Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reaching a New Low in Politics

There is a very disturbing theory floating around Washington concerning the debt ceiling. 
There are those who believe that the Republicans are purposely trying to stall negotiations so that the deadline for raising the debt ceiling will pass without resolution. This would cause the country to default on its obligations for the first time in history. 
The theory is that the Republicans would take this tactic so they could lay the blame at the feet of the President.  After a few days of making political hay the Republicans would then use their leverage to agree to a resolution on their terms.  Theorists say that the country would pay its debts to foreign creditors and banks on time to avoid default; but they would delay issuing federal payroll, social security and veteran’s benefits checks for the few days it would take to bring Democrats crawling back to the negotiating table.
The genesis of this theory originated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement that his number one goal was to defeat Barak Obama in 2012.  Not create jobs, or improve health care or get out of two wars.  His number one goal is to beat Obama.
Fuel was added to the fire when McConnell said that any talk about raising taxes was a non-starter;  Speaker Boehner then said that the deadline was “an arbitrary date;”  and the only two Republicans attending the deficit meetings chaired by Vice President Biden walked out.
Stonewalling seems to be the Republican game plan.
It is hard to believe that Republicans would risk subjecting  the country to a financial meltdown for political gain.
But then this is the party that withheld unemployment benefits for 2 million needy Americans until the President agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.


Damned If You do...Damned If You Don't!

The President weighed in on the debt ceiling debate yesterday.    
If you are of the liberal persuasion you were no doubt pleased to watch the President chastise Congress for their work ethic while making the case for eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy.
If you are a conservative you probably found the President to be overly confrontational as he laid blame for the impasse on the shoulders of Congress; specifically on its Republican members.
The President said Congress should cancel their summer recess and get the debt ceiling issue resolved.  He said his daughters don’t wait until the last minute to get their homework done (“they’re not pulling all-nighters”)...and neither should Congress.  He said that corporate big wigs could keep their jets “they just need to pay a little more.”
As expected his confrontational tone provided red meet for the media.  Pundits jumped on the story with reviews as far ranging as those of the politicians.  Many saw the President as “bold” and “forceful” while another felt he was “being a bit of a dick”.
This President has often been criticized for seeming distant and aloof when it comes to resolving important issues.  He has been criticized for taking the “mushy middle.” Many have said he is more concerned with being liked than he is with taking a stand.
That is until he takes a stand.  Then he is “confrontational”, “rude” and “a dick”.
Damned if you do…damned if you don’t.
Lost in the criticism of the President’s “tone” is the fact that the President offered nothing in the way of specifics as to how to resolve the impasse.  We know that he wants to offset spending cuts with tax increases on the wealthy.  On that he was very clear.  We just don’t know how he proposes to get there.
Yesterday, we wrote in this space about our hope to hear some specifics from the President.  We hoped to see the President demonstrate leadership and offer a path to recovery.  He chose not to go that route.  Instead he made the political decision to publically chastise his opponents.  He chose tone over substance.  No matter how substantive his remarks might have been; once he chastised Congress on their work ethic the story was written.
The August 2nd deadline is fast approaching.  In fact it is already here.  It’s not like the parties can come to an agreement on August 1st and fast track the measure through both houses of Congress onto the President’s desk.  This needs to get done now. 
Speaker Boehner has asserted that the deadline is “an arbitrary date that can be moved.”  The Treasury Department and every financial analyst strongly disagree.  Wall Street is getting nervous.  One thing is certain.  Investors are not going to wait until the eleventh hour to abandon a sinking ship.       
The President and Congress are playing a game of poker with house money…our money.  They are gambling that political rhetoric and showmanship will sway public opinion to their side.  It is a very dangerous game.
The President made a political calculation yesterday choosing confrontation over conciliation.  Time will tell if his strategy worked. 


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Time For the President To Lead

The President will hold a press conference this morning.  The subject will be the deficit and the country’s spiraling debt. 
Will the President show leadership and outline his specific plan for correcting our financial difficulties; or will he nibble around the edges, speak in vague generalities and take the politically safe path?
What would happen if the President were to lay out his detailed plan to fix the deficit?  What would happen if he were to demonstrate the same courage in dealing with the deficit that he did in ordering the raid that took down bin Laden?  Can you imagine?
What would happen if the President were to say the following?
“Here is my plan for correcting the deficit…
The debate thus far has focused solely on cutting discretionary domestic spending.  This makes no sense.  Discretionary spending amounts to only 10% of the budget and in general terms only impact the poor and neediest of our citizens.  These cuts, which may be politically expedient, are ineffective, insufficient and unfair.   We need to do more; and the sacrifice must be shared by all of us.  
Beginning in 2012 we will cut defense spending by 10%.  We will be able to make these cuts because we will pull out troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq by the end of next year.  We will cease our operations in Libya and withdraw our troops from numerous locations around the world.  We will no longer serve as the world’s policeman.  For too long we have provided security for the world while the world has invested in their economic development.  As long as I am President, the United States will invest its blood and treasure ONLY in those instances where our national security is threatened.  Make no mistake; we will continue to maintain the best trained, best equipped finest military in the world.  And if our enemies choose to view these changes in policy as a sign of weakness then they will pay a mighty price for their error in judgment.
We can no longer continue with our entitlement programs as is.  We cannot afford it.  Therefore I propose that effective in 2012 if you are 55 years of age or under you will not be eligible for Social Security or Medicare until the age of 67.  In addition, beginning in 2012 Social Security and Medicare benefits will be frozen at current levels for the next five years, after which they will increase by 2% per year until such time as Congress chooses to amend the rate of growth.  Prescription drugs for seniors will be frozen at current levels for the next five years after which Congress may  amend the benefit based on the economic conditions at that time.  Medicaid benefits will be frozen at current levels for the next five years.  Meanwhile we will work with the states to cut administrative costs and eliminate fraud and abuse.  The problem with Medicare and Medicaid is not in the funding or the benefits.  It is in the distribution system.  We will work with the pharmaceutical companies and the service providers to find a more equitable and  cost effective way to administer these programs. 
My opponents may not feel that these changes to our entitlement programs are stringent enough to get the job done.  They are correct.  More is needed.  But I will not place the burden of fixing our financial problems on the backs of our seniors.

