Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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Rick Santorum, The Most Dangerous Man in America

March 30, 2012

As rational beings (I realize I am being overly gracious) we look for the reasons behind events; we look for the cause.  In theory, that is a good thing; in practice, we fail miserably.   Our history shows we have a tendency to apply magical thinking and fear to situations we don’t understand or worse yet, we blatantly chalk things up to God or some other manifestation for events we, as humans, should be fully invested.  Simply put, our rationalization is flawed.  This flaw may be the reason a buffoon like Rick Santorum is able to make a serious run for the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States.  It is why he just may be the most dangerous man in America today.

Let me explain, some among us place everything, good and bad, beyond the control of man.  For instance, a woman walking across the street may trip as she steps onto the curb, fall and break a toe, then think it’s the will of God!  My thinking is God simply wanted her to watch where she was going but her refusal to take such responsibility set the events in motion.  In her thinking, she is not responsible, it was God’s will.  Another example is kneeling in the end zone of a football field and thanking God for a score.  Now, I do not claim some special knowledge or to know God’s mind, but I am pretty sure God does not give one a single damn about touchdowns.

In fact, I find giving thanks to God for such trivial matters offensive.  I mean to invoke God for granting six measly points, all the while homeless people starve right outside a packed football stadium where over a ton of food will be thrown into the trash, has more to do with my understanding of evil than good.  If a football player wishes to be thankful in a useful way, he would be better off thanking the 300 pound linemen that kept the defense from crushing him.  The simple fact is Christianity, and more importantly to this discussion – the Christianity Rick Santorum promotes, warns against such public displays, as Mathew puts it, “… they have their reward.[i]”  In a football player’s case, he gives credit to God for Touchdowns, in Santorum’s case; God gets credit for his campaign[ii].  Both employ a sort magical thinking that removes from them responsibility.  If they do not take responsibility for the good, they cannot be held accountable for the bad.

I get the feeling that some people see praying to God in the same way a child see sitting on Santa’s lap and asking for a toy.  Good little girls and boys get what they ask for and bad ones do not.  So, if Santorum does not prevail in his bid for the presidency, does that mean God thinks he’s been a bad little boy?  The logic is there, but Santorum has his out.  In his diluted mind he simply will apply more magical thinking and rationalize it somehow.  Trust me, he will not accept he simply ran a lousy campaign nor had a message no one wanted to support.

As magical thinkers see it, they just need to believe and pray hard enough and they will get what they want.  All the while, never questioning just what is it they want in the first place.  This sort of thinking leads to seeing others as deserving the bad things that happen to them, but coming up with new magical justification when it is they that do not get what they want.

I really do not intend to get too preachy or discourage anyone’s belief system.  If someone needs to thank God for that tango-mango smoothie they just enjoyed, who am I to question it?  On the other hand, if that person wishes to apply their magical thinking to issues that directly affect others, I will voice my concern.  In Santorum’s case, the latter applies.

I realize prayer and well wishes do not hurt, the research is inconclusive if they help[iii], so prayer, in itself is not the issue.  Moreover, I think it wise to inwardly reflect before making major decisions.  The issue is people claiming God to be on their side, so they cannot possibly be wrong.  Going further, the issue is someone who intends on using his religion to lead the country, rather than our laws. It is someone who does not believe separation of church and state is absolute and that the 1960 speech on the matter by John F Kennedy makes him “throw up.[iv]”  Pray for guidance all you want, but don’t expect me to accept being led by a guy that is willing to place his own sanctimonious views on God and religion above the views of others and above the Constitution of the United States he wants to swear to defend.

Just in case I was not being clear – the man is a religious zealot that wishes to push his perverted view of how life should be on the rest of us.   He is a theological fascist that employs the same political tactics used by Hitler and Goebbels, the Big Lie[v], to achieve his ends.  The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) wrote of Hitler in World War II:

“His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.[vi]

While I do not believe Santorum is necessarily evil, like Hitler, I do believe he is misguided and dangerous and he employs the same evil tactics.  Specifically,

  • He flames emotional responses to political issues.
  • He never admits his mistakes.
  • He never admits others have something to contribute.
  • He presents his view as righteous, therefore the only one that matters.
  • Nothing is his fault.
  • Makes his opponents the scapegoat for everything that is wrong.

It is his hope that the more he shouts his extremist view, the more it is believed.  Sadly, he is not the first American politician to employ such tactics.  He simply couches his version of the Big Lie in a passive-aggressive nature making it harder to see we are getting played.   What makes Santorum truly different is his shrouding his views in religion.  Santorum seeks and receives all the right religious based photo-ops and support he can.  He speaks in religious “us against them” terms going so far as to accept blessings and endorsements from a pastors that suggest non-Christians have no place in America[vii].

Does Rick Santorum believe his own rhetoric?  I do not know, but I do see it as his crossing the line between him valuing his personal belief and pressing that belief on others.  I believe he is willing to use dangerous tactics, regardless of the cost to our individual freedom, to achieve his goals.  Moreover, I believe if this guy is elected President, he will attempt to remake the United States into the Christian-fundamentalist nation that his mind already believes it to be.  His magical thinking, irrational belief that he cannot be wrong, and willingness to subvert the freedoms protected by the US Constitution, all wrapped in his slick, high-glossed, religious based presentation show why Rick Santorum very well may be the most dangerous man in America today.


