Archives For In The News

Things happening in the world today

It’s known as one of the most exclusive places on earth, the home of the rich and spectacularly rich.  Orange County, Calif.’s, reputation only grew when the TV crews started rolling in several years ago. But “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and the teens of “Laguna Beach” failed to mention a major piece of the O.C. drama. The county is also among the top 10 in the U.S. for childhood food insecurity….

Along with the yacht clubs and average home prices of nearly $2 million in some spots, Orange County also has more than 150,000 children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Paul Leon is the president of the Illumination Foundation, a group that helps struggling families find housing and stability. — Orange County is basically the tale of two cities. We have the area that we’re standing in right now, which is Newport Beach, is the richest thing in the nation. And then 17 miles away, we have one of the most densely populated and poorest cities in the nation.

Among the poor are thousands of low-income workers who support the county’s luxury economy. Before Leon’s foundation intervened, kids in the Tina Pacific neighborhood of Anaheim often skipped meals.

SOURCE: In wealthy Orange County, a campaign to waste less to help feed hungry kids | PBS NewsHour | Jan. 24, 2014 | PBS.

While Orange County, California is perhaps at the top of the list when it comes to income inequality it is by no means unique in that area. If nothing is done in this area eventually there will be a citizen uprising that might very well shake the foundations of our democracy.  Yes, the spin machines have done a good job up till now in convincing enough people that they to can find the “good life” if only they work hard enough. But, given the continuing drain of wealth to the top  even that rhetoric will eventually lose enough believers.

It seems ironic that the people in Orange county who own those $2 million dollar home won’t pay a living wage to those who keep up those mansions. It is not as if they can’t afford it, they simply choose not to do so.

Enrollment in the food stamp program has increased by 70 percent since 2008, to 47.8 million people as of December 2012. The biggest factor driving the increase is the stagnating job market and a rising poverty rate. This means that a staggering 15 percent of the US population receives food stamp benefits, nearly double the rate of 1975. Even military families use of food stamps has increased from $26 million in 2006 to $103 million last year.

A Tale of Two Cities seems to be the motto of our country in the 21st century. The rich get richer and the poor by their absence at the voting booth let them.

 

 

 

2014-03-12_11-46-18“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech-and-debate clause,” Feinstein said. “Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” as well as an Executive Order barring the CIA from conducting domestic surveillance, she said.

SOURCE: Top Lawmaker Accuses CIA of Illegally Snooping on Senate | TIME.com.

Our constitution is assuredly the best country incorporation document in the world. The framers had an astounding amount of foresight when the generated it. But I believe that it would not have survived all these years if the first ten amendments had not been quickly added. The first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights for a reason. They restrict the power of government from unnecessary and especially unwarranted intrusion it to its’ citizens lives.  This Bill of Rights has always been considered sacrosanct but the problem on interpretation is sometimes in question.

According to Thomas Jefferson’s and James Madison’s writings of the time the first amendment’s original intent was to prevent the government from establishing a State religion. This protection has grown to a two-way bridge since that time. The second amendment was to insure that  militias could be easily formed by citizen soldiers to protect the security of the State.  Of course this concept is now archaic in nature. That duty has now been incorporated into the National Guard which doesn’t require their members to supply their own weapons. The second amendment has been morphed into somehow saying that the right to own guns is its main intent.

One amendment that has stood the test of time virtually unchanged is the fourth amendment. That is at least up until now.  The right against unreasonable search and seizures without probably cause is now being attacked at its most basic level. The above article show that the body responsible for reigning in possible abuses to the fourth amendment is now being undermined by those who they are supposed to regulate!  This is the perfect example of “the fox guarding the hen-house” so to speak.

I know that fear drives much of what we do as a nation now. We are so obsessed with the possibility of another 911 that many of us are willing to throw out the Bill of Rights in the process. When George Orwell in 1948 wrote the book 1984 many were horrified at that possible future Big Brother State.  But it seems that much of that scenario has become reality thirty years later than Mr. Orwell predicted.

When I was a young man I read 1984 along with a couple of other books of the same genre as part of class reading assignments. Those included Animal Farm and Brave New World. I wonder if those books are even on the radar screen for today’s youth? If not I think they should be. When we quit defending our rights as cited in the Bill of Rights they will naturally be threatened.  When the inner workings of the body that is supposed to enforce our rights is infiltrated we should all be up in arms.

