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Weekend Update 01-15-2011

Posted: January 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 01-15-2011

President Obama’s speech at the memorial for the victims of the Arizona tragedy was deeply moving. If you haven’t listened to it, please take the time to do so. Or, if you prefer to read the text, it’s available online here.

Jon Stewart’s reflections on the Arizona shootings were, in many ways, similar to my own. If you haven’t seen the segment, I recommend taking a few moments to watch it.

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I don’t normally enjoy or listen to any of the news channel commentators on either the right or the left. (I don’t actually spend much time watching any news on TV.) However, this statement by Keith Olbermann in the wake of the Arizona shooting is good. He’s something of a blowhard, in my opinion, but he makes a good point here.

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Bob Hebert’s editorial on the complete inattention given to the poor is a good one. Of course, that’s relatively normal. The poor tend to be invisible because they are not interesting or powerful. I’ve been poor with a family in this nation and I’ve never forgotten what it was like. Of course, if we were actually a “Christian nation” that wouldn’t be the case, but well….

I like this flowchart on how to find food at the supermarket.

USA Today has a story about a service dog for a woman with severe celiac disease. The dog is trained to sniff out even very small amounts of gluten. Celiac disease is serious business regardless of the severity of overt symptoms. It can quietly damage your body and slowly kill you even when you don’t experience severe acute symptoms. A lot of people still think of the symptoms of celiac disease largely in terms of the GI tract. But as an autoimmune disease, it can actually manifest in a host of different ways. Recent research is even demonstrating the ways some of the auto-antigens that can be created by the disease attack the central nervous system directly. I suppose I’m glad, though, that my acute symptoms are not and never have been as severe as those of the woman in the article. It would make it more obvious when you’ve been exposed to gluten, but I would rather live with the occasional uncertainty and ambiguity, I think.

It’s sad when Harry Reid is a better rhetorician than you are on a given topic and you’re the sitting President. Harry Reid is known for a number of things, but his ability as a speaker is not one of them. Reid, of course, is also right. But that requires a basic ability to do math and deal with facts, something sadly lacking in our society today.

In this column (which I read in the print edition of our paper), Scott Burns has some good points. I’ll point out that, like a number of blog posts LaVonne Neff has done on health care and retirement, you’ll only grasp the points if you are willing to let facts be facts and work with the math as it is. Unfortunately, it seems that most of our population believes in magic. As something of a student of history, I do believe Mr. Burns is making a category mistake when it comes to the estate tax. Why? Because it’s primary purpose has never been to raise revenue. Of course, it does raise revenue and if we were to eliminate it altogether, we would have to compensate for that revenue somehow, but that’s not fundamentally why we have it. Historically, as our country was being founded, those who were doing so were aware of the problems created by the tremendous concentration of wealth and power in the hereditary fortunes of a relatively few families. They saw that as anathema to a well-functioning democracy and free-market system. The true purpose of the estate tax was to reduce the estate over the course of generations, returning it to the society that had nurtured and allowed the fortune to be created in the first place. Your children and grandchildren would be able to live comfortably  off the estate, but if they did nothing to increase it, it would eventually go away. They did not want to create a class of hereditary, idle rich. Even the wealthy needed to be productive and work to increase what they had inherited. We moved away from that to some extent in the latter part of the 19th century which saw the rise of the Railroad Barons, but the idea was fully restored in the Progressive movement (flowing from both the Republican and Democrat sides of the aisle at that time). The wealth concentrated in the top percent and especially in the top tenth of a percent through much of the 20th century was at a relatively low level. By contrast, I believe it’s now something like 28% of the wealth. As an individual, you can agree or disagree with that societal goal, but the discussion should be centered around the actual purpose of the tax. In that particular instance, it should not be viewed as a simple revenue source. That’s secondary, not primary. The rest of his point is true and it’s also why we can’t possibly balance the massive deficit overnight. It’s going to require a mixture of tax increases (and I’m not ideologically opposed to a discussion of any of the traditional means of raising revenue, including tariffs where politically appropriate), spending cuts and reforms (and defense needs to be on the table as does the continued reform of Medicare through enhancing the health care act and — for instance — allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug costs like all other health insurance companies do), and taking actions designed to expand our overall economy (the larger the economy is, the proportionally greater the revenue is — always a factor in both spending and tax decisions). Defense and Medicare are the main two areas of spending that need to be handled and are in the most crisis. Contrary to propaganda. social security is still in comparatively decent shape. The rest of the budget? Sure, we should find savings where we can, but it’s relatively small compared to the big three (and interest on the debt, of course). The savings we could find anywhere else are more symbolic than substantive. They just don’t make a dent in the problem.

A short hilarious comedy bit on the ridiculous line about global warming we seem to hear frequently.


The right-wing fringe of the Republican Party has been in the process of becoming its base for a good number of years now. That’s so true that positions like this one of Sen. Mike Lee (R UT) on child labor laws aren’t even surprising anymore. The Republican Party retains enough support, though, that it’s hard for me to discern if my fellow citizens are simply too busy to pay attention or if they actually support these increasingly common positions. What do you do when you see the lunatic fringe becoming mainstream?

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