Posts Tagged ‘politics’

By now it will come as no surprise to anyone that I am an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. But rather than putting up yet another pro-Bernie post, I’d like to put a discussion topic out there for everyone’s consideration.
The estimated combined annual cost of Sanders’ single-payer health care plan and his tuition-free college plan is, by any estimation, substantial. Between the two, it’s about one and a half trillion dollars. (!)
But let’s compare that against current expenditures. The 2015 federal budget, between mandatory and discretionary spending, provides for just over a trillion in Medicare and health spending, and a further fifty billion in tertiary education (college-level) spending.
So we’re already spending 70% of what Sanders is proposing.
Sanders further proposes to levy a tax of “a fraction of a percent” on Wall Street speculation, which he believes would bring in revenue of seventy-five billion. A fraction of a percent doesn’t seem unduly onerous to me, and that gets us to 75% of goal.
What he suggests in order to defray the health care costs are a personal income-based tax of 2.2%, which is substantially less than most households currently pay for insurance, deductibles and the like, and a business tax of 6.2% of the employees’ income – again, substantially lower than what most employers are currently paying to their benefits providers. These two tax increases are estimated to generate eight hundred and thirty billion dollars in revenue.
That brings us to 130% of that goal – fully paid for and then some, and saves money for businesses, workers and students alike into the bargain. That seems pretty good to me, and the benefit of a healthier and better-educated populace seems like an obvious choice at that point.
Sooooo… since I will admit that I am by no means an economist, I would like to see a conversation *WITHOUT partisan rhetoric, please*, in which someone explains to me why this scenario is apparently so undesirable to so many.

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So… I’ve seen a lot of this discussion over whether President Obama should be the one to nominate the next Supreme Court justice, some saying that he should let the next President do it, some dusting off Kennedy as an example, etc. etc.
So I went back and looked at my handy-dandy pocket-sized copy of the Constitution, given to me at a semi-creepy hot dog joint in Plattsburgh NY.
It says that the President ‘shall nominate’ new justices. Not ‘shall have the power to nominate, save when the exercise of same should present a political inconvenience’. It says that he ‘shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint’.
The President has the power to make a recess appointment right this minute, filling that seat with anyone he wants for the next ten months. Instead, he is waiting until such a time as he can not only exercise his Constitutional obligation, but also allow the Senate to exercise theirs. But he absolutely should nominate. The Constitution demands that of him.
Quite frankly, I don’t know that I would have given that much power away to that particular group of obstructionist arseholes, many of whom have already explicitly stated that they will simply refuse President Obama’s nominees on principle rather than bothering to consider them on their merits.
One of the most admired minds ever to sit on the Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis, was nominated in the final year of a presidential term. The guy had enemies, for sure, as did the President who nominated him. The nomination was bitterly contested, both sides fought tooth and nail for their viewpoint, but it would have been unthinkable to merely refuse the nomination – and so they considered him, and he was ultimately confirmed, and America is better off for his opinions on freedom of speech, the right to privacy and a host of other matters.
One would think that the current crop of Senators would want to uphold their own obligations, and engage in a real debate over a nominee’s merits. But maybe they just don’t have the balls.

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Those of you who know me well will be aware that I am no fan of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, typically finding him my ideological polar opposite. As such, when he and I agree on anything at all, there is probably some truth in it.

To quote from his opinion in District Of Columbia v. Heller:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues.

The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms … the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.'”


“We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution. The Constitution leaves the (government) a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns.”

I have written a lot about guns these past few days, for obvious reasons, and have just about exhausted myself on the subject at this point. However, I would like to sign off with the idea that if even Justice Scalia, an arch-conservative constitutional scholar if ever there was one, believes there is room for reasonable limitations on the Second Amendment, there probably is.

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As the United States of America stares down the 240th anniversary of its birth, we are beset by an immense variety of troubles, the fruit of a world growing ever more complex.

It is tempting to say that “if we could just elect Bernie Sanders” or “if we could just elect Donald Trump”, everything could somehow be made right again. But deep inside, we know that no one person, not even a President, has that power. The Oval Office does not come equipped with a magic wand with which to wave away the problems we face both at home and abroad.

We, as a nation, are being divided at every step. We, as a community, are being drawn on one side or the other of a thousand battles, Christians against Muslims, white against black, Democrats against Republicans, pro-life against pro-choice, science against religion, homosexuals against heterosexuals, America against… just about anybody else. We are being told to believe not only that our “side” is 100% right, but that the other “side” is 100% wrong.

We are being polarized by our media and our politicians, torn asunder by our allegiances to one group or another, taught to think of one another as being “other”, and therefore somehow less pure, less human, less American.

