Friday, March 29, 2013

How can teens confuse love, sex, and rape?

Think back: In how many "romances" does the "hero" "ravage" the damsel? How many shows have you seen where sex replaces intimacy? It's nothing new: Do you remember Ayn Rand's Fountainhead when the hero wordlessly "takes" the woman? We've been conditioned to imagine that these meaningless encounters are a basis for a mutually ecstatic ongoing coupleship.

American culture has long lauded sex-saturated exploits and encouraged boys to "prove" their manhood. For decades, girls were divided into "good" and "easy" but lately even that distinction has eroded under the assault of sexting and picking a partner to "get it over with". Even preteens now wear too-revealing "fashions" and watch their popstar icons posture provocatively and avidly follow their inappropriate escapades.

By presenting so much visual stimulation while failing to support realistic self-awareness, Society has created an irresponsible environment in which teens have no basis to distinguish love from sex – or even to recognize rape.
support education to StopRapeCulture at
Rape statistics are just the tip of reality.
There's a great ambivalence in every nascent attraction, and when we have no basis for evaluating the pros and cons of desire and concern, pressure often trumps prudence. It isn't even always outside pressure since the insidious foundation of sexualized socialization has instilled a faulty sense of precaution.

As a result of society's inconsistent presentation of sex (from blatant visuals to uncomfortable silence), teens often have no basis for considering whether sex is appropriate, and many adults have little more foundation for making their sexual choices. Here's a cheat sheet for precautionary guidance to help you distinguish sex from its counterparts:
If you're thinking about what others would say if you don't: it isn't love.
If you're thinking about what others would say if you do: it isn't love.
If you're thinking about what your partner would say if you don't: it isn't love.
If you're thinking about what your partner would say if you do: it isn't love.
If you're thinking about shoulds: it isn't love.
If you're thinking about shouldn'ts: it isn't love.
If you're not thinking: it isn't love.
If you're thinking, what you're thinking is important, but even so, appropriate thought isn't enough for it to be love: coupleship love requires mutuality, respect, and connective interaction.

If it isn't love, don't bother doing it because sex without love can never be a basis for mutually ecstatic ongoing coupleship, which is so far superior to anything less that getting stuck in a relationship based on just sex will never truly fullfill you.

And if it isn't a relationship (ie it is one person dominating the other into bodily coupling), that's rape.
Rape can be by violence, but rape can also be by intimidation, manipulation, domineering, trickery, or anything other than conscious mutual choice. If you're not talking together about making a wise choice, don't do it. Sex should never be a don't ask, don't tell furtive encounter.

Sex without conscious mutual choice is rape. Sex without love or respect is a bodily function. Sex in a respectful, mutually connective relationship has the potential for love. Sex in a mutually connective loving relationship has the potential for true intimacy. Sex in a mutually connective, lovingly intimate relationship has the potential to become a mutually ecstatic ongoing coupleship. A mutually ecstatic ongoing intimate coupleship is the best you can aspire to.

When we are ignorant of the possibilities, we fail to live up to our full potential. As long as we are leaving it to teens to imagine love from a foundation of sexualized socialization, sex will dominate their thinking. Education is the only way to create awareness and stop this perversion of ignorance from overshadowing – and harming – future generations.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

What budget supports America's future?

OMG! Finally a budget that makes SENSE.

Called the Back to Work Budget, its main focus is creating jobs (7 million in 2014) through investments in infrastructure (to repair crumbling roads and bridges, saving lives as well as long-run costs) and investments in education (rehiring laid off teachers and helping prepare children for the 21st century economy) as well as ending tax incentives for corporations that move jobs overseas (duh!).
Unbalanced Budget math - expenses more than revenue
The Back to Work Budget also works to reduce the deficit by eliminating tax subsidies for oil, gas, and coal, reducing deductions for corporate jets, enacting a financial transaction tax, and returning Pentagon spending to 2006 levels. The sensible priorities in this budget are a clear choice for America’s future — invest in jobs for working Americans and support middle class sustainability as well as true American values.

The Back to Work Budget will be offered as a substitute amendment to the Ryan budget tomorrow (Tuesday 3/19). (The Ryan alternative would continue tax breaks for ultra-rich individuals and for corporations while of course increasing taxes on the poor and the middle class, destroying Medicare, cutting Food Stamps and student loan assistance, and throwing millions off health insurance.) If you care about YOUR future and the direction the United States is heading, urge YOUR representative to support budget sanity NOW.

A vote for the Back to Work Budget is a vote for getting back to the America we remember and love.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What should we do about "tight" fossil fuels?

