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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

CORPORATE GREED KILLS!

According to a briefing given reporters by Michael Rogers, Director of Regional Investigations at the Food and Drug Administration, a peanut butter processing plant in Blakely, GA has been identified as the source of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 500 people and was responsible for 8 deaths across 43 states and Canada. The plant, owned by Peanut Corp. of America out of Lynchburg, VA, had been cited numerous times throughout 2007 and 2008 for salmonella contamination, but kept shipping product anyway. The FDA found that the plant's manufacturing conditions differed significantly from good manufacturing practice and had "an adverse effect upon the quality of that product, making it adulterated." In fact, once the plant had received the FDA's lab findings, the company contracted with other, presumably hand-picked, labs, which found no evidence of bacterial contamination, so, getting the results it wanted, the company happily kept ship[ping infected product. This approach reminds me of my elderly father's folly regarding high blood pressure. His doctor told him on a visit that he had borderline high blood pressure and prescribed medication for it. My father abjors medications and resists them like the plague. Ever the skeptic, he went out and bought a home blood pressure measuring device. I watched him one day recently, rapidly taking three or four successive readings in a row, not bothering to properly recalibrate the device before each reading. I noted he had written down three differnt readings. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, "i'm looking for the best reading!" So then I said to him, "Do you want the BEST reading, or the ACCURATE one?" He looked at me like I was half nuts and exclaimed indignantly, "Why, the BEST one, of course!" My father can be excused, kind of, because his actions affected only him and he's nearly 87. Peanut Corp. of America CANNOT be excused for what they have done to the innocent public, for their actions were based on greed and negligence.

I have been a Type I diabetic, since 1957, diagnosed just after my 3rd birthday. I have injected insulins daily all these years since then, and joke with my friends that I am the only human pin cushion they know. One of the types of insulin I use is made only by the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. I have used their products faithfully for more than 50 years. Now that I am temporarily (I hope) out of work and can no longer afford health insurance, I am finding out just how ungodly expensive my meds have become. Just the other day, I was shocked to pay $109 plus change for a bottle of this made-by-Lilly-only insulin purchased at a pharmacy known nationally for its low prices. But I was horrified to learn only yesterday that I could have purchased this VERY SAME product out of Canada for only $43.25 per bottle, less than HALF what I had just paid here in the USA! I resent the fact that Eli Lilly, who has consistently shown great profit in recent years, has a CEO paying himself more than $7 million per year (and a board of directors also exceeedingly well paid), who obviously feels it essential to charge the dealers and citizens of their own country MORE THAN DOUBLE what they charges those in Canada. This, too, CANNOT be excused, for ANY reason!

I once knew a guy in college who was an avid Socialist. With great zeal he used to cheerily urge fellow students to sign up for Young Socialist, a publication which had been put out by the Socialist Workers Party, or attend the latest Socialist rally or protest. I saw him smilingly exclaim literally hundreds of times his favorite slogan: "Human needs before profits!" Having witnessed the demoralizing aspect of the Soviet Union's forced dictatorship over the years, I gradually abandoned my youthful, like-minded idealism to favor instead welfare-state capitalism. I recognized that profit was essential to the capitalistic system and that it was a good motivator. But then came the greed of the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II years, and I began to question again how capitalism has been practiced and abused in this country.

As I think back to Sarah Palin and John McCain last fall, and John Boner (ooops, Boehner), and others today on the far right, corporate Republican, Chamber of Commerce scope, all condemning socialism and socialists as evil, I really wonder. Their heroes in that corporate Republican world are clearly ripping off most of the population, and corporate greed is indeed killing Americans as well as causing them unnecessary financial stress. Who really is the more evil of the two: Socialists, or the corporate bandits? Those Republicans saying the former should tell that to the families and friends of those who died from tainted peanut butter, or to millions of diabetics like me who are getting screwed by Eli Lilly. But, Republicans, we won't be listening to you.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

POST-INAUGURAL EUPHORIA

President Obama hasn't even been in office a full week yet, but he's already earned his first year's salary as far as I'm concerned. This bold, determined man of action has already signed an executive order to close our notorious prison/torture complex at Guantanamo, has established strict new controls on lobbyist access to the White House, has met with Republican opposition leaders to actually listen to their concerns, has met with his economic team to lay the groundwork for an economic recovery plan, has met with top military brass concerning Iraq and Afghanistan, has declared an end to torture, and has issued an important Middle East pronouncement reaffirming Israel's right to existence and to defend herself, yet also recognizing publicly the injustices she has wrought on the Palestinian people. This whirlwind of decisive leadership and proaction has made his predecessor's mode of action seem as if it were an immobilized marble statue. Had Bush even attempted to achieve this much, it would have surely exhausted him and led to a 3 month vacation somewhere! This week has been a damn fine beginning to what I believe will be a remarkably good and effective presidency.

