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Nov 18

The Welfare Boogaboo

Posted on Sunday, November 18, 2012 in Explanations and Excuses, Geopolitics

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” - Verbal Kint

“One of the NEXT greatest tricks the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that Welfare Queens DID.” - Me

Living where I live, I’ve seen her. I’ve stood in line at the grocery store behind a large black woman who’s piling corn chips and Fanta and a 20-pack of hog jowls on the check-out counter. Several children orbit around her, dressed in hand-me-down clothes, but looking relatively healthly, maybe even a little plump. She proceeds to pay with a food stamp card, gruffly yelling at the kids to behave, and maybe being just a little rude to the girl who’s checking her out. As I check out behind her, she leaves, hobbling across the parking lot with the children trailing behind her like baby ducks, and as I follow her out of the store, she gets into a big boat of a car, driven by an ill-tempered-looking older teen who obviously elected to stay in the car as she took the younger ones shopping.

I’ve seen her. And I’ve heard Ronald Reagan describe in a 1976 campaign speech a version of her that we’re all disgusted by: “She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”

The thing is, to see the woman I saw and assume that she’s the living embodiment of the Welfare Queen that Reagan described is a convenient supposition that is inherently racist, and based totally on a false premise. Welfare Queens like the one Reagan described DID exist, but they were few and far between - one in a million. And fraudulent as their welfare claims were, their impact on the economic well being of the United States was still minimal.

In recent years, Welfare Queens have become nonexistent, mostly due to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. The PRWORA has limited the time someone can stay on government assistance, AND provided for the elimination of loopholes that could be exploited, as well as fraud that could be perpetrated.

Still, some people see a woman like the one I described, and they get an automatic sense of revulsion and indignation. Their tax dollars go to keeping that woman afloat, and she’s buying corn chips and Fanta?

Well I’m here to say, “Get over it.”

When presented with the notion of taking care of our poor and underprivileged in the United States, a lot of bleeding heart liberals will try to appeal to your heart strings or your sense of moral justice. They’ll say “We have to take care of our poor because it’s the right thing to do.” Well, I think morality in the United States has become so circumstantial and arbitrary that posing that particular argument, though noble, is increasingly useless.

Instead, let me appeal to your bottom line. Let me tell you in terms that even Adam Smith would approve of, WHY we need to take care of our poor in the United States. Even if some people abuse the system. Even if some people make choices with their pittance of a government handout that you don’t approve of.

First: how much does it cost YOU as a taxpayer to take care of the poor? Well, according to the Congressional Budget Office and White House reports, approximately 1.664% of your tax liability goes to welfare programs, food stamps, and government subsidized housing. That means a family that makes $50,000 annually will pay approximately $63 a year into the “welfare” system. By extension, and playing fast and loose with tax brackets and increased tax liability, a family that makes $100,000 will pay about $125 into the system, and a family making $250,000 will pay somewhere around $250-$300 annually.

That isn’t much, especially compared to how much of your tax liability goes to Social Security, Medicare, and the national defense.

“But why should I pay ANYTHING to help these people!? Why can’t they help themselves?” some might ask.

The short answer is: because it would cost more to NOT help them.

It may surprise you, but Section Eight housing does not provide poor people with palatial estates, and food stamps don’t buy daily stacks of pancakes and three-course steak dinners. The choices poor people make with the trickle of money the government gives them (Fanta and Fritos, or getting new rims instead of visiting the dentist) may be deplorable to you - and they are to me, too. But believe me when I say that your life and livelihood at $50,000 a year are WAY better than the relative squalor most welfare recipients in America live in. And their hold on their lowly lifestyles is tenuous. You cut them loose, and terrible things will happen to them. Terrible things which will cost YOU money.

Pretty much four things happen to people who find themselves without a means to provide food and shelter for themselves and their family. Let’s look at each one in turn, shall we?

1. They become indigent. That is, without a home. Homelessness in America is a real problem, with real economic implications. Here’s some cost statistics for you: To incarcerate a person for vagrancy costs approximately $54 a day. The average cost per hospital visit for an indigent person (and indigent people are exponentially more likely to require hospitalization than the average person) is $2414. The annual cost of ONE BED in a homeless shelter funded by HUD’s Emergency Shelter Grants program costs $8607 more than the annual average cost to house the same person in Section Eight housing. Now, ask yourself: these people are indigent; they don’t HAVE any money to pay for these things. So who’s going to pay for them?

2. They turn to crime. Studies have proven again and again that there is a direct correlation between poverty and crime. And when there’s increased crime in an area, either the government has to spend more money to increase police and crime intervention, or the place becomes unlivable, an untenable sinkhole in the American landscape which contributes NOTHING to the country’s GDP, and which depresses local markets and real estate values. Add to that the exhorbitant cost of incarcerating someone - sometimes up to $20,000 a year - and you understand the economic impact of criminal activity. Also, consider the personal cost of being the victim of a crime. Insurance may cover it, but your premium’s sure to go up. And there are some losses insurance simply can’t cover.

3. They die. Now, if you’re as cold-hearted as some people I’ve encountered, you may think this is the most desirable outcome - after all, if these people die, they’re no longer dependent on the welfare system and we don’t have to pay for them anymore. Well, all moral repercussions aside, you’re wrong. To make sure a dead body is disposed of properly, most likely by incineration if no one claims it, costs a BARE MINIMUM of $500-700 dollars. Even now, there are hundreds of morgues and disposal sites across the country that have a backlog of unclaimed bodies which need either to be incinerated or buried in a “pauper’s grave.” It costs money to make sure they’re not improperly disposed of - and improper disposal leads to disease and unsanitary conditions. There are 4,300,000 people on welfare in the US (and 10 TIMES that many on food stamps). If a quarter of them died as a result of having their government subsidies cut off, we’d have a $5 million dollar dead body crisis on our hands within a couple of years.

