Saturday, April 30, 2011

Letter To Texas Governor Rick Perry

Dear Governor Perry,
We saw your interview on the news last night and frankly we were surprised by your comments.
The reporter was asking you about the wildfires that have destroyed over 2 million acres of your fine state.  In your response you criticized the federal government’s “failure to provide the assistance that your state needs in this time of crisis.”  “It’s funny, you said, they take care of Alabama but do nothing for Texas.”  Wow!  Were you really complaining that you and your constituents were not being properly cared for by the federal government?  That is so unlike you!
After all, are you not the same Governor Perry who over the past two years campaigned against “big government and its interference into the lives of Texans?”  Are you not the same Governor Perry who ridiculed the “nanny state that we have become?”  Are you not the same Governor Perry who said that the only federal government you wanted was “one small enough to drown in the bathtub.”  And are you not the same Governor Perry who threatened to “secede from the union if the feds didn’t quit meddling in your state affairs?”  We are pretty certain that was you.
We are also certain that while you were making those hyperbolic statements you and your fellow Texans were requesting and receiving more money in federal hand outs than any other state in the union accept California.
With all due respect, Governor, you are a liar and a hypocrite.
If you and your fellow Longhorns want to leave, that’s fine.  But before you do there are a few things that you might want to consider:
-You will need to find a way to replace Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid because 70% of your constituents want them left just the way they are. 
-You will need to find a way to make sure that the water you drink and the air you breathe is safe.   The air will get a bit murky what with all the pickup trucks and oil wells.
-And don’t forget the prescriptions.  You’ll have to figure out how to make certain they are safe as well. 
-Food safety shouldn’t be a problem because ya’all hunt. 
-And you probably won’t need any cops because ya’all got guns.  You Texans do like your guns…yesssir, you do.   
-Your folks will have to pay for their own education; but you can figure that out later.
-And you will have to build toll booths on all of your interstates because that is the only way you will be able to afford the repairs.  We can’t figure out how you’ll maintain the surface streets…but dirt roads aren’t so bad and you don’t need to fix them.
-You will have to figure out how to replace the EPA and FEMA because those oil guys can be sloppy at times.
-You’ll be able to build a fine wall to keep out all those pesky Mexicans and you’ll be able send the ones you already have back home.  But then we’re not sure who will pick your crops, muck your stalls or mend your fences.
-Life will be so much simpler because you can do away with unemployment benefits, the welfare department, housing and urban development, Planned Parenthood and all those other irritating social programs that just make folks lazy.  Of course all of those folks will need jobs.  Hmmm!  Maybe you can just send them packing with the Mexicans.
-And you won’t have to establish a military because, well, ya’all got guns…yessir you do.
So go ahead and leave Governor Perry; and take those foolish enough to have elected you as well.  But before you go hand over the “Take Care of Me” hotline number that you have so frequently dialed in the past.  The big, bad federal government won't be taking your calls any more.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Day Of Celebration

If you were not one of the 2 billion people who watched today’s Royal Wedding you missed a truly uplifting event.  The celebration of the union of Prince William and the now Princess Catherine marked the first time that a “commoner” married into the royal family since 1660.  The future King of England took as his future Queen a young woman whose parents are entrepreneurs and whose ancestors were coal miners.  The significance of this union was not lost on the British people.
Hundreds of thousands flocked to the streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of the happy couple.  At a time when the country is suffering through very difficult economic times the wedding offered the Brits an opportunity to forget the difficulties of the day and celebrate their heritage and their hope for the future.  This was a day for the British people; and they were not disappointed.
As we watched the events unfold we were struck by a couple of things that played out behind the scenes.
The US media coverage in the days leading up to the event was filled with cynicism.  Even during the early portions of the day’s coverage sarcasm was commonplace throughout the reporting.   We Americans do not understand the fascination with the Royals; and as is typical with all things that are “Non-American” we tend to view them through the prism of inferiority.  Today was no exception.  But as the day’s events unfolded the tone changed completely.  Crazy as it seems, the sarcasm and cynicism gave way to exclamations of joy and happiness as the reporters were genuinely swept up by the moment.  Normally stoic journalists were brought to tears.  One typically sarcastic talking head was heard to comment over the airwaves: “this is a fairy tale”.  While this behavior may not be professional it offers the best example of the mood that swept through all who were there.  It was truly a magical event that brought a sense of hope for the future.  There is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating that.
The other thing that was striking had nothing to do with the Royal family.
We tend to forget that today a young man was married.  This is a young man who tragically lost his mother at a very early age.  This is a young man who was forced to grieve that terrible loss under the ever probing eye of the media.  A man who along with his brother was forced to build around himself “a circle of trust”; that small group of individuals who he could let in without fear of reprisal.  An angry youth, a rebellious teen,  a distrustful young adult; this is a man who after a ten year courtship finally found security and comfort in his now and future bride.  This is a man not unlike any other; except this young man bears the weight of his country’s expectations on his shoulders. 
We watched history being made today.  And we as Americans should view these events with respect rather than cynicism. We should join with the Brits in their celebration; for it was not that long ago that we too were subjects of that same monarchy.  Nobody does pomp and circumstance like the Brits and they were doing it centuries before anyone landed on Plymouth Rock.
But even if you cannot bring yourself celebrate all things Royal; then celebrate the fact that a fine young man got married today.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Extraordinary Day In American Politics

