What Sequestration Really Tells Us About Our Government

Well, it seems that sequestration is inevitable at this point.  Our broken congress is unable or unwilling to come to a budget agreement and now automatic spending cuts to the tune of 85 billion will go into effect tomorrow.  People will have their hours cut back or lose their jobs, schools will lose funding and many services that people depend on will become less efficient causing major headaches for Americans everywhere.

I’m not here today to talk about whether increased taxes or spending cuts or, heaven forbid, a balanced approach, is the right way to balance the budget.  I’m here to talk about the larger issue that this whole, nasty sequestration affair brings to light; our dysfunctional government.  We have two ideological parties who are willing to play games with the lives of every person in this country.  These politicians have proven time and time again that the very people who elected them are nothing more than pawns in their sick kabuki theater.

How long will we continue to elect people who treat us with nothing but disdain?  The only thing that seems to matter anymore to the American politician are the big corporations with billions of dollars.  The rest of us apparently are incidental.  It makes no difference if you are Republican or Democrat, work for a private company or are on the public dime, an immigrant or born in the U.S.A.  If you are an average Joe American our current government does not work for you.

It’s up to us to change that.  Until we get a viable third party and actually support it, the two big bullies on the playground will have no reason to change their ways.  I don’t see that happening any time soon because too many people in this country are perfectly fine with their party’s ideological platform and will blindly follow them, even if it’s right over a cliff.  A simple thing like term limits would help shake things up immensely.  Until we get a few more colossal mishandlings of management responsibilities like sequestration that negatively impact the majority of Americans, congress will continue to put on their makeup and perform their dramatic scenes while ignoring what’s happening to the American people they are elected to serve.

You may be tempted to say, “But they are doing the best job they can and its hard work.”  I ask you to consider the huge salaries they are getting paid and the nice retirement they will get when their stint in Washington is over.  Then think about how your wages and retirement plans have shrunk, largely due to their lack of competent governance and poor oversight of the moneyed corporations they serve instead of you.

Shed not a tear for John Boehner.  He’ll shed plenty of his own.

jbc

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Sequester THIS, Republicans. We’ve Had Enough.

The sequester looms. Republicans in Congress are insisting on large cuts in federal government spending – except to defense – along with more tax cuts on top of all those that have already been passed. Rather than compromise on their severe demands, they’re blocking any agreement. Barring an agreement by Friday, broad, arbitrary cuts to most government programs will automatically take hold.

Never mind that economists believe that sharply cutting the deficit now, with the economic recovery still fragile, could throw the economy into another recession. If you don’t believe that, take a look at Europe. Yes, they’ve had other problems. But Europe’s insistence on “austerity” – harsh spending cuts – with economies already weak have sent that continent into its second recession in five years. And Republicans want to do the same thing to the U.S. economy.

Abruptly cutting the deficit now isn’t just unnecessary – it’s senseless and destructive. State and local government spending as a percentage of GDP is still well below its levels in 2008 and 2009, the result of lower tax receipts and mandatory spending cuts on those levels. Businesses remain wary of expanding, with the recovery weak and Congress seeming intent on sabotaging it. Consumers are starting to show a little confidence, but high unemployment rates and lingering consumer debt still cast a shadow across them.

Standard macroeconomics says that federal government deficit spending when the economy is below its potential isn’t just okay – it’s necessary. Someone has to fill in for the lower spending of state and local governments, business, and cautious consumers. If not, the economy could take years to dig its way out of the huge hole it fell into in 2008 and 2009. And the federal government’s the only one out there big enough to do it.

It’s not that the deficit doesn’t need to be reduced. It does. But it’s already been declining on its own, as the economy has started growing again. The federal budget deficit for the 12 months ending February 2010 was nearly $1.5 trillion. The deficit for the 12 months ending January 2013 was just over $1 trillion – a decline of 43 percent. And it will continue to decrease, so long as the economy continues to recover.

The right time to decrease the deficit a lot is when the economy is expanding solidly. As it was when President George W. Bush took office in 2001. We actually had a federal budget surplus then. We were starting to pay down our public debt, the way we should when the economy is growing. But instead of letting that continue – paying off some of our debt when we could so we’d have a cushion when we needed it, Bush slashed taxes, particularly for his rich cronies. That surplus turned into a deficit within months.

We do need to make longer-term plans for decreasing the deficits, but that needs to be done with a combination of gradual spending cuts and tax increases, mostly for the rich and super-rich. Income inequality has been increasing enormously in the U.S. for decades, and a lot of that is the result of less progressive taxes. That needs to be reversed. Instead of withdrawing financial support for those most in  need, we need to be investing, in better education and training, in improved infrastructure, and expanded health care for Americans.