4. They get off their “lazy asses” and try to enter the workforce. Well first of all, more of these people ARE working than you think: slightly over half of welfare recipients who have no barriers to work - no mental or physical disability, etc. - DO work. Recent statistics have proven that there is no city in the United States where a person working a minimum wage job can afford a typical apartment at the current market rate. So people who earn minimum wage have to either pile their family into a space that doesn’t fit them, work MORE than one job, or subsidize their income with food stamps and/or welfare.

There’s some debate as to what would happen to the labor market should a sudden influx of former welfare recipients occur, but  most everyone agrees that one of two things will happen in the short term: 1) Because a lot of welfare recipients have less skills and education than non-welfare recipients, they’ll languish in unemployment. Even if you have a work force who wants to work, who NEEDS to work, there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. Or… 2) Because these people are willing to work for less pay, they’ll supplant other workers who currently hold jobs with low skill requirements. In that case, the people who WERE working will languish in unemployment, because again - there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. And since those people probably paid into the system while they WERE working, they’ll expect to get unemployment benefits.

As a side note before I conclude, I’d like to point out that I haven’t even mentioned the children of welfare recipients. As deplorable as you may think the “welfare lifestyle” is, there are children involved - and in the first three scenarios I described above, there’s a distinct possibility that the children will suffer fates similar to their parents and guardians. And even if you don’t care a lick about what happens to these kids, innocent to most of the misdeeds you ascribe to their caretakers, there’s still the price tag THEY carry - which you’ll have to pay one way or another.

And there you go. If you make $50,000 a year, you pay only $63 annually to support welfare in the United States. But think about what that $63 gets you: less death, less homelessness, less crime, less unemployment.

So, when you see that woman and her kids, and you see her buying Fanta and Fritos, just sigh to yourself and remember that you’ve probably made a bad choice or two in your life as well. But remember that because you pay that measly $63 a year, that woman and her kids aren’t dead, or homeless, or breaking into your house, or competing with you for your job - all of which would cost you more, much more, than what you currently pay.

Feb 17

Paul Thigpen’s Lost Opportunity

Posted on Friday, February 17, 2012 in Geopolitics, Reviews, Writing and Writers

I read Paul Thigpen’s My Visit To Hell for a couple of reasons. One is a secret - and yeah, I’m gonna keep it a secret for a while; I can do that. The other reason is that I’ve been fascinated with Dante’s Inferno since my early Dungeons & Dragons days - and Thigpen’s novel promised to be a somewhat faithful retelling and/or update of the epic classic. Which it, thankfully, was.

I bought the trade paperback without knowing much about Thigpen. I didn’t know that he was a converted Catholic with an evangelical background (and I think he was still a Protestant evangelical when he first wrote My Visit To Hell). I also didn’t know that Hell was actually touted as a “Christian” novel.

I won’t say that I WOULDN’T have read the book had I known. I consider myself a Christian - a dismally bad one, but one nonetheless. Plus, I’m the kind of reader who believes that to become a better reader, thinker, and ultimately, writer, one needs to read expansively and inclusively. I mean, I TRIED to read Ulysses. On the other end of the scale, I TRIED to read R.A. Salvatore’s shitty-ass Drizzt Do’Urden fantasy novels.

I’ve certainly read “Christian” literature before - and not just C.S. Lewis’s brilliant work. Hell, I read Paul McHenry’s terrible, terrible, terrible Code Name: Antidote. You can ask some of my closest friends about that time in my life - you’ll love some of the answers.

Paul Thigpen’s novel is much more readable, interesting, and imaginative than CN:A, but it still got on my nerves to read a book like that. And by “like that”, I mean a book filled with less than savory characters who are in tense, less than pleasant situations, who still never, ever, never, ever say ONE swear word. Not one.

Not one “shit”. Not one “fuck”. Not one “asshole”. Not even a “bitch” or “cocksucker” or a “damn”. Unless you count “damned” as referring to the cursed individuals in Hell. And, of course, there’s the word Hell itself.

Other than that though, in Thigpen’s world, not even the nasty rapists and murderers who inhabit Hell are willing to say anything remotely blue. While I understand Thigpen’s audience and publisher, and their need to keep it “clean,” I found it ridiculous and incessantly annoying that - while people were running around naked, getting graphically blasted by fire and radiation, getting hacked to pieces by horrific demons and torturers, NOT ONE OF THEM EVER SAID A SWEAR WORD. 

I think the nastiest thing anyone was called was “bucko.” Even the demons kept it clean.

Were that the worst thing I could say about the novel, though, I think I could give it a glowing recommendation. After all, no swearing is a pretty minor nitpick, no matter how annoying it was.

And I WILL give it this limited praise: Even though the not-swearing thing was annoying, even though it distressed me to no end that Thigpen reveled in saying CUSS instead of CURSE or SWEAR (he’s a Southern writer, too, folks), and even though some passages were sophomoric and trite, the book entertained me. Occasionally, the scenery was inspired. For instance, the level of Hell for suicides was creepy and sad in perfect proportions.

