THE NEW PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

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Have you ever received an email or read a Facebook meme that begins with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and continues on about how schoolchldren used to recite this every day–often accompanied by a picture of some random kids doing exactly that—and then lament that we’re not allowed to perform that little exercise these days?

I have seen plenty of both, mostly of the Facebook meme variety these days. My friends have learned to stop forwarding chain emails for the most part. Too many were nonsense, lies, or both, which I did not hesitate to call to their attention. Then again, maybe they haven’t stopped circulating chain emails, they’ve stopped being my friend.

Gotta account for all possibilities I suppose.

The notion expressed in such emails and memes is ridiculous. There have been challenges to the recitation of the pledge, but none has resulted in any ban on its use in schools, shopping malls, or AA meetings. The Pledge and its use have a fraught history. A summary can be found here:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/04/us/pledge-of-allegiance-fast-facts/

Most of the recent challenges are in regards to the words “Under God” which were inserted into the Pledge in the 1950’s. Is this an “establishment of religion” as prohibited by the First Amendment? The Courts have held it is a pledge of patriotism, not religion.

So be it.

But I believe there is a much more fundamental problem with the Pledge of Allegiance. Its object is a piece of cloth, arbitrarily selected to be a symbol of the United States of America. The flag has no intrinsic value, other than the $4.99 it may cost at Walmart. It consists of 50 stars, one for each state, and 13 stripes, one for each of the original colonies. Pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth accomplishes exactly what? It is meaningless. Would we pledge to a flag if all it contained were the numbers 50 and 13, representing the corresponding numbers of states and colonies on our current flag?

The flag is a symbol. Symbols are fine. Symbols are reminders, Symbols may be inspirational. They have been used throughout hstory in a plethora of contexts. Sports team mascots are symbols. The Pirate Parrot is a playful symbol of my favorite baseball team, but the mascot cannot exist without the team, though the team certainly can exist, and existed for its first 91 years, without the Parrot.

Same with the American flag. Its creation, in various forms, was used to rally the troops fighting the British during our Revolution and has evolved since then.But which came first, America or its flag? And if the flag were no longer used, does that mean the nation would become extinct?

Thus a Pledge to an arbitrary, ephemeral creation ultimately means nothing concerning one’s loyalty to one’s country and one’s fellow citizens (not always equivalent).

Our citizens can be quite diligent and meticulous about reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school, at public meetings or events, or, for instance, in private organizations such as the Jaycees. During my membership in that group all of our meetings began with the Pledge. But does reciting the Pledge indicate you have the best interests of the nation and your fellow citizens at heart? Not in any way, shape, or form.

In the link above about litigation, one mention is given to Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder signing legislation requiring state schools to recite the Pledge. But Snyder himself is under fire for the lead poisoning of the children of the city of Flint. He may have pledged allegiance to a piece of cloth but his electoral and statutory duties to his own constituents, part of the United States of America, were ignored. Other examples of two-facedness abound.

For that reason, I am proposing a new Pledge of Allegiance, one which expresses the ideals we claim America represents and it is not a pledge to a piece of cloth.

I pledge allegiance to the people of the United States of America, and to the nation’s peaceful place in the world, and to the goal of making not only America but the rest of the world a fit place for all human beings, not under any god since humans recognize many gods or none at all, but with the guidance of moral righteousness to treat each other decently and equally, and to work towards  truly establishing liberty and justice for all.

One needs no piece of cloth to view when we give this pledge. We can, instead, look each other in the eye. Isn’t that what we are taught to do to honestly communicate with each other?

MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN? THIS ELECTION SEASON I’D SETTLE FOR MEDIOCRITY.

drumpf

 

Earlier today I blew up on Facebook. I called friends who generally share my views stupid and those who don’t stupider. Much of my heartfelt enmity is the result of the rise of Drumpf.

Why do I refer to him as Drumpf? You can thank John Oliver for that.

Immediately after my viewing of this episode I downloaded the Chrome extension that converts Drumpf to Drumpf (I have found I can’t even type the actual name here without it undergoing the transformation) on stories in my browser. It is one small consolation to see this at work in the headlines and stories I see on Slate, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere, even on sites that lean farther right.

I deplore the lowlghts from all the 2016 campaigns. Our Presidential  electoral process is in the gutter, dragged there by Drumpf who has been joyfully joined there by Marco Rubio  who questions the size of Drumpf’s penis; by Ted Cruz simply being Ted Cruz; by Jeb Bush forced to defend charges of being a mommy’s boy; by Ben Carson, who fell in while sleep walking; by John Kasich, who destroyed any possible claims of being a moderate by defunding Planned Parenthood; and by the millions of presumably sentient human beings who listen to all the crazy talk about immigrants and an out of control government who couldn’t pass a U.S. citizenship/civics test if it were an open book exam and the original Declaration of  Independence and Constitution were splayed in front of them.

Holding them hostage there are David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremicist groups armed to the teeth courtesy of the National Rifle Association, crazed Evangelicals who believe Drumpf somehow possesses better Christian bona fides than the Pope when The Donald is probably more likely to provide a quote from a Smokey Stover comic book than from II Corinthians when asked about his favorite Bible passage.

Let us not forget the Secret Srvice which somehow has improved its training to the point that a reporter who wanders 10 inches outside the designated journalist area at a Drumpf rally is strong armed when only a few months ago intruders inside the White House grounds stole President Obama‘s favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe before being hustled to the requisite nearby mental hospital for observation.

Oh I’m not forgetting the Democrats. Their participation is in somewhat shallower waters near the curb cutouts that allow wheelchair crossing rather than in the middle of the block, but where the H2O is equally putrid. This time it is not so much the candidates themselves…Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton …hurling invectives at each other so much as it is the so-called BernieBros who have been accused of ugly misogynistic characterizations of the other camp while feminist icons Like Gloria Steinem, though using politer language, are equally sexist in how they portray young female Sanders enthusiasts.

