Ponderings, by T. Samuel Emery

January 14, 2012

Is America ready to elect a Mormon?

Filed under: History,Politics,Sociology — T. Samuel Emery @ 14:25
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It’s been de rigeur for the network TV gasbags the past few nights – the question of Mitt Romney’s faith. Would a Mormon president take orders from Mormon leaders? Allow me to submit that to the degree he is “Mormon,” and not merely “a Mormon,” – lives his faith rather than simply claims to be a member of the club – the answer would be, “Yes.”

A few decades ago the question was “is America ready to elect a Catholic?” The stated fear was he would be taking orders from the Pope. A couple years ago it was whether the nation was ready to elect a woman, or a black. Coded questions with the implied answer: No.

Oops. We elected a Catholic and that worked out. History will tell us how electing a black man worked out, and if the black guy hadn’t won in 2008, we’d have answered the woman question.

We Americans generally claim to be a Christian nation. Certainly the majority of us who claim to belong to a church identify ourselves as members of Christian denominations. And though we often cite freedom of religion as a basic American tenet, that mostly applies only as long as the religion being discussed is Christian.

Contrary to common teaching, this national was not founded on freedom of religion. The Pilgrims did not come here to practice freedom of religion. They came to practice their religion, and specifically not the religious of the English monarch they left behind. A fellow named Roger Williams was a fine member of the Massachusetts Christians, until his beliefs didn’t quite match theirs and he was invited to move down the shore a ways, where he founded Rhode Island.

Most of us proclaim a belief in the one-ness of humankind, existence of One God, and we’re off on the other side of the globe killing Muslims for, mostly, being Muslim.

I can think of several reasons not to elect Mitt Romney. His Mormonism isn’t one of them.

February 22, 2011

Shutdown could be good for Dems

Filed under: Economy,Politics — T. Samuel Emery @ 07:39
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“We don’t want to shut down the government,” they say, repeating the mantra often so we remain aware that there is the possibility that is exactly what they will do if they don’t have their way with the budget.

“We won’t negotiate in the media,” Cong. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said recently, but of course, that is exactly what he is doing.

Fear is an powerful tool. What makes waterboarding so effective is not that the victim might drown, but that the victim feels a though he will drown. Scare enough of us old people into thinking our Social a Security checks will be late and we will follow the wolf anywhere.

The plan can, of course, backfire. For a threat to be effective, you have to be willing to carry it out if your bluff is called. Plenty of Republicans are still alive who remember what happened the last time they pulled that shutdown stunt.

It wasn’t a joyous time for Newt Gingrich’s crowd. Democrat Bill Clinton’s approval shot up, and some analysts point to his 1996 re-election as a major beneficiary, especially after Newt said publicly his purpose in engineering the shutdown had been to get back at Clinton for making him sit in the back of Air Force One.

The names have changed: Clinton is Obama, and Gingrich is Boehner. And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret of his goal to make Obama a one-term president, thus picking up Gingrich’s mantle of personal vendetta.

Unless cooler Republican heads prevail, the team of “So be it” Boehner and “One-term” McConnell could be the best thing for Democrats since the 1994 convention launched Barack Obama’s run to the White House.

February 21, 2011

Discretionary spending is a small portion

“Non-military discretionary spending increased 24 percent,” a Republican congressman said on the news tonight.

Most of us think of discretionary spending as money our kids spend on candy, movies and other such unnecessary extravagances. Mandatory spending puts gas in the tank so we can get to work. It buys food, and medical care, and pays the rent or mortgage.

To the federal government, “mandatory spending,” refers to entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, veterans’ benefits, food stamps, education and health programs.

“Discretionary spending” includes “defense” (not necessarily “all” all military-related spending), security, agricultural subsidies, education, health programs, highway construction and housing assistance.

What is interesting is within the discretionary category, defense spending is the greater part. In Fiscal Year 2010, which ended Sept. 30, 2010, defense spending accounted for $689 billion, while all those other things cost $677 billion. That put the portion of defense spending that actually appears on the books at just over 50 percent of the discretionary budget.

The CBO has estimated that portion will increase to 58 percent in FY2011 — maybe more if Congress is successful at cutting more than the $61 billion the House already has cut from from food to poor people, family planning and the new health care plan.

It turns out non-military discretionary spending, in spite of the alleged 24 percent increase touted by Republicans and the Tea Party, actually is a relatively small portion of the federal fiscal pie.

Conservative politicians demonstrate far more acuity at verbal economy than at fiduciary surgery, eschewing well-considered scalpels crafted and applied with thoughtful care in favor of sabers forged from well-honed cliches.

“Everything is on the table, across the board,” a newly elected congressman said on a Sunday morning talk show about the need for a “smaller, less expensive” government.

The best thing such swordsmen and women can do for their constituents is nothing at all — not because something does not need to be done, but because what they’re doing is not helpful.

Citizens at home want for food, shelter and medical care, while in foreign lands we expend billions on mercenaries to disguise our military incursions in foreign lands.

Schools want for professionally paid teachers while legislators inflict multiple rounds of standardized tests with which to measure the educational starvation of their juvenile charges.

Better they should quietly enjoy their time and parties, instead of steal bread from the very children and grandchildren they proclaim to favor.

February 17, 2011

I’m glad I don’t live there

The federal government is asking Twitter to turn over personal information some of its users. It seems the three immediate targets are thought to have been in contact via Twitter with head WikiLeaks guy Julian Assange.

Fortunately, those kind of shenanigans only happen in countries such as China and Egypt, where the federal government controls the media, or at least a large portion of it.

I’m glad I don’t live in one of those countries.

But wait! That was the U.S. Justice Department making the request.

I do live in one of those countries.

