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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

THE UNTIED STATES OF AMERICA


No, folks, I didn't misspell my title. This is no longer "the United States of America," tied together by common values and beliefs. We have in fact become the UNTIED States of America, a disunited and fractious country divided on a number of levels. Allow me to explain.

Once upon a time, this country had a common purpose. It championed free speech, and was governed by a set of laws formulated by elected representatives and passed into law with the President's signature. Along the way, this proposed law (a bill) was analyzed, discussed, and debated, until enough support could be garnered for its passage. When this level of legislative support was achieved, the bill was passed, signed, and it became law. This process was conducted in an open and honest manner, with legitimate two-way discussion. People more or less went along with those passed laws, even if they didn't like them. Those opposed to the legislation conducted themselves as a loyal opposition, going along to get along until changes could be made later. If enough people were tremendously opposed to a law once passed, they challenged it in court, or, at the next election, they elected a new set of representatives or a new President, so that the unpopular law could be altered or repealed. The country was united in the cause of free speech and the principle of compromise to ensure that all voices could be heard and that due consideration could be granted to all participants of a discussion. That was the United States. That was in the good old days. Regrettably, that country, and those days, are now gone.

This Independence Day, consider how much we have changed in the past several decades. Think about how polarized the country has become. Think about how civility in public discussion, and how a loyal opposition has completely disappeared. Polar extremes exist where civilized opposzition had existed previously. One group, the ultra-conservative far right (composed of conservative Republicans, Tea Party groups, and outright crackpots) rant and rave at those whom they oppose, hurling insults, telling blatant lies, making wild, unsubstantiated claims, and shout down political opponents rather than listening and trying to find compromise. They hoist banners incorrectly comparing the President with Adolf Hitler, Nazis, and communists. THEY STONEWALL AND DELIBERATELY BLOCK DISCUSSION AND PASSAGE OF NEARLY EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF LEGISLATION. This is un-American behavior. Is this the type of discourse our Founding Fathers envisioned? Absolutely not!

This Fourth of July, think about how intolerant many of us have become. Think about the religious right, its influence on the modern Republican Party, and its rigid, doctrinaire stances on the role of our government and the types of officials they think we should elect. Mull over how many of these people would like us to become a theocracy, with a Christian-values litmus test being required of all who hold or seek office, rather than a democracy, which is what we have had all along, with a separation of church and state. Is a Christian-values requirement what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote our Constitution? Definitely not.

As you view the 4th of July fireworks this year, think if our original Boston Tea Party colonists had the complete elimination of taxes in their intent, or the establishment of organized, armed militias in place to force the government they would end up creating to do their will at gunpoint? We already know this was certainly not the case.


HAD that been their original intent, why, then, did they allow Congress to pass a liquor tax and President George Washington to send troops in to quell Pennsylvania's Whiskey Rebellion over it in 1792? Some of today's Tea Party types question the federal government's right to levy taxes or enforce its directives. Are these teabaggers correct, or was George Washington and our early Congress right to establish taxes, enforce passed laws, and protect the power of the federal government? I'm quite certain most rational people know the proper answer, and they do NOT agree with today's teabaggers!!

Today's ultra-conservative Republican Party and its Tea Party splinter group are malcontents and subversives who are twisting fact and history to justify and legitimize their own errant version of what the American Revolution of 1776 was all about. They have recast the Boston Tea Party into having been a revolt against taxes rather than what it actually was: a revolt against being governed without representation by an unelected king from across the sea. Since they are in such strong opposition and even encourage insurrection against our existing government, which DOES allow them representation and IS elected, are they not being UNpatriotic rather than patriotic? Aren't Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry's threats of secession, and Republican Representative Michele Bachmann's cries for revolution, acts of treason? Urging defection from, or calling for the overthrow of, an existing government simply because there aren't enough representatives in it who vote the way you'd like isn't being patriotic, as the teabaggers claim. What it actually is, in reality, is being childish, selfish, and insolent. The raging voices of the right, spewing lies and hatred, are not offering ties that bind or a solution to our problems. They offer, instead, a breaking of ties devoid of any solution. I hope voters will take this into account in November!