We cannot fix our financial problems through spending cuts alone.  Like any business we must increase revenue.
Therefore I propose that beginning in 2012 we roll back the Bush tax cuts on those making over $250,000 per year.  In addition I propose that we amend our tax code to remove the loop holes that allow major corporations to thrive without paying their fair share.  We will also roll back the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.  This will bring the corporate rate more in line with other industrialized countries and eliminate the need for corporations to look to foreign shores to expand their operations.  We need American companies to invest in America.  But we need them to pay their fair share.
My opponents will say that we cannot increase taxes on those who are in a position to invest in our economy and increase jobs.  That argument would hold water if in fact they were investing in America… but they aren’t.  We listened to their argument and extended the Bush tax cuts last year.  What happened?  Our corporations continued to invest overseas and unemployment in this country rose to 10%.  We tried it their way and it didn’t work.  The only thing that happened is the rich got richer and the poor and middle class got poorer.  We will no longer ask the poor and the middle class to sacrifice without expecting those who have benefited the most from our society to do the same.
Since I took office our focus has been on dealing with the debt when we should have been finding ways to put America back to work.  That was my mistake.  We will not cut infrastructure, education and research and development any longer.  They hold the key to our future.  We will make broad investments in rebuilding our infrastructure and finding new ways to improve our way of life.  We will fix our bridges, repair our roads and modernize our schools.  We will improve our transprtation systems and embrace alternative sources of energy.  We will encourage investment in America and reward those companies that choose to help us rebuild this great country.  I will start the ball rolling with by introducing a jobs bill that I expect congress to pass without delay.  We have to invest in our future and we MUST invest in our children.
We all realize that we must curb our spending and reduce our long term debt.  But we cannot shut ourselves down and let the world pass us by.  We must continue to compete with the rest of the world; but we must do so wisely.   With my plan I believe that we can invest in America today, meet our financial obligations and secure our long term financial future.
I believe in America.  I believe that if we work together we can do big things.”
Can you imagine?


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

White House Memo Tells Tale

Lost in the media noise of Blago’s conviction and Bachman’s announcement was this little underreported tidbit about Afghanistan.
The White House issued a briefing memo to the members of the United States Senate.  In the memo the White House states the following:
“We have not seen any terror threats emanating from Afghanistan in the past 7-8 years.”
“There is no effort within Afghanistan to use that country as a launching pad to carry out attacks outside Afghanistan borders.”
“We do not see a transnational threat coming out of Afghanistan.”
“…it is not going to affect the threat in Pakistan either.”
Given this White House assessment…why are we still there?  Why are we continuing to spend over $2 billion dollars a week in a country from which “we do not see any transnational threat…?”  Why do we have 100,000 troops in a country in which “there is no effort to use that country as a launching pad to carry out attacks outside Afghanistan borders?”
There can only be one reason.  We are still in Afghanistan because the government wants to maintain a military presence in close proximity to our “ally” Pakistan.   The White House won’t say this; but with Pakistan as an ally who needs enemies.

Feds Get Their Man

Federal prosecutors got their man. 
No, not former mob kingpin and murderer Whitey Bulger
Former Illinois governor Rob Blagojevich was convicted on 17 of 20 counts of misconduct stemming from his attempt to sell the state senate seat formerly held by President Barak Obama.  “Blago” had been acquitted of the charges in an earlier trail.  But prosecutors took another swing at the former governor and this time hit a home run.  Blagojevich is facing 300 years in a federal prison.  He is likely to serve 10-15.
So prosecutors spend their resources pursuing a politician who FAILED to do what politicians have been doing since Washington crossed the Delaware…sell power and influence.
“Blago” is going to jail while Wall Street executives and hedge fund managers who screwed America are going to the Hamptons.

Monday, June 27, 2011

We Are Failing Our Children

60 Minutes re-aired a segment last night on poverty in America.  Unlike the typical expose’ which focuses on unemployment and foreclosure; this compelling piece focused on the affects the recession is having on our children.
Scott Pelly’s interview with 10-12 year olds revealed the true victims of our economic condition.  These children were from middle class families who had lost their jobs and subsequently their homes.  They were living in their cars, with neighbors or crammed into a cheap motel room. 
The children spoke of their shock at finding themselves and their families in this difficult and embarrassing situation.  They talked about losing their home, going to bed hungry and wanting desperately to sleep but not being able to allow sleep to come.  They spoke with a surreal sense of maturity that belied their tender years.
The most moving comments came from one ten year old little girl who cried as she explained to Pelly that it was her fault that her family was in this difficult situation.  She said “it’s my fault because my family has to pay for me…they have to pay to feed me, and cloth me and stuff.”
This was hard to watch.  It was a story that should never have to be told in this country.  But it is a story that is being told all across this country.
The government defines as impoverished those families earning less than $22,000 per year.  There are currently 16 million children living in poverty in the United States of America; up 2 million since 2009.  25% of our children are living below the poverty line.   Anyone who thinks the recession is over needs to watch this piece.  In fact every adult in this country should watch this piece…and then we should do something about it.
It is our belief that the most important responsibility that we have as human beings is to see to the health, education and well being of the children that we bring into this world.  Clearly we Americans are failing in this area.
Much of this problem would be solved if Americans were able to find good paying jobs.  The families in this piece are not malingerers or drug addicts or lazy folks trying to get by on government handouts.  They are hard working families that through no fault of their own suddenly found themselves without work.  They want to work and take care of their children.  While the government pours billions into rebuilding countries in the Middle East, these hard working taxpaying Americans cannot find the work they need to take care of their children.
In his speech last week the President said “it is time to start nation building here at home.”  No kidding! 
We are failing our children.  This should never, ever happen.   There is absolutely no excuse.
We are better than this.
You can…no, you SHOULD… watch the segment online on the “60 minutes” website.     

