Sunday, August 23, 2015

John Oliver: Should We Tax The Churches?


On Sunday, August 16th, John Oliver delivered a hay-maker on the HBO television program, "Last Week Tonight." In it, John exposed the televangelistic criminatilites of Robert Tilton, a man who was exposed for his shenanigans back in the 1980's. But unlike Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, Tilton was not completely brought down. He's still out there, and that made him a prime candidate for John Oliver's wrath. Lumping him in with other faith-based assholes such as Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar, he attacked the notion of "seed faith," which is a concept I'm all too familiar with, having spent most of my youth in a Pentecostal church. The basic idea is that if you tithe your 10% to the Lord, that God will repay you many times over. In other words, prosperity comes by giving to the Church, and to various televangelists as well. But if you give over and above your tithe, God will reward your faithfulness even more. In other words, gifts to preachers are investments in your own prosperity later on. Many people have learned the hard way that this doesn't work, and many more get continuously spanked by this doctrine, and go on self-punishing themselves anyway, to the delight of the televangelists who bilk them mercilessly.

So, Mr. Oliver proceeded to respond to this with his usual mockery, launching the Church of Our Lady Of Perpetual Exemption, and asking people to send him their "seeds," (which, one week later, it seems some people literally did - not money, ACTUAL SEEDS!).

But this awesome publicity stunt, which small-media outlets like this blog are totally in favor of, has put tremendous pressure on the government to begin taxing churches. People are sick and tired of this shit, and so they're calling legislators, e-mailing representatives, and begging them to start taxing the churches. Should we?

I've written and spoken on this subject before, and my answer may surprise you. HELL, NO! We shouldn't tax the churches, because the whole fight over the separation of Church and State hinges on our being able to tell religious entities that they cannot have a voice in government because they don't pay taxes. In other words, if you didn't pay your admission fee, you don't get to play. But if we tax the churches, we lose that critical point of argument. Churches will be able to turn around and not only argue that they paid their admission fee, so they should be able to influence government, they will resurrect the old rallying cry of, "No taxation without representation." And we atheists will have no defense to this counter-offensive. Sorry, guys, but the churches should stay tax free. And sorry, Mr. Oliver. You've made your point, but I'm afraid that, just this once, it was for a losing cause.

But wait! Perhaps not all is for naught! While we cannot tax the churches outright, we CAN enact some common-sense safeguard legislation that will leave most churches tax-free, while cracking down on the most hideous abuses of this tax-exempt status. Here are my suggestions:

1.) Only grant tax-exemption to parsonages which are at or below the estimated average value of a home in a given state. For example, in Wisconsin, the average home costs about $150,000. That means that a home can be owned by a church and be free of property taxes if the value of that home is below $150,000. If the home is worth more than $150,000, then the owner, church or not, minister or not, will pay property taxes on whatever additional value that home is worth. With this rule, the vast majority of churches will still pay no taxes, having provided homes for their ministers which are adequate, but not lavish. But the assholes who buy multi-million dollar mansions like the one owned by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland (something cited by John Oliver in his expose), would get hit HARD! And that's the way it should be! Housing prices fluctuate, but they tend to fluctuate together, so tying the standard to the average value of houses in a state is a sound measure. And keep in mind, it wouldn't even be the full value of the property taxed, if a tax were levied! It would only be the small amount over and above the average home value for the region! Most churches could afford that, even on a limited budget. The ones who would pay, and pay big, are the Creflo Dollars and Kenneth Copelands of the world - and that's the way it should be!

2.) Apply a similar rule to parsonage vehicles. Limit of one per household, and tax exemption can only be claimed below the average value of a standard automobile, pickup truck, or SUV. The dodge here might come in the form of traveling preachers who crisscross the nation in large recreational vehicles. If so, fine. If it's a mobile ministry, limit of one RV per ministry too. Not household, ministry.