Our country has become very self-centered in recent decades. Ronald Reagan and subsequent conservatives have fueled the fire of self-centeredness with constant demands for tax cuts and insinuations that the government is "stealing" our money. They say that the country is worse off for the government having acted on behalf of the needy. This, of course,is patent nonsense! The many millions of elderly helped by Social Security and Medicare, as well as the large numbers of poor who have received Medicare and even educational assistance belie this nasty conservative allegation. That these programs even came into being at all is strong evidence that free-market capitalism by itself very often fails to meet the needs of ordinary citizens and that government intervention is a definite necessity. The conservatives have also incorrectly and very unjustly characterized the underprivileged as worthless loafers who are parasites sucking everyone's personal finances dry through taxation and social programs. They have wrongly attacked and cast government attempts to help the poor and underprivileged as being actions designed to steal from the rich and middle class, which is nothing mre than a cynical attempt to make the poor even greater outcasts of society than they already are. When Michele Bachmann (and others like her) decry any attempt by government to level the economic playing field as being an undesirable "redistribution of wealth", she very ignorantly overlooks the fact that Reagan's and George W. Bush's tax cuts funneled billions of dollars upward, into the hands of the already filthy-rich. She also ignores the fact that wealthy corporations and CEOs have long been freezing worker wages and exporting jobs to slave labor markets overseas, a DEFINITE redistribution of wealth in favor of the rich who do not need or deserve any more money! People like this are turning us into a culture of "me first" and "to hell with you." There is growing intolerance for divergent viewpoints. There is growing incivility, and an increasing geographical division. The South neither understands, nor evidently cares about, the industrialized Northeast anymore, and vice versa. The Midwest views the South, Northeast, and far West with disdain. The wide-open West has no time for Washington or those in Eastern inner city slums. Fundamentalist Christians have no time for non-believers or those who don't imterpret theology just as they do. They hate Muslims, and are also demanding the establishment of a near-theocracy in government. Social conservatives have no time for libertines or those who deviate from their viewpoint. Claiming to be pro-life, some even murder abortion doctors.

I do not believe our Founding Fathers envisioned what we are becoming today: a self-absorbed, ideologically-split nation of polar opposites. Their vision was one of free, honest, and open discussion, and action being taken by means of cooperation, mutual respect, and MAJORITY RULE. They gave us a Constitution to live by, and also a Bill of Rights providing for amendments and necessary future changes to that Constitution.
Progressives through the years, notably Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ, have striven to correct injustices such as slavery and monopoly and lack of opportunity and civil rights. They have brought about much needed change which has expanded opportunity and made it possible for all, not just an elite wealthy few, to have a good quality standard of living. They did this by using the federal government as a catalyst for these beneficial changes. But such an approach is under direct attack today by far-right elements which comprise the Tea Party and control the Republican Party. This is not at all in spirit with what our original founders intended. To truly recapture and once more implement what they had envisioned, there MUST be more open and honest discussion going forward, along with more civility, less obstruction, and more understanding going. As you celebrate this July 4, remember that our wise founders laid the groundwork for a tied together, yet diverse and malleable, UNITED States of America, not the UNTIED States of America we are disintegrating into thanks to the incivility and stubborn rigidity of the far right.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

TIME FOR FAIRNESS: TAX THE RICH!

"Taxes should be proportioned to what may be annually spared by the individual."
- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1784. -


"Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise."
- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1785. -


Originally, I had intended this post to be about the divisions in this country as we approach the 234th anniversary of its founding. But I saw this piece in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune written by former Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton, himself a wealthy descendant of the Dayton-Hudson department store chain founders, and it resonated with me. It is, in my view, a strong indictment of the fallacies and end results of the Ronald Reagan/George W. Bush, conservative Republican anti-tax, tax-cut-for-the-rich economic philosophy and practice. It also provides an insight into the potential disaster electing Republican Tim Pawlenty President would be. Sen. Dayton is looking to replace Pawlenty as Minnesota's Governor. The graph at very bottom was taken from a past post in one of TomCat's ever-thoughtful and informative Politics Plus blog.
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Does the deficit call for wealthy to pay their share?

By MARK DAYTON

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has protected the rich from paying their fair share of taxes, and the results are chronic budget deficits, drastic cuts in funding for education and other essential services, and increased property taxes.