Yesterday was quite an extraordinary day in American politics.
The President of the United States conducted a press conference during which he, with great fanfare, released the long- form of his birth certificate.  The President stated that the country had more important things to do than debate his birthright.  He then rushed off to conduct an interview with Oprah.
Real estate and media mogul Donald Trump took full credit for the President’s disclosure.  “I did a very good job on this…I have done a great service to the American people… I was told everyone wanted to see it and I was the only one that got him to do it….I got him to do something that nobody else could and I take great credit for that.”  He then began to question the validity of the President’s college transcripts.
The President’s political opponents immediately shifted gears.  After two plus years of questioning the President’s citizenship and demanding concrete proof of the legitimacy of his Presidency; they called his releasing of the birth certificate a distraction from more important matters. 
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said: “The President ought to spend his time getting serious about repairing our economy, working with Republicans and focusing on the long-term sustainability of Medicare, Medicaid and Social security.  Unfortunately his campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him for our No. 1 priority…our economy.”
Never one to miss a chance in the spotlight; Sarah Palin tweeted that the media should not let: “the WH distract you w/the birth crt” from stories like the public comments of Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
A London newspaper “The Independent” summed it up best with a headline referring to yesterday as: “The Day America Took Leave of Its Senses”
All of this begs the question… why did the President give in to his critics and release his birth certificate…and why now and not months ago?   
The birther movement has taken hold in America.  Nearly 25% of Americans believe that the President was born in another country; and 45% of Republicans say they agree.  The movement had also begun to erode the support of independents and the elderly; groups critical to the President’s re-election.  The White house feared that when a legitimate Republican challenger emerged from the primaries he or she would be allowed to remain above the fray; appearing reasonable while the Tea Party folks ginned up the birther controversy.
The White House believed that this was also a good time to take the offensive.  They saw that by releasing the Presdient’s birth certificate they could discredit the birthers.  At the same time they could attach the radical and now discredited birthers to the mainstream Republicans…Republicans that support the very radical, Medicare killing Ryan economic plan.  The White House saw an opportunity to score political points; and they took it.
The White House was also concerned about Trump.  As one pundit said: “Trump has become the Joe McCarthy of our time.”  He is willing to repeat outrageous accusations without any factual basis in order to promote his agenda…himself.    While Trump is a shameless, self promoting windbag who will never be elected President; his constant belaboring of the birth certificate issue was gaining more and more traction.  The White House remembered the “Swift Boating “of presidential candidate John Kerry.  They were not going to allow Trump to “Swift Boat” candidate Obama.
But all of this misses the larger point.
There is one other aspect to this that few in the media are willing to report.  Would any of this have happened if the President were not of African American decent?  If Barak Obama had the same international upbringing, excelled at the same Ivy League schools, were elected President of the Harvard Law Review, State Senator and President of the United States and was white; would this controversy have ever occurred?  Would his accomplishments not have been hailed as a shining example of the American Dream?  Or would his birthright and collegial matriculation have undergone the same intense scrutiny?  Doubtful!
From our prospective, yesterday was a day in which the Presidency was marginalized.  The most powerful office in the world was somehow lessened by a ridiculous political movement.  It is a movement that has at its core a deep seated resentment; a resentment that continues to fester within the underbelly of our society.
Looking back, it was quite an extraordinary day in American politics.  It might in some ways have been funny were it not so sad.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Costly Addiction To Oil Continues

There are very few things that can raise the ire of the American public like an increase in the price of a gallon of gas.  Oh, we will debate heatedly over the right to choose, spar vociferously over our foreign policy and reach the point of fisticuffs over gun control, but nothing, nothing raises our collective dander like the escalating price of gas. 
We are obsessed with it.  We will drive miles out of our way for the satisfaction of saving pennies on the dollar.  We will cancel the family vacation rather than spend an extra few dollars on fuel.  We will base the major purchase of a new car to a large extent on its gas consumption.  We will properly inflate our tires, remove excess weight from the trunk and seek more fuel efficient routes to work, all to save a few miles per gallon.
 Polls show that many Americans view the quality of American life through the prism of the price at the pump.  The lower the price the more satisfied we are with the way we live.  And historically the popularity of the sitting President declines as the price of gasoline rises; even though practically he can do nothing about the cost.
The price of gas affects our psyche.  It alters our moods.  It affects our very way of life.  We are addicted to it and yet we do nothing to break our selves free from its power.
As the price at the pump reaches $4.00/gallon we hear more and more discussion about our dependency on oil.  The most recent salvo involves the outrage over the $4 billion dollars in subsidies that we give to the big oil companies.  The vitriol will grow even louder tomorrow when big oil is expected to announce record breaking quarterly profits.
 This weeping and gnashing of teeth is nothing but political noise.  It is the same noise that we heard when gasoline reached $3.00/gallon.  It is the same noise that we heard when the BP oil spill coated our shores.  Nothing has changed.  
 And nothing will change until we develop a comprehensive alternative energy policy that weans us from oil once and for all.  Until then our costly addiction to oil will continue and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.        

