Getting Money Out of Politics (U.S.)

I belong to a political blog, Citizens for Truth, and I would like to invite my readers to check it out.

The purpose of the Citizens for Truth blog is to focus on the effects of money in politics, educate others about it, and keep the issue at the forefront of people’s minds even after this year’s election.  We cannot solve any of the big issues that our country faces without first dealing with the issue of money in politics.  Money in politics corrupts our democracy, influences our elections, and controls what gets done in Washington.  This excessive and unfair influence has been present for a long time, but has been exacerbated in recent years by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other court rulings.

Getting money out of politics is not a partisan issue, since corruption does not confine itself to one party. Making a change will be difficult because many of our elected officials at both the state and federal levels benefit from the status quo, and therefore they have no incentive to correct this problem.  We must persuade them to create laws for publicly funded elections or vote them out of office.  In order to do that, we must get a majority of Americans on board so that they are involved in the process.  This is the only way to reclaim our democracy.

Religious Freedom and Tolerance: Do we have it?

Recently I posted about a Pew Research study which reported on government restrictions and social hostility regarding religion. The study found that, in the United States, both measures of religious restriction increased from 2009 to 2010, and that the increase was not against only one religion but several, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikhism (read the post here).

Today I read an article on the blog Mystic Politics which addresses “ceremonial deism” in our country. The writer discusses 4 ways in which Christianity (or at least, a belief in God) is proclaimed by the government:
1. Our motto on money: “In God we trust”
2. Prayer in public schools — not private prayer, not a moment of silence, but actual prayers.
3. “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
4. Prayers at the beginning of public meetings.

Let’s try a “thought experiment.” Suppose you lived in an Islamic country. The money says “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” At school your children hear prayers directed toward Mecca at least 3 times during the school day. They indicate their love of the country by saying a pledge which includes the words “under Allah.” Finally, every meeting of government or public institutions, from the national level all the way down to your child’s graduation, begins and ends with Islamic prayer.

If you are anything except Muslim, how would this make you feel? Like an outsider? Unaccepted by the community? Annoyed that you have to participate in something against your religion? Angry even? Be honest!

“But wait,” says the other side, “it’s okay for the U.S. to be this way because we were founded to be a Christian nation!”

No, we were not. It is a fact that most of our Founding Fathers were Christians, but not all. Continue reading

Restrictions on Religious Practice Increasing in U.S.

The Pew Research Center, as part of its report on global religious restrictions, states that restrictions on practice of religion in the U.S. increased in 2009 and 2010. This change was not confined to one religious group; it included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus, as well as others.

Pew Research uses two methods to determine a country’s score on restrictions to religious practice. The first, the Government Restrictions Index (GRI), addresses court cases, legislation, and other government actions that reduce the ability of individuals to follow their religious beliefs. The U.S. GRI score rose from 1.6 (low) in mid-2009 to 2.7 (moderate) in mid-2010.

The second method, the Social Hostilities Index (SHI), is based on non-government actions by individuals or groups that are motivated by religious prejudice. Religion-related terrorism, as in the attack by U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood in Texas, is an example of religion-based hostility. The U.S. score on the SHI rose from 2.0 as of mid-2009 (a low-moderate score) to 3.4 as of mid-2010 (a high-moderate score).

This report only underscores the obvious increase in religious prejudice, stereotyping, and hatred that has occurred in the last five years. Not only is restriction on religion increasing, but the rate of increase is increasing.

Given the fact that the United States was founded from a desire for religious freedom, it is ironic that we are moving backwards rather than forward.

Star Trek: TOS Vulcan symbol

The Best New(s) Show Ever

I’ve just been introduced to HBO’s new series, The Newsroom, which began airing on June 24th. I don’t get HBO, so I haven’t watched it on TV, only clips on the Internet. But it seems to be off to a very painful, but honest, start. Click here to watch a video of the first scene in the series.

I wish what he says about America today was not true, but I strongly believe that it is. Admitting there is a problem is the first step. Some people believe that anyone who talks about our country’s shortcomings is not “patriotic”, and “doesn’t love our country.” That’s is completely illogical. Are your friends perfect? Do you have to believe they are perfect in order to be friends with them? What about your spouse, parents, children?

After the admission that the U.S. has problems, the BS really hits the fan. We are so divided right now that it is almost inevitable that Republicans will blame the Democrats, Democrats blame the Tea Party, Libertarians blame the government — all of it — and the religious right blames Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her band of atheists (plus the ACLU).

There are two reasons why this blame game is worse than useless: one, the problems in our country are very complex and have developed for a long time now — during Republican and Democratic presidencies, conservative and liberal Supreme Courts, and a variety of different culture wars. Blaming a single group is, at best, a gross simplification, and at worst, it demonizes that group.