During Pawlenty's two terms, state funding for our schoolchildren has been reduced by $1,400 per pupil. As a result, several districts can afford to provide school only four days a week. Others are forcing more and more children into overcrowded classrooms. Thousands of dedicated teachers are being laid off.

After college, I taught ninth-grade science in a New York City public school, with 32 students in each class. I learned how much skill and dedication it takes to become a good teacher. I also learned that it's not possible for one teacher to meet the educational needs of 32 children.

So, when I visit a fifth-grade class in Rochester with 36 children and only one teacher, I know something is seriously wrong.

And when I see other overcrowded classrooms throughout Minnesota, I know that we are underfunding public education, and that this failure is jeopardizing our children's futures and our state's future.

To make matters even worse, Pawlenty's most recent insistence on protecting tax loopholes for the rich led him and the Legislature to "shift" almost $2 billion owed Minnesota's school districts into the next biennium. Their fiscal irresponsibility has driven the next projected budget deficit to almost $6 billion.

How can the next governor and Legislature balance the state's budget during the first five months of 2011? The best way is to add jobs. Once again, Pawlenty and his policies have failed Minnesota. Since he became governor, there are 200,000 more people living in Minnesota, yet there are 12,000 fewer people working in the state. Yes, there was a national recession; however, during his eight years, Minnesota was one of the 10 worst states for employment growth. Putting more people back to work must be our next governor's top priority.

Until many more people are working, however, there are only three ways to eliminate a $6 billion budget deficit:

1)Raise taxes on the richest Minnesotans;

2)Raise taxes on the rest of Minnesotans; or

3)Cut $6 billion more in state spending.

The second has already happened under Pawlenty. The state auditor reports that property taxes have more than doubled in Minnesota during the past decade. The property tax is the most unfair tax, because it must be paid whether someone has a job or an income, or whether a farm or business is producing a profit. Many senior citizens and others on fixed and limited incomes are being forced out of their homes by rising property taxes.

Option No. 3 is superficially appealing. No one likes paying taxes. It's simple to say, "Let's cut $6 billion, which is 16 percent, of the next biennial budget." However, as my friend Tom Harkin, a U.S. senator from Iowa, likes to say, "For every complex problem, there is a simple solution. And it's almost always wrong!"

Ninety-three percent of the state's budget is spent on education, health care, human services, transportation, public safety, property tax relief and local government aid. Another 3 percent goes to debt service. GOP Rep. Tom Emmer pretends that merging state agencies will eliminate the deficit. That's absurd fiction, and his continued pretension insults the high intelligence of Minnesota voters.

The truth is that state government spends its revenues on us, the people of Minnesota, and on services that benefit us. Certainly there can and must be improvements and greater efficiencies. However, eliminating $6 billion of spending would have severe consequences, which is why Emmer is afraid to tell us what they are.

There is a much better alternative. As governor, I will make the richest Minnesotans pay their fair share of taxes. The Minnesota Department of Revenue reports that, as a percentage of income, the wealthiest 10 percent of our citizens pay only three-fourths as much in state and local taxes as do the rest of Minnesotans. The richest 1 percent, who on average make over $1.2 million a year, pay only two-thirds as much.

If they all paid the same percentage of their incomes as everyone else, there would be an additional $4 billion in revenues for the next biennium. That would eliminate two-thirds of our state's next budget deficit.

It would allow us to begin to restore our commitment to education. To serve our senior citizens. To lower property taxes.

The current candidates for governor should be judged by this very important measure. Are they for protecting tax breaks for the richest Minnesotans, or for building a better state for all Minnesotans?

More than anyone else, I will close tax loopholes favoring the rich, make them pay their fair share of taxes, and invest that money in better education and a better future for all Minnesotans.

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton is a DFL candidate for governor.
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Conservative Republicans, the wealthy elite, and Tea Party activists love to complain about taxes, even though many of them pay none at all or pay a much lower proportional percentage than do working and middle income Americans. They infer that they are being punished for being wealthy for showing initiative and generating wealth. They scream this nonsense even as they freeze wages, scale down benefits, and export the jobs of their employees. And even after taxes, they still have far, far more money left over to play with than do working Americans. Patriot, Founding Father, and President Thomas Jefferson is spinning in his grave...