And from these nominal Progressives come the enabling threats to withold their vote from the nominee should he or she not be the one they love to death at this moment. Enabling threats because by doing so they will practically guarantee that our next President will have a bulbous red nose, bizarre multi-colored makeup, a fright wig,  and will be making nonsense noises as he struts around the circus ring. Of course all but Drumpf will need to be fitted for this outfit.

Accompanying this flotsam down the gutter where it will eventually empty into the stream that will make the water supply of Flint, Michigan seem utterly pristine by comparison are various pundits, analysts, economic gurus, and the like offering opinions that may be parsley, rosemary, or thyme, but most certainly not sage.

Perhaps the only good that is coming from this is Spotlight. No, not the latest Oscar winning film but the harsh relentless glare focused on the entire Presidential nominating process that places premiums on a candidacy that begins within weeks after the prior election and is fueled by endless speculation, pollmongering profiteers, the need to fill cable TV news with anything but substance, and the proliferation of web sites whose sole purpose is to promulgate lies, denigrate anyone with opinions different from theirs, and disregard anything remotely likely to benefit the America they all profess to love but which they incessantly subject to virtual domestic violence while declaring their fealty between bruising blows.

Super Tuesday is an agglomeration of primaries in states and American Samoa which would be significant just for the sheer numbers of opportunities for voters to express their choices were it not for the media telling us that the issues have been decided by the primaries/caucuses already consigned to history in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina and whch have a combined poulation dwarfed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania whose own 2016 primary is not until April 26, a date by which the names of many former candidates will be not even a memory and which may represent only the merest possibility of ultimate success to the horses (asses) still in the race.

All this makes the Swiftboating of John Kerry in 2004 look more like the highest level of forensic debate by comparison.

Oh, hell. I’ll admit it. I, too have awkwardly stepped off the curb and fallen into the slime. But the murky waters are deep and I really can’t swim so I am about to drown in this torrent I am now a part of.

In splashing around for survival I might occasionally send splurges of nastiness into the open mouths of others, but they were there first voluntarily.

SAVING COAL

war-on-coal

For the past severl years there has been a huge outcry about the federal government’s war on coal. More precisely that cry began at 12:01 p.m. January 20, 2009. In searching for images to post the one I chose is one of the few that would not be criticized as NSFW.

The rhetoric charging this has been noticeably more vitriolic and sensational here in West Virgina though even representatives of the coal industry have occiasionally let slip that other factors are more responsible for any decline in coal demand and production than anything emanating from D.C.

But I’m not here to argue that issue. What I am doing is offering a way to boost the demand for West Virginia coal, however temporarily, so that our state’s miners can be assured of an income filled Christmas season.

A great Christmas tradition is to warn little children that they will receive a lump of coal in their stockings if they have been naughty, instead of the goodies all the angelic little kiddies receive.

Let us instead deliver lumps of coal to the truly terrible children around the world who are invariably disguised as adults. I’ll give you some examples as to how this will work.

Hillary Clinton——Not necessarily her sole flaw but a lot of people consider her to be far too cozy with Wall Street bankers and the like. So to her we deliver a 500 pound bag of coal lumps, to be shared with the banker friends, likely to be used to fuel document burning fires.

Mike Huckabee——One lump of coal for each of his utterances that have belied his self–proclaimed Christianity. That could keep a dozen miners busy for weeks.

Walmart——A lump of coal for each underpaid employee or one who has been forced to work on Thanksgiving away from their family. The problem here is that Walmart will probably buy the coal more cheaply from China.

David A. Bowers——He’s the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia who issued a statement which has been interpreted by some as suggesting any Syrian refugees be held in detention camps such as were employed on our own Japanese-American citizens during World War II. He later walked that statement back, though this whole thing is so muddled that he may have simply called for the internment of Syrian refugees together with Japanese-Americans and members of the mainstream media who reported his original gaffe. I’d just as soon forget him but to Bowers for Christmas goes one 2 pound lump of coal which he can utilize to call meetings to order by hitting it with his gavel.

Vladimir Putin——Invader of Ukraine and idol of FOX News and fitness fanatics alike, will receive two large lumps of coal fashioned into ten pound dumbells which he can carry while riding his horse or used as handicaps to challenge him in his other physical activities (which challenge will undoubtedly be met. He is Vladimir Putin after all) And all this while displaying his wonderful pecs.

ISIS——Well known murderers, rapists, beheaders, and internet trollers deserving of the largest load of coal at all. The lumps they recieve will not be measured in pounds or tons but, as much as I abhor mountaintop mining, it may take the removal of one mountaintop chock full of coal to be delivered to ISIS…not in lumps but in one mass dropped from above.

Donald Trump——Where do I start? Does he merit a lump for each racist, xenophobic, misogynistic declaration? One for each unnamed source, the experts or producers of dubious or outright false claims he has made or advisers he has consulted? No, better to deliver lumps equal to the number of folks who have stated they will vote for him, each of whom deserves their own bituminous filled stocking. But we will use those lumps to replace the sand in the bunkers on his golf courses—one lump per each grain. Anything remaining will be shipped to the Board Room in Trump Tower. Thenre if he declares “You’re fired!” the coal will begin burning.

Bernie Sanders——Feeling the Bern won’t mean feeling the burn from coal. Sanders is no saint, yet his proposals for the country are spot on and achievable given the will to implement them So to Bernie goes a one ton pile of coal, but one that will be kept under pressure to change it into diamonds—with the assist of Superman, naturally. Once that occurs I’m betting we can trust Bernie to spread the wealth wherever needed.

Children——Are you kidding me? Kids have done nothing to be treated with lumps of coal. What they need and deserve in their stockings, even if they’ve never heard of Santa or Christmas, is to receive assurances they wil have food and shelter and most of all love so that they will not grow up becoming eligible for lumps of coal.

 

FEARMONGER FEARMONGER MAKE ME A FEAR

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I continually react in disgust to the fearmongering generated by Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz in the agglomeration of news of ISIS  and Syrian refugees and Mexican immigrants and government assisted health care, or anything government assisted, and taxes and any other phenomenon they paint as an existential threat to the United States

There are many other guilty parties and not all are Republicans but this is my blog and I can pick on whomever I want.

None of those are threats…at least not in the way they are characterized.