The second reason we should stop placing blame is that it doesn’t help. In fact, it makes the situation much worse. Why would one party want to cooperate with another if they are calling each other names, vilifying each other, and escalating the conflict until friends, coworkers, and families are torn apart by hatred? I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to work with someone who calls me stupid, ignorant, lazy, weak, or other emotion-laden adjectives, even if –or especially if!– they are somewhat true.

I like to be treated like an adult human being even when I am acting childish, because getting that treatment and respect makes me feel more like an adult human and I’m therefore more likely to act adult and human. On the other hand, I do need to be called on the carpet for my childish behavior — but with respect.

I’ve wandered far from my original topic, which was the new HBO show, but one thing just led to another. Be sure to check out the video.

Sad or Silly — or both?

I’m not sure what to make of this report (below) from Medscape concerning women who get genital cosmetic surgery. I can see having plastic surgery if I had a big ugly wart or something equally disturbing ‘down there.’ But I would NOT do just because I had one labia longer than the other, as a woman mentioned in the report.

To me, this is just another reason for women to feel inadequate and to feel they must change themselves to be attractive. And that’s sad.

It’s silly, too. All that money spent, and who will see it? Insurance won’t cover it unless it’s a medical issue — in which case it’s no longer cosmetic surgery.

Here’s the report:

Gynecologists Alarmed by Plastic Surgery Trend

By Deena Beasley

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) Aug 27 – Trained as a gynecologist and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. John Miklos calls himself a “medical tailor,” specializing in surgery to reshape a woman’s genitalia.

The Atlanta surgeon, who has performed gynecological surgery for nearly 20 years, cites cases of patients who say their sexual response improved after vaginoplasty, a procedure to surgically tighten a vagina stretched by childbirth or aging.

“Women come to me and say they don’t have the urge to have sex anymore because they don’t feel anything,” Miklos said. “I guarantee that if a man didn’t feel anything, he wouldn’t have sex either.”

Female genital cosmetic surgery is a small segment of the U.S. plastic surgery market, but it is growing, with thousands of women estimated to undergo such procedures every year. That growth comes despite a warning from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in a 2007 notice to member physicians that strongly questioned the medical validity and safety of female genital cosmetic surgery. Earlier this year the group debated the trend at its annual meeting in San Diego.

“None of these procedures have proven effectiveness, and there is potential for harm,” Dr. Cheryl Iglesia, a Washington, D.C., gynecologist and former ACOG committee member, wrote in an editorial published in the June issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Women are being misled or are confused about what is normal,” she wrote – and about what constitutes a condition that can actually be helped through treatment.

Critics say the trend is the latest service aimed at women pursuing an impossible ideal of physical perfection, hyped by Internet pornography and advertising by surgeons who may not explain all the risks, such as infections, scarring, pain and the loss of the very sensations some patients seek to enhance. Continue reading

Sick to Death of Politics… EDITED

… yet, like an addict, I keep coming back for more. ;-)

Wednesday a small group of us, about 8, went to visit the local office of our Senator, John Cornyn. It was similar to the visit we made in June to our local Congressman (I thought I had blogged about it, but apparently not).

In both cases, we delivered a petition requesting a constitutional amendment to disallow the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling, which has exacerbated the problem of money in politics to the point that billionaires like Harold Simmons can personally bankroll a given politician’s campaign (he backed Newt Gingrich before Newt dropped out of the race). [my mistake… Simmons supports Romney, not Perry]

You can bet that if Romney wins the election, he will pay very close attention to Mr. Simmons’ views, in the same way that Rick Perry (another Simmons beneficiary) listened when Simmons wanted to build a hazardous waste dump in West Texas.

Besides delivering the petition, many of us wrote statements giving our opinions and explaining how money has influenced public policy on particular issues. Mine was on privatization of prisons.

The Senator’s staff member had allocated us 1 hour, but he ended up letting us stay almost 30 extra minutes, and everyone appreciated that. (I was only present for the first half, then my social anxiety got the better of me. Darn.)

We have started a blog and I am the “webmaster” which means I post what people write. I will be busy for awhile posting everyone’s statements. If perchance you are not as sick of U.S. politics as most people, including me, are, feel free to check out citizensfortruth.wordpress.com.

Is Altruism Immoral?

With Paul Ryan now Mitt Romney’s running mate, many people are busily trying to discover what Ryan is all about. If you follow the news, you know about Ryan’s budget plan. But what is his basic philosophy? As it turns out, he has expressed his admiration for a writer named Ayn Rand.