3.) Fully tax the national televangelism ministries. No, I'm not talking about the local churches who appear on local cable channel number 71. I'm talking about nation-wide broadcasters. It goes without saying that nation-wide broadcasters are not local churches, and therefore should not receive the same sorts of tax exemptions as local ministries and neighborhood churches. You want to do a television ministry in Davenport Iowa on the local community access network? Fine, you get to be tax exempt. But if you broadcast to every state in the union? Too bad! Cough it up!

4.) Only tax the megachurches. The vast majority of churches are small, seldom breaking 200 in attendance on any given Sunday. That's including multiple services at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., nightly services and Wednesday family night. Only 2% of churches have attendances of 1000 or more per week. If you have much more than that, you're a megachurch. And the abuses of megachurches are extreme. For example, the largest church in Wisconsin is Elmbrook Church, located in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Its capacity is so large that it could hold easily hold 3,000 people. Its weekly attendance is roughly 7,000 per week! Contrast this with the Riverside Theater which holds 2,450 people, or the Pabst Theater, which has a capacity of 1,345. Uihlein Hall, part of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, has a capacity of 2,305. If you're a church, and your building can hold more than 1,000 people, you are ridiculously huge! And the chances that your church is corrupt increases exponentially with its size. Now, I'll grant Elmbrook church a break and say that its probably not corrupt, but that doesn't matter, because its so large that police officers have to be pulled in from their regular job of protecting the public from crooks in order to direct traffic! Elmbrook is that huge! So not only is it not generating any tax revenue, it's costing tax dollars! Taxing such churches is therefore more than fair, whether the ministry is corrupt or not! So, I propose a tax levy upon any megachurches with a seating capacity exceeding 800. 10% of the property's value becomes eligible for taxation when a church's seating capacity exceeds 800, and an additional 10% of that property's value should be subject to taxes for each additional 100 seats. Keep in mind, Elmbrook is probably the only church in Wisconsin that would be hit by any such rule. All the other churches would still be completely tax-exempt.

5.) Tax churches that get involved in politics. There is already a law in place which does this. More than half a century ago, then-senator Lyndon Johnson proposed an amendment that would tax churches that engaged in political activity. In other words, churches could not endorse a political candidate or campaign for a particular political party. If they did, they would lose their tax exempt status. When the law was revisited in 1987, it was actually strengthened, further specifying that churches could not campaign against political candidates, either. Such laws need further strengthening, and a separate bureau to police such activity should be put in place.

So, John Oliver, your little stunt was not a complete wash-out. It inspired me to write this. This, my dear Mr. Oliver, is MY "faith-seed." And I will send you a copy of this proposal with my love offering of $10.00, hoping that you will read my letter and agree with me.

And who knows, some other smart cookie with a lot more political influence than myself might even read this blog post and do something with it.

I have faith in that.


Eric

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Stirring Aborted Fetus Video


There's an amazing video going around Facebook that I should share, and it's bound to make the pro-life people go ape. But I'm showing it anyway, because I worship Truth rather than some pre-literate-era deity, and because I'm demonstrating that I'm unafraid of anything my opponents might have to say. Yeah, that's right, I serve the truth straight up, no ice, no soda.

First, let me remind everyone of my position regarding abortion. I argue that the brain's development, not conception, defines the onset of a being. Republicans have accidentally admitted as much with their recent push to ban abortions at 20 weeks because that's the point they feel a fetus can begin to feel pain. That point is both wrong and arbitrary, because it has been determined that the point a fetus begins to feel pain is more like 29 to 30 weeks. (For more info, go to FactCheck.org's website on that issue. I've included a link to it here.) The brain defines the being, and that means without a functioning cerebral cortex, a being's individual life, by any measure, has not yet truly begun. Or, to put it into spiritual terms, the soul hasn't entered the body yet.

In this video, you'll clearly see the fetus move in response to the physician's hand touching the placenta. This makes perfect sense, because the part of the brain that governs movement is the cerebellum, or hind-brain, and this forms very early on. Although it continues development later, it begins functioning at around 10 weeks, at which point it goes through a kind of "systems check," and the fetus begins to move quite a bit. Interestingly, this is usually the point at which a woman is required to do an ultrasound by certain states whose laws try to discourage abortions. After this point, however, the fetus goes into a kind of stasis, where it can move, but does so sparingly.