[i] Matthew 6:5. BibleGateway.com. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew 6:5>.

[ii] Badash, David. “Santorum Makes It Official: He’s Running For President On God’s Platform.” The New Civil Rights Movement. 6 June 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
<http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/santorum-makes-it-official-hes-running-for-president-on-gods-platform/politics/2011/06/06/21438>.

[iii] Brandeis University. “The Healing Power Of Prayer?.” ScienceDaily, 17 Jun. 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.
<http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/06/090617154401.htm>

[iv] Walshe, Shushannah. “In the Battle for Michigan, Santorum Says Separation of Church and State Has Been “Turned on Its Head”.” Www.abcnews.com. ABC.com, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/02/in-the-battle-for-michigan-santorum-says-separation-of-church-and-state-has-been-turned-on-its-head/>.

[v] “Big Lie.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Lie>.

[vi] “OSS Psychological Profile of Hitler, Part Three.” Holocaust Educational Resource. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/h/hitler-adolf/oss-papers/text/oss-profile-03-02.html>.

[vii] Michaelson, Jay. “”Get Out!” Says Christian-Supremacist Pastor. Does Rick Santorum Agree?” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/03/20/get-out-says-ethnic-cleansing-pastor-does-rick-santorum-agree.html>.

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Thought for the day

February 8, 2012

My disdain for the Republican Party’s candidates stems from our need for thinkers to solve today’s problems and they have no first-rate thinkers. Worst yet, they have not had any since Teddy Roosevelt. Now, they are little more than carnival barkers praying on fear.  Eisenhower does not count, he was a first-rate thinker but also a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

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America’s Radical Tradition

January 21, 2012

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

Contrary to popular belief, we are a nation of radicals.  We always have been.  Perhaps the most radical group of Americans we have produced is the first group we identify as Americans, our Founding Fathers.     Today, we tend to think of this group as some sort of homogenous mixture of men that gently formed a nation.  Nothing is further from the truth and we have many lessons to learn by understanding them and then embracing our own inner radical.

It is easy to look back and think of our Founding Fathers as elder statesmen working together for the common good, sort of a picture of everyone rowing the boat in the same direction.  Famous quotes, like Franklin’s “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately,”[i] tend to support a single-minded view of the group.  In reality, it shows something else, the need to persuade.  While the origin of the quote is dubious, it sounds like a remark Franklin would make to bolster John Hancock’s attempt to gain unanimous support for The Declaration of Independence as anything less would get them killed.   It illustrates the need to set aside petty differences in support of a larger good.  In this case, the larger good was winning independence from Great Britain and that was a truly radical and treasonous undertaking.

There were basically three types of colonial citizen at the time, those for independence, those against it, and those that simply did not care.  While the Founding Fathers were certainly in the latter group after July 2th, 1776, the day they voted for independence, it was not the case mere days before.  All wanted relief but what form was hotly debated.  Some wanted to keep the king and have their own parliament.  Some wanted nothing more than changes in law.  Still, others wanted independence and the ability to define and craft their own destiny.  It is, of course, the latter view that won the day.

The remarkable thing is with such diametrically opposed views as committing treason and requesting relief are, our Founding Fathers came together and spoke in a single voice to address the issues they faced.  The choice they agreed upon was the most radical one – independence through war.   Our Founding Fathers were indeed radical is pursuing relief from the problems they faced.

The radical nature of our national founders did not change when they gained independence, far from it.  Even during the Revolution, member of the Second Continental Congress did not agree on the relative strength the federal government required.  After the war, this division of thought, along with apathy, became so pronounced it effectively crippled the government formed by the Articles of Confederation.[ii]   In less than ten years after the Revolution, our government made another radical change replacing The Articles of Confederation with The Constitution of the United States. Again, our Founding Fathers proved themselves willing to make, what at the time, were radical and controversial changes.

Of course, being the radicals that they were, not everyone was happy with the Constitution.  In fact, there was tremendous doubt if it would be adopted.  Again, the words of Benjamin Franklin proved pivotal.  Age and years of service prevented Franklin from reading his speech.  On the last day of the Constitutional Convention he had fellow Pennsylvanian; James Wilson read it which opens:

Ben Franklin, by David Martin

“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”[iii]

Even Franklin, as radical as he was, understood the need to put nation first and compromise for the greater good.  Even so, others, like George Mason, could not bring themselves to vote for the Constitution.   In his mind, the changes did not provide states and individuals the necessary protection from the federal government.   Three years later, his dogged tenacity lead to the adoption of The Bill of Rights, again, a very radical move by a Founding Father.

Franklin and Mason are perfect examples of Founding Fathers as radicals, as they were radicals to a point.  They defended their radical views all the while working on compromises when required.  Even on large moral issues, like slavery, both men saw the necessity to compromise.  Without that, the Constitution would never have been ratified.   The proof of their wisdom in compromising is evidenced by the Civil War some seventy-years later.

By the time the Civil War began all our Founding Fathers had long passed away.  Still the nature of Americans as radicals is very evident in Abraham Lincoln.  Even before the war, Lincoln did not shy away from radical politics.  As the Whig Party was irreparably split over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln became a driving force behind the formation of the modern Republican Party and its radical view to abolish slavery.

