Liberalrag’s Blog

So Much, So Fast–Movie Review

This documentary is set soon after its subject, Stephen Heywood, is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.  It is a ruthless disease that takes the vast majority of its victims to their death within five years of diagnosis.  The intervening five years are a hellish dissent into paralysis of your entire body. 

We watch as Stephen turns from an able-bodied carpenter to a person unable to use his hands.  From conceiving his own child to imagining a third person in the bedroom to help satisfy his wife.  From an outspoken jester to a man with increasingly slurred speech…until it leaves him altogether.  The last glimpse we see of Stephen, he is on a permanent respirator and only able to communicate through the pushing of buttons located on his wheelchair’s headrest.  It is a sad and debilitating disease.  At one point, Stephen denies he is a fighter, but the dignity and grace he showed in the face of such a grim prognosis proves him otherwise.

Yet, the movie is not only about him.  It is equally about his family, and in particular his brother Jamie.  When discovering the illness faced by his brother, Jamie quits his day job and establishes a foundation to find a cure for his brother in time to save his life.  Similar to the ruthlessness that the disease attacks Stephen’s body, Jamie attacks his new vocation.

Jamie faces ridicule from peers who conduct their research in a more conventional manner due to his cavalier approach, from those who provide him with the foundation’s funding due to his excessive spending, and from his very own wife for his inattention to their relationship.  Jamie’s focus and aggressiveness is admirable, but you can’t help but believe he is in a losing battle against the disease and his own well being.

However, the real hero in the movie is Stephen, who faces a certain ending with dignity, humor, and voice for life.  3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

The Kulas Rating Guide:

  • One Star:  If I believed in burning books or movies, please find the nearest burning bush;
  • Two Stars:  Don’t burn it, but don’t watch it;
  • Three Stars:  Average…if you are bored and have it, you could watch it…but, there probably is a good book somewhere you would enjoy much more;
  • Four Stars:  Find it, watch it, enjoy it. 
  • Five Stars:  If you miss this movie, you truly are not a “movie buff.”  Stop what you are doing, get this movie, and watch it now!!!

Feeling Sick Yet? An Examination of America’s Health Care System (Part V)

As I’ve written in prior posts, today’s American health insurance companies have already adopted a socialistic method for funding your health care services.  See Part IV here:

In order to receive insurance coverage, you are required to pay into a collective pool established by the insurer for the benefit of the whole group.  Yet, these health insurance companies bilk billions in profits from its consumers and use it to pay shareholders, executives, and to cover their behinds in the latest corporate scandal (e.g.,  Unitedhealth Group).  These billions of dollars would be better served remaining in the health care industry to insure the uninsured, providing better care and facilities, and streamlining the administration of claims.  Instead, those billions are pulled out of the system and the money we all have paid is never returned to us in services.

Are their better options out there for the United States to emulate?  Undeniably, yes.  Today, there is only one industrialized country which fails to provide all its citizens with basic health care coverage.  That one country also happens to be the wealthiest nation to have ever existed.  That means the United States is only lagging Germany by about 125 years, as they were the first country in the world to mandate health insurance in 1883.  Yet, Germany is certainly not alone.  Countries with universal health care include:

Japan, Kuwait, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Singapore, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia (not the Georgia represented by Saxby Chambliss, of course), Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and many many more:

One country, Canada, in my opinion, has the best approach.  I like Canada’s solution because:

  1. It is probably the most easily understood of all the universal health care systems.  This is no small accomplishment when attempting to dumb it down for American consumption.  In fact, I believe one of the great failures of HilaryCare, as it is now infamously known, was the fact it was impossible to understand and explain.  If your target audience doesn’t understand what you are trying to do for them, they will think you are trying to do it to them;
  2. The Canadian system outperforms the American system in virtually any meaningful statistic used in evaluating a national health care system.  Actually, this fact is not uncommon when comparing the United States’ health care system to any universal health care system throughout the world.  I will analyze many of these statistical facts in future installments.  So, I guess in the end, I like Canada’s system because it is so easy for this dumb American to understand.

The Canadians have implemented a single-payer system.  It is basically socialized health insurance.  Their government, as administered through each individual province, is the health insurer for each citizen.  The government pays its private doctors and private and public hospitals on a fee for service basis.  Essentially, think of Unitedhealth Group without the loss of billions of dollars to executives, corruption, and lobbying efforts.  Canadians are not faced with health care coverage decisions tied to employment, so they may quit and accept another job or move across the country without fear of losing insurance for their family.  Of course, this system is easily adaptable for use in America and the various states, which could model Canada andits various provinces. 

I’m not alone in advocating a Canadian style single payer system in the United States.  People a lot smarter than me have chimed in as well…and not all of them are your usual left-wing suspects, like me.  Physicians for a National Health Program (“PNHP”) is a leading advocate of a single-payer system.  PNHP has an organization of 15,000 members made up of physicians, medical students, and health professionals.  These are the exact Americans who treat patients and witness the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies of the current system on a daily basis.  I tend to trust their recommendations more than a Unitedhealth Group lobbyist, Rush Limbaugh, or Norm Coleman:

Over the coming installments on this issue, I will show how the Canadian system is superior to the American national health care system.  Is a single payer system perfect?  No.  Can we improve upon the Canadian model?  Probably.  But, one thing I know for certain;  a single payer Canadian type approach is infinitely better than the broken system currently utilized by the United States.

Feeling Sick Yet? An Examination of America’s Health Care System (Part IV)

In my prior three posts on this topic, I have posited big picture items as they relate to America’s health care system.  See Part III here:

I have shown how Republicans, in their endless compulsion to label, have effectively demonized universal health care as socialized medicine.  Yet, I have shown how our private health insurance companies continue to adopt socialism as their economic model in the way they require contributions from every individual, not based on need or services rendered, but based on the need of the collective group.

I have discussed the reasons behind the Republicans’ scare tactics by examining just one company, Unitedhealth Group.  Billions in profits, millions more in executive compensation, and still millions more wasted on corporate and CEO malfeasance.  That money is taken out of the hands of consumers and placed in the backpockets of the wealthy.  Instead of using those billions more wisely to provide requisite services, focusing on preventative medicine, and insuring all Americans, the money instead is lost down a cesspool of corporate greed and corruption. 

If you will permit, I would like one additional big picture day, before I begin to compare and contrast America’s health care system and its results with the rest of the world.  I want this one additional day to address the question of whether health care in the United States should properly be considered a right or a responsibility.  That was the exact question posed to the candidates at one of the three presidential debates this year.  Neither of them answered it sufficiently:

Grandpa McCain, in between his free of charge colonoscopies and cancer screenings, stated that health care in the United States was a responsibility.  Meaning, every single individual was “responsible” for ensuring they could gain access to affordable health insurance.  Only in the Christian right-wing orthodoxy could someone advocate forcing all pregnancies to term, then in their next breath state that a newly born infant was somehow responsible for finding health insurance.  I realize that my summation of McCain’s response is taking his position to the extreme, but it isn’t an extreme for many Republicans who advocate the abolition of Medicaid and Social Security.  How anyone calling themselves a Christian can support such an immoral stance is beyond me.

On the flip side, Obama clearly intoned that health care is a right afforded every American citizen.  He has support for his answer by many on the left, including Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr.:

Jackson advocates a Constitutional Amendment codifying a basic right to health care for every American.  While I do not necessarily believe such an Amendment is required to recognize that the document does inherently afford each and every American such protection, Jackson’s position correctly points out that placing it explicitly in the Constitution prevents subsequent governments from taking the right away without amending the Constitution a second time.  Let’s not forget that the Constitution was previously amended to prohibit the sale, manufacture, and transportation of another much less consequential commodity, which was later repealed (i.e., liquor).

To me, health care is a right and a responsibility.  As I watched that debate, I sat quietly and listened to McCain.  I knew his answer would lack any reason or coherence.  I rose from the couch as Obama began to talk, thinking, incorrectly, that he would nail the response by providing an answer noting the dual necessity for thinking of health care as a right and responsibility.  Instead he failed as well, and I unleashed a trail of expletives usually only reserved for the current head coach of the Minnesota Vikings on any random Sunday.

Yes, health care is both a right and a responsibility.  It is a right in that any nation purportedly representing the equality of all its citizens must recognize that the one factor potentially placing even the newest of its citizens at a decided disadvantage is the lack of access to affordable health care.  How can a child viewed as an equal to another, when the first is lacking proper immunizations?  How can one child who loses her mother to a preventable disease be on equal footing to another child from a wealthy family with access to the best doctors and hospitals?  Access to health care is one area where we as a society can guarantee everyone is competing from a level playing field.  In that respect, it is a right inherent in our Constitution. 

