Friday, December 30, 2011

Thank You! Happy New Year!

It is hard to fathom that a year has gone by since we started expressing our disjointed opinions on this page.  On January 4, 2011 we wrote the first article and upon reflection wondered if we would ever write another.  On that day we doubted that anyone would even see the post much less care about what we had to say.  But thanks to you we found our voice; and two hundred and seventy five diatribes later we are still going strong.  Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that so many of you would be interested in what we had to say.  We thank you for your interest and your support.  Your words of encouragement are greatly appreciated; and whatever success we may have achieved is because of you.
Thank you! 
Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Iowa Matters

If you are like us and have nothing better to do with your lives than watch the wall to wall media coverage of the Republican primary process; then you are probably scratching your head about all the to do surrounding the upcoming Iowa Caucuses.  One minute the pundits are frothing about the importance of Iowa in picking the Republican nominee.  The next minute they are laughing about Iowa’s irrelevance in the process.  So what gives?  Is Iowa a big deal or not?
Historically the Iowa Caucuses have had very little impact on picking the eventual Republican nominee.  In fact their record stinks.  In recent history Iowans have picked the eventual nominee only twice:  Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000.  Only Bush made it to the White House.  Mike Huckabee in 2008, Bob Dole in 1988 and George H. W. Bush in 1980 all won in Iowa but failed to get the nomination. 
Iowans have had better success on the Democratic side…but not much.  Their selection of Edmund Muskie, Tom Harkin, Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan, none of whom won the nomination, overshadows their limited success.  Perhaps most notable was 1976 when Iowans handed a victory to “uncommitted”.  Jimmie Carter came in a distant second. 
As the saying goes: “As Iowa goes…so goes Iowa.”
Consequently Iowa’s weak track record and fly over status garner little respect from the national media.  The fact that Ron Paul, who is given little chance to win the nomination and zero chance of winning the Presidency, currently leads in Iowa only furthers the media’s generally dismissive attitude.
But this year is different.  Pundits are paying very close attention to Iowa; and it’s not because Iowa is the first time people actually get to vote.  Iowans can make a difference in deciding who wins the nomination.  Here’s how.
Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are currently in a statistical tie for the lead with Santorum surging 6 percentage points behind.  If Iowans give Romney the win the thinking is that Romney adds this win to his assured victory in New Hampshire and the nomination is his before the primary season has barely started…game, set match.  The other primaries will fall in line. 
But if Iowans give Paul the win, and they will be the only state to do so, they will give his campaign momentum.  Paul will lose in the remaining primaries but he will still be in the race.  Emboldened by his Iowa victory and subsequent modest showing he will elect to run for President as a third party candidate.  This will be a disaster for Republicans.  Paul’s third party candidacy will steal conservative votes from Romney and hand the Presidency to Obama.  So anything that gives credence to Paul’s campaign ultimately hurts the Republican Party.  And it all starts with Iowa.           
We have been to Iowa.  We even spent some time with Iowans over the Christmas holiday.  As a general rule they are hard working fiscally conservative folks who believe in limited government.  They are pro life and pro gun.  They believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman and they are not fond of the idea of gays serving openly in the military.  They are more likely to be found marching with the Tea Party crowd than the Occupy Wall Street bunch.  They are generally evangelical Christians in whose lives God and religion play an important part.  Ron Paul and Rick Santorum speak to them…Barak Obama does not.
 Iowans have an important choice to make.  Do they make a "values" statement and throw their support behind Ron Paul or even Rick Santorum, men who cannot possibly win the nomination or a general election against Obama?  Or do they get in line behind traditional Republicans with a unity vote for Romney?
Lost in all the noise is the one candidate who we believe would really give the President a run for his money: Jon Huntsman.  Sadly for Republicans, Huntsman is not on anyone’s radar in Iowa.    

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

If You Think 2011 Was Bad...

As this year draws to a close those of us who follow politics will look back upon 2011 as one of the most tumultuous in our history.  It seemed like every day a new topic surfaced that threatened to tear apart the very fabric of the country.  Here is a brief snapshot of some the debates that served to inflame our rhetoric and widen our political divide: implementation of “Obamacare”, the individual mandate, abortion rights, Planned Parenthood, collective bargaining rights for public employees, Tea Party, Occupy Wall street, immigration reform, education reform, voting rights, debt ceiling debate, tax reform, spending cuts, tax the rich, Simpson-Bowles, privatization of social security, the Paul Ryan Plan, the Gang of Six, Supercommittee, the Grand Bargain, S&P credit rating downgrade,  massive unemployment,  job creation, payroll tax cuts, Bush tax cuts, Republican primary debates, Arab Spring, Libya, invade Pakistan, invade Syria, invade Iran, troop surge in Afghanistan, troop drawdown in Afghanistan and  combat forces leaving Iraq.  Even the successful elimination of the country’s #1 enemy, Osama bin Laden was subject to criticism and debate.
We are not suggesting that a substantive debate isn’t healthy and that these important items should not receive scrutiny.  But what have we accomplished?  As you gaze upon this list you will note that with few exceptions these important facets of our life are still unresolved.  For all the analysis and press we are still in much the same place that we were at the beginning of the year.  We are still at war.  Our economy is a mess.  Unemployment and poverty continue at alarming numbers and our debt and deficit continue to skyrocket with no end in sight.
And if you think 2011 was fraught with political paralysis wait until you see what is in store for 2012.
 On December 30 the President will request another $1.2 trillion in borrowing authority.  That will increase the debt limit to $16.4 trillion.  There is an automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts that are set to begin in January of 2013.  But Republicans want to reopen the discussion about those numbers because they include steep cuts to the military budget.  The payroll tax cuts that were just extended for two months will have to be extended again come March. 
And all of this will take place in the middle of a hotly contested election season.  Not only will we have the usual acrimony that occurs with every Presidential election but we will be witness to a serious battle to control both the House and the Senate.  The acrimony within the much divided House Republican caucus will hamper Republican efforts to maintain control.  And with Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson’s retirement announcement the Democrats now have to defend 23 Senate seats.  The weak economy and high unemployment will weigh down the President’s chances for a second term and weaken the strength of his coat tails.  In other words everything is up for grabs.  And one thing is certain…very little gets accomplished in Washington during an election season.
So if you think 2011 was bad…2011 will be little more than a warm up band for 2012.
And while all this paralysis by analysis is going on in Washington…14 million people are out of work, 52 million are without health care and 146 million are living in poverty.                 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Lucrative Business Of Governing