Obama's critics have already begun their chorus of dischordant catcalls, however. The ever-enlightening and genteel ass Rush Limbaugh has already publicly stated he hopes Obama will fail (now THAT'S patriotic and pro-American!); Bill O'Reilly has already vowed to "watch" Obama (as though he were an escaped criminal or burglar); prehistoric John Boehner has already voiced suspicious concern that Obama's economic stimulus plan may be too costly (as if we can afford to let the economy collapse altogether); Mitch McConnell, while praising Obama's inclusiveness and approach overall, has nonetheless echoed Boehner's concerns and has kept his cards close to the vest, the reliably molten-mouthed Ann Coulter has already snidely attacked the new President, referring to him as "B. Hussein Obama", declaring his inauguration address to be non-substantive, and mocking his inaugurational ceremony itself in her January 21 column; and some on the left have criticized Obama for an economic plan they believe may not be big enough, and for letting right-wing Pastor Rick Warren speak at the inauguration. So much for the long, extended political honeymoon. But I am not worried. For the first time in 8 years, my political stress level has taken a nosedive. I know our Supreme Court will no longer drift rightward and will thus not become more anti-Bill of Rights, anti-labor, pro-business, or pro-executive power. I also know that, at long last, we have an administration that will work for the benefit of the common man instead of only concentrated capital. It will also be an administration far more transparent than its predecessor, and one that will conduct itself legally and honorably throughout the world and will engage in dialogue and multilateralism instead of engaging in unilateral pre-emptive war and torture.

Nothing is ever certain in politics or diplomacy. There are a huge number of vitally pressing and complicated situations which demand rapid attention and solution. But for the first time in 8 years, I believe we have an administration and a President with the brainpower, vision, and energy needed to see us through. And that is why I am feeling this bit of post-inaugural euphoria. I hope and pray it will continue for a long time to come!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

FREE AT LAST!!!

"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"
- Old Negro Spiritual, quoted by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. -

Today, all Americans are once again free. We have demonstrated this freedom through the civilized transfer of executive power from one man and party to another man and party, in the symbolic and very real empowerment of us all granted by our Constitution. We are now free at last from the ineptitude of one President George W. Bush (deservedly low approval rating of only 22% as he leaves office) and the arrogance and irresponsibility of another Vice President Dick Cheney (a VERY deservedly low approval rating of only 13% as he leaves office). We are free of the snide and press-hating press secretary Dana Perrino, the very mistaken and compliant Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and all the other devious characters who have wrought great harm on our rights and freedoms these past 8 years, like John Yoo, Paul Wolfowitz, and a long list of other political and philosophical deviants who have plagued us under the Bush-Cheney umbrella. We are free, hopefully forever, from the politics of fear, division, deception, darkness, and exclusion. We can all now breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Barack Obama takes office today representing the dawn of a very hopeful new era of progress and possibility. He enters office with a deservedly and astoundingly high approval rating of 83%. He has demonstrated broad vision and an obvious grasp of our need for a new style of inclusive practical politics, most notably in his choices for cabinet posts and in the way he has conducted his transition to power. Unlike his predecessor, he is no rigid ideologue who wishes to surround himself only with yes-men. He recognizes that no party or political persuasion holds a monopoly on good ideas, and he is willing to incorporate all. THIS is a REAL President!

President Obama (how nice THAT sounds!) also represents our country's triumph over more than 300 years of needless institutionalized racism, and our recognition, at long last, that ability, competency, decency, and character do not carry ethnic prerequisites. Yes, even though wildly popular, he still has detractors who mockingly and skeptically refer to him as "messiah." Alas, it is a sad fact that there will always be bitter, fearful, and ignorant people who will never "get it", thus the 22% still approving of Bush. But the rest of us correctly see competence, intelligence, and opportunity springing forth from our long-awaited new President. And we know how beneficial this will be for us and the entire world!