Yet, it is a responsibility in that Americans need to take ownership of their family’s health.  Grossly obese children is pandemic in the United States.  People don’t eat properly and working out has become anathema to a busy and involved populace.  Trigger locks should be made mandatory on guns.  Even more public pressure should be directed at people to give up their cigarettes.  Nobody expects perfection and a bunch of hard bodies running around American streets.  I know I don’t need the distraction of more such women.  But, our leaders can and should demand more responsibility from the nation’s citizens.  After all, we already all pay for such overindulgence through the socialized private health care system.

Environmental Terrorism

Debra Saunders, one of the columnists I regularly read in order to receive a balanced viewpoint, is once again touting her version of environmental terrorism.

She, again, is wrong on an important issue affecting billions of people.  She appears to question man’s contribution to global warming.  She is actually claiming the Earth isn’t warming.  Usually, skeptics argue the Earth is warming due to natural causes beyond the control of humans.  She just blatantly lies and seems to indicate the Earth isn’t even warming.  In fact, in the past 15 years or so, we have seen the hottest annual temperatures ever recorded.  She claims that adjustments to NASA records actually showed 1934 was actually hotter than 1998 and 2005, which are in a virtual tie for hottest years on record.  But, what she fails to reveal is that this is a United States anomaly.  1934 is the hottest year on record in the United States, but that is like saying because Dumbfuck, Alabama, sets a new record low temperature on one particular July morning, climate change is bunk.  Why do some Americans think the world starts and ends within our borders?  Regardless of those change to NASA records, 1998 and 2005 are still the hottest years on record globally, not 1934.  A good book to read on the entire subject is The Hot Topic by Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King.  They are much more reliable than conservative kingpin Debra Saunders.

I’m so tired of conservatives lying or deceiving in order to build up their side of the truth.  Does it really build up their sense of self worth to use lies and deception to win an argument?  Look no further than money to determine a Conservative’s motivation.  Republicans represent industry, corporate America, defense contractors, polluters, and big money.  All those entities have a vested interest in polluting as much as possible.  All those entities contribute vast piles of cash to the GOP.  Liberals represent the air you breathe, the water you drink, the animals and plants increasingly dependent on us for their survival, etc.  There is no cash to be found in those constituencies. 

Debra Saunders is this weeks #1 environmental terrorist for lies and deception aimed at maintaining the status quo for poisoning our environment and children.  Congratulations!!!

Feeling Sick Yet? An Examination of America’s Health Care System (Part III)

In my last installment examining the American health care system, I pointed out how even the private health insurance companies in the United States have adopted a socialistic economic model.  See it here:

In essence, all insurance programs work that way, as it is the only effective way of balancing risks and rewards for the company and the consumer.  So, if we obtain our insurance through private companies we are contributing our share in premiums for the collective good of all who contribute.  Regardless of whether we eat properly, work out regularly, and refuse to smoke, we still pay for the benefit of overweight drug addict slobs like Rush Limbaugh.  That is about as socialistic as it gets.  As I said in my previous entry, Republicans repeatedly claim that free markets and private enterprise are always right.  I say we take them at their word in this instance and socialize the entire health insurance industry.

Yet, those aren’t the only arguments why a socialistic model works when it comes to providing health insurance.  The reasons are numerous and I will explore them over future installments.  And, just like in other debates, the accusations thrown out by Republicans are deceptive and outright lies.  Again, they are the masters of scare tactics.  For example, their main argument against universal health care I’ve already debunked in these few short words.  Talk universal health care and the Pavlovian response from every inbred Republican is one word;  socialism.  It really isn’t their fault.  It’s almost a nervous tick.  So, despite the fact that all insurance is essentially “socialist” in nature, the Republican school of thought in responding to such suggestions is really without thought.  “Socialism,” they scream!  The rest of us should respond, “Yes,” and hand them a Kleenex.

Moving the responsibility of providing health insurance away from private companies to the government would have one big concomitant benefit.  It would remove all motivation for profit from the equation.  The push for profits, normally a beneficial thing, is contrary to what should be the nation’s primary goal in providing health insurance.  The health care provided a nation’s citizens should not be subject to the whims of the free market.

Let’s look at one company, Unitedhealth Group, Inc.  Here is their income statement from the previous year:

In their quarter ending 09/30/2008, they had net income of nearly one billion dollars.  Yep, you read that right.  One billion dollars profit in one single quarter of business. 

Meaning, the health insurance premiums they received from everyday Americans and their employers was nowhere near met with equal services provided.  Is that what we want from our health insurance providers?  Profit at all costs?  They can accomplish such profits by:

  1. Denying services where possible;
  2. Refusing to insure “risky” consumers at every turn;
  3. Requiring consumers to negotiate a myriad of restrictions and qualifications prior to obtaining health services;
  4. Restricting doctors a consumer is qualified to see;
  5. Requiring the imposition of additional fees, co-pays, deductibles, etc., which are hidden, until a patient is sick or requires medical attention.

Additionally, these profit factories pay their executives exorbitant salaries in the millions of dollars:

As you can see from the link, more than one executive receives millions in compensation.  Which, of course, leads to the occasional free market scandal which has become so prevalent in today’s capitalist system:

So, billions in profits for health insurance companies and their shareholders.  Billions more for their executives and CEOs.  Billions more wasted on scandals in which the consumer and shareholders are cheated.  Placing the responsibility on government to provide health insurance would essentially remove all that wasted money.  Rather than billions on profits, salaries, and corruption, money spent for health care coverage could actually be provided to consumers in doctor’s visits, immunizations, preventative medicine, and universal coverage. 

The arguments in favor of universal coverage are nearly limitless.  I’ll continue to cover them and push Obama and his team to guarantee medical access to all Americans.  The time for such action was decades ago, but Republicans and their fears of socialism have stood in the way for thirty years.  Thirty years of wasted time and useless arguments.  No wonder they are on a sinking ship.

Tropic Thunder–Movie Review

Why does it seem a harder task for a movie to make me laugh these days?  Am I getting old and grumpy as I approach forty?  Is it the uncertain economic times?  Is it the constant bombardment of bad news we all receive daily in our newspapers, on our televisions, and through our computers?  Or, are truly funny movies just not made anymore?

I can think of a host of movies I saw before 30 that made me laugh hysterically.  They included Planes, Trains & Automobiles, The Jerk, Stripes, There’s Something About Mary, Fargo, and the Graduate.  But, maybe today’s humor has been lost on me.

I wanted to see Tropic Thunder for a few reasons.  I heard it was funny.  I heard Tom Cruise delivered a side-splitting cameo (He was entertaining, but not gut-busting).  There were some minor controversies surrounding the depiction of the mentally disabled and Robert Downey Jr. playing an entire role in black face.

I found this film mildly humorous.  It had its moments, and in my opinion, the best involved Robert Downey Jr.  I’m far from advocating everyone adhere to my version of political correctness, therefore, the black face and black stereotypes displayed in the movie didn’t particularly bother me.  Nor did the depiction of Ben Stiller playing a mentally disabled stable boy.  In fact, the funniest portion of the movie came when the two politically incorrect moments were mixed together.  Downey had a hilarious routine where his character offered a stinging critique of Ben Stiller’s character’s choice of a role that went “full retard.” 

In the end, this movie isn’t really even poking fun at African-Americans nor the mentally challenged.  It is really poking the entire Hollywood movie making industry in the ribs.  From its depiction of agents demanding their clients receive Tivo in the middle of the jungle set, and studio executives displaying their God complex, to each actor believing the entire movie revolves around them and their role. 

I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a classic.  3 1/2 stars out of five.

The Kulas Rating Guide:

  • One Star:  If I believed in burning books or movies, please find the nearest burning bush;
  • Two Stars:  Don’t burn it, but don’t watch it;
  • Three Stars:  Average…if you are bored and have it, you could watch it…but, there probably is a good book somewhere you would enjoy much more;
  • Four Stars:  Find it, watch it, enjoy it. 
  • Five Stars:  If you miss this movie, you truly are not a “movie buff.”  Stop what you are doing, get this movie, and watch it now!!!

What Am I Thankful For in 2008?

I’m thankful for so many things this year, including:

1.  The love of my daughter and wife;

2.  The opportunity to love them both back;

3.  A good job with a good company in these trying times;

4.  The fact I got laid before ever even getting out of bed on Thanksgiving morning;

5.  That I live in the greatest country in the world;

6.  The opportunity to vote for Barack Obama;

7.  George Bush is almost done;

8.  My health;

9.  Peanut M & Ms;

10.  The transparency of America’s electoral system.  Has anyone checked this out?  You can actually see challenged ballots from the Minnesota Senate election and track who should receive the vote for each ballot.  They have about 600 of the over 5000 challenged ballots on the Star Tribune website.  I’ve done 90, thusfar.  So far, I’ve given 40 of the ballots to Coleman, 37 to Franken, and 13 to other/none.  Not good for my candidate, but how many other countries would even afford me that opportunity?