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Connecting The Dots

It is hard to fathom how the current events in the Middle East and northern Africa could have any bearing on the welfare state here in the US.  But yesterday the media reported on two seemingly unrelated events that if history is any indication will be inexorably linked in the future.
The Associated Press reports that in light of the escalation of violence in Syria the State Department has ordered personnel at the US Embassy in Damascus to leave the country and has encouraged all Americans in the country to do the same.  The White House has stepped up its condemnation of President Bashar Assad’s regime and has begun to draw up sanctions against the president, his family and his inner circle to pressure them into halting the aggression.
Does this sound familiar…it should.  We have seen this strategy before.  First the government issues statements of righteous indignation.  Then economic sanctions designed to pressure the offender to back off are put into place.  Next comes the rally speech before NATO, the insertion of CIA Special Ops personnel, implementation of a no fly zone, strategic bombing of command and control installations and finally boots on the ground.  This is what we do as self proclaimed protector of the planet.
The seemingly unrelated story concerns American’s growing dependence on government assistance.
USA Today reports the Americans depended more on government assistance in 2010 than any time in our history.  A record 18.3 % of the nation’s total personal income was from the government in the form of Social security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and other social programs.  The report states that actual wages accounted for 51% of our income; the lowest share since the government began keeping track in 1929.  This trend shows no signs of easing especially with 77 million baby boomers just beginning to access Medicare and Social Security benefits.
So how are these two events related?
Congress is currently debating measures to decrease spending and cut our nation’s growing deficit.  The focus has been on cutting entitlements.  The Republicans have offered a solution which focuses on slashing entitlements and social programs while maintaining the current Bush tax cuts.  At the same time they have encouraged the President to ramp up efforts in Libya, maintain our operations in Afghanistan and take a strong stand in Syria. And the Republicans are not alone.  The President seems to be pressuring Iraq into letting us stay past the end of the year while the Iraqi government want us out.
A large percentage of the world has grown comfortable with America operating as the world’s protector.  Many nations have grown accustomed to outsourcing their military budgets to the US.  This is a phenomenon that started when an economically weak Western Europe needed American assistance to hold off the advances of first Nazi Germany and then Communist Russia.   But Western Europe is no longer weak and Nazi Germany and Communist Russia no longer exist.  We need to stop providing military subsidies to the rest of the world.  We need to spend that money here at home. 
There is no question that our entitlement programs need to be fixed.  But slashing benefits at a time when a rapidly growing number of our aging population need medical services, are having difficulty finding jobs or are reaching retirement age is not the answer.  The problem is the exorbitant cost of our health care delivery system and until Congress is willing to go up against the doctors, the hospitals and the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries the cost of entitlements will continue to soar.  Slashing health care benefits is easy but cruel.  Bucking “Big Pharm” and the powerful insurance lobby is the difficult but the right thing to do.
Democrats and Republicans talk a great deal about spending cuts, deficit reduction and foreign policy strategy.  But they don’t seem interested in discussing the one thing that they both promised to provide…jobs, job, and jobs.  If you lower unemployment you also lower the amount the government pays in unemployment benefits, food stamps and other social programs.  So how do we increase jobs?
One way is by rebuilding our crumbling, outdated infrastructure.  Former Pennsylvania Governor and current MSNBC contributor, Ed Rendell said we could rebuild and modernize our entire infrastructure including light rail and broadband connectivity for $110 billion per year.  So where do we get $110 billion?  The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost American taxpayers $150 billion per year.  Just think of the new jobs and the increase in business and commerce that we would generate by modernizing our infrastructure.  Just think of the lives that would be spared if we were no longer at war in the Middle East.  It seems like a pretty good trade off.
America cannot afford another military conflict.  We cannot afford the three wars in which we are currently engaged.  And every dollar that we spend in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya is a dollar that could be spent here at home.
So you see there is a connection between these two stories.  We have a clear choice.  We can spend the money on modernizing our infrastructure, fixing our entitlement programs and improving the lives of the American taxpayers.  Or we can continue to act as the world’s police force, subsidize the military budgets of half of the world and continue to defend France against the advances of Belarus.                       

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Three Amigos Meet The Three Stooges

In case you may have forgotten, the United States is at war in Libya.  US Special Operation forces are on the ground, US bombs have been dropped on Libyan command and control targets and US Predator drones patrol the air.  The goal is to remove Colonel Gadhafi from power.  What happens afterwards is anybody’s guess. This has been identified as a NATO operation but its success or failure is totally dependent on the extent of US military involvement. 
There are already signs that the operation is failing.  Gadhafi is not interested in leaving.  He has successfully held off the NATO backed rebel advances to the point of a military stalemate.  Our NATO allies are calling for even more US intervention.
Back here in the states sabers are rattling.  Senators McCain, Graham and Lieberman are calling for the President to ramp up his efforts in Libya.  They fear the repercussions of a Gadhafi victory both in terms of US prestige and the subsequent escalation of Libyan sponsored terrorist attacks.  An increase in US activity seems eminent.
We all know that Senators McCain, Graham and Lieberman have never met a war they didn’t like.  You can always count on these Three Amigos to lead the charge for interjecting the US military into every international crisis.  But sometimes their lack of forethought makes them look more like the Three Stooges; for while urging the President to “ramp up” his efforts in Libya they are calling for fiscal economic restraint and drastic budget cuts here at home.
Republicans have always managed to somehow walk the tightrope between fiscal restraint and military aggression.  They are as easily willing to blow things up as they are to cut heating assistance to the poor and elderly.  The fact that McCain, Graham and Lieberman are calling on the President to spend billions in Libya while at the same time refusing to raise the debt ceiling in order to stem government spending seems lost on them.  But then again they are emblematic of many of their party brethren.
This country is broke and Libya is not our war.  If the Three Amigos genuinely fear for our economic survival then spending must be stopped.  Libya is a good place to start.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Actions Speak louder Than Words