2014-03-25_08-23-25Legislation signed by Gov. Mike Pence makes Indiana the first state to step back from the standards that establish proficiency targets in math and reading…..

But the national education standards have been the focus of vocal criticism from conservative grassroots groups, who believe Common Core amounts to a government takeover of education. Critics have said Indiana’s new standards are strikingly similar to the Common Core framework and the new legislation is little more than a change in name rather than substance, the Associated Press reports.

SOURCE: Indiana Drops Common Core Education Standards | TIME.com.

For those of you who might not know I am a Hoosier. I was born here and spent most of my life here. Indiana is one of those rare States outside of the South and Prairie States that has always been solidly Republican. They overwhelmingly control both houses of State legislature and have a party machine hand-picked Republican governor.  We are not a big State but still much larger than many other red States. We have a population of about 6.5 million which makes us number sixteen of the fifty States.

One thing I have come to understand about Indiana, and most of the other red States for that matter, is that if a Democrat supports something then it must be wrong and avoided at all costs. Governor Pence is constantly reminding me of this fact. So, when he came out with “his” plan for education it is not surprising that he first of all trashed the national one. It is also not surprising that he basically claimed the same standards as his own. Now it is a Republican plan and not from those nasty Democrats. This is somewhat typical of politics today and that is why I now for the most part stay away from it.

Is it better for each State to have its own strategy for educating its youth or is a national strategy better?  I want to drop back again to the Indiana model to explain my answer to this question.  I’m not sure how the rest of the country does it but in Indiana each school system is funded by local property taxes. As a result Hamilton County which is one of the richest counties in the nation and of course the richest in the State has a high school campus that rivals most colleges. They have multiple olympic size swimming pools, a gigantic dramatic arts auditorium and computers in every room. By contrast my county, which is the third poorest in the State has absolutely nothing compared to Hamilton.  This disparity of course also show up in the percentage of those who go on to college.

When you step back and look at it, it seems obvious that segregation is the result of this type of funding. It is not race segregation as in the past but economic segregation and I believe it is just as dangerous as the one we faced in the 1980s.

Since I am running out of space I will give you a quick answer to the overall question. A common universal strategy is the only answer if we are to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century and beyond.  To leave it up to the States will most assuredly result in a nation wide segregation once again. Can we really afford to have that happen?

2014-03-27_14-59-31We all know that yelling “FIRE!!” in a theater is against the law and can cause a lot of harm. We are told even as children not to do that sort of thing.  Another area of this type are those that try to incite a riot by prodding and encouraging violence. That one isn’t quite as well published as the first.

The school yard bully gets a lot of attention these days. We, at least most of us, have little tolerance for him. But another type of threat that is perhaps just as bad is the instigator. You might know him by other names like provocateur, agitator. This is the guy who tries to get two people or groups who disagree on something to attack each other verbally or physically. He wants to see blood.

As I have mentioned before I am by my very nature a very non-violent person. I have only physically attacked one person in my life and that was when I was about six years old.  I think I gave my opponent a black eye but I am not sure. I can’t even remember what we fought over but I do remember the kid who instigated our brawl. I soon made up with my friend but never had much to do with the guy who caused us to fight.

Now to the core of this post. There are people out there that make millions of dollars as professional instigators. They try their best to incite a virtual riot. They egg people on to keep them on the edge of their emotions. They purposefully pit one group of people against another. The most visible of this type of bully is Rush Limbaugh and the Fox and MSNBC news channels.

These folks make millions of dollars every year screaming about the opposing party. They spend hours trying to dig up anything they can find to raise our ire. Sadly there are millions of people who have one of these outlets on throughout the day. They are thoroughly brainwashed with a very partisan message of their agitators. No, I don’t think brainwashed is too strong a word for this tactic.

I will admit that I was once at least to a small degree one of those folks who would tune them in. I got my daily dose of how those in a particular political party are nothing but hateful idiots who are set on destroying our freedoms.  When I finally reached “critical mass” on politics and decided to give it up almost entirely I did not realize the emotions these instigators caused me.

Now that I am limiting my exposure of politics to a brief morning glance at somewhat neutral websites and the PBS Newshour I have come to know a much more peaceful and satisfying lifestyle. Now don’t get me wrong here. I realize that there are folks in the political realm who have very different worldviews than I do. I will continue to oppose their tactics but without the vitriolity that comes along with these news sources.

 

2014-03-20_09-06-16Tesla’s campaign to sell its electric cars directly to consumers shifted into high gear this week as state lawmakers debated Tesla-related bills while powerful auto lobbyists braced for a fight. In New York, a measure designed to ban Tesla from opening new stores passed a key hurdle, while in Arizona, lawmakers pushed a bill to make it easier for Tesla to sell its cars without establishing a dealer network.

The escalating conflict underscores Tesla’s role as a disruptive force in the U.S. auto industry, not only because the company’s cars don’t use gasoline engines, but also because Tesla is trying to upend the dealership-franchise model that has underpinned the automobile industry for decades. That model — and laws protecting it — emerged in the 1930s as a way for automakers to build a national sales and service force and help foster local economic growth.

SOURCE: Tesla’s War With the States Shifts Into Overdrive | TIME.com.

I have mixed feelings about the above topic.  This is kind of like a David/Goliath type thing. The little dealership guys are being squeezed out by the big corporations the same way as WalMart is squeezing out local retailers.  But size is a relative thing. Yeah Telsa is probably bigger then most auto dealerships but it is very small compared to its other automotive competitors. It is also pretty easy to see that those who own local or regional auto dealerships are usually much wealthier than the rest of us.  It is not uncommon to see mufti-millionaires auto dealer owners.  So David/Goliath is a relative thing.

Realtors are also in this type of corundum. When I sold my house in New Jersey it never actually went on the market. My realtor happened to have someone waiting for my type of house. When we closed on the house the realtor received a check from me for almost $18,000 for two hours work or so.  The only ones who even come close to that hourly wage are big time surgeons and some CEOs  :)

The other example in my part of the country is in liquor distributorships. If you can land one you are assured a big annual paycheck. They are given out mostly as a political favor by State level politicians.

I don’t know but it seems like these sort of things need fixing. We should be able to buy direct and bargain with others for what are currently set as “standard” fees. Wages for most of us haven’t changed much in the last decade or more so the little guy needs all the help he can get in today’s world even as a consumer.

 

Thank Heavens…..

April 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

2014-04-10_08-57-11

 

Thank heavens that he couldn’t find a gun…..

2014-04-09_18-54-55After spending $43 million on residential renovations, German bishop Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst was suspended. On Wednesday, Pope Francis accepted the bishop’s resignation….

Francis has called on his priests and bishops to be models of sobriety in a church that “is poor and is for the poor.”

SOURCE:  Why Pope Francis accepted the ‘Bishop of Bling’ resignation – CSMonitor.com.

I continue to be amazed by the words and actions of Pope Francis. He seems to be very serious in making the church into the vision of its founder.  The source article is about how he “accepted” the resignation of a German Bishop who was lavishly spending money of his residence including a $20,000 bath tub!  That item seemed to be the breaking point even for the bishop’s flock, if bishops in fact have flocks.

From this and other posts about the Pope, it seems he is really shaking up things in Vatican City as well as throughout the world. His comment that the church “is poor and is for the poor” is almost earth shaking in it simplicity and its fundamental turn from its past. One of the things I seem to criticize the most about religious institutions is how much they spend on lavish cathedrals and such. That seems to be very contradicted by Jesus and even the early Christian community. Stating that the church should be poor is radical concept indeed for those folks in Rome. I hope some of it sticks into their mental attitudes. I don’t think God really cares whether we take communion in a fancy silver goblet or a simple clay one.

I wonder what all those cardinals are now thinking that voted to make Pope Francis their pope? Are they saying “we have created a monster” or are they saying “it’s about time”. I hope it is the latter….

2014-03-11_08-41-22California is America’s bread basket—or, more accurately, its fruits and vegetables basket. The Golden State produces 95 percent of the country’s celery, half of its bell peppers, 89 percent of its cauliflower, 96 percent of its tomatoes, 95 percent of its garlic, 90 percent of its avocados—and the list goes on. In fact, the state accounts for nearly one-fifth of the entire agricultural output of the U.S.

SOURCE: Epic California Drought Could Change the Way We Eat – Reviewed.com Ovens.

Lets face it, we are all addicted to California fruits and veggies.  We expect to have our strawberries throughout the year instead of just during the Spring months as our grandparents did. We want everything, even if it is out of season. The California droughts could have a profound effect  on our supply of fruits and vegetables. One thing to relieve that is that there is quite a bit more things coming from Mexico and South America now. Even our little supermarket here in my small town has tomatoes from Mexico, plums for Argentina and other countries.

2014-03-23_13-10-30The drought problem for California in not surprising given that they have a population of more than 38 million people! That is several times more than all the ten red States (shown blue on this map)  in the “Great American Desert” combined. They now pump much of their water from hundreds of miles away.

It seems that the most needed invention for this world today is taking the salt out of ocean water. If that could be done on an economic scale California could quit stealing water from its neighbors and continue to be the vegetable garden for the U.S.

2014-03-23_11-53-26Looking at all the religious oligarchies around the world I am thankful that the U.S. is not a Christian nation. Without exception those countries that adhere to a strict religious dogma are plagued with strife, war, and are constantly battling with their neighbors.

I am totally convinced that the reason that the U.S. is what it is today because of our diversity. We are a nation of immigrants from hundreds of countries and religious beliefs.  I can easily see that the diversity level in the blue States is glaringly higher than in most red States. Maybe this accounts for some of the more fundamentalist attitudes among those in those parts of the country.

I grew up in a rural area in the very red State of Indiana and was therefore never exposed to our diversity until I went to college.  Part of my rural Indiana heritage in the 1950s and 60s was also being exposed to the local chapter of Klu Klux Klan. My dad kept very much away from those folks and demand that I do the same but we did see the cross burning on occasion out west of our small town. To me the KKK is somewhat representative of what our country might at least to some degree be like if we were a Christian nation.

Several of the original thirteen colonies were established on various religious groups. There was very little tolerance for anyone in those colonies for people of different religious beliefs. Some even imposed a death penalty for trying to convert its citizens to your brand of religion. Thank heavens they had to shed any of those remaining beliefs before they were allowed to join the union. We are the nation we are because we have celebrated our differences instead of always fighting each other because of them.  I hope we never forget that basic fact.

Privatizing Prisons…

March 20, 2014

For-profit prisons have now become the norm throughout our country. We now leave it up to others to house those who we deem unfit for society. Some, especially fiscal conservatives, say that is a good thing.  After all doesn’t the private sector always do it better than the public one.  Doesn’t the drive for profit always mean a better way of doing it?

Here are some sobering statistics about this:

PrisonThe biggest private prison owner in America, The Corrections Corporation of America, has seen its profits increase by more than 500% in the past 20 years. Moreover, the business’ growth shows no sign of stopping, having already approached 48 states to take over government-run prisons. One way for-profit prisons to minimize costs is by skimping on provisions, including food. A psychiatrist who investigated a privately run prison in Mississippi found that the inmates were severely underfed and looked “almost emaciated.” During their incarceration, prisoners dropped anywhere from 10 to 60 pounds.

100% of all military helmets, ID tags, bullet-proof vests and canteens are created in federal prison systems through prison labor. Though prisoners are “generously” compensated cents per hour, it’s clear having this inexpensive, exploited labor force is critical to the military industrial complex.

States sign agreements with private prisons to guarantee that they will fill a certain number of beds in jail at any given point. The most common rate is 90%, though some prisons are able to snag a 100% promise from their local governments. Because of these contracts, the state is obligated to keep prisons almost full at all times or pay for the beds anyway, so the incentive is to incarcerate more people and for longer in order to fill the quota.

Violent crimes are down overall, so how does the United States keep prisons stocked instead? Amplifying the war on drugs: there are now 11 times as many people in jail for drug convictions than there were in 1980, constituting 50% of the prison population. Longer mandatory minimum sentences also keeps the inmates in longer. Most people incarcerated for drug charges are non-violent, have no prior record, and are addicts rather than major drug-traffickers.

The three largest for-profit prison corporations have spent more than $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to keep politicians on the side of privatized incarceration. In light of all of their ethical violations, it’s obvious that they have to offer some incentive for keeping their business legal.

SOURCE: For-Profit Prisons: 8 Statistics That Show the Problems | Care2 Causes.

I will let you decide whether all of the above is a good thing.  For those of you who think it is, let’s drop the other shoe.  Let’s privatize our armed forces. Think of all the money we could save. We could layoff soldiers during those few times when we are not at war with someone. We could sell off the Pentegon or at least give it a corporate name.  How about Halliburton World Headquarters?   I’ll bet we could make a bundle off of that place. I’m sure all the statistics above could easily be duplicated for our defense establishment as they are for our prison system.  What do you think???? PRIVATIZE is the name of the game isn’t it??