Then we have the gun nuts, already armed to the teeth, rushing to acquire more firepower after the Paris attacks or any event they believe requires an armed response, even if the “threat” comes from people who are decidedly unarmed or thousands of miles away.

That has provoked in my mind the ear worm of the song from Fiddler On The Roof called Matchmaker Matchmaker. You can view a delightful version below. 

But my ear worm, while employing the instrumental part, has lyrics that are quite different.

And imagine the three pictured above as singing.

Fearmonger, Fearmonger
Make me a fear
Find me a villain
To attack this year
Fearmonger, Fearmonger
Look through your book
And find me a perfect fear

Fearmonger Fearmonger
I’ll bring the lies
You give me the name
Of whom to despise
Preferably brown
Bring me a cause for I’m longing to put
An innocent person down

For Carson
Make him like Darwin

For Ted Cruz
Make him want more taxing

For Trump well
He will not holler
If he were a loser at everything

Fearmonger, Fearmonger
Make me a fear
Find me a threat
Soon to appear
Night after night in the dark I’m alone
So find me a fear
Of my own

(Much dialogue between the three)

Fearmonger, Fearmonger
I have no brains
I’ve never learned
That playing with fears
Can get U.S. burned
So
Bring me a fear
Let me preach doom
If you don’t find
A threat this year
I will make up my own fear

With the deepest apologies to Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick.

KASICH SAYS PROMOTE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN VALUES—GUESS THAT MEANS MORE WAR

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Republican presidential candidate John Kasich says he’d set up an agency with a “mandate” to promote what he calls “Judeo-Christian values” overseas to counter Islamist propaganda.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kasich-judeo-christian-values-agency_564bc6d9e4b08cda348b6727

The Ohio governor says he would create the new agency to promote the values of human rights, democracy and the freedoms of speech, religion and association. Kasich says the information would be distributed in the Middle East, China, Iran and Russia, to compete with the propaganda and misinformation purveyed by Islamic militants.

And here I thought Kasich was one of the saner GOPers. He’s out of his mind. I believe there already exists such an agency. It’s called the Christian Church and Judaism. And they’ve been promoting their “values” for thousands of years.

Christian nations began both World Wars which together killed over 100 MILLION people!

A Christian nation embroiled its citizens in a four year long Civil War that sometimes literally pitted brother against brother and resulted in about 700,000 deaths.

A Christian nation pursued expansion that resulted in the deaths of most of its native population…many by disease and starvation…with perhaps at least a few hundred thousand killed by hostile action.

A Christian nation fought in an unnecessary and futile war in Southeast Asia and was responsible for—by conservative estimates—ONE MILLION deaths, the majority civilians.

A Christian nation invaded Iraq  under false pretenses and was responsible for as many as ONE MILLION deaths.

A Jewish nation illegally appropriated land from Palestinians and while claiming to act solely in self-defense kills nearly 4000 of the supposed aggressors (since 2008) while suffering fewer than 100 deaths of its own. Some defense, eh?

DAESH (ISIS) has by best estimates killed about 170,000 people. We’ll grant that Islamic terrorists as a whole perhaps can claim as many as ONE MILLION victims, but the number is probably not even close to that figure.

The deaths caused by Christian nations in these conflicts include millions of civilian non-combatants of both genders and of all ages, most notably the SIX MILLION dead in the Holocaust.

Pray tell precisely what values does Kasich expect to convey? These examples demonstrate little concern for human life. Besides the deaths millions of people were displaced…sorta like the current Syrian refugees, you know? And how many more have had their lives torn apart while suffering physical and psychological injuries is impossible to know.

Furthermore if Kasich’s creation is intended to be an official government agency he’s getting into First Amendment territory where such actions would be prohibited.

Let’s face it. Contrary to what Kasich apparently hopes to accomplish, pushing Judeo-Christian “values” is simply telling the rest of that world that violence, death, and destruction are the preferred methods in attempting to achieve geographicl-political goals.

Examining the history behind the troubling current events plainly shows those “values” are what got us into this mess.

I am invoking my inner Nancy Reagan. Just say, NO!

HERE WE GO AGAIN

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“We’ll always have Paris.” Those words from the movie Casablanca may have taken on an entirely new meaning on Friday the 13th. With the co-ordinated attacks in Paris by sympathizers or members of DAESH (now the preferred term for the artist formerly known as ISIS since it reportedly pisses them off), the anti-Muslim rhetoric and threats of revenge are reminiscent of the hysteria after 9/11, in tone if not quite in degree.

More bombing is needed, let’s send troops in, keep the Syrian refugees in pens not fit for the animals we slaughter for our table, shut down the mosques…all are demands made by politicians and ordinary citizens alike. Of course the one about refugees has not been said literally but the tenor of the words several governors have uttered evoke that picture as they declare no Syrian refugees are welcome within their borders.

Never mind that the cowardly murderers responsible for Paris have mostly been identified as home-grown Europeans to date, several from Belgium, and did not enter France with any refugees it may have accepted. That all still needs to be sorted out but jumping to the conclusion that the violence was due to the refugees is unjustifiable now.

And since some were from Belgium one wag suggested that Belgian waffles and Brussels sprouts be re-named in protest.

But isn’t it odd that Americans and the Western World express such outrage over Paris and promise solidarity while adding a subtle tri-color effect to their Facebook profile picture, but no such love match has been made with Beirut which saw a series of car bombings the day before Paris or with Garissa, in Kenya, where the university saw nearly 150 students murdered by terrorists last April. Do we even know what the colors of their flags are, let alone display them in empathy? And the bombings in Beirut last week were merely the latest of a series of such attacks tormenting the citizens of that city.

And really if DAESH stuck to bloodshed against fellow Muslims instead of occasionally adding some beheadings of Christians or journalists to the mix would Americans give as much a shit about them?

The reality is that DAESH, claiming a Muslim jihad as its goal, kills mostly Muslims in its poisonous quest. Many more Muslims than anyone else.