That needs to be done with a spirit of compromise and give-and-take. Not the “take-your-ball-and-go-home”, “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude of Republicans. They’re willing to sacrifice the entire economy, risking hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, if they don’t get everything they want. Holding the entire country hostage in order to reward their rich donors with even more tax cuts.

We shouldn’t reward that kind of political brinkmanship. Hell – we shouldn’t even tolerate it.

It’s time to stand up to the Republican extremists and tell them we’ve had enough of their bullying and strong-arm tactics. We want progress on the federal budget, and we want it now.

This country deserves better than what the Republicans are giving it.

Evergreen Up Late: A Return to Almost-Normality

‘evenin’, all-

So it occurs to me that one of these nights, I should sit down and seriously look at issues. I should very thoughtfully analyze the causes of the current predicament in which we find ourselves. I should propose pragmatic solutions based on progressive principles, historical precedents, and solid research. I should. And I will.

But not tonight. So with no further ado, I give you…

The reason FARK has a “Florida” tag.

The happiest artillery shell ever.

Of course people enjoy being in abusive relationships…wait, what?

It’s not that we have the right. It’s that so many people insist on vigorously exercising it.

My wife and I are going to volunteer for this. Because we’ve decided we would like to be the Martian Adam & Eve.

I don’t think this is what Don Ho was talking about.

The best of all possible tomorrows to you all-

From Sea to Shining Sea

I’m watching the sun begin to glow behind the Laguna Mountains this morning (I’m still on EST, which is why I’m awake enough to write before sunrise), and I’m thinking about a story our own Doctor Floyd wrote a few weeks ago, and about a poem.

Yesterday I was up before the sun, hopped into an enormous metal tube in Gainesville, Florida, flew through the air to Atlanta, Georgia, where I wandered around a sprawling concrete, glass and steel building for a couple of hours, climbed into another, even larger metal tube and again flew through the air to within a few feet of the Pacific Ocean.  Door to door, my trip took less than twelve hours.

We think of air travel as just another way to get from Point A to Point B.  But if, somehow, we were able to explain it to our great-grandparents, they would see it as nothing shy of miraculous.

Only a little more than a century ago people died making that trip.  Regularly. Still, they made the trip. Single men looking to get rich, or just get some space (or pillage).  Businesspeople looking for a fresh start.  Families looking for a place of their own (Yes, I know, a lot of it was somebody else’s first).

They crossed thick woods and malarial swamps.  They climbed set after set of foothills and mountains.  Broke their wagon wheels (and their horses and themselves) on boulders.  Were shot at (and shot) by bad guys and good guys alike.  Nursed snakebites and dysentary.  Buried children, parents and friends.

From the air, if you care to look, you can see how unspeakably hard it must have been to cross this continent.  You can see every river, lake, stream and ditch, and how very far it is between them for a lot of the trip.  You can see how dense the forests sometimes are, how far the prairie stretches, how high the mountains reach and finally, how desolate the desert really, truly is.  You can see where some gave up and put down roots because they just couldn’t walk another step, even though where they stopped had nothing to recommend it to a potential human community.  And you can imagine how much those people must have wanted to be somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere their own.  Facing all they faced, many of them kept on walking, riding.

If you wonder what makes the American character, what sets Americans apart, for good, for ill and for everything in-between, what makes much of the rest of the world ask just what the hell Americans are thinking from time to time, wonder on this.  We’re made of restless stock, Americans.  Most of us didn’t start here, ancestrally.  We crossed oceans – some unwillingly – to get here, and once we got here, we didn’t want to stop going.

People still want to come here for the very same reasons our ancestors did, for the same reasons your forebears and mine picked up stakes and said, “Yeah, I know it’s going to be hard, but I believe we can make something better over there.

Today we – me and you, through our elected representatives – sit in judgment of these modern-day immigrants.  We decide how easy or how hard it will be for them to just be here and try to find that better of which they dream.  Some of them wait patiently and work through the proper bureaucratic channels.  Some jump in the back of a truck and head north, walk deserts, swim rivers and dodge bullets and snakes.  Some climb into a shipping container packed like sardines (or slaves) and cross the mighty Pacific.  Some rig a flimsy fishing boat and hope for winds and currents to take them somewhere different, somewhere better.

The sun is up now.  If I squint hard out the window of my generic business conference hotel window I can see Mexico.  Right now, just a stone’s throw from where I sit this morning, there’s a kid shaking in her boots making a deal with some shady guy to get her across the border.  Right now, there’s a family hoping that kid makes it, and that she can send them some of that better.  Maybe even send for them one day.

You and I, we judge that kid. There’s a Lady standing in a harbor in New York who hopes we judge well.