This brings us, though, to the title of this post and my greatest criticism of Thigpen’s novel: in a book that could have been sooo interesting, and for Christian readers so inspirational, and for non-Christians so informational, Thigpen decided to dwell overly long on certain evangelical “hot topics” that would likely have stopped many people - those who don’t already believe as he does - from reading further.

Can you name two topics which evangelical or “devout” Christians tend to dwell on that turn people off - so much so that people who might otherwise be receptive to the POSSIBILITY of a divine “God” and an encompassing plan for the universe say, “Fuck that - you guys are a bunch of hateful-ass judgmental bitches,” and either dismiss or reject altogether the entire premise of Christianity or religion in general?

If you said ABORTION or HOMOSEXUALITY, then take the pie - it’s yours.

What the fuck is it with “Christians” who set aside the most crucial of all God’s commands - that YOU LOVE GOD, AND THEN TREAT OTHER PEOPLE AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED - in favor of bile and vitriol, and the condemnation of circumstances and lifestyles that they do not understand, or even care to try to understand? No wonder so many people reject religion - it’s hard to believe in a God who cares more about what you do with your own body than He does what you do to other people.

I finished Thigpen’s novel for three reasons: 1) because I’m a believer, I’m straight, and I’ve never been involved in making an abortion decision, so I was able to swallow my disgust at how much he dwelled on those topics 2) because I was curious, and 3) because I’m a completionist. Had I lacked any of those characteristics, I probably would have set My Visit To Hell aside and started on the stack of Hulk comics I have on my bedside table.

Lemme give you a bit of context. In Dante’s Inferno, and in Thigpen’s interpretation of it, Hell consists of ever-deepening circular levels, and the deeper you go, the more heinous the sin, until you reach the bottom where Satan himself is half-buried in ice, his upper half still able to reach and grab and chew. This lowest Hell, the Ninth Circle, is called Cocytus, and therein dwell the worst sinners imaginable - the traitors. In Inferno, we see Satan gnawing perpetually on the three worst traitors in Dante’s world: Brutus, Cassius, and of course, Judas Iscariot.

So, here you go: Circle Seven is the place for the violent - those who were violent to others (murderers and tyrants), those who were violent to themselves (suicides), and those who were violent against nature and God. Now, both Dante and Thigpen relegate gay people to this Circle - in fact, they’re placed in a deeper ring than both the murders and the suicides.

Let me ask you something. When you think of violence, do you think about gay people? Does Neil Patrick Harris make you shudder with terror at how he’s going to gut you with his codpiece? Do you think that the average gay guy deserves a place in Hell that’s DEEPER than Saddam Hussein’s? Than Ted Bundy’s?

Dante put what he called sodomites in that level of Hell because he lived in a medieval age and had a medieval mindset. Thigpen… well….

What Dante NEVER mentioned was abortion. But guess where Thigpen placed the parents of aborted fetuses? In Cocytus, just a little ways away from Satan himself. Even saying that abortion was murder, and putting the parents of aborted fetuses on the Seventh Circle wasn’t enough for Thigpen. Nope. Ninth Circle: traitors to family.

And it wasn’t that Thigpen offhandedly mentioned, “Yeah, that’s where the abortion parents are. Yeah, that’s where the gays are.” He DWELLED on it. Not exhaustively, but enough that you knew he was trying to make a point.

And by making that point, he distracted me from the other points he might have been trying to make. In doing so, he lost an opportunity. He could have given me a story that scared me so badly I had bad dreams - I mean, what’s more potentially frightening than a place of eternal torment and freaky shit? He COULD have given me - and think this was his intent - a story of redemption and salvation, one that pulled at my heart strings and made me exult at the main character’s rebirth and reawakening. But alas, Thigpen’s writing simply wasn’t powerful enough to overcome the things he threw in there that distracted me from his point, and he would have lost me had I not been determined to finish.

In the end, though I can’t say My Visit to Hell was in fact, a visit to Hell, it certainly wasn’t a cakewalk either.

Jan 27

Bad, Bad Argument

Posted on Friday, January 27, 2012 in Geopolitics

Well, I was going to write a review of a book I finished this week. But then Newt Gingrich owned CNN host John King and subsequently went on to dominate the South Caroline primary, and that prompted me to say a couple of things on Facebook about the man. What resulted was the typical time-suck debate which I usually feel like I win but which usually takes more effort than it should.

When I explain the logic of a math problem to my child, her eyes light up and she gets it. When I try to explain the illogic and hypocrisy behind Republican policies to certain friends, their eyes glaze over and they retreat to that corner of their minds where all the Limbaugh/Hannity/Coulter/Fox News/Boortz talking points reside. “But, but… Bill Clinton!” is one of my favorites. And don’t even get me started about this new “I don’t want to be held at gunpoint and forced to give my money to poor people” mantra that’s going around.

So the three arguments I got in defense of Newt Gingrich were:

1) But… but… Bill Clinton had an affair with that intern!

2) At least he (Newt) admitted to deceiving and cheating on his wives (note the plural). Herman Cain still hasn’t tacitly admitted it, and Bill Clinton didn’t even fess up under oath.

3) That’s all in the past.

OK. So first of all, if we’re talking about it all being in the past, then why bring up Clinton? That was in the past, too. Besides, Clinton reconciled with his wife and got on with his life - and I don’t recall him asking her for an open marriage and then kicking her to the curb when she said no. Add to that the fact that Clinton ISN’T currently running for President, and Gingrich is.