The Republican Party has always been about reducing the size of government.  They hate big, intrusive, activist government.  You will find the reduction of government, government spending and de-regulation at the very core of every Republican campaign platform.  It is what they live for.  Their icon Ronald Reagan said it best: “government cannot solve the problem…government is the problem.” 
So it is interesting to see how Republican controlled legislatures actually govern once they take office. Rachel Maddow and her nightly MSNBC news hour have been all over this for the past couple of days.  Her reporting is telling.
In those states where Republican governors have taken office there has been a major shift in the intrusion of their state governments on the lives of the citizenry.  Not less government….but more government.  Government overreach is running rampant in those states where Republicans have seized control.  For example:
25 states have enacted voter registration laws that make it harder to vote.  They require proof of citizenship in the form of birth certificate or passport in order to register to vote.  These laws were passed under the guise of immigration reform but they are in fact designed to make it difficult for blacks and Hispanics, who typically vote Democrat, to register.  Say goodbye to voter registration rallies.
15 states have passed legislation that the state government, not your doctor, will determine whether or not you can have an abortion.  Doctors are provided a script which they must read to you in lieu of counseling.  It is illegal for them to stray from the script.  We thought the right to choose was already law in this country.  Apparently not in these fifteen states
5 states have passed legislation that requires those applying for unemployment benefits to pass a drug test before benefits are paid.  You have to pass a drug test before you can collect the unemployment benefits that you paid for.  
4 states have enacted legislation stripping public employees of their right to collective bargaining.
2 states have passed legislation requiring you to produce proof of citizenship whenever you are stopped by law enforcement.
1 state has passed legislation that allows the state government to take away the citizens’ right to choose their elected officials.  This is where Maddow is at her best.  The Michigan state legislature has passed the Emergency State Takeover Bill.  It allows the state to administer “Financial Marshall Law” by taking over any city, county, municipality or township within its borders.  In essence, for any number of reasons that it deems applicable, the state can overrule your vote and remove your elected officials.  Or they can leave them in place but render them powerless.  The state appoints an Economic Financial Manager who takes over the day to day operations of your town.  The EFM can maintain your little burg or recommend that it be rolled over into a neighboring community.  EFM’s have been used before in other states.  Typically they come in and work with the local officials to correct the management and financial concerns and then they leave.  Not so in Michigan.  The state has already taken over the little town of Benton, Michigan.  Maddow goes into great detail of how Benton, a poor mostly black community with a per capita income of $10,000, stands in the way of a gated luxury home/ golf club development.
These are just a few examples of big, intrusive activist government; all undertaken by newly elected Republican legislatures who had promised to do just the opposite.
 We see this all the time.  Conservatives are great at screaming about the evils of big government.  But after they leave their anti-government rallies they have no problem applying for unemployment benefits or cashing their social security checks.  Did you know that when asked if they supported Paul Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare over 70% of those who identified themselves as conservatives or Tea Party members said “No”.  An actual sign at a Tea Party rally read: KEEP YOUR GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE.  This same hypocrisy can be found in their governing practices as well.
Republicans inside the Washington beltway are great about espousing the virtues of their small government policies.  But what they SAY in Washington in entirely different from what they actually DO back home.  Just ask the folks in Benton, Michigan.
Rachel Maddow’s reporting on this topic is excellent.  Check out the clips on the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW at            

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wanted: The Perserverance To See Things Through

Today marks the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill.  The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed eleven people and precipitated the largest ecological disaster in our nation’s history.   Million of gallons of crude spilled into the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico destroying wildlife and fragile eco systems.  Sugar white beaches were soiled as tar balls washed ashore.  The tourism and fishing industries, the economic bedrocks of the Gulf region, were destroyed.  Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost tens of thousands of small businesses shuttered and eleven families lost their loved ones.  BP set up a $20 billion claims fund and thus far has paid out $3.8 billion in damages. 
Now one year later the tourists are starting to return but in far fewer numbers.  Fishermen are back at work but they cannot sell their catch because the market is still poor.  Biologists are still concerned about the spill’s long term effects on marine life.  They believe that much of the oil still lies on the bottom of the Gulf.  It can be seen rising to the surface along the Louisiana coastline.
So what have we done to make certain that such an event never happens again?  The answer of course is nothing.
A presidential commission and an internal BP report concluded that the disaster was the result of a confluence of technological and managerial failures not likely to occur again.  Stuff happens.  So offshore drilling continues.  The outdated technology is still the same; the failed safety procedures still in place.
A few members of Congress have attempted to address the problem with little result.  Since the dates of the spill eighty four pieces of regulatory legislation have been proposed.  Only two have passed.   America’s insatiable addiction to oil must not be deterred.
The nightmare still continues for many of the Gulf coast residents.  To the rest of the country the spill is but a memory.
The BP oil spill and our country’s response are emblematic of something inherently flawed in our society.  When a major event occurs we run around with our hair on fire screaming in outrage.  Then we do nothing.  We become paralyzed by politics and misguided ideology.  We lose sight of the goal.  Are we being unfair?  Consider these recent events. 
Terrorists knock down the twin towers killing thousands.  We vowed to rebuild on the send a message that we will not be bowed by terrorist attacks.  Ten years later Ground Zero is still a hole in the ground.  Hurricane Katrina devastates a major US city.  Years later much of the city is still uninhabitable.  Rogue gunmen massacre innocents at Columbine, Virginia Tech and in front of a Tucson shopping center… still today any wacko can walk into a gun show and purchase an assault weapon as easy as buying a pack of gum.  The list goes on and on.
We don’t mean to be insensitive here; but the country suffers from some sort of attention deficit disorder.  We cannot seem to focus on a problem long enough to fix it.  Instead of understanding a problem and coming together to work toward a solution we get all caught up in politics and ideology.  We argue until we are too exhausted to reach a solution…or the solution is too watered down to be effective.  We lose sight of the goal.

