Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Man’s Inhumanity To Man [1]

I am beginning to wonder if we are in the "End Times!"  The whole world is in such disarray that it is difficult to imagine what can be done short of revolution.  Humanity seems to have devolved to a point of total impotence unable to do anything about the events happening around the world due, I believe, to the pent up hostility and rage about injustices, both personal and collectively, that finds no positive outlet.

I do not dismiss the many good things that are being done by many, such as the current ALS ice bucket program, but the events that get the majority of news response are those most negative and attention getting.  It has always been this way for the news agencies.  However, with the immediacy of Twitter, Facebook and the numerous other social media, we are inundated with information that we mostly can do nothing about.  The result for some of us is an ever-deepening sense of frustration and hopelessness.  This often leads to wanting to hide from the world, to isolate ourselves from the din of anger, hostility and cruelty.

Such desperation also leads some to vent their rage in senseless rioting, looting and other abuses that have no real connection to the events within which they take place.  In our current situation in Ferguson, Missouri it has been fairly well documented that those who take part in rampaging through the area after dark looting, destroying and intimidating the public in general have come into the community from other places.  It is true that some do come from Ferguson as well.  One only needs to look at the conditions prior to the shooting of Michael Brown to see that this community, like many others in our country, was a bomb waiting to explode.

There are too many injustices to list here.   The injustices exist in the racial profiling, disproportional arrests of minority persons, lack of employment opportunities for those minorities and poverty in general.  That any hope at all can exist within such communities is a miracle in itself.  Amazingly, hope does seem to exist.  That is, it exists until we have an episode such as the shooting of an unarmed young black man.  I am enraged at the handling of all of these events.  They happen over and over and they have a common starting point:  The person is a minority—black, Hispanic, or Asian—and is therefore subject to suspicion.  Almost the first thing to happen is that certain “facts” are released to smear the victim and justify police action.  This is a disservice not only to the victim, but also to the police, who for the most part serve us well and without malice.

It is time to wake up and realize that there is a lot of work to do to begin to change the atmosphere of suspicion, anger, and injustice.  The Civil Rights Movement is not finished, even though you may think it was resolved by law years ago.  It is evident to me that many in our country still harbor deep-seated resentments to persons who are “different” from us.  This is particularly evident in the current immigration controversy, which I will not go into here, except to remind us that we are all immigrants due to our ancestors having come to this country as “foreigners.”

Some of you who know me have heard me comment that I have largely stopped my subscriptions to news feeds as well as the amount of “news” that I subject my mind to.  That does not mean I have given up my concern for community, national and world affairs.  I admit it is representative of a drawing back within myself to some degree.  I do not recommend this as a way to deal with controversy and injustice as it exists today.  It was necessary for me to withdraw for my own sanity.  My own frustration at “man’s inhumanity to man” just seems overwhelming at times.  Until I decide to deal with it in some other, more productive, manner I will hold most of my commentary until I just cannot hold it any longer.

[1] This phrase, which is always used with a sense of regret, was coined by Robert Burns and used in his poem From Man was made to Mourn: A Dirge, 1785:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Social Security Recipients Get 1.5% COLA

A personal opinion on what ails government.

Daniel J Perin

Huffington Post, among other sources, announced Social Security benefits for nearly 58 million people would increase by 1.5 percent in 2014.  Based on the average pay to retired workers of $1,272 a month, that means we will receive about $19.  (Boy, I can hardly wait to run out and buy something with all that extra money!)

Fortunately, the deduction for our Medicare insurance will not rise from its current deduction of $104.90 for most of us retired seniors.  While Social Security raises over the years since 1975 have averaged just over 4 percent, many years it is immediately absorbed by an increase in the Medicare deduction from our checks resulting in a net gain of zero.  (Yes, we pay for our insurance every month like everyone else who has insurance from whatever source.  Depending upon the plan we choose from private insurers we may also pay a monthly fee for that coverage as well.)

To help fund the program the amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes is rising from 12.4 % tax on the first $113,700 in wages to $117,000 for 2014.  That amount is shared half by employers and half by employee withholding from their wages.

There may be a number of problems with the Social Security program and hopefully whenever we have a Congress willing to work on the many issues this country faces we may see some positive effort to adjust the program for long term success.  It is one of the most successful and appreciated government programs ever offered, even with its flaws.