11.  Did I mention I got laid this morning?

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Feeling Sick Yet? An Examination of America’s Health Care System (Part II)

Republicans love labels.  They really are amazingly short when it comes to developing new ideas.  And, like Napoleon, another famous shorty, when you are short, you go on the attack.  If you want to hide your own degradation of the environment, you call the other side the tree-hugging granola crowd.  If you have serious issues with right-wing religious wackos, you whisper that your opponent may be a Muslim.  If you love war and enriching corporations that supply and service you war engine, yet you won’t guarantee our troops adequate protection in the field nor care at home, you call the other side unpatriotic and accuse them of failing to support the troops.  If you wish to maintain the status quo where the rich get richer and the poor are thrown overboard by the Republican pirates, then any move that the other side makes to upset the apple cart is called liberal, Marxist, or socialist. 

The socialist label became a very familiar refrain in Republican circles this year.  Fox News, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and nearly every other Republican tried to scare the pants off every American voter by alleging the socialists were here to take over the country.  But, in a year when so many Americans have already been stripped of their pants and were down to their underwear due to Republican economic injustices, those scare tactics were not as effective in 2008.

The socialist label was thrown out largely in response to Obama’s plan to raise taxes on persons making $250,000 or more.  Because of the economic crisis enveloping the whole world, health care was rarely discussed in the campaign.  But, when that topic is broached again in the coming year or two, you can bet your increasing deductible payment that Republicans are ready with their label making machine.  They’ll stamp “socialism” on the end of every sentence when discussing health care plans.  They may send out pictures of Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy, and Barack Obama wearing pink in an attempt to raise the spectre of communism, with a hint of man-love thrown in for good measure.  Republicans are the masters of this game.  But, remember, it’s the only game they have.  They are desperate to maintain the current system, as they are Conservatives to the core.  They abhor change.  Why stop banging your forehead against the wall after 30 years of hard knocks, especially when you have friends stuffing your back pockets full of cash after every lump inducing smack?

Republicans may abhor change, but I abhor labels.  They demean our national debate.  In fact, they serve to stop all debate, before it can even begin.  If a person sticks another with a detestable name, there is no possible way that they can save face and swallow an unpalatable idea at some future date.  So, they effectively boxed themselves into a position based on the fact they haven’t progressed beyond second grade, when name calling was en vogue. 

But, there are more substantive reasons for decrying labels.  For instance, what does the term socialism mean?  If you ask ten different people, you will most likely receive ten different answers.  Some, led by Sarah Palin, will offer some overly simplistic definition that it entails a loss of freedom.  As if socialism was diametrically opposed to democratic principles.  Many Americans incorrectly believe a move to socialism means they will lose their First Amendment rights, their make-believe individual Second Amendment rights, their right to vote, etc.  This is a direct result of the person offering the label failing to appropriately define the term as well as the person accepting the label to demand such a definition.  But, that is the exact intent of the person using the label.  They don’t wish to define the term, as that would subject their definition to review for accuracy.  Rather, they want members of the public to create their own definition for which the accuser will never be held accountable. 

So, what is the definition of socialism, or at least the socialism for which Republicans accused Barack Obama of acceding to during the campaign?  I don’t believe Obama has called for complete abolition of private enterprise, nor do I think Republicans accused him of such ideas.  Therefore, they weren’t, in effect, calling him a communist.  Since, all communists are socialists, but not vice versa, it is an important distinction.  Rather, I believe, they were calling some of his ideas socialist in nature.  Meaning, they accused him of supporting government, or collective, intervention in a sphere of society they believe is better left to private entities.  For example, Obama proposed to raise taxes.  Never mind that raising the taxes necessary to pay for programs already implemented, yet never funded, under Republican reign is an act of moral righteousness.  Their Conservative ideology tells them that individuals are better able to spend their money than the government.  Therefore, the government taking extra income away from upper income Americans to pay for existing and past due debts is tantamount to socialism in their myopic view.  I think it is fair to say that those same Republicans would call any government intervention in the health care insurance industry as a step toward socialism.  And, I think that assumption is fair given our established definition.  But, is a move toward nationalizing America’s health insurance industry the wrong approach?

If you ask, most Americans would probably answer that socialism is not an economic theory to which the United States should prescribe.  Americans generally believe that a capitalist system based on competition and free and fair open-markets is the best economic model created.  They wouldn’t be wrong in that observation.  Yet, concluding that any socialist program is unworkable is equally incorrect.  Ask those same Americans who should perform the following tasks, individuals or the government:

  1. Educating our children;
  2. Building roads and interstate highway system;
  3. Safeguarding our environment and public lands;
  4. Defending our nation from foreign and domestic threats;
  5. Responding to natural and man-made disasters;
  6. Testing our food supply and the imported toys used by our children;  and
  7. Regulating industry, including the mortgage industry.

I think most Americans would agree that all of those activities, and more, are better performed collectively through government intervention.  Additionally, although it may not always seem apparent, sharing the costs of these activities with the rest of the nation’s taxpayers is a more cost effective approach than each individual performing these tasks alone.  While a person with no children may take exception to the cost effective argument, the childless taxpayer must realize they benefit many times over from having a nation of educated, productive, and literate citizens that are able to work, pay taxes, raise their own children, and not burden society.

So, should the providing of health insurance remain a capitalist, private enterprise, free market endeavor, or should government intervene to ensure a more collective approach?  I’ll answer that question over coming days with facts showing nations with a universal health care system have better results and are more cost effective than the American health care system.  I’ll show that those countries receive better results and save money simply because they have adopted a socialistic universal health care system.  But, one thing that I have never seen addressed is the ironic fact that the American private health care insurers have adopted a socialistic economic model to provide health insurance to their customers.

Health care services in this country are not provided in a manner that consumers pay for the services they receive.  My wife and I go to the gym five days a week and eat healthy, but my pay is docked just as much as the Republican in my office who is one hundred pounds overweight and eats donuts and Egg McMuffins every morning.  How does that make any sense?  Because the insurance companies have correctly figured out that the only economic model that will work is a socialist one whereby we all pay into a pool.  Our payments into the pool are not necessarily for the benefit of us, but for the benefit of the overall group.  Some people take more than they provide.  My family takes less than we provide.  Again, it’s not fair or individualistic.  Rather, it is collective, socialist, and the only way in which it will work.

So, if we are to believe that private enterprise always finds the most efficient and utilitarian mode of providing goods and services, then it is abundantly obvious that health insurance services are best provided through an economic system appropriately identified as socialist.  Therefore, my right-wing Republican friends and I are in agreement.  Capitalism proves socialism works for providing a nation’s health care insurance benefits. 

More to come!!

Feeling Sick Yet? An Examination of America’s Health Care System (Part I)

In prior posts I have focused on the lying and deceiving tactics of Republicans and the people who love them (namely Joe the Plumber types).  Largely, that focus has been on economic and tax matters.  The evidence that Republicans support their millionaire and billionaire donors at the expense of middle- and lower-income Americans is overwhelming.

Next, I’ll turn my attention to health care.  This subject was debated repeatedly during the Democratic primaries.  But, due in large part to the economic crisis perpetrated by the Republicans, health care was mostly an after thought during the general election campaign.  Yet, our increasing expenditures for the nation’s health care system are intimately intertwined with the illness afflicting our economic well being. 

America’s health care system is another issue upon which Republicans continually lie and deceive American voters in order to increase the enrichment of their base, in this case the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.  But, as I’ve stated before, Americans are too easily persuaded by deception and fear.  They don’t care enough about their future or that of their children and grandchildren to investigate and separate fact from fiction.  Too often, Americans go for the easy sound bite pitting us against them.

On the other side, Democrats again and again fail to make their case in a persuasive manner.  They need to come to the table with undeniable facts.  They need to present the country with a proposal for bold action.  Too often, Democrats come to the table with their own hidden agenda, secreted away in some private think tank a la Hillary Clinton in the early 1990s.  The facts are on the side of universal health care coverage, and I will prove it over the coming days, so there is no need for secretive societies.  Or, Democrats advance some piecemeal approach that gets so watered down through compromising negotiations that it dies a quick and justifiable death down the drain of Congressional lobbying.

So, the only group capable of advancing this issue with an honest fact-based approach is the true liberal warrior.  I still have major doubts on whether Obama is the person to advance such an agenda.  I’m fearful of his desire and willingness to negotiate with the other side, who openly represents the monied interests in this debate.  Now is the time, when the Republican brand is on life support, to stick their collective necks in the turkey execution machine, slit their throats, and pass a universal health care package that our children and grandchildren will take pride in decades from now. 

