Friday, March 30, 2012

GOP Budget = Partisan Waste Of Time

The Republican House passed a $3.6 trillion budget on Thursday.  It passed along party lines without one Democrat joining the majority.  The measure is dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate. 
The entire process was a waste of time; orchestrated strictly for bi-partisan political posturing in an election year.
The Republican budget would reduce the tax rate for the top earners from 35% to 25% while erasing tax deductions and other tax breaks for the wealthy which, oddly enough, the Republicans fails to specify.  It would allow for these reductions in revenue by all but eliminating Medicare and Medicaid as we know it; and drastically cutting a wide range of government programs including Pell Grants for low income college students, and safety net programs for the poor and middle class.
In other words it is not a serious budget.  It is not a serious budget because it maintains or increases benefits for the top 1% while cutting programs and benefits for the remaining 99% of the country.
A serious budget proposal would address our long term deficit problem while finding the revenues necessary to address the problems we face today.  A serious budget would raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare while freezing inflationary increases in benefits for the next five years.  It would streamline Medicaid, weed out the fraud and abuse and freeze benefits for the next two years.  A serious budget would eliminate the Bush tax cuts for everyone making over $250,000.  It would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% but eliminate the tax loopholes and subsidies that unfairly favor the wealthy.  And a serious budget proposal would reduce our defense spending by reducing our military footprint around the world.
A serious budget proposed during difficult economic times is one where everybody has skin in the game.  Everybody feels the pinch.
If it doesn’t do that it is just a waste of time.         

The Health Care Debate Will Continue

If you would be kind enough to indulge us; one final note on the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA).
As we sit and wait for the Supreme Court’s decision on the AHCA we should prepare ourselves for this one simple fact:  no matter the Court’s decision, the debate will continue.  It will continue because health care costs will continue to rise and our quality of life will continue to deteriorate as tens of millions remain without health care.
Here is why.
There are currently 50 million people without health care coverage in this country.  That is up from 40 million three years ago; an increase resulting from the wrong headed approach that our health care system is an employer based system rather than one based on the individual.  As unemployment rose in this country so did the number of those without coverage.  You lose your job…you lose your health coverage.  These 50 million people access health care without paying for it thereby leaving the rest of us to bear the cost. 
The all important mandate that everyone is so upset about was NEVER designed to include all of the uninsured people.  The mandate was designed to bring an estimated 30 million of the original 40 million uninsured into the fold by forcing them to buy coverage.  The remaining 10 million uninsured citizens are those who had no financial means to buy coverage.  They would either be left to their own devices to suffer and die or gain access to coverage through the federal government.  With the increase in unemployment that 10 million is now 20 million.
In addition to leaving millions uninsured, the AHCA fails to fundamentally change the current distribution system; thereby allowing a host of middlemen to add their fees and drive up costs.   
As we have said before; the Affordable Health Care Act is an admirable, complicated and cumbersome attempt to fix our health care problem within the parameters of the current free market distribution system.  Unfortunately it leaves too many uninsured and does too little to cut costs to be effective.  So even if the Court rules in favor of the government, the celebration will be short.  Because it won’t take long to realize how ineffective AHCA really is.
If the Court should overturn the law, Republicans will undoubtedly take to dancing in the streets.  We would caution them to curb their enthusiasm.  Because if the law fails and we return to the status quo, health care costs will continue to rise unchecked, millions of uninsured will drain the system and the economy will continue to be pulled down under the weight.  If those things happen…and they will…you can be certain that the cry for a single payer solution will be renewed.  So Republicans should be careful what they wish for.  A win today may awaken a sleeping dog better be left alone.
No matter the Court’s decision…the health care debate will continue.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Romney's "Gaffs" Provide Windows Into The Soul

“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
“I’m not concerned about the very poor….we have a safety net there.”
“Corporations are “people” my friend…of course they are.”
“I should tell my story…I’m also unemployed.”
“There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”
“I get speakers fees from time to time…but not very much.” ($360,000)
“I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.”
“My wife Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs.”
“I’m going to tell you a humorous story…”(that centered around his dad closing a factory in Michigan.)
Thus saeth presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
There comes a point in time when a person’s misstatements can no longer be dismissed as “gaffs”. When repeated with regularity they provide an unfiltered view of the individual’s true self.  Mitt Romney has reached that point.
A recent CNN opinion poll has Romney’s favorability ratings at 37% while his unfavorable ratings have spiked to 49%.  The more people get to know the true Romney the less they like him.  Romney is out of touch with the plight of most Americans.  His constant “misstatements” make that clear. 
The spike in Romney’s “unfavorables” does not bode well for his election prospects.  His “gaffs” are killing his campaign.
Note to Romney: hiring a personal lobbyist to shepherd the construction of your 11,000 square foot mansion (that includes a car elevator)…in the tawny hills of La Jolla…in the middle of a recession…while you are running for President…doesn’t really help matters.    