Among the members of the new Republican Party there were differences on how to achieve the goal to end slavery.  Some like John Frémont opposed Lincoln’s approach to slavery and even formed what is called the “Radical Republicans[iv]” within the Republican Party.  Lincoln’s approach was first to limit slavery, Frémont’s was to end it out right.  While it was easy then for people to jump on the Frémont bandwagon, Lincoln took a similar approach to slavery as the Founding Fathers.  It was not until the emancipation proclamation in 1863, a full

Abraham Lincoln, by A. Gardner

year and eight month after the start of the war, ending slavery became a central issue of the war.   Again, we had a dynamic leader with a radical view, tempered by what he perceived as the greater need of the nation.  It was not until President Lincoln believed ending slavery was the only way to preserve the union he accepted that as a goal of the war.

Think about it, in the 1860s, the Republican Party was the liberal-progressive party the party backing a powerful federal government while the Democrats held the conservative view of state’s rights and argued for weaker federal control.  It would take the economic disaster of the Great Depression to lead us to the political parties as we know them today.

As liberal-progressives, Republicans were successful with many programs labeled as Democratic today.  For instance in 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt negotiated with United Mine workers for more pay and fewer hours to end a strike.  In 1906 he signed the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act.  According to the National Park Service,

“he signed legislation establishing five national parks: Crater Lake, Oregon; Wind Cave, South Dakota; Sullys Hill, North Dakota (later re-designated a game preserve); Mesa Verde, Colorado; and Platt, Oklahoma (now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area). Another Roosevelt enactment had a broader effect, however: the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906. While not creating a single park itself, the Antiquities Act enabled Roosevelt and his successors to proclaim historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest in federal ownership as national monuments.”[v]

It’s hard to believe President Roosevelt is seen as one of the most successful Republican presidents of all times given his progressive policies.

In a way it is understandable that Roosevelt held progressive views.  The nation was in the midst of the Progressive Era[vi].  The dates of the era ran from around 1890 until the Great Depression’s beginning in 1929 with two periods separated by World War I.  The movement had both Republican and Democratic supporters.  After President Roosevelt, the next progressive to make radical change was Woodrow Wilson.

Besides being President during World War I, President Wilson was the moving force behind the creation of the League of Nations, the first international organization dedicated to maintain world peace.  This radical effort by Wilson is the first time the United States joined an organization with the authority of binding arbitration over its members.  His administration pushed through the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and federal income tax.  He later gave enthusiastic support to women’s suffrage.  President Wilson was the last president elected while the Democratic Party held conservative views of individual freedom and states’ rights.

World War I left a national debt increased by almost 90%.  Over the next twelve years Republican’s took a fiscally conservative stance and reduced the federal deficit by 50%. With the election of Warren G. Harding, the modern Republican stance on less business interference from government took hold.  He is quoted as saying, “less government in business and more business in government.”[vii]    In pushing a business friendly, smaller government platform, the Republicans took a radical stance but one in the conservative direction.  While effective in reducing the deficit as well as establishing a comprehensive federal budget, the radical shift in governance set the stage for the Great Depression.

At this time, politics went through a sort of paradigm shift.  The voting blocs of the Progressive Era were swept away and support for the business leaning Republicans plummeted.  1933 marked the beginning of the New Deal Era and caused the states’ rights Democrats to flee the party and join the remaining conservative Republicans.  1933 began to radically reshape both parties into the blocs and collations we recognize today. In broad terms, this is the point where Republicans are defined as conservative or the Right and Democrats as liberal or the Left.

With the Great Depression raging like a wildfire and the election of Franklin Roosevelt, that country was ripe for radical change and the New Deal gave them the change they demanded.  Roosevelt’s support for social change galvanized the Democratic Party as the home of social liberals.  To deal with the Depression, Roosevelt proposed three major efforts, Relief, Recovery, and Reform.  The Three Rs, as they became known, put Keynesian economic theory[viii] into practice and was an extremely radical departure from prior governmental practices.  It produced the most dramatic change in governance since the Civil War.

Herblock March 29, 1950 cartoon that originally defined McCarthyism

America’s radical mood swings were put on hold in 1941.  With Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, the war effort became the overriding event that dominated the political landscape.  More than any other time in US History, World War II marks the period where we thought as one and put our political differences aside.

After the war, these differences once again surfaced and our nature as radicals once again reigned supreme.  Post-war international posturing directly impacted radicalism within the United States.  With the Soviet Union exporting communism across Eastern Europe fear gripped much of the nation and gave rise to political death by accusation and the witch-hunts of McCarthyism[ix].  Though Senator Joseph McCarthy’s personal influence ended with his censure by the Senate in 1954, the lingering effect of McCarthyism still raises its ugly head from time to time.  It serves as one of the few example where a radical view produced real damage to America before the tempering hand of opposing views pulled back the reins.

After the Korean War (1950 – 1953) and the excesses of McCarthyism, Americans were in the mood to relax and pursue personal interest.  Politically, President Eisenhower was ready to give it to them.  While working to reduce the rate of federal spending, he pushed to continue and improve upon many of the New Deal social programs put forward by President Roosevelt.  Under Eisenhower, the largest federal public works program in history.[x]  While there is really nothing radical about that, it is radical thinking from t the leader of the Republican Party.   Again, showing radical action can produce beneficial results.