So, I’ll examine why the free market capitalist approach doesn’t work in providing health insurance compared to a socialistic model.  I’ll discuss whether health care is a right or a responsibility, a question placed to McCain and Obama during one debate.  I’ll examine how various socialistic models actually outperform the American system based on private insurance.  I’ll show how the socialistic models actually cost less than our private system.

Our nation is in big trouble.  Our system of governance is unsustainable.  We can’t continue to go forward in a similar vein as the past thirty years.  The Republican model of governance has infected us all.  Hopefully, it is still curable.

Avoiding the Republican Created Economic Disaster
November 25, 2008, 1:44 am
Filed under: Politics, Taxes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The economic news keeps getting worse.  Today, as Barack Obama unveiled his economic team charged with reversing this Republican created disaster, it was announced that we the people will now rescue Citigroup.  Furthermore, the housing numbers keep moving downhill, with homes now reflecting median sales prices not seen since March 2004.  The median sales price plummeted 11.3 percent from one year ago, which is the largest year-over-year drop on record with the National Association of Realtors:

In order to stem the tide, Obama and the Democrats are now contemplating an economic stimulus package of up to $700 billion.  The bailout and rescue numbers have officially become meaningless.  A trillion here and a trillion there.  Some money for you and a whole bunch of money for them.  In the end, however, look at your children and grandchildren and apologize.  They are the ones who will pay our bills.  Our gross abuse of future generations has become unconscionable.

On top of all this, Obama is now wavering on his campaign pledges regarding taxes, but not in the manner most Republicans predicted.  Apparently, Obama may not immediately raise taxes on those making over $250,000.  Joe the Plumber’s monopoly money is safe from government confiscation after all.  See all these little nuggets of information within the following article:

Not immediately raising the upper income tax rates is a huge mistake.  As I’ve addressed in the Liberal Rag before, we no longer have the option of cutting taxes for lower and middle income Americans without raising them on wealthier Americans.  No longer can we push our burdens onto future Americans.

So, repeating what I have written earlier, my suggested plan is as follows.  Taking the 2008 tax rates for married couples filing jointly:

I would make the following amendments:

  • Reduce the first income tax bracket from 10% to 0%.  Meaning, for every family with at least $16,050.00 of taxable income, they would immediately see a $1,605.00 tax reduction.  This would benefit most Americans from main street to Bill Gates equally.  Additionally, because most Americans could use that money today, it would also serve to stimulate the economy in order to avert is total and complete collapse.  Tax cuts for middle and lower income Americans will actually stimulate the economy as opposed to tax cuts for the wealthy…families in the lower income brackets will actually spend the money and create demand for products and services.  Of course, this will require companies to hire new employees to increase supply to meet the increasing demand.  Millionaires and billionaires would most likely pocket their tax break, especially in times of economic uncertainty;
  • Leave the next three tax brackets exactly where they currently reside.  Meaning, every single family having taxable income of $200,300 or less would receive a much needed tax reduction.  That is how Washington can protect middle-class taxpayers in these difficult times;
  • Congress and Obama should immediately increase the 33% tax bracket for joint filers to 36%.  Meaning, families earning income between $200,300 and $357,700 would pay an additional 3% tax on that income.  At the maximum, for a family making $357,700, it would result in $4722.00 of additional taxes within that bracket.  But, because they already received a tax cut in the lowest bracket, the maximum amount a married couple filing jointly would pay is additional taxes is only $3,117.00.  I hardly think this will break the bank of anyone earning $357,700;
  • Congress and Obama should immediately increase the top tax bracket from 35% to 40%.  As of now, the 35% tax bracket applies to all earned income above $357,700.  They should alter that figure so that the 40% tax bracket applies to all earned income between $357,700 and $650,000.  For any couple making $650,000, this would equal an additional $17,732.00 in taxes, including the additional taxes and reductions under lower tax brackets;
  • For any income earned between $650,000 and $1,000,000, Congress and Obama should establish another tax bracket of 45%;
  • Finally, for any income earned over $1,000,000, Congress and Obama should establish a new tax bracket of 50%, which is still far lower than the 70% and 90% maximum income tax brackets in place prior to the 1980s.

It is irresponsible to fund tax cuts for anyone today by imposing a hidden tax on future generations.  That is effectively what Bush and the Republicans have done for thirty years.  So, Obama must avoid falling into that trap at all costs. 

Congress and Obama should dole out any increased tax revenue realized due to the tax cuts and increased taxes to investments in the nation’s infrastructure, including schools, roads, bridges, and hospitals.  Additionally, the government must immediately promote and encourage investment in green technologies that will increase the number of green-collar jobs manufacturing products and services for the American consumer and exportation abroad, especially to the emerging economies.

When the news gets worse, our politicians need to become even bolder.  Refusing to pay for proposed tax cuts, even if the group receiving the cuts are lower and middle income Americans, is the Republican way.  My two-year old daughter has already committed enough of her money.  It’s time to recognize her commitment and refuse to burden her further.

Transsiberian–Movie Review

When I watch a “thriller” such as Transsiberian, I often wonder what Alfred Hitchcock would think watching a move he may have been tapped to direct, if he were still around today.  Would he beam with pride knowing all subsequent films of this genre still try to meet his impeccable standards?  Would he constantly critique the film, making mental notes of what he would do differently?  Would he long for the tools of today’s 21st century directors and their technology?

The Hitchcock thriller was very much character driven.  Think Rear Window, one of my favorite films from the master.  Transsiberian is very much in the realm of a character driven thriller.  The film belongs to its protagonist, Emily Mortimer, who gives a wonderful performance.  She battles her internal demons.  She battles a marriage to her straight-laced even-keeled husband played by Woody Harrelson (in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a huge fan of Woody Harrelson and even attended a concert of his back in 1992 at a Minnesota dive bar).  She battles the train upon which the couple has set out upon an adventure across the frozen Russian landscape.  She battles the mysterious couples that shares their train cabin for part of the journey.  She battles the Russian elements, people, and police. 

Like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, each action Emily Mortimer’s character, Jesse, takes and attempts to conceal, the more it seems to endanger her and her loved ones.  Instead of confinement to a wheelchair and the room in which she resides, Jesse is confined to the train and her marriage.  In each movie, the suspense builds throughout, until the final climactic scene.

While Transsiberian contains more action than Rear Window, such as its large train wreck, it isn’t always necessary to move the story forward.  So, at times, it felt more forced than the more traditional and technologically limited Hitchcock films.  At a time when American influence and respect is waning abroad, Ben Kingsley’s performance as a Russian detective is masterful, as he manipulates the Americans to further his own agenda until the very end. 

In the end, I believe Hitchcock would feel honored at such an attempt to emulate his work and genre.  Therefore, I’ll give Transsiberian four out of five stars.    

The Kulas Rating Guide:

  • One Star:  If I believed in burning books or movies, please find the nearest burning bush;
  • Two Stars:  Don’t burn it, but don’t watch it;
  • Three Stars:  Average…if you are bored and have it, you could watch it…but, there probably is a good book somewhere you would enjoy much more;
  • Four Stars:  Find it, watch it, enjoy it. 
  • Five Stars:  If you miss this movie, you truly are not a “movie buff.”  Stop what you are doing, get this movie, and watch it now!!!

Joe The Plumber, Taxes, Social Security, Debt and the Lying Republicans (Part III)

In prior posts on taxes, I wrote how the Republicans have generally misled Americans on the tax plans of the Democrats.  Generally, they have done this by simply throwing out labels and using simple scare tactics.  Such methods often prove productive on Americans unwilling or unable to investigate the facts for themselves.  Other times, Republicans use pea-brained faux representatives of the people.  These friends of the G.O.P., such as Joe The Not-So-Much-A-Plumber, are completely ignorant of which they speak and the impact these issues have on real Americans.  They are generally swayed by the spotlight of stardom, as in Joe’s case, or they hold some prejudice against another group, as is the case of middle class Americans in the religious right-wing fringe of the Republican party.

Social Security has generally become another method by which the Republicans have successfully protected the wealthy in order to rob the middle class.  Americans have been told, correctly, that social security is a safety-net intended to alleviate poverty for retired Americans.  But, the program has been unsustainable for years.  Back in 1950 there were sixteen Americans supporting every retiree receiving benefits.  As the en masse retirement of baby boomers approaches, soon two working Americans will support one social security recipient.  Meaning, every married couple will literally need to adopt one retiree, in addition to caring for their own children and elderly family members. 