In other words, what you are about to see is a fetus capable of movement yet incapable yet of thought or feeling. You're seeing the beginnings of what will later be a "being" in the true sense of the word, but which has not yet crossed that threshold, because the brain hasn't reached that point. Again, to put it into spiritual terms, this is the empty clay cup, not yet finished baking, into which "God" (or whatever deity you will) will pour the "soul" into. But for now, it's an empty shell - a body without any "spirit," if you will.

Here is the video:

video


To my inexperienced and untrained eye, the fetus shown in this video appears to be about 16 or 17 weeks into development. (That's a guess, mind you.) As such, the fetus can move, and does so when prodded. But the cerebral cortex has not yet fully formed, and as such there is no conscious perception going on. There is no pain, no pleasure, no sensation at all to be frank.

Will this video pluck at the heart strings of those who feel abortion is murder? Undoubtedly. Will some be convinced to turn to the pro-life side of the argument? I'm certain that's so. But the brain defines the being, period. And that means that the snuffing out of this life (and yes, it's alive) can be done ethically, because while it may be both alive and human, it is not yet a human "being." For that, you need a developed brain.

Let's hope anti-abortion activists grow one.


Eric

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Hillary Over Bernie? Yes! Here's Why:


Many of my left-leaning friends are excited about Bernie Sanders. Many are also convinced that he can, will, and should win the Democratic primaries and the general election. Personally, I like Bernie. I think he's an upstanding guy and would make a fine president. If he ends up being the nominee, I'll back him 100%. But right now, I'm all for Hillary, and I'm about to give an impassioned speech as to why I am, and why you should be too.

I know, I  know, this is where people who "feel the Bern" will write me off as a "Hillary schill" or worse, and not bother to listen to a single thing I have to say after this point. But please, hear me out! I think those who write Hillary off do so at their own peril! Some of us may not like Hillary, but as you'll see in a moment, we need her, plain and simple.

First, let's address Hillary's downsides, since we all know them well. People say she's 1.) shifty, 2.) an insider, 3.) totally ruthless, and is 4.) chummy with the big-money. All of which is true. But let's get something straight, because it's the crucial point:

That's what we want! That's what we need!

Shifty? Yes, she plays dirty. But the republicans have played dirty for seven years, and all during that time, we've watched our first African-American president, a man with a heart of gold and a brilliant mind, get completely and thoroughly lynched! Frankly, I'm fucking sick of it! It's time for us to get up, dust ourselves off, turn to the Republican machine as we wipe off our bloodied mouths and say, in all sincerity, "So ya wanna play rough, do ya?!" Yeah, Hillary plays dirty. Well, GOOD! We want to play dirty! Because only by playing dirty can we stop ourselves from getting steamrolled!

An insider? You bet! But she's an insider in so many ways. As Secretary of State, she knows world leaders personally, and knows what they're capable of. As First Lady, she was present at all the prayer circles and luncheons, and you can bet that she got the dirt on everybody through their wives! Believe me, Republicans fear her inside info, because she has the dirt on all of them, and don't think she won't use it!

Ruthless? Again, GOOD! I don't know about you, but I'm sick of Washington gridlock. How do you break gridlock? By breaking those who orchestrate it! No, we won't get compromise through appealing to the mavericks on the left and the right, because there aren't any more mavericks on the right. Only the Democrats have any moderates. The only way we will broker any compromise deals now is to make the opposition too scared to do otherwise.