In The End Nothing Will Change

The oral arguments are over. 
The nine Supreme Court justices will move behind closed doors to privately decide the fate and the future of health care in our country.  Nine citizens, who while well versed in constitutional law have no more than a layman’s understanding of how the complicated health care system actually works; nine citizens who are just as susceptible to ideology and politics as the rest of us.
While no one can predict with any certainty the result of these deliberations; it will come down in all likelihood to one individual, moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who will cast the tie breaking vote. 
No matter the court’s decision, when all is said and done we will still be the only industrialized country in the world to reject some sort of government provided health care system.  We will still allow a plethora of middlemen to permeate the distribution system; adding their fees and driving up costs.  We will still exclude millions of citizens.  And we will still pay more per capita for our health care than any other country in the world while our quality of health continues to deteriorate.
The Affordable Health Care Act is a cumbersome and complicated attempt to marry the benefits of universal health care with those of the existing free market system.  It attempts to serve two masters and satisfies none.  
The Court will issue its ruling but nothing will really change.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


That is the feeling that washed over us after listening to audio tapes of the oral arguments surrounding the health care debate.
We’re not referring to the ultimate fate of the “mandate” in the President’s health care reform act.  We’re referring to the manner in which we govern ourselves and decide issues critical to our society.
The arguments presented by both sides as respects the individual mandate were incoherent at best and embarrassing at the very least.
Let’s start with Donald B. Verrilli Jr., Solicitor General of the United States.  Mr. Verrilli was tasked by the government to make the case that congress has the constitutional right to require individuals to purchase insurance.  Mr. Verrilli is an experienced litigator who has argued before the Supreme Court on eighteen previous occasions.  In this particular instance Mr. Verrilli looked more like a first year law student arguing in a small claims court.  Mr. Verrilli’s presentation was so bad you had to wonder if he had spent even one minute in preparation.  Setting aside Mr. Verrilli’s obvious nervousness, coughing, stuttering, repetitions and miss-statements; Mr. Verrilli was unable to present a coherent argument of the government’s position.  In fact Mr. Verrilli’s presentation was so convoluted that after a period of time the liberal members of the Court began making his points for him.  Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein tweeted: “you could mark the point…page 14…when the liberal justices decide Verrlli is screwing up and step in to make the argument for him.”  CNN contributor Jeffery Toobin referred to Verrilli’s performance as a “train wreck.”  Verrilli’s day in court was consistent with the governments continued inability to communicate their position on the law.  For three years the government has struggled to effectively explain the law to the American people.  That struggle inexplicably continued before the Court; and may prove to have disastrous consequences for the government’s position.
But Mr. Verrilli was not the lone purveyor of embarrassing commentary.
Antonin Scalia has served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court since his appointment by Ronald Reagan in 1986.  Known for his conservative opinions, it was assumed by most that Justice Scalia would side with those who oppose the mandate.  Justice Scalia did not disappoint, asking several hard questions of Mr. Verrilli.  Then Justice Scalia jumped the shark.  He had the temerity to opine that if we allow congress to require people to buy insurance the next thing you know congress will be requiring people to buy broccoli.  Frankly, such an analogy is stupid.  And to hear Justice Scalia make such a comparison with all seriousness belittles the Court’s proceedings and only further illustrates the impact of bipartisanship on uninformed opinion.
For the benefit of Judge Scalia and those like him who do not understand the difference; let us be clear.  Health care is not broccoli.  Millions of us may not choose to ever buy broccoli.  But every one of us will need health care at some point in our lives.  And when those who choose not to pay for health care ultimately need it; the cost for the services the uninsured receive is passed on to the rest of us.  A person’s decision to decline the purchase of broccoli, or a cell phone to use Justice Roberts’ inane example, does not affect the rest of us.  But a person who decides not to buy health insurance, and then avails themselves of its benefits for free, affects us all.  The fact that someone sitting on the bench of the highest court in the land is unable to make that distinction is mystifying.
It is true that one cannot predict the way a particular justice will rule based on the statements they make or the questions they pose during oral arguments.  Many justices who are leaning in a particular direction will often ask hard probing questions to illicit testimony contrary to their tendencies.  They do so to make sure that they have it right.  We won’t know the results of their deliberations until sometime in June.
But what we do know today is this.  If we were making a promotional video of all that is good about our system of governance; the best and the brightest voicing their opinions in a free society…we’d make sure this recent session never saw the light of day.                    

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lead, Follow Or Get The Hell Out Of The Way

There is good news coming out of the Supreme Court today.
Apparently the Court has found no compelling reason to delay their ruling on the constutionality of the President’s health care reform act until its complete implementation in 2014.  The law requires individuals to purchase health insurance by 2014, and would fine those who are not in compliance.  Many legal pundits surmised that the Court might decline to hear the case until such fines were actually levied.  According to those in the room, the Justices seem more than eager to adjudicate the matter without further delay.
This is good news for the country.
The President spent the first sixteen months in office and a great deal of political capital pushing through this signature piece of legislation.  His political opponents have spent the following two years doing everything in their power to repeal the law.  While this political food fight rages on the cost of health care continues to skyrocket, our economy continues to suffer and our quality of life continues to deteriorate. 
Both sides are placing all of their eggs in the Supreme Court basket.  There is no “Plan B”.  When asked what the administration’s response would be if the law is repealed; White House Communications Director, Jay Carney said: “I would direct you to the Department of Health and Human Services.”  In a recent column renowned conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer was eloquent in making the case for repeal of the law.  But like his conservative associates, Krauthammer offered not one scintilla of a solution.  It’s easy to criticize.  It’s much more difficult to find a credible solution.
It’s time for this debate to end. Everyone agrees that the health care issue is at a “crises” level.  It consumes 18% of our economy and is threatening our financial security and quality of life.  If “Obamacare” is deemed constitutional by the Court then we need to embrace it and move forward.  If the law is repealed then the American people must demand that the White House and Congress put their partisanship aside and find a credible solution.  Now!
We welcome the Court’s decision…whatever that decision may be.  It’s time to move on. 
And to those pudits and law makers who have nothing more to offer than partisan talking points and half assed quips...its time for them to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.              