There has been ample opportunity to fix this inevitable crisis.  Yet, one obstacle has presented itself for the past thirty years.  Republicans have largely controlled all of Washington since 1980.  Since that time, there were only two years in which Democrats controlled both Congress and the Presidency.  Therefore, a worthwhile program in dire need of reform has wasted away before our eyes, due to the “center-right” mentality of those in control.

Instead, we now have a program that penalizes the middle class to the benefit of the wealthy.  What else did you expect from Republican rule?  How does the Social Security program penalize the middle class?  In two large ways:

  • Each year, social security taxes are only collected on a certain maximum of a person’s income.  For 2008, that maximum is $102,000.  See the following link:  Meaning, if you don’t make the $102,000 maximum in 2008, you will have the 6.2% social security tax collected against your entire salary.  For every dollar a person earns over $102,000, they effectively receive a 6.2% tax break.  It is the nation’s most regressive tax in that it disproportionately harms those who earn less.  For all those CEOs making tens of millions of dollars every year, that is quite a tax advantage.  So, in essence, under 2008 tax rates, somebody making $160,000 is only paying the flat 28% income tax rate on any income over $102,000.  While somebody making $102,000 is paying an effective rate of 34.2% for all income earned over $79,000.  How does this make any sense?
  • Now, some will argue that the wealthy shouldn’t pay social security taxes on all their income, because the benefits they will eventually receive will never equal the amounts they would send to Washington.  But, paying taxes for your own benefit was never the intent of the social security program.  As stated above, the program was always constructed in a manner so as to expend today’s tax receipts on current retirees.  But, the social security fund has received trillions of dollars more than it has paid out over the years in benefits.  See the following link showing over two trillion dollars have been received, yet not paid out in benefits:  Where are those two trillion dollars?  They are not stuffed in the Congressional mattress.  It has been spent…every penny of it.  For example, the past eight years have seen extra social security funds spent on:

1.  The war in Iraq;

2.  The torture of prisoners at Guantanomo;

3.  The bailout of AIG, Fannie Mae, Bear Stearns, etc.;

4.  Bush’s tax cuts, which as I addressed earlier, went overwhelmingly to the wealthy;

5.  The Bridge to Nowhere.

So, not only to the wealthy get a tax break in not contributing their whole salary to social secuirty like most Americans, but they also are not required to fully contribute to the wasteful spending of the Republican administrations.  In fact, these Republican administrations from Reagan, to Bush the first, to Bush the second, took extra social security funds and still couldn’t balance the budget.  Those budget deficits, which we will address later, already take into account the extra social security funds spent on general budget items.  So, these Presidents stole money from the “trust fund,” spent it, and still couldn’t balance the budget.  It is criminal. 

Unfortunately, the fixes will not be easy.  The government will need to pay those funds back into the social security fund to honor its obligations.  The only way in which to do this is to increase taxes, decrease benefits, and increase the retirement age before a person is eligible to receive benefits.  In my ideal world, a perfect solution would require all Americans to declare who they voted for in 1980 through 2008.  Anyone voting for a Republican would be docked eligible benefits based on their votes.

Seriously, however, the prescription to fix this program is difficult.  Immediately, all income should be subject to the additional 6.2% social security tax.  We need to remove the maximum income level, especially since wealthier individuals have received tax breaks from paying their fair share for expenditures to the general fund.  Why should Bill Gates receive a tax break for funds spent on roads that bring employees to his offices, police that protect his assets, the SEC that protects his stock, etc?  All those expenditures from the general fund have benefitted from our payment of social security taxes for the past thirty years. 

Benefits will need to be reduced as well.  Especially for all baby boomers.  They are largely to blame for the problem, since it was their choices for representatation in Washington that causes the problem.  I wasn’t even able to vote until 1988, so Reagan certainly wasn’t the fault of Generation X, of which I’m a member.  And, finally, the mandatory retirement age will need to be raised in order to qualify. 

Unfortunately, our problems are now so severe in so many areas, I’m not sure how much time Obama will have to offer solutions to this crisis.  The problems Bush has left this country are so large and so numerous, it will take a generation of Democrats to clean up the rubble. 

Over the next few posts, we will address the deficit/debt and finally the lie that all Republicans tell.  The lie is particularly egregious, because it underlies their entire economic philosophy.  It is shameful these people are allowed to escape unscathed.  It is even more shameful the American people don’t understand the truth.  Because, in the end, it is our fault.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull–Movie Review
November 16, 2008, 12:52 am
Filed under: Movie Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Sometimes, watching movies that have nothing more to offer than a fun ride, provides sufficient entertainment for a few hours.  Not every film needs to challenge us intellectually nor offer a lesson or message.  As long as you go into the ride understanding the movie may not offer anything new.  This was one of those movies.  The only reason we brought this movie home was that we thought it may look nice on our big screen, plus I had a few romantic memories of the Indiana Jones movies from my childhood. 

The movie had its entertaining moments, including the huge ant colonies which could devour a human whole in a few short seconds.  Of course, most of the film requires you to suspend any idea of realism, starting from the get go, when Indy survives a nuclear blast in a 1950’s refrigerator.  Maybe if it was a 2008 model surviving a 1950 nuclear bomb, it would have been slightly more believable (joking, of course). 

But, if action is what you want from a movie, plus the usual predictable and unpredictable twists and turns, the movie isn’t half-bad.  Because my expectations were not excessive, and the movie at least met those diminished expectations, I’ll put this in the middle of my ratings scale.  Three out of five stars.

The Kulas Rating Guide:

  • One Star:  If I believed in burning books or movies, please find the nearest burning bush;
  • Two Stars:  Don’t burn it, but don’t watch it;
  • Three Stars:  Average…if you are bored and have it, you could watch it…but, there probably is a good book somewhere you would enjoy much more;
  • Four Stars:  Find it, watch it, enjoy it. 
  • Five Stars:  If you miss this movie, you truly are not a “movie buff.”  Stop what you are doing, get this movie, and watch it now!!!

Nebraska’s Safe Haven Law – Abandoning Our Children
November 15, 2008, 2:46 am
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , ,

We will take a weekend long break from our Joe the Fake Plumber, taxes, increasing deficit/debt, and the lying Republicans discussion.  It will be continued starting next week, as I’m so excited to reveal the lie nearly all Republicans tell that underlies their entire economic philosophy.  But, I digress.  Today, I felt compelled to address the Nebraska law that permits parents and guardians to leave a child at a state licensed hospital without fear of prosecution.  The Nebraska law is similar to provisions in many other states that allow parents to drop off newborns without reprisal, with one main difference.  Nebraska permits parents to leave a child of any age at such hospitals, not only newborns.  See the actual law here:

The Nebraska legislature is scheduled to meet in an emergency legislative session to limit the children that may be left behind under this law to those aged three days or younger.  That would match the laws found in many other states.  But, why do they feel the need to make such a limitation?  Rather, I would argue, every state should model Nebraska and pass the same law in their respective jurisdictions. 

In my humble opinion, there is absolutely nothing more important in a country and society than its children.  Nothing!   Why shouldn’t the state and welfare workers take charge of those children no longer wanted by their parents?  The children certainly deserve something better than a parent no longer willing or able to take care of the child. 

Is it promoting irresponsibility on the part of the parent?  Possibly.  I say possibly, because, forcing all adults with children to act as a parent will never obviously work.  Prosecuting parents for dropping off their children in the end will only harm one person:  the child.  There are two types of parents who would leave their child behind: 

  1. Those unable to care for their child.  Maybe the parent has lost all their economic means for bringing up a child and has little or no prospects for a future economic recovery.  Or, perhaps a parent has suffered some health complication that leaves them incapable to care for their own person, let alone their child’s well being;
  2. Those unwilling to care for their child.  These are the parents everyone is seemingly angry about under this law.  And, rightly so.  But, what is the other option?  You can’t force an adult into responsible parenthood.  Instead, revoking or restricting this law will force the child into a form of bondage.  It will force the child to live in a household where at best they are no longer loved.  At worst, the child will face abuse, malnourishment, neglect, or thrown away in another manner. 

A child belonging to either one of these parents is undeserving of their fate.  Each set of children deserve a chance to survive and prosper.  Those chances are greatly increased under the watchful guidance of a parent or guardian who considers the child’s best interests.  Neither of the parents referenced above is capable of performing such tasks. 

Furthermore, the Nebraska Safe Haven Law, as adopted, does not prohibit any prosecution of a negligent or battering parent.  The law simply provides that the parent may not be prosecuted for crimes based “solely” upon leaving a child at a hospital.  Meaning, a parent leaving an abused child with numerous bruises and scars may still face prosecution for child abuse.  Same with parents failing to properly feed or shelter their children.  Such prosecution would not be based “solely” on the parent leaving the child behind.  