The Washington Post recently ran a story that does a great job of illustrating the total disconnect between Congress and the rest of the country.
According to the Post; over the past twenty five years the average net worth of a member of Congress has risen from $280,000 to $725,000.  During that same period the average net worth of the average middle class American declined from $20,600 to $20,500.
Generally speaking there is a bit of a lifestyle change that one goes through when one enters the hallowed halls of Congress.  The $174,000 paycheck, the lifetime benefits, the perks, and the fawning swarm of glad handers can color ones sense of self and one’s purpose.  Suddenly your opinion really matters and your vote carries real power.  You spend most of your time in Washington attending fundraisers and being schmoozed by lobbyists.  You make speeches for which you are handsomely compensated and go on junkets that take you to places you’ve only dreamed of…all within the “wink, wink” of the law.    
So it is not so surprising that once elected to office very few in Congress are anxious to give it up.  Consequently, they spend most of their time, and base most of their decisions on doing whatever is necessary to continue that fabulous, powerful and  lucrative ride.  On average a sitting Congressman will raise and spend $1.2 million just to get re-elected.  The President's campaign will raise $1 billion.    
The people we send to Congress live in an artificial bubble far removed from the lives of their constituents.  So why then would we expect these people to have any empathy for the guy who clocks in from 8 to 4:30?  Why would we expect them to understand what goes through the mind of the single mom or the dad with four kids who just lost his job?  Why would we expect the “haves” in power to spend one second worrying about the “have nots” when they are so busy hanging on to their own piece of the pie?
Yet, we do.  It’s foolish, but we do.  We expect them to care and to govern in a way that is fair; not just to those with money, power and influence…but to all.  But the fact is that expecting Congress to fix the ills of the country is like expecting the mob to clean up drug trafficking.   
The middle class is the engine that runs this country.  It is their disposable income that fuels the economy.  But the middle class country is dying before our very eyes; and as they go so goes the country.  Yet Congress is too busy covering their perks and their asses to do anything about it. 
We don’t begrudge the “haves” in Congress from taking advantage of their position and power.  As long as they achieve those things within the boundaries of the law…more power to them.  That’s the system.  But as long as that system allows and even encourages those in power to reap those benefits while turning a blind eye to the engine that runs the country…we are destined to fail.
We need to remove money and position from politics and governing.  Only then will elected officials do what is right instead of what is personally lucrative and politically expedient. 
The system needs to change.  Given all that we have witnessed over the past decade: the unwarranted wars, the economic collapse, the social injustice, the greed and the rapid decline of 99% of the country; if we don’t have the will to change the system now…then when?       

Newt and Rick Fail Leadership test

How can you run a country when you can’t run a campaign?  That is the first question that popped into our heads upon learning that Presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry had failed to gather the requisite number of signatures to appear on the Virginia ballot. 
The Commonwealth of Virginia requires that in order to have your name listed on the primary ballot you must find 10,000 legal Virginia residents willing to sign a petition that your name appear.  Virginia law further states that those signatures must include at least 400 residents from each of the commonwealth’s eleven voting districts.  Apparently Newt was able to gather 12,000 signatures but that total did not include at least 400 signatures from each of the eleven voting districts.  At stake are the votes of 49 delegates.   
Perry has been relatively quiet about his campaign’s muck up; Newt not so much.  A senior advisor to Gingrich called the Virginia law draconian and made some comparison to the December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor that was too convoluted for us to comprehend. 
The Virginia law has been in place for decades.  It is a law that candidates for governor, state attorney general and  a whole host of other local candidates have easily managed to comply with over the years; but not Newt…and not Rick.  Their failure to comply is an embarrassment to their campaigns and a telling indication of their leadership ability.  This is particularly true for Newt who is a Virginia resident.  
Here’s the thing.  The campaign for the Presidency is a test within itself.  It involves organization, time management, fund raising, budgeting, messaging and the co-ordination of a number of rapidly moving parts.  If you can’t manage a campaign, how do you expect the voters to trust you with managing a country?   