But I’m hearing echoes of the days after 9/11, when images of the carnage remained stark in our minds, and the drumbeat of naked revenge gained power, eventually leading to two wars and numerous other mis-steps that have done more to destroy American freedoms and ideals than anything any terrorist or groups of terrorists could ever hope to accomplish from their vicious tactics alone.

Tom Engelhardt is a blogger and writer whose work I have read in several on-line publications. This piece appeared in The Nation a couple of months ago.

http://www.thenation.com/article/14-years-after-911-the-war-on-terror-is-accomplishing-everything-bin-laden-hoped-it-would/

In the essay Engelhardt writes from the viewpoint that everything Al-Qaeda hoped to accomplish by its 9/11 masterstroke has been accomplished by our own hands with wars, suppressive laws, warrantless searches, and otherwise. All have torn the fabric of our nation to a damaging degree.

I have often thought in similar terms but Engelhardt pulls it all together in a cohesive  way. I may not be totally in accord with all his opinions but the exceptions are not important for this discussion. It is worthwhile reading. If you do peruse it, make of it what you will.

My main concern post-Paris is the ugliness in the reactions of us Americans. Even usually sensible people sound as if they could be swept up in the militaristic tone taken by Trump, Cruz, Carson, et al as they pimp for votes in the upcoming primaries and caucuses.

Post-9/11 was a scary period  to me, not because I feared an attack that could touch me or my loved ones directly, but because I could smell war brewing and being transported by a runaway train whose passengers in their past rational lives would never have been talked into the inglorious adventures ahead. Yet, there they were, all the liberal dirty news rags endorsing the wars and  pretty much accepting  any imprudence that survived illogic and unreason and became policy and practice.

Though not as hot and raunchy as those regretful days, it’s getting pretty warm here as the guns are oiled, warheads are loaded, drones are programmed, and anyone with somewhat darker skin wearing headgear not conforming to the requisite sports team logo ball cap worn backwards (itself a sign of a society in decline) or trendy fedora but which instead suggests some possible religious signifigance should beware treading the streets. After all, with many yahoos out there who cannot tell their right foot from their left, how can we expect them to distinguish Muslim from Sikh?

Much of what is said is intentionally aimed at causing fear. Fear often makes one use bad judgment, especially when it is a fear that is not visible at the moment. And the fearmongers want you to be afraid, be very afraid, so they can get their way to compel America to contribute ever more carnage to the piles of stinking corpses it has already produced around the world in numbers far more than any loss we have ever suffered due to the terrorists they warn us about.

And despite the total failures of our “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan there continues to be a call for more American boots on the ground.

You know what? I will accede to that on one condition. That condition is that those who express this demand loudest fill those boots with their own damned feet.

 

WHO’S THE BOSS?

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Of course we are not speaking of a TV series, a New Jersey Rocker, or an owner of a major league baseball franchise. That kind of leaves us with our star attraction, pictured above.

It is really so much simpler than what all of us have been working ourselves up over. “What is simpler?”, you ask? Why the appeal of Donald Trump to certain elements of the electorate.

Never mind the racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic undertones—or as some allege, overtones of Trump’s campaign for President. Never mind his long slate of accomplishments…three wives and four bankrupticies. No, what these voters are looking for is simply a boss. After all, as much as he has been criticized for actions independent of Congress (as have many of his predecessors) President Barack Obama lacks the absolute power over his realm that Trump exercises over his dominion.

But the image of Trump as a boss who gets things done seems to be very stromg with the public. The source of that image? Mostly Trunp himself, whose bluster in the campaign to date at heart consists of him telling people he will do what he says with no substance to how he hopes to accomplish this.

And, of course his legacy as host of a contrived and manipulative “reality” television series, The Apprentice, on which he was the contrivingest, manipulatingest element of all does nothing but enhance his boss image. After all, who would not want to pit several contestants against each other in rigged competitions so that, even if all performed admirably and the margin of difference between the teams was negligible, one of the team members would hear the dreaded, “You’re fired” at the end of each episode. Great televison, bad business practices.

(Full disclosure—I viewed pretty much all of the first season of The Apprentice, a few episodes of the second season, and have sporadically seen snippets of a few episodes since, especially as it morphed into The Celebrity Apprentice)

In these public endeavors Trump had no Board of Directors to contend with, let alone a recalcitrant Congress, only the sychophantic comments of long time associates/aides or adoring children.

The potential voters who have demonstrated a willingness to vote for someone perceived as a no-nonsense, accomplish at all costs boss are wallowing in self-delusion.

Deporting all illegal or undocumented immigrants is an impossible, budget busting no-go financially and as a matter of practicality in simply rounding up all the folks eligible for deportment and observing their lawfully guaranteed procedural rights, a pipe dream of the first magnitude.

And building the Mexican wall? Puh-lease!

In foreign affairs he would have the U.S. virtually bludgeon other nations to submit to our will. “ISIS, be gone!” “China, take your part of our National Debt and wipe it off your books to repay us for your financial sins against the U.S.”  And so on and so on.

Some people lie to themselves by rejoicing in Trump’s unilateral approach to politics. But upon his inauguration on January 21, at 12:01 p.m. a giant alarm clock (perhaps designed by Ahmed Mohamed?) will clang his supporters into the reality of the real political world, just as ordinary alarm clocks, on Monday morning awaken the working world from their weekend reveries.

And just as commuters find that road construction has persuaded everybody to take the usualy less-traveled shortcuts that are now clogged, so wil Trump believers find the shorcuts their idol has promised them are also clogged, but in this case due to Trump closing the main arteries that usually serve so well.

Neither Congress, the Supreme Court, nor other world leaders are “at will” employees dispatched on a whim. They will not be Apprentice applicants cowering before him, but rather strong leaders with their own power bases and paychecks not signed by The Donald. Gary Busey they ain’t.

HOMES OF THE MAYBE RICH AND WANNA BE FAMOUS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We are rapidly, or maybe not rapidly enough, moving towards the 2016 Presidential election. The house pictured above is the residence the announced candidates aspire to inhabit. But what about their current residences? How do they compare?