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Health Care Debate: A Tale Of Two Societies

On Monday the Supreme Court will begin listening to three days of oral arguments regarding the constitutionality of the President’s signature piece of legislation: the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act…better known as “Obamacare”.  The court’s ruling will be one of the most important in our lifetime and will serve as a key component in defining who we are as a society.
If you find our assertions too melodramatic for your liking then consider these facts:
Forty two million US citizens are currently without health care.  The cost of health care represents one sixth of the US economy.  Health care expenditures in the United States rose to $2.6 trillion in 2010, over ten times the $256 billion spent in 1980.  Since 2001, employer-sponsored health care coverage for family premiums has increased by 120%.  The average American spends 18 cents of every dollar earned on health care.  The United States spends more per capita on health care than any other industrialized nation; 50% more than the next highest country and two and a half times more than the average of all the other industrialized countries combined. 
In spite of spending more on health care than any other country we get far less bang for our buck.  We have fewer doctors per capita than most of the other industrialized countries.  Our life expectancy is lower than most other industrialized countries.  Our infant mortality is higher.  And our obesity rates are the highest; which leads to higher health care expenditures in the future.  Our economy is on the verge of collapsing under the weight of skyrocketing health care costs while at the same time our overall quality of life is deteriorating.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act is a massive, unwieldy attempt to lower health care costs, provide preventative health care to all Americans, and provide basic coverage to 30 million currently uninsured individuals; thereby improving our overall quality of life while reducing the strain on our economy. And it is attempting to do these things within the framework of the current free market delivery system…a difficult if not impossible task.
There are some good components of the bill that people generally like.  Young adults can now stay on their parent’s policy until the age of 26; a major benefit during this time of high employment.  Insurers are now required to cover individuals who have pre-existing conditions.  Insurers are no longer allowed to terminate an individual’s coverage due to a pre-existing condition.  People can no longer be turned down for health insurance if they switch jobs, and their coverage will stay in force if they lose their job.  Millions are getting preventative care that now must be provided at no additional cost to patients. The list goes on and on.  Most of the individual components of the act will go into effect over the next decade.
But in spite of all the attributes of this legislation the Republicans want to repeal the law in its entirety.  Their major beef is a 2014 requirement that mandates that all individuals purchase some form of health insurance or pay a fine.  Republicans argue that this provision is unconstitutional and a threat to our liberty.  They see this requirement as just another example of big government over reach by the Obama administration.  For this the law must be repealed.
Unfortunately the Republicans have no alternative plan.  When pressed they say we need to allow insurance companies to market across state lines; which will increase competition, lower rates and improve affordability and availability.  Let the free market prevail!  The problem with that theory is that insurance companies can already market across state lines.  All they have to do is agree to follow the state regulations in those states in which the wish to do business.  Many insurance providers will not enter certain states due to the fact that they have very restrictive requirements, including limits on the premiums companies may charge.  So unless the Republicans are going to order states to set aside their individual state regulations in favor of “mandated” federal policies…an act that would be the very government over reach Republicans abhor…their free market solution is nothing more than the status quo.  And just to be clear, the status quo is what got us in this mess in the first place. 
Furthermore, the status quo cannot reduce the cost of health coverage as long as it allows roughly 40 million uninsured people access to health services without asking them to pay anything for the service.  Somebody has to pay for it; hence the mandate.  The only way that the existing distribution system works is if you either force everyone to buy in or refuse health services to those who can’t afford coverage or choose to do without.  In essence to leave them dying in the streets.
Too harsh?  Ron Paul said as much in a recent debate.  He said "back in the day the churches took care of the uninsured."  When pressed as to what would happen to them if random “church provided” health services were not available, Paul said: “We all make choices in our lives.”
 And as to the constitutionality of mandating the purchase of insurance; how do we declare this mandate to buy coverage unconstitutional when many among us wish to mandate the prohibition of contraceptives and the implementation of trans-vaginal ultrasounds prior to undergoing a legal health care procedure?  Are these mandates any less intrusive?  Arguing that one is a federal requirement while the others are state sponsored is splitting hairs.
So that is why this Supreme Court ruling is so important.  Do we find a way to take care of our own, reduce our costs and improve our health care system?  Or do we return to the status quo and leave the neediest among us to suffer while we spend $2 billion a week building hospitals and providing health care to people in Iraq and Afghanistan?   
There is no doubt that “Obamacare” in its current form needs some work.  The law needs to be more aggressive and effective in cutting costs and more transparent in its funding  But repealing the law and returning to the status quo will not only fail to fix the problem it will leave millions of Americans in a hopeless situation.
So we ask the question…what kind of society we want to be.