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

GOP Hands President An Early Christmas Gift

The GOP caved in on the payroll tax cut extension ending what had to be one of the most embarrassing and politically costly weeks in the party’s history.  Speaker Boehner took the podium and announced that House Republicans would support the two month payroll tax extension passed by the Senate.  It is telling that unlike previous moments when a defiant Speaker addressed the media flanked by supportive members of his caucus; this time he faced the cameras alone.
The Republican Party is a train wreck.  The Party is run by a small group of freshman Tea Party congressman so focused on obstructionism that they can’t figure out how to move the country forward.  Speaker Boehner has lost control.  Time and time again Tea Party freshman have forced him to walk away from a compromise with the President that would help the country.  From the “Grand Bargain” to the debt ceiling to the payroll tax cuts they have embarrassed their Speaker and weakened their party. Their message is disjointed and voiced with little purpose except to defeat this President.  This week they were against the tax cuts, then they supported them, then they were against them again before they finally supported them.  In the end they went too far and the discord within the Party spilled out for the entire world to see. Prominent Republican voices like Mitch McConnell, Karl Rove, John McCain, Charles Krauthammer and the Wall Street Journal all publically savaged House Republicans for their reckless intransigence.  Boehner realized that the cause was lost and ultimately surrendered.
Lost in all the chatter is the fact that Republicans actually got a great deal of what they wanted in this debate.  They blocked the surcharge on millionaires, moved the Keystone pipeline forward and thus far have stalled 90% of the President’s jobs bill.  A good leader would have been able to spin this into some sort of victory.  That didn’t happen; and now many within the Party are questioning Boehner’s ability to lead.  Some are openly opining that he will be recalled before the end of his term.
Republicans will get another shot at the payroll tax in the spring when the two month extension expires.  But that will come right in the middle of the Republican primaries where a fractured Party is already lurching from one frontrunner to the next; unable to align their support behind one strong candidate.
The last few months have been an absolute catastrophe for the Republican Party.  The infighting within the walls of Congress and on the campaign trail has damaged their message, their credibility and their ability to get anything done for the American people.  They have managed to allow Democratic Party to don the mantle that had always been borne by Republicans; ceding to Democrats the party of tax cuts and strong defense.  At the same time the Republican food fight has provided the President with a strong year end surge.  Even with a struggling economy and 8.6% unemployment the President’s approval ratings have rebounded to an astounding 49%.  Meanwhile Congressional approval has plummeted to 11%.  They appear tone deaf and mean.  So inconsequential is their message that they have been reduced to sniping at the President for Christmas shopping...with his dog.
There will be many more debates between now and the 2012 elections.  At lot can happen between now and then.  If the President manages to win a second term there are many who will point to this weeks’ Republican collapse as a key factor in handing him that victory.      

Thursday, December 22, 2011

This And That...

**Twenty four hours.  That’s all it took.  Barely 24 hours after the last US combat troops left Iraq, sectarian violence erupted in Baghdad.  Our “buddy,” Shiite Prime Minister al-Maliki, ordered the arrest of Sunni Vice president al-Hashimi on the grounds that al-Hashimi had organized his security detail into a death squad targeting government and military officials.  Al-Hashimi fled to the safety of the autonomous Kurdish region and refuses to return to Baghdad.  Supporters of al-Hashimi responded to the attempted arrest by setting off a series of bombings and attacks that left 63 dead and 185 injured. 
Critics say the attacks serve to support their contention that the President should not have pulled US forces from the region.  The fact is that unless we were planning to occupy Iraq in perpetuity this type of violence would have occurred no matter when we withdrew.
As former Security Advisor to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski summarized:  “We are now facing the reality of what we have accomplished in Iraq.  We have destabilized the country.  We have destroyed Iraq as a state.  We have reignited sectarian conflicts.  We have contributed to the ethnic distinctions between the Kurds and the Iraqis.  We have contributed to the instability of the Middle East."  And last but not least we have trained and armed 750,000 security forces who answer to an elected dictator that is becoming increasingly friendly with Iran.
After 4,500 deaths; 33,000 wounded and $1 trillion in treasure we leave behind a country that is reverting to its old sectarian ways.  And it only took 24 hours.
We have an arrogant belief in this country that every nation across the globe seeks to remake itself into our image.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
**Ron Paul supporters have long complained that the media does not pay enough attention to their candidate.  Be careful what you wish for.  Paul’s rise to the lead in the Iowa polls has placed him squarely under the media microscope; and like Perry and Gingrich found out before him, it’s not fun taking your turn in the barrel.
The Wall Street Journal just published a scathing editorial by Dorothy Rabinowitz in which she documents Paul’s belief that the 911 attacks were caused by American aggression; that America was declaring war on 1.2 billion Muslims and that Iran is misunderstood and merely trying to defend itself.  CNN just released excerpts from newsletters written under Paul’s name in the early 90’s that contain racist and anti-Semitic language.  The usually affable Paul was last seen removing his microphone to abruptly end an interview that began to focus on the content of those newsletters.  Paul has denied writing the newsletters and denouncing their content.  He has also said that he did write some newsletters but is vague on which ones. 
Paul leads the polls in Iowa and he could make things interesting in New Hampshire.  But his chances of winning the nomination are slim to none at best.  And any hope he may have had just took a beating by way of the very media attention his supporters longed for.
**The Washington Post reports that Bank of America will pay $335 million to settle federal claims that its Countrywide Financial unit charged blacks and Hispanic borrowers higher mortgage fees in the lead up to the financial crisis, and steered them to riskier loans than their white counterparts.  Investigators found over 200,000 instances where Countrywide charged minorities higher fees and interest rates than their white counterparts between 2004 and 2008.
In spite of all of the evidence that regulations are needed to protect consumers from predatory lending; the Republican Party continues to block the appointment of a chairman for the Consumer Protection Agency thereby preventing the agency from executing any of the powers granted under the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.  It should also be noted that in spite of mounting evidence produced by a host of whistle blowers; the federal government has, as of this date, failed to bring charges against anyone who participated in the 2008-2009 banking scandal that nearly collapsed the economy.  If you are caught carrying a kilo of weed across state lines you’ll get busted for intent to distribute.  But if you are the President of Citicorp or Bank America and sign off on bogus financial reports that crash the markets, bring down the economy and ruin the lives of millions Americans you get a multi-million dollar bonus for a job well done.           

