Views on politics and current events

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Random Thoughts On Presidential Candidate Debates

There's nearly a year left until the actual presidential election in 2008. How many debates have there already been, Republican and Democrat? Damned if I know, I've lost count.

This is such a long, drawn out process. I can't see how there is anyone not tired of it by now, outside of hopeless political junkies or paid pundit/analysts. Perhaps that's the real reason behind all the debates and long campaign season. There's a lot of folks making a ton of money off of it. Books, articles, television shows (and they are for the most part just that, shows with little substance. The Simpson's has more meat on its bones.) And that is to be expected in an age where the most successful political campaign all too often is the one that rakes in the most contribution dollars.

But of what real value are they? Do the debates afford the voter an opportunity to discover the positions of the candidates, or is it like a three ring circus, more entertainment value than anything else? I've already seen more waffling than at a Jaycee's Breakfast, more crawdadding than at a Cajun Crawfish festival, more mud-slinging than at a Mud Wrestling Championship. So what does it all prove? Who can change their mind, cover their ass, and point the finger at the other candidate the best?

Here is what the debates sound like to me. Pick a party, pick an issue. Doesn't matter. One candidate speaks, another answers:

Yes you did, no I didn't. Yes you are, no I'm not. I actually did before I didn't, no you didn't before you did. I'm strong on defense, no you're not. I'll protect America from terrorists, the terrorists contribute to your campaign fund. I'm against gay marriage, you've got a 'wide' stance. I'm against illegal immigration, your gardener's name is Julio, all ten of his kids are on welfare, his wife is pregnant and he doesn't speak English.

On and on, ad nauseum. If they were my kids, I'd make them stand in the corner for such behavior. I' m seriously wondering that if anyone that wants to be president so bad that they would stoop to such money-sucking, lying and backstabbing tactics is really fit for the job.

Am I confused, disgruntled, and weary of it all? I admit to all three maladies, but it's my own fault. I was under the impression debates were an opportunity for a candidate to express their positions on the issues. I was looking forward to some substance instead of show-boating. But show-boating is what I got, along with the ubiquitous political analyst Pat Buchanan. I confess, I expected more. I should know better by now.

Mea culpa, mea culpa. No I'm not, yes you are...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Letter To The Editor, And My Reply

The letter published in our local newspaper:
Cal Thomas, in the Sauk Vally Sunday paper on Sept. 16th quotes bin Laden thus : “Conversion to Islam, he says, would mean no taxes, just a low single-digit ‘alms’ requirement.”
This is only a small part of what life under Muslim rule would mean. Under Islamic Sharia law, non-Muslims must pay a (ransom) tax to avoid being killed (K9:29). Under Sharia law, there is no personal freedom, no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom of religion, no individual rights, no right to property, no capitalism, no equality under the law.
Non-Muslims are second-class citizens (dhimmis) under Sharia law. Women are third-class citizens, slaves of their husbands and male relatives. Anyone who criticizes Islam or ‘offends’ Muslims is marked for death (K9:73-74). A Muslim who renounces Islam faces the death penalty (K4:89).
Philosophy is prohibited. Causality is denied.
Sharia law was developed a thousand years ago and ‘cannot’ be changed. I t is based on the supposed word of ‘Allah’ (K5:49) as revealed to the ‘prophet’ (war lord) Mohammed, interpreted by clergyman. As Cal Thomas put it, Islamic rule guarantees that we will live in “dirt and serfdom.” That is, if the don’t kill us as directed in the Koran (K2:193, 8:40).
If you don’t believe this, take a look in the authoritative Muslim-approved guide to Sharia law ‘Reliance of the Traveller’, by Al-Misri, who died in 1368 (Amazon .com, about $20). It is the classic manual of Islamic ‘sacred’ law.
According to ‘Reliance’, non-believers other than Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians are to be killed (ROTT 09.9, 11.2)
Christians and Jews who pay the ransom taxes must live by Islamic law 9ROTT 0 11.3a) and by special laws for dhimmis. For instance, no churches may be built (ROTT 0 11.5, 7) or repaired. Nothing ‘impermissible’ may be said about ‘Allah’, the ‘prophet’, Mohammed, or Islam. The penalty for breaking Islamic law is death or slavery, at the pleasure of the Caliph (ROTT 0 11.9).
Muslim rule would not be a no-tax paradise, as bin Laden claims. It would be a brutal tyranny, in which the theocratic ‘government’ claimed the ‘divine’ right to kill or enslave you at its whim.
If you value your life and freedom, you should recognize that Islam is the enemy.
Paul Stout
My reply:
This is in response to the letter ‘Islamic rule is a threat to freedom’ by Paul Stout
The last sentence in Mr. Stout’s letter says, “If you value your life and freedom, you should recognize that Islam is the enemy.” He then offers up quotations out of the Koran as proof.
Lifting out specific verses from any holy scripture, whether it is Christian, Muslim, Judaic, is in a great sense taking the verse out of context. A Muslim could open the Bible or the Torah and do the same towards Christians and Jews. There is much in the Bible that is violent. There is much in the Koran, and the Torah that is violent. Does that make every person that is an adherent to the faith of each scripture violent? Or are these violent stories more an example of the spiritual history of a faith?
To be sure, there are people of the Islamic faith that mean to do people of other faiths harm. Why that is so is as much cultural and political as religious. Judaism and Christianity have these types of people in their religions also. So is it reasonable to believe that all the millions of Muslims in the world intend to do us harm? That they want to overrun us, force us to convert to Islam, take away our freedoms? Does the statement ‘Islam is the enemy’ make every local Muslim an enemy too?
In a world that has so many new ways to keep people connected, we seem to be growing farther apart. We are in danger of increasing the fear of things we do not know, or things we think we know but really don’t. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, can result in much good, and exclusivity of truth in any of the three can cause much pain and death. It is in how we perceive each other. If we do not take the time to know one another instead of using words and scriptural quotations to justify our fears, the world will remain in the situation that it is.
I cannot agree with the statement ‘Islam is the enemy’. It is the doctrine of fear and hate, no matter where it comes from, that is the enemy.
Alan Beggerow

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why Hard Work Doesn't Pay

I'd like to say a few words about the futility of work.

I'm serious.

Take a look around. Today, we're all 24/7, strutting with BlackBerrys and Bluetooths, miles from the long-lost desk and office, not to mention home. At the risk of being rude, I'm wondering if all this frenzied effort pays off.

We know it does for some.

If it didn't, Starbucks and Whole Foods would not exist. There wouldn't be enough people who can afford $3 for a cup of coffee or $2.69 a pound for free-range organic chicken.

But the operative word here is "some." It's time for Joseph Vineyard, the trendy guy who eats free-range chicken, to meet Joe Six-Pack.

If you look at the averages, the statistics give a simple message: Hard work does not equate to economic progress. It hasn't for decades. We may need hard work to keep body and soul together -- not to mention pay the Visa bill -- but average-worker paychecks clearly show that inflation continues to trump wage gains for most American workers.

Losing ground to retirees

This is not a recent problem. Twenty years ago I wrote a column titled "The coming war between generations." It showed that the average worker had lost ground to inflation from 1970 to 1987. The same worker was also losing ground to retirees because the average retiree Social Security benefit was also rising faster than workers' wages.

Since workers pay the bills for Social Security recipients, that's not a healthy situation.

The situation got worse over the next nine years. Workers' wages grew slower than inflation in all but one of the nine years from 1988 through 1996, sometimes by a lot. In 1990, for instance, workers' wages rose 3.3%, but the rate of inflation was 5.4%.

