Robert's Random Ravings

Uncertain Times

We are living in a very uncertain time now. The fighting that is going on between the Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate is so disheartening now. It seems that the people that we have elected have decided to do what they think we want them to do instead of what we actually want them to do. Re-election is the one and only goal of everything that happens in Washington. Meanwhile, the country is no longer being governed.

Big money interests have taken over in the nation’s capital. I, for one, am getting very sick of it. This greed and corruption does not know party boundaries. You can find many examples from both sides of the aisle.

An entire class of Representatives has the one and only goal of obstructing anything that President Obama proposes – even if it is a proposal that they once believed in. How does this environment change? I am beginning to think that it can’t until something drastic happens.

9/11 was a wakeup call for this nation and its leaders. Unfortunately we have been turned into a fearful nation – afraid of the next terrorist attack; afraid of the direction of the economy; afraid for the plunging values of our homes; afraid that we will not be able to find fulfilling gainful employment any more.

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01/24/2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

Do we belong in Libya?

Nobody wants another war. I think that is a fairly universal sentiment. Yet we now find our armed forces active in Iraq and Afghanistan. And last week the United States, as part of an international coalition, began air bombardments in Libya. The action is as a result of a United Nations Resolution 1973, which was approved by a vote of 10 – 0, with 5 abstentions (including Russia and China).

I think the sentiment is right here. The idea is to use whatever means necessary to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya in order to protect innocent civilians from the wrath of Muammar Qaddafi. The people of Libya seem to be tired of the Qaddafi regime. There is a desire for freedom, democracy and jobs. Like in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, the people began protesting all around the country. Unlike in those other countries, Qaddafi decided to strike back at the people instead of stepping down from his 42 year reign of terror.

The problem I have with this action is that there does not seem to be a plan as to what comes next. We are determined not to commit ground troops. Yet Libya’s troops continue to attack rebels and civilians, even after the heavy coalition bombardments. We did something similar in Iraq. We expected a “video game war,” where we bombard from the air, wipe out any resistance and then overthrow Hussein. We did not think about what would come next. The result was a quick “victory” followed by years of sectarian violence. Will we ever learn?

03/30/2011 Posted by | Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

How serious are we about national debt?

This past election cycle saw a lot of talk about the need to reduce the federal budget deficit and the overall national debt. Of course, what we heard was mostly talk. We did not get a lot of specifics from either Democrats or Republicans. The Republicans published their Pledge to America. After reading it, I am left far from impressed.

The items that are addressed are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $1 trillion dollar + budget deficit. Saving a few billion is not nearly enough. If our lawmakers are serious about reducing the debt and the deficit, real choices are going to have to be made.

The most obvious thing needed is to raise taxes. If we reduce the loopholes, enforce corporate taxation better and let the Bush tax cuts expire, it would make a significant dent in our annual deficit. Our current culture is vehemently anti-tax, however. So people want to continue spending more and bringing in less. I don’t think you need an MBA to know that this formula does not improve the deficit situation. That kind of thinking is what has left the State of California in such a fiscal mess.

Subsidies of various industries is another area that could be looked at. The amount of money spent to subsidize corn, sugar, energy exploration, and several other industries is obscene. We espouse a “free market” ideology, while at the same time we rig the market with artificial subsidies. Corn and sugar are probably the two biggest culprits. I realize that our farmers are very important and that they have to make a living. But it is not the job of the federal government to pay them. It always amazes me that the same people that yell about deregulation and free market also have their hands out collecting federal money. At the very least, the subsidies should be limited to families and not be used as handouts for large collectives (like Mansanto, etc.) I wonder just how much could be saved by the federal government if we re-evaluated the farm subsidies.