These are shaping up to be exciting and eventful new days, reminiscent of the earliest LBJ days and the ascendancy of the Beatles. Obama has a great deal of sorely-needed ambition, idealism, and drive. He will undoubtedly fail at times, as have all other Presidents. But by employing inclusiveness as he will, I dare say those failures will be far less frequent or severe than those of many before him. Ideologues left and right will be frustrated by his unorthodoxy at times, but it will prove healthy for us. I can't wait for this new era to ripen and come to bloom to see the many blessings it will bestow on us!

Before I go, I would encourage you to pay a visit, as I do daily, to http://www.fairandunbalanced.com/. The writer at that site, Burr Deming, has a real gift. He is always insightful and thought-provoking, and skillfully employs his talents in a folksy, common-sense manner. He writes with heart AND brain! His blog is one not to be missed, and he posts nearly every day. Thank you, everybody, and let us now look to our future with hope and great confidence!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WHY AMERICAN HEALTH CARE COSTS SO MUCH

What we Americans are paying for health care is grand larceny! Costs keep shooting up far faster than inflation and at a rate much higher than do American salaries. As with last summer's ridiculously high $4 per gallon gasoline prices, the main cause is corporate greed, particularly in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Their greed is an indefensible abuse of the marketplace, all the more so at a time when Americans' wages have been stagnating or in decline for years now, and food, energy, and almost all other costs have been on a steady rise.

Health insurance providers love to blame the high cost of health care on doctors, but this is a dishonest claim designed to focus attention away from their own most definite contribution. According to an industry survey done by Merritt Hawkins & Associates, in 2007, 81.29% of all primary care physicians made $225,000 or less annually (and only 8.9% made in excess of $300,000). Surgeons and specialists, of course, drew higher salaries, but their numbers are smaller than those of primary care physicians. And yes, all of these doctors have well-paid staffs including nurses, medical technicians, therapists, x-ray technicians, etc., but their salaries are all much less than that of physicians or surgeons. Not only that, but health insurance companies have large staffs themselves. Now $225,000 or $300,000 may seem like a gigantic amount to a person earing only $25,000 or $50,000 per year, but the number seems less gargantuan when one considers the many years of expensive higher education put in by physicians as well as the colossally high malpractice insurance rates they must pay. So this attempt by insurance companies to use physicians as whipping boys for the high and ever-rising cost of health care is a deliberate deceit.

Now that we have exposed the myth of the massively-overpaid physicians, let's look at the humungous salaries the health insurance and pharmaceutical company CEOs "earn" (steal?). According to an August 23, 2007 WEB MD blog called "Nad About Medicine," in an article entitled "CEO Compensation: Who Said Health Care is in a Financial Crisis?", in 2005 the CEO of United Health Group was paid a staggering $124.8 MILLION, the CEO of Forest Labs got $92.1 MILLION, Merck's CEO got $37.8 MILLION, Aetna's CEO received $22.1 MILLION, Becton-Dickinson's got $10 MILLION, and Eli Lilly's got $7.2 MILLION. Keep in mind, these are only CEO salaries and DON'T include Senior VPs', VPs', or other board members' compensation rates, which are also extremely high. You'll be guaranteed to grab your wallet or pocketbook in terror and puke green if you go to The Industry Reader's website at http://www.theindustryreader.com/index.cfm?account=radar&page=Healthplan_Executive_Co . Here you'll see that, in 2007, the top 6 health plan boards paid themselves a whopping $277,998,793. That same year, the entire Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of our government cost us, in comparison, only $95,974,600. Damn few health insurance board members have ever directly saved a life or eased someone's pain. So why should these pigs and their counterparts in the pharmaceutical industry be paid salaries in the MILLIONS while the infinitely better-educated and more valuable physicians be paid only in the hundreds of THOUSANDS? This is unjustifiable, immoral, and we are most definitely not getting our money's worth from these vastly overpaid, leveraged parasite middlemen!

