the real possibility that each and every sane, law abiding  American is just one moment away from committing a similar act, because we refuse to address the simple fact that accumulating a large and potentially deadly store of rapid fire weapons can be easily accomplished by anyone.  Even more so by those we consider safe, right up until the moment they peer through the site of their legally purchased, legally enhanced automatic weapon and begin to mow down innocent citizens. 

In our desperation to find a reason for such a horrible crime, we ignore the history of how we arrived at this moment.  We pretend that the we can't connect the dots, from our founders who created the 2nd amendment to provide them with a means to address the tyranny of an unresponsive and foreign government to the misinterpretation by the Supreme Court to equate militia with everyday citizens to the profits of the gun industry, to the fame and influence of those in the media who trade success and money for the death of Americans by flaming the passions of those who prefer a reason to shoot first, and ask question later.

Violence control is the topic under which I place all such posts related to guns and our obsession with justifiable violence.  I will continue to use that reference, just as I will continue to be perplexed by those who do not see that violence may be as American as apple pie, but it does not reflect the teachings of all the great prophets, and certainly not the reason behind the birth and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Birth Control

Another disappointing decision by President Trump came last week when he removed the requirement for birth control coverage (under the Affordable Care Act) for employers who claim religious objections as their reason for refusing to pay for such coverage.  Clearly, those in the Christian right who saw fit to sacrifice their principles in support of a thrice married man, guilty of infidelity at least twice, and who openly bragged about being able to touch women in their private parts with impunity, were rewarded.  Additionally, the recent House passage of a bill which would make abortions illegal after 20 weeks, 4 weeks less than the viability aspect of the Roe vs Wade ruling, tosses them another bone.  Perhaps I should be grateful that there is still some compromise left in America, considering the polarization of our times, but then again, there is a fine line between compromise and the more Machiavellian method of ends justifying the means.

Notwithstanding the presumption that President Trump most likely used birth control (or made sure his partner was "safe") during his "womanizing" years, and the fact that the vast majority of Americans use some form of birth control, especially condoms, of which upwards of 450 million were sold last year in the United States (see link below), and that the mantra of responsibility for oneself and one's actions is not far from the lips of those who justify gutting government programs for the poor and needy, why is it that the Christian right, especially Roman Catholics, consider birth control other than the rhythm method, immoral?


I will leave you to decide the answer, with top choices being a reflection of a time when religious leaders knew that a bigger flock meant more money and influence, that there has always been a bit of misogyny as a foundation for most of the big religions, that our DNA drives us to protect our babies, unborn or born, or more simply, that men like to play and will develop all kinds of societal rules and norms to justify their fun while punishing the objects of their lust.

Still, it would be funny if not so sad that in the year two thousand and seventeen, the idea that family planning would not be supported by all the institutions that we turn to for guidance, religious or governmental, seems ludicrous.  Especially when we contemplate the simple fact that it took all of human history up until the early 1800's to get to one billion people on earth, 123 years more for us to reach 2 billion, only 33 years to get to 3 billion, and that we have added another billion every 13 years or so since which means that even the low end projections put our planet's population at 14 billion by the end of this century. 

In other words, access to birth control, education about family planning, and an understanding that sex education is not a green light for sex, but rather guidelines for responsible sex (there is that word responsible again).  More important for Americans to understand, is that the fastest growing population rates are generally in countries that we consider third world (South and East Asia, Sub-Sahara).  Places where there is a lack of education and/or a lack of resources.  Is that what we aspire to as well?

Of course, there are not that many employers who actually use the religious objection reasoning, although I would like to see a list of those employers granted that exception to see if they are sincere, or just cheap.  So, one might say that if an employee does not share his/her employer's convictions then they should find another job. 

But what if the employer has an epiphany one day and suddenly converts to an anti-birth state of mind.  Is there a grandfather clause that protects employees that were hired before the owner saw the light?  Or what if the company is sold to a new owner with these objections?  Again, OK for senior employees but no new ones get the benefit?  Or, more likely, what if the CEO of one huge corporation realizes that he can save some money on health benefits, is struck by the lightning bolt of the evils of birth control, and seeks the exemption, thus creating a competitive edge in that particular marketplace.  It wouldn't be the first time that, once one large company changed policies, the rest of the industry followed.  (See fees for bags on airlines).  Oh lordy, what a coincidence that the majority owners of all the large corporations in the retail sector suddenly converted to Catholicism!!

Also, when we consider the misplaced fear of sharia law taking over our country, well, what if my employer supports sharia law?  Are they protected by the same rationalization that allows Catholics to discriminate against non-Catholics when deciding company benefits?  I would like to see the panel of pundits debating that issue on Fox Five.

And, speaking of our objections to sharia law?  Aren't laws that establish that an employer's religious beliefs can be used to justify how employees are treated, a version of sharia law?  If we are going to pretend that we are a Christian nation, then I am on board, as long as we address income inequality, the accumulation of wealth in too few hands, our addiction to guns and violence as methods to solve interpersonal and international conflict, and the rampant materialism that gauges success by one's bank account, regardless of how that wealth was earned.

In the end however, there is a simple answer to those who believe that they should not have to pay for their workers to have access to birth control.  (By the way, I would endorse all parents who work for companies like this to become pregnant, but those same companies probably don't have a very good parental leave policy; perhaps that should be addressed before we allow them the exception.) 

That simple answer is to get employers out of the health insurance business.  Remove the incentive that allows big corporations to get price breaks for health insurance premiums, by placing all American in one large pool, or allow each state to create their own pool, perhaps in unison with a neighboring state, if their population is small.  As it is today, better health benefits, better access to affordable premiums and health networks, go to those who work in industries where an advanced education is required.  Pharmaceuticals, financial, energy jobs, doctors, lawyers, politicians all have better access.  In essence, the health insurance industry is organized to discriminate, through higher premiums and deductibles, and less access to better health professionals, against those poorer, less educated working class Americans.  It seems a bit surprising that no enterprising young lawyer hasn't created some kind of class action suit along those lines.

Sometime, hopefully soon, enough Americans will realize that we succumbed to the rhetoric and showmanship of a reality TV host when we went to the polls last November.  He has no great ideas except those he borrows from a time long gone.  And, he has no concern for anyone but himself, as is displayed daily through his self-aggrandizing tweets, and relentless obsession about how he is treated, talked about and judged.