DEAR LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD

A Citizen’s Open Letter, Richard Paschall

Dear Leader,

There are a number of problems in the world I would like to call to your attention in case you have not yet had time to notice them.  First, there is this whole thing about poverty.  The world is full of wealth and wealthy people and yet there are those without food, shelter and medicine.  Worse yet, successful corporations and wealthy businessmen get additional tax breaks that in no way benefit the poor.  Isn’t the government for all the people?  How about a little protection for the “little people?”  There seems to be no reason for people to starve.  Wouldn’t a “more perfect union” seek to help more than the top one percent?

Credit: CC0 Public Domain from pixabay

Photo Credit: CC0 Public Domain from pixabay

We seem to struggle with the issue of providing health care to the populace.  I know you have tried to get medical insurance to everyone, but the costs are still rather high.  Other top-tier countries do not force their citizens to choose between food and health care.  Costs are controlled to a greater extent.  Also, prescription drug costs at the retail level are affordable elsewhere.  Here many people must choose if they can afford life saving medicine or pay other bills.  Does that seem right? The same prescriptions that are reasonably priced in other countries are sometime astronomical in price here.  Can you even this out?  That would seem to “promote the general welfare.”

In a nation built on immigration, as most countries were actually, we seem to have a total lack of understanding of immigration issues.  Some politicians, barely removed from their immigrant roots, block meaningful immigration reform.  Can you speak to them about that?  Maybe they do not realize that their roots are actually somewhere else, not  here.  In fact, it seems that the native population is really rather small.  We need to “establish justice.”

If children are our future and education is the most valuable component of that, can we do something to promote higher education?  Many countries provide free education as they realize the value of it.  Surely we will fall behind in the world if we do not have an educated population.  At present, the cost discourages participation or throws many students into debt for decades after graduation.  Would this not be one of the best ways to “secure the Blessings of our Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  If our posterity is to be driven into ignorance and/or severe debt, then they are not blessed at all.

There seems to be a lot of mistrust of government, police departments and authority in general.  Can you speak to various leaders about justice and equality?  I fear we have taken steps backwards in the relationships between men and women, people of color, people of various religious backgrounds and people of different sexual orientations.  Worse yet is the use of so-called religious freedoms to justify hate.  Surely you can do something to get the dialogue back on track.  People are people.  There must be a better way to “insure domestic tranquility.”

I know you must “provide for the common defence,” but we seem to be going about it the wrong way.  Can you explain to the citizens that the second amendment was not actually handed down by god?  Since we are not living in the 1780’s and there really is no reason for all citizens to bear arms in case the states need to raise a well-regulated militia to defend themselves, we should be able to add in some sort of control.  After all, the Red Coats are not coming.  Background checks will not infringe upon my rights, I promise you.

Finally, I think programs and policies need better explanations.  Can you do a better job of that?  President Theodore Roosevelt believed that he had a “bully pulpit” and that he should use it, and use it he did.  He was not shy about going out to the people to explain himself and his policies.  Why not try to do more of that?  On the other hand, that will only mean opponents will spin the truth out of control and get more air time.  Maybe you should forget this last part.

Sincerely,
Public Citizen Richard

HATE, ANGER AND SOCIAL MEDIA

A Firestorm of Misinformation, Rich Paschall

There are always items in the news that bring out the social media commentators.  There’s the economy, Obama Care, and campaign finance laws.  There are Pipelines and Trade Agreements.  There is religious freedom and freedom of speech.  It is that Freedom of Speech thing that lets the haters and misinformers run rampant on the internet.

© 2007 Nuno Pinheiro & David Vignoni & David Miller & Johann Ollivier Lapeyre & Kenneth Wimer & Riccardo Iaconelli / KDE / LGPL 3 with permission.

© 2007 Nuno Pinheiro & David Vignoni & David Miller & Johann Ollivier Lapeyre & Kenneth Wimer & Riccardo Iaconelli / KDE / LGPL 3 with permission.

It seems a lot of people have time to create graphics with so-called information and historical quotes (internet memes).  Some are very artistically created with nice pictures of a president or other important historical person in the background.  If you are on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter enough, it seems some of these historical figures are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.  One of my favorite internet memes states “The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they are often not true. – Abraham Lincoln.”

