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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Question Of The Day - Raising The Minimum Wage?

Given all of the recent talk about growing economic inequality, the gap between real wages and what these wages can buy, the cost of living, and the effects of long-term unemployment, (I thought it was necessary to put the question of what the American people think about the idea of raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.


In responding, keep the following perspective in mind:

-Congress, our "esteemed" federal legislative body, 50% of which are millionaires whose better-than-decent retirement plan WE taxpayers pay for can vote THEMSELVES a pay raise...
-Athletes who WE pay to watch (in one form or another) can earn millions of dollars a year...
-Corporate officers/CEO's/CFO's of companies WE work for can earn million-dollar salaries and golden parachutes severance packages --ALL because "they earned it."

But WE hard-working Americans can't have a minimum wage in line with the cost of living because it will "destroy jobs?" Some politicians apparently "care" about Americans having "jobs," just not well-paying ones.


Should The Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25 hr. Be Raised?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Voter I.D. -- A Motive In A Snapshot!

Just a little something to think about is rejecting the narrative that new voter identification laws "protect the integrity of the voting process" (funny how the voting process "integrity" wasn't threatened until recent times).


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Disaster Planning Publications - Now Available

Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t been writing and/or blogging as regularly as I have in the past. Although I still manage to keep abreast of many issues—social, political, and financial—my time been consumed by writing and publishing books. My first (among many future) endeavors is a series of crisis manuals based on a crapload of research I had intended for another project.
The first four of these crisis manuals have already been published, and two of them are already listed for sale on both Amazon.com. and Lulu.com. The first is called “The No-Nonsense Guide To Tornado Safety.” The guide is exactly what it appears to be—an 84-page source of information related to knowing about, planning for, and responding to tornadoes. In addition to providing a survey-level understanding of these potential disasters, the guide provides the most up-to-date advice and suggestions by weather and safety experts about what to do in (planning for in) the event that a tornado disaster. The guide gives a brief history of tornadoes and their effects as it relates to planning, as well as a series of appendixes that list—among other things—where publicly assessable tornado shelters (those operated by local municipalities as well as those privately-run) are to be found in the most tornado-prone regions in the country. There is also a state-by-state (province-by-province in Canada) listing for regional government offices charged with disaster-relief, as well a list for charitable organizations whose functions include the same. I designed these series of books to be a one-stop source of safety information on related disasters.

The No-Nonsense Guide To Tornado Safety

• Paperback: 84 pages • Publisher: lulu.com (November 22, 2013) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 1304648648 • ISBN-13: 978-1304648648 • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.2 inches • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounce
Amazon.com
Lulu.com

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

In addition, three more books in the series are also available for sale, with availability on Amazon projected in the future. I also hope to publish ebook versions of my publications when it becomes feasible given my time constraints. “The No-Nonsense Guide To Blizzard Safety,” a book whose subject-matter has become more relevant in recent weeks, is similarly designed to be a one-stop guide for anything and everything related to blizzard safety as well as planning in the event of blizzards.

The No-Nonsense Guide To Blizzard Safety

• Paperback: 54 pages • Publisher: lulu.com (December 21, 2013) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 9781304709394 • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.2 inches • Shipping Weight: 0.28 pounds
Lulu.com
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

The third book in this series is “The No-Nonsense Guide To Flood Safety.”

 • Paperback: 60 pages • Publisher: lulu.com (November 22, 2013) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 1304648613 • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.2 inches
Amazon.com
Lulu.com

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

The final published book in the series is “The No-Nonsense Guide To Hurricane Safety.”


• Paperback: 59 pages • Publisher: lulu.com (December 20, 2013) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 9781304733030 • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.2 inches
Lulu.com
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.
I would urge everyone concerned about their safety and planning for their safety as it relates to natural (and man-made) disasters to purchase these books before the seasons for these events are upon us.

Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Television, Duck Dynasty, & Free Speech...What The Duck...?