Clearly, with health insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies swimming in mounds of money and excessively profiting off of human illness and suffering, this setup is in need of radical reform. The piggish executives live lives of absolute luxury, while 1 in 7 of us cannot even afford health insurance, and the prospect of cancer treatments or major surgery spells certain loss of property and life savings. This is blatantly wrong and thoroughly evil. Hospitals (even so-called non-profit ones) have become giant money vacuums sucking the public dry. Doctors are being squeezed by health insurance bandits, who are now effectively dictating terms of health care for purposes of profit by cherry-picking whom and what they will cover, how often, and how much. Regrettably, the John Edwards health care plan will not be adopted. It would have truly provided universal health care for all citizens and would have closely resembled plans long in use all over Europe and Canada. It would have also booted the self-serving, profiteering insurance company pigs out of the picture altogether. Instead, we will most likely end up with a version of the Obama plan, which will still be far better than what we have today, but it will unfortunately allow the insurance parasites to still sit at the planning and operations tables. So it will fall short of the mark we truly need to hit. Oh well, I guess 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing...

One parting thought: The next time you are at your doctor's and feel like grumbling at the $15, $20, or $25 co-pay you must pay, just remember that your doctor, just like you, is also getting screwed by the profiteering insurance companies!

Friday, January 9, 2009

GIVE AMERICAN WORKERS A BIG BREAK!

"Political freedom without economic equality is a pretense, a fraud, and a lie."
- Russian theorist Mikhail Bakunin -

""Less than 8 percent of private sector workers belonged to a union in 2004, and overall, only 12.5 percent of American workers carry a union card - down from about one-third of workers in labor's heyday of the 1950s."
- Fox "News" analyst Linda Chavez -

"Jobs are disappearing from every sector of the economy, from engineers to health care workers, forcing hundreds of thousands of families into unemployment and low-paying jobs."
- Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) -

"Unfair trade agreements, passed by both Republicans and Democrats, have sent millions of jobs to other countries. We need to stop this hemorrhaging and find ways for American workers to compete in the new market."
- Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) -

"Median wages of production workers, who comprise 80 percent of the workforce, haven't risen in 30 years, adjusted for inflation."
- Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich -

"In this 'New Economy,' there are no standards, no borders, and no rules. Clearly, the global economy isn't working for workers in China, Indonesia, and Burma, any more than it is for workers here in the U.S."
- AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney -

"There is no social program in this country that is as important as a good job that pays well, that gives someone an opportunity to go to work, have some security, have benefits, take care of their family and have a good life."
- Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) -

"We want only loyal workers who are grateful from the bottom of their hearts for the bread which we have let them earn."
- Nazi Germany Industrialist Gustav Krupp -
(STUFF IT, Krupp! What you REALLY wanted was SLAVE LABOR)!

It is high time to stop beating up on the American worker. Today, though tops in the world in productivity, they are often subtly referred to as greedy and overpaid, (especially union workers), with a sense of undeserved entitlement. This is absolute bullshit constantly being soft-pedaled in the Op Ed pages of the notoriously wrong-wing, anti-labor, pro-corporate Wall Street Journal. It is echoed repeatedly, like a mantra, by that paper's severely misguided avid followers and parrots in the business community and Chamber of Commerce circles. The fact of the matter is that the American worker has been getting screwed for decades by both business AND government and this practice must now come to a screeching halt. FINALLY - now that conservative Republican Wall Street Journal types have nearly driven us into a 1930s-style depression with their absurd economic policies - FINALLY, our people and government are beginning to wake up. Come January 20, we may at long last start seeing some economic policy implementations beneficial to the middle class and poor rather than just the wealthy and big business. We have not seen such policy in more than 35 years, and its return will be a most welcome sight!