We are blessed by this article which gives us pretty pictures of the house or houses owned by some of the candidates, but limited to only Trump, Bush, Clinton, and Sanders.

http://www.homes.com/blog/2015/09/presidential-candidate-homes/

I have not been able to obtain photographs, but I am assured by reliable sources that the following descriptions are accurate depictions of their living spaces for some of the other candidates.

Mike Huckabee—a little warren within some evangelical church, away from the riff-raff whom he has time for only to deliver his latest irrational screed. Inside his personal area the walls are plastered with pictures of various acts of sado-masochism performed by him with waitresses from Hooters. Oh, and a portrait of Soupy Sales.

Rick Perry—His house is built to emulate the Allan B. Polunsky Unit in West Livingston, Texas which contains the state’s Death Row. Inside, Perry’s great room contains plenty of loungers with wrist, waist, and ankle straps and IV poles ready to deliver his guests’ beverage of choice.

Scott Walker—-Surprisingly he lives a very ascetic life in a bare bones home. After all, even in these times it’s difficult to fully furnish and decorate a house without objects that were union made. Obviously he has no car.

Rand PaulDesigned by renowned architect Howard Roark Paul’s home has a small but comfortable library which holds only the works of Ayn Rand…oh…and the Gideon Bible he brought home from his last national Ophthalmology Convention, aiming to use it for guidance when advising Kentucky County Clerks on their job duties.

Ben Carson—A comfortable but not ostentatious home in which his favorite room is the one where he displays mementoes of his life. Among thse are a brain preserved in formaldehyde complete with electric stimulators he can operate for old times’ sake, a sonogram of the pre-aborted fetus he later used for stem cell research, and an unused booklet of Food Stamps from his childhood.

Martin O’Malley—He lives in a house that formerly housed one of those crab shacks like you find dotting the Maryland shore. He maintains a supply of wooden mallets, a stack of old newspapers (each containing a report of one of his speeches) used to cover the wooden picnic table where his family dines, and a to-the-ceiling pile of O’Malley For President bumper stickers that no one has accessed his web site to request.

Rick Santorum—Since his unpublicized divorce and remarriage, he had to move into his new spouse’s dog house.

Chris Christie—Has houses all over the country. You can recognize them by the Dunkin Donuts logo outside.

Carly Fiorina—Her house is an nondescript suburban block and brick building, miles from public transit, part of which she leases to the local unemployment office serving laid off tech workers.

Jim Webb—A 3476 sq ft Virginia Colonial, indistinguishable from most of his neighbors save for the electric message sign in front displaying a continuous loop reading “I AM NOT THE JIM WEBB WHO WROTE THAT ATROCIOUS SONG MACARTHUR PARK. There is currently a class action by his neighbors pending in which they seek damages for the ear worm they cannot get rid of.

Jeff Boss, Harry Braun, Lawrence Lessig, Robby Wells and Willie Nelson (not the singer) , a bunch of unknowns seeking the Democratic nomination, who reside jointly in a suite at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia.

Bobby Jindal–He used to live in a home resembling the Taj Mahal, but Trump evicted him for nonpayment of rent after he gambled all his money away in the building’s casino.

Ted Cruz—Rumored to reside just outside Winnipeg.

Marco Rubio—Lives very modestly in the rear of a Cuban sandwich shop in Miami’s Little Havana.

John Kasich—Currently living in the Ohio Governor’s mansion in Columbus, but preparing to move to a mountainside cabin on Denali. when his term expires.

Lindsey Graham—Once his objective of attacking Iran to end its nuclear program is acheived, he is going to retire from the Senate, and move into the penthouse condo he has already purchased overlooking the grandest boulevard in downtown Tehran.

Considering our options, would it be possible to change the locks at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. before January, 20, 2017?

 

UPDATE. The original version mis-stated Martin O’Malley’s first name as Michael. The text now reads as corrected.

WALKER’S HEALTH CARE PLAN—OR TO QUOTE GERTRUDE STEIN, “THERE IS NO THERE THERE.”

affordable-care-act-obamacare

Republican Presidential candidates for 2016 have one thing undeniably in common. They all pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with lollipops and rainbows…er, lower premiums and lower costs and more freedom. These candidates have been asked repeatedly for specifics of their plans and sidestep the questions with more general, meaningless statements.

Well Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, has finally put the pedal to the metal and produced an outline of what he proposes to do to replace the ACA.

To preface my introduction to his plan let me just assert that

  1. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, and
  2. There are ways available to address any flaws without tearing the entire law apart, and
  3. Any fix or replacement must be based on the facts of the current situation

https://www.scottwalker.com/obamacare-plan/files/Day-One-Patient-Freedom-Plan.pdf

Here is the first paragraph of Scott Walker’s plan.

Washington’s failed approach to health care is hurting the American people. Big government created a health care system built around Washington, not hardworking families. This backwards approach drove up health care costs and reduced access to medical care for far too many of our neighbors, friends, and family members.

Each sentence is a lie.

Washington’s failed approach to health care is hurting the American people

On the contrary, the uninsured rate has dropped dramatically and there have been real positive consequences of the law.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/22/obamacare-5-years_n_6918326.html

Big government created a health care system built around Washington, not hardworking families.

Again false, That is the equivalent of the often made claim that the ACA was a “government takeover of health care.” And that, my friends, was the Politifact 2010 Lie Of The Year And do not dismiss Politifact as a source because Walker himself takes advantage of it in support of his ideas, which you will see.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2010/dec/16/lie-year-government-takeover-health-care/

This backwards approach drove up health care costs and reduced access to medical care for far too many of our neighbors, friends, and family members.

To this I can pretty much only respond, HUH?