In the pockets of big money? True! Welcome to the necessities of Citizens' United plutocracy. And make no mistake, it is a plutocracy, and an oligarchy, and has been since that sick, twisted SCOTUS ruling back in 2010. So the only way we can beat it is to strike a Devil's bargain and get enough big money to support our own side just long enough to undo it. If we don't, we're all fucked, because only billionaires will be able to play the political game. And here's the sick part: We only have one realistic shot at this, and it needs to be THIS election year! Otherwise, the Supreme Court could end up stacked against being able to do anything about this for generations. Hillary has a realistic shot to do it! She's the only one with the financial power to challenge the Republicans and their big-money donations. No checks and balances exist to prevent the Koch brothers and many others from throwing as much money as they can at their candidates, so having the finances to fight them means everything. The only hope Democrats have at matching this is having a candidate win early, and then wrapping up as much airtime as possible before the Republicans have a candidate settled. That advantage is key when you have less money than the other candidate, and already Hillary does have less. In spite of a four-year head start over everyone else, Jeb Bush has already out-raised Hillary, and you can bet that disparity is going to increase as the election wears on. A prolonged fight between two Democrats for the nomination will mean losing that all-important edge. We can't afford to fuck around!

But is Hillary in the big-donors' back pockets? It's possible, but I find it unlikely. She's proven herself to be a woman of integrity in the Senate and through many purported scandals and many different personal trials. She may be forced to keep certain campaign promises to the biggest money people, but if that's what's needed to beat back C.U. and win back our democracy, I say so be it.

Ah, yes, the Clinton scandals. She's had some of those swirling around her, that's true. But have you noticed, for all the concerted efforts Republicans have made to bring her down, none of those scandals seem to stick? Nobody's better at fending off attacks, warranted or unwarranted, than Hillary Clinton, and I argue that the current attacks on her are completely unwarranted. Benghazi? A Republican panel already exonerated her. Dead issue. E-mails? What 68 year old woman hasn't fretted over being required to use a new e-mail address? Unless she actually shared sensitive information, she's already off the hook. Oh, some scandals certainly stuck to Bill, but the last time I checked, he's not on the ballot.

Can Bernie win? That would be nice, since he's a nice guy. I dare say he could pull off an upset for the nomination, but I have grave doubts that he can win the general election. First, he's been very honest and outspoken about bringing fairness to a tax system that gives too many breaks at the top, and feels that income inequality is best addressed by making certain that the wealthy pay their fair share. Okay, fine, but in politics, especially post Citizens' United politics, there is such a thing as too much honesty! The big-money lenders who traditionally back left-leaning candidates will balk at Bernie's blunt admission that they too will be hit in their pocketbook, and it will cost him.

Too much honesty will cost him as well because he's too blunt about being a Democratic Socialist. The word "socialist" no longer has a stigma among young people, but among older Americans, it certainly does. Even MSNBC's Chris Matthews shows a knee-jerk reaction to Bernie using the "S-word." And I perfectly understand that Bernie's form of watered-down socialism doesn't entail the government running the means of production, nor does it mean undoing a capitalist base that's been proven to work. But you can bet the general population won't understand that at all! People are lemmings! And too many people are still affected by the Red Scare of McCarthyism to put the label of socialism completely behind them. Even today.

Also, Bernie has a huge albatross around his neck in the form of his being Jewish. No, I don't have a problem with this, and neither should anyone else, but he will almost certainly be attacked as a "non-Christian." Say what you will about Obama, but he was truly a Christian (not a Muslim). But this time, accusations of a candidate being a non-believer in Jesus Christ will be 100% accurate, for once. Hillary, as anyone who knows her is aware of, is a devout Presbyterian, and her faith is something she cherishes deeply, although she doesn't flaunt it. A Jewish candidate shouldn't be a big deal, but people are just plain idiots about that sort of thing.

And Hillary has a powerful X-factor in her favor in that, of course, she's a woman. The prospect of our first female president is simply too loud a siren call for jaded voters to ignore. They'll vote her in, even if she is a bitch. Perhaps even because she's a bitch! (That's what I'm arguing for, after all.) She already has the black and Latino vote, but if she chooses a young Latino vice president, such as Julian Castro, the White House could be safely Democratic for another sixteen years!

So, there it is. Hillary is our one realistic shot, as I see it. And Bernie's a very nice guy, but that's just it, he's too nice! When you need a warrior, you pick the mean bastard, not the gentle scholar. And after nearly two terms of nice-guy Obama getting stomped on, nice just doesn't cut it for me anymore. I am literally arguing "no more Mr. Nice Guy!" Yes! The bitch is back, and I'm on board!

