Seven Months

It’s been seven months since my last blog post, and the situation of humanity on this earth has only worsened. In March, an 8.9 earthquake followed by a huge tsunami hit Japan, caused complete destruction of many areas on the east coast of the country.  The video that came from the scene was astonishing. The tsunami came as far as 6 miles inland, pushing cars and buildings out of its way as if they were styrofoam cups.

The tsunami also damaged a nuclear power complex and three reactors suffered partial meltdowns, producing large regions of dangerous radiation. This is a problem still affecting the country, because the area was partially agricultural, and all their food products are radioactive to some degree. One of the worst contaminated products is milk.

The Missouri, Mississippi, and other rivers had passed far beyond flood stage this year. In a controversial move, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a spillway in Louisiana that allowed waters to flood areas of Central LA all the way to the coast. This decision was made because the central areas are much less populated, and if the spillway had not been opened, flooding in the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans would have been worse, affecting a large number of people.

Forest fires have been raging, due to extreme drought in the southwest. The drought is worst, in magnitude and in area affected, in Texas. A heat wave has been breaking records since May, not just in the South but also in the Midwest and Northeast. Currently DFW stands at 36 consecutive days at 100 or above and is approaching the all time record of 42 consecutive days which occurred in 1980. Given the forecast for the upcoming week, we should have no problem topping that record.

Fortunately (as far as comfort is concerned), it is a very dry heat. That also makes it easier for fires to occur. I receive e-mails from FEMA about disaster areas and have frequently seen Texas counties on the list because of fires.

Notice the fire between Longview and Marshall!

Tornadoes rampaged in the spring, with the most famous one destroying parts of Joplin, Missouri.

Most recently there has been difficulty with Congress, i.e. the stubbornness of the Republicans, especially the Tea Party, with regard to raising the debt ceiling. They spent at least a month arguing, digging in their heels, threatening each other (Democrats too!) and engaging in other non-productive activities, while citizens worried more and more (and felt disgusted), and who knows what the rest of the world was thinking.

Earlier this week, on the last day (8-2), a compromise was finally reached and signed into law. Not a good compromise, of course. I don’t even want to think about it right now. Tomorrow I’ll post an op-ed I did for Associated Content.

And in spite of the compromise, Standard & Poor’s lowered the U.S. from its triple-A credit rating to double-A.

At the moment, I’m too depressed about all this to write anything more.

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Another number trick

As reported at American Prospect blog, the Republicans have found a new way to massage the numbers concerning health care reform: simply choose another source, specifically, themselves. The apparent reason for this choice is the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the health care bill (ACA) will produce a surplus, rather than increased debt. Naturally they can’t allow that, because it doesn’t fit into their viewpoint. Thus they have decided to select the answer that they want, even though it isn’t connected to reality.

Meanwhile, the world keeps turning and people get poorer and the environment becomes poisoned and we may all die next year. Well, c’est la vie.

Back from the wilderness

Not really. 🙂 But sometimes it feels like it.

How about that election? Although the Republicans now control the House (I hate to see Pelosi leave the post of Majority Leader!), they don’t have the Senate, which means there wasn’t a clean sweep as some had predicted. Most significantly, in my view, the real crazies (i.e. Angle and O’Donnell) will not be going to Washington in a few months. Thank God!

Now, the Beltway gossip — actually, it’s not just gossip, it comes straight from the Republicans’ mouths — says that their first priority is to extend the Bush tax cuts. This will make all the rich people ecstatic and the middle class pleased. That is, pleased until they realize the tax cuts will require harsh, merciless slice-and-dice  to some of the major entitlement programs. Or cuts somewhere in the budget — defense, perhaps? No, hardly anyone would like that. Members of Congress would fight the closing of any bases in their jurisdictions. They have to if they want to keep their seats.

 

Is Religious Tolerance Dead?

I continue to be amazed and saddened at the anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions that proceed from American fears, especially among Republicans. Anti-Muslim sentiment did not begin with 9/11, but has been present in the US before,  beginning with the Immigration Act of 1965 if not sooner. This Act allowed for increased numbers of immigrants from Asia as well as Central and South America. Many of the Muslims who migrated were professionals such as doctors or lawyers who were immediately accepted by virtue of their professions — that is, until 9/11. The World Trade Center bombing attracted attention to Muslims all over the US, and suddenly their professions were not enough to establish them as Americans (see AOL news story on anti-Muslim fervor). Fear caused non-Muslim Americans to view them as dangerous, even though terrorists number only a small percentage of all Muslims.

Religious intolerance has swelled at certain points in US history, aimed at Jews, Mormons, and Catholics plus other smaller groups such as Buddhists, Hindus, Amish and Quakers. Even some of our Founding Fathers thought of religious freedom in terms of various flavors of Christianity, specifically Protestant Christianity. Other religions might be tolerated, but also might not, in the same way that the inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence were in practice given only to white free landholding males in the beginning. Women, non-whites, slaves, and those who possessed no land were out of luck.

I perceive that after the Aquarian Revolution of the ’60s passed, in which the greatest amount of religious tolerance was practiced, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction. The ’80s and part of the ’90s were marked by areligious, if not atheist, world views. But as the new millennium approached, religious fervor and intensity spread; after 9/11 the interest in religion was bolstered further.