And, again, the average retiree's Social Security check grew faster than the average worker's paycheck in seven of the same nine years. (Workers did better than retirees in two years, 1994 and 1996.)

Surely the past 10 years have been better, right?

Yes, but only slightly. The percentage of increase in the average worker's wages has been larger than the percentage of increase in the average retiree's benefit check in all but two of the past 10 years, 2004 and 2005.

When it comes to the battle against inflation, the score isn't quite so good. Inflation has trumped wage gains in four of the last 10 years -- 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Unfortunately, that isn't the end of the story.

Health-care crunch

Both workers and retirees have the cost of health insurance deducted from their paychecks. Medicare premiums are subtracted from the paychecks of retirees. Medicare part B premiums rose more than 100% from 1997 to 2006, soaring from $43.80 a month to $88.50. (Today, they range from $93.50 to $162.10, depending on household income.)

Workers had a similar experience with private insurance. In 1997 the average worker earned $431.86 a week. By June 2007 the average worker's paycheck was $589.52 a week, an increase of 36.5%. Over the same period inflation took 33.7% of all wage gains.

That leaves a real gain of about 1.8%, or $10.61 a week. How much do you want to bet that all of that gain, and then some, has gone to higher health-insurance premiums and higher co-pays? I'm confident that the after-health-insurance income of workers and retirees has declined over the last 10 years. Indeed, it probably hasn't improved in a generation.

That's a long time to push a rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down.

That's why Joseph Vineyard needs to start thinking about Joe Six-Pack. So far, Joe has coped quite well. If old enough, he has retired and enjoyed a tax-free check that rises faster than his old paycheck most of the time. That's a lot better than working, and it tells us a lot about why people retire at 62.

If younger, he has refinanced his house to provide the spending power he couldn't find in his paycheck, no matter how hard he worked.

But the easy borrowed money just ended for everyone.

What does it all mean?

Simple. We face two fundamental issues: health-care costs and average paychecks. Until one goes down and the other goes up, we've got a problem.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Midwesterners Lament

The recent article in the New York Times about the closing of the Maytag plant in Newton Iowa 'Is There (Middle Class) Life After Maytag?' wasn’t easy to read. A story about the plight of yet another group of industrial workers that are victims of the modern economic reality. Change the details, and this story would fit so many other similar situations across the country, especially in the rust belt, the Midwest.

But I fear all of this is falling either on deaf ears, or ears that will spin it into something it isn’t. I can hear some saying as they read about the Winchells,

“$24 an hour and $19 dollars an hour? And they wonder why the company shut the plant down? What makes them think they are worth that much?”

What is so remarkable is that it is not only the well-to-do that say such things, but people who make $7-9 an hour say it too. Every higher-paying job that is eliminated lowers the pay of other jobs in the area. I have seen it happen where I live.

The article states that 54 million people occupy the ‘nether region’ of incomes well above the poverty line, but well short of the middle class. Another phenomenon I’ve seen first-hand in the area I live. Despite that, some maintain the middle class is actually growing. My own personal experience and view is that the middle class is NOT growing, but has been shrinking for the past few years. At least in my corner of the world, and the Midwest in general. What is happening in other areas of the country, I don’t know. But I find it hard to believe that the middle class is growing at all anywhere. Perhaps maintaining in some areas, but not growing.

I’ve done a lot of arm-chair research on the ‘net about a lot of things. There’s a wealth of information to be sure, but far too much of it is presented with a bias I find disturbing. Information about labor and the economy especially. Of course, the process of turning data into information can be influenced by the bias of the people doing it. That’s just human nature, and something that should be kept in mind for all of us. No one has ever written anything that has been 100% objective. But the blatant disregard for objectivity, or even an honest attempt at objectivity, is distressing. It is getting harder and harder to get really solid information. Even going to the source of the information, the data, needs to be looked at with a jaundiced eye. It seems many have an agenda they are willing to push at the expense of objectivity and the truth.

There has been no change in the way unemployment figures are calculated. The ones who have drawn the maximum benefit without finding a job have dropped off the edge, are no longer counted. The new jobs information only counts the number of 'new' jobs, but does not say anything about the pay of those jobs, or the number of jobs that have been lost. Is there an actual positive overall gain with these new jobs, or compared with the number of jobs lost within the last six years are new jobs merely replacing the lost ones, or not equaling the number of jobs already lost? How can a true determination of the labor situation be made by gathering only a portion of the data? The answer to that is, it can't. There is no incentive politically or economically for changing economic and labor data collecting. What it all amounts to, in my opinion, is data and information manipulation.

The steel mill I worked in for thirty years closed six years ago. The repercussions of that are still being felt by the community I live in. The mill accounted for 1,400 jobs, plus many other jobs held by support suppliers. It is never just one isolated group of workers affected by a plant closure. The mill I worked at closed ostensibly because of foreign imports. That's the 'official' line the news release said, and what the local paper printed. The truth is much more complex than that, but I'll leave that for another time.

After two years of sitting idle, the electric furnaces and rod mill were sold to a company for practically dimes on the dollar. Leggett and Platt bought these portions of the old mill, the electric furnaces,caster and rod mill, for a couple million dollars. The electric furnace alone cost over $11 million two years previous. The same CEO that shut down the old mill was hired by the new owners to run the reopened portion of the mill, along with many other management personnel.

The new mill is running, and has around 200 hand-picked employees. When the old mill shut down, health insurance was immediately lost, and the pension plan had to be taken up by the PBGC, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Many of the former employees had their pension reduced, and some got nothing but a small vested pension that cannot be collected until the age of 65.

The plant in Newton, Iowa is being closed with the work that used to be done there being shipped to Mexico, and Maytag's non-union plant in Ohio. The workers in Newton will be cast off, like the workers in the old Northwestern Steel and Wire Company of Sterling Illinois were. These are but two examples. The Midwest is indeed the rust belt. And outside of a few reporters and some other folks who are asking questions, no one else seems to mind or care that the Midwest is rusting away. Just a result in the changing world economy, some say. Oh, things will even out in the long run, say others. The middle class is actually growing anyway, didn't you know? But all of that palaver does nothing to help the here and now. The role the United States is playing in this vast world market is being played out in part on the rusting-out backs of an economically strapped Midwest. At least for the moment.

But this will not stop in the Midwest. Whatever areas of the country that are booming now will suffer the same fate eventually. The scenario is self-perpetuating. World trade, 'free' trade (which so often is not really free because it costs this country way too much) is fueling this scenario. It will not restrict itself to blue-collar labor. It has already begun to play out the same in more and more white-collar jobs. The further erosion of the backbone of this country, the middle class, will result. An ever-widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

What will stop it? A re-examination of our role in the world economy, with the focus shifting to 'fair' trade instead of 'free' trade would help. Perhaps. Or is it already too late?

The Decline of American Labor Continues

August 26th, 2007

Is There (Middle Class) Life After Maytag?



The last of the Maytag factories that lifted so many people into the middle class here will close on Oct. 26. Guy Winchell and his wife, Lisa, will lose their jobs that day. Their combined income of $43 an hour will disappear and, soon after, so will their health insurance. Most of the pensions they would have received will also be gone.

The Winchells are still in their 40s. They can retrain or start a business, choices promoted by city leaders in a campaign to ''reinvent'' Newton without its biggest employer. But as they ponder their futures, the Winchells are uncertain about how to deal with a lower standard of living. ''I'm not wanting to go waitress,'' said Mrs. Winchell, who, at 41, drives a forklift and earns $19 an hour, ''but I can do what I have to to make money.''