February 4, 2011

Just one more Cherry

Anyone who thinks slot machines are not addicting clearly is no fan of eating ice cream from the box: just one more spoonful and one more spoonful, just grab that cherry poking up from the vanilla, or level that corner left by the previous spoonful, and that’s enough for tonight.

But who wants to stop when there’s a chance of finding another cherry?

“You should have kept playing a little longer,” a friend tells you the next day.” A guy won a jackpot on your machine five minutes after you left.”

And 90 percent of every penny, nickel or quarter is paid out to players. That’s better than ice cream where the only reward is an empty box and a full tummy.

Just one more pull.

And 3.4 percent of every nickel goes to the state.

Maybe one more.

For every $100 played, another $3.40 boosts the state coffers.

Sure as I leave the game, the next person’s nickel will hit the jackpot.

Meanwhile, the people with money in amounts they could actually afford to share boldly proclaim “tax cuts for all Americans,” knowing all the while tax cuts for everyone is a lot more profitable for them than for the people at the income levels that are playing the slots and lottery on the off chance that “if you don’t play, you can’t win.”

February 2, 2011

It can’t happen here, you say

People are taking to the streets in Egypt, trying to rid themselves of President for Life Hosni Mubarak. Initially, they were coordinating their efforts on the Internet, using Facebook, Twitter and cell phone texting. Redress of grievances, some might call it.

Mubarak calls it something else. He has pulled the plug on the Internet, and called out called out his army and police to attack the protestors.

Here at home, Congress is considering an Internet “kill switch,” a law that would give our president broad power to declare a “cyber-emergency” and, without judicial oversight, order the Internet shut down.

The Internet comprises a lot of small service providers all using core infrastructure provided by companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner. One call to Comcast and most of the Internet ceases to exist.

Our dependence on cable and satellite television would allow a complete shutdown of communications system; with no house-mounted antennas, we would have little means of learning anything our government did not want us to know.

There are people in other nations willing to fight and die for the life some of our legislators would take from us.

January 31, 2011

Who’s in charge?

Filed under: Politics — T. Samuel Emery @ 11:38

I know this didn’t come up with the election of Tom Corbett as governor. In fact, the problem likely was around well before Ed Rendell took that office the first time.

But it does seem as though the Party of Transparency would fix it.

I’m talking about creating websites where it’s easy to discover, for instance, just who it the secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development.

I know, the guy at the helm is acting Secretary C. Alan Walker, 66-year-old coal magnate from Clearfield County.

But I know that from reading news reports, not from visiting dced.state.pa.us, the department’s main web address.

Instead, I am directed to http://www.NewPA.com. There I find several options. I can “Find Incentives and Apply for Funding,” or “Build Your Business,” or Strengthen Your Community.” But I cannot learn who is the Secretary of DCED.

At the bottom of the page, I spy, in fine print, “Contact Us.” Ah ha!, I think.

Quickly, I slide the mouse over and click the link — and up comes a form. I am to enter my name, where I live and what kind of business I have, or wish I had.

But nowhere does it say who is in charge.

DCED is not the only department that treats its customers this way. There is a link to “Search DCNR,” but when I entered “Secretary” I got a list of articles about the old secretary. Shouldn’t there be something about the new one? I know he has not been confirmed by the senate, but he, or she, has certainly been nominated. Even DCED has an “acting secretary.”

So Gov. Corbett, here’s a suggestion for you. We all know the secretary is not going to handle every little problem we peons come up with, but it would be nice if the home page for each department told is who’s in charge, and what qualifications accompany the person to the job.

December 20, 2010

Changing sides

I’m pretty easily amazed, I guess, about political shenanigans.

Republicans usually portray themselves as supporters of Small Business. They often and loudly proclaim Small Business as the Engine of the Economy. But propping up Big Business often is OK, on the premise that if Big Business has money to work with, it will expand and hire more workers. Small Business benefits because so many SB companies provide services and part for BB.

Then came the 2007 Recession. Democrats said money would be well spent to prevent bankrupting businesses which were “too big to fail” — business such as CitiBank and General Motors. Republicans screamed in excruciating pain. Too much money was being handed out to the rich, to the detriment of the national deficit.

Then came the Dems with an idea to extend a tax break to the middle class (low income citizens don’t pay taxes because they don’t earn enough money). Suddenly Republicans have a different view of handout for the rich, and made granting it a condition of offering a helping hand to their out-of-work lower-income constituents.

The way this works is unemployed job-seekers get money from the government, which they use to pay their mortgage, put food into their children’s bellies, and, if there’s any left, buy Christmas presents for the aforementioned kids.

That money trickles up to the landlords, mortgage companies, grocery chain owners and Walmart.

Who, because of the way the deal went down, will continue not paying as much taxes as they were a decade ago while many of those who were employed and paying taxes a decade ago are spending money from coffers those who have the money are refusing to replenish.

A helping hand, it seems, only helps the helper. For everyone else, it’s government waste.

December 13, 2010

Health care 2, Tax and ratepayers 1

Two federal judges — one in Virginia and one in Michigan have ruled constitutional the new health care law’s requirement requiring young and healthy people buy medical insurance. Several have dismissed the case.

Today, another federal district judge in Virginia ruled on the question. It’s illegal, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson says it’s unconstitutional to require someone to buy medical insurance. The corollary of that is that it’s legal to not have insurance and get medical care free — all you have to do is wait until it becomes an emergency.

Of course, the ruling could be good news for lots of people who’d rather not pay for car insurance. After all, if it’s illegal for the government to require unwilling citizens to buy a product …

Meanwhile, Republicans who were so concerned a month ago about the size of the national deficit have agreed to a plan in which government will spend more money and take in less.

Guess what the Republican battle cry will be in 2012.

Hint: The Republicans just got the Democrats to allow the nation’s finances to fall more than $4 trillion farther in debt.

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