During the 1960s, Vietnam and the Counter Culture dominated American politics.  Starting with President Kennedy’s 1962 declaration:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too,”[xi]

and ending with Neil Armstrong’ statement in 1969:

Foot Print, Apollo 11 Crew, NASA

 “That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind.”[xii]

In the 60s, America passed through one of its greatest periods of radical ideas.  President Kennedy’s bold radical statement was not back up by technology at the time.  In truth, no one knew if it was possible or not.  Still, he defined a daring and bold goal and the country answered the call.  Bright lights of radical thinking burned in the 60s, President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  to name a few.  Of course, other radicals made headlines in the 60s as well; names like Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, and James Earl Ray show radical thinking has a very ugly and evil side as well.

Richard Nixon certainly had radical views about what he could and could not do as president, ultimately leading to his resignation.  Still, if you look beyond his paranoid excesses, you see an effective president that suggested radical social reforms including a healthcare plan that is very similar to one put into effect some forty years later.

Nixon was the last of the fiscal Republican elected as President in the 20th century.  From this point forward, Republican presidents followed the social conservative model put forward by Senator Barry Goldwater.  In radical departure from the post-World War II mainstream Republican, the election of Ronald Reagan revived the basic ideals of laissez-faire[xiii] governance at the same time expanding the military in the largest peace-time buildup in history.  His approach reduced taxes but failed to reduce overall federal spending resulting in a 61% increase in the national debt.

Radical thinking at the end of the 20th century seems somewhat stilted compared to icons of radical thinking like Franklin and FDR.  Now, we focus on radical thinking as a negative rather than a force of change.  Still, weather good or bad, we have our radical thinkers.  We have past presidents, like Bill Clinton and both Bushs stepping away from politics and working together around the world for the greater good.  What could me more radical than that?

Overall, America has a tradition and history with radical thinking.  We seem to always reinvent who we are and how we move forward.  Listening to politicians, they tend to paint as being radical in nature while not accepting their own views are rooted in a radical tradition.  It is a convenient smoke screen for them to hide behind while they bash other’s opinions all the while avoiding explaining their own.  It’s time for us, all of us, to embrace our radical nature and accept different ideas, then judge which ideas we need to support and move forward.


[i] Franklin, Benjamin. Famous Quotes at BrainyQuote. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benjaminfr151597.html>.

[ii] Washington, George. “Letter to George Clinton, September 11, 1783.” Loc.gov. The Library of Congress. 19 Jan. 2012
<
http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mgw:@field%28DOCID+@lit%28gw270170%29%29>.

[iii] Franklin, Benjamin. “Speech.” Constitutional Convention. 17 Sept. 1787.  The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net. 20 Jan. 2012 <http://www.usconstitution.net/franklin.html>.

[iv] “Radical Republican (American history) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia.” Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/488729/Radical-Republican>

[v] “National Park Service History: Theodore Roosevelt and the National Park System.” National Park Service Cultural Resources Discover History. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/hisnps/NPSHistory/teddy.htm>.

[vi] “Progressive Era.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Era>.

[vii] “Warren G. Harding.” The White House. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/warrenharding>.

[viii] “John Maynard Keynes, Economist.” Maynardkeynes.org. 20 Jan. 2012 <http://www.maynardkeynes.org/maynard-keynes-economics.html>.

[ix] “McCarthyism – Credo Reference Topic.” Credo Reference Home. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.credoreference.com/topic/mccarthyism>.

[x] “Interstate Highway System.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System>.

[xi] Kennedy, John F. “Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort.” Speech. Texas, Houston. 12 Sept. 1962. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Ready-Reference/JFK-Speeches/Address-at-Rice-University-on-the-Nations-Space-Effort-September-12-1962.aspx>.

[xii] Armstrong, Neil. One Small Step. http://www.hq.nasa.gov. NASA, 21 July 1969. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11.step.html>. Transcript.

[xiii] “laissez-faire.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/328028/laissez-faire>.

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Fix SSI? No Thanks, Just Give Me My Money Back

August 11, 2011

I joined the workforce fulltime in 1980.  That means for thirty-one years I’ve been paying FICA taxes.  Lately, I’ve wondered at what I receive in return for this tax.  While no one likes paying any tax, the necessity of financing the government requires some sort of tax.  This is where all the arguing begins and politics become life’s only true quagmire.

Rather than getting caught in the endless political debate over this or that tax, let’s look at just how the system actually works compared to how is should work.  The system is overwhelming to look at as a whole so focusing on just FICA allows us to at least see the path through out nation’s taxation swamp.

Just what is FICA anyway?  If you ask someone, they might tell you it is Social Security or it is the money you can’t get back on your tax return.  While correct, there is more to it than that.  FICA stands for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act.  It came to be during President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.  Back then, it did simply fund Social Security to address three specific issues, retirement, disability due to injury, or congenital disability.  In the 1960s, Medicare and Medicaid were added and the percentage tax increased to cover the additional costs.  So, FICA is a way to fund federal assistance programs for citizens in what is called a “pay-as-you-go” system.

“Pay as you go” simply means our payments today are used for people who paid in before.  There are, of course, exceptions.  No one expects a two-year old to be denied access to this system because they have not paid in yet, but eligibility is a whole other argument – remember, it is a swamp in there.  The idea is this: as our population increases, more people pay the tax and cover the costs of prior generations of workers. Sounds great in theory… in theory!