This is a country of unlimited resources and skill. We have the ability to solve our problems efficiently and effectively.  We have the ability to do great things.  If only we had the focus and the perseverance to see them through to the end.                

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thank You Standard & Poor's

The Associated Press reports that for the first time in history “Standard & Poor’s has lowered its long term outlook for the federal government’s fiscal health from “stable” to “negative” and warned of serious consequences if lawmakers fail to reach a deal to control the massive federal deficit.” While the credit agency did not lower the country’s AAA rating, the “negative” long term outlook is seen as a shot across the bow for the President and the Republican leadership.  Fix this now or your credit rating WILL change.
Thank you, thank you, and thank you!
 For the past decade elected officials from both parties have given lip service to the deficit and the long term financial Armageddon that lies ahead.  They have been quick to raise the debt ceiling, borrow more money and worry about the aftereffects later.  Iraq, Afghanistan, prescription drugs for seniors, bank bailouts, auto industry bailouts were all paid for with borrowed money.  Everyone talks about the debt problem but no one has the political courage to do anything about it.
Now thanks to S&P they have no choice. Fix it now or the cost to borrow more money will destroy the country.
Critics have already started to dismiss the rating much as ado about nothing.  The White House shrugs it off and says “we know… we were already working on it.”  Others question the S&P’s credibility pointing  out  this is the same agency that gave bundled toxic mortgages AAA ratings right before they exploded and threw the country into a deep recession.
But their protestations don’t change the facts…the debt situation is a serious problem and if not fixed immediately the S&P’s  AAA rating will disappear and the economy will go into a freefall.
Standard & Poor’s is merely saying what the American people have been saying for years.  The US has had a debt crisis for the past decade.  It has grown out of control over the past two years.  S&P and the American people have no confidence that a remedy will be in place by the next election.  While the American people can do little to fix the situation, S&P can.
We should all be outraged and embarrassed that that our elected officials have allowed this situation to reach this point.
We should also be pleased that someone with authority has finally stepped up to do something about it.
Our sincere thanks to the analysts at S&P.     

This May Sound Crazy...

…but it is time to take Donald Trump’s presidential run seriously.
While Trump is a bombastic, self promoting, egomaniacal, attention seeking wind bag he is also plain spoken, eloquent, savvy and a shrewd successful businessman.  The fact that he has more money than God doesn’t hurt.  He is leading all other Republican candidates in the polls and all of them are floundering in his wake.
His recent interviews have been pure Trump.  His fixation on Obama’s birthright has Washington insiders shaking their heads.  He says things that would cause most political handlers to wince. 
He is hard on China.  He says that they are laughing at us all the way to the bank.  He says if he were President he would simply march over there and demand that they stop manipulating their currency to our detriment, “and they would do it because we hold all the cards.  All you need is the right messenger.  Me.”
On Libya and Iraq he simply feels that we should take their oil wells.  After all when you conquer a country that’s what you do.
But most of all he is proud to be a citizen of what he believes is the greatest country on earth.  He is saddened by the depths that we have reached and if elected he is confident that he would return America to its rightful place as the leader of the world.
Like him or not, his message is resonating with a growing number of Americans.
Will he run?  Who knows!  Typical Trump he has given us a date on which he will announce the date on which he will announce whether or not he will run.
Is he a serious candidate or is he just taking this opportunity to promote all things Trump?  It is hard to tell.  But people are listening to him and taking him very seriously.  So until we learn otherwise perhaps we should as well.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Wanted: Serious People in Congress