Mr. Winchell, 46, having earned $24 an hour as a skilled electrician, seems paralyzed by the disappearance of his employer. He imagines that there is work for electricians in central Iowa but he hasn't looked. ''Lisa is always on me because I'm so angry,'' he said. ''She says, 'What would your mom have said?' My mom would have said, 'Worrying is not going to help.'''

Newton's last day as a manufacturing mecca comes a century after Fred L. Maytag built his first mechanical washing machine here. Over time he also located his headquarters, research center and most production in Newton, changing it from a rural county seat into a prosperous city of 16,000. Absent Maytag's high pay, overall hourly earnings last year for other workers in the county would have been $3 an hour less, according to Iowa Workforce Development, a state agency.

And then the Whirlpool Corporation bought Maytag in the spring of 2006 and began shutting down its operations here, eliminating jobs and depressing wages. Those caught in this process around the country are gradually swelling what Katherine S. Newman, a Princeton sociologist, describes as ''The Missing Class,'' the title of a soon-to-be-published book (Beacon Press), of which she is co-author.

Ms. Newman calculates that 54 million adults and children occupy a ''nether region'' of family incomes well above the poverty line -- but well short of the middle class. Either they fall out of the middle class, as the Winchells are in danger of doing, or they have never earned enough at one job to get a family of four into the middle class.

''We are caught in a never-ending cycle of de-industrialization in which the best jobs disappear,'' Ms. Newman said. ''It is amazing to me how much we have come to accept that there is nothing to be done about this loss of income.''

HERE in Newton, Maytag's fortress-like headquarters building, its beige-colored bulk looming over the downtown, has been emptied of 1,200 white-collar workers. Of nearly 900 unionized blue-collar workers still left last December in the sprawling factory, 400 were laid off and the rest got a reprieve, including the Winchells.

But theirs is a dead-end task: keeping retailers supplied until Whirlpool can start production of redesigned Maytag models built on the chassis of Whirlpool machines at the company's existing factories in Monterrey, Mexico, and Clyde, Ohio. In Clyde, top pay for nearly all of the 3,700 non-union blue-collar workers is $17 an hour, several dollars less than Maytag paid in Newton. But as Bill Townsend, the plant manager, put it, ''whenever we advertise for employment, it is not difficult finding folks.''

Nor is it difficult to recruit workers in Newton anymore. Absent Maytag, a good wage in central Iowa is $12 or $13 an hour. The trick is to get that much as well as health insurance -- and if not the wage, then at least the health insurance, even if that means commuting 40 to 50 miles, as more than a few ex-Maytag workers are now doing.

The downshift is reflected in the Labor Department's national data. Median family income has risen at an average annual rate of only six-tenths of a percent, adjusted for inflation, since the mid-1970s -- in sharp contrast to the 2.8 percent growth rate in the preceding 26 years.

Hardship, however, is initially postponed in Newton. Local 997 of the United Automobile Workers, representing Maytag's blue-collar staff, negotiated a severance package with Whirlpool last fall that extends each departing worker's health insurance for five or six months and pays at least $850 for each year worked, up to 30 years.

For the Winchells, who have five children, all but one from previous marriages -- their smiling faces on display in oval-shaped photographs grouped together on a living-room wall -- the severance packages translate into more than 20 weeks of pay for the couple. The delayed impact helps to explain, as Mr. Winchell put it, why he and his wife won't be forced until early next spring to face the inevitable distress of shrunken incomes and uncertain health care.

''I'll find work,'' he declared, ''but I really don't know what I am going to do. I've thought about applying to hospitals because they have health insurance. One of us will have to take a job with health insurance.''

Whatever the damage to living standards, from Whirlpool's point of view, its strategy in acquiring Maytag was impeccable. Make the same number of washing machines in two plants -- Clyde and Monterrey -- instead of three, achieving economies of scale. Add 1,000 workers in Clyde to accommodate the increased output, but non-union workers earning less, with fewer benefits, than the unionized work force in Newton.

The State of Iowa offered numerous incentives to Whirlpool to stay in Newton. Gov. Tom Vilsack suggested publicly that he would build for Whirlpool ''the most energy-efficient plant in the world.'' As a lure, the city said it would give full college scholarships to children who went through the public schools. ''It was part of a retention strategy; here's the benefit we can provide if you stay,'' said Kim Didier, executive director of the Newton Development Corporation.

But for Jeff M. Fettig, Whirlpool's chairman, leaving Newton was, in the end, a no-brainer. Staying, he said in an interview, was ''not economically viable.'' He explained: ''It was two companies doing the same thing that you needed one company doing very well.''

Given such realities, Steve Schober, an industrial designer at Maytag for 25 years, with a fistful of patents to his credit, applied to Whirlpool's research department in Benton Harbor, Mich., and was turned down, partly because he acknowledged in a job interview that he was unhappy about moving his family from Newton.

So, at 52, with six months of severance as a cushion, he went out on his own last year, starting Schober Design and working from his home -- a large, handsome Tudor-style with a sloping front lawn in an elegant neighborhood, a few blocks from the brick mansion where Fred Maytag once lived. As a freelancer, however, Mr. Schober's annual income plunged in the first year from the low six figures he had earned at Maytag to $25,000.

Half now goes to pay for health insurance for himself and his children, Katie, 18, and Ben, 16. His wife, Sarah, 51, a special education teacher earning $30,000 a year, has coverage for herself from the public school system. Adding the family would cost $800 a month, slightly less than Mr. Schober now pays, so the couple will probably drop his coverage for hers.

"Health insurance was one of those invisible benefits of working for a corporation,'' he said. ''You didn't have to think about it.''

He and his wife invited a reporter to their homeon a summer afternoon, offering refreshments and describing their situation matter-of-factly, as if talking of a less fortunate family's situation, not their own. Their children were present at first, but soon Katie, who will be a college freshman in the fall, partly on scholarship, drifted out of the living room, and then Ben, a strapping high school athlete, abruptly excused himself, departing to meet his friends, his parents explained.

''I have three options,'' Mr. Schober said. ''I could get a job in a different field that doesn't approach what I made at Maytag, but has a benefits package. I've thought about working for the post office. Or I could send out my résumé to design studios. One of the issues in doing this is my age, which works against me. Or I can continue to do what I am doing, building a client base from Newton.''

He is embarked on the third option. While the pay is still sparse, the work is interesting, he said, citing as an example a contract with a winery to design small utensils to open wine bottles. But each month to cover expenses, including a $1,000 mortgage payment, the family cuts into its savings. ''We never did that before,'' Mrs. Schober said.

The Schobers think differently now about money. They shop more cautiously. As a family, they organized a garage sale, taking in $580 by selling castoffs that would have accumulated in the basement. And the couple have taken part-time weekend jobs.

They work at Newton's recently opened auto speedway. On race weekends, Mrs. Schober is at an information booth, answering questions, and he shuttles handicapped patrons in a six-passenger golf cart. Each job pays $10 an hour.

''It helps the cash flow,'' Mrs. Schober said.

Tim and Rhonda Saunders, in their mid-40s, have taken a different route. He went back to school, while she took a full-time job.

While Mr. Saunders put in 20 years at Maytag, mostly shaping sheet metal into cabinets and doors, she raised their two children and worked part-time as a bookkeeper. His layoff last December forced her into the full-time job, at $12 an hour in the accounts-payable department of a small manufacturer, so the family could have health insurance. She took the new job without giving up the part-time work and the $220 a week it brings in. That work is now done at home on evenings and weekends.