The incidence of child abuse is appallingly high in this country.  See the following report from the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect as updated on 04/06/2001 (while outdated, I’m guessing the numbers haven’t significantly decreased and probably have actually increased in these times of economic uncertainty, when parents are facing inordinate stresses):

Some of the lowlights from this report include:

  • An estimated 1,553,800 children in the United States were abused or neglected in 1993; 
  • An estimated 217,000 children were sexually abused in 1993;
  • An estimated 338,900 children were physically neglected in 1993;
  • An estimated 212,800 children were emotionally neglected in 1993;
  • An estimated 381,700 children were physically abused in 1993.

Forcing a parent-child relationship will only increase these numbers.  The unwilling parents are the ones that would escape deserved punishment.  I submit that the unloved child’s welfare is much more important than imposing some relatively minor punishment on an incapable parent.

Now, I can understand why Nebraska doesn’t want to sign up as the nation’s dumping ground for unwanted children.  A number of children from outside the state have already appeared at various hospital doorsteps in Nebraska.  The resolution of that issue is relatively easy.  A provision in the law could direct the state to return the child to the welfare agency representing the child’s state of origin.  That would ensure Nebraska isn’t bearing the brunt of irresponsible parents. 

Finally, a provision within the law prohibiting any parent dropping off their child under the Safe Haven Law from ever again asserting their parental or custodial right is necessary.  From the moment that the parent closes the car door on that child’s face, they have shown themselves incapable of accepting any real responsibility that so many of us take so seriously. 

Protecting the fate of children is of paramount importance to us as a society.  The state should accept that responsibility whenever an opportunity to save a child presents itself.  They are children without choices or options.  We, as a society, cannot abandon them when their parents already have.

Joe The Plumber, Taxes, Social Security, Debt and the Lying Republicans (Part II)

Yesterday, I reviewed how the Republican party and Joe the Plumber misrepresented the tax policies of the Democrats.  Traditionally, their slimy tactics worked to their advantage, but this year it was different.  Voters disregarded labels such as “tax-and-spend,” because Republicans were finally outed as the reverse-welfare party.  Instead of taxing the wealthy, the last eight years have been one giant orgy of spending for those at the top of the income tax brackets.

The Bush tax cuts went overwhelmingly to the extremely obscene rich.  Yes, a few crumbs were spread to the minions, but that was simply to placate the flock of Americans who continually vote the liars into office.  Remember, Bush ran in 2000 as a regular guy, ready to have a beer with any other average American.  As all Republicans, he suggested he was representing the middle class, and then acted only on behalf of “aires” of the million- and billion- variety.

According to the Tax Policy Center, a group of tax, budget, and social policy experts, when the Bush tax cuts are completely phased in during 2010, the top .1% of Americans will see an 8.2% increase in after-tax income, which comes out to an average of $500,000.  The top 1% will receive a 7.3% raise, which comes out to an average of nearly $100,000. 

What did the middle class receive from Bush and the Republicans?  The middle 20% of Americans will receive an increase in after-tax income of 2.6%, or $1,149.  But, and this is the most telling figure on where the Republicans’ loyalties lie, the middle 20% of American will have their share of the federal income tax burden increased by .3%.  The top 20% of Americans will see a reduction in their tax burden of .3%, with the top .1% of Americans garnering a reduced burden of .5%.

I must have missed something in the 2000 and 2004 elections.  Were the wealthiest among us struggling to pay their yacht and country club bills?  Were their Porsches running low on gas?  Were the middle and lower classes so flush with cash that they could be ignored for a regressive tax break that redistributes our country’s burden to them? 

A better plan would have been more progressive.  Better for the lower and middle class.  Better for our country.  The lower and middle classes are the groups that struggle daily with bills, funding education for their children, putting gas in their cars, buying milk and bread, and paying their health care bills.  The top 1% of Americans don’t struggle with any of those things.  Additionally, lower and middle class Americans are more apt to spend that money and thus increase the demand for goods and services.  The resulting increase in business and jobs would mean a growing economy and additional revenue for the treasury in times of increasing deficits.  

So, here is the first prescription this blog will propose to correct the disaster Bush has left this country.  I would change the existing tax rates immediately.  The 2008 tax rates are as follows:

I would eliminate all taxes on the lowest bracket, essentially making all income earned by every American up to $8,025 tax free.  That would benefit all Americans earning such income equally.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet would benefit just as much as Joe the Pretend Plumber.  As Obama has proposed, I would immediately increase the top two tax rates, starting at $250,000.  Anything from $250,000 to $357,700 would be taxed at 35%.  Anything from $357,700 to $500,000 would be taxed at 40%.  Then, I would add at least two additional brackets.  Anything from $500,000 to $1,000,000 would be taxed at 45%.  Anything above $1,000,000 at 50%.  As I pointed out in an earlier post, this would still not even come close to representing the highest tax brackets in the country’s history, which previously exceeded 90%.   

Depending on the income brought in by those increases on the upper echelon brackets, you could possibly even increase the amount of income Americans may earn tax free, perhaps up to $15,000. 

Is it any wonder that Republicans are in trouble?  The tax cut wing of the party has taken over and the Christian wing-nut of the party is left holding the bag, literally.  Because while Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson receive financial windfalls for leading their sheeple to the voting booths for Republicans, their flock rots away on a withering vine.  Christ apparently favored propping up the elite. 

There is so much more to address on this topic, so we’ll keep going for at least a few more days.  I still have to address the theft of social security, the deficit/debt, and the lie that all Republicans have repeated and upon which they have based their entire economic model.  Yes, their entire gambit is a lie and it is costing hard working Americans jobs, futures, and security.

Joe The Plumber, Taxes, Social Security, Debt and the Lying Republicans (Part I)

The 2008 election was amazing in many respects, some of which I have documented in earlier posts.  But, the single biggest “change” that occurred in this election was that a majority of Americans disregarded the politics of old.  No longer are a majority of Americans thrown off direction by the smears and lies of the Republican party.  Even the McCain-Palin campaign, Karl Rove, and Fox News acknowledged that their tried and true methods used previously to attain electoral majorities was in danger.

No longer did the traditional smears of “liberal,” “tax-and-spender,” “unpatriotic,” or “un-American” work in ensuring victory.  For various reasons I’ve never understood how those labels were so effective in the past.  Since my early twenties, I have always identified myself as a liberal when asked my party affiliation.  It was my small contribution toward reclaiming that word from the fear mongers on the other side.  And, I’m proud of its lineage.  For without liberals, America may have never declared its independence from Great Britian.  Slavery may still have its sharp claws rooted deeply in the South.  Women still may not have the right to vote.  We may still have “colored” and “white” sections in every restaurant, theater, and bus.  Gays and lesbians would still be in the closet, fearful of declaring their full rights as citizens of this great country.

In fact, Republicans and their cohorts were even aware that their traditional scare tactics were not working, so they became even more extreme in their vitriolic rhetoric.  Instead of “liberal” and “tax-and-spender,” they used “socialist,” “Marxist,” and even “communist.”  Instead of “unpatriotic,” they used “terrorist” and “traitor.”  Instead of “un-American,” they used “Muslim” and Barack “Hussein” Obama (only in their small minds would they actually equate “Muslim” and “Hussein” as not being American).

Yet, their caustic tactics still didn’t work.  So, they turned to an average Joe, Joe the Plumber, to perpetrate the Republican myths about the nation’s tax policies.  Joe the Plumber was a joke from the start.  Not because his whole question was based on a complete fabrication, but due to the fact that he, like many Americans, especially on the right-wing side of the American playground, are completely ignorant when it comes to tax policies. 

First, for the context, please see the video of the encounter between Joe and Obama in an Ohio neighborhood:

Now, I’ll not address the issues that became so blatantly obvious to everyone after Joe became famous in the final presidential debate (namely that Joe isn’t licensed as a plumber and isn’t even financially capable of purchasing such a business).  I won’t worry about those issues, simply because someone in the real world may actually encounter just such a scenario propagated by Joe the Plumber.  I would rather address the actual issue underlying Joe’s original question than call Joe out for lying. 

I digress.  Note in the question from Joe how he stumbles for a figure that will place him in the highest income bracket.  First, he says the company makes $250,000 a year.  Then Joe, being a quick thinker on his feet, immediately realizes that the fictional company he just created would not have its taxes increased under Obama’s then-stated plan.  So, he magically creates an additional $20,000 to $30,000 of income out of thin air.  The guy is a genius when it comes to growing his business.  Okay, he is much too easy of a target. 