Outside of the news and programs that are political, historical, or current-events-oriented (as well as one or two guilty pleasures), there is very little on television which interest me enough to waste my valuable time watching. This goes double for anything that fits into the so-called “reality television” genre of programming; I for the life of me cannot begin to fathom why such mental junk food is so appealing. I suppose it represents the dumbing down of America on the whole. At any rate, it is an issue regarding reality television’s current breakout hit that has me posting yet again an issue that begs discussion.
The issue at hand surrounds the unexplainable-to-sophisticated-minds popularity of the Arts and Entertainment cable network’s “Duck Dynasty” reality television series. Dynasty follows the “day-to-day” life of a mostly backwoods Louisiana living-off-the-land-type redneck family, who happen to run a successful a duck-call manufacturer (if you can believe that). Being dyed-in-the-wool, God-fearing, hard-patriotic, hard-hunting, hard-drinking, hard-fun-loving types of individuals, you can imagine that the family—and their members—might just harbor some attitudes and ideas about life that simply don’t conform to the all-inclusiveness aspirations of a society hell-bent on making everyone happy. Just looking at the family, any such ideas shouldn’t come as a surprise (at the risk of prejudging). But strangely enough, the words and thoughts of an elder from the television-spotlighted family actually shocked a large portion of sensitive Americans.

The cast of "Duck Dynasty"

As a result, once again as a nation we’re forced to confront not only another serving of numbskullery from television network producers, but the fallout from yet another case whereby a television personality is forced to endure the barbs and arrows of those who would seek to police the thinking of those of us who would dare to speak our minds. The issue this time around centers on remarks made by an elder-family member from the mind-numbing weekly show.
In an interview with GQ magazine (here), Phil Robertson, the elder of the now-famous Robertson family the show follows and founder of the family business candidly gave his opinions about—among other things—his thoughts on homosexuality. In responding to the question “what in your mind is sinful,” posed by GQ reporter Drew Magary, the unapologetic conservative Southern Christian responded:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Needless to say, this set off a furor in both the press and society at large. The sanctions came fast and furious; Robertson was suspended from being part of the filming of further episodes of the show. Keep in mind that this was an interview about Robertson’s personal thoughts and views, not a man running for public office or calling a press conference to shout out his beliefs.
More and more, it seems the First Amendment guarantee of Free Speech without government impediments is becoming irrelevant in a society where private enterprise and public interest groups are able to level socioeconomic sanctions that not only attempt to enforce political correctness of thought, but punish words and personal opinions. In fact, given the ubiquity of such policies in the public and private sectors, the way these institutions are able to enforce and impose “corrections” for daring to speak out has more than the force of law itself.  This social policy is more of a threat to our collective civil liberties relating to Free Speech than anything the government is doing at the moment.


Now in the interest of full-disclosure, before this issue came to light, I hadn’t even heard of “Duck Dynasty.” And being agnostic, I can honestly say that I do not purport to know or even predict where a person’s soul goes in the Hereafter due to their actions in the Herenow. But I’ll wager that that “God” is not in the cell phone contacts of anyone presumptuous (and arrogant) enough to inform another person that they are doomed to Hell (or some other spiritual torment) for not embracing someone else’s dogma—I know He/She isn’t in mine. However, I am of the mindset that whenever someone says something stupid, unreasonable, or judgmental, the best means to deal with it is to either ignore it or say something more intelligent and reasonable as a counter. Imposed censorship and/or sanctions, especially whereas they affect a person’s livelihood is not the way to counter a person’s right to express their opinions and thoughts. Regardless of what someone believes, everyone deserves their say—without being forced to the carpet for it.
Any sanctions for expressing one’s personal opinions should come naturally. If a CEO of a major corporation says something offensive to a particular group, then people have a right not to purchase what that firm produces as a natural consequence. If you don’t like what you read here, you have every right to leave a response with something more reasonable to say as a counter to the postings...or you can ignore it altogether and leave. But contacting my employer and telling him that I should be fired for offending your “sensitivities” is not a valid, or even a civilized response. Such actions prevent the free exchange of ideas and thoughts, which is how policies and laws are formed. It is also how we evolve overall as a species.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Obamacare & The Lack of Loyal (Or Smart) Opposition