Many of the quotes are easily disputed.  I like to type the first phrase of an internet quote or meme into Google search to see what I get.  Sometimes I immediately get proof the quote is false.  Sometimes I find the quote is true, but it was said by someone else.  It seems popular to attribute interesting political and social quotes to George Carlin, even if someone else said it.  Do we think a quote is more believable if a more famous person said it?

I have often seen a quote attributed to former President Jimmy Carter.  It says “If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian Values, because you don’t.”  While it seems like something Carter may have said post-presidency, he did not say it.  Yet, it is frequently re-quoted all across the internet.  Many sites will use it to drive home their point by indicating what this thoughtful and highly regarded human being has to say.

It was actually said by comedian John Fugelsang (Snopes.com here).  I guess if the quote comes from a comedian rather than a former president, it is harder to beat people over the head with it.

In addition to a simple Google search for the quote or alleged fact, you can go to websites dedicated to debunking internet stories.

The most popular is Snopes.com.  It calls itself “the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.”  It has to work extra hard to keep up with the mountains of internet crap published daily.  Still, I usually find out whether some really convenient quote to prove a point is actually true or false. Usually they are false.

Tech Republic has a list of the Top Ten websites dedicated to debunking internet rumors and hoaxes.  Snopes leads the list but you will find other reliable websites that can help you quickly deal with stories on Facebook that seem too convenient in proving a biased point of view.

Despite easy access to the truth, haters choose to believe whatever is posted on the internet if it can be twisted to support their position. They then take the misinformation and share it with their friends, who in turn do the same. I like to post an article or link into a comment under these false memes, but it does not seem to matter.  Comments continue to be made after mine in support of the lie, as if posting the true story meant nothing. It is infuriating, to say the least.

The anger and hate behind the false stories and memes was out in full force recently due to some “hot button” topics in the news.  The confederate flag debate was raging following the murder of nine black church-goers in South Carolina.  Haters from both sides condemned the “opposition” for their point of view.  While one side says the flag represents slavery and racism, the other claims the flag is a historical battle flag, part of their heritage. The name calling continued for quite a while.

Bringing out more internet lies than you can count was the historic Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.  We previously looked at the legal aspects of the case in It Is So Ordered.”  But not many respondents on social media were interested in the facts.

Celebrants quickly hailed the decision as if their social pressure brought about change, rather than coming as a result of well argued points of law.  Detractors saw this as the downfall of society and many Republicans vowed to have such a decision overturned by some undetermined method.  Apparently they are unaware that the Supreme Court has the final word on Constitutional law.  That is probably why we call them the “Supreme Court.”

With homophobic commentary out in abundance, never was so much hate poured out in the name of God.  I had reposted some Facebook comments by Fr. James Martin, SJ on my facebook.  I had noted he had linked to some thoughtful articles on same-sex marriage.  He asked people to respond to the court’s decision with love. You know, “love thy neighbor.” 

He did not come out in favor of the decision, he just asked us to love one another.  What did he get for his trouble?  The haters let him have it full force.  The advised him “you’ll be spending your eternity in hell.”  I guess there are bad consequences to preaching love.  The next day, in response to another posting calling for love and understanding, the good Father had to add to his facebook post “NB: No ad hominem. No uncharitable comments. No homophobic comments. One to two posts per person.”  Nope, that did not work for him. 

The bad part of social media is the ease in which hate, anger and lies are spread. Impressionable people can find support for their misguided thoughts, and feel they have backing for whatever hate or heinous acts they perpetrate. While we all support the idea of Freedom of Speech, it is safe to say our founding fathers had no idea how quickly lies could become accepted as truth.

And all of this happens in an era where the truth so easy to find. If you are interested in truth.

IT IS SO ORDERED

Equality and the Supreme Court, Rich Paschall

While the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage was expected by some, it was a total shock to others.  Nevertheless, people took to the street to celebrate their activism.  Many had demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court in recent weeks. People carried signs and waved rainbow flags.  Politicians made speeches about what the Supreme Court should do.  There were articles and editorials.  The rhetoric on the topic hit new highs (or lows, depending where you are) and social media exploded with cute (or not so cute) graphics (internet memes) in support of one side or the other.  None of this mattered, nor should it have.