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tea Party Helping Obama...Hurting Republicans

When Republicans took control of the House in January they believed that the American people had handed them a mandate.  Republicans believed that they had been empowered by the people to stop the big government machine run by the Obama administration.  Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell famously said at the time, that his number one goal was to make Obama a one term President; and with that statement a do nothing Congress reminiscent of the Truman era was born.
But as the year moved along, time and time again the misguided intransigence exhibited by this Congress has only served to bolster the President’s popularity.  In fact it can be argued that the actions of this Congress may be the number one reason why the President gains a second term.
Take the recent events surrounding the wildly popular payroll tax cuts.
Yesterday the House voted 229-193 to request negotiations with the Senate on renewing the payroll tax cuts for another year.  The Senate had already approved a bill extending the cuts for two months to allow Congress more time to negotiate a long term deal.  The Senate Democrats had given on a number of their ideological points to get a compromise put into law.  They gave on a tax increase for millionaires to fund the bill.  They gave on a procedural issue to move the Keystone Pipeline forward; and they gave on the length of the extension.  39 Republican Senators agreed that it was a good compromise, and joined Democrats in passing the measure 89-10.  Speaker Boehner called the compromise a “win”; citing the Pipeline provision as something Republicans really wanted.
But that wasn’t good enough for the small group of Tea Party freshman who control the House and tell the Speaker what to do.  They refused to even vote on the Senate bill knowing full well it would pass and give the President a win.  So rather than cast an unpopular “No” vote on giving tax cuts to Americans; the House voted to send the bill to committee to renegotiate with the Senate.  That will be tough to do since Senate Majority Leader Reid has sent his troops home for the holidays.  Reid responded to the House vote saying that there was no need for a conference as the Senate had already passed a bill with bi-partisan support.  Boehner was last seen ducking into a cloakroom denying he had ever supported the Senate bill.
The Republican Party is being held hostage by a small group of Tea Party freshman who will go to any length to block this President.  Time and time again they have quashed agreements in principle between the Speaker and the President much to the embarrassment of the party.  One need only look back to the deficit negotiations, where Boehner was forced to walk away from a highly publicized agreement with the President. Or the “debt ceiling” negotiations where Tea Party stubbornness resulted in a downgrade in the country’s credit rating.  Boehner’s inability to control his caucus has hurt the country, hurt his party and raised questions within his caucus about his leadership ability.
The Republicans cannot seem to get on the same page and their disjointed approach is having a negative effect on their candidate’s chances for the Presidency.  According to several polls released today, the President would win a head to head contest with Mitt Romney or Ron Paul 52%-45%.  He would defeat Newt Gingrich by 16%.  The President’s approval rating stands at 49%; which is remarkable given the state of the economy.  Meanwhile, the Republican held Congress, who in January held a poor 29% approval rating, has seen those numbers tank to an abysmal 11%.
Whether these numbers remain constant until the November elections, or whether something can give one of the Republican candidates enough of a surge to defeat the President, is anybody’s guess.  But one thing is certain.  The American people do not approve of the way this Congress conducts its business.  And if Republicans continue along this path they will pay a heavy price at the polls next  November.               

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Working For The People

It’s looking more and more likely that 160 million Americans are going to see their annual take home pay reduced by an average of $1,000 come the first of the year.
Unable to control their Tea Party members, Republicans on the House Rules Committee voted to prevent a direct vote on a bi-partisan Senate bill to extend the payroll tax cuts for two months.  The bill had already passed in the Senate by an overwhelming 89-10 vote.
It appears that the rules committee may vote to refer the matter to a conference committee in the hope of reaching a compromise with the Senate.
Confused?  Who wouldn’t be?  Here is what really happened.
Boehner told Senate Minority Leader McConnell that he could get his caucus to approve a bi-partisan bill approved by the Senate.  He even praised its passage.  Then he tried to sell the bill to his caucus.  Once again, the Tea Party members refused to comply.  Faced with the knowledge that he had lost control of his caucus (again) Boehner is scrambling to avoid the stink that will land on him and his party if the Tea Part intransigence leads to a tax increase for 160 million Americans.  So to save face, instead of voting “No” on a two month extension of the tax cuts the House will probably issue a “sense of the house" resolution (what?) SUPPORTING a ONE YEAR extension of the tax cuts.  Their feeling is that a “positive” statement will play better in the press than a “negative” vote.
Are you kidding?  160 million Americans are looking at a tax hike and all the House members are worried about is “making a positive statement” to cover their ass.
Ladies and gentlemen…your United States Congress!  Sleep well tonight because Congress is looking out for your best interests.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Episode of The Sitcom "Washington Is Broken"

The long running sitcom “Washington Is Broken” aired this past weekend.  The plot centers on how Democrats and Republicans continue to put party, politics and job preservation ahead of the will of the people.
The episode starts with the President giving another eloquent stump speech to Democratic supporters.  “We need to reduce the deficit.” he says. (Applause)  “We need to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.” (More applause)  “We need to create jobs and put Americans back to work.” (Cheers)  “And we need to stop playing politics and do the peoples’ business...RIGHT NOW.”  (The crowd erupts)
The scene then shifts to the White House where the President and his staff are debating whether to support the Keystone pipeline.  The Keystone pipeline will carry oil sands from Canada to Texas.  The construction project alone will create thousands of jobs.  It will reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil; and it will not add one penny to the deficit.  Oil barons love the idea.  Conservationists hate it.  The President likes the pipeline.  But the staff warns that with the expectation of a very close election in 2012 it would be risky to choose this time to alienate the conservationists.  A decision is made…the President will delay support of the pipeline until 2013…after his second term is secured.
After a commercial break the scene moves to the Capitol where Republicans are debating an extension of the payroll tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of the year.  The Republicans hate tax increases.  Most of them have signed a pledge to never, ever, ever vote for a tax increase for as long as they live.  They have defeated every Democratic proposal to increase taxes on their breadwinners…the rich.  They have argued that increasing taxes during this weak economy is the worst thing they Congress can do.  If the payroll tax cuts are not extended the result will amount to an average annual tax INCREASE of $1,000 per wage earner.  But Republicans decide to block the payroll tax cut extension even though it will increase taxes on most Americans.  Why?  Because the tax increase would mostly fall on the middle class…not the “rich job creators” that Republicans work so hard to protect.  And the last thing Republicans want to do is give Democrats and Obama a big “win” right before the election.
And so ends another episode of “Washington Is broken.”
Tune in today and watch as Speaker Boehner performs his version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  On Saturday the Speaker voiced his approval of the Senate’s passage of a short term extension of the payroll tax cuts.  Watch now as Boehner moves to block the very same bill as it moves back to the House.         

