Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flushing Money Down The Drain

According to the Associated Press; The Commission on Wartime Contracting, an independent panel investigating wartime spending, will release a report today on their findings regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   
The report will say that as much as $60 billion dollars has been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.  The loss stems from lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and payoffs to war lords and insurgents.
That says it all.

Cantor Bargaining With Disaster Victims' Lives

FEMA is broke.  After providing disaster aid to wildfire victims in the southwest, tornado victims in the Midwest, earthquake damage in the northeast and now a hurricane along the eastern shore; the disaster relief agency is running out of funds.  The Associated Press reports that FEMA has provided over $130 billion in disaster aid over the past two decades; $110 billion of which was provided as emergency funding in addition to the annual budget.  FEMA officials report that there will be a shortfall of $5 billion for the upcoming budget year; and that is before accounting for Irene.  There is $800 million left in the till.  More money is needed. 
Eric Cantor and his Republican cronies are willing to provide additional emergency funds…but only if offsetting spending cuts are found elsewhere.  Defense is sacrosanct and tax increases need not apply.
This should come as no surprise.  After all it was Cantor and the Tea Party conservatives that held unemployment compensation (i.e. food, clothing and shelter) for the needy as a hostage bargaining chip to get tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
We have to wonder if Cantor and his buddies would be as steadfast in their conservative beliefs if a Republican President were occupying the White House.  We have to wonder if Cantor and his buddies would be as steadfast in their conservative beliefs if Irene had devastated Manhattan and Wall Street; home to the power and money brokers who fuel Cantor’s Republican Party.  History tells us the answer is “No”.
Where were Cantor and the Republicans when George W. Bush was taking the country into two unfunded wars?  Where were Cantor and the Republicans when Bush was passing the unfunded prescription drug plan for seniors; the largest government welfare program since the depression?  They were praising Bush for his patriotism and his benevolence…balanced budget be damned.  Now they are singing a different tune.
Here’s a thought.  If you want to fund FEMA how about stopping the $46 trillion in tax subsidies that you give to outrageously profitable big oil companies.  Or how about cutting tax loopholes that allow billionaires to pay a smaller % in taxes than the secretaries who bring them coffee or the maids who clean their toilets.
Cantor is playing politics.  You give something to get something in return.  That’s how Washington works.  We get that.
But bargaining with the lives of people whose have lost everything is not just politics.  It’s just wrong.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cheney Shines Harsh Light On Obama

The anticipated release of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s memoir “In My time” is generating a great deal of interest among both the media and the Washington elite.  Once again we are exposed to heated debates about Cheney’s place in history. 
Cheney’s supporters say he is a patriot who saw the horrors of 9/11 and vowed to do everything in his power to see that they never happened again.  His detractors view him as a war criminal who violated the terms of the Geneva Convention and lied us into a war costing trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of precious lives.  He has been referred to as “the most powerful Vice President in history” by some and the “the most dangerous person to ever hold high office” by others.  One thing is certain…Cheney is without question one of the most polarizing figures in our history.
While the debate over Cheney’s place in history rages on we are struck by the lack of media coverage of the Obama administration's continuation and expansion of many of the Bush/Cheney policies. 
Obama has continued Bush’s withdrawal plans in Iraq but he has tripled the troops in Afghanistan.  Guantanamo is still open and intelligence officers still tap the emails and phone calls of Americans without obtaining warrants.  We no longer kick down doors, grab high valued targets and drag them off to foreign countries to torture them.  Now we kick down the door and shoot them on sight.  Or we use predator drones to drop bombs on them from 30,000 feet killing scores of innocents in the process.
Bush/Cheney has been vilified by the left for attacking Iraq, a country that never attacked us.  But Obama increased the drone attacks tenfold, ordering bombings in Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.  We have not declared war on any of these countries and to the best of our knowledge not one of them has declared war on us.
Obama's base is furious; but the media seemingly gives him a pass.
We are not defending Dick Cheney.  On the contrary, count us among those that believe Cheney should be hauled off to The Hague.  But we wonder how history will view Obama given his continuation and even expansion of many of the Bush/Cheney policies.  Historians will no doubt have varying opinions.
One thing is certain; these policies do not work.  The current course has weakened our country economically, militarily and perhaps most important of all psychologically.  The swagger and can do attitude that made us the most prosperous and powerful country in the world is gone.  America is struggling to take care of itself.  Nation building and regime change lead us down a dangerous and costly path that we can ill afford to navigate. 
Obama's policies are not sustainable…and they are ruinous for the country.  The question is, are they that much different than Cheney's?           

