30 September 2013

How to tell if Obamacare is really so bad

The Republicans in the House are so determined to repeal Obamacare that they are willing to risk a government shutdown.

They suggest that Obamacare is so dangerous that it's worth the risk. And they want to go on record as opposing it at all costs.

But, if that's truly what they believe, wouldn't they be better off letting Obamacare go into effect in January, on schedule? That way, if it truly is an abysmal failure, the public would have 10 months to learn that lesson just in time for the 2014 elections.

I suspect that what they really fear is that Obamacare will be a success - and that the public will have 10 months to learn that lesson just in time for the 2014 elections.

29 September 2013

Spreading beliefs through violence: A very old tradition

I just read that on this date (September 29) in 1227, Roman Emperor Frederick II was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for not participating in the Crusades. At that point, apparently, the Catholic Church had grown even more powerful than the Roman Empire. And the Church wanted blood. Or else.

The Crusades were the Church's attempt to spread its influence and control throughout Muslim-dominated parts of the region, and to convert - or wipe out - the heathens. They were spreading Catholicism at the point of a sword. What would Jesus do?

Now, hundreds of years later, things are not so different. We've traded in our swords for machine guns and drones, but the more powerful entities on the planet are still trying to spread their own ideologies through violence.

Today it's not called a Crusade. Today it's called "spreading democracy". It's called "winning hearts and minds".

In reality, however, you cannot force people to believe in you or to accept you - especially when they're concerned for their lives and limbs.

But apparently that doesn't matter to those in power who care only about power.

21 September 2013

GOP vs. Jesus

As I recall from Catholic school and bible studies, Jesus Christ showed us by example that we should feed the poor and cure the sick.

However, the self-described Christians in the GOP have been spending all their time trying to take food stamps away from the poor and take health care away from those with preexisting conditions.

It's the opposite of what Jesus taught us. And it's nothing short of hypocrisy.

I hope other voters can also see through this.

18 September 2013

Same-sex marriage, religious liberty, and fear

Anti-equality organizations, such as the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), keep trying to tell us that same-sex marriage is a threat to their religious liberty.

That is, of course, nonsense.

In states where same-sex marriage is legal, heterosexuals are still at liberty to marry someone of the opposite sex.

The only thing at risk is their sense of superiority over another group of human beings. And that, I believe, is what they are truly afraid of.

17 September 2013

September 17 is Constitution Day

Today, September 17, is Constitution Day, which commemorates the signing in 1987 of the U.S. Constitution.

While many on both the political right and the political left frequently lament the perceived erosion of our constitutional rights - and sometimes rightly so, let's take a moment today to be grateful for the freedoms we do have. And then let's fight as hard as we can to protect those freedoms.

You can read the full official text of the U.S. Constitution here.

16 September 2013

Amnesty names Malala Yousafzai and Harry Belafonte as 2013 Ambassadors of Conscience

Amnesty International has just announced the two recipients of its Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2013.

Malala Yousafzai, even at the young age of 16, is a strong and inspiring advocate for equal access to education. She was shot and severely wounded last year by the Taliban in her native Pakistan, but that seems to have made her even stronger.

Entertainer Harry Belefonte is a lifelong advocate for humanitarian causes, which he has described as an "obligation to do more than just entertain."

Congratulations to these two very deserving individuals.

For more information about this award, click here.

12 September 2013

PA judge rules against county official who issued same-sex marriage licenses

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge today ruled against Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, who has been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of a state law that defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

Judge Dan Pellegrini did not address the constitutionality of the state's marriage law. Instead, he decided that Hanes did not have the power to act outside the law; specifically, that Hanes has "admittedly failed to comply with his mandatory ministerial public duty" under the marriage law. And he ordered Hanes to stop it.

>> Read the judge's opinion. (PDF)

Fortunately, the issue won't stop there. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has other litigation in the pipeline that challenges the state's discriminatory marriage law. So stay tuned, with fingers crossed.

11 September 2013

On this 9/11 anniversary, are the terrorists winning?

After al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, George W. Bush told us that it was because "they hate our freedoms".

That wasn't the real reason for the attacks. But still, it feels as if the terrorists have won - or that we have lost.