Another area that could use some reform is the “war on drugs.” It is a losing battle. The fight is not being won. Meanwhile, people are dying and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on enforcement that is impractical at best, as well as the incarceration of so called criminals who then get to live on the taxpayer’s dime. This “war” has clear racial overtones and is wasteful, harmful, and ultimately, completely unsuccessful. If we were to legalize marijuana in the US, it would be quite a boon to everyone. It would bring in tax dollars. It would reduce law enforcement budgets significantly. It would lessen the significant overcrowding of our jails and our justice system. I think it is a win-win. The people that want to smoke are going to do so, whether it is legal or not. I am completely unconvinced about any real harm in the recreational use of pot. [Clearly – that is my opinion and others will think differently – but let’s at least have a legitimate conversation]

With the current group in power trying to extend the tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans (the same Americans that have bled the rest of us dry over the last few years in the economic disaster that hit most of the country) is bad policy. It is unjust – even immoral. We end up cutting programs to the people that are most in need so that the people that are least in need can have a higher stack of bills to roll around in.

I am not suggesting that we take a Robin Hood approach. Rich people deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But that should not be at the expense of the ones that cannot afford it. They should pay their fair share. Their income and capital gains should be taxed without loopholes, just like it is for the rest of us. Corporation that do business in the United States should pay taxes on the income generated in the United States. Moving your offices to Bermuda to avoid taxation is a true travesty and perversion of corporate responsibility.

There are so many real things that our Congress can do to benefit all of us. It’s time that they started worrying about that more than getting re-elected.

I have no problem with Americans saying “throw the bums out.” It is our right. We express ourselves through the voting booth. I may be unhappy with the result of this past election, but I believe in our system. I wish more people participated – that’s for sure. I wish the disinformation campaigns were not allowed. I wish that people that put out and pay for political advertisements did not have the ability to do so anonymously. I wish that the Supreme Court had not opened the flood gates of corporate spending on elections. But this is the system we have and as we make mistakes, it is incumbent upon us and our leaders to correct them.

I suggest to everyone that they make themselves a part of the process. Write to, call or visit your congressional delegation. They should be interested in hearing from you. If they are not, maybe it is time to back someone else.

Most importantly, let’s engage in a serious debate – not a shrill shouting match. No one wins when we do that.

11/12/2010 Posted by | General, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can’t we all just get along?

Tomorrow is the 2010 midterm elections (finally!!). I know that I will be glad to see it done with. The tone of the elections has been so negative – it seems to get more and more so each election cycle. Billions of dollars are being spent nationwide to elect Governors, Senators, State Representatives and scores of other government officials. But at the end of the day, what will really have been accomplished?

The Tea Party is a recent movement that seems to be riding on a groundswell of dissatisfaction with the federal government. People are supposedly tired of Washington and its inability to actually listen to the citizens and do what they need done. The Tea Party is not alone in this. I am not a tea-partier, but I am also very dissatisfied with the direction of the federal government and the state government here in Texas.

I voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential election. I was hopeful that it would be the start of a new day in Washington. Of course, the minute President Obama got elected, the Republicans started to march in lockstep in total and complete opposition to any and everything that Obama’s administration tried to do. Obama is far from perfect. Don’t get me wrong. But what do you think might have been accomplished if the Democrats and Republicans had decided to work together to fix the things that are wrong in our country as opposed to making sure their own party retains power? There is something seriously wrong with a system that encourages little more than a 24/7/365 election cycle. Our Senators and Representatives are supposed to work for us – “we the people.” Not the other way around.

When I see candidates on both sides slinging mud at each other instead of telling me what their plans/ideas are, I am disgusted. When I see gross misrepresentation and outright lies used in campaign commercials, it literally sickens me to my stomach. Unfortunately, both parties are guilty of this.

At any rate, after this election is over and the counts are in, it is likely that, at the very least, the House of Representatives will become a Republican majority. It is possible, though not nearly as likely, that the Senate, too, will pass into Republican control. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next 2 years. Will the Republicans continue to be the party of No? Will they continue to oppose any proposals that come from the President or the Democrats (even when they include ideas they themselves used to champion), without actually making proposals of their own? Will there be any fresh ideas on either side of the political spectrum?