Extracting tight fossil fuels like tar sands and shale oil is the least effective dying gasp of an outdated energy policy. The pollution produced by these extraction methods compounds the pollution from refining and use of the products. The impact on our planet's environment is devastating.

You've probably heard by now that NASA's leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, said that tar sands development would mean "game over for the climate." Even before any shale oil is extracted, fracking destroys the countryside and pollutes the groundwater. To allow the fossil fuel industry to continue its outdated, outmoded, and environmentally unconscionable practices is like signing a death order for Mother Earth.
Planet Earth covered in polluting Oil
Before it's too late, we must take proactive climate action. Big Oil isn't going to stop collecting excessive profits from dirty, dangerous, disaster-creating business practices unless We the People insist. Their lobbies cannot outspend our voices.

We must speak out loudly now: Clean energy sources are crucial to the future of America. The proposed Keystone XL tar sands project is totally counterproductive. We must insist that our representatives in Washington work to cancel the Keystone XL project. Fracking is a disaster that doesn't even wait to ruin land and water. We must insist that our state representatives cancel all fracking projects. It's up to US to halt all like-minded backward-looking approaches so that the US can invest in a safe energy future.

It's past time to bring America's energy policy into the 21st century. The debate about climate science is over, and the scientists have proven we must change our oil dependency to move forward to a climate-safe future. We the People must act now to insist our representatives listen, before it's too late. Our future – and the Earth's – is in their votes
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Monday, March 11, 2013

What if God were ALL of us?

Several years ago, the theme song for a popular show asked, "What if God was one of us?" It's a device that's been done in movies and shows before. George Burns was charming in Oh God, yet he transformed into surprising alternatives to pass on messages and ideas to the main character. Each story's God-persona stimulates its hero/ine to consider a new perspective, rethink a choice, or act in a different way.

Intriguing but I always thought a bit limiting. First of all you'd have to be attentive to notice it was some authoritative God-being contacting you and second, there are a lot of non-God-followers for whom the visit wouldn't be any special deal. And most important, why should it take some omnipotent, supernatural being to cause a person to rethink a mistaken perspective or wrong choice or inappropriate action? Wouldn't it be more effective if every person had the potential for realizing the errors of their thoughts, choices, and ways; wouldn't we all benefit from reforming our decisions and creating a better world?
NASA Earth from space image
If instead of evaluating every encounter for the possibility that the individual might be this authoritative God-being, wouldn't it be more effective if everyone just considered every encounter as if it had life- and world-changing potential. Imagine if God-believers considered "What if God were ALL of us?" and non-believers made a conscious effort to open their minds to alternate quantum wavestates or to trek in the proverbial loaned moccasins or to imagine trying a different life on for size. What alternative reality might YOU recognize?

From an omniscient point of view, there is no one single perspective, no one and only choice, no categorically correct action. Every point leads equally to every other, so every starting point can end up at any finishing point, and there are infinite paths to any destination. The chance of birth and background can perhaps only lead to here, but from now into the future is as open as unexplored space.

If we keep going as we have been, there are far fewer options, but if we stop at this point and take the full 360ยบ evaluation, we might notice some new possibility our myopic one-track focus had ignored. We might even consider looking not just around but above and below and inside. We might realize that what we notice in our normal everyday outlook is hardly the entirety of all potential views. And if we invited in the realities, possibilities, insights, and potentials of the entire global community, what other opportunities to create what other successes might we begin to envision?

Imagine infinite potential as your birthright, because it is.
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Friday, March 8, 2013

What, really, could correct the US debt?

Pointing fingers and trying to assess blame is a waste of time and resources. The top priority for US debt reduction must focus on how to achieve more revenue and fewer expenditures
Pointing Fingers don't assess blame
First, citizens have to take responsibility for correcting the problem and demand that their representatives honor the people's priorities rather than special interests. Congress must give up their corporate subsidies and pass legislation that makes corporations merely businesses with no special standing as court-interpretted pseudo-people. The legislation should remove corporations from election financing and prohibit self-serving lobbying for their special benefit. Educational lobbying might continue with the proviso that any profits attributable to the lobbying effort would be taxed at a higher rate.
Cartoon: Corporation FatCats & WallStreet Pigs manipulating politician
On the income side, we need to address corporate obligations to the government. Businesses benefit from the government's education and infrastructure expenditures among many other programs that ensure a healthy business environment for the country. Not only must corporations pay their fair share to support our nation with a fair and equitable tax rate on their gross income but they must also be held accountable for their actions. There can be no future payments of government funds (that is income from us taxpayers) to corporations that did a bad job and lost money, that fired US workers to ship jobs overseas, that created crises in the economy. Congress often retrospectively changes the rules on Medicare and modifies the terms of the Social Security system. It could also retrospectively change its mind about the payments made to support corporations that made these bad decisions. We need to rescind the bailouts paid under duress and convert those payments into debt, demanding they be repaid, with interest as a cost of being helped to stay in business. Congress must also repeal all other corporate subsidies and if warranted replace them with interest-bearing debt obligations.
graph chart showing % at various income levels who are paying taxes
The second thing that must happen is to shore up the income tax code to also ensure that every citizen contributes a fair share for their support of our nation. This can be done simply: Charge the same percent in income tax (on all income, without exemptions, deductions, or any other adjustments) to everyone in multi-earner households grossing more than $50,000 and single adult-earner households grossing more than $30,000. (According to Wikipedia, in 2012, the national median household income was $44,389; in 2006, the median individual income was $23,535; in 2010, 45% of individuals earned less than $25,000.) For those earning less than the minimum, their share would be provided through hours of service to the nation.