Also, and this is very important - just because one person does a thing, that doesn’t make it automatically excusable for another guy to do a thing. What Bill Clinton did was reprehensible, and I’ll even hang this on it: had Clinton NOT tainted his term as President with his purile indiscretion, Al Gore might have had a better legacy for his own Presidential bid, and might have won. Meaning that we WOULDN’T have had 8 years of Bush. Smoke THAT cigar, if you will.

Still, using Clinton’s screw-up as an reason to excuse Gingrich’s… how’s that work? It never worked for me when I was a kid.

“But Dad, Greg got caught playing with that girl’s boobies, too!”

Next - just because you admit to a thing doesn’t automatically excuse you either. I have a sneaking suspicion Gingrich didn’t just “own up” - that he got caught by both of his first wives and was more or less forced to come clean. Still, since we can’t prove that, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he DID go to them and admit his affair. So? He still divorced both wives and married his mistress. And so far he has shown ABSOLUTELY NO REMORSE for being an adulterer, a liar, and - if you consider that both ex-wives were seriously ill at the time - an unusually cruel and selfish human being.

Add to that his HYPOCRISY for gallantly decrying the reproachful behavior of President Clinton in 1998 WHILE he was simultaneously doing the same thing to then-wife #2.

Two key elements of atonement for your sin, as I understand it, are a certain level of remorse and a concerted effort not to repeat your offense. I don’t think that describes Newt, do you?

Finally, here’s the problem with the “that’s in the past” argument:

Yes. Yes it is. But here’s the thing - Newt already has a proven track record of being deceitful and hypocritical. Hell, just yesterday he admitted to spewing a bunch of bullshit during the previous debate. So… he admitted it! But he still DID it, without pause or remorse, and I’d be willing to bet he’d willingly do it again. Lie, that is. For his own profit and gain. He’s done it in the past, he’s a repeat offender, and yet….

And yet, people are still voting for him. When Clinton got elected in 1992, no one KNEW he was going to play hide the cigar with an intern and make blue dresses an object of scorn. When Cain rallied his initial group of supporters and seemed to be doing well in the Republican primaries, no one KNEW what possible skeletons were lurking in his closet. WE as voters and American citizens can be excused for making judgments regarding those two, because we didn’t know any better.

With Newt, we know better. And if we elect him, there is no excuse.

Jan 19

Why I’m Cool With the End of the World

Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2012 in Geopolitics, Ramblings

As you may have heard, the world is once again scheduled to end, this time on December 21st of this year. I’m with the majority of you in hoping that this is not really the case – I’d like to go on living for a few more years, at least long enough to see my kids grow up. And if you actually WANT the world to end, I’m sorry: you’ve been inflicted with the crazy and you need to be bundled in a straight-jacket and dumped in cold water repeatedly. The world’s a cool place. Except for people like you.

I’m also one of those who doesn’t actually BELIEVE that the world will end any time soon. I find it ironic that Bible-thumping doomsayers like Harold “I Took Your Money You Gullible Chumps and I’m Not Giving It Back” Camping claim they know when the end will come. Especially when their hallowed book, The Bible, specifically says that the end’s gonna be a surprise. Now, if things came to a close on December 20TH, that would be a coup. I think God’s got a sense of humor, and that… well, that’d be something.

Ha. Ha.

Now like I said, I don’t WANT the end to be nigh. But if it were… I’d be okay with it.

Why? Well, for two solid reasons, and for one reason that depends on how the rest of this year goes.

Reason number one is that it’d confirm a lot of people’s faiths, including mine. You atheists have it easy – you can sit comfortably in your arrogance and intellect, absolutely sure that there’s nothing out there – no great divining force which exists eternally and exerts a powerful force of will on the comings and goings of the universe. Those of us who believe have it a little tougher. First, we have to put up with you dissing our intelligence because we choose to believe in something we can scarcely see or feel.

Worse though, is that we have to accept something that we can scarcely see or feel. But that’s why they call it faith.

Now, I personally think that sometimes we CAN feel or see God . To paraphrase a few people who said “it” better than I ever could, and who also happened to say it before I could: I hear God in certain pieces of non-autotuned music. I see God whenever one of my children smiles. And there’s GOT to be something to the Fibonacci sequence. There’s GOT to be.

If the world ended as predicted, chances are pretty good that God would have something to do with it. And so then us believers would have a few minutes of being able to say “Nah nah nah boo boo! We were right and YOU guys are the idiots!” A few minutes, that is, before we were all swept away in a maelstrom of holy fire and apocalyptic fury. But still. How satisfying would that be?

Reason number two is that I’m not as successful as I want to be. I’m not a failure by any stretch of the imagination – the sheer fact that you’re reading this is indicative of my relative success. Hell, I make a living as a writer. I’ve been published more than many, many people who are trying as hard as I am. I have a decent amount of followers on Twitter.

But I have yet to approach the level of success I think I deserve. And I recognize the distinct possibility that I never will.

If the world ended before I found huge success, I could blame the end of the world for everything. I could say, “I MIGHT have been the next Kurt Vonnegut or John Irving, except the motherfucking world ended.” If the world DOESN’T end, and I get old and have to start wearing diapers again without having found the success I deserve, then I can only blame myself – myself and an unjust world.

I’d rather blame Armageddon.

Finally, and I’m sorry to wax political at the end here, but it needs to be said – I’ll be even cooler with the end coming on December 21st should Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum somehow oust Barack Obama as President.