Had our wonderful elected officials in Washington simply put the system described above in action and invested the money in US Government bonds, it would work.  Of course, that is not what happened.  Rather than buying bonds as most people think of them, they came up with a whole new type of bond that is closer to an IOU than a typical government bond.  The tax we pay for FICA does not go to fund Social Security Issuance (SSI), Medicare, or Medicaid.  It goes to the US Treasury, who writes the IOU-type bond to the various programs concerned.  When one of the programs needs money, they send Treasury a bill.

Here’s the problem.  The Treasury spent the money.  It is a way for our government to use this money for whatever they want and not raise our taxes to do it.  The money has been used for everything from sending men to the moon to fighting wars in far off places.  Now, as more citizens retire or otherwise draw on the programs, the monthly intake in FICA tax no longer covers the outlay.  In other words, the Treasury is paying more to the programs (in principal and interest) than it takes in.  Now, the federal government must take money raised for other uses to pay for the programs they took the money from in years past.

Had they truly invested the money, we would simply be drawing down the participle of our investment.  If in time, more money is needed to cover expenses, the FICA tax would need to increase to cover it.  It would be a case of paying for what we get, or “pay-as-you-go,” the way the system was initially envisioned.

This is also where the argument over “entitlements” begins.  We call them entitlements because we, the citizens that paid into the system, have no property right claim to the money we paid in as we would with some sort of private insurance.  In 1960, the Supreme Court settled the argument.  Congress gave to themselves the authority to add, limit or do away with benefits as it sees fit.  In other words, they took our money; made us a promise and we are powerless to make them keep that promise.

As it stands, the government ran up a huge tab (part of our national debt) by converting the money we paid into FICA, into IOUs the government does not have a legal responsibility to pay.  Of course, not paying it will be political suicide but changes to payments or reducing the payments may be more palatable to the general public.  This is why officials wishing to reduce payments frame the issue as people gaming the system or taking advantage of a system of “entitlements.”  They try to make is seem they want to fix a dysfunctional system while looking after the good of the people.  What they really want is for us to keep paying the money so they can spend on their programs rather than its intended purpose.  They don’t care we paid the money to have these programs.

In the end, I am not against changes to the system.  Especially if the government collects the money, spends it, then complains about paying the system back.    So, there is the truth, the government cannot give me my money back because they spent it on things none of us gave them permission to spend it on.  If anyone of us tried that; we would be put in jail for embezzlement.

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The Reasoning Behind the Second Amendment

February 22, 2011

A lack of understanding our national history leads to erroneous debate surrounding the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  Only by pealing back time does the correct view of its meaning take place.  Regardless of how loudly either side in the argument (gun ownership rights vs. banning guns all together) screams, the Second Amendment’s meaning is what it was back in 1791, when the States ratified the Bill of Rights.

Without question, the twenty-seven words of the Second Amendment are some of the most debated in American History.  In retrospect, one may wonder why our Founding Fathers constructed an amendment with such an ambiguous meaning, but that is the point – it is not ambiguous.  The text of the amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[1]”  In reading the amendment, if taken in the context of 1791, its meaning is clear.

Starting at the beginning, in May of 1607, England established its first permanent settlement in North America, Jamestown[2].  From then until February 1912, with the statehood of Arizona, the colonies and Untied States, as a nation, had frontier territory contained within its boarders.  Taking Alaska and Hawaii into account, the date moves to 1959.   The term frontier implies a certain wildness and untamed nature.  Even after statehood, vast areas within newly formed states remained untamed for years.

Since Jamestown, and through the implementation of Manifest Destiny, the areas of America’s frontier changed, changing the needs of the citizens along with it.  For instance, 1881 Washington, DC has more in common with today’s metropolitan areas than it did with the Western frontier town of Fort Sumner, New Mexico of its day.  Two notable killings took place that year, one carried out by a county sheriff and his posse (a type of temporary militia used at the county and town level) the other,carried out by a lone gunman.

The sheriff’s situation is well-known.  He was Pat Garrett and his posse (the number of men in posse is hotly debated) hunted down Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner[3].  Washington’s lone gunman has less notoriety, his name: Charles Guiteau.  Guiteau surrendered to Washington police who arrested him for the assassination of President James Garfield[4].  The point is, in the West, militias (posses) were commonly employed to answer specific needs while Washington counted on a police force.  As settled areas become stable, and communities grow, the dangers faced by its citizens change.  In Washington the need for a ready response of arms was no longer required, while in Fort Sumner existence itself depended on it.

In respect to the Second Amendment, it is the dangerous nature of frontier land, which promoted the need of local militia.  As settlements grew, displaced groups, like Native American, took exception to loosing land they lived on for years, if not centuries.  Moreover, settlers gave little notice to treaties with tribal governments or boundaries of native lands, making hostilities inevitable.

Before the American Revolution, the overall duty to protect citizens fell to the British Army.  The size of the colonies made protection impossible.  With its vast territory and over 3,000 miles distance from England, the American Colonies presented the British Army with a very large logistics problem.  The Army’s primary concern was holding off encroachment of other nations, like France and Spain, into areas England claimed.  This left far-flung settlements at the mercy of angry Native-Americans, as well as raiding parties of the other nations.  Raising local militia solved the immediate assistance issue.

At the outbreak of hostilities, a settlement’s government called out their militia.  The unit was expected to meet the particular event and resolve it, or at least hold out until regular army troops arrived.  It was a system of mutual benefit to the Crown Government as well as the colonists.