For a simple example: Imagine the flat tax rate is 10% and the service equivalency is calculated at the rate of $10/hour. Then each adult earning less than the minimum would owe the government a minimum of 300 hours of work per year; this can be as little as 6 hours per week in addition to their normal hours of documented work, and if they are working less than 40 hours per week, the individual could be obligated to either provide double those hours (to 600 total) or submit evidence of 300 hours of training for future employment, and those unemployed but receiving government subsidies (welfare or aid to dependent children, for example) would be required to provide a service equivalent and training totaling 40 hours per week. Even unskilled or elderly individuals could provide childcare under government-approved supervision, though certainly those with documented physical and mental debility would of course be exempted. The service equivalency requirement would provide an incentive to those who are earning less than the minimum to increase their skills. Ultimately, the welfare expenditures would begin to decrease as those who earn less than the minimum are incentivized to increase their employment income. 
cartoon: retrospective approval of prior-year budgets
Once we are underway to solve the income problem, we can address the expenditure side. Last minute duress-induced cliff-hanging decisions are an ineffective way to reach reasonable resolutions of fiscal issues. To ensure duress measures aren't the choice of political resort, citizens must demand that the financially viable budget be set with a one-month lead before the fiscal year ends. To achieve this, there must be safeguards:

First, legislation must be enacted to ensure that all budget bills shall be presented and voted upon no later than ONE FULL MONTH before any budgetary deadline. Further, to ensure timely budget completion without game-playing, citizens must demand that, should the one-month deadline be missed, the full Congress shall meet continuously without stopping until the budget work is completed and voted into approval.

Second, a Line Item Veto program should be enacted. Every line item selected for veto would then be reviewed by an impartial citizen panel which may either concur with the veto or refer it, with specific questions and/or adjustment recommendations, to a special joint Congressional compromise committee for adjustment and resolution.

Third, legislation must be enacted to ensure that budgeted expenditures do not exceed income. This balanced budget requirement will undoubtedly mean some expenditures must be cut. To ensure that this is effectively evaluated, every program, including all defense and black ops agency expenditures must present open accounting of their use of taxpayer funds. No agency expenditures for one project or program would be funded under a different project or program. All the budget centers would be divided into three portions:
1) essential government spending,
2) discretionary projects and programs, and
3) special interest funding. 
The former essential spending would have priority processing in advance of the other two portions; special interest funding would optionally be considered after the formal two portions are approved; a full merit justification would be required for the latter two portions and a further independent review for special interest funding requests. Competitive bidding on all approved funding projects and programs would also be required unless the independent panel determined that to be unfeasible.

It's past time for wiser choices like these to prevail in Washington DC. Clearly, these are simple structural measures that could streamline the US budget process and enable fiscally conservative consideration of debt reduction measures. Maybe it's time for We the Real Constituents to call on Congress to crowdsource a truly workable solution.
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Thursday, March 7, 2013

How can we fix the US debt?

Since we can't go back in time and correct the errors as they occurred, we have to come up with a prospective plan. The short answer is: collect more revenue and outlay for fewer expenditures. But even before those detailed negotiations, there are actually important things we can do to move the US toward debt resolution.

Most importantly, what we need are citizens willing to demand our legislators take corrective action and we must have legislators who are not afraid to take corrective action. So the first thing we need to do is stop the influence of lobbyists representing special interests. We can do this by prohibiting any budget entries that would benefit one specific company over any other. This will prevent further escalation of the crisis.