In the Spring of 2013 when two landmark cases were about to be decided (Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144 and Windsor v. United States, No. 12-307), the Sunday Night Blog offered an opinion on another important case U.S. Supreme Court v. Public Opinion.  The first case dealt with California’s Proposition 8 which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.  The court could have side-stepped that one easily, and in a way, they did.  They ruled that those who had brought the case had no legal standing as they were not harmed.  In essence, they told the Ninth Circuit “the appeal to the Ninth Circuit should have been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction” as there was no harm to those who brought the appeal.  Same sex marriage resumed in California.  Interestingly, Judge Kennedy dissented.

In the other case Edie Winsor, whose marriage to Thea Spyer was recognized in the state of New York, found that her marriage was not recognized by the federal government when her partner died.  She lost everything for her lack of being able to inherit from her partner.  This was due to the highly controversial Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  It seems the federal government could not declare on one hand that whoever a state recognizes as married is married, and then say it does not apply to all people. DOMA was a clear violation of states’ rights as well as civil rights. Here Judge Kennedy wrote for the 5-4 majority, stating  “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”  While the ruling tossed out DOMA, it left gay marriage to the states.

Taken April 28, day of oral arguments to Supreme Court, CC License

Taken April 28, day of oral arguments to Supreme Court, CC License

In the court of Public Opinion, the people have no standing when it comes to the Supreme Court.  It does not matter how many people show up with rainbow flags or protest signs.  It does not matter how many politicians or activists  make speeches from the court-house steps.  It does not matter how many presidential candidates come out for or against the issue.  In fact, it is likely few candidates actually read the case or the court’s ruling.  The movement of public opinion in favor of gay marriage should actually have nothing to do with the court’s opinion.

The Supreme Court is there to rule on the law as it applies to the Constitution.  They are not there to rule in favor of shifting opinions.  They are not there to write laws.  They are not there to grant new freedoms.  They are there to hear how the case before them is to be considered in light of the law of the land, The United States Constitution.

In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges (14-556), Director Ohio Department of Health and similar cases from three other states, the justices were asked to take on the matter of same-sex marriage as being protected under the Fourteenth Amendment in all states. It became clear that any ruling by the Supreme Court would impact same-sex marriage nation wide.  So the question became, does the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution mean same-sex marriage should be recognized and legal everywhere?  When the court took on these cases as one, there was no opportunity to side step the issue.  The justices had to decide two fundamental questions.  Does the 14th amendment require states to license same-sex marriages?  Does the 14th amendment require states to recognize those married in other states?

The debate outside was not important to the court case.  The important debate was inside the Supreme Court.  What was said? These debates are not held in secret and in fact, you may hear the oral arguments of question one here and question two here. If you have the time to listen, you will hear the often debated issue of the definition of marriage being raised.  Is the court redefining marriage?

In the end, the court is not changing institutions on us or rewriting the law, they are strictly dealing with the protections of the 14th amendment.  Justice Kennedy again wrote for the 5-4 majority.  His opening line of the decision in fact stresses the law of our land is being upheld: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

But is the court working against the writers of the Constitution?  Do they have the right to offer an opinion that takes away the right to define marriage at the state level?  Are they working within the framework of their assigned duties.  Again, Justice Kennedy for the majority: “The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”

So, they addressed it head on.  Many will celebrate while many, who have not read or considered the legal matters here, will bemoan the state of our nation and the Supreme Court.  Chief among the complainants is the Chief Justice himself: “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”  To call the majority of the justices “five lawyers” shows a level of disrespect this decision is likely to see for decades to come.  The battle for equality will continue.

MAJORITY DOES NOT RULE – RICH PASCHALL

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And the loser is Democracy, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

The majority of eligible American voters did not vote in the 2014 midterm elections.  As a matter of fact, according to the US News & World Report almost two-thirds of the people who could cast ballots chose not to vote.  In this election, as in many midterm elections, the electorate chose not to elect and in the process the balance of power shifted in the Legislative Branch of the US Congress.  Is this the outcome the majority wanted?  Why do so many people refuse to vote when democracy is supposed to be the most important part of our society?