You see, I think the U.S.A. is holding on by a tenuous thread to its greatness as a nation. And while I don’t think Obama is our savior by any stretch of the imagination, I think he does represents a step back in the right direction, or at least a stop gap to keep us from sliding over the edge and into a shitstorm of trouble. If a Republican gets the Presidency in November, and we keep our awesomely Republican Congress, I think it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. becomes a hellhole, unrecognizable as the once great leader of the free world.

If the end of the world comes, we won’t have to see the U.S. relegated to crappyness. We can still potentially go out at the top of our game. Or at least close to it.

One thing that really would make me sad about the end, though, would be that my children would never become adults. Sure, they’re still innocents, and according to most believers, innocents pretty much get into Heaven. Still - and call me selfish if you want to, I don’t care - watching them grow and flourish (and smile) is something I’d like to continue doing. The end of the world would pretty much mean I couldn’t. And that would suck.

So when December 22nd comes around, I guess you’ll find me breathing a sigh of relief along with the rest of you.

Breathing a sigh of relief and waiting for the next apocalyptic doomsayer to make his appearance. Which - and I believe this prediction is much more reliable than predicting the end of the world - he will.

Oct 11

Where Will Occupying Wall Street Lead?

Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 in Geopolitics

I don’t care what you think about the protesters who were there first. Seems to me that a legitimate strategy for making a protest movement seem undesirable or inconsequential is to point out how the protestors lacked permits, how they messed up the area they were camped out in, what a logistical nightmare they made for the police and local governments who just wanted “to keep the peace.” And sure, some of them desecrated the flag in fashions much more imaginative than mere burning, and some of them didn’t know what the fuck they were really out there for - they were just shouting because it seemed cool.

But, just like the Republican Party has its Tea Partiers, Christianity has its Westboro Baptists, and Islam has its Taliban, so too did this movement have its outliers and “fringe.”

I am not one of those outliers or fringe people, but as of this morning, I’m ready to throw in with them, as are thousands, millions of others, because - as New York Republican Representative Pete King so eloquently put it - there was an inherent danger to this outlier movement gaining momentum and legitimacy.

What was the danger?

That people like me who weren’t yet willing to speak out and speak up would finally get a fire lit under our asses, and that there would FINALLY be a “policy-shaping” challenge to the way he and his fellow politicians have gamed the political system of the greatest nation in the world to further their own financial and political self-interests. People have given lip service to challenging the system for several years now.

For instance, “ liberals” like myself (I’m actually a centrist, like many Democrats) thought we’d found an answer in Barack Obama back in 2008. After eight years of watching George Bush play hacky sack with American foreign policy and the economy, we thought MAYBE someone would reign it in. But American politics has already become too corrupt, too partisan, too ingratiating to the interests of the corporate elite for anyone within the system to seriously challenge it.

As another example, there’s the misguided Tea Party, who took the other tack and decided it was those on the left who wanted to tax them to death in order to fund programs that weren’t necessary. THEY started a movement, and mistakenly filled Congress with even more assholes who in no way intended to help them. Sure, those Congressional newcomers vowed to fight any tax hikes, but they also wanted to cut obscene amounts of spending on programs that many of the Tea Partiers who voted them into office actually benefit from every day. Not quite the solution the Tea Party was looking for - although most of them don’t realize they’ve been duped.

I don’t think the people who voted for Obama were duped. I think we were let down. It turns out that Obama’s testicles haven’t descended or something, because on more than one occasion when he’s had an opportunity to actually stand up for the interests of the American people, he’s cowtowed to Republican lunacy. “Bipartisan” and “compromise” come out of his mouth on a regular basis, while he looks all sad-faced “across the aisle” at the likes of Eric Cantor, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell, who absolutely refuse to compromise on ANYTHING. Why continue to compromise with people determined to undermine your Presidency, and who are determined to shatter the economic backbone of the nation - and as a result, quite possibly the whole world - simply to protect the interests of a few thousand millionaires (a group to which many of them belong)? We could get into a lengthy discussion as to why, but that’s a tangent for another day.

So… we’ve had hope. We’ve had talk. But we’ve seen no change. Now, however, there arrives a movement that many have already compared to the protests of the 1960s - protests that career politician Pete King is old enough to remember as instigating legitimate changes in policy way back then.

That movement could have died.

It could have died the same death that the hope Obama gave us in 2008 died. It could have died the same death that the Tea Party movement is dying as it implodes. It could have become another footnote in history, the way the L.A. race riots in 1992 have.

But someone was concerned enough with the movement to take action against it last night. You see, over the weekend protests similar to the original one in New York sparked up in Boston, L.A., Chicago, Seattle, and right here in Atlanta. And last night a coordinated effort moved in to shut down pretty much all of them. Now, I’m not saying that law enforcement in all of the cities in question got on the phone with each other and said, “Let’s get ‘em at 11 p.m. TONIGHT!” Still, the crackdowns have begun, and in a few instances they’ve gotten ugly, and now… NOW that someone has actively taken steps to shut the protestors up, many people are awake to the possibilities of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I’m not here to try and justify the protestors’ right to assemply and free speech - although this does reveal some questionable decisions on the part of the local governments. I’m simply here to point out that the movement is very likely scaring the shit out of someone - enough that they are TAKING STEPS. And that, my friends, does pretty much the opposite of what they want. It adds legitimacy to the Occupy Wall Street movement - enough so that people like me are opening our eyes and seeing that perhaps there still is hope - that perhaps we can actually change policy (FINALLY!) by screaming and cajoling and threatening these clowns in Washington. They are supposed to represent US, right?