''We have to pay more for her health insurance than I did at Maytag: $300 a month versus $50,'' Mr. Saunders said. ''And the coverage is not quite as good. But without it, I could not have gone back to school.''

What pushed him into school was the job market. He found that he could not replace, or even approach, his $23-an-hour Maytag wage, not with only a high school diploma. A cousin steered him toward computer programming as a good source of future income, and he enrolled at the Des Moines Area Community College, attending classes full-time on the Newton campus. He turned out to be an A student.

More than 450 other ex-Maytag employees are also enrolled in full-time schooling, their expenses paid by the federal government as part of its Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

Maytag first qualified in 2003. The company was faltering then, losing market share to imports and whittling down its blue-collar staff from a high of 2,500 in 2000. The Labor Department ruled that the import competition qualified the laid-off workers for up to $15,000 each in tuition, along with book and transportation subsidies, and unemployment insurance for two years.

The extended unemployment pay has been a lure. For a number of ex-Maytag workers, it comes to about $360 a week, or $9 an hour -- not much below what many jobs pay in Iowa. In his own initial effort to land work, Mr. Saunders found that the best he could do was $11 an hour.
So he went to school, and the family tightened its belt. He listed the economies he and his wife have imposed: no more weekend camping trips, cooking hamburgers instead of steaks on the grill, paying less of the college tuition for their children, who are turning more to student loans.

But then he inadvertently mentioned a planned excursion to New York with their daughter, and acknowledged that the $3,000 trip was hardly belt-tightening.

''My son always wanted a used racing car,'' he explained. ''And when he turned 18 a couple of years ago, we gave him one, knowing then that my daughter would want to go to New York when she was 18 and see a couple of shows. So we saved the money and it was put away before this ever happened. It was something I wanted to do for her. She was so easy to raise and she worked so hard in school.''

Tootie Samson, a 47-year-old mother of three, and a grandmother, is also going back to school with federal aid, but with a different goal in mind. Having already earned a two-year degree in interior design on her own, she'll now go for a bachelor's and maybe open her own shop.

Ms. Samson joined Maytag on the assembly line in 1997 after working 20 years as a bookkeeper at less than $10 an hour. She came for the wage, $20 an hour today, and to qualify for a pension, lost now in the buyout. She was laid off in 2003, allowing her time to study interior design. Then, to her surprise, she was called back last March. Whirlpool had underestimated how many workers it would need to keep the plant running through October.

''For me, it is fortunate to be back at Maytag as it closes,'' she said. ''You need that closure. It's done. It's over. You always think that maybe you'll get called back and now you know it is over and you can move on with your life.''

With Maytag gone, the Newton Development Corporation scrambled to find buyers for the headquarters building and the factory -- the great concern being that once shuttered, these buildings would become giant eyesores. Iowa Telecom finally bought the headquarters building, and the Industrial Realty Group of Los Angeles, the factory, with Whirlpool subsidizing both purchases as a goodwill gesture.

BUT Maytag fulfilled one function that can't be finessed. As the biggest employer paying the best wages, it put upward pressure on the pay of other employers, who sought to prevent their best workers from jumping to Maytag. Now that pressure is gone. The loss is seen in the development corporation's effort to persuade a fiberglass company to put a plant here employing 700 people at $12 to $13 an hour, and health insurance.

Ms. Didier, an ex-Maytag employee earning less herself as the development corporation's executive director, put the best face on it she could. ''With Maytag,'' she said, ''it was difficult for companies to get good people at a lower wage, and now they can.''

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Random Thoughts About A Cruel 'Sport'

If Michael Vick(quarterback for the NFL Atlanta Falcons) is tried and found guilty of engaging in and promoting dog fighting, he is just as much a criminal as anyone else convicted of doing the same. Whether he is a star football player in the NFL or a just a common Joe that lives down the street should make no difference either way.

There has been much in the media about this, even to the extent of giving the other side of the issue equal time, as in ESPN's website article "Source: 'Vick's One Of The Heavyweights' In Dogfighting."This 'source', a person involved in dog fighting and that has admitted to training over 2,000 fighting pit bulls, says that events such as The Ultimate Fighting Championship (an event that humans participate in) are just as bad as dog fighting, yet those events are legal and people flock to them. He also says that people shouldn't get so upset about dog fighting, especially if they've never been to one. That the dogs were bred to fight, and that the dogs are only doing what comes naturally.

All of that is a very lame defense for a cruel sport. To compare dog fighting with any kind of event that humans participate in is a false comparison. I'm not saying that the bloodletting and violence of these human events is a good thing. I personally do not care for these kinds of events, and do not watch them or support them. But participation is voluntary, and if two or more people want to beat hell out of each other in front of an audience, and if people want to pay to see it,it's their business. But fighting dogs do not have the choice. To say that these dogs are bred to fight is true, but only as a far as it goes. There are also pit bulls that are not bred to fight, that have had the killing instinct bred out of them. So the bred-to-fight defense doesn't hold much water, for if there were no dog fight proponents, the continued breeding for the killer instinct would cease.

Another aspect of this that needs to be brought to light is the animal cruelty/human violence connection. There is ample evidence reported on The Humane Society Of The United States website to suggest that those who feel no hesitancy to be cruel to animals are more likely to commit acts of violence against humans. Eliminating animal cruelty isn't only the correct thing to do. It is vital to help curb the growing tendency to violence in our culture. Turning a blind eye to activities that result in the injury or death of animals can only lead to more animal abuse, and gives the silent nod of approval for violence against humans.

There can be no defense for this 'sport'. It is a form of animal cruelty that exists mainly because of the monetary gain derived from it. Forty eight out of fifty states consider dog fighting to be criminal behavior. Those that engage in this illegal activity are not only advocating and participating in animal cruelty, but are helping to increase violence in our culture and in our nation. Anyone found guilty of this crime needs to experience the full punishment the law provides. No matter who they are.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Lose/Lose Situation Of Iraq

The idiocy of invading Iraq outdoes anything this country did in Vietnam. But what do we do now? No doubt there will be an all-out civil war if we leave. There's civil war already. The question is, can our continued presence prevent an all-out civil war, stop the current civil war, and give some stability to the country?

Pulling out will create just as big of a power vacuum as when we invaded and toppled Hussein. Many will die. If we stay, we're trying to stop a pressure cooker from exploding by sitting on the lid. Many will die, but not as many at one time. Unless the pressure cooker blows up. Then death will run rampant, on all sides, for all concerned. And what about Turkey, Iran, and any other nation that wants a piece of the pie, or the whole thing? It's possible that civil war would be the least of Iraq's problems if other nations get involved.

Our nation is facing some very difficult questions. As much as I have been and remain against the Iraq fiasco, I also think that we owe the Iraqi people more than just destroying their country and then leaving them to the wolves. But I really doubt if this administration and this congress will ever do anything about it. Their main considerations are personal and party politics. Point the finger at each other, discredit the other, take power away from the other, get the hammer and then sit back on their asses and do nothing.

Will it finally come down to choosing between the Iraqi people and our troops? Is there any other criterion that needs to be considered? It will be irresponsible if we pull out. It could be just as irresponsible if we stay. The invasion from the very beginning was irresponsible. But most DC politicos don't seem to have a real sense of responsibility anyway.