Once we stop the pork barrel earmarking and institute competitive bidding for ALL government-funded projects, we can address other underfunding problems.
Seesaw with small green income $ and LARGE red expense $
You can't balance a budget if you spend more than you earn.
First we've got to stabilize and increase our income. To achieve that, we need to change the national mindset away from thinking taxes are a burden to be avoided; rather we need to educate the public to realize that taxes are the price we pay for our common (national) welfare -- that is: we need to invest (with taxes) in our fair share of government in order to have the funds that make it possible to live in a country we are proud of, to have education and employment opportunities to enable all citizens to earn a satisfactory living income, to expect the assurance of safety and well-being for all our neighborhoods, and to have the upkeep of common infrastructure managed and maintained for the benefit of all.

This means we must charge equitable taxes so everyone in this country will pay a fair share for their support of our nation. That will take some long hard looks at the tax structure for both individuals and corporations. We've got to be more equitable in our expectations of individuals, ensuring that those who have lower incomes still contribute to the nation's well-being; national service by those who cannot afford to pay must be expected both to provide needed services to the nation and to provide training and experience to those who require skills to enter the job market.
Bailout cartoon: Parachutes for banks; cement blocks for homeowners
Corporations, too, must be held accountable for their choices and decisions. Bad management should not be a ticket to bailouts. Just as Congress and regulatory agencies often retrospectively reinterpret rules affecting taxes and Medicare (not hypothetical: costly retroactive adjustments were imposed on me and on my mother), the bailout subsidies extended to corporations that contributed to the financial and real estate debacles should be reconsidered. Corporations contributing to the economic disaster should be held accountable and their "stimulus" payments reinterpretted as the loans from the the nation's taxpayers as they should have been, with interest and principal due back to the US Treasury.
graph showing you have to have income to balance the budget
Finally, we need to hold our elected officials responsible for their management of the economy. The budget should be balanced, with income to meet the expenditures, including debt service. There should be monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews, with the President reporting the bottom line to the nation in the State of the Union and transparent accounting of ALL expenditures (that is: NO slush funds and black ops back holes of secrecy) open to review by all citizens. When cost overruns occur, the managers should be held accountable for correcting the problem immediately and those who are unable to do so should be fired if the discrepancy hasn't been resolved by the following quarterly report. It shouldn't take a Constitutional amendment to ensure prudent fiscal husbandry, but the evidence shows that our representatives cannot be trusted to show appropriate conservation of our funds. We the People must demand accountability. If it takes the threat of automatic impeachment of elected representatives cannot manage to oversee a balance budget, then that is what we must insist be put in place.
cartoon: balance scale with all wanting a balanced budget but none wanting to sacrifice
So can this really be achieved? Sure, but it will take a legislative mindshift and commitment of the populace to make the necessary choices and contribute their fair share.
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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How big is the problem of skyrocketing US debt?

The crisis of the skyrocketing US debt reminds me of a story I heard about a sailing ship captain and a seaman.

Back in the day, the seaman was charged with stowing the ship's heavy cargo of ammunitions, but he neglected his duty and when a storm came up, the cargo broke loose. If the ammunition rolling about impacted the hold, not only could it damage the ship's side but it could explode in a skyrocketing blast.
sailing ship in storm
Because of the loose load in the hold, the entire ship was endangered, but the seaman leaped to their rescue and at great risk to his own safety managed to corral the cargo. After the storm subsided, the captain called all hands on deck. He bestowed an award on the seaman, and then he unsheathed his flintlock pistol and shot the seaman saying, "Heroics are rewarded but neglect of duty can be fatal."

We've got a bigger problem. Our economic ship is actually sinking under the debt we have let loose. But those who first created the situation are no longer facing us to shoulder the blame, and no one today is willing to step to the rescue.

In fact, no one is willing to take any action for fear they, as the messenger of ill-fortune, will mistakenly be shot. Still, someone had better step up and offer a solution, or the USS Economy will sink. Tomorrow I'll offer some realistic possibilities.
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What caused the sudden US debt?

In reality, the US debt problem is hardly sudden and can be traced back to specific instances of poor planning from ill-conceived starting visions.

I used to work for an insurance company. Any good actuary can tell you: projections are based on probability. You look at reality and trends and interpolate them into the future. When you create a retirement program annuity (for example), you look at the number and demographics of workers participating in the plan, their anticipated life expectancy, and the return on the premiums you can expect to earn before your payout, and you calculate your current liability. If things change, like if people start living longer, you better change your calculations and adjust your funding.
probability graph on illness likelihood by age
Similarly, if you want to insure the health of a population, you calculate the typical costs in a year for the whole group and project that cost into the future for the group based on the trends for both the amount of healthcare needed and the changes to the costs for that healthcare. Again, if things change, like if people living longer develop more serious health issues and the treatments extend for longer periods of time, you better change your calculations and adjust your funding.