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UP NEXT: THE UNTIED STATES OF AMERICA

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BRIEF EARLY SUMMER MUSINGS

Just a few thoughts on some of our current events:


Regarding the bp oil spill, my thoughts are multi-faceted. On one hand, I view it as a crime against nature and a crime against humanity. That the occurrence is criminal cannot be disputed. bp was criminally negligent and had no safety backup plan, it falsified safety inspections, and regulators did a horribly poor job in inspecting and ensuring the safety of bp's drilling operation. 11 workers are now dead, and entire fishing, restaurant tourist, and hotel businesses have all but been destroyed, just so the gigantic bp could save (squeeze) a few extra bucks of profit. This is proof positive of the absolute need for strong regulation and oversight of the oil industry, and ALL big corporations as well. The conservative Republican, Libertarian, and Tea Bag cry for greater deregulation of business and expanded free market activity rings pretty hollow in the face of the fact that such behavior CAUSED this horrible tragedy. My view is that all bp executives and directors, as well as the lax federal regulators, responsible for this abomination should receive long jail sentences at hard labor, and that bp itself must be made to pay huge reparations to the millions of Gulf residents whose lives have been ruined by this act of greed and resultant economic terrorism.
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Conservative Republican and Tea Bag criticism of President Obama's demand that bp reimburse Gulf businesspersons for their losses due to the oil spill has been most revealing and not a bit surprising. Rep. Joe Barton's (R-TX) apology to bp, in which he called the President's demand for a bp escrow fund a "shakedown", was disgraceful and showed his blatant favoritism for big oil as well as his callous lack of concern for the innocent civilians of the Gulf who have now become victimized by bp's irresponsible greed. Tea Bag favorite U. S. Senate hopeful Rand Paul's characterization of Obama's putting pressure on bp as being "un-American" also shows the underlying conservative insensitivity toward oil spill victims. But ultra-conservative Michele Bachmann's (R-MN) utterly ridiculous claim that Obama's move was to create a "redistribution of wealth fund" proves beyond all doubt that these conservaives only care about the wealthy and care nothing at all for the common laborer or small businessperson. It also proves how these teabaggers and Republicans will castigate the President no matter how preposterous or unjust their claim.
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Gen. Stanley McChrystal's interview with Rolling Stone, in which he severely criticized the President, Vice President, and the entire National Security team over their handling of the war in Afghanistan, has deservedly earned him rebukes from Democrats and Republicans alike. McChrystal's loose cannon mouth has gotten him into trouble before, but this little incident is damaging to troop morale and sends a dangerous signal to al Qaeda about discord in the American military. His irresponsible action is reminiscent of another blabbermouth general's action, that of Douglas Mac Arthur, during the Korean War. It will be interesting to see if other conservative Republican and Tea Bag voices join his chorus in catcalls against President Obama, or if for once they will do the right thing and keep their collective mouths shut...

UP NEXT: "The UNTIED States of America"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A NEW POLITICAL PARTY!

A special thank you to Rich Miles for having posted what you see below in the June 11 edition of his always superbly thought-provoking blog Logical Negativism, at http://logicalnegativism@blogspot.com/. Given today's political climate, with so much dissatisfaction coming from nearly all quarters, I found this post particularly interesting.My own comments will be found in bold type alongside various points of, and directly following, his post.Here it is, folks:


by "Not Sure Who Wrote This"

Got this in my email today, and thought it was marginally clever. I don't say I agree 100% with everything said here, but it seems that a good deal of it needs to be said one way or the other. See what you think:
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*A New Political Party.*


*Not Democrat, Not Republican, Not Independent, and most definitely not Tea.*

*It's called the “PISSED OFF PARTY" (or POP).* CLEVER! Sure beats the GOP!