GI Bill Stll Paying Dividends

We usually channel surf whenever a program breaks for commercial.  But we saw one this morning that gave us pause.

The ad is promoting MSNBC’s “Last Word with Lawrence O’ Donnell.”  O’ Donnell is seen reflecting on the end of WWII.  He says (paraphrasing):  At the end of WWII millions of GI’s returned home looking to start their lives.  The GI Bill gave them the opportunity to get the college education they could never have afforded on their own.  Many GI’s used that education to make a better living and in turn provide their children with a better education.  My father was educated thanks to the GI bill.   He used  that education to make a better living and send his five children to college. 

He concludes by saying: The GI Bill is one of the most successful government programs in our history.  The critics called it welfare.

What O’Donnell doesn’t say is that many of today's conservatives who complain about the socialist state and the welfare programs were able to achieve their success thanks to an education provided by their parents…parents who got a leg up thanks to the GI Bill.    

Friday, December 16, 2011

146.4 Million Americans Living In Poverty

According to a recently released report by the US Census Bureau, 146.4 million Americans are now living below the poverty line.  That’s 48% of the country.
The newly anointed members of the “poor class” are not crack heads, bums and scam artists.  They are hard working middle class Americans who through no fault of their own find themselves unemployed and unable to meet their obligations.
These startling numbers are further proof that the middle class in this country is disappearing right before our very eyes.  Due to the largest job loss in over 70 years, the gap between the haves and the have nots is growing ever wider.  The American Dream is fast becoming little more than a pipe dream.  If we lose the middle class we lose the very cornerstone of what this country is all about.
They say that information is power.  So now that we have this information…what are we as a society going to do about it?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Iraq War Officially Ends

Today is Thursday December 15, 2011.  At 5:00 AM eastern time in the city of Baghdad the United States military command lowered its colors and officially brought to a close the military operations in Iraq.  After 8 years, 8 months and 25 days the war in Iraq is over. What began with “Shock and Awe” on March 20, 2003 ended this morning with a somber ceremony at the Baghdad airport.
Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, presided over the ceremony.  He praised the troops for their efforts and their sacrifice.  He said that they were leaving behind a stable, sovereign country led by a democratically elected government.
The President addressed the troops at Fort Bragg.  Their unit, the 82nd, was the first unit in and the last combat unit to leave the Iraqi theater.  For almost 9 years each and every one of them knew someone who stood in harm’s way.  The President, on behalf of a grateful nation, welcomed them home.
Back home the critics wasted no time blasting the President’s decision to withdraw the combat troops.  Senator John McCain took his familiar position at the head of the war hawks, stating that the President’s decision to withdraw was based more on his election timetable than the conditions on the ground.  Critics fear that the country is too unstable and too susceptible to Iranian influence.  They fear that our lack of military presence will cost us all that we have gained.  Their concerns are valid.
The fact is that the Iraqi government and the country are in a very precarious position, and things are not as rosy there as our government might have us believe.  Unemployment is high.  Raw sewage still runs through the streets of Baghdad and most areas have electricity for only a few hours a day.  We have trained over 700,000 Iraqi security forces but the police force is poorly trained and ill equipped.   Sectarian violence and civil war are a very real possibility.  The democratically elected government that we are so proud of is populated by a number of sectarian factions; the most prominent of which is extremely hostile to our interests.  And the Iranian influence that critics fear will surface is already there.  Fifteen flights a day travel from Baghdad to Iran…more than any other country by far.  And if you hail a taxi you will almost certainly find yourself driven by an Iranian driver.
The critics say that these facts are evidence that we are leaving too soon.  But they cannot say with certainty that the conditions will be any different if we leave next year or five or ten years from now.
There are those that believe that we should maintain a permanent military presence in the Middle East.  Led by McCain, Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyle, they believe that we should invade Syria, bomb the nuclear facilities in Iran and remove the Palestinian threat to Israel.  They portray those who follow their lead as patriots and those who disagree as weak and lacking love of country. These people recklessly spout their venom with little understanding of the toll that this unnecessary war has had on our society.
For while the future of Iraq is by no means certain there is one thing that seems quite clear.  No matter what course history has in store for Iraq it will never be worth the 4,850 dead, 32,000 wounded and over 1 trillion dollars that we invested in that future.

Here We Go Again...