I certainly am NOT complaining about my benefits.  I am the average recipient and so fit all the statistics related to the program payouts.  Much of my working life was spent in low paying or non-paying jobs—by choice—but never the less my benefits are much smaller than folks who worked in a career geared to advancement and thus, larger incomes and most likely providing additional retirement options.  I was fortunate in the eleven years prior to my retirement to work for a company that provided several retirement funding options of which I took full advantage.  That provided an investment balance that even after several economic downturns has been able to accrue returns allowing me to maintain a slight advantage in our now growing economy.

As I said, I am very fortunate.  A vast number of people have not had even the marginal opportunities I have had.  With no savings and low paying jobs, or no job at all, economic disasters such as our 2008 recession have left these folks homeless and broken.  Of course, one might make a case for the lack of financial judgment exercised that left them in dire straits.  For a long time we have been a society that lived on credit well beyond our means to pay.  Living on the “come” meant spending on the hope that a future check or financial miracle would take care of the need to catch up.  It almost never works. 

All such judgments aside, it is my belief that is our responsibility as a society to help those less fortunate no matter how they arrived at their condition.  Our giving never diminishes us.  Withholding our assistance does diminish us.  It is not a matter of giving money, though supporting assistance organizations is surely one way to help.  Perhaps the easiest way we have to be supportive is to maintain a positive outlook and to point out the good options for changing conditions—personally as well as throughout the public. 

A direct counter to this option is what we have seen in government the last five years.  A political morass that has left members of Congress unwilling and unable to support any effort proposed by the opposite party.  As a representative of the people to set as your primary purpose stopping all efforts to legislate because you do not like our President or the party he represents is reprehensible and unworthy of a position or salary.  This is a matter of disrespect of the Office of the President as well as disrespect of him as a person.  The vile invective heaped upon the President is not only unwarranted, but also indicative of a lack of a moral compass.  I will say it here, though it will likely be vehemently denied by detractors, this rejection of Barack Obama is nothing more than racial bigotry espoused by advocates of nullification in their attempt to consider the acts of the Federal government, and especially an unqualified President, null and void.

This small minority of small-minded folks, such as Ted Cruz, not only does not care what the majority of the public wants or believes, they admittedly want the government to fail so that the states can return to total self-government without Federal “interference.”  They make up their own facts that are easily identified as absolute lies by anyone willing to research the facts. We fought a civil war over this difference of opinion and the balance of Federal and States Rights won.  Get over it folks!  If you do not like the way government works, you can only change it by accepting your responsibility to engage in actually voting for people who will represent your views and be willing to come to a consensus that benefits the public as a whole.  When our representatives believe they have no obligation to those who elected them and that they can vote any way they choose (that brings them support from PACs), it is time to vote them out.

I am totally disgusted in the failure of our Congressional representatives to stand up and be counted as against this deliberate and demeaning effort to bring the country to a halt no matter the cost domestically and internationally.  It is clear their interest is more focused on getting re-elected than representing those who elected them in the first place.  Congress looks to me like a vast retirement home where the residents do not have to do anything they do not want to do, yet have every need taken care of (at our expense).  Perhaps if they had to live according to the same rules the rest of us have to live by, we would see some positive change.  Then again, speaking negatively, maybe not.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Economic Insanity, Again?

By Daniel J. Perin

So far for the first 10 days of the month of October, my retirement account has already lost 2% of its value due to the market uncertainty about the US default possibility.  During the 2008 Major Recession I sustained approximately a 15% loss, even though I have an adequate balance spread of assets.  Thanks to the stock market recovery since 2008 I recovered most of that loss.  However, each time the government fails to do its job and the markets and general economy take losses it becomes a bigger problem for those of us on fixed incomes.  It takes longer to recover, if at all.  The time span some of us have for that recovery does not match the value of retirement funds.  What that means for those who have little or nothing to meet these set backs is that they may well require public assistance, the last thing any of us want.  (And, incidentally, what the Republicans rant about--"takers" on the dole--and for which they are the primary cause).

This is simply my observation  of the stupidity of the small segment of Republicans who do not care about the dire results the public will sustain due to their ineptitude and callous egotistic, self-serving actions.  I am hopeful and I will survive because that is the basis of my belief system, but there is an increasing number of folks experiencing loss for the first time in their otherwise prosperous lives where they did not give a thought to broader economic issues.  Now, faced with economic uncertainty without adequate savings or retirement planning, they are scared out of their gourds and immobilized by that fear.  Then irrationality takes hold and the blame game begins. 