With so many close elections, it is clear that a vote by more than 50 per cent of the people in any given state could have changed the outcome.  In fact surveys show that of non voters the vast majority were Democrats.  Why did they abdicate their authority when so much was at stake?

One of the things that make the rule by the few even more perplexing is the results of the many ballot referendum nationwide versus the candidates who were elected.  Voters in large numbers across many states supported ballot initiatives for what are largely Democratic supported positions.  Those same states, however, turned increasingly to candidates who opposed those issues.  Are we so uneducated that we vote for candidates who do not actually hold our views and who will indeed vote against what we want?

voting polls electionIn no state was the seeming paradox more striking than in Illinois.

The Huffington Post pointed out “The Irony Of Illinois Election Results Is Hard To Ignore.”  The few who voted strongly supported a rise in the minimum wage (as do most voters according to pollsters), yet the champion of minimum wage lost the election to a billionaire businessman who is not only against the raise, but indicated to one audience he did not think we should have a minimum wage.

The ballot referendum that passed in Illinois will find no support with the new governor.

Why were voters turned off by the elections?  Why did the voters who came to the polls vote the way they did?  Attack ads seem to hold the key.  It matters little where you live, you likely saw or heard a glut of attack ads.  This year an estimated 3.67 billion dollars were spent on political ads according to Mother Jones (MJ) website.  The same number is widely reported elsewhere.  The ads seem to work, but why so many?

In Kentucky, for example, Mitch McConnell who is now set to be Senate Majority leader was about as popular as President Obama in February.  In other words, his approval rating was in the tank.  Nevertheless, he won reelection and should move on to a very powerful position.

What happened?  Attack ads happened.  Afraid of losing the senate seat, a power political PAC without the same restrictions as candidates, got behind McConnell and outspent his opponent who was leading in the polls at one time.  The mud-slinging PAC dirtied the Democrat via 12,000 TV ads state-wide. The so-called independent PAC is run by a former McConnell aide according to the MJ website and hauled down money from some powerful people.

In all “outside PACs” spent an estimated $301,000,000 this year, but that’s nothing compared to the total.  We will never know what the real total is because of “Dark Money.”  Politifact.com says there is no way to tell the real amount  spent by organizations who keep their donors anonymous.  They report these groups include “trade associations, unions and nonprofit social welfare organizations like the Koch brothers-founded Americans for Prosperity.”

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Not long ago we ran a “cautionary tale” about two brothers who put together an organization to essentially buy elections and hold power over America by the candidates they supported.  It was a work of fiction, but consider the reality.  It is estimated the Koch brothers together spent 300 million dollars of their fortune on this election alone.  Was it successful?  MJ website credits them with an 85 percent return on investment.  Even at that, why would anyone set out to buy the Senate.  What is in it for them?

The long-delayed Keystone Pipeline may now get approved by a Congress favorable to such a project.

The controversial project could be a windfall for the Koch Brothers.  According to the Huffington Post, they could benefit by 100 billion dollars.  Yes, you read that right.  100 billion!  So, voters, do you feel used?  You non-voters, do you regret passing up the chance to make your voice heard?

We have seen 9 months of continuous job growth. The stock market is close to 10,000 points higher than it was when Obama took office. Inflation is low, powered by a significant drop in gas prices.

Not having to spend so much hauling goods keeps prices down too.  The banking industry was saved, so was one of the America’s largest employers, the auto industry.  Yet we voted against the President and returned to power the Congress the party who was there when the economy tanked.  We will not even go into the war we fought under somewhat questionable reasoning.

Why America?  Why?  We eagerly await your comments below.

Send in the clowns … Marilyn Armstrong

America, land of the brave and the free. Photo by Turtsman.

My father was not a wise man, but a smart one who knew how to make money. He was a lifelong Democrat, small businessman and other things I would prefer not to delve into right now. A big part of his salesman’s repertoire were one liners and jokes. This was a favorite of mine.

It isn’t what you don’t know that will get you. It’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Albert Friedman
Self-Made American (1917 – 2010)

How true it is, and also, how sad. So many people knowing with complete certainty so much that is so wrong. For them, the motto will forever be thus:

Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up.