More lies

The list of ObamaCare failures is long. Democrats have long promised affordability with their big-government health care plans, from HillaryCare to ObamaCare. But instead of lower costs and expanded coverage, ObamaCare has caused insurance premiums across the country to spike as the cost of Washington’s new regulations and taxes are passed to the American people. The Heritage Foundation found from 2014 to 2015, average premiums for young people increased by approximately 14 percent in Iowa and 19 percent in Ohio and Minnesota. Families in Kansas and Louisiana saw increases of almost 14 percent.[1] We will likely see even higher premium increases in 2016 and beyond as ObamaCare’s insurance company bailouts phase out. Probably the most cited ObamaCare failure, and Politifact’s 2013 ‘Lie of the Year,’ was President Obama’s repeated claim that if you liked your existing health care coverage, you could keep it.[2] So while both Obama and Hillary Clinton made promises that their health plans would allow Americans to keep their existing coverage, millions of people were pushed out of their preferred health plans and restricted access to the doctors they wanted to see.[3] ObamaCare has also punished employers with costly mandates and red tape, hurting growth and job creation. Another ObamaCare failure is the way it went about expanding coverage. Where ObamaCare expanded the number of people with coverage who previously were not insured, it did so mostly by pushing people into Medicaid, a program that was already overburdened.[4] And many of the people who received insurance through the ObamaCare exchanges had in fact been previously insured, but got knocked off their private health plans. Others switched coverage because federal subsidies only flowed if they signed up for ObamaCare’s prescriptive plans. As a result, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on downgraded health policies.

Let me make some points here.

  • The Heritage Foundation can find whatever premium increases it wants, but these increases have been predicted since day one of the law and, guess what, the average actual increase for premiums from 2014 to 2015 was ZERO

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2014/dec/zero-inflation-nationwide-for-marketplace-premiums

Now, of course an average of zero does not mean there were no increases but that there were both increases and reductions. And the article cited notes the reasons behind the relative stability of health care premiums across the board including the benefits derived from the standardization of plans under the ACA. But other factors include geographical differences, the number of insurers in the market and other variations.

Likewise the predictions for hikes in 2016 are based on proposals not actualities. Again look to the Commonwealth Fund for guidance.

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2015/jul/proposed-premium-rate-increases-for-2016

  •  “ObamaCare’s prescriptive plans”,

I am not certain what he means. All the ACA does is require health care plans to now contain prescritption drug coverage, though not necessarily for all drugs, whereas previously they did not have to.

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/12/10/3042741/drugs-obamacare-coverage/

  • Where ObamaCare expanded the number of people with coverage who previously were not insured, it did so mostly by pushing people into Medicaid, a program that was already overburdened.[4] And many of the people who received insurance through the ObamaCare exchanges had in fact been previously insured, but got knocked off their private health plans.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 11.7 million Americans signed up for coverage through the exchanges in the 2015 enrollment period ending in March and

As of March 2015 HHS reported a total of 16.4 covered due to the ACA between the Marketplace, Medicaid expansion, young adults staying on their parents plan, and other coverage provisions.

So Medicaid enrollees are nowhere near a majority of the newly insured. Even if that were so, the states that accepted the expansion of Medicaid are saving money.

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/4/29/states-find-savings-through-medicaid-expansion

However, the states that refused to expand that program are experiencing greater costs to care for the uninsured.

Nationwide, the cost of caring for uninsured people in non-expansion states between now and 2024 is projected to reach $266 billion if no new states decide to expand Medicaid, according to a report in April from the Kaiser Family Foundation. If all states decided to expand, that cost would drop by a third.

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/6/24/not-expanding-medicaid-can-cost-local-taxpayers

  • millions of people were pushed out of their preferred health plans and restricted access to the doctors they wanted to see.

First of all, the number of people who may have had policies cancelled appears to have been grossly overstated.

http://www.factcheck.org/2014/04/millions-lost-insurance/

But do you know the only group that specifically was mandated to lose their coverage under the ACA? No, you probably don’t, but it was Congress, together with certain staffers who were kicked out of the coverage they had had. And that coverage was simply participation in the same menu of plans available to all federal civilian employees. That is why, when Ted Cruz lost his spousal coverage when his wife left Goldman Sachs, he was forced to purchase coverage from one of the ACA exchanges. Yes, Virginia, there is a mandate for Congresscritters to participate in the exchanges. A mandate, incidentally, I believe to be both totally political and stupid.

Because I find the source, FOX News, to be amusing in this context I’ll present a viewpoint expressed there.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/11/05/insurance-cancelled-dont-blame-obama-or-aca-blame-america-insurance-companies.html

But in an overall sense the ACA is a scapegoat for any cancelled policies. If insurance companies had enough introspection they would paraphrase Cassius

The fault lies not in the ACA, but in ourselves.

You see…and really this is not revelatory, simply a reminder…prior to the Affordable Care Act insurers could cancel policies for any damned reason or none at all. Just peruse this article from 2007 before the ACA was a gleam in Barack Obama’s eye.

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/perfi/insurance/2007-01-28-insurance-1a-usat_x.htm

And private health care plans frequently change the providers they allow access to. See this look at the UPMCHighmark steel cage match in Pittsburgh.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303812904577295901619123904

Now to the essence of Walker’s plan, his five points.

1. Repeal ObamaCare in its entirety.

We heard you already, Scott!

2. Ensure affordable and accessible health insurance for everyone.

A. LOWER HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS

B. PROVIDE TAX CREDITS TO ANYONE WITHOUT EMPLOYER-SPONSORED HEALTH INSURANCE

C. GIVE ALL AMERICANS MORE CHOICES AND MORE ACCESS BY IMPROVING HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNTS (HSAs)

D. ALLOW ALL AMERICANS TO SHOP FOR INSURANCE IN ANY STATE

E. PROTECT ALL AMERICANS WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

Part A is a pipedream and Walker’s ideas as to how to accomplish this are nebulous and sketchy at best. And it ignores the reality that in this century health care costs and premiums for coverage have seen steady, sometimes very large increases, with and without the ACA, but the rate of growth of both has slowed since the law was enacted.

Part B, A footnote accomopanying a chart showing suggested levels of subsidies states

so there would be no intrusive oversight by the IRS and no accountant needed to determine the credit amount.

Pray tell who administers or tracks these subsidies if not the IRS. And he wants to put honest accountants out of work? I have friends who would be hurt.

Part C Here’s more on health savings accounts and pros and cons.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_savings_account

One note I will add is that in Part B Walker claims his simplification of subsidies will lessen IRS influence, but HSA’s appear to reuire high IRS maintenance to ensure compliance with the law.