The government will run out of money…again…at midnight Friday evening.  The fix is the passage of a continuing resolution that will fund the government for days, weeks or months depending on the Congressional mood at that time.  When passed this will be the 7th continuing resolution in the past 900+ days.
The holdup stems from the fact that some members of Congress want to tie passing a continuing resolution with extending the payroll tax cut…or approval of the Keystone pipeline…or tax increases on the rich…or any number of other ideological shenanigans that both parties like to use to get what they want.
At risk are federal payroll paychecks, social security checks, unemployment payments, veteran’s benefits, welfare funds and a whole host of other government services that the public counts on receiving each month.
If all of this sounds familiar…it should…because this happens whenever the time period for the last continuing resolution draws to an end.
The reason that Congress has to go through this ridiculous process is because the Senate has not passed a federal budget in over 900+ days.  Why?  Because no one in Congress has the stones to make the tough decisions necessary to pass a realistic, fiscally sound budget.  They just kick the can down the road hoping that someone else will risk his or her political career to do the right thing.
There really is a simple solution to this problem. 
The public should demand passage of a federal law that simply states that if Congress fails to pass an annual budget…then Congress doesn’t get paid.  Perhaps they could forfeit their lucrative health insurance benefits as well. 
Let’s see how they like having their benefits withheld.
After all if there isn’t any money to pay the elderly, the infirmed or the veterans then how can we afford to pay congress their salaries or their other lucrative benefits?
Sounds like a plan…


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NTSB Got This One Right

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has unanimously recommended that all states ban the use of cell phones while driving.  This recommendation comes on the heels of a sharp increase in deadly crashes attributed to the use of cell phones, including one in which a teenager sent or received 11 text messages in 11 minutes before causing the deadly crash.  The teen died in the accident.
Small government conservatives are already lashing out at the recommendation; calling it just another example of big government intrusion into our daily lives.
Rather than get into an ideological debate…let’s just look at the facts.  Let’s start by putting things in perspective.
From 2003-2011 4,484 young men and women died while serving their country in Iraq.  From 2001-2011 1,855 young men and women died while serving their country in Afghanistan.  And on 9/11 3,000+ men and women were murdered in the terrorist attacks.  We are horrified by this senseless loss of life.  We mourn these losses each and every day.  These events changed our culture and forever changed the way we live our daily lives.
From 2002-2007 16,141 people died in car accidents attributed to cell phone usage.  In 2010 alone 3,092 traffic fatalities were attributed to cell phone usage.  Each year 570,000 traffic accidents resulting in minor or serious injury are attributed to cell phone usage. Each of these occurrences could have easily resulted in a fatality.  We are looking at the new DUI.     
Given our horror at the death toll from two wars and the 9/11 tragedy; why do we simply shrug at the carnage occurring on our roads each and every day?
We understand that in our Facebook, Twitter society some people have an obsessive need to feel connected.  We know people who even have a name for this phenomenon.  They call it FOMO…Fear of Missing Out.   To be without a cell phone even for a brief period leaves many in a state of panic.  Some people do not even know how to turn the damn things off.  The cell phone has become like another appendage…a third arm or leg that we cannot do without.
We would never condone a brain surgeon texting while conducting an operation.  And we would be horrified if a policeman tweeted while brandishing his firearm.  So why do we allow people to text, tweet or gab while propelling a two ton missile down a crowded highway at high speed?
This is not about ideology or big brother.  This is about public safety and the common good. 
NTSB got this one right.     

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Orgainzed Efforts To Alter Elections Are Working

For those of us who are political junkies the battle being waged by the Republican candidates is must see TV.  The televised debates, the gamesmanship and the personal attacks are emblematic of all that is good…and bad…about our political process.
But while the candidates are cooking up new ways to make their case in the national press; there is a pot boiling on the back burner that has a real stench about it.
Republicans are very concerned about voter fraud playing a major part in the upcoming elections.  Their angst stems from the large influx of illegal immigrants flooding across our borders…IE: Mexicans.  Legalized Latino voters typically vote Democrat.  Republicans believe that these illegal immigrants somehow will flock to the polls and sway what promises to be a tight race in favor of the Democratic candidates.  Therefore Republicans have moved to enact tougher voter ID laws in over half the states.  They say these laws are needed to protect against double voting, non-citizen voting, fictitious voter registration and voter impersonation.
For those of you that don’t speak the language of “ideology” allow us to translate.  What Republicans are really trying to do is make it as difficult as possible for minorities and lower income families, who typically vote Democrat, to cast their votes.
Don’t believe us?  Google “voter fraud statistics” and read the findings.
Every statistical survey conducted during the past decade shows that voter fraud is wildly exaggerated.  During the last election cycle, out of over 30 million votes, there were 9 convictions of voter fraud.  During that same period 382 people were struck by lightning.  And the new voter ID laws would have not had any effect on those nine convictions.  Voter fraud occurs countrywide at a rate of 0.00004% of the votes cast.  Most of these are for failure to properly complete the necessary voter registration paperwork.  Voter fraud is nothing more than a hyped up scheme designed to discourage traditionally Democratic voters from going to the polls.
These efforts seem to be working.  According to the latest USATODAY/GALLUP daily tracking poll, the number of registered Democratic voters has dropped by 5% since the last election cycle while the number of registered Republican voters has increased by a like percentage.
In addition to tamping down voter turnout; Republicans are looking for any other means possible to sway the upcoming election in their favor.  In those states where Republicans control the state legislatures there are organized efforts to redraw the local voting districts to favor Republican candidates.  For example, Ohio is the home state of Republican House Speaker John Boehner.  According to public records obtained by the voter advocate group: Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, Mr. Tom Whatman, executive director of Team Boehner, the political wing of the speaker’s office, participated in the redistricting process with map making consultants, the National Republican Congressional Committee and various other legislative leaders including Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus.
  The report found that redistricting decisions were not made in public, public input was ignored , there was limited opportunity for the public to review proposed maps, the public was not provided relevant data for the proposed districts, nonpartisan redistricting criteria were not used and the criteria used to evaluate the plans were never publically identified.  The two people hired to draw the maps were each paid $105,000 for 14 weeks work.  They were in touch with the National Republican Congressional Committee on a daily basis.
Much like the aforementioned voter ID laws; these redistricting efforts seem to be working as well.  A number of incumbent House Democrats have already stated that they will not seek re-election; citing new redistricting laws and an atmosphere in Washington that is hostile toward moving the country forward.  Most notably Massachusetts Representative and House Finance Committee Chair, Barney Frank has announced that he will not run for re-election.  A long time advocate for progressive ideals, Frank cited the new redistricting laws within his state, and said that he could be more effective working outside Washington than battling within the current system.
There is a concerted effort in this country to alter the election process and deprive citizens of their right to vote.  While the circus that is on display in front of the cameras may be good for a few laughs; what is going on behind the curtain is no laughing matter.     