Obama then responds to the wealthy plumber-God by explaining the Obama plan.  He correctly explains that plumber-boy won’t see a single cent of tax increase on any income the company makes below $250,000.  Then, yes, any income earned over $250,000 will have an increased tax burden of 3%.  But, I wish Obama and the media subsequently covering this story ad nauseam would have explained the resulting tax in real dollar terms for Joe and the rest of the American public. 

Could Joe’s fictional company that makes $280,000 in profit afford an additional $900 in taxes per year.  That’s what the calculation comes out to in the end.  Nine hundred measly dollars for somebody making over a quarter million dollars every year.  Obama should have asked Joe point blank whether that $900 increase was too egregious in a country with a ten trillion dollar debt.  Nine hundred dollars is the entire difference to Joe the Plumber’s fantasy island company, when comparing the McCain-Bush tax plan and the Obama tax plan. 

I’m always amazed when discussing taxes with others that they truly fail to comprehend the progressive nature of our tax system.  If you set the top tax rate at 50%, the other side immediately responds that nobody should be forced to pay 50% of their salary in taxes.  But, that is a false premise.  If the top tax rate is set at 50%, that is the most the individual taxpayer will pay on only a certain portion of their wages.  To put it even more bluntly.  Take one individual with only $20,000 in taxable income and Warren Buffet with hundreds of millions in taxable income.  Who pays a higher amount on their first $20,000 of income?  Neither, as they pay the same percentage when it comes to that initial $20,000.  In other words, in my opinion, we already have a flat-tax system on a progressive basis.

It is shameful that Republicans wish to throw out slogans and smear the opposing candidates rather than discuss actual tax policy.  I blame the Democrats equally for failing to explain these features in real world and real dollar terms.  The American public, as a whole, lacks any sophisticated knowledge about how issues such as tax policy work in the United States today.  I hope Barack Obama, with his communicative skills, will also be an educator in chief to America.  If he can manage that, liberals will be in control for the foreseeable future.  It is a new style politics he brings to town, and the Republicans are just old.

Additional discussion of Republicans and their failures to truthfully address tax policy will follow in subsequent days.  Who knew tax discussions could be so interesting?

The George W. Bush Top Ten

A week after the election and I’m still amazed that a majority of Americans had the foresight to elect Barack Obama President.  Can anyone imagine a person such as Barack Obama becoming President in any prior election year?  It would have been an impossibility.  His name, his associations, his upbringing, and yes, his color, would have disqualified his candidacy in any year prior to 2008.  What made 2008 different?

In short, George W. Bush.  His presidency has been a complete and utter disaster.  Everything he has touched has quite simply failed.  Compiling a top ten list of failures would be nearly impossible.  As we near the end of his term in office, I imagine a number of lists will begin to appear counting down his mistakes.  Some funny, like this Lettermen countdown:

Others will be sad and scary for what his time as President will mean to all of us in the years ahead.  So, in no particular order, here is my countdown of Bush’s biggest blunders:

1.  Iraq, of course.  Some of us were opposed to this war from the start.  Paul Wellstone, my political hero, voted against the war in Iraq.  Some of us didn’t believe Iraq posed any direct and immediate threat to the United States.  Many of us knew that Iraq didn’t have anything to do with 9/11.  Yet, there we were, invading a sovereign nation for a reason that has never been fully explained to the American people;

2.  Appointment of incompetent people at important governmental positions–Harriet Miers, Michael Brown, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney.  Republicans are well known as the party that claims government is incompetent…these people and others proved it;

3.  Response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita–“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”  Enough said;

4.  Guantanamo Prison Camp–only this President can fail to understand how hypocritical it is for the most revered nation in the history of the planet to imprison persons, without cause, forever.  I, for one, am glad Obama sees the error of Bush’s ways and is determined to close this Cuban embarrassment; 

5.  Failure to land Osama bin Laden–As quickly as Bush, the Texan six-shooter claimed he would find Osama, dead or alive, he forgot about his promise and launched the Iraq invasion.  Osama bin Laden has been a thorn in our side since.  Osama bin Laden’s successful attack that killed 3,000 innocents stands in stark contrast to Bush’s failure to bring him to justice;

6.  Bush’s Tax Cuts–the wealthy have made out like bandits.  Bush, the reverse Robin Hood, has bankrolled the nation’s future on ensuring his friends receive the largest piggy banks this nation has to offer.  The deficit and debt have exploded under a “conservative” administration and Congress.  This, from a party backed largely my Christian conservatives, who should abhor such greed, is appalling;

7.  The Economic Disaster–Bush and his cronies have presided over the greatest economic disaster this country has seen since the Great Depression.  While the multi-billion dollar companies are bailed out by taxpayers, the taxpayers are bailing as thousands of jobs are lost daily;

8.  His focus on social issues that don’t benefit or assist one single American–His calls for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and compulsion to save a brain dead Terri Schiavo were unnecessary distractions for a country at war and in economic disarray.  The fact that he tried to insert himself into the Schiavo marriage shows just how little respect he has for the traditional marriage and limited government as espoused by his party.  But, that whole saga provided the greatest moment during his Presidency as well.  A single brain-dead woman lying motionless in a Florida hospital bed challenged the Governor of Florida, the Republican Congress, and the President of the United States and won.  That goes to show how great the promise of this country is, when compared to other systems of government throughout the world;

9.  His gutting of environmental protections–from his broken promise to sign the Kyoto treaty and ignorance of science and climate change to the misnamed Clear Skies Act, this President may be the worst friend to the environment in the modern day;

10.  The human lives his administration has taken from this world prematurely–He, in our name, has taken tens of thousands of innocent lives in Iraq for a war that was chosen, not out of necessity, but out of vanity, pride, or something even more sinister.  Who knows how many lives he has cost the world due to his early decision to cut off funds for international family planning organizations by imposing his global gag rule.  Thousands of Americans have been killed and maimed due to his misguided war.  Looking the other way as companies continue to degrade our environment has surely caused additional lives, yet these costs are never internalized at the companies and governments responsible. 

Please, feel free to add your own to this list.  I’ve left off some…I could go on for a while, but my two-year old daughter needs some face time.

Gays, Lesbians, and the Downfall of Western Civilization

Democrats had extraordinary success on November 4th.  Progressives, liberals, and the moderate-left all had reason to crow.  The last two election cycles have seen the Democrats win both houses of Congress, increase their controlling majorities, win the Presidency, and ensure some very important appointments to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary.  But, one group comprising our suddenly vocal majority has been left in the wilderness to fend for themselves.  The group, even mentioned in Barack Obama’s victory speech on election night, suffered stunning defeats all across the country on election day.  Gays and lesbians, while better off with Obama as President instead of John McCain, lost every place their rights were jeopardized. 

California, Arizona, and Florida voters all passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.  Arkansas voters prohibited same-sex couples from adopting children.  While Democrats partied all last week, gays and lesbians were left to protest silently and vocally on the streets of California.  That left the right-wing religious fringe to claim that social issues should still be at the top of their agenda.  That agenda was backed by minorities traditionally oriented to the Democratic party, yet they voted against equal rights for all. 

Now, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk believe they can continue to use the issue to wedge their way back into power in 2012.  They will once again claim that gays and lesbians wish to hijack society’s most fundamental and important institution.  They argue same-sex nuptials will turn marriage into a mockery of structured human interaction that underlies the basic precepts of our culture.  Emergency calls for a Constitutional Amendment will be sounded by the Christian right.  I must say, there arguments are starting to win me over.

Since California began allowing same-sex individuals to exchange marriage vows, I have conducted a plethora of non-scientific research into the phenomenon precipitating the downfall of western civilization and “straight” unions.  In my unscientific poll, a full 51% of people I asked have divorced.  That doesn’t include my friend Frank, who has married and divorced four times.  That 51% figure is a drastic increase from the 50% I have heard thrown around in the liberal mainstream media.  Perhaps that increase is attributable to the couple down the street that was constantly bickering about her incessant need for him to spend his nights at home, rather than out parading about town with his beer drinking “buddy.”  Obviously, she didn’t believe his claims that the relationship with his “buddy” was purely platonic.  Additionally, opposite-sex couples are not marrying as quickly or frequently as they once did.  Remember when Britney Spears made headlines with her impromptu walk down a Las Vegas aisle which she quickly annulled a few days later?  Then, she married again a short time later.  And, divorced again.  I haven’t witnessed anything similar since gays and lesbians started demanding entry into our “marriage club.”