Is there another alternative? As there are now more military contractor personnel in Iraq than U.S Military personnel, pull out all regular military and let the mercenaries fight. Let Erik Prince's boys, the ones that pledge to uphold the constitution, the American Way, Apple Pie and God, do the fighting and dying. Won't do a thing to help the world view of the U.S., but this administration doesn't give a damn about that anyway. At least our government service folks would be home. The problem with that is I believe that it would delight this administration. No problem with civilian interference, the lid could be kept on, kick out all the journalists, just have the taxpayer pony up the money to pay the Bear Claw boys. And with this option, many will still die. Perhaps more than the other options. With no accountability for killing, anyone suspected of being 'the enemy' would indeed be the enemy, and be shot. Not to mention it would free up our troops to be re-deployed heaven only knows where.

All the choices are ugly. All the choices will not stop the dying, and some may increase it. Shall the choice be made by not how we can stop the killing, but which choice will result in the least amount of death?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Random Thoughts On Health Care

Is there a health care crisis in this country? According to an article written in The Washington Post in February of 2005, there most certainly is. A few items from the article titled Sick And Broke:

  • 75% of medical bankruptcies are filed by people with health insurance.
  • 1 million people financially ruined in 2004 by illness and medical bills.
  • Most of the medically bankrupt were middle class home owners.
This was reported in February 0f 2005. I'd be willing to wager dollars against tongue depressors that the situation hasn't gotten any better, and most likely has gotten worse. Not only the poor, but the people that have health insurance can't afford health care either. So why do people bother? If we are all (except a very small minority) but one major illness away from financial ruin, why bother with the expense of paying good money to insurance companies who cover less and less? Why should people pay for the privilege of going bankrupt due to illness?

The only alternative is universal health care. No matter how much people are against it, no matter the reasoning against it, the present broken health care system in this country is forcing the issue. I've heard the 'Health Care Savings Plan' or whatever the title of it is, and it is an idea that is obsolete. The economy itself does not afford many people to save much, and it is a savings plan that will do what? Buy health insurance! Another example of paying for the privilege of going bankrupt if you have a major illness.

Some say that health care needs to be reformed by the process of the free market. Free market? For health care? Our lives and health should be regulated by profit, the prime mover of any free market? Seems to me that's part of the reason for the present health care mess. And it isn't right for health care to be determined by who can afford it and who can't, who is worthy and who is not. It isn't right to do that with poor folks, and it isn't right to do it for the neuvo poor, the dwindling middle class.

Like many problems in our country, many recognize the problem, but we can't seem to get anywhere doing anything about it. The reason? There is big money to be made in the present system. As long as big money and big profits are associated with the present system, it will not change. The handful of politicians that want to change it are not the ones that have the backing of the ones that make the large profits. It is a major hurdle.

Some have said that universal health care will be unmanageable, will be costly, will be inefficient. We can look at the present Medicare and Medicaid systems to know how true that can be. It is not a reflection on the original purpose of these programs, but how they can go wrong if not properly managed. Which do we want to do? Discount good programs purely on the basis that it will turn inefficient, or embrace the ideals of the program knowing full well that it must be managed to ensure that it doesn't turn sour?

For those who are against universal health care, what is the alternative? Shall we continue the present system that is getting more and more inefficient, more and more costly, and that serves the majority of people less and less? A system that forces those without insurance to either go to free clinics that are crowded and understaffed, or to emergency rooms that were not meant for primary care that drive the health care costs even higher, or to file bankruptcy after paying high premiums for insurance that doesn't cover the bills?

All of us are already paying through the nose for health care. Taxpayers already finance much of health care in this country. If anyone doubts that, who pays for those people that can't afford health insurance? Who pays for government grants to pharmaceutical companies, grants for hospitals, clinics, etc.? Who pays for Medicare and Medicaid? It seems to me that if we are paying for all of that, we should at least expect and receive affordable, basic health care. The way to do that is to remove health care from the control of insurance companies and corporate health care profiteers. Health care is already too much like big business. That needs to change. There are plenty of models around the world for us to study and learn from. It is a large undertaking, but the alternatives demand we do something. The longer we wait, the larger the problem becomes, and the more people suffer.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

How Silly Of Me...The Problem Is Government!

How often does a politician say something like this quote from (of all people Tom DeLay) about Newt Gingrich:

In fact, DeLay speaks of Gingrich with undisguised contempt. “He’s got this new shtick now—‘solutions,’ he calls it, like government is the new solution. Government isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.” DeLay smiled.

I just heard Republican presidential candidate Milt (or Mitt, or whatever the hell he's calling himself these days) Romney say the same thing.

What do those words mean? Do people that say this really believe government, especially what they call BIG government, is the problem? Big government is by its nature corrupt, inept, inefficient, and unfair, and there's nothing anyone can do about it? How many have noticed that the ones who say this loudest and most often are politicians?

If the government is rife with corruption, pandering, special interests and ineptitude (it surely is, and more so), who should be held accountable for that? The people, to a certain extent. But who are the ones that pull the strings, have the hand under the table, have the lobbiests paying their bills and providing trips with luxury accomodations? Sure as hell isn't the people, for if it is someone's been hogging my share.

So if government is vile, perhaps we need different people in the government. Get rid of them. Especially the ones that crow about the evils of government while they ride on the cash cow that it provides. But wait...we've done that. Time and time again. And the same thing happens. Ah, the problem of government again! So the blowhards would say, and point out how this makes their case. It's nonsense. It's pandering to folks who've had a belly-full of government, by politicians that have no intention of changing it. And why should they? It's working out pretty damn good for most of them.

It is not government in and of itself that is the problem, contrary to what the paragon of virtue Mr. DeLay has to say. It is the ones that have leadership roles in government that are a lot of the problem. It is the virtual monopoly of that leadership (forget the lies about a two party system) on elections, cash flow, influence, pork barrel pandering, and out and out lying that create most of the 'government evil' they so crow about.

This has been going on for a long time. Power at first was given to these pseudo-leaders by the people in good faith, and that good faith has been rewarded by the stealing of most of the rest of it. It is not government that is the problem. It is corrupt government. The ones that are the most accusatory are the greatest corrupters. For them to say it is not possible to have a more efficient, more honest, more equitable government is a lie. If that were true, there would be no cause to have any hope for our country and this world at all.

Humans for sure cause many of the problems in this world. But if there was no hope that humans can also solve many of those problems, what would be the use of even trying? The trick in making things better through positive change is to finally learn how to live together, to realize that if one of us goes hungry or is subject to injustice, we all can fall to the same fate. Doesn't make it any easier when the same professional liars keep throwing up walls and ravines to divide us.

Here's the quote from DeLay that I started with:

In fact, DeLay speaks of Gingrich with undisguised contempt. “He’s got this new shtick now—‘solutions,’ he calls it, like government is the new solution. Government isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.” DeLay smiled.

Notice the 'DeLay smiled' at the end? Of course he's smiling. He's been run out of Congress on a rail, endicted for lord knows how much wrong-doing, and is still part of the Washington good ol' boys club. Why not smile? Playing the anti-big government card while you've helped create it, and are still reaping the rewards from it, is quite a trick if you can pull it off. But that's what happens with big government, you know.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Random Thoughts While In Church

Last Sunday in church was Shepherd/Sheep day. Most of us know the story and the analogy. Christ is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep. I've heard it countless times myself. But for some reason this time around, the story and the analogy struck me as being very odd.

Not that I've paid much attention to the analogy over the years. I think it is a gross simplification as to what a person's relationship should be with their deity. But on this day it was as if I was hearing it with different ears.