So, I guess if you want to maintain your bona fides as a Real American, you should continue to watch ONLY Fox News. It will help to reinforce your unfounded opinions by presenting pseudo facts and speculation in lieu of real information and you, dumbass, will believe every word of it. Rupert Murdoch is laughing at you all the way to his offshore accounts.

Don’t read anything that contains facts unless they comply with your preconceptions. In fact, it might be best to avoid reading entirely. Make a flag of your ignorance and close-mindedness; wave it proudly. Tell the world you know nothing and don’t want to learn nothin’ neither.

Finally, proclaim that you are the prototypical American, unlike the rest of us snobbish book-reading socialist anti-Christian liberal Nazis who don’t agree with you. Don’t be concerned that you don’t know what prototypical means. I didn’t expect you to understand. Too many syllables.

After that, you can wonder why the world is losing respect for the United States. Maybe it has something to do with “true Americans” like you with your passion for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and stupidity.

You vote against your own best interests because you vote not for people who will help you, but for those who share your hates. Anyone can have you by preying on what you hate. You hate so many things that you are easily had. You are America’s fools and losers, the people about whom H.L Mencken spoke when he said:

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

H. L. Mencken
US editor (1880 – 1956)

Let the Fun Begin: Williamsburg, Virginia – Marilyn Armstrong

Friends are here and today we shall emerge and go forth to enjoy! It turns out that Colonial Williamsburg doesn’t exactly have an entrance fee. There are things in there that if you want to see them, have entry fees, but it’s free to go to the town and just enjoy it. Which hopefully is what we’ll do today.

Adding Yorktown and Jamestown costs very little. For the historical stuff, time is more the issue than is money. We have to pace ourselves, see as much as we can without getting exhausted. Young at heart? Yes, absolutely. But our bones know the truth and we can’t ignore them.

Tomorrow will be some combination of fun activities … and I’m betting it will be Busch Gardens.

Pricey, but  they have all those roller coasters and I am simply NOT going to pass up the opportunity. I’m not going to miss it.

I didn’t drive all these miles to say “Oops, can’t afford it.” That’s stupid. So I’m doing it, and that it. Even if I have to pay more than I imagined in my nightmares I would need to pay!

The hotel which isn’t a hotel, but a condo time share, is MUCH nicer than I expected.

Living room and dining area lead to a balcony facing the woods.

Aside from our quarters being huge and very nicely appointed, there are many more activities and I expected and just overall, a really lovely place.

The kitchen. There’s a huge amount of storage space … much more than I have at home and there’s also a compact washer and dryer in a closet across from the fridge.

The balcony off the living room has a peaceful view of the woods and trails. Which is what we see out our windows at home, but it’s a big improvement from the many views of parking lots I’ve had over the years from where I was staying!

View from the balcony.

If only it weren’t so godawful far away from home!

We’re pretty much recovered from the drive and now, I WANT TO HAVE SOME FUN!!!

Tune in for updates!

Editor’s Note:  The above was originally posted August 5, 2012.  In the next two days you will get more from this trip.

Old Gettysburg – Marilyn Armstrong

Horse and buggy. Easy to shoot. Horse doesn’t move much. Okay. Not at all.

When you think of Gettysburg, you probably think “battlefield.” Military history. Civil War.

I’ve never seen an actual “cigar store Indian.” Heard about them, but never seen one.

What does not likely come immediately to mind are “Ghosts” and “Ghouls.” However unlikely, that seems to be the most prominent theme of this historic town and its battlegrounds.

Old soldiers never die?

The shops are full of ghosts, ghouls, and zombies representing the dead soldiers. And, of course, there are tee shirts. Many varieties of ghosts, ghouls, and zombies, dressed in both Confederate and Union uniforms. Some, with no uniforms.

A zombie of Gettysburg.

This is tourist central, but it’s charming and quaint and everything is nicely clumped together in a small area. Even for me, it’s not too much walking. That the temperature has dropped quite a bit helps too.

Tunnel on the path.

You can get a tee-shirt with the entire Gettysburg Address on it, with or without Abraham Lincoln. You can get a wide variety of  Confederate, Union, or combination tee-shirts. Guns and knives vie with children’s toys as souvenirs.

Tee shirts … whatever you want, bet they have it.

The honored dead did not die in vain. They died so we could have cool tee shirts.

The Blue and Grey Tee Shirt Emporium.