Failure to recognize personal responsibility for your own well being makes it far too easy to believe someone else is responsible for your problems.  Part of our responsibility concerns maintaining an active interest in who is representing us at local, state and national levels.  If we do not pay attention to how we are being represented, or what our particular interests are in the first place, we end up with misrepresentation and "me first" politicians totally disconnected from their constituents.  Talk about "government out of control," who do you think is supposed to control government?  We are--you and me as we learn of the issues and vote responsibly (not just during presidential election years).  It is the off-year elections where you send representatives to the House Of Representatives, currently held by intractable Republicans who are blocking ANY serious action.

Finally, I suppose we each have our "favorite" media channels, primarily the ones that we agree with.  Listening only to one side of the issues cannot possibly give us an understanding of those issues sufficient to make wise choices.  I know I have my favorites as well.  I admit, though, that I get so upset with their positions at times that I have to leave the room or turn them off.  There is no "right" or "wrong" side to the issues we face.  There are opinions, justifiably held, but hopefully open to discussion and COMPROMISE.  What we hear clearly from the Republican representatives with one voice is:  NO COMPROMISE!  And out the other side of their mouth they accuse the President of being unwilling to have a CONVERSATION about the issues.  They forget he already compromised and the result was the Sequester that cut off funding for numerous projects essential to various aspects of our society.  The Sequester came about because when the bill came due to "s**t, or get off the pot" the Republicans decided not to live up to the agreement that was the result of the President and Congress COMPROMISING.

How many of us have yelled out on Twitter, Facebook, or other social/news media outlets: "Throw all the bums out and start over"?  Or how many of us have suggested that if Congress cannot do the work required to keep the government operating, their salaries should be the first to go?  Why should they maintain their perks while they cut off the rest of us?  These may seem to be valid arguments and worthy of consideration AFTER we turn the lights back on!  Unfortunately, once the lights ARE back on most of us return to our self-interests ignorant of what is going on around us.

Personal disclaimer:  I have been so disgusted  lately that I have, for the most part, stopped reading/watching most news programs, cut off media blogs and news feeds and simply concentrated on my own personal interests.  This "rant" is a partial return to voicing my strong opinions and restarting my study of the issues and participation, one step at a time, in the political process.  Not sure how far it will take me this time around.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Random Thoughts

By Daniel J. Perin

I wish I could write like I used to.  It is not that the ideas come to me any less often than before.  It is that the time between when the idea strikes my mind or heart and when my fingers are at the keys of my computer now seems like hours and in that time so much is lost.

The brevity with which thoughts endure in their clarity of origin leaves me frustrated and disappointed these days.  I am very glad that I can still think and feel.  I am pleased when my thoughts and feelings find their way into print with most of their original construction and intent.

During the run up to the first election of President Obama I was aggressively blogging my opinions about the political issues and the need for a new direction in our policy-making.  I subscribed to numerous news feeds of different political persuasions in order to keep up with the issues.  Since the election and the rude awakening to the political maneuvering of the Republican Party to thwart every effort the President made to fulfill the promises he made during the campaign, I have become so disappointed that my normal writing processes have refused to operate.  I have discontinued the news feeds except for one or two that I barely peruse before simply deleting them.

The celebration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech stirred me to want to contribute to the memories and thoughts from the thousands who attended the ceremonies on the Washington Mall and who commented from around the world via the Internet.  I found myself unable to articulate what I felt.  I was in my first ministry at the time of the March On Washington in 1963.  I somewhat naively noticed the speech and the crowds of disciplined attendees.  In the years since I have had my own first hand education as to the issues that divide us in this country—more than just the racial issues, as serious as they are.  I have had my own face-to-face interaction with black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and staff members in the seminary from which I graduated and later served as a staff member in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I wish I could say that any contribution I offered through what writing I did make some difference.  I don’t believe it did.  I feel it helped me to clarify what I thought and felt, but I am not persuaded that it made a difference.  Frankly, my frustration today comes primarily from the apparent lack of engagement of the majority of folks in our country, according to recent poling, who, while they do not like what is going on in the political world, have chosen to drop out and ignore their opportunity to contribute to change.

I am one who has, for now, dropped out.  The intensity of aggravation over what seems to be a lack of challenging the ridiculous actions of Republicans across this country leaves me at risk of unhealthy physical reactions.  It does not matter that there are so-called “good” Republicans.  They are so frightened of not getting re-elected that they swoon to the pressures of the Tea Party wing-nuts determined to destroy this country under the guise of “taking back our government.”  I would ask them to read the Constitution they so often misquote, but there is little hope that they could understand it if they did read it. If they are unable to stand up for a positive Republican philosophy of government, then they do not deserve to represent anybody. 

Though the Democrats have their own problems with principled action, it is nowhere near the abdication of political representation that we see in the actions of the unprincipled Republican effort to block voters from exercising their rights; to gerrymandering representational districts that ensure re-election by only including those in their party; to waging war on women through anti-abortion laws and discriminating against those with whom they disagree; to packing Intelligence and Science committees in Congress with anti-science crazies and ignorant, closed minded idiots who have no idea what intelligence is.

The Republicans no longer make any effort to negotiate in good faith.  They are interested only in making any progress impossible until, they hope, they can once again be the party of the majority.  Do you realize they have blocked almost every single effort to move this country forward?  In spite of that, under President Obama we are managing to make steady, if somewhat slow, progress toward returning to a stable economy that is creating new jobs every month.  All any reasonable person is asking of the Republicans is that they come to the bargaining table with a plan that lays out what they want to actually DO rather than continuing to denigrate the person of the President and block any proposal made by the Democrats.

Well, you can see, somewhere along the writing of this piece I have moved from not being able to write, to writing probably too much for the average person to care about reading.  Of course, in my opinion, that is part of the problem.  If it can’t be said in 162 characters, or whatever, most won’t give it their attention.

I haven’t even touched upon the world conditions that are so fragile today and that are bringing out the war-mongering neo-cons who led us into Iraq and who want us to bomb every country in sight.  OMG!

I will now return to the mindless activities of my own personal life and watch from the wings the stage play unfolding before our eyes.  It does not look like there will be a happy ending.

P.S. --  Given the NSA activities of gathering up emails and Internet postings, I am sure this will find its way into the repository of the government files.  My blogs have, in the past, been monitored by government agencies if I happened to mention hot political issues, especially, guns, war, Iraq, etc.  Hello, Big Brother!

Monday, January 21, 2013

These Are the Times That Stir Our Souls

By Daniel J. Perin

Four years ago at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama I was as moved with pride as I had never been before in my life.  Today as we share his second inauguration I am still moved with pride because of the nation of people’s that I have the privilege to be part of.

It has been a tumultuous first term for this President, much more frustrating than it should have been.  But even with these innumerable obstacles it is still the best of the best countries in which anyone could live.  It is still the country where people the world over want to visit and come to live.  There have been times so distracting and upsetting that there were those who wished in those moments that they were living in some other country where passions seemed more reserved and directed to more positive ends, but in the final analysis there is nowhere I would rather live.

I hope for our President and for our country that this final term of office will afford him the support and the courage to lead us all into a greater harmony and sense of togetherness.  May we all gain a greater sense of belonging, belonging to the community of peoples of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds.  We are ONE PEOPLE!  We are a country that rose from tyranny to establish “a more perfect union.”  Let us never resort to a new tyranny in the guise of democratic action.  Let us come together and reason with wisdom and love in our hearts that we may bring forth a greater nation, accepting of all who long to make it a better place in which to live.

My soul is once again stirred with pride that I live in a country that mostly seeks to resolve its issues amicably.  Though we sometimes stray from the steady course, we do find our way back to reason because that is the way we do things here.

We are a strong nation, a resilient people, due to our allegiance to an idea:  “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” We honor that uniqueness that brings the strength of unity as well as the creativity of diversity.

I know that speeches are words, but I also believe those words as spoken by our President today, lay before us the challenge to rise up and face the issues that affect us and may seem to divide us. We are asked to take up the gauntlet and act in unison, respecting one another for the contribution each of us will make to the fabric of our nation’s strength and vitality.

Today I reaffirm my faith in the goodness of this country and my confidence in the leadership of Barack Obama.  My deepest hope is that we all can truly remember the foundations of our great country that welcome new generations, new ideas and new accomplishments that benefit us all.