Now that Congress has passed has finally passed legislation to keep the government funded for the year they have moved on to the next matter of business; finding ways to gain a political advantage from the nations’ financial crises.
First the debt ceiling…  For those who are unaware, the debt ceiling is the nations’ credit card limit.  It currently stands at an absurd $14 trillion dollars.  As unfathomable as that amount may be the nation is about to exceed its limit.  If that should that happen all government spending will cease.  Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Veterans benefits will stop.  We will default on our obligations.  Our economy will be thrown into a deep recession if not depression and the disastrous rippling effects will be felt across the globe.   
So Congress needs to increase the limit.  They have increased the debt limit many times before.  But this time the Republicans, embolden by their Tea Party members are holding back.  They say we need fiscal restraint.  They say we stand at a financial precipice and increasing the debt ceiling will be the final step. Republicans Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Tom Coburn and many others have flatly said that they will not vote to increase the debt ceiling unless they are assured of serious reductions in the governments’ spending practices. 
They are lying.  They are fear mongering.  The intent is to use the threat of causing a worldwide economic meltdown to further their ideological agenda.   
There is no way that any politician would risk the dire consequences of jeopardizing the nation’s credit standing.  The results of such a vote would be catastrophic.  The political fallout would be immense and the tidal wave of criticism, both at home and abroad, would be overwhelming.  So Republicans should stop the pandering, increase the debt limit and then move onto more important matters.
The 2012 budget…  The proper format for addressing the nation’s financial woes lies in a serious debate between the Ryan and Obama 2012 budget proposals.  Rather than demagogue the issue Congress needs to examine the components of these proposals and find common ground.  There is much they can easily agree on.
Let’s look at one example.  Everyone agrees the tax code must be revamped. 
US Corporations currently pay 2% of GDP in taxes.  Fifty years ago they paid 7%.  Everyone knows that is not right. 
Exxon paid $15 billion in taxes to foreign governments…they paid $0 here in the US.  Everyone knows that’s not right.
The top 400 wage earners paid 17% in taxes down from 26% ten years ago.  Warren Buffet paid 14%.  Buffet said that’s not right.
So fix the tax code.  Close the loop holes.  Reduce the corporate tax from 35% to 25% so US jobs will stay in the US.  Repeal the Bush tax cuts for the top earners.  
Here is one more. 
Everybody agrees that our infrastructure is in dire need of repair.  Everyone agrees that our infrastructure needs to be revamped and modernized.  Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said that for $110 billion per year he could completely repair and revamp our infrastructure including light rail and broadband access.  This investment would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and infuse billions into the economy.
So where do we get $110 billion?  We currently spend $110 billion per year on the war in Afghanistan; a war that 70% of the voters believe we should pull out of immediately.
Pulitzer Prize winning author, Carl Bernstein, said it best: “We live in a time of manufactured controversy by two ideologies that are unable to come together…and this is buoyed by a media that has an economic stake in the perpetuation of conflict.” 
We need serious people in our government; people who are willing to set ideology aside and make tough decisions.
We can do this.  We have been through bigger crises.  After all we just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first shot at Fort Sumter.



Friday, April 15, 2011

Can the GOP Control the Tea Party

The dysfunctional body that poses as the Congress of the United States passed a continuing resolution that at long last funds the government through the remainder of the fiscal year.  The legislation, which should have passed a year ago and has threatened to shut down the government for months, provides a whopping $352 million in spending cuts.  Not only does this bold example of political minutia fail to dent the growing deficit it does not even begin to address the primary cause of the country’s financial woes…entitlements and defense spending.
This was sausage making at its best.  The only positive attribute of this resolution is that both parties are dissatisfied with the outcome.  If both parties hate it then maybe some good lies deep within.
But more important than the passage of the resolution may very well be the manner in which it was passed.  Speaker Boehner was unable to unite his caucus in support of a measure that he personally negotiated.  Fifty nine Tea Party members broke ranks and voted against the bill.  Boehner had to rely on Democratic support to get the measure past.  What should have been hailed as a victory for the Speaker seems more like a defeat.
The debate now moves to the debt ceiling and the Ryan budget proposal where trillions instead of billions are at stake. The question now is how the Tea Party members will respond.  There are already signs that they will take whatever measures are necessary to get their way.  For example, the debt ceiling must be raised this July.  This deadline cannot be extended.  Tea Party Senator Jim DeMint has flatly stated that he will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless substantive budgetary cuts are enacted.  He has said he will filibuster the measure if necessary.  Unlike in the House, Senate rules allow one member to bring debate on a measure to a halt.  If Senator DeMint stands his ground the debt ceiling will not be raised.  For the first time in our history the government will default on its obligations.
Make no mistake the Tea Party members of Congress are a force to be reckoned with.  Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell have been able to blunt their assault thus far.  But with the clock ticking that will be much more difficult in the coming weeks.        

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Let The Campaign Begin

The President unveiled his budget and deficit reduction proposal in a speech that was quintessential Obama.  The President was eloquent, forceful, combative and vague as he laid out the differences between his vision of America’s future and that of his Republican opponents.
The President was eloquent in his portrayal of the American dream and the belief that we all must work together to help one another.  But he became combative as he addressed the components of the Ryan plan dealing with Medicare, Medicaid and taxes.  “They want to end Medicare as we know it”, he said and to extend tax cuts for the wealthy while demanding that seniors pay more for health care.  “That’s not right and it’s not going to happen as long as I am President.”  He further criticized the Ryan plan saying “there is nothing serious or courageous about a plan that gives $1 trillion in tax cuts to millionaires while increasing health care cost for the poor and the elderly.”  And, as if to further emphasize the seriousness of their differences, Paul Ryan was seated in the front row having been invited to attend the speech by the President himself.
The President offered some specifics.  He proposes to cut $4.4 trillion from the deficit over the next ten years with $3 trillion coming from reductions in spending and $1 trillion from increased revenues.  He would leave Medicare and Medicaid basically in their current format, but over the next ten years cut $200 billion more from Medicare and $100 billion from Medicaid.  He did not provide any details as to how these numbers would be achieved.
The key difference between the Presidents’ plan and the Ryan plan lies in the area of taxes.  Ryan would leave the Bush tax cuts in place, revamp the tax code to eliminate loopholes and reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.  Obama proposes tax increases totaling $1 trillion, increasing the rates for individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000.
The President has boxed the Republicans into a corner and has drawn a line in the sand.  He has given voters a clear choice:  tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires or lower health care costs for the poor and the elderly.
Let the campaign begin.