I have been, and always will be a proponent of the idea that health care should not be a marketable commodity, but a basic right in the same vein as a compulsory public education. Opponents of this notion seem to be missing a clear view of the Big Picture. Sure, it would be nice if we could live in a society where people were allowed to “decide for themselves” to forgo necessary services like health care insurance without tangible repercussions—the ostensible argument made by universal health care opponents. But allowing individuals the “freedom” to make decisions that on the surface don’t seem capable of affecting others flies in the face of sound fiscal economics. For instance, allowing individuals the right to drop out of school will invariably cost society more in the long run. Study after study points to a lack of basic education (opportunities) tends to result increased chances of becoming reliant of welfare, fewer job prospects, and higher probabilities of being incarcerated—all of which have a burdensome economic impact on society as a whole.
The uninsured tend to cost everyone—insured and uninsured alike—more in the long run due to their propensity to allow minor health concerns to evolve into major health issues, their lack of engaging in preventative health care regimes, and the higher cost they incur for later attending of health care concerns—all of which resulting in higher costs for health-related services, insurance premiums, and percentage of government’s part subsidizing these increased costs.
President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) was the first major attempt in decades to provide a sizable chunk of uninsured Americans a modicum of health care coverage, and address this financially unsustainable health care regime. As radical an idea as it is, Obamacare is something of a compromise; it leverages aspects of the open market to attempt to increase coverage for more Americans while avoiding the stigma of “socialism” inherent in the European model of a single-payer plan—despite passing the initiative with a “supermajority” of Democrats in Congress. Naysayers' predictable doom and gloom for the ACA from the start. Supporters reluctantly embraced the hope that the ACA would be a welcome alternative to unaffordability and arbitrary rejection for those with preexisting conditions (which the ACA prohibited). But let’s just say it…Obamacare (as it had been dubbed) seems to be headed due south in the popularity department. And the issues regarding the government-sponsored online insurance sign-up registry hasn’t helped its likability.
And while I certainly don’t need the likes of Sarah Palin to inform me that Obamacare doesn’t seem to be finding its successful footing, the fact she manages to continue to secure airtime in her attempt to maintain political relevancy says a lot about why we in America cannot provide a serious application to revamp health care affordability. Sure, Palin and her ilk love to chant “get rid of Obamacare,” but when asked to provide an alternative to doing so, the crickets take over. We got a chance to witness this reality last week on NBC’s Today show when host Matt Lauer allowed Palin to once again-seemingly successfully I might add—hit the snooze button on her 15 minutes of fame. Predictably, Palin engaged in so many oppositional talking points that the “interview” (for want of a better term) seemed like two people in the same room having 2 different conversations at times (watch below).
video

Palin’s positions lacked substance, suggestions, or anything beyond the assertion that Obamacare was in fact an exercise “socialism” that was worthy of shutting down the government in an effort to repeal the new law. As Lauer struggled to get Palin to nail down a less ambiguous alternative to addressing the unaffordability of health care insurance, Palin responded with more talking points and counter policy ambiguities. It was like listening to a child explain why cooties are bad…totally unable to define what they are, but speak a great deal as to why they are “bad.” And this exchange is a testament as to why health insurance affordability and/or coverage will always be an issue that probably won’t be addressed substantively any time soon.—the lack of loyal opposition to what we have now.
What passes for opposition to the ACA currently is nothing more than vague references to “socialism,” and how bad it is. There are no alternatives coming from the opposition. The 1 or 2 there are involve nothing “tax credits” and “other suggestions offered by Republicans” that fail to address the issue at heart. Anything remotely tied to the old, outdated system of employer-based health insurance—when our service-based economy doesn’t pay the average worker enough to afford getting sick, yet alone paying for any hospitalization—isn’t going to work…tax credits notwithstanding. Allowing “job creators” to maintain the freedom to decide who they will cover and who they will not doesn’t allow for “spreading risks” needed to lower costs. And allowing self-serving dullards like Palin, who have nothing more to contribute to the discourse other than vagueness, ambiguities, and ideological talking points that don’t amount to anything more than ramblings of political opportunists who profess to “love America” doesn’t do anything other than continue to entrench our country in political fragmentation.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Will The Real Tea Party Please Stand Up...?