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Comedic Relief Of Rick Perry

Comedian Rick Perry is has done it again.
Never one to let hypocrisy stand in the way of bombast, Perry has fired off another salvo at the federal government. 
The Associated Press reports that Perry “has asked the US Department of Homeland Security for $350 million to cover the cost he says that Texas has incurred incarcerating illegal immigrants in state prisons and county jails.  In a letter to Homeland Security Director, Janet Napolitano, Perry reiterated a claim he’s often leveled against the federal government: that it’s not doing enough to secure the border with Mexico and, as a result, has allowed illegal immigrants to enter the U.S. and use taxpayer-funded resources, including the prison system.” No doubt the illegal immigrants are appreciative of being “allowed” to reside in Perry’s prisons.
This is typical Perry; campaigning to reduce the size of the federal government while complaining that it doesn’t do enough.  This is the same Perry who talks tough about illegal immigrants but rejects building a wall along the Mexican border, supports discounted tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants and criticizes Arizona’s tough immigration crack down.  Perry is long on complaining but short on solutions.
Note to Governor Perry…why you don’t use some of the stimulus money that you received.  You know the $6.4 billion you took from Obama’s Recovery Act… that socialist welfare plan that you constantly criticize.  Use some of that money to offset the expenses Texas incurred to lock up illegal immigrants. 
Oh, that’s right… you can’t…you used that stimulus money to balance your budget.
The comedic relief of Rick Perry… he’s got a million of them.


Friday, August 26, 2011

The Politics Of Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene is barreling toward the eastern seaboard.  The weather gurus expect the storm to make landfall within the next the next 24 hours.  Irene is expected to move up the east coast causing billions in damages from North Carolina to New England.  The storm comes on the heels of a 5.8 earthquake which rattled this same area just a few days earlier.
While our thoughts and prayers are with those who stand in Irene’s path we could not help but be struck by the politics playing out as the storm approaches.
Seven Governors have declared states of emergency.  Once the storm has passed each of them will petition the federal government to assist with the aftermath.  Most notable will be Republican Governor Chris Christy of New Jersey and Republican Governor Bob McDonald of Virginia.  Christy and McDonald have been two of the most vocal advocates of massive spending cuts and small government policies.  But their aversion to all things federal won’t stop them from petitioning Washington to come to their aid.  
Earlier this week, Virginia Representative and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor spoke with reporters about the devastation caused by the earthquake and the anticipated damage from the oncoming storm .  The epicenter of the earthquake occurred in Cantor’s own district and the hurricane threatens Virginia's coastline.  Cantor has been a major voice in the Republican drive to slash federal spending and eliminate government agencies.  A visibly shaken (pardon the pun) Cantor addressed reporters amid the rumble and noted that there was after all “a role for government in situations like this.”
Republican Presidential candidate and current Texas Governor Rick Perry has been a long time critic of Washington.  He even threatened to secede if Washington didn’t curb its intrusive ways.  But he complained bitterly at the lack of federal assistance when his state was battling wildfires earlier this year.  And Perry’s Texas has sucked more money out of the hated Obama stimulus plan than any state save California.
It is notable that among the agencies designated for massive cuts in the eyes of Republicans are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  NOAA tracks hurricanes and assists states in their emergency planning.  FEMA heads the country’s disaster relief efforts.  Hmmmm!      
Republicans like to scream and holler about the evils of the federal government.  They want to slash and cut and reduce government to a size small enough “to drown it in the bathtub.”
Republicans hate big government…until they need it.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cheney Still Defending His Legacy

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has a new memoir. Yawn!  His latest defense of all things Cheney: “In My Time: a Personal and Political Memoir” is scheduled for release next week.  Excerpts from the book can be found in a recent article in the New York Times.
In his latest attempt to defend his legacy Cheney portrays himself as an outlier among senior advisors whose vision and insight was always on point while those around him stumbled.  Colin Powel, Condoleezza Rice and George Tenant are thrown under the bus as Cheney strives to demonstrate his intellectual superiority.  Cheney staunchly defends the controversial decisions of the Bush administration including the use of enhanced interrogation techniques in interrogating high valued detainees; and he stunningly informs us that he was the one running the country in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  Once a staunch believer in guarding the secrecy of internal deliberations within the White House; Cheney has no problem divulging a number of conflicts within the inner circle. His loyalty to President Bush and the Bush Administration does not preclude him from revealing intimate conversations within the Oval office.
This is just another sad attempt by Dick Cheney to defend his actions while working within the Bush White House.  While others may focus on the more salacious aspects of the book we believe that there is only one revelation in this memoir that warrants attention…Cheney's continued defense of his decision to use enhanced interrogation techniques on high valued detainees.
Cheney’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques is in clear violation of the Geneva Accords.  If you doubt our assertion Google the definition of water boarding; then Google the definition of torture in the Geneva Accords.  They are one in the same.  Cheney’s adamant defense of those tactics is evidence of his over inflated sense of self.  His lack of remorse is evidence of his lack of character and moral standing.
Dick Cheney is guilty of war crimes.  That is his legacy.    

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We Need To Reset The Bar For Our Future Leaders

We were watching MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this AM when the anchor cut away to an FOXNEWS interview with former Florida governor, Jeb Bush.
In the piece Bush said the following:
“The President’s policies have failed.  He has taken a bad situation and made it worse.  It is fair to criticize him for that.  That is politics.  But to blame him for everything from the common cold to…that’s wrong.  I think questioning his motives is wrong.  It is not enough to just to say that you should win because you are against something.  You have to be for something.  You have to persuade.  You have to motivate.  You have to have solutions to the problems.”
What we found remarkable was the reaction of the pundits to the governor’s remarks.  They were absolutely gushing over the governor’s tone, his comportment and his calm and thoughtful demeanor.  It was like they had never heard anything quite like it before.
Has our political dialogue sunk so low that a politician who speaks calmly with forethought and reason is an enigma?  Have we become so use to hearing candidates throw around accusations of treason and socialism that we are shocked when we hear thoughtful, reasoned dialogue?
We disagree with former governor Bush on a whole host of political issues; but we could not agree with him more on this matter.  It’s not enough to scream, holler and run around with your hair on fire.  The people want solutions to the country’s problems.  The candidates that can best articulate their solutions to those problems should be seriously considered.  The rest ignored as mindless noise.
The governor got it right.  We need to reset the bar for our future leaders.    