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Bailout That Worked

The new issue of Time magazine has an extraordinary piece on the resurrection of the American auto industry.
It was only a few short years ago that the American auto industry was written off and given up for dead.  In the true spirit of capitalism most Republicans and a few Democrats wanted to let the auto giants fall by the wayside.  Survival of the fittest was the cry.  The ramifications of adding 3 million laid off workers to the welfare rolls seemingly lost on the purists.
The Bush and Obama administrations correctly understood the disastrous effect an auto industry collapse would have on an already staggering economy.  They instituted what would turn out to be one of the largest and most successful stimulus plans in our history.  Buoyed by government loans, management and the UAW found common ground for the common good.  The industry rebounded and the country was spared the loss of a pillar of our American culture.   
By June of 2009 the American taxpayers had invested $80.3 billion dollars to save the auto industry and the 3 million jobs which depended on its survival.
On May 24, 2011 Chrysler paid back the last of the outstanding debt plus interest…six years ahead of schedule.
Today Chrysler sales are up 23% and they posted a $5 billion dollar profit. General Motors has realized a 7% increase in sales.  And Ford Motor Company, which did not take any bailout money, is up 13%.  The industry expects to generate 200,000 new jobs over the next several years.
At a time when there is so much negativity about our government and our economy it’s nice to know that government, management and labor can work together to revive an American industry.

Inept Congress Dithering Over Ideological BS

Here are two relatively obscure examples of why Congress may very possibly be the most inept governing body on the face of the planet.
You may recall that we had a banking crisis in this country back in 2008.  Many of the major financial institutions had participated in lending practices that were so risky, so unethical and so vast in scope that their failure threatened to bring down the entire economy.  Many of these major banks were on the verge of collapse.  Had they failed they would have taken the economy down with them.  So the government stepped in and bailed them out with a $700 billion bailout. 
 As you might imagine Congress thought it would be a good idea to make sure that the opportunity for such malfeasance never happens again.  So the Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill.  Included in the bill was the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The purpose of the bureau was to regulate consumer credit, mortgages, and other financial products.
The President appointed Elizabeth Warren to head the bureau.  Ms. Warren is an American bankruptcy expert, Harvard Law School professor and chairwoman of the oversight committee that managed the 2008 bailout.  She is more than qualified to chair the bureau.
Republicans do not like regulators.  Therefore Republicans do not like Dodd-Frank or the CFPB.  They feel Dodd-Frank is too broad in scope and might impair the ability of their banking buddies to operate profitably.  And they claim that the Dodd-Frank bill eviscerates fundamental constitutional principles.  They also realized that the CFPB could not legally begin to perform its oversight duties until a chairperson was confirmed by Congress. 
So Republicans blocked the appointment of Elizabeth Warren to head the CFPB.  The President acquiesced and withdrew Me. Warren’s name for consideration and nominated former Ohio attorney General Richard Cordray for the post.  Republicans say they will block his nomination as well.
So to summarize…the United States Congress passes a bill.  The President of the United States signs it into law.  Then members of that same Congress, alleging the evisceration of fundamental constitution principles, eviscerate constitutional principles by arbitrarily blocking the execution of a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States.  Got it?
Meanwhile the banking industry continues to operate under the same rules that allowed it to bring down the economy.  Got it!   
(Footnote:  Elizabeth Warren is apparently having the last laugh.  She currently leads incumbent Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race for Ted Kennedy’s old seat.)
Here is another example.
In September of 2010 the President appointed Marie Carmen Aponte Ambassador to El Salvador.  The Republicans are not fond of Ms. Aponte primarily because the President took advantage of a rule that allows him to make appointments during a Congressional recess without going through the process of a confirmation hearing.  Congress is still required to confirm her and assuming that she has done nothing illegal, confirmation would normally be a formality. 
Ms. Aponte is apparently very good at her job and has no evidence of witchcraft or other illicit behavior in her back round.  
Unfortunately, on June 28 Ms. Aponte took it upon herself to write an op-ed in La Prensa Grafica, one of the daily newspapers in El Salvador.  Ms. Aponte, responding to a State Department cable to all ambassadors worldwide urging them to recognize gay pride month, wrote in part: “No one should be subjected to aggression because of who he is or who he loves.  Homophobia and brutal hostility are often based on lack of understanding of what it truly means to be gay or transgender.  To avoid negative perceptions, we must work together with education and support for those facing those who promote hatred.”
Republican Senator Jim DeMitt and a few of his homophobic cronies have stated that they will withhold support for Ms. Aponte’s confirmation due to her stance on what they refer to as aberrant behavior.
With all the important problems facing our country…a failing economy, two wars, rampant unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and mounting debt…you would think Congress would have better ways to spend its time then dithering over this ideological bulls--t.                 