Make no mistake, everything rests on this upcoming election! The culture war could end and America could finally be the nation of freedom and prosperity it was meant to be. Or it could all collapse into even more oligarchy and plutocracy, forever put out of the reach of any reform. The other side is playing for keeps! And so must we! So, with that much at stake, the question I would ask all of my friends who are (and I'm being good-naturedly humorous, here) "Bern-outs," is simply this:

Would you rather have your second choice and win it all, or your first choice and lose everything?

We're betting it all on one throw. Let's bet wisely!


Eric

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Megan Phelps-Roper on Leaving Westboro


On this week's episode of the Sacred Cow Wursthaus, I referenced the interview Sam Harris did with Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps. Here is the link to the interview, and enjoy!

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/leaving-the-church

Sunday, June 28, 2015

SCOTUS Gay Marriage After-Shocks


I want to go into the conservative reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling, effectively striking down any bans on gay marriage, and the example I want to use is an audio clip from the NPR show, ‘Here and Now,’ because it’s just an awesome example of skillful word-smithing. I can’t use the actual audio clip because it’s copyrighted, but I can use excerpts of what was said. The person being interviewed was Jim Campbell director of the Center for Marriage and Family with the Alliance for Defending Freedom. He said the following:

“The court regrettably stripped All Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the democratic process. Moreover, the court overrode the considered judgment of tens of millions of Americans who recently reaffirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and in doing so the court went beyond what the Constitution says, beyond what the Constitution requires, and took this issue away from the people.”

When asked by NPR host, Robin Young, whether he wanted this debate to be in the court of public opinion, he said yes, and she immediately (and justly) countered with the fact that, among the general public, a vast majority do approve of same-sex marriage, especially among millennials. So the court of public opinion seems to be trending against the opposition to gay marriage, in that case.  Here’s how he argued around that.  He said:

“The most important opinion poll is taken at the ballot box.”

In other words, let’s decide this where gerrymandering favors our side, let’s decide this where we can use voter I.D. laws and other intimidation tactics to make sure that the young and minorities don’t get heard, and let’s decide the issue that way. Disgusting, no?

He goes on to say: “The point that you are making is that it appears, from your perspective, that opinions are shifting on this. And if that’s the case, then we should allow the people to continue to discuss, debate, and decide the issue for themselves.”

Brilliant! See what he did there? He first said, “It appears, from your perspective (never mind that it’s an opinion poll, not her perspective) that opinions are shifting on this.” Shifting my ass! They’re moving decidedly and rapidly away from this man’s position! And yet so engrossed is he in the absoluteness that his religion must be right, that he acknowledges that there’s  movement in the debate, but can’t come to grips with the fact that it’s moving against him! How about that!
Robin Young then asked whether or not religious freedom was at the center of their argument he said it was.

“There are some instances where people are trying to operate a business and trying to live consistent with their faith, and courts are forcing them to either host or facilitate same-sex ceremonies, even though doing so conflicts with their faith. So I do think that that actually is a real issue.  Moreover, one thing we do know here at Alliance for Defending Freedom and one thing we are committed to is that no one should be threatened or punished by the government simply for believing and living consistent with the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

How? How are they being forced? That's the part I don't see.
Host? Where would they host? A Christian-owned banquet hall, perhaps? Maybe. But if gays and lesbians wanted to rent the hall for a party, such a business wouldn't object. It's only the marriage part they object to. But so what? If you own the hall, you don't have to attend, do you? Or you can hire out some other bartender/host. Big deal, right? It sure beats losing the business to someone else.

He then goes on to cite the standard jobs where someone’s Christian faith and/or belief that gay marriage is a sin might cause that person’s beliefs to be violated. Namely, a florist, a baker, a wedding photographer, and although he didn’t include it, I will also include a DJ, because at least one friend of mine who is a DJ says he will never do a gay wedding no matter what the Supreme Court says.