The most famous militia organization was the Massachusetts Minutemen.  The romantic view of this militia is farmers grabbing their guns and running to fight when called upon by the likes of Paul Revere.  In truth, the Minutemen were a formal militia unit given a charter by the Massachusetts Provencal Congress in 1774[5].  Every community supplied men for their local militia similar to the Minutemen, but all were under the control of some sort of civilian authority and not a rabble with bad intent.

Some of the same militia units employed in support of regular British Army units before the American Revolution, later supported, if not enrolled in whole in the Continental Army under General George Washington.  In fact, General Washington’s first experience in military affairs was as adjutant in charge of Virginia’s Southern District Militia.  In this role, Washington inspected, mustered, and regulated the various companies of men.  He later led Virginia’s Militia into the Ohio River region and briefly fought regular French troops and their Algonquin allies in the engagement that began the French-Indian War[6].

After America’s independence from Great Britain, the new federal army faced the same logistical issues suffered by the British before them.  Again, local militias formed to meet the need.  Again, the various governments authorized and organized militia under local authority.

One such organized unit was the First Regiment of the Chatham County Mailias, which served the Savannah, Georgia region.  Shortly after the war in 1786, a group of runaway slaves, which fought with the British “refused to return to the service of their owners,” as a history of the time put it[7].  No right-minded person could possible blame them.  This group marauded and waylaid traffic along the Savannah River.  Numbering over thee-hundred armed men, they were more than the normal civil authority (the county sheriff) could remotely handle.  The First Regiment Militia, assisting regular army troops stationed at Beaufort, SC. routed the men from their encampment in the swamps along Bear Creek and restored order.  As a side note, any society that chooses to enslave a large portion of its population is well advised to keep a sizable militia handy.

In the end, during our initial development as a nation, individual states required the militia to maintain order.  Rather than a position of sinecure, militia served, earned their pay (or received no pay at all) and often died in the process.  It was left to the federal government to maintain a national army and to the states to maintain a self-policing force the national army called upon from time to time.  That is what the Second Amendment is about, the ability of the individual states to maintain civil order and assist in national times of need.  Standing armies are costly.  Avoiding that level of public debt, states organized militia groups.

While gun advocates point to the Second Amendment and claim the right of gun ownership, the Amendment does not interfere with each individual state’s ability to regulate the practice.  In truth, it does not even require a state to allow gun ownership.  It simply prevents the federal government from outlawing it.  Unlike the First Amendment, the Second does not enumerate several different rights; it limits the authority of the federal government to interfere with individual states and citizens protecting themselves.

One reason militia worked before and not now – the large variety of weapons available.  Until the time of the Civil War, a man with a musket only needed a few pieces of flint, some bulk lead, and a supply of gunpowder.  With the limited caliber of muskets, casting of balls was a simple process handled in the field camp; many men carried their own casts simplifying matters further.  With the invention of cartridge style ammunition, supplies of pre-manufactured bullets for each type of weapon are required.  Imagine the supply chain nightmare of supporting a unit in the field with a dozen or so different cartridges.  Simply put, no longer can a government expect to supply ammunition to citizens bringing their own weapon to a fight; the variety is overwhelming.

Today, the National Guard takes on the role the militias filled in years past.  They are a hybrid of militia groups and a standing army.  Fringe survivalist groups claim some tie-in to our historic militia groups, but they lack the charter and civil oversight to operate in the public interest.  In the end, they are a bunch of guys with guns that challenge the civil authority, not work to protect the population at large.  Mostly, the need to call men at a moments notice to man the parapets is gone.  Organized militias, as intended by the Second Amendment, are simply of no practical use today.

It is easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of organizations like the National Rifle Association and its focus on the later half of the amendment, the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” portion.  What they fail to acknowledge is the role the states play or the “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” portion.  Of course, the gun control fanatics are just as far off point, as the amendment does afford citizens the right to own a gun at the federal level and a state walks a fine line when they attempt to limit that right.

What both groups fail to understand is we do not live in 1791 anymore nor is our society some utopia where we sit around a campfire and sing Kumbayah.  Guns and gun related violence exist in our society today.  It is true statement that outlawing citizens from owning guns leaves only the criminals with gun.  It is equally true that improvements in firearm technology places in the hands of one individual the means to rapidly murder dozens of citizens.  The tragic events at Virginia Tech come to mind[8].

The Founding Fathers never intended our Constitution and the Bill of Rights to be static.  After two-hundred and twenty years of development, both in society and technology, it is about time we revisit the Second Amendment and modify it to reflect the times today.  Outlawing gun ownership is not any sort of answer, just as it’s not an answer to allow any nut with a diver’s license to own a bazooka.  What we really need is to address the issue respecting various points of view and craft a new amendment that will serve the United States over the next two-hundred and twenty years.

Follow Up Reading:

Here is another blog post expanding on the issues of rights and gun control: Guns, Driving and Our Rights

 


[1] “The Constitution of the United States of America,” Amendment 2. GPO Access Home Page. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://www.gpoaccess.gov/constitution/html/amdt2.html>.

[2] “Jamestown Settlement.” Official Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center Visitor’s Site. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://www.historyisfun.org/jamestown-settlement.htm>.

[3] “Billy the Kid.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_the_Kid#Death>.

[4] “Charles J. Guiteau.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Guiteau#Assassination_of_Garfield>.

[5] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard: 2004, Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation.