Friday, June 24, 2011

House Rebukes Obama Over Libya

The Republican led House of Representatives just voted to reject a resolution supporting the President’s military action in Libya.  The vote, seen as a strong rebuke to the President, is part of the fallout from the President’s failure to notify Congress of his actions in Libya. 
House Republicans have been vocal in their criticism of what they feel is the President’s violation of the War Powers Act.  The War Powers Act, designed to keep President’s from taking the country into war on a whim, requires the President to notify Congress and obtain approval within 90 days of taking the country into a military action.  Its further purpose is to clarify the grey area in the Constitution which gives only Congress the right to declare war but names the President Commander-in-Chief of the military.
Historically Congress has only formally declared war against a foreign nation on five occasions: The War of 1812, The Mexican American War, The Spanish American War, and World Wars I and II.  But over the course of history the President has ordered the country into military conflicts on hundreds of occasions.  Presidents have always worked to maintain the power of the Executive Branch of the government and have given lip service to the War Powers Act as a matter of course.
Should Obama have notified Congress of his Libyan decision on a timely basis?  Of course, particularly in light of his campaign promise to do things the right way and bring transparency back to the Oval Office.
But one does have to wonder if today’s vote by the Republican controlled House would have occurred had George W. Bush been sitting in the Oval Office.    

Congress Is Playing a Destructive Game

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Jon Kyl, the only two members of the Republican Party participating in the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations, have left the building.  Frustrated over the direction of the negotiations they have thrown a hissy fit, taken their ball and gone home.  Addressing reporters about his tantrum Cantor washed his hands and called on the President and House Speaker Boehner to weigh in.
History tells us that it is really hard to negotiate when there is no one to negotiate with.
The parties seem to have reached an impasse. 
The Republicans want to reduce entitlements while leaving the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in place.  In other words they want to solve the debt problem by way of spending cuts alone; without any method of increasing revenue.
Democrats agree to spending cuts but say that any changes to Medicare are off the table.  They want to increase revenue by eliminating loop holes in the tax code.  This will leave the tax rates as is but will eliminate the path through which corporations and the wealthiest among us avoid paying their fair share.
And all of this drama over cutting a meager $4.4 trillion over the next ten years off a $14 trillion dollar debt.
These are not serious people.
The Republican exodus is merely a political ploy to bring the President to the bargaining table.  Republicans do not want Obama sitting on the side lines when the inevitably unpopular deal is reached.  They want his hands dirty.  And Cantor certainly would not mind some of the fallout coming to rest on the Speaker; whom he views as too soft in carrying the Republican message.
All of this makes for great theater for political junkies.  But the clock is ticking and the August 2 deadline is merely 5 weeks away.
Some pundits feel that, as usual, the parties will work out an eleventh hour deal.  After all Congress rarely acts until it is forced into a corner.  Other experts are not so certain.  Many feel that it will take another financial crash to push the two parties together.
This much is certain. 
Wealthy investors are holding $2 trillion dollars close to their chest as they await a solution.   An uncertain economy, an unknown tax code and a lack of demand leaves investors more poised to bail than invest.  And they won’t wait until the eleventh hour to get out. 
This lack of investment is strangling an already sluggish economy that can barely keep its head above water.  No investment means no new jobs.  The economy generated a pitiful 54,000 new jobs last month.  No jobs…no middle class.  What is left of the middle class is shrinking and being burdened with stagnant wages and shrinking benefits.  You cannot have a healthy economy without a strong middle class to buy the products.
Congress is broken.  They continue to play Russian roulette with the livelihoods of the American people.  While they play their political games people are losing their jobs, people are losing their homes and families are falling apart.
But Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl have taken their ball and gone home.     


Republican Governors Continue Attack on the Middle Class

The New Jersey state legislature, following the lead of state governments in Wisconsin and Ohio among others, passed a historic bill that will slash the benefits of government workers and retirees.  Governor Chris Christie praised the legislature for making the tough decisions as he continued on his austerity agenda.
Governor Christie is just another in a long line of recently elected Republican Governors who are interpreting their recent elections as a mandate to make drastic cuts in their state budgets.  Like Walker in Wisconsin, Kasich in Ohio and Scott in Florida, Christie is laying the burden of his states’ fiscal woes on the backs of the middle class.  While these governors eliminate collective bargaining rights, cut jobs, reduce benefits and freeze the wages of their middle class government employees they are offering tax breaks to corporations and wealthy investors.
Republican governors are all the same.  They like to talk about small limited government and shared fiscal responsibility.  Then they implement massive government programs that drain the already struggling middle class while giving handouts to the rich.
These Republican governors have two other things in common:  Their poll numbers are in the tank and they don’t face re-election for several years.  It is much easier to follow a draconian ideological agenda when you don’t have to face the voters.         