Much Ado About Nothing

Today marks John Boehner’s 100th day as Speaker of the House.  It is also the day when the House will vote on Mr. Boehner’s most significant legislative accomplishment to date: a federal budget that trims $38 billion in cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year.  The measure is expected to pass….maybe.
The Congressional Budget Office has analyzed the details of this budget and has determined that it will in fact trim only $350 million this year.  $38 billion versus $300 million is a bit of a disparity.  When you are talking about an annual shortfall of $1.64 trillion either number is insignificant.
Tea Party members are outraged.  They don’t trust Boehner.  They already feel that Boehner and his negotiating team caved in on the $100 billion in cuts that Republicans promised.  To now learn that Boehner’s backroom deal will only reduce the deficit by $350 million has set their hair on fire.  They may revolt and vote “no’ today.  If they do it will be a serious setback for the Speaker and the Republican Party.
So this is the deal that threatened to shut down the government?   After all the partisan rhetoric, vitriol and angst the House MAY pass a budget bill that will actually reduce a $1.64 trillion dollar deficit by a paltry $350 million?  This is the monumental legislative achievement that prevented the complete shutdown of the federal government?  Seriously?
The system is broken and the people who run it are not serious people. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Second Chance For Leadership

The President will unveil his much anticipated 2012 budget and deficit proposal this afternoon.  This will be the Presidents second attempt at providing Americans with his vision of their economic future.  You may recall his first attempt was during the State of the Union address.  That speech was long on ideology and short on specifics.  One can only hope that today’s address is not more of the same.
The White House has allowed the Republicans to lead the debate on debt reduction. They assumed that Speaker Boehner, Senator McConnell, Majority Leader Cantor and Budget Committee Chairman Ryan would join the President, Vice President Biden, Senator Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi behind closed doors where a back room deal would be forged.  Their plans went awry last week when Budget Chairman Ryan dropped the Republican plan for 2012 on the President’s desk.  While we disagree with a number of the components of Mr. Ryan’s proposal we acknowledge that it was bold, well thought out and outlined specifically the Republican’s agenda for the country’s future; including recommending radical changes in Medicare and Medicaid.
Having miscalculated the Republican’s nerve on the eve of the campaign season the White House finds itself playing catch-up.  The President must now show that he, not Paul Ryan, will lead the country out of its economic difficulties.
Any serious discussion about deficit reduction must include substantive changes in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Defense spending and taxes.  It must also include measures for increased revenue and economic growth. You cannot slash your way out of this deficit nor can you tax your way out of it. And as changes are implemented care must be taken to avoid halting the country’s very fragile economic recovery.  If any of these components are missing then you are just whistling past the graveyard.
The Ryan proposal lays most of the burden for reducing the deficit on the backs of the elderly, the poor and the middle class.  The cost of health care is not reduced but merely shifted from the federal government to the states and the individual citizens.  Medicare and Medicaid cease to exist as we know them.  The Ryan plan continues Bush tax cuts and lowers the corporate rate from 35% to 25%.  It does not touch Social Security.
Now comes the President’s proposal.  The last time he addressed the subject he was whistling.  Let’s hope this time he is singing a different tune.      

C'mon Man!

Washington Post Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Kathleen Parker recently published a piece titled “Demonizing the GOP proves losing tactic”.
In the piece Ms. Parker states the following: “Everyone is calling for adults these days.  President Obama insisted that Congress “act like grownups,” adding that we don’t have time for games.  Meanwhile, the vocabulary of evil and apocalyptic imagery has punctuated criticism of the GOP’s proposed 2012 budget, not to be confused with the 2011 budget.”  
As evidence of this behavior she goes on to quote Texas Democratic Representative Shelia Jackson-Lee who projected the affects of the Ryan budget proposal on seniors as a scenario with “lights out, doors wide open and the drumbeat playing as people are being rolled out of nursing homes in wheelchairs, with crutches, some on beds.”
Far be it for us to question the opinions of a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist; but we have to ask…she’s kidding, right?
Apparently Ms. Parker has a short memory.  Where was she during the health care reform debate when Republicans Sarah Palin and Chuck Grassley coined the infamous phrase “death panels” while accusing Obama of “pulling the plug on grandma”?    Where was she when the Tea Party protestors were brandishing signs bearing images of Obama with a Hitler like mustache and swastika insignias?  Talk about demonizing an opponent.
Harsh political rhetoric is part of the price we pay for freedom of speech.  It can be ugly and misguided at times but it is part of our political fabric.
Ms. Parker really doesn't need to defend the Republican Party.  They can take care of themselves and they have a history of giving as good as they get.  But if Ms. Parker is still concerned about the Republican’s well being perhaps she could advise them to stop pushing for legislation that is easily characterized as demonic.  Maybe they could stop holding the unemployment benefits for needy families’ hostage while using them as a bargaining chip to get tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.  Perhaps they could refrain from cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits for the elderly while they lobby for billions in subsidies for big oil companies.  Or they might rethink the idea of cutting heating oil subsidies for the poor while they push to lower the corporate tax rate.
Harsh political rhetoric goes both ways.  Ms. Parker knows that.     