[6] “The French and Indian War.” Antique Prints And Maps From The Philadelphia Print Shop. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://www.philaprintshop.com/frchintx.html>.

[7] Charles Jones, Jr. The Life and Services of the Honorable Maj. Gen. Samuel Elbert (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1887), SUPPLAMENTAL NOTES, 47.

[8] June, Early. “Virginia Tech Massacre.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Tech_massacre>.

h1

The Death of Senate Bill 987

December 23, 2010

In May of 2009, Illinois Senator Dick Durban introduced bill 987 to the Senate[i].  As bills go, it is relatively small, only ten pages, with an estimated cost of $108 million over the next five years.  While $108 million is nothing to scoff at, the all too common bills in the billion and trillion ranges dwarf it.  From its heft in paper and its cost, the bill is unremarkable.

What makes S-987 special is the contents of its mere ten pages.  The title alone illustrates its importance – “The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010.”  While it is an awkward name, it simply defines what constitutes child marriage, states the United States is against the practice, requires the collecting a reporting on statistics regarding it, and requires the President to develop a policy in dealing with the international problems of child marriage and to discourage it.

Who could be against such a bill?  In fact, it is one of the rare, extremely rare, bills to receive unanimous support in the Senate.  Forty-two senators went so far as to co-sponsor the bill[ii].  Its passage in the house seemed a sure thing.  That is until Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida’s 18th District set her sights on its defeat.  In other words, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is against such a bill.

An article by Josh Rogin in the Cable cites a letter Rep. Ros-Lehtinen circulated to her Republican colleagues urging them to vote against the bill based on cost[iii], something that every representative, not just the Republican ones, should take into consideration.  After all, with our current fiscal mess, can we afford $21.6 million a year, for the next five years, to prevent children married off before they are old enough to decide for themselves?  Every single senator thought so.  Even a majority of representatives agreed we could afford it.  Given that, it is truly remarkable the bill did not pass the House of Representatives.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi set the stage for defeat when she brought the bill to the House floor under a procedural maneuver known as “suspension of the rules.”  It basically prevents amendments to a particular bill but requires a 2/3 majority to pass.  It is normally used for issues like naming of a post office or federal building.  In the case of S-987, its use proved fatal.

Having lost her argument of cost, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen employed the sure-fire method of whipping up the GOP base, she claimed it will use federal money to pay for abortions; something the bill, prevented by law[iv], cannot do.  To put is another way, she lied.  The net effect of the lie was energizing the Pro-life right-wing of the Republican Party against supporting the bill.  They had enough votes to undermine the 2/3 majority required and effectively killed the bill.

A large portion of the blame for the bill’s defeat belongs to Speaker Pelosi.  Had she not played parliamentary tricks with the bill and allowed normal debate, the most likely outcome would have been the bill becoming law.  While there can be no excuse for Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s lie, we can at least understand she resorted to it having been denied her say in the matter.

That last part is the real point.  We send people to Washington to do our bidding.  When the use of trickery and procedural posturing deny a member their say, a member will use trickery of their own in response.  That is the sad state of affairs in the U.S. Congress.  Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s concerns needed exploration.  Given the number of fiscally conservative senators sponsoring the bill, answering the concerns of representatives should have been easy.  Instead, we now have a representative that is a liar and a leader in the House that bends the rules to deny rightful debate.

Unfortunately, there is little chance things will change when the new leadership takes over.  Given the polarization of the two dominate parties such posturing will only increase, leaving us with a government that is incapable of getting the simplest things done.  Belligerence in politics only produces short-term gains, never lasting results that serve the best interests of a nation.  That is the point that neither Speaker Pelosi or Rep. Ros-Lehtinen seem to understand.


[i] “Text of S.987 as Referred in House: International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010 -… OpenCongress.” OpenCongress – Track Bills, Votes, Senators, and Representatives in the U.S. Congress. Web. 23 Dec. 2010. <http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-s987/text>.

[ii] “Bill Summary & Status – 111th Congress (2009 – 2010) – S.987.” THOMAS (Library of Congress). Web. 23 Dec. 2010. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:S.987:>.

[iii] Rogin, By Josh. “How Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Killed the Bill to Prevent Forced Child Marriages | The Cable.” The Cable | FOREIGN POLICY. Web. 23 Dec. 2010. <http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/12/17/how_ileana_ros_lehtinen_killed_the_bill_to_prevent_forced_child_marriages>.

[iv] “USAID Health: Family Planning, Policy, Restrictions on Support for Abortions.” U.S. Agency for International Development. Web. 23 Dec. 2010. <http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/pop/restrictions.html>.

h1

Islam’s Real Problem

December 4, 2010

Since the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in 2001, various groups have put in effort showing the terrorist followed an invalid and flawed version of Islam.  It is an easy argument to make.  Islam is a huge religion and all the Islamic terrorists in the world, put together, make up an extremely small portion of its followers.  Defining Islam by terroristic acts is much the same as defining Christianity by the sermons of Appalachian snake handlers.  In the end, the argument misses Islam’s real problem – intolerance.