The preacher started a detailed comparison between 'human' sheep, and the 'sheep' sheep. The biggest point she seemed to want to make was how dumb sheep are. How many times have I heard this kind of species bias? Like us humans are so far above animals that we have the right to judge them?

Fact of the matter is, a sheep in the wild is just as smart as a sheep needs to be. Most all they have to know is where to find food and water, and how to make baby sheep. Some skill in climbing rocks and mountains would come in handy too. For this they have been abundantly endowed by the Creator.

But are domesticated sheep dumber than wild sheep, or are the things that sheep raisers demand of them contrary to their natural behavior? And after so many centuries of selective breeding and domestication, perhaps there has been an intentional sheep dumbing down. No doubt the sheep that displayed the traits that man was looking for (a fine coat, good looking legs for leg of lamb roast, size, easily managed) are the ones that got the opportunity to roll in the hay, as it were. The ones that didn't have the desired physical attributes ended up in the stew pot with no chance to breed. These ancestral sheep just may have been the smart ones, but lost out because they couldn't cut the mustard otherwise. After all, if you were a shepherd and had your choice of a dumb sheep with good looking gams and a fine coat, or one that was smart and more difficult to contorl, which would you choose?

Then the clincher of the sermon. Humans are as DUMB as sheep! At least in this religious context. Sheep go astray, so do humans. Sheep need to be guided by the shepherd's crook, (maybe even whacked with it once in awhile) so do humans. If sheep stray too far, they run the risk of death by predation. So it goes with humans too (watch our for that devil!) The good shepherd tends the flock, provides and protects them. And so it goes with humans.

The 'domestication' of humans has been going on longer than the domestication of sheep. How much 'dumb' stuff do humans do because they are being forced into situations and environments that are not natural? How many doctrines and 'essentials' are demanded of people in religion that are against our nature? Are not some religions trying to do the same thing with people that the shepherds of long ago did with sheep? Trying to domesticate all the brains out, (makes sheep easier to control), giving preferred treatment to the brainless to reproduce (Think about it. The restrictions against marrying outside your faith attempts to do that.) Not to say that all domestication is bad. Society does require a certain amount of it for people to get along together. But domestication can be taken to extremes beyond the need for people to get along.

So is the shepherd/sheep analogy valid? If the shepherd had a more direct way of communicating to the sheep, perhaps. But as it is now, the only idea we have of what the Shepherd wants is given to us second-hand, at least for us poor mortals that have no hot line to God. And many of these 'shepherd go-betweens' seem to relish brandishing the shepherd's crook in a very punitive way against the 'unsheep.' Get out of line, and you're apt to get whacked alongside the head with the crook of the shepherd, or even something worse.

Am I so bold to think that I'm NOT a sheep and that I DON'T need a shepherd? Well, yes. I think the shepherd /sheep analogy , when taken to extremes can be abused tremendously. I prefer to go my own way, discover things out for myself. Now I'm not saying a mentor wouldn't come in handy. Someone I could go to when I really get confused and need guidance. So something more like a facilitator/mentor is what I'd like. Not someone to guide my every movement, and to whack my knuckles with a dogmatic ruler whenever I do wrong. But I do admit, having a facilitator/mentor instead of a shepherd would sure mess up the poetry; The Lord is my facilitator/mentor, I shall not want...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

An Irritating Email

Below is one of those forwarded emails that I get on a regular basis. It's like these things have a mind, a life of their own. Also, it is amazing how so many folks seem to have the time to forward so much garbage, but don't have the time to go to their elected Representative's website and give their opinion, or get off their butts and at least register to vote.But I digress. The email:

I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?
What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?
What if we flipped through it several times a day?
What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?
What if we used it to receive messages from the text?
What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it?
What if we gave it to Kids as gifts?
What if we used it when we traveled?
What if we used it in case of emergency
This is something to make you go....hmm...where is my Bible?
Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don't have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill.
Makes you stop and think "where are my priorities?"
And no dropped calls!

This email has me irritated and flummoxed. I've got my own ideas about all this bible stuff (don't we all, at least I think we should), and I try to live and let live as best I can with others and their beliefs. But this particular forward has set me off.

Perhaps I've reached the saturation point with this kind of thing. So many hold the bible sacred, but I've found that there's not a whole lot of people know much what's in it, let alone have actually read it. I'm no authority on comparative religions, and knowing what little I know about human nature it's probably true across the board, but it sure seems like so many Christians base their belief on hearsay evidence. That is, they don't know much about the history of their faith, what is contained in their holy scriptures, so they swallow what someone else tells them about it.

It doesn't help matters that I vaguely know the guy that sent me this email. Does his knowledge of his holy book amount to a handful of parsed-out platitudes that he pulls out with incredible timing at the most appropriate moments? Or does he truly know the book. Does he also know that the Qu'ran is the epitome of evil because he's heard a few verses from it that promote 'death against the infidels'. Perhaps, but you can't expect someone to know any more about a different religion than they do about their own. And what I've said above pretty much reveals what I know about the sender. It's not the first time this type of email has come my way, courtesy of him.

So I guess it's a combination of the things mentioned above, and the incredible amount of the Internet that is taken up with pure unadulterated BS, and the amount of susceptibility all of us have to that BS. Not that everything I do on the 'net is of earth-shattering importance. But c'mon, gimme a break. Is it necessary to have the most up-to-date computer system and broadband Internet service to do what our ancestors used to do across the fence post; talk, swap gossip, and spread BS?

To imply that just having a bible in your pocket like a cell phone makes you a better person is rubbish. If you do not know what is in it, if you do not ponder and discuss with others in a non-condemning way its meaning, what's the point? The bible is God's story book, man's thoughts about God (the definition of theology). It is full of myth, wonder, violence, love, and wisdom. Truly a book for the ages.

I am not a bible scholar, not even a mainline christian, but I have read it enough to know that much of what right-wing fundamentalists believe is not even in the bible, but basically comes from a fire and brimstone preacher from the 19th century named Darby. And even his preaching has been distorted somewhat to fit the beliefs of the modern fundamentalist.

So I guess that's my beef. A book in your pocket is just a book in your pocket. If you have no clue what is in it, and you take someone elses word for it without question, you're just as well off keeping the cell phone in your pocket and your bible on the shelf. You'll do less harm with the cell phone, and you'll know more about it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Random Thoughts On Lent And Easter

Such a wonderful time of year for Christians, Lent and Easter.

We get the holy sign of the cross made on our forehead with ashes on a Wednesday. We get to wave palm leafs around in church on Palm Sunday, and shout HOSANNA. We get to go to church on Thursday, (Maunday Thursday to be exact) and hear glorious stories, and partake of the communal cannibalistic ritual otherwise known as Communion (or The Eucharist, according to the religion).

We get to hear all over again the beautiful story of how a man (well, God actually) was brutally beaten and horribly executed, and all because WE ARE SINNERS! We get to hear covert accusations (and sometimes not so covert) how it was THE JEWS that killed our man-god. And the equally beautiful story of how our man-god rose on the third day (not spiritually, but LITERALLY) and PROVED IT ALL! And if I need more graphic proof, I can always watch the movie by that fine Christian Mel Gibson. I bet there's even some movie theatres that will 'resurrect' the film to show to us Christians. No doubt, seeing it all on the big screen. larger than life , in Surround Sound and living color, it would make a more profound impact.