*This party is dedicated to vote every incumbent out of office in the next elections.*

*If you're Democrat, vote Democrat. Just don't vote for the incumbent.*

*If you're Republican, vote Republican. Just don't vote for the incumbent.*

*We need to send a message to all politicians, that we're tired of their B.S.*

*If the country votes out all the incumbents, the new incoming politicians will get the message...*


*It's pretty simple. Nobody needs to change parties and let’s face it, there's plenty of blame to spread around.* This appears to be an overly simplistic "solution" to our current glut of out-of-touch and unresponsve government officials. Merely substituting one Democrat for another or one Republican for another sounds fabulously sensible, But consider this: WHICH Democrat would you substitute, for example? And WHICH Republican? How would these selections be made, and, should enough voters of the opposite party not do the same replacement move with their candidate, might you not be giving the election to an opponent whose political beliefs don't match your own? Not only that, but I see the possibility of a huge number of candidates ending up on the ballot trying to fill one office rather than the usual two to four or so we now have. Would this not lead to counting irregularities, multiple contested election results, and lengthy and costly court battles to determine the election's actual winner? And might this not encourage your opposing political party's strict adherents to split your party's candidates to the point where your opponent party's candidate might win by default? I see nothing but potential trouble from this overly-simplistic approach.

*A few good politicians will lose their job but they probably have better retirement and insurance than 95% of the American public.* As much as we all seem to hate entrenched politicians, some are actually very conscientious, good public servants who know their job well and deliver what is actually needed for their constituents. They have learned how to get opposing factions to come together to accomplish something. Others have special knowledge or experience in a particular field of expertise. These politicians belong in office, should remain there, and should not become "good ones who would lose their jobs."

*You've had to struggle for the last 5 years. Some of you have lost your job and may be working in some other sector just to feed your family.* So never again vote for conservative, bought-out Republicans and Democrats who favored lax regulation that caused your economic turmoil!

*I guarantee you, none of them will suffer like this country has.*

*If you like what's going on and think this is a bad idea, delete this.*

*But if you're fed up and think this is a good idea, then pass this E-mail on.*

*If you really think this has legs, then a website and a blog could help get the word out.*

*To All 535 voting members of the US Congress: it is now official: you are ALL corrupt morons.* That is not at all true and is most revealing of the originator's cliche-ridden suppositions, oversimplification, and ignorance.




*a.. The U.S. Postal Service was established in 1775. You have had 234 years to get it right and it is broke.* Our postal system is the finest in the world. It has performed very well for many years, and its inefficiencies and problems began when Republican President Richard Nixon first took it out of pure government control. Originally a cabinet-leveldepartment, Nixon's 1970 Postal Reorganization Act turned it into the United States Postal Service, an independent, corporation-style agency with a monopoly only on the delivery of first class mail. opening the door to increasing numbers of private companies who were allowed to invade its domain, the federal postal system has become besieged on many fronts it never had to contend with previously. Also, the world wide web and email in particular have caused a more than 22% drop in the volume of mail going through the postal system. Given that it is required to deliver universal delivery of mail at an affordable rate (a requirement not shared by any other private delivery company like UPS, FedEx, or DHL, this puts the USPS at a disadvantage. Overall, though, it is still the most cost-effective means consumers have to receive periodicals and handwritten cards and letters.

*b. Social Security was established in 1935. You have had 74 years to get it right and it is broke.* There is nothing at all broken with Social Security until politicians began plundering its funds to reapportrion them elsewhere. The system by itself is fine, and must never be replaced by a for-profit private one subject to market manipulation and upheaval!

*c.. Fannie Mae was established in 1938. You have had 71 years to get it right and it is broke.* Yes, thanks to market manipulations and deregulatory pressure from libertarians and the private sector, which once more fouled up what had been a fairly reliable and successful means to provide mortgages to those with lower income and mortgage security overall. That is hardly the government's fault.*d.. The War on Poverty started in 1964. You have had 45 years to get it right; $1 trillion of our money is confiscated each year and transferred to "the poor" and they only want more.*

*e.. Medicare and Medicaid were established in 1965. You have had 44 years to get it right and they are broke.* These programs have benefitted MILLIONS of elderly and poor and have saved and extended millions of lives. It is private doctors and privately-operated hospitals WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER who have repeatedly illegally overbilled the system, and that does not mean that Medicare and Medicaid do not yet "have it right."

*f.. Freddie Mac was established in 1970. You have had 39 years to get it right and it is broke.* As with Fannie Mae, there is nothing wrong with Freddie Mac that wasn't caused or worsened by reckless private market manipulators.