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time To just Say "No"

Just a quick comment about the events in Libya.
It appears that Gadhafi’s days are numbered.  It seems unlikely that he will ever be able to regain control of the country.  So we are left to answer the question: “what’s next?” 
The truth is nobody knows.
There are certainties to be considered.  Once Gadhafi is removed there will be a struggle among the local tribes for land and power; a vacuum that several factions will move to fill.  Key will be the disposition of oil reserves that produce 2% of the world’s crude.   We can expect that the United States will be asked to play a major role in brokering a peaceful resolution to this conflict. 
So what do we do?
 It is our fervent hope that whatever assistance the United States offers it will be in the form of advice and counsel not arms and money.  The United States has already spent over $1billion dollars that we don’t have assisting the rebels and NATO coalition.  It is time for the rest of the world to take over the mantel of policeman and peacekeeper.
It is striking that our country is involved in three military conflicts that raise barely a blip on the American conscience.  Americans don’t know when we are leaving Iraq or why we are still in Afghanistan.  And they care even less about the fall of Gadhafi or the resolution of the unrest that is certain to follow. 
Americans care about jobs and the economy.  They care about their kids’ educations and their 401ks.  Americans do not have the stomach for brokering a deal in a foreign land half way around the world.  We don’t have the money nor do we have the resolve.
The world wanted Gadhafi gone.  It appears that their wish will be granted.  As the saying goes: “be careful what you wish for.” 
America will once again be asked to play a major role in rebuilding a country.  It is time to just say “no”.        

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Look Behind The Curtain Of Perry's TexOZ

Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry is eager to tout his accomplishments as Texas’ longest reigning governor.  Not a moment goes by without Perry telling us that since June of 2009 37% of all job growth in the country occurred in Texas under his stewardship.  (His droning is reminiscent of Rudy Giuliani‘s 2008 campaign when the former New York mayor couldn’t go five minutes without saying “911”.  But we digress.)  He tells us that his outstanding record for job growth is the result of his policies to lower spending, reduce taxes and minimize regulation; all of which he says draws business to his state and allows them to prosper.  Perry is also more than happy to talk to us about the “transparency", fairness” and “honesty” of his administration.  He wants us to know that he abhors the “smoke and mirrors” and “back room shenanigans” that he says are rampant in the Obama Administration; and he promises that all of that will stop if he is elected President.  Sounds great!
Unfortunately a look behind the curtain of his administration finds things are not quite as rosy as the governor would have us believe.
Let’s start with job growth.  Governor Perry’s Texas sits across the border from Mexico.  Over 50 million Mexicans have poured over that border in search of work and a new life.  They are willing to work for anything because anything is better than they had back home.  Consequently Texans have taken advantage this vast labor pool to hire immigrants at low minimum wages.  Texas leads the country in minimum wage jobs.  These immigrants often have families with children that enter the country with them.  Texas leads the country in the number of children living without health care.  Poverty level wages, no benefits and poor health conditions…something Perry can be proud of.
Texas sits on a vast oil reserve.  The skyrocketing price of crude is bad for most Americans but good for Texas.  The thriving oil industry in the state attracts businesses and workers from surrounding states; a zero sum gain for the country but again…good for Texas. 
 Studies show that Texas has realized a net job growth of 75,000 jobs since 2008.  Its rate unemployment rate stands at 8.2%.  To be fair both figures are better than the national average.
But even with a thriving oil industry Texas has had difficulty stemming the decrease in private sector jobs.   
So how does Texas show a net job growth if private sector jobs are on the decline?  Government!Governor Perry wants to talk about small government but without government Texas would have no job growth at all.  The state has lost 40,000 private sector jobs since 2008 while government provided jobs increased 115,000 over that same period; a net job growth of 75,000.  Federal government jobs increase 7%; state government jobs increased 8.4% and local government jobs increased 6%.
To summarize, the job growth in Texas is not the result of low taxes, reduced spending and minimal regulation as Perry would have us believe.  It is because Texas has the good fortune to sit atop a precious natural energy source and alongside an unlimited source of cheap labor.  This geographic boondoggle and an influx of 115,000 government jobs have provided Perry with his success.  Perry owes his state’s job growth to good fortune not good management.
Now let’s examine the transparency, honesty and fairness in government that Perry professes to practice.
Perry has gone on record several times in his criticism of Obama’s stimulus plan.  He said the stimulus was just another attempt by the federal government to circumvent state’s rights and he suggested that Texas might secede from the union if Washington it didn’t stop its overreaching, free spending ways.  The entire time Governor Perry was railing against the stimulus he applied for and received over $17 billion in stimulus funding for Texas projects…second only to California.  The Governor can thank Obama’s stimulus money in part for the surplus that he so proudly proclaims.
The governor likes to brag that he and his minions have been so frugal that Texas has built up a $6 billion dollar “Rainy Day Fund.”  One then wonders why if the governor had a rainy day fund he would cut $5 billion in education.  After all Texas has the highest high school dropout rate in the nation and ranks along with Alabama and Mississippi as one of the worst states in educating its children.  Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has said he: “feels sorry for the children in Texas.  They are not being prepared for college.”  It would seem that Texas could ill afford to cut its education budget.
We now know from sources inside the Perry administration that the rainy day fund could not be used for education because it was earmarked to backstop the state’s Medicaid fund.  It seems the state intentionally underfunded Medicaid to improve the books knowing full well that it would have to use the rainy day fund to backstop the program.  This is the type of honesty and transparency the Perry promises to bring to Washington.
The list goes on.
The governor is a savvy politician and an accomplished fund raiser.  Due to Perry’s decade long term as governor he has had the opportunity to stock the government with loyalists eager to do his bidding.  He has appointed roughly 4,000 individuals to state posts and enacted policies that have benefited allies and contributors.  Backroom deals are commonplace.  Perry has raised more than $17 million in campaign contributions from more than 900 appointees or their spouses, roughly one dollar out of every five the governor has raised.  Perry takes care of those who contribute to his cause; the greater the contribution the headier the appointment.  Make no mistake that these pay for play appointments go on in governments all across the country and nowhere are they more prevalent than in Washington DC.  It is Perry’s protestations that he is somehow any different that is so hypocritical.
Rick Perry is a good looking guy with a big smile and a good head of hair.  When you pull back the curtain that’s all there is.            