Georgia Reaps Benefits of Immigration Reform

If you are among those who believes that we need to round up all the illegal immigrants and send them packing; then you might consider moving to Georgia. 
The Georgia state legislature recently passed a stiff immigration reform law that allows police greater latitude to check immigration status and imposes stiff penalties on growers who hire illegal workers.  Penalties include a 15 year prison term and fines up to $250,000.
Several news outlets are reporting that the state is already reaping the benefits of this legislation.  In previous years itinerant workers, many of them illegal immigrants, would flock to Georgia at the beginning of the harvesting season. 
This year… not so much. 
Growers estimate that the pool of workers flowing into Georgia is down roughly 50% from previous years.  They say that they are 11,000 workers short of the number needed to harvest their fields; leaving the states' $1.1 billion dollar fruit and vegetable crop to rot on the vine.
Oddly, Georgians who enthusiastically supported the legislation, many of whom are unemployed, are not flocking to the fields to scoop up the back breaking $7.25/hour jobs.
Immigration reform…be careful what you wish for.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The "Greatest Generation" Doesn't Live Here Anymore

There has been a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the media over the content of the President’s speech on troop withdrawals.  We commented on the details in an earlier posting.  But while the vast majority of the reporting has been about the number of troops and the timing of their return; there were some additional points in his message that we feel are of more importance.
The first is very subjective.  We don’t believe that the President was buying what he was selling.  For the first time since the start of his term in office the President gave a major policy address where he seemed detached from his message.  Clearly missing was the emotional fire he has used so often to rally the troops.  It seemed to us that the President knew that his message would not fly.  He knew that that a clear victory in Afghanistan was not in the cards.  He knew that if the best trained fighting force in the world could not bring safety and stability after ten years of fighting, there was little hope for a novice, barely trained Afghan security force.   He knew that while he wanted to listen to the people and bring the troops home, he had to listen to the generals to avoid a loss on his watch.  He knew that splitting the difference was the best he could do…and he knew it wasn’t good enough.
Then he said something that was very specific and to us very disturbing. 
He referred to America’s “responsibility as the anchor of global security” and “our singular role in the course of human events”.
We can no longer afford to be the “anchor of global security”.  We can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman.  We can no longer afford to borrow money from the nations of Europe and the Far East only to spend that money providing for their military defense while they plow their savings into schools, hospitals, roads and bridges. 
This is not 1945.  We are no longer the “Greatest Generation“that saved the world.   We can barely support ourselves.  This dilusional sense of self importance and self indulgence has led us to the brink of an economic disaster.
 It is time for Americans, and their President, to stop living in the past and take a realistic look at the future.       

Still Playing Politics With the Lives of Our Troops

The President addressed the nation last night; informing the country that he was beginning to draw down the number of troops fighting in Afghanistan. 
As expected, the President informed the prime time audience that he would bring home 10,000 troops by the end of this year with an additional 20,000 troops returning by September 2012.  He said that the remaining troop levels would be reduced on a steady basis over the course of the following two years.
As expected, the President’s remarks were met with criticism from both the right and the left.  Voices on the right criticized the President for ignoring the advice of his generals, lamented the loss of hard fought gains and feared for the safety of troops left behind.  The President’s base was clearly disappointed that the President did not withdraw more troops at a more rapid rate.  They argued that we can no longer afford to fund the war; that any gains we may have made in Afghanistan will be lost no matter when we leave and that a non-partisan 72% of the American people want us out of Afghanistan …now.
Yesterday we predicted that the President would order a portion of the “surge” deployment brought home this year with the remainder of that deployment returning home in the next 18-24 months.  We said that the number would be militarily insignificant and politically motivated.  It is no coincidence that this first wave of troops will return home right before the November elections.
Obama wants to bring the troops home; but he doesn’t want to lose this war.  He knows the voters are tiring of this fight; but he doesn’t want to appear weak on the eve of the elections.  So he does what all President’s before him have done…he splits the difference.  He brings home the surge deployment for political cover while still providing his general’s with twice the number of troops that they had at their disposal when he took office.
It should come as no surprise that the President is playing politics with the lives of our troops.  That is what President’s do.  They have been doing it for years. 
We had hoped that this President might be different.             