It’s not as simple as that. Never has been, never will be.

Too many of us are driven by the preconceived notions which have been shoved into our heads, and too few of us are bringing any kind of critical thinking to bear on those preconceived notions.

Too many of us are stuck in the trap of thinking a certain way, and have been rendered unwilling or even unable to try to think in any other.

It is time for these divisions to end, for these wounds to heal.

I think we are all aware of the Golden Rule, which has existed since time immemorial: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Every religion has some form of this tenet. Evolutionary science has shown its benefit as a means of protecting the group.

Most of us are aware that the Declaration of Independence declares the unalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – and that it specifically says that these rights are not only given to Americans, but to all human beings.

In the face of the ever growing threats faced by America, and by the whole of humankind, it is to these which we should now be turning.

When we deprive one another of life, of liberty or of the pursuit of happiness, we not only fly in the face of that Golden Rule, we threaten the very core of what it means to be human.

The only cure for division is for us to remember once again that there is more which unites us than there is which divides us. There is absolutely no reason a Democrat and a Republican cannot work together for the common good. There is no reason that Christians and Muslims cannot embrace as brothers. There is no reason why science and religion should be opposites, when each is given to the quest for understanding a greater truth.

The cure for division is unity.

Look over at the person nearest you. You have a lot in common with that person, things you can share, things you can enjoy together, and praise in each other. You have a lot of ways in which you are different as well, things which you can learn about each other, things you can use to develop a deeper understanding of the good in each other’s experiences, ideas and way of life.

Let us strive to look at another person in that way each day. Let us become united. We are, after all, the UNITED States of America.

The cure for division is unity.

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Let me get this straight. Supposedly there is a ‘war on Christmas’.

First, let’s dispense with that phrasing; the 109th Airborne Division isn’t conducting strafing runs on the North Pole, there isn’t a battery of surface-to-air missiles waiting to shoot down the sleigh, there isn’t a rogue elf suicide-bombing Santa’s workshop. (Though there are the makings of a pretty awesome video game in there somewhere.)

Second, let’s dispense with that notion; when you walk into just about any store, there is a veritable sea of Christmas paraphernalia and a token menorah. That’s not indicative of a war of Christmas, although I must say that the war on Hanukkah is evidently going pretty well. Even the banners which have the temerity to read “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” are usually still in the red and green we associate with Christmas.

When you get all but one slice out of the loaf, you’re not under any kind of threat of persecution.

Did you know that there is an Islamic holiday right around that same time? A Zoroastrian one? A Wiccan one? If you didn’t even know about those, you’re probably not under any kind of attack.

If your faith is so fragile that you are threatened by the design of a cup, the wording of a public message or (shocking!) someone wishing you happiness for some other reason than Christmas, it’s not everybody else who needs to get their shit together.

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Let’s take a moment to review a couple of fairly important pieces of paper, shall we? Specifically, I’m referring to the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

From the Declaration:

“We” (Americans) “hold these truths to be self-evident:” (which means we think you’d have to be kind of a bonehead not to see it)
“that all Men are created equal” (bearing in mind that in the standard usages of the time this referred to ‘mankind’, not to those of a specific gender),
“that they are endowed by their Creator” (this does not restrict us to the Judaeo-Christian God but to any creative force, be it a God, multiple gods, Nature or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster)
“with certain unalienable rights” (definition: unable to be taken from or given away by their possessor)
“that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This is powerful stuff.

When you take away someone’s life, impinge on someone’s liberty or impede their pursuit of happiness, you are actively opposing what it means to be American.

From this alone we can see that slavery, domestic violence, the death penalty, hate crimes – and any denial of rights to one group of people which another would claim for themselves – are in direct violation of our nation’s most sacred principles.

Let’s also look at the Bill of Rights a little:

The First Amendment. “Freedom of speech” does indeed give you the right to say hateful and discriminatory things. It does not in any way protect you from people calling you out for it, putting your despicable rantings on YouTube, breaking off friendships, refusing to do business with you or voting you out of office. Similarly, this amendment proscribes government from “an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Even if the people wishing to freely exercise their religion happen to be Muslims, or indeed anything other than Christian.

The Second Amendment. “A well-regulated citizen militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Well-regulated. That means that yes, gun control measures to ensure that random nutjobs aren’t shooting up schools and churches are not only perfectly legitimate, they are necessary.

The Fourth Amendment. Understanding that the nation’s founders had no way of predicting the technological advances of the last half century, I think it’s fair to say that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” also applies to electronic data – which has been unreasonably searched and seized all too often of late.

The Ninth Amendment. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This means that the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence above (the rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness) continue to be retained by the people and must remain inviolate.