Republicans Want To Increase Your Taxes!

 Republicans hate taxes.  It’s embedded in their DNA.  Their mantra: lower taxes whenever possible… oppose tax increases at every turn.  Lower taxes…less government…blah, blah, blah.  We all know the drill.
So why would Republicans move to block the renewal of the payroll tax cut which in effect raises people’s taxes?
The answer is simple…politics.
You may recall that last December Congress approved President Obama’s request to reduce the amount deducted for Social Security from each wage earner from 6.2% to 4.2%.  The deduction, scheduled to last for one year, has been referred to as a “payroll tax holiday.”  The goal was to put more money into people’s pockets with the intent of spurring the economy.
The President wants to extend the tax cut.  Republicans disagree.
A brief tutorial!
Workers normally pay 6.2% of their wages for Social Security.  Their employer matches with an additional 6.2% for a total of 12.4% per worker.  The “payroll tax holiday” reduced the employee deduction from 6.2% to 4.2%.  The employer contribution remained at 6.2%.  Social Security taxes apply to only the first $106,800 of workers earnings.  Anything earned over that amount is a freebee.  Therefore the most anyone can benefit from the one year deduction is $2,136.  The tax reduction will cost the government $120 billion this year and a like amount next year if renewed.  
According to the Associated Press Republicans fear that extending the “payroll tax holiday” will hamper Congressional efforts to cut the deficit.  Republican Representative David Camp is Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and a member of the super committee tasked with finding new deficit cuts.  Speaking in opposition Camp said: “tax reductions no matter how well intended will push the deficit higher, making the panel’s task that much harder.”
This is the same Republican Party that last December held unemployment benefits hostage using the lifeline of over 2 million Americans as a bargaining chip to broker an extension of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  The fact that extending those Bush tax cuts increased the deficit by $4 trillion dollars didn’t seem to matter to Chairman Camp and his Republican cohorts.
This is just more evidence that Republicans will oppose everything and anything this President supports…even tax cuts.     

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In Case You Missed It...