According to this video, which contains an interview of Ayn Rand (as well as several politicians praising her and her philosophy), Rand believed that altruism is immoral if it is placed above selfishness (see her book, The Virtue of Selfishness, and other writings). Rand preached that selfishness must be the basis of capitalism (“rational self-interest”), and scorned any belief system or social institution that was altruistic, including churches. She was an atheist who admits her “disdain” for churches in the video.

A number of Republicans, including Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, Rand Paul , Sean Hannity, and Justice Clarence Thomas, have cited Rand as their philosophical teacher and guide. Their statements are on record in the above video. Of course, some have recently repudiated Rand, especially her atheism. But is the repudiation a real change in viewpoint, or is political expediency?

I believe that each person is responsible for themselves and must look after themselves first. However, I don’t believe that I should put my needs above the needs of others to the extent that I am willing to step on other people to get what I need and want, which seems to be what Rand is advocating. I don’t see altruism — defined by Rand as living for the sake of others — as immoral. I believe that most things are best in moderation and the same is true for altruism and Rand’s objectivism or egoism.

Altruism and objectivism/egoism are opposites, according to Rand. I believe that if these opposing concepts are kept in balance, both the individual and the community will benefit. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as your self.” That one profound instruction tells us that we should love ourselves (contrary to what some churches teach), but that self-love must be balanced by other-love, which Jesus illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

If you’d like to read one person’s story of how Ayn Rand’s philosophy “ruined” her childhood, click here.

Pastor defies bureaucrats, goes to jail for hosting a home Bible study – Beliefnet.com

Pastor defies bureaucrats, goes to jail for hosting a home Bible study – Beliefnet.com.

I apologize for posting another quick-press article commentary, but I can’t believe what I read in this article. I especially have a problem believing it would happen in Arizona, which has a reputation of being very conservative.

But there it is — a pastor has been jailed for having home Bible studies. My previous next door neighbors held home Bible study, and even though the street was lined with cars, I never thought of reporting them to the police. The cars were parked legally and those who attended never caused any disturbance. Why should it bother me? I wouldn’t have cared if it had been a Koran study or a Rig-Veda study or a Torah study, either — the way I see it, they had every right to meet on their own property no matter what they were studying, even if it had been Mein Kampf or Marx’s Communist Manifesto. What happened to freedom of assembly???

“In such a society, we are all petty criminals… guilty of violating some minor law.”  Boston lawyer Harvey Silvergate, author of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, estimates that the average American now unknowingly commits three felonies a day, thanks to an overabundance of vague laws that render otherwise innocent activity illegal.

“Consequently, we now find ourselves operating in a strange new world where small farmers who dare to make unpasteurized goat cheese and share it with members of their community are finding their farms raided, while home gardeners face jail time for daring to cultivate their own varieties of orchids without having completed sufficient paperwork.”

“This frightening state of affairs — where a person can actually be arrested and incarcerated for the most innocent and inane activities, including feeding a whale and collecting rainwater on their own property (these are actual cases in the courts right now) — is due to what law scholars refer to as overcriminalization, or the overt proliferation of criminal laws,” writes Whitehead on his website.
I’m not a libertarian in the Ron Paul sense, but these laws are ridiculous. How is it damaging someone else for me to collect rainwater? Why should I fill out endless paperwork to have guests in my home? I used to live down the street from a houseful of drug dealers. Did they get prosecuted? No, they had “arrangements” with the police. I wonder if drug dealers in Phoenix have similar arrangements? Why don’t the police go after them and leave innocent people alone?


Leland Bobbé’s Half-Drag Photos Show New York’s Drag Queens In And Out Of Makeup

Leland Bobbé’s Half-Drag Photos Show New York’s Drag Queens In And Out Of Makeup.

This slideshow on Huffington Post was interesting. It shows how much of a difference makeup, wigs, and perhaps false nails can make. Many of these drag queens are beautiful in their female incarnations and nice-looking men, too. Some I didn’t care for, but that’s just a matter of taste.

I have watched TV shows about trans persons — transgender, transexuals, and transvestites — and have met personally at least 3 individuals who fit into one of the above categories. It’s impossible to know exactly which applies to the men in the slideshow, because some may identify as women while others identify as men who like to dress up as women (and very flamboyant women, lol).

I’ve met 2 persons who were male-to-female transsexuals — that is, they had gone through surgical and hormonal adjustments to give them feminine characteristics. A third had been receiving hormones, but she did not have any surgery until later. I haven’t talked to her in a while, so I don’t know if she went through the entire process.

It takes a great deal of courage and determination to make a change like that, especially in the U.S. today. I admire those who do it, facing the disapproval and hatred from so many segments of society. Even gays and lesbians often ostracize them, which surprises me; I would think they would have some understanding of how it feels to be treated that way.

This is a picture of a German girl who began her change to female at age 12, when she started taking hormones. At 16 she had sexual reassignment surgery.