*g.. The Department of Energy was created in 1977 to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. It has ballooned to 16,000 employees with a budget of $24 billion a year and we import more oil than ever before. You had 32 years to get it right and it is an abysmal failure.* The Department of Energy, just like numerous other fedceral regulatory agencies, has been sabotaged, compromised, and neutralized by big money from private industry, chiefly from the oil industry. George W. Bush transformed regulation into blatant cronyism, and that casts a far more negative light on private concentrated capital than on the government or its programs. So long as oil companies continue to pollute government regulatory agencies with dirty lobbying efforts and the outright purchase of elected officials, this unfortunate trend will continue.

*You have FAILED in every "government service" you have shoved down our throats while overspending our tax dollars.*

*AND YOU WANT AMERICANS TO BELIEVE YOU CAN BE TRUSTED WITH A GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE SYSTEM? * ABSOLUTELY. SUCH SYSTEMS WORK EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, AND, BARRING ANY FURTHER SABOTAGE OR INTERFERENCE FROM OUR EXISTING CORRUPT AND OVERLY-GREEDY PROFITEERING PRIVATE SYSTEM, GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE WOULD BE IDEAL. ASIDE FROM ABUSE FROM THE PRIVATE SECTOR, MEDICARE AND MEDICAID, AS WELL AS THE VA, ALL DO A VERY GOOD JOB IN PROVIDING CARE FOR THEIR PATIENTS!

*IT'S NOT ABOUT THE NEED FOR GOOD HEALTH CARE, (OH YES, IT MOST CERTAINLY IS)IT'S ABOUT TRUSTING THE GOVERNMENT TO RUN IT!* PRIVATE INSURANCE COMPANIES AND PHARMACEUTICAL MANUFACTURERS HAVE ALREADY DEMONSTRATED WHAT AN UNFAIR DISASTER PRIVATE HEALTH "CARE" HAS BEEN. BRING ON GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE!

*Folks, keep this circulating.
Posted by Rich Miles at 8:23 PM
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This email was undoubtedly begun and circulated by a justifiably frustrated individual who unfortunately doesn't really understand how our government really works. Clearly, the scenario which currently exists, with big money and special interests virtually buying out a number of government officials
and causing them to turn a blind eye to the needs of the majority of citizens. But this email also smacks of being started by a conservative or libertarian teabagger type in that it blames government for all of our woes and completely ignores the corrupting effect free market capitalism has on our government. The underlying tone of this email is that government can't do anything right (a lingering and incorrect attitude left over from the conservative Reagan years); that government should stay the hell out of private industry; and that government in and of itself is evil. To this underlying tone I would counter that government CAN do things right; that PRIVATE INDUSTRY SHOULD STAY THE HELL OUT OF GOVERNMENT; and that unrestrained free market private industry is the evil entity, NOT the government! Rather than simply replacing all congresspersons, would it not be far wiser to ban all funding of political campaigns by business interests, especially those who lie outside of a particular district or state? Would it not thus be far wiser to eliminate completely the corrupting influence of big money and special, self-serving interests? For THOSE are the influences in need of eradication, not just the members of Congress!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2010 HEAD AND HEART AWARDS

My sincere thanks to all who offered their kind thoughts and prayers for my terminally ill mother, my family, and myself. She passed away May 26, and I now have a terrible gaping hole in my heart and my life. We thought alike and had the same sense of humor. I will miss, and always treasure, her insight and wisdom. Rest assured, the thoughtfulness of you, my fellow bloggers and readers, as well as from all of my other friends and relatives, has been most appreciated and provided me with great comfort during some very dark days. I love ya all, folks, and thank you for enriching my life! :-)

Regular followers of this blog know I have had a propensity to focus on many of the problems in our country as well as on those whom I believe are contributing, or have contributed to, those problems. I have done so to draw attention to the many flaws we have in this country, in hopes that an improvement can be made. I will continue doing so on a regular basis.