Political events outside New York and Washington tend go unnoticed by the national media.  With the exception of Presidential campaigns the national media tends to yawn about stories originating in America’s heartland or the far west.  So it comes as no surprise that you have to search long and hard to find much written about an Ohio political story that will soon have national implications.
Ohio Governor John Kasich announced yesterday that he is willing to weaken a controversial new law limiting collective bargaining rights for government employees.  Kasich statement is an effort to keep a repeal referendum of Senate Bill 5 off the November ballot.  His announcement comes just 48 hours after Wisconsin Republicans failed in an effort to recall two Democratic State Senators.
What’s the connection, you ask…and why does it matter?
As you know the 2010 mid-term elections swept into office a number of state legislators who campaigned on cutting spending and shrinking the size of their respective state governments.  These new legislatures, led by their conservative governors, moved swiftly to enact severe cost cutting legislation.  Armed with what they believed to be a mandate of the people they focused on cutting government employee benefits and outlawing their collective bargaining rights. 
Most notable were the events occurring in Wisconsin.  Governor Scott Walker enacted legislation that slashed employee benefits and took away their collective bargaining rights.  The repercussions were so loud that even the national media took notice.  Tens of thousands of protestors stormed the state capital where they camped out for days.  Democratic Senators fled the state in an effort to deny Walker the quorum he needed to pass the legislation.  Republicans found a way to circumvent the quorum issue and passed the legislation anyway.  All Republican Senators, save one, voted for passage.  The importance of that one vote will become apparent later.
Incensed Democrats were not to be denied.  They initiated recall proceedings to remove from office six Republican Senators who were key in passing Walker’s legislation.  Democrats would need to win three of the six races to take control of the Senate and repeal the legislation.  Their chances of success were minimal as the six Senators resided in overwhelmingly conservative districts that had voted Republican for decades.  Over $40 million dollars in special interest money poured into Wisconsin.  The Democrats fell short recalling only two of the six seats.
Republican countered by attempting to recall two Democratic Senators who had been instrumental in the uprising.  The efforts failed and the Democrats retained their seats.
He is where that lone Republican “No” vote comes in. 
By taking two of the six Republican seats and retaining the two seats Democrats previously held, the Democrats evened the balance of power in the Wisconsin Senate 16-16.  The lone deciding vote is held by a Republican…the lone Republican who voted against Walker’s union busting bill.  After months of contentious debate and $40 million in special interest money Governor Walker’s attempts to ramrod his legislation and bust the union is in dire straits.
Now the connection to Ohio!
A mere forty eight hours after the Democrats won their recall vote Ohio Kasich announced that he is willing to discuss amending his draconian collective bargaining legislation. 
Coincidence?  We think not. 
Kasich, like Walker took office under the wrong headed idea that he had a mandate to slash Ohio’s state government.  Like Walker, Kasich he took the power grab a step too far and went after the unions.  Ohioans revolted.  56% of Ohioans oppose the Governor’s bill with only 32% in favor of passage.  1.3 million Ohio citizens, four times the number needed, signed petitions to put a referendum on the November ballot to repeal the union busting law.
After steamrolling his way through the Ohio legislature…now Kasich wants to talk.
The importance of this local event on the national stage is notable.  Ohio is an important swing state.  Regarding Presidential elections, many have said: “as Ohio goes so goes the Presidency”.  If a rebellion of this magnitude can happen in Ohio it can happen anywhere.  The opposition to the draconian cuts undertaken by Ohio Governor Kasich is emblematic of the discontent being voiced against conservative legislatures all across the country.  Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey and Florida are but a few of the states where voters are rebelling against the slash and burn tactics of overreaching conservative legislators.  Each of these state’s governors approval ratings wallow well below 50%.  Florida’s Rick Scott holds the distinction of being the country’s least popular governor.  His cost cutting policies have garnered him a whopping 23% approval rating.  Ouch!  People are hurting and they are lashing out at anyone who attempts to cut the benefits and services they sorely need.
There is a huge ground swell of opposition to the cost cutting tactics of these conservative state legislatures.  You can be certain that the affects will be felt on Election Day.  The efforts in Wisconsin and Ohio are just the beginning. 
Kudos to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow!  She alone seems to have grasped  the significance of yesterday’s “Ohio” story.      

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cowardly Congressman

Would you like to meet your Congressman?  Would you like to give him, or her, a piece of your mind?  If you would like to avail yourself of the opportunity to sit down with the people who represent you in Washington then you had better bring your wallet because it’s going to cost you.
Congress is currently on summer recess.  This is the time when elected officials go out in their districts to find out what is on the mind of their constituents.  Many congressman hold town hall meetings…open forum gatherings where officials can press the flesh and find out firsthand how people feel about all that is going on in Washington.  As you might imagine, these town hall meetings can get pretty raucous at times.  People can get fired up about issues they believe in.  But town hall meetings give folks the opportunity to let their representatives know how they feel.  A win, win for everybody!  Right?
Nope…not anymore!
POLITICO is reporting that a number of Congressmen have discontinued town hall meetings in favor of a much more controlled environment.  They have outsourced these meetings to third party groups who charge an entry fee to raise money. Sources tell POLITICO: “In this way members of Congress can eliminate most of the riffraff while still allowing reporters and television cameras for a positive news story.”
Translation:  if you have just proposed to gut Medicare while protecting tax breaks for millionaires you probably don’t want to face angry grandma’s while being filmed by the local news outlets.  So you outsource the gig to a third party outfit who will only sell tickets to those folks who like you.
Republican Representatives Paul Ryan (Wis.), Ben Quayle (Az.) and Chip Cravaack (Minn.) are just a few of the cowardly Congressmen who have availed themselves of the opportunity to dodge the very people who sent them to Washington.
It’s bad enough that elected officials are dodging their constituents; but charging fees for access!
Governance for a fee!  Perfect!