Gandhi has been quoted as saying this, although it’s actually a paraphrasing from a speech given by a union activist in the early 1900s:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Regardless of who said it, it looks like this particular movement is in phase three. I hope (See? I STILL have some hope!) that when phase four comes around, that average American citizens - and not American politicians or the millionaires to which they are beholden - are the winners. And I have decided that I will find something to do in the coming weeks that will make that happen.

What about you?

Sep 29

Please Note the Irony

Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 in Explanations and Excuses, Geopolitics

Recent censuses taken worldwide indicate that less and less people identify themselves with a particular faith, and that more and more people have begun to identify themselves as having no faith at all. Being somebody who DOES believe in God, I am of course saddened. But I’m not surprised. Considering all the shenanigans that people who profess faith often get up to, it’s wholly understandable that some people outright reject religion. The real sadness is that it is often BECAUSE of the actions of professed religious people that less people follow a faith. And it is increasingly true that people with no faith - atheists and agnostics - are more philanthropic, more generous to their fellow man. Go figure.

As an example of something infuriating (at least to me) that certain religious people do, I’d like to take this opportunity to rant about a gigantic irony pervading the political climate in the U.S. these days, particularly with Republicans.

Recent surveys I found put the percentage of Fundamentalist Christians among Republicans at somewhere between 40 and 51%. Now, before it looks like I’m agreeing with Ann Coulter when she says that Democrats are all godless heathens, let it be known that the disparity between the number of Christians among the two parties is NOT that big. Yeah, the Republicans have a few more supposed Christians - and way more of the Fundamentalist variety - but a significant number of Democrats believe in a Creator, and often believe he sent the Christ to Earth to die for man’s sins.

Now, according to a 2007 Barna Group survey, found here, 57% of Republicans assert that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches. This means, for everyone who hasn’t had a heart to heart talk with a Fundie, that the Bible - a document of over 1000 pages, translated from as many languages as Jesus had fingers and maybe toes, which is easily over 2000 years old, and whose translations, interpolations, iterations, and derivations have mostly passed through white men with political agendas and axes to grind - is the absolute perfect message that God wanted us to receive. Screw the myriad contradictions, the uncertainty of some of the source material, and the glaring omissions.

Well, I don’t think the Bible is the PERFECT WORD OF GOD. But on one subject, time and time again, it’s pretty clear. Let’s look at some passages, shall we?

“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich - both come to poverty.” - Proverbs 22:16

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. There will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered litte did not have too little.’” -2 Corinthians 8:13-15

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” -Matthew 25:41-45

A friend of mine (What’s up, Kym?) told me recently on Facebook that it’s easy to manipulate what the Bible says to match your ends, and seeing what I’ve seen, I tend to agree, but these passages are pretty straightforward, and since I’m not a Bible adherist, I gravitate to the straightforward bits. Like these.

These seem ridiculously obvious  to me. Even their surrounding context doesn’t contradict or undermine what they say. And what they say is this: if there are poor people among you, do what you can to help them out. If there are those who have a little more than average, then they should give up some of what they have to those who have a little less, just to even things out a little.

Those are essentially (and Bible adherents can’t reasonably deny this) commands from “on high.” And hey, you know what? Centuries later the absolute common sense of “taking care” of your poor and underprivileged was underscored by such prominent philosophers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith - philosophers which the Founding Fathers of the United States studied, honored, and drew inspiration from.

Flash forward to the United States, circa… now. Now we are told by the political party that contains so many Fundamental Christians to let the poor fend for themselves - it’s typically their fault that they’re in the condition they’re in, so why should we help somebody so lazy and desperate? (By the way, I invite you to make it through the month playing this game. I did, with $24 left, but WOW, my poor children suffered for it.)

Now we’re told by the millionaires of our country to leave their money alone. It’s theirs by right, and they need all of it - they can put it to better use than any poor person can, creating jobs and such (BTW, this has been proven false in more ways than the Bible has). We’re told by those who say the Bible is PERFECT to simply disregard these few passages (oh, and a LOT of other ones, too) simply because, well, it inconveniences them.

Now I know a lot of you have figured this irony out already. This post isn’t really for you, except to underscore what you already know, and to let you know that a “person of faith” understands the ironic difference between the things that certain other people of faith say and appear to believe.

The purpose of this post is to ask people who claim to be Christian, ESPECIALLY those who claim that the Bible is the perfect Word of God, to reconsider their position toward the poor. I suggest that maybe they go back and read their perfect Book without some preacher with an agenda and an axe to grind looking over their shoulder. I suggest they use their common sense, and THINK about what happens to a society that doesn’t take care of its poor.

Aug 10

Bullies

Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 in Geopolitics, Ramblings

My daughter Madeleine starts 4th grade in less than a week. Among all the things this does to me, it reminds me of certain things she said last year, in 3rd grade, regarding bullies.

There were several instances, you see, where some little girl or boy would be rude to her or to her friends. They’d say rude things (though no swearing - not yet!), they’d cut in line, they’d take the last of something and dare somebody to say something. Yeah - little snotty shitlickers exist even in 3rd grade, even now. TV ads, morality tales, movies where kindness is rewarded - years of these attempts at indoctrinating children to be gentle, generous, thoughtful, and altruistic have still ultimately failed on a portion of our population. I blame the parents, who were probably snotty little shitlickers when THEY were in 3rd grade.

The thing that got me was that Madeleine called them BULLIES.