I have also heard rumors of men who are now deliberately antagonistic toward their wives.  Horror stories abound of men watching sports into the late hours of the night, leaving underwear on the floor, not performing tasks on their “honey-do” lists, and refusing to wear deodorant on the weekends.  I even heard about one guy who started a new website to reverse a universal teaching all men have implanted into their brains from birth.  His new website, www.leave/the/toilet/seat/, points out that half the occupants in traditional marriages are male.  Therefore, he believes, toilet seats should remain in the standing position for the resident standing bathroom visitor.  His inspiration?  Gay couples!  “Imagine the lack of conflict around the bathroom in those marriages,” he is quoted as saying the website.  His wife divorced him just a few days ago.  We are closing in on 52%. 

Yet, there is more.  Women are being influenced by their lesbian sisters as well.  I called a large adult-superstore this past week to ascertain whether they have noticed any changes, since gays and lebians have been able to tie the knot.  According to Jenny, Lead Sales Representative, toys intended to replace the male anatomy have been flying off the shelves.  According to Jenny, “Married women of all shapes and sizes have been coming in non-stop.  They tell me they just found out women no longer need men for a fulfilling marriage and sex life.”  Apparently, sales are up across the country.  This particular store has noticed increased sales of 200% in the past year alone.  Another website, this one started by a sex-starved woman in New Jersey, began collecting signatures for a petition she plans on sending to Congress.  Her site, www.marry/your/, seeks to give women the right to replace those no-good, beer-drinking, sports-watching husbands with their new accouterment. 

Furthermore, I think the backlash against gay and lesbian marriage is manifesting itself in other areas as well.  Has anyone notices the increased strength of hurricanes over the past few years?  GAYS!!  Oil, gas, and commodity prices exploding?  LESBIANS!!  Global warming?  Economic disaster?  Come on!  Of course, it’s gays and lesbians.  Any day now, I anticipate hearing about that big expected California earthquake that will drop the modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, San Francisco, right into the ocean. 

Can a federal Constitutional amendment save us from self destruction?  I tend to think it’s too late.  We are too far down the path of sin and decadence.  Bibles are exploding.  Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson are haranguing.  Those bastions of all that is moral and right, Alabama and Mississippi, are threatening to secede from the Union.  The country is teetering on the cusp of total moral and economic decay.  All my free time is now spent keeping my wife away from Jenny and ensuring all toilet seats have been locked in their downright position.  I guess I’m guilty of still liking my wife.  Look for further research on this topic in the future at my website, www.not/that/there/is/anything/wrong/with/

Republican Fratricide

The Republican party is having a rough time.  They are taking aim and lobbing blame and accusations at each other.  It is the worst case of fratricide since Cain and Abel.  John McCain’s staff is throwing Governor Sarah Palin under the bus.  Palin seems incapable of offering any sort of retort.  Perhaps she just can’t think fast enough to respond.

Some of the conservative pundits seem more than capable of responding on Palin’s behalf.  They defend the Governor and blame McCain’s loss on a combination of an inept campaign and confluence of disastrous events for the incumbent party.  Other more moderate conservatives blame the wing of the party that takes pride in its lack of intellectualism.  It is inevitable that a civil war will erupt in the party that presided over one in the 1800s. 

The inevitability of the GOPs internal struggle isn’t a result of the last two election cycles, where Republicans have taken monumental losses.  It isn’t a result of the most incompetent President in modern history hanging like a noose around the party’s collective necks.  It is a result of the unholy alliance of the party’s two major factions:  the party’s religious right and its corporate elite. 

The Constitution and the American system of government virtually guaranteed a two-party system would develop, whereby each party attempts to cobble together a governing coalition out of several disparate groups.  The evolution of such a system virtually guarantees a nearly fifty-fifty split of the electorate.  For example, if one party adopts an anti-abortion stance to attract voters who cast ballots on only that issue, the other party will naturally gravitate toward the opposing position in order to attract those voters.  If one party finds itself lagging behind the other, it will naturally seek for itself another group to add to its electorate.  If a third party or option emerges, the two existing parties relentlessly attack and assume the issues of the third party until it no longer exists (e.g., Ross Perot and his fiscal responsibility platform of the 1990s).  Without such blending of interests, no single issue voter could ever hope to have any impact on the national stage.

Now, the main groups comprising the Republican party are not natural allies.  One group, the religious right votes exclusively on issues they see impacting their values (e.g., anti-abortion and gay marriage).  The religious right, like most of America, is made up of hard working middle and lower class Americans.  The other significant group within the Republican party is about as anti-Christian as one group can be without imprisonment.  That second group cares about one thing, and one thing only.  Money.  Tax cuts.  More for them, and less of everyone else.  Redistribution of wealth from the middle and lower classes to the wealthy corporate elite.  As the middle class pays higher and higher taxes, the wealthy pay less and less.

Yes, many people will argue that last point as false.  But, it is most certainly true.  Democrats just don’t do a very admirable job of explaining the point.  Top tax rates used to exceed 90% in the United States.  Past generations used to believe in paying for what is purchased.  That was, however, before Reagan and Bush.  Before top tax rates were drastically reduced to about 35%.  Deficits exploded, ensuring the middle class of future generations will need to pay even more.  And, the middle class was sacrificed for those at the top of the Republican donor base. 

See link for historical federal income tax rates:

The power brokers running the Republican party have only one God amongst these competing groups.  The God of tax cuts.  The Republicans have been successful for the past thirty years on the backs of its religious right, which it subjugates to the needs of the tax cut.  Abortion is still legal, despite the fact the Republican revolution started in 1980 and that Supreme Court nominees outnumber Democratic nominees 7-2.  Gay marriage and/or civil unions have become acceptable and legal in a number of states during the Republican reign.  Those unions will never go back into the closet. 

The Republican elite have never truly cared about the issues of its religious fringe.  Thirty years of rule should have advanced their issues further.  Instead, they have obviously lost ground.  The day of reckoning within the Republican party was inevitable.  The starkness of the issue was never more evident than in the crowds gathering at each Palin sermon.  To those crowds, Cain and Abel was not just a story.  It’s a call to action.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days–Movie Review
November 8, 2008, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Movie Reviews | Tags: ,

I will now stray from politics, but not for long.  As a huge movie buff, this space will find many reviews during its existence.  Many great movies have preceded and are reflected in this review, as well as some absolutely horrible flicks.  I won’t go back in time to review past movies I have seen, but I will give you all the movies I own that I have given five stars to (yes, I keep track of them).  They include, in alphabetical order:

  1. Almost Famous;
  2. As Good As it Gets;
  3. Being John Malkovich;
  4. Boogie Nights;
  5. Chasing Amy;
  6. E.T.;
  7. Fahrenheit 9/11;
  8. Fargo;
  9. Fight Club;
  10. Forrest Gump;
  11. Godfather, Parts I and II;
  12. The Graduate;
  13. Hotel Rwanda;
  14. An Inconvenient Truth;
  15. Leaving Las Vegas;
  16. Lord of the Rings–all of them;
  17. Maria Full of Grace;
  18. Matrix…only the first one;
  19. Million Dollar Baby;
  20. Millions;
  21. O Brother, Where Art Thou;
  22. Pan’s Labyrinth;
  23. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles;
  24. Pulp Fiction;
  25. Rocky;
  26. Saving Private Ryan;
  27. Schindler’s List;
  28. Shakespeare in Love;
  29. The Shawshank Redemption;
  30. Sideways;
  31. Star Wars–The Empire Strikes Back;
  32. Wizard of Oz.

So, on to 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.  This is a foreign film (Romanian) about two students sharing a dorm room in the late 1980’s.  Communism still pervades the lives of all Romanian citizens.  The best goods are only available on the black market.  The same with necessary services, such as an abortion.  One of the friends, Gabita, is pregnant, but fails to take any responsibility for her condition. 

Gabita’s sole purpose in the film is to enlist her roommate, Otilia, to navigate the city for her friend.  The movie is really about Otilia.  Her compulsion to help her friend, please her boyfriend, satisfy the back-alley abortionist, etc.  Why she feels the need to perform in such manner is never explained.  You want her to stand up to someone…anyone.  Just say, “No!!”  But, she never does.  Her only request, demand, pleading seems to come in the film’s last moments.

In the end, I must say I was slightly disappointed in the film.  It received impeccable reviews from many critics who know much more about movies than me.  The film even won the Palme d’Or, over a film I enjoyed much more, No Country For Old Men.  To me, the movie was only slightly above average.  3 1/2 stars out of 5.

The Kulas Rating Guide:

  • One Star:  If I believed in burning books or movies, please find the nearest burning bush;
  • Two Stars:  Don’t burn it, but don’t watch it;
  • Three Stars:  Average…if you are bored and have it, you could watch it…but, there probably is a good book somewhere you would enjoy much more;
  • Four Stars:  Find it, watch it, enjoy it. 
  • Five Stars:  If you miss this movie, you truly are not a “movie buff.”  Stop what you are doing, get this movie, and watch it now!!!