Perry Shooting From The Hip

The media is still all atwitter over Governor Perry’s critical remarks about the President and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  Questioning the President’s patriotism and accusing the Fed. Chair of treason does tend to get a reaction.  Several key members of Perry’s own party, including Karl Rove, took Perry to task.  The President, to his credit, gave Perry as pass.  No sense talking down to a guy who isn’t even his party’s nominee.
Perry’s comments, while inflammatory and grist for those of us who dwell in the blogosphere are not as alarming as the underreported statements he made several days earlier.
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus reports that on August 13 Perry said the following: “We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.” Perry would have us believe that the reason behind this injustice is because we are a nation of loafers and slackers who would rather live on the government dole than do an honest day’s works.  Perry vows that if elected President he will eliminate that injustice just as he did in Texas.     
Perry is correct…in part. 
According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center 46.4 % of households will owe no federal income tax in 2011.  But that is not because people choose to sit on their ass as Perry would have us believe.  It is because they are working but don’t earn enough money to owe income taxes. 
Marcus quotes the Tax Policy Center’s Roberton Williams who states: “a couple with two children earning less than $26,400 will pay no federal income tax this year because their $11,600 standard deduction and four exemptions of $3,700 each reduce their taxable income to zero.  The basic structure of the income tax simply exempts subsistence levels of income from tax.” 
And while these people pay no federal income tax they are still obligated to pay state and local sales, income and property taxes as well as federal gasoline tax, excise taxes, and payroll taxes.
So with all that is wrong with our economy and the tax code Perry would have us focus on “correcting” the sections that give relief to those who are struggling at or near poverty levels while leaving in place tax breaks for the rich.
This is just more of Perry playing fast and loose with the facts.  He is good at that. 
He talks about all of the job growth that he developed in Texas during his term as governor.  He fails to tell you that most of those jobs were low paying minimum wage jobs.  In fact his fair state of Texas leads the country in the number of minimum wage jobs.  The people that hold these low paying jobs work hard; and because they make so little they do not pay federal income taxes.  These people who work the jobs that Perry proudly claims credit for bringing to Texas are the very people he criticizes for not paying taxes.
But that’s just Perry shooting from the hip.        

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thumbs Up!...Thumbs Down!

We give a big “Thumbs Up” to common sense billionaire Warren Buffett. 
Mr. Buffett spoke out in a recent op-ed piece concerning taxes and shared sacrifice.  Mr. Buffett believes that he and his super rich buddies have not sacrificed enough.  He stated flatly that the wealthy have been coddled by Congress.  He believes that he and his peers have profited handsomely from this country’s free market system and that they should do more to help the country out of its financial funk.
He has a plan.
Mr. Buffett believes that it is grossly unfair that he pays less in taxes than any of the twenty other people who work in his office.  He believes that we should increase the tax rates on those making over $1 million and increase the rates further on those making over $10 million. He does not believe that asking the rich to pay more will discourage investment or job growth.
We applaud Warren Buffett for putting the good of the country first.
We give a big “Thumbs Down” to newbie presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry.
The plain spoken governor had not been in the race for a New York minute when he waded into the manure. 
He started by attacking the President.    The Governor questioned the President’s love of country refusing to acknowledge the President’s patriotism.  Then he noted that he was in the race to “restore the military’s respect in their commander-in chief” while pointing out that he had served in the military while the President had not.
He then set his sights on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, warning that any attempts by the Chairman to solve the nation’s economic problems by printing more money “would be treasonous.”  He then threatened the Chairman, saying that he didn’t know how they handled such behavior in Iowa but: “in Texas he’d be handled pretty ugly.”
The Governor Perry who now boasts of his patriotism and his love of country is the same Governor who, while leading the country’s second largest state, spoke often of seceding from the union.
Buffett's honest, conciliatory and pragmatic statements stand in sharp contrast to the divisive, inflammatory comments uttered by the Governor.



Still Waiting For The President's Plan

The President took to the campaign trail yesterday, making stops in Minnesota and Iowa.  The White House says that these are not campaign stops but rather town hall meetings designed to allow the President an opportunity to talk directly to the people.
The President stepped out of character and launched a direct attack on his Republican opponents, criticizing them for their blanket opposition to his policies.  He accused Republicans of putting politics ahead of country.  He referred to Republican’s willingness to allow the country to default rather than compromise on tax increases stating: “that’s just not common sense.”  He defended his willingness to set his own personal beliefs aside to reach compromise with Republicans saying: “I make no apologies for being reasonable.”
While the President was eager to attack Republican Congressional intransigence he was reticent to offer any specifics on how he would fix the country’s economic woes.  He spoke of extending the payroll tax holiday and extending unemployment benefits.  He talked about passing a new patent law and new trade agreements; all good ideas that will put more money into needy pockets.    
But he didn’t get specific about the number one topic on the minds of most Americans.  Jobs!
The President promised that he would announce his "very specific" plan for increasing jobs and reviving the economy when Congress returns in September.  Those of us who were hoping for something substantive NOW will have to wait….again.
The President spent a lot of time blaming others for the mess that we are in.  He spoke about Bush’s two unfunded wars and Bush’s unfunded prescription drug program.  He spoke of recessions, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, the Arab Spring and Republican intransigence.  He outlined a host of legitimate reasons why we are where we are.  But he didn’t tell us how he will lead us out of the mess that we are in.
We have heard this type of build up before.  We have heard the proclamations that “coming soon, the President’s plan to …” only to be disappointed by the lack of specificity.
It is time for the President to stop rationalizing how we got into this mess and give us HIS "very specific" plans for getting us out.            