I’m gonna have to disagree with her there, and someday, when she’s older and she’s allowed to read this, I’ll tell her about MY childhood bullies. I’ll regale her with stories of violence and cruelty that will make her understand that those snotty brats who cut in line are nothing. Hell, I’ve recently been called a bully a couple of times, both times by people who didn’t like certain aggressive moves I made playing games, or didn’t like the aggressive language I sometimes use to make my often valid points.

The main difference, I think, between my bullies and hers (and me) is motive. I have a distinct and understandable motive for what I do and what I say. Those kids at her school have motives that, while selfish, are also understandable.

My bullies were nothing short of mean. Period. They had a psychosis that made them do things no reasonable person would do, and they were unpredictable, cruel, and predatory. They looked for kids to beat the shit out of - and any kid would do, not just the nerdy ones. I saw one slap his grandmother when she asked him to sit down. One got suspended several times a month for randomly wailing on some kid in P.E., even kids who’d give him as good of a beating as he gave. 

These bullies were young; if they were teenagers, they were barely so. And this was the age before guns became a genuine factor. I can’t imagine the mayhem they would have caused if these fuckers had access to handguns.

At the time of this writing, all of MY bullies - with one notable exception that I’d talk to you about privately should you ask - are either dead or in jail. That’s how fucked up they were.

And one prayer that I send up nightly is that Madeleine only ever knows HER version of a bully, and that she never meets anyone like the ones I knew.

May 18

Even MY Name Isn’t In The Bible

Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 in Explanations and Excuses, Geopolitics

You’d think that going to a Christian church all his life would be enough to dissuade people from thinking that Barack Obama was Muslim, but apparently it’s not. He provided his long form birth certificate, so that shut most of the birthers up, but I don’t think there’s a long form Christianity certificate, so the Muslim rumor persists. That middle name is just a nagging problem for him.

As a side note, I wouldn’t personally care if the President of the United States were Muslim. Most Muslims are actually as good as their Christian and Jewish counterparts, following similar moral and ethical rules, exhibiting similar moral and ethical tendencies (or not, as the hypocritical case may be). They live their lives to serve God as they understand Him/Her/It, and they often wish the radical and suicidal sects of their religion would STFU. Just like a lot of Christians wish Fred Phelps would.

Anyway, back to Barack Hussein Obama’s name.

So, sure. Hussein is of Arabic origin, dating back to the prophet Mohammed’s grandson. But did you know that Barack is actually Jewish in origin? That’s right - just like Adam, Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Elijah, and Jesus. Barack is a derivative of Barak, who was a Judaic hero in the Book of Judges. He helped the prophetess Deborah free Israel from the Canaanite king Jabin, and Jabin’s captain, Sisera. Here’s a truncated selection from Judges 4 for your edification:

“And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, when Ehud was dead. And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel. 

Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. She dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. 

And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, ‘Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, ‘Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.’

 And Barak said unto her, ‘If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.’

 And she said, ‘I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him. 

Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh. And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor. And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon. 

And Deborah said unto Barak, ‘Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the Lord gone out before thee?’ So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him. And the Lord discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.”

For a few passages here we get the account of how Sisera dies while he’s hiding in Jael, wife of Heber’s tent - she basically murders him in his sleep by driving a spike through his head. Afterward: “And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.”

Then, in Judges 5, Deborah and Barak sing a song together (Judges was a musical, don’t you know?), and that’s the last we hear of either of them.

But Barack Obama’s first name is in the Bible, okay? It’s Judeo-Christian in origin (specifically, Old Testament Jewish).

Now, what about Newt Leroy Gingrich’s name? Is it in the Bible?

Not exactly. The closest thing I could find is a passage from Leviticus wherein some versions of the Bible interchange newt for lizard or salamander. As in: “Of the animals that move along the ground, these are unclean for you: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard, the gecko, the monitor lizard, the wall lizard (sometimes newt), the skink and the chameleon. Of all those that move along the ground, these are unclean for you.”

My conclusion is this: we should toss aside any of these “Obama is a Muslim” arguments because, unfortunate middle names aside (Hussein vs. Leroy), the two top contenders for the 2012 Presidential election have their names in the Bible. One is a reluctant hero of ancient Israel. The other is something that crawls along the ground and is unclean.

(Yes, I know his full name is Newton. Just go with it.)

Incidentally, when people refer to Jesus H. Christ, do you think that maybe the H stands for….

Nah. Couldn’t be.

Mar 1

Quotin’ Jesus Atcha

Posted on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 in Geopolitics, Ramblings

Let’s start with these:

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” -Matthew 6:24

And…

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” -Matthew 19:24

But more than either of those, there’s this…

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” -Matthew 25:34-45

So when you read all that, does it sound to you at all like current Republican/Tea Party/conservative policy? Do the current mantras of unregulated, survival-of-the-fittest, “free” market capitalism make room for these Christian tenets, that supposedly came from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself? When a conservative goes off about the unfairness of a graduated income tax system, or the money wasted on welfare, or the evils of ensuring that everyone is entitled to adequate health care, do you think he or she has these Bible passages in mind?

Probably not.

I’ve been mulling over this post for a long time, and I’ve thought a lot about all the things I could say to drive my point home. In the end, I’ve decided that sort and sweet is the answer. So here it is, short and sweet.

If you DON’T adhere to any sort of Christian dogma - whether you’re atheist, Jewish, Muslim, or apathetic, then I’m not addressing you. Not in this post. For you and I, the debate regarding progressive ideals vs. corporate hegemony, of providing for the proletariat vs. letting them fend for themselves, has to be reserved for elsewhere and elsewhen. You may agree with me or you may not.