Friday, March 23, 2012

"Stand Your Ground" Law = License To Kill

As the Trayvon Martin case continues to dominate the media lawmakers are beginning to take a second look at the “stand your ground laws” currently in force in 23 states.  The Stand Your Ground Law, wildly popular among NRA members and gun enthusiasts, states that a person may use deadly force for self defense.  Deadly force is justified if a person is gravely threatened in the home, or “any other place where he or she has a right to be.” 
Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside the home.  This is known as the Castle Doctrine. Outside the home, people generally have a duty to retreat from the attacker, if possible, to avoid a confrontation.  In Florida, there is no duty to retreat, inside the home or out.
The question is who decides if a particular person is “gravely threatened”?    That which may be considered a “grave threat” to one person may be a common everyday occurrence to another.  And what jury is going to tell someone whether or not they had the right to feel threatened.  Many fears are developed over time; the result of a combination of lifelong personal experiences.  One size does not fit all. 
The ambiguity in this law has the potential to lead to an increase in vigilantism and a false sense of security among those who carry or are deciding whether or not to carry a firearm.  Those states that follow the “stand your ground, no duty to retreat law” have seen an increase in deadly force cases.   “I felt threatened…so I shot him.”
 In the Trayvon Martin case the Sanford police said they were prohibited from arresting the shooter, George Zimmerman, because Zimmerman said he shot Martin because he feared for his life.  Zimmerman neglected to tell law enforcement officers on the scene that he was pursuing Martin when the shooting occurred; a fact borne out by Zimmerman’s own call to 911.  Did Zimmerman pursue Martin embolden by the belief that if Martin simply turned and took a step toward Zimmerman he (Zimmerman) had the right to fire under the current law?
The “Stand your Ground" law is a bad law…period.  It is ambiguous at best and opens the floodgates for anyone with a grudge and a gun.  Got a beef with someone?  Get him in a place with no witnesses… shoot him…and then claim you were threatened. 
In Sanford, Florida…no questions asked.              

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Racism Is Alive And Well In America

On February 26, Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old black male, was walking through a Sanford, Florida neighborhood, on his way to his father’s house.  He was shot and killed by a 28 year old white male, George Zimmerman.  Trayvon Martin was carrying a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles.  George Zimmerman was carrying a legally registered 9mm handgun.
George Zimmerman is a self appointed neighbor watch captain.  He has contacted the Sanford Police on 46 previous occasions to complain about suspicious persons in his neighborhood. 
On the night February 26, George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin walking through his neighborhood.  Zimmerman called 911.  On the released 911 tapes you can clearly hear Zimmerman notifying the dispatcher that he has observed a suspicious person walking through his neighborhood.  The dispatcher asks Zimmerman if he is following the individual.  When Zimmerman affirms that he is following the person the dispatcher clearly advises him to stop his pursuit.  Zimmerman ignores  the advice and continues to pursue Martin.  On the tape you can hear Zimmerman clearly utter “f—king” and what sound like “coons.”   
At the time Martin was walking through the neighborhood he was talking on the phone with a friend.  He tells his friend that he believes that he is being followed.  His friend can hear Martin shouting at someone: “Why are you following me.”  The friend can then hear the sound of a scuffle.
A neighbor hears someone screaming for help.  The neighbor calls 911.  On the tape you can clearly hear someone screaming “help” numerous times followed by a gun shot.
The Sanford, Police were called to the scene.  They questioned Zimmerman who said that he shot Martin in self defense.
Martin’s body was taken to the morgue where it laid for three days until his parents were finally notified of his death.  Until that notification the parents had no idea where Martin was or what had happened to him.  This three day delay is suspicious given that the Sanford police had immediate access to Martin’s cell phone and cell phone log.
Martin’s corpse was tested for drugs.  George Zimmerman was not tested for drugs.
The Sanford Police have not arrested George Zimmerman.  In spite of having the tape recording of George Zimmerman’s 911 phone call…the tape recording of the neighbor’s 911 call…and the friend’s testimony; the Sanford Police have not found probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman is currently free to walk the streets of Sanford.  And he still has possession of the gun he used to shoot Trayvon Martin.
It’s been twenty four days since George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin.
Let’s take the circumstances surrounding this incident; but this time let’s suppose the Trayvon Martin is White and George Zimmerman is black.
If you believe that it still would have taken the Sanford Police three days to notify Martin’s parents of his death; if you still believe that the Sanford Police would have tested the corpse for drugs without bothering to test the shooter; if you still believe that after 24 days George Zimmerman would have been allowed to walk the streets still carrying the gun that he used to shoot Martin.  If you believe that all of these things would have remained the same if Martin was white and Zimmerman was black…
…then you are living in an alternate universe.
Racism is alive and well in America.  

Republicans Blowing Historic Opportunity

It’s over!
Mitt Romney won the Illinois primary; defeating Rick Santorum by 12 points in a key Midwest state and effectively ending Republican primary.
Political pundits declared the race for the nomination "over".  Time Magazine echoed the sentiment with the headline: “Romney’s Illinois Win Signals an End to the GOP Primary.”
Even the victorious candidate implied that the nomination was his.   In his post primary victory speech Romney focused his remarks on defeating the President; confident that further attacks on his Republican opponents were no longer necessary.
It’s over!
Or is it?
While it is true that no one but Romney can secure the 1,144 required delegates before the convention; it is by no means certain that Romney can either. 
On Saturday voters will go to the polls in Louisiana; a state Santorum is heavily favored to win.  Two weeks later the campaigns will move to Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania.  And then another key Midwestern state, Wisconsin, where Santorum is expected to do well, will hold its primary on April 24th.  With wins in ten states under his belt, a pocket full of cash and the prospect of more victories on the horizon, there is no incentive for Santorum step aside.   As long as Santorum can keep Romney from reaching 1,144 before the convention he has as good a chance to win the nomination as anyone.  For if no one secures the nomination before the convention; all bets are off.
Today the pundits are anointing Romney the victor.  If Santorum wins Louisiana on Saturday, they’ll be singing a different tune.
While the ultimate Republican nominee remains in question, this much is certain.  The Republican Party has a historic opportunity.  Given the state of the economy, the high unemployment rate, the price of gasoline and the President’s difficulties with his base and major donors; the Republicans have the opportunity to win the White House, win the Senate, maintain control of the House and secure the Supreme Court for decades. 
Yet here they stand tearing each other to shreds to nominate a guy that politically none of them really likes.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Three Important Stories To Watch