Newt Blowing Away The Field

CNN and QUINNIPIAC released some mind boggling poll numbers this morning that have folks in the Romney Campaign and the White House a bit rattled.
CNN shows Newt leading Romney in Iowa 33% to 20%.  In South Carolina CNN has Newt pounding Romney 43% to 20%.  And in the important swing state of Florida CNN has Newt blowing away Romney 48% to 25%.  Adding credence to the CNN numbers is a QUINNIPIAC poll in the swing state of Ohio that shows Newt hammering Romney 55% to 28%.
But the most telling poll of them all is the QUINNIPIAC poll that shows Newt leading the President 43% to 42% in Ohio.  In spite of all his baggage Newt is in a statistical tie with the President in what has historically been the most important state in the election process.
Political pundits believe that this is a Newt bubble that will eventually burst.  They feel that once people start really delving into the substance of these candidates voters will find that when it comes to policy Newt very rarely practices what he preaches.
Establishment Republicans are hoping the pundits are right.  They believe that they have a very real chance of taking the House, the Senate and the White House.  They see Newt’s nomination as a disaster for local Republican candidates; and they don’t believe that he can defeat the President in a general election.  They are hoping that Romney can find it within himself to show some fight. 
Romney’s reserved and stoic demeanor has not served him well.  Newt’s combative personality has resonated with the voters.  Romney is going to have to demonstrate that he wants the job badly enough to leave his comfort zone and go toe to toe with Newt.
It was just a few short weeks ago that Newt’s campaign was dead in the water.  His staff had abandoned him.  He was drowning in debt.  His bombast and loose cannon mouth had brought him nothing but trouble.  Today he is riding the wave…leading the polls.  Whether he can maintain this momentum and raise enough money to fight off the well funded Romney onslaught that is about to rain down upon him remains to be seen.
Newt’s rise in the polls feels different to us than the similar rise of Bachmann, Perry or Cain.  It’s hard to put a finger on just why…but it does feel different.  More real!
If nothing else these poll numbers show us that people are very, very angry and dissatisfied with the way Washington is run; and Newt has surged at just the right time to take advantage of that unrest.  In 2008 voters turned on the Republican Washington establishment and elected a black Democratic outsider to the White house.  In 2010 they expressed their dissatisfaction once again by sweeping away the Democrats and giving Republicans control of the House.  Will similar changes be in store in 2012?   

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's About Fairness

It’s hard to read a newspaper or watch a televised news program without being bombarded with quotes and sound bites vilifying the Occupy Wall Street movement.  If you can get past the slurs of “dirty”, “lazy”, “Marxist” and “Socialist” you find that the overriding complaint against OWS centers on “class warfare against the rich” and “redistribution of wealth.”  One pundit went so far as to say that if government redistributes the wealth of the hard working rich it takes away their incentive to create the products that make society better for everyone.  He went on to say that the blame for the disparity between the rich and the “99%ers” lies with those who plunk down their $10 and $20 to buy the products that make the rich…rich.
These comments are little more than ideological nonsense that completely miss the point that OWS and the Obama administration are trying to make.
No one begrudges the rich their “richness.”  In the material girl society that we live in it is what most people aspire to be…rich.  The objection is to the unlevel playing field on which the game is played.  The objection is that the same rules don’t apply to everyone. 
If you are going to bust Joe Bag O’ Donuts for holding a dime bag of weed then why does the President of Citigroup, who fraudulently certifies inflated financial statements, get off scot free?  If you are going to throw Joe Six Pack out of his home for failing to pay his mortgage then why do you bail out banks that can’t meet their obligations to depositors?  And why are those failing banks allowed to spend that bailout money on employee bonuses for a job well done?  Why do you cut jobs, reduce benefits, freeze wages and outlaw collective bargaining rights on the middle class but ask nothing of those who have benefited most from the hard work of that same middle class?  And why are you talking about cutting entitlement programs that the middle class depends on while continuing to provide tax loopholes and subsidies to the most affluent?
Yesterday, the President gave a very populist speech that many are calling his first re-election speech of the campaign.  In his remarks he addressed the inequities between the top 1% earners and the rest of the country.  He called for a fair and equal playing field that allows everyone to achieve all that is within them.  His rhetoric, as usual, was eloquent and inspirational.  If only he had offered the specifics of how he proposes to achieve that equality.  Sadly, he did not.
We understand that fame and fortune buys you the best table at the coolest new restaurant.  We get it!  But that is not what this is about.  It’s about fairness…and a belief that the same rules should apply to everyone…no matter your station in life.
There is a song that says: “happiness on earth ain’t just for high achievers.”  Most of the country would disagree.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Newt's Surge Draws Concerns Within The Party

The Iowa Caucuses will be held four weeks from today and Newt Gingrich is lapping the field.  Recent polls show that Newt has surged to a 15 point lead in Iowa and 18 points in South Carolina; nearly doubling runner-up, Mitt Romney.  Never in the history of the Republican Party has a candidate with so much baggage pulled off such a remarkable resurrection.
Newt’s meteoric rise in the polls has generated a mixed response from within the Republican Party.  “Establishment Republicans”, who know Newt, fear that his candidacy would be a disaster and would ultimately destroy the party.  They see Newt’s personal failings and bombastic personality as easy pickings for the Democrats.  They see attack ads playing some of Newt’s more outrageous and incendiary comments followed by the question: “Is this the man you want negotiating with China or going toe to toe with Iran?”  There are already rumblings from “establishment Republicans” with big money that Newt’s candidacy would signal the need for a brokered convention with hopes of attracting a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie into the fray.
But the rank and file Republican voters see another side of Newt.  They see the guy who spearheaded the first Republican control of the congress in a generation. They see the guy who as Speaker passed Welfare Reform and balanced the budget.  And they see a guy who, unlike Romney, they believe can go toe to toe with Obama in a debate.
With only 30 days until the caucuses the Newt campaign is snowballing and rolling rapidly downhill toward Iowa.  Mitt Romney needs to figure out how to stop it before it runs him over.