Note:  Apologies to those who are regular readers to BTPS.  I have been working on a few projects to be published soon.  Needless to say that these projects have kept me noticeably absent from regular blogging. However, I promise that I will soon be back to full-blogging strength here and on my various other blogs.

When you’re dead, you don’t actually know you’re dead; it just affects those around you. Being a political extremist in America is a lot like being dead; you don’t know you’re an extremist, but it affects those around you just the same. One of two major differences between the two realities is that the dead cannot convince themselves that they are dead—as they are absent of consciousness—while those who make their intellectual homes with the margins of political fringe thinking can routinely convince themselves that they are “true patriots” or “real Americans.” The rest of us apparently are self-delusional, intellectual dullards who took the blue pill.
Now that Congress has successfully kicked the budget can down the road until early next year, it should become apparent that this is the reality of the state of politics within our government. Egged-on by the “real Americans” known as the Tea Party, favorite party son, Senator Ted Cruz of Florida led a doomed-from-the-start effort to tie creating a federal budget deal to continue to run the government’s day-to-day business with his (and the Tea Party’s) disdain for President Obama’s signature health care reform law, hoping to get the last defunded—or revoked entirely. Ostensibly, this effort on the part of Cruz to revoke funding for the health care law was to trim the budget and curtail federal spending by the government. If it were the true motive, it would indeed be laudable. However (and at the risk of painting all Tea Party-backed


                     Florida Republican Senator (and Tea Party favorite) Ted Cruz

Congressmen with a broad paintbrush), most of the grandstanding on the part of Cruz and his Congressional cohorts was mostly political, a transparent effort to garner favor with the “real Americans” back in their home districts (although I will concede the benefit of the doubt and grant that not every member of the Tea Party caucus in Congress are as self-interests-driven as Cruz and the other “patriots”). Needless to say, despite being cheered on by supporters, the effort failed miserably. In fact, this effort on Cruz and the Tea Party’s part to avoid compromising on any budget proposal in exchange revoking funding for Obama’s (bad attempt to reform) health care failed to not only trim government spending, but the resulting government shutdown cost the country some $24 billion in lost economic output according to the Standard and Poor’s ratings agency (see: “How Much Did the Shutdown Cost The Economy?”). Even anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist called

Cruz and his allies as “defund terrorists.” Norquist previously slammed those who tried to use the government shutdown to roll back the Affordable Care Act by saying, “They hurt the conservative movement, they hurt people’s health care, they hurt the country’s economic situation and they hurt the Republican Party” (“Grover Norquist Slams Ted Cruz”).