Here are three important stories that bear watching over the next several days.
Elections: - Illinois voters will take to the polls today to cast their ballot for the Republican nominee.  Rick Santorum has longed for a one-on-one match up with Mitt Romney.  Today he gets his wish.  With Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul sitting on the sidelines voters will have a clear choice between the moderate Romney and the evangelical Christian/conservative Santorum.  A Romney victory would add another big state to his already impressive list of Florida, Michigan and Ohio.  And it would fuel Romney’s assertions that his candidacy is inevitable.  A Santorum victory would seriously damage Romney and legitimize party concerns about Romney’s chances against Obama.  A survey of likely voters by Public Policy Poling has Romney leading 45%-30%.  It should be noted that Santorum’s goal is not necessarily to win; but to keep Romney from getting the 1,144 required delegates before the convention.
Health Care: - Next Monday, the Supreme Court will begin hearing three days of arguments as to the constitutionality of the President’s Affordable Health Care Act.  Specifically they will decide whether the federal government can mandate that individuals purchase health care coverage.  At stake will be the continuation or the termination of the key legislative accomplishment of the President’s first term.  The court’s decision will have a major impact on the economy and on the upcoming general elections.
Republican Budget: - Congressman Paul Ryan will release the Republican budget proposal today, kicking off what promises to be a heated debate on the future economic course of the country.  The Republican proposal would reform the tax code by reducing the six exiting tax brackets to two: 10% for lower income earners and 25% for higher income recipients.  The plan would eliminate the alternative minimum tax.  It would reduce corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% and eliminate virtually all taxes earned from overseas operations.  It will be paid for by reducing tax loopholes and implementing major changes in entitlements.  The Republican budget stands in stark contrast to the President’s plan which offsets increases in spending by raising taxes on the top 1% income earners and eliminating tax loopholes for the rich and subsidies for major corporations.  This is a fundamental debate that the country needs to have moving forward.  And then the voters will decide in November which path the county should follow.              

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bales Incident: A Cry For Help...A Call For Change

Over the course of the next several weeks and months the media spotlight will probe into the deepest corners of the life of Sgt. Robert Bales.  Sgt. Bales, a 38 year old 10-year veteran, is accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in their sleep.  He is being portrayed in the media as a good family man and loyal soldier who succumbed to the stress of a third combat tour.  Sgt. Bales will be tried by a military tribunal and could face the death penalty.
As Sgt. Bales’ trial unfolds we will hear discussions about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and the affects of multiple deployments on our troops.  We will hear about the skyrocketing increase in suicides, divorces and mental breakdowns among those who have served in combat.  We will learn that our military is stretched to the breaking point; that many of our men and women serve two, three and four combat deployments, with as many as six and seven deployments for our special operations forces.  The horrible cost of war will be laid bare for all to see.
And this is a good thing; because for too long now most of us paid very little attention to the real price of war in the Middle East.
Make no mistake; there will be nay-sayers.  They will tell you that the incident surrounding Sgt. Bales has been blown out of proportion.  They will say that many soldiers face multiple combat tours without going off and murdering civilians.  They find a PTSD defense far too convenient.  Perhaps they are right in this case.  Time will tell.
We don’t know what went through Sgt. Bales mind that night.  We don’t know what caused him to take that particular path.  We don’t excuse his alleged actions.  And we do not intend to diminish the devastating effect his actions have on not only the families of the victims but on Sgt. Bales’ family as well.  We only hope that as the details of this terrible incident play out in the press they will catch the attention of a disinterested public.
For far too long the people of this country, and their elected leaders, have allowed the security of the nation to be borne on the backs of a willing minority.  In a nation of 300 million, we have asked a few hundred thousand brave souls to time and time and time again put their lives on the line so that we might sleep soundly at night.  And in many cases we have asked them to take these risks for little more than political expediency. 
This has to stop.  We can no longer ask “the few and the proud” to risk their lives indefinitely for a political war.  We can no longer ask them to provide peace and security for an entire planet.  There is more to “supporting our troops” than waving the flag and bandaging their wounds.  Hopefully the tragedy of Sgt. Bales’ incident will awaken the country from its stupor.  For only through the voice of an informed public can change occur.   