In addition to writing here at Everblog, Harvey Ward writes about his efforts to live healthier and better at SkippingDessert.Com.  You can also find him on Twitter @hlward.

On MAKERS: The Women’s Rights Movement is Alive and Kicking

Last night, PBS aired a mostly wonderful show entitled MAKERS: Women Who Make America.

The description from the PBS site of the show:

MAKERS: Women Who Make America tells the remarkable story of the most sweeping social revolution in American history, as women have asserted their rights to a full and fair share of political power, economic opportunity, and personal autonomy. It’s a revolution that has unfolded in public and private, in courts and Congress, in the boardroom and the bedroom, changing not only what the world expects from women, but what women expect from themselves. MAKERS brings this story to life with priceless archival treasures and poignant, often funny interviews with those who led the fight, those who opposed it, and those first generations to benefit from its success. Trailblazing women like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey share their memories, as do countless women who challenged the status quo in industries from coal-mining to medicine. Makers captures with music, humor, and the voices of the women who lived through these turbulent times the dizzying joy, aching frustration and ultimate triumph of a movement that turned America upside-down.

It is remarkable how women were treated unfairly and denied civil rights.

It is remarkable that so many women fought back and tried to gain these rights.

Wait—I just said “tried.”  Why the past tense?

We (women) still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), as even Justice Scalia noted two years ago. Many people were outraged by his comments, but as a feminist activist, I was almost thankful he pointed out that women don’t have equal rights under the Constitution. (Having taught Philosophy of Law, I am no fan of Scalia’s Constitutional interpretations, but I sadly must agree with him on this issue. Sadly because I believe it to be true.)

We (women and men who believe in equality) are still FIGHTING to get the ERA ratified. You wouldn’t know it from the third part of the MAKERS series aired last night, however. For someone like me, involved in women’s liberation and NOW, it was nothing new yet something I think the general, non-feminist—identifying public was unaware of. This is good.

But the women’s rights movement hasn’t stopped. The third section of MAKERS spread the message that “women are fighting for these rights on their own.” There was no me mention that NOW and Women’s Liberation, along with others, are still fighting for seemingly basic human rights.

No doubt women have been empowered to expect to be treated as human beings by our sisters who fought so hard!

But we aren’t all fighting this on our own. The women’s rights movement remains active. (Why else would the terms “feminazi”, “femistasi”, bitch, whore, slut, cunt, etc are still “acceptable” criticism that is tossed our ways for speaking up? Or even taking up space? The Seth MacFarlane debacle? Affirmative Action? Etc)

You wouldn’t know from the way it was presented in MAKERS that it’s still very much an active movement.

And for many women, this is a constant battle. Fair pay? We haven’t achieved that yet. Paid parental leave? (Which again, benefits both genders. In fact, most of the feminist movement has benefited both genders.) Got equality?

My main impression of MAKERS, condensed, is:

“MAKERS” was fun (“Oh, I know her!”) [and yes, I do know some of the women who appeared on the show], not really new to me (thanks feminist friends for the education and CRs!) but also depressing.

Lots of work to give women basic civil rights has been done. Thank you to those who made my life easier.

But watching “MAKERS”, I couldn’t help but be painfully reminded that many gains for equality have been or is being eroded. We still don’t have the ERA (WHY?), victims of sexual assault are still put on trial (not the extent it was, but some cases are scarily close to the woman’s lifestyle being on trial), and lots of folks still think “sexual harassment” means a woman just can’t take a joke. There were women of color, but not enough.  It was frustrating to see not see third wave feminism mentioned at all and instead told that “women are doing it themselves” (and that somehow, fighting alone is acceptable). or that we take those before us for granted.

*I* don’t take this for granted, and I can only speak from my own experiences, but in general, I think feminists are aware of the injustices that happened before our time–and the injustices happening now….well, we, as feminists, are very much at risk of losing rights we have now with no Constitutional protections.

There were women of color in MOVERS, but it wasn’t enough for 2013. (Where was Loretta Ross and her lifelong activism?)

Despite my own criticism, I would recommend it with caution. It was a good, honest history…up until what, 1986?

The Hidden Sacrament

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog because I am livid. And disgusted. And disappointed.

I am Catholic by choice. I joined the Roman Catholic Church (“the Church”) in my 30’s because I decided that’s where I wanted to raise my children. I was brought up in the Methodist Church, and left because I didn’t like the attitudes. I spent my young adulthood in Baptist churches, but left because I didn’t care for the behavior. I found the structure and ritual of the Mass comforting.