Already, Cruz and many within the Tea party have attributed the failure of the effort to defund Obamacare and the lack of any tangible results—at least by their standards—to “turncoat” mainstream Republicans who dared to strike a compromise rather than support the Tea party’s failed effort. Of course it would never cross their minds of Cruz and the Tea Party that they represent an extreme point of view, that they lack general support because of this, or that they are on the fringes of political ideology…it’s the rest of us. It's what they "see," not how they see it that's at fault.  Of course!
Part of their philosophy (and political strategy) is to "prove" how “overstated” forced spending cuts like those from the sequester from earlier this year, the shutdown from 2 weeks ago, and failure to raise the deficit ceiling is, and that such sudden spending halts would be more beneficial to the nation’s fiscal solvency than the harm that almost every reputable economist has projected.  But to Tea Partiers, the more level-headed among the rest of us are either “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only), “liberals,” “brainwashed by the media,” or “socialists.” Their mantra is simply to “stop government spending,” with no hint or reasonable suggestion as to how.
A proposed Balanced Budget Amendment wouldn’t work simply because inflexible requirements to spend within a budgetary limit every year are not realistic—they do not account for cycles of economic boom and bust and the need to readjust spending to compensate. And inserting provisions to allow for exceeding budget spending limits based on exigent circumstances wouldn’t work because—as we have seen—the two major parties can’t even agree on what day of the week it is, yet along be expected to compromise on major spending issues such as what defines extenuating circumstances that calls for more (or less) spending.
All-out cutting much needed programs would harm those who need them (although I will admit that some programs are surely riddled with costly lack of oversight and (as a result) abuse.  And besides that, austerity spending measures worked so "well" in Europe... (sarcasm alert).
Reforming entitlements is a good start, but let’s face it…neither party wants to give up any sacred cows that might cost their membership(or their party) an election or legislative control. What will work? Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers, but holding policymaking hostage to ideological demands, and basing policy on ideology rather than the reality of need and pragmatism is definitely not the way.  However, the most logical start to balancing the budget would be a combination of taxes and hard-choice spending cuts (which includes accounting for every paperclip or errant piece of paper if necessary).
The Tea Party has proven itself capable of exerting political pressure, getting their favorite elected officials to office, and organizing itself into a formidable political force. But its extremist views and rigid adherence to ideology (rather than reality) does not benefit all Americans (deny if you will, but it’s the truth). This organized group counts among its membership (and supports) the most intolerant and xenophobic of Americans. Those who have kept up with their various marches, rallies, and public protests have seen the pictures and heard the quotes—they are present at almost every numerically significant Tea Party rally (I provided a few in the event that denies attempt to portray these appearances as aberrations with the organization).
Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch (a conservative political advocacy group) and Tea Party ally during the government shutdown. According to Klayman, American is "ruled by a president who bows down to Allah," and "is not a president of 'we the people.'" "I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come up with his hands out" (see: “Larry Klayman Defends Obama-Islam Link”). 

Its funny how being dead and being a political extremist in America seem to have some things in common. The other major difference between the two is that it seems to be easier to convince of a dead person of their station in life than to convince one of these so-called “real Americans” that they are not purveyors of true American ideas, but are obstructionists who could refocus their goals and energy on something that could benefit all Americans, and not just those who they deem as “real Americans”—their rhetoric about “personal rights” notwithstanding.

Tea Party supporter and protester Michael Ashmore stands in front of the White House recently during the Congressional breakdown in budget talks and the attempt to defund Obamacare by Senator Ted Cruz the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Opinion: "I'm So Sick of "Crazy" People!"

I have a big problem with individuals with a past history of some sort of mental illness—diagnosed or otherwise—committing mass shootings or other crimes involving mass casualties. More to the point, it’s mass shootings involving “troubled individuals” that causes me to lose my objectivity and riles my dander.
In many cases, such “troubled” individuals seem to have an innate urge to inflict mass casualties on the youngest, most vulnerable of us—children or adults gathered public places such as schools, houses of worship, or other centers of public accommodation. Yesterday, another such instance was averted in Decatur, Georgia. During the incident, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill walked into the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy with an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons. Hill held staff members in the front office captive, all the while terrorizing the campus by firing his rifle into the air and at arriving police officers. One of the captives, a bookkeeper talked Hill down from what by all indications was his attempt to commit a mass casualty shooting at the school. He eventually gave himself up before going through with his telegraphed intent (See: “Michael Brandon Hill, Accused Georgia School Gunman, Threatened to Kill Brother, Police Say”).