Recent news coverage highlights cases demonstrating the extent Islamic society institutionalizes intolerance.  In Pakistan, for instance, a non-Muslim (she is a Christian) mother of five faced death for insulting Muhammad.  She stood accused of violating Pakistan’s laws against blasphemy[1].  The penalty for defaming Muhammad is death.  In general terms, the Pakistani blasphemy laws protect all religious figures from irreverence, but it specifically defines the protections of the Muslim prophet Mohammad[2].  In other words, they discourage talking down Jesus Christ or Buddha, they may even put you in jail for a time, but they will cut your head off for defaming Muhammad.  In fairness to Pakistan, in the woman’s case, they planned to hang her rather than cutting her head off.

Ultimately, the woman was found innocent of the charges but she is still in jail (over eighteen months now) awaiting either a presidential pardon or the legal appeals process to run its course[3].  While the government of Pakistan understands the international nightmare they avoided, they seem to lack the will to overcome the national demand for this woman’s punishment and let her return to her family.  For the government, it is a political issue with a razor’s edge.

Pakistan is not a handful of rogue Muslims with a perverse agenda.  It is a country that is home to approximately 11% of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims[4].  It is a country that established a national religion and demands its citizens promote that religion.  While it does not prohibit other religions outright, it has established Islam as the basis for many of its laws, essentially suppressing religious freedom for millions of non-Muslim Pakistanis.  In the end, it is an Islamic country willing to put a person to death simply for making a derogatory statement.  I cannot speak for anyone else, but for me, that makes the Islamic Republic of Pakistan the definition of intolerance.

The case involving the mother of five is one of many in Pakistan.  While it appears the court and government does follow the basic principles of jurist prudence, the Muslim population is not so incline.  Individuals acquitted or simply accused of blasphemy were later murdered or simply vanished[5], so much for the Pakistani flavor of Islam being peaceful.

Of course, even with over 10% of the worlds Muslims, Pakistan is only one country.  It is wrong to judge Muslims, worldwide, by Pakistan’s actions alone.  While the vast majority of Islamic people are peaceful, we, non-Muslims, know them by the actions of the few that follow a path of horrific violence.  After all, it is the rarest of individuals that makes news by following the way of piety.  The silent majority allows the specter of terrorism to usurp true Islamic good will.

We, non-Muslims, only hear the negative fatãwã making the news.  Things like the Iranian cleric’s fatwa calling for author Salman Rushdie’s death,[6] the two Iranian clerics calling for the death of anyone that burns a Quran[7], or the Indian Muslim scholars’ fatwã calling for the death (specifically the beheading) of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen and offered a 500,000 Rupee (about $11,000) bounty[8].

While it is true that a majority of fatãwã are positive or deal with localized issues, it is the ones with a call to violence, being an act of reverence to God, which shocks the sensibilities of non-Muslims.  It truly is a case of guilt by association.  If individuals do not renounce a fatwã calling for violence, silence grants it their tacit approval.  Such fatwã issuing people use violence like pigs use mud.  They bathe in it.  Even the smallest of association with them will taint you with that same mud, that same violence.  Silence makes their acts of depravity Islam’s acts of depravity.  Effectively, they insult both Islam and Muhammad beyond anything we mere infidels are capable.  Such insults go way beyond a cartoon depicting a profit.  Where is the outrage and where are the riots in the streets over that?

My days of indifference toward Islam are over.  I have waited long enough for peace-loving Muslims to stand up to the hate mongers perverting their religion.  If Muslims are unwilling to reign in the idiots that pervert their religion, I will at least point them out.

This latest case in Pakistan proves to me that the moral high ground is lost to radical elements, elements that will never take a “live and let live” attitude with the world.  The voice of Islam is its radical elements who wish to restrict freedom of religion and freedom of expression for their own designs.  In an effort to appease these radicals, the government of Pakistan has even gone as far as proposing to the United Nations making blasphemy a crime worldwide,[9] all the while failing to recognize there is no greater form of blasphemy than killing in the name of God.


[1] “Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860).” Welcome to Pakistani.org. Web. 04 Dec. 2010.
Chapter XV, § 295  <http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/legislation/1860/actXLVof1860.html>.

[2] Ibid, Chapter XV, § 295-C

[3] Johnson, By Kay. “Official: Pakistan Christian Innocent of Blasphemy.” Washington Post – Politics, National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines – Washingtonpost.com. 22 Nov. 2010. Web. 04 Dec. 2010.
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/11/22/AR2010112202000.html>

[4] “List of Countries by Muslim Population.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Muslim_population&gt;.

[5] “Pakistan | Amnesty International.” Amnesty International | Working to Protect Human Rights. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. <http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/pakistan>.

[6] Mackey, Robert. “Fatwa on Rushdie Turns 20, Still in Force – NYTimes.com.” NYTimes.com. 14 Feb. 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2010.
<http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/14/fatwa-on-rushdie-turns-20-still-in-force/>.

[7] Sheikholeslami, Ali. “Iran Ayatollahs Issue Fatwas Against Koran-Burners – BusinessWeek.” BusinessWeek – Business News, Stock Market & Financial Advice. 13 Sept. 2010. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. <http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-09-13/iran-ayatollahs-issue-fatwas-against-koran-burners.html>.

[8] Women’s Freedom Front. “Islam Watch – “Save Taslima Nasrin From Islamic Death Fatwa in India”” Islam-Watch. 27 Mar. 2007. Web. 04 Dec. 2010.
<http://islam-watch.org/TaslimaNasrin/Taslima-Nasrin-Islamic-Death-Fatwa.htm>.

[9] “Defamation of Religions and the United Nations.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_and_the_United_Nations>.

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