From the Bush administration's imposition of indefinite detention without charge or trial, which continues today under Obama, to the PATRIOT Act and the expansion of government secrecy and warrantless spying, our freedoms have indeed been curtailed. Little old ladies cannot even board an airplane without being subjected to excessive and humiliating security procedures.

Despite all these additional "security" measures, and even though Osama bin Laden now sleeps with the fishes, many Americans don't feel much safer than we did before 9/11.

Furthermore, our continued presence and influence in the Middle East, and indeed our continued threats to expand that presence and influence (see Syria), will only serve to feed the true root causes of anti-US terrorist sentiments. Because, in fact, those are the true root causes.

And so, in fact, it's lose-lose for all.

05 September 2013

Demonstrations nationwide against bombing Syria (and how to find one near you)

Over the next few several days, actions and events will be held across the country in opposition to U.S. military action in Syria.

Events include a demonstration in New York's Times Square on Saturday, September 7, and a march on Washington on Monday, September 9, as Congress goes back into session.

These actions are organized and cosponsored by a broad coalition of groups, including the Syrian American Forum, United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), and the ANSWER Coalition.

>> Click here to find a demonstration near you.

04 September 2013

Court hearing today on same-sex marriage in PA

A Pennsylvania state court hearing is scheduled for today in a suit filed by Gov. Tom Corbett's admimnistration against Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes. Earlier this summer, Hanes had started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of a state law that defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. The lawsuit to be heard today is the state's attempt to stop him.

According to CBS Philly, the state wants the issue decided strictly on the question of whether or not a local official can get away with disregarding a state law that he disagrees with.

Others are hoping that this will be an opportunity for the court to address the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of the discriminatory marriage law.

Questions of legal standing and jurisdiction will also be argued.

Stay tuned. But don't expect a final resolution any time soon, as an appeal is likely in any case.

01 September 2013

Divorcing Wells Fargo

I first opened the checking and savings accounts, along with a safe deposit box, in the early 1980s, at Fidelity Bank. Then, through a series of mergers and buy-outs, it became First Fidelity, then First Union, and then Wachovia.

It was a good bank, with conveniently located branches and ATMs, friendly staff, and a reasonable fee structure. For three decades, it was my primary bank - where my paychecks were automatically deposited and from which most of my bills were automatically paid. It was all smooth and easy.

But then Wells Fargo bought Wachovia.

First, the rates went up. Now I had to maintain $1,500 in my checking account - rather than $1,000 - in order to avoid a monthly service charge. And my checking and savings accounts no longer entitled me to a 50% discount on my safe deposit box rental.

But I was attached to that bank account. I guess it was a sentimental kind of attachment, like when you're in an unhappy marriage but not yet emotionally ready to break away. So I ate the extra expense.

Then I started to read about Wells Fargo's role in the subprime mortgage crisis which contributed to the ongoing worldwide recession. In 2012 alone, Wells Fargo agreed to pay more than $180 million in settlements for its crimes, with further legal trouble pending:

• In July, it reached a $175-million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly discriminating against minority mortgage borrowers and charging them higher interest rates.

• In August, it agreed to a $6.5-million settlement on SEC charges that it sold risky mortgage-backed securities.

• In October, it was hit with a federal lawsuit based on the Federal False Claims Act, alleging that Wells Fargo defrauded the FHA by engaging in "reckless" lending of FHA-backed loans and then leaving the agency to pick up the tab.

To add insult to injury, from 2008 to 2010 Wells Fargo received $17.9 in tax subsidies, paid for by you and me.

So I decided that I couldn't keep my money there any longer. Now that I had this knowledge about how Wells Fargo conducted its business, I no longer had an excuse. I finally moved my money to a local credit union, which has better rates, lower fees, and branches that are almost as convenient.

Wells Fargo didn't make it easy. When I visited a local branch to close my accounts, the customer service rep and her supervisor repeatedly pressured me to stay, even though I don't have much money. I refused to give in. I calmly and sweetly shared my reasons for leaving, and I hope that information gets passed up the ladder.

So now I have severed all personal connections to Wells Fargo, and it feels liberating. Kind of like my divorce - difficult but worth it.