Would-be school shooter and mass-murderer Michael Brandon Hill Booking Photo

During the time he held the staff captive, Hill indicated that he had wanted to die, and that he “was sorry for what he was doing.” And of course, it was revealed after Hill’s arrest that he had past issues of “mental issues.” I take umbrage with the issue of “mental issues” being the cause of such offenses. I simply refuse to believe that such individuals are not “crazy” as such. They have enough presence of mind to know that attacking children would tug at the heartstrings of most Americans in the worst way. They seem to have a sense that hurting innocent children (or innocent adults) inflicts emotional pain, outrage, and grief on their loved ones, and pretty much garners the nation’s attention. 
I would submit that this need to attention, even infamy, speaks to a reality that such individuals are not so divorced from reality or even lucid thinking that they are not aware of their actions.
We have become a nation mental and emotional hypochondriacs, ever-ready to blame our deep-seated unresolved emotional and mental/”mental” issues on whatever malady gives us a pass to excuse our own negative behaviors.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I can recall a time when people would embrace denial about mental and emotional issues that only slightly impaired their social functionality and ability to interact; most would do anything to avoid such labels (and their social implications). But somewhere along the line, we lowered our aversion to being stigmatized by mental/emotional impairments. It’s now gotten to the point where we as a nation are hair-trigger quick to use such impairments as an excuse for our lack of self-restraint and discipline. I can recall once during my years as a long-term substitute teachers working with at-risk (read: “mentally/emotionally-impaired”) youth where one such labeled student told me, “You can’t make me do that…I’m ‘Special Ed.’”
I would think that those with true debilitating mental and emotional issues would be offended by so many claiming to be so “impaired.” It’s like when a persistent man enamored with a woman pursues her for a date; many so pursued women will threaten legal action for being “stalked.” Labeling every infatuated man looking for a date as a “stalker” weakens the impact and legitimacy of the offense. It’s the same with calling every personal issue a debilitating “emotional-” or “mental issue;” it weakens the legitimacy of those who suffer from true mental impairment.
I’ve seen kids and adults with supposed “anger-management issues,” who “take drugs for my issues” manage to control those same supposed “issues” when confronted with truly angry individuals who have no scruples about teaching them their place on the social pecking order. It’s both laughable and quite annoying at the same time.
Bradley Manning, the former army soldier who was sentenced yesterday to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military information to the online whistleblower site, WikiLakes, asserted his "gender-identity issues" as a contributing factor for his actions.
In 2005, an armed federal air marshal shot and killed a man on an airplane in Miami because he had claimed to "have a bomb in his carry-on backpack," while running up and down the aisle of the airplane frantically. Despite his history of "bi-polar" issues (as revealed by family members), he had enough of a grasp on reality to know that saying "bomb" on an airplane in a post 9/11, still-alarmed America would garner a response of panic among those on board.
We truly need to stop allowing people to use supposed “mental” and “emotional” issues as an excuse for engaging in behavior which is fully within their ability to control. We tend to criticize those with self-restraint and discipline as being “uptight” and/or “prudish.” But there is a great deal we can learn from such individuals, such as self-control and personal responsibility for one's own actions.
There is “crazy” and there is crazy. What Michael Hill did Tuesday was not “crazy;” it was a calculated action, despite his history of bi-polar issues. “Crazy” would be Hill or some other “disturbed” individual walking onto a military base or inside a police station full of armed and trained men more than willing to shoot back if threatened in the same manner school children occasionally are.
video

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Health Care Conundrum – A Personal Narrative



Note: I realize that Beyond The Political Spectrum has many readers from various European countries. And in acknowledge of this fact, I have taken the liberty of converting American dollar values to Euros in order to give this issue some contextual clarification.

There’s a young man with whom I work with—let’s call him “John”—who happens to share the same predicament which thousands, if not millions of Americans are forced to endure. Twenty-something year-old “John” has a wife and two young children. As the only current breadwinner in his family, John is looking to purchase health insurance coverage for his entire family. The problem “John” has is that he only earns $9.00 an hour (approximately €6.70), while the health insurance offered by his employer is prohibitively expensive.
How expensive? According to the prices listed on the copy of the Benefits (Plan) Selection I obtained, the cost to “John” to cover his family of four with the basic, no-frills plan (with a high deductable between $2,500 and $5,000/€3356 and €6712) is $420.76 (€318.63), deducted from his paycheck bi-weekly. Those of you with a firm grasp of math can immediately see the problem. Earning only $9.00 an hour, multiplied by 40 hours a week, “John” brings home approximately $720 bi-weekly (€536). That means that over half of his take home pay would go to pay for health care coverage for himself and his family. From what’s left over, he has to cover rent, utilities, and basics like food. Because the particular health care option—the only option—the employer offers is so expensive, “John” and other employees have opted to go without.