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In Case You Missed It...

With all of this talk about the deficit, the budget and the upcoming debate about raising the debt ceiling you may have forgotten that we are currently waging war in three foreign countries.  Unless you are among the few Americans that are actually fighting in these wars or has a family member or friend who is in the military, you probably are not giving them much thought.  Only 1% of the American population is actively engaged in these conflicts.  The remaining 99% of us go about our daily lives basically unaware of the struggle facing hundreds of thousands of Americans.  That is a shame because these conflicts show no signs of ending.  In fact there are signs that we may be engaged even longer than expected.
The New York Times reports Pakistan, our ally, has ordered the United States to remove the vast majority of CIA operatives and Special Operations forces working in their country.  They have also ordered the US to stop all drone attacks aimed at militants in the northwest region.  This order levels a severe blow to US efforts to stop the flow of terrorist forces, munitions and supplies into Afghanistan.  If this flow continues uninterrupted it will force the US to ramp up its efforts in response. 
While things are dicey in Afghanistan and now Pakistan the US is removing the last of its military forces from Iraq.  That is of course unless the Iraqi government wants us to stay.  The government has expressed concern that its military and police forces may not be ready to assume full responsibility for the security of the government.  General Patreus has said that the US military would stay “as long as the Iraqi government wants us to.”
In Libya, NATO supported rebels seem to have reached a stalemate in their efforts to oust Gadhafi.  It has been reported that Gahafi is willing to broker a cease fire as long as he is allowed to remain in power.  The US is now adamant that Gadhafi must go. In spite of the President’s statements to the contrary, it is becoming more apparent that the only way to remove him will be by inserting US troops on the ground.  
The Middle East is unraveling and the United States in becoming more and more entwined in the region.  The success or failure of our Middle East policy rests on the whims of the corrupt and psychotic leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We have pumped billions upon billions of dollars into this effort with little measure of success.  Americans are dying, their families suffering, our coffers are bare and there is no foreseeable end in sight.
One percent of those who might read this are well aware of the terrible toll that is being inflicted upon our country.   We just thought the other 99% might want to know.    

Saturday, April 9, 2011

So Who Won?

Congressional leaders reached an eleventh hour budget agreement late Friday night avoiding the first government shut down in fifteen years.  The Democrats managed to stave off the ideological sticking points that had stymied a resolution for days.  Republicans were able to carve out almost $40 billion dollars in cuts, impacting programs close to the hearts of Democrats.
So who won? 
In terms of the big picture this was pretty much a protracted argument about nothing.  When facing a deficit in the trillions cutting $40 billion is like trimming a bothersome hangnail on your pinkie finger. 
Make no mistake; these cuts will be devastating to millions of people.  The elderly will sorely miss their heating oil assistance and some will literally freeze.  Prospective students will not be able to obtain college loans and never see the inside of a college classroom.  In the bubble that is Washington no one will notice. 
 This is how Congress works.  Eleventh hour deals are the norm.  The can gets kicked down the road until the road comes to an abrupt end.  Then deals are struck along ideological lines with little understanding of the effects they have on the people they are suppose to serve.  Paramount is securing the support of those who hold the keys to re-election.  If people get hurt along the way well it’s all for the greater good.
This is a budget resolution that should have been reached last year.  It has stymied Congress for months and it has cost millions in waste and abuse.  In the end it did nothing to slow down the inevitable economic train wreck that that is fast approaching.
Next up is a vote to raise the debt ceiling.  After that a debate on Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal that seeks to privatize Medicare and abolish Medicaid.  Given how difficult it was to resolve this little sliver of the deficit one can only imagine how the next few months will play out.  The stakes will be much higher.
So who DID win this latest battle?  In truth no one did.  Certainly not the American people.   

Friday, April 8, 2011

They Just Don't Get It

Party leaders worked through the night in a failed effort to avoid a government shutdown.  Unless an agreement is reached today the government will run out of money and be forced to shut down at midnight tonight.  The prospects look dim as the sides emerged from the all-nighter trading barbs and blaming each other for what appears to be inevitable.
The impasse in a $1.6 trillion dollar deficit stands at paltry $7 billion dollars with the ideological arguments centering on funding for NPR, Planned Parenthood and the EPA.  The Democrats want it…the Republicans don’t.  The real question is “who cares.”
The American economy has two wheels in the ditch and is struggling to stay upright.  Real unemployment (unemployed + underemployed + those who have quit looking for a job) stands at around 16%. 
The Democrats won the 2008 election promising jobs.  Once they were elected they focused on health care reform. The Republicans promised to correct that error in 2010.  Once they were elected they focused on anti-abortion legislation.
Our fragile economy cannot withstand the addition of 800,000 furloughed government workers added to the unemployment rolls.  It cannot stand the reduction in purchasing power that those 800,000 workers will cease to provide.  The little progress that we have made in the past few months will quickly be reversed.
The average American doesn’t give a damn if part of their tax dollars goes to NPR, Planned Parenthood or the EPA.  What they care about is putting food on their tables and taking care of their families.
It is all about jobs, jobs, jobs.  Our elected leaders just don’t get it.