We have been fed a number of deliberate economic lies by the conservative Republican Wall Street Journal crowd for years. Each has been disastrous when adopted as policy. The first was that American workers were paid too much, so a concerted effort began to destroy labor unions and freeze or roll back wages and benefits. Today, moronic conservative mouthpieces like Mitch McConnell, Tom Coburn, and John Boehner love to spread this bullshit. This is a blatantly transparent attempt to pass blame for our current downslide away from their own misguided policy and onto organized labor. Their claim that Michigan UAW laborers are paid $70-$80 per hour (including benefits and retirement) is a bald-faced lie designed to destroy the auto union. They know damn well the REAL figure is around $40 per hour, a mere couple of dollars higher than their beloved southern, non-union Toyota workers. Of course, they mention nothing about how corporate boards have paid themselves exorbitant salaries for years while raping the American worker for much of the past 3 decades. In their view, that is perfectly ok, and the way capitalism is supposed to work. These guys are completely nuts: Stevie Wonder has clearer vision than they! Since the numbers of working poor and middle class VASTLY outnumber those of the tiny wealthy elite, and since those on the bottom and middle income levels are the ones who keep the economy going with volume mortgage, car, rent, grocery, and consumer goods expenditures, this "cut their wages" effort has now finally resulted in our economy contracting. Prior to this, the negative effect was a flood of buying on credit and resultant indebtedness, which has shamefully led us to change from the world's greatest lender nation 25 years ago to the world's hugest debtor nation now. In only 25 years! While a bit of foreign investment is always good and healthy, the increasing level we are at today, with foreign countries buying and now operating some of our ports, roads, and even some of our bigger corporations, we have reached an UNHEALTHY level which threatens our future leverage and freedom. Nice going, conservative idiots.

Another lie was that, by enabling the already wealthy to greatly expand their wealth, all levels of income would prosper and grow wealthier too, as a sort of "trickle down" effect. This was perhaps the biggest and most criminal lie of all. "Trickle down" economics have benefitted only the rich. Repeated tax cuts for the wealthy and huge corporations have NOT led to domestic investment and created millions of high-paying jobs here, as was initially promised. In fact, the exact OPPOSITE has occurred. Millions of jobs, and even entire plants, have LEFT this country for cheap and sometimes slave-labor markets overseas. American workers' wages and benefits have now been firmly frozen for a number of years, and a good many of them have dropped. Meanwhile, wealthy business owners', as well as corporate CEOs' and board members' salaries and perks have shot up as high as a Mars rocket. This is not progress and expansion. It is regression and contraction. The conservative crowd loves to trumpet the virtues of self-reliance and personal responsibility. We have seen precious little of these coming from them in recent years, though. They should practice what they preach. Their perversion of capitalism has resulted in a new form of domestic economic slavery for American workers. The "free market" has only realistically been free for business owners, officers of huge corporations, and the wealthy. American workers have lost ground and flexibility. Once more, we can thank the conservative Republican Wall Street Journal / Chamber of Commerce crowd for these detrimental developments, too. Great job, you criminals!

It's so ridiculous to hear the wealthy and their wannabe dreamers and apologists scream "socialism" or "class warfare" when workers complain about the economic status quo and cry out for higher taxes for the rich and a more level playing field regarding income levels. CLASS WARFARE? Exactly whom is attacking whom here? Which group is launching the artillery? If freezing or lowering workers' wages, breaking their unions, and sending their jobs overseas while simultaneously vastly raising your own salary doesn't constitute an act of war and dropping a bomb directly on American workers, I don't know what does! The pot should definitely not be calling the kettle black here!

Yet another dangerous myth fed us by the Wall Street Journal clique has been that deregulation would improve business efficiency and lower costs. What we have seen instead have been runaway energy and pharmaceutical costs, a massive mortgage and banking meltdown, widespread corruption IN Wall Street itself, plus an unheard-of and rising number of food poisoning cases all across the country.

Finally, we come to the unrestricted-free-trade-is-good-for-everybody lie. This "free trade" mentality has led to disastrously one-sided trade deals NOT beneficial to our interests. It has enabled China to peg its currency at a ridiculously low rate, effectively undercutting us severely on the world market. It has caused a gigantic trade deficit here, the net effect of which has been a massive and rapid transfer of our wealth out of the country. This has made it possible for China, the most populous nation on earth, to considerably grow its military and transform it from a defensive posture into an offensive one. It has also made it possible for they and the Arabian oil states to buy up billions of dollars of our national debt. That's right, folks: When you borrow money these days and pay it back, you're effectively paying it back to the Chinese and to wealthy Arabs. NOT a very smart move, conservative "free-traders."