Part D This may be the only part that has some merit in that presumably there would be more competition for the health insurance premium dollar. But the same was said about permitting banks to operated across state lines and look at what Dr. Franken-deregulate-Stein has created.

Part E The devil is in the details. And these details have a strong resemblance to Satan. For, instead of simply requiring companies to insure those with pre-existing conditions, he forces them back into high risk pools with limited coverage. No thank you.

3. Make health care more efficient, effective and accountable by empowering the states.

A. RETURN REGULATORY AUTHORITY OVER HEALTH CARE COVERAGE TO THE STATES

B. REFORM MEDICAID

In this part Walker highlights Medicaid and declares it so broken only the states can fix it. Balderdash, Run by the states eligibility reuirements are set so unfairly that many desperately poor people have no chance of becoming insured, and thus will tax resources as noted above.

For instance in the U.S someone is considered to be below poverty level if their income is no more than $11,770 for one person, $15,930 for 2 persons in a hosehold and  $20,090 for a family of 3. But states that did not opt for the Medicaid expansion do not allow eligibility for those above a certain percentage of the federal poverty level. In Alabama, it is 13% for parents and 0% for other adults.

http://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid-chip-program-information/program-information/downloads/medicaid-and-chip-eligibility-levels-table.pdf

In other words In Alabama a household with 2 parents and a child, earning barely more than $2600 per YEAR means the parents cannot receive Medicaid (though the child may be eligibe for CHIP).

Think about that. Can states be trusted to take care of their own? Or only a small proportion of their own.

As to returning regulatory authority to the states, again this is a fallacy because they still exercise the majority of regulatory authority over insurance companies. Indeed, the differences between state actions in this respect are another reason why premium rates differ so greatly.

Along the way he asks that the current funding means for Medicaid, shared by the state and federal governments, remain in place with some tweaking of the formula with states getting block grants from the Feds. However, in states with no expansion, they are right now tied to the old levels of federal participation which rarely exceed 50% of Medicaid costs, whereas those falling under the Medicaid expansion get 100% paid by the feds until dropping to 90%. A much better deal than now.

4. Increase quality and choice through innovation.

A. EXPAND COVERAGE OPTIONS BY ALLOWING CONSUMERS TO POOL TOGETHER AND PURCHASE INSURANCE AS A GROUP

B. SUPPORT WELLNESS INCENTIVE PROGRAMS

C. REFORM LONG-TERM SERVICES & SUPPORTS (LTSS) PROTECTION

D. LIMIT EXCESSIVE LITIGATION THROUGH INNOVATIVE LAWSUIT REFORM

While at least A B and C have some merit on the surface, Walker’s approach is oversimplistic. As to Part A, group plans, these already are very common for members of groups like unions or fraternal organizations or even members of credit unions or those having other affinity relationships. The one basic limitation is that the persons eligible for such policies have some affiliation with each other besides the mere fact of seeking group insurance. Indeed, besides health coverage one can get auto or life insurance or pretty much any kind of insurance. Since so many Americans belong to affinity groups I would guess the extent of this type of coverage may be reliant on knowledge and desire of groups to pursue such measures.

Wellness incentives are already included in many private insurance policies. Does he want the government to mandate such coverage or merely command people to stay healthy?

Long term care coverage can be very important to individuals or even couples. But from what I can find on the topic, it does not really appear that the practice is over-regulated. In some cases there is next to no regulation. But Tax Qualified policies, because they do not tax benefits, of necessity must follow IRS regulations. Here is a good overview of such policies and practices.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-term_care_insurance

Part D is a complete lie. That is tort litigation is not a prime mover of medical costs. Best estimates that the total cost of the effects of medical malpractice are slightly more than 2% per year.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048809/

But what does that mean exactly? According to the study cited here perhaps 10% of the total figure  is for what is paid out in judgments and settlements, nearly $6 BILLION a year. But that money was paid out because doctors did something wrong.That was not mere generosity on the part of malpractice insurers. In addition defense attorneys cost those insurers almostt 20% of those payouts. But defense lawyers get paid no matter the outcome.

But the major thing wrong with this point is that it is based on myths, which are dispelled here.

http://www.medmalfacts.com/facts-and-myths/

For instance various sources put the number of yearly deaths due to medical mistakes at 100,000 or more. That is close to 4% of all deaths in the country. That’s an awaful lot of malpractice yet only 1 in 8 victims of such treatment files suit. So it is bogus to argue there is excess litigation when the opposite is true.

Now Walker and his cohorts will assert that excessive damages are frequently awarded, especially for pain and suffering, but this, like many opinions, depends on whose ox is getting gored. Rick Santorum has pushed for limits and still advocates the same but when his wife lost a baby and undoubtedly experienced pain and suffering, to which he testified on her behalf, she got an award over the limits he wants for everyone else. (Not being intimately knowledgeable about her case, I believe the award is nowhere near out of bounds.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/santorum-pushed-to-limit-malpractice-awards-but-sought-larger-payout-for-wife/2012/01/19/gIQANXQeVQ_story.html

5. Provide financial stability for families and taxpayers.

Hey! Who can argue with that goal?

As a result, all of our citizens in poverty have gained access to health insurance through our state’s Medicaid plan, BadgerCare – a first in Wisconsin history. And our reforms are providing everyone in the state access to health insurance, according to the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation

Never dare The UMOC to check your claims of others’ approval. In fact, not everyone in poverty in Wisconsis has access to coverage but many of the ones who gained coverage through the Medicaid waiver links to BadgerCare must now pay premiums for that coverage (unlike regular Medicaid enrollees) and can lose eligibility for enrollment for a period if they fail to pay these premiums.

In 2012, Wisconsin received approval to apply premium payments to TMA adults above 138%FPL with a 12-month restrictive re-enrollment policy as a penalty for failure to pay premiums.  In 2012, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) studied the effects of the increased and expanded premiums implemented on TMA individuals above 138% FPL. This study found that between July 2012, when the premium provision was implemented, and December 2012 over two thirds (69%) of the 18,544 individuals between 133% and 150% FPL had left the program. About one in five (21%) of that population lost coverage due to failure to pay within the initial six months.

http://kff.org/medicaid/fact-sheet/wisconsins-badgercare-program-and-the-aca/

Now early on in this plan Walker justifies his desire to rid the world of “Obamacare” with this statement.