I dread Lent and Easter more and more each year. Perhaps it is time that I excommunicate myself totally from a religion that is in some ways as much of a cult of death as the Nazis. I still go to church most Sundays, for there are folks there I have known all my life. And I try to support the good things that the church does in the community and around the world. To be sure, Christianity is not all evil.

But look at what traditional Christians believe in. The inherited evilness and wickedness that we are born into, all because two mythical 'first humans' that were overtaken by the curiosity that their God gave them, and did what that same God told them not to. The preordained horrible death of the literal son of God to atone for our sins. The absolute necessity for the 'Prince of Peace' to die a painful death, all because of OUR SIN! For that is what some of the message is, that the death of Christ was OUR FAULT. So we are burdened from birth (and perhaps even from conception?) with guilt, sin and wickedness. Is there any chance for peace among Christians, let alone with any other beliefs in the world, as long as these things are the cornerstone of Christianity?

I look out over the congregation in church and am curious. If there was a way I could peel back all the layers and get to the pure truth of what people believe, how many actually believe this crap? Or do most just mouth the words out of tradition, habit, or fear?

I think of the quote by Mark Twain (not verbatim, but close enough) "Religion is somethin' you say you believe in, that you know ain't so." So on this coming Easter, perhaps instead of going to sunrise service, I'll stay in bed. But then again, they do serve a hell of a breakfast at church after service on Easter Sunday! So much for my belief, I guess. I'm a part of the problem of Christianity myself.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Response To An Article By Jim Wallis

I have read an article by Jim Wallis with the title 'The Religious Right's Era Is Over'. My comments:

Well, I don't see much to celebrate so far. I've read Jim Wallis' book God's Politics after many people recommended it. There are good things in it, but the thing that really stands out in all of this is that Jim Wallis and other progressive evangelicals oppose not only the religious right.

When he says that the Left is starting to get it, does that mean that he isn't 'left', and that the 'left' is just as much a problem as the 'right'? In his book he comes across as having a lot of answers, and a definite vision of the way things ought to be. I for one don't see where a religious left would be any better than a religious right if they were in power. Either one, in the long run, would discount those that do not fall under the umbrella term of 'believer'.

What is being done here, to my eyes, is increasing the size of the tent and allowing more people to stand under it. But there is still a requirement. This tent is a tent of believers of an historical, traditional God. Islam, Christianity, Judiasm, and what he calls the 'spriritual but not religious'. Is there also to be room for Wiccans, Agnostics, Athiests, Pagans, and the myriad other 'religions', or not?

Whenever I read something by the self-proclaimed progressive christian evangelicals, I get the feeling that, in their own way, they would be just as controlling, just as intolerant, as the fundamentalists they oppose.

Perhaps it is my distrust of organized religious institutions, my agnosticism, my cynicism, coming into play. One of the basic dogmas of christianity, that says Jesus died for our sins, is still strong. I do not believe in redemptive violence that most christianity believes. I believe that the redemptive violence taught by the church contains the seeds of redemptive violence for all of humankind towards one another. It glorifies the horrible death of a fellow human that was brought about because of politrical reasons, and turns it into a condemnation against all humankind. For if Jesus died for our sins, we are to blame.

Does not the bible also teach that Jesus was a champion of the under dog, that the powers that be of the Temple were the ones that oppressed the poor and down-trodden? That all humans are of equal value, and that the religion of his day had become corrupt, and actually caused much of the afflictions of the poor and down-trodden? So then why, with the death of this man that believed in the equality of all, were things spun into a blanket condemnation of human life itself as being sinful?

So is the religious right's era over? No. Perhaps it's influence will be lessened, but it will come back sooner or later as strong as ever. Conservative thought tends to glorify the past, and eventually the longing of return to a 'better time' that never was, will happen. So will the religious left's era be better? Not better, only different. Jim Wallis and the progressive evangelicals are changing the outlook of religion, make no mistake. But it's still organized religion. It still has its dogma that dictates what is 'proper' and what is 'improper' to believe. That perhaps is the problem, and as long as it is, doesn't matter which side is in charge. The results will be the same.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Poster, A Video, My Reply

A video was posted on a message board I frequent. The video can be viewed here, and my response to the one that posted it follows:

The reasons for the war in Iraq are many. Was there faulty intelligence about WMD? If there was, an awful lot of people believed it, on both sides of the aisle. I agree that Democrats are just as responsible for the beginning of the war as anyone else. But of what use is all this now? It is history, and as such it will most likely take years for everything to come to light.

Was Hussein deposed? Yes. Was the Iraqi military neutralized? Yes. Is there peace and democracy in Iraq? No. Has the occupation of Iraq stopped terrorism? No, but it has shifted the focus to Iraq, where acts of terrorism against Iraqis and the American military are an everyday occurrence. So why keep belaboring the point about Democratic hypocrisy? There are plenty of examples of hypocrisy from the other side also.

What do we do now is the question. Historians will debate on the particulars of the beginning of the war on Iraq. All of that is irrelevant to the here and now. The Republicans don't have a clue, and neither do the Democrats. Perhaps, just perhaps if the partisan finger-pointing would cease, they could work together and decide where we go from here.

But as many of your previous posts have shown, you are not in favor of bipartisanship. You want the ultra-conservative war-mongering agenda followed to the letter. Any deviation from that is suspect for you, is feared by you, and needs to be ridiculed and dismissed as hypocritical, unpatriotic, patronizing, appeasing to terrorists.

So of what value is a video on youTube produced by the Republican National Committee that calls Democrats hypocrites? As much value as if the Democrats made a similar video about the Republicans. Both would be totally worthless, both would be partisan bullshit. To stubbornly keep bringing this kind of crap to the fore adds nothing to any possible solution. It only increases the division in the country. It is a sick political game you play, while people are dying. I hope you're having fun.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Reply From One Of My Senators, Dick Durbin

I recently wrote a letter to one of my Senators Dick Durbin in regards to the continued funding of the Iraq occupation. His reply is in bold, my reply is in italics:

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about funding the war in Iraq.

Senator, the war in Iraq ended a long time ago. Bush himself declared a victory from the deck of an aircraft carrier. Saddam Hussien was deposed, a new government has been formed. Our continued presence in Iraq is no longer a war, but an occupation. Perhaps if this situation were aknowledged as such, there could be a more timely resolution agreed upon to end our involvement.

I understand your concerns about our nation's involvement in Iraq. I voted against the resolution authorizing this war, and far too many of our men and women in uniform have died there. With our involvement now in its fourth year, more than 3,000 American soldiers have been killed and more than 22,000 have been wounded. In addition to the loss of life, this war is costing us $2 billion each week. Add to this the escalating sectarian violence, and the unknown number of innocent Iraqi civilians who have perished as a result, and it is clear that the current "stay the course" approach is not working and that the Bush Administration lacks a coherent strategy to stabilize Iraq and achieve victory.

I am well aware of your voting record. With all due respect, that's history, Senator. What concerns me more than history is the future. The immediate future. You have quoted the sad numbers of our dead, and of the Iraqi dead. You have rightfully put the blame for this upon the Bush adminstration's failed policy. But let me ask, do you really think there can be a victory in Iraq? If so, just what would that victory be? The stabilization of Iraq will not come about by our continued presence there. Some say a civil war will erupt if we leave, some say that war has already started. Again I say to you, if we are to maintain a presence there, whose side shall we take? Can we remain neutral while occupying a country with so many warring factions jockeying for power and control?