It's the same with a budget. If you want to balance your budget, you need to have your revenues cover your costs. If you spend more than you take in, you have to borrow from a lender to cover your underfunded expenses, and the lender will charge you to use that debt for some specified period. You end up spending more over the long run than you would have had you paid when you made the purchase. So when you host a war and don't fund it with taxes, you have to borrow, and the resulting debt will increase the cost of your war. (The same is true for any government – or business – program.)

The problem of growing debt begins if you fail to increase your funding along the way; each year you continue to underfund your program/budget, you accumulate an unfunded future debt. If you complicate those simple increases to your debts by using some of your income to pay subsidies to businesses that did a bad job and actually lost money, you multiply the effect on your debt. That is, you have less income from the business taxes and you spend more than you expected, so your debt goes up even faster. And if you allow the executives of businesses to pay themselves huge untaxed amounts in "deferred compensation" and exempt bonuses while laying off workers and shipping jobs overseas, you reduce the income from personal and business taxes, and if you then reduce the rate the huge bonus payouts are being taxed at, you escalate the reduction in tax income.

pyramid demonstration why Ponzi schemes are unsustainable
And if you have a population trend like the Baby Boomers followed by the Bust, the booming influx of workers is of course going to be superseded at some point by a decrease, and if you are funding future payments out of those expected future revenues, you need to notice that this plan will not work forever. At some point the number of no longer paying in recipients increases beyond the funding ability of the decreasing number of workers still paying in. To top that off, if you have businesses that are firing workers and expecting fewer people doing more work with fewer resources to support them, then the nation's income revenue will decrease as its workers' stress levels go up and there will be more debt and more health issues. And if you have businesses whose sole function is to produce products that adversely affect people's health (that would be tobacco products and fossil fuel producing- and using-industries), then there will be more health costs as well.

So all of this should have been pretty obvious to any accountant. The SEC even provides the pyramid scheme graphic on their website. But instead the financial industry just redefined the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and required less future liabilities funding on financial statements, making everyone think for a while that the problem wasn't really there. Of course, anyone with a brain should have been able to tell that derivatives and subprime loans and interest-only mortgages and junk bonds were investments that had no more long term viability than Ponzi schemes.
cartoon of US Financial Institutions wondering Ponzi? Illegal?
And yet here we are....
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Monday, March 4, 2013

What does the US debt mean to YOU?

The other evening, my ToastMaster's club heard a speech on the growing national debt. The figures viewed in the presentation were estimates based on projections and looked really scary flashing ever-incrementally into higher totals.

Of course I skeptically looked up more information, and there are a number of "us debt clocks"  but even the government's own site has equally oppressive numbers. We're talking TRILLIONS of dollars; our speaker showed us a webpage to help us visualize the magnitude. Of the many trillion- dollar demonstration webpages, I chose this summary:

Credit: www.elsolet,net
Remember, though: that field of pallets by the plane is only ONE trillion in this picture; the Treasury Department says the debt is more than $SIXTEEN trillion. So stack the image up 16 times in your mind. And of course then the speaker threw in the specter of "unfunded" liability for Social Security and Medicare and you're overwhelmed with far greater figures.

In fact, based on US Treasury figures, the cost to each and every citizen can be calculated.  This chart is an approximation of the Treasury figures:

United States Population
United States National Debt Per Person
United States National Debt Per Household
Total US Unfunded Liabilities Per Person
Total US Unfunded Liabilities Per Household

It's clearly a huge problem to think about.

But of course I did, wondering what could be the solution, and of course I came up with ideas. Tomorrow, we'll look at the causes; then we'll consider the implications; next I'll suggest some broad strokes for the fix; the final day I'll get down to some potentially workable details.
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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Can we citizens stop the Sequester?

 The short answer is YES: Tell your elected officials to support HR 900. The full text is below:
HR 900 IH
1st Session
H. R. 900
To eliminate the sequestration under section 251A of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, and for other purposes.

February 28, 2013

Mr. CONYERS (for himself, Ms. JACKSON LEE, Ms. WILSON of Florida, and Mr. GRAYSON) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Budget

To eliminate the sequestration under section 251A of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, and for other purposes.
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013’.


    Section 251A of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 is repealed.
Urge your representative to support this bill. Across the board cuts are the WRONG way to proceed. We need real solutions, not stopgap idiocy. Keep reading this upcoming week for background and suggestions for a more fiscally-conservative and well-considered SOLUTION.
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