There is always at least one group in the pariah status of society, with seemingly logical and rational reasons for that status. Over the last 2 millennia, Jews have been common targets but one only has to think about the Crusades to understand that European anti-Islam activities began long ago, in the Middle Ages.

Who will be the next scapegoat? Yesterday, peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians began again in Washington, DC. ; however, the talks are criticized by many on both sides and Israel continues new construction on its West Bank settlements. Will any peace treaty that is developed turn into a “phony peace”? What happens in the daily life of citizens — suicide bombing, IEDs, or army attacks — no matter what it is, daily life is much more significant than any peace treaty established at the highest level.

Hazardous Waste — again

The number of deaths from cancer near the town of Frederick, MD, are reminiscent of the movie “Erin Brokovich,” and in fact, the law office where the famous lawyer works has been tapped to manage a class action lawsuit brought by Frederick residents against the nearby Army post, Fort Detrick.

Agent Orange, a well known defoliant and carcinogen, was researched and developed by the military at Fort Detrick (and other locations) during the ’70s.  Testing of groundwater near the fort has shown contamination by Agent Orange and other related chemicals.

Fort Detrick has just recently finished capping its hazardous waste dumps to prevent them from entering the groundwater — a task it began back in 1992.

This is another example of technology rushing ahead with no thought of the possible consequences.  Technology typically develops much faster than safe practices and morals; thus humanity is forever cleaning up messes that could have been prevented. The BP oil spill is another good example.

Right now there is a great debate on who should be responsible for making sure that safety rules are followed: should it be the company itself (or similar entity), or should a governmental agency set standards and provide accountability through inspections?

The question isn’t easy to answer. Government can get out of control, particularly if a gung-ho over the top employee is head of the agency. On the other hand, companies look out for their shareholders interests first. They have to. A conflict develops between doing things safely and doing them cheaply. Typically the scale tips towards cheaply, and the company just prays that nothing will ever happen….

Until it does, at which time they begin chasing their tails, trying to find someone to blame, and maybe spending a bit of time and money on fixing the actual problem.

I know that Stockholders Are People Too. I don’t disparage their right to make money in the stock market — that’s what it’s there for. However, companies and agencies (like Fort Detrick) cannot, must not forget that there is a larger world beyond their stockholders. And this larger world deserves consideration.

Modern poorhouse, anyone?

It appears that the Tea Party (Republican) candidate for governor of New York has a surprising-but-not-new idea for dealing with poverty.

Carl Paladino’s plan includes consolidating inmates and possibly privatizing prisons, then opening the empty prisons for the poor to enter “voluntarily.” He compares his program to the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.

There are several differences, however.

Paladino has previously said that his state’s social services programs encourage poor and illegal immigrants to move there.  He also states that his “poor prison” plan will teach needed skills and “personal hygiene” to those who enter, and that they will need to do work for the government as needed in return for their keep.

Requiring work from those helped in this way is similar to the CCC and to current social programs like welfare. According to Jessica Pieklo at Care2.com, however, Paladino does not comprehend the causes of poverty in the US.

While I appreciate the irony in Paladino giving credit to the CCC for his idea, I’m more than a little disturbed by his overall misunderstanding of poverty in this country.  For a large percentage of the population, poverty is not simply a function of a lack of skills or poor hygiene.  Those who do receive some kind of public assistance already work in exchange for those benefits.  They have to.

I perceive that Paladino does not miss any meals or wonder where he will sleep each night. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean he can’t empathize… except that he doesn’t, quite.

The Huffington Post also covered this story, emphasizing Paladino’s plan to have the poor work in various types of service including military service. He has not specified whether they would get pay or not, nor from where the money for this program will come. However, he promises a 20% reduction in New York’s budget and a 10% reduction in income tax.

I believe that Paladino’s plan could work, with certain caveats.

  1. Moving into the former prison wards would be strictly voluntary.
  2. Families would be able to live together.
  3. Children would go to school as usual.
  4. Workers would receive payment, at least minimum wage, but hopefully more since the minimum wage is below poverty level.
  5. Every person living in the dorms would receive medical, dental, optical, and mental health treatment free of charge. The reason for this is that a healthy individual is better able to take his/her place in society as a functioning, contributing member.

IMHO, this plan is good, IFF (if and ONLY if) the above characteristics are met. If done properly, it could totally change the economy and crime level of a state.

Mankind’s Giant Puzzle

I have been reading news stories as well as watching the 3 main cable news channels, trying to piece together the puzzle of what is really happening on our planet. What would an alien race think of us if they were watching us invisibly, able to go everywhere and see everything?

They would see hypocrisy in the moralizing preachers and public figures who claim to stand for “family values” then are caught in adultery, prostitution, or pornography. And in particular, “Christians” whose life choices are so far from Christ’s –who welcomed foreigners rather than fearing them — that the term “Christian” seems like a travesty.

They would see the United States slipping in economic stability, infant mortality, civil rights (read the Patriot Act) and education while legislators play games of “musical  amendments” and “hot issue”. Childishly they guard their fortresses, the donkey and the elephant scarcely remembering that they are both animals.

They would see our impulsiveness and widespread inability to wait for anything. Perhaps they would wonder why we didn’t pay more attention to long term goals, and instead polluted the air, tore down the mountains, contaminated the water, and designed ever new and ready means to check out of life for awhile.

I doubt that they would consider us a threat to them, at least not at present. They would consider it much more likely that we would destroy ourselves.

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