Friday, March 16, 2012

November Elections Offer Voters Stark Contrast In Ideology

Here are two new stories that best illustrate the ideological consequences of the November elections.  One concerns a social issue; the other a matter of economics.
The Republican led Arizona House recently passed a bill that states that any employer may opt out of providing coverage for contraceptives under its health insurance plan.  No real news there as several states have already passed similar laws. 
But Arizona goes one step farther.  The Arizona bill also states that women will be denied access to obtaining contraceptives unless they can prove that they are using them for medical reasons only and not just to prevent pregnancy.
The bill is scheduled to move to the Arizona Senate next week.
The other story involves the decline of the middle class and the growing disparity between the top 1% wage earners and the rest of the country.
The Republicans have been quite clear in stressing the importance of protecting the top wage earners.  They refer to these folks as the “job creators.”  The Republicans believe that by lowering taxes and eliminating restrictions on the top wage earners you free them up to invest their wealth and create jobs.  The net result is that the wealth trickles down to the middle class and everybody wins.  Unfortunately for Republicans, and the middle class, the facts just don’t bear that out.
According to noted economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, if you go back to the economic recovery of 1994-2000; 45% of the income gains went to the top 1% wage earners.  If you look at the economic recovery that occurred from 2003-2007; 65% of the income gains went to the top 1%.  And if you look at the year 2010, in that one year alone; 93% of all the additional income earned in this country went to the top 1% wage earners. Break that down even further and at look at the top 0.01% of all average earners; 37% of all the income gains in this country went to 15,000 households.
In 2010 if you were in the bottom 99% your average income was $41,777 and your average pay raise was $80 (0.02%).
In 2010 if you were in the top 1% your average income was $1,019,089 and your average raise was $105,637 (11.6%).
And in 2010, in you were in the top 0.01% your average income was $23,846,950 and your average raise was $4,215,743 (21.5%).
As you can readily see, in spite of all the “high taxes” and “restrictive regulations” the top 1% are doing quite well while the bottom 99% continues to struggle.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Republicans Stumbling Toward Tampa

On November 28, 2011 we wrote in this space:
“If Republicans really want to beat Obama their only clear path to victory is through a brokered convention.  It would be ugly and messy and a lot of political blood would be spilled. But only through a brokered convention could a candidate like Jeb bush, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie emerge.  Any of these four would give Obama a run.  Otherwise it’s all about Mitt Romney…and Democrats would like nothing better.” 
In the aftermath of the Alabama and Mississippi primaries it appears more and more likely that a “brokered” or “contested” convention will occur.
A “brokered” convention is one in which a previously unannounced candidate is installed by the party to serve as its standard bearer against the opposition.  The competing candidates, having failed to win enough delegates to secure the nomination are pushed aside in favor of a white knight who rides to the rescue.  A Chris Christie or Jeb Bush comes to mind.
A “contested” convention is one in which the current candidates, having failed individually to garner enough delegates to win the nomination, come to the convention and horse-trade among themselves to come up with a winner.  Mitt Romney, the leader in earned delegates, would make the case that he should be the choice.  Santorum and Gingrich would argue that they, not Romney, are the true conservatives and better suited to go one-on-one against Obama.
This brings us back to Alabama and Mississippi. 
Rick Santorum won both states and dashed Romney’s hopes of pulling off a victory in the geographic heart of the Republican Party.  Santorum’s two victories also crushed Gingrich’s southern strategy.  Newt’s only victories were in Georgia and South Carolina.  His plan was to win in the southern states thereby bolstering his assertion that he, not Santorum or Romney, was the true conservative who could beat the President.
In the end it is still all about Mitt Romney.  He came into this week’s contests a weak frontrunner and he leaves in much the same position.  His message of “y’all” and “cheesy grits” failed to resonate in Alabama and Mississippi, where unemployment is high and 22% of the population is on food stamps.  Instead of offering his plan to fix the economy and create jobs Romney takes the stump talking about electoral process and how the other candidates should bow out because his candidacy is inevitable.  In spite of all his money and organization he cannot shake Santorum; a flawed candidate, running a disorganized campaign with little money.  Losing to disorganized, poorly funded Santorum only weakens Romney.
And then there is Gingrich.  Fueled by a monstrous ego Gingrich is enjoying the ride…the book sales…the television exposure…the national stage.  All Gingrich wants to do is get to the convention.  If he can get there he can shift the dynamic from Romney and force a very different conversation.
Romney says that his candidacy is inevitable.  Like so many of Romney’s past statements, that assertion is a lie.  Romney has won 495 delegates.  Even if he wins the eight remaining “winner take all” primaries he would only have 876 of the 1,114 delegates needed to secure the nomination.  His nomination is far from certain.  
Santorum is surging.  Newt is all about…Newt.
And so we look to Tampa and a brokered or contested convention.
We can only hope.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lessons Learned?

Korans are burned.  Corpses desecrated.  Children murdered in their sleep.  Limbs lost.  Minds shattered.  Bodies mutilated.  Entire families eviscerated.
A few days ago a US soldier, a 38 year old married father of two, walked off his base and into an Afghan village.  He entered three Afghan huts and indiscriminately murdered sixteen innocent civilians including nine children.  He then returned to his base where he surrendered to authorities.  He was on his third tour.  He had suffered a severe brain injury during a previous tour.  He was deemed fit for duty.
These are the horrors of war; just a few of the horrific events that have played out in Afghanistan over the past several days.
We don’t like to think about these things.  We don’t like to think about the true cost of war.  If we have to think of war at all we want to view it as a John Wayne movie; where our heroic troops are victorious and return home to a ticker tape parade.
For most of us war is a 60 second clip on our local news broadcast; sandwiched between a suburban house fire and the weather forecast for our morning commute.  We know all the words to “Rolling in the Deep” but most of us could not find Afghanistan on a map.
Civilians are slain by a troubled man gone rogue.  Protestors call for the perpetrator’s “assassination”.  US soldiers are gunned down by Afghan “allies” in retaliation.
These are the horrors of war.
These are the lessons to be learned.  These are the events to be considered as we contemplate Iran, or Syria or Pakistan.
War is not a movie.  It is not John Wayne and heroes and ticker tape parades.  Lives are lost, people are maimed…
…and sometimes children are murdered in their sleep.        