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You Just Have To Laugh To Keep From Crying

It is really hard to fathom the depths to which our country has plummeted both politically and economically. 
The Dow dropped another 519 points yesterday.  The market has lost 2000 points since July 21st. While this precipitous fall certainly has an affect the on entire country, the most substantial losses have been felt by the richest 2% of Americans who hold 90% of the country’s wealth.  The other 98% of the folks have no money to lose.  Unemployment stands at 9.1% with real unemployment near 16%.  No jobs means no money and that means more and more foreclosures.  Add 50 million citizens who cannot afford health insurance and you have 90% of the population struggling just to survive. Investing on Wall Street is not high on their agenda.  The middle class is disappearing and the gap between the rich and the poor is growing ever wider.
So what are our elected leaders doing about it?
Our President has become an impotent pawn in the economic debate.  His inherent need to compromise has allowed him to be overrun by a gaggle of back bench radicals whose only real goal is to see him fail. From the stimulus to Guantanamo to warrantless wire taps to single payer health care to the Bush tax cuts to the debt ceiling he has compromised on his principles to the detriment of the country.  As the nation careens down the cliff he has been unable to grasp what the country needs in a time of crisis…leadership.   FDR governed for eight years during the depression.  Even in those horrible times he was able to convince the country that things would get better.  We need that from this President.  Thus far he has been unable to deliver.
But the President is not alone.  As the country faces disaster Congress goes on recess.  At a time when the nation needs to know that their representatives are working on the country’s problems… Congress takes a vacation.   This august body has been taken over by the Tea Party.  The Tea party freshman and their Republican cohorts have one goal…to bring down the President.  And if they bring down the economy in the process…so be it.  To watch the Republicans revel in the S&P downgrade and the subsequent market crash is as telling as it is appalling.  How can they take joy in the suffering of others?  Simple…they can blame it on the President.  They said that they would stick to their ideology no matter the cost.  They said that their number one goal was to make Obama a one term President.  To quote their leader, Speaker John Boehner:” I got 98% of what I wanted.  So I’m pretty happy.”  Congratulations Mr. Speaker!
Looking for a light at the end of the tunnel?  Well, yesterday both parties announced their choices to sit on the new “Super Committee”.  This is the committee that is charged with finding an additional $1.6 billion in spending cuts by Thanksgiving.  These are cuts that will lay off more government workers, cut more programs for the poor and suck even more money out of our failing economy.  Democrats and Republicans are filling their slots on the committee with members who a guaranteed NOT to cave in on their party’s agenda.  Sounds promising! 
So what happens if the “Super Committee” cannot reach an agreement by Thanksgiving?  No worries!  There are already in place preset across the board cuts that will lay off more government workers, cut more programs for the poor and suck even more money out of our economy.  Perfect!   
We would not want to leave you feeling depressed about our country’s prospects for recovery.  So we offer you this outlet for comic relief.
Tonight, if you are tired of watching summer reruns, tune into any one of the cable news channels.  There you will witness a debate between the gaggle of misfits vying for the Republican nomination as they prepare this Saturday's meaningless Iowa Straw Poll.  You might get to hear the current Iowa frontrunner, Michelle Bachman, explain how one can pray away the gay or how our founding fathers worked so hard to defeat slavery.  You might get to watch Mitt Romney demonstrate his ventriloquist talents by talking out of both sides of his mouth.  And if you listen hard enough you might even hear Tim Pawlenty say SOMETHING.     
At any rate, it should be pretty funny…and we could all use a good laugh right now.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We Are Still At War

The remains of the 30 US military personnel, who lost their lives when their helicopter was brought down by enemy fire, were returned to Dover Air force Base yesterday.  The President was there to greet them. 
The AP reports that the President solemnly climbed aboard the two C-17 cargo planes to pay his respects to the men whose deaths marked the single deadliest day in the decade-long war in Afghanistan.  He then spent time with the family members and fellow servicemen, offering his condolences and appreciation for their sacrifice and service.
It is said that events like this give our Presidents pause.  LBJ was said to have broken down and cried after visiting wounded Vietnam vets at Walter Reed.  The “dignified transfer” of the dead into the arms of their loved ones brings home the true horror and reality of war and the magnitude of the decisions made by our commander-in-chief.
It is unfortunate that it takes events such as this to bring that message home to the American people.
We are at war.  We are caught up in an Afghanistan conflict that has no foreseeable end.  We have lost over 1,700 precious lives.  12,000 have been wounded.  And we continue to spend over $2 billion dollars per week to continue the madness.
But unless you are one of the 1% of Americans that are actively serving  or has a loved one serving in this conflict; this war is just another story buried in the back pages of newspapers that nobody reads.  It is only when a major event such as this…or the killing of bin laden…manages to reach the front page that we sit up and take notice. 
Even the President can fall into the trap.  On Tuesday, in the middle of the Dow Jones decline, he added an almost “oh by the way” recognition of the fallen troops to the end of his economic message.  We are certain that he takes the loss most seriously and meant no disrespect.  But like everyone else he is focused on the economic war that has captured the country’s attention.  The war in Afghanistan drones on with little notice.
We all know that we have to end this conflict and we have to end it now.  But the voice of the American people is silent; distracted by other things.  We are quite certain that the public would be more focused and the discontent more vocal if a military draft were in place.
They say that attending the dignified transfer of fallen soldiers can change a President.  We can only hope.