It is time for us to end our open-ended commitment in Iraq, and for American troops to start coming home. At the end of 2005, I worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact legislation declaring that 2006 must be a year of significant transition toward full Iraqi sovereignty and the ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops. This measure passed 79 to 19 with strong bipartisan support, reflecting the widespread frustration that many Americans feel toward President Bush's handling of Iraq. The Administration has not demonstrated the same sense of urgency regarding this transition, and the President has instead called for a major escalation adding more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq.

If this measure passed, why was Bush not made to adhere to it? Is there any kind of congressional control over a president at all? Are all these 'measures' and 'resolutions' even worth the paper they're printed on?

I am working to secure Senate passage of a measure opposing President Bush's plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq and calling for a strategy that would charge the Iraqi government with the primary mission of combating sectarian violence and fostering reconciliation. I also support the conclusions of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which would allow most U.S. combat forces to redeploy from Iraq by the first quarter of 2008.

As you have already stated the numbers of dead and injured since we've been involved in Iraq, how many more would be killed or wounded over a year-long redeployment plan? Perhaps I am naive, but why spread it out so long? Get our troops out of there in a more timely manner, and there will be less death, less injury. And also, is there any reason to believe that this new measure you are working towards has any more teeth in it than the measure passed with bipartisan support in 2005?

I have strongly disagreed with the Bush Administration's policies toward Iraq, and I have not hesitated to express my objections. However, with more than 150,000 U.S. military personnel deployed in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, I could not in good conscience vote against funds to support our men and women in uniform who are already deployed and to ensure that they have the best equipment and protection we can provide.

Your good conscience prevents you from voting against any more funding for a 'war' you have repeatedly said you are against? Do you have the courage to vote against funding this continued occupation or not? I cannot believe that if funding were cut for this occupation that our troops would be in any more danger than they are right now. Fund their immediate withdrawal, not the continued occupation. Get them out in as orderly and timely a fashion as possible, but get them out! Are Democrats that afraid of being called non-supportive of the troops, that they will continue to vote hundreds of billions of dollars to continue the killing? Do Democrats have enough courage to frame this in the proper language, instead of letting the pro-war people frame the issue in their own terms?

At the same time, we owe it to our troops and their families to hold our government accountable and continue to press for a new direction. Our troops have done everything we have asked of them. The test of a successful plan for Iraq is that it allows the tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers there to start coming home to their families, while Iraqis take the responsibility to govern their nation, engage in an effective reconciliation process, and establish and maintain peace with the help of a trained and fully functioning Iraqi security force. I will continue to do all I can in support of efforts to achieve this goal.

You cannot have it both ways, Senator. Either congress has the ability to stop this occupation, or it does not. And if indeed congress does have the ability but not the will, because of political reasons? Then shame on all of you. There is blood upon your hands as much as the ones that got us involved in the first place. It is time to do what has to be done to stop this. Not next year, but now. The election of 2006 has shown that the American people have had enough of this occupation. I live in Whiteside county, one of the counties that had a non-binding referendum on the ballot that read:

"Shall the United States Government immediately begin an orderly and rapid withdrawal of all its military personnel from Iraq, beginning with the National Guard and Reserves?"

Whiteside county is hardly a liberal county, but the results of this referendum? 59% voted
YES. Not a year-long withdrawal, but an immediate withdrawal. That is the opinion of many in Illinois, and across the nation. I truly believe the majority of people want out now. Senator, have the courage to do what needs to be done. You have the backing of the people. If you haven't the courage, perhaps the people will find someone else in 2008 that does.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. Please feel free to stay in touch.

Thank you for responding. Rest assured, I will stay in touch. You have had my support in the past, and I hope I can continue to give you my support in the future. Take the firm stand on the Iraq situation that I believe your conscience is really telling you to do. There is much more at stake here than your political future or anyone else's. Human lives are at stake. Our valued soldiers as well as many others.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The End, Or Just The Beginning?

The recent execution of Saddam Hussein has been condemned and celebrated in equal measure. While I question the value of executing anyone, I shed no tears for a man that was a despot and committed atrocities against his own people.

History has been full of such people. Our own country has had its share, despite the pretense of life, liberty and equal rights for all. On an objective level, the atrocities Saddam conmmitted are by no means the worst in history, but they were most assuredly bad enough. Did his actions warrant his death? That is for others to decide.

What I question is the rapidity of it, the value of it. Was it for revenge? Was it to silence him? Was it to give the Iraqi people a sense of closure? Did the execution really do anything to help the situation, or will it end up making the situation worse? Was this an example for all who wish to pursue a life of power and abuse?

There have been many examples of such people like Saddam meeting their fate, and I don't see where those examples have stopped anyone so inclined from doing the same type of things. I do believe in what goes around comes around. Even if an evil person is never brought to formal justice, their fate is the same as anyone else. No matter how much power a person has gotten, evil or good they have done, fortune or fame or anonymity they have, none of us is getting out of this life business alive.

Depite so many years of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, I don't think we even begin to understand the differences between our culture and theirs. Like a rock skipping over a pond, our collective knowledge of Islam and the many cultures that comprise the Middle East are superficial at best. I do not understand how we as a nation can be so involved, and expect to do any positive things, without a deeper understanding of the region.

But there is one thing for sure: Saddam is dead. Whatever lessons, if indeed there were any, he could teach us by being alive are now gone. He was a despot that was once an ally, and then became an enemy of this country. He was given aid and weapons to assist his fight against our 'enemy' Iran, and no doubt used some of those weapons and technology against us. So there are still lessons to learn from people like Saddam, but I doubt that we will learn them.

With the relative speed of Saddam's trial and execution, I can't help but feel that we have lost some further insight. In the political expediancy of silencing a former ally that could have been an embarrasement, (and make no mistake, the U.S. had a lot of influence on the court and the decision) history perhaps has not been well served. But in the long run, it probably doesn't matter. We have proven over and over again that whatever history can teach us, as a nation we choose not to learn.

Surge, Thy Real Name Is Escalation

Once again, the language patrol for this adminstration is out in force. A new plan to merely 'stay the course' is being touted as a necessary action in the continued occupation of Iraq.

For security reasons, President Bush is proposing a 'surge' of anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 more troops to be deployed to Iraq. The language control can spin this any way they choose, can call it anything they wish. What it amounts to is an escalation in the number of troops that are to be put in harm's way in an area of a country that is in a civil war.

The word 'surge' implies a temporary action. Like a temporary increase in electricity, an all-out linebacker blitz in football, an increase in consumer spending during the holidays, a temporary circumstance. But how long will this 'surge' in troop levels last? What is the definite goal of doing it? And why now?

These are questions that more trusting citizens do not ask. The administration knows more about the situation. If it says more troops are needed, it must be so. I am not one of those trusting citizens, and the recent elections show that I am not alone. As long as the tragedy of Iraq continues, no other pressing problems within our country will be addressed. The last thing, the absolute LAST thing that needs to be done is to escalate that tragedy.

Whatever words are used doesn't matter. This is a blatant attempt to not only continue but increase the gross mistake of Iraq. And what is with this quote from Senator Joe Biden?

"There is nothing a United States Senate can do to stop a president from conducting his war," Biden said. "The only thing that is going to change the president's mind, if he continues on a course that is counterproductive, is having his supporters walk away from his position."

Does this president have carte blanche to do whatever he wants? Is the Senate truly powerless to stop it? Is that why the American people voted Democrats into office, gave more control of congress to them, just for a top-ranking Senator to declare there is nothing that the Senate can do? Or does this mean there is nothing the Senate WILL do?

No surge. No escalation. It's time to see Iraq for what it was and continues to be. A mistake.

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