This personal anecdote came to mind as I took note of the recent vote in the House of Representatives in Congress. Two weeks ago, the Republican majority in Congress’ lower chamber voted for the 40-somethingth time to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act we know as “Obamacare.” Ignoring for the moment that the majority of these same opponents of the new health care law were shouting to the top of their collective lungs during last year’s presidential elections that the economy was the biggest concern of the American people, it’s pretty hard for anyone to rationally reconcile how trying to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act jives with fixing our broken economy. Among some Republican leadership, this dim reality had been acknowledged. Old School Republican and former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently chided the current Republican legislators in Congress when he reminded them that “congressional Republicans would have ‘zero answer’ for how to replace the president's health care overhaul when asked, despite their having voted repeatedly to repeal the measure” (See: “GOP Pushes Rising Stars Amid Calls For Solutions”).
Sure, there‘s a lot of rhetoric being bandied around about how Obamacare is a “job-killer” (and yes, there is some anecdotal instances that some jobs may be adversely affected by implementation of the new law), but the lack of any Republican-sponsored alternative to reforming the current economically unsustainable health care finance model indicates that simple economics is not at the heart of opposition to reform. It’s more likely that not allowing the president and his Democratic allies a policy victory is at the center of the opposition.
If in fact, reforming how we pay for health care in this country were an actual priority, then simply cutting government spending in expendable areas is the most obvious place to start. Both people and the leadership we elect have to consider making the hard choices when it comes to spending priorities. Do we want the ability to be able to pay for healthcare, or is funding programs like Head Start—a program whose overall effectiveness as a kick start to fostering positive childhood experiences in school (and in life) is still a matter of debate—more important? Do we take steps to eliminate the chief reason for Americans filing bankruptcy year-to-year—the inability to pay prohibitively costly medical bills—or do we continue to pay for wars on countries that aren’t an actual threat to our nation’s security and interests? Do we create an atmosphere whereby people like “John” can afford to cover his families with health insurance, or do we continue to give “job-generating” tax breaks to “job creators.” Job Creators…you know, those people who provide people like “John” with $9.00 an hour jobs that offer us health insurance options that we cannot afford to pay for?
As I think of “John” in the context of political opposition to health care affordability, it’s hard to ignore the irony that the officials we elect to craft policies such as health care affordability are comfortably covered by the government-sponsored insurance which “John’s” taxes pay for.

See also: “Universal Healthcare - How Other Countries Do It” and “The Real Health Insurance Industry -- An Insider Look At The Industry

Sunday, July 28, 2013

National Security, Electronic Surveillance, And Civil Liberties - A Rational Perspective



Last post, I touched on the issue of electronic domestic surveillance by the federal government. I focused primarily on Edward Snowden, and his now international—for want of a better term—crusade to bring the extent of the government’s efforts to the attention of the American people (See: "Will The Real Ed Snowden Stand Up?"). Yes, I agree that Snowden’s since then escapades on the global stage have turned the issue more into a focus on his celebrity more than the issue itself, but there is a bigger picture within the “Edward Snowden Show” that needs attention. That often overlooked issue is that of the complexity of maintaining the balance between preserving the civil liberties and privacy concerns of Americans and working to preserve the security of the nation on the whole in the post-9/11 world.
How can Americans understand the necessity of this balance, and appreciate the need to go to extraordinary lengths in extraordinary times…especially when half of the people see the government in the worst light, and the other half rely too much on it? For the record, there are checks and balances built into the government’s efforts with regard to using electronic surveillance to thwart would-be terrorists. The information gathered tends to be peripheral rather than detailed content acquisition. Secondly, the focus is on those within the nation’s borders who might have contact with those outside the country, who are of questionable intent (yes, I’m fully aware and understand that those who might be able to cognitively process this concept may still harbor mistrust of the government—without a basis—based on preconceived thinking, some from the “they’re going to take our gun crowd” and some from the “this is another way the rich maintain power” crowd)
Now, with that being said, Friday night on HBO’S “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the comedian/social critic used the final segment of his weekly “New Rules” segment to speak a great level of level-headed sense into how we should approach the issue of the government’s eavesdropping policies. If you are willing to suspend your ability to be irritated by delivery and focus on the message (not the messenger), please give Maher’s cold-water perspective the government’s electronic surveillance a look…and maybe come away with something other than a bumper-sticker slogan about policy.

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