None of these things seem particularly hard to understand….

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So I saw a deeply distressing headline this morning:
“Tennessee Passes Bill Allowing The Bullying of LGBT Students In The Name Of ‘Religious Freedom’”

I can barely describe how sickened that makes me feel. Suffice it to say that if you really think God is okay with this, you can buy me a ticket for the next train to Atheistville.

When exactly are we going to stop using ‘religious freedom’ as a code word that somehow makes bigotry and hate magically okay? This is the 21st century, for fuck’s sake.

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I am proud of my national identity. I am English by birth, and also American by citizenship. I experience the same moment of delirious elation as many others when England’s soccer team scores a goal, the same heartbreak when the team subsequently suffers the ignominy of being eliminated from the World Cup in a penalty shoot-out. I experience immense pride and satisfaction when it is an American who wins a Nobel or a Pulitzer Prize.

But do I believe that England or America is ‘better’ than another nation? Are we morally or culturally or intellectually superior to the Iranians, or the Japanese, or the Congolese?

My answer to this is a resounding “NO!”, for Humanity is not comprised of nations, or of religions. We are people, each and every one of us, none more ‘human’ than another. America can – and often does – make a case for superiority based on its military muscle or its financial strength, but that doesn’t make David Brennan from Little Rock any more an exemplar of the species than Hidetoshi Yamagata from Sapporo or Abdul ibn-Aziz al-Rashid from Riyadh.

I am also white, male and heterosexual. Does this mean that I am more deserving of any form of recognition or respect than someone who might be black, or female, or gay? Again, “NO!”. Not in the slightest. Each of us is a shining jewel to be treasured and cherished, equally able to contribute to the betterment of our species as a whole.

It seems unfathomable to me that any subset of Humanity is considered ‘lesser’ than another in this day and age. In America, women have made immense strides toward equality over the hundred years since being granted rights which men had long taken for granted, and yet are still often perceived as inferior by some. Similarly, black Americans have made significant progress over the last half century, but still feel the sting of the ethnic divide. The LGBT community is even now struggling for many of the same rights for which women and African-Americans fought for so long. How is it possible that in the twenty-first century we are still discriminating between members of our own species?

This is not to say, however, that these differences do not matter. They matter immensely. Your gender, you ethnic and religious identity, your national origin and your sexuality are all parts of the recipe which makes you uniquely you, worthy of being celebrated. These traits may afford you a degree of insight which the prevalent majority may lack. Coupled with your intelligence, your creativity and your education, these all put you in a unique position to contribute something of immeasurable value to all seven billion of us, and I for one will celebrate alongside you as you do it.

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So L was watching VeggieTales this afternoon, and it made a little ditty go through my head…

“We are the Congress who don’t do anything
We took your government and shut it down…
And if you ask us to do anything, we’ll just tell you…. We don’t do anything…”

So who wants to do a verse of this in the comments? I’ll start.

Well, I’ve never lived on food stamps and I can afford insurance
And I don’t know why we have to turn the clocks back in the fall
And I’ve never served in combat and I don’t have a vagina
But I sure know how to legislate it all….

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Here is a suggestion for House Republicans, in accordance with both their stated objectives and the principles of responsible government:

1. Accepting (arguendo) that the Affordable Care Act is a lousy law and will do nobody any good, it will inevitably fail out there in the world beyond Capitol Hill, due to the mechanics of the free market. As such, if it is allowed to go into effect unhindered, the free market will fix it and you get the “I told you so” rights.

2. The Constitution, which you all profess to be defending with all your might, establishes very clear mechanisms for both the passing of a bill into law and the challenging thereof. There was (endless) debate, even going so far as to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the law, and it passed. The Constitution mandates that it is now the law of the land. Efforts to repeal it by the provided mechanisms also failed, and it therefore remains the law of the land. The constitutional thing to do now is to uphold it, and propose a viable alternative in the next legislative session. Presumably you have a viable alternative, so let’s see it.

3. If the law truly is as horrible as you believe, then allowing it to go into effect will prove that to the public, and those of you who voted against it will be lauded as heroes by your constituents when it is time to campaign for reelection.

So the Constitution, the free market and your own political aspirations are all in favor of allowing the Affordable Care Act to be law. Why are you fighting this? Maybe you’re just a teeny tiny bit petrified that the law will turn out to be a good thing, and you’re all going to have to go back to your constituents and explain why you fought tooth and nail to defeat something which actually effects a positive change in their lives? ‘Cause, you know, that would be pretty darn humiliating and would probably torpedo not only your own reelection hopes but any hope that you had of winning back the White House in 2016…

Ah, I see. I get it now. Carry on, then.

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