Unfortunately, I think we will see more of the same. With the Republicans in power, we will probably see the Democrats start using a lot of the same obstructionist tactics that the Republicans have used over the last 2 years. Instead of taking the hint from a sea change that the people of America want to see a balance in government and all sides working for the betterment of the country, we will probably see more entrenchment and bickering. This simply cannot continue.

I don’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican. We are Americans first and that should be our concern, not a political party. We have pushed too much to the extremes in both major parties and it is leaving the moderates (both liberal and conservative) in the dust. Let’s hold our elected officials accountable for representing our interests – not the interests of their allies/supporters/friends. Public office should not be a get rich quick scheme. It is service to the public. I think it is high time we demanded that level of service from our elected officials.

11/01/2010 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Political Firestorms

We live in a “scandal of the day” culture now.  A lot of people complain about the relentless 24/7/365 news culture.  Just about everything gets taken out of context.  Much of the news is more like propaganda than news.  Spin is the name of the game.  Both major parties are to blame.  I like President Obama, but the unending “spin” from the White House is tiring.  Put the facts out there and let us make up our own minds.

I don’t care which side of the political spectrum you are on.  There are right-wing nut jobs as well as left-wing nut jobs.  Unfortunately, it seems that many of them are coming out of the woodwork now. People who hate the government spout off anything they want, convincing uninformed people of their conspiracies, and couching it in terms of “saving” the country.  (Anyone recall the “death panel” discussions?) What are we being saved from? Communism? Socialism? Government Interference in our lives? No one wants the government to interfere until they need it to interfere.

In addition, everything gets politicized.  The BP Oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster for ALL of us.  It is not a Democratic or Republican problem. It is an American, even global, problem.

I wish our “leaders” would spend a little more time trying to solve the nation’s problems and a lot less time trying to get re-elected.  No one has the guts anymore to stand up for what is needed, despite the political cost.  And with corporate lobbyists running amok on Capitol Hill and in our State Capitols, corporations are getting all the attention.  Why is it unfair for BP to have to pay for the damage it has done to the Gulf?  Anyone who thinks otherwise is out of their mind. (Joe Barton, I am talking to YOU!)  It is making them take responsibility for an almost comedic (if it weren’t so tragic)  series of mistakes, cost-cutting measures and downright incompetence.  We should not be apologizing to BP. BP should be worried more about cleaning up its mess than its image.

I am getting more and more disillusioned with our government.  I don’t feel like it gives a damn about me, so I understand the many other people that feel the same way.  But the way to fix that is not to throw out the whole thing.  We need to work on not allowing the almighty dollar to be the determinant in our daily lives.  There is nothing wrong with being successful and having money.  But where’s the compassion?  We can give tax breaks to oil companies and corn farmers and sugar farmers, but those that are truly in need get pushed farther and farther down.  This government should be for the people, not the corporations.  Despite what the Supreme Court says, a corporation is NOT a person and never will be.

Most of all, we should allow people to disagree with us.  A discussion does not need to turn into an argument.  We should be talking about the issues – both with people that agree with us and those that disagree with us.  If you never hear all points of view, how can you really think you are making an educated choice on anything?

07/27/2010 Posted by | General, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

More bigotry in Maine

Yesterday the voters in Maine voted to repeal same sex marriage rights that had been passed by the Maine legislature. Thus it now becomes the second state to repeal same sex marriage rights.

I can’t begin to say how disappointing this is. Just like Proposition 8 in California last year, it appears that the nation is moving backwards in terms of equality for all and codified bigotry. I have no doubt that in the near future, we will look back at these days and wonder what people were thinking. But in the meantime, the general populace is continuing to demonstrate that it is mean-spirited and that prejudice is fine, as long as it is against those “fags” who are, in their opinion, acting against G-d and nature.

As a gay man who has made so many attempts to not be gay, I can assure everyone that my “nature” is gay and there is nothing that I can do to change that, even if I still wanted to. I can no more turn straight than a black person can turn white.