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Romney Hands Opponents The Keys To Victory

Mitt Romney is feeling pretty good about his prospects for the Republican nomination.  Having won 200+ delegates on Super Tuesday he feels like it’s time for the other candidates to concede his victory and get out of the race.  He thinks all of this talk about a brokered convention is nonsense. 
“We think that we will get it done before the convention, but one thing I can tell you for sure is there’s not going to be some brokered convention where some new person comes in and becomes the nominee.”
Strong words from a confident candidate.
And then the Romney campaign handed its opponents the blueprint for denying Romney the nomination and extending the campaign all the way to the convention.
Calling on his opponents to step aside; the Romney campaign circulated a memo making the point that Romney’s Super Tuesday performance, where he won six states on a single night, increased his delegate lead to where it was virtually impossible for his rivals to catch him.  The memo also suggested that his opponents were hurting the Party by continuing to try.
“As Governor Romney’s opponents attempt to ignore the basic principles of math, the only person’s odds of winning they are increasing are President Obama’s”
The Romney campaign is absolutely correct…it’s all about the math.
 Romney needs to win 47% of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination; his opponents 63%.  In a one on one battle it is doubtful that Santorum, Gingrich or Paul could win enough delegates to secure the nomination before the convention.  But it is certainly within the realm of possibility that the three of them collectively could win enough delegates to stop Romney from winning the prize before Tampa. 
A look at the remaining contests only serves to prove the point.  Romney is expected to lose in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas and Missouri.  Only four of the remaining contests are winner take all.  The remaining states award delegates proportionately, opening the door for Romney’s opponents to secure enough delegates to stall a Romney victory.
And then there is the possibility of an outlier candidate jumping in just to make certain that the contest stretches all the way to Tampa.
If Romney cannot secure the nomination before the convention...all bets are off.
The Republican Party does not want Mitt Romney to be their candidate.  As one pundit said: “The body is rejecting the organ.”  And the Romney campaign has unwittingly handed his opponents the mathematical path to bring about his defeat.          


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cowards Need Not Apply

There comes a time when each of us has the opportunity to do the right thing no matter the consequences.   A time to step out of our comfort zone and either make a statement or perform an act because it is simply the right thing to do at that moment.
Mitt Romney was handed that opportunity twice this past week.  He failed.
Mitt Romney was asked on two separate occasions about his response to Rush Limbaugh’s referring to Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute”.  The first time Romney was asked he said: “That isn’t the language that I would have used.”  The second time he said he wasn’t going to involve himself in the situation.
It is safe to say that the President of the United States often finds himself making decisions that are uncomfortable and politically damaging.  But if you are a leader that is what is expected of you.  You do the right thing regardless of the personal or political consequences because it is the right thing to do.
Mitt Romney could not bring himself to defend a college coed who was merely expressing her opinion on the matter of women’s health care.  He could not bring himself to set politics aside and condemn Limbaugh’s vicious, personal  three day assault on an American citizen. He feared the consequences of Limbaugh’s retribution and chose politics over principle.
As far as we are concerned; his cowardly response in and of itself makes him unqualified to hold the office of President of the United States.    

There Is Always a "But" After A Romney Win

The conventional wisdom going into Super Tuesday was that if Romney won Ohio he could make the case that the nomination was his and that his challengers needed to fall in line behind him.
Well, Romney won Ohio; but his challengers are far from ready to throw in the towel.
Romney managed to pull out a one point victory in Ohio; defeating Rick Santorum 38%-37% in the most important contest of the evening.  He also won in Alaska, Idaho, Virginia, Vermont and Massachusetts.  He won more than half of the contested delegates and made it impossible for any of his challengers to catch him in the delegate count.  Yet his detractors and the press are unwilling to give him his due, once again placing an asterisk next to his victory.  With Romney there is always a “But”.
“He won Massachusetts…BUT… he lives there.”
“He won Virginia…BUT… only he and Ron Paul were on the ballot…and Paul got 40%.”
“He won Idaho…BUT… there are a lot of Mormons in Idaho.”
“He won Ohio…BUT…he only beat Santorum by 1% point.”
“He won Alaska…BUT…nobody cares about Alaska.”

No matter how well Romney does, the bar always seems to be moved a little higher.

“He won New Hampshire…BUT…he has a home there.”
“He won Florida…BUT…he lost in the panhandle; which is where the true conservatives live.”
“He won Michigan…BUT…he barely squeaked out a win in his home state.”

“He cannot win over women.”  “He cannot win among evangelicals.”  “He cannot win among Latinos.”  “He cannot win among blue collar workers.”  “He’s too stiff.”  “He’s too programmed.”  “He’s too negative.”  “He’s too rich.”