But now, let's return to the besieged American worker. There is something seriously wrong in this country when people are led to believe that those who sweat and get their hands dirty manufacturing products or providing services are somehow greedy for wanting a bigger slice of our economic pie, while those at the top who hold them down or transfer their jobs overseas are the only ones deserving of greater wealth and admiration. There is something fundamentally wrong with our country and its economic system when it effectively lowers our standard of living and forces our now overworked, underpaid, and highly productive workforce to compete for jobs with lesser-educated and less productive workers in developing countries. And there is something morally wrong with our government and business community when they pursue foolish, one-sided trade deals, and vote down minimum wage increases 9 times out of 10 (even as their own wages rise continually). We desperately need a change in economic direction, toward new pioneering technologies we can export at a PROFIT so we can reverse the downward trend conservative economic policies have put us on. The answer to restoring this economy's health lies in putting MORE money in the hands of our workers, not less. It is now time to stop heaping abuse on the overwhelming majority of our population, and to GIVE AMERICAN WORKERS A BIG BREAK!!!

IN A FEW DAYS: "WHY AMERICAN HEALTH CARE COSTS SO MUCH"

Thursday, January 1, 2009

AN END TO DIVISIVE WEDGE ISSUES!

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."
-Abraham Lincoln -

Those words are timeless, and are as true today as they were when pronounced back in our Civil War era. Americans have nearly always had disagreements over political, economic, or foreign policy, but have usually managed to listen to each other long and rationally enough to forge a practical compromise or settle on a mutually agreeable course of action. For all voices must be free to speak, and to be listened to and actually heard if a democracy is to function properly. As the French philosopher Voltaire once said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." He understood this very fundamental necessity more than 200 years ago, and so must we today. All of us share the basic right to express ourselves in word or lifestyle without being personally attacked, ridiculed, or falsely labeled. Our Constitution guarantees us "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." 'Nuff said!

In this modern era, the politics of conservative Republican strategists Lee Atwater and Karl Rove have been very dominant. These are the politics of division, deliberately calculated to pit one group against the other, driving a wedge between people and forcing them to take sides against one another, often on social or religious grounds. They have polarized the electorate and turned us into the DISunited States. Acid-tongued copycats like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Gretchen Carlson, Mary Matalin, and a host of lesser known radio talk show hosts have become virtual attack dogs. quick to scorn and ridicule not only political opponents, but entire categories of people as well. Rather than debate a divergent viewpoint, they usually engage in personal attack on someone or some group. Chip Saltsman's tasteless and pointless song "Barack The Magic Negro" is a perfect example of how low the political right has sunk to ridicule their opponents and signal their unwillingness to cooperate with them for the public good. The political left has not been blameless on this account either. At various times, Jesse Jackson, James Carville, Rosie O'Donnell, Al Franken, and Al Sharpton have also been unnecessarily sharp-tongued, although they have generally been less frequent and utilized less venom in their attacks. The plain and simple fact, though, is that no amount of finger pointing or name calling ever solved a problem. Think about it, people: No one can build something when he's busy punching someone else in the mouth or ducking blows himself. In an all-out fist fight, that which so desperately needs building never comes into being. The American people AND its elected representatives must stop behaving like spoiled little children, out to get and have THEIR way, and ONLY their way at all costs. Such behavior is not mature and civilized; it is immature and savage. Worse yet, it is unproductive and destructive.

Let's examine and talk common sense about a few of these divisive wedge issues:

First, let's talk guns. Many on the left want an all-out ban on handguns and assault weapons, severe restrictions on gun ownership in general, or wish to ban them in inner cities altogether. I am not a gun enthusiast, but a lot of these positions seem a bit strong to me. Many on the right want no restrictions on gun ownership at all. Both extremes are impractical and wrong. In the first place, our Constitution guarantees the right of the people to form militias and forbids the occupation of private property by the armed forces. It does NOT guarantee everyone in the country a right to their own personal machine gun, bazooka, or atom bomb of choice. It is only common sense to supervise and regulate the privilege of personally owning and using a gun, just as it is common sense to supervise and regulate those wishing to own and drive a car. Standards must be set to ensure the safety of the user as well as all around him. Such standards are NOT the same as the state attempting to deny citizens their right to form a militia for their own protection, or the state trying to gain total control over its citizens. Right-wing gun enthusiasts and National Rifle Association members holding this view are fanatically wrong on this issue. Period.