Near year's end each year, I post an annual December feature, which I call "Bozo of the Year." It portrays some of the fools and clowns in public life whose antics were so outlandish that they were deserving of ridicule. In a similar fashion each June, I take an opposite approach and do a different annual feature, which spotlights those individuals of today or in the past whose contributions to humanity and/or our country have been so spectacular, courageous, and/or noteworthy that they should be lauded near and far as good examples of what we as humans can achieve, if we only put our minds to it. After all, not everything going on in the world is doom and gloom. So here is the second installment of this annual mid-year feature I call the "Head and Heart Awards." The individuals shown here have used their heads and hearts to produce great things for humankind, or have shown themselves to be beacons of light in a sea of darkness. They should serve as inspirations to us all to DO something, to take a principled stand, using OUR heads and hearts, on behalf of our fellow brothers and sisters, rather than simply sitting back complacently enjoying the relatively good life we have experienced here in the United States.

Honorable mention for the award this year goes to Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine. His repeated efforts in the face of many failures would alone make him eligible for a Head and Heart Award, but the fact that he DONATED his successful discovery to humankind and medical science rather than capitalizing on it and enriching himself makes this man extraordinary! Can you imagine anyone alive today performing such an unselfish act? They broke the mold when they made this fine doctor!

The state of Maine has a history of producing independent-minded female Senators. Republican Margaret Chase Smith was a good example of a moderate Republican who bucked her party's base in the 1950s to reject the paranoidal tendencies of McCarthyism. Though not in Senator Chase Smith's league as of yet, today's Republican Senator Susan Collins has shown similar independence from her modern-day ultra-conservative party. Her good sense in doing what is best for her constituents and the country at large instead of blindly following rigid reactionary ideology places her head and shoulders above moist of the rest of her Republican pack.


Another moderate Maine Republican Senator in the Collins and Chase Smith mode is Olympia Snowe. This blogger encourages her to set herself apart from the conservative crowd even more than she has done to date!

This year's "near miss" for the Head and Heart Award is Wendell Potter, a former Vice President of Corporate Communications for health insurance giant CIGNA. After a 2007 tour of a rural Virginia free clinic revealed to him thousands of people unable to afford, or having been excluded from getting health insurance, this highly moral and conscientious man resigned his position and began a crusade for universal, government-run health care. He appeared on many TV shows to expose health insurance industry dodges and exclusionary practices, and even testified before Congress. Speaking before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on September 15, 2009, Potter told them that if Congress "fails to create a public insurance option to compete with private insurers, the bill it sends to the president might as well be called the Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act." Congress should have listened, but instead passed the flawed bill that is now on the books. Mr. Potter should be commended for his decency, compassion, and courage. He put patients before profits, which is exactly what should be done! It is a shame that far too many Congresspersons lack his qualities.

This year's third place spot goes to Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist. Unlike disgraceful Republican Governors of Louisiana's Bobby Jindal's, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty's, or Mississippi's Haley Barbour's ilk, Crist didn't neglect his needy constituents by playing politics with and denouncing President Obama's Stimulus Package. Instead, he sensibly took the federal aid offered him and used it for the benefit of his needy citizens. He courageously publicly supported the stimulus plan and saw it for what it was: a wholly necessary move to aid hurting people. Regrettably, his common sense and courage may end up costing him a shot at the U. S. Senate seat from Florida, as the Florida GOP, hijacked by insane teabaggers and far right elements, has all but abandoned him for the ultra-conservative Marco Rubio. Crist, the people of Florida, and the entire country deserve much better!

Second place for this year's award goes to MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. Ms. Maddow's heart is always in the right place: on the side of the downtrodden and those with little or no voice. But this brilliant Rhodes scholar is continuously raising the bar on televised political discussion. She puts forth the tough questions, as when she asked GOP Kentucky senate hopeful Rand Paul point blank for his position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She consistently digs deeper, and explains the issues at hand more analytically and clearly, than nearly any other political commentator. The woman is phenomenal!


MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is the recipient of this year's Head and Heart Award - by a whisker - over Rachel Maddow. A political fraternal twin of Maddow, Mr. Olbermann took the health care reform bill debate by the horns and actually got thousands of uninsured, needy people free health care at various free clinics he set up across the country over the past year. He used his show to solicit contributions for these clinics and appealed to doctors and medical technicians to attend these weekend clinics. Instead of complacently sitting on his laurels like the entire Fox "News" crew and almost all other TV commentators, Olbermann's action led to direct and much-needed benefit for thousands of the unfortunate. That makes him this year's winner, in my book ---a man who used his head AND heart to directly benefit many needy people he had never even met! This world could use many, many more Keith Olbermanns!