Yet all he does is win.
The next two weeks do not bode well for the Romney campaign.  Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri are expected to fall into the loss column.  Buoyed by their Super Tuesday victories, both Santorum and Gingrich have vowed to continue the fight.  Santorum longs for a one on one fight against Romney.  No question that Santorum is the big winner on Super Tuesday if Gingrich is out of the way. But as long as both of them stay in the race neither one of them can defeat Romney.
So once again the bar will be raised.
Mitt Romney will probably go into the convention with a majority of the delegates; but not the 1.144 needed to sew up the nomination.  A messy, contested convention will ensue; which is not what the Republican establishment wants.  They long for somebody…anybody to step in and fill the void.  They long for “Anybody but Mitt”.  But at this point Mitt is what they have to work with; a flawed candidate that has been unable to connect with the party faithful. 
Yet for all his flaws…all Romney does is win.
Perhaps it’s time for the Party to give him his due.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Republicans Turning Their Backs On Women

The blow back from Rush Limbaugh’s sexist criticism of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke is starting to hit Limbaugh and his Clear Channel employer where it hurts the wallet.  Twelve sponsors of Limbaugh’s radio program have pulled their ads.  Two radio broadcast affiliates have announced their decision to drop the program.  Armed Forces Radio is also making plans to oust Limbaugh from its programming.  Each cited Limbaugh’s three day tirade against Ms. Fluke as the reason for their decision. 
This appears to be just the tip of the iceberg, as criticism of the bombastic conservative talk show host continues blanket the airwaves.
President Obama called Ms. Fluke and offered his support.  He praised her courage for taking a stand and told her that her parents would be very proud of strength and character.
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, the presumptive leaders of the Republican Party, said…nothing.  Actually Romney said “it’s not the language I would have used.” (So other than using the words “slut” and “prostitute” the rest of it was ok?)  He then went on to recite the words to Disney’s “Davey Crocket” to a gathering of supporters in Tennessee. 
Santorum dismissed Limbaugh’s comments as “absurd”.   
That’s it. 
Neither candidate had the courage to do the right thing and condemn Limbaugh’s relentless attack on Ms. Fluke.  In fact not one member of the Republican Party has spoken out against Limbaugh.  Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell…all silent as a church full of monks.  Republicans are all fired up and ready to bomb Iran and Syria.  But none of them have the courage to stand up against Limbaugh.
Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and the other Republican leaders are so obtuse on this issue.  They have no concept of the damage that their silence is having on their Party.  Their silence on the Limbaugh fiasco comes on the heels of contesting a woman’s access to contraceptives and mandating women undergo trans-vaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving abortion services. 
Could their total disregard for women’s rights be any clearer?    


Oh, The Choices We Make!

The Republican candidates will spend today scattered around the country in a last ditched effort to gin up support for tomorrow’s Super Tuesday contests.  Voters in ten states will take to the polls.  At stake, 419 delegates; including 63 delegates in the all important swing state of Ohio.
As Republican voters scan their ballots they will be able to choose among four candidates who have done more to tarnish the credibility of the Republican Party than any slate in recent history.
They can vote for Mitt Romney; the self made millionaire who as governor of Massachusetts presided over a job creation effort that ranked 47th in the country.  The same Romney who as governor served as the architect for the President’s much hated “Obamacare” health care act. Mitt Romney, the world class flip-flopper, who was “for” every major issue before he was against it…or was it the other way around?  They can vote for the same Romney who understands and connects with the middle class about as well as a first grader connects with a nuclear physicist.
They might vote for Rick Santorum.  This would be the Rick Santorum who Republicans can thank for single handedly turning the country’s attention from the President’s record to a debate on contraceptives; the Rick Santorum who would return women’s rights back to the 1950’s. They can vote for the same Santorum who would eliminate Medicare, Medicaid, and social security as we know it as well as the department of education and a whole host of social programs that middle class and poor people depend on.  The same Santorum who would send more troops to Afghanistan; and bomb Iran, Syria, Pakistan and any other country that questions America’s policies.
Or they could consider Ron Paul; the man who would eliminate all federal programs except for the department of defense.  Ron Paul, the man who would leave the uninsured to die in the streets and who would deny aid to victims of hurricanes, tornados and other national disasters.  Ron Paul, the man who would return us to the days of the Wild West where it was every man for himself and most disagreements were resolved by a well placed bullet.  “Give me liberty, or give me death.”  Literally!  
Or they can vote for Newt Gingrich and help him build space camps on the moon. 
But that would just be silly.          

Friday, March 2, 2012

George Will Torpedos Romney/Santorum

Politico is reporting that respected conservative columnist George Will has concluded that the White House is lost.  He suggests that conservatives should concentrate on maintaining control of the House and winning the Senate.  Politico obtained an advanced copy of Will’s Sunday column.  The full Politico column can be found at
Quoting Politico; Will writes:   “There would come a point when…conservatives turn their energies to a goal much more attainable than…electing Romney or Santorum president.  It is the goal of retaining control of the House and winning control of the Senate…Conservatives should have as their primary goal making sure Republicans wield all the gavels in Congress in2013.”
“If Republicans do, their committees will serve as fine-mesh filters, removing President Obama’s initiatives from the stream of legislation… (A) re-elected Obama--a lame duck at noon next Jan 20—would have a substantially reduced capacity to do harm.”
Talk about a buzz kill for Romney and Santorum.