But if you DO consider yourself a Christian, and ESPECIALLY if you think that the Bible is the unerring Word of God (I don’t, by the way), then I don’t see how you can vote for the Tea Party and/or the GOP and still claim to follow Christ. Screw the debate about abortion. Screw the debate over whether Obama is Muslim or not - those are herrings tossed up to throw you off track, to distract you from what is truly at stake here. And I’m sure some Bible scholar MIGHT be able to dig up some passage which contradicts the ones above. I don’t care. The above passages are pretty clear, and they came directly from JESUS.

If you vote Republican and claim to be a Christian at the same time, how do you reconcile that? I think that if you can find a way, then you’ve fooled yourself.

Jan 22

That’s Not What He Said (But Was It What He Meant?)

Posted on Saturday, January 22, 2011 in Geopolitics, Ramblings

I’m a little nervous about writing this, seeing as how I vowed I’d bow out of political commentary. But this is too rich to pass up. We’ll see how this flies, and afterward I may go back to silently despising John Boehner and Fox News without saying anything out loud. You know where I stand, and that’s (almost) good enough.

I’m also a little reticent, because at first it may seem to my liberal friends that I’m defending a Tea Party-backed Republican. I’m not. I’m just pointing out assumptions that a certain media outlet has made regarding his political motives. Those assumptions are probably right, but I was always taught not to assume things, and, well, read on… you’ll see what I mean.

First, a comment about the “liberal media”. I have often heard that phrase applied to the ENTIRETY of American media. When it’s used that way - to imply that, on the whole, media in the United States is left-leaning - it’s simply false, a bogeyman tossed up by conservative pundits and politicians to cover for the fact that, as Stephen Colbert so eloquently put it, “Reality has a well-know liberal bias.” Often, when truth and objectivity in reporting runs counter to what they want people to believe, they claim that those reporting it have a bias. Meanwhile, some of the most prominent media outlets in America are staunchly, outspokenly biased toward conservativism, and those outlets report things falsely all the time.

This doesn’t mean that there ISN’T a liberal media. I’m a media outlet, and I’m told I’m liberal as hell (although I prefer to think of myself as a rational centrist). Daily Kos is left-leaning. Huffington Post is as well. There are quite a few liberal media outlets - although far, far less than there are conservative, and that’s my point, I suppose. 

Anyway, sometimes those liberal outlets will give you a version of a story that smacks of a deceptive tone, same way their conservative counterparts do. And it’s one such stories that I’m going to discuss today.

It involves this article in the above-mentioned Huffington Post. Mike Lee is a newly-elected, Tea Party-backed Republican Senator from Utah. He’s also a lawyer who deals with constitutional law. You’ll notice if you even LOOK at the article that the headline implies that Mike Lee says child labor laws are unconstitutional. ”What?” you ask. “What kind of monster would say that the Constitution can’t be used to protect children from predatory labor practices? Does he want us to go back to the old days, when children DIED in factories, when eight-year-olds suffered from horribly unsafe work conditions when THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE EVEN BEEN WORKING?”

He’s a Tea Party backed Republican, so that’s what I assumed at first glance. I ASSUMED, see. But then I read further, which we always should.

In reading Lee’s quote and watch the video, you’ll notice that he doesn’t really say what the headline implies. From what he says, he deplores child exploitation and labor as much as any of us, and his point isn’t that we shouldn’t use our system of laws to protect the innocent. He simply believes that the laws protecting our children should be enacted by STATE legistatures, and not Congress.

I think the headline is misleading, and I think it’s possible that it’s misleading on purpose. With a cursory glance, with no context, someone could easily jump to the conclusion that Mike Lee wants to put children back to work. Burying a factual article beneath an inflammatory headline is a ploy that Fox News uses a LOT. So I’m sensitive to it.

Now, though, to give Huffington Post a little benefit of the doubt, let’s take a step back and look at Mike Lee’s motives for bringing up the whole shebang.

It’s a common theme with Tea Party allies, this argument for taking government from the Federal level and transferring it to the States. I’m not even going to mention how much it sounds like Confederate rhetoric. (You like that? I DID mention it! HA!) Thing is, in some cases, I could actually get behind the idea of letting states decide a few more things for themselves. The issue of state autonomy is ARGUABLE at least, even if  it’s often ill conceived or pointless.

And in this case, I don’t see the point, other than to argue. Child labor laws enacted at the national level WORK FINE in protecting our children. So why bring it up? And why bring it up so early in your career as a national politician? ESPECIALLY considering that, being a constitutional lawyer, Lee could no doubt find a whole slew of other instances where Federally-legislated laws probably aren’t working as well as state-legislated ones would. Right? So why THIS one?

And speaking of Lee’s being a constitutional lawyer: in his speech, he cites Hammer v. Dagenhardt, a Supreme Court decision in 1918 that supported his (Lee’s) assertion that child labor laws enacted at the Federal level are unconstitutional. What he seems to have FAILED to mention was that the Supreme Court overturned its own decision in judging the 1941 case U.S. v. Darby Lumber. They decided UNANIMOUSLY then that the Constitution DID provide Congress with the ability to enact the laws in question.

Why would a constitutional lawyer leave that out? Either Huffington Post omitted him discussing the later ruling, or else it didn’t suit his purposes to bring it up, or he really isn’t a very good constitutional lawyer….