It's All About The Money

We have always known that money influences politics.  It is a major component in our way of governing.  Political influence can be easily obtained by writing a check.  Candidates for political office, no matter how flawed, are always viable if they have deep pockets.  An unknown Senator can become the first black President, in large part, because he can raise $750 million for his campaign.  And the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United has opened the flood gates for monetary influence like never before.  Nowhere has this been more evident than yesterday’s recall vote in Wisconsin.
Organized labor suffered a huge setback yesterday as they attempted to roll back Governor Scott Walkers’ union busting agenda.
Governor Walker had succeeded in eliminating the collective bargaining rights of the state’s unionized workforce.  Democrats were furious and their massive protests were aired by the news media for weeks. Walker’s detractors were hell bent on rolling back the governor’s policies.  In order succeed Democrats had to take back control of the state senate. 
The first step was to recall six Republican Senators who were instrumental in passing the governor’s policies.  If Democrats could win three of the recalled seats they would take control of the senate and clear a path to overturn the governor.   The odds were long.  The six districts in question had been held by Republicans for decades. 
Here is where the money comes in.
A local referendum like this would normally generate $2-$3 million dollars in political contributions.  But special interests realized that this Wisconsin vote was not just a local issue but a referendum on similar policies being carried out by conservative governors all across the nation.  If Republicans were to lose, the path would be cleared to overturn the conservative agenda across the country. 
So the outside special interests stepped in.  They poured over $31 million dollars into the six contested districts.  According to MSNBC’s Ed Schultz who spent months reporting live from the state capital; the money flowing into the pro-Walker coffers outpaced that of his opponents by a $10/$1 ratio.  You could not turn on the television or listen to the radio without witnessing an attack add against the unions.  In the end, the Republicans won.  Democrats were only able to win two of the three seats needed for change.
So who would have won this important debate if the millions of dollars from outside special interests were removed from the equation?  We’ll never know. 
But we do know this.  Our political system is broken.  Power and influence does not gravitate to those who have the best ideas.  It comes to those who have the deepest pockets.  Until we take money out of the equation our way of governing and therefore our way of life will always be for sale to the highest bidder.                   

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

You Gotta' Try

The Dow Jones dropped 634 points yesterday as investors responded to the S&P downgrade of the country’s credit rating.  The President took to the podium in an effort to calm fears and stem the bleeding.
He should not have bothered.
At a time when the country is looking for assurance and leadership the President said…nothing.
The President appeared flat and resigned as he offered the same political sound bites that we have heard numerous times before.
“We need a balanced approach.”  “We need shared sacrifice.”  “We are still a AAA country.”  “This is the United States of America.”
Referring to his plan for economic recovery the President said: “I’ll be rolling out the details of my plan over the next several weeks.”
Mr. President, with all due respect, if you don’t have anything to say then don’t say anything. We understand that it is easy for us to sit on the sidelines and criticize.  And we understand that there is only so much that you can do to fix the nation’s problems.  But there are certain things that you CAN do.  
So in an effort to help you out; we offer the following advice.
Mr. President, you have at your disposal the most powerful political weapon in the world…the power of the bully pulpit of the President of the United States.  You need to use it.  You need to use it to put forth your own SPECIFIC plan for correcting the terrible course that we have taken.  We want YOUR ideas…not some weak political compromise that does nothing to solve our problems.  We want YOUR views.  After all that is why we elected YOU. 
Everybody else has offered a plan.  Paul Ryan, Simpson-Bowles, Gang of Six, Biden Plan; everybody has a plan.  Everybody has offered a plan but the guy that matters…you.  And you want to “roll it out over the next several weeks"?  What in the hell have you been doing over the past several months?  People are losing trillions of dollars from their savings and 401k and you are going to bless us with your ideas “over the next several weeks"?  C’mon man!
You know what you want to say…just say it.  For once in your life put the compromiser-in-chief aside and act like the commander-in-chief.  Tell us what you think.  To hell with politics; put the country first.  We know that you believe that legislation should bubble up through the Congress.  But in case you have not noticed there is nothing bubbling up on the hill accept animosity towards you.  Congress is being held hostage by a small group of freshman back benchers who hate your guts and want nothing more than to see you destroyed.  Every time you seek compromise they see weakness.  Trying to compromise with these folks has gotten you into this mess…so stop.  Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
You can start by calling Boehner and Reid and telling them to call Congress back to Washington.  Tell them that you intend to address a joint session next week.  Call them out!  Dare them not to show up.  If they don’t show then you and the media will bury them.  For the Congress of the United States to be in recess at a time like this is unconscionable.  You know it, they know it…and the people know it.  Get them back to DC!
When you address Congress lay out the SPECIFICS of what you want to do: 1.) increase revenues by removing tax loopholes and end the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000.  2.) Increase the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare to age 70. 3.) Implement means testing and stop inflationary increases for five years.  4.) Cut Medicaid as recommended in Simpson-Bowles.5.) Cut defense spending as recommended under the current debt ceiling “trigger". 6.) Implement a $600 billion jobs bill that is specifically directed toward repairing our infrastructure, developing light rail and broadband technology.  Explain how your plan will stabilize our economy, address our long term debt and put our country back to work.
And then tell Congress that you will veto ANY bill that comes to your desk that fails to include all of the above.
Mr. President, you have tried the road to compromise.  You have given your opposition nearly everything they demanded.  It is time to step up.  The days of whining about all that you inherited from the Bush years are over.  You have had three years to address the issues and put your plans into place.  This is on you Mr. President.
We know that Congress may not give you what you want.  We know that you can only do so much.
The least you could do is try.