Thanks to global communications and the 24-hour news cycle, we’re discovering things about the Church that threaten – nay, promise – to shake the institution to it’s very foundation; by what is revealed or concealed. It appears that, for at least the last several decades (and I suspect much longer), the Church has been practicing a hidden Sacrament, which I have named the Sacrament of the Orgy.

Now, before you become totally offended, allow me to explain how I came to name this sacrament. In my angst, I commented that it seemed like the Church was turning into one big orgy. One of my fellow bloggers, who happens to be an ancient Greek language scholar, pointed out that the word “orgy” is related to the Greek wordorgia.” Orgia were rites in Greek and Hellenistic mystery religions that may have evolved to include sex or imitating sexual acts. While it is significant to point out that orgies involve consensual sex, and – by all indications – what has been occurring in the Church is not consensual, the widespread nature of the behavior does, in my opinion, rise to an equal level of debauchery. Hence, the name.

As alarming and distasteful as the idea of widespread sexual abuse committed by priest upon children and junior priests is, it is not surprising. In a very real way, the Church models abusive behavior for its Religious with very strict requirements which have absolutely no bearing on their ability to practice their chosen vocation.  Why would an institution which owns some of the most valuable antiquities in Europe (not to mention some wickedly prime real estate) require its employees to take a vow of poverty? Why would an organization whose primary source document urges Believers to “be fruitful and multiply” demand celibacy? How, in 2012, can a global organization continue to stubbornly enforce a system of rigid patriarchy that subjugates women to a lesser position in pretty much every aspect of religious life?

This may, however, be just the wake-up call the Church needs. The demographics of the Church are changing.  While the congregation grows ever browner, the face of the Church remains old and white. As HIV/AIDS continues to ravage Africa, the Church stands firm against the use of condoms. And I don’t at all appreciate anyone who has no idea how expensive raising a child is these days telling me I don’t have the right – or responsibility – to control my fertility.

As dark a cloud as these recent developments have cast over the Church, perhaps there is a silver lining to be found. Perhaps, finally, the wealthy, authoritarian behemoth known as Vatican City will be forced to face how woefully out of step it is with reality. As secret coffers are pried open to compensate sexual abuse victims who refuse to harbor their dark secrets any longer, dioceses and archdioceses are left with no or severely weakened leadership and credibility as bishops retire or are dismissed in shame, the membership of the College of Cardinals is significantly compromised by  questions of the suitability of its members to responsibly select a new Church leader, and the Church faces a possibly pontiff-less Easter, we may be witnessing a true Come-to-Jesus moment.

And, in my opinion, it is long overdue.

Evergreen Up Late: In Memory of a Giant

Greetings, all

Normally, for an Up Late post, I like to find and accent the funny, the weird, the ironic…and I’ll be back to that soon enough. But tonight is a little different.

One gorgeous day in August 1987, I began my post-secondary education at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, FL. Santa Fe is now ranked one of the top 10 colleges in the nation-but this tradition of excellence is nothing new, and when I was there, it was really in what can only be described as a Golden Age. I have often considered the staff there the true intellectual elite of Gainesville-no small compliment in the home of the University of FL-because their talent, knowledge, and teaching skill was the equal of the best the giant UF could offer, but they were too smart to get caught up in the rat-race, dog-eat-dog, ruthlessly Darwinian environment that is any major university. It was that day that I made my first acquaintance with one of these these giants-anthropologist Stuart McRae.

Stuart was one of the most dynamic individuals I have ever met-a true Renaissance Man, who lived to teach, learn, and laugh. Whether it was in class, a bar, around a bonfire at his farm, or one of the many study-abroad programs he led, Stuart was interested in learning everything, and teaching everything. He was a born lecturer-in the best possible sense-in that his mixture of expertise, experience, and storyteller’s skill made every narrative a gripping adventure, every point a profound life lesson. He had a booming laugh that could be heard from far away, and which was deeply infectious; he spread joy and laughter everywhere he went. He once described Santa Fe as “the ultimate teaching environment.” This was due to his belief that K-12 was primarily for socialization, enculturation, and discipline, while the universities are for research. He was one of the most dynamic, inspirational people I have ever met-and this creates a strange dissonance, as I simultaneously celebrate his life, and my own fortune in being blessed to walk alongside him for a short time during this part of the journey, while I mourn his passing, and the ill fortune of those who will never know what it is like to be in the presence of someone who truly lives life to the fullest.

Fair winds and following seas, Stuart. We who knew you were immeasurably blessed by your generosity, your wisdom, and your greatness of spirit.Pass now into the realm of myth and legend, though none will approach the reality-mere shadows of what once was, recounted in hushed, loving tones by those of us sufficiently blessed to have lived in the time of Stuart McRae.

 

Farewell, great soul.