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The War That Never Ends

The President will deliver a major policy speech tonight where he is expected to announce the withdrawal of a number of troops currently fighting the war in Afghanistan.  The anticipation of the President’s announcement has raised the level of debate in Washington over our use of military force in foreign lands.  After ten years of fighting many in Congress are ready to bring the troops home.
Yesterday, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin took center stage calling on the President to pull our troops out of Afghanistan.  Manchin questioned how America could justify spending billions to repair roads and bridges in Afghanistan while cutting funding for roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, seniors and veterans here at home.  Naturally, he was challenged by Republican Senator John McCain who is the self proclaimed advocate for all things military.  Arguing for the continued military presence in Afghanistan, Senator McCain criticized Senator Manchin’s knowledge of history; reminding the Senator from West Virginia that we did pull out of Afghanistan once before only to see the rise of the Taliban followed by al Qaeda and their attacks on the US on 9/11.
Senator McCain, along with Senators Graham and Liebermann, has carried the military debate in Washington for years.  These Three Amigos have beaten the drum for massive military intervention at the slightest provocation.  They label anyone who would dare to question their aggressive military proclativities as an isolationist.  By their standards Ronald Reagan would be an isolationist.  If you remove the Three Amigos from the debate the tenor in Congress would be very, very different.
But we digress.
The President will undoubtedly bring home a portion of the “surge” deployment this year with the remainder of that deployment returning in the next 18-24 months.  That number will be insignificant.  It will be a political number; one that gives the President political cover going into an election year but still leaves  70,000-80,000 troops to do the general’s bidding.  While this decision will anger the President’s base it will be consistent with his previous policies on defense.
When it comes to use of the military Obama has been more like Bush than Bush.  Obama has continued the Bush practices in Iraq, doubled the troops in Afghanistan, allowed Gitmo to remain open, extended the Patriot Act, authorized Special Ops and drone attacks in Pakistan  and initiated military action in Libya; a country that does not pose a threat to us or our interests.  No one can ever accuse this President of waffling when it comes to exerting America’s military might.
We went into Iraq and Afghanistan to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons, disrupt al Qaeda and capture or kill the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.  We determined that Iraq’s nuclear capabilities were a myth.  The head of Al Qaeda is dead.  The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks sits in a jail cell in Gitmo and by all accounts Senator McCain has more people working on his staff than there are al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
So the question is since we have met our objectives…if we don’t leave now…then when? 
As for Senator McCain’s reminder of the al Qaeda and Taliban resurgence after we withdrew from Afghanistan before…how do we know that same thing won’t happen if we stay another year, another five years or ten? We simply cannot afford to pour billions upon billions of dollars into a war with no end.
Still not convinced we should leave?  Consider this…
While we are pouring billions in American blood and treasure into Afghanistan China has taken advantage of our largesse and the stability that we have established there.  The Chinese are  mining much needed minerals and raw materials critical to their economic development; all under the safety net brought about by American forces.  And they are doing so without having invested one dime into the security of the country.      

Monday, June 20, 2011

Governor Perry's Fractured Fairy Tales

Rachel Maddow did a segment on her Friday broadcast that is so stunning we had to alert you to its content.  She does a great job in this piece of highlighting the bs that is rampant in American politics. Kudos to Maddow and her staff for pulling this all together.

There are two things that you should know about Governor Rick Perry, the prospective Republican presidential nominee from the great state of Texas:
1.) Governor Perry is an enthusiastic supporter of the great state of Texas; eagerly willing to regale anyone who will listen about how great things have been in Texas since he took office as governor ten years ago.
2.) Rick Perry is a bold faced liar (our words not Maddow’s).

Governor Perry likes to tell folks how wonderful things are going economically in his fair state.  But, as  Maddow points out,  a closer look at the facts reveals that the Governor just might be shinning us on.

The governor claims that Texas has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.  The truth is 23 states have a lower unemployment rate than Texas.  And while the country’s rate of unemployment is trending slowly downward the rate in Texas is rising.

 The governor claims that wages in Texas are on the rise.  He is correct.  However wages rose 0.6 % in Texas compared to 5.0% in the rest of the country. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a job in Texas you will be paid on average less for your efforts than you would if you worked in another state.  The median hourly wage in Texas is $11.20/hour while it is $12.50/hour in the rest of the country.  Texas also has the largest number of workers toiling at or below the federal minimum wage ($7.25) than any other state in the union.

And those wages don’t include health insurance.  Governor Perry’s great state boasts the highest proportion of uninsured workers than any other state in the union.  One in four Texans are without health insurance.  And the governor has said publically that he wants Texas to opt out of Medicaid.  Finally, to add icing on the uninsured cake, the Texas legislature just passed a bill to kill Medicare.

So why all the cutting of health benefits?  Because Texas is broke.

Under Governor Perry Texas has amassed the fourth largest budget deficit in the country…$9.0 billion.

In spite of facing this huge budgetary shortfall Governor Perry said that he would never, ever take one dime of Barak Obama’s stimulus money.  He railed for months and months against government bailouts.  He even threatened to secede from the Union rather than buy into Obama's big government policies. 

Then he took $6.4 billion in stimulus money to help offset his state’s $9.0 billion budget shortfall. 

No state has been more dependent on stimulus money as a percentage of their budget than the great state of Texas.  Only California has slurped more actual dollars from the stimulus trough.

Want more?

Texas ranks 47th in education and is the largest polluter in the country.

Governor Rick Perry is a liar.  But he is very enthusiastic about it.

As previously stated, Rachel Maddow explains this better than we ever could.  You can view a video clip online at

The bologna metaphor alone is worth watching.  


Sunday, June 19, 2011

We Are Failing Our children

We are of the opinion that there is nothing more important in our society than providing for our children.  Inherent in that responsibility is the basic need to provide our children with the best education possible; because it is through education that they will realize their potential, achieve their goals and become productive members of our society.  Studies have shown that children who receive a quality education are happier, more confident and more successful in their adult years.
So why is it that we continue to fall behind the rest of the world in providing our children with the education they need to compete on the world stage?
In their most recent worldwide study of 70 nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development rated the United States students “Average” in the areas of reading, science and math.  The US students rank 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics; far below the top ranked countries of South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Canada.
“We have to get serious about investing in education” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan after hearing the study’s results.
So what are we doing about it?
Republicans in the House are demanding drastic cuts in education as part of their austerity program.  Many Republicans would like to do away with the department of education in its entirety.  They believe that education is best handled at the state level.
So what are the states doing to educate our children?  State legislatures rely on federal funding to keep their education programs afloat. Without federal funding many school systems will be forced to close.  Led by newly elected Republican Governors, many states are slashing education funding, closing schools, laying off teachers, reducing teacher’s benefits and eliminating teacher’s right to bargain collectively.  Teachers unions keep tenured staff members and layoff those with less seniority; in many cases removing young quality teachers while ineffective tenured educators keep their jobs. 
Adding insult to injury are the parents.  Many school districts around the country are bowing to parental pressure to reduce the amount of homework required of their students.  The New York Times reports that many school systems are implementing programs which limit homework to 10 minutes for each year of school.  A second grader is assigned  no more that 20 minutes of homework each school night; a sixth grader no more than one hour etc.. Students are not assigned homework on weekends, holidays and school vacations.  Their argument is that the increased competition for test scores and college admittance is stressing out the children and depriving them of play and rest while doing little to raise their achievement levels.
None of this makes any sense.
It has been said that the future of the country lies within our children; which is all the more reason why we should be doing everything in our power to ensure their success. 
Education in this country should be about the children…but it isn’t.  The children are but pawns in the game of politics.  Education in this country is about short sighted politicians, ineffective tenured teachers and parents too damn lazy to help their own children to succeed.
There is no excuse for the children in this the richest, most successful country in the world (at least for the moment) to get anything but the best education in the world. 
We are failing our kids…and there is no excuse…none.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Raise The Debt Limit...Then Raise Taxes

Vice President Joe Biden will meet with Republican leaders this week to resolve the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  Republicans say they will not vote for any increase in the debt limit unless it is matched by an equal amount of spending cuts.  Democrats are willing to agree on spending cuts if they are offset by increases in revenue, IE: tax increases.  Republicans say everything is on the table BUT tax increases.  And so it goes, on and on and on…
According to the Associated Press, Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke said Tuesday that the US debt ceiling should not be used as a bargaining chip to force budget cuts, and not raising it could cause “severe disruptions” in financial markets and worsen the economy.  Bernanke said that even a short delay in making payments on the nation’s debt would damage the dollar and raise serious doubts about the nation’s creditworthiness. Using the debt limit deadline to force some “necessary and difficult fiscal policy adjustments” is “the wrong tool for that important job”.  Standard & Poors has already stated that the nation’s credit rating is in jeopardy due to a lack in confidence that Congress will reach a solution by the August 2nd deadline.
As always, the real sticking point here is raising taxes.  The Democrats want to the Republicans don’t.  In this particular instance the Democrats seem to be on the right side of the issue.
There is simply no way to get out of the mammoth financial hole that we are in by merely cutting spending.  The country is far too dependent on the programs whose cuts would still be insufficient to fix the problem.  We need to increase revenue.
So where do we get it?
Middle class wages have declined over the past decade while corporations have earned record profits.  Corporations earned profits of $1.7 trillion in 2010 alone.  And while their profits have increased dramatically over the past decade; the taxes they have paid as a percentage of the country’s GDP has declined to just over 1%...the lowest ever. 
Republicans argue that you cannot increase the tax burden on the very individuals who invest in the economy and create jobs.  That would be a valid point if corporations were actually investing in the economy and creating jobs.  But they are not.  The unemployment rate currently stands at 9% and the economy is stagnant.  Those corporations that line the Republican pockets are investing overseas and hiding their profits in foreign banks.
But this is what Congress does.  They posture, threaten and argue until the eleventh hour.  Then they do exactly what they knew they had to do months before.
Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling…period.  Any failure to do so, thereby forcing the country to default on its financial obligations, is fiscally irresponsible and reckless.  Once they have taken that vote they can then go about the business of reconciling the necessary spending cuts with the inevitable tax increases.

Huntsman May Be the Guy

Republican Presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman says that he will formerly enter the presidential race next week.  His entry into the Republican fray will add further intrigue into what is already a very fluid situation. 
Make no mistake Romney is the frontrunner.  But Romney has his flaws.  His robotic personality and penchant for flip flopping on core issues is a turnoff for many of the party faithful.  But he has been here before and he knows how to play in this arena.
Michelle Bachman plays well among the Tea Party faithful.  Unlike Sarah Palin, Bachman has hired some serious campaign strategists and has listened to their counsel.  The results were evident in her strong performance in Monday’s New Hampshire debates. 
Governor Tim Pawlenty stumbled Monday night by showing an unwillingness to attack his opponents even when handed several opportunities to do so.  He came off as weak and indecisive and was deemed the biggest loser in the debate.  Anointed as Romney’s prime competition he will be out of the race if he fails to win Iowa….a scenario that at this juncture seems likely.
Now enters Jon Huntsman.  Huntsman is a very, very smart guy that has an ease about him that Romney lacks.  Like Romney he is a successful businessman that knows his way around a corporate boardroom.  The Tea Partiers will like that fact that he is a small government conservative who speaks their language without setting his hair on fire.  What sets Huntsman apart is that he has spent the past two years as Obama’s ambassador to America’s most feared economic foe…China.  Huntsman has lived with the Chinese and has an understanding of how they think that is unmatched by the other candidates.  His first hand experience is seen by many as invaluable as the US struggles to compete with the ever growing Chinese economy.  Huntsman is unknown to most of America.  That will change quickly over the next few months.
Republicans are seeking a serious candidate that won’t make them hold their breath in fear every time the candidate opens his/her mouth.  They want a candidate who believes in their core values and can express them in a civil manner.  And they want a candidate who has the intellect and political savvy to adjust to this ever changing political landscape.  Jon Huntsman just may be their guy.    

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Romney wins Round One

Mitt Romney was the clear winner last night as the Republican presidential candidates took the stage in New Hampshire for their first Presidential debate.  The former Massachusetts governor appeared relaxed, confident and very Presidential as he fielded a variety of questions from CNN moderator John King.  He was particularly effective in defending his position on “Obamacare” explaining the differences between the President’s health care plan and the plan he legislated in Massachusetts.  Romney had an easy ride as his fellow candidates chose to attack the President and allow the Republican frontrunner to go unchallenged.
Romney’s strong performance stood in sharp contrast to the weak effort offered by his chief rival, Tim Pawlenty.  Pawlenty refused to look at Romney much less challenge him.  King went at Pawlenty several times trying to get him to address his “Obamnecare” comments on Sunday’s Meet the Press.  Time and time again Pawlenty refused to take King’s challenge choosing to avoid the confrontation.
The surprise of the night was Michelle Bachman.  Bachman gave a surprisingly charismatic effort.  Gone were the crazy talk and the wild threats to motivate congress with assault rifles.  Bachman was focused and likeable; and her performance only served to further highlight Pawlenty’s poor performance.
We were disappointed that none of the candidates offered anything new.  The tried and true Republican talking points of lower taxes and less regulation were repeated over and over again.  But while they were more than willing to criticize the President’s record on the economy and unemployment they offered no specifics on how they would create jobs and fix the country’s problems.
We are reminded that this is but the first debate in a very long campaign.  There are seventeen grueling months to go.  Romney was the clear winner last night.  If the other Republican candidates continue to shy away from attacking Romney’s flip flopping record they might just as well hand him the nomination right now.          

Monday, June 13, 2011

A "Stupid" Weekend

There were a number of ridiculous exchanges over the weekend, far too many to detail in their entirety.  Most are notable only for their stupidity.  Here are the highlights:
The Republican leadership took to the Sunday talk shows to rain down on Anthony Weiner’s parade.  It wasn’t enough for the Republicans that the Democratic Leadership was already calling for Weiner to step down; the Republicans had to get in their digs.  Most notable was Republican Chairman Reince Priebus’ pompous appearance on “Meet the Press”.  Apparently Mr. Priebus has forgotten how a long list of his party’s members had to be dragged kicking and screaming from office after being found ethically challenged.  Mr. Priebus’ hypocrisy is typical of Republicans who are always eager to pile on when their Democratic opponents are caught with their pants down; but seem to disappear when one of their own is found in the same compromising position.
Speaking of Weiner…he has to go.  We do not take any joy in taking this position.  Weiner has been one of the strongest proponents of the progressive agenda.  He has been media savvy and just fun to cover.  But he has a serious personal problem.  His refusal to resign and his seeking a temporary leave of absence indicate that he has yet to grasp the seriousness of his problem.  From a political perspective he cannot be effective.  It would be hard for him to be taken seriously by his peers.  One can only imagine the chamber watching Weiner give one of his impassioned pleas while visions of his erect penis dance in their heads.
Tim Pawlenty took a shot at both the President and fellow Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  Criticizing the President’s health care plan and comparing it to the plan then governor Romney implemented in Massachusetts, Pawlenty coined the phrase “Obamnecare”.  That’s it.  That his big policy statement.  That’s all he’s got.  Clever!  Pawlenty will be appearing tonight in the CNN sponsored Republican Presidential Debates…debates nobody will  watch.
Did you catch the media feeding frenzy over the release of former governor Sarah Palin’s emails?  24,000 of Palin’s emails were released in paper form.  The cost to fly these media losers all the way to Alaska so they could read the emails boggles the mind.  And what was the major story mined from these must see documents?  “Emails Reveal a Focused Palin Hard at Work”.  Brilliant!

Newt Gingrich spent the weekend trying to plug up the holes in his sinking campaign.  Newt has vowed to continue on even after watching his executive staff walk out en masse.  It is still hard to believe that a veteran politician like Gingrich could roll out such a disfunctional campaign.  But Newt has been out of the political loop for quite some time.  Since he left Congress to cheat on his wives Newt has been making a living scamming the public.  He must figure one more scam couldn't hurt.  Newt is in it to win least until the next cruise ship sails.

Speaking of vultures...  Newt's political loss was Texas Governor Rick Perry's gain.  Most of the executive staff that bailed on Newt are now working for Governor Perry; raising the prospect that Perry may run for the White House.  It will be interesting to see how the Governor melds a run for the White House with his self-proclaimed desire for Texas to secede from the union.   
Senator Lindsey Graham was at it once again reaffirming that he has never met a war he didn’t like.  When asked about the US response to the violence in Syria and Yemen, where thousands of protestors have been killed by government forces, Graham said: “all options are on the table.”  Apparently Senator Graham believes that our financially strapped economy and woefully thin military can easily step into the fray in Syria and Yemen…and Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya.  Someone needs to put a helmet on his little pin head and put him on the first chopper to Syria.  His comments are stupid…and there is no other way to say it.    

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Over the past ten years the United States has poured over $19 billion dollars in aid into Afghanistan.  A recent congressional report tells us that this amounts to 97% of that country’s GDP.
The report further states that by infusing these huge sums of money into humanitarian aid, inflated salaries and expansion projects…none of which can possibly be sustained without our help… we are guaranteeing the economic collapse of the country once we leave.
Lastly, the report points out that our failure to effectively address the greed and corruption in the Afghan government as well as the strong influences of the narcotics trade dictates that a large percentage of our benevolence has been wasted.        
What in the hell are we doing?
Is there a doubt in anyone’s mind what is going to happen once we leave and the $19 billion dollar slush fund dries up?  Violence, anarchy and corruption will escalate as the tribal warlords fight over the remaining 3% of the country’s GDP.   The Taliban’s hold on the country will become even stronger.  Al Qaida’s footprint will become larger; and Iran and Pakistan will have more influence.  The flexing of Pakistani muscle will cause a reflexive reaction from their arch enemy, India.  The possible confrontation between these two hostile nuclear powers will raise the hackles of their neighbors, China and Russia.
And all of this will happen whether we leave now or 10 years from now.
So why are we still there?  Why are we spending hundreds of millions to build roads and bridges in Afghanistan when our own infrastructure is crumbling?  Why are we spending hundreds of millions to build schools in Afghanistan when our own schools are failing?  Why are we building hospitals in Afghanistan when 50 million of our own citizens cannot get affordable health care?
And then to add insult to injury… why are we ordering our troops to serve two and three deployments in Afghanistan only to return home to a nation unable or unwilling to care for their needs.  As we write this 8200 homeless veterans are living in alleys and under bridges in Los Angeles County alone.  Non-profit organizations like Operation Mend are pleading for donations to help put back together the bodies and minds of our wounded veterans.
The President says we have “turned the corner in Afghanistan.”  We are not sure where he is looking.  He says he will announce “a significant withdrawal of our troops in July.”  This is a good thing.  From our prospective the only consideration to be given to the number of troops withdrawn is force protection…ensuing the safety of those troops left behind while the withdrawal is underway.
This should be a lesson learned; a lesson that unfortunately we did not learn in Iraq or Vietnam.  If you are going to invade a country you had best be prepared for the resulting consequences when you leave. We need to leave and we need to leave now.  But be prepared as the repercussions of our departure will not be pretty.             

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wanted: A Few Good Men

USA Today reports that the federal government added $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations in 2010 bringing the total of unpaid for financial promises to a staggering $61.6 trillion dollars.  That amounts to $534,000 of debt per American household. 
USA Today breaks down the country’s unfunded financial obligations as follows:
$24.8 trillion for Medicare
$21.4 Trillion for Social Security
$9.4 trillion for the Federal Debt
$3.6 trillion for Military Retirement Benefits
$2.0 trillion for Employee Retirement Benefits
$0.4 trillion for Other Misc. Payments

These numbers are mind blowing and they are only going to get worse.  With the baby boomers reaching retirement age and trying to collect on those promised benefits these numbers will skyrocket over the next 20 years.

So what are we doing about it?  So far… not much.  The politicians babble on about “the complexity of the problem” and “the difficult decisions that need to be made.”  The truth is the financial problems we face are painfully obvious and the solutions really quite simple.  The difficult part is facing the voters once you have made the hard but necessary decisions. 

Like any other failing business or household, we need to cut our runaway spending AND increase our revenue.  Everyone not running for reelection knows this; and when faced with the alternatives is more than willing to do it.

So what are the obvious solutions?  Here they are in no particular order of importance:

We need to cut military spending.  As hard as it may be to accept, we can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman.  Our military budget is larger than the economies of most other countries.  The world has changed.  Gone are the days of massive armies and armadas.  Wars are fought with Black Ops and drones.  Bin Laden changed our lives with three airplanes and some box cutters.  He was brought down by CIA intelligence and a small group of Navy seals; not a Normandy type invasion.  We can start by pulling out of Afghanistan…now.  We cannot afford to continue to spend $2 billion per week to rebuild their country when our own country is deteriorating.  Yes, Al Qaeda will probably move back in when we leave.  But they are going to return if we leave in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years or tomorrow.  We went in there to disrupt al Qaida and kill the people who attacked us on 911.  Al Qaeda has been driven from Afghanistan and bin Laden is dead.  Declare “Mission Accomplished” and bring the troops home.

We need to increase the retirement age.  When Social Security was started the retirement age was 65 and the life expectancy 62.  Now people are living much longer while the retirement age has remained relatively stagnant.  The baby boomers are now reaching retirement age which will only exacerbate the problem.  The status quo is unsustainable.  Everyone knows that for the program to remain viable in the long term these deficiencies must be addressed now.

Medicare is more of a problem than Social Security.  But pushing Medicare off the federal ledger onto the states is not the answer.  The problem is the cost of health care and the inefficiencies in the delivery system.  Obama’s plan did not go far enough.  We favor a single payer solution.  But if you don’t want to follow every other industrialized country down the single payer path then you have to either reduce benefits or reduce the cost.  It is hard to consider reducing the benefits for our elderly.  So that leaves the cost.  Paying $20 for an aspirin or $835 per night for a semi-private room is ridiculous.  If you are going to leave the system as is then the government needs to step in and regulate the amount of money that can be charged for services rendered.

The debt ceiling needs to be increased.  To consider anything different is disingenuous and reckless.  If you think our economy is heading over the cliff now see what happens if the government has to start borrowing at 3% or 4% instead for the current rate of almost 0%.  The Republicans need to stop the charade and get on with the serious business of fixing the items noted above.

Last but not least, we need to increase revenue.  Yes, we need to amend the tax code.  General Electric and Exxon can no longer be allowed to get by without paying taxes.  Amending the tax code will result in some revenue increase…but not enough.  We need to increase taxes.  If taxing the wealthiest 2% does not generate the necessary funds then all of the Bush tax cuts need to be repealed.  Will increasing taxes hurt the economy?  No!  Clinton raised taxes and the country prospered.  Bush lowered them and the results are plain to see.  Corporations are not investing in America now, even at these low tax rates.  Where are the jobs that will supposedly be lost if taxes are increased?   If businesses won’t generate tax revenue through their own efforts than the government must do it for them.

This is what needs to be done.  If you put a few folks not seeking reelection into a room they will come up with the same solutions.  The problems are obvious…the remedies equally so.  All that is needed is the leadership to make it happen.