It always amazes me how people get so riled up about this issue – especially fundamental Christians. I have no problem with people that don’t accept homosexuality for religious reasons. They have that right. But the institution of marriage is not a religious institution. No one is trying to force churches to marry same sex couples. All we want is for the civil government to afford us the same rights that heterosexual couples have – for example, survivor benefits from Social Security – and that is just one example. There are hundreds of state and federal benefits that heterosexual marriages have that are denied to same sex couples because the government won’t allow us to marry. It is just plain wrong to not allow us to marry.

As to the contention that same-sex marriages would ruin the institution of marriage, all I can say is that my marrying the person I love has absolutely NO effect whatsoever on someone else. I am already living with him (and have been for 15 years).

America – it is time to grant equality to ALL. This is no different from when races were not allowed to inter-marry. That was an equally disgusting state of affairs and we came to our senses about that, at least, some time ago. Now we need to go the rest of the way.

11/04/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

The exploitation of our children

There is a sad state of affairs for children in many parts of the world. It is hard to believe that this could still be the case in 2009, but sadly it is.

Last Sunday, I read an article in my local paper which talked about children being denounced as witches and being beaten or killed because of it. This is happening in some so-called evangelical Christian churches in Nigeria. The article was heartbreaking. How can people be so cruel to defenseless children?

The Catholic Church has been complicit in another type of exploitation – sexual abuse of altar boys by priests. It took a long time to get the accusations out into the open. The Church did everything possible to avoid being found out – including transferring known offenders to other parishes where the priests could molest more young boys and making settlements with the families of the victims which included non-disclosure. This “scandal” has cost the Church millions of dollars and has tarnished the Church’s reputation worldwide (and deservedly so!!).

In many countries, children are forced into labor to help support their families. In other countries, children are forced into military service. When will this exploitation of the world’s young people stop?

Here in the US, our government talks about being for human rights and about spreading democracy around the globe. I would suggest that saving and protecting the world’s children should be one of our highest priorities. They are the most at risk and the least able to protect themselves.

10/25/2009 Posted by | General, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Just say no to War

At the present time, the US is fighting two major wars; one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. The rationale for both wars is pretty widely known. Afghanistan is where al-Qaeda and bin Laden trained the terrorists that took part in the 9/11 attacks. Iraq was supposedly a hot bed of al-Qaeda training as well (though this was proven to be false, with al-Qaeda not coming to Iraq until well after our invasion). It was also supposedly sitting on a store of weapons of mass destruction (also proven to be false).

This past June, the nature of our involvement in Iraq changed to such an extent that you could almost say that we are really not fighting a war there anymore. American troops left all Iraqi cities and turned over the security of these cities to the Iraqi armed forced and police.

Afghanistan is a very different story. When we first went into Afghanistan, we quickly made substantial progress towards removing the Taliban from power. 8 years later, however, the Taliban is back in control of the majority of the country. How is this possible? One of the reasons, in my opinion, is that once again, we went into the conflict without enough troops. We like to believe that war has changed and that it is run more or less like a video game, with superior air power overriding the need for troops on the ground. I think Iraq, to some extent, and Afghanistan, to a much greater extent, prove that this is just not the case. Afghanistan’s hills and mountains are full of deep caves that are virtually impenetrable from the air. So no matter what we throw at them, it is not going to work.

The real problem, again in my opinion, is that we want to fight these “limited wars.” Sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is just not sufficient. I feel that if we are willing to go to war, we should be ready and willing to use ANY AND ALL tools at your disposal. If we are not willing to do that, we should not go to war. Now believe me, I am not in any way condoning war. I don’t think we should have ever gone into Iraq and I am not sure that we should have even gone into Afghanistan. The real enemy is not any particular country. It is an ideology that seeks to destroy America and all other Western powers and impose a theocratic government based on warped interpretations of Islam and the Koran. That makes it hard to pin down and even harder to defeat. Every time we cut off a head, another one grows somewhere else.

I think that it is high time we end our involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan completely. We need to bring all of our troops home and stop wasting our resources in these areas. We should not be involved in nation building. We should be worrying about fixing our problems at home.