It should come as no surprise that many pillars of ObamaCare can be traced to “HillaryCare,” Hillary Clinton’s 1993 health care plan. And the proposals in Hillary’s “American Health Choices Plan,” released during her 2008 presidential campaign, provide a useful link between her 1993 plan and her present-day ideas.

I smile at the irony. You can get a glimpse of Hillary’s plan here, in the assessment of the Heritage Foundation, a reliable go-to source for WAlker.

http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1993/11/a-guide-to-the-clinton-health-plan

The Affordable Care Act does NOT resemble that at all. What it does resemble is a health care plan brewed up by that same Heritage Foundation that was introduced into the Senate in December of 1993 by 21 mostly Republican co-sponsors that also was the basis for the plan Massachusetts adopted when Mitt Romney was Governor. Now, was that 1993 plan, submitted in opposition to the Clinton plan, identical to what became the ACA? Of course not, and truth be told, it never came to a vote and other GOP Senators vehemently opposed it.

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2013/nov/15/ellen-qualls/aca-gop-health-care-plan-1993/

The core part of both the Republicans HEART plan and the ACA was the individual mandate which, of course became such a point of contention in debate and in litigation when the law passed. Sure there were significant differences.

This article expounds on the genesis and evolution of the GOP plan.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2012/02/07/the-tortuous-conservative-history-of-the-individual-mandate/

Have I been harsh on Scott Walker? Or rather on the health care plan he has submitted for public scrutiny? Oh, Geez, I surely hope so. I’m a scrutineer from way back. But this plan is deserving of all the snark and skepticism I can muster because from the get go it fails to honestly and objectively assess what impact the Affordable Care Act has had on health care after 5+ years of implementation.

I stated at the outset that the law is flawed. However, Walker chooses to evade discussion of the real flaws and instead focus his attack on the bogeymen created by Republicans and other opponents of the law, together with the same sound bites, debunked allegations, and outright lies that have characterized this eminently debatable issue since the first inklings of what the law was to be emerged in 2009.

Do I unequivocally support the entire ACA? Hell NO! While it does some great things and millions of people are reaping its benefits, at heart is still does not achieve what its main goal purports to be, and that is ensure every American has access to health care through a system of insurance.

As Bernie Sanders and others remind us to a steady drumbeat. the United States is the only major industrialized nation without universal health care.

We can argue the best means to get to that Nirvana, that paragon, but we still waste far too much time arguing if this is a desirable goal at all.

Disappointingly far too many of our politicians would sooner have us at the mercy of private enterprise…oh, yes, that institution that has never harmed one hair on our collective chinny-chin-chins. perish the thought!

All the more dejecting because a simple solution is right before our eyes.

Once more to the ramparts exclaiming…MEDICARE FOR ALL!

WORK MORE—EARN LESS—THE AMERICAN WAY

working_overtime

 

A few days ago Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush gave an interview in which he stated, among other things, that Americans need to work harder and longer.

Those are not his precise words nor are those words standing alone.

Here is the exact quote:

My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/jeb-bush-people-work-longer-hours/story?id=32313997

And since that statement drew a firestorm from the left, Bush clarified his remarks

If we’re going to grow the economy, people need to stop being part-time workers, they need to be having access to greater opportunities to work.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jeb-bush-says-his-longer-hours-comment-meant-people-need-full-time-work-2015-07-09

Either way Bush ignores the realities of the American work force and adopts the typical CEO approach to workers that is more at the heart of our economic troubles than any of the nonsense he spouts.

I will address him directly.

Well, Jeb, let me admit you into the world of reality. I know it’s scary but you’re a big boy, you should be able to handle it.

You see, Jeb, truth be told, Americans work harder at their jobs, and are far more productive, than probably any other collection of workers across the industrialized, corporatized world. And yet…and yet…the corporations that employ them do not already reward them for this productivity. Oh, a company will benefit from this productivity, turning out more widgets at a lower cost sold for a higher price generating record profits for the company, but guess where that profit goes almost exclusively.

I’ll give you a moment to ponder.

OK, time’s up. here’s the answer. Jeb, I’m sure you know many corporate heads and higher ups, have hob nobbed with them or consorted with them in your various jobs—those same jobs which have made you personally a very rich man by the way—no need to worry about your family’s health, or the costs of dealing with that at least—and which have provided you an enormous, steady, not paid by the hour income.

That profit, Jeb, goes almost exclusively to the people who are already rich and who did not have to work an hourly job to achieve those riches. How is that so? Well it is so because those rich people have the money to influence lawmakers to allow them to become even richer. The system, as well you should know, seeing as how your dear brother George was such an advocate of its very processes, keeps seeking to put more money into your pockets through a web of lax or no regulation, perpetual begging for lower taxes, maintaining the ability to earn huge sums that, if taxed at all, are taxed below the rate typically paid by one of these hourly workers you implore to work longer and harder, and…to top it all off…actively seeking to deny the financial rewards that should inure to the people who have produced those riches for you.

Work longer hours? Work full time instead of part time? Tell that to Walmart and its ilk that deliberately keep many employees below the level of full time so they do not have to pay benefits. Or pay overtime when their job responsibilities might occasionally stretch their hours beyond forty per week, all in service to the employer.

Or how about this, Jeb? Working full time…a forty hour week…at $10 per hour, which is a higher pay rate than the majority of them earn…still leaves them below the poverty line, severely so if they have children which the majority do.

Add to that the wage theft committed by corporations, again like Walmart…though it is not alone…who sneakily find ways to not even pay their employers for the time they have worked. Multiple successful class action lawsuits to recover these stolen wages do not lie, Jeb.

I’m breaking up with you, Jeb, not that we ever went steady in the first place. But, unlike in real life romances where the person declaring the split says, ” it’s not you, it’s me”, speaking definitively on behalf of all American workers acting as one, in this case Jeb, it is not me, it is YOU.

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