So let’s take a good look at that, because this is really where the proverbial rubber meets the road. What happens when, say, a devoutly Christian wedding photographer or planner gets asked to help out with a gay wedding?

Well, the nice and responsible thing for that photographer or planner to do would be to say, “Look, I’m a devout Christian, and as such gay weddings make me uncomfortable because they’re contrary to my religious beliefs. But I do know someone (competitor, assistant, contractor) who would be willing to do the photography for you instead of me.” In other words, that person is willing to lose their business to someone else, or hand the actual business duties to someone else, in order for the customer’s needs to be met. That might mean that the proprietor loses that customer to a competitor, but if one’s religion places such priorities over profits, then so be it. Let the free market decide the matter.

Now, would that be discriminating against the gay couple? Yes, maybe a little, but it isn’t turning the business away as such, either. Would that be a violation of the gay couple’s rights? Well, if the only wedding photographer willing to do a gay wedding charges an arm and a leg, maybe, because the gay couple is forced to pay a lot more for the same service just because the competitors are squeamish. That may happen, but the odds are rather low.

My point is, there are reasonable compromises which allow for the accommodation of both the anti-gay religious beliefs of the proprietor and the gay-accepting religious beliefs of the customer. There are numerous other examples of where something like this can happen, whether it is a Seikh who religiously objects to drinking alcohol selling you a case of beer at the convenience store, or a Hindu who objects to the eating of cows serving you a hamburger at McDonald’s, there are plenty of ways where we recognize that accommodating other people’s lifestyles is not the same thing as endorsing them.

How about other examples? Dressmakers? Who cares, they won’t be attending. Tux rentals? Same thing. Florists? They won’t be in attendance, unless they have to set up the display on the altar, and then they’ll be gone before the actual ceremony takes place. Cake-makers? There isn’t a baker I can think of who wouldn’t be willing to say, “Look, I can’t approve of your lifestyle due to my religious beliefs, but I value your business, so how about if I sell you the cake and the icing for writing the message on it separately?  I’ll even throw in the icing for free. (That’s only like, a buck anyway.) Of course! Every baker worth his business would do that!

The objection is all imagined. Gay couples have made peace with their god when it comes to the love they feel, and that’s their religion, regardless of what label they use.  But Christian extremists want the ability to say, “I religiously object to your religious interpretation, and so I want the right to try and shame you into changing your ways by refusing to do business with you, and doing so in a rude way because there are some easy ways I could compromise to accommodate having you as a customer, but I’d rather just say no and label you ‘icky!’ Well, if so, fine. But at least be honest about it. This is you trying to force your religion upon someone else's creed. And that’s not “restoration of religious freedom,” no matter what else you may call it!

            Bottom line is, the free market will work this out, just as it always does. If your religion dictates the need to attempt to force others to comply with your religion’s edicts, then there will be some other vendor which will take your business, and that’s the way it should be. If you’re a dick, you lose customers. And we really shouldn’t care or be sympathetic that your religion makes you a dick.


            Certainly, it’s none of the government’s business.


Eric

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Let's TPP The Neighbors!


Friends, it's time to talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. This is a free-trade treaty involving twelve nations around the Pacific Rim (and possibly more later). These are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, The United States, and Vietnam. Collectively these countries account for 40% of the world's GDP, making this one of the most significant trade deals ever brokered. Naturally, this has attracted staunch advocates as well as fierce opponents. Who's right and who's wrong here? What follows is my qualified analysis after doing some research, and I hope people find it helpful.

Elizabeth Warren is against it. So is Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton has tentatively said some things in opposition, but is (as always) holding her cards close to her well-tailored blazer. But Barack Obama is very much in favor of it, and many analysts see this as a legacy deal for him. Why the disparity? What has some Dems fighting to stop it, while others within the same party are so anxious to see it passed?

First, let's all acknowledge something here: we're all flying blind when it comes to the issue of this trade deal. Much of what's involved is being kept secret, and it's only through security breaches that we know anything about this treaty at all. Were it not for Julian Assange and Wikileaks, we wouldn't even be able to have this debate. (Something to bear in mind the next time someone attempts to argue that Wikileaks is tantamount to treason.) But if we don't know what's in the TPP, how can we truly evaluate it's merits or demerits? The sad answer is, we can't - not really. But we can take the information that's been leaked to the general public, analyze that, and at least come to some reasonable (if tentative) conclusions. We can also evaluate the actions of certain insiders (people who know what's going on) who champion or chide this deal, and draw some conclusions based on what they have to say and what we know about them, personally.

First, let's talk major impacts. What significant changes will this treaty bring, based on what we currently know? Well, primarily, it seems that the major beneficiaries will be businesses which rely heavily upon intellectual property rights. Copyright infringement will be more sternly enforced under this trade deal, allowing Hollywood to crack down on piracy of movies, and tech companies to better able to control unauthorized use of proprietary software. It would also better enforce trademarks, making knock-off brands less profitable for foreign manufacturers. Sadly, it would also make it easier for major pharmaceutical manufacturers to keep cheaper drugs out of the market. Given that the businesses which rely upon these kinds of laws are typically left-leaning in their political support, it's understandable why some Democrats might be in favor of such a deal.

What about jobs? Opponents say that this trade deal will be "NAFTA on steroids," and that more jobs will be lost overseas, labor unions will be weakened, and what jobs remain will have lower wages. This seems to be a legitimate concern. According to the Economic Policy Institute, such a treaty would have a negative impact on both number and quality of jobs unless it included a strong provision regulating currency manipulation. In other words, it should do something to prevent a country from deliberately devaluing its currency by over-printing its money, thus gaining a trade advantage by being able to export more and offer cheaper labor. If a strong currency control were present to prevent such actions, lower-valued currencies would quickly balance out, and American jobs would, in fact, be protected. But does the TPP include such a provision? Sadly, we are not sure. It could potentially protect jobs, but even if it did, it would not necessarily create them. A recent report has shown that nearly 80% of Americans already live below or near the poverty line. The last thing we need is something that will diminish or limit wage growth, even a tiny bit.

Will lower tariffs boost the economy? Proponents say that there will be a benefit in reduced tariffs and more open trade, but is that true? Economist Paul Krugman points out that tariffs are already so low in general that a further reduction really won't have a significant impact, and he's right. There may be a few more American cars in Japan, but aside from that, there will not be much of a change. Therefore, arguments about more open trade increasing business are unfounded. Unless this trade deal suddenly includes China and India, any increased business activity will be negligible.

What about the environment? Will this trade deal violate national sovereignty and allow mega-corporations to sue the government in order to circumvent mining, foresting and fossil-fuel rights? Critics say it will. They say that a corporation could call upon third-party arbitration to get around restrictions meant to protect the environment. But is this true? Possibly, but not necessarily. For starters, the arbitrator could potentially see the wisdom behind the environmental protections and rule against the corporation's lawsuit. Also, other environmental protections could be added through such a treaty. Yes, the 12 nations involved represent 40% of the world's economy, but they also represent 25% of the world's fishing consumption. A trade deal that opens up trade in fish - provided that fishing has been done within legal restrictions - could actually benefit everyone by allowing fish populations to recover, resulting in more food for everyone, to say nothing of a healthy ocean. Such a trade deal would also be able to clamp down on illegal trade of black-market natural resources, and not just illegally caught fish or whale-oil. Poached lumber, game or other ill-gotten goods could have a more difficult time getting to market, decreasing both supply and demand and actually helping the environment. There is risk, but there is also potential reward.

Finally, let's look at Obama and his endorsement of the TPP. He has flat-out called Elizabeth Warren wrong for opposing it, and this comes from a man who seldom has a harsh word for anyone, much less someone within his own party. What are we to make of this? Surely, Our Trophy President knows more about what's potentially in this treaty than we do. But are we simply supposed to put our faith in him on this one?

Critics of this trade deal are calling it crony capitalism. They say that Obama is paying back the big corporate donors who helped him get elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. But he's a lame duck now. Obama could simply decide to screw over Big Corporate in favor of what the people of America better need for a sustainable economy, right?

Ah, but there's the matter of his successor, isn't there? In order for Hillary to win, she'll need the backing of the same big corporate firms who backed Obama. It's no secret who those corporate firms are. Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Google, Hollywood, Music Firms, Big Pharma, Big Banking, Comcast and Time Warner. Maybe the TPP does make us lose ground somewhat, but it helps the firms just named quite a lot, and that could have major benefits for the Democratic Party.

Ultimately, it might boil down to one simple question: Do you trust Obama's judgement on this, or not?

So here is my cursory, and very tentative conclusion: Will this treaty hurt the American economy? My view is that it will, but not, I think, by very much. The benefits are not substantial, but neither are the costs. Yes, it will hurt unions, but they're all but dead, and the concept of unionizing needs to hit the reset button - possibly by unionizing the service sector. Yes, it could hurt the environment, but it could also help it in other ways. Yes it could cost jobs in the short run, but it could protect them in the long run.

The bottom line is this: We live in a post Citizens' United world of politics, and that means the big donors get to decide who can compete, and how well they are funded. We The People get the final say (if we actually bother to vote, that is), but the nominations and the popularity contest is directed by the money. If the TPP turns out to be a bad deal, but gets Hillary elected by making the Big Corporate Donors happy, it's worth the trade-off. Treaties can always be re-negotiated, especially if people get disgusted and show a significant amount of buyer's remorse. But we are probably only one more presidential term away from putting the Supreme Court out of reach of moon-bat conservatives, and thus ending the destructive culture war that has so torn our nation. The TPP might be the key to doing that. If so, I say fine - for now. I reserve the right to change my mind if new evidence comes to light.

But I also say this: We need to get more people involved in the debate! Go tell people to read up about this treaty. Get them interested! Get them motivated! Let's tell them how important it is to at least try to learn about just one complex piece of legislation before it happens. In other words...

Let's TPP the neighbors!


Eric

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Monday, April 27, 2015

The End Of Journalism In America


One last thought regarding CSS, Corporate Sponsored Stupidity (see previous post). I mentioned that CSS has so infected the minds of people that the news only placates to one side or the other - such is the brand-loyalty which has poisoned citizens against the truth. Well, there is another consequence that I would be remiss not to address. The news now has to disguise itself as comedy in order to entice people to watch it.

This phenomenon seems to affect the young people of America more, and this makes sense. They are the ones who grew up in a corporate-dominated world, with corporate-dominated media, where advertising assaulted them from the cradle on into adolescence. Naturally they would suffer from CSS more acutely - albeit more sophisticatedly - than older Americans who saw corporate advertising evolve from earlier, less effective formats. As such, the necessity of disguising the news as comedy seems to be targeted at young people, because it's the only way to get them to watch. They have to literally be lured into learning things by laughter. Jon Stewart and John Oliver tell us that they are comedians, not journalists. I respectfully disagree. They ARE journalists. It's simply a new variety of journalism - one which has evolved to not only report the news, but then figure out a way to get people to sit up and notice it. First they have to dig up the news, and then they have to dig down to reach you.

The opposite situation seems to apply to older adults with CSS. The way to entice them into watching the news is to get them pissed. They are the angry generation, and so want to get mad about something. Vietnam is over, forgotten are the liberal ideals they had in their youth, and they now want to defend faith and family, not realizing that by supporting today's so-called conservatives, they are eroding both. So their news comes in the form of angry white males who vent and vent and vent, and, according to the ratings, people just love that shit.

You  know what? Fuck all this. Does anybody give a shit about the truth for the sake of the truth anymore? It seems not.

So that's my take on it. People need to give a shit about the truth. Say what you will about Jon Stewart and John Oliver, but they at least do, if only because the truth is so bizarre that it's funny.

Do you give a shit about the truth? Or do you blindly bat for Team Conservative or Team Liberal?


Eric

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