I recently heard a statistic: the poverty level in the US has risen to 13.2%. That’s 1 out of every 8 people. That, to me, is heart breaking. We have spent $1 trillion dollars in Iraq and Lord knows how much in Afghanistan while people at home are barely able to feed themselves. I am not saying that we should go into protectionist mode, but I still think our primary responsibility should be to our own citizens. Then after that, we can worry about problems overseas.

09/14/2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Iraq, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why is our Congress so out of touch with the lives of the rest of us?

US Capitol Building

US Capitol Building

Just in the last few weeks, they were asking the Pentagon to add a few extra planes to their budget so that they could travel in style. See, when Senators or Representatives travel, they want to travel in luxury. The same planes that we travel in, stuffed with 140 or so passengers, they want to use to shuttle around groups of ten or twelve or so. This is supposed to help with their productivity. All I see it helping is their comfort.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there a guarantee of luxury for those that serve the nation in the Senate or the House of Representatives, yet this is what they believe that they are entitled to.

Let’s take another example. We have seen a circus lately around the whole debate for health care reform. Anyone that has been paying attention lately (or has had to go to the doctor) knows that something needs to be done. Even if you have insurance, you have to jump through such hoops to get the care you need. Of course, Congress does not have to. They have great health care. So, of course, they aren’t all that concerned with reforming health care. Theirs is already fine.

The members of Congress are elected to serve us, the people. It is not the other way around. They should not be entitled to have better health care, or better access to loans from banks (at considerable discounts), or get free travel from lobbyists, or any other gifts, just because they are elected officials. All of this has to stop.

I think one of the best ways to make this stop is to finally put term limits in place on Representatives and Senators. We have term limits on the President. Most states have term limits on the governor. Why, then, do we oppose term limits on the other high offices in the land? When people get entrenched into their positions in the House or the Senate, they become more and more susceptible to corrupting influences from all sides. This has to change, and soon.

We changed Presidents last year after much talk about the low approval ratings that President Bush had. Yet the Congress has much lower ratings than President Bush had. Why are we not bringing in new blood there? I don’t care how much you like any particular politician. I challenge any and all to vote for new blood in 2010. Let’s dump the incumbents. Let’s start anew.

Are you with me??

08/18/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The people of Iran

A once proud nation

Modern Iran

Modern Iran

The modern country of Iran is the remnant of a once powerful empire – the Persian Empire. At the time of the last Shah of Iran, that empire had existed for over 2500 years.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has not been a particularly free country. The country has a figure head President, but the real power lies in the Supreme Commander. Since the shah was deposed in 1979, there have only been two Supreme Leaders – the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Ayatollah Khameinei. The Supreme Leader is in charge of the armed forces (the Revolutionary Guard), and governs all aspects of life in the country. He is the highest ranking political and religious figure in the country.

The Persian Empire

The Persian Empire

On June 12, 2009, an election was held to choose the President of Iran. The next morning, the government announced that the incumbent President (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) had won over two-thirds of the vote. That’s when the trouble began. One of the candidates that had been defeated began to declare his belief that the election was rigged and unfair. Then the protests began in Tehran. This is not something that you commonly see in modern Iran. The people are not free to say what they think of the government or its rulings. However, there seems to be so much emotion behind the outcome of the presidential election that the people do not seem willing to stay quiet any longer.

Here in the US, the protests were on the news night after night for several weeks. Of course, the government of Iran kicked out all of the press so that no one would be able to broadcast what was happening. So the Iranian people began to post updates on Twitter and Facebook and send videos with their cell phones. So the next step the government took was to jam the web and cell phones. They obviously do not want the rest of the world to know what’s going on.

I think we are on the verge of something historical here. I would love to see it happen. I hate to see any nation suppressed. I feel that way about Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar, etc. All people should be able to live free.

I hope the leaders of Iran wake up and see that their people demand change. That they demand freedom. It doesn’t have to be Western style democracy – but I think that the Iranian people are tired of being suppressed and held down. Let’s hope that we see a major change there in the near future that will then spill over into other nations nearby (such as Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan).

G-d bless the people of Iran.

08/11/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment