Random Thoughts on American Society

Hobby Lobby, a chain owned by Christian mullahs, obtained a temporary stay on the portion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires coverage for contraceptive services. It claims such provisions violate the religious conscience of the chain’s owners. Conservatives have cheered this, but they should not. Let’s be clear about this: Hobby Lobby is not a religious institution; it’s a retail chain. If the Supreme Court doesn’t  vacate this stay, you can forget the worms analogy–the Court will open a can of venomous snakes. You might recall that the same Supreme Court ruled that the ACA was a “tax.” If non-religious institutions can opt out of taxes on the grounds of conscience, then every peace group in America should sue to opt out of taxes that go to war and military spending. How is the principle different?

I was thinking about the military this morning as I car-slalomed past potholes the size of Estonia. The reason they’re not fixed is the same reason we have a shortage of just about everything relating to civil society these days: lack of money. People can rail about welfare bums and entitlements all they want, but there are really just two choices:  live in a society whose civic life rivals that of Nigeria, or invest money in rebuilding. There’s really only one way to do that–slash military spending. And I mean severely, as in a reordering of national priorities. We’re probably talking on the order of 30-40% cuts.

Ignore politicians that equate military spending with jobs. That’s an old dodge rooted in propaganda. Yes, some jobs would be lost temporarily if, say, Groton, Connecticut closed its submarine base. But check out data from the Centre for Research on Globalization. It tels you what has been known for decades: military-industrial complex spending is the path to a boom/bust economy. Towns and regions that (think they) depend on it are among the least stable communities in the nation. Military towns are far from being “recession-proof” (like college towns). Portsmouth, New Hampshire is among the cities that came back stronger once its military base closed.

Do we really care any more about baseball’s steroids scandal? I surely don’t. Alex Rodriguez is banned for a year. Ho hum! Everything about Major League Baseball’s efforts to catch “cheaters” has been a fraud. As much as I think Rodriguez an egoistic boor, MLB promised it would not release names of people in the Mitchell Report. Had it been true to its word, A-Rod would be considered a first-time user, not a repeat offender. Moreover, there are things most folks are ignoring. MLB isn’t the worst sport insofar as drug use goes­–pro football is much worse, even if the public doesn’t give a crap about an interior lineman who gets caught. Second, sports has always had “cheaters”–spitballs, corked bats, horses shot full with pain killers, golfers moving balls for a better shot…. Fair? Nope, but consider this: “cheating” can give players an edge, but it doesn’t make them Superman. If Barry Bonds only did well because of drugs, why didn’t everyone hit 762 homeruns? And why didn’t every hurler win 354 games like Roger Clemens? Don’t tell me these guys don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. 

It’s hard for me to decide who looks most like a walking corpse, Keith Richards or John Kerry.

Remember the battle to ensure that Ebonics would never be considered acceptable grammar? Explain to me why non-standard grammar is okay if it comes from those wired and white. Where’s the outrage over things such as misuse of prepositions, apostrophes, split infinitives, and violations of subject/pronoun agreement rules? Don't’ get me started on texting shortcuts. I’d much rather someone “axe” me a question than receive an “R U there?” text.

New debates have arisen over raising the minimum wage. Predictably, business groups and conservatives predict economic collapse if wages go up–as they have every single time it has ever been raised and the sky, at last glance, is still standing. John “Putz” Boehner asserts that America didn’t always have a minimum wage law and that it was strong economically back in those days. Apparently he’s never studied the Gilded Age or read The Jungle. And don’t buy his strain-on- small businesses line of crap either. Two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are employed by large corporations; moreover, the Fair Labor Standards Act does not apply to businesses that take in less than $500,000 if they are not engaged in interstate commerce.

Another John Bonehead misconception–seven states have no minimum wage law: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wyoming. Gosh! What economic powerhouses they are! I can’t wait for Massachusetts to become a dynamo like these perennial contenders for poorest state in the Union. Leaving that aside, this is simply Boehner’s attempt at political distraction. All it means is that these states do not have any minimum wage laws on their state books, which would make it harder for them to surpass the federal minimum wage, as 19 states plus the District of Columbia have done. They must comply with federal law, whether or not they have state minimum wage laws except in the cases noted above. 

Watching Chris Christie trying to squirm away from his vendetta-induced scandal reminds me that the only political sin worse than being arrogant is being too arrogant to admit that you’ve been an arrogant ass.

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