Second, let's talk abortion. This is an issue I believe the state should not even involve itself with other than to ensure the safety of the woman involved. Abortion has been unfortunately occurring for centuries, and will continue to be in the future. It should be neither encouraged, nor forbidden. It is a private and personal matter which must be dealt with by the woman and her mate who are involved. It is a decision open to one's own conscience and religious belief. We do not arrest, imprison, or forcibly prevent people from smoking, drinking too much, or encouraging those around them to smoke or drink, and all of those activities threaten life just as abortion does. I believe churches and counselors have the right to comment on abortion, as a matter of exercising free speech and to provide moral guidance. But for the state to forbid all abortions would result in the same unsanitary and unsafe clandestine coat hanger, back alley techniques engaged in many years ago. That cannot happen. I personally HATE abortion and view it as a legalized form of irresponsible murder for economy or mere convenience. I would never counsel someone to have an abortion, and would instead encourage them to choose adoption or keeping the baby. But I recognize the situation as a matter of individual decision. This stance makes me and all others who share my viewpoint pro-CHOICE. It is a grave injustice and a severely deliberate misstatement to call us pro-ABORTION or "baby killers," as some on the right are prone to do!

Third, let's talk gay rights. We have had gays and lesbians since nearly the beginning of human history. We will ALWAYS have them, like it or not. Get over it. You don't have to like them or be like them. But I don't believe the government should have any say on establishing or prohibiting rights for any person based on their sexual preference. Just as in matters of race and creed, the state should not be used as a means to persecvute or deny gays the same rights everyone else has. Some gay relationships are far more stable and monogamous than heterosexual ones! Why, then, should one's sexual preference be used as a basis for determining whether or not one has hospital visitation rights, property rights, marriage rights, or the right to raise children? Protecting gays from unfair discrimination is NOT endorsing or advocating being gay. It is simply a matter of ensuring equal rights for all. Do we ask the cop who dies protecting us or the soldier on the battlefield whether or not they are gay? Of course not. Does persecuting gays solve any problems? Absolutely not!

Fourth, let's talk religion. Our Constitution guarantees everyone in this country the right to belong, or NOT belong, to a church or religion of their choice. It also provides for the separation of church and state to prohibit the state from establishing a state religion. People can believe in a God or gods, or NOT believe. Yes, our state and its legal code werte founded on Judeo-Christian values, but this is NOT a Judeo-Christian state! Such a government would be a theocracy, and we are a democracy, not a theocracy. Therefore, to deny someone political office, or legal rights, or to label them as evil or suspect because they are not Jewish or Christian is wrong and unconstitutional. Worse yet, it is not even Christian! God Himself gave all people the right to believe or not believe. That is bona-fide Judeo-Christian fact. Who are we, then, to insist and demand that others must be Jewish or Christian or they can't serve in a leadership role? And as far as espousing one's own values is concerned (a favorite prejudice of the right), the Constitution does NOT state that everyone must have the same values. Instead, it provides for and protects freedom and diversity. So this crap about candidates lacking proper values is just intolerant and restrictive crap. On the other hand, a number of those on the left believe that religion should be excluded from all matters relating to the state. In other words, prayer or the display of religious icons in public schools or on government property must be forbidden. These folks also believe that the words "under God" should be removed from our pledge of allegiance, and "so help me God" should be stricken from our courts and presidential Inauguration ceremonies. Since the Constitution provides for the free practice of religion, prohibitions of these religious expressions are an infringement on individual freedom of speech and are therefore unconstitutional, right? You bet!

Think about it, folks: With all the seriously crucial problems facing us today, don't these wedge issues seem like a waste of our time? Shouldn't we instead be concentrating on working TOGETHER to get us all back on a firm footing?

Happy new year, everybody. We stand at this dawning of a new year; a new administration; a new era. We are faced with a myriad of crucial situations which demand sober thought and immediate attention! We can either meet these challenges and pass this test, or fail miserably by sliding into strife and chaos. Let's put the old name-calling and division behind us. Encourage your Congresspersons to abandon rigid ideology and political party obstructionism. Tell them you want them to start COOPERATING or you'll kick their sorry asses out of office! Harp at them non-stop, until they know your voice by heart or can recognize your handwriting or email address. Tell them to LISTEN: To YOU---AND to the opposition! Tell them to talk WITH members of the other party, not just AT them! With committments to COMMUNICATION, CIVILITY, COOPERATION, and PROGRESS, we can achieve ALL of